Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book review: Grant, savior of the Union

Civil War and scholar Russell Bonds reviews H.W. Brands' "The Man Who Saved the Union," a sweeping look at Ulysses S. Grant and 19th century America. Writes Bonds: "Mr. Brands drives home one point on which detractors and admirers can agree: Time and again, Grant accomplished what he set his mind to." • Review

Friday, September 28, 2012

Yosemite as a soothing place to heal?

You might not connect Yosemite National Park to the Civil War. But Frederick Law Olmsted, co-creator of Central Park, certainly did. Eyewitness to the horrific destruction wrought by the war when he served as general secretary of the United States Sanitary Commission, a Red Cross-like operation for the North, Olmsted despaired as the nation became, in his words, a "republic of suffering." In 1864, when he was briefly relocated to California, Olmsted envisioned the Yosemite Valley as a convalescent, even redemptive, site of national healing. • Column

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Learn more about the use of bugle calls

On Saturday, Petersburg National Battlefield in Virginia welcomes William Stallings, who will demonstrate the role of bugle calls. Formal presentations begin at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the Eastern Front Unit Visitor Center. • Article

Friday, September 21, 2012

Soldier's grave to be rededicated

The grave of a Minnesota Civil War soldier that became overgrown will be rededicated during a formal ceremony Saturday. Pvt. Edmund Sampare, who died on Sept. 17, 1862, during the Battle of Antietam, was a member of the Second Regiment, U.S. Sharpshooters, which saw action until nearly the end of the conflict. He was buried at Calvary Cemetery in St. Paul, and his gravestone laid flat in 1940 to protect it from further erosion. The stone became overgrown, but was found by a member of the Minnesota Historical Society. • Article

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Battle flags: 'Red, White and Battered'

A flag used by the 9th Volunteer Infantry and eight other banners from New York's battle flags collection are part of the newest installment of an exhibit commemorating the Civil War's sesquicentennial. Officials on Wednesday open the new exhibit, titled "1862: Red, White and Battered." • Article

Monday, September 17, 2012

Remembering America's bloodiest single day

Today I am thinking of Antietam, for Sept. 17, 1862, always makes me circumspect about its significance. The outcome laid the groundwork for the Emancipation Proclamation and the reunification of this country. I think, also, of all those lives lost and shattered on the fields of western Maryland at Sharpsburg.
On this 150th anniversary, I recommend following the Facebook link below. The park staff been doing a great job the past week of posting fresh articles, photos and video, almost as they happen. I've included a few Picket links inspired by my 2010 visit.
Updates throughout the day from battlefield
Picket archives: Burnside the bumbler
Then and now photos of Bloody Lane, elsewhere
The serenity of Dunker Church
Lessons we've learned from Civil War medicine

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The day powder ripped Pittsburgh arsenal

On Sept. 17, 1862, as the Civil War's single bloodiest day of fighting raged at the Battle of Antietam in Sharpsburg, Md., 156 women worked feverishly at the U.S. Allegheny Arsenal in Lawrenceville, Pa., to make ammunition for Union troops. Suddenly, three thunderous explosions rocked the factory. Ultimately, 78 people perished in the Civil War's worst civilian disaster. • Article

Friday, September 14, 2012

Palmyra Massacre: Missouri community once divided by war remembers raid, executions

For residents of a small, agricultural town 125 miles north of St. Louis, Mo., the front line of the Civil War was in their fairgrounds on Oct. 18, 1862.

Ten men, a mix of Confederate soldiers and Southern sympathizers, sat on the foot of their coffins as a firing squad stood 30 feet away.

Union Maj. Isham Dodson called the squad to attention and, according to an article on the Missouri Civil War Sesquicentennial website, gave the orders: “Ready, aim -- thus perish all traitors to their country’s flag -- fire!”

The incident became known as the "Palmyra Massacre." The Union colonel in charge of a militia unit defended his decision to have the men executed when a Union sympathizer taken during a Rebel raid in Palmyra was not safely returned. Outraged Confederates, for their part, used the episode as a recruiting tool.

"Missouri was very conflicted. This was a federally held town even though the majority of the residents were Confederate sympathizers," said Cindy Stuhlman, event coordinator for this Saturday's "Palmyra Civil War Remembrance Day."

These were the days of allegiance oaths. Marion County farmers, some of whom owned slaves, knew where their neighbors stood -- for the Union, or for the South. In some cases, it was brother against brother.

Donations made at Saturday's event, which includes a noon Missouri Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans ceremony at a monument marking the massacre, will go toward maintaining the Old Marion County Jail and the Gardner House Museum, both managed by a local group called the Heritage Seekers Historical Society.

The old jail housed the 10 prisoners selected for execution. This year's event focuses on the Porter Raid, which precipitated the bloody incident.

Confederate Col. Joseph E. Porter was on a recruiting mission in mid-September 1862, when his forces stormed into Palmyra, freed about 50 prisoners and took captive Andrew Allsman, 60, an alleged Union informant.

