Thursday, December 18, 2014

Actress brings Clara Barton to life

In 1861, Clara Barton saw soldiers marching off to the Civil War – and returning with injuries that had barely been treated. It turned out the U.S. Army lacked basic medical supplies. So Barton went to the front herself, risking her life to deliver necessities and dress wounds. Illinois actor and historian Leslie Goddard will portray Barton, who went on to found the American Red Cross, Friday at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. She said that Barton's influence on nursing and crisis relief can still be felt. • Article

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Fort McAllister's 150th was a 'great way' to end the year's events

Members of Confederate gun section  (Courtesy Armory Guards)

Last weekend’s winter muster and battle re-enactment at Fort McAllister State Park in Georgia had an unexpected bonus.

“The most amazing aspect was that there was a meteor shower Saturday night, and we all stood on the parade ground in the fort and watched,” said Herb Coats, a member of the Armory Guards living historian group based in metro Atlanta.

An estimated 1,200 visitors witnessed sesquicentennial events at the site, timed to the day a Union force on the March to the Sea captured the earthen fortifications and opened a vital sea supply line for the army as it lay siege to Savannah.

Armory Guards U.S. contingent before attack along river wall

The Armory Guards portrayed both Confederate and Union soldiers. While Jordan Roberts commanded the former’s Clinch Rifles section, Coats and others re-enacted as members of Company A, 70th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

“We started the skirmish portion of the fort at the exact time it happened in 1864 -- 11 am,” Coats told the Picket. “Also, we made the advance along the river trench line, which hasn't been done since 1864.”

A post on the Armory Guard’s Facebook page said, “It was a successful event for the park, and for the participants. All in all, a great way to end the 2014 season of events.

Clinch Rifles under fire inside fort (Courtesy Armory Guards)

Park manager Jason Carter said there were nearly 300 re-enactors at the event.

“I just wanted to take a minute and thank everyone that attended the event. It went off almost perfectly, other than the Union pulling off the victory again!” he said in a statement. “I hope everyone enjoyed themselves and maybe got a small glimpse into the past and the history you have right here in your backyard.”

Monday, December 15, 2014

310,000 photos -- and counting: NPS team captures 150th for social media, posterity

The cornfield at Antietam (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

Jason Martz, a visual information specialist with the National Park Service, has led the team that has photographed and made videos at NPS sites throughout the Civil War sesquicentennial. Those images have graced park Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr pages. Martz will talk about the group’s work on Jan. 11, 2015, during the winter lecture series at Gettysburg National Military Park, where he is based. The Picket recently spoke with Martz, 40, about the effort to promote events through social media and to document them for future online and print use. Responses have been edited for brevity and organization by topic.
Jason Martz

Q. How did you become involved in the effort?

A. I came onboard and started focusing on the Civil War 150th in 2010. At the time, the NPS had not jumped into social media pool just yet. That occurred in 2011 after First Manassas (Bull Run).

Q. How does the team work?           
A. We are basically serving as the live news media on behalf of that park and are following the park’s schedule and framework and putting the content on social media live as it happens. Our objective is to chronicle the events by taking pictures and video of everything and turning that around and telling a story, interpreting it as it is happening or within a couple of hours. (For Facebook or Twitter) the night before we put a final picture that says tomorrow the park will do this, beginning at this time. We are using social media as a platform to advertise what is coming. We want readers to know this is happening live.

A moment at Fredericksburg (Photos courtesy of NPS)
And at Vicksburg 

Even if you are not here right now, you feel you are part of it. Gettysburg was the most intense of the 150th Civil War events. It had the largest crowds, the most programs, a very well-oiled machine. Everything went off by most accounts without a hitch. I had a large team to shoot and then edit. We were turning around content by the first day or so in two hours, which was unheard of. It used to be four to six hours. At a place like Gettysburg, to turn around content and push it out in two hours -- I still marvel at that.

Q. What are some of the sites at which the team has covered events?

A. They include first and second Manassas; Richmond – the 1862 and 1864 sites; Petersburg, with a focus on the Crater; the four Fredericksburg-based sites, Cedar Creek, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Kennesaw Mountain, Antietam, Harpers Ferry twice, Fort Stevens, Monocacy and Gettysburg. We are going to Appomattox in 2015, and possibly Sailor’s Creek and Petersburg and Richmond again.

