Sometimes, I get to see and touch some really cool stuff. One of my favorite photographs of me shows me holding John Buford’s Henry rifle. I look terrified but thrilled, probably for the reason that I was terrified and thrilled at the same time.
Today was another one of those days when I got to see and hold something incredibly neat that very few people ever get to see, let alone to touch.
The Ohio Historical Society owns a 4.5 acre parcel in the middle of the Buffington Island battlefield. Funds were set aside to construct an interpretive kiosk on that parcel, which, in addition to a number of other new interpretive markers from the Morgan’s Trail group, will enable visitors to understand what happened there without needing a battlefield guide for the first time. Because I am the chairman of the history committee of the Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Foundation, the folks at OHS who have been working on this project have been kind enough to include me in the process. Edd Sharp, the president of the Foundation, has also been involved in this process. Today, we had a meeting at OHS to discuss the illustrations that will be included in the interpretive kiosk.
The meeting was productive and successful, and at the end of the meeting, Edd and I got a treat. John Hunt Morgan and all of his officers were imprisoned in the Ohio Penitentiary here in Columbus. Morgan and a few of his officers eventually escaped, and the rest were exchanged. In September 1863, one of the prison guards brought a small notebook into the prison and got every one of Morgan’s officers to autograph it for him, including Morgan himself, two of his brothers, and his brother-in-law and second-in-command, Basil W. Duke. Each officer signed his name, wrote his rank, his unit, and his home town. Some dated the page. It’s really a remarkable artifact, and it’s not the least bit surprising to hear that OHS keeps it in its vault, under lock and key, and with extremely limited access.
Today, for the second time in two weeks, I not only got to look at the entire notebook, but I also got to hold it too. I don’t believe it’s ever been out on display, and I’m quite certain that only a very, very small handful of people have ever seen it since it went into the OHS collection. The staff got it out and allowed me to look at it at the last meeting two weeks ago, but Edd missed the meeting due to illness. He was there today, so today was his turn, and we both got to hold it and look at it in detail.
I wanted to take a photo of Morgan’s signature and post it here, but the staff would not allow me to do so, which I do understand. The signature says, “Jno. H. Morgan, Brig. Gen. C.S.A. Lexington, Ky.” Morgan had neat, tight handwriting. One of the things that I have always enjoyed about handling Civil War documents is to appreciate the beautiful penmanship that even men had in those days, and the signatures in the notebook are no exception.
Scans of Morgan’s, Duke’s, and a few of his other officers will be included on one of the interpretive panels in the new kiosk on the battlefield, so if you ever visit the Buffington Island battlefield and see the likenesses of those signatures, you will know where they came from.
OHS also has the key to Morgan’s prison cell, as well as the Henry rifle of Major Daniel McCook, the patriarch of the Fighting McCooks, who was killed by the first volley at Buffington Island. The photo of Major McCook that will appear in the kiosk shows him holding the so-called “McCook Rifle”, and that same weapon can be seen in the museum at OHS.
One of the fringe benefits of the work I do is getting to see stuff like what I saw today, and I never take that for granted. I’m just sorry that I can’t put up a photo of the notebook or of Morgan’s signature here.Scridb filter