Sunday, October 20, 2019

Cornfield relics can help in battlefield mapping at Maryland site

By using metal detectors and ground-penetrating radar to locate artifacts, archaeologists in Maryland hope to create a more comprehensive map of how each skirmish during the Battle of South Mountain played out. As a result of their findings, a historic military geographer will then be able to map out which roads and areas the troops traveled through still exist and document them more fully. • Article

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Civil War-era bell passed down by family is back home in Appomattox

After almost 50 years spent in the basement of Ora McCoy’s Appomattox, Va., home, a family bell passed down through five generations has found a new life ringing in history along the East Coast. Originally unearthed for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House in 2015, the bell found its way to other park ceremonies. McCoy’s great-grandparents, Daniel and Phoebe Scruggs, once lived as slaves on the Scruggs family farm in Appomattox. They have owned the bell since the Civil War, passing it from hand to hand until it found its way to McCoy. In September, after a stint at the Fort Monroe National Monument, the bell came home. • Article

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Red Jacket: A reconstructed cannon, colorful coat and a beer tell the story of the Columbus Guards, a Georgia militia unit

The Red Jacket (Courtesy of Columbus Georgia Convention & Trade Center)
You have to look closely to spy it near the corner, but there it is – a small brass cannon propped between a pair of iron wheels and a Char-Broil barbecue grill topped with a spatula, tongs and fork. Named for the bright red coat worn by members of a 19th century militia unit that used the artillery piece to fire salutes, “Red Jacket” rests in a brick room at the Historic Iron Works, also known as the Columbus Georgia Convention & Trade Center. The room showcases items important to the city’s history and growth.

Courtesy of the Columbus Museum
What the visitor can’t fully make out is the fractured condition of Red Jacket, which belonged to the Columbus Guards and was fired during celebrations. In its early days, Red Jacket fired a salute when Georgia seceded from the Union and was hauled to Montgomery, Ala., for the February 1861 inauguration of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy.

An historical marker not far from the Iron Works, which was a major manufacturing site for the South, summarizes the gun’s rather unique story:

“Red Jacket was purchased by Mrs. Laura Beecher Comer in 1861 and presented to the Columbus Guards. During the war period it was used to fire salutes to Confederate victories in the Army and Navy. When a Federal army approached Columbus in 1865, some members of the Columbus Guards, fearing the little gun would be captured, threw in into the Chattahoochee River near the city wharf. Four years later, it was accidentally drawn up on the fluke of an anchor. The finders sold it as junk and it was carried to New York City and bought by J. W. Godfrey, an armorer. A newspaper reporter saw Red Jacket and wrote a description of it in a New York paper. The clipping was sent to L.H. Chappell, then Captain of the Columbus Guards, in 1884. Correspondence ensued and Mr. Godfrey restored the gun to the Columbus Guards. In 1930 Red Jacket was stolen from its carriage on Upper Broad Street and conveyed to the river bank. When fired, it burst into many pieces. Alva C. Smith, secretary-treasurer of the Historical Society of Columbus, found all the pieces and had the gun mended and rebuilt.”


Today, the Red Jacket name lives in several places in this west Georgia river city that borders Phenix City, Ala. There are the Jordan Vocational High School Red Jackets, a replica cannon and Red Jacket beer at a brew pub not far from the Iron Works, and the sole surviving example of the Red Jacket coat itself, on rotating display at the Columbus Museum.

City provided much to Confederacy, fell at war's end

The Columbus Guards, local histories say, provided more men for Confederate service than any other local militia unit and its members took part in more than 30 battles with the Army of Northern Virginia.

One of the giant halls at the Iron Works in Columbus (Picket photo)
Apart from that, Columbus was an important manufacturing site for the Confederacy, second only to Richmond, Va.. Factories and shops produced cannon, engines, guns, swords, textiles and more. The Confederate navy had a shipyard just below the Iron Works. The ironclad CSS Jackson (Muscogee) was built and tested on the Chattahoochee River, only to be burned by Union forces after they took the city.

