history exhibit highlights
museum display in Frankfort spans
200 years of donated items
Helen E. McKinney
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.
courtesy of Kentucky Historical Society
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 Butlers 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
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
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 Johnsons 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.
courtesy of Kentucky Historical Society
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
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 soldiers
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
courtesy of Kentucky Historical Society
William O. Butlers 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 soldiers 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
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
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 veterans stories first-hand
is a way to bridge the gap often missing when discussing history.
courtesy of the Ky. Historical Society
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-dont
hold back when telling this story, said Hardison. Many veterans
agreed that the effects of the war were far greater than can be
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 Kentuckys
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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