Friday, May 11, 2018

Camp Lawton: Dig will continue efforts to learn more about stockade, Confederate captors

Possible Confederate shelter (Georgia Southern University photos)
3D scans of painted and unpainted bullets

Saturday’s (May 12) archaeological dig at the site of a Confederate prison near Millen, Ga., will be an opportunity for visitors to help excavate and screen soil at the southwest corner of the stockade.

The “public day” at Magnolia Springs State Park will include a 2 by 2 meter unit that has not been excavated, said Ryan McNutt, who oversees Georgia Southern University’s Camp Lawton project.

McNutt said he’d like to get a better sense of the construction method for anchoring corners of the wooden stockade.
Is it similar to Andersonville? A different method?” he told the Picket. “Are they reinforced via joints and carpentry or were brackets and nails used?”

Cut nail and piece of horse tack (Courtesy of GSU)

Camp Lawton operated for about six weeks in autumn 1864 before the guards took Federal soldiers to other prisons as the Union army approached Savannah. Many of the POWs were transferred to the site from Camp Sumter, also known as Andersonville.

Saturday’s event, set for 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., will include artifacts previously excavated and 3D printed replicas.

“Since this is part of Georgia archaeology month, we're going to have a range of objects, both from Camp Lawton and from Georgia archaeology in general, ranging from zooarchaeological collections to 3D prints of artifacts including Union buttons, the modified tobacco pipe, as well as Minnie balls, nails, and projectile points from Georgia collections” McNutt said.

He said the project in 2017 located the potential remains of two Confederate structures. One may have been a builder’s trench with posts. ”The second, however, is a basin-shaped pit with two angled postholes on one side, which clearly looks like the remains of an ad hoc Confederate structure.”

3D scan of button
McNutt describes it as an “A” frame made of two angled posts, with potentially an eaves pole resting in the center, and a tarp, blanket or canvas thrown over it to make a lean-to.

The feature includes a subterranean pit dug not that different from a prisoner shebang (shelter) uncovered on the north side of the prison site.

Recovered artifacts include part of a frying pan, a cone cleaner for a percussion firearm, and various cut nails, brick fragments and some horse harness parts.

“These are all located in our search area close to the existing earthworks of Camp Lawton,” said McNutt.

More 3D replicas (GSU)
Previous excavations on the prisoner side of the relatively undisturbed site have yielded hundreds of Civil War artifacts that help illustrate daily life. Officials have a good idea of where the stockade walls were erected, having found some post remains. The project’s work in the past couple years has concentrated on improving knowledge of the Confederate side of the prison, which falls within the state park boundary.

The 10,000 Federal prisoners were to the west and across a creek, on a hillside that later became a federal fish hatchery. That side of Camp Lawton is on property managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“I think with successive field seasons, especially the coming 2019 one, we'll find more and more evidence of the Confederate occupation, and be able to generate a dataset of artifacts and structural information that we can compare to the already rich record for the POW occupation,” McNutt said.

McNutt, like Lance Greene, his predecessor wants to know more about what life was like for both guards and prisoners “in that extremely turbulent year of 1864.”

The event is free, but entrance into Magnolia Springs State Park is $5, or free with a Park Pass.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Resting place for black veterans in disrepair

For nearly two decades, Yolanda Romero has kept a promise she made to her dying father: to keep up a historic cemetery in Lawnside, N.J., that became the final resting place for black Civil War veterans, former slaves, and those who could not be buried in white-only cemeteries. Years of neglect have taken a toll on Mount Peace Cemetery. The ground around some graves is sinking, headstones are toppled and inscriptions on some markers are no longer legible. Volunteers have made progress, but lack the funds and manpower to restore dignity. • Article

Thursday, April 26, 2018

B*ATL still raising money to restore monuments to US, Confederate generals; city advisory panel suggests keeping both

Monument to Confederate general is only a battered remnant (Picket photo)
Vintage post card shows it had more features (Courtesy of B*ATL)

A neighborhood group that wants to restore two Battle of Atlanta monuments – one to a Federal general, the other to a Confederate – is carefully navigating the national conversation about what to do with monuments that honored Southern generals and leaders.

“The Battle of Atlanta can be the beginning of a conversation about race,” leader Henry Bryant wrote last year in a Zocalo Public Square article.

