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Mason Dixon Line museum in Jefferson shows war from many eras

By Caleb Brabham
Aug. 21, 2015 at 4 a.m.

Moss stands beside the smallest piece of British artillery used in the Napoleonic and the Revolutionary War.  The barrel weighs around 300 pounds.

JEFFERSON - From private diaries of soldiers stationed in the Pacific to the Revolutionary War era cannon sitting in the museum's center, the Mason Dixon Line Military & Civil War Museum, located at 116 W. Lafayette St., is a walk through military history in miniature.

"If you're interested in history, this is it," owner Tom Moss said. "We have a little bit of everything."

Lining the walls of the museum are uniforms from around the world, including Rhodesia, East Germany, Britain and America from World War I, World War II, the Spanish American War and other wars both memorialized and forgotten.

"What's interesting is the symbology of this stuff," Moss said, his eyes shifting from his vast collection of uniforms to his equally vast collection of flags. "It's interesting to see what was vilified, what wasn't and how it changed back and forth. Somebody somewhere fought their heart out and died for one of these symbols."

Though nearly every conflict imaginable is represented at the museum, the conflict most represented is the Civil War.

"I focus on the 'War Between the States.' I've been interested in it since I was a kid. If it comes in here and has Civil War related interest to it, and I don't have one, I put it in my collection," Moss said. "I've tried to get all the weaponry that was used by both sides.

"An interesting period of time in the Civil War was the end of the old warfare and the beginning of the new. It was the end of the Napoleonic era and into the 20th century. It went from people standing in line getting shot at to trench warefare. They went from muskets to automatic weapons and gunboats made out of wood to submarines. You can see some of the residuals from the way they were using the artillery rounds; we're still using this stuff today."

Filling several glass cases are badges, utensils, shoe heels and bullets, all remnants from the Civil War that Moss came across with his metal detector.

"This stuff came from Jefferson," Moss said pointing to one of the cases. "You'd think it was a battlefield site, but it's not. The Union army occupied this place for 10 years and they left stuff scattered all over the place."

Moss said the museum began as a store in the early 2000s, but after a while became so proud of his collection of war items he had acquired through the years, he decided to share it instead of sell it, adding he feels personal regret for a number of items he sold. He adds the museum itself has been a sort of magnet for attracting items.

Though it is easy to get caught up in the heroism represented by the myriad of shiny uniforms and colorful flags, Moss keeps the museum grounded to the harsh reality of war with a single exhibit.

"This is the reality of all this," Moss said, solemnly approaching a quiet corner of the museum holding a shrine of framed Western Union telegraphs that delivered the news a soldier had been killed in action back to the soldier's family.

It is easy to see Moss' personal connection to the tragedies soldiers experienced; it's in his blood.

"My granddaddy was with Admiral (George) Dewy when he went around the world in the Great White Fleet in 1914. He went ashore in Veracruz in 1914 when the Americans sent a landing detail against the Mexican Naval Academy. There was a little conflict down there and he was involved in that," Moss said. "My dad flew biplanes in World War II at the beginning, convoying ships across the Atlantic. I think we had some family that fought in the Civil War, but we don't know for sure."

But deeper than hisfamilial connection, is the strong connection Moss said felt as a former Vietnam soldier with soldiers in other wars who had fought and died before him.

"The commonality of soldiers is universal. Every soldier that has been in combat has had the same feelings. It doesn't matter what side they were on, they all had the same feelings," Moss said, adding every soldier comes to a point where they don't see how they can make it out alive.

"That's how it was when I was in Vietnam. We thought, 'this is the end of us, let's get it over with.' And then when it was over it was, 'how did that happen, we actually made it.' You can't tell somebody about it, it has to be experienced."

For information call (903) 665-1859 or (903) 665-6110.

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