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Collector's relics enrich Monocacy battlefield

April 03, 1998

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

FREDERICK, Md. - Richard Abel recalls the day he walked into the visitor center at Monocacy National Battlefield shortly after it opened in 1992.

There was a tray of relics along one wall, a couple of other items across the room, and that was it, said Abel, a collector of Civil War artifacts.

"You could see some obvious disappointment on people's faces," said Abel, who runs his own roofing and siding business in Elizabethtown, Pa.

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"I decided to do something about it," Abel said.

In his travels to Civil War relic shows across the country, Abel began picking up guns, artillery and other relics that had significance to the local battlefield and lending them to the visitor center off Md. 355 south of Frederick.

Among the items is an 1863 Tower Enfield Musket, which was used by a Union division that fought at the battlefield, and a backpack used by a member of the 3rd Maryland Potomac Home Brigade.

The 3rd Maryland brigade, which was made up of soldiers from the area, fought in the Battle of Monocacy.

Abel also has found newspaper clippings, shells, badges, shoulder straps and tintypes relating to the battle fought on July 9, 1864.

Today, about three-quarters of the battlefield's museum collection is made up of Abel's relics, said Gloria Baker, park ranger and curator at the battlefield.

"Everything here is precious to us as a collection. I know he's had a lot of money tied up in these items," Baker said.

Baker and other park officials took time Friday morning to recognize Abel for his generosity during one of his visits to the battlefield.

Abel stopped by the visitor center on his way to the 26th Annual Civil War Memorabilia, Relic, Book and Art Show in Chantilly, Va.

Abel said his interest in the era began in 1978 when his grandmother gave him a Civil War rifle that was used by a family member during the conflict.

Abel lived in the Martinsburg, W.Va., and Hagerstown areas for about six years during the late 1970s before a job promotion led him to Elizabethtown.

Abel travels to about seven Civil War shows every year, buying guns, old letters, unit rosters and other collectibles.

He once paid $8,500 for a rifle and last year, he paid $1,700 for a letter written by Confederate Gen. Jubal Early. Early led a group of Confederate soldiers who defeated about 5,800 Northern troops at Monocacy in 1864, but they were unsuccessful in their attempt to capture Washington, D.C.

Park officials say that if Monocacy is judged by its consequences rather than its size, it ranks among the important battles of the war. When Early's men were unable to take over Washington and retreated to Virginia, it marked the Confederates' last campaign to carry the war into the North.

Having a collection like the one at Monocacy is difficult for a national battlefield because there is no funding for the purchase of artifacts, Baker said.

Abel said finding artifacts from major battles like Antietam is easy, but it may take up to two years to find an item relating to Monocacy.

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