Saturday, July 4, 2020

Lee items, a bullet, horse hair and more were in a time capsule opened after Confederate monument moved in Raleigh



In May 1894, a metal time capsule stuffed with Confederate mementos and artifacts was placed beneath the cornerstone of a Confederate monument being erected in Raleigh.


Inside was a button said to from a dress coat belonging to Gen. Robert E. Lee, a lock of his hair and a strand plucked from the tail of his famous horse Traveler. Among newspapers, money and souvenirs was the bullet that killed the horse of Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew, the North Carolinian officer who was severely wounded near Richmond in 1862 while riding the steed.

Some 125 years later, the Confederate Soldiers Monument no longer stands on Capitol grounds. It was recently moved by order of Gov. Roy Cooper. 

A wooden box held items placed in time capsule
The time capsule was opened Thursday, yielding a sodden mess of items that conservators used water and tweezers to separate and discern. Buttons were rusted and everything was covered by muck.

The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources provided a video and photographs of the opening of the dented metal box in a laboratory.

Rusted buttons found in capsule (NC Department of Natural & Cultural Resources)
“Because the metal box containing the items had rusted through in places, the items contained in the time capsule were severely damaged by the elements,” the department said.

“Items recovered so far include a wooden box, a stone thought to be from Gettysburg, two buttons attached to a piece of textile and a strand of what appears to be horse hair. Preservation work on these items and the metal box itself has begun.”

According to the News & Observer, the capsule was found Monday when workers were dismantling the base of the monument.

Metal capsule shortly before it was opened July 2
Cooper cited public safety in issuing his June 20 removal order, hours after protesters toppled bronze statues of soldiers from the base one of three Confederate monuments on Capitol grounds, the newspaper reported. All three monuments were removed.

Among other items said to be placed in the time capsule were a Bible found at Appomattox and a letter written by a North Carolina soldier shortly before he was mortally wounded.

The Picket reached out Friday to state officials for more details. We will update this item once we hear back from them after the holiday.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Removed Raleigh cannons are now perched at Fort Fisher

Two Civil War cannons that flanked a Confederate monument on the Union Square grounds in Raleigh, NC, since 1902 now have a new home at Fort Fisher, according to the Wilmington Star. The naval cannons, which were removed with the 1895 monument on the orders of Gov. Roy Cooper last week after they were vandalized, were delivered to the Fort Fisher State Historic Site on Sunday. • Article

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

For Juneteenth, the story of African American Civil War troops and an amazing flag are featured on Atlanta museum's interactive page

127th USCT flag and interactive page (Courtesy of Morphy Auctions/Atlanta History Center)
A prize artifact acquired last year by the Atlanta History Center captures the essence of why 180,000 African Americans volunteered in the Union army during the Civil War.

“We Will Prove Ourselves Men” reads the motto on the striking flag that belonged to the 127th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, which was formed in Pennsylvania of free men and some who had escaped bondage. That they were determined to prove themselves no doubt showed equality for all Americans -- while etched in the Declaration of Independence -- was far from a reality for millions.

An account of the flag's history and the regiment are featured in an interactive presentation the history center is promoting as part of its annual commemoration of Juneteenth. The June 19 holiday marks the day an Army general rode into Galveston, Texas, and told blacks of their emancipation – that slavery had ended in the United States.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Juneteenth is being remembered at the AHC this year through a virtual experience.

Calfskin knapsack of Pvt. Ezra Brooks,
8th USCT (Atlanta History Center)
The interactive map spotlights five engagements that involved African American units: Olustee (Florida), Fort Pillow (Tennessee), Fort Wagner (South Carolina), the Crater (Virginia) and the fall of Richmond and Appomattox (Virginia).

Viewers can toggle to a page for each. They include photographs, text, audio, newspaper accounts, links to related content and photographs of USCT artifacts in the museum’s collection.

USCT units -- which helped turn the tide in several campaigns and battles -- were led by white officers and it took time for soldiers to receive pay equal to their white counterparts.

