Duffy’s Charge

The tale of a retired track coach turned Civil War museum curator

Story Shannon Bardwell | Photographs Luisa Porter

In the backwoods of Oktibbeha County runs a small stream that curls around an obscure metal building. Just inside the door a Union soldier greets his visitors. His name was Jeffrey until his sisters dubbed him “Duffy” and for the rest of his life that is what he’d be called. Duffy Neubauer invites his guests into his Civil War Arsenal, his private collection of artillery — cannon, carriages and ammunitions.

Remembering the first cannon he ever owned, Duffy says it was plastic and he was 3 years old. Eight years later he was given a small iron ball called a canister, a souvenir from the Gettysburg Battlefield. It’s still in his collection. Those small gifts would start a lifelong interest in Civil War artillery.

In 1979 Neubauer, a Wisconsin native, found himself south of the Mason-Dixon Line when he accepted a position as the Mississippi State University track coach. His duties included operational tasks and in 1988 he became operations coordinator for MSU’s Humphrey Coliseum. Duffy held the position until his retirement in January 2015. Without question Duffy will spend his retirement years with his avocation, collecting and sharing his artillery museum. The museum is one of three of its kind in the United States.

From the start guests are directed to a large framed black-and-white print of a Civil War battlefield. “Examine this photograph,” Duffy says. “When you finish the tour I will ask you to examine it again. I promise it will look entirely different.”

Depending on the day, you may find yourself escorted by a Union soldier, a Confederate or an artificer (a skilled workman). The tour begins with a self-guided exploration of the three rooms. Afterwards, returning to the main room, one of 10 programs is presented on a projection screen, including topics on trains, ambulances and wagons, organization of field artillery, field tactics, horses and mules, ammunitions, anatomy of a wheel or the bugler, followed by a question-and-answer session.

A sweet deal is offered to any interested participant. Completion of all 10 programs entitles one to request a new topic of their own choosing. As yet no one has completed all 10 programs though a few have come close.

The exhibits include a model of the operation of a cannon. One cannon requires a limber, caisson loaded with ammunition, eight men and 12 horses. Five men are stationed at the gun — the gunner and cannoneer numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4. Cannoneer number 5 runs the ammunition from limber to gun. Numbers 6 and 7 prepare the ammunition and cut fuses. The gunner is in command. 

Duffy explains the uses of the various “rolling stock” as well as the different cannon and ammunitions; he emphasizes the importance of a greatly overlooked resource critical to the operation of the rolling stock: horses.

All the vehicles including the cannon were pulled by horses. One battery, with six guns and support vehicles, required 125 horses.

Duffy explains that the care of that many horses represented a huge battlefield undertaking as they required one ton of hay daily and 1,500 pounds of grain. The battery was attended by a forge, a rolling blacksmith shop, for shoeing and maintenance. Even the forge with 1,200 pounds of tools and supplies was pulled by horses.

The surest way for an army to defeat the enemy was to disable the horses, thus bringing the battery to a standstill. During the Civil War 32,000 Union and 45,800 Confederate horses were killed. Fifteen hundred horses were lost at the Battle of Gettysburg alone.

As an authority on Civil War artillery, Neubauer is a sought-after speaker, regularly delivering up to 20 presentations a year. He is the founder and president of Turner’s Battery, a local re-enactment group, and the founder of the Golden Triangle Civil War Roundtable. Duffy received the Honorable Order of St. Barbara Medal, the only military honor awarded to non-military recipients.

The museum’s carriages have participated in many American veterans’ funerals, most notably re-interring the remains of Wesley Gilbert, CO E52 U.S. Colored Infantry; Arnold Becker, a member of the H.L. Hunley Confederate Submarine Crew and two unknown soldiers from the Mexican War whose remains were uncovered after Katrina. The soldiers were buried with military honors.

At the end of the museum tour, a far more enlightened visitor gazes at the battlefield photograph. The scene is indeed different and in a somber moment one can almost hear the sound of taps from a distant hill in a bygone time.

To schedule a tour of the Starkville Civil War Arsenal contact Duffy Neubauer at 662-323-2606.