By LINDA MCNATT, The Virginian-Pilot
© June 20, 2005
ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. — Slowly, carefully, Christine Brooks Young slipped her fingers into the white cotton gloves and pulled the protective covering over her hands.
Hesitantly, her hand moved to the dark, aged wood lying on the table at the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City.
Seemingly reaching across the generations, Young touched the artificial leg of Isaac Byrum Jr., her great-grandfather.
“It just makes
me very proud, after hearing what he accomplished,” said Young, a
“I remember , early on in my life , hearing about a relative who had served in the Civil War.”
hard-working farmer from eastern
Fitted with a
wooden leg at a
And, when the first wooden leg wore out, he carved two more – one for everyday use and one for church. In 1916, Byrum was buried in his “good” leg, said Don Pendergraft, museum exhibits chief.
“It really does have its own aura, doesn’t it?”
“Everyone is kin to this wooden leg,” he added, chuckling. “It probably gets more visitors than any of our other exhibits.”
When the museum
moves to its new headquarters just across from the
As a museum
exhibit, a wooden leg is a fairly rare thing, Pendergraft said. He knows of
only one other museum in
As for the
The leg, about 24 inches from the cushioned platform to the tip, and weighing more than 10 pounds, was donated to the museum in 1989, and, at that point, Pendergraft had an opportunity to talk with Byrum’s granddaughter, Evelyn Jordan . She was 90 at the time, he said, but she had a clear recollection of her grand father’s memories about the day he lost his leg.
Byrum was about
a half-mile from Union lines on Cemetery Ridge when he was wounded by gunfire.
“It was a hot day,”
As the sun sank lower into the sky on that fateful day in July 1863, flies began to get into Byrum’s wound. He told his granddaughter that he ripped off a piece of his uniform shirt and wrapped it around the wound.
“It was about
sundown when they finally picked him up off the battlefield,”
Once she became a grandmother, she wanted to know more about her own family history so she could pass it on to her granddaughter.
about the leg when a cousin, who still lives in
Since then, Young has learned much more.
When the Civil
War broke out, Great-Grandpa Byrum was one of the first
After the war,
Byrum was sent to
Once home, a legendary tale about Byrum involves an encounter with Yankee sympathizers.
During the war, they sometimes stole from the families of the men fighting for the South, and one of them made the mistake of taking one of Byrum’s wife’s pigs.
Locals still recall how the farmer went to visit the Union-loyal families to inform them that he was home.
“I haven’t seen a man yet who could put my back on the ground,” Byrum is supposed to have said.
The leg isn’t just a wooden leg, he said. It’s a testament to every hard-working farmer who left his state in the hands of the Yankees and fought for what he believed in.
In a way, through the sturdy wooden leg at the museum, he represents them all, Pendergraft said.
Young, nodding at this thought, smiled.
And she touched the leg once more.
Reach Linda McNatt at (757) 222-5561 or firstname.lastname@example.org.