Thursday, June 29, 2017

At Pea Ridge battlefield, students search for structures, evidence of a hamlet's culture

Student Madison Atchley and archaeologist Jerry Hilliard (U. of Ark.)

University of Arkansas archaeology students learning excavation techniques have identified the remains of at least four structures in a hamlet that was transformed into a Federal field hospital during the Battle of Pea Ridge.

“There is a whole lot more to discover,” said Jamie Brandon, a professor and an Arkansas Archeological Survey archaeologist.

Brandon, working with staff and faculty, supervised 10 students in this summer’s field school, which concludes Friday.

“We are trying to reconstruct the best we can the footprint of Leetown, this mid-19th century hamlet,” he told the Picket by phone this week.

Leetown was only a half mile from the pitched fighting of March 7, 1862. Homes were used for hospitals, woods and fields were filled with battle debris, and the stench of death permeated the air, according to the National Park Service.

Two Confederate generals died near Leetown during assaults after their units were separated during a flanking movement. The Confederates were forced to withdraw.

Unlike the famous Elkhorn Tavern some 2 miles to the east, what’s left of Leetown is buried.

Jamie Brandon (second from left) supervises field work. (U. of Ark.)

The Arkansas Archeological Survey, a part of the University of Arkansas system, is in a four-year project examining up to nine areas in Pea Ridge National Military Park. The park, Brandon noted, wants to better interpret to visitors what the village meant to the battle, perhaps through shadow buildings or signs. Archaeologists want to reconstruct past cultures. “We are interested in how (the fighting) impacted the civilian landscape.” The hamlet was largely unoccupied by the early 1880s.

Brandon said students conducted excavations and were washing artifacts this week. They did find evidence of a Union presence (it is unlawful for the public to dig for artifacts on federal property).

Maps of the area are not exact, but there could be the remnants of eight to 12 buildings, including farmsteads, a store and Masonic lodge. One that was noted this year was a detached kitchen to the Mayfield log cabin.

The Picket has published posts about spring 2016 excavations in Ruddick’s Field, a couple miles to the east of Leetown. Archaeologists recovered 540 artifacts – the largest a 6-pound solid artillery shot – from the cornfield and in wooded areas. They will be used to plot locations of artillery pieces.

Foundations are all that remain in Leetown (NPS photo)

Brandon said a report on Ruddick’s Field is being prepared for submission in 2019. Archaeologists will return to Leetown next year and a survey of areas on the eastern side of the battlefield – site of an artillery duel -- is planned, Brandon said.

He said this year’s exploration at Leetown was an “initial foray.” Officials hope they can lead a larger volunteer dig, perhaps as soon as next summer.

Work at Pea Ridge is believed to be the first time large-scale remote sensing has been used on such a battlefield, archaeologists told the Picket.

A workshop put on this year for the National Park Service drew expects from all over the world wanting to know more about the mix of technology, said Brandon.

(University of Arkansas)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Md. community recalls 1863 skirmish

As bagpipes echoed throughout downtown Westminster, Md., residents who poked their heads out of their windows were greeted with the possibly surprising sight of Union and Confederate soldiers marching together peacefully down the streets Saturday. This weekend, Emerald Hill, the grounds surrounding Westminster City Hall, have been transported to the 1860s, as the Pipe Creek Civil War Roundtable commemorates the Battle of Westminster at their annual Corbit's Charge event, which continues through Sunday. • Article

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Out of the water: CSS Georgia casemate section is remarkably preserved

video

(Video by Panamerican Consultants Inc., via USACE)

One down, and one much bigger piece to go.

Crews working from barges in Savannah, Ga., on Wednesday evening lifted a 20-foot-by-24-foot piece of casemate that once protected the Confederate ironclad CSS Georgia.

Officials are excited because it includes a corner of the structure

Timbers used to support the armor – which was made from joined railroad iron – were “massive and so impressive,” said Jeremy S. Buddemeier, new media and social media manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Savannah office.

Stephen James, leader archaeologist with Panamerican Consultants, one of the contractors on site, told the Picket on Thursday afternoon that the wood "is shiny smooth, just like it was cut." The piece was lying in the mud, with the armor up and the wood down.

A bottom timber appears to be a foot in diameter, while the upper layer is about 6 inches in diameter, he said.

Corps senior archaeologist Julie-Morgan Ryan said that a mix of roots, biomass and mussels had covered and preserved the artifact with up to 3 feet of sediment, Buddemeier said. That layer protected the 47-ton casemate from wood-damaging Teredo worms that were evident in 2015 recovery dives.

The Corps is removing the scuttled vessel’s wreckage as part of a massive harbor deepening project.

They placed a prefabricated frame under this particular piece of armor, which is called the east casemate because of its position in the debris field.

Section of CSS Georgia casemaste (USACE)

Divers are having to deal with the Savannah River’s strong current and are working around “slack tides” that can have them in the water longer. They were able to do three dives Wednesday and the daylight and the tides lined up for the east casemate lift, officials said.

