A Vicksburg man’s goal of collecting Civil War-era firearms turned into a larger project when he discovered a bill of sale for a 7-year-old girl.
Then his focus became a quest to give people a holistic view of the Civil War and slave era. who were at the heart of the conflict through its new Vicksburg Civil War Museum.
During his trip to collect firearms, Charles Pendleton came across a bill of sale. The document, written in 1848, mentioned a girl named Ella. His age was described as around 7 years old. It was sold for $350 and guaranteed to be lifelong slave.
“I was blown away,” Pendleton said. “It was just amazing.”
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The Vicksburg Civil War Museum is born
The document became a driving force for the idea of a museum. A mission statement hangs on a wall.
“Our goal is not to educate you. Our goal is to inspire you to want to become more educated.”
Pendleton said the idea behind the museum is not for visitors to dwell on the negatives of the past. Instead, he said he wanted people to understand the past and recognize how much has changed.
“There’s got to be a way to take that and turn it into ‘Look how far we’ve come,’ instead of where we were,” Pendleton said. “If we don’t have discussions like this, then museums like mine have failed. It must be, ‘Wow, we’re never going back to that.'”
A significant part of the museum is devoted to firearms from the Civil War era.
“Probably about four years ago I went to a (Civil War) show and was fascinated by the different types of guns,” Pendleton said. “My idea was simple.
“I just wanted to collect a weapon of all the weapons used in the Civil War. Their weapons are totally different from what we have today.”
One wall of the museum is largely lined with display cases of rifles from the conflict from makers such as Sharps, Springfield, and many lesser-known others. Other holsters house pistols of the day in every configuration imaginable.
Nearby is a display of various artillery shells and cannonballs, a collection he believes to be the largest in the state, and the aisles are filled with items such as uniforms, vintage games , kitchen utensils and medical equipment.
The look at the mentality of the day starts early. When visitors enter, they are invited to read various quotes and documents in the first aisles. It begins with declarations of secession from the Confederate States.
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Slavery and the Civil War
Mississippi’s only cause for secession was the preservation of slavery, which is contrary to the belief that the war was not about slavery—something Pendleton says he is often told.
“Our position is completely identified with the institution of slavery – the world’s greatest material interest,” the document states.
Nearby, an exhibit depicts a scene of slaves working in a cotton field.
“For slaves, that’s what slaves did every day,” Pendleton said. “We know what the soldiers were doing. We know what the slave owners were doing.”
There is also a reconstruction of a slave cabin. Inside are small bunks with hay for padding, a small table and chairs and a wood burning stove. Interviews with former slaves talk of their experiences can be heard while visitors are in the cabin.
One of Pendleton’s favorite acquisitions is an enlistment document for the 52nd United States Colored Infantry and he said many of those listed were likely once enslaved or fugitives. Because the slaves did not learn to read or write, their names were written for them and they signed with an X.
For Pendleton, it means more than the names of black men who fought in the war.
“So when you see this document, you get mixed emotions,” Pendleton said. “You see both sides of slaves at the same time.
“You see someone who is ready to fight for his independence, but look how dependent he is. He can’t even write his own name.”
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The Civil War Museum attracts visitors from across the country
The museum opened in May 2021, and in the nine months since, the names of visitors from across the country and beyond have filled all but one page of the guestbook as of Monday.
Keith Pierson of Trinidad, Texas is one of them. He said the museum is different from other Civil War museums he has visited.
“It’s interesting,” Pierson said as he sat down next to a display of cannons and artillery shells. “There are a lot of things that you don’t see, like that.
“Usually they have a few uniforms and pictures. They don’t have guns. They don’t have uniforms in such good condition.”
Sue McGuire of New Gladys, Wisconsin, was also visiting the museum on Monday.
“I think it’s very well done, and he (Pendleton) speaks very well about the fate of African Americans in history,” she said.
Her husband, Jim McGuire, was with her.
“It’s so well done, and the quotes from people – it’s amazing,” he said. “The way it’s put together is clear, very inviting and easy to understand.”
If you are going to
Or: 1123 Washington Street, Vicksburg
When: Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission: $7 adults, $3.50 children 12 and under, children 6 and under free
Contact Brian Broom at 601-961-7225 or [email protected]