Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Historians against Gettysburg casino

Hundreds of historians - including top Civil War scholars - have signed a letter urging a state board to reject a proposal to put a casino a half-mile from the Gettysburg battlefield. • Details

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lincoln show features Bible, items he carried

Atlanta is celebrating Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday a little late. But details of the exhibition about the 16th president, coming to the Atlanta History Center, make it seem well worth the wait. "With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition," opening here Sept. 4, should appeal to both fans of Lincoln and those interested in the difficult Civil War-era chapters. • Details

Monday, June 28, 2010

Judge rules battle painting belongs to ex-mayor

A judge's decision quietly ended a long-running fight among former and current city officials over a painting of the biggest naval battle of the Civil War. Baldwin County Circuit Court Judge Charles Partin ruled that former Mayor Arthur Holk loaned -- but did not give -- the 1941 painting of the Battle of Mobile Bay to the city of Foley, Ala. • Article

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lessons we've learned from Civil War medicine

John Dunbar had to make a decision -- quickly.

Lying in a field hospital where treatment decisions are made in moments or on a whim, Dunbar surveyed a pile of military boots. In the background, surgeons talked while preparing for yet another amputation: His bloodied right leg.

The Union lieutenant painfully pulled his boot back on and hobbled away to a fence on the Tennessee battlefield. Spying a horse, he climbed aboard and made his famous ride between Union and Confederate lines, arms lifted and a serene expression on his face. He awaited a bullet that would end the misery.

A bullet, of course, never found the mark. Dunbar, better known as actor Kevin Costner, eventually got medical attention from a general’s doctor and rode on to other adventures in the 1990s film “Dances With Wolves.”

Books and movies have often depicted a trip to the Civil War field hospital as a lesson in futility.

The reality, however, was a little more on the positive side, argues the executive director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md., which has trained 4,000 members of the military in aspects of treating casualties.

“The idea that all hospitals look like the one in ‘Gone With the Wind’ is inaccurate,” argues George Wunderlich.

Wunderlich says that the Civil War actually brought huge advancements in the treatment of soldiers, notably at the September 1862 Battle of Antietam.

Ninety-five percent of Union doctors used anesthesia. And although there were no antibiotics such as penicillin, medical staff understood the importance of sanitation. Some hospitals had mortality rates as low as 7 percent-10 percent.

Still, having enough supplies and cleaning materials was difficult, especially at the front. “They never were able to manufacture all the necessary ambulances and conveniences,” Wunderlich (below, at Antietam) says of the Confederacy.

The mortality numbers are frightening enough, even without the tales of men terrified about going to a military hospital.

Death by disease led deaths by wounds 2-1. Statistics for the Union armies list 67,000 killed in action, 43,000 deaths from wounds and 224,000 lost to disease. The numbers were probably worse in Southern armies.

Wunderlich argues soldiers, even through World War II, had a high risk of infection. Couple that with the fact that medicine was years away from advancements in treating gut wounds, severe head injuries and damage to the thorax.

Lifestyle and conditions in the field had the deadliest consequences.

“The biggest killer of the Civil War was the fact that Boy Scouts had not been invented yet,” he says.

Troops had very poor personal hygiene and drank from polluted water often used as a latrine. Wunderlich contends 100,000 lives would have been saved with a concerted hygiene push.

The wounds were also horrific. The .50-caliber minie balls that smashed there way through the body left shards of bones that brought sure infection and, likely, death. “The best way to save a life was amputation.”

The museum has two principal missions. One is to educate the public about advancements brought by the war, including plastic surgery, anesthesia and reconstructive surgery. An Atlanta hospital, for example, specialized in maxillofacial surgery and Turner’s Lane Hospital in Philadelphia had a neurological focus.

The 7,000, three-story building consists of five immersion exhibits that recreate aspects of Civil War medical issues: life in an army camp, evacuation of the wounded from the battlefront, a field dressing station, a field hospital and a military hospital ward.

