Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Erroneous grave marker to be replaced

A Maryland resident is correcting an error on the tombstone of his great-great grandfather that misidentifies the man as a Confederate soldier. • Article

Monday, November 29, 2010

Update: Monteith Swamp battlefield survey

Monteith Swamp was a small but important engagement during the Union conquest of Savannah, Ga. The Picket wrote in August about a non-profit archaeological group winning a federal grant to document the forgotten battlefield, which mostly sits on private land.

Daniel Elliott of the LAMAR Institute was on site in November and has provided updates on his personal blog.

Using ground-penetrating radar and other technologies, LAMAR has located two portions of the December 1864 battlefield along the Chatham and Effingham county lines.

“One is in the northwest corner of Harrison’s Field and the other is further north in the swamp margin. Finds include grapeshot, bullets, a scabbard tip. Other finds may be related to the Civil War period, including cut lead, cut brass, many 19th century buttons, and various iron and brass hardware,” writes Elliott (above).

The search has also yielded a "fine specimen" of an earlier Union uniform button and fired brass percussion caps “that clued us into the battlefield landscape.”

“Since then we have been plugging along unearthing and mapping an assortment of battle and post-battle objects in Harrison’s Field,” writes Elliott.

Harrison's Field photo courtesy of Cindy Wallace

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Profs use podcasts to share history

Two Longwood University professors have begun a podcast series called "That a Nation Might Live," giving weekly dispatches about the people, events and issues of the American Civil War. The podcasts, at civilwar150.longwood .edu, will run through 201as part of the sesquicentennial commemoration. • Article

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sunken Road / Bloody Lane

For several hours on the afternoon of Sept. 17, 1862, wave after wave of Union troops to dislodge a much smaller force of Confederates solidly entrenched in the Sunken Road, used by Sharpsburg, Md., to reach their fields. Finally, the men in gray were pushed back to Piper Farm. A famous photograph shows piles of bodies in Bloody Lane a couple days after the battle. I walked the road on a recent rainy weekday. I was alone, deep in thought about the lives lost that desperate day at Antietam.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Grant will help preserve portion of Franklin

A state grant of $960,000 was awarded to help preserve part of the Franklin, Tenn., battleground upon which a strip mall currently exists. The money will help purchase the property so that preservationists can install a park. • Article

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Va. boy finds Civil War-era sword

It's truly the gift that keeps on giving. A week after receiving a metal detector for his seventh birthday, Lucas Hall's gift is already paying dividends for the first-grader. While metal-detecting with his father, Gary, on private property outside Berryville, Va., Lucas had a feeling that the two needed to stop and look. His hunch paid off. Buried six inches deep was a sword believed to have been used during the Civil War. • Article

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Alabama promotes Civil War trail

The state tourism agency is launching a new push to promote Civil War attractions across Alabama, according to the Associated Press. A new brochure highlights 47 sites and attractions. It includes the dates of 14 war re-enactments that are held each year. Prominent sites include the Capitol and the First White House of the Confederacy in Montgomery, along with Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan at the entrance to Mobile Bay, the AP says.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The non-violent Dunkers of Antietam

The Battle of Antietam brought the horrors war to Americans in a new, compelling way. The business of photography was still relatively young and the process of making images was, to say the least, laborious.

Still, a few enterprising souls accompanied the Union army in the East. A day or two after America's bloodiest day, Sept. 17, 1862, lensmen made the familiar photos that made civilians gasp. Among them are photos of bloated bodies of young men along Hagerstown Pike and other locations on the Maryland battlefield.

Arguably, the most recognized photo focuses on a pile of corpses near a little white church.

According to the National Park Service, "This historic structure began as a humble country house of worship constructed by local Dunker farmers in 1852. It was Mr. Samuel Mumma, owner of the nearby farm that bears his name, that donated land in 1851 for the Dunkers to build their church. During its early history the congregation consisted of about half a dozen-farm families from the local area."

During the Battle of Antietam, Dunker Church was the focal point of a number of Union attacks against the Confederate left flank. The heavily damaged church was repaired after the battle and saw service for many more decades, until a storm flattened it in 1921. A home was later built on the site, but it, too, eventually was gone, replaced by the restored church in the early 1960s. It incorporated materials from the church that existed at the time of the battle.

I sauntered into the plain building during a recent tour of Antietam. Dunker Church is about 150 yards from the vistors center.

The serenity matched the rest of the park, which sits on farm land that witnessed 23,000 casualties.

The Church of the Brethren's website provides details about the pious, anti-slavery and pacifist congregation at Sharpsburg.

"Typical of the derisive labeling experience of many religious groups, they were called Dunkers by outsiders because they fully immersed or “dunked” their baptismal candidates in nearby streams," according to the website. The faith has origins in Germany.

"The church was small and plain, just like the plain Dunker people who built it. No steeple adorned its entrance because the Dunkers considered them immodest or worldly," the Brethren say. "Services of worship convened each Sunday morning with men entering the door facing toward the Hagerstown Pike with women and children entering through another door in the south wall. This was in keeping with the trend of Brethren congregations whose meeting houses were usually segregated by gender."

On a rainy autumn day, I felt calm as I spent a few moments alone in the church. I thought about a question someone asked at the visitors center: How could Americans come to kill each other?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Vicksburg may add 10,000 acres

Vicksburg National Military Park would be expanded to include the entire Vicksburg Campaign, based on legislation pending in Washington. The bill would permit the park to add the battles of Champion Hill, Port Gibson and Raymond. • Article

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Colonel's coffin moved to plantation

A Civil War soldier’s coffin was moved on to Travellers Rest Plantation in Tennessee as part of a celebration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Col. William Shy's coffin was moved with care from the Carter House in Franklin. • Article

Friday, November 19, 2010

Part 2 of the Civil War sign saga

You may recall a recent Picket item on a Civil War marker propped incongruously against a utility pole near a busy metro Atlanta highway.

What you don't know is that these signs sometimes have legs.

I had noticed the sign at Memorial Drive and Interstate I-285 in DeKalb County, about 10 miles east of downtown Atlanta. I called the local government. Steve Longcrier, executive director of the Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails, read a blog item I posted and suggested I contact the state.


Thursday, an employee for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources picked it up.

The sign, which details the movements of the Federal left wing in Decatur in 1864, had been missing for some time, said Frankie Mewborn, cultural resources manager.

In fact, it had orginally been placed two miles north of where it was spotted.

"If it's not damaged, we put them back up," said Mewborn.

He estimates the state gets calls once a week about missing or broken signs. With zero budget, the DNR depends on discretionary funding, the Georgia Historical Society and civic groups and individuals to fund the repairs or installation of signs. A new post alone costs about $200.

"Across the state there are people who have a keen interest in this," Mewborn said.

Mewborn estimates there are about 700 such Civil War signs across Georgia, with nearly 500 describing the Atlanta Campaign.

Signs are often displaced by road and commercial work. Some signs are stolen, he said. "It's a rare thing."

Of course, not all historical signs are about the Civil War. Mewborn related the story about a sign in Darien, Ga., that went missing. Fort King George was an early British garrison in Georgia before the Revolutionary War.

A sign about the fort ended up at a local gas station. It was located and an individual with a tie to the fort's history helped to pay for it to be put back up.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ambrose Burnside: A likeable bumbler

Behind those fierce muttonchops, a less-confident Ambrose Everett Burnside resided.

I’ve been tracking the Union general the past few weeks, through the written word and a visit to hallowed ground.

I'm reading “The Horrid Pit,” wich details the fiasco at the Crater during the Petersburg siege in summer 1864.

Burnside, commander of the Army of the Potomac’s IX Corps, approved a subordinate’s idea of blowing a line in the Confederate defenses, followed by a sweeping attack that would roll up Lee’s exhausted army and perhaps end the war.

It did not end that way. Poor communication with his superiors and subordinates turned the assault into a disaster, with Union troops cowering in the Crater and Rebels pouring hot lead into them.

A subsequent inquiry and Gen. Ulysses Grant’s anger at Burnside basically finished his military career.

Things appeared much brighter two years earlier, when Burnside earned a few small victories and led an assault late on Sept. 17, 1862, at Antietam Creek.

Just this week, I made a brief tour of the Antietam battlefield, spending a few moments at Burnside Bridge, where the general’s troops finally squeezed their way across the stone bridge, pushing pesky Georgians from their deadly perch.

Critics say Burnside did not do adequate reconnaissance before the attack, and commander Gen. George B. McClellan told an aide, “Tell him if it costs 10,000 men he must go now."

At the moment Union army appeared poised to shatter the weary Confederate right, A.P. Hill’s men arrived from Harpers Ferry, West Va., and stalled the assault. Lee’s army was saved.

Months later, Abraham Lincoln put Burnside in charge of the entire army, a command Burnside knew he was not qualified to lead. Burnside sent wave after wave of men to their deaths at the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Born in Indiana, the general was a West Pointer who fought in the Mexican War. He went bankrupt after getting into the carbine-manufacturing business in the 1850s. He saved the family’s finances by working for railroads before the Civil War.

Alan Axelrod, author of “The Horrid Pit,” describes Burnside this way:

“Ambrose Burnside did not seem a man spun on the wheel of tragedy. Far from it. Dark he most certainly was not. His popularity sprang not just from his concern for his command, but from his all-around likeability. Happy-go-luck, many called him.”

Grant called Burnside liked and respected, but unfit to command an army. Burnside, known to be obstinate and unimaginative, agreed. He probably should never have been promoted beyond colonel.

Often, it seemed, he was the victim of plain bad luck.

Author Jeffrey Wert wrote this about the general’s demotion after Fredericksburg: “[Burnside] had been the most unfortunate commander of the Army, a general who had been cursed by succeeding its most popular leader and a man who believed he was unfit for the post. His tenure had been marked by bitter animosity among his subordinates and a fearful, if not needless, sacrifice of life.”

Burnside, who died at 57 in 1881, got back into railroad work after the war. His legacy is the term “sideburns,” a play of his name and distinctive facial hair.

I don’t know exactly why I am drawn to Burnside. He was simple, honest and friendly. Although much of his legacy is bleeding his troops, I find him to be a sympathetic everyman who got swept into circumstances that were just too much for him.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Louisiana forts open to the public

Twin Pineville, La., forts built during the Civil War to stave off a Union attack during the Red River Campaign will open to the public this week as a historic site. • Article

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Web exhibit brings you the war in 3-D

It is a portal into the past, but unlike most photography that conjures a bygone era, "Post Civil War Images of South Carolina" is in 3-D. It's all courtesy of Web designer Buff Ross of Sullivans Island and the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia. The exhibit features "anaglyphs" of 53 steroscopic images taken by Sam Cooley and two others. • Article

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fort Donelson re-enactment this weekend

Some 1,300 Civil War buffs gathering in northern Mississippi this weekend will re-enact a battle that actually took place in Tennessee. People dressed as Union and Confederate soldiers are recreating the Battle of Fort Donelson, which took place in February 1862 near Dover. • Article

Thursday, November 11, 2010

143 years later, monument becomes reality

Residents of the tiny southern Minnesota town of Wasioja will mark Veteran's Day by dedicating a Civil War memorial that was first proposed for construction 143 years ago. • Article

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

History on the sidelines

I'm glad to see that more interpretive signs are being placed in pedestrian or roadside areas that allow for safe reading without the risk of being rear-ended. But this marker on Memorial Drive at Interstate 285 in DeKalb County may be lost to history. I've noticed it for awhile and called the county yesterday about it. Perhaps the state is in charge of signs on that stretch of Memorial Drive. Click the photo to read about Sherman's left wing in Decatur.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tennessee begins sesqui events

Tennessee, which played a huge role in the War Between the States, kicks off a 4-and-a-half-year observation of the war's sesquicentennial this week with several free events. Gov. Phil Bredesen and others will host a program Friday at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Also this week, the State Library & Archives unveils a new exhibit of Civil War-era artifacts and photographs that runs through Nov. 30. • Article

Sunday, November 7, 2010

150-year-old photo mystery

Here's an interesting yarn from a gentleman who challenges assertion no photos exist from Nov. 6, 1860, the day Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the 16th president. • Article

Saturday, November 6, 2010

New York honors fallen soldier

A tombstone is being unveiled this weekend in an upstate New York cemetery for a Civil War soldier who survived some of the conflict's bloodiest battles only to be killed just before his enlistment was up in 1864. • Article

Friday, November 5, 2010

Photos: Atlanta's historic Oakland Cemetery

Oakland Cemetery, a mile east of downtown Atlanta, is a burial ground dating back to the 1850s. It is the resting place for 5,000 Confederate and 16 Union soldiers. John Bell Hood witnessed the Battle of Atlanta from a home that once stood on the site. • More Oakland Cemetery photos

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Savannah website reviews 'The Conspirator'

Wednesday night's feature at the Savannah Film Festival - kept secret until just before the projector rolled - was "The Conspirator", the Civil War drama about the Lincoln assassination directed by Robert Redford. Most of the film was shot in the Georgia city. • Review

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Virginians can share own piece of history

A Civil War spinoff of the "Antiques Roadshow" is coming to the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park on Friday. The Shenandoah County Civil War sesquicentennial committee will scan papers as part of the Civil War 150 Legacy Project. • Article

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day primer: Start with A. Lincoln

Election Day is upon us. Analyses will be written tonight, new careers will be born, others will fade away.

Monday, on the eve of the voting, I drove down to the Atlanta History Center to see the Library of Congress exhibit, “With Malice Toward None,” honoring the enduring legacy of the 16th president.

The show moves on after Sunday and I figured I’d never have another chance to see such an assembly of Abraham Lincoln writings, photographs, sketches, personal items and, yes, the items found in his coat pockets after he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre.

Lincoln was a consummate politician and a lawyer. He knew the shrewd game of give and take.

His sole term in the U.S. House of Representatives was a disappointment. But he learned as he went and persevered.

Few Americans knew Lincoln’s name in 1858 when he debated Stephen Douglas seven times during his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate seat in Illinois.

His speeches lifted him to the national stage, even in defeat, and a familiar line made itself into the American lexicon.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”

“With Malice Toward None” opens with a multimedia presentation that explores the myth and realities of Lincoln. Video commentaries reveal personal connections to the documents the 16th president wrote.

Photos throughout the exhibit depict Lincoln over the years, with the Civil War’s heavy toll evident in an Alexander Gardner portrait taken several weeks before he died.

A cane-bottom chair from an old law office tells you a lot about the man from Springfield, Ill.

“The strength and durability of furniture is said to have interested Lincoln more than its appearance.”

The exhibit has the powerful documents we know so well: Drafts of his second inaugural address, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address.

But the “little” letters speak of Lincoln’s humanity.

In October 1860, Grace Bedell (left, during the 1870s), a young girl from New York, wrote to candidate Lincoln asking him to grow whiskers because his face was so thin.

“All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President,” reads a portion of the letter, which is in the exhibit.

Shortly afterward, Lincoln grew his now-familiar beard.

In December 1862, as the war wore on, the president wrote to Fanny McCullough, the daughter of a friend killed in battle.

“I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time,” Lincoln wrote. “You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again.”

I make no political statement here. It's my hope at the end of today that we appreciate the resiliency of our political process. And that we continue to turn to Lincoln for lessons in statesmanship, discourse and love.