A Michigan State University exhibit recalls the events of the 1860s
Wednesday, July 20 — The Michigan State University Museum is honoring the memory of Michigan’s soldiers with an exhibit on Michigan’s role in the Civil War.
It’s part of the 150th anniversary of the war’s beginning in 1861. Drawn from the museum’s historical collection and from donations, the exhibit includes souvenirs from and information on those soldiers that fought for both state and country.
In particular, the exhibit focuses on three contributors: the first graduating class of Michigan Agricultural College (now MSU), Lt. Luther Baker, who led the capture of John Wilkes Booth and General John G. Parkhurst. Souvenirs range from pictures, to rifles and uniforms, medals and even medical supplies. In all, it emphasizes the people who were involved more than the war itself.
“We’re talking more about how they lived, how they lived in camp, what medical facilities were like at the time,” said Val Berryman, curator of history for the museum. “It’s a more personal touch than just the grand battles.”
Although no battles were ever fought on its soil, Michigan contributed more than 90,000 men to the war, nearly a quarter of the state’s male population in 1860, according to figures held by the State of Michigan’s former Department of History, Arts and Libraries. Of those, seven were the entire first graduating class of MAC. By war’s end, two of those men would be dead, having never seen their commencements.
Lt. Baker, and his cousin, Lafayette, who headed the National Detective Police, were sensationalized in posters at the time for their efforts to track down Lincoln’s killer. Later, however, they would return to Lansing, where Lt. Baker built the Lansing House Hotel — now the J.W. Knapp’s building.
General Parkhurst was a resident of Coldwater, and a colonel with the 9th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He was captured at the battle of Murfreesboro in Tennessee, and taken to the infamous Libby prison, where more than 125,000 Union prisoners would be held. One of the museum’s artifacts include Parkhurst’s pipe — which he engraved with an image of the prison.
He would eventually be released in a prisoner exchange, rejoin his unit and go on to be promoted to brevet brigadier general for his service at the end of the war.
Berryman says the exhibit will be available to viewers for at least a year.