Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Artifacts from site of Chicago's Camp Douglas a window into war, the Great Migration

Minie balls found during Camp Douglas dig (Courtesy of  Michael Gregory)

The 34 bankers boxes are filled with seemingly ordinary items from a Chicago neighborhood that has seen extraordinary change since its days as home to Camp Douglas, a Federal training center and prisoner of war camp during the Civil War.

Archaeologist Michael Gregory plans to further analyze a wide array of these artifacts at his Milwaukee home. There’s the 1908 license tag for a horse-drawn vehicle, a water dish for a bird cage, Canadian cheese tubs and a ceramic dust bin.

“It has been one of the most interesting collections I have ever worked on,” Gregory recently told the Picket.

Nestled in those containers are 200 artifacts related to Camp Douglas. About 4,000 Confederates died at the prison, most of whom are buried in a mass grave. Gregory, formerly associated with DePaul University, has worked with the Camp Douglas Restoration Foundation on a half dozen digs in a corner of the camp.

(Photo courtesy of Michael Gregory)

While those excavations have largely found items produced after the Civil War, experts and volunteers have recovered Minie balls, a Union cap pin, smoking pipes, a haversack J-hook, grommets, a spread-eagle button, an 1859 penny (below), and other Camp Douglas items.

Gregory and David Keller, head of the foundation, believe they have clearly identified the camp, though there are significant challenges for urban archaeology.

“The history of the site shows initial significant development between 1900 and 1915.  The property remained substantially unchanged until 1950, when urban renewal affected the area,” said Keller. “There remains about 40% of the property that is available for further study. Alleys and back yards have been identified and offer the best opportunities.”

The excavations, which started in October 2013, have taken place on a grassy lot near a school on Chicago’s South Side. It is in what was the prisoner barracks area in the 60-acre site. The digs have been about 3 feet deep.

U.S. button (Camp Douglas Restoration Found.)
Gregory said it’s difficult to know exactly where in the camp site they are working.

“Our problem right now is we find something that looks like a ditch between barracks, but we will find another feature that would be right in the walkway area,” he said.

One eventual aim is to find a portion of the western stockade wall. “The wall is (elusive) since we cannot find posts or other evidence,” said Keller. “They are likely affected by the development of the property.  However, the streets are largely unchanged.  This gives us a 30-foot area where the fence might have been located.”

Hook for a haversack (Michael Gregory)

Fetid conditions for the prisoners

The Union facility was constructed in an area called Douglas, named for Stephen A. Douglas, the famous Illinois politician.

Camp Douglas originally served as a training facility for Illinois soldiers being rushed to the front. Much of the site was converted to a prison camp. About 26,000 Confederates were housed at the camp during the war.

“Had the military been involved (the site) never would have been selected,” said Keller. “It was noted for its flooding, swampy conditions.”

Confederate POWs at Camp Douglas (Library of Congress)

The U.S. Sanitary Commission, during an inspection, found that the “amount of standing water, of unpoliced grounds, of foul sinks, of general disorder, of soil reeking with miasmic accretions, of rotten bones and emptying of camp kettles … was enough to drive a sanitarian mad.”

It earned well the sobriquet “Andersonville of the North.”

Officials estimate 1 in 7 Confederate prisoners died, although the exact number is not known. Keller said he believes between 5,000 and 6,000 perished.

Pipe bowl likely used at camp (Camp Douglas Restoration Found.)

Area became a 'Black Metropolis'

The prison’s 200 structures went down when the site was dismantled in December 1865. Camp Douglas largely faded into history.

What used to be a rural tract just outside city limits soon became part of Chicago’s rapid growth. A part of Douglas became known as Bronzeville. It attracted German Jews after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It was home to the Swift family and the Marx Brothers.

But the biggest change was on the horizon.

Hundreds of thousands of African-Americans came to Chicago from the South during the Great Migration at the turn of the 20th century. They wanted a new start after enduring Jim Crow laws.

1908 license tag for horse-drawn vehicle (Michael Gregory)

While they didn’t get away from segregation, they were able to establish an area where they have left a cultural, arts and economic imprint.

“At the Regal Theater on 47th Street, notable entertainers such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington performed frequently, and Nat “King” Cole got his start,” according to articles about the South Side on the website of TV station WTTW. “Other notable Bronzeville residents included boxer Jack Johnson, gospel legend Mahalia Jackson, journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells, the writer Gwendolyn Brooks, and many others.

The area did run into hard times.

“Following World War II, decades of economic disinvestment and social change, Bronzeville's luster diminished. Businesses shut their doors and African-Americans moved further south due to the elimination of restricted housing covenants,” says a neighborhood council.

Animal bones found on site (Michael Gregory)

The recent decades have been kinder, though, according to an October 2014 article in the Chicago Tribune, crime has remained a problem.

