Uniforms with gold braid and neat rows of buttons once stood at attention in display cases, as if gathered for a reunion. Great commanders, the likes of Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and George Gordon Meade, wore wool frock coats as they plotted strategy and rode to the sound of the guns.
Here, too, was the bloodstained sash worn by Union Gen. St. Clair Mulholland, a Philadelphian wounded at the Battle of Spotsylvania in Virginia. And here was Mulholland's Medal of Honor and a watch fob decorated with a Confederate minie ball that had struck him.
One of the most eye-catching items was a gold-plated sword with diamond chips and semiprecious jewels presented to Meade, who lived in Philadelphia.
For history lovers, the Civil War Museum on Pine Street was a pantheon for 86 years, filled with relics found nowhere else, relics with distinct Philadelphia connections.
Since the museum's closing a year ago, 3,000 artifacts have languished at an undisclosed city storage facility, awaiting funding for a new home.
Now, this priceless history may be lost to Philadelphia.
If money isn't secured in two weeks, preparations will be made to move the collection, said Sharon A. Smith, president and chief executive officer of the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia.
The decision, she said, has been forced on the museum because it's quickly running out of operating funds for its four-member staff and storage for the collection.
"We're close to the end of our rope," Smith said. "We will have to find another home."
The prospective move follows the Rendell administration's refusal to provide $8 million to $10 million in promised capital funding. That prompted the loss of the museum's planned new location at the historic First Bank of the United States in the heart of Independence National Historical Park.
"We understand the trepidation caused by the possible loss of the museum, but we are constrained by fiscal reality," Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said this week.
Museum officials have sought funding from the legislature, but with so many competing interests across the state, their pleas haven't received the needed traction.
Smith said another location - less expensive than the First Bank building to convert - had been found in the historic district, but funding remains an obstacle.
"If we got it," she said of the money, "it would be close to a miracle, but miracles happen."
Otherwise, the museum is ready to partner with an undisclosed institution outside the city, Smith said.
"It would be a tragedy not having this collection on exhibit in Philadelphia," she said. "It is full of wonderful stories of the important role this region played in 19th-century history.
"We don't recognize how important that history is because we don't have a way of telling that story. You need an anchor."
Former Union officers established the museum in 1888, and with their families donated artifacts and memorabilia over the years until a house was purchased in 1922 in the 1800 block of Pine Street to display the collection.
Now in crates, bubble wrap, and archival boxes, the materials - regarded by historians as some of the finest from the Civil War - await their fate. The collection "tells history in a way that words can't," Smith said.
There are Confederate President Jefferson Davis' ornate smoking jacket, taken when he was captured in 1865; plaster casts of Abraham Lincoln's face and hands; one of the first wanted posters for John Wilkes Booth; the flag that flew over Meade's headquarters at Gettysburg; a pike from John Brown's ill-fated raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859; and muskets and swords, including a gold- and silver-plated presentation sword given to Grant after his victory at Vicksburg.
Each one - even a simple watch - tells a story: One hundred forty-five years ago, Army Capt. John Foering of the 28th Pennsylvania was shot during fierce fighting at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia. The minie ball struck his vest pocketwatch, and his life was spared.
"We are on the verge of losing the entire collection, and the responsibility rests on Ed Rendell," said State Rep. James R. Roebuck Jr. (D., Phila.). "I can't tell you how disappointed I am in his actions.
"The governor pulled the rug out from underneath us. I can't understand the logic of it," added Roebuck, who has worked to keep the museum in Philadelphia. "This is a city that prides itself on history and tourism. It's a tremendous collection. Without the Civil War, you have an incomplete history of what it is to be American."
Academics were equally horrified by the prospect of losing the museum.
"You are dealing a serious blow to the history community if anything dire happens," said Andy Waskie, a Civil War historian, author, and Temple University professor who teaches languages and history.
"This is the finest collection of Union Civil War artifacts in private hands. It belonged to the residents of this city. This is priceless, unique, a legacy of the Civil War in Philadelphia. It cannot be lost."
Waskie said he'd "like to be optimistic and think things can be solved with the proper attention - from the political side and foundation side."
"Attention has to be riveted on this, consciousness raised so that it's put before the public," he said. "It's unthinkable that the collection would not be in the city."
Lacking the funding, though, Smith said, the museum will have to do the unthinkable and move it.
"It's so distressing that everything is so iffy," she said. "But if we don't have the resources, we have to start down the road to finding an appropriate home for the collection."