Friday, January 13, 2017

First NPS site focusing on Reconstruction

NPS photo

President Obama has designated three new national monuments devoted to civil rights history, including the first National Park Service site dedicated to Reconstruction. The monument includes several sites near Beaufort, S.C., which fell under Union control in November 1861, and became one of the first places where emancipated slaves voted, bought property and created churches, schools and businesses. • Article

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hagerstown Civil War map goes digital

A Hagerstown, Md., map developed through a partnership between the city and Rose Hill Cemetery has gone digital, offering history buffs a chance to learn about the city's role in the Civil War no matter where they live. By clicking on dots showing historical markers, the online viewer will be able to see a photo and description of the site. Hagerstown was a major staging area for four Civil War campaigns. • Article

Friday, January 6, 2017

'Old War Horse' James Longstreet will be remembered at graveside service

Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet was famous among the ranks for the camaraderie, poker games and whiskey that were featured at his camp headquarters during Civil War campaigns.

So it was in remembering that spirit that Richard Pilcher left a cigar at the general’s resting place in Gainesville, Ga., about 35 years ago. It was the anniversary of Longstreet’s death – Jan. 2 – and Pilcher spoke with the sexton at Alta Vista Cemetery.

“He told me there was never any service there and I resolved not to let that happen again,” said Pilcher, former president of the Gainesville-based Longstreet Society, which promotes the controversial officer’s legacy.

The society and a couple of Sons of Confederate Veterans camps for several years sponsored the annual graveside memorial service. About nine years ago, SCV Camp 1860, Blue Ridge Rifles, took over. The Longstreet Society hosts a reception at the Piedmont Hotel (Longstreet’s residence and hotel), featuring hot chocolate and cookies, following the service.

This year’s event is scheduled for 2 p.m. Jan. 15.

The SCV camp customarily has speakers, a prayer and a volley fired by re-enactors. On occasion, music is performed.

“One year they re-enacted the whole funeral from the site of the old courthouse to the cemetery with the ancient, glass-sided, horse-drawn hearse bearing a casket with police blocking streets along the way,” said Pilcher, who today is a society director.

“Old Pete” Longstreet spent the last decades of his life in Gainesville. He lost one wife, a home to fire and married again in his last years. He died at 82 in 1904.

The general's story is, well, complicated.

Controversy about his conduct at the Battle of Gettysburg and his postwar support of the Republican Party, Reconstruction and suffrage for blacks dogged him to his grave. Longstreet in postwar years voiced his opinion that Gen. Robert E. Lee should not have launched the disastrous Day Three attack at Gettysburg.

Advocates of the “Lost Cause” lashed out at him, and said he failed Lee at Gettysburg by delaying the execution of orders.

But many Confederate veterans lionized him and he was popular at reunions, including a notable gathering at Gettysburg in 1888. As Civil War blogger John Banks recently wrote, he attended many events there featuring former Union foes. “No man now in Gettysburg, the New York Sun wrote of Longstreet, “is more honored nor more sought than he.”

The Piedmont Hotel in 2009

As the Picket wrote in 2009, Longstreet’s reputation, especially among military historians, has been more positive in recent years.

William Piston, a history professor at Missouri State University, published “Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant” in 1987. The book “reveals how Longstreet became, in the years after Appomattox, the Judas of the Lost Cause, the scapegoat for Lee's and the South's defeat.” 

Many historians and family members portray Longstreet, who was born in South Carolina, as a proud and stubborn warrior who was a truly loyal lieutenant to Lee. 

The general became Lee’s “right hand” during the war and led victorious assaults at Second Manassas and Chickamauga. He may be best known for his notable defensive use of terrain, such as at Fredericksburg.

Alta Vista Cemetery is at 521 Jones St. Longstreet’s grave is in Lot 36. The Piedmont Hotel is at 827 Maple St, also in Gainesville.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016's top 10 posts: Shipwrecks, artifacts and the mystery of the coffin in marsh

Picket readers’ abiding interest in shipwrecks and archaeology dominated the list of the 10 most popular items reported and written in 2016. Thank you so much for your support this past year. All the best to each of you in 2017!

(Picket photo)

10. ‘SO MUCH POTENTIAL’: County officials and the friends group want a newly opened park in Resaca, Ga., to be an educational, recreational and historic beacon for local residents, travelers and Civil War buffs. The park (photo above) contains significant remnants of earthworks, including an impressive length of trenches. • Read more

CSS Georgia gun (USACE)
9. HUNLEY, MONITOR, CSS GEORGIA: Ahead of a Columbus, Ga., symposium on shipwrecks, the Picket gleaned fascinating details on conservation efforts related to these famous vessels. • Read more

8.  ‘FOR EVER ENGLAND’: A ceremony this past summer at Poplar Grove National Cemetery at the Petersburg, Va., battlefield recalled the life and service of a British sergeant major who trained young Americans at nearby Fort Lee during World War I. • Read more

Courtesy of John Gregory

7. BLOCKADE RUNNER DIORAMAS: Endearingly old school, four dioramas depicting scenes from Civil War blockade running – a cargo auction, a daring Union raid, the boarding of a vessel and the drowning of a Confederate spy – are on display in a North Carolina town for the first time in nearly 35 years. Another (above) is at a nearby recreation area. • Read more

Georgia State Parks
6. VANDALIZED HOWITZER ON DISPLAY: An artillery piece is back at the Georgia battlefield where it is believed to have been used in a deadly barrage on attacking Federal troops. The restored howitzer, which was spiked and vandalized over the years, now sits on a reproduction carriage at Pickett's Mill Battlefield Historic Site near Atlanta (photo, left). • Read more 

5. ‘SCENE AT THE RAVINE’: A burn ban brought on by the summer’s drought brought postponement to candlelight tours planned at Pickett’s Mill battlefield. • Read more

Georgia DNR

4. FORT McALLISTER’s MYSTERY COFFIN: Rachel Black, deputy state archaeologist in Georgia, has posed a question that currently has no answer but offers a range of fascinating possibilities: Why was a coffin placed in a marsh near a Civil War fort and who put it there. • Read more

Jim Jobling (USACE)
3. TOUGH CHOICES: Each time a scoop of CSS Georgia artifacts landed on the deck of a barge in the Savannah River, Jim Jobling made a decision – conserve or put them back in the river. • Read more

2. CONSERVATION SCORECARD: I asked three Civil War shipwreck conservators (CSS Georgia, H.L. Hunley and USS Monitor) and a historian at a symposium in Columbus, Ga., for a scorecard on where the work stands and the biggest questions they hope additional research will reveal.  • Read more

Courtesy of Michael Gregory

1. CAMP DOUGLAS ARTIFACTS: About 4,000 Confederates died at the Chicago prison. An archaeologist and a foundation are conducting further research on a corner of the site (above) in the Bronzeville neighborhood to determine the location of key structures and learn more about prisoner life. "It has been one of the most interesting collections I have ever worked on," says archaeologist Michael Gregory. • Read more 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Bill allows major expansion at Petersburg

Virginia’s Petersburg National Battlefield, a climactic site in the collapse of the Confederacy in the Civil War, has been cleared for a huge expansion under a new law that would authorize it to become the nation’s largest protected battlefield. Although the legislation would not include any new funding, some land is already in the hands of preservation groups that plan to transfer it to the National Park Service. • Article