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Local collector will share his love of Civil War artillery at event Saturday at Old Fort

More Information

On display

What: Eric and Debra Spencer will show some of his extensive collection of Civil War artillery artifacts at Civil War re-enactment event.

When: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Old Fort, 1201 Spy Run Ave. The Spencers will display items from his collection inside the log building at the south end of the grounds near the street.

Cost: Free-will donation

Event information: 437-2836 or www.oldfortwayne.org

Thursday, October 24, 2013 - 6:43 am

In the Civil War, fighting was personal, Eric Spencer said. Opposing troops lined up, often only a short distance apart, and began firing at each other.

The Fort Wayne resident’s collecting of Civil War artillery items also has been personal.

Spencer, who had two great uncles serve with the Union Army in the war, has built one of the largest collections of Civil War artillery items in the state. He and his wife, Debra, will display a portion of it during a Civil War re-enactment event Saturday at the Old Fort on Spy Run Avenue.

Spencer, 60, guesses he has 500 to 600 items in his collection. They range from swords, artillery unit tools and rifles to musket balls and about 200 artillery shells. The shells vary from ones that will fit easily in the palm of your hand to some about the size of a half-gallon milk jug that weigh 100 pounds or more.

Spencer said he enjoys history, and the Civil War fought from 1861-1865 is “just a very interesting time in this country.”

Family interest led him to track down information about his great uncles, who served on the Union side.

Samuel and Lambert Jack Spencer were ages 25 and 21, respectively, when they marched off to war with the 63rd Indiana Volunteers, Eric Spencer said. Samuel and Lambert, who went by Jack, lived around Monon in White County in northwest Indiana, and most members of their unit came from that county.

The Spencers left Chattanooga, Tenn., with Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to take part in the Siege of Atlanta July 22-Aug. 25, 1864, and returned with Major Gen. John M. Schofield.

Their unit was on its way to Nashville, Tenn., when it became involved in the Battle of Franklin, Tenn., on Nov. 30, 1864.

“We have been there many times,” Eric Spencer said of the Franklin battlefield. “When you find the exact location they were at, it gives you goosebumps.”

Both of his great uncles survived the war and returned home to farm, he said.

Eric Spencer started collecting Civil War items about 20 years ago. He ran across an old friend who collected Civil War artifacts, and he plunged into it, too.

“It kinda, maybe got out of hand,” he said, a grin lighting up his face.

He and Debra also enjoy visiting Civil War battlefields and historic sites

Spencer, who doesn’t dress in Civil War clothing at events or participate in battle re-enactments, decided to specialize in collecting artillery items.

“Cannons always had been a great interest of mine,” he said.

Just as with infantry troops, battles were a lot more personal for artillery units than they are today, Spencer said.

“Back then, the troops lined up face-to-face, and shoulder to shoulder,” he said. Artillery units often were right there with infantry troops.

He bought most of items in his collection at Civil War collector shows, from dealers, at auctions and occasionally in antique stores.

At the collector shows, “you kind of go from table to table and pick out what you want -- or what you can afford,” he said.

Prices vary widely: You can buy a 6-pound, solid-metal cannonball for about $80, he said. But it could cost you $4,000 to $5,000 for a rarer cannonball. Cannons are out of his price range, with some costing more than $100,000.

Spencer’s collection of artillery shells includes “solid shots,” the larger, solid-metal shells that could be fired from a mile or more away, he said. These shells were fired to batter fortifications, or they could be skipped along the ground to mow down infantry troops.

Exploding shells were designed to blow up over a target and rain down dangerous shrapnel on everything below.

Canister shells were the deadliest: Normally used when enemy troops had come within about 50 yards away, the thin canister exploded after firing and sent 27 1-inch-diameter metal balls at the enemy like a giant shotgun blast, Spencer said.

The Spencers look forward to sharing part of the collection and their Civil War knowledge with people at the re-enactment Saturday at the Old Fort.

“They will see items they don’t very often have a chance to see,” Eric Spencer said.

He also hopes that opportunity sparks an interest in Civil War history, especially among children.

“It would be nice if the kids or adults come in and see it and get interested in it and maybe help save battlefields,” he said.