Friday, February 24, 2017

At Gettysburg: Archaeologists will survey parts of Little Round Top, George Spangler farm

Little Round Top (NPS photo)
George Spangler farm (Courtesy of Gettysburg Foundation)

A National Park Service archaeological team at Gettysburg will survey Little Round Top’s western slope and the George Spangler farm to ensure historic features are protected during two projects.

The Little Round Top metal detector survey – taking place over the next several days – is in preparation of a 52-acre prescribed burn at Gettysburg National Military Park. The fire aims to reduce woody vegetation and maintain open fields and meadows.

The goal is to build on previous studies from Western states where the effects of fire on battlefields have been studied, the park said. Data will help the park protect archaeological resources.

Volunteers on the team will catalog each recovered item. Locations will be entered into a GIS system.

“Location is the critical element of battlefield archaeology that enables us to expand our understanding of a battle. When the project is complete and the map is compiled, the distribution of artifacts can show fields of fire, areas of engagement, and unit positions,” the park said in a news release. “All artifacts recovered during the project will be analyzed in a lab and returned to Gettysburg National Military Park.”

Historic view of Little Round Top (Library of Congress)

Little Round Top is the location of some of the most famous fighting of the battle. Rising 164 feet above the Plum Run Valley to the west, Little Round Top became the anchor of the Union’s left flank and a focal point of Confederate attacks on the afternoon of July 2, 1863.

Katie Lawhon, senior adviser at the Pennsylvania park, told the Picket that a cultural landscape report identifies two major historical time periods that are most likely to have archaeological deposits within the Little Round Top area: the pre-colonial period and the Battle of Gettysburg.

“An analysis of the topography of 52 pre-colonial archaeological sites in Adams County indicated that the landscape settings most associated with recorded archaeological sites included stream benches, lower hill slopes, floodplains, middle slopes and terraces that were located close to flowing water,” she said. Some parts of Little Round Top may have archaeological “potential,” despite disturbance from an electric railroad more than a century ago.

The team also will work at the George Spangler Farm Civil War Field Hospital site, where the Gettysburg Foundation is re-establishing an orchard. Officials want to protect archaeological resources at that part of the farm, which will open to visitors on June 9 for the summer season. The barn and smokehouse have been restored.

Well in Spangler summer kitchen (courtesy of Gettysburg Foundation)

Cindy Small, chief marketing officer with the foundation, told the Picket that an archaeologist has been on the site three times.

In 2013, we were digging under the floor of the summer kitchen and we found an old well that we didn’t know existed. In 2014, we dug the basement of the house to supply fire suppression to the barn and we didn’t find anything. We also dug a trench from the house to the electric substation and nothing was found,” she said.

The Spangler farm was transformed “into a place of chaos and crisis” as the property was converted to a field hospital for the 2nd Division of the Union 11th Corps. It later became the main hospital for all units.

Confederate Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead, who fell while leading troops during Pickett’s Charge, died of his wounds on July 5, 1863, in the farm’s summer kitchen.

The park reminds visitors they are not allowed to use metal detectors within its boundaries.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pickett's Mill: Candlelight tours back on, will focus on daring night attack at ravine

(Georgia State Parks)

Five candlelight tours next weekend will provide a front-row seat to a re-enactment of the desperate nighttime fight at Pickett’s Mill near Atlanta.

Spots are open for the March 3-4 tours at the well-preserved Pickett’s Mill Battlefield Historic Site in Paulding County. The tours originally were set for last fall, but a burn ban resulting from a drought caused the event to be postponed.

The tours, at a cost of $10 per person (no cost to children 2 and under) can be booked online here. Advance reservations are required. Each tour is limited to 30 people.

The event, being put on by the Friends of Pickett’s Mill Battlefield and the park, will focus on a Confederate counterattack and significant victory at the May 27, 1864, Atlanta Campaign battle.

Capt. Thomas Key and his Arkansas four-gun battery played a large part in the outcome. Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne ordered Key to place two guns to the right oblique to enfilade a ravine.

Federal troops under Brig. Gen. William Hazen charged uphill that afternoon in an attempt to take the top of a ridge. Key’s howitzers were ready for them. A second attack also failed.
The Federal soldiers were mired in the ravine. About 10 p.m., Brig. Gen. Hiram B. Granbury’s Texas troops, their bayonets fixed, went into action.

Hiram Granbury
“With darkness settling over the field … Granbury evaluated the day’s action. His troops had successfully repulsed the Federal attacks, suffered minimal casualties, and their morale stood at a high point,” said Michael K. Shaffer, a historian who will help conduct the tours.

