Monday, March 19, 2018

Sorry, no evidence of gold at Pa. site

The FBI has come up empty at the Pennsylvania site where Civil War gold is rumored to be buried. State officials and members of a treasure-hunting group joined the FBI at the site 135 miles northeast of Pittsburgh where local lore has it a shipment was lost or hidden during the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. • Article

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Divided over NC Confederate monuments: More than 4,000 submit comments on proposed relocation of 3 memorials

Confederate Soldiers Monument
A request by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper's administration to move three Confederate monuments from the Capitol grounds in Raleigh has garnered more than 4,000 comments on a state website soliciting opinions.

The North Carolina Historical Commission has been tasked with talking with historians, legal experts and hearing from the public before it makes a decision.

The next step is a hearing on March 21 in Raleigh, at which speakers have one minute to make their positions known to a five-member study committee.

A 2015 state law makes it difficult to remove or relocate public monuments, according to the News & Observer. Cooper made the recommendation following the Charlottesville, Va., violence last summer.

The commission is trying to determine whether it even has the authority to order the state statues moved to the Bentonville battlefield about 45 miles away. A petition for relocation calls them “objects of remembrance.”

“This commission has not had a contentious issue before them until now,” Michele Walker, a public information officer for the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, told the Picket this week.

The three memorials on Union Square are the Confederate Women's Monument (1914), the Confederate Soldiers Monument (1895) and the Henry Lawson Wyatt Monument (1912). Wyatt was the first North Carolinian killed in the Civil War.

The comment page, which launched on Jan. 29, is not restricted to state residents, though most do come from them. As of the morning of March 15, 4,031 people had weighed in.

Confederate Women's Monument (NCDCR)

They reflect what commission member David Ruffin said during a committee conference call this week that set ground rules for the hearing: “We understand that opinions are strong and divided, and in many cases, passionately held.”

While some comments reviewed by the Picket showed nuanced feelings on the matter, most are solidly on either side of the contentious issue.

“The monuments were placed by the children and widows of these men on the capitol grounds at a time when these veterans were getting old, and passing on,” wrote a High Point resident. “They were placed to memorialize these heroes, plain and simple, with no ulterior motives. I would feel we would be doing ourselves and their memories a grave disservice to move these monuments from their time-honored spots.”

A Chapel Hill resident countered.

“These statues told black citizens that they were not welcome in their own country, and they continue to send that message today. As long as these statue(s) stand in our state capitol, we are implicitly condoning the white supremacists who put them up. North Carolina can do better. Please remove these monuments to hate.”

Some commenters said if the three are moved, so should statues of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  But James Leloudis, a history professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, told the News & Observer that equating the memorials ignores “fundamental moral distinctions.”

The Confederacy was built on the rejection of the founding principle that "all men are created equal," Leloudis said, while "King, by comparison, called the nation back to its core defining democratic values."

The public hearing is set for 1:30-3:30 p.m. on March 21 at the Archives and History/State Library Building in Raleigh. The chair has the option of extending the session by an hour if needed.

Henry Lawson Wyatt Monument (NCDCR)

During their conference call, committee members focused on ground rules and ensuring that all views are heard. Speakers must sign in before they can address the committee and they cannot mention other monuments, such as the Silent Sam monument in Chapel Hill.

“We are trying to be open and fair and respectful of all opinions,” said Ruffin.

Speakers get one minute, and a red warning card will be put up after 30 seconds.

“No applause or other noises or clapping shall be allowed or tolerated before, during or after any speaker. Individuals in attendance who violate this rule will first be warned and then removed from the audience if a second violation occurs,” the committee said.

Walker said no banners or flags will be allowed. While people generally respect others and the rules, she said, security will be present.

The committee members agreed that the chairman can ask for comments representing another view if they have not heard speakers with such views. “Whatever our positions, we must be both fair to divergent opinions and respectful of each other’s rights to utter those opinions,” Ruffin said.

The committee can vote to keep the monuments where they are, add interpretive signage that may give historical context, move them or consider other options. “They are not limited to yes or no,” Walker told the Picket.

A Durham commenter spoke to one possible option: “If the monuments stay where they are, additional information needs to be posted on the same site to put them into the context in which they were erected. The date the monument was erected, who paid for it, who supported it, who did not support it. The fact that many were erected during Jim Crow as a way to put down efforts at equality by African-Americans should be front and center.”

A Holly Springs resident disagrees. “It is a very dangerous idea to remove statues which certain people do not agree with. History cannot be rewritten to satisfy disgruntled citizens.”

Walker said the committee is taking its duties very seriously.

“They want to know what the people of North Carolina think and how they want this issue to be handled,” she said.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Wyse Fork monument is dedicated

People gathered last weekend in Lenoir County to remember those who fought in the second-largest Civil War battle in North Carolina. To celebrate the 153rd anniversary of the Battle of Wyse Fork, a marker with the names of 350 men was unveiled. • Article

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Picket tours the USS Monitor Center's conservation lab, where thousands of artifacts and science meet

Sheaves used in rigging blocks on USS Monitor
Thousands of artifacts are in plastic containers
Turret inside giant conservation tank (All photos by the Picket)

The anniversary “Battle of Hampton Roads Weekend” event beginning Friday at the Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va., will include behind-the-scenes tours of the laboratory that is conserving giant and tiny artifacts from the USS Monitor.

I got a look inside the USS Monitor Center’s Batten Conservation Complex during a visit last week. While I don’t know precisely what the $10 tours of the center and lab this weekend will include, I wanted to share some photos from my walk-through with conservation administrator Tina Gutshall. I also spoke with project manager Will Hoffman.

The ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia are famous for their March 9, 1862, clash that changed naval warfare. While the Confederate vessel was scuttled and largely lost, conservators and historians for nearly two decades have studied remnants of the Monitor that were recovered off Cape Hatteras, N.C., where it was lost in a storm.

Signature pieces receiving conservation treatment in tanks at the lab are the ship’s huge turret, the engine and condenser, and two 11-inch Dahlgren guns. Thousands of smaller items are being conserved in plastic containers filled with water or chemicals.

Hundreds of treated artifacts are displayed in the museum, including the propeller and anchor.

Organic materials are kept in a special cooler
Hoffman and Gutshall on walkway above tanks

Gutshall told me the goal is to have the conservation completed by 2029-30. But that’s somewhat of a best estimate.

“It has always been fluid because you do what is best for the object,” Gutshall said.

The chief challenge for Hoffman and his team is finding and utilizing  – or in some cases, tweaking -- the appropriate technology to treat a particular item. Cast iron and wrought iron have different properties, so while dry ice cleaning might work for one object, it may not for another. Hundreds of artifacts have been treated with dry ice, which has the effectiveness of sand blasting.

“We have to figure out every step of it,” Hoffman told me. “We have to understand how (an item) was made, how it was used and how it deteriorated.”

The conservation process largely concentrates on removing sea salts that permeated the iron for about 140 years. Over 15 years, conservators have made significant process on the turret, but fine corrosion is embedded in folds of the curved iron plates.

One of the 11-inch Dahlgrens
The Monitor's engine receives treatment

John Ericsson, who built the USS Monitor, utilized an innovative engine that is made of many materials.

“We have the earliest and most complete steam engine room in the world,” said Hoffman, referring to the engine, condenser, bulkhead, propeller and its shaft, two Worthington pumps and the reversing gear.

Conservators also are concentrating on gun carriages for the Dahlgrens that fired from the turret. One has been disassembled; the other is still in a tank. They are made of iron, copper alloy and wood. The preferred treatment for a composite artifact is to take it apart so that each piece can be treated.

Reproduction of a Worthington pump
One of the new cabinets installed in laboratory.
Some of the gaskets used on Monitor (All photos by the Picket)

Gutshall also helps students and researchers with questions about the USS Monitor, including its design and construction.

Hoffman admired the craftsmanship that went into the ironclad, which was built in less than four months.

“It was a guy’s livelihood. It was made to the nines,” he said. “The machining and milling is perfect.”

Iron bolts from disassembled gun carriage.
Room where photos of artifacts are taken.

'Shoot him on the spot' letter that made Northerners rally around the flag is donated to Treasury Department

Click to enlarge (Treasury Department)
John Adams Dix was US treasury secretary for just two months, but in that time a short message he wrote got the attention of secessionists,  surprised his boss, President James Buchanan, and brought cheers across the North.

On January 29, 1861 – a few months before the Civil War began – Dix issued an order saying a Federal revenue cutter must not be allowed to fall into the hands of Southern sympathizers in New Orleans. He concluded the message with, “If anyone attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.”

While a telegram bearing the message was stopped in Alabama, word got out and the line became a rallying cry in the North during the war. A song was written in its honor and banners and coins carried Dix's command, according to The New York Times' Disunion blog.

Dix token (Wikipedia)
On Wednesday, the letter was donated by the National Collector’s Mint to the Treasury Department’s library. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin presided over a brief ceremony, according to media reports.

Dix was an Army veteran, politician and U.S. senator from New York before the war. During the conflict, he suppressed draft riots in New York in 1863 and helped arrange prisoner exchanges through the Dix-Hill Cartel. He served as New York governor in 1873 and 1874.

Today, he’s perhaps best-remembered for the letter he sent to treasury officers who were being harassed in New Orleans following the election of Abraham Lincoln.

Buchanan would soon be out of office and secessionist sentiment was growing across the South, and there were threats of seizure of federal property. Buchanan's administration was considered to be vacillating and divided.

Just two weeks after becoming treasury secretary, Dix issued his order. It came as he worked to keep other ships in Federal hands. The Revenue Cutter Service was a predecessor of the Coast Guard.

The Rebel-sympathizing captain of the cutter McClelland had refused to move his ship north, according to the Disunion blog, and Dix dashed off his correspondence:

“Tell Lieutenant Caldwell to arrest Captain Breshwood, assume command of the cutter, and obey the order I gave through you. If Captain Breshwood, after arrest, undertakes to interfere with the command of the cutter, tell Lieutenant Caldwell to consider him a mutineer, and treat him accordingly. If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.”

Portrait of Dix (Treasury Department)

Dix later wrote that he didn’t tell Buchanan about the matter beforehand, fearing he would not allow the letter to be sent. The official told the president about the message a few days later while they were discussing the revenue cutters.

Dix described the order, and Buchanan questioned him about the “shoot him on the spot” line.

“Did you write that?”

“No, sir. I did not write it, but I telegraphed it.”

President Buchanan
Buchanan made no answer.

Dix later said the U.S. flag should never by hauled down by a foe, according to memoirs written by his son.

“I did not think, when I seized the nearest pen …. And wrote the order in as little time as it would take to read it, that I was doing anything specially worthy of remembrance.”

Despite the letter, the flag did come down on the McClelland and the ship eventually fell into Confederate hands.

Mnuchin expressed admiration for Dix's leadership at a "pivotal time" in U.S. history, the Associated Press reports.