“Our most surprising audience is the U.S. military,” says Wunderlich.

His 17 full- and part-time staff, augmented by about 30 volunteers – most with medical backgrounds – teach Army corpsmen and general alike about field hospitals and surgery fundamentals, such as evacuation and triage. “We want corpsmen to know how to read terrain to find good aid stations.”

The center accomplishes this both at Frederick and at Pry House Field Hospital Museum (right) at Antietam National Battlefield in western Maryland. Through an arrangement with the National Park Service, the museum runs the Pry house and re-creates fundamentals of war medicine that are as common in Afghanistan today as they were at Gettysburg.

The house and barn served as Gen. George B. McClellan’s headquarters during the battle. But it also was a hospital for 400 wounded soldiers, including Major Gen. Joseph Hooker.

“We tell soldiers today, ‘We’re going to put you on the Antietam battlefield. You are going to work on problems Letterman worked on,’” Wunderlich says.

Letterman was Maj. Jonathan Letterman, who McClellan brought to the Army of the Potomac to to fix a “broken system” and is now regarded as the father of modern battlefield medicine.

Letterman (left) fired bad surgeons, emphasized sanitation, implemented command and control and increased the medical staff. His contributions included staffing and training men to operate horse teams and wagons to pick up wounded soldiers from the field and to bring them back to field dressing stations for initial treatment. This was the nation's first Ambulance Corps.

He developed the three-tiered system still in use: Field dressing stations, field hospitals (M*A*S*H) and larger hospitals away from the battlefield.

“Our modern medical system was developed into a unified system here in 1862,” Wunderlich says.

Click here for more information on the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

July 4 baseball game set for Fort Pulaski

Weekend events at masonry fort near Savannah include cannon demonstrations, music and America's pastime. • Details

Friday, June 25, 2010

Michigan museum selling Custer flag

The Detroit Institute of Arts seeks to sell the Gen. George A. Custer/7th Cavalry flag discovered after the Battle of Little Bighorn at auction in New York. The estimated price: $2 million to $5 million. Not everyone is celebrating the move. Custer first earned his fame as a young Civil War officer. • Article

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Coming soon in Picket: Civil War medicine

I'll be posting in the next few days an item on the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. One major battle led to changes that saved many more soldiers' lives since.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Students light Hunley-style lanterns

Hamburg (Pa.) Area High School students may have helped shed some light on a historical mystery. On Monday, the group lit two of the four lanterns they reproduced to simulate those of the H.L. Hunley, a Confederate submarine that sank Feb. 17, 1864. Adviser Ned Eisenhuth said a signal the Union sailor most likely saw was a sign that the mission to hit and sink the USS Housatonic off Charleston, S.C., was a success. • Article

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ala. fisherman reels in Civil War shell

Rusty Parker and his two nephews may not have caught any fish during their outing last week, but they did snag a piece of history. “We were just fishing from the bank in Bluewater Creek (on Alabama Highway 64) and had gotten a few bites when I saw something in the water,” said Parker, 27. “It was submerged in about 2 to 3 feet of water. When I got to it, I was twisting it around trying to pull it out.” Parker took the object home. Last week, the object examined by the Florence Police Department’s explosive devices unit. Parker had found an 8-pound artillery round for a Parrott rifle. • Article

Monday, June 21, 2010

First cannonball fired at Fort Sumter sits outside Georgia courthouse. Or does it?

Virginia planter Edmund Ruffin’s first foray into South Carolina seemed peaceful enough. He came to preach advancements in agriculture, crop rotation among them.

When he returned to Charleston on the eve of the Civil War, however, Ruffin brought with him the seeds of Southern independence.

At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, the 66-year-old slaveholder, "fire eating" secessionist and Palmetto Guards volunteer tucked his long white mane under his hat and fired the first shot of a war that would kill more than 600,000 Americans.

