Civil War heirlooms bond families with past

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Sam Lyons' connection to the Civil War came to him last year in a pink gift bag.

Lyons said one of his relatives lived near Gettysburg in the town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and picked up the cannon ball a few days after the 1863 battle. It's been in their family ever since.

It's been 150 years since the first shots of the Civil War fired at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. The four-year conflict killed more than 600,000 people and became a pivotal part of American history. CNN asked iReporters to share their families' Civil War heirlooms and to tell the stories behind them. Many said the artifacts gave them a tangible connection to the past and inspired them to look deeper into their families' history.

Denise Griggs started digging into her family's history after her Aunt Julie asked, "Who's the white man on the wall?"

She learned that the man in the picture was great-great grandmother's brother Peter Hunt, the son of an Irish slave owner and a slave named America. Hunt joined the United States Colored Troops of the Union Army after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Griggs blended oral history with historic records to write a book on her great-great-great uncle and was even able to find family in Ireland and trace her family history back to the ninth century....

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