Thursday, February 27, 2014

Raising of CSS Georgia: Project update

(USACE, Savannah)

Plans for the raising the wreckage of the Confederate ironclad CSS Georgia are continuing in Savannah, with the recovery expected to begin later this year.

A Civil Picket article in November indicated dives may begin in the summer, but that is not a certainty, said public affairs specialist Sandra Hudson of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district in Savannah.

There is no firm date because final approval has not been granted for this part of the multimillion deepening of the Savannah River, she said. She said the raising is expected to begin "some time" in 2014.

The CSS Georgia must be moved as part of a $652 million project benefiting the Port of Savannah. With the expansion of the Panama Canal, even larger ships will be able to travel to U.S. cities. That requires deeper channels, officials say.

A proposal for a public outreach and education plan about the CSS Georgia project also is awaiting authorization, according to Hudson.

Corps officials are preparing a website to accompany the recovery.

“Much of the preliminary information will be brief and very general, but the site will grow as we get into the project and gather more data,” Hudson told the Picket on Thursday.

Last fall, a section of the CSS Georgia – which served as a floating battery to defend the city from Union forces -- was lifted by U.S. Navy divers a couple miles east of the famed River Street.

The CSS Georgia was scuttled in late December 1864, just a day before Union forces took the port city.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sherman named Person of the Year at event co-sponsored by Museum of Confederacy

Hell’s broke loose over the selection in Virginia of William Tecumseh Sherman, the Civil War Union military commander who waged total war on the South, as the Person of the Year.

What a disgrace.

“They should have tried him for War Crimes

“You people are a special kind of stupid!

Such was the social media firestorm after the audience at a Civil War sesquicentennial symposium in Virginia cast their ballots for the most influential person of 1864. Their picks followed speeches by noted scholars and authors who made nominations.

And the perceived irony that the Museum of the Confederacy was one of three hosts of Saturday’s event at the Library of Virginia in Richmond brought an extra heaping of disgust on its Facebook page.

“Y'all ought to rename The Museum of the Confederacy to the museum of yankee domination.

“You're the Museum of the Confederacy? How is this even remotely possible? Remind me to NEVER darken your doorstep nor support any organization that supports you in any way. You should be ashamed of yourselves. You have just insulted anyone who has ancestry tied to the South.

Others pointed out that the criteria for Person of the Year, as indicated on a press release on the event, was for “most” influential,” not beloved. And they backed the Sherman pick.

“(For) who had the most impact on the war that year …  I doubt anyone can beat Sherman,” wrote JM on a Facebook post. “After Lee tied down Grant in Virginia, or the other way around as you please, the person who had the most impact was Sherman. Without his campaign to take Atlanta, I think the historic consensus is that Lincoln faces a near impossible re-election.”

Historians Gary Gallagher, Harold Holzer, John Marszalek, Craig Symonds and Joe Mobley backed their picks at the symposium hosted by the MOC, the American Civil War Center and the Library of Virginia.

When the dust settled, the final tally was:

Sherman- 38
Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne- 29
Lincoln- 15
Lee & Grant- 11
North Carolina Gov. Zebulon Vance- 8
Union Adm. David Farragut (write in)- 1
Citizens (write in)- 1

According to the MOC Facebook page, Mississippi State’s Marszalek nominated Sherman, saying “that he changed the way wars were fought and was most responsible for the outcome of the Civil War.”

Gallagher backed Grant and Lee, and Holzer endorsed Lincoln.

Of course, an audience vote is not scientific, or indicative of anything more than who was participating. Still, it followed pitches by subject matter experts.

Such “controversies” are common when someone receives a distinction. TIME’s Person of the Year went to Adolf Hitler in 1938 and Josef Stalin in 1939 and 1942. Some of the MOC commenters made note of Hitler.

TIME says its designationis bestowed by the editors on the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.”

Sherman was in Georgia nearly all of 1864, working his army from below Chattanooga, Tenn., toward Atlanta, which he took in early September. His March to the Sea ended just before Christmas in Savannah. Over the year, he cut the Confederacy and vital rail and supply lines. He demoralized Confederate soldiers and civilians alike. To this day, critics call him a barbaraian who did not keep his troops from excesses during the campaigns. Others consider his tactics brilliant.