“Today, Bronzeville is experiencing renewed energy and development, with an emphasis on the arts and a respect for the rich cultural legacy that Bronzeville has brought to Chicago as a whole,” writes WWTW. It is a center of African-American enterprise.

There’s been a recent move in Congress to create the Bronzeville/Black Metropolis National Heritage Area.

Digging in a land of asphalt

Gregory has worked on all but one excavation outside the John J. Pershing Magnet School for Humanities on Calumet Avenue. He has studied flood insurance and other maps to learn more about the neighborhood during and after the Civil War.

(Wikipedia/public domain)

The foundation is trying to obtain National Register for Historic Places status for the Camp Douglas site, a move it believes should add protection for what’s left. “A listing is a long shot, but important step in recognition of the camp,” said Keller. “The process should be completed early next year.”

While most of the area is under pavement or has been redeveloped, Gregory said it is important to note that “even if you had 140 years of development, it doesn’t mean archaeological resources have been destroyed.”

Ink well may be from camp (M. Gregory)
Teams were able to find a rectangular pit, but Gregory doesn’t know its purpose. A laundry facility is a possibility. He said he believes some smoking pipes pieces and bowls may well be associated with the Civil War. It’s known that one Confederate POW procured or made them for comrades.

Many camp subsurface features have been destroyed by development, along with an untold number of artifacts, since the war. Still, Gregory believes future excavations may find camp-related ditches and footings.

“We have had some residents in the area who said they would be happy for us to bring ground penetrating radar in their yard,” said the archaeologist. “It may provide little windows” into Camp Douglas’ story.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

DC project frustrates Civil War buffs

More than a decade ago, Emory United Methodist Church in the District of Columbia first floated the idea of rebuilding the aging house of worship and adding a multipurpose building. The rear of the church faces Fort Stevens, the only Civil War battlefield in the nation's capital. That fact prompted a fierce fight over the project that only ended last week, when church and city officials joined to break ground on the $42.5 million facility that will include 99 units of affordable housing. • Article

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Protecting cultural resources during Peachtree Creek bridge replacement project

(Digital Library of Georgia)

Transportation officials in Georgia will ensure that any artifacts discovered during the replacement of a bridge in the area where the Battle of Peachtree Creek occurred will be saved for curation at the University of West Georgia.

The Georgia Battlefields Association responded to a request for comments on the proposed project at Northside Drive and Peachtree Creek. The Georgia Department of Transportation says the span, built in 1926, needs replacement. It is seeking neighborhood feedback on the project’s potential impact.

Northside Drive did not exist during the July 20, 1864, battle, but the location was a crossing point for Federal troops. Today, Northside is a heavily traveled north-south corridor for commuters and neighborhoods. The bridge is within the American Battlefield Protection Program’s core area for the Peachtree Creek battlefield.

Any time land in this area is disturbed, I expect bullets will be found, principally overshot from the 20 July battle," said Charlie Crawford, president of the GBA. "Since Federal infantry was in the area for a few days, and since they used it as a cavalry marshaling area thereafter, I expect horseshoe nails, bridge building debris, buttons, etc."

The area was the site of three bridges built by Brig. Gen. John W. Geary’s division of the U.S. 20th Corps as it crossed Peachtree Creek on July 19-20, 1864. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Monocacy learns more about fallen Rebel soldier and the Bible that took a bullet

(Courtesy of Perry Adams Antiques)

Park rangers at Monocacy National Battlefield have had seen success and setbacks in their bid to learn more about the life and death of a Confederate soldier wounded when a bullet passed through his Bible and went through his chest.

Pvt. Thomas Cox, a member of the Red House Volunteers, Company A, 21st Virginia Infantry, was wounded and captured on July 9, 1864, at the battlefield near Frederick, Md. The 33-year-old farmer from Carroll County died on Aug. 15, 1864, at a Baltimore hospital.

A park intern conducting research this past summer learned that Baltimore hospital records had been damaged or destroyed, possibly in a fire, curator Tracy Evans told the Picket.

What is known about Cox’ final weeks was that he asked a fellow prisoner at the squalid West Building’s Hospital to inscribe a message in his battered Bible.

“The ball that struck this book entered my left brest (sic) and came out of right – it saved instant death & will be the means of saving my soul. Thomas Cox,” reads the penciled writing on the margins of a few pages. On succeeding pages is written: “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.”

In 2015, the park purchased the New Testament for $12,500 for brokers in Petersburg, Va.

The park intern learned that Cox and his wife had two children before the war and one on the way when he enlisted in 1861. The soldier was able to return to his farm several times during the war and fathered two more children. He recuperated from two illnesses at home while on medical leave.

(Courtesy of Perry Adams Antiques)

The 21st Virginia had seen considerable action, including at Gettysburg, before the fight at Monocacy.