Capturing the action at Gettysburg (Photo courtesy of NPS)

Q. How many staff members have been involved?

A. We’ve probably have had about 30, including six volunteers. Some of these were temporary/seasonal NPS photographers.

Q. How many images have you collected?

A. Up to this point, with the Cedar Creek numbers not added, we have taken 310,000 photos. We’ve had about 90 videos, ranging from 30 seconds to five to six minutes.

Q. What were some of the most memorable moments?

Marchers at Gettysburg (Photo courtesy of NPS)

A. At Gettysburg, recalling the march of the Iron Brigade, July 1, 2013. The crowd was as large or slightly larger than the actual number of Iron Brigade soldiers that marched that day -- about 1,500. If you saw it and you were there … it was basically following in their footsteps. It was if people on tour that day -- the people 150 years later -- were the Iron Brigade. It was the same for Pickett’s Charge. The wave of people coming across the field was undeniably the most spectacular thing in the National Park Service. I am covering the great stuff a park is doing.

(Photo courtesy of NPS)

At Chickamauga (above), there were five stations in their timeline program (A Walk Through Time: 1860-1864). The visitor was taken on a trip through time, including the election of 1860, a Confederate recruiter, the civilian story, the lasting effects of the 13th-15th amendments, the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT). I thought it was incredible. I am also looking at this from a logistics process, for the park to pull it off, to get all the people bused in.

At Cold Harbor-Richmond, they did a candlelight program. As it got darker there would be interpretive stations, and people would walk from point A to point B. A Confederate or Union soldier would be talking about what was going on at that moment: what those people were doing, thinking and planning. There were two camps and candles. The atmosphere was unlike any other program I have seen. That was one of those spine-chilling things. Shiloh had great programs – the tour of the Hornet’s Nest was also spectacular. 

Q. Tell us a little about online readership and page views during events.

A. It was phenomenal. Take Facebook, for example. Whatever it was in the weeks leading up to the event, on average, during the anniversary, when we were throwing up a ton of content, the average increase was tenfold.

Q. What was it like to cover this many events?

A. In some cases there would an event once a week, but not another for three months. That’s what happened in 1862 -- gaps in campaigns. For the overland campaign, Fredericksburg, Richmond and Petersburg, there was virtually no time off in between. That was the case for a large part of 2014.  Plus you had Kennesaw, Fort Stevens, Monocacy. Though there were no monster battles, it was overwhelming by the sheer number of them going back-to back or on top of each other.

Q. Were there ever any limitations or resource issues?

A. In a couple instances, I wish I had a couple more people. We could have done things to strengthen coverage -- maybe six videos instead of three. Sometimes there are budgetary constrictions and dealing with sequesters. And it was easier to get folks around D.C. and Gettysburg, where travel was not such an issue.

Fort Stevens, Shiloh, Chancellorsville (Photos courtesy of NPS)

Q. Any other singular moments?

A. One came without crowds, when there was an off day at Chickamauga. We went to Chattanooga and got permission to go to the summit of Lookout Mountain when the park was closed. We wanted to get these pictures for advertising purposes for the Battle of Chattanooga in a couple of months. We had multiple cameras and were shooting at various locations. That was one of those days I will never forget. Four of us were up there and we were in awe of the day. There was a spectacular sunrise and footage and camaraderie. Without saying it, we were all saying: “How lucky are we to be here right now?”

Q. What has the sesquicentennial experience been like?

 A. Unprecedented. Everything came to together just at the right time. Once we had covered Manassas in July 2011, the park chiefs and superintendents began to quickly talk about programs for their sites. What always came up was … the work the team was doing for social media and web and video. It was not only great for the moment, but has a lasting legacy that would not have been recorded if the team had not been there. 

Gathering around campfire at Wilderness (Courtesy of NPS)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

At Fort McAllister 150th anniv. muster and battle, it's all about the authenticity

Saturday’s re-enactment of the Union’s capture of Fort McAllister near Savannah, Ga., is focused on being true to history – with a little luck and a whole lot of preparation going into the effort.

Because of the way the calendar falls this year, re-enactors will be in action at 5 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 13, the exact time, day and date as 150 years ago, when about 3,000 Federals overwhelmed 230 defenders in about 15 minutes.

The victory opened up vital sea supply lines for Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, who then laid siege to nearby Savannah.

Between 280 and 300 registered re-enactors, about 70 portraying Confederates, are coming from all over the country – with nine traveling from Germany – to drill, muster, camp and re-enact at and near of the earthen fortifications, which were restored in the 1930s.

