Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Gettysburg National Military Park, Eisenhower National Historic Site name Steve Sims as new superintendent

Steve Sims will begin his new job early next year (NPS photo)

A West Point graduate and longtime National Park Service employee has been named the new superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site in Pennsylvania.

Steven Sims will begin his duties at Gettysburg in January, the park said in a recent press release.

“As a former Army Officer, I feel a deep responsibility to care for the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg, moreover, honoring the legacy of one of the most notable military generals and presidents of our nation is a privilege. I look forward to serving these parks and our neighbors in this new role,” Sims said in a statement.

Sims is currently serving as superintendent of Valley Forge National Historical Park, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site and the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail.

He will replace Ed Clark as the new permanent superintendent, according to the Hanover Evening Sun. Clark went on special assignment in 2017 and is now the branch chief for the National Park Service Search and Rescue Program in the Washington Support Office. Since he left, the parks have filled in the position with various other hires for 120-day periods, the newspaper said. The current acting superintendent is Thomas Forsyth.

Gay Vietzke, a regional director for the NPS, said Sims “brings a broad set of skills that will be very beneficial to both park units. He is experienced at bringing partners together to work towards a common goal and values the importance of community engagement.”

Sims led Valley Forget through a $14 million visitor center renovation and the production of five new park orientation films scheduled for completion next summer, Vietzke said.

“His background as a West Point graduate and (US Army) military officer will provide the valuable leadership that is needed to define and carry out the mission of the parks. In his current assignment, Steve has made significant strides in reducing the park’s maintenance backlog and preserving park resources,” the director said.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Mississippi monument gets TLC at Vicksburg, to be rededicated

A Mississippi monument is being rededicated in a national park on a Civil War battlefield.  A ceremony is taking place Monday at Vicksburg National Military Park. The Vicksburg reports the Mississippi monument underwent a $75,000 restoration funded by the state and promoted by a group called Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park and Campaign. Work included masonry repairs, testing of the monument’s lightning suppression system and thorough cleaning. • Article

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Remembering historian Bud Robertson: Civil War experts, authors tell the Picket why he had such an impact on the public

Bud Robertson was instrumental in naming Virginia's state song (Va. Tech)
James I. “Bud” Robertson Jr., professor emeritus of history at Virginia Tech, is being remembered for his legacy of vivid books, engaging lectures, battlefield tours and media appearances about the Civil War. Robertson, 89, died Saturday after a long illness, the school announced.

The author of 40 books about the Civil War, Robertson is best known for one about Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. It won eight national awards and was a key source for the 2003 movie “Gods and Generals.” During the 100th anniversary of the Civil War, President John F. Kennedy asked Robertson to serve as executive director of the United States Civil War Centennial Commission.

“For fully six decades Bud Robertson was a dominant figure in his field, and a great encouragement to all who would study our turbulent past during the middle of the 19th century,” said William C. “Jack” Davis, former director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. “Moreover, amid a conversation that can still become bitter and confrontational, his was a voice for reason, patience, and understanding.”

Robertson had other interests, including football. He was an Atlantic Coast Conference football referee for 16 years.

The Picket reached out to historians, authors and others to talk about Robertson’s legacy. Their responses have been edited for brevity.

GORDON JONES, senior military historian and curator, Atlanta History Center

Gordon Jones
He was one of the greats, one of the names that will live on in Civil War historiography for many years. He led a magnificent life, filled with many and varied experiences that gave him a sort of “every man” perspective in his work and teaching. Perhaps because of this, his was a voice of calm, rational thought, full of practical insight into human nature. 
He once told me in detail what he had done to organize John F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1963. Mrs. Kennedy (“Jackie”) had requested that the funeral replicate many of the elements of Lincoln’s funeral 98 years earlier. Bud was much more closely involved in researching the historical precedents for Kennedy’s funeral than I think anybody realizes. In this instance especially, his historical work literally made history.   

Personally, I think I enjoyed his football stories as much as anything else. What a great guy -- he was just fun to be around.

JIM OGDEN, historian, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Dr. Robertson was, is, one of the giants.  Amazon or Worldcat him. The lists of books and works you get back will certainly show you that. How many people did his history of the Stonewall Brigade or biography of T. J. Jackson or volume on soldier life in the Time-Life series shape?  A lot.

