Daily photo by John Godbey|
Robert Parham with a .44 caliber Adams Patent revolver. Parham tried to count the number of weapons in the collection at the Blue and Gray Museum of North Alabama. About five cases into his count, which reached nearly 200, Parham stopped. "Let's just say it's hundreds, and this is not the entire collection," he said. The museum also has the sword and sword belt of Lt. Col. Ozro John Dodds, who became leader of the 1st Alabama Union Cavalry on Oct. 18, 1863.
Decatur museum loaded with guns
Private collection one of largest in U.S.of Civil War-era weapons
By Deangelo McDaniel
email@example.com · 340-2469
Decatur's best kept secret may be a museum near Bank and Lafayette streets.
Unknown to many, the Blue and Gray Museum of North Alabama houses one of the largest private collections of Civil War-era weapons in the United States.
The museum is part of Robert Parham's Civil War Relics and Memorabilia business and has been open since January.
With the exception of large cannons, if infantry, cavalry and Union and Confederate officers used a weapon during the four-year war, the museum has it.
"Wow," Parham said, when asked how many weapons are in the museum.
He tried to count them. About five cases into his count and near 200, Parham stopped.
"Let's just say it's hundreds, and this is not the entire collection," he said.
There is more than weapons. The museum has Union and Confederate uniforms, canteens, military drums, swords, battlefield tree trunks with shell fragments in them, intact and split cannonballs, musket rounds, bullets and Civil War-era dishes.
But the guns, which are part of the private collection of Robert Sackheim, draw people to the museum.
"It took me a while to convince him to put the collection in Decatur instead of the county where he resides," said Parham, a Civil War historian for more than 40 years.
Sackheim does not want his home county mentioned. He had the collection in storage and wasn't enjoying it, Parham said.
"Another county wanted to display it, but we got it," Parham said. "Decatur is very fortunate that he agreed to put it here."
One of the collection's prized items is the pistol of Union Gen. Joseph K. Mansfield. He was mortally wounded at the Battle of Antietam and died Sept. 18, 1862.
Parham is unsure the value of the Colt model 1851 Navy revolver that is engraved with Mansfield's name.
The museum also has the sword and sword belt of Lt. Col. Ozro John Dodds, who became leader of the 1st Alabama Union Cavalry on Oct. 18, 1863.
Near the sword is a copy of a book about the Battle of Atlanta that Union Gen. G.M. Dodge wrote. Dodds was on Dodge's staff.
In 1864, Dodge ordered the commanding officer in Decatur to take control of every building in the city and to remove every citizen living within a mile of Decatur. He gave Brig. Gen. John D. Stevenson six days to execute the order.
Dodge's order came almost six months after Gen. Joseph Wheeler stepped on Lawrence County soil for the first time.
If you have never seen the pistol Wheeler carried with him, the museum has one of them.
"He was a small man, but he carried a big gun," Parham said.
There is an information card explaining each item in the collection, which is protected by a high-tech surveillance system.
In addition to weapons, there are photographs. In one case, for example, Parham has a 1906 reunion picture of Capt. Frank B. Gurley's 4th Alabama Cavalry Company C.
He has an 1862 Union recruitment poster and one of 100 Confederate swivel guns that were manufactured in England.
"The Confederate government had plans for using these on ships," Parham explained. "This would be placed on the ship's railing and could be moved to shoot in any direction."
The collection also includes pre- and post-Civil War weapons. Parham pointed to one of the first bolt-action rifles that was manufactured between 1850 and 1860.
The U.S. government ordered 900 of the guns.
"The war was an innovative period in terms of weapons," Parham said.
"That's the reason there is so much here that it is hard to comprehend. I've had people to come in here, spend more than two hours and come back."
The Blue and Gray Museum of North Alabama is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
A slide show of civil war-era items can be found here.
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