Upon receiving orders from Cleburne to “clear his front,” Granbury initiated an all-out charge, Shaffer said. The Confederates chased the hapless Federals out, capturing several prisoners before returning to their lines.

Cleburne wrote of the counterattack: “Surprised and panic-stricken, many (of the enemy) fled, escaping in the darkness; others surrendered and were brought into our lines. It needed but the brilliancy of this night attack to add luster to the achievements of Granbury and his brigade in the afternoon. I am deeply indebted to them both.” (As a side note, Cleburne and Granbury were killed at the Battle of Franklin in Tennessee six months later.)

A reproduction artillery piece will be used to demonstrate the action that night.

Participants in the hourlong experience will walk part of the Blue Trail, see Granbury’s lines and re-enactors clash at the ravine.

Participants in the tours are encouraged to dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes. No pets or strollers are permitted. The park is located at 4432 Mount Tabor Church Road, Dallas, GA 30157 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Puzzle solved: USS Monitor coat reassembled, displayed. Second puzzle: Who owned it?

One of the front panels (Images courtesy of The Mariners' Museum and Park)
Elsa Sangouard worked from drawings, PC to assemble pieces

Senior conservator Elsa Sangouard has worked inside the USS Monitor’s massive turret and on the gun carriages that held its two 11-inch Dahlgren guns.

While these and other iron pieces Sangouard has handled tell the story of the famed Federal ironclad’s instruments of death, a painstakingly conserved and reassembled sailor’s coat is her favorite artifact.

“Anything working with sailors is extremely touching. The coat represents the last minute of the ship and the drama for the entire crew,” she said.

The delicate artifact late last year went on display in the replica captain’s stateroom at the USS Monitor Center of The Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va.

The tailor-made coat came out of the water when the turret was lifted in 2002. Officials said crew members likely threw off heavy coats as they scrambled off the USS Monitor during a terrible storm near Cape Hatteras, N.C., on Dec. 31, 1862. This coat was the only major item of clothing found in the wreck.

(Image courtesy of The Mariners' Museum and Park)

Visitors can gaze upon the reconstructed coat (click photo to enlarge), its six panels lying in a low-light, climate-controlled display case. Conservators dared not try to hang the artifact on a mannequin.

“All of the wool is in pretty good shape, but it is very fragile,” said project manager Will Hoffman. “If you can hang it, that means all the weight on the fiber is hanging off the individual fibers.”

The coat, even after these years, still wears a shroud of mystery: Who did it belong to? Was it one of two sailors whose remains were found in the turret? One of the 47 men who safely made it off the ironclad? Did an officer or enlisted man wear it?

Officials say it took a real team effort over more than a decade to conserve and display the item. For Sangouard, working with the tattered garment’s 137 pieces was like working on a jigsaw puzzle.

Coat’s design appears to be a ‘one off’

(Images courtesy of The Mariners' Museum and Park)


The “hybrid” dark blue, double-breasted coat was modified to serve as part of a U.S. Navy uniform. It’s a mix of a standard sack coat in the front, with a fitted, vented back of a classic frock coat.

Hoffman and Sangouard told the Picket they are puzzled by the coat design and its rubber buttons. The Novelty Rubber Co. produced the latter, using a Goodyear patent.

An officer likely would have used copper-alloy buttons. But why would an enlisted man go to the trouble of procuring a custom-made jacket, they ask.

John Quarstein, director of the center, told History Net that the garment might have belonged to a warrant officer such as a master’s mate, boatswain’s mate, gunner or quartermaster.

HistoryNet said one candidate is enlisted sailor Jacob Nicklis, one of 16 crew members lost with the USS Monitor. His father was a tailor in Buffalo, N.Y.

Working largely from fragments

(Photo courtesy of NOAA)

The remains (above) of the merino wool coat were found largely in a pile in the turret’s organic and iron sediment. While conservators weren’t positive what they had, they could make out collar fragments and a button hole. Cotton threads that held the panels together had dissolved after decades in saltwater.

The two front panels of the coat were largely intact, while much of the rest was in pieces. About 80 percent of the garment survives.

Sangouard, who joined the project five years after the turret was lifted, said smaller pieces were taken out of cool storage in 2009 to begin the conservation process.

(Image courtesy of The Mariners' Museum and Park)

Conservators found the appropriate methods for cleaning and soaking the coat in solution. That took more than a year.

Despite the cleaning, some iron corrosion caused by turret tools remain on some portions of the coat; in one case the fabric bears the shape of a tool handle.

Putting the puzzle ‘back together’

Once the cleaning was completed, Sangouard used transparent paper to draw all the fragments.

We needed to document the exact size of each fragment before drying them, just in case there was going to be a size change,” she told the Picket.