Columbus fell in April 1865 in what is believed to be the last battle in the Federal campaign through Alabama and Georgia.

Today, the rebuilt Iron Works, the Columbus Museum and the National Civil War Naval Museum on Victory Drive are the principal reminders of the Civil War.

Replica of the Red Jacket and beer bearing its name (Picket photo)
Cannon Brew Pub, one of many restaurant and retails establishments on Broadway in downtown Columbus, sports a replica of the Red Jacket cannon out front.

The restaurant (above), which opened in the mid-1990s, serves several brews, including Red Jacket Ale, which features “the rich taste of extra malt and hops.”

You can sample that along with the Red Jacket Monte Cristo sandwich. The cannon is fired for the start of road races and other special events, managers say. The business has numerous other artifacts and references to the Civil War.

Jacket makes a statement: 'It's quite striking'

Photos Courtesy of the Columbus Museum
A few miles inland along Wynnton Road, at the Columbus Museum, is the only known surviving jacket from the militia unit. Made from wool and featuring a cotton lining, the garment was worn by Watkins Banks, one of seven local brothers who fought for the Confederacy and one of three to die.

The Columbus Guards formed in 1835 and served in several conflicts, most notably the Civil War. It was considered among the best-drilled militia units in the South and was an integral part of upper-class society.

The museum’s website says this: “Banks wore this jacket at Davis’ inauguration in Montgomery, Alabama, and also during the Guards’ departure from Columbus to join the Confederate army.

Banks identified his jacket by writing ‘Wat. Banks’ and ‘1861’ on the coat’s interior lining, notations which are still clearly visible.

Six original buttons remain, the rest were likely cut as mementos for the family after he was killed near Atlanta in 1864. New buttons were cast. The buttons bear the initials “CG” and an eagle.

Button from Watkins Banks' jacket
The garment is featured in an exhibit about this Chattahoochee Valley city’s history.

“It’s quite striking in the gallery, where it rotates with Confederate Col. Peyton Colquitt’s gray coat,” said Rebecca Bush, curator of history and exhibitions manager at the museum.

Inevitably, some people are happy to see whichever jacket is currently on view, while others are disappointed that the other jacket is resting to give it a break from potential light damage,” she said. “In a way, it’s a nice problem for the museum to have.”

According to one history, Banks and about 135 others joined Company G of the 2nd Georgia Volunteer Infantry when the war broke out. The unit wore the jacket for a few months before receiving their new issue of gray. The regiment, which served in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, had its most famous moment at Antietam, where it held the heights above Burnside’s Bridge with the 20th Georgia.

Banks’ great-great-great nephew, John Sheftall, who lives in the old family home in Columbus, says Banks fought in Virginia, returned home and at some point joined Nelson’s Rangers with a brother. He was the son of John and Sarah Banks, who lived with their large family in a home called The Cedars in the Wynnton area.

Watkins Banks (left) and cousin Willis Butt (Courtesy of Columbus Museum/John M. Sheftall)
In 1863, Watkins Banks paid for a substitute, lived in Columbus and then returned to service during the Atlanta Campaign. The private was killed in August 1864 outside Atlanta. The bachelor’s obituary states the 31-year-old was then serving with Georgia State Troops, Sheftall told the Picket.

These Red Jackets try to sting sports foes

The town’s Civil War history also is represented at another site a few miles from downtown.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Jordan Vocational High School, a fixture in a middle-class Columbus neighborhood, displayed two cannon that came from the CSS Jackson.

They were moved to the old Confederate Naval Museum in the 1960s, said Jeffrey Seymour, director of history and collections at the National Civil War Naval Museum on Victory Drive.

Courtesy of the National Civil War Naval Museum
These are the two VII in. Brooke Rifles that we have,” he said. “One of these is the one that we fire (above). The other is sitting out in front of the building. Both were recovered from the river.”

“There is a belief held by many Jordan people that the Red Jacket was named for the iron guns overheating. Not sure where that story came from,” said Seymour, adding that the small gun was associated with the Columbus Guards, not the Confederate navy.

