WELLSVILLE - In celebration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the Wellsville River Museum hosted a weekend featuring authentic images of life and death during this period in American history. The event, held Saturday and Sunday afternoon, featured an encampment by re-enactors from the 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and 1st Company of the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
The centerpiece of the weekend was a replica of the casket that carried the body of Abraham Lincoln as it was transported by train from Washington, D.C., to his hometown of Springfield, Ill., for burial following his assassination in 1865. The replica, created by Batesville Casket Co., mimics the original with its solid walnut construction, covered in black broadcloth, featuring silver-metal handles and tacks, and a white satin interior.
Members of the 66th OVI provided an honor guard for the casket while displayed at the museum, not unlike the soldiers who would have accompanied the assassinated president's body while displayed at the various stops along the way. "They did a beautiful job," Davidson said.
Capt. Don VanMeter of the 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry re-enactors makes a pair of dice out of .69-caliber rifle rounds in the authentic Civil War manner during an event celebrating the 150th anniversary of the conflict at the Wellsville River Museum on Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Richard Sberna)
Also at the museum was a replica of the .44-caliber Deringer pistol that was used by John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of the president, as well as a pair of replica life masks taken of Lincoln at the beginning of his term in 1861 and shortly before his death.
Outside the museum, the 105th OVI built an authentic Union Army encampment and provided demonstrations, from the maintenance of the soldiers' weapons to the diversions they would have undertaken to relieve boredom between action on the battlefield.
Don VanMeter, captain of the 105th OVI, showed how soldiers would take .69-caliber rounds and hammer them into a square shape. They would then use nails to hammer dots into the six sides, creating dice to gamble with. He explained that gambling was punishable by court martial and that a soldier would carefully empty his pockets before going into battle, not wanting the outlawed implements to be found on his body if killed. "If he was found with a pair of dice in his pocket, he would be a total disgrace, not only to himself, but to his family back home," VanMeter said as he put the finishing touches on a fresh pair.
Davidson said he was very pleased with the event and the crowd it had attracted over the course of two days, estimated at 90 people both days. "It started with one idea and just kept flowing from there," he said.
Davidson explained that the elements came together from a sequence of fortuitous events, beginning with a phone call last year from Abraham Lincoln scholar Gary Kersey, who spoke on Sunday about the Emancipation Proclamation. Within days of Kersey agreeing to speak at the museum, a board member learned that the replica Lincoln casket was available for display at museums and other historical societies across the country. "I called the phone number thinking, 'There's no way,'" Davidson said. "And here it is today."
Matthew Watson, funeral director at Martin, MacLean, Altmeyer Funeral Home in Wellsville, was charged with receiving the casket and returning it safely to the company. He subsequently asked if he could give a presentation on embalming techniques used during the Civil War, including displays of antique embalming equipment from the period. The museum accepted, and Watson spoke Saturday. His talk also explained the process of Lincoln's funeral, from the president's death on April 15 to his burial on May 4, 1865.