Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Naval encampment set in Connecticut

Mystic Seaport Museum will host a Civil War naval encampment this weekend, the first ever in Connecticut. More than 150 Civil War re-enactors are to take part in the encampment.

Visitors can see a replica of the Confederate Submarine Hunley and the Australia, believed to be the only surviving schooner of the type Confederates used to run blockades. • Details

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Step into history: How you can be part of Pickett's Charge commemorative march

1882 view showing ground Pettigrew’s and Trimble’s brigades walked (NPS).

It was an incredible sight: Some 12,000 men lined up in a one-mile arc, regimental flags before them, barely fluttering on a hot Pennsylvania day. Then they came forward, down into a slight valley, beginning a 20-minute march that became part of the lexicon of America’s military history.

Pickett’s Charge, meant to break the Union center, ended in bloody failure on July 3, 1863, dashing the hopes of the South to extinguish the North’s will to continue the war. Only a few Confederates soldiers made it the Union lines.

This year, on the exact spot, at about the same time, visitors flocking to Gettysburg National Military Park for events marking the 150th anniversary of the momentous battle will have an opportunity to stand where the Federal defenders fought or take part in the mile-long march across undulating fields.

“For the Confederate groups the interpretive experience will be the march itself; moving in line of battle, seeing the other groups moving about you, and walking in the footsteps of the men who made this march under the fire of shell, shrapnel and bullets,” writes park supervisory historian D. Scott Hartwig in the “From the Fields of Gettysburg” blog, posted Friday.

High water mark of Confederacy monument (Wikipedia/public domain)
Park rangers and volunteers will lead groups representing each of the nine assaulting Rebel brigades.They will put those commemorative marchers in the actual line of battle.
"We don't know how many will do it," Katie Lawhon, management assistant at the park, told the Picket. "We're getting a lot of interest but the weather will play a role in how big the event becomes."

Rangers also will assemble groups where men of Alexander Hays’, John Gibbon’s and Abner Doubleday’s Union divisions waited to receive the attack, according to Hartwig.

“The idea is there is somewhere for everyone to participate in this program,” wrote Hartwig.

Artillery fire at 3 p.m. will launch the July 3 commemorative march program, which will last about an hour. When the Confederate brigade groups reach Cemetery Ridge the march will stop for the playing of echo Taps, which will conclude the event.

The commemorative march has never been done to this scale, according to Lawhon.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Letters given to Ole Miss rich with detail

Descendants recently donated to the University of Mississippi the 27 letters that Richard Bridges wrote when he served in the University Greys, the unit organized by students to fight in the Civil War. Written in graceful penmanship, Bridges’ letters tell of his life from 1861 to 1863. He writes of camp life, asks for more pants and blankets and money when he hasn’t received his military pay, tells briefly of battles and reports on his health, including not-so-serious and serious wounds. • Article

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Fascinating finds add to the story of Confederate prison camp in Georgia

Buckles found in the prisoner area ( U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Georgia Southern University. Click all photos to enlarge)

Lance Greene still remembers the smell of resin emanating from the Georgia pine posts.

A backhoe looking for evidence of a Civil War prison camp stockade exposed the remains of a half dozen posts last fall.

“They were just as solid as if you had gone out and cut a tree,” said Greene, an assistant professor of anthropology at Georgia Southern University. “Having done archaeology in the Southeast for decades, it really was one of the most overwhelming experiences I have had. You could just smell the pine.”

Greene, 49, is leading GSU students who are continuing their excavation of artifacts at Camp Lawton in Millen, Ga., and looking for evidence of Confederate barracks and other structures.

National and state archaeologists and officials nearly three years ago announced what they called the discovery of a trove of artifacts at the prison, which was only in existence for six weeks.

The site continues to live up to that billing, Greene told the Picket last week. Between 500 and 600 items belonging to prisoners – many of them clothing-related -- have been found, and more are expected to come in during the university’s summer field school.

Vertical stains of stockade posts (Ga. DNR/GSU)
Up to 10,000 Union men, most from the infamous Andersonville prison camp, were held at Lawton before they were moved elsewhere. Death estimates range from 685 to 1,330.

Greene spoke of several exciting developments for the project:

        --  A recently opened laboratory at Magnolia Springs State Park, home to much of the prison site, allows students to begin conservation of items immediately.

