Saturday, July 4, 2020

Lee items, a bullet, horse hair and more were in a time capsule opened after Confederate monument moved in Raleigh

In May 1894, a metal time capsule stuffed with Confederate mementos and artifacts was placed beneath the cornerstone of a Confederate monument being erected in Raleigh.

Inside was a button said to from a dress coat belonging to Gen. Robert E. Lee, a lock of his hair and a strand plucked from the tail of his famous horse Traveler. Among newspapers, money and souvenirs was the bullet that killed the horse of Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew, the North Carolinian officer who was severely wounded near Richmond in 1862 while riding the steed.

Some 125 years later, the Confederate Soldiers Monument no longer stands on Capitol grounds. It was recently moved by order of Gov. Roy Cooper. 

A wooden box held items placed in time capsule
The time capsule was opened Thursday, yielding a sodden mess of items that conservators used water and tweezers to separate and discern. Buttons were rusted and everything was covered by muck.

The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources provided a video and photographs of the opening of the dented metal box in a laboratory.

Rusted buttons found in capsule (NC Department of Natural & Cultural Resources)
“Because the metal box containing the items had rusted through in places, the items contained in the time capsule were severely damaged by the elements,” the department said.

“Items recovered so far include a wooden box, a stone thought to be from Gettysburg, two buttons attached to a piece of textile and a strand of what appears to be horse hair. Preservation work on these items and the metal box itself has begun.”

According to the News & Observer, the capsule was found Monday when workers were dismantling the base of the monument.

Metal capsule shortly before it was opened July 2
Cooper cited public safety in issuing his June 20 removal order, hours after protesters toppled bronze statues of soldiers from the base one of three Confederate monuments on Capitol grounds, the newspaper reported. All three monuments were removed.

Among other items said to be placed in the time capsule were a Bible found at Appomattox and a letter written by a North Carolina soldier shortly before he was mortally wounded.

The Picket reached out Friday to state officials for more details. We will update this item once we hear back from them after the holiday.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Removed Raleigh cannons are now perched at Fort Fisher

Two Civil War cannons that flanked a Confederate monument on the Union Square grounds in Raleigh, NC, since 1902 now have a new home at Fort Fisher, according to the Wilmington Star. The naval cannons, which were removed with the 1895 monument on the orders of Gov. Roy Cooper last week after they were vandalized, were delivered to the Fort Fisher State Historic Site on Sunday. • Article

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

For Juneteenth, the story of African American Civil War troops and an amazing flag are featured on Atlanta museum's interactive page

127th USCT flag and interactive page (Courtesy of Morphy Auctions/Atlanta History Center)
A prize artifact acquired last year by the Atlanta History Center captures the essence of why 180,000 African Americans volunteered in the Union army during the Civil War.

“We Will Prove Ourselves Men” reads the motto on the striking flag that belonged to the 127th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, which was formed in Pennsylvania of free men and some who had escaped bondage. That they were determined to prove themselves no doubt showed equality for all Americans -- while etched in the Declaration of Independence -- was far from a reality for millions.

An account of the flag's history and the regiment are featured in an interactive presentation the history center is promoting as part of its annual commemoration of Juneteenth. The June 19 holiday marks the day an Army general rode into Galveston, Texas, and told blacks of their emancipation – that slavery had ended in the United States.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Juneteenth is being remembered at the AHC this year through a virtual experience.

Calfskin knapsack of Pvt. Ezra Brooks,
8th USCT (Atlanta History Center)
The interactive map spotlights five engagements that involved African American units: Olustee (Florida), Fort Pillow (Tennessee), Fort Wagner (South Carolina), the Crater (Virginia) and the fall of Richmond and Appomattox (Virginia).

Viewers can toggle to a page for each. They include photographs, text, audio, newspaper accounts, links to related content and photographs of USCT artifacts in the museum’s collection.

USCT units -- which helped turn the tide in several campaigns and battles -- were led by white officers and it took time for soldiers to receive pay equal to their white counterparts.

They had limited opportunities and faced racism within the Union army. Some freed men captured by Confederate units were sold into slavery and in some instances, such as at Fort Pillow, black troops were victims of racially motivated atrocities, although some dispute such accounts.

