Wednesday, October 29, 2014

'Tis as still as death': Family donates soldier's diary to Kennesaw Mountain park

(Courtesy of Kennesaw Mountain NBP)

Amanda Corman, park ranger and curator at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in suburban Atlanta, has learned you never know what treasure may emerge from someone's attic, basement or closet.

Last week, the great-great-granddaughter of an Ohio Civil War artilleryman donated a pocket-sized diary she had kept in a closet to protect it from harmful light.

While Corman hasn't had the opportunity yet to read much of the diary because of time constraints and the need to handle it as little as possible until it is preserved and its contents transcribed and digitized, she's excited about the new addition to the park's collection.

Personal accounts, including this one inscribed with pencil, help bring battle histories to life.

"They were people just like us," she said of the soldiers. "That makes the story richer."

Pvt. J.B. "Jerry" Creighton's diary covers parts of June and July 1864, right in the thick of the Atlanta Campaign. The first entry is dated June 29, two days after the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. While Corman does not yet know for sure whether it was written in Georgia, the dates match the unit's timeline in the area.

Battery A of the 1st Ohio Volunteer Light Artillery participated in the battle. "There is a strong possibility he was here," said Corman.

Debi Merchant, who coincidentally lives not far from the park in Marietta, Ga., made the donation on behalf of her father Jerry Creighton Barrington, who died Jan. 1, 2013.

"Daddy got the diary because he was named for Jeroboam," said Merchant. Some records show his name spelled as Jereboam.

Her father, who had thought about giving the journal to a museum, put it in her care about 10 years ago.

While Merchant kept the diary in the darkest recesses of a closet, the 15 or so pages of entries lost some of their readability over 150 years -- not an unusual occurrence. "It is very difficult to make out anything," she told the Picket.

Merchant hasn't read it in more than 20 years and cannot recall many specifics. So the upcoming transcription will help unlock Creighton's story to the public.

"It is in very, very good condition," said Corman. Preserving the work will take some time and money, whether it is done through the National Park Service or a contractor. She didn't have a timeline for the transcription.

Merchant said she recalls one reference in the diary, something to the effect of: "Father forgive, us. What we are doing is wrong. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ."

A photograph taken by the park of one interior page is dated July 1, 1864: "Tis as still as death this morning -- had another row last night one similar to the one of night before last, which was nothing but a waste of ammunition and a disturbance of peace."

It's not known whether the Ohio soldier kept other diaries lost over time.

Creighton didn't fit the profile of the typical young Civil War soldier. The native of Stark County, Ohio, was about 36 when the war broke out and he had apparently served in the Mexican-American War nearly 15 years before.

He fought with the 1st Ohio Light Artillery until he mustered out at the end of July 1865. He had one child, died in 1890 and is buried at Glendale Cemetery in Akron.

Battery A's engagements included Stones River, Tenn., Chickamauga, Ga., Chattanooga, Tenn., Dalton and Resaca, Georgia, Kennesaw, Peachtree Creek and Atlanta.

Rather than continuing on to the March to the Sea in late 1864, the battery was sent to tangle with Confederate Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood's Army of the Tennessee at Columbia, Spring Hill and Franklin, Tenn., said official Ohio records.

According to family history, Creighton may also have served in the Federal Navy during the Civil War and later helped develop a design for a railroad sleeping car.

Merchant said another ancestor, Charles Springer, fought for an Ohio unit and was killed at Pickett's Mill in May 1864, also during the Atlanta Campaign.

Depending on what preservation experts say, it's possible the diary could be exhibited one day at the Kennesaw battlefield, said Corman.

Documents and other diaries aren't currently available online, but researchers can contact the park to do research at its library.

Corman said she rarely sees such works join the park's collection.

"There is always something you never expect," she said. "Small tidbits can add more to our story."

Monday, October 27, 2014

'Stunning' coat worn by USS Monitor sailor is conserved, will help tell ironclad's story

Sections of conserved coat. (Image courtesy of Mariners' Museum)
USS Monitor on James River in Virginia (U.S. Navy)

By now, they knew they were in serious trouble. Their vessel was rolling wildly in a terrible storm off Cape Hatteras, N.C. Leaks had sprung everywhere and the water pumps couldn't keep up.

The USS Monitor -- the famed ironclad that helped revolutionize naval warfare -- was doomed.

The battle to save the USS Monitor over, dozens of seamen rushed to make their way out of the boat's only available exit: The familiar cylindrical turret.

"People wrote of stripping off heavy clothing as they got off the ship," said David Krop, director of the USS Monitor Center at The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Va. "They were saying, 'I dont want to get pulled under in this outer clothing' and 'let's get out of here.'"

The USS Monitor, which had been under tow from Virginia to North Carolina, early on Dec. 31, 1862, slipped beneath the sea, its turret resting upside down on the Atlantic Ocean floor.

Sixteen men were lost, 47 were rescued and a stream of artifacts, including the clothing and shoes in the turret, over time became covered with sediment.

(Image courtesy of NOAA)

A pile of wool, stained in places, was found (above) inside when the turret was raised in 2002 for a long-term conservation process that continues today at the USS Monitor Center's lab. The 180 wool fragments were placed in frozen storage for four years.

Thinking at first it might be a blanket, staff members painstakingly worked on the item, ensuring it was stabilized and removing iron staining without taking out the color.