“Our group’s mission has always been to explore American history -- not just the Confederacy and not just the Union,” Bryant wrote. The nonprofit Battle of Atlanta (B*ATL) Commemoration Organization includes multiple aspects of the city’s history, including civil rights, in its neighborhood tours and activities, he said.

A monument fund-raising hike about the battle is planned for this Sunday afternoon (April 29).

Months after Bryant’s article, B*ATL spoke before a study committee appointed by then-Mayor Kasim Reed. That panel was tasked with making recommendations on what to do with city-owned monuments and street names paying tribute to the Confederacy.

15 -- McPherson marker, 16 -- Walker (Picket map)

B*ATL for several years has been raising money to cover a $192,000 restoration of old monuments to Union Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson and Confederate Maj Gen. William H.T. Walker. McPherson was killed when he rode into Confederate lines early during the July 22, 1864, Battle of Atlanta. Less than a mile away, Walker was knocked out of his saddle by a sniper.

Battle marker, or one with a message?

It’s the Walker monument, of course, that came under scrutiny.

“It was pointed out that both monuments, by marking the sites of the deaths, had as much to do with the shooters” as with the killed officers, Bryant recently told the Picket.

The advisory committee, while recommending changes for other monuments, recommended that what’s left of the weathered Walker monument – dedicated in 1902 and located on a small city patch of land – be kept.

The McPherson monument on McPherson Avenue (Picket photo)
How it looked in its early years (Courtesy of B*ATL)

In its report submitted in November, the committee said it considered a monument’s purpose and whether it omitted key information or glorified the Confederacy. The Lost Cause view of the war, promulgated by white Southerners in the decades following the conflict, contends the conflict was justified and about defending states’ rights. Such a view, the advisory committee found, “ignores the moral atrocities of slavery.”

While considering emotional attachments to monuments, the committee made distinctions about their purpose, and that thinking was evident in the Walker monument recommendation.

Gen. Walker
“This monument represents an important companion to the McPherson monument when telling the story of the Battle of Atlanta. The committee recommends that B*ATL be responsible for appropriate contextualization of this monument. It is the opinion of the committee that this monument is a battlefield marker and does not serve a purpose of glorification, but rather is a reminder of an important historical event. Public comments indicate that the neighborhood has embraced the two monuments and its site on the location of the battlefield as an important part of its identity. The committee supports retention of the monument and its continued support by B*ATL and the adjoining neighborhoods.”

Walker monument in limbo

The Walker monument’s fate is not certain. Reed left office without taking action in December, as had been expected. The matter is now under the administration of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

The issue of Confederate monuments, more than five months since the recommendations were filed, does not appear to be a priority. City Hall is under criticism or investigation for a number of reasons, including a bribery probe that predates when Bottoms took office.

The Picket asked Atlanta officials for a status update.

As of now, there aren’t any scheduled meetings of the committee, or possible updates or announcements confirmed,” said Melissa J. Martin, public information officer for the Department of City Planning.

Walker monument is off-center and near a busy road (Picket photo)

Bryant acknowledged that the issue remains sensitive, given the McPherson and Walker memorial are in small city parks. But he contends B*ATL provides an inclusive story about Atlanta and its residents.

“It’s not a story of black and white, but a story that is shaded with a wide range of tones,” he wrote last year. “We want to tell the whole story, not just one side. Our events have long featured programming about East Atlanta’s civil rights history as well as its Civil War history.

George Barnard photo of McPherson death site (Library of Congress)

Aging memorials need a facelift

The East Atlanta monuments each feature a cannon.

Time and, in one case, traffic have taken a toll on the memorials. They sit on dislodged or structurally weak foundations. The cannons have water damage and are rusting in places. In recent years, the McPherson cannon has taken on a green color from what appears to be lichen or moss and a surrounding fence and posts are aged and cracked in places.

Gen. McPherson
After McPherson's death, Union Brig. Gen. Andrew Hickenlooper rode to the mangled woods where McPherson died. There were no homes in the area at the time. Hickenlooper nailed a sign to the tree at the death site, which was photographed by Atlanta Campaign photographer George Barnard.

An early fence surrounding the 1877 monument featured gun barrels at the corners, said Bryant, but they disappeared. “From the very beginning there was problem with vandalism,” he told the Picket in 2012.