They are so-called hard-core, campaigner and progressive living historians, meaning the projected 1,000-2,000 visitors from Thursday through Sunday will see soldiers dressed very much like the men they will portray.

“This is the biggest event this park has ever had,” said Shirley Rowe, a park ranger at Fort McAllister State Park. “We are very excited about it. We have gone all out to make this as historically authentic as possible.”

“At 6 p.m. Friday, we are turning off all the lights and we are going to be in 1864,” said Clint Stanley, who will portray Confederate garrison commander Maj. George W. Anderson.

For the invitation-only re-enactors, this will be what is termed a semi-immersive event, one in which they will be in character and come as close as possible – short of firing live fire, obviously – to reliving the real thing.

While many events, including skirmishes and the main attack are open to the public, other activities will occur in hours when the state park in Bryan County is closed.

Union soldiers remove ammunition (Library of Congress)

“The fort is one of the rare locations where there are not a lot of modern intrusions, so it is easy to get 'into the moment,’” Herb Coats of the Georgia-based Armory Guards told the Picket. “The park staff and park's friend's group has always been very friendly and gracious with re-enactor volunteers assisting with the (annual) December program.”

The Armory Guard will have personnel portraying each side.

During 1862 and 1863, Fort McAllister, situated on the Ogechee River, repelled seven Union naval attacks by elements of the blockading forces offshore and in nearby Ossabaw Sound, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

But an attack by land would be its undoing. Sherman’s March to the Sea spelled doom for Fort McAllister and, soon after, Savannah.

Brig. Gen. William B. Hazen of the 15th Corps commanded the attacking Federals, who closed in on three sides. The attack was delayed to nearly dusk because one brigade got lost and mired in the marsh.

Defending the post were elements of the Emmett Rifles, the Clinch Mounted Rifles and other small units.

“The two infantry companies were home guard and militia -- the young men and the old boys who hadn’t been drafted or got out of,” said Stanley. “It was basically overwhelming numbers. Anderson did not think they would attack. He thought it would probably be the next day.”

There were about 200 total casualties for both sides. Attackers had to make their way through obstacles, including torpedoes, or crude land mines.

Following Anderson’s surrender, Sherman landed at the fort by boat and made contact with naval forces in Ossabaw Sound.

Re-enactors often have to portray a Union soldier at one event, or a Confederate at another -- whatever the scenario demands. In the Deep South, it is tough to get a huge number to portray Yankees. But this week’s event is coming closer than most. Federals will outnumber Confederates about 3-1.

The Rebels will camp and drill at the fort, along the earthworks and many spending night in re-created bombproofs. No digging is allowed and re-enactors will take care in protecting the site.

“We will have fires in only certain places, said Stanley, who lives in Ludowici, Ga., and is part of a group called the Widow Makers Mess. “There are fire pits in the battery. Everyone is very conscious of where we are at. There is no climbing on the walls.”

The fort after it fell (Library of Congress)

The Federal contingent will camp outside the fort.

Among the re-enacting units taking part are the 48th New York based in Florida, the 30th Ohio, SCAR, Liberty Guards, the 39th Georgia and 47th Georgia.

Joe Blunt, of Orlando, Fla., will portray Hazen.

“A lot of fellows are getting psyched up,” he said, given it’s the last major 150th event in Georgia and marks the end of Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign and March to the Sea.

The next big event for many is at Bentonville, in North Carolina, in March 2015.

The three-day commemoration begins Thursday, December 11, as Union re-enactors set up camp at the Richmond Hill Museum a few miles away and answer visitors’ questions about the upcoming battle.

On Friday, about two dozen Federal soldiers will march from the intersection of Highway 144 and Fort McAllister Road to the park, setting up camp when they arrive. The 4-mile march begins about 11 a.m.

“They are going to have their gear and everything. It will be authentic-looking,” said park ranger Rowe.

The site will be available to the public at 9 a.m. Saturday. Throughout the day, visitors can watch skirmishes between Union and Confederate troop as they fire muskets and cannons. Guests can also walk among the earthworks and tour a Civil War museum.

The park will be emptied at 4 p.m. for an hour as staff prepares for the assault re-enactment and breaching of the fort at 5 p.m.

You’d better be there on time. The battle was over in 15 minutes.