Jordan HS has used the Red Jackets name and logo for years (Picket photos)

A page on the school’s website says Red Jacket was placed outside of the old city library and the Muscogee County Courthouse, where it remained many years before the 1930 caper. Another Civil War weapon, a brass cannon made in Columbus and dubbed the Ladies Defender, also was placed at the courthouse after the war. Today, the Ladies Defender is in the same room as the Iron Works as Red Jacket.

Jordan’s sports teams, along with the marching band, still feature the Red Jackets name and wear maroon and white uniforms. The school’s alma mater appears to capture the spirit of the little cannon and the Columbus Guards.

With the Carmine and
the Grey afloating,
On high JVHS.
Your name and fame we’re shouting
As we cheer you to success.
As you march unfaltering forward,,
your future great we hail.
May your glory never lessen
And your courage never fail.

Courtesy of Columbus Georgia Convention & Trade Center)

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Atlanta on the move: A stone railroad marker that survived the Civil War got a new home while a replica was put in place

Replica Zero Mile Post and interpretive signs in downtown Atlanta (Picket photo)
On Nov. 14, 1864, the eve of the beginning of the March to the Sea, brevet Lt. Col. Orlando Poe, chief engineer of the Military Division of the Mississippi, supervised demolition of the main passenger depot in downtown Atlanta.

Lt. Col. Poe
Poe’s troops used a battering ram to knock out the support columns of the “car shed,” a cooperative venture of the four railroads that served the Georgia city and the Confederacy. The station had been a fixture for about 10 years.

The loss of the structure was just one of many blows to the city when Union Gen. William T. Sherman ordered the destruction of buildings and supplies that could possibly help the Southern cause after his men left town on their campaign to bring the Civil War to civilians.

Not far from the northeast corner of the shed stood a stubby granite post that is associated with the birth of the city. Since 1850, the so-called Zero Mile Post marked the southeastern terminus of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, one of several rail companies vital to the growth of a young Atlanta.

In addition to the car shed, a succeeding depot is long gone. And Zero Mile Post departed in 2018 for a new home at the Atlanta History Center, several miles to the north.

A replica post (right), interpretive panel and revamped metal sign were put in place earlier this year.

The Georgia Building Authority decided to move Zero Mile Post because a building in which it was enclosed needed to be torn down for a viaduct improvement project.

The relocation idea was opposed by the Atlanta City Council and preservation and civic groups, which argued that the landmark should stay put. They complained about the move’s secrecy.

George Barnard's view of the car shed in 1864 (Library of Congress)
The view today (Picket photo)
The history center and the Georgia Building Authority said the relocation would protect the post and improve its accessibility to the public. The authority feared motorists or pedestrians might damage the post because it would be exposed after the building was razed, officials said.

The Georgia Battlefields Association called the debate a “different sort of preservation issue,” given you could see both sides of the argument – while the post’s significance was due to its location, how to protect it once it was out in the open?

Sherman's men destroy track; car shed rubble at right (Library of Congress)
“The mile post had not been routinely accessible in several years since it was in a closed state government building,” the preservation group said in a newsletter this month. “The explanatory historical marker had been in the hard to access basement of a nearby state government building.”

Now, those curious about Zero Mile Post, the Civil War and the city’s rich railroad history can go to two locations, in a scenario that might appear to be a compromise.

(Georgia Battlefields Association)
The original marker (right) is in a gallery at the Atlanta History Center, next to the restored locomotive Texas, famous for its part in the Great Locomotive Chase.

The replica milepost is accessible under the Central Avenue Bridge near its intersection with Wall Street.

The interpretive panel and an updated Georgia Historical Society marker detail the landmark’s significance. Sunlight filters into the dark and dank parking street and parking area where the replica marker juts out from a bed of gravel. (Click here for text of GHS sign)

The building that surrounded the post for three decades was torn down. It had been used as a tourist trolley and police station.