Next up is the west casemate, which is about 68 feet by 24 feet and weighs an estimated 120 tons. Lifting that one intact will be a bigger challenge, requiring beams and two cranes.

The earliest that lift will occur is next weekend, the Corps said. Following that comes the mechanized phase, in which a clamshell device will scoop up remaining artifacts from the river floor.

The U.S. Navy, which owns the shipwreck, would like to see artifacts and a reconstructed section of casemate to be displayed in a museum. James said in order to conserve the two casemate sections, conservators would have to separate the iron and wood.

And while the timbers that came up Wednesday are remarkably preserved, he said, they probably wouldn't hold up in the open air, even after extensive conservation. A display could feature the iron armor and new wood.

The crews will rebury the casemate sections in a secure part of the river until a decision is made on future conservation. For now, the east casemate, resting on a barge, is being kept wet with sprinklers.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

$3 million Lincoln, Civil War collection donated to Mississippi State University

Officials say a large Civil War donation will transform Mississippi State University into one of the nation's leading Civil War research destinations. Former Rhode Island Chief Justice Frank J. Williams, a nationally known authority on Abraham Lincoln, will donate his collection, amassed over the past 50 years. The collection -- valued at nearly $3 million -- features more than 17,000 items, including artifacts, signed documents, books and artwork from the Civil War era. • Article

Saturday, June 17, 2017

CSS Georgia recovery: Crews back on river will try to lift 2 casemate sections intact

(All photos USACE)

Julie Morgan
Two years after the recovery of much of the jumbled remains of the CSS Georgia in Savannah, Ga., divers and crews will be back on the Savannah River starting next week (June 19) to go after two prize casemate sections and more artifacts. The ironclad, which served as a floating battery, was scuttled in December 1864 before Federal forces took the city. Julie Morgan, an archaeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the removal of the CSS Georgia as part of a harbor deepening project, spoke this week about what’s new this time around. Update! Casemate section lifted

Will this be as interesting as the 2015 effort?

“It is another chapter. The possibility of seeing these large sections of casemate is pretty exciting. It is the casemate that makes the Georgia pretty unique,” said Morgan. “To bring up something this size intact is an amazing engineering feat.” She cautions officials may have to go to a Plan B of separating sections if the casemate doesn’t have the integrity to be brought up in a single lift. Much of the wood backing has deteriorated. Officials said their hope is to bring up a “corner” of the casemate to demonstrate how the sloped pieces of wood-backed armor were designed and fastened.


What’s the importance of the casemate?

It was the protective armor that covered both sides of the Confederate vessel and housed the artillery pieces. What’s unusual about the Georgia was instead of rolled plate, the casemate was composed of railroad iron (above) attached to multiple layers of supporting wood. The recovery will be no easy task, and crews did not have the proper equipment (and big enough cranes) to lift the two sections in 2015, Morgan said. The west section, about 68 feet by 24 feet, weighs about 120 tons. The largest piece of the east casemate, at 40 tons, is about 27 feet by 24 feet. 

Frame that will be used on east casemate (USACE photo)

What’s the approach this summer?

“We are approaching this as an intact recovery,” said Morgan. The team will go first after the east casemate and will strap a prefabricated frame beneath to serve as support. For the much larger and heavier west casemate, beams will be used and two cranes will make the lift to a barge.

A 5,000-pound casemate after recovery in 2013.

What else may be recovered?

The project will be done in two phases, with the casemates first. In 2015, the east section was moved and many artifacts beneath were scooped or brought up. But crews couldn’t get to the other section, lending a bit of mystery as to what may still be there. “There is no telling. What is under that west casemate won’t be discovered until we get it up,” said Morgan. The mechanized phase follows. Crews will use a large clamshell device to bring up items from the river floor. All manner of artifacts were brought up that way in 2015.

What has been learned about the gunboat in the past couple years?

“Even from the artifacts we recovered in 2015 it really did verify a lot of the archival accounts of the inadequacies of power and components,” said the archaeologist. Conservators have found maker’s marks on cannon and gun sights. “She was built underpowered and the rationale for why is an interesting question.”

Artist's rendering of the CSS Georgia

What’s going to happen to the casemate?

They’ll be placed back into the river by the end of this summer’s work, in a “secure location” away from the shipping lane. As Morgan explains, there needs to be a spot and plan for conservation before they are taken from the water and exposed to the air, which would hasten corrosion. The CSS Georgia conservation has been going on at Texas A&M University, but it still has many items from 2015.

What is the long-term prospects for displaying CSS Georgia items?


As the Picket has previously reported, the U.S. Navy, which owns the vessel, wants to see artifacts on display somewhere rather than in a conservation lab or warehouse. It is in touch with museums and other venues on the prospects. “A larger collection gives a better story, but I think there’s also the possibility of some traveling exhibits to get more exposure, especially throughout the state of Georgia,” said Morgan. She understands why it may be difficult to show an entire section of the west casemate. “We are talking about something so large you would almost have to design a building around it.”