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See Civil War through new eyes page 5
Mammoth, interactive exhibition takes fresh approach to Civil War, viewing it through the lens of biography

 A Richmonder, she lost her son in the fight at Malvern Hill.
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Date published: 2/1/2011


And let's not forget about Henry Bird, mentioned earlier. A private in the Petersburg Grays (12th Virginia Infantry), he enlisted two days after Virginia seceded on April 17, 1861.

Bird fought in the Overland Campaign, which began with the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House, was his unit's color guard in the Battle of the Crater, was captured at Burgess' Mill and imprisoned at Point Lookout, Md.

As Bird waited to be released after Appomattox, his father wrote him: "The state is quieting down and people are going to work, and the war will soon be a thing of the past. I [have] been to see Genl Lee and he told me that all the soldiers who desired to return to their native places should take the oath of allegiance to the U. States and become good citizens."

Bird went home to Petersburg in June 1865. As the prerequisite to receiving a marriage license, he took the oath of allegiance, apologizing to his fiancee, Margaret Randolph.

Looking ahead to the uncertain future, Henry wrote Margaret, "My darling, we are all strangers in the land now "

They married that September. Henry became a railroad clerk, and lived in Petersburg until his death in 1903. His bride died in 1933.

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029
Email: cschemmer@freelancestar.com

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WHAT: "An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia."

WHEN, WHERE: Feb. 4 to Dec. 30. Admission is free. Virginia Historical Society, 428 North Boulevard, Richmond. HOURS, CONTACTS: 804/358-4901; vahistori cal.org. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday 1-5 p.m.

Nearly 1,000 man-hours went into creating just one piece, The Soldier in Virginia Database. From a slew of sources, VHS collected information on more than 1,500 Federal and Confederate regiments that served in the commonwealth. The result is an interactive touch table that lets you see the point of origin for every regiment that participated in 37 Virginia battles, and compare casualties suffered by each state. The database includes unit histories, and is searchable down to each soldier's home county.

Several bits of handiwork seem especially likely to intrigue younger visitors:

A "What Would You Do?" audiovisual program tells the true stories of four young Virginians and the dilemmas that they faced during the war.

A texting-vs.-telegraph competition in which participants match speed and wits with a Civil War telegrapher. (Other exhibits scrutinize two different innovations: the military railroad and aerial reconnaissance, which figured in the Fredericksburg area.)

A multiple-choice exhibit that puts them in the shoes of a surgeon who must make life-and-death decisions about a wounded soldier's medical treatment.

And there is sterner stuff:

"Journey to Freedom," an immersive video piece filmed in Appomattox Court House National Historical Park and Boston, tackles the sensitive and complex subject of how slaves escaped. Participants make on-the-fly decisions, and the results have many thought-provoking permutations.

"The Face of Battle," 3-D theater that lets visitors experience the sound and fury of the Battle of Kernstown, where two Virginia units fighting for the North and the South--collided in combat. (The pristine, 315-acre Shenandoah Valley battlefield is well worth seeing, too.)

"The Arm Needs to Come Off," a video shot at the American Theater in Hampton, simulates a Civil War-period amputation--and is more historically accurate that what you've seen in Hollywood fare. John Pelletier, a Tidewater re-enactor who regularly does programs at Ellwood on the Wilderness battlefield in Orange County, appears as the assistant surgeon.

--Clint Schemmer