The Civil War Trust’s biography of Maj. Gen. Sherman includes this passage:

“By 1864 Sherman had become convinced that preservation of the Union was contingent not only on defeating the Southern armies in the field but, more importantly, on destroying the Confederacy's material and psychological will to wage war.  To achieve that end, he launched a campaign in Georgia that was defined as “modern warfare”, and brought “total destruction…upon the civilian population in the path of the advancing columns [of his armies].” 

The choice of Sherman over other nominees brought spirited discussion on the Civil War Memory blog.

BH wrote: “Sherman is the perfect choice: one does not have to approve of his concept of war to appreciate the impact he had: people do often get more upset about loss of property than loss of life. Uncle Billy made Georgia howl!”

Past Person of the Year selections were Abraham Lincoln (1861), Robert E. Lee (1862), and Ulysses S. Grant (1863).

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lectures, Civil War ball set for Bennett Place surrender anniversary weekend in April

 Confederate forces surrendered at Bennett Place (NCDCR photo)

North Carolina’s Bennett Place, site of the largest surrender of Confederate forces, in April will host a lecture and living history program that is a run-up to next year’s 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

The April 26-27 events include “The Grand Blue and Gray Ball,” an evening of dancing and socializing to raise money for the renovation of the historic site’s museum.

The schedule for the lectures by historians and authors, entitled “The Many Roads to Surrender,” is being finalized.

Speakers will detail the stories of seven Southern surrenders -- at Appomattox Court House, Va.; Bennett Place; Citronelle, Ala.; New Orleans, La.; Galveston, Texas; Doaksville, Okla., and Liverpool, England; according to the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

Bennett Place State Historic Site will host a major program on the surrenders and the human cost of the conflict from April 17-26, 2015.

Most Americans are familiar with Robert E. Lee’s surrender of his army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. But many more Confederate troops across the South fought on for up to two months.

The commander of the largest force soon decided it was time to furl the flags.

Gen. Joseph E. Johnston on April 26, 1865, reached a final agreement with Union Major. Gen. William T. Sherman, ending the war for nearly 90,000 Confederates in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

The two generals met at the James and Nancy Bennett farm, which lies on the Old Hillsborough Road in Durham. The pact effectively ended the bloody Civil War.

Bennett Place includes a rebuilt version of the Bennett home, a few outbuildings and the visitor’s center and museum.

Officials say the 7 p.m. April 26 ball, hosted by the Bennett Place Support Fund, will go toward an upgrade of the exhibits. Admission is $50 for couples and $30 for individuals.

“Our current museum will be undergoing some major changes to include a new floor plan and artifacts,” says Diane Smith, historic interpreter and volunteer coordinator at the farm. “The scheduled date for the beginning of the renovation is set for this summer with the completion set for March/April of 2015 in time for the 150th anniversary of the surrender that occurred here.”

The Murphey School, located on the road that Johnston traveled to meet Sherman, is the venue for the ball, which will include a silent auction that includes sports memorabilia and an airplane ride, according to Smith.

All money from the sale of the tickets to the dance, as well as the silent auction items, go toward the museum renovations.

Back at Bennett Place, invited speakers include Patrick Schroeder, historian at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park; Bert Dunkerly, ranger historian of Richmond National Battlefield Park; Eric Richardson, historian and staff member of the Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Va., and John Hairr, curator of education of the North Carolina Maritime Museum, Beaufort. 

Descendants groups will provide visitors with genealogical information to help find their Civil War ancestors. Union and Confederate soldiers and civilians will perform living history demonstrations throughout the weekend.

Surrender negotiations at the Bennett farm were not without controversy. Initially, Sherman and Johnston’s agreement included political terms that were considered overly generous to the South.

Officials in Washington, angered over the recent assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, turned them down in favor of purely military terms.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered Johnston to dissolve his army into guerrilla bands to continue the fight, but the general, who knew continuing the fight was useless without Lee’s forces, disobeyed the order and signed the revised agreement.

For more information, contact Bennett Place State Historic Site at 919-383-4345.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Unsecured hatch? Lucky enemy shot?