--- The remains of three prisoner huts intrigue archaeologists. “I want to get into these shebangs to find animal bones and seeds to see what kind of things they were eating,” said Greene.
      -- Researchers are working with a Statesboro animal hospital to X-ray metal artifacts to learn their status so that they can come up with a conservation plan.

-- The project is beginning to transition from a discovery phase to research that will more fully tell the story of Camp Lawton.

      -- Work was filmed by the PBS archaeology series “Time Team America.” No date has been set, but the program indicated it will probably be in the first half of 2014.

Camp Lawton was built to hold up to 40,000 prisoners and relieve Andersonville’s overcrowding. It never reached that level because its inhabitants were moved elsewhere when Union Gen. William T. Sherman's army approached during the March to the Sea.

Union cavalry in early December 1864 found the empty prison, a freshly dug area and a board reading “650 buried here.”

Outraged, troops apparently burned much of the stockade and the camp buildings, and a depot and hotel in nearby Millen, which was a transportation hub.

While some of the camp was farmed over, the site is considered well-preserved.

Stepping up conservation efforts

Because archaeology is considered a destructive science, conserving items exposed to the air for the first time in 150 years is a challenge.

“The iron objects are starting to degrade,” said Greene.

A process called electrolysis, in which an electrical current runs through a solution holding artifacts, helps break up corrosion and saves the good metal.

 “Once we get the rust off and cleaned, we have to coat them with acrylic or different types of waxes to seal them air tight.”

In another conservation effort, Gateway Animal Hospital has done X-rays (right) of a dozen or few items.

“Some of the artifacts that we have discovered are extremely corroded which is making it difficult to identify what they are. The X-ray will enable us to clearly identify the shape of the artifact if the metal has not totally corroded away,” said Matt Newberry, a Georgia Southern graduate student working on the Camp Lawton project team.

X-rays of artifacts (GSU)
While a few items are on display at the university, officials hope some will be displayed at the Georgia state park.

Archaeologists have found manufactured and fashioned items that helped the prisoners during their daily existence: Buttons, pins, eating utensils and objects made from melted down bullets, including a pipe. “(A) tourniquet buckle is pretty overwhelming, showing the gritty everyday life people are living," said Greene.

Looking for the Confederates

Thus far, teams have found sections of the stockade trench. A major aim during the upcoming field school is finding remnants of the Confederate camp, including barracks, the commandant’s quarters, tools and trash.

The search is being aided by drawings by Union prisoner Robert Knox Sneden, but those structures have proven elusive. One drawing shoes a chimney on a building used by a Confederate surgeon.

 “We have very little material from Confederate encampments,” said Greene. “We haven’t definitely honed in.”

Several hundred guards served at Lawton, which was built by at least as many slaves. Not much is known about the latter.

“We really want to do more large excavation areas,” according to Greene. “We have located some important parts of the site.”

“We want to compare lives of these two sides, guards versus prisoners.”

How the prisoners lived

Stockade post remnant (Georgia DNR/GSU)
The area where prisoners lived is on the site of a former federal hatchery, and has been protected by tall fence and other measures since Lawton was rediscovered a few years ago.

“We get a lot of personal items that are pretty telling,” said Greene, noting remains of picture frames that held precious photos of family members.

Other items are decorative pieces of metal or portions of necklaces. “It brings it home that people are far removed from families, in a terrible situation, in a place far away,” he said.

Grocery coins from Columbus, Ohio, and other items from Europe are helping to give at least a basic picture of the prisoners’ backgrounds.

Prisoners, anxious to be protected from the cooling weather, dug about a foot into the ground. They then built structures above those foundations.

“You have different color sand and it is very compact with artifacts from the time period,” said Greene.

Archaeologists will be looking for food remains and other items inside them in order to reconstruct life at the prison. The three hut sites are well preserved.

Work that will continue for decades

Larger-scale excavations in the future will assist scholarly research.

“It really is amazing to me …. this has the potential to release a lot more material, especially metal artifacts, than anywhere I have worked for,” said Greene.

Company I pin and a nipple cover for gun (USFWS/GSU)
While many military installations drew civilians, such was not the case at the destroyed Camp Lawton. Its relative isolation and government ownership since the 1930s has helped keep its significance intact, although officials remain concerned about relic hunters.

