Civil War curator close to completing unique collection

By: 
Austin Montgomery
City Reporter

A local collector of Civil War artifacts can now devote more time to expanding his collection after retiring from Mississippi State University. At the Starkville Civil War Arsenal, curator Duffy Neubauer strives to build authentic replicas centered around artillery specific to the early 1860s.

Fifty percent of his collection is authentic artifacts spanning both Union and Confederate lines. The free admission museum in Starkville near Highway 12 offers 11 different programs. Tour participants can choose between either having him guide the tour as a Union or Confederate expert, in associated military fatigues.

He's currently building a replica battalion ambulance carriage, a little known conveyance used throughout the war. After the replica is completed this fall, Neubauer's collection will have all five types of vehicles used to transport artillery, supplies and troops during the war.

"It will be the only collection in the world where you can go and see all of the field artillery carriages at one time," Neubauer said.

The museum opened in 2009. Since then it's had visitors from 39 states and seven different countries. He retired from working as MSU special events director at the Humphrey Coliseum in January after over 30 years as head of the facility.

With more time during weekdays, the curator fields more tours from local area schools from Starkville, Louisville and Caledonia. All tours are arranged in advance and customized to the group's specific interests, he said. In June 2015 he launched a website for the arsenal, starkvillecivilwararsenal.com. Since then, the online presence has drawn in enthusiasts and groups, he said. The website is updated monthly to update interested parties on the construction of the ambulance wagon.

His website offers a brief description of what programs are available, numerous photos of the collection, how to plan a visit, monthly updates on museum projects and links to other related information.

All different sized gun carriages used during the conflict are represented at the arsenal. The collection is one of three facilities in the country that displays all specialized field artillery rolling stock. One of the cannons was acquired by trading a M-60 tank with another collector in 1990 for the Civil War artifact. He acquired the tank after trading a rare, restored cannon with the Army Museum at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.

Neubauer curates his collection to represent a wide range of artifacts and replicas to show the scope of effort involved in operating an army during the Civil War.

The majority of items in the collection were purchased before 1988, prior to the spike in artifact prices following the 125th anniversary of the start of the bloody conflict, he said. The reproduction costs associated with building replica carriages and wagons prompted Neubauer to start building them by hand.

Working with the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library on campus, the museum partners with the extensive library to promote rare aspects of 19th century history. In visiting the library, visitors are informed of the museum, he said.

"Two-thirds of the cost is labor and well, I do it because it's my passion," he said.

To build the ambulance and other items in the collection, Neubauer's tracked down letters, material manifests, plans and supporting documents in his quest to build authentic replica timepieces.

For building the ambulance, no known schematic plans survived, he said. By using high resolution files from archives, Neubauer narrowed down the materials used, while using time period tools in each wagon's construction.

The process of acquiring materials drives his passion for connecting with those who share his passion for Civil War history.

During the construction of the forge wagon, Neubauer nearly failed to find the needed copper paneling used in the final design. Through contacting a company in Minnesota, he tracked down pieces at the company's warehouse in Jackson.

"It's like putting pieces of a puzzle together," Neubauer said.

Donations are encouraged—but not required—to contribute to upkeep and artifact maintenance, he said. To organize a tour, contact Neubauer at 662-323-2606.

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