Gordon Jones, senior military curator and historian, speaks in several audio clips, including one on how well the 8th USCT performed at Olustee, which ended in a Confederate victory in February 1864.

In another, Jones talks about the challenge of finding USCT artifacts. Several rare items are in the AHC collection.

African American soldiers constituted only about 10 percent of the Federal army in 1865 and unless a soldier wrote his name on an item or it was handed down, it’s difficult to know who wore it. “That’s why we say provenance is everything,” says Jones.

David B. Bowser
The 127th USCT flag speaks to such rarity. Of the 11 such flags David B. Bowser painted for black units, the 127th banner is the only known to survive. It depicts a soldier waving farewell to Columbia, a symbol of the United States, with the words “We Will Prove Ourselves Men.”

“And that’s what the soldiers of the US Colored Troops were fighting -- not to just gain freedom, not just to prove themselves worthy of US citizenship. But for the rights of basic human dignity,” Jones says of the motto. 

The 127th was organized in late summer 1864 and took part in siege operations against Richmond and Petersburg until the end of the Civil War. Part of the Army of the James, it participated in one battle and several other actions. The regiment was at Appomattox for the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Medal of Honor for Capt. Albert Wright,
43rd USCT, valor at the Crater. (Courtesy AHC)
In a separate page on the AHC website, Jones speaks more about the importance of the unit’s silk flag, and how little students knew about the service of African Americans in the military until the 1960s. The AHC spent nearly $200,000 to purchase the flag from an auction house.

Howard Pousner, manager of media relations for the AHC, told the Picket the flag was displayed for several weeks in the atrium when it was purchased and is currently included in the exhibit "Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow," which has been extended through February 2021.

The restored banner likely cannot be exhibited year round due to its fragile nature and concerns over light exposure, officials have said.

Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia mark June 19 as a state holiday or observance, according to CNNCommunities celebrate it with food and festivities. Despite a push by activists over the years, Juneteenth still isn't a federal holiday.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Arson investigation continues as National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Ga., details what was lost, survived

Drone view of destroyed pole barn  (Columbus Fire and EMS)
Investigators are pursuing leads in a suspected arson fire that damaged rare artifacts and destroyed modern vessels in a storage area at the National Civil War Naval Museum.

Sgt. Charles Collins with the fire department in Columbus, Ga., said a reward of up to $10,000 is being offered in the June 1 fire at an open-air pole barn behind the museum. Agents from federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have been on site, officials said.

Collins told the Picket this week that the case is receiving special attention because of its apparent targeting of historic pieces.

Museum officials said there is a silver lining in the devastating blaze, which followed a smaller arson attempt two days before. “While the fire was a total loss as far as anything wood goes, all the iron is still very much intact,” said museum executive director Holly Wait.

Among the items in the open air but padlocked area is the locally made ironclad CSS Jackson’s fantail.

Fantail of the CSS Jackson before fire (Picket photo)
The fantail was the precisely built curved rear deck of the Confederate warship, which was never fully operational. The section of armor and wood protected the vessel’s propellers and rudder and is a remarkable example of design and construction prowess. 

“The wood to the fantail was burned, but we don't yet know how deep the burn went since the wood was layered. Everything ‘on top’ (or the actual underside) is ashes,” Wait wrote in an email.

The engines of the Confederate gunboat Chattahoochee, the iron plates from the Jackson’s armor and the iron plating to the fantail survived, though they were exposed to the thermal heat.

“The Virginia was a complete loss,” continued Wait. “That ship was a supposed blockade runner donated to the museum many years ago. There was no money in our budget to do any conservation on the ship and we had no real documentation as regards in provenance.”

Jeff Seymour of museum staff with stored items in 2019 (Picket photo)
Also lost were a launch, two john boats, an old pontoon and two reproduction Fiberglass ships that the museum was taking apart.

Remains of the Jackson and Chattahoochee are the star exhibits of the museum and are inside the main building. Both were lost in April 1865 at war’s end -- the Jackson set afire by Federal captors and the Chattahoochee scuttled by its own crew. Neither vessel fired upon the enemy in their relatively short history. They were recovered from the Chattahoochee River in the 1960s.

