“At first glance, this might appear to be just another assortment of artifacts, typical of the weapons, clothing, and equipment issued to a Union soldier during the Civil War. But look closer. What makes these items unique is they all belonged to one man, Private Levi Gilpin of the 51st Ohio Infantry.
Civil War Soldier and Kennesaw Mountain Battle Veteran
Private Gilpin was shot in his right arm, just above the elbow, during a skirmish near Kennesaw Mountain on June 20, 1864. It was what soldiers call “a million dollar wound,” not life-threatening, but serious enough to let him sit out the rest of the war.
But what Private Gilpin did during the war was not nearly as important as what he did afterward. When he went home in 1865, he took his four-button blue sack coat with him, a patch on the sleeve covering the hole where the bullet had gone through his arm. He also kept the sky blue trousers he wore, his forage cap, and the heavy leather brogans that had carried him across miles of Georgia red clay and mud. Then there were his personal effects – the toothbrush, sewing kit, a pair of dice, and a plug of tobacco – an intimate and important part of every soldier’s load. At one time, these items were quite common. Now, a century and a half later, the relentless ravages of rust, rot, and neglect have made most of them extraordinarily rare.
A uniform, a complete set of accoutrements, and a rifle that can be identified with a single soldier on a specific date are not just unique; they are a veritable time capsule. These artifacts Private Gilpin so carefully preserved give Civil War historians and even the casually curious an unparalleled, up-close snapshot of what a Union foot soldier actually looked like during the Atlanta campaign. There is not a collection like this – the complete outfit of an identified Union infantryman – anywhere in the country. The opportunity to acquire anything like it will never come again.
It is nothing short of miraculous the artifacts in this collection were not dispersed and sold off separately many years ago. Private Gilpin obviously kept these items together because he thought they were important. Now it is important to protect and preserve this priceless legacy he left us, to see that these simple tools of a soldier’s trade – the blue uniform stained with his sweat and blood, the rifle and bayonet he used in battle, the ammunition he carried in his cartridge box, the utensils he ate with, the canteen he drank from, the blanket he slept under, and even remnants of the rations he carried in his haversack – find a fitting and proper home.
There is simply no better place for these treasures than the museum Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. Only at Kennesaw can this one-of-a-kind collection be placed in its proper context and given the care and conservation it needs to preserve it for future generations. Only there can these silent but eloquent pieces of the past fulfill the destiny Private Gilpin must have had in mind when he set them aside – to help tell the extraordinary story of an ordinary Union soldier, and thousands like him, who fought the battles around Atlanta that helped determine America’s destiny. ”
Written by David Evans. David Evans of Athens is an author of Civil War books , including Sherman’s Horsemen: Union Calvary Operations in the Atlanta Campaign.
The Gilpin Collection
The collection is currently in private hands, but the Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park plans to acquire the thirty item collection and make it the centerpiece of the park museum. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park Museum curator Retha Stephens recently announced that the park has negotiated an agreement with the owner in which the park will purchase the collection in increments as funding becomes available. The current owner has also agreed to loan the entire collection to the park, however the collection will not go on display in the museum until it has been purchased in its entirety. At that time the collection will go to the National Park Service conservation facility in Harpers Ferry, WV for treatment, then be returned to Kennesaw to go on exhibit.
The sooner the entire collection is purchased, the sooner the public can view it. An ambitious fund raising drive has begun to raise the needed $170,000 and a special account has been set up to fund just this purchase.
If you would like to make a contribution, your support would be greatly appreciated. Checks can be made payable to “Kennesaw Mountain NBP” and sent to:
Kennesaw Mountain NBP
ATTN; Retha Stephens
900 Kennesaw Mountain Drive
Kennesaw, GA. 30152. We certainly appreciate your support.
For more information, please call Retha Stephens at the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park at:
Levi Gilpin Collection Inventory List:
- Four button blouse (sack coat) with bullet holes (one entry – one exit, field patched) in upper right sleeve.
- One pair of regulation enlisted man’s sky-blue wool trousers.
- Regulation issue enlisted man’s forage cap.
- One pair high top socks.
- One pair Brogans.
- Model 1858 smooth sided canteen with cover and sling.
- Waist belt and U.S. oval belt buckle, cap box and bayonet scabbard. Scabbard is stamped “Ohio.”
- .577 caliber Enfield rifle with sling and socket bayonet.
- Cartridge box complete with sling, eagle breast plate, U.S. oval box plate and cartridge tins (tins contain 30 original rounds – 2 unopened packs of ten rounds each and 10 rounds in top of tin. Sling is stamped “Ohio.”
- Regulation issue tin cup.
- 9 inch diameter pewter plate.
- Tarred canvas haversack that contained the following contents:
- Tintype photo of woman (wife – girlfriend) in octagon shaped thermoplastic case.
- One complete – unbroken hard cracker
- Numerous pieces of broken crackers
- Coffee beans (8-10)
- Cloth “housewife” with needles and several bone buttons.
- Minieball carved into chess piece or fishing sinker.
- Pair of bone dice.
- Unknown piece of cotton duck.
- Unknown piece of material (maybe hemp).
- Ladies hatpin made with South Carolina button.
- Piece of yellow wool (unknown use).
- Tin spoon.
- Three tine fork.
- Plug of tobacco.
Wood handled side knife. Ornate hand carved 26″ x 30″ oak frame with 15″ x 20″ picture of Gilpin on his 35th birthday. His name, company and regiment are handwritten directly below the picture and his military history is handwritten on the wooden board on the back of the frame. An original handwritten letter by Levi Gilpin describing the jacket and his wound at Kennesaw Mountain written in 1929. CDV of Gilpin in uniform. Modern 10″ x 14″ color photo (mounted on foam core and laminated) of Gilpin’s gravesite in Portland, Indiana.