Markers like Zero Mile Post informed train crews where they were along a route. One side of this marker is engraved with "W&A RR OO" – the W & A indicating the Western & Atlantic Railroad and the double-zero designating the beginning of the rail line.

The other side of the marker is engraved “W&A RR 138.” That indicates the 138 miles from downtown Atlanta to the W&A’s endpoint in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The original 800-pound marker measures 7 feet 5 inches, and weighs approximately 800 pounds. That is how the Atlanta History Center displays it, as opposed to 42 inches exposed in its old location.

Mile post before it was enclosed (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Wartime sites, including car shed (Georgia Battlefields Assn.)
Jackson McQuigg, vice president of properties for the Atlanta History Center, said the Georgia Building Authority asked the center to remove the original post.

It's worth noting that the replica is on the exact spot of the original. GBA surveyors used GPS to locate the original site (where) the old marker was installed; they came back when we installed the replica."

Building that housed Zero Mile Stone has been demolished (Picket photo)

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Sons of Union Veterans honoring man for restoring Mass. graves

Gordon Shepard is being recognized by a national Civil War descendants’ organization for his restoration of Union graves. Shepard, a U.S. Army veteran, completed a restoration project on the Civil War section of Riverside Cemetery in Saugus, Mass., in April. The plaques in the Civil War section were mismatched. Some were taller than others and almost all of them differed in style and font. Shepard found one that was legible and used a combination of the different styles, and used the stone as a model when he recreated the markers. Shepard found an old picture of the monument and learned that two small ledges once held stacks of cannonballs. He reached out to another veteran volunteer, Nick Milo, who helped him replace them with stacks of granite balls. • Article

Saturday, August 24, 2019

He kept a compelling diary during the Civil War. Now the final resting place of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, who died at just 17, gets a little TLC

LeRoy Gresham; mapping of family plot (Library of Congress, Mark Newell)

Efforts to restore and clean graves at Rose Hill Cemetery – which holds the remains of slaves, three members of the Allman Brothers Band and thousands of Macon, Ga., residents – recently focused on the family plot of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, the teen boy who penned a diary that vividly captured life on the home front during the Civil War.

A small group of enthusiasts recently gave a public demonstration on proper headstone cleaning techniques at the plot, where LeRoy, his parents, two siblings and other relatives are buried.  LeRoy died  in June 1865 at just age 17.

Gresham’s diary first came to light in a 2012 Washington Post article that detailed the invalid youth’s take on the fortunes of the Confederacy. “It is a chronicle -- in neat, legible handwriting -- of the excitement of the war’s early months, the seeming endlessness of the conflict and the approach of the dreaded Yankees as they steamroll through Georgia,” the article stated.

Edmund's headstone was toppled broken
The Gresham family plot; LeRoy's grave is in center (Courtesy of Mark Newell)

The diarist’s story gained new fame in 2018 with the publication of “The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865.”

Jan Croon drew on digitized copies of the diary in the collection of the Library of Congress. She spent a year conducting genealogical and property research while transcribing the diary.

LeRoy, son of John Jones Gresham and Mary Gresham, came from a prominent family. His father was an attorney, textile company founder and slave owner and served two terms as the city's mayor in the 1840s. The 1842 Inn, a Greek Revival structure that offers rooms and hosts special occasions, was built by John Gresham in 1842.

“Every time I go to Macon I have to go (to Rose Hill) and see the Greshams,” Croon told the Picket. “I have developed a huge emotional attachment to this family.”

Joey Fernandez and Odessa Walker of the Rose Hill Cemetery 1840 Facebook group led the Aug. 10 gathering on an typical hot and humid middle Georgia day.

Part of the day focused on the beginning of repairs to the broken headstone (likely from vandalism) of infant Edmund Gresham who died of pneumonia in 1846 before LeRoy was born.

Most of the other graves are in decent shape, though LeRoy’s headstone needs to be straightened.

“They needed some care. The stones had a few chips, LeRoy’s stone had a wasp’s nest growing in part of it, and dirt and things accumulate over time,” said Croon, who did not attend the event.