“The big conservation project to restore the engines and fantail will continue,” said Wait.

Collins, with the fire department, said he could not provide more details on the fire and investigation. The pole barn for years has been surrounded by a padlocked fence.

Fire investigator Charles Collins can be reached at  or 706-225-4216. The hotline for Georgia Arson Control, which is offering the reward, is 1-800-282-5804.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

They want to display this crate of Enfield rifles out of the water. But safeguarding the wood involves a lot of research, care.

The CSS Stono rifles (Photos by Don Scarbrough, interpretive range at SCSP)
Historic preservation specialists in Georgia are researching various ways to treat a wooden crate and 20 Enfield rifles that have been kept in an aquarium, where filtered freshwater continues to draw out salt and other contaminants.

The crate carried by the blockade runner CSS Stono has been on display for seven years at Sweetwater Creek State Park in Douglas County, west of Atlanta. The British-made Enfield was the second-most widely used infantry weapon in the Civil War after the Springfield.

The aim is to eventually display the weapons out of water, said Josh Headlee, curator and historic preservation specialist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The crate when it appeared briefly uncovered by water in January
“Essentially, we are testing or working with some products that we’ve never used before. So before we try them on something as important as the rifle crate we test it on an inconspicuous piece of waterlogged wood to see how well it does,” he wrote in a recent email.

“This is something that most museum professionals or conservators are familiar with – before you use a product on an important artifact you test it on a “non-important” item or in a well-hidden spot on the artifact before you use it on the entire item.”

The products are designed to displace water in the wood with preservatives that help to solidify the wood so it can be permanently exposed to the air. “We just want to make sure that what we do isn’t going to harm the rifles in any way," said Headlee.

The visitor center is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic
The CSS Stono, laden with precious arms, munitions and goods from Europe, in 1863 ran aground on a submerged sandbar off Fort Moultrie in Charleston (S.C.) Harbor while trying to evade Federal ships. The rifles remained in the water for more than a century.

An archaeological diver pulled up the crate from the South Carolina shipwreck in the late 1980s. Officials did not initially know how many of the highly-prized Pattern 53 rifles were inside, their position or condition. Each weapon originally weighed about 9 pounds and was approximately 53 inches long. The bore is .577-caliber.

Every six months or so, technicians travel to Sweetwater Creek to examine the cache and clean the tank. Last year, Headlee said the remains of the walnut rifle stocks were in good shape, while the crate itself and a metal lining that protected the rifles have not fared so well. The crate is likely made of pine, a softer wood. And the metal lining, made of an alloy, appears to be waterlogged. The iron rifle barrels, locks and bayonets deteriorated because of years of saltwater corrosion.

In January, technicians drained the 3,000-gallon tank and again cleaned the crate and installed a new filter.

A closeup view of the rifle stock remnants (Don Scarbrough)
“We were having a little bit of algae/fungus problem … and it was clouding the water and ruining our filters and pumps,” said Headlee. “This new pump has a UV light unit in it that the water travels through that is supposed to help control the algae growth.  We’ve also added a mild fungicide to the water to help keep everything clear.”

“It pretty much cleared up right away,” Sweetwater interpretive ranger Don Scarbrough said of the tank’s appearance following the work in January.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Sweetwater visitor center housing the aquarium has been closed since mid-March.

The park staff recently resumed tours of the ruins of the New Manchester textile mill, which operated during the Civil War, Scarbrough said.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Irene Triplett, the last person to receive a Civil War pension, dies at 90 in North Carolina. Her father, Mose, was 83 when Irene was born.

Irene Triplett (Courtesy of Dennis St. Andrew)
For the past five years, Dennis St. Andrew and his wife Denise visited Irene Triplett at a North Carolina nursing home, bringing flowers and gifts to someone they called a “real daughter” -- a first-generation child of a Civil War Union veteran.

Triplett was one of only a few surviving children of a Civil War soldier (her father was 83 when she was born in 1930) and the last person to receive a pension for a veteran’s service in the conflict. That soldier, Pvt. Mose Triplett, first fought for the Confederacy before switching sides in the middle of the war.