Shortly after its torpedo hit the USS Housatonic, the submarine H.L. Hunley sank. To this day, no one knows why. New evidence might help solve the maritime mystery. Article
• Half of the Hunley crew born in Europe

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

NPS: Battle sites don't meet our criteria

The National Park Service has recommended that two Civil War battlefields near Newtonia in southwest Missouri not become part of the national park system. • Article

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Recalling war's most-celebrated prison break

After five days of torturous travel on foot, Thomas Rose was about to make good his escape from Richmond’s infamous Libby Prison. Awaiting the arrival of his comrades, he noticed three soldiers to his rear. Assuming they were a federal vanguard, he rose to greet them, only to find himself recaptured. He was one of 109 Union officers who tried to break out. • Article

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The little sub that could: H.L. Hunley made warfare history; anniv. events planned

(Naval Historical Center)

The story of the H.L. Hunley, a war machine marked by innovation that overcame limitations, is a classic example of if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Whether inspired by nationalistic pride or the profit move – likely both – a group of New Orleans businessmen and innovators made three Confederate submersibles before an eight-member crew in one of the “curious” vessels made warfare history.

The Pioneer and the American Diver never saw action. But the Hunley, named for a member of the shipbuilding coalition, did eventually see combat as the Confederacy tried to break a Northern blockade of Charleston, S.C., during the Civil War.

On the moonlit evening of Feb. 17, 1864, the 40-foot iron vessel -- bullets pinging off its iron exterior -- planted a torpedo in the hull of the Union ship USS Housatonic, setting off a charge that sent the Federal vessel and five crew members to the sandy bottom outside Charleston Harbor within minutes.

The Hunley was the first submarine to sink an enemy warship.

Hunley rests in a conservation tank in North Charleston, S.C.

"It was the first successful use of submarine in warfare,” said Rick Hatcher, historian at Fort Sumter National Monument. “It is not just a Civil War event, not just an American event. It is a world-history event."

Sesquicentennial events next week in the Charleston area, culminating with a memorial service at the exact time of the mission, will remember the daring innovation of the Hunley and the early dangers of manning a submarine. The eight men aboard the Confederate submarine died, a fate that befell the two previous crews, including Horace Lawson Hunley himself, during trial runs.

Discovered a few miles off Charleston in 1995, and raised in 2000 by a group led by author Clive Cussler, the Hunley is being conserved at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston.

Historians and others continue to ponder mysteries of why the Hunley sank and reports of a blue light emanating from the doomed vessel.

Hatcher will give free talks on Feb. 15-17 at Fort Moultrie, a few miles south of where the Hunley churned through Breach Inlet on its way toward the Housatonic.

"My main thrust is to cover the history of the evolution of the boat up through its recovery,” Hatcher told the Picket this week. “I will leave it to the specialists to give the science."

The story of the Hunley is rich in both science and history.

Union naval forces were wary

Likened to the appearance of a whale, the Hunley was fashioned from a large boiler piece in Mobile, Ala. Innovations included watertight hatches, two short conning towers, sea cocks, pumps and ballast tanks.

But there were shortcomings. There was constant concern about a sufficient oxygen supply for the crew, which limited its dive time.

The Hunley, like its predecessors, was dependent on the crew hand-turning a crank to power the single propeller. The captain had the inability to measure the horizontal movement while running submerged.

Still, the Union fleet paid close attention to the development of the Hunley and other torpedo boats. And they were aware of the loss of life aboard the Hunley in 1863.

Rear Adm. John A. Dahlgren in January 1864 ordered defensive measures against the torpedo boats lurking on the islands around Charleston and off the city itself.

“I have reliable information that the rebels have two torpedo boats ready for service, which may be expected on the first night when the water is suitable for their movement. One of these is the ‘David,’ which attacked the Ironsides in October; the other is similar to it,” Dahlgren wrote.

“There is also one of another kind [H. L. Hunley], which is nearly submerged and can be entirely so. It is intended to go under the bottoms of vessels and there operate.”

Another letter said the Hunley was “on the lookout for a chance.”

That chance came on the chilly evening of Feb. 17, 1864.

Working the hand crank, heading to target

Lt. George Dixon, the submarine’s commander, had seen distinguished service above water. Now he was leading a small crew in a naval attack.

(Naval Historical Center)

Dixon would carry with him a unique, misshapen $20 gold coin. He had been wounded in the thigh at the Battle of Shiloh nearly two years before. He credited the coin with blunting the bullet’s impact and saving his life.

