Thursday, April 28, 2016

19-foot statue hoisted back into place

A historic statue has been returned to a Civil War memorial in Wichita, Kan., after undergoing a nearly three-year renovation in Missouri. The Wichita Eagle reports that a crane hoisted the statute, named “Liberty,” into place Wednesday. It occupies the pinnacle of the Soldiers and Sailors Civil War Monument outside the Sedgwick County Historic Courthouse. • Article

Monday, April 25, 2016

Huge painting of Gettysburg gets new home, more visitors at Spartanburg, S.C., library

James Walker/Courtesy of Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, S.C.

A massive painting depicting Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg has made a short march in downtown Spartanburg, S.C., to the county library headquarters, where more people will be able to take in all of its exacting detail.

Over the weekend, James Walker’s “The Battle of Gettysburg: Repulse of Longstreet’s Assault, July 3, 1863” was taken out of its frame at the Advance America corporate headquarters and transported a couple blocks to Spartanburg County Public Libraries, where it will be unveiled next month as part of the library headquarters’ new programming spaces.

For 12 years, the painting – a staggering 7 1/2-feet high by 20-feet wide -- was displayed in the corporate lobby, where visitors had to be buzzed in. (Click painting to enlarge)

Philanthropists Susu and George Dean Johnson Jr., who bought the panoramic work in 2003 from a Mobile, Ala., family, were “haunted” by the fact that more Spartanburg residents could not enjoy it, said Lynne Blackman, public relations coordinator for the Johnson Collection. The collection includes more than 1,200 works of fine art relating to the American South.

“The entire purpose is for it to be stewarded and shared,” Blackman told the Picket on Monday.

Blackman said nine professionals carefully moved Walker's titanic creation, not an easy task given its weight -- with frame, an estimated 2,000 pounds. The gilded frame, which features rifles and cannons, was disassembled. An expert checked the integrity of the painting, which was conserved after its purchase.

“It is in excellent shape,” Blackman told the Picket. She likened the move to a “choreographed ballet.”

The painting showing Pickett’s Charge will be on loan to the library system, where about 500,000 annual visitors can see it. County librarian Todd Stephens, in a YouTube video about the move, said the work will be in a recessed upper-floor niche and serve as a fascinating backdrop to lectures, documentary viewings and other programming.

A public unveiling is set for 7 p.m. on May 16.

J.B. Bachelder
The English-born Walker was known for his military art, often large in scale. For Gettysburg, he worked with artist and historian John Badger Bachelder. The oil painting, after it debuted in Boston in 1870, traveled around much of the country, providing education and entertainment in the days before movies.

Johnson Collection curator Erin Corrales-Diaz said patrons would buy an admission ticket and have an opportunity to buy small-scale prints of the painting and a highly detailed key showing key battle figures and moments.

In another video, history Prof. Melissa Walker of Converse College said it is astounding how Walker’s painting captures the landscape at Gettysburg.

“It is a mile of cornfield across which these soldiers were scattered,” she said. “You can really get a sense of the immensity of the battlefield and the horror of what happened there when you stand there on what many people have called consecrated ground. And you get that sense in this painting, as well.”

In a press release about the relocation, officials said the painting will provide a wealth of information about Gettysburg. (While Gen. James Longstreet was born in South Carolina, none of the Palmetto State’s troops took part in this charge, though they were elsewhere in the battle).

"Walker’s grand canvas captures the dramatic conclusion of the three-day battle, which marked a turning point in the war’s tide. Bachelder’s meticulous research and Walker’s precise technical skill combined to produce an epic visual record of the event, including regimental positions, combat vignettes, Union and Confederate soldiers, noble steeds, victory and defeat.

For a painting so huge, visitors will be drawn to details, including advancing and surrendering troops, the wounded and dying, plus various accoutrements, from caps to strewn knapsacks. Veterans would often talk about the painting’s accuracy, officials said.

Lewis Armistead
“The monumentality of the painting allows the viewer to become immersed in the scene, yet the detailed vignettes such as Confederate General Armistead handing an aide his pocket watch to give to Union General (Winfield Scott) Hancock, provide a spotlight focus that makes the painting more tangible and accessible,” Corrales-Diaz said in the statement. Armistead was mortally wounded in the attack.