On Sunday, Triplett died in Wilkesboro, the nursing home and an area funeral home confirmed to the Picket. The Wall Street Journal, which was first to write about her death, said Triplett died at age 90 following a fall.

St. Andrew, a past commander of the North Carolina branch of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, told the Picket that Triplett didn’t remember much about her father, not a surprise given the age difference and the passage of time since he died in 1938.

According to the newspaper and other reports, Irene Triplett received $73.13 a month because her father was in the Union army and her mental impairments qualified her as a helpless adult child of a veteran.

The Picket has reached out to the Department of Veteran Affairs for comment.

The grave of Irene's father. (Courtesy of Dennis St. Andrew)
Mose Triplett initially served with the 53rd North Carolina Infantry Regiment and transferred to the 26th North Carolina. He went missing from a hospital after becoming ill before the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. The 26th suffered high casualties at Gettysburg.

In 1864, the deserter joined the Federal 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry, or Kirk’s Raiders, in Tennessee.

"After the war, former Kirk’s Raiders were despised in areas of the former Confederacy,” the Wall Street Journal said. “Pvt. Triplett, by then a civilian with a reputation for orneriness, kept pet rattlesnakes at his home near Elk Creek, N.C. He often sat on his front porch with a pistol on his lap.

Triplett's first wife, Mary, died in 1923 and the veteran married Elida the following year. She was 34 when she gave birth to Irene. In her later years, according to reports, the daughter lived in various nursing homes.

Mose Triplett died at age 92 in 1938, shortly after attending a reunion at Gettysburg. His pension was extended to his wife and then Irene, one of two siblings to live to adulthood.

(Courtesy of Dennis St. Andrew)

Members of the SUVCW will remember Irene Triplett by attaching a black mourning ribbon to their membership badges. 

Monday, June 1, 2020

Rare ironclad fantail and engines of another vessel were in shed ravaged by fire at National Civil War Naval Museum in Ga.

Inverted fantail of the CSS Jackson in early 2019 (Picket photo)
Remnants of pole barn after fire (Columbus Fire and EMS)
(Read June 13 update on investigation)

A suspected arson fire roared through a boat shed where rare components of two Confederate vessels are stored at the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Ga.

Among the items in the pole barn is the ironclad CSS Jackson’s fantail, which the museum has described as “a very unique piece of naval architecture."

“We are reticent to talk about the fire until the investigation concludes and the Navy is formally notified,” museum executive director Holly Wait said in an email Tuesday, a day after the fire. “However, I will say that while the fire was hot, it did not reach the temperature necessary to damage that iron. We will modify our conservation plans and move ahead."

The Picket was trying to ascertain whether the wood in the fantail survived the fire. “We are unable to get close enough yet to the fantail to determine the extent of damage,” Jeff Seymour, the museum’s director of history and collections, said Wednesday. The fantail's iron "appears to be fine."

The museum declined further comment, citing the investigation of the blaze.

Columbus Fire Marshal Ricky Shores told the Picket “the fire is incendiary in nature” and was being investigated. He said there were multiple points of origin.

The call was received shortly after 1 a.m. Monday. A first attempt to burn the open-air storage area occurred Saturday morning.

"I would consider most of the contents of the pole barn a total loss. There were some engine blocks from the old CSS Chattahoochee not really lost, as well as some other miscellaneous metal items from the era not lost," Shores said. "I do know a pontoon boat and another small craft were also lost in the fire."
The museum had hopes to conserve the precisely built curved rear deck of the CSS Jackson. The section of armor and wood, which protected the vessel’s propellers and rudder, is a remarkable example of design and construction prowess. 

They also want to conserve the engines of the Rebel gunboat CSS Chattahoochee, the museum’s other star attraction. 

Both ships were lost in April 1865 at war’s end -- the Jackson set afire by Federal captors and the Chattahoochee scuttled by its own crew. Neither vessel fired upon the enemy in their relatively short history.

CSS Chattahoochee engines in early 2019 (Picket photo)
The Picket was allowed inside the padlocked and fenced shed in early 2019. 