They had limited opportunities and faced racism within the Union army. Some freed men captured by Confederate units were sold into slavery and in some instances, such as at Fort Pillow, black troops were victims of racially motivated atrocities, although some dispute such accounts.

Gordon Jones, senior military curator and historian, speaks in several audio clips, including one on how well the 8th USCT performed at Olustee, which ended in a Confederate victory in February 1864.

In another, Jones talks about the challenge of finding USCT artifacts. Several rare items are in the AHC collection.

African American soldiers constituted only about 10 percent of the Federal army in 1865 and unless a soldier wrote his name on an item or it was handed down, it’s difficult to know who wore it. “That’s why we say provenance is everything,” says Jones.

David B. Bowser
The 127th USCT flag speaks to such rarity. Of the 11 such flags David B. Bowser painted for black units, the 127th banner is the only known to survive. It depicts a soldier waving farewell to Columbia, a symbol of the United States, with the words “We Will Prove Ourselves Men.”

“And that’s what the soldiers of the US Colored Troops were fighting -- not to just gain freedom, not just to prove themselves worthy of US citizenship. But for the rights of basic human dignity,” Jones says of the motto. 

The 127th was organized in late summer 1864 and took part in siege operations against Richmond and Petersburg until the end of the Civil War. Part of the Army of the James, it participated in one battle and several other actions. The regiment was at Appomattox for the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Medal of Honor for Capt. Albert Wright,
43rd USCT, valor at the Crater. (Courtesy AHC)
In a separate page on the AHC website, Jones speaks more about the importance of the unit’s silk flag, and how little students knew about the service of African Americans in the military until the 1960s. The AHC spent nearly $200,000 to purchase the flag from an auction house.

Howard Pousner, manager of media relations for the AHC, told the Picket the flag was displayed for several weeks in the atrium when it was purchased and is currently included in the exhibit "Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow," which has been extended through February 2021.

The restored banner likely cannot be exhibited year round due to its fragile nature and concerns over light exposure, officials have said.

Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia mark June 19 as a state holiday or observance, according to CNNCommunities celebrate it with food and festivities. Despite a push by activists over the years, Juneteenth still isn't a federal holiday.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Arson investigation continues as National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Ga., details what was lost, survived

Drone view of destroyed pole barn  (Columbus Fire and EMS)
Investigators are pursuing leads in a suspected arson fire that damaged rare artifacts and destroyed modern vessels in a storage area at the National Civil War Naval Museum.

Sgt. Charles Collins with the fire department in Columbus, Ga., said a reward of up to $10,000 is being offered in the June 1 fire at an open-air pole barn behind the museum. Agents from federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have been on site, officials said.

Collins told the Picket this week that the case is receiving special attention because of its apparent targeting of historic pieces.

Museum officials said there is a silver lining in the devastating blaze, which followed a smaller arson attempt two days before. “While the fire was a total loss as far as anything wood goes, all the iron is still very much intact,” said museum executive director Holly Wait.

Among the items in the open air but padlocked area is the locally made ironclad CSS Jackson’s fantail.

Fantail of the CSS Jackson before fire (Picket photo)
The fantail was the precisely built curved rear deck of the Confederate warship, which was never fully operational. The section of armor and wood protected the vessel’s propellers and rudder and is a remarkable example of design and construction prowess. 

“The wood to the fantail was burned, but we don't yet know how deep the burn went since the wood was layered. Everything ‘on top’ (or the actual underside) is ashes,” Wait wrote in an email.

The engines of the Confederate gunboat Chattahoochee, the iron plates from the Jackson’s armor and the iron plating to the fantail survived, though they were exposed to the thermal heat.

“The Virginia was a complete loss,” continued Wait. “That ship was a supposed blockade runner donated to the museum many years ago. There was no money in our budget to do any conservation on the ship and we had no real documentation as regards in provenance.”

