'Guns of Norwich' memorabilia show to focus on Civil War

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Taftville - posted Sun., Mar. 6, 2011
A sampling of the Civil War-era artifacts to be displayed at the biennial Guns of Norwich memorabilia show in Taftville on March 12. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
A sampling of the Civil War-era artifacts to be displayed at the biennial Guns of Norwich memorabilia show in Taftville on March 12. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Next month marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War – which, as every schoolchild knows, was sparked by the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

The bombardment itself was sparked by gunpowder manufactured in Connecticut.

It wasn’t for nothing that Connecticut was known as “The Provision State” during the Civil War. Soldiers in the Union army carried guns and wore uniforms manufactured in the state – many of them from the dozens of fabric mills and gun makers in Norwich.

This Saturday, March 12, nearly a dozen local historical societies will display – and in some cases, sell – memorabilia from the Civil War and other periods in the Guns of Norwich’s biennial show.

“This is actually an educational thing for the people of Norwich,” said show chairman David Oat. “The idea is not really to make a lot of money. We just like to put it on, and we’ve had great response.”

Local historical societies from Lisbon, Norwich, Lebanon, Franklin, Griswold, Sprague and Preston will have tables on display at the show. Other groups participating include the Civil War Round Table, the Society of the Founders of Norwich, the Leffingwell House Museum, the Slater Museum and Geoffrey McLean, a Civil War-era naval re-enactor.

Bert Jernstrom, who has chaired the Guns of Norwich show in years past, said that between the 1700s and 1931, there were 30 different gun-making companies in Norwich. One of the pieces on display at the show will be a restored musket marked 1863, a product of the Norwich Arms Co., one of these gunsmiths.

Not every manufacturer providing goods for the Army was on the up-and-up, said Jernstrom. Government contractors sometimes mishandled funds or provided poor-quality goods. In fact, he said, the word “shoddy” derives from a term for wool fabric used in uniforms, manufactured from rags, scraps and inferior fibers.

The women of Connecticut kept busy during the war making clothing, blankets and foods for the troops to supplement the government-issued goods. “If it wasn’t for the women of Connecticut during the Civil War, the Connecticut troops would have starved,” said Jernstrom.

The show’s Civil War theme is appropriate, given Norwich’s deep involvement in the conflict. But the local involvement extended beyond Norwich: the Lisbon Historical Society will also have a display about its most notorious native son, Aaron Stevens, John Brown’s second in command in the infamous 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry.

Brown and his followers planned to seize weapons from the armory at Harper’s Ferry and arm slaves for an insurrection. The plot failed: blood was shed, and Brown and many of his co-conspirators were captured and eventually hanged, Stevens among them. Still, the raid is widely seen as one of the catalysts for the Civil War.

Despite his notoriety, Stevens’ picture appears on the cover of the annual Lisbon town budget. Murderer or moral crusader? A century and a half later, the jury’s still out.

The Guns of Norwich memorabilia show will be held Saturday, March 12, at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Route 97 in Taftville. Admission is $5; children under age 16 are admitted free of charge.

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