“If we locate a barracks … we would have to excavate as much as possible during field school and remove the potential for looting,” said Greene.

The project allows the public to participate in occasional digs at the Civil War site, which totals 80 acres.

“We want to get across this idea that archaeology is more than digging up artifacts,” said Greene.

He’s interested in comparing Lawton to other prisoner sites in Georgia and in South Carolina.

“This site is unique in the sense that it is so well preserved, archaeologically,” said Greene. “It has incredible research potential.”

Monday, May 6, 2013

Gettysburg monument returns to duty

(NPS photo)
Members of Gettysburg National Military Park's monument preservation staff on Tuesday will return the 121st New York Infantry Regiment bronze figure to his pedestal.

In fall 2011, a tree fell on the monument at Little Round Top, bending the base of the sculpture. A crane will reset the life-size figure, which was waxed and cleaned during the repair process.

The 121st was mustered in August 1862. According to state records, it was largely in reserve at the July 1863 momentous clash at Gettysburg. Two men were wounded. The unit suffered heavy losses at Spotsylvania, Va., in 1864.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Group sounds bugle call to raise cash to restore Atlanta monuments by 150th

(Renderings courtesy of B*ATL)

A group wanting to make repairs to monuments to two Civil War generals killed in Atlanta now has plans to do the work and is making a fund-raising push in order to have the work done by the 150th anniversary next summer of the battle.

The monument study includes recommendations for several levels of restoration, but at this point we are committed to the whole deal,” said Henry Bryant, chairman of the Battle of Atlanta Commemoration Organization (B*ATL).

Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson, a favorite of Union Gen. William T. Sherman, was killed when he rode into Confederate lines during the July 1864 Battle of Atlanta. Less than a mile away, Confederate Maj. Gen. William H.T. Walker was knocked out of his saddle by a sniper.

Monuments, each featuring a centerpiece cannon, went up years after the war.

Time and, in one case, traffic have taken a toll on the memorials. They sit on dislodged or structurally weak foundations. The cannons have water damage and are rusting in places.

The full cost of restoration, with new features, is about $190,000.

So far, B*ATL has received or has pledges for $50,000. The group also is applying for grants and contacting organizations for help. “Our own schedule calls for us to have a substantial amount raised by Thanksgiving of this year. At that point we must make the decision as to which (restoration) level because of landscaping planting considerations,” Bryant said.

“We hope that we do not have to scale back our plans, but if necessary we can do this,” Bryant told the Civil War Picket this week.

Stabilization of the monuments, which would cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, would not address underlying foundation problems at both sites. To really get to the base of the problem, the monuments must be disassembled.

“Proper coating of the metal and cleaning and sealing of the stones really also requires removal and drying,” said Bryant. “A more extreme level would be to execute the plans for the monuments but scale back the other features of the restoration from granite to concrete. As you can imagine, the granite is a major part of the estimated cost.”

A close look at the McPherson monument (above) in East Atlanta -- fittingly located on McPherson Avenue at Monument Avenue -- shows the foundation is in rough shape and mortar has disintegrated. It’s as if the pedestal and cannon are floating by their own determination, Bryant said.

The Walker monument to the east (right) is more easily seen, but doesn’t get the protection the McPherson monument receives.

It sits on a busy road (Glenwood Avenue at Wilkinson Drive) near Interstate 20.  Motorists have hit the marker several times, knocking it off-kilter on its pedestal. The red granite monument’s steps and plaque are gone. At least two feet of water and gunk are in the rusted cannon barrel.

B*ATL would like to move the monument to the center of a triangle and build steps to raise it, so it will match the appearance of the McPherson monument.

The Georgia Battlefields Association is donating $4,000 toward the restoration.

Donations for the restoration can be made out to BATL-Battle of Atlanta Comm. Org., Inc., with Monument Restoration in the memo box, and sent to BATL at 1340 Metropolitan Ave., Atlanta, Ga. 30316.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Did moonlight help do in Stonewall?

An astronomer and researcher at Texas State University have put forth a theory on what contributed to the legendary general's fatal wounding by fellow Confederates 150 years ago at Chancellorsville: The bright moon would have silhouetted Jackson and his officers, obscuring their identities. • Article