Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Keillor to speak at Gettysburg Dedication Day

Radio program host Garrison Keillor, known for his folksy descriptions of everyday Americans, will talk about the heroes who gave their lives during the Civil War and the president who spoke eloquently about their sacrifice.

Garrison Keillor
Gettysburg National Military Park and the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania announced Wednesday that the producer of American Public Media’s “A Prairie Home Companion” heard on NPR will present the Dedication Day address on Nov. 19 at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at the park.

“It is something of a miracle that the prosperous Illinois railroad lawyer who won the 1860 election turned out to be Abraham Lincoln,” Keillor said in a statement. “He was a better man than anyone knew and a masterful writer, who gave us the Second Inaugural (“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right”), and the classic of Gettysburg, on 11/19/63.”

Since 1938, the fellowship on Nov. 19 has commemorated Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and rededicated the cemetery where he spoke on that day in 1863. Others now help sponsor the event, centered around the cemetery rostrum.

The day’s events begin at 10 a.m. and are open to the public. A naturalization ceremony is planned and there will be a wreath-laying. Details can be found here.

Keillor, in his “The Writer’s Almanac," often has mentioned Lincoln and his legacy.

“Poor Edward Everett stood up and orated for two hours that day and went down in history as a pretentious gasbag and Lincoln gave his address that thousands and thousands of schoolchildren have memorized and learned what greatness sounds like,” Keillor said in Wednesday’s statement. “But it is his plain humanity that so impresses us today. He feels like a contemporary.”

Monday, May 18, 2015

Photos: Grand Review parade in D.C.

Sunday's Grand Review Parade in Washington, D.C., included more 1,500 re-enactors marking 150 years since the end of the Civil War. Most were dressed as Union soldiers and carried muskets. A few rode down the most famous street in D.C. on horses as ladies waved handkerchiefs at them. Tourists cheered on the participants. • Photos

Friday, May 15, 2015

Navy team soon will begin removing CSS Georgia guns, artillery rounds from river

Previously recovered CSS Georgia gun (Old Fort Jackson)

A U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal team is expected to begin operations June 1 at the ongoing recovery site of the CSS Georgia, the Confederate ironclad resting in pieces on the river bottom in Savannah, Ga.

Initially, officials believed perhaps five to 10 artillery rounds might need to be removed and rendered safe.

But Russell Wicke, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah, told the Picket on Thursday that divers “kept finding more and more” – for a total of perhaps 30.

Wreckage and artifacts of the CSS Georgia are being removed from the Savannah River in the first phase of the deepening of the city’s harbor. The vessel, which served as a defensive floating battery, was scuttled by its crew in late 1864, just before Savannah fell to Federal forces.

The Navy disposal group, working from a barge, will be on site at least two weeks, lifting four remaining cannon and the artillery rounds, with a Marines team rendering them safe, said Wicke.

Officials are finalizing plans for a “safe zone” during the ordnance recovery -- meaning the public will have to be outside of that boundary.

Casemate section pulled up in 2013 (USACE)

After that work is done, the recovery shifts to the large pieces of the ship: The casemates, propeller and engine, Wicke said. Many of the pieces will be conserved for future display.

The public can learn more about the story of the CSS Georgia and its recovery at a free lecture June 2 (new date) at the Savannah History Museum, 303 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Two of the lead underwater archaeologists, Steven James and Gordon Watts, will talk about the vessel’s construction, life aboard it and how divers are documenting the wreck site. The speakers will bring some recently recovered artifacts. The museum will be open for light refreshments before the 7 p.m. talk.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Alonzo Cushing's Medal of Honor on display

The Medal of Honor awarded to Wisconsin native Alonzo Cushing for heroism at Gettysburg is on temporary loan to Delafield, where he lived several years. Though he died in 1863, Cushing didn't receive the nation's highest honor for valor until last November during a ceremony at the White House with members of his extended family present. • Article

Thursday, May 7, 2015

150 years ago: Arrest of Capt. Henry Wirz began assignment of blame for Andersonville

Harper's Weekly illustration of Capt. Wirz stomping on prisoner, based on testimony at his trial in 1865 (NPS)

On this day, 150 years ago, the commandant of the stockade at Andersonville prison was arrested, setting off a chain of events that remains controversial to this day.

Union cavalry Capt. Henry Noyes took Confederate Capt. Henry Wirz into custody at the site at war’s end. Wirz was sent to nearby Macon, Ga.; Nashville, Tenn.; and then Washington, D.C., where he was tried and convicted of conspiracy and murder.

Accounts by prisoners during the Civil War are full of stories of horror, heroism and extraordinary efforts to survive. At Andersonville alone, nearly 13,000 men died over 14 months -- an average of more than 30 a day. 

Conditions at Andersonville deteriorated quickly by the summer of 1864. Food often was scare and the staff was always short of supplies – matters not directly under Wirz’s control. And the Union army had largely ended prisoner exchanges.

But Union survivors testified he was cruel and would order some of them shot when he became enraged, or did the shooting himself.

“Wirz was unable to control the bureaucracy that plagued the Confederate military prison system, so he controlled the prisoners in the only way he could – through intimidation and punishment,” says a National Park Service article.

The officer was hanged on Nov. 10, 1865, after insisting those higher up the chain of command were responsible for the prison’s appalling conditions. He was punished for matters he could control – his own inconsistent behavior, actions and dehumanizing of prisoners.

Wirz has his defenders, and a statue in his memory still stands in the small hamlet of Andersonville near the national site.

The Georgia historian for the United Daughters of the Confederacy wrote an essay in 1921 about what she termed an injustice – suborned testimony and exaggerations at the trial.

She wrote that Wirz did not fearing going to Macon with Noyes because “he was conscious of having done all for the prisoners that was possible under the conditions.

Before they left, Wirz invited Noyes to share a small meal of bacon and cornbread with his family.

“With a woman's instinct, Mrs. Wirz did not like the ominous silence of Captain Noyes, and became greatly agitated when her husband bade her goodbye. Wirz tried to comfort his weeping wife and children, assuring then that all would be well. After an affectionate goodbye, he left for Macon.

This portrayal of a hospitable man just following orders did not match the memories of many who were guards or prisoners at Andersonville.

One Confederate soldier testified that Wirz ordered a prisoner into the stocks during a rainstorm. The soldier, observing the prisoner was drowning, placed an umbrella over the prisoner and approach Wirz, who was said to reply, "Let the damned Yankee drown."