The officer had the coin engraved and carried it as a charm.

He would need all the luck he could get that night, given the wariness of Union ships and the constant anxiety of operating the Hunley. Five members of the first crew died in August 1863 while the hatches were still open. The second crew’s eight members succumbed in October when they were apparently unable to open a forward sea valve while underwater.

Still, the Confederates were determined to strike fear in the enemy and sink vessels.

In the early evening that day, the Hunley set out from the shadow of Battery Marshall on the north end of Sullivan’s Island. Breach Inlet separated that island and Long Island, now called the Isle of Palms.

Friends of the Hunley, a non-profit group that is organizing some of the sesquicentennial events, provides a history of the ship and current conservation updates on its website.

“While the cold bit through the lookout's coat, 8 men poured sweat over hand cranks that powered a spinning propeller while their captain manned the dive planes -- steering man, iron, anxiety and raw courage towards its final destination."

The Housatonic was at anchor four of five miles away. The Friends’ website further details the Hunley’s appointment with history.

“A lookout aboard the Union Navy's largest ship was tired, cold -- but restless. Talk of a Confederate secret weapon was in and out of his thoughts. Suddenly he spotted something move in the chilly waters. A porpoise? There were certainly a lot of them around. But something about this one didn't seem right."

‘In an instant, the ship was struck’

An account posted by the Naval History & Heritage Command details the alarm raised onboard the Housatonic, which carried 12 guns.

Lt. Higginson, the ship’s executive officer, wrote, “About 8:45 p.m. the officer of the deck, Acting Master J. K. Crosby, discovered something in the water about 100 yards from and moving toward the ship. It had the appearance of a plank moving in the water. It came directly toward the ship, the time from when it was first seen till it was close alongside being about two minutes.”

The Hunley was too close and low to be hit by artillery fire, so crew and officers of the Union ship fired small arms, rifles and even a shotgun at the approaching menace. 

“The officer of the deck perceived a moving object on the water quite near and ordered the chain to be slipped; the captain and executive officer went on deck, saw the object, and each fired at it with a small arm,” Dahlgren wrote. “In an instant the ship was struck on the starboard side, between the main and mizzen masts; those on deck near were stunned, the vessel begun to sink, and went down almost immediately.”

Five crew members died; 150 others were soon rescued.

The Hunley had disappeared from view. What happened to it has become the stuff of legends and research for decades. Various parties searched for the wreckage, but they believed it went down near the Housatonic wreck. Instead, it sank about 100 yards or so beyond that point, covered by several feet of silt.

For a long time, one prevailing view held that a lucky shot broke the glass in one of the Hunley’s portholes, bringing in rushing water and causing the sub to sink. But research has not proven that theory.

In January 2013, Hunley scientists reported a significant discovery.

“Until now, the conventional wisdom has been the Hunley would ram the spar torpedo into her target and then back away, causing the torpedo to slip off the spar,” a press release said. The men may have run out of air at some point, the theory held.

Instead, research showed the submarine was less than 20 feet from her 135-pound torpedo when it exploded. The Hunley had a 16-foot spar that carried the weapon.

“There is overwhelming evidence to indicate this was not a suicide mission. The crew no doubt knew the dangers facing them, but still, they hoped to make it back home. They must have believed this was a safe enough distance to escape any harm,” said Hunley Commissioner Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell.

It’s possible that the force of the explosion incapacitated the crew, eventually causing the sub to slide down into the chilly depths.

A crew member on the Housatonic reported seeing a blue light, but research on the Hunley’s recovered lantern thus far shows no evidence it had glass with a blue tint. While there were several reports of a signal being sent by the Confederate vessel to shore, experts say it likely was not done by the lantern. Some speculate it may have been sent by a hand-held pyrotechnic flare.

Schedule of events for anniversary

The conservation of the Hunley has continued for nearly 14 years after it was hauled to the surface and taken to the large laboratory where visitors can take a tour, see films and learn more about the Hunley and its final crew. 

The vessel sits upright in a 90,000-gallon freshwater tank, as time and workers chip away at concrete-like sediment and salinity.

Friends of the Hunley’s Kellen Correia told the Picket she expects the vessel’s conservation to be complete in about five to six years. It will be housed in a North Charleston museum, but a site has not yet been determined.