Coats said unlike a large-scale event, the site is away from parking, vendors and is in a wooded area. That’s a plus for re-enactors such as he.

You get close to the time period at the park.”

Admission for the Fort McAllister Winter Muster is $6 per person, with those under 6 free. Visitors also can tour the site’s museum. Call the park at 912-727-2339 for more information. See also this link.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Betrayal at Ebenezer Creek: Deaths of freed slaves 150 years ago drew outrage

Ebenezer Creek in Effingham County, Ga. (The Trust for Public Land)

In a word, a paddle through bald cypress and water tupelo in Georgia’s Ebenezer Creek is enchanting.

Water storks use their inscrutable eyes to watch for striped bass. American alligators, feed too, in the National Natural Landmark. Everywhere are the cypress, their swollen trunks and “knees” rising from the murky waters.

Beyond enchanting, says, the best remaining cypress-gum swamp forest in the Savannah River basin offers scenes “straight out of Tolkien’s Trilogy.”

But the swamp forest offered no tantalizing respite on Dec. 9, 1864, when Ebenezer Creek became a nightmarish death trap for just-freed slaves.

The refugees had been following a column of Union troops that was quickly advancing on Savannah during Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Confederate horsemen were on their foe's heels, notably rear elements of the 14th Corps, commanded by Union Brig. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis (not to be confused with the Confederate president).

"Contrabands," or former slaves, during the Civil War (Library of  Congress)

Upon his orders, Union soldiers hastily removed pontoon bridges they had just used to cross Ebenezer Creek.  The stranded slaves were left on their own, effectively betrayed by Davis.

Rebel cavalry under Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler rode into the chaotic scene, swords slashing. Whole families rushed into the water in a bid to escape.

Union Col. Charles D. Kerr of the 16th Illinois, who would later help raise an outcry over Davis’ decision, wrote that with “cries of anguish and despair, men, women, and children rushed by the hundreds into the turbid stream, and many were drowned before our eyes. From what we learned afterwards of those who remained on land, their fate at the hands of Wheeler’s troops was scarcely to be preferred.”

(State of Georgia)

An historical marker erected in 2010 in this remote area of Effingham County, northwest of Savannah, said that hundreds of the slaves drowned.

While some estimate up to 5,000 were at Ebenezer Creek, no one was making a daily count of those following each Federal column.

“Consequently, it is hard to know how many drowned, how many got across -- some did -- and how many were picked up by Confederate cavalry -- Wheeler reported thousands,” said Charlie Crawford, president of the Georgia Battlefields Association, who has toured the site.

Gen. Jefferson Davis
Last week, The Trust for Public Land announced that the historic crossing has been protected for a future greenway park through purchases of private property. For now, there is no public access to the site, save a canoe or kayak ride or private tour.

“The site is especially evocative because there is not much evidence of modern life -- no paved roads or telephone lines,” Crawford told the Picket. “Also, the old road bed is elevated, so you can imagine how the low-lying areas to either side could be swampy after a rain.  For someone who couldn’t swim or was trying to bring along children, the road was the only place to be.”

The horrific incident, which occurred 150 years ago Tuesday, had a dramatic -- if short-lived – impact.

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton met in Savannah with Sherman and African-American church leaders as outrage grew over the Ebenezer Creek incident.

President Lincoln approved Sherman’s Field Order No. 15, confiscating 400,000 acres of coastal property and redistributing it in 40-acre parcels to former slaves. Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, would later rescind the order.

Book: General planned to rid himself of slaves

The Union’s Jefferson Davis had more than his share of notoriety before the Ebenezer Creek debacle.

Two years before the March to the Sea, he was given command of the 14th Corps during the Atlanta Campaign and March to the Sea, Davis shot and killed Union Maj. Gen. William “Bull” Nelson following an argument. He was never charged.

(The Trust for Public Land)

Despite that scandal, Davis was considered a competent officer. He led the corps during the march, finding a need to cross Ebenezer Creek's swollen and wide waters. Mindful of Rebel raiders, his troops set up the pontoon bridges.

A 1998 Civil War Times article argues that Davis was annoyed by the demands of the thousands of freed slaves he was unable to put to work.

Angered by food shortages and the fact the slaves were slowing his march, along with mud that bogged down equipment, the general decided to rid himself of the refugees by having his subordinates tell them to wait to cross.

The soldiers than removed the temporary bridges. A stampede ensued, with some victims crushed in the rush while many more "contrabands" drowned.

