Slice of Civil War history now on display

Local lore, several presentations on tap this summer at Cedar Hill Schoolhouse

The first shots were fired 150 years ago in a conflict that would define some of America's darkest years.

All over the country, historical groups are reflecting on the Civil War, which is recognized to have officially started in April of 1861 with a Confederate attack on Fort Sumter. Locally, the Bethlehem Historical Association is marking the occasion with a special display on the Civil War and the local connections to that bloody and extraordinary struggle.

Curating the exhibit is Slingerlands resident Robert Mulligan, who has been putting together displays and lining up artifacts since November. He's been a Civil War buff for much longer though, having first participated in a recreation of the Battle of Antietam 50 years ago. He turned his interest in military history into a career, serving as the military curator at the New York State Museum for 25 years before retiring.

He's still a fan of history though, and a member of the Bethlehem Historical Association and the Capital District Civil War Roundtable, where he met most of the fellow Civil War history enthusiasts who will be speaking during the run of the exhibit.

For Mulligan, his passion was always present.

I've always been interested in military history, and particularly in soldier life, he said. "When the opportunity came to pretend I was a soldier, I snapped it right up."

As for his focus on Civil War history ... well, there just hasn't been another American war that was anything like it. The battlefields are close to home, the history isn't too far removed by the sands of time and there are ample records to peruse.

"This was the first army in history, where just about everybody in the Union Army could read and write," he said. "How many diaries do we have from the Crusades? How many soldiers marched to Moscow with Napoleon's army and wrote letters home?"

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