In 1861, Union Army Capt. Edward Todd of the 2nd Vermont Infantry was wounded at the Battle of First Manassas. He went home to Vermont for two years to recover before returning to fight in several more Civil War battles in Virginia.
More than 150 years later, Todd’s wartime haversack — a large, purselike bag he used to carry personal belongings — has returned to Manassas. The haversack is part of a collection of Civil War artifacts donated to the Manassas Museum in the summer by Northern Virginia Community College and retired history professor Charles Poland Jr.
Museum curator Mary Helen Dellinger said the 56-piece collection is significant because it encompasses a broad spectrum of artifacts. It includes cannonballs, a rifle, a surgeon’s medical kit, saddlebags, currency, photographs, buttons, buckles and other personal items carried by soldiers.
Poland, 81, of Chantilly amassed the collection during a 58-year career as an educator in Northern Virginia. The Loudoun County native taught at high schools in Leesburg and Herndon for several years before joining the faculty at NVCC, where he taught history for 48 years until he retired in June.
Early in his career at NVCC, Poland attended Civil War shows in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, where he bought a variety of items with funding from the college.
“I was looking for anything,” he said. Because he was particularly interested in personal items carried by the soldiers, the collection includes combs, a toothbrush carved out of bone, candle holders, oil lamps and a sewing kit known as a “housewife.” The small, cylindrical kit held needles and a pincushion and had sections to store thread and buttons.
“Soldiers carried these because the uniform you had was the uniform you carried for the whole war,” Dellinger said. “And so you had to learn how to mend it in the field.”
The medical kit includes a surgeon’s saw, which would have been used to amputate the arms and legs of wounded soldiers, Dellinger said.
Dellinger speculated that Todd’s haversack — embroidered with a floral pattern, with a braided rope handle — was made by his wife or possibly a sister. It was easy for Dellinger to trace the haversack to Todd because “CAPT. E.A. TODD 2 VT INT” is clearly stenciled inside the flap.
Dellinger learned that Todd fought in battles at Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Fisher’s Hill and Cedar Creek before being wounded again at Winchester. He left the service three days after the assassination of President Lincoln and lived almost 50 more years before dying in 1914, Dellinger said.
Poland used the collection as a teaching lab for more than 40 years — first in a mobile van that he took to schools, nursing homes and fairs, and then in a display in the library at NVCC’s Annandale campus.
“I thought it was going to be my legacy to NOVA, that it would always be there,” Poland said. But administrators decided they needed the space at the library for other purposes. “So they got rid of it — over my protests,” he said, laughing.
Dellinger was happy to accept the collection on behalf of the Manassas Museum, where she showed it off at a “Chat with the Curator” event in August. A school group is scheduled to see the collection this week, she said.
Dellinger does not plan to create a permanent display for the collection at the museum, which has limited exhibition space, but will incorporate it into programming, she said.
Poland is pleased with the way things worked out.
“I thought it was significant that somehow the majority of the collection be kept together,” he said. “Where it’s going now, it will be available to the public, so I’m very happy about that.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.