Friday, April 28, 2017

With the shriek of a whistle, restored locomotive Texas makes its public debut

Jackson McQuigg and Gordon Jones of the AHC give a talk Friday (AHC)

Jackson McQuigg sounded very much like a proud papa as he described the public debut Friday morning of the restored Civil War locomotive Texas.

“It’s beautiful.” “It gives you goose bumps,” he said over the phone from the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer.

The 1856 locomotive – which tooted its whistle -- and tender got the “runway” treatment as a three-day “The Texas Returns” festival began at the museum.

The Texas, which underwent a detailed $500,000 overhaul, makes the trip early next month to the Atlanta History Center, where it will greet visitors taking in the giant Atlanta Cyclorama painting, also being restored.

As reported by the Picket, the locomotive is in a black paint scheme from about 1886, coincidentally the year the Cyclorama debuted. But it does retain some bright coloring. Gold lettering has a raised effect, the Russian iron boiler jacket is blue and the engine has a new smokestack and cowcatcher.

“The engine is honest to is parts,” said McQuigg, vice president of properties for the history center. “The 1936 restoration was great. This was even better.”

AHC officials have stressed the Texas will be interpreted with its complete history, not just its moment in the sun during the April 1862 Great Locomotive Chase.

The Texas is rolled out to the public (AHC)

McQuigg said he is most touched by the restored cab, the boiler jacket and the number plate on front -- No. 12, from the engine's days with the Western & Atlantic Railroad.

He said the museum and restorers were most surprised by how much the engine had changed over time. Basically, the Texas is a collection of parts added over the decades before it went out of service in the early 1900s.

It was saved from the junk heap because of its role in the Great Locomotive Chase, in which Confederates ran down a trainload of Yankee saboteurs. Some were hanged as spies.

The Texas and the painting were housed in Grant Park for decades before the decision was made to restore them and have them displayed at the Atlanta History Center campus in the Buckhead neighborhood.

McQuigg and Gordon Jones, senior military historian and curator with the AHC, are giving talks all weekend in Spencer, detailing the Texas' history as a railroad workhorse and the extensive restoration.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Confederate monuments coming down in N.O.

A monument to a deadly white-supremacist uprising in 1874 was removed under cover of darkness by workers in masks and bulletproof vests Monday as New Orleans joined the movement to take down symbols of the Confederacy and the Jim Crow South. In the coming days, the city also will remove statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. • Article

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Just the ticket: Restored locomotive Texas arriving at Atlanta History Center on May 3

(N.C. Transportation Museum)

Fresh from an extensive restoration, a new paint job and some fine detailing, the Civil War locomotive Texas will be placed May 3 in its new home at the Atlanta History Center.

The locomotive famous for the “chase” end of 1862’s “Great Locomotive Chase” will be trucked from the North Carolina Transportation Museum. Craftsmen with Steam Operations Corp. spent more than a year and a half restoring the 1856 machine.

The Texas will be placed in a hallway-gallery that ushers patrons to the Atlanta Cyclorama painting, which is being restored.

The AHC announced the move date in a news release Friday. 

“After many years of limited view in the basement of the Cyclorama building in Grant Park, we are putting the Texas in a place where it is going to be front and center,” said AHC Vice President of Properties Jackson McQuigg. The AHC is in the city’s Buckhead neighborhood.

The Picket has written extensively about the Texas and its restoration, including the decision to put on a black scheme, representative of its importance in the development of Atlanta as a bustling railroad town.

The Western & Atlantic iron workhorse will go on display later this year as work on the massive painting depicting the July 1864 Battle of Atlanta continues.

Locomotive cab during restoration (Picket photo)

The $500,000 restoration included voluminous research as technicians removed extensive rust and blasted the engine with baking soda. A new pilot/cowcatcher, smokestack and boiler jacket were installed. The wooden cab was stripped and repainted.

Gone is the colorful appearance the Texas had since the 1930s.

“Atlanta History Center leaders, believing the Texas has even greater importance as an artifact that speaks eloquently and authentically of Atlanta’s beginnings, decided to return the locomotive to how it appeared in the late 1880s,” the news release said.

The Texas next weekend will get a rousing sendoff at the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer. The April 28-30 event will feature other locomotives. (The Texas is no longer an operating engine)

A few days later, Texas and its restored tender will be driven to Atlanta on separate tractor trailers. They will lifted and placed on the same tracks that held them since 1927 at Grant Park.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Camp Lawton: Public welcome Friday to pitch in on excavation, learn prison's history

POW Robert Knox Sneden's map of Lawton shows the fort in the upper left, but the map is reversed. (Library of Congress)

Have a hankering to use a metal detector or take part in an archaeological excavation?