The McPherson monument, now surrounded by homes, was moved in 1906. Eventually, it was raised to make it more visible.

The Walker monument to the east is more easily seen, but doesn’t get the protection the McPherson monument receives. It sits on a busy road (Glenwood Avenue at Wilkinson Drive) near Interstate 20. Walker was shot will leading his troops across the backwaters of Terry's Millpond in Kirkwood and East Atlanta.

Motorists have hit the marker several times, knocking it off-kilter on its pedestal. The red granite monument’s steps and plaque are gone. At least two feet of water and gunk are in the cannon barrel.

The memorial used to rest on a nearby hill, to make it convenient for visitors, but was moved to its current, more accurate location, in the late 1930s. B*ATL would like to move the monument to the center of a triangle and build steps to raise it, so it will match the appearance of the McPherson monument.

Proposed upgrade for memorial near Interstate 20, courtesy of B*ATL)

Bryant said the tiered steps were buried when the surrounding land was raised during road construction. “Only the top of the top tier is visible. The fencing and cannon balls were not moved from the original site.

“Hopefully, we can clean whatever is below ground and reuse it. If it matches the above ground base it will be orange (rust and red clay), both above and below ground stone to be returned to their gray granite color.”

Walk this weekend benefits effort

The campaign to restore the monuments has been a long march; the Picket first wrote about it in 2011.

B*ATL has about $150,000 to $155,000 in pledges and in the bank, Bryant said. Grants from the Frances and Beverly DuBose Foundation and matches account for $40,000 of that. The city’s parks department has pledged $32,000. but has not issued formal funding, he said.

McPherson monument has cracks at base, on features
(Picket photos)

“I do not have all of the money needed, but feel that we could come up with the remainder by going only to the neighborhood to pass the hat. There are other deadlines that might require that we begin before we have all of the money. We are trying not to lose any of the money that we have been given,” Bryant said.

B*ATL might consider reducing some landscaping and other features, or use concrete instead of granite curbing if it doesn’t reach the $192,000 target.

This Sunday is an opportunity for those who want to learn about the Battle of the Atlanta and support the monument restoration effort. B*ATL is doing a 5-mile “Battle in Reverse” hike at 3 p.m. “We start at the end of the battle traversing the Union front lines, seeing historic sites as we go towards the beginning where the Confederates entered the scene to challenge and then returning to the end,” Bryant said.

The tour will take up to three hours and costs $15. You can register here.

Current plans for restoration on McPherson Avenue (B*ATL)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Sultana descendants meeting in Selma, where many passengers were Federal prisoners

Descendants of those on the ill-fated steamboat Sultana will visit a site in Alabama where nearly 1,000 of the passengers were held prisoner during the Civil War.

The overcrowded Sultana, chugging north on the Mississippi River, exploded and caught fire on April 27, 1865, killing more than 1,100 people. Most of the victims were recently released Union prisoners heading home. Gaunt men who had been held at Cahaba and Andersonville were lost or injured in the disaster.

Box made by survivor (Marion Chamber of Commerce)

The Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends is holding its 31st annual reunion this Friday and Saturday, said co-founder Norman Shaw.

“Our group has held reunions at every important site related to the Sultana story (Vicksburg, Memphis, Andersonville and Cincinnati, where it was built, etc.) except the prison site at Old Cahawba, which we will tour Saturday morning and spend the afternoon visiting the battle sites of Gen. Wilson's attack and victory over Gen. Forrest on April 2, 1865, during Wilson's raid through the South,” Shaw told the Picket.

He said Selma was essential for munitions production and was a Confederate naval building center, producing the ironclad CSS Tennessee, which was forced to surrender during Union Adm. David Farragut's successful capture of Mobile in August 1864.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Annual Sultana festival will spotlight Civil War maritime disaster, plans for a new museum

The Sultana, a day before disaster (Library of Congress)

The greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history will be remembered Saturday in the Arkansas town near where the Sultana exploded and burned, with speakers focusing on why and how it happened and plans for a new museum about the Civil War tragedy.

The free 3rd Annual Sultana Heritage Festival in Marion will include a series of speakers from 9:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Trinity in the Fields Anglican Church.

