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