Friday’s “Public Day” at Magnolia Springs State Park near Millen, Ga., will allow visitors to get their hands dirty at the site of a large Civil War prison.

Ryan McNutt, who oversees Georgia Southern University’s Camp Lawton project, said students will be working just east of Fort Lawton, the Confederate earthworks that defended against attack on the camp and as a warning to prisoners.

“The public is welcome to participate however they want,” said McNutt. “They can try their hand at metal detecting survey, and excavating the hits, or assisting with excavating our open 1x2 meter test unit, which has some interesting features in it.”

Visitors also can see 3D printed artifacts or talk with Nina Raeth, whose ancestor was a Federal POW at Lawton, which operated for six weeks in late 1864. Many of the POWs were transferred to the site from Camp Sumter, also known as Andersonville.

GSU students have been working on two large grids east of the fort to see whether there is any sign of Confederate activity or occupation.

One of two brass harmonica reeds found at Lawton (GSU)

“The Confederate side of the story is largely unknown from an archaeological standpoint, and the area we're surveying to the east of the fort would be an ideal location for rifle pits, potential camp sites and so on,” said McNutt.

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.

The project has located Civil War period cut nails, a buckle from a horse harness and other items near Fort Lawton.

“We've also found good evidence of the land around the fort being used for hunting during the 1890s to 1900s, with numerous shotgun shell bases turning up, all with head stamps that date solidly to the period between 1890-1902,” McNutt told the Picket.

“None of the artifacts we've recovered are really military in nature, aside from a possible cone cleaner. But it is adding to the story of Camp Lawton, both during its occupation, and what it was used for afterwards.”

Previous excavations on the prisoner side of the camp 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.

Friday’s public day is from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Magnolia Springs State Park. Entrance to the park is $5 for parking or free with a park pass. Sponsors are Georgia Southern University, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Look for tents after the attendant’s hut and a volunteer will take you to the work area.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Thieves make off with wood from Port Gibson, Ms., house, leave outrage in their wake

Courtesy of Ms. Department of Archives and History

Preservationists, Civil War devotees and others are outraged about vandalism at a house that saw the opening shots of the 1863 Battle of Port Gibson in Mississippi.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History said thieves made off with four wooden support beams and damaged interior flooring and walls at the A.K. Shaifer House in Claiborne County.

“This was clearly theft. Unlike most acts of vandalism, this took planning and some effort,” Jim Woodrick, director of the department’s historic preservation staff, told the Picket on Thursday. “We can only assume that the thieves were looking to sell or reuse the original architectural features from the house. Some of the floor joists were, indeed, quite lengthy.”

One report put some of them up to 20 feet long.

The Port Gibson Heritage Trust Battlefield Committee offered a $5,000 reward and the local sheriff's department was notified.

The Shaifer House had its moment in history on April 30, 1863, when forces under Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant approached Port Gibson during its famed march on Vicksburg.
A Confederate general checked on pickets in the home’s area. A marker on the site says: “The general found Mrs. A.K. Shaifer and the ladies of the house frantically piling their household effects on a wagon.” A crash of musket fire sent the women fleeing.

The home served as a hospital and headquarters during the battle, which ended in a Federal victory and an opening to Vicksburg, which fell two months later.

Officials said the damage was found on April 1; it likely occurred in the preceding week. Woodrick said emergency repairs have been made  to stabilize the floor and other features. The property has been temporarily closed.

“The repair of the Shaifer House is a top priority,” said MDAH director Katie Blount in a statement. “We are consulting with state legislators, local governments, the Port Gibson Heritage Trust, other state agencies and the National Park Service to ensure the house is preserved for future generations.”

National Park Service photo

The home, which was restored a decade ago, did not have regular security, Woodrick said. Officials are working with agencies and volunteers to improve protection.

The Shaifer House was built by A.K. and Elizabeth Shaifer beginning in 1826. The Port Gibson battlefield is a National Historic Landmark and the Shaifer House is a Mississippi Landmark, officials said.

Woodrick called the crime “horrendous” and social media commenters voiced their displeasure. The website Preservation in Mississippi referred to the act as “bold thievery” and an article was headlined, “Let’s nail the thieves who did this to the Shaifer House.”

A Facebook page listing the reward said a chain indicated the vandals used a vehicle to carry off the structural beams. It asked for tips that might lead to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators.

“Hopefully, this will bring some much-needed attention to the plight of our historic resources and encourage people to get involved in local preservation efforts,” said Woodrick. “Certainly, there's been outrage among my Civil War brethren.”