Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sand dunes, or made by soldiers?

A North Carolina amateur historian has discovered what's believed to be a Civil War camp with ties to early Union victories on Hatteras Island that prompted President Abraham Lincoln to dance a jig. "Who built this?" Mel Covey asked of tall, brush-covered mounds along the waterfront. "I know it's not natural." He is convinced they're the remains of Camp Live Oak. • Article

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Recalling SS Sultana: Disaster on the river

Overcrowded SS Sultana the day before disaster (Library of Congress)

The SS Sultana, packed with Union soldiers heading home after the end of the Civil War, went down in the Mississippi River north of Memphis, Tenn., after an explosion and raging fire 149 years ago, on April 27, 1865. The staggering loss of 1,800 souls got hardly any attention at the time because the nation was weary of war and mourning the loss of assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. In 2012, The Picket did extensive reporting on several angles of the disaster. Here they all are:
• Exhibit recalls largest disaster in U.S. maritime history
• Working model captures every detail of Sultana
• Disaster took lives of those who suffered so much 
• Will Sultana earn more prominent place in history? 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Drum lost in battle has a new home

(Washington County Historical Society)

The journeys of a drum used during the Civil War make for a compelling story. A Georgia drummer boy set it down during fierce fighting at Cold Harbor, Va., to use a gun and lost the instrument. Fifty years later, he read a newspaper letter from a New York resident offering to sell it to the original owner. It later survived a library fire. The drum now has a new home in Sandersville, Ga. • Article and video

Monday, April 21, 2014

B*ATL stays busy with 150th Atlanta events, raising money to fix monuments

As it continues to raise money for the restoration of monuments to two opposing generals, the Battle of Atlanta Commemoration Organization (B*ATL) is preparing for May and July events marking the 150th anniversary of the pivotal clash in what are now largely residential neighborhoods

B*ATL is a charter member of the Atlanta Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, which has a kickoff event scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. May 3. (Click here for details)

W. Todd Groce, president and CEO of the Georgia Historical Society, will lay out the day’s programming, entitled “Civil War to Civil Rights: Our 150-Year Journey,” at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, 441 Freedom Parkway, Atlanta. The topic of his talk: "Civil War Atlanta:  Why it Still Matters."

Venues for the day will include the Atlanta Preservation Center and the Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum. Tours include Sweet Auburn, Fort Walker at Grant Park and Oakland Cemetery.

B*ATL is based in East Atlanta, where there will be an afternoon tour of key battle sites and a “Salute to Fallen Heroes” at the statue memorializing Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson, a favorite of Union Gen. William T. Sherman.

McPherson was killed when he rode into Confederate lines during the July 22, 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.

Henry Bryant, chairman of B*ATL, had hoped the restoration work on the Walker and McPherson monuments would have been completed in time for the sesquicentennial events. But it needs about $191,000 and has a good distance to go.

Walker monument
“We have made progress with the fundraising, but it has been slow going,” said Bryant. “We are now about halfway there and have prospects for a large chunk of the remainder.”

“Monument restoration is looking less likely this year, although it could still happen if our big chunk comes in.”

Bryant said the group might do a groundbreaking sometime this year if it nears the goal. B*ATL continues to solicit donations (see end of article).

The monuments, each featuring a centerpiece cannon, went up years after the Civil 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 some water damage and are rusting in places.

B*ATL each summer puts on events marking the battle and its impact on what are now-thriving communities east of downtown Atlanta.

McPherson memorial
This year’s sesquicentennial edition, set for July 12-20, includes a July 12 gala at East Lake Golf Club, walking, van and cemetery tours on Saturday, July 19, the DoubleQuick 5K race and the 8th Regiment Band on July 19, a soldiers’ encampment, storytelling, two plays and appearances by authors during the week.

The organization will update its main website soon and is posting updates at its Facebook page. This year’s logo features the McPherson and Walker monuments.

For details on donating for the monument restoration, see the B*ATL website or contact sponsorship@batlevent.org. Donations are tax-deductible and there are gifts for various levels of support. B*ATL is working with Kroger grocery stores’ community rewards program. Register your Kroger card at www.krogercommunityrewards.com by clicking sign in/create your account, follow the prompts to update your information, select the NPO for BATL - 58394.  This will not affect fuel points accumulation, said Bryant.   

