Thursday, September 29, 2022

Breaking news: Devil's Den will reopen Friday after six-month rehabilitation project, Gettysburg park officials say

The landmark in 1909, at the advent of the car era (NPS photo)
Devil’s Den, scene of fierce fighting during the July 1863 battle, will reopen on Friday after a six-month project that tackled erosion and unauthorized trails that created safety hazards, Gettysburg National Military Park announced Thursday.

The project reestablished the features that make up this segment of the battlefield and will allow visitors to better immerse themselves into the historic landscape that is essential to understanding the three-day Battle of Gettysburg,” park said in a social media post.

The work tripled trail access to those with disabilities, increased overall greenspace by trimming some trail space and added features that will help with water runoff. Slip-resistant steps replaced uneven and worn stone steps, officials said.

“Although the area will reopen to visitors, one central area will remain fenced to allow more time for further vegetation growth. The fencing in this area will remain until native grasses have fully established. This process may take up to two growing seasons – up to 2024. In the interim, all non-native vegetation will continue to be treated within the entire project area.

View of Devil's Den from Little Round Top (Wikipedia, Wilson44691)
The reopening comes amid similar work on Little Round Top, which closed to visitors in July. “The rehabilitation of Little Round Top will address overwhelmed parking areas, poor accessibility and related safety hazards, significant erosion, and degraded vegetation,” the park said.

After the park earlier this year announced the Devil's Den closure in a Facebook post, critics and supporters weighed in. One said the need for work at both areas has been known for years and the public will be disappointed that two landmarks would be closed at the same time. Others said people should be grateful the work is happening to perpetuate the memory of those who fought there.

Park spokesman Jason Martz told the Picket in a March email that the timing of the projects was a coincidence, but they are both meant to address problem areas.

Devil’s Den was the scene of fierce fighting on July 2, 1863, during the decisive battle. The boulder-strewn hill was the object of forces under Confederate Lt. James Longstreet. Rebels took the position and engaged in fire with Union troops on Little Round Top.

Volunteers recently assisted the park with clearing vegetation overgrowth at Devil's Den as it neared reopening. Park officials then treated stumps to prevent sprouting.

View of Devil's Den after volunteers cleared vegetation (NPS)

Mathew Brady's photographs captured the reality of the Civil War. A new gravesite memorial celebrates the diversity of his subjects

A partial view of the memorial depicts Brady in foreground (Congressional Cemetery)
A new memorial at his gravesite in Washington, D.C., celebrates pioneering Civil War photographer Mathew B. Brady’s legacy.

Photo historian Larry West spearheaded the effort to honor Brady, who died destitute in 1896 and was buried in Congressional Cemetery. The photographer is remembered for his depictions of famous and everyday Americans, and battlefield scenes that brought the horrors of war to American's doorsteps.

Matthew B. Brady
A dedication on Sept. 17 showcased life-size bronze statues of President Abraham Lincoln and civil rights figure Frederick Douglass – among famous Americans photographed by Brady -- a portrait on stone of Brady, a reproduction metal camera and 85 fired porcelains of images, most by the photographer and his associates.

“The memorial features Mathew, recognizing him as the entrepreneur, innovator, team leader and posing artist that he was,” West wrote the Picket in an email this week. 

While it does not include his famous scenes from the Antietam and Gettysburg battlefields and those of campsites, many of the porcelains depict people who were wartime figures.

Historians this year are marking Brady’s 200th birthday, emphasizing his importance to the field of photojournalism.

“Brady’s photographs of Gettysburg caused a sensation when viewed by members of the public,” says Congressional Cemetery. “Americans were little used to scenes of war that before had only existed in imagination.

“The prior year, in 1862, Brady had shocked the public when he exhibited photographs of dead enemy soldiers, captured by associates Alexander Gardner and James M. Gibson, from the Battle of Antietam.”

Lincoln, Douglass and Anna Murray-Douglas (Congressional Cemetery)
Brady’s team took more than 10,000 photographs by war’s end. He had spent some $100,000 but the federal government initially declined to buy them. Brady declared bankruptcy and struggled financially for the rest of his life.

Eventually, the government purchased Brady's photographs for $25,000, providing him some financial relief. Fortunately, most are available on the Library of Congress website.

Upon his passing in 1896, veterans of the 7th New York Infantry helped finance Brady's funeral and interment at Congressional Cemetery.

Sept. 17 dedication in southeast Washington (Congressional Cemetery)
"His photographs, and those he commissioned, had a tremendous impact on society at the time of the war, and continue to do so today," says the American Battlefield Trust.

