One of the country's few remaining witnesses to the Civil War awed a small crowd of admirers on Sunday at the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History at Fort Missoula.

Despite the many decades that have passed since it went to war for Union troops, the original model 1835 4.62 12-pound Mountain Howitzer works as well today as it did when it was first built and used in 1861.

An antique, yes, but this ancient weapon of war still has mighty firepower.

Its owner, Hayes Otoupalik, put the small and fierce cannon through its paces, making onlookers jump at the sound of its unnerving boom and providing the smallest glimmer into the sounds and sights of the Civil War battlefields when hundreds of such weapons fired in concert 150 years ago.

The cannon demonstration was the first of many events that are scheduled at the military museum during the next four years to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

This week is particularly historic, for it marks the anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and the start of the country's bloody four-year battle, explained Tate Jones, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History.

Military museums around the country are planning special events to remember the war and teach its history, Jones said.

Despite Montana's great distance from South Carolina where the war began and from the heart of the battlefields, Montana's story is intimately connected to the outcome of the war.

"Montana is a product of the Civil War because the legislation that established Montana was signed by Abraham Lincoln and our early territory politics were dominated by the war sentiments."

For example, Jones said, Virginia City's roots are tied to Confederate supporters, and there was a popular saying during the state's formative years that went: "Part of the Confederate Army never surrendered, it just retreated to Montana."

As he prepared to fire his cannon, Otoupalik explained his fascination with the Civil War is tied to the fact that three of his great grandfathers fought in the war - two of them fought for the Union and the other for the Confederate Army.

"This is a time of reflection and remembrance of the 620,000 people who died in the most deadly and heart-wrenching war we have ever been in," Otoupalik said. "It was a war where father fought against son, brothers against brothers, and neighbor against neighbor - it was a terrible war."

A collector of military memorabilia, Otoupalik said his long fascination with the war has enriched his life.

"If you find the right hobby, you can make it a lifetime thing that gives you great pleasure," he said. "It's a wonderful experience to have something you love to learn about.

"This has taken to me to historic sites, and because of it, I have met hundreds of wonderful people through the years."

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