Civil War uniform of Pa. man coming home to historical society
Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa.
GREENSBURG, Pa. — The Civil War military garb of a New Alexandria man is coming home, provided pledges to the Westmoreland County Historical Society turn into actual cash.
The society was the winning bidder this weekend of a collection belonging to Union Army Col. Thomas Foster Gallagher at an auction in Massachusetts.
“It meant so much to us,” said John Mickinak, society board member and collections committee chairman who bid on the collection by phone. “It belongs with us, the community. It belongs here in Greensburg, in Westmoreland County.”
The society is relying on thousands of dollars in pledges to stream from people, businesses and the Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation in Latrobe, Mickinak said. The military accoutrements sold for $8,000.
The collection consists of two frock coats, two sashes, a sword belt, a trunk and horse tack.
“It means more to us than it would to anybody else,” society Executive Director Lisa Hays said.
Mickinak said the society owes a 20 percent premium to Massachusetts-based Skinner Auctioneers, making the total cost $9,600. In addition, the items will need to be examined by a textile conservator for preservation purposes, which will ramp up the final amount.
The battle-worn frock is not in great shape, Mickinak said.
“We're really interested in the one that's not in the best condition,” he said. “That probably has more meaning to us than the nice one.”
During the war, Gallagher was captured by Confederate forces in Virginia but was released and fought during the September 1862 Battle of South Mountain, the name given to the Blue Ridge Mountains as they enter Maryland.
During that battle, as Union soldiers continued their pursuit of Gen. Robert E. Lee's forces, Gallagher was severely wounded, one of 1,800 Union troops and 1,500 Confederate troops wounded in the battle.
Gallagher returned to New Alexandria, where he remained until his death in 1883 at 61. He is buried in the New Alexandria Union Cemetery.
The collection was passed down through generations of Gallagher's family until recently, when members of the family decided to sell the relics.
Mickinak and Hays watched the auction at the historical society's office by computer Saturday, and Mickinak did the bidding by phone.
“I got the impression that there was only one other bidder,” he said.
“I just got to sit and listen; John said, ‘yes' a lot,” Hays recalled, laughing. “It happened pretty quickly. It was exciting once the bidding started.”
It was luck that the society even learned of the auction. After seeing an advertisement in the Maine Antique Digest over the summer, the society started concocting ways to win the collection.
“We couldn't do this without community support,” Mickinak said. “We're just so, so overjoyed.”
Once the accoutrements have been preserved, they could be a display at the society's proposed History Education Center in Hanna's Town. The society is undertaking a campaign to raise $4.3 million for construction of the center with groundbreaking plans for 2014.