But even beyond the shelf of books he's left those who are interested in the Civil War, for several generations of Civil War buffs, it is his accessibility that stands out. He wasn't an academic hiding away in some closet on their campus writing only for other academics. He was engaged with the general history public.

Jim Ogden
He was a regular speaker on the Civil War round table circuit for decades and not just at the "big" ones. The Virginia Tech Civil War Weekend he started has been one of the most successful Civil War conferences there has been. A "Civil War" group might have had him on the Delta Queen but other passengers often heard his lectures, his talks, his conversations with those to whom he was speaking as well.

He was one of the best Civil War speakers -- organized, clear, pointed, concise. For more than 50 years, from before the Centennial to after the Sesquicentennial, Bud Robertson helped shape the history of the Civil War and countless Civil War historians professional, avocational, incidental and even accidental.  He has set a fine standard to emulate.
D. SCOTT HARTWIG, author and former National Park Service ranger and historian

I found him to be a kind, good man, always approachable, and with a great sense of humor.  He was one of the giants in the Civil War field and kindled an interest in the era in thousands of students and others. We will long value his scholarship on the war but one of his greatest legacies will be the work he did to advocate for understanding the war and preserving its memory on the nation's landscape.  

CHARLIE CRAWFORD, president, Georgia Battlefields Association

Charlie Crawford
I was grateful to meet Dr. Bud Robertson over 20 years ago and interact with him several times since.  He always greeted me with a smile, and it made me feel good that an eminent historian seemed to remember me, though I suspect he probably greeted everyone with the same warmth.

As was noted in the official announcement, he was selected as a young historian (in his early 30s) by President Kennedy in 1961 to be executive director of the Civil War Centennial Commission in an effort to overcome racial tensions generated by the refusal of some hotels and restaurants to accommodate African-American members of the Commission. That Bud, a Virginian, was able to salvage the commission’s work is one testament to not only his credibility as a historian but also his ability as a manager and conciliator.

Bud served for many years as a college football official, which showed his versatility beyond the classroom. This led to a long association with many coaches, including Vince Dooley, himself a student of history with academic credentials. On several occasions, I saw the two of them share conversations about the capabilities of Civil War leaders mixed seamlessly with reminiscences of coaches, teams and specific games.

Robertson at a 2015 talk (Gould Hagler)
More than once, I heard Bud say that anyone who asserts that slavery was not the root cause of the Civil War is the F student of history. He was obviously well aware of the ancillary causes, such as the rights of states versus the power of the federal government, the divergent economic systems of the north and the south, the radicalization of political leaders of both sections, the failure of the founding fathers to resolve the slavery issue in the Constitution, etc.; but Bud always pointed to slavery as underlying it all. 

Bud was ordained in the Episcopal Church, and at one historical conference I attended, he conducted a Sunday morning service wearing his clerical collar and illustrating how the prayers and services of the 1860s reflected that ministers both north and south believed that God was on their side. This also demonstrated Bud’s versatility as a teacher, as he was willing and able to employ techniques other than a standard lecture format.

Many of his books received excellent reviews, and I can testify that his biographies of Stonewall Jackson and A.P. Hill strongly influenced my perceptions of both. His presentations about Jackson’s character, personality, and idiosyncrasies were particularly memorable.

Robertson (second from right) with JFK in 1962 (Va. Tech)
Bud lost his first wife, Libba, to illness in 2008. He attributed his recovery from his own subsequent serious illness to the care and support he received from his second wife, Betty. His devotion to both of them was often manifested in the credit he gave them during his presentations. Bud was a gentleman, courteous and personable, in his interactions with me, and I witnessed the same consideration in his interactions with others over the years.

DAVID EVANS, historian and author of "Sherman's Horsemen"

David Evans
His contributions to Civil War historiography were both numerous and noteworthy and his iconic biographies of “Stonewall” Jackson and A. P. Hill will stand as lasting monuments to his diligent scholarship his discerning analysis of people and events and his passion for Civil War history.

He was an accomplished writer, much sought-after public speaker, and an inspiring teacher. Rarely does one man so successfully combine the gifts of talent and modesty, but Dr. Robertson did.