West, a board member of Congressional Cemetery, designed and provided primary financial backing for the memorial.

“Celebrating Brady's outstanding artistic achievements, the memorial reflects the diversity of his subjects and the Washington, D.C. community,” a Facebook post says.

Congressional Cemetery, founded early in the 19th century, has graves of Washington residents and numerous national figures.

It is the final resting place for about 600 Union service members and 100 Confederates.

“Generals lie next to privates, and brothers who fought on opposite sides rest only a few feet apart.”

Among those buried there are Alfred Pleasanton, a Union cavalry general, Maj. Gen. Andrew Humphreys and executed Lincoln conspirator David Herold.

Visitors can take a self-guided, Civil War-themed walking tour.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Reenactment, other events to mark 160th anniversary of Perryville

Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site in Kentucky's Boyle County will host a Civil War reenactment next month for the 160th anniversary of the battle. Perryville became the site of the most destructive battle in Kentucky, which left more than 7,600 killed, wounded or missing. The two-day event, October 8-9, includes tours, battle reenactments, lectures, museum exhibits, educational programs, food and other vendors. -- Article

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Macon's Cannonball House will display military and other items from two time capsules placed with Confederate soldier monument

Officials hope to verify the identity of this man (Historic Macon Foundation)
Updated Sept. 26

Clearly, someone wanted this man to be remembered. His photograph, set in a small wooden case and protected by facing burgundy-colored cloth, was among items included in a time capsule placed at the base of a Confederate monument in Macon, Ga.

He likely was a Civil War veteran, given the monument was topped by a marble Confederate soldier holding a rifle, and he appears to wear a uniform. Are the crutches he holds the result of a battle injury or did the need to use them rise after war’s end and before the time capsule was created in 1878?

Officials with Macon’s Cannonball House recently opened two time capsules associated with the monument, one of two monuments relocated over the summer amid the national reckoning over Confederate memorials and after years of legal wrangling

Macon's Cannonball House interprets several topics (Wikipedia)
The house expects to exhibit some of the time capsule contents when it reopens Oct. 3 following a renovation of a few rooms, including its museum. Officials had hoped for a Sept. 26 reopening but there were unforeseen delays in one room.

Executive Director Cheryl Aultman tells the Picket that she hopes to eventually learn the man’s identity.

“I'm going to ask an expert in the field to get some pointers on where to go from here to try and identify him,” she wrote in an email. “I know a little about the (donor) family and I feel there must be some connection.”

Bibb County supplied numerous regiments to the Confederacy and, according to Aultman, it was the largest hospital center outside Richmond, Va., with 15 identified locations. There were several daguerreotype artists in Macon at that time, as well, she said

An inventory of the 1878 time capsule lists H.C. Tindall of Macon as the donor of the photograph and a miniature Confederate flag worn by a soldier. Another source gives his name as M.C. Tillman. A Cannonball House list of time capsule donors says Harry C. Tindall was a bookkeeper who died in 1929 and is buried in Atlanta. He would have been too young to fight in the Civil War.

About 50 people attended the Sept. 2 opening of the two copper boxes (left), Aultman at right and Earl Colvin holding one box. (Photo: Historic Macon Foundation)

“The contents of one box, put inside the monument’s base … were actually in better shape than a capsule placed near the monument’s cornerstone when it was relocated to Second Street and Cotton Avenue in 1956,” the Historic Macon Foundation said in a social media post. “Several of the items were damaged by moisture that had seeped in over the years.”

The laying of the cornerstone in 1878, a year before the monument was dedicated, drew thousands of spectators. A procession included several former Rebel officers who had lost an arm during the Civil War. Among the speakers was Gov. Alfred H. Colquitt, a Confederate brigadier general who advocated states’ rights. He opposed Reconstruction following the war.

The 1878 donations were largely focused on the military and most donors served with the Confederacy.

The items included numerous regimental rolls and listings of those who died, newspapers, dozens of coins, a ballad about Gen. Robert E. Lee, a letter from Jefferson Davis (right) about the laying of the cornerstone, war bonds, Confederate money and a map taken from the body of Capt. J.G. Rogers of the 12th Georgia after he was killed at Antietam in September 1862.

The second time capsule was placed in the monument when it was moved in 1956 from Mulberry Street to Cotton Avenue. Among its items is a copy of “Gone With the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell, yearbooks for two chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a Stone Mountain half dollar coin dated 1925 and a July 1866 letter to Lee confirming upon him the honorary degree of doctor of laws, and a copy of a letter in which he replied.

“There are a few more items that are too wet to open yet,” Aultman wrote last week. “We are attempting to dehumidify them and are hopeful we might yet save them. The large 1956 metal box had taken on moisture over the years damaging many of the items enclosed."