“After the men forded the Monocacy River, they formed up in battle line and assaulted the Union line. 5 According to Sgt. John Worsham, the men in the 21st tore down a fence railing and with the years of hardened experience behind them, rushed forward in a charge against Union positions without orders from their officers. Somewhere in this rush and exchanging volleys of fire, Private Cox was struck by a bullet,” intern Chris Sniezek and ranger Kelly Henderson wrote.

Cox died five weeks later of infection and was buried in Baltimore, where he remains buried.

Evans said the research led to emails to potential descendants, but officials have not heard back. They did learn from research of a relative in the Confederate unit that Cox’ widow remarried and was believed to have additional children.

The bullet-struck Bible is remarkable in its own way. There’s a gaping hole in the center of the book. “We are thinking it must have gone in sideways,” said Evans, adding that is perhaps the reason Cox was not killed outright.

Officials want to display the Bible next year, but they know it likely can hold up only to certain lighting conditions, and perhaps for brief periods of exposure. They are looking for more information on Cox and other soldiers whose names and information were written on the Bible’s pages. There is no known photo of the soldier.

The Bible itself has been given an initial condition assessment and will likely go for light preservation next year with recommendations on how it should be put on display and for how long,” said Evans. “We would also like to have a better analysis done of possible blood on the Bible.” She cautioned there is no evidence of blood, but officials are curious as to whether small traces remain on the pages.

(Perry Adams Antiques)

Conservation experts at the National Park Service’s Harpers Ferry Center also will give advice on mounting of the Bible and whether it should be displayed opened or closed.

In an article prepared for an upcoming issue of Civil War News, the park researchers also delved into the story of the Bible’s publication. This one was published in 1862 by Wood, Hanletter, Rice and Company of Atlanta.

“Prior to the Civil War, Bibles were mostly printed and distributed by the American Bible Society based in New York. When the war broke out, the American Bible Society decided to continue distributing Bibles to Confederate soldiers, but a Union blockade soon left the South in a severe shortage. Faced with this shortage, the Confederate States Bible Society was established to print and distribute new Confederate Bibles.”

The dying Cox got the writing assistance from Pvt. H.S. Shepherd, a Confederate who was captured at Gettysburg in July 1863 and assisted sick comrades while serving as a ward master at the Baltimore hospital.

“I was with Thos. Cox when he died,” Shepherd wrote in the Bible. “He was willing … & appear ready to leave this world for a better one to come."

Another inscription indicates Cox asked that his ring be sent to his widow, Frances.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Burnside Bridge: TLC and lots of work go into preservation of Antietam landmark

Stones on walls were marked for guide when they are reinstalled (NPS photos)

Extensive work on the famous Burnside Bridge at Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland is nearing the one-year mark, and officials expect it to continue until the end of the year.

The $1.7 million preservation project is bringing repairs and stabilization to the stone structure, which was built in 1836.

Park Superintendent Susan Trail responded Friday to the Picket’s questions about the bridge project. She said the project is going “very well.”

Temporary dams were built for work on eroded pier bases. 

Q.  You said the piers would be repointed and the voids filled with grouts. Has that been completed? Was that the extent of the work on the piers?

A. All of the pier work was completed in late winter. The work was extensive, as concrete ribbon footers had to be poured for each due to extensive erosion.

Q. I saw some Facebook photos (above) last week of work on top of the bridge. What's that work? Looks like maybe some wall reconstruction and a new walking surface?

A. Most of the work on the stone bridge involved dismantling substantial sections and rebuilding them. This is the work that is going on right now. The wall sections were photographed and mapped, so that the stones could be returned to their exact locations prior to the dismantling. The repaving will happen later this fall when the stone work is complete.

Q. Can you briefly summarize what all has been addressed in this restoration/preservation effort?

A. The project addressed substantial voids and erosion in the two piers and the two abutments. It also addressed unstable parapet and spandrel walls that had deteriorated over the years, due primarily to water infiltration. It also will include new wood coping and asphalt paving, which will be done this fall.

East bridge abutment

Q. What do you hope will be the long-term benefit of the work?

A. This project will keep the bridge standing in good condition for decades to come.

Q. Anything unexpected come up during the construction/repairs?

A. The biggest unforeseen condition was the severe erosion of the pier bases, as this could not be seen before the project started.

On Sept. 17, 1862, America's bloodiest single day, a small force of Confederates on high ground for three hours defended the critical crossing against troops belonging to Ambrose E. Burnside's 9th Corps.

Portion of bridge that bulged, needed repairs

Critics say Burnside did not do adequate reconnaissance before the attack, which cost him about 500 casualties. 

"After taking the bridge at about 1 p.m., Burnside reorganized for two hours before moving forward across the arduous terrain -- a critical delay. Finally, the advance started -- only to be turned back by Confederate General A.P. Hill’s reinforcements that arrived in the late afternoon from Harpers Ferry," according to the NPS.

After the battle, the bridge was actively used for traffic until as recently as 1966, according to the NPS. The last significant work occurred in the late 1980s.