Col. John McNeil, who commanded the Union’s 2nd Missouri State Militia in Palmyra, demanded the safe return of Allsman. He posted a newspaper notice warning Porter to return Allsman within 10 days or 10 men jailed in Palmyra and Hannibal would be shot. Most of the prisoners had taken part in Porter's campaign.

"What exactly happened to Allsman has never been clearly established, but he was undoubtedly shot and killed by someone," according to the Missouri sesquicentennial website.

When no word came from Porter, the 10 men were taken from the jail to the fairgrounds. Only three died instantly; the remainder were finished off with pistol shots. The bodies were returned to the town square so relatives could retrieve them.

McNeil (left) was labeled the "Butcher of Palmyra," and despite his explanations, remained the subject of bitter feelings during and after the war.

Palmyra moved on after those difficult, dark days. But many residents still don't like to talk about the raid and massacre, Stuhlman told the Picket. She said Palmyra was "polarized" and "conflicted" during the Civil War.

Saturday's remembrance day will cover more than the raid and massacre.

The public can enjoy trolley rides, a Sanitary Commission and quilt display, a ladies' tea and an evening dinner-theater featuring a meal, fiddle music and a living history of Palmyra and the war.

An Underground Railroad quilt presentation is planned at the Gardner House, according to curator Sharon Harrison of Palmyra Heritage Seekers.

"Legend has it quilts were hung out by those who operated safehouses along the way," said Harrison, explaining the quilts contained secret messages that aided escaped slaves.

Visitors can also tour the old jail (right), which is undergoing restoration.

The Palmyra Massacre wasn't the only shocking incident that occured in Missouri. Confederate guerrillas removed two dozen Union soldiers from a train in Centralia in September 1864 and executed them.

Three years ago, the Picket interviewed Dr. William Piston, a professor and historian at Missouri State University in Springfield.

“Missouri was the worst place to be [in the United States] between 1861 and 1865,” Piston said of the border state.

Palmyra photos courtesy of Cindy Stuhlman

Palmyra Civil War Remembrance Day schedule
Read more about Porter Raid, Palmyra Massacre

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Death, through 19th century eyes

Ric Burns' grim, gripping documentary "Death and the Civil War," which premieres on PBS on Sept.18, strongly suggests that the war's great charnel house not only changed society's view of war and death but helped create a new kind of nation as well. • Article

Monday, September 10, 2012

Teams start mapping Gulf shipwreck of boat sunk by famed raider Alabama

Divers on Monday deployed 3-D mapping sonar at the wreck site of a Federal gunboat forced to surrender during a brief broadside battle with the famous Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama.

The USS Hatteras, largely buried in sand 20 miles south of Galveston, Texas, was the only Union warship sunk in combat in the Gulf of Mexico.

The side-wheeler went down Jan. 11, 1863, after the disguised Alabama lured it into battle (Hatteras at right in illustration).

A memorial service was held Monday at the site in memory of the two U.S. sailors who died during the battle, said Shelley du Puy, education and outreach coordinator for the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in Galveston. "Their bodies were never found. They are presumed to be still in the vessel," she said.

The aim Monday and Tuesday is to document the storm-exposed remains, about 60 feet beneath the surface. A paddlewheel and the stern are partially exposed.

Du Puy said she had not yet learned the condition of the wreckage, but federal agencies previously said it was believed to be largely intact. The hull is believed to be entirely covered by sand.

"It is mapping little sections of the wreck one at a time," Du Puy told the Picket about the work of sonar. "It will be pretty high resolution. They will stitch these pieces together as one 3D mosaic (image)."

"We want to help further the knowledge base and use this in our education and outreach."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is working with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the state of Texas on the mapping project.

According to Du Puy, 2008's Hurricane Ike and other conditions made this week an ideal time to map the wreck.

"Typically, the visibility is not good," given heavy silt and currents, said Du Puy. "There is a lot of wave action going on."

Because it is a U.S. Navy ship and two men died, the 210-foot USS Hatteras -- listed on the National Register of Historic Places -- has special protection.

Recreational divers are allowed, but they are not permitted to disturb or damage the wreck or take any artifacts, said Robert Neyland, head of the underwater archaeology branch at the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington.

The Hatteras was part of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron commanded by Union Rear Adm. David Farragut. The squadron blocked the passage of goods, supplies, and arms to and from the Confederacy on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Built in 1861 as the St. Mary, the iron-hulled Hatteras was converted into a gunboat. After successful service in Florida, the boat joined Farragut's squadron and captured seven Rebel blockade runners off Louisiana.

According to Edward T. Cotham, Jr. of the Terry Foundation, Union vessels were sent to avenge the loss of Galveston to Confederate forces.

On Jan, 11, 1863, the Hatteras was ordered to pursue a vessel that showed on the horizon.

"She chased the intruder for four hours, closer and closer into shore, and farther and farther from her supporting fleet," according to an article on the BOEM website. "Finally, as dusk was falling, the Hatteras came within hailing distance of the square-rigged, black-hulled vessel."

Skipper Homer C. Blake demanded to know the identity of the ship commanded by Raphael Semmes (photo above; as a side note, Semmes mistakenly thought Union forces had retaken the city and had arrived to harass transports supporting an invasion).