Jeff Seymour of museum staff with stored items in 2019 (Picket photo)
Also lost were a launch, two john boats, an old pontoon and two reproduction Fiberglass ships that the museum was taking apart.

Remains of the Jackson and Chattahoochee are the star exhibits of the museum and are inside the main building. Both were lost in April 1865 at war’s end -- the Jackson set afire by Federal captors and the Chattahoochee scuttled by its own crew. Neither vessel fired upon the enemy in their relatively short history. They were recovered from the Chattahoochee River in the 1960s.

“The big conservation project to restore the engines and fantail will continue,” said Wait.

Collins, with the fire department, said he could not provide more details on the fire and investigation. The pole barn for years has been surrounded by a padlocked fence.

Fire investigator Charles Collins can be reached at ccollins@columbusga.org  or 706-225-4216. The hotline for Georgia Arson Control, which is offering the reward, is 1-800-282-5804.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

They want to display this crate of Enfield rifles out of the water. But safeguarding the wood involves a lot of research, care.

The CSS Stono rifles (Photos by Don Scarbrough, interpretive range at SCSP)
Historic preservation specialists in Georgia are researching various ways to treat a wooden crate and 20 Enfield rifles that have been kept in an aquarium, where filtered freshwater continues to draw out salt and other contaminants.

The crate carried by the blockade runner CSS Stono has been on display for seven years at Sweetwater Creek State Park in Douglas County, west of Atlanta. The British-made Enfield was the second-most widely used infantry weapon in the Civil War after the Springfield.

The aim is to eventually display the weapons out of water, said Josh Headlee, curator and historic preservation specialist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The crate when it appeared briefly uncovered by water in January
“Essentially, we are testing or working with some products that we’ve never used before. So before we try them on something as important as the rifle crate we test it on an inconspicuous piece of waterlogged wood to see how well it does,” he wrote in a recent email.

“This is something that most museum professionals or conservators are familiar with – before you use a product on an important artifact you test it on a “non-important” item or in a well-hidden spot on the artifact before you use it on the entire item.”

The products are designed to displace water in the wood with preservatives that help to solidify the wood so it can be permanently exposed to the air. “We just want to make sure that what we do isn’t going to harm the rifles in any way," said Headlee.

The visitor center is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic
The CSS Stono, laden with precious arms, munitions and goods from Europe, in 1863 ran aground on a submerged sandbar off Fort Moultrie in Charleston (S.C.) Harbor while trying to evade Federal ships. The rifles remained in the water for more than a century.

An archaeological diver pulled up the crate from the South Carolina shipwreck in the late 1980s. Officials did not initially know how many of the highly-prized Pattern 53 rifles were inside, their position or condition. Each weapon originally weighed about 9 pounds and was approximately 53 inches long. The bore is .577-caliber.

Every six months or so, technicians travel to Sweetwater Creek to examine the cache and clean the tank. Last year, Headlee said the remains of the walnut rifle stocks were in good shape, while the crate itself and a metal lining that protected the rifles have not fared so well. The crate is likely made of pine, a softer wood. And the metal lining, made of an alloy, appears to be waterlogged. The iron rifle barrels, locks and bayonets deteriorated because of years of saltwater corrosion.

In January, technicians drained the 3,000-gallon tank and again cleaned the crate and installed a new filter.

A closeup view of the rifle stock remnants (Don Scarbrough)
“We were having a little bit of algae/fungus problem … and it was clouding the water and ruining our filters and pumps,” said Headlee. “This new pump has a UV light unit in it that the water travels through that is supposed to help control the algae growth.  We’ve also added a mild fungicide to the water to help keep everything clear.”

“It pretty much cleared up right away,” Sweetwater interpretive ranger Don Scarbrough said of the tank’s appearance following the work in January.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Sweetwater visitor center housing the aquarium has been closed since mid-March.

The park staff recently resumed tours of the ruins of the New Manchester textile mill, which operated during the Civil War, Scarbrough said.