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Remembering Gettysburg: Confederate sword returns to Columbia

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The Battle of Gettysburg: Repulse of Longstreet's Assault, July 3, 1863 painting by James Walker The Battle of Gettysburg: Repulse of Longstreet's Assault, July 3, 1863 painting by James Walker
Sword belonging to General Joseph Brevard Kershaw (bottom), first time in Columbia since he went off to war Sword belonging to General Joseph Brevard Kershaw (bottom), first time in Columbia since he went off to war
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

"There's something about those fields and the stories of heroism and loss."

150 years ago this week, the blood from one of our nation's greatest tragedies soaked the fields surrounding a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania.  Approximately 53,000 Americans were killed, wounded or missing in the three-day battle of Gettysburg.

540 miles away from the living history reenactments and memorials at the battlefield, the South Carolina Relic Room and Military Museum recognizes the Palmetto State's role with its exhibit, Gettysburg, South Carolina in the Fight.

"From the artillery men involved to the cavalry, to the infantry, from the private level all the way to the generals, this exhibit really covers it all about what the South Carolinians were and what their  contributions were," said Curator of History Kristine Johnson. "The Palmetto State men were right there leading the way."

Nearly 5,000 South Carolina soldiers fought at Gettysburg.  Historians consider the battle a turning point in the war.

"The whole purpose of Lee moving his forces up North was to shift Northern morale and really hope to push the North toward peace negotiations with the South," said Johnson. "It was really the last thrust of the Southern army up into Northern territory."

The exhibit includes the swords of Colonel William Davie DeSaussure, who was the highest ranking South Carolinian killed at the battle, and General Joseph Brevard Kershaw.  Manufactured in Columbia, this is the first known time that Kershaw's sword has returned to South Carolina since the war.

"Right before Appomattox, he ended up giving the sword to a Union solider in return for safely taking him to General George Custer, of Little Big Horn fame," said Johnson.  "General  Custer promised him that he would be safe.  They started up a friendship and eventually the sword was kept in this soldier's family."

"One of the strongest pieces of this exhibit is the number of weapons we have that were actually involved in the battle, or some are good, strong examples of what South Carolinians would have carried into the battle," said Johnson.  "They're some of the most beautiful rifles and examples of rifles carried into battle that are around these days."

The exhibit also includes a list of the more than 500 names of the men who were killed at Gettysburg -- list that took Johnson nearly three years to compile.

"That's 500 families here in our state that are left to mourn those that never came back home," she said.

The museum couldn't ask for a more qualified historian than Johnson on this exhibit.  She spent four years as a park ranger at the Gettysburg National Military Park.

"Understanding how the battle played out, how you can tell the story of the battle through the men who fought there," she said. "It just gives us a time to stop and reflect on both the intricacies of these types of battles, the maneuvers, but especially the home front and personal stories that go along with what happened on the field."

Gettysburg draws two million visitors a year, including international guests.

 "The realism that hits you when you visit this place still continues to draw school groups and families and individuals who just want to learn more every year," said Johnson.  "You can really get an idea of what it was like to stand in a certain spot and see key landscape features.  Because without understanding and actually walking where those men walked, it's hard to understand the battle."

 "It still is definitely an active part in American memory of how we think about our history."

The SC Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum is on Gervais St. in Columbia.

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