PERRYVILLE — With Smithsonian-quality artifacts on display, “The Horse Soldier,” showcased at Perryville Battlefield Museum, has garnered a lot of interest.
In considering an exhibit theme, a look at the role of the cavalry was a natural choice with the World Equestrian Games taking place in nearby Lexington, said Joni House, who bills herself as the museum’s historic preservation coordinator and vacuum cleaner runner.
“What’s amazing to me is Europeans are nuts about the Civil War. It was a prime opportunity to showcase the cavalry and certainly Kentucky horsemen are legendary — John Hunt Morgan and his escapades, and Gen. John Buford. (Buford) is credited for holding the ground for the Union at Gettsyburg.”
A prize feather in the display is being the first to showcase the Henry rifle of Buford. Sen. Tom Buford of Nicholasville had the rifle passed through his family and loaned it to the exhibit.
“I’m used to dealing with a lot of artifacts but this thing is the holy grail of Henry rifles,” says House, noting the staff stood around the rifle in amazement when it arrived.
“This has never been on display and probably will end up at the Smithsonian,” she says.
The Henry rifle, which fired 60 shots a minute, was considered new technology during the Civil War. Most of the soldiers at Perryville carried a musket that could shoot three shots a minute.
“Some Henry rifles were at Perryville Battlefield, but they were such new technology you wouldn’t find many.”
Another area of the display is devoted to the guerilla tactics used by armed militants roaming the countryside.
Again, a gun is one of the main items. An 1851 Navy Colt revolver was owned by Marcellus Jerome Clarke, a.k.a. Sue Mundy. According to the exhibit, in September 1864, Mundy’s small gang participated in a train robbery, held up a stagecoach and robbed the Harrodsburg Bank. Mundy’s gang paid a visit to Perryville, relieving citizens of valuables and killing a young man.
Harold Edwards of Perryville has studied the guerillas — armed milita
nts that roamed the countryside — during this period and contributed to the display. House says guerillas had a killer instinct. She likes to quote Edwards’ viewpoint: “There were no good guys here.”
Guerillas didn’t really differentiate between Confederate or Union.
“This was nasty stuff. It didn’t matter what side you were on. If they didn’t like you, ...” House says, her voice trailing off but indicating a violent end was in store.
Another contributor to this exhibit works alongside House. Robin Short loaned an 1870s photo of her great-grandfather, Samuel Nimrod Mullinex, posing with outlaw Frank James.
“My grandmother remembered she was 7 years old, and Frank and Jesse (James) coming over to the house and eating dinner with them,” Short says.
The photo on display hung in her grandmother’s Danville living room and was passed to another great-granddaughter, who finally gave it to Short. Short says her great-grandfather probably was a cousin to the James brothers. Mullinex played a role after the battle by helping bury the dead.
“He also testified for Squire Bottoms when he was trying to get the government to pay damages.”
The exhibit remains through the annual re-enactment, set this year for Oct. 2 and 3, and House says a grant will aid horseback re-enactors make their journey to Perryville.
“The economy has just stomped on re-enactors because it’s an expensive hobby.”
With the grant offsetting travel expenses, she expects more than 100 mounted troopers.
“We’ve got some of the best coming from all over the country and even overseas.”
In the meantime, House’s son, Jacob Salley, is a re-enactor and is at the museum Fridays through Sundays portraying a horse soldier.
A grant from the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial also helped pay for technology included in the exhibit. One fun program from the National Park Service allows people to check whether their grandfather served in the Civil War. Another area features a 28-minute video shot during the annual re-enactment.
House hasn’t decided on a name for the 2012 exhibit, the 150th anniversary of the Oct. 8 battle, but thinks it will cover the battle’s impact locally.
The town was devastated, she says.
“There was no FEMA in 1862,” she notes. “There was a horrible drought before the battle and two weeks after it there was 6 inches of snow on the ground. Plus, this town of 400 had to deal with 7,000 sick and wounded guys all over the place.”