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Remains of soldiers to be inurned

The unclaimed remains of veterans of the Civil War and both World Wars that were discovered in the vaults of a funeral home group will be inurned in an Indiana cemetery. • Article

Monday, April 14, 2014

Vessel becomes part of 'shipwreck park'

The USS Narcissus, which saw service during the Civil War before going down in a storm in 1866 off Tampa, Fla., has been nominated to become Florida's 12th "shipwreck park,"  according to a proposal from the state archaeological research bureau. The designation is mean to draw scuba divers and build tourism. During the war, the U.S. Navy screw steamer hit a torpedo and sank during the Battle of Mobile Bay.Article

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Battle of Resaca re-enactment: New activities and parks for major Georgia event in May

Ken Padgett was a young North Georgia boy at the time, but he still remembers the first re-enactment of the Battle of Resaca.

“There were men in overalls carrying modern shotguns and with some horses,” he said.

What the event lacked in numbers and authenticity was compensated by an interest in remembering the bloody clash, one of the early battles in the Atlanta Campaign, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s eventually successful bid to take the key Georgia city.

The re-enactments weren’t a mainstay until the early 1980s. This year’s May 16-18 event at Chitwood Farm is a big one -- given it is officially the 30th re-enactment and comes on the 150th anniversary of the battle.

And where the 1964 affair, 100 years after the battle, had only a few participants, Padgett said he expects perhaps 2,000 to 2,500 re-enactors on the field, twice as much as most years.

“We have units coming in from California. With all our preservation work going on nationwide, and people’s interest in Resaca, the excitement of the sesquicentennial seems to be drawing people,” said Padgett, 58, who is head of the Georgia Division Reenactors Association, which is putting on the re-enactment.

Local officials also tout two venues where visitors can go before or after taking in the reenactment: 

The Gordon County-owned Fort Wayne Civil War Historic Site and Resaca Battlefield State Historic Site, along a stretch of Interstate 75 on the western part of the battlefield. Although the latter may not be officially completed by May 16, it will be open for visitors to walk interpretive trails.

Re-enactment organizers expect more artillery pieces to be on the field this year. They also are touting an old-style baseball game, a Civil War medicine tent and a cavalry competition.

But the marquee events remain the two 2 p.m. battle re-enactments (Saturday and Sunday).

The clashes will recall outnumbered Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s determined effort to hold off Federals on May 14-15, 1864, after he had withdrawn from Rocky Face. There was no clear winner on the field at Resaca, but a Union flanking move forced the Army of Tennessee to retire.

Joe Johnston
Johnston had begun what historian Shelby Foote referred to as the “Red Clay Minuet” with Sherman, giving up ground grudgingly.

Michael Shaffer, assistant director of Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center, cited the comments of one Federal soldier after the Battle of Resaca: “Brave men were falling on every hand. This was one of the days that will occupy a conspicuous page in our country’s history.”

“Visitors to the re-enactment will catch a glimpse of the action after the initial fighting of the campaign along Rocky Face Ridge, have the chance to inspect earthworks and inspect the Western & Atlantic Railroad, the lifeline of both forces as the campaign unfolded,” Shaffer told the Picket.

Tickets are $5 for adults; $2 for children 6 to 12, and admission is free for children 5 and under. A shuttle service will carry visitors from the parking area. Vendors will sell period and contemporary food and offer various wares. Military and civilian camps will be open to visitors at certain times. The event will be held rain or shine.

Remembering the dead

As is customary at the re-enactment, a memorial service will be held, at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 17, at the picturesque Confederate Cemetery in nearby Resaca. According to the National Park Service, the battle casualties totaled 5,547 (US 2,747; CS 2,800).

Mary and Pyatt Green, daughters of Col. John F. Green, were shocked to see the bodies of Confederate dead lying in the rolling fields of Resaca or in shallow graves. In 1866, they and their African-American cook began relocating bodies to a 2.5 acre site provided by their father.

James Lay, president of the Gordon County Historical Society in Calhoun, said the Green sisters established the first Confederate cemetery in Georgia. It contains about 400 remains.

“The women put the boys as far as they could determine by states with wooden markers.” Markers and a wall eventually were added, and memorial services became a community mainstay.

Flagmaker Robert Banks at Resaca Cemetery

The historial society, which sponsored the first re-enactments, currently leads the re-enactment’s memorial service and ladies’ tea.

“That is the reason we held the whole battle (re-enactment), because of the cemetery, in appreciation of what they did before they even knew what their dreams were,” said Lay.

The historical society is a co-sponsor of the re-enactment, which is getting special attention this year because of the 150th anniversary and the new parks. Gordon County also is hoping for an economic boost.

Sarah Husser of the Gordon County Convention & Visitors Bureau said the promotion effort includes a billboard on I-75 north a few miles below Exit 320, flyers, a re-enactment program and new lamppost banners (below) in downtown Calhoun, the county seat.

“We are encouraging the local stores to decorate their windows and hope to have a couple of volunteers in period attire walk around downtown Calhoun during lunch time the week of the re-enactment,” she said. “We hope to build interest for locals and visitors.”

