Firearms exhibit opens at Virginia Museum of the Civil War
The largest public exhibit of Civil War-era firearms in Virginia was dedicated earlier this month at the Virginia Museum of the Civil War, located at New Market Battlefield State Historical Park.
Forty-four pieces in the new exhibition were donated to Virginia Military Institute in 2014 by Martin Kaminsky, law partner of Joseph Reeder, a member of the VMI Board of Visitors. Also on display alongside the Kaminsky firearms are more than 100 additional weapons that have been in the VMI Museum System’s possession for some time but have not been displayed before due to lack of space. One such item, a Model 1860 Colt revolver captured from one of Gen. George Custer’s men at Lacey Springs, Virginia, has been in the museum collection since 1916.
The Kaminsky Gallery of Civil War Firearms illustrates the technological advances made in firearms during the period 1850 to 1865. Weapons from more than 100 makers and inventors are represented in the exhibition. A rare Lemat revolver and its carbine counterpart are on exhibit. This weapon, favored by cavalrymen, combined the accuracy of a revolving pistol with the firepower of a shotgun. Invented by Jean LeMat of New Orleans, the revolvers were made in Paris and used almost exclusively by Confederate soldiers.
Another piece significant in telling the story of mid-19th century weapons technology is the Merrill carbine, a firearm with ties to VMI. The Merrill was field-tested at VMI by Professor Robert Rodes, a member of the VMI Class of 1848 who went on to become a major general in the Confederate Army. A battlefield-recovered Merrill barrel sits close by, probably dropped by a member of the 1st New York Cavalry during the Battle of New Market, May 15,1864.
One of only three known Agar, or Union “coffee mill,” machine guns is also on exhibit. About 60 of these advanced weapons were purchased by the Union Army after President Lincoln saw it demonstrated.
“I hoped my collection would find a home at a university, a battlefield, or a museum,” said Kaminsky. “All three objectives were accomplished with a donation to VMI.”
The Virginia Museum of the Civil War is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. For more information, visit vmi.edu/museums-and-archives/virginia-museum-of-the-civil-war/.