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Historical Museum Opens June 2 With Authentic Civil War Memorabilia

Historical Museum Opens June 2
With Authentic Civil War Memorabilia

By Mary Fox and Mary Elizabeth Dunbar


To mark the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, the Ellicottville Historical Museum will open for the 2012 season on June 2, 2012, with displays centered on the Ellicottville area and the Civil War. The museum is housed in the 1853 Building on the corner of Washington and Jefferson streets in the town square. From June through September, the museum will be open Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 1–4 p.m. Volunteers from the Historical Society and community will serve as hosts.


Cathy Lacy, a retired art teacher who is vice president and program director of the Historical Society, and Mary Elizabeth Dunbar, Ellicottville town historian and museum curator, have done extensive research to make the exhibit an authentic depiction of the Civil War era.


The exhibit consists of many photographs and local history of this time period.  An original ledger of local Patrick Henry Jones will be on display. Artifacts loaned from the County Museum include a drum, forage and slouch hats, photos, cartridge box with belt, cap box, scabbard and bayonet. An exhibit of underground quilt patterns, the stories behind them and a sampler wall hanging will also be displayed.


Many of the men from the Southern Tier served in the 154th, known as the Hardtack Regiment. Visitors can view copies of pictures of some of the soldiers from the Ellicottville area, which were obtained from Mark H. Dunkelman of Providence, R.I., who heads up a yearly program and reunion of descendants of the 154th. He has written a number of books and articles on the history of the 154th.


The 154th Hardtack Regiment of the N.Y. Volunteers received the name “Hardtack” Regiment from the rations soldiers were given. Hardtack was a thick cracker made of flour and water. Before the Civil War, sailors referred to it as sea biscuit or pilot’s bread, but to the Union Army of the Potomac during the Civil War, it was known as hardtack, a name that stuck and spread to other units including the Confederacy. The name derived from the British seamen’s slang for food or “tack” and the fact it was so hard and dry. Hardtack resembled a large soda cracker in appearance. It was about 3 inches square and approximately 1/4 to 1 inch thick with 16 perforated holes. Once dried, it could last for years if kept dry.


Sometimes hardtack became moldy or wet due to exposure to the weather, but the worst complaint was that it infested with maggots or weevils during storage. The most common way hardtack was eaten was crumbled into coffee. It was not uncommon for a soldier to find his coffee swimming with weevils after the hard bread was broken up in it, but they were easily skimmed off. Hardtack was eaten as breakfast and supper. Sometimes soldiers crumbled into soups or into cold water then fried it in the juice and fat of meat creating a dish that was known as skillygalee or cush.


Visit the Ellicottville Historical Museum to honor and learn more about the 154th as well as other Civil War volunteers and soldiers from the Ellicottville area. Group tours can be arranged by contacting Mary Elizabeth Dunbar, P.O. Box 485, Ellicottville, NY 14731. For more information, call (716) 699-8415.


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