Besides Civil War artifacts, it included modern craft and replica pieces. The Civil War items have long been exposed to the elements and are slowly deteriorating. (Officials in 2018 told the Ledger-Enquirer newspaper they didn’t have the money to bring them inside. The hulls of the two ships have been in the main building for nearly 20 years. There have been plans to raise money for the conservation.)

The remnants of the Jackson’s fantail are inverted. It was fascinating to study up close how it was put together. Near it was a long row of the ironclad’s armor and other pieces of the two Rebel ships.

Images recorded by the Ledger-Enquirer on Monday showed the shed interior was largely burned, though the armor plating largely survived.

In a Facebook post, the museum said no staff members were injured and the main building did not suffer damage. Our staff is still committed to telling the stories of the navies of the Civil War. Please consider making a donation, becoming a member, or visiting our museum. Help protect our ability to continue to tell these important stories.”

Looking SE toward shed and the Chattahoochee River (Columbus Fire and EMS)

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

US Colored Troopers marker is installed at Ohio cemetery

A monument to black soldiers who fought in the Union Army during the Civil War was in place at a western Ohio cemetery for Memorial Day. The United States Colored Troops monument at Ferncliff Cemetery in Springfield bears the names of 139 men interred there. Dedication had been planned for Monday, but it has been postponed because of pandemic safety precautions. • Article

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Flag that was part of Lincoln funeral events is on display in Ohio

There is a new addition to the Ohio Statehouse rotunda in Columbus — a 155-year-old American flag. It is part of a display of Civil War artifacts related to the Abraham Lincoln funeral train. The 36-star flag flew over Capitol Square in April 1865. The flag was then given to David Nevin Murray for his efforts during the Civil War. • Article

Friday, May 15, 2020

At Arlington National Cemetery, an opened 1915 time capsule yields two items tied to the Civil War and national reconciliation

Caitlin Smith, Tim Frank open copper box containing capsule
"Confederate Dead" pamphlet (Arlington National Cemetery)
On Oct. 13, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson made the short journey from the White House to Arlington National Cemetery, where rows of headstones are set on the hills overlooking Washington. Surrounded by thousands of spectators – including veterans of the Civil War and Spanish-American War – Wilson laid the cornerstone for a new Memorial Amphitheater.

A crane lowered the hollow cornerstone to rest above a copper box that contained items those attending hoped Americans would find meaningful when opened a century later.

Among other items, there were maps and plans of Washington, a signed photograph of Wilson, a 46-star US flag, local newspapers, a signed Bible and two artifacts tied to the Civil War: A program for the recent 49th encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic near the U.S. Capitol and a pamphlet, labeled “Confederate Dead,” which detailed burial places for Southern soldiers in the area, including – in recent years – Arlington.

Items in amphitheater lower chapel (Elizabeth Fraser, Arlington National Cemetery)
Last month, the box was opened as part of the centennial of Memorial Amphitheater’s opening on May 15, 1920. The marble structure is used for services and special events, including the president’s annual Memorial Day address.

The cemetery is marking the amphitheater anniversary this week with the launch of an online exhibit. The Washington Post first detailed the opening of the time capsule.

Among those opening the box and examining its near-pristine contents on April 9 was cemetery historian Tim Frank, who described the “once-in-a-lifetime experience” in a cemetery blog post. The capsule included a Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia, and Frank was able to find a listing for an ancestor. 

Frank had the privilege of removing the contents of the box one by one, according to the Post. (Video above includes the examination of the items)

“These items were carefully tied, wrapped and arranged in the inner box, which was soldered shut,” he would later write in the blog. “That box was then surrounded by pieces of plate glass to keep an air gap between it and the larger copper box, ensuring that no condensation would damage the precious documents and mementos inside.”

The “Confederate Dead’ pamphlet’s cover was printed in gray, and featured the Southern battle flag and the words “Charles Broadway Rouss Camp 1101 United Confederate Veterans Washington, DC”

Removal of copper box before its opening (Elizabeth Fraser, ANC)
I was able to find a copy of the 1901 booklet online. Scattered throughout are references to and diagrams of Confederate burials at Arlington. About 400 Rebel soldiers are buried in that section.

The cemetery devotes an online page to the subject. Confederate soldiers were allowed to be reinterred at Arlington 35 years after the war’s end. The article notes the end of the 19th century brought a spirit of national reconciliation, at least for the white population.

