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Expert shares his Civil War interest at Slatington Library

  • ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Don Eckhart was dressed in the uniform of a Zouave Civil War soldier when he presented a program on the war at the Slatington Library.
    ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Don Eckhart was dressed in the uniform of a Zouave Civil War soldier when he presented a program on the war at the Slatington Library.
Published March 27. 2012 05:01PM

Donald Eckhart was introduced as an in-house speaker as he talks about his collection of Civil War artifacts. He volunteers at the library. Eckhart had been seen exhibiting at the Walnutport Canal Festival and the library took advantage of his knowledge in a program on March 20

He collected books on the Civil War and read voraciously in preparation for his talk. Many of the books were donated to the library which gives it one of the most complete local collections on the war.

Eckhart called his program "Diverse and sundry insights to the Civil War."

His interest in the Civil War was piqued 25 years ago when he visited a Doylestown friend who had a bar, and behind the bar was posted the Stars and Bars. He asked why the Stars and Bars was shown.

The friend said, "Well, it's my place."

The flag shown was the battle flag and Eckhart learned it was one of many flags flown during the war. The North also did not have a standard flag. Eckhart said there was a lot of artistic license used when flags were used on Civil War paintings. The very first flag for the Confederacy was a single large white star on a blue field which was the one referred to in song as the "Bonnie Blue Flag." It became the rallying song of the confederacy.

"Rally Round the Flag" became important for the Union. The North also sang the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and both sides sang "Dixie" but with different words.

Each regiment also flew a state flag. Guidons were auxiliary to the regimental and company flags. Each Army corps had its own flag with a number on it. It had two points, or tails, and was used by officers to determine where a corps was located. A flag with a large H indicated the hospital.

Soldiers on each end of a lineup had guidons and the soldiers focused on them to keep a straight line.

Eckhart's uniform was a colorful Zouave uniform copied as near as possible from the 72nd Pa. Volunteers. He belongs to a re-enactors group in Philadelphia. A sash helps designate officers. He wore the insignia of a first sergeant.

Pres. Abraham Lincoln said each state had to fill a quota and "ours was the 72nd Regiment. We were on the receiving end of Pickett's charge."

An officer carried a sword but it was a badge more than anything. Uniforms varied in the beginning but by the end of the war they were becoming standardized. Cavalry uniforms had yellow trim on their uniforms, the infantry used light blue, and red indicated the artillery.

A regiment was made of 10 companies of 1,000 men each. The Philadelphia brigade was composed of the 69th, 71st, 72nd and 106th regiments.

Although the Monitor and Merrimack are familiar, there were many other steamships operating on the Mississippi River. General Ulysses Grant nearly lost Shiloh but help was brought by steamship.

Both sides used hot air and gas balloons to provide a view of a battlefield. Sometimes they were towed by rail or ship, said Eckhart. The balloons could be used to direct cannon fire.

Railroads were tactically and strategically important. The problem was that rails were of different gauges and the same train could not run on all rail lines.

At Manassas the railroads brought Confederates to the battle just in time to save the day for the South.

Any rail shipping from west to east had to go through Chattanooga, Tenn. Because it was a rail hub there were several major battles there. When tracks were torn up, the rails were heated and bent so they could not be reused.

The source of the word "wiretapping" came from the Civil War when people could tap into a telegraph line to try and intercept messages. Other communications were by signal flags, drums and bugles, but the bugles could also be heard by the opposing side.

Eckhart brought his collection of guns, both handguns and long ones. He traced the improvements that happened during the War. By 1850 percussion caps would fire in the rain whereas flintlocks did not. When barrels were "rifled" on the inside accuracy was increased.

The long rifles could be cut down to provide short guns for the cavalry. Some were also built specifically for cavalry.

Many firearms were bought in France and England and the North bought some they not need to prevent the South from getting them. The German Jaeger rifle was the one that became the Pennsylvania long rifle, also called the Kentucky rifle.

Cannons could shoot five miles.

Eckhart did not credit the deficiencies of the guns for the battle losses but to the "stupid generals." He cited the battle of Fredericksburg, Va., where the Union fought uphill against Confederates entrenched behind stone walls.

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