“The first shell from Columbiad No. 1, fired by the venerable Ruffin burst directly upon the parapet of the southwest angle of the fort,” wrote Capt. G. B. Cuthbert of the Palmetto Guards.

Thirty-four terrifying and exhausting hours after Ruffin put fire to fuse on Cummings Point, Col. Robert Anderson and his Union garrison surrendered.

The bombardment, of course, had thousands of eyewitnesses. Legends were born instantly.

One of them involves P.W. Alexander, an intrepid correspondent from Thomaston, Ga., who made a bee line to Fort Sumter with a purpose. He wanted to retrieve that historic first shot fired by Ruffin.

“The big 10-inch ball fell within Fort Sumter without doing any damage,” reads an old Thomaston Times article. “Alexander, who for years had boarded in the home of Mr. and Mrs. B. B. White, was an eyewitness to this scene. He saw just where the ball fell and immediately after the surrender procured it and sent it to his friend, B.B. White."

Today, nearly 800,000 people each year take the ferry ride to Fort Sumter to see where the carnage and restoration of the Union began. Many fewer tread on the grounds of the Upson County courthouse in Thomaston, 300 miles from Charleston and 60 miles south of Atlanta.

If they do, they’ll see a tall monument to Confederate dead and that cannonball retrieved by Alexander, perched on a marble monument with this 1953 inscription:

"Presented to the UDC [United Daughters of the Confederacy] by Mrs. Sallie White to whom it was given in 1861 by P.W. Alexander, leading Confederate war correspondent who was present when the ball was fired and knew it to be the first. The first marker stating these facts was erected on this square in 1919."

The cannonball had a more practical household purpose before it was ensconced on the monument pedestal.

“A colorful Upson tale says that P.W. Alexander retrieved the first cannonball fired in the Civil War from the mud in front of the fort, and brought it back to the B. B. White family in Thomaston,” according to a 1998 article by USGenWeb Archives. “The story maintains that this relic served as a door stop at the house, or lay under the porch, for several decades before being elevated to the marble pedestal on which it graces Thomaston's courthouse square today.”

Alexander, a lawyer and noted Confederate war correspondent who wrote about the brutality of war, can’t confirm the tale. He died in 1886.

Penny Cliff, director for the Thomaston-Upson Archives, and her staff have to do the talking for him.

"Whenever I give tours around the square I use the word 'allegedly' in regards to the 'first' cannonball fired at Fort Sumter," Cliff said.

"I do, however, believe it is definitely one of the 'hot shots' fired at the fort. Even if it is not the first, it is historically important in the fact that it is one of the cannonballs fired at Fort Sumter."

History, of course, is subjective and never 100 percent accurate. It’s fair to say that we really don’t know if this iron ball was, in fact, the first shot fired during the Civil War. Historians even disagree on whether another Confederate battery first fired on Sumter, cheating Ruffin of the honors.

But one thing is for certain.

In June 1865, two months after the South surrendered, a despondent Edmund Ruffin took up another firearm.

He propped his rifle on a trunk between his feet, stuck the barrel into his mouth and opened fire.

The war was over.

Promoting Civil War and wineries

Want to know what's going on in Virginia to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War? There's a app for that! A partnership of groups is promoting the commonwealth's wineries and other tourist spots, and they've come up with some ways to let you know about what's happening. • Article

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Soldier comes home after 147 years

Calvin Britt left Robeson County, N.C., in March 1863 to fight for the South, never to be seen again by his wife and seven children. Eventually a descendant, Jim Walters, found him and brought him home to be buried near comrades. A stone lists Britt's name. "It's a marker indicating his place in history," Walters said. "... It allows his descendants a little bit of peace and closure." • Article

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rare Tad Lincoln photo goes on display

Tad Lincoln, the youngest child of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, was known to be the couple’s rowdiest child and usually had unkempt hair. But one would never know that in a rare and newly acquired photograph of the 8-year-old boy acquired by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. • Article

