WELLSBURG - These days, Americans are divided on many issues, but the United States has never been as divided as it was during the Civil War, which saw states locked in combat with other states and the population of Virginia torn by its secession from the Union.
The formation of West Virginia from that conflict will be the focus of a traveling exhibit coming to the Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center at 704 Charles St.
Created by the West Virginia Humanities Council and entitled "Born of Rebellion: West Virginia Statehood", the exhibit will open Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
NEW ACQUISITION — Ruby Greathouse, unofficial curator for the Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center, displays a recent acquisition — an 1858 Springfield rifle made in Wellsburg. Beginning Sunday, the museum will host a traveling exhibit of the West Virginia Humanities Council entitled “Born of Rebellion: West Virginia Statehood.” Held in observance of the state’s 150th anniversary, the exhibit details its birth during the Civil War. -- Warren Scott
Ruby Greathouse, museum board member and unofficial curator, said the museum will have special hours to allow many to view it. In addition to Sunday, it will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday during the next two weeks; from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 10; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 11, the last day for the exhibit.
Created by graphic arts students at West Virginia University, it was funded by Columbia Gas Transmission, a NiSource Company; and the We the People program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, among many others.
Greathouse noted the exhibit covers four areas: Divergence, sectional differences between western and eastern Virginia; The Civil War and its part in the state's creation; the Birth of West Virginia, including the process of its becoming a state; and Statehood, when its final boundaries were decided by the U.S. Supreme Court and the question arose as to whether its formation was constitutional.
Greathouse said at the time there was much debate as to whether West Virginia should remain a state after the war ended. According to the U.S. Constitution, a region of a state may not become its own state without the original state's consent, and Virginia hadn't given its consent, she noted.
The issue has been the subject of a 2003 debate aired on C-Span and an article in the California Law Review.
Greathouse said visitors to the exhibit will have a chance to air their own opinion on the issue by casting votes in a mock election held during the exhibit.
Visitors to the museum who aren't interested in the politics that came into play with West Virginia's entry into statehood should appreciate the personal impact it had on people then, she said.
Greathouse said the museum has several Civil War-related items that will be displayed near the exhibit. They include photos of Isaac P. Duvall, a Union Army general, and his family, who lived in Wellsburg; glasses and other period items that belonged to his wife; a shadow box containing three types of bullets used during the war and half of a Confederate flag that belonged to Duvall.
Greathouse said it was customary for Confederate flags to be torn into pieces and distributed among Union officers following a victory over Confederate troops.
The items normally are displayed in the museum's war department - two rooms containing local items tied to conflicts dating from the American Revolution to the present.
Greathouse said visitors also will find a new acquisition: a .36-caliber Springfield rifle made in Wellsburg in 1858. She noted a brass plate on the weapon identifies its source as "Wellsburgh", the old spelling used in the city's early days, and its maker as John M. McCamant.
The museum has an advertisement from 1833 for McCamant, a local supplier of firearms and accessories who married Ruth Prather, a member of a prominent Wellsburg family.
Greathouse said the rifle was donated by John Mort, a resident of the midwest, who bought it through the estate sale of a friend. She said after finding "Wellsburgh" engraved on the plate, he sought out Brooke County officials who might be interested in it.
"He said he felt it was time for the gun to come home," Greathouse said.
She said Mort offered the rifle to the museum for $1,000, much less than its market value, and the museum board paid for it with funds it had set aside and public contributions.
Greathouse said former Brooke County Sheriff Richard Ferguson, also a history buff, arranged to have the rifle sent to his department at the county courthouse to ensure its safe arrival.
She said Mort did much to secure the 54-inch long firearm, packing it in a wooden box sealed with 36 screws on each side, before mailing it by Federal Express.
Though the package's return address made clear its contents, a security guard at the courthouse passed it through the building's metal detector for fun.
Greathouse said the rifle arrived in 2010 but hasn't been displayed until recently, when a security system was installed at the museum. It will join two other antique firearms in a glass case, with a mirror mounted behind so visitors can view them from both sides.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)