PIERRE, S.D.— It fought at Shiloh, laid siege to Vicksburg, and marched with Sherman toward the sea.
And, for decades, Leopold Balza's Model 1861 Springfield rifle, issued to him for use in the Civil War, sat in a closet in Cavour as a never-used curiosity for the family.
Until Leon Baye decided that not only should his great-grandfather's weapon should be passed on, but it should also stay in South Dakota where his ancestor spent nearly three decades farming.
Since Baye's more immediate relatives had moved on to other states, he turned to his second cousin, Mike Rounds, then beginning his second term as governor. Rounds not only accepted the gift, but went so far as to display it in his office at the capitol.
"It was a generous gesture to our extended family," he recalled.
Now Rounds and his family have made another such gesture, donating the Civil War relic to the South Dakota Historical Society in Pierre earlier this month. Rounds said his cousin was right to want the rifle to stay in the state and this was the best way to honor that wish.
"We want to make sure everyone has the chance to see it and it stays in South Dakota," Rounds said.
Balza, who is Rounds' grandmother's grandfather, served as an infantryman in the 18th Wisconsin Volunteer regiment from 1862 to 1865. During that time Balza saw battle in Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina.
When the war ended, Balza moved to Cavour with his wife and two daughters, where he died in 1913 at the age of 80.
Rounds said the gun symbolizes a connection to the past and is a reminder that every single generation lives in trying times.
"Those who came before us were real people with real challenges," he said.
Dan Brosz, curator of collections at the South Dakota Historical Society, said not only is the rifle an important historic piece, but, like any artifact, what's truly valuable is the story that goes with.
"The combining of that great story with the rifle, and the fact that it was a former governor's relative, is icing on the cake," he said.
There are no immediate plans to display weapon, but Brosz said at some point down the road, perhaps in the near future, it will most likely go into the Historical Society's museum.
Brosz said it's an honor to be entrusted with this type of heirloom, and for the family it's a way to ensure their piece of history will be stored in a safe place where future generations can enjoy and learn from them.
He said the historical society mainly relies on donations from South Dakotan families to grow its stock of historic pieces, and receives roughly 450 donations a year.
About 1,600, or a bit more than 5 percent, of the Historical Society's nearly 31,000-piece collection — which includes political buttons, Native American artifacts, toys and the state's old electric chair — is on display, he said.
Information from: Pierre Capital Journal, http://www.capjournal.com