While Walker’s work is not necessarily Southern, the Johnson Collection has other works, including Henry Mosler’s painting “The Lost Cause,” depicting a sorrowful soldier returning to a deserted log cabin.

The free May 16 program at the library's new Gettysburg Room will include period music and the portrayal of George Pickett, Hancock and two privates, one Federal, the other Rebel. The Johnson Collection website includes an audio overview of the painting.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

18 burial trenches at Salisbury National Cemetery in N.C. bespeak war's misery

Burial trenches are in open area to right of monuments (Picket photos)

Unlike at Camp Sumter (Andersonville) in Georgia, Union troops held at Salisbury Prison in North Carolina had no Dorence Atwater to record the names and number of fallen comrades.

When conditions in the overcrowded stockade reached a crisis stage, Confederate officials resorted to burial trenches – an estimated 18 – to hold the dead. Bodies were placed above one another in 240-foot lines; there were no markers and few coffins.

While initial Army death estimates ranged above 11,000, the National Park Service now maintains about 3,700 men died between October 1864 and February 1865. No one knows for certain.

On Saturday afternoon, I got off Interstate 85 and made a brief visit to the bucolic site southeast of downtown. Save one car, I was the only visitor to this portion of Salisbury National Cemetery on a fine spring day, a light breeze barely rustling leaves.

The cemetery has three monuments – for the unknown dead and men from Maine and Pennsylvania. Just beyond the Maine and taller monument to the unknown is an open patch of grass above the burial trenches. It’s a sobering sight.

The Keystone State has an iron placard with a title that speaks to the suffering: “Many Pennsylvania Soldiers Are Buried Here.”

I was taken by the eloquence of the panel’s message, including a reminder that the 1910 monument was erected in memory of the dead and “not as a commemoration of victory.”

Most of the individual gravestones are for unknown soldiers. Medal of Honor recipient Lorenzo Deming is among those who died at Salisbury.

The prison opened in October 1861 on the site of an old cotton factory. It was first intended to hold Confederates who had committed offenses, but it was quickly switched to hold Union troops. By the end of October 1864, the population had more than doubled to 10,000 on a site originally built for 2,500.

Description of the 18 burial trenches
View of prison, made 20 years later (Wikipedia, public domain)

Adequate shelter, rations and sanitation quickly evaporated.

“The prison quartered prisoners in every available space,” the NPS writes. “Those without shelter dug burrows in an attempt to stay warm and dry. Rations and potable water were scarce. Adding to the poor conditions was an unusually cold and wet winter. Disease and starvation began to claim lives, and all buildings within the stockade were converted to hospitals to care for the sick.

The trench graves were dug in a cornfield west of the prison. About 200 Union troops died in a November 1864 mass escape.

Maine monument (left) and one for unknown dead

With a death rate hovering near 28% in the camp’s last several months, it’s no surprise Federal forces burned the site in April 1865. (The death rate was much lower during much of the conflict). The cemetery opened in 1874.

NCpedia writes: “The most painful period for the Salisbury prisoners was from October 1864 until their release in February 1865. Accounts from POW diaries indicate that the prisoners took in about 1,600 calories per day, whereas 2,000 calories was considered the minimum for survival under the adverse conditions that existed at Salisbury. It is not surprising that diarrhea was the most common disease as well as the most deadly, due in large part to the overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

Salisbury’s commandant was acquitted of war crimes.

Peaceful scene of Salisbury prison life (Library of Congress)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Harriet Tubman: Abolitionist and Union spy

With the Treasury Department announcing Wednesday that Harriet Tubman will replace President Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill, the Washington Post reports that it is noteworthy that her legacy extends beyond her extensive contributions to the abolition movement and into her work as a Union spy who oversaw a Special Operations unit of sorts, according to numerous accounts. • Article

Monday, April 18, 2016

How they spent their spring break: Students help excavate Pea Ridge artifacts

NPS' Alex Swift with piece of case shot or a .69-caliber musket ball. (NPS)

Archaeologists are cleaning and analyzing hundreds of artifacts – the largest a 6-pound solid artillery shot – recovered from a cornfield that saw a desperate Confederate infantry assault during the 1862 Battle of Pea Ridge.