The conservator scanned the transparent paper and retraced the shapes, using Adobe Illustrator. She then reduced the scale of all pieces.

(Image courtesy of The Mariners' Museum and Park)

“Once all the parts were smaller and digitized (smaller but still very accurate in shape), I worked on my PC like I would have at home on a jigsaw puzzle. 

“Without taking distance from the object and looking at all the parts from afar, only the main panels could be placed in relative position to one another. Using Illustrator helped find a fair amount of smaller connections that were really difficult to see when looking at the object itself. 

“In other words, tracing the pieces helped document the object before drying it, but also helped putting the puzzle back together.”

The coat eventually was sent to textile conservators in Richmond who adhered the pieces to the exhibit panels. The museum’s Bronze Door Society contributed $20,000 to the project.

To whom did the coat belong?

USS Monitor on James River in Virginia (U.S. Navy)

The coat will help further the museum's goal of bringing the human component to a story of the innovative ironclad that tangled with the Confederacy's CSS Virginia in nearby Hampton Roads in March 1862.

The USS Monitor, while smaller, was more nimble than the CSS Virginia, and the two vessels fought to what many consider a draw.

Hoffman, the project manager, said the garment gives museum visitors a human connection to the USS Monitor.

Officials would like to know who wore the jacket. They know the weight and sizes of most of the crew. Sangouard said the man was thin and not 6 feet tall.

“Can we figure out who it is?” asked Hoffman. “There is potential.”

Friday, February 17, 2017

H.L. Hunley: New report addresses 6 theories on how Confederate submarine was lost

(U.S. Navy -- 1902 drawing by R.G. Skerrett)

A new report that calls the recovery of the H.L. Hunley in 2000 “part archaeology, part engineering and part spectacle” details six fascinating theories about the loss of the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel.

The archaeological report by the U.S. Navy, South Carolina Hunley Commission and Friends of the Hunley coincides with today’s 153rd anniversary of the bold attack off Charleston Harbor that took down the USS Housatonic but also doomed the Hunley and its eight crew members.

Up front, we need to say no one knows for sure why the Confederate sub vanished on the moonlit, cold evening – as the report says, it could be a combination of factors. The Friends of the Hunley, in a Facebook post marking the Feb. 17, 1864, anniversary, said, “An international team of scientists (is) working to save the vessel and solve the mystery of her disappearance.”

The theories are at the end of the extensive report on the recovery of the Hunley, from planning stages to execution.

(USS Housatonic / Wikipedia -- public domain)

The hand-cranked Hunley left its base on Sullivan’s Island and placed a torpedo in the Housatonic, one of many blockade vessels on the edge of the harbor. Those on board desperately opened fire on the attackers. Five U.S. sailors were killed in the explosion and a chaotic scene ensued as other Federal ships came to the rescue. The Hunley vanished.

Robert S. Neyland of the Naval History and Heritage Command Underwater Archaeology Branch summarized the theories on what may have happened.

THEORY 1: Sub’s hull breached as a result of the explosion

Neyland writes that of the three “significant” breaches, only the missing viewport in the forward conning tower appears to have occurred close to the time of the attack -- but it is still possible this occurred after the sinking. He says the damage may have come from gunfire by the Housatonic crew or explosion debris. The forward hatch was found to be slightly ajar.

He writes: “The conning tower was above the surface of the water and (Lt. George) Dixon would have had time to block the hole to prevent water from flooding the submarine. 

(Courtesy of Friends of the Hunley)

"However, weather and sea state could also have been a contributing factor. With the wind building from the northwest at the time of the attack and immediately afterwards, and the tide setting to the northeast, seas would have been building with waves that could have thus been lapping over the conning towers. The damage to the forward conning tower alone should not have been sufficient to sink the submarine, provided it stayed above the surface. The hole could have been plugged with a garment or rag to prevent water …. If water did get in, it could have been removed with the pumps.”

Experts wrote in the hull analysis that that Hunley was streamlined and better balanced than its predecessors. “Still, there was a fragile balance between safety and disaster that required expert, careful handling.”

THEORY 2: Crew saw another Union vessel, decided to submerge

This scenario said the Hunley’s skipper saw the USS Canandaigua and took the boat to the seafloor to wait for enemy forces to disperse. The crew, ostensibly, died because of the lack of oxygen.

Neyland questions this theory: “If the damage to the forward conning tower occurred at the time of the submarine’s attack, Dixon would not have been able to take the boat down to the bottom to wait or to run the submarine fully submerged. Although the damage might not be a serious problem on the surface it was too large for Dixon to have sealed it securely enough to prevent flooding when underwater.”