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fredericksburg aims for wide audience

In and around Fredericksburg, Va., the Civil War's 150th anniversary won't be the sort of occasion that your father may remember from the centennial of the conflict. Fewer battle re-enactments. Less hoopla. No celebration of war. Rather, it will be a wide-ranging, thought-provoking commemoration.• Article

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Group: Honor blacks who served

A group of community leaders and historians is seeking recognition for blacks who contributed to Franklin County's Civil War effort. And they want that recognition to take its place next to a newly replaced Confederate soldier statue on the front lawn of the county courthouse in Rocky Mount, Va. • Article

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A report on CWPT meeting in Ky.

We asked Charlie Crawford, head of the preservation group Georgia Battlefields Association, his impressions of the recent meeting of the Civil War Preservation Trust in Lexington, Ky.

"Lexington is a historic city: the cemetery alone is a Civil War tour, with Henry Clay, John Hunt Morgan, John C. Breckinridge, Gordon Granger, and most of Mary Todd Lincoln's family buried there.

"Kentucky has done a good job of preserving and adding to the Perryville battlefield. Madison County has made great efforts to preserve the Richmond Battlefield. Two examples where a state/commonwealth and a local government have stepped up in the absence of federal preservation.

"[President] Jim Lighthizer's speech focused on having CWPT save 50,000 acres by the end of the Sesquicentennial in 2015. CWPT has saved 29,000 acres in 20 years, so 21,000 more in five years is ambitious; but goals should be set high.

"CWPT got a four-star rating from Charity Navigator. Revenue is up 20% in 2010 compared to 2009, which is notable in a down economy.

"Georgia Battlefields Association was well-represented. We had at least eight members at the conference, including three of the six members of the board of trustees."

-- Charlie Crawford, GBA

Thief takes 25 Civil War-era rifles

Twenty-five long rifles from the Civil War-era that a man wanted to donate to the Senator John Heinz History Center were stolen from his Indiana County (Pa.) home, state police said. • Article

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fort Morgan now witness to war on oil leak



Until last week, Fort Morgan, the guardian of Mobile Bay, hadn’t seen a war for nearly 150 years.

The star-shaped fortification is now bearing witness to Man vs. Oil.

Piles of oil-fighting equipment and a large staging point for clean-up workers lie within sight of where Union Adm. David Farragut uttered “Damn the Torpedoes” during his famous charge past Fort Morgan and into Mobile Bay.

Fort Morgan, built of millions of bricks, stood guard over the bay’s entrance from 1834 through World War II. Several concrete-supported batteries were added more than a century ago, but the look of the fort takes you back to the Civil War era.

The current crisis brought us back to reality.

Coast Guard and other helicopters roared by, looking for the latest wave of BP oil reaching shore.

Military Humvees were parked by the ferry to Dauphin Island. Trucks brought supplies to the staging point, one of many along the Alabama coast. President Obama stopped near the fort Monday during a visit to the region.

I felt a bit guilty touring the fort on a while so much environmental and economic turmoil swirled around us.

Residents of a condo where we stayed for a wedding said business was down at least 50 percent and people were still canceling bookings. A waitress at a restaurant marina on the way to Fort Morgan said the place normally would be much more crowded at its 8 a.m. opening.

We did notice other visitors at the fort, which we spent an hour exploring Saturday morning. Sweat rolled down our faces as climbed stairs and walked through casemates and by gun batteries.

The Union fleet won an important victory there in 1864. Mobile was one of the last major Confederate ports still open. Fort Morgan, with a garrison of about 600, and other fortifications meant to keep Farragut out. The bay was heavily mined with what were then called torpedoes.

On Aug. 5, 1864, the monitor USS Tecumseh struck a mine within a few hundred yards of the fort. More than 90 hands died when the monitor rolled over and sank. The other 17 Union vessels began to move back, but Farragut, on board the USS Hartford, demanded the fleet move through.

