A few decades ago I started a collection of glassware called Amberina.
It is pretty – yellow and orange colors melding into one pretty piece of glass – a pitcher, a sugar bowl or vase. When I was getting ready to move from Connecticut, I realized most of my Amberina collection was still in boxes, so I sold or gave away the collection. I didn’t know if my future home in Virginia would have room to display it (it did not).
Most of us have one collection or more, and that was brought to mind in a big way this past summer when I visited the New Market Battlefield Military Museum in New Market, Virginia.
As I have said in past blogs, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a battlefield or a presidential park in this part of the country. I had decided to go to one of the museums not too far from Staunton, since I have fond memories of visiting Gettysburg with my dad when I was young. We had a mutual passion for reading, and that passion extended to history books – in particular Civil War history.
So I traveled to New Market one late summer day. The town itself is rather nondescript. A few shops and rather forgettable places to eat. What I did not realize at the time is the museum I ended up at is a private museum. Further down the road is the fancier, state-run Virginia Museum of the Civil War. I saved that visit for another time.
I was amazed by the collection at the privately-run New Market museum. Not only is there Civil War memorabilia, but other wars are represented in the thousand-plus items displayed – WW II (the Big One), Vietnam, you name it. Since I knew my dad would have loved looking at the slightly dusty showcases that wind around the innards of the plantation-like building, I loved it too.
The dedication of owner John M. Bracken to amass and put together such a vast collection of history amazes me. You’re also invited to walk among the markers on the grounds that commemorate the battle fought there.
The Battle of New Market was fought on May 15, 1864, in Virginia during the Valley Campaigns of 1864 in the American Civil War. A makeshift Confederate army of 4,100 men, which included cadets from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), defeated Union Major General Franz Sigel and his Army of the Shenandoah. The cadets were integral to the Confederate victory at New Market and this event marks the only time in U.S. history wherein the student body of a functioning and an operating college fought as an organized unit in pitched combat in battle (as recognized by the American Battlefield Trust).https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_New_Market
The battle at New Market with 96 Union and 43 Confederate lives lost, preceded the push onto occupying Staunton the very next day.
In an old interview with The Washington Post, Bracken outlined his take on the importance of history and such collections. “The story is what I care about, because wars aren’t fought by armies, they’re fought by men, and the big picture is only a lot of little pictures.”