(Friends of the Hunley)
“ … Hiding on the bottom until things quieted down on the surface or the tide changed might have been a short-term strategy but an attempt to hide on the bottom could only have been a momentary escape. He had conditioned his crew to submerge until they ran low of oxygen and he knew the limits of their endurance, which would be only an hour or two at most."

The report says the Hunley’s final location, so close to Housatonic seems to indicate that the submarine had not navigated away from the site underwater.

THEORY 3: A Federal vessel struck the Hunley on the surface

Neyland writes: “The least likely scenario is that Hunley was struck by Canandaigua as it came to render assistance. Had this been the case, the submarine would likely have suffered massive damage to the hull, possibly even been cut in half.”

THEORY 4: Damage to conning tower caused by small weapons fire, causing the sub to flood

The report states: “The recovery did not reveal a large breech caused by the explosion that led to catastrophic flooding … the damage to the forward conning tower could have been caused by gunfire or shrapnel from the explosion, but should not have been enough to sink the vessel. However, the concussion resulting from the detonation of the torpedo would have created an underwater shock wave and the force could have been severe enough to damage the hull or the crew. … It is possible this could have caused distortion or fracturing of the metal components of the hull, allowing water to enter around rivets or seams, and physical injuries to the crew.”

Damage to forward conning tower (Friends of the Hunley)

Neyland argues a slow leak would be consistent with a report that Hunley remained at the surface after the explosion. “It seems likely the crew would have attempted to stop the leaks and man the pumps, and, if unable to do so, they would have had sufficient time to unfasten both hatches and abandon the submarine to escape. If, on the other hand, the crew was disoriented or disabled by the shock wave, there is a chance slow leaks went unchecked and the boat slowly sank without an attempt to stop it.”

The report indicates an examination of Dixon’s remains showed no evidence he was hit by enemy fire.

THEORY 5: Crew tried to use grapnel anchor

Facial reconstructions (Picket photo)

This theory holds the discovery of a grapnel anchor at the wreck site indicates the Hunley’s crew used to the anchor to combat the outgoing tide until the tide change “but were inadvertently pulled under due to the low freeboard of the submarine and lack of buoyancy.”

Neyland writes no historic accounts mention the deployment of an anchor and he said the one found was too light for the purpose. It’s possible another vessel lost the anchor while the U.S. Navy dragged the waters for Hunley.

THEORY 6: The crew was rendered unconscious

That scenario contends the men were unable to man the pumps or respond to any damage

Some of that argument is covered in Theory 4, but Neyland writes there’s a possibility “that the crew was sufficiently disoriented from the explosive shock wave that they were unable to respond efficiently to the danger of hull leakage. If they lost their interior light and were unable to relight the candle or lantern soon after the explosion, their situation would have been compounded.”

Interestingly, the Navy also this week released findings of a team looking into the effects of the explosion on the crew; it’s known the torpedo was attached to a spar connected to the Hunley when it went off.

(U.S. Navy)

It found the “imparted load” of the blast to the submarine was “relatively modest.” The primary response of the Hunley to the explosion was a rapid vertical motion resulting from the flow of water around the bubble.

“While the occupants may have experienced some bumps and bruises, it does not appear there was enough force to cause concussion or other forms of complete incapacitation."

That report cites a broken outlet pipe in the forward ballast tank. It would have allowed water to flow into the crew compartment. “Tests revealed that the vessel would sink in approximately 3 minutes from the initial failure of the pipe.”

But, like much of the report, this team found mysteries remain. It said examination of drift models show something more than the pipe alone may be responsible for the sinking.

In his summary, Neyland discounts the Hunley being struck, the grapnel anchoring and damage alone to the forward conning tower.

“Given the lack of a proverbial ‘smoking gun,’ it is possible that several smaller problems occurred simultaneously that, when combined, could not be overcome.”

The research and conservation of the vessel at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston, S.C., continue. Reports documenting the excavation of the interior, including crew remains, personal effects and hull components will be published later, the Navy said.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Moving huge painting is an engineering feat


How do you move something that's longer than a football field, tall as a four-story building, weighs almost six tons and, oh yeah, is a national treasure? With extreme care -- and a lot of expertise. Later this week, cranes are expected to pluck a colossal, aging painting depicting a Civil War battle from an Atlanta museum that was its home for nearly a century and take it to a new location. • CNN article
• UPDATE: Painting arrives at new home

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Mysteries of the not so deep: More dives ahead on blockade runner Agnes E. Fry

Knife handle and deck light found on Fry (NCDNCR)

For having endured so much – being run aground, shelled by the enemy, partially salvaged and decapitated by a giant wire – the wreck of the blockade runner Agnes E. Fry still has a precious story to tell.