Farragut triumphed over the opposition of heavy batteries in Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines. His fleet secured the surrender of the ironclad CSS Tennessee and defeated the squadron of Confederate Adm. Franklin Buchanan.

The victory, together with the fall of Atlanta, was a significant boost for President Abraham Lincoln.

The region this week needs some news to cheer. Over the weekend, we saw swaths of oil on several stretches of beach. Our children tried vainly to pull a crab out of an oil patch.

So many heart-wrenching scenes.

I’m hoping for better days soon for the people and animals that call Gulf Shores home. Please keep them in your prayers.

Woman, 90, pushed medal for Cushing

Margaret Zerwekh and Lt. Alonzo Cushing are separated by more than a century but united by a tie to the woods here along the Bark River, 35 miles west of Milwaukee. Drawn by that bond, Zerwekh, a 90-year-old with a barbed wit, spent 23 years fighting to get Cushing honored for his brave service in the Union Army at the Battle of Gettysburg. Cushing later this year posthumously receives the Medal of Honor. • Article

Friday, June 11, 2010

Rare photo of slave children found in attic

A haunting 150-year-old photo found in a North Carolina attic shows a young black child named John, barefoot and wearing ragged clothes, perched on a barrel next to another unidentified young boy. Art historians believe it's an extremely rare Civil War-era photograph of children who were either slaves at the time or recently emancipated. • Article

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How South marks Confederate holidays

While most Southern states are shying away from the Old Confederacy, Alabama was the only one to celebrate President Jefferson Davis' birthday with a holiday on Monday. Of the 11 states that made up the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, Alabama and Mississippi have more holidays - three - devoted to the Confederacy than any of the other nine. • Article

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Civil War trips for the whole family

Parents take note – there’s a trick to visiting Civil War battlefields with kids. This isn’t Disney. You have to provide much of the interest and entertainment value. With the exception of Gettysburg, most of the battlefields are long on statues and artifacts, and short on spoon-fed entertainment. With a little work, you can still make it a memorable family trip. • Article

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tombstone mystery solved in Ohio

Questions over how tombstone of soldier ended up in museum brings together two branches of an Ohio family. • Article

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Ft. Sanders bigger than historians thought?


Now-retired University of Tennessee archaeologist Dr. Charles Faulkner and his wife, historian Terry Faulkner, have dug into the Knoxville fort's past. They say what they found changes 50 years of thought about where Fort Sanders sat in 1863 and adds information about its later expansion. • Article

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Memoirs of Union POW donated to museum

The Civil War memoirs of a Union soldier who spent time in Confederate prison camps in Georgia and South Carolina has been donated to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill. • Article

Friday, June 4, 2010

Living historians re-create 8th Arkansas' movements at Pickett's Mill

The 8th Arkansas had a big moment at Pickett’s Mill on the evening of May 27, 1864, participating in perhaps the only successful night assault during the Civil War.

Shortly after a failed Union attack, a horde of about 2,000 Confederates under command of Hiram Granbury charged up a ravine and to a cornfield, surprising the enemy and bagging about 200 prisoners. Roughly 200 members of the 8th Arkansas took part. Four Union brigades had to be resupplied over the coming days.

The Union defeat at Pickett’s Mill in Paulding County (suburban Atlanta) delayed by a week Union Gen. William Sherman’s effort to take Acworth and reconnect with his supplies.

On June 5 (Saturday), some 40 members of the Armory Guards, a living historian group that authentically portrays troops in the western theater, will show the public some of what the 8th Arkansas did and help raise money for the state park, which has suffered budget cuts and flood damage last fall.

“We will be moving over several miles on very hilly terrain,” says Guards vice president Jordan Roberts (right). “Both camping and march routes will be the same as the 8th Arkansas in 1864.”

In the morning, the Armory Guards will do picket duty in the park’s wheatfield and start breastworks construction. At 11 a.m. they move to the wood line and then will work on and hold trenches through the afternoon. Around 4:30- 5 p.m., the authentic campaigners, who will portray Confederates, re-create a portion of the assault.