Among the volunteers at the public day was archaeologist Dr. Mark Newell, who said about two dozen people and a mapping service that surveyed the plot attended. 

Volunteers assisted with the cleaning of headstones.

“No unmarked burials were found at all,” said Newell, adding evidence of wooden coffins for the parents and LeRoy was recorded.

“The key thing about LeRoy’s diary is our first intimate look at the day-to-day lives of a wealthy plantation family.”

Joey Fernandez leads work day (Courtesy of Mark Newell)

The boy detailed daily life, what the family ate, the weather and what he gleaned from newspapers. “You don’t get that from the ground or archival records,” said Newell. “This is America’s Downton Abbey, when you look at the family and its wealth, and the impact of the Civil War.”

Croon has spoken to numerous groups since her book came out. She is working on a school curriculum guide and edited a young adult version of the diary.

“I knew I had something different. As the project grew, it had many more layers to it than we originally thought. It became more significant as it went. It was the only diary written by a young man who did not fight in the war who describes it in such detail. He writes almost every day. You get a sense of a community in the South that goes through a lot of change.”

Top and bottom of headstone (Courtesy of Jan Croon)

There’s been a longtime mystery regarding LeRoy’s illness. He was crippled in 1856 when a chimney collapsed and crushed his left leg. He developed other medical problems and died shortly after war’s end, from the effects of spinal tuberculosis, Croon said.

The 2012 Post article detailed some of the boy’s thoughts during the conflict. Near the end of 1862, LeRoy wrote:

“I close this record with the earnest hope that ere another Christmas is gone we may have peace and prosperity, and . . . the crisis of my disease may have passed and I may at least be released from constant confinement to a horizontal position.”

Fears that Union Maj. William Sherman might take Macon (he did not) brought this July 1864 entry:

“I went upon the top of the house but could only see the smoke. Every man in town is under arms. . . . We sit anxiously waiting for news, too excited to read or do anything but think of Father . . . and listen to the booming of the cannon. . . . A thousand wild rumors are afloat.”

Croon at book signing at Macon's Cannonball House (Courtesy of Jan Croon)

Sadly, the boy did not grow to adulthood. Worn down by illness, he succumbed less than two months after Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

While the work day brought an opportunity to spotlight the lives and deaths of the Greshams, there are many more graves at Rose Hill needing attention.

“I hope there is more awareness of not only the Greshams but the history located in all cemeteries,” said Croon.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Kansas gravestones linked to Quantrill raid to be relocated

A Civil War-era gravestone linked to the infamous Quantrill’s Raid has been discovered in a Kansas forest. FOX4 News reports that Chad Gustin and his two elementary-school-aged children discovered two large headstones on land they own overlooking the Kansas River in Lecompton, Douglas County. Historians believe that one of the two gravestones belongs to a man killed in Quantrill’s Raid, a bloody attack on the nearby town of Lawrence during the Civil War. • Article

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Walk on the beach in North Carolina yields exposed artillery round

Kerry and Patti Belanger's walk on the beach ended with a knock on the door from the bomb squad. The couple set out on a hunt for seashells on Kure Beach near Wilmington, N.C., and soon discovered a live Civil War-era munition. The bomb squad showed up, and the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office determined the mystery munition was a Union Army Parrott round from the Civil War. Bomb squad deputies removed and discharged the shell. The couple got the pieces back.  • Article

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

"It saved instant death": Bible struck by bullet during 1864 fighting is on display at Monocacy battlefield in Maryland

(Tracy Evans, Monocacy National Battlefield)
(Courtesy of Perry Adams Antiques)

A Confederate-issued Bible is on display at Monocacy National Battlefield in Maryland, where visitors can learn about the bullet that passed through it and wounded a Virginia soldier.

Pvt. Thomas Cox, a member of the Red House Volunteers, Company A, 21st Virginia Infantry, was captured after on July 9, 1864, at the battlefield near Frederick, Md. He was fighting near the Thomas farm when he was wounded.

The 33-year-old farmer from Carroll County died on Aug. 15 at a Baltimore hospital. 