Archaeological divers with the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources will return, likely in May,  to the Confederate shipwreck about a half mile off Oak Island.

In water where visibility of 2 feet is a rare treat, they’ll continue to explore the Fry and collect data to create a 3D model. The vessel ran aground on Dec. 27, 1864, while trying to reach Wilmington.

“The Fry is not a difficult dive. It is fairly easy to get to. We can drop buoy right on the wreck,” says dive supervisor Greg Stratton.

But once in the shallow water, it’s easy to get disoriented.

The Llama resembled the Agnes E. Fry 

“Light cup of coffee with creamer” is the description Stratton uses to describe the underwater environment.

This will be a big year for assessing the state of the Scottish-made Fry and what cargo remains in its two holds.

Bill Ray Morris, North Carolina deputy state archaeologist, said his office has filed a report on its work thus far to the National Park Service, which provided a research grant through its American Battlefield Protection Program.

“We have received another grant, from NC Sea Grant, to revisit Fry this spring and create a research design and methodology for further investigation and recordation of this significant site,” he told the Picket.

Wreck of the Agnes E. Fry (NCDNCR)

Last year, officials announced “unprecedented detail” captured by sector-scanning sonar. A mosaic image shows the broken iron hull, smoke stack sections, I-beam frames, outer hull plating and more.

Stratton has made five dives for the project. “There is tremendous amount of structure scattered throughout the wreck.” He estimated the debris field to be 239 feet long and 50 feet wide.

Divers, since the discovery of the Fry in early 2016, have removed a chunk of coal, a deck light and remains of a handmade knife “literally laying on the deck.”

Stratton said sheet lead was rolled as a handle for an iron blade. There are thumbprints on the handle; just a small piece of the iron remains. The intact deck light is a 6-inch circle. “They put these small glass pieces on the deck or bulkhead to allow light into the cargo spaces.”

Agnes E. Fry
Officials said the cargo holds are in cavities under the structure. While machinery was removed, there are no records of the cargo being taken;  no one really knows what the Fry carried on its voyage from Nassau, Bahamas.

Blockade runners carried an odd mix of war materiel and goods intended for Southern civilians. Enterprising owners wanted to offset the risk of running the gauntlet of U.S. Navy ships trying to keep them away from vital ports, including Wilmington, N.C.

In mid-1863, the Confederacy ordered captains to carry 50 percent in war goods, such as uniforms, rifles, artillery and munitions. Most items came from Europe via the Bahamas and Bermuda.

Joseph Fry
Serving on the fast blockade runners was tough duty, and full of risks. According to a timeline, the Fry tried seven times in autumn 1864 to get through the blockade, but was unsuccessful until Nov. 5. “She also deals with a bad sickness aboard that kills several of her crew members.”

Records for the ship are scattered or nonexistent, but the end came a few miles below Southport, below Wilmington.

“While running down the shoreline toward the Cape Fear River entrance, another ship was sighted in front of the Fry, the pilot panicked and turned toward shore to miss it,” said Stratton. “Instead, he ran her aground. He was later court-martialed for this and for extorting Capt. (Joseph) Fry for more money to make the run. We think the vessel in front of her was the wreck of the Georgiana McCaw, as no Yankee vessels made mention of being there until the next day.”


For years, the top of the ship was above the water line and it was considered a navigational obstruction for the Cape Fear River.

To counter that, two tugboats anchoring a large wire 10 feet below the surface ran over the wreck site, slicing off the top of the Fry.

The National Park Service grant isn’t just covering the Fry. The state is working to locate and study other historic shipwrecks around Wilmington, including two other blockade runners that went down near the Fry. Several are just offshore and in water 14-16 feet deep.

You can just make out a porthole (NCDNCR)

“The wrecks were way more uncovered than they have ever been,” said Stratton.

Officials hope scuba divers one day will be able to visit some of the vessels. Archaeologists want to open the first state dive park off Kure Beach, featuring the well-preserved Condor.

The divers hope to complete a full assessment of the Fry this year, and apply for other grants to further the research. But don’t expect a rush of artifacts to be brought to the surface.

“For every dollar you spend in the water, you will spend 30 and 40 dollars conserving it,” Stratton said.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Selma re-enactment canceled in fee dispute

A three-decade tradition is in danger in Selma, Alabama, where a dispute over city fees is prompting organizers to cancel a major Civil War re-enactment that brings tourists to town each spring. Organizers of the Battle of Selma battle re-enactment said the four-day event won’t be held this year because municipal officials wanted to impose new fees. • Article