Southwest Vermont and the Civil War

Brigadier General Edward H. Ripley, 1865Southwestern Vermont and the Civil War, is a two-part exhibition scheduled to coincide with and commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. This exhibit on view at the Bennington Museum from May 25 through October 27 takes a close look at the local involvement of those who lived in the southwestern portion of Vermont in one of the most historic of national conflicts. It is comprised almost exclusively of selections from the museum’s extensive collection of Civil War archives and objects.

Opening on May 25, is The Fabulous General Ripley: Gen. Edward H. Ripley and the Capture of Richmond. This portion of the exhibit examines the Civil War service of this Rutland native and his significant role in the Union’s capture of Richmond, Virginia. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Ripley was a student at Union College in Schenectady, New York. He enlisted as a private in May of 1862 and, exhibiting strong leadership skills quickly rose through the ranks receiving an almost immediate commission as Captain of Company B of the ninth Regiment Vermont Infantry Volunteers. On August 1, 1864 he was brevetted to Brigadier General and placed in charge of the First Brigade, Third Division, 24th Army Corps. In this role, he led the first Union troops into Richmond, Virginia on April 3, 1865. The retreating Confederates had set fire to much of the city. Ripley was quickly placed in command. His first task was to quell the fires and subdue looting mobs. Ripley played a major role in saving Richmond from destruction and in the unofficial end of the Civil War. On April 9, the official treaty ending the war was signed at Appomattox, Virginia.

Among the interesting artifacts on display in this exhibit, is a “coal torpedo” used to inflict serious damage to enemy supply trains that was found by Ripley on the desk of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and artifacts connected to Libby Prison, notorious for its harsh conditions will be on view. These include the Confederate flag lowered by Ripley on April 3, 1865.

Bennington Boys (and Ladies Too): The Local Civil War Experience opens on June 7 and explores the role that local men and woman of southwestern Vermont played in the war as well as the impact it had on their lives. It provides insight into both the public and personal facets of the war. One of the highlights of the exhibition is an American flag featuring a 33-star canton, forming a variation on the “Great Star” pattern popular on the eve of the Civil War. It is appliquéd with the inscription, “Presented to the Bennington Boys of ’61 by the Ladies.” This flag was presented publicly to the soldiers of Bennington’s Company A, at the Old First Church, on June 5, 1861, with Governor Hiland Hall presiding. It was carried throughout the war, present at the Battle of Bull Run, and Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Objects like this, and the many others on display, help paint a vivid picture of the sacrifices made by local soldiers and civilians in their effort to save the American union.

The Bennington Museum is located at 75 Main Street (Route 9) in The Shires of southwestern Vermont. Opening on July 20 are two new permanent gallery exhibits – Gilded Age Vermont and Bennington Modernism. The museum is open every day of the week July through October and closed on Wednesday other months. Hours: 10 am to 5 pm.  Visit the museum’s website or call 802-447-1571 for more information.

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