Calhoun lamppost banner
What visitors will see

The event kicks off Friday, May 16, with visits from school groups.

“It is letting them to look and see the guns fire and hope when they get to that point in American history school, they will say, ‘Wow I went to Resaca. I went to that and they showed me that,’” said Padgett.

Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if a few decided to take up re-enacting when they become older.

“It is getting the young people interested to do it. You will see a lot of gray heads in the field,” he said. “We have young people coming into the hobby, but it does not seem as many as it used to be. The impact of the war is not taught in the school like when I was taught.”

Organizers said they could see 10,000 spectators over the weekend. “It all depends on the weather,” said Padgett. In 2013, six inches of rain slammed attendance.

He and others in the Georgia Division have spent several months preparing the site, assembling massive quantities of firewood for soldier camps, doing electrical work for vendors and gathering hay and bedding straw for horses and mules.

This year’s re-enactment will probably be the largest in Georgia and Padgett is excited about the increase in re-enactors.

Most years, there are 12-16 artillery pieces. This year will have at least 21.

“We have four so far that have been horse-drawn, maneuver, unlimber and hitch. As the battle progresses, they will change positions,” said Padgett.

One of three original cannons on site will be a Noble gun, forged at a foundry in Rome, Georgia, in 1861. “It makes a sound like no other gun in the field. It is a bronze cannon. Even the spectators turn to look because of a distinctive ring.”

1864 Battle of Resaca (Library of Congress)

He said he did not have an exact number of re-enactors who have registered, but it appears 2,000 to 2,500 could take the field. “It is so seldom they get to re-enact on an original battlefield.”

Among the units coming are the S.C.A.R. Battalion, the 125th Ohio, the Georgia Division and Rambo’s battalion from Alabama.

New this year is a display and discussion of period medical instruments.

After a nondenominational service Sunday morning, organizers will have a period baseball game.

“We are using 1860s rules and period-correct instruments (rawhide ball and sticks),” said Padgett. “We hope to have a friendly game between the Rebs and Yanks.”

“(Also) after the church service, spectators can go on the main field and watch the cavalry competition, where they take their sabers and ride through, in demonstration of precision.” 

Terre Lawson at Chitwood Farm in 2010

Meanwhile, back at Interstate 75

Resaca Battlefield State Historic site, built by the state and to be operated by Gordon County once open, will have loop trails, interpretive signs, pulloff areas, picnic tables and a comfort station, though no museum, due to budgetary limitations.

Construction, which has seen delays, continues on the site, said Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator with the parks division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. 

“Hopefully, most will be done in May. There are plans to allow visitors into the site for a 150th event May 16-18, even if it’s not completely finished,” she said.

Padgett said he expects the new site will be nearly complete by May 16.

“I am very pleased. We knew there were going to be snags,” he said. “You cannot go into a site that large and not have some problems. We had wet areas and different things like that. The trail system goes down one ridge and up another ridge.”

An elevated roadway will keep traffic above flood-prone areas on the south part of the site and the six miles of interpretive trails are on high ground, he said. They will be able to go through nearly 100% of it,” he said about May visitors.

Portrait time at Chitwood Farm

The state also has been widening a road that goes above I-75 and doing bridge work adjacent to the new site, at times limiting or slowing access to the site.

Charlie Crawford, head of the Georgia Battlefields Association, was dismayed all work may not be complete before the Resaca re-enactment and associated events.

If the state cared enough, the agencies involved would have arranged for the road work to be complete and the park to be finished in time for the event, rather than having to make an exception and then finishing the work after,” he told the Picket.

The Fort Wayne site, which opened last summer, is also just off I-75 Exit 320, on Taylor Ridge Road.

It was built in 1862-1863 by the Confederate militia to protect the railroad and bridges over the Oostanaula River, said Crawford. For much of the war, Fort Wayne was used as a staging area for reinforcements there were sent north by rail.

Artillery in the fort fired the first round toward Federals advancing on Resaca.

‘Camps stirring to life’

Riders in 2010
Padgett said he will be stepping down as leader of the Georgia Division in the coming months and will become an adviser, rather than a primary organizer, of the annual re-enactment.

He said he is pleased there are nearly 600 acres protected at Chitwood Farm through various preservation and conservation efforts.

“I don’t think anything is more pleasant than walking through the campfires at night, talking to the troops and exchanging a few kind words.”

Padgett, who has been Georgia Division commander for nearly 15 years, said he will continue to research the battle and educate the public.

And he will savor just being there.