The event is not a normal battle re-enactment with two sides. It's meant to be purely educational.

Sherman learned some tough lessons when he tried to flank and push back his foe at the Battle of Pickett’s Mill. Troops under Gen. O.O. Howard clashed with those of Gen. Patrick Cleburne. The Federals charged down ravines and uphill against the Confederates. At least 700 of the men in blue died.

Pickett’s Mill is one of the best-preserved Civil War sites in the country. Floods last September, unfortunately, destroyed three foot bridges and washed away the foundation of the namesake mill.

James Wooten, interpretive ranger at Pickett’s Mill Battlefield State Historic Site, this week said only one bridge has been repaired since the floods. He is hoping federal FEMA money will assist repairs, but he is not sure of any timetable.

The Civil War Preservation Trust recently listed Pickett’s Mill as one of the top 10 endangered Civil War sites.

The trust said, “Covering 765 acres retaining a remarkable degree of their war-time appearance, Pickett’s Mill Battlefield State Historic Site is widely regarded as one of the most thoroughly preserved and interpreted battlefields of the Atlanta Campaign. Still, recent economic difficulties have not spared it from the fiscal challenges plaguing state parks across the country. Following the most recent round of budget cuts last July, the park was forced to reduce its hours significantly, and is now only open three days a week. Of its original staff of five, only one full-time employee remains.”

Roberts says the 8th Arkansas was an appropriate choice to model over the weekend. “They fought constantly throughout the war.”

Pickett’s Mill Battlefield: 4432 Mt. Tabor Church Road, Dallas, GA 30157, Click its Web site for more information. Admission is $5.

Spotlight on Lincoln's war chief

The National Archives put out this informative and entertaining snapshot of Edwin Stanton, the secretary of war during the Civil War. Did you know Stanton, who shook things up a bit during three administrations, was the first American lawyer to successfully use the plea of temporary insanity to protect his client? • Article

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gulf oil ashore at historic Fort Morgan

Globs of oil were washing into Mobile Bay on Thursday and spotting the white-sand beach on the bay's eastern side at Fort Morgan, Ala. The coin-size globs could be seen in the water rolling along the bay's bottom, and the soft, redish-brown goo glistened in the sun on the sand near the historic Civil War fort. • Details

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lantern tour at Stones River this weekend

Stones River National Battlefield in middle Tennessee is offering a "Hallowed Ground" lantern tour of the cemetery on June 5.

Times for the tours ae 6:45-7:45 pm, 7-8 pm, 7:30-8:30 pm, 7:15 to 8:15. Groups leave from the Visitor Center.

The program "allows visitors to appreciate the cost of war through the stories of soldiers, and their loved ones, who are buried in Stones River National Cemetery. A ranger will lead the group on a lantern lit walk through the cemetery and stop at several gravesites where volunteers portraying soldiers and civilians will share stories taken from letters and diaries of the period."

The program last about an hour. Videotaping, flash photography, and flashlights are not permitted.

Reservations are required. Call (615) 893-9501.

Daily tours of Gettysburg begin June 12

Beginning June 12, rangers will lead walks daily across Gettysburg National Military Park's landscape. Seven days a week throughout the summer they'll lead visitors to famous sites like Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. They'll also offer programs that focus on the battle, key moments of the fighting, the aftermath, and the Civil War experience. In addition to rangers, costumed interpreters will present programs called, Visits to the Past, portraying men and women who witnessed and participated in the events of 1863 in Gettysburg. • Details

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Welcome center to open near Antietam

The Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Antietam National Battlefield have entered into an agreement to open a welcome and exhibit center in an old farm house near Sharpsburg, Md. The theme will revolve around the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area. Officials have scheduled a grand opening for the visitors center for Sept. 17-19 and plans are to have it open seven days a week from April to November. • Article