The eight men who trained and fought in her were laid to rest on April 17, 2004, in Magnolia Cemetery after a 4.5-mile funeral procession through the city. Experts are learning more about their murky past – several were immigrants – and produced facial reconstructions that are on view at the Lasch lab.

Next weekend’s observances will remember their sacrifice and of those lost on the Housatonic. Friends of the Hunley said events will mark the vessel’s “against-all-odds mission that changed naval warfare for all time.”

In addition to events at Fort Moultrie, the following is planned at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center:

-- Friday, Feb. 14, is military appreciation day, with tours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Active and retired personnel will pay $6, half the usual admission cost. An honor guard and living historians will be present.

William Waud drawing of attack (Library of Congress)

-- Saturday, Feb. 15, tours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The first 150 guests will receive free replicas of Dixon’s life-saving gold coin, which was found during excavation of the boat’s interior. An honor guard and living historians will be present.

-- Saturday, Feb. 15, evening reception and presentation “The Men Behind the Machine,” 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. $50 for cocktail hour, light snacks and viewing of the submarine hosted by experts conducing the preservation work. A forensic genealogist will discuss what is known about the crew.

-- Sunday, Feb. 16, tours from noon to 5 p.m. The first 150 guests will receive free replicas of Dixon’s life-saving gold coin, which was found during excavation of the boat’s interior. An honor guard and living historians will be present.

-- Monday, Feb. 17, tours from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $1.50. Living history presentation.

On Feb. 17, the Confederate Heritage Trust will sponsor a 7 p.m. memorial service for those lost on the Hunley and Housatonic at Sunrise Presbyterian Church at Breach Inlet. “After the church service, you will be asked to join the ladies dressed in black gently toss flowers from the ocean shore into the water of the men they represent.”

Some 150 years later, the Hunley is still remembered for the bravery of three crews that gave all.

Fittingly-named Lt. J.H. Tomb of the Confederate Navy called the vessel a “veritable coffin.”

Rich Wills, former assistant underwater archaeologist for the Naval Historical Center, wrote that Confederate subs acted as powerful psychological warfare tool.

“It was the H.L. Hunley's attack on the Housatonic that defined to the U.S. Navy the danger of the submersible torpedo craft in Southern waters, and demonstrated to the world the vast potential of the submersible vessel in future naval strategy.”

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Historic site marks Andersonville prison's construction in early 1864

Historic image fused with view today (NPS)

A scheduled site walk and flag raising Saturday at a federal park in central Georgia will mark the 150th anniversary this month of the opening of Andersonville Prison, where nearly 13,000 Union prisoners died in just 14 months.

Andersonville National Historic Site last week began its two-year commemoration of the story of the infamous Civil War military prison formally called Camp Sumter.

The first Union POWs were in the 16-acre stockade at Camp Sumter on Feb. 24, 1864. The camp was expanded a few months later. By then, dozens were dying a day amid the overcrowding, fetid conditions and hot weather.

"In the opening weeks of 1864, the future site of the Andersonville Prison was abuzz with activity as Confederate officials and military officers supervised the construction of a new facility to replace the military prisons in Richmond, Virginia," the National Park Service says. "In this moment, Confederate officials viewed the new prison as a solution to the problems besetting the facilities in Richmond; citizens of southwest Georgia were far more skeptical of the creation of the prison in their backyard."

Issuing of rations in August 1864 (Library of Congress)

The logistical challenges that would mar Camp Sumter's operations were evident early. The camp's quartermaster on Feb. 3, 1864, requests provisions from Columbus, west of Andersonville. A local supplier is able to supply only half of the request.

Saturday's activities commemorate the construction of the site. An 11 a.m. prison site walk is planned, followed by a 1 p.m. discussion on challenges faced by the Confederate military and civilians. At 2:30 p.m., at Star Fort, the second national Confederate flag will be raised.

Visitors this year are receiving an overview of Andersonville and the 150 prisons across the North and South, the travails of those housed there, and the complicated history of how Civil War prisons were devised and operated. 

At one point, more than 30,000 Union soldiers were squeezed into Camp Sumter. The camp effectively became the poster child for the inhumanities and loss at Civil War prisons.