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Exhibit Preview: A rose and a sword from Gettysburg

Friday, April 04, 2003

By Marylynne Pitz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Of the Civil War mementos from Pittsburgh natives, few are as romantic or moving as the dried rose Levi Bird Duff sent to his deeply religious wife, Harriet Duff of Allegheny City.

A watercolor of Headquarters of Brigadier General John Sedgwick at Leesburg Turnpike, Va., Jan 1862 by Pvt. Robert Knox Sneden, who also made maps for Sedgwick. Sneden was a mapmaker with the Mozart Regiment who chronicled the Civil War in 1,000 watercolors, maps and drawings.

The flower arrived in a short letter, one of many the captain wrote while serving in the Union Army. Dated July 4, 1863, the letter describes the horrific aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg.

"I send you a kiss on a rose bud I picked on the field yesterday while the battle was raging. It grew amid the carnage," Levi Duff wrote.

Duff often sent flowers in letters to his wife, who pressed them into an encyclopedia. By war's end, Mrs. Duff had more than 30 flowers from such battlefields as Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania, North Anna and Cold Harbor.

A Clarion native, Duff was 23 when he enlisted in 1862 and rose to the rank of captain in Company D of the 105th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

After being wounded at the battle of Seven Pines later that year, he married Harriet Howard Nixon. In 1863, he returned to active duty.

A second wound Duff suffered at the Battle of Petersburg forced the amputation of his right leg.

"He kept the musket ball that wounded him in the chest," said Nicholas Ciotola, who curated the exhibit. Due to his injuries, Duff was honorably discharged with the rank of lieutenant colonel and spent the rest of his life in Allegheny City.

Col. Strong Vincent was not as lucky as Duff. The steel officer's sword he carried at Gettysburg was not jewel-encrusted like the one carried by Civil War Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

A native of Erie, Harvard graduate and attorney, Vincent cut a handsome figure.

"He looks like his name," Ciotola said.

At Little Round Top on July 2, 1863, Vincent urged Union troops to hold the Army's left flank on the hill.

During feverish fighting, Vincent yelled, "Don't give an inch!"

Moments later, a Minie ball struck him in the groin and he died a few days later.

For his gallantry, the Erie native was promoted to brigadier general. In 1913, Vincent's widow, Elizabeth, donated the sword to the Smithsonian but this is the first time it will go on exhibit.

"He ordered the 20th Main not to give any ground or the rebels would win. His positioning of troops on Little Round Top was smart. They held Little Round Top," Ciotola said.

Marylynne Pitz can be reached at mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.

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