The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a group of veterans who served the Union during the Civil War, created the Pittsburgh Soldiers & Sailors organization during the 1890s. They raised funds for a memorial hall that recognized the sacrifice, valor and patriotism of the Civil War veterans of Allegheny County. Today, this same hall honors all the men and women of Pennsylvania who served the United States during the country’s history.
Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall is the largest memorial building in the United States dedicated solely to America’s fighting personnel. It represents all branches of service while honoring both career and citizen soldiers. The mission of the organization is to preserve a lasting tribute to those men and women who unselfishly gave of themselves while serving their country during America’s wars.
The Front Hall
Each of the corridors is named for a compass direction, except for The Front Hall. This hall was so named by the Union Civil War veterans who refused to assign the word “south” to any part of the building.
Exhibits in the Front Hall include displays about Fort Pitt and the Duquesne Greys along with tributes to veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the War on Terrorism. Three supplemental display areas also are featured: 1) “Wartime Youth” highlights military themes associated with American children during times of war; 2) An exhibit explains how soldiers and families remain connected during wars; 3) The Dr. William Stone Room contains a timeline display of U.S. metallic cartridge firing military weapons from the Civil War to Vietnam .
The Gettysburg Room features the exhibit “Slave to Soldier” and tells the African American experience from servitude to service. It travels along a timeline — enslavement, abolition, the Underground Railroad and a look at the black soldier and black veteran. Also on exhibit are artifacts and information about the Battle of Gettysburg.
The West Hall
Exhibits in The West Hall are dedicated to the Civil War. These include: 1) The cap that Lt. James Harbison of the 139th Pa. Volunteer Infantry was wearing during the battle of Salem Heights when a bullet went through it and killed him; 2) Artillery shells from the Allegheny Arsenal; 3) Civil War uniforms that include two rare and colorful Zouave uniforms and a representative green frock coat from Berdan’s Sharpshooters.
This hall also contains a tribute to Abraham Lincoln, honors African American veterans from the war and salutes the soldiers who fought during the Spanish American War in Cuba and the Philippines.
The North Hall
Exhibits in this section include artifacts and mementos from the opening of the Memorial Hall during 1910, World War I artifacts (a rare aviator’s uniform, examples of trench art and uniforms from the 28th Division that became the Pennsylvania National Guard), American military headgear from the Civil War to the present and artifacts from World War II (including personalized painted leather A2 jackets worn by crew members flying missions over Europe in bombers and fighter planes).
Stained glass windows honor hometown heroes of the 99th Division. Known as “Battle Babies” due to their youth, this division’s first assignment led them to the Battle of the Bulge.
The East Hall
Exhibits honor the various military branches, civilians and organizations that helped lead the U.S. to victory during WW II. The “Beyond the Battlefield” section depicts the evolution of prosthetic limbs throughout war and showcases the technological advancements made available to the medical community. This area also includes tributes to those who served during the Korean War, a look at the Cold War and a remembrance of American POW’s and MIA’s. Artifacts from Operation Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom also are displayed.
The Joseph A. Dugan Jr. Hall of Valor, since 1941, honors Pennsylvanians who have received valor medals, including the Medal of Honor, Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall is located at 4141 Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh (near Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard). Museum hours are Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Administrative offices are open Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. The memorial is open Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.
Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for adults 60+ and $5 for children (age 5-13). Free admission is offered to military members serving on active duty, and in the Guard and Reserve. Free access also is provided to veterans who have served, to retired military and to families and guests if the family has an immediate member serving during a current conflict.
[Image: Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall]