Thursday, December 29, 2011

Vessel is now Florida preserve

A Civil War-era ship that participated in one of the nation's most famous naval battles before sinking in the mouth of Tampa Bay is set to become Florida's 12th underwater archaeological preserve. The wreck of the USS Narcissus tugboat off Egmont Key is just north of Anna Maria Island. • Article

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Step right up for trading cards

National parks with ties to the Civil War are using trading cards to generate interest and help people learn more about their significance. So far, 189 cards are available at Civil War–related park sites, with others such as Shiloh and Corinth being added as sesquicentennial dates near. • Article

Monday, December 26, 2011

A tale of two cycloramas: Atlanta studies Gettysburg as it mulls moving, other options

Long, long ago – before motion pictures, "The History Channel" and 3D – cycloramas were the storytelling spectacles of the time. The huge murals presented sweeping historical scenes and singular moments of intense personal bravery or sacrifice.

European artists in the late 19th century created the building-sized round paintings. The artists often traveled to the locales to ensure historical accuracy.

Most of the paintings are gone – lost to time, the elements and the evolution of mass entertainment.

Only two remain in the United States. They feature scenes from the battles of Gettysburg and Atlanta in the Civil War.

Although few people today even know what a cyclorama is, the two masterpieces remain cultural treasures.

Gettysburg’s has glittered more brightly in recent years.

The mural (photo above) reopened in 2008 -- after a $15 million restoration -- in a different building. After receiving a new backing it was, for the first time, properly stretched, ensuring even stress on the fabric. Technicians had to re-create 14 feet of "missing" sky.

“It really is the star attraction of the museum and the visitor center,” said Katie Lawhon, spokeswoman at Gettysburg National Military Park.

For $10.50 ($12.50 starting Jan. 2, 2012), an adult visitor can take in the Cyclorama, film and museum, Lawhon said.

Some 1.2 million visitors come every year to the battlefield set among the rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania.

The Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum (right), nestled in the historic Grant Park neighborhood, draws only about 75,000 patrons a year, a far cry from twice that number 10 years ago.

It lives on a $500,000 annual budget, with little or no foundation help, unlike Gettysburg.

Times are tough for governments and museums. The state of Georgia and Atlanta have invested few funds to observe or market the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, with a focus on 2014.

Some 42 feet tall and 358 feet in circumference, the Atlanta Cyclorama is the largest painting in the country. It was last overhauled 30 years ago for about $11 million. Some observers said the mural, painted in 1885-86, is deteriorating and needs significant work, according to an Atlanta Business Chronicle article.

“There are a few ripples forming in the painting,” Cyclorama marketing manager Yakingma Robinson told the Picket.

But otherwise, he said, “it’s in pretty good condition,” a comment echoed by a member of the local neighborhood group.

With concerns about attendance, funding and the condition of the painting and exhibits, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed this year assembled a task force to study solutions. A small delegation, including a staff member with the separate Atlanta History Center, last week paid a visit to Gettysburg.

Several options are on the table in Atlanta -- including new revenue models, an estimated $10 million restoration or a more high-profile location.

Exhibits -- strong on old maps but little interaction with patrons -- could use a breath of fresh air.

Kevin Riley, editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, recently wrote about his visit to the Cyclorama.

“The Cyclorama looks tired — from the seating, to the diorama to the painting itself,” Riley wrote. “Even the narrated description of the battle, which sounds dated and some claim isn’t entirely accurate, crackles through the hum of aging speakers. Last weekend, I watched as a local restoration group did some annual maintenance work on the diorama, and it’s clear that the place has seen better days.”

The museum adjoins the Atlanta Zoo which, according to published reports, may one day have use for the property.

Key to any effort is support from foundations.

Areas under consideration for a possible move are the Atlanta History Center campus in Buckhead, the former World of Coca-Cola site in Underground Atlanta and a stretch of popular venues near Centennial Olympic Park in downtown.

Gettysburg has yet another advantage when it comes to luring visitors.

It is a large battlefield, where men in blue and gray slugged it out over three days in July 1863. Tradition holds the Union victory was the turning point in the four-year conflict that claimed more than 600,000 lives.

Sprawling Atlanta, as most people know, has precious little battleground left.

“It hurts when it comes to creating a full customer experience,” Robinson told the Picket.

At one time, the Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum had 15 employees. It’s down to 3 full-time employees and one part-time employee. It operates only five days a week.

Still, Robinson does what he can with available resources at the museum, which has been in the same location since 1921. He noted a small increase in attendance over the past year.

The museum also houses the Texas, famous for the Great Locomotive Chase in 1862. Robinson is organizing a day of activities in April 2012 to mark the 150th anniversary of the chase.

“We’re doing good considering the economy,” Robinson said.

“I’ve come to learn it’s a harder sell to people who don’t have an interest, he said.

The Atlanta Cyclorama, therefore, targets international tourists, senior citizens and school groups. Adult tickets cost $10.

Like the painting in Gettysburg, Atlanta’s features a diorama in the foreground, complete with models of artillery pieces, soldiers and equipment.

One soldier features the likeness of actor Clark Gable, star of the 1939 film “Gone With the Wind.”

Sitting on the 184-seat viewing platform is like a trip back in time – to a sweltering day in July 1864. The mural, all 9,334 pounds of it, is epic in scale and focus.

“The painting takes in a wide sweep of the area: the skyline of Atlanta, Kennesaw Mountain, Stone Mountain, and the smoke of a cavalry fight at Decatur,” according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. “Details of the battle are as if the viewer stood just inside the Fifteenth Corps lines at about 4:30 p.m. on July 22.

“Confederates have broken through the Union lines and are resisting a Union counterattack. A prominent figure is the man who commissioned the painting, Gen. John 'Blackjack' Logan, galloping heroically to the battlefront ahead of reinforcements that will restore his lines.”

The focal point of the painting depicts fighting about a mile and a half from Grant Park.

The mural has been in Grant Park, just southeast of downtown, since the mid-1890s. And that’s where it should stay, according to an online petition and Paul Simo, historic committee chairman with the Grant Park Neighborhood Association, whose president serves on the mayor’s task force.

Grant Park is a public park named for Lemuel P. Grant, the donor of the park land and a Confederate engineer who surveyed the defensive fortifications around Atlanta. Tidy historic homes, many Victorian, surround the park.

Simo cites three reasons for keeping the museum where it is: Its historic ties to Southeast Atlanta; its history within the Grant Park neighborhood and a potentially larger economic impact, with “niche heritage tourism.”

The venue should be more dynamic, with enhanced exhibits that tell more of the neighborhood’s history, Simo said.

“You can step out of the painting into the next chapter where history continues,” he said.

While the Atlanta Cyclorama has a friendly relationship with the surrounding neighborhood, there appears to be little formal interaction.

“Our neighborhood is committed to do whatever we can do,” Simo said.

One idea, he said, is for bicyclists to have organized rides through Grant Park, East Atlanta and Kirkwood, all neighborhoods that saw heavy fighting. The Battle of Atlanta Commemoration Organization annually marks the anniversary of the battle with a variety of events in southeast Atlanta.

Even if the decision was made to move, there’s not enough time for a new museum to be built before the sesquicentennial, according to Simo. “I don’t want to see anything pushed through.”

“Our neighborhoods are the battlefield,” Simo told the Picket. “Hundreds of soldiers died all over here."

Gettysburg Cyclorama photo by Rick Lewis, National Park Service.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Alexander Gardner: Lasting images

Although often overshadowed by his former employer, Mathew B. Brady, Alexander Gardner was the one who actually took many of the Civil War’s most famous, and unsettling, pictures, including the dead at Antietam and Gettysburg. With the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the National Portrait Gallery is preparing a major exhibit on Gardner’s work. • Article

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Christmas gift for Lincoln

On Dec. 22, 1864, as the Civil War entered its final months, Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman sent a message to President Lincoln notifying him that he had captured the city of Savannah, Ga., thereby completing his 300-mile “March to the Sea." The Union army employed a scorched-earth policy after it left Atlanta weeks earlier. • Article

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Anniversary events next week at upgraded Stones River battlefield

A new entrance, more wayside exhibits and improved trails and parking greet visitors to Stones River National Battefield, where events next week mark the 149th anniversary of the high-casualty clash in middle Tennessee.

From December 26 through January 2, 2012, park rangers and volunteers will present living history, artillery demonstrations and provide caravan tours of the site near Murfreesboro. (• Click here for details)

The Battle of Stones River was one of the most significant battles in the Western Theater, according to Gib Backlund, chief of operations at the park.

After three days of intense fighting, nearly one third of the 81,000 men who fought there became casualties, according to the National Park Service.

Monday through Friday next week (Dec. 26-30), park rangers will present a guided walk at 10 a.m., followed by a 1 p.m. program detailing the events of each day of the 1862 campaign. Daily programs will conclude with a guided caravan tour of the battlefield at 2 p.m.

Living history programs on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 (Saturday-Sunday) include stories of the most pivotal battle actions through the stories of soldiers. Programs will be presented at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., and 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily.

Union artillery will take center stage on January 2 (Monday), with firings at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Between firings, Union cannoneers will share their perspectives on the battle’s bloody climax on January 2, 1863.

Backlund said current plans for 2012 -- the 150th anniversary of the battle -- include a scholarly symposium in late October and a program in May that features baseball and other recreational pastimes during the Civil War.

Stones River currently receives about 200,000 visitors a year. A new entrance (above) on Thompson Lane might lure more.

"We think the new main entrance may make it easier to find us," said Backlund.

The battlefield has added pedestrian and bicycle amenities, including a path from the visitors center to the cemetery, which holds about 6,100 dead from the four-year conflict.

The park is trying to reach more school groups and a broader audience. "I think there is a little more diversity" among visitors, Backlund said.

Exhibits at the visitors center touch on secession and Reconstruction.

Additional wayside exibits are designed to capture the attention of visitors, who tend to spend only a minute reading them.

"They tell you what happened on the piece of ground you are standing on," Backlund said.

Telling the story of what happened at Stones River is hindered somewhat by the lack of any wartime photographs showing the site.

After Gen. Braxton Bragg’s defeat at Perryville, Ky., he and his Confederate Army of the Mississippi retreated, reorganized and were redesignated as the Army of Tennessee. They then advanced to Murfreesboro and prepared to go into winter quarters.

Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans’s Union Army of the Cumberland found Bragg’s army on December 29, 1862, and went into camp that night, within hearing distance of the Rebels, according to a National Park Service summary of the battle.

On Dec. 31, Bragg’s men attacked the Union right flank, where they made progress before being stopped by a stronger Federal line. On Jan 2., 1863, Bragg hurled a division at a Union unit. The Confederates drove most of the Federals back across McFadden’s Ford, but with the assistance of artillery, the Federals repulsed the attack, compelling the Rebels to retire to their original position. Bragg left the field on the January 4-5, retreating to Shelbyville and Tullahoma, Tenn.

"Stones River boosted Union morale," according to the NPS. "The Confederates had been thrown back in the east, west and in the Trans-Mississippi."

Photos courtesy of the National Park Service. Stones River National Battlefield is at 3501 Old Nashville Highway, northwest of Murfreesboro. Additional information is available at the visitors center or by calling (615) 893-9501.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Go deep on Gettysburg at seminar

Civil war buffs, and those fascinated by American history in general, can make plans now to attend the 2012 Gettysburg Seminar, which will explore some of the long burning issues of the battle at Gettysburg. The seminar, scheduled for April 13-15, is sponsored by Gettysburg National Military Park and the Gettysburg Foundation. • Article

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Views from the Lincoln cottage

President Abraham Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington is opening an exhibit featuring images of wartime in the nation’s capital during the Civil War. “Seat of War” includes historic prints from the collection held at Lincoln’s summertime retreat. • Article

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Elmira prison granary may be rebuilt

The sole remaining building from the infamous Elmira Civil War prison camp in New York may be reconstructed close to its original site. The granary building, which was painstakingly dismantled and its pieces numbered, has been in storage at various locations for years as historians and others try to figure out what to do with it. • Article

Friday, December 9, 2011

Second Antietam event organized

A living history group is announcing plans for a second re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam in western Maryland next September to mark the 150th anniversary of the bloodiest day of the Civil War. Events will be held on private land. • Article

Thursday, December 8, 2011

'Great Locomotive Chase': Plans for 150th are gathering steam

(Updated March 21) Ceremonies, model trains, movie screenings, music and tours will be part of April 2012 observances of the 150th anniversary of the daring Union effort to disrupt rail traffic between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn., during the Civil War.

James Andrews and his band of raiders tried to destroy much of the Western & Atlantic Railroad and communications as they rushed northward on April 12, 1862. They achieved little success and eight of the nearly two dozen captured participants, disguised as civilians, were later hanged in Atlanta as spies. Andrews was among them.

The Picket got in touch with cities along the route of the Great Locomotive Chase, which began in Big Shanty (present-day Kennesaw) and ended just above Ringgold, below Chattanooga.

ATLANTA CYCLORAMA

The Andrews Raid began above Atlanta, but the museum at Grant Park houses the Texas (right), the locomotive that eventually caught up with the General.

The Atlanta Cyclorama is planning activities, said marketing manager Yakingma Robinson, but on March 21 they had not been finalized.

MARIETTA

Andrews and his men rendezvoused in Marietta, just northwest of Atlanta, to begin their journey north. They intended to destroy track, trestles, bridges and telegraph lines. A dogged pursuit left them little opportunity to do much damage.

The city has a bevy of events planned over a week, said Theresa Jenkins of the Marietta Welcome Center. There will be some free events. Contact the welcome center for more details.

Thursday, April 12
The city’s celebration begins at the Earl Smith Strand Theatre with the “re-premiere” of the 1956 Disney film “The Great Locomotive Chase,” starring Fess Parker. It will include a red carpet, dinner, organ recital, the movie and a champagne and dessert reception. Current schedule is 6 p.m. until about 11 p.m. Ticket prices: $75 for VIP (includes red carpet, dinner, movie and champagne reception); $35 general Admission (includes movie & champagne reception)

Friday, April 13
10am-5pm: Civil War Home Front Days. How the home folks fared during the war. – Marietta Gone with the Wind Museum, Marietta Museum of History, Root House Museum
10am-5pm - Tours of Old Zion Heritage Church
10 a.m. and 2pm – “Technology during the Civil War,” Marietta Museum of History
11am-5pm – “Homes & Heroes of the Civil War Exhibit”, Marietta-Cobb Museum of Art
11am & 1pm – Historic Marietta Trolley Tours
8pm - Showing of “The General” and organ concert, Earl Smith Strand Theatre

Saturday, April 14
11am-3pm Living history on the Marietta Square – characters from the chase as well as Marietta’s Civil War history will tell their stories.
10am-5pm - Tours of Old Zion Heritage Church
10am-5pm – Civil War Home Front Days – Marietta Gone with the Wind Museum, Marietta Museum of History, Root House Museum
10 am & 2pm – “Technology during the Civil War,” Marietta Museum of History
11am-4pm -“Homes & Heroes of the Civil War Exhibit”, Marietta-Cobb Museum of Art
11am-4pm – “Texas III and Me Tour: From the Rails to the Road”
Enjoy a tour of the Great Locomotive Chase segment from Marietta (Marietta Museum of History in the Kennesaw House) to Kennesaw (Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History, home of the General). The tour takes place aboard the Texas III a replica of the original Texas, the chase locomotive (converted from an army truck). Tours begin at Glover Park, Historic Marietta Square
11am & 2pm – Civil War music concerts. 8th Regiment Band of the Georgia Volunteer Infantry. Glover Park, Historic Marietta Square
4pm-6pm – Disney Party for Kids sponsored by Radio Disney, Glover Park
8pm Showing of “The General” and organ concert, Earl Smith Strand Theatre

Sunday, April 15
10am-4pm – Civil War Home Front Days – Marietta Museum of History & Marietta Gone with the Wind Museum
11am-4pm -“Homes & Heroes of the Civil War Exhibit”, Marietta-Cobb Museum of Art
1pm-5pm - Statue Dedication at Marietta Confederate Cemetery & cemetery tours
1pm-5pm - Tours of Old Zion Heritage Church

More details, related websites

KENNESAW

The Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History is a big player in the anniversary events. After all, it houses the General and related exhibits. The city also is organizing events, and is helping to host a breakfast on the actual anniversary.

The Great Locomotive Chase, the Southern Museum points out, actually began on foot.

Western & Atlantic Railroad conductor William A. Fuller was shocked to see a group of men steal the General while passengers and crew were enjoying breakfast at the Lacy Hotel in Big Shanty.

Fuller and a couple others ran north after his train. He didn’t yet know it had been taken by the Union commandos. The conductor ran across a handcar and three trains and traveled 86 miles -- along with Confederate horsemen who had been reached by telegraph -- after the raiders.

The Southern Museum has released a list of activities:

-- Civil War Symposium: March 23, 5 p.m.-7 p.m. A film, lecture and tour will be held at the museum in partnership with Kennesaw State University.

-- April 12 (Thursday): Breakfast and at 6 a.m. at the Trackside Grill with actors to re-create the beginning of the Great Locomotive Chase near the original location of the Lacy Hotel. Tickets are $20.

Free commemoration ceremony at 8:30 a.m. in the depot area, with speeches by dignitaries and a citywide parade. Starting at 9:30 a.m., all-day free admission and guided tours of the museum.

Programming includes the donation of Sgt. John Morehead Scott’s Medal of Honor to the museum by the Waggoner family of Ohio. Scott was one of the raiders.

Following a sold-out fund-raising dinner at the Trackside Grill; the museum hosts “Dessert at the Southern Museum” featuring musician Bobby Horton, who will be performing Civil War-era songs; tickets are $25. The event is set for 8:30 p.m.

-- April 14-15: Several re-enactment units will interpret Camp McDonald, the Confederate encampment once located across the tracks from the Lacy Hotel. This event, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, is to take place on the lawn across the street from the museum. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children ages 4-12, while children 3 years old and younger are free. Tickets also allow entry into the museum, which will operate normal hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 14 and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on April 15.

-- May 26: Descendants of participants in the chase will unite for a day of storytelling and camaraderie. This is an invitation-only event that includes the Great Locomotive Chase bus tour, followed by a catered dinner.

ALLATOONA PASS

On April 21, tour Allatoona Pass, where the chase continued, with interpreters and re-enactors providing accounts. Sponsored by Red Top Mountain State Park. Allatoona Pass Battlefield, Old Allatoona Road, Emerson, Ga. $5 parking. 770-975-0055.

KINGSTON/ADAIRSVILLE

The raiders had to wait for almost an hour at Kingston while several southbound freight trains cleared the tracks, according to the Cartersville-Bartow County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Four minutes after the General left Kingston's yard, the Confederate crew arrived on the Yonah. Instead of trying to negotiate the complicated Kingston rail yard, the Confederates took a locomotive owned by the Rome Railroad and continued the chase.

Confederates chasing the General switched to the Texas in Adairsville, and ran it in reverse as they followed Andrews (left).

The 1847 W&A Railroad Depot, 101 Public Square, features displays of Adairsville's role in the raid, its local history and tributes to early life in Adairsville.

-- Events in Adairsville April 12-14 include depot tours, re-enactors in period dress, dinner theater at the 1902 Stock Exchange, special exhibits, an afternoon tea, old-time games, treats and live Civil War-era music. There also will be a showing of "The General" by Buster Keaton, and Walt Disney's "The Great Locomotive Chase." • See full schedule of events. Directions: I-75 Exit #306, GA Hwy. 140 west. Straight through traffic light across US Hwy. 41, then left onto Main Street. Continue one mile to Adairsville's historic Public Square on the right.

-- The chase will be remembered in Kingston at 1:30 p.m. on April 12. The city will recognize Uriah Stephens, who attempted to stop Andrews on a siding at the town depot. Stephens specifically resisted Andrews' demands to "throw the switch" to return the General to the main line. • More details

CALHOUN/GORDON COUNTY

Events are planned April 14 around the Calhoun depot and GEM Theatre, according to Ken Padgett of the Friends of Resaca Battlefield.

Padgett told the Calhoun Times that raiders cut telegraph lines when they went through the city. In Resaca, men on the General detached a rail car and set it on fire on the rail bridge in hopes of burning it down. The bridge was not burned completely because of a rainstorm, Padgett told the Times.

Fuller first spied the Union raiders just south of Resaca, near the Oostanaula River.

Festivities in Calhoun kick off at 3 p.m. April 14 (Saturday). Re-enactors will display weapons and an artillery piece.

The Gordon County Historical Society will host a signing of the book "Crossroads to Conflict," a complete history of Georgia and the Civil War, by author Barry Brown. 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the GEM Theatre. The volume will be sold at a reduced price.

At 3:30 p.m., Padgett will present a light-humored telling of the Andrews Raid as it relates to the Calhoun and Resaca area. At 4 p.m., the GEM will show the 90-minute Walt Disney movie, "The Great Locomotive Chase." The screening is free.

At 7:30 p.m. at the GEM, Bobby Horton is in concert, featuring stories, songs and period instruments. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for students.

More information on the event.

DALTON/WHITFIELD COUNTY

One of Andrews’ targets was supposed to be the 1,477-foot tunnel blasted through Chetoogeta Mountain at appropriately named Tunnel Hill, a town 110 miles north of Atlanta.

A tour on Saturday, April 14, is sold out, said Ty Snyder, manager of visitors centers for the Dalton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The day will include a stop at the abandoned Western & Atlantic rail roadbed in Tilton, and the stone trestle and site of Green’s Wood station. Lunch will be held at the Western & Atlantic Depot (Dalton Depot Restaurant) in downtown. Participants also will see the Western & Atlantic Railroad Tunnel & Museum in Tunnel Hill.

Because pursuers were closing fast on the General, it could take on only a little water and wood in Tilton.

RINGGOLD

At about 1 p.m. April 12, 1862, the General ran out of wood and water two miles north of this city, with the Southerners, aboard the Texas, fast upon them. The Confederates rounded up all the raiders.

Eight of the 20 were tried as spies and executed in Atlanta. The rest either escaped or were exchanged, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. Andrews and a couple other raiders were civilians. The rest were soldiers. The very first Medals of Honor were given to some of these Federal men.

City Manager Dan Wright told the Picket an interpretive marker about the chase recently arrived. A new rail-viewing platform (above) also has been dedicated at the depot.

Credits: Chase map, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia; W&A tunnel photo courtesy of Dalton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau; rail platform photo courtesy of city of Ringgold

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wilson's Creek artifacts off display

The Civil War museum at Wilson's Creek National Battlefield closed last week, and its artifacts won't return to public view until April 2013. Conservation specialists will be at the Missouri battlefield in January to determine what needs to be done to clean and repair pieces in the collection. • Article

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Antietam aglow with luminarias

When dusk falls Saturday night, Antietam National Battlefield will be alight with 23,110 luminarias, each representing a casualty of the Sept. 17, 1862, Battle of Antietam. More than 1,400 volunteers were expected to be out Saturday morning to place the luminarias on the battlefield, which saw the bloodiest single day of fighting of the Civil War. • Article

Thursday, December 1, 2011

West Va. releases regional videos

The state Division of Tourism is marking the 150th anniversary of the war by unveiling a series of nine heritage videos. The roughly six-minute video for the Mid-Ohio Valley, for example, talks about battles in Cairo, Burning Springs, Grantsville, Spencer, Ripley, Buffington Island and Belleville Island. • Article

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

N.C. launches website for lessons

North Carolina students now have a way to link their classroom lessons about the Civil War with the actual sites where historic events took place. A website for teachers offers activities and lesson plans based around 12 state historic sites such as Bentonville Battlefield and Fort Fisher. The materials can be used alone if classes can't visit the sites. • Website

Monday, November 28, 2011

Part 3 of returned flag: Yankee officer from Maine lived a truly American life

The Picket previously reported on a descendant of a Union officer returning a captured flag to Fort McAllister, Ga., which defended Savannah during the Civil War. A second installment provided a closer look at the Emmett Rifles, to whom the flag belonged. This concluding report describes the amazing life of that Union artillery officer (photo below).

Accompanied by a signal officer, Maj. William Z. Clayton, 29, trudged into Fort McAllister on Dec, 13, 1864, the first Union soldiers to enter the overrun fortification near Savannah.

Garrison commander Maj. George Anderson placed at least five flags -- including that of the Emmett Rifles militia unit -- into Clayton’s hands, weathered by years of farming and soldiering.

The honor of receiving tokens of surrender must have been bittersweet for Clayton.

Clayton’s first wife, Lizzie, died of tuberculosis in May 1864. Clayton may not have yet known that Edmund, the older of his three brothers to serve in the Union cavalry, had died in October 1864 at Andersonville prison camp which, like McAllister, was in Georgia.

Besides a heavy heart, Clayton carried into the earthen fortification on the Ogeechee River a musket or rifle ball in his left thigh, a wound he suffered at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, when his unit made a heroic stand.

Having two horses shot from beneath him at Shiloh, Clayton would suffer other privations and see countless men succumb to horrific wounds or disease in the following three years.

His unit, First Battery, Minnesota Light Artillery, served at Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg, Kennesaw, Ezra Church and Atlanta, among other campaigns, before joining Major Gen. William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea.

After the fall of Savannah, Clayton carried with him the Emmett Rifles flag during the war’s concluding battles in the Carolinas, including Bentonville, N.C, in March 1865.

Clayton and his descendants kept the silk banner in Illinois and Maine for nearly 150 years, until a great-grandson, Robert “Bob” Clayton, earlier this year made good on his ancestor’s wish to have it returned one day to Georgia.

The flag was recently conserved by the state and will be formally dedicated March 15, 2012, at Fort McAllister Historic Park, according to park manager Daniel Brown. Bob Clayton is among the invitees.

Clayton’s is the story of hundreds of thousands others who fought for the blue and gray: Young men who left family farms and joined military units, hoping to share in the grand adventure.

The artilleryman wrote Lizzie less than two weeks before he saw action at Shiloh’s famed Hornet’s Nest (right).

“I think this is going to be the final blow to Rebellion and if so we shall be discharged this summer some time,” Clayton wrote near Pittsburg Landing, Tenn.

His prediction was not to be.

He took up a plow, then weapon

William Z. Clayton packed a full life into his 94 years, winning praise as a soldier, businessman and public servant.

He was a land speculator, farmer, undertaker, grocer, lumber yard owner and liquor agent. A prominent citizen in Bangor, Maine, Clayton served on various city boards. He was a longtime member of the Grand Army of the Republic, the preeminent Union veterans organization.

Clayton lived the quintessential American life, traveling west from Maine while only 19, caught up in the pioneer spirit of the times.

After first going to Wisconsin, he settled in southern Minnesota and worked the land. Clayton Township, east of Austin, Minnesota, was renamed in his honor in 1873.

According to an 1884 document housed in the Austin (Minn.) Public Library, “The soil is a dark, rich loam,” ideal for growing grass and cereal crops.

The Civil War broke out in 1861, when Clayton was 25. The First Battery of Minnesota Light Artillery was mustered at Fort Snelling on Nov. 21, 1861, and was issued two 12-pound howitzers and four brass-rifled Parrott guns.

The unit traveled to Paducah, Kentucky, in early spring 1862. It would face its first real test April 6-7 at Shiloh.

Crushing the 'monster'

Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston chose Corinth, Miss., a major transportation center, as the staging area for an offensive after the fall of forts Henry and Donelson to Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (below) and his Army of the Tennessee.

Federal forces, including Clayton’s battery, were rushed to the region.

On March 26, 1862, the young sergeant wrote to Lizzie back home in Minnesota.

Clayton described a long boat ride and eating raw pork and hard bread.

“When we got to Pittsburg Landing we found plenty of unburied rebels that the gunboats had killed which preceeded (sic) us,” he said in one letter, part of a Minnesota Historical Society collection.

Clayton expected a fight.

“We have got 85 rounds of shot for each gun and we think we shall begin to throw some of them in a few days,” he wrote. “I shall be glad when the monster is crushed for it is a curse to our Country.”

The light artillery unit drilled in 10-acre field with five to eight other batteries. Horses glistened with sweat in the warm spring weather.

“We may be well-drilled but when it comes to the tug of battle we may not be what we think we are. I know of one that can run if Secesh gits (sic) after him and I have a Horse that can fly. But we expect to whip them and are bound to. These woods will be strewn with the dead if we do not whip them,” Clayton wrote his wife.

He likened the Southern rebellion to a “poisonous serpent.”

Already wounded, escaping death

On the morning of April 6, Johnston attacked and surprised Grant’s army at Pittsburg Landing (Shiloh) before Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell Army of Ohio could join him.

Some Federals made determined stands and by afternoon, they had established a battle line at the sunken road, known as the “Hornet’s Nest,” according to the National Park Service. Repeated Rebel attacks failed to carry the Hornet’s Nest, but massed artillery helped to turn the tide as Confederates surrounded the Union troops and captured, killed or wounded most.

Clayton later wrote at least two letters about the Hornet’s Nest to his parents in Maine.

In the first, he told them he was hobbling around on clutches as he convalesced.

“Mother you need not give yourself any uneasyness (sic) about me for the Ladies of this place are doing everything for our comfort that a mother do,” the soldier wrote from a St. Louis hospital. “The ball in my leg does not trouble me much. If it ever troubles me I will have it cut out.”

His correspondence in June 1862 gave a gritty and riveting account of the Shiloh battle.

Before the fighting, Clayton endured two weeks of the “Tennessee Quick Step,” the soldiers’ moniker for dysentery and diarrhea.

The sergeant was trying to fill his canteen at a spring on the morning of April 6 when the unit was told to get the battery ready for action.

They received heavy Rebel fire. A captain had his horse shot from under him and a driver was killed instantly by a ball through the head. Although the battery was “belching fourth their messingers (sic) of death,” the unit had to retreat because of a lack of infantry support, Clayton wrote.

Confederates attacked with fixed bayonets.

“We should have lost everything there and all been taken prisoners in a moment more.”

Clayton spied a cavalry horse with an empty saddle and rode it until the steed was fatally wounded by a shot to the shoulder.

The battery regrouped on a dirt road near Duncan Field and received support from Iowa troops. It poured canister and double canister into attacking waves of Confederates for six hours at the Hornet’s Nest (monument, above).

“We gave them shot and shell as fast as they could receive it.”

But the Confederates killed horses and sharpshooters began to pick off cannoneers.

Clayton first suffered a flesh wound in one of his lower legs late in the afternoon. Then came the more serious injury.

“I saw one of my best boys fall and in came a shot and killed my horse and I jumped from him and just as I raised to my feet I received my wound,” he wrote. The round “paralised” his left leg and he sat against a tree, revolver drawn because he expected to be bayoneted. Clayton witnessed others being shot.

“I looked towards the guns and as I peaked out from the tree a ball struck the tree right in the rainge (sic) of my face but it struck the tree just far enough to glance the ball and carry it by my face knocking the bark into my face. My gunner was with me and jerked me back.”

The Minnesotans, unlike thousands of others in blue, avoided capture at Shiloh. A general wrote that Clayton should be promoted for his service that day.

Buell’s army arrived that night. Johnston had been mortally wounded earlier and his second in command, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, took over, plotting the next day’s action.

“Beauregard ordered a counterattack, which stopped the Union advance but did not break its battle line,” according to the National Park Service battle summary. “At this point, Beauregard realized that he could not win and, having suffered too many casualties, he retired from the field and headed back to Corinth.”

The Union won a costly victory.

“He carried the ball in his leg the rest of his life,” Bob Clayton, who lives in Isleboro, Maine, said of his great-grandfather.

Amazing return of Bible

Lizzie gave William a Bible before Shiloh.

The soldier wrote of losing gear, including the Bible, when Confederates overran his battery’s camp early in the fighting.

A Confederate officer wrote his name in the Bible, according to Bob Clayton.

A Union soldier apparently got possession of the book in Atlanta. He mailed it to the elder Clayton in Maine.

William Z. Clayton was promoted lieutenant after Shiloh and replaced Capt. Emil Munch -- seriously wounded at the Hornet’s Nest -- as battery commander. He later became a captain and brevet major.

The Minnesota battery saw action in most of the major western campaigns that followed Shiloh. A plaque (left) at Vicksburg lists Clayton’s contributions and he wrote reports after fighting at Kennesaw Mountain and Ezra Church during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign. By then, the First Battery had new 3-inch rifle Rodman guns.

Clayton was promoted to chief of artillery for the Fourth Division, 17th Army Corps, and rode from Atlanta in early autumn 1864 toward his date with destiny at Fort McAllister.

Fort stood up to ironclads, not infantry

Fort McAllister stood as a stubborn sentinel on the Ogeechee River. As long as it held, Sherman would have a tough time resupplying his army as he besieged Savannah in December 1864. McAllister also provided access to vital bridges and railroads.

Among the scant defenders by this time were the Emmett Rifles, Company F, 22nd Battalion, Georgia Heavy Artillery, formed before the war in Savannah.

The Rifles normally comprised between 50 and 95 members. Although they first believed they would serve in the infantry, the company served as artillerymen.

“A large part of the fort is still there,” said Roger S. Durham, author of “Guardian of Savannah,” a book about McAllister.

Unlike the brick and supposedly impregnable Fort Pulaski on the Savannah River, McAllister had a unique design of earthworks that thwarted the Union navy during seven assaults. But it was designed to fight ships, not large numbers of troops.

Its low, shell-resistant walls and earth and sand construction made it easier to repair after naval assaults.

But malaria, isolation and boredom were tough on the garrison, which could take cover in a central bombproof.

“It was not a pleasure cruise,” according to Durham.

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

The Emmett Rifles flag includes two dates: Feb. 1, 1863, when the ironclad USS Montauk led an attack, and March 3, 1863, when the Confederates rebuffed four ironclads whose weapons damaged the fort during an eight-hour bombardment.

McAllister commander Maj. John B. Gallie died during the Montauk attack. The fort’s beloved pet mascot, Tom Cat, died during the March 3 combat.

“The death of the cat was deeply regretted by the men, and news of the fatality was communicated to General Beauregard in the official report of the action,” according to a historic marker at the site.

Sherman’s March to the Sea spelled doom for Fort McAllister and, soon after, Savannah.

On Dec. 13, 1864, more than 3,000 forces in blue overwhelmed the 230 defenders at Fort McAllister. Only 25 members of the Emmett Rifles were on duty. The fight was over in 15 minutes.

After horrors of war, a long life

The war, of course, was not quite over when Sherman delivered Savannah to President Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas present.

The army chased and battled Confederate units in the Carolinas over the next three months.

Clayton received the honor of leading a 100-gun salute when the Union flag was unfurled over the South Carolina Capitol in Columbia. He was chosen by Sherman in “recognition of his gallant and distinguished services.”

The Minnesota artillery unit fought its last major battle at Bentonville and participated in the army’s Grand Review in Washington after the war ended.

Clayton and his comrades were mustered out July 1, 1865, back at Fort Snelling in Minneapolis.

The veteran married Laurette Knowles and had six children, including son Charles, who operated the family’s 2,000 acres and cattle at Clayton Township.

Clayton worked the summers in Minnesota and winters in Bangor until his later years, when he lived full time in Maine. He died there in 1929.

In January 1900, a fellow member of the Grand Army of the Republic wrote a letter in support of Clayton’s candidacy to lead the state chapter (department).

“A gallant and distinguished soldier of the Union Army, an honorable and estimable citizen of the State of Maine, a fraternal, charitable and loyal comrade of the Grand Army of the Republic, we present him as a candidate on the platform of his public record and his private worth and ask our comrades to join with us in giving effect to the recommendation of his old commander, ‘he ought to be promoted.’”

Clayton won his last promotion.

Photos of First Minnesota Battery flag and of veterans next to artillery piece courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Museum shows his massive collection

Bob Sackheim is a Civil War buff and something of a hoarder. When his collection finally got out of hand at home he decided to open a museum in downtown Decatur, Ala. An ivory-handled Colt 1851 Navy revolver with silver inlay that belonged to Union Brig. Gen. Joseph K. Mansfield is Sackheim's "pride and joy." • Article

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Have a great Thanksgiving!

While the first Thanksgiving was celebrated by early colonists in the 1600s, it did not become an annual celebration until 1863. That year, in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln called on all Americans to give thanks on the last Thursday of November. I'd like to wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Ancestor left unclaimed medal

A Wood County, West Va., man picked up an unclaimed Civil War medal from officials this week on behalf of his great, great uncle. Tom Moore, related to Henry S. Elliott, claimed the Civil War medal from the West Virginia State Archives. • Article

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chancellorsville gets an app

History teamed up with technology when officials unveiled the latest Civil War app, this one for Chancellorsville. The Civil War Trust and state and local officials debuted the smartphone application Monday at the Chancellorsville Visitor Center in Spotsylvania, Va. • Article

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lights on monument spark debate

A decision to string holiday lights from a Civil War monument has created a major controversy in Highstown, N.J. The plan is to hang strands of lighted garland from the top of a two-story Civil War monument. "Most of the houses get lit up so light up the park, too," says resident Beth Traband. Others in the borough are horrified by the idea. They call it disrespectful. • Article

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Are Rebel subs beneath casino site?

Four Confederate submarines built in Shreveport to protect the Red River from Union advances may be beneath the proposed site of the Margaritaville casino, a local historian says. But developers of the 400-room resort-casino north of the Louisiana Boardwalk say they're confident the subs are not there. • Article

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bullets found in William & Mary well

Archaeologists at the College of William and Mary have uncovered what's believed to be a Civil War-era well. Crews doing studies in advance of a utility project on the oldest part of the Williamsburg, Va., campus recently uncovered the well, lead bullets and other artifacts that date to the period when federal troops occupied school grounds. • Article

Friday, November 11, 2011

The rise of Grant and Forrest

I just completed this 2007 account of the Fort Henry and Fort Donelson campaign in Tennessee that author Jack Hurst contends "slashed an ever-widening mortal wound that split the Confederacy asunder."

Hurst does an admirable job of capturing the politics swirling behind the 1862 battles that propelled Grant toward greatness, with a few nervous moments two months later at Shiloh. The writer portrays Grant as an unassuming, understated general who survives critics, particularly on accounts of his drinking. In Hurst's view, Grant's boss, Henry Halleck, is as much as enemy as the Confederates, scheming to undercut Grant's role and reputation. Always, Hurst writes, Grant, unlike many Union colleagues, pressed the fight.

I found the sections on the battle-tested Forrest a bit disappointing. You learn little of his character, ambitions and impact on the war. A reader might be surprised Hurst spent so few pages on this, given the book's title and a presumption of comparisons between the generals.

Still, "Men of Fire" is an excellent history of the soldiers, sailors and military leaders who battled for control of vital river and railroad lanes in the South.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fort in S.C. defended freed slaves

A monument has been dedicated to a little-known chapter in South Carolina history — a Civil War fort built by liberated slaves to protect a black settlement. The fort, named after Gen. Joshua Howell, who was killed in the battle of Richmond, was built by the 32nd U.S. Colored Infantry and 144th N.Y. Infantry to defend the island from Confederate raids and expeditions. • Article

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Residents help save Franklin tract

Neighbors in Franklin, Tenn., sell their five acres of battlefield land for $200,000, raised in grants and pledges by the Civil War Trust. Long before the land was set to be developed to add new homes, the grassy five-acre field was the scene of nightmarish, grisly fighting on Nov. 30, 1864, when thousands of soldiers were mortally wounded or blown to pieces. • Article

Saturday, November 5, 2011

All aboard: Northwest Georgia communities market Civil War, trains

Like many residences across the South, the Clisby Austin House in Tunnel Hill, Ga., changed hands during the Civil War.

Men in gray used it as a hospital after the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863. Gen. John Bell Hood, who would later command Confederate forces at the Battle of Atlanta, recuperated here after his leg was amputated at Chickamauga. The limb is buried outside the stately brick home, built in 1848.

The boys in blue occupied the home for a time during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, staff officers and couriers hustling about as Gen. William T. Sherman plotted his next moves.

These days, local governments and tourism officials are hoping this pocket of northwest Georgia will witness another color: The green of tourism dollars.

"Tourism is one of the tools in our tool box," says Ty Snyder, manager of visitors centers at the Dalton Freight Depot and the Tunnel Hill Heritage Center.

This area, rich in railroad and Civil War history, including the only Georgia battle involving U.S. Colored Troops, could use the boost.

With an unemployment rate well above 12 percent, Whitfield County has lost jobs as the once-thriving textile and carpet industry has endured hard times.

The Dalton Convention and Visitors Bureau, which employs Snyder, has increased its Civil War tourism efforts, enhancing billboards and signage on Interstate 75 and U.S. 41.

The area's proximity to Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park also will be a boost during the Civil War sesquicentennial.

The effort, assisted by lodging taxes, is paying off, said Snyder.

Visitor numbers for 2011 (about 3,000) at the Tunnel Hill Heritage Center already are ahead of the 2010 total. October was a particularly strong month, Snyder says.

This year, Snyder became the first full-time manager of the two venues as part of a five-year plan to "reinvigorate" the sites.

The Western and Atlantic railroad ensured that Dalton would be a critical point in the Civil War.

James Andrews and his band of Union raiders unsuccessfully tried to destroy much of the Western and Atlantic as they rushed northward from Atlanta toward Chattanooga, Tenn., during the "Great Locomotive Chase" in 1862.

One of their targets was supposed to be the 1,477-foot tunnel blasted through Chetoogeta Mountain at appropriately named Tunnel Hill, a town 110 miles north of Atlanta.

Two years after the Andrews Raid, Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s forces and Confederate soldiers fought several times around Tunnel Hill during his 1864 campaign to take Atlanta.

An annual re-enactment of the various battles and skirmishes in the area is held in September.

For an affordable $5 ($3 for children 12 and under), visitors can take a guided walk through the tunnel and learn fascinating details of its construction and use.

The Tunnel Hill Heritage Center includes exhibits on the early days of the textile business in the area. Snyder said he is trying "junior tours" to increase interest among children.

"You have to expand your focus," Snyder says.

Until this year, the Clisby Austin House was a private residence. In conjunction with the Tunnel Hill Historical Foundation and the town of Tunnel Hill, weekend tours of the home began this fall. Its grand opening is scheduled for Dec. 3.

The visitors bureau sells a $15 audio driving tour of area Civil War sites. Along with a guide book and map, the tour includes informaton on Dug Gap, Buzzard's Roost Gap and the Battle of Resaca.

The bureau operates another visitors center at the Dalton Freight Depot.

"We are the only place in Georgia, outside of Atlanta, where the Norfolk Southern and CSX rail lines intersect and run side-by-side," it says. "This rare convergence makes Dalton great for train viewing.

The depot includes eight exhibit cases, a webcame and a 1949 Pullman passenger car.

Visitors bureau | • Tunnel Hill Heritage Center
Chickamauga battlefield | • Dalton 150th

Photos courtesy of Dalton Convention and Visitors Bureau

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The computer ate my homework ...

You may recall the first two of three Picket articles on a Savannah militia unit's flag being returned to Fort McAllister in Georgia.

I had my notes ready to go for part three, concentrating on the Union soldier who ended up with the flag after the fort fell to Union forces in December 1864. My computer decided to take a long breather and I had no backup, except for some printed notes (yes, there is a lesson here).

Regardless, I will have it posted before the end of the month -- promise. In the meantime, here are the first two reports:

Maine resident returns flag to Ga.
Southerners rushed to join home units

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Black-powder revolver goes for $25K

A Samuel Colt .44-caliber black powder revolver once owned by a sergeant with the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantryman sold for auction for $25,000. The piece included the original box, holder, cartridge box, belt and belt buckle. • Article

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Posters were vivid calls to arms

Like the posters in later wars, those employed by the Union and Confederacy used patriotic effigies such as Lady Liberty to entice recruits. But in contrast with the inspiring messages from the 20th century, the text of these posters is much more blunt. The sentiment "Don't wait to be drafted" fills a line on almost every flyer. • Images

Friday, October 28, 2011

Brown's action sent shock waves

Tony Horwitz, an award-winning author, tells the story of John Brown in his new book, "Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Road that Sparked the Civil War." "I think we still struggle to comprehend why Americans, who by and large shared a common culture, and language and religion, came to slaughter each other by the thousands in the 1860s," Horwitz said. • Article

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Longstreet Society yard sale Saturday

Here's another timely item on the Longstreet Society, which operates from an historic building in Gainesville, Ga.

The Piedmont Hotel is the centerpiece of the society, which was formed in 1994 to honor the life of Confederate Gen. James Longstreet, who lived in Gainesville in his last years and died at age 82 in 1904.

The yard/estate sale is from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 29) at the Piedmont Hotel, 827 Maple St., Gainesville.

Items for sale are expected to include kerosene and electric heaters, glass lantern globes, bricks, wooden shutters, an antique mahogany and brass coffee table, chandeliers and more.

The society uses the old hotel rooms to tell Longstreet's story. He bought and operated the hotel for several years. Society treasurer Joe Whitaker said the proceeds will go toward an outstanding $50,000 loan. The group has done extensive renovations over the years and bought a lot next door for parking.

The hotel has seen an increase in visitors and is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

For more information on the sale, e-mail longstreet@longstreetsociety.org or call 770-539-9005.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Remembering Battle of Port Royal

Port Royal Plantation is hosting a community commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Port Royal from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 5. Port Royal Plantation includes the historic site of Fort Walker and the naval battle on Nov. 7, 1861, that made Hilton Head Island, S.C., an important supply and headquarters base for the federal military during the Civil War. • Details

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Longstreet Society seminar held on bloodied ground of Manassas

The Gainesville, Ga.-based Longstreet Society earlier this month visited Manassas National Battlefield Park, scene of the general's crushing assault on the Union army in the second of two engagements on the Virginia battle ground.

Speakers included Perry Jamieson, co-author of "Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage," and Scott Patchan, who wrote "Second Manassas: Longstreet's Attack and the Struggle for Chinn Ridge."

In August 1862, Gen. John Pope clashed with Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson in Northern Virginia. At Manassas, their armies slugged it out on Aug. 29. According to the National Park Service battle summary, "During the afternoon, Longstreet’s troops arrived on the battlefield and, unknown to Pope, deployed on Jackson’s right, overlapping the exposed Union left. Lee urged Longstreet to attack, but “Old Pete” demurred. The time was just not right, he said. Critics have said Lee should have overruled Longstreet.

After futile Federal attacks on Aug. 30, Longstreet made his move.

"Seeing the Union lines in disarray, Longstreet pushed his massive columns forward and staggered the Union left. Pope’s army was faced with annihilation. Only a heroic stand by northern troops, first on Chinn Ridge and then once again on Henry Hill, bought time for Pope’s hard-pressed Union forces."

Pope withdrew to Washington and Lee prepared for an invasion of the North.

Dan Paterson, great-grandson of Longstreet, told the Picket he spoke at the seminar about how the maligned Longstreet's postwar support for black suffrage made him the "fall guy" for the war's loss.

The 2012 seminar is scheduled for Oct. 6-7. It will cover the Seven Days Campaign in Virginia.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Spoil of war returned to Va.

Nearly 150 years after a Union Army captain pilfered a book of court records from a county courthouse in Virginia during the Civil War, the Jersey City Free Public Library has returned the 220-year-old spoil of war to its rightful home. • Article

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dear Sallie: Letters from N. Fla.

A new book contains 114 letters -- mostly from Private James Jewel of Oglethorpe County, Ga., to his sister Sallie -- written between 1862 and 1865. While many Civil War soldiers' letters are from the better-known battlefields, most of these are from the north Florida campaign. Those from his sister tell of the plight of women on the home front, and show how desperate things had become for them. • Article

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Artillery shell removed from yard

An apparently live Civil War artillery shell -- buried in a Johns Island, South Carolina, yard for more than a century -- was removed Friday and will be detonated, authorities said. • Article

Friday, October 14, 2011

Walking the fields at Perryville

His failure to chase Braxton Bragg's army after the Oct. 8, 1862, Battle of Perryville in Kentucky cost Union Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell his job. While brave and organized, Buell was cautious and lacked the ingenuity to overcome unexpected circumstances.

Last month, I finally was able to visit Perryville, stopping at the visitors center for exhibits and a movie, before taking a self-guided tour over much of the battlefied.

It was a beautiful late summer afternoon, puffs of clouds hovering over the green rolling fields. With the exception of one couple, we had Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site to ourselves.

Bragg’s autumn 1862 invasion of Kentucky had reached the outskirts of Louisville and Cincinnati, but his far-outnumbered army was forced to retreat and regroup.

According to a National Park Service summary of the battle, Buell's army, numbering nearly 55,000, converged on the small crossroads town of Perryville in three columns.

The undulating hills in the area had a strange effect, we had learned, making it difficult to hear the din of battle from portions of the battlefield. Buell, who wasn't aware of the fierce fighting until late in the day, failed to send a large number of reserves to stem the Confederate assaults.

We walked up and down the terrain where Maney's men in gray attacked the Union flank and forced it to fall back. When more Confederate divisions joined the fray, the Union line made a stubborn stand, counterattacked, but finally fell back with some troops routed, according to the NPS.

The Yankees regrouped and were able to push some Confederates back into Perryville.

"Bragg, short of men and supplies, withdrew during the night, and, after pausing at Harrodsburg, continued the Confederate retrograde by way of Cumberland Gap into East Tennessee. The Confederate offensive was over, and the Union controlled Kentucky."

Casualties were estimated at 7,407, 4,211 of them Federal.

The Civil War Trust is trying to purchase a 141-acre tract on the extreme southern portion of the battlefield, where Rebels had smashed into the Union line.

A Louisianian described the fighting on this tract as "the grandest but the most awful sight, ever looked upon ... the enemy stood firm," according to the trust's website.

Despite surprising the Federal forces holding the line near the Squire Henry Bottom house, the fighting had quickly devolved to a bloody, stand-up fight. "All along our front, a solid line of dead and wounded lay, in some places three deep, extending to the right from the barn."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Battle of Franklin this weekend

The second-ever large-scale re-enactment of the Battle of Franklin is this weekend at the Park at Harlinsdale Farm in Tennessee. Organizers expect at least 700 re-enactors — twice as many as last year — to participate. • Article | • Event site

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Faith in the trenches, homefront

The S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum has opened a new exhibit — “Through Fiery Trials: Religion in the Civil War” — taking a look at that faith. During the sesquicentennial “we wanted to showcase different things from our collection that don’t get to be viewed by the general public,” said Kristina Johnson, the Relic Room’s curator of history. “Personal Bibles and devotionals from South Carolina soldiers are a strongpoint of our collection and we wanted to highlight that. The exhibit grew from there.” • Article

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lessons from Ball's Bluff

The Battle of Ball’s Bluff in Leesburg, Va., is the tale of a quick slaughter. It contains broader lessons about warfare, painfully learned as bodies floated downstream. • Article

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stolen flag recovered in Va.

A Civil War battle flag said to have been stolen from a Louisiana museum more than two decades ago is headed home after the FBI found the item at a house in Caroline County, Va. • Article

Monday, October 3, 2011

Group hopes to get train rolling

A replica of a Civil War-era train could be rolling through central Pennsylvania in time for the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, if members of a York County nonprofit have their way. • Article

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Re-enactor decides to hang up the kepi

After 20 years re-enacting, Rosario Roberts of Los Molinos, Calif., is giving up salt pork and hardtack. His organization, Re-enactors of the American Civil War, has been re-creating Civil War battles, as well as camp and civilian life, since 1991. • Article

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lowcountry events include Port Royal

Lowcountry residents and visitors will have a chance to see Civil War history come to life in December on Hilton Head Island. Historians and re-enactors will revisit the first major amphibious assault in U.S. history -- the Battle of Port Royal. • Article

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Excavating bombproof in Virginia

To mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, researchers at Historic Jamestowne in Virginia are excavating a shelter on the island that was built in 1861 and known as Fort Pocahontas. They are paying close attention to a bomb shelter. • Video

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Higher estimate for number of war dead

An analysis of historic census figures reveals the death toll in the U.S. Civil War was higher than previously estimated, a historian says. J. David Hacker of Binghamton University in New York says the war's dead numbered about 750,000, an estimate 20 percent higher than the commonly cited figure. • Article

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Historic Fort Monroe closes -- for now

Fort Monroe, located at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, was officially closed by the U.S. Army and handed over to the state. Since the closure of the fort, with its more than 170 historic buildings and significant Civil War history, was announced in 2005, its future use has been constantly debated. • Article

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ride honors Civil War dead, today's warriors

A retired Special Forces officer will lead hundreds of motorcycle riders on a 130-mile ride through four states, 19 counties and three national battlefields during the 8th Annual Battlefield Run on Sept. 17 to raise funds for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. • Article

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Survey of Missouri, Illinois artifacts

A library at Southeast Missouri State University wants to document the whereabouts of letters, journals, diaries, photographs and other original documents dating back to the Civil War. • Article

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Plans for Rebel flying machine up for sale

The papers of R. Finley Hunt, a dentist with a passion for flight, describe scenarios where flying machines bomb Federal troops. Hunt's papers will be sold at the Space and Aviation Artifacts auction. • Article

Monday, September 12, 2011

Part 2 of flag returned 147 years later: Savannah militia units were caught up in war fever

Last month, the Picket reported on a descendant of a Union officer returning a captured flag to Fort McAllister, Ga., which defended Savannah during the Civil War. The flag belonged to the Emmett Rifles, a volunteer militia company. This installment provides a closer look at the Rifles and the Republican Blues, with whom they served.

What a parade it was. Onlookers lined the streets of Manhattan, curious about these dashing young men who had just arrived from the South.

Dressed in woolen uniforms and toting knapsacks, Savannah’s Republican Blues marched smartly to the sounds of their own band as they made a grand entrance, writes Jacqueline Jones, author of “Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War.”

The venerable volunteer militia unit enjoyed all that New York society could offer that week in July 1860. As guests of the New York Light Guards, the company wined and dined, marched, drilled and enjoyed ceremonial dinners and receptions. Their tall plumed bearskin hats, dark blue dress coats and white pants made them look almost regal.

The Republican Blues, the New York Times gushed, boasted “some of the wealthiest and most honored citizens of Savannah.”

At the time, it wasn’t uncommon for exclusive companies to travel to other cities, where they enjoyed the camaraderie of their fellow armed and uniformed volunteers. After all, Jones writes, white elites of the North and South shared kinship and educational and business ties.

The Blues sailed back to Savannah to find a region in turmoil, martial spirit growing as the country began to split. The election of a Republican president appeared more and more likely. Abolitionists railed against slavery as Southern politicians defended states rights.

A rush to enlist in the militias

One of the oldest and renowned militias in Savannah, the Blues had a rich history.

They saw service in Florida during the War of 1812.

“The unit’s members were professional, well-drilled, and prepared to defend the nation, the Constitution, their state, and their community,” writes Roger S. Durham in “The Blues in Gray.”

“Over the years, membership in the Republican Blues became a tradition passed from father to son, from generation to generation, and as such, the ties that bound these men together became very strong,” according to Durham.

Volunteer militia units, largely made up by immigrant groups, particularly the Irish, saw their ranks swell in the months leading to the outbreak of the Civil War.

In the summer of 1860, young men rushed to join the Blues, Oglethorpe Light Infantry, Georgia Hussars, the Jasper Greens, Montgomery Guards, among other companies – and a new group, the Emmett Rifles.

Augustus Bonaud, a Frenchman from Marseilles, organized the Emmett Rifles and served as its commander for more than two years.

“They were more or less formed in the war fever,” said Jim Dunigan, 31, of Savannah, who participates in the Republican Blues and Emmett Rifles (left) living history group programs at Fort McAllister and other locations.

The Blues were among the better trained and professional of the militia units, akin to the National Guard of today.

Jones depicts prewar Savannah as a city determined to uphold its society and plantation-based economy.

“Together, with the fire companies, the militias provided white men with the near-universal experience of parading and drilling, and provided many bankers and hotel keepers with the title of lieutenant or colonel – testament to the overwhelming physical force that undergirded the system of slavery,” she writes.

In November 1860, Jones writes, the Blues unveiled a secession flag. Imprinted on the flag was a coiled snake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”

The drums of war were quickening.

Militia companies, part of the First Regiment Georgia Volunteers, seized Fort Pulaski (right) in early 1861 shortly before Georgia voted to secede from the union.

But after the fall of Hilton Head, S.C., Confederate coastal strategy was rethought. Savannah could be defended, but Georgia cities such as Darien and Brunswick, closer to Union warships, could not. Georgia’s barrier islands were abandoned in late 1861.

Durham’s book features the Civil War journal of William Daniel Dixon, a leader in the showcase Blues.

After firing the first shots in defense in Georgia and serving at Pulaski and Tybee Island, the Blues were deployed to Fort Jackson, on the edge of Savannah. They were soon joined by the Emmett Rifles.

Drilling, drilling and more drilling

The Rifles comprised between 50 and 95 members throughout the war. Although they first believed they would serve in the infantry, the company, like the Blues, served as artillerymen at Jackson and, later, at Fort McAllister, the vital fort southwest of Savannah on the Ogeechee River.

Service was not easy. Malaria and other diseases were prevalent, stalking soldiers and civilians like. Daily routines included mustering and drilling.

The dreariness of garrison duty and other distractions occasionally took their toll. Dixon’s journal provides accounts of drunkenness, absence without leave and desertion. According to Dunigan, the Emmetts did not maintain their equipment well and were not considered an elite unit.

Still, "they gave (of) themselves for the defense of the city," Dunigan told the Picket.

"They were not tested in combat until the naval attacks at Fort McAllister and to all accounts they stood up to it manfully, shoulder to shoulder with the Blues," according to Durham.

At Fort Jackson, on April 4, 1862, four months before they were sent to McAllister in the first of two deployments, the Rifles hosted a group of Savannah women who had supported the troops.

Officers of the company “drafted resolutions expressive of our thanks to our lady friends for their kindness shown towards the Company,” according to an article in the April 7, 1862, issue of the Daily Morning News of Savannah.

“We tender to Miss Mary Knox our sincerest thanks for the beautiful banner presented by her to the company.”

The banner was the flag returned earlier this year to Fort McAllister.

The newspaper also made note of “Glorious News from the West.” Confederate forces garnered a decisive victory against the Federals at Corinth, Miss., according to the article.

The fighting coincided with the Battle of Shiloh, which Dixon wrote was a complete victory for the South. Historians consider the outcome essentially a Union victory.

On Dec. 13, 1864, shortly before Savannah fell, the Emmett Rifles would lose their flag to a Union officer who fought at Shiloh.

Credits: Sketch of Republican Blues in camp appeared in Harper's Weekly; photo of Emmett Rifles living history group, courtesy of Jim Dunigan; newspaper article, courtesy of Georgia Historical Society.

READ PART 3: The man who returned the flag, William Zoron Clayton, was wounded at Shiloh, led a full life.