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It All Began With a Button

Columbus-Belmont Reenactment (2015): My fascination with the American Civil War began in 8th grade when a unit on the conflict made me think about the past in a different way. Embarking on a journey that involved researching both my family's role in the war and the event as a whole, I was interested in immersing myself in history on every level.

So when I found out a Civil War reenactment was taking place in Western Kentucky, I decided I wanted to celebrate my 14th birthday by attending. The Columbus-Belmont reenactment was a wonderful experience, allowing me to connect with those who were more knowledgeable about the topic than I was. When my family and I weren't talking with reenactors or touring the grounds, we decided to visit some of the sutlers who peddled their wares--19th century style.

Out of the sutlers, one older man, in particular, sold hundreds of Civil War artifacts. I'd never considered entering the field of relic collecting, but I did enjoy picking up items that Civil War soldiers once used. As I strolled along looking at each piece, there sat a button in a small case. The gild of the button was all worn away. The shank was "missing in action," and a small crack kept the relic from being entirely whole. When the sutler mentioned it was from the Battle of Shiloh, I was even more drawn to the button since I'd recently discovered a grandfather who fought there. To me, that weathered button was beautiful.

Still, I wasn't quite sure how my family would react to me purchasing a 150+ year old button, especially since no one in my family had collected antiques. Not to mention that I was a bit apprehensive of collecting such a piece myself--how would I store a Civil War relic? How did I know if a Civil War artifact was real or reproduced? What if I decided that relic collecting wasn't for me, but I'd already purchased the button?

That night, my family went back to our hotel room. Even so, I couldn't stop thinking about that button. A bit nervous as a new collector, I decided I wanted to begin collecting Civil War artifacts. I told my parents my plan and could hardly wait to go back and purchase the button the next day, if someone else hadn't bought it before I could.

Back at the sutler's tent, I did buy the button, along with a Civil War-era knife and fork set and a bullet from Shiloh. When I returned home, I wasn't quite sure how to store the artifacts. Admittedly, they sat on my dresser in a Ziploc bag for 2 months, before my parents gifted me with an artifact case at Christmas. That was when I realized that storing artifacts safely was important, and I determined then that each relic I purchased would be protected and preserved...


Today: Since I initially purchased the Shiloh button, I've added plenty of artifacts to my collection--a canteen, cartridge box (right), cap pouch, 17 soldier letters, playing cards, and many more Civil War relics (plus some memorabilia from other eras, like two World War II posters). I'm happy to report that all of these items are properly stored behind glass cases or in other protective boxes--no more Ziploc bag storage for me! The vow I made years ago, that each artifact would be nicely displayed, wasn't in vain.

Purchasing that Union button, the same one pictured at the top of this post, further ignited my passion for history. It's a flame for the past that burns higher and glows brighter everyday, especially now that I'm pursuing a degree in history. Buying the button opened up a whole other side of history for me, one that went beyond even visiting battlefields and researching the past. It made me realize that the ability to curate my personal "museum" is an honor. Someone helped keep these artifacts safe for decades, giving me the chance to own the relic. Artifact collecting is like a chain, and I'm pleased to serve as a link that helps pass these relics on down the line for future generations.

Even though I've now acquired over 50 buttons, button backs, and button fragments, the Shiloh button--almost entirely rid of its gild--will always be special to me. Not only does it have a prized space in my artifact case, but it holds a unique and special place in my heart. Sure, the gild is worn away, the shank has been gone for years, and most people would view it as invaluable; not as important as some of my other relics. That may be so, but to me it's priceless...a reminder of the small relic that sparked a deepened interest in the Civil War.


About the Author: Kass Cobb recently graduated with her Associate in Arts degree and is a college junior currently pursuing a Bachelors of Science in History from Liberty University. She's also minoring in creative writing. Her efforts to preserve the past have been recognized by Congress, DAR, SAR, SUVCW, DUVCW, and more. Kass first became obsessed with history in eighth grade through a unit on the American Civil War. She began researching her family's heritage and discovered that she is a direct descendant of eleven Civil War veterans, ranging from an "excellent soldier" and Andersonville Prisoner of War to a "patriotic Kentuckian" and United States Colored Troops soldier. Kass is passionate about sharing the stories of United States veterans, specifically those who fought in the Civil War. One of the ways she does this is by obtaining grave markers for veterans. When Kass isn't busy planning historical events for her community, placing signs at cemeteries, volunteer transcribing for NPS, or researching her family's past, you'll find her antique collecting, studying her Bible, reading, singing, and enjoying nature on her family's farm where pets outnumber people.

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