In 1898, then-President William McKinley said, “In the spirit of fraternity we should share with you in the care of the graves of Confederate soldiers…. Sectional feeling no longer holds back the love we feel for each other. The old flag again waves over us in peace with new glories.”

President Wilson dedicates amphitheater cornerstone (Library of Congress)
The article points out that the “spirit of fraternity” cited by McKinley did not include African-Americans, who had largely been disenfranchised in the South.

“In 1871, a group of black soldiers had petitioned the War Department to relocate the graves of hundreds of United States Colored Troops (USCT) from the “Lower Cemetery,” where they were buried alongside former slaves and poor whites, to the main cemetery near Arlington House, where white Civil War veterans lay at rest. The War Department denied the petition. Arlington National Cemetery would remain segregated until 1948, when President Harry S. Truman desegregated the armed forces by executive order.”

The second Civil War item found in the capsule – which was moved a couple times since 1915 -- was a program for the Sept. 27-Oct. 2, 1915, meeting of the Grand Army of the Republic in Washington. This gathering of former Union soldiers was marking the 50th anniversary of the end of the conflict.

Tim Frank holds GAR program (Elizabeth Fraser, Arlington National Cemetery)
By then, membership in the organization had dwindled as time and wounds took the lives of tens of thousands. The succeeding Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War describes why veterans sought such fellowship, even into their 70s and 80s.

“Men who had lived together, fought together, foraged together and survived, had developed an unique bond that could not be broken. As time went by the memories of the filthy and vile environment of camp life began to be remembered less harshly and eventually fondly. The horror and gore of battle lifted with the smoke and smell of burnt black powder and was replaced with the personal rain of tears for the departed comrades. Friendships forged in battle survived the separation and the warriors missed the warmth of trusting companionship that had asked only total and absolute commitment.”

(The final encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic was held in Indianapolis in 1949.)

Ceremony at US Capitol during 1915 GAR meeting (Library of Congress)
President Wilson, just two weeks before the laying of the Memorial Amphitheater cornerstone, spoke to the group during its Capitol encampment, citing their reconciliation with former foes.

You feel, as I am sure the men who fought against you feel, that you were comrades even then, though you did not know it, and that now you know that you are comrades in a common love for a country which you are equally eager to serve.”

By their nature, time capsules are meant to provide a snapshot of what was important for those who left them for future generations. Cemetery command historian Steve Carney told the Post that 1915 was a time of nostalgia about the Civil War and Arlington was a symbol of reconciliation between North and South.

“You’re really transporting yourself back,” he told the newspaper. “You’re putting yourself in the mind-set of those individuals in 1915 that were saying, ‘Okay … what do we put in? What makes the cut?’ ”

Arlington National Cemetery plans to install later this year a time capsule to be opened in 100 years. Details on what might be included are not yet available.

David Ferriero, archivist of the US, with contents (Elizabeth Fraser, ANC)

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Gettysburg National Military Park launches virtual tour of battlefield

Not going to Gettysburg National Military Park because of closures, restrictions or health concerns raised by the coronavirus epidemic? Park officials on Wednesday announced the release of a virtual tour that is built around the 16 Auto Tour stops.

“This free virtual tour allows all visitors the opportunity to experience the battlefield, no matter where they are,” the park said in a press release.

Christopher Gwinn, chief of Interpretation and education at the park, leads the immersive program, which includes McPherson Ridge, the Wheatfield and Peach Orchard, the High Water Mark and East Cemetery Hill. The battle was fought at the Pennsylvania town from July 1-3, 1863, and was a major Union victory.

The videos range in length from 2 minutes to nearly 10 minutes long.

The park said the project took nearly four years to complete and it coincided with National Park Week in April. No one could have foreseen the pandemic limiting travel this spring and summer.

“At a time when many of our employees, volunteers, and partners are unable to provide public programming, the park virtual tour is a great opportunity to experience the battlefield with a park ranger,” Superintendent Steven D. Sims said in a statement. “Our education team is also using this virtual tour to help with their ongoing ‘At Home Civil War Lessons’ which provides educators an opportunity to expand their curriculums.”