"Her Britannic Majesty’s Ship Vixen," came the reply. Blake ordered one of Hatteras’ boats launched to inspect the "Britisher."

At some point, the Confederate crew identified the ship as the Alabama.

The battle was a mismatch. The Alabama was a superior vessel and was well-manned, according to Neyland.

Eights minutes into the broadside exchange, a Confederate shell set a fire near the Hatteras' magazine. Meanwhile, many of its armor plates had been blown off and water poured in.

With his vessel immobile and about to be the subject of deadly raking fire, Blake surrendered, according to Cotham. Two men died and the remaining 121 surrendered.

The battle was over in 13 minutes; the USS Hatteras soon sank.

Asked whether the USS Hatteras had a chance, Neyland told the Picket, "There is always a chance of a lucky shot."

NOAA said it plans to present results from the mapping mission in Galveston next January during local events marking the 150th anniversary of the sinking of the Hatteras.

After Galveston, the CSS Alabama went on to greater fame when it battled the USS Kearsarge, which sank the Confederate raider off Cherbourg, France, in June 1864.

The Alabama also is the property of the United States, said Neyland. Many of its artifacts, including three guns and personal effects, were removed. Items are stored or displayed in locations in the United States, including Mobile, Ala.

Illustration and photos credit: U.S. Naval Historical Center

More on the battle, Hatteras shipwreck

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Digitizing artifacts, pix in Missouri Bootheel

An effort at Southeast Missouri State University to digitize historical information is on pace to be complete by next summer. The project at Kent Library is titled "Confluence and Crossroads: The Civil War in the American Heartland." • Article

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Replica artillery put in Memphis park

Just in time for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, four replica cannons were installed in Confederate Park in downtown Memphis on Wednesday. Two 12-pound field howitzers, a three-inch ordnance rifle and a six-pound field gun were bolted in place at a park overlooking Mud Island and the Mississippi River. • Article

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Grant aims to help safeguard earthworks built during Sherman's push on Atlanta

A volunteer civic association in suburban Atlanta has received a $75,000 National Park Service grant to develop a preservation plan for Confederate and Federal earthworks dug during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign.

The grant to the Mableton Improvement Coalition (MIC), awarded in July, comes at a vital time.

A previous study showed "that the overall historic integrity of the Chattahoochee River Line battlefield has been adversely affected by modern construction and development."

The plan to be developed by a consultant will cover a relatively small portion of the battlefield -- two tracts totaling 127 acres, owned by Cobb County, near the Chattahoochee River and Nickajack Creek. The county supports preservation of the tracts.

The Chattahoochee was the last natural obstacle for Union troops moving on Atlanta.

In a recent newsletter, the MIC said it wants to safeguard the fortifications and educate the public.

“It is our goal to make the battlefield available and accessible to the public for their enjoyment and their education about the historical resource there," MIC Vice President Robin Meyer told the Picket this week.

Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, a mative of Mableton, provided $5,000 for the project -- giving the coalition $80,000 to work with.

The previous NPS-funded study included an archaeological survey and GIS mapping.

Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston (photo, above) ordered a series of defenses north of the Chattahoochee River to be built largely by slaves.

Union Maj. Gen William T. Sherman, using his familiar flanking strategy, crossed the river elsewhere, forcing Confederates to retreat to Atlanta.

Federal and Confederate forces faced off in earthworks and redans along the River Line for nearly a week in early July 1864 before the withdrawal.

Sherman called a unique fortification on the River Line “one of the strongest pieces of field fortifications I ever saw.”

The timber and earthen redoubts – known as Shoupades -- were built manned for a brief period early in July 1864.

The arrowhead shape of the forts (model by Bill Scaife) allowed defenders to shoot in several directions. Connecting them was an infantry trench. Attackers could be fired on from several angles.

Nine Shoupades have survived along the line, much of which is now private property.

The previous study said that while the River Line no longer exists as a continuous entity, identification and development of “pocket parks” could give visitors a sense of the size and scale of the defensive line.

The 127 acres currently are "wide open to trespass," said Meyer, adding a fire damaged a couple acres.

While the economic slowdown eased preservation pressure somewhat, growth in the area continues. The preservation plan, once submitted in 2014, will need support to make it reality.

“In the end it all comes down to money," said Meyer. "We are in an age when governments are trying to close parks and we are trying to open one.”

Archaeological inventory of Chattahoochee River Line
Mableton Improvement Coalition
The Riverline Historic Area

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Safeguarding a loving mother's tribute

After two fires threatened a Civil War-era flag, a Colorado couple donated it to the Lake County Discovery Museum in Illinois. The 4-by-8-foot American flag was made by Edward Murray’s mother upon his enlistment in the 96th Illinois. Murray had his own harrowing adventures during the conflict. • Article

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Harsh reality comes through at Antietam

A guided visit to Antietam National Battlefield can provide a visceral reminder of the cost of war — and also of the prize: the abolition of slavery — eventually secured nearly three years later. • Article