Tracy Evans, curator and park ranger at Monocacy, said this is the first time the Bible has formally been on display. The exhibit was opened in May and the volume is expected to be out for a few more months.

The small Bible is closed, but visitors can see a photograph of it when opened and read some messages that were written on its pages.

“It’s not completely falling apart but to display it open could potentially cause it to,” said Evans. “If we turn it to a certain page the binding is fragile and you don’t want to tear loose the binding.”

Bible includes handwritten notations (Courtesy of Perry Adams Antiques)

The Bible is remarkable in its own way. There’s a gaping hole in the center of the book left by the bullet. “We are thinking it must have gone in sideways,” Evans previously told the Picket, adding that is perhaps the reason Cox was not killed outright.

Cox asked a fellow prisoner at the squalid West Building’s Hospital in Baltimore to inscribe a message in his battered Bible.

“The ball that struck this book entered my left brest (sic) and came out of right – it saved instant death & will be the means of saving my soul. Thomas Cox,” reads the penciled writing on the margins of a few pages. On succeeding pages is written: “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.”

(Monocacy National Battlefield)
In 2015, the park purchased the New Testament for $12,500 from brokers Perry Adams Antiques in Petersburg, Va. Attempts to find a Cox descendant have been unsuccessful, Evans told the Picket.

The park said the Bible is among the few items in its collection to have known Confederate provenance.

Cox said a conservationist examined the Bible and said it was best to keep it as is.

“It is a unique item,” she said. “I think people are interested in it because it has entries in it.”

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Recovered Enfield rifle stocks are holding up well, but crate and protective metal lining are showing more signs of deterioration

Enfield rifles are surrounded by a metal lining (Sweetwater Creek State Park)

A crate of 20 British-made Enfield rifles that never made it into the hands of Confederate soldiers has remained in water ever since it was pulled from the wreckage of the blockade runner CSS Stono in the late 1980s.

For the last six years, the weapons have been on display in a 300-gallon aquarium at Sweetwater Creek State Park west of Atlanta. Every six months or so, technicians with the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources clean the tank and check on the status of the artifacts.

“The rifles themselves are in great shape, as far as the wood goes. That’s kind of a mystery,” said Josh Headlee, a curator and historic preservation specialist.

The remnants of the wooden crate and metal lining have not fared so well.

While the rifle stocks are walnut, the crate is likely pine, a softer wood, said Headlee. And the metal lining, made of an alloy, appears to be waterlogged.

The tank was recently cleaned (Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources)

“The metal is taking on properties of cloth, becoming really soft,” he said. The rifles are bulging that metal outward.

Headlee and another specialist recently cleared the tank algae and loose reddish sediment. “I run my hand over (the rifles) and that removes the stubborn algae.”

Pending conservation of the artifacts, technicians have worked over the past several years to remove damaging salt (chloride).

“We are actually right at tap water,” said Headlee. “We feel most of the salts have already leached out.”

The CSS Stono, laden with precious arms, munitions and goods from Europe, in 1863 ran aground on a submerged sandbar off Fort Moultrie while trying to evade Federal ships.

Wooden crate (front) has softened over the years (Sweetwater Creek State Park)

“It looks like this crate had fallen off a stack and one end had busted completely out,” said Headlee. “A couple of the rifles were damaged. Because the crate was damaged all the sediment had washed in it and basically turned to concrete.”

After Georgia acquired the guns from South Carolina, technicians chipped off the encrusted material.

Other crates containing the highly prized Pattern 53 rifles are still lying in Charleston Harbor.

At least one of the weapons bears the mark, “T. Turner,” a reference to well-known English gunmaker Thomas Turner, who turned out quality weapons in the mid-19th century.

The iron rifle barrels, locks and bayonets in the crate are heavily deteriorated from saltwater corrosion. Brass components, including butt plates, trigger guards and the nose cap at the end of the barrels, better withstood the ravages of longtime submersion. Researchers also found a bullet mold, tools and tampions, or cork and brass plugs inserted into the muzzle to ward off moisture. Those items are not in the aquarium.

