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War Relics

Military history exhibit highlights
Kentucky soldiers

Kentucky Historical Society’s
museum display in Frankfort spans
200 years of donated items

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

March 2010 Indiana Edition Cover

March 2010
Indiana Edition Cover

FRANKFORT, Ky. (March 2010) – Gen. William O. Butler was never one to back down from a good fight. He possessed the courage and tenacity needed to make the state of Kentucky great and contributed to a military history of which the state can be proud.
This Jessamine County, Ky., native was honored twice by U.S. Congress for his heroism, and his story is just one of hundreds currently being told in “Kentucky Military Treasures: Selections from the Kentucky Historical Society Collections.” This is an extensive exhibit at the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort., Ky. The exhibit opened in November 2009 and will run until the end of this year.
On display is a presentation sword awarded to Butler (April 19, 1791 to Aug. 6, 1880) in 1847 by the Kentucky legislature for his heroism at the Battle of Monterrey, Mexico. At the beginning of the war with Mexico, Butler on June 29, 1846, was appointed Maj. Gen. of Volunteers.
Butler served as second-in-command to Zachary Taylor during the Battle of Monterrey. In charge of the Louisville Legion, Butler and his men withstood the day-long attack, even though he was seriously wounded.
Butler had a long, illustrious military and political career. He graduated from Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., in 1812 and served as a captain during the War of 1812. He earned the title “brevet major” for distinguished service in the Battle of New Orleans and was an aide to Gen. Andrew Jackson in 1816 and 1817. He was admitted to the bar in 1817 and practiced law in Carrollton, Ky. Butler was also a member of the State House of Representatives in 1817 and 1818.

U.S. Navy BMS "Poopie Suit" Coveralls

Photo courtesy of Kentucky Historical Society

U.S. Navy BMS "Poopie Suit" Coveralls, ca. 1995. Today, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine carries the Kentucky name. Two crews, known as the blue and gold crews, man the boat, which was launched in 1990 as the USS Kentucky (SSBN 737). Submariners from across the United States have served aboard the Kentucky. Mike Mefford of Trimble County, Ky., was stationed on the submarine in 1997. While aboard, Medford wore this "poopie suit," jargon for the standard coveralls uniform. Notice the Kentucky patch that retains the symbol of the long rifle.

At the beginning of the War of 1812, Butler volunteered as a private to fight against the British and Indians. Butler took part in the Battle of the River Raisin, was captured and sent to Fort Niagara, where he remained until freed by the British.
He returned to his home state of Kentucky to join the American Forces, which met the British and Indians at the Battle of the Thames. Butler proved his courage during the battle by volunteering to set a barn on fire where the enemy had taken shelter.
The silver presentation sword that belonged to Butler was donated to the Kentucky Historical Society in 1953 by Jane Atwood Short. The name Jane Short has been a family name throughout the Butler family tree for many generations. It began with the marriage of a Jane Short (1824-1869) to Col. Russell Butler (1823-1869), a nephew to William O. Butler, said Evelyn Welch, Historic Site Museum Manager for the Butler-Turpin State Historic House in Carrollton.
“Col. Russell Butler was willed the gold sword. The silver sword was willed to another nephew,” upon Butler’s death, said Welch. She thinks this second nephew “let the sword go to pay a debt.” During the first half of the 20th century, the Butler family came into possession of the silver sword again.
Even though the sword cannot speak, it carries a wealth of history with it. Many hands have held it, and many descendants been proud of its existence.
By touring Kentucky Military Treasures, one can connect artifacts and stories such as Butler and his sword, said Bill Bright, main curator for this exhibit. The exhibit is a “continuation of history. Those artifacts tie us to a greater history. The real treasures are the stories,” that accompany the exhibit.
Kentucky Military Treasures covers nearly 200 years of military history, ranging from the War of 1812 to more recent activity in Afghanistan and Iraq. Every Saturday, hour-long guided tours can be taken at 2 p.m.. They are provided by museum educators and are free with museum admission.
“Working with an educator, one-on-one, always fosters better opportunities to have questions answered,” said Bright. “There is a more in-depth connection between the artifacts and a greater understanding” of what the exhibit is all about.
The exhibit is a “sampling of military collections viewed through multiple stories. It tells the story of average Kentuckians,” Bright said.
Included in the exhibit is a three-pound brass cannon dating to 1765 known as the “Burgoyne Cannon.” Americans had captured this gun from the British at the Battle of Saratoga during the American Revolution. The British regained control of the cannon following the fall of Detroit in 1812. One year later, Col. Richard Mentor Johnson’s Regiment of Kentucky Mounted Rifles recaptured the cannon at the Battle of the Thames. Since the end of that campaign, it has remained in Frankfort at the state arsenal.

