Fort Brings Civil War to Walla Walla

Aleida Fernandez

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General O.O. Howard.  Photo contributed by James Payne.

General O.O. Howard. Photo contributed by James Payne.

Dressed in a bright blue Union coat, a 30-something general stares contemplatively around a room in the fort he oversaw after the Civil War. Known as the “Christian General” because of his deep religious piety, O.O. Howard was noted for his two humiliating military defeats at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Although unlucky in the war, Howard recovered from his setbacks while posted as a corps and army commander in the Western Theater. While in Washington, he supervised operations at Fort Walla Walla as Commander, District of Columbia.

And in an exhibit room at the fort is where General O.O. Howard is immortalized in a colorized photograph.

Executive Director of Fort Walla Walla James Payne wanted to bring a Civil War exhibit to Fort Walla Walla for a couple of years to celebrate the war’s sesquicentennial. Riding the momentum from the critically acclaimed movie “Lincoln,” there was a lot of interest from the community to learn more about the Civil War. When an anonymous cash gift arrived late last year, Payne and the rest of the staff jumped on the opportunity to bring their plans to fruition.

While most Civil War exhibits focus on artillery and battle diaries, Payne wanted to focus on the everyday artifacts of the soldiers and families at home.

Executive director of @ James Payne.  Photo by Catie Bergman.

Executive Director of Fort Walla Walla James Payne. Photo by Catie Bergman.

“The personal items soldiers [and their families] carried are fascinating,” said Payne in an email. “Having performed archaeological investigation on numerous Civil War area home sites, I have had opportunities to learn about mid-19th century domestic material culture.”

The exhibit features about 300 items carried by soldiers and around 100 items used at homes during that period. Included are shaving gear, a bone-handled toothbrush with pig hair bristles, eyeglasses, eating utensils, a collapsible cup, photographs, wallet, coins, clay and tobacco pipes. Most of these items are on loan from private sources.

“There are several pieces that are exceptionally rare,” said Payne. “We have a model 1840 dragoon sword belt that seems to be the only surviving specimen … Due to design flaws and a change in the type of sword being issued, very few of these were produced.”

Artifacts on display in the Fort Walla Walla Museum's Civil War exhibit.  Photos by Catie Bergman.

Artifacts on display in the Fort Walla Walla Museum’s Civil War exhibit. Photos by Catie Bergman.

With their collection of battlefield and home artifacts, Fort Walla Walla currently has the greatest diversity of Civil War objects in the Pacific Northwest.

“We hope that visitors gain a better feel for everyday life of the people who fought [in the Civil War] and [those who] waited for their loved ones to return home,” said Payne.

Artifacts on display at the Fort Walla Wall Museum's Civil War exhibit.

Artifacts on display at the Fort Walla Wall Museum's Civil War exhibit.

Artifacts on display at the Fort Walla Wall Museum's Civil War exhibit.Artifacts on display at the Fort Walla Wall Museum's Civil War exhibit.

Artifacts on display at the Fort Walla Wall Museum's Civil War exhibit.

The Civil War exhibit will continue through Feb. 28. Fort Walla Walla is open Mondays through Fridays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The next showcase will feature pictorial beadwork of the Plateau Indian people and will open April 1.

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