Anne Sarah Rubin, in her recent book, “Through the Heart of Dixie: Sherman’s March and American Memory” writes that Davis had planned such a move. “In no way could the deaths be excused as a product of a quick decision.”

Tour of property in 2012 (Georgia Battlefields Association)

While there is no evidence Sherman knew of the plan, he later defended Davis’ actions as militarily necessary and unavoidable, writes Rubin.

An outraged Maj. James A. Connolly of Illinois wrote about the massacre, and accompanying publicity led Stanton to travel to Savannah. He called the incident an "inhuman, barbarous proceeding."

Davis was neither punished nor reprimanded. Sherman, who himself was hardly progressive on his attitude toward African-Americans, never made any move to bring justice to the freed slaves.

Sherman did issue Field Order No. 15 on Jan. 16, 1865, while his troops occupied Savannah. It punished Southern planters and provided for about 400,000 acres to be distributed to former slaves.

“From Sherman’s perspective the most important priority in issuing the directive was military expediency,” says the New Georgia Encyclopedia. “It served as a means of providing for the thousands of black refugees who had been following his army since its invasion of Georgia. He could not afford to support or protect these refugees while on campaign.”

While the order was scrapped by President Johnson, its legacy continues because the slave reparations movement has pointed to it as the federal government’s promise to make restitution to blacks for enslavement.

And it’s also the likely origin for the phrase “forty acres and a mule,” which spread throughout the South following the march, according to the encyclopedia.

Dying in the pursuit of freedom

(Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails)

The history of Ebenezer Creek, which flows into the Savannah River near the South Carolina border, starts well before the Civil War. It is near one of the first settlements in the British colony of Georgia.

In 1734, Lutherans escaping religious persecution in Salzburg, Austria, arrived in the 1-year-old town of Savannah looking for a new home,” says Sherpa Guides. Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe directed the group approximately 30 miles up the Savannah River to Ebenezer Creek.

Ebenezer was around for a few decades but the town was heavily damaged during the American Revolution and the county seat was moved to Springfield, Georgia. Very little is left of the settlement.

The city of Springfield has been interested in a recreational greenway, and preservationists and the federal and state government supported its move to acquire the Civil War property as part of the project.

The 275-acre parcel was purchased with a National Coastal Wetlands Conservation grant of $400,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The money went through the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, according to the Savannah Morning News.

(The Trust for Public Land)

An additional $100,000 came from the Trust for Public Land, from donations by the R. Howard Dobbs Jr. Foundation and the Knobloch Family Foundation.
The purchase protects 2 miles of rivers and streams.

“The city of Springfield is pleased to announce the acquisition of the Ebenezer crossing property,” say Mayor Barton Alderman. “This purchase will be important for Springfield, Effingham County and the State of Georgia due to the historical and cultural nature of the property.

“It has been our dream to preserve Ebenezer Creek’s natural beauty for the enjoyment of future generations. Our hope is that the Creek will remain as it is now, bringing tourists to enjoy the peace and serenity of the area.”

Curt Soper, Georgia and Alabama director for the Trust for Public Land, said the “significance of the Ebenezer crossing is immense and this land is protected in memory of the many lives that were lost here 150 years ago in the pursuit of freedom.”

There is no legal access to the property yet, Soper tells the Picket, because it is surrounded by private land.

The city of Springfield expects to work on this in the future, but the site is not ready for unfettered public access just yet,” he says. “It is easier to paddle by the site in a canoe or kayak as there is a boat launch nearby on the Savannah River at the mouth of Ebenezer Creek.

Alderman told the Savannah newspaper that if the city can gain access, parking and restrooms might be built.

Michael Thurmond
A Georgia Historical Society and Georgia Department of Economic Development marker sits along a road about a mile from the pontoon crossing site. It was dedicated in 2010.

Among the speakers was Michael Thurmond, former Georgia labor commissioner. He is the author of “Freedom: Georgia's Antislavery Heritage, 1733-1865.”

Thurmond told the crowd, “We come to commemorate, consecrate and celebrate the nameless and faceless heroes and heroines, the men, women and children, who sacrificed their lives in the pursuit of the precious commodity called freedom,” Thurmond said.

Steve Longcrier, head of the nonprofit Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails, said his organization is developing an interpretive sign that will be installed next to Ebenezer Creek.

“The public awareness of that significant historic site is far-reaching,” says Longcrier.