"It took many years to even know it was a coat," Krop recently told The Civil War Picket.

After years of conservation, USS Monitor Center and museum officials are excited that what turned out to be a double-breasted sack coat will go on display, likely next summer. The merino wool coat will again sport its hard rubber buttons found in the muck.

(Image courtesy of Mariners' Museum)

About 85 percent of the coat remains and though it can't be reassembled, visitors will be able to compare it to a more modern version and learn more about it through interpretive panels. "It is mind-blowing," said Krop.

The center does not know whether the civilian coat, fashioned by its wearer for U.S. Navy service, belonged to one of two crew members whose remains were found in the turret. One of the deceased sailor's was wearing two different types of shoes, a possible indicator of the mad rush to leave the USS Monitor.

The artifact will help further the museum's goal of bringing the human component to a story of the innovative ironclad that tangled with the Confederacy's CSS Virginia in nearby Hampton Roads in March 1862. The USS Monitor, while smaller, was more nimble than the CSS Virginia, and the two vessels fought to what many consider a draw.

Many museum visitors are interested in the USS Monitor's technology and innovations, including the turret and its eight steam engines. The largest engine also is being conserved in a large tank.

Pieces of coat during conservation process (Mariners' Museum)

But they also are curious about the vessel's crew. "When they see personal items, facial reconstructions or items with names," Krop said of visitors, "they stop dead in their tracks."

The director said the story of the coat encapsulates everything his staff does -- conserving about 1,600 artifacts while trying to add context to each item.

"That coat speaks to the struggle of people on the vessel trying to get off it," said Krop.

Matthew T. Eng of the Naval Historical Foundation wrote last month about a visit to the USS Monitor Center and his observations on the coat and its quality craftsmanship.

"The coat is absolutely stunning in person. The colors seem vibrant and alive, as if you just picked the coat out of the closet to wear. It is remarkable how together it looks. I have some clothes that look worse for wear than the Monitor coat," Eng wrote. "They have done a truly remarkable job keeping such a delicate artifact intact and well-preserved over a decade after it came out of the water. You can see every nuance and detail from the buttons."

The lab's work is aided by federal government funding (through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and contributions, including $20,000 put toward the coat conservation by the museum's Bronze Door Society.

Buttons that belong to the coat (Image courtesy of Mariners' Museum)

Officials want to keep actual and virtual visitors up on the results of such conservation efforts.

Tina Gutshall, a conservation assistant who has worked on the USS Monitor since 2002, has been operating the lab's social media accounts, since September 2012. Its Twitter feed is very active.

"We wanted to have something where we could keep throwing things out there to the public to try to reach as many people as we can. We want to share it."

Artifact images and information on the treatment process are particularly popular, with recent posts showing shoes, a spoon, the main engine throttle wheel, a ceramic dish and a sight cover for the turret Dahlgren artillery.

A website talking about work on the USS Monitor likened the shape of the sight cover to a piece of tandoori chicken.

Gutshall got a chuckle from that observation.

"It shows that (social media) is engaging people," she said.

COMING SOON: Q&A with Krop about the lab's ongoing work

Friday, October 24, 2014

French's Rock at Kennesaw battlefield

Troops under Confederate Maj. Gen. Samuel French, a native of New Jersey, occupied Pigeon Hill at Kennesaw and received Union artillery fire on June 27, 1864, before a major assault. I walked a bit of this area yesterday. I believe this is French's Rock on the Little Kennesaw Mountain trail.

The general wrote he and his staff took shelter behind the rock while they observed the beginning of enemy activity and an artillery exchange. "Presently and as if by magic there sprang from the earth a host of men and in one long waving line of blue, the infantry advanced and the battle of Kennesaw Mountain began." French's division checked the attack.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A descendant to acquire Medal of Honor?

The search for a relative to receive the Medal of Honor that Alonzo Cushing was awarded 150 years after his heroism at Gettysburg may have ended with some connections made in Fredonia, N.Y., on Saturday. Dr. Brian Cushing of Williamsville stood up and said he can trace his family history to the Cushing brothers, Alonzo and William. • Article

Monday, October 13, 2014

Camp Lawton website will feature 'artifact of the week' during 150th anniversary

3D of Union brass button
Georgia Southern University in Statesboro is updating a website that documents students’ archaeological work at the site of a Confederate military prison that was open for six weeks in autumn 1864.

The new features and Facebook posts with quotes from Union prisoners are timed to the 150th anniversary of Camp Lawton, which began operations about Oct. 10, 1864.

The website, which has a brief history of the camp and the Civil War prison experience, now has an “artifact of the week.” The first item, posted Monday, is a 3D Union brass coat button. "Several of these buttons have been recovered from the prisoners' encampment at Camp Lawton, and probably represent a trade item or form of currency in the camp," the page says.

(Courtesy GSU)
A descendant’s page includes information on individuals related to a Confederate guard and two Union soldiers. Nina Raeth, whose great-grandfather, an German immigrant, was held captive at Lawton, and Doug Carter, whose Georgia ancestor guarded the prisoners, have become fast friends in recent years.

GSU is seeking other descendants who might share their stories.

Lance Greene, assistant professor of anthropology, said the related Facebook posts about camp life will last through November 22, the last day of the prison’s existence. Greene said future website upgrades will feature more information on archaeology and artifact conservation, including a lab at GSU that includes water and alcohol baths, electrolysis and air abrasion.