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Mothballed Civil War tablets could find a new home

Officials in Amherst, Mass., are working on plans to put on public display the marble tablets that commemorate town residents who fought in the Civil War, including African American soldiers who served with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment. The tablets have been in storage for most of the past 20 years after they were removed from Town Hall during a renovation project. • Article

Thursday, May 7, 2020

H.L. Hunley fascination: Social media post about past conservation of bandana found in Civil War submarine quickly goes viral

James A. Wicks' conserved bandana (Photos courtesy of Friends of the Hunley)
The item shortly after recovery and during the conservation process
When it comes to interest in the innovative Civil War submarine H.L. Hunley, items pertaining to its crew are near the top, just behind the ongoing debate over what caused the vessel to be lost in battle

A Friends of the Hunley social media post Wednesday about the conservation of a knotted bandana worn around the neck of crew member James A. Wicks garnered more than 950 shares within 24 hours.

James A. Wicks
The exacting work on the artifact was detailed in the winter 2007 issue of The Blue Light, the newsletter of the Friends group.

“We will at times showcase past work on the project,” Kellen Butler, president and executive director of the nonprofit museum, told the Picket via email.

Since its recovery from the Charleston (S.C.) Harbor in 2000, the Confederate submarine has been undergoing extensive conservation at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston. From time to time, the Friends of the Hunley posts photographs of an item before and after conservation. Such was the case with Wicks' silk bandana.

When what appeared to be nothing more than a blob of mud was found in the Hunley crew compartment during excavation, it was hard to detect is was a fascinating – and beautiful – piece of history,” reads a Facebook post.

Wicks and seven others lost their lives in the Hunley during a mission that made history.

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 became the first submarine to sink an enemy warship.

Conservators several years ago at lab in North Charleston (Friends of the Hunley)
The Hunley, too, was lost, but exactly why remains a mystery. A host of theories -- from pressure emitted by the explosion, suffocation, a "lucky shot," drowning or other factors -- has been debated for decades. The position of the crew found during conservation showed no signs of panic. 

Wicks and the conservation of his fragile garment each have an interesting story.

Mary W. Ballard, a senior textile conservator at the Smithsonian Institution, consulted by phone and traveled to the museum and assisted in the challenging work of bringing the bandana back to life.

“Saving this unique artifact created a challenging question for conservators: how do you dry a fabric that has been waterlogged for over a century? Complicating matters, the bandana was also completely covered with mud and a metallic-like concretion,” reads The Blue Light article.

Conservators first tested dozens of detached small samples with various chemical treatments before deciding how to treat the bandana itself.

Details of the bandana during and after conservation (Friends of the Hunley)
To remove water, they applied a technique called vacuum freeze-drying. The process dries the fabric without applying tension to its fragile fibers.

“We will never know the true color of the bandana since the fabric’s vegetable dye was lost long ago,” the article states. “Still, the completed artifact speaks to the delicate skill of conservation and offers a rare insight into the divided loyalties many may have felt during the Civil War.”

What divided loyalties?

Wicks -- a Southerner by birth -- was in the U.S. Navy at the outbreak of the Civil War. When the USS Congress was crippled by the Confederate warship CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads in March 1862, he switched sides, according to the Friends of the Hunley. 

He was about 45 years old when he died in the Hunley mission.

Given his personal history, it is not surprising Wicks is the only crew member known to be wearing a bandana around his neck, a common practice for enlisted Union sailors during that time,” The Blue Light surmises.

Exhibit at the Hunley museum in North Charleston (Civil War Picket photo)
Wicks served on the CSS Indian Chief before Hunley skipper Lt. George Dixon chose him to be part of the eight-member crew.

The Friends of the Hunley says the father of four girls stood nearly 5 feet 10 inches tall and was a heavy tobacco user. He had blue eyes and brown hair, according to records. His family was living in Florida when war broke out.

Wicks had the Hunley’s sixth crank position and in an emergency, his job was to release the aft keel block, should weight needed to be jettisoned so that the submarine could rise from the ocean floor.

His remains were found associated with seven US Navy buttons, which is consistent with his military service, according to the Friends of the Hunley.