As the Picket reported in February, scientists, volunteers and historians found what they expected following high-tech surveys: Artillery fragments and solid pieces from case shot.

“We did find some bullets,” Troy Banzhaf, chief of interpretation at Pea Ridge National Military Park in northwest Arkansas, said Monday. “Most of them appeared to be dropped.”

Park volunteers, high school students on spring break from the Arkansas Arts Academy in nearby Rogers and National Park Service staffers on March 21-24 excavated 530 objects related to the battle. Another 500 artifacts are postwar.

While they used metal detectors to home in on individual items, they were guided by the findings from remote sensing sweeps conducted by the Arkansas Archeological Survey.

The “super precise” technology, combined with GPS maps, is allowing archaeologists to do a complete study of the largely pristine battle area. The tally of recovered artifacts, while impressive, is not the main aim of the research.

“More so is the location of where we are finding stuff,” said Banzhaf. “Once we have it plotted on the map, that really tells a story.”

Federal guns pounded 3,000 members of the Missouri State Guard as they made their attack at the field on March 7, 1862.

One aim of the project is to ascertain, by analyzing artillery fragment locations, just where the guns were located, the distance from targets and perhaps even the trajectory of the shots. “We can turn the four guns out there (on display) to be in a more appropriate location," Banzhaf said.

Metal detectors and shovels were constant companions (NPS)

Jamie Brandon, a regional archaeologist with the Survey, said the team is interested in such “patterns.”

“It will probably be well into the summer before we are looking at patterns in our database and what they might tell us that we did not already know about the battle.”

Pea Ridge Superintendent Kevin Eads said he is “looking forward” to seeing the analysis.

The attack on Benjamin Ruddick’s cornfield was a short affair. Union canister and shells and infantry fire ripped through the Rebel lines. It was over in 15 minutes, the survivors limping back toward Elkhorn Tavern.

(A Union artillery barraged during an artillery duel the next day sent Rebels scrambling for any cover they could find).

Thousands of “magnetic anomalies” were detected within two feet of the surface at the cornfield site. Archaeologists are excavating a limited number for further study and possible display at the visitor center – all part of an ongoing effort to more fully interpret what happened here.

Researchers have employed five remote-sensing technologies for this project: Gradiometers, electrical resistance, electromagnetic conductivity, magnetic susceptibility and ground-penetrating radar. The effort was supplemented last month by the traditional metal detector during the small, pinpoint excavations.

“Each senses a different physical property in the soil,” said Jami Lockhart, the technology guru of the Survey team. “We are trying to determine, because we can sense big concentrations of metal … where troops were shooting from and to.” 

Banzhaf said the spring break work involved digs in “lanes” of artifacts noted by the Survey. Crews worked in grids from north to south, covering about half the field.

As predicted, most of the metal turned out to be artillery fragments. A bucket and button were found, but no musket pieces, scabbard tips or uniform buttons. “It is strange we didn’t find any of that.”

Historical accounts don’t indicate exactly how long the attacking Confederate line was. 

Shell fragments have been found beyond vehicles in background (NPS)

Artillery rounds farther east than expected indicate it may have longer than anticipated.

“We are fairly close to where everything was historically but this will help us get a more pinpoint accuracy where these guns were at,” said Banzhaf.

The March 6-9, 1862, Battle of Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern) has been called by some historians “the Gettysburg of the West.”

Forces under Union Maj. Gen. Samuel Curtis defeated the men of Confederate Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn, whose leadership has been faulted by historians. On March 7, the Rebels controlled Elkhorn Tavern, but the failed attack at Ruddick’s Field presaged the next day, in which consolidated Federal troops made a counterattack, sweeping Van Dorn’s brigades from the field.

The Union won control of Missouri and weakened the Confederate hold in Arkansas.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the Pea Ridge campaign permanently altered the balance of power in the Trans-Mississippi. Few Civil War operations had such an impact on the course of events,” according to the National Park Service.

The Missouri State Guard was made up of pretty good troops, according to Banzhaf. They were veterans of Wilson’s Creek.

But they were in little shape to fight at Elkhorn Tavern, having marched 60 miles over three days. Most had little or nothing to eat for a couple days.

If they had succeeded in their attack, the Missourians might have changed the outcome of the battle – and filled their bellies. The main Union supply line was just below the cornfield.