“My favorite time is to get up at dawn and just look down at all the campfires from the hill and the camps stirring to life,” he said. “It is always so quiet. Sometimes there are deer. It is strange knowing anything that beautiful and peaceful could have had so much carnage during that period.”

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

View artifacts from ship sunk by Rebel mine

About 800 people visited the Mandarin Museum in Jacksonville, Fla., for the grand opening of an exhibit of rarely-seen artifacts. The steamship Maple Leaf was brought down on April 4, 1864, by a Confederate mine. Artifacts include a sailor's pipe, canteen, skillet, a rain hat and a shoe. The exhibit will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday through the end of the year. • Article

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Easier to visualize back-forth battle

The southern part of the Fredericksburg battlefield in Virginia is starting to look more like it did in December 1862. Not as in mid-battle, but in a pastoral way. Some of Slaughter Pen Farm’s post-Civil War buildings are being razed to give the property, held by the Civil War Trust, a more authentic feel. • Article

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Atlanta symposium examines innovations that shaped, were shaped by the Civil War

For Prof. Seymour E. “Sy” Goodman, it’s as if the stars have aligned to make possible a Georgia Tech symposium on technology and the Civil War.

After all, the university’s formal name, the Georgia Institute of Technology, indicates the depth of interest in logistics, innovation and processes that made the operation of huge armies possible during the bloody, four-year conflict.

The campus itself was a terrifying no man’s land as Federal and Confederate sharpshooters and artillerymen faced off in the weeks before Atlanta fell to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman in early September 1864.

Then, throw in the fact that the Atlanta Campaign occurred 150 years ago this spring and summer.

A flyer advertising the April 12 symposium at the Student Center Theatre features a familiar photo of the Ponder House, a residence east of what is now Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. It was an inviting target for Union cannons.

“That photo was taken from roughly where I am standing now,” Goodman told the Picket during a phone conversation Monday about the event, which includes discussions of field operations, photography, medical technologies and the care and preservation of technology.

The public is invited to the 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday symposium, which includes a free lunch and concludes with a walking tour -- led by Charlie Crawford of the Georgia Battlefields Association -- that will describe the campus in 1864. Pre-registration is encouraged.

Goodman, professor of international affairs and computing, jointly, at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs and the College of Computing, is among those making presentations.

Sy Goodman
“This is a childhood thing that if I don’t get back to it now I won’t,” he said, referring to growing up in Chicago and learning about Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and others.

The professor teaches “Military History of the Civil War,” which covers aspects of what he terms the first major war of the industrial era.

Railroads, telegraphs and large ships were the signs of a massive mobilization of people and economies to fight.

David Wynn Vaughan, who has a nationally recognized collection of photographs of Confederate soldiers, is among the speakers, along with Shauna Devine, who will discuss the growing use of medical photography to aid physicians.

Goodman talked about the importance of photography. Images of the dead brought the war to people’s doorsteps.

“We were the first war where a large fraction of the population … was literate. We are the first war where mass printing was available,” he said. “Photography is one of the technologies that did not exist with Napoleon."

Hundreds of thousands of photographs were taken in studios of soldiers or in the field – although technology and mobility issues made “action” photography virtually non-existent.

Perhaps cameras could have been placed in balloons or in other high vantage points to make surveillance images.

But there were always technological limitations. For example, making photos of map overlays proved too much of a challenge.

“Most of this didn’t work, but it was part of the spectrum of things peoples tried,” Goodman said.

“(Photography) did affect the way people behaved, but not so much in a direct operational sense. People got photos of themselves, carried photos of wives and their children.”

Goodman, in his opening talk, will provide an overview of technology in the Civil War. Other speakers include:

-- Ken Johnston, National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus, "Inventing a New Navy"

-- Gordon Jones, senior military historian, Atlanta History Center.

-- Mary-Elizabeth Ellard, Georgia Battlefields Association, "A Sorrowful War: Veterinary Medicine During the War of the Rebellion" 

Library of Congress

Exhibits at the symposium will include Vaughan’s photos and material from the Atlanta History Center and the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Ga.

An afternoon panel discussion will cover curation of Civil War technology and artifacts.

“In this session, Dr. Jones will discuss how to introduce audiences to interchangeable parts, ready-made clothing, or other aspects of the Industrial Revolution that formed prime ingredients in the Civil War and very much influenced its outcome.”

Goodman spends a good deal of his time researching and lecturing on computer networks, privacy and cyberattacks. But he points out the information technologies existed during the Civil War: The telegraph, Morse Code, signal corps, telescopes, photographs and the printing press.

It’s important to understand the complexities of the war machines of the Civil War, Goodman said.

“You look at these maps and battles and strategic movements and you see all these arrows. The question is: What happened to make those arrows possible?”

• More information, registration for event