The steamboat, chugging north on the Mississippi River, exploded and caught fire on April 27, 1865, killing hundreds. Many of those on board were released Union prisoners, including gaunt soldiers who were held in Andersonville. They were heading home at war’s end. Marion was the closest community to where the overcrowded 260-foot sidewheeler came to rest and residents helped rescue those thrown into the chilly water.

Gene Salecker: How many actually died?

While estimates have varied over the years, many histories list 1,800 killed passengers and crew members. Military historian and Sultana artifacts collector Gene Salecker has argued that number is much too high.

Salecker with a Sultana model in Marion

Salecker told the Picket he has checked government lists, adjustant general reports, pension and burial records, along with obituaries, newspaper accounts and genealogies.
He found a total of 2,137 on the Sultana, with 953 surviving – meaning an estimated 1,184 soldiers, crew members, civilians and guards died.

“If the Sultana disaster was a Civil War battle, it would rank number 12 among the most costliest battles in the Civil War -- and most of the battles were two and three day affairs,” he said. “The Sultana disaster lasted about five hours. By the way, we used to think that about 200 people died in Memphis hospitals after being rescued. I have found only 31.”

Louis Intres: Drumming up interest in permanent museum

The adjunct professor and Sultana expert was hired by the city to serve as museum development director and raise about $3 million for a new venue. Officials hope to draw visitors from all over the country, including from Memphis, Tennessee, across the Mississippi River.

Currently, the story of the steamboat is told in small museum staffed by volunteers. Intres will give an update on the plans, which he described in a Picket interview last year,

Intres told the Picket on the eve of the festival that he will begin work full time on the project beginning May 1, now that he is ending his teaching career in the history department at Arkansas State University.

He said a city advertising and promotion committee has committed $845,000 for the construction of a new venue and operation of the current museum.

Intres wrote: “I have also just completed a professionally designed promotional package for national distribution to targeted benefactors, foundations, trusts, and private philanthropies.  Lastly, I have begun to identify and recruit members of various segments of the national economy who have an interest in U.S. history, philanthropy and a history in supporting museums, libraries and large public educational attractions like ours. Thus far, several people have indicated a real interest in becoming a part of our national fund-raising effort.  Lastly, my committee and I are beginning to arrange appointments with private, state, and federal agency personnel for support and funding opportunities.”

Meanwhile, the city of Marion is giving the temporary museum a face-lift with a remodeling, Intres said.

Judge John Fogleman: Townspeople came to rescue

The circuit judge told the Picket he will portraying his great-great grandfather, John Fogleman, who along with his sons, Dallas and Leroy, and three neighbors helped get those who remained on the Sultana safely to the Arkansas shore.

“I will also be covering the efforts of another great-great grandfather, Franklin Hardin Barton, in helping the victims of the Sultana.”

The judge also will discuss the Federal burning of the Arkansas villages of Mound City and Hopefield in responses to Confederate guerrilla activities and the trial of a man accused of instigating the hanging of an abolitionist.

Jerry Potter: Why did the disaster happen?

Potter, a Memphis lawyer and Sultana expert, has written about a kickback scheme between the vessel's financially-strapped captain, J. Cass Mason, the steamer's captain and master, and an Army quartermaster, Lt. Col. Reuben B. Hatch. The Sultana was way above passenger capacity at the time of the explosion.

In the end, no one was formally held accountable for putting too many men on the Sultana and sailing despite documented concerns about the safety of one of the boat's boilers. The Picket has reached out to Potter for comment on what he hopes to cover in his talk.

Current Sultana museum (Gene Salecker)

Jimmy Ogle: Memphis before, during and after the war

The tour guide told the Picket he will briefly cover early explorers and settler, then the development of the steamboat landing and cobblestone wharf. The opening of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad in the middle of the 19th century “led to Memphis to being an important center of transportation prior to the Civil War, and then a target for quick Union occupation.”

Ogle also will touch on the naval battle for Memphis, wartime occupation, immigration of formerly enslaved persons, yellow fever epidemics and the city’s first major bridge (1892).

Marion Chamber of Commerce President Track Brick told the Evening Times newspaper that the speaker series set for Saturday “is going to be factual enough so that someone who is a real historian will enjoy it, but also entertaining enough for the person who lives in town who wants to learn more about the Sultana. So I think we have something where we can reach a pretty broad audience.”