An early edition of the book was in the 1956 box (Historic Macon Foundation)
The Cannonball House, built in 1853 and named for damage it sustained during Federal cannon firing in July 1864, will display items with interpretive signage.

The house is “deeply honored to be chosen as the repository of these historic relics and are looking forward to sharing them with visitors,” Aultman said. 

Our docents are knowledgeable and love sharing the history of the Cannonball House, its inhabitants, and the history of many in the central Georgia area.”

The soldiers monument in its original location
The monument of the soldier is now in a small park outside Rose Hill Cemetery, where numerous Confederates are buried. Opponents of the move cited state law restricting movement of such monuments while others said the marble represented a bygone era and needed to leave its prominent spot downtown. Current plans are for the intersection to become a community green space.

The Cannonball House, which has Civil War and other collections, is open from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Forty-five minute tours include the main residence and the original two-story brick kitchen and servants’ quarters. 856 Mulberry St., Macon, Ga.

Some of the coins found in a capsule (Historic Macon Foundation)

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Replaced Civil War marker in Smithfield, Va., recalls a ham-fisted Federal foray in 1864 that was all sizzle, but no steak

If you’re a believer in the adage “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong,” look no farther for an example than a Civil War skirmish that occurred in Smithfield, Va., best known for its famous hams.

But this debacle has nothing to do with pork. Rather, it was a foray of Union troops trying to stop Confederate harassment of naval ships. The brief mission failed, resulting in the capture of about 100 men, the loss of a Federal gunboat and the taking of a war trophy that rubbed salt in the wound.

Visitors to the Isle of Wight County Museum can learn about the Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 1864, clash. Just outside is a new Civil War Trails sign replacing a marker damaged several years ago by a truck.

The text was revised for the new sign (above, courtesy of Isle of Wight County Museum), officials told the Picket.

“Relocated from its former spot on Church Street, this sign brings more attention to the events which happened right here on Main Street in 1864,” museum director Jennifer England said in a press release.

The museum displays a model of the doomed Federal army gunboat Smith Briggs and a distinguished gilded eagle wrested from the vessel after capture and before its destruction.

Guilded eagle plundered from the Smith Briggs (Isle of Wight County Museum)
For months, federal transports and war vessels had been operating with impunity in the James and Nansemond  rivers despite Rebel harassment. The Yanks wanted to put an end to the firing on shipping and decided to land troops in Smithfield and have a separate detachment join the attack from Chuckatuck (Suffolk), to the southeast.

On Jan. 31, 1864, about 90 troops from the 99th New York Infantry and other regiments were transported via Pagan River to the unoccupied Smithfield, across from Newport News.

Union Capt. James Lee led his men south from Smithfield toward Chuckatuck, but ran into stiff opposition from local Confederate troops. The troops who landed at Chuckatuck heard distant firing, saw no enemy and decided to return to where they landed.

Things weren’t going well for their comrades in blue near Smithfield.

Model of the federal gunboat Smith Briggs at Isle of Wight County Museum
“Outmatched, Lee fell back on Smithfield, pulling items from stores along this street to throw up barricades in the hopes of stalling the Confederates,” the sign says. The Union troops were desperate for rescue.

The Smith Briggs returned the next day to save the harried Federal troops, but things went south, so to speak.

Confederate artillery caused the vessel to run aground, leading to its capture and looting. The trapped New Yorkers and others were forced to surrender. (Most were shipped to Andersonville prison in Georgia.)

The late local historian Segar “Sig” Dashiell, who wrote numerous newspaper articles about the history of Smithfield and other towns, wrote of the demise of the Smith-Briggs:

“When the Yankees had been removed, the citizens who had congregated on the wharf were allowed to come aboard the Smith Briggs and carry off anything they wanted. She was equipped with fine-cut glass with the name of the vessel cut on each piece and considerable supplies of tea, coffee and other goods… (Sgt. Joseph) Norsworthy climbed to the top of the pilot house and wrung and twisted from its bracket the handsome carved and gilded eagle that adorned the vessel and brought it ashore…A boy was sent around town to warn every householder to open all windows, as the gunboat was about to be blown up.”   

The Smithfield marker is one of four Civil War Trails markers in the county used to boost tourism. The nonprofit Civil War Trails is based in Virginia and has markers in six states.

By the way, there's a webcam in the museum for what's called the "world's oldest ham."

The Isle of Wight County Museum will host its next lecture and guided tour about the 1864 Battle of Smithfield at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22. A short ribbon-cutting event will take place during that lecture.