The metal lining sealed the cargo from salt air and ensured the rifles were not tampered with. Inside, the rifles were placed in an alternating butt to muzzle pattern. Wooden blocks were used to prevent the weapons from shifting.

The artifacts have been in a “holding pattern” until money is secured for conservation.

The 3,000-gallon tank after recent cleaning (Sweetwater Creek State Park)

In the short term, Headlee may look at a fungicide as a way to cut down on algae.

“I would love something more done with them,” he says of the rifles, crate and lining.

Officials are looking into a possible heritage grant to do extensive conservation that will take the artifacts out of the water. For now, the items remain in a protective water environment. 

But even that can’t prevent degradation.

“We are doing everything we can do to slow it down,” said Headlee. “I am noticing it is picking up.”

Monday, July 1, 2019

Cleveland to mark monument anniversary with added names

A ceremony marking the 125th anniversary of a Civil War monument in Cleveland is set for Thursday. The Cuyahoga County Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument honoring the county’s citizens who fought and worked for the Union was dedicated July 4, 1894. The anniversary celebration is set for noon on Public Square. • Article

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Treasures from the CSS Georgia: Conserved artifacts from vessel are carefully stored, awaiting their moment in a museum's spotlight

Shanna Daniel examines cannon (U.S. Navy: Spc. 2nd Class Mutis A. Capizzi)
CSS Georgia ammunition fuzes (US Navy photo)

More than 4,000 artifacts from the ironclad CSS Georgia that have undergone conservation are at the Washington Navy Yard, where officials are cataloging and storing them in hopes that an institution will eventually come forward with a exhibit plan.

The items -- which run the gamut from ammunition and machinery to an artillery piece and propeller -- rest in crates, wooden boxes and other containers.

Many are put in archival bags and are covered with foam and padding, said Shanna Daniel, a conservator with the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch.

The first shipment from Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory in College Station arrived in Washington earlier this year and another was recently received.

Propeller is pulled from Savannah River (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Savannah)

Daniel and others ensure that the artifacts are kept in relative humidity between 40 percent and 50 percent and that rooms have a constant temperature of between 65 and 70 degrees. Humidifiers and dehumidifiers help keep conditions stable.

While items would normally go in cabinets, where they can be seen, the boxes will soon be moved to another facility as the warehouse is renovated.

The CSS Georgia was a floating battery on the Savannah River that kept any Union marauders away during the Civil War.

The scattered remains of the scuttled Confederate ship was moved by the US Army Corps of Engineers as part of a massive harbor-deepening project in Savannah. The contemporary salvaging of the ironclad began with the symbolic raising of a piece of casemate -- protective armor made up of railroad track iron -- in November 2013.

Since then, at least 14,000 artifacts were sent to Texas for conservation, which for several items will last many more years.

Daniel shows a brass elevation sight (U.S. Navy photo)

A unique aspect of the CSS Georgia was its armor: Builders in Savannah -- limited by resources and technology – used sections of railroad track for the casemate and other protective features. Some of those railroad pieces are now in storage at the Navy Yard.

“One archaeologist said there were seven types used to put this ship together. It was ingenious to come up with these resources to do that,” Daniel recently told the Picket.

The conservator said that story and those about other artifacts could be educational for a variety of audiences.

The US Navy -- which owns the vessel – has encouraged museums “to obtain a vision” on how they might display artifacts and tell the CSS Georgia’s story. Several institutions visited the salvage site in 2017, but there has been no recent contact from any, Daniel says.

Artifacts in shipping crates (U.S. Navy: Spc. 2nd Class Mutis A. Capizzi)

That’s not a rare situation, she said. The museums may be waiting for more of the artifacts – especially the larger cannon – to complete conservation. And institutions must comply with regulations regarding federally owned and administered archaeological collections and come up with a good bit of money for such an exhibit.

The Picket has reached out to the Army Corps’ office in Savannah for more information on the status and timetable of artifact conservation.