Afghan scarf

Photo courtesy of Kentucky Historical Society

Afghan scarf, 2001. Used by Sgt. Peter M. Angelove (above right), of La Grange, Ky., this afghan scarf helped shield against sand and sun. This practical scarf, or shemagh, had an alternate function. Advised to blend in and not wear formal military uniforms, Special Forces units adopted the shemagh, a traditional garment used by many Afghanis. Some scarves are stamped by the regional Khan as a passport for the individual.

A pair of epaulettes that once belonged to Mexican president, Gen. Santa Anna, are on display. Lt. John Russell Butler, nephew to Gen. Butler, acquired them during the Texas War of Independence in 1836. The most famous battle of this war was fought at the Alamo, where 187 Americans fought for nearly two weeks before all were killed by the Mexican dictator and his army.
Many Kentuckians later took part in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), along with Gen. William O. Butler. Approximately 5,000 volunteers from the Commonwealth served in four regiments during this war.
Visitors will learn the story of William Horsfall, a young man from Newport, Ky., who became a drummer and later a private in Company G, First Kentucky Infantry regiment, U.S.A. during the Civil War. Horsfall is the youngest Kentuckian to ever have earned the Medal of Honor at age 15.
A gas mask belonging to Marion Cardwell of Louisville, Ky gives visitors a sense of fighting conditions during World War I. The gas mask was essential for soldiers stationed near the front during this war, who faced deadly chemical attacks. The gas mask remains a part of the soldier’s standard equipment to this day. Cardwell received the Distinguished Service Cross for his service during World War I.
A stock and handguard for an M1 Carbine rifle dating to 1942 bears the mark of Hillerich and Bradsby of Louisville, Ky. As did many American civilian factories at the beginning of World War II, Hillerich and Bradsby retooled their baseball-bat facility to create rifle stocks.
A more recent story told is that of Sergeant Peter Angelove of La Grange. In 2001 he donated an Afghan Shemagh, which he and other Special Forces unit members wore to shield against the sand and sun and make them look more like Afghani natives. Also on display is a University of Kentucky baseball cap that he wore while serving in Afghanistan.
One of the main reasons this exhibit came into existence was because the Kentucky Historical Society did not want to loose the importance of the Kentucky Military Museum when the arsenal underwent renovation, said Bright. It took an entire staff a year to get the exhibit completed. “Recognizing the story of the individual is a treasure,” said Bright.

Gen. William O. Butler’s sword

Photo courtesy of Kentucky Historical Society

Gen. William O. Butler’s sword is
part of the collection. Butler Park
is named after him.

As an added bonus, the Kentucky Historical Society Museum Theater also presents “Theater of War: Unresolved Conflict of Vietnam.” A single actor depicts a soldier’s experience in Vietnam in this 20-minute presentation. The play will run at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. every Saturday in April and for colleges, high school or private groups upon request.
The play opened the same day as the exhibit. The Vietnam era was chosen for this play because “when we thought about all the wars, we looked for a situation to present as a whole concept of war and the effects war can have on individuals,” said Greg Hardison, Museum Theatre Director.
The play “gives a different perspective of war,” he said. “The themes and concepts of Vietnam seemed like a great topic to allow for lots of discussion of history.”
While developing the play, “we spoke with so many scholars and veterans,” said Hardison. Getting the veteran’s stories first-hand is a “way to bridge the gap often missing when discussing history.”

Peter Angelove

Photo courtesy of the Ky. Historical Society

Peter Angelove, a native of La Grange, Ky., carried this multi-lingual document, an offer of reward for his safe return to American forces in case of his capture by enemy units. He served with the 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), West Virginia National Guard, in Afghanistan, during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001.

Veterans asked interviewers to “be truthful-don’t hold back” when telling this story, said Hardison. Many veterans agreed that “the effects of the war were far greater than can be imagined.”
Three different scholars from three different colleges in Kentucky aided in getting the facts of the play correct “to tailor the view we really wanted to present.” Hardison said.
In a press release, Adam Luckey, KHS Museum Theatre specialist said, “Every community has a Vietnam story; we are just telling Kentucky’s story. We hope the play will move people emotionally and provide them with a sense of pride of their countrymen who served overseas, no matter what their own feelings about the war.”

• For more information or to look at the online version of Kentucky Military Treasures, which contains 200 stories, please visit www.history.ky.gov.

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