The skills he brought to the study and understanding of our Civil War will be sorely missed and not easily replaced.

AARON ASTOR, author and associate professor of history, Maryville College

Aaron Astor
I never knew Bud personally but I know many people who did, and everybody spoke of him as a warm and friendly teacher and scholar. His books were uniformly excellent. In fact, he was one of the most important military historians of the Civil War that bridged the divide between public and academic history.

As a public historian from the Centennial to the Sesquicentennial, he really embodies the development of the field of Civil War history.

His biographies were especially sharp, both in assessing the military decision-making and the pre-war backgrounds of Confederate generals. I used his book on AP Hill for my research into Gettysburg.

WILLIAM GARRETT PISTON, Professor Emeritus, Missouri State University

Bud Robertson was one of the foremost scholars in his field, one of a generation of giants in Civil War literature who inspired those of us who grew up during the Civil War centennial.

Tim Smith
TIM SMITH, author and faculty member at University of Tennessee Martin
(His books) obviously are the staples of his career, especially the Jackson biography. Amazingly, that continued on for years, including his recent editing of the (J.B.) Jones diary and other books. In fact, I use the edited Jones diary (a Confederate war department clerk) very often. Yet there was so much more to his body of work, including his efforts in the centennial, his work in film and his teaching at Virginia Tech. That's just the academic portion of it, there being so much more to him such as sports and charitable work. Still, I think the thing that most stood out to me was the voice and accent. He was a lecturer's lecturer. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

New clue? Hunley crew wasn't using air circulation system the night Confederate submarine sank ship, then vanished

Rendering shows snorkels above conning tower (Friends of the Hunley)
A new finding by those conserving the Confederate submarine Hunley revives the question of whether the eight-man crew ran out of oxygen after sinking a Federal vessel in Charleston Harbor.

A Friends of the Hunley press release this week said Clemson University researchers determined the doomed sub’s air circulation system was not in use when it made the historic February 1864 attack on the USS Housatonic.

During ongoing conservation, scientists and researchers found that a rubber hose connecting snorkel tubes to hand-pumped bellows was “intentionally disconnected and tucked underneath the crew bench.” The reason remains unknown.

The snorkel-bellows system was intended to pump out carbon dioxide and allow the replenishment of good air from the surface. The snorkel tubes were in a lowered position and not engaged during the attack, researchers said.

Set of bellows before, after conservation (Friends of the Hunley)
“The air circulation system is certainly one of many important clues to consider when trying to piece together the events of that night.” Clemson archaeologist Michael Scafuri said, according to the press release. “Still, this finding alone does not mean the Hunley crew perished from lack of oxygen.”

The Hunley could hold enough oxygen for the crew to survive for roughly two hours. There were two ways to replenish the supply.

“One was to use the air circulation system, which was designed to be stealth and allow them to discreetly get fresh air,” the release said. “The only other alternative was to come to the surface and open the hatches, a potentially dangerous move if enemy ships were nearby.”

Rubber hose was part of air circulation system 
Scientists say it is possible the builders were unable to perfect the air circulation design or when the system was not in use, the crew dismantled it to make more room in the cramped crew compartment.

The Friends group said the Hunley crew may have opted to stay well below the surface after sinking the Housatonic so as to escape detection. "If they miscalculated the timing or thought it was too dangerous to come back up to open the hatches for air, they may have slowly run out of oxygen to breathe."

On Feb. 17, 1864, the Hunley left its base on Sullivan’s Island, S.C., and placed its torpedo into 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, and there have been many theories – but no proof -- of what happened to it.

Snorkel box before and after conservation (Friends of the Hunley)
Conserved snorkel tubes (Friends of the Hunley)
A 2017 archaeological report issued by the U.S. Navy, South Carolina Hunley Commission and Friends of the Hunley looked at theories on what might have happened. Among those are that a Federal vessel hit the sub, the Hunley submerged and eventually lost oxygen, a “lucky shot” brought torrents of water through a conning tower or the hull was breached. Since then, researchers found a broken intake pipe, indicating water may have flooded into the tiny war machine.

The organizations cautioned that it could have been a combination of factors that caused the disappearance.

But researcher Rachel Lance told CNN in 2017 that the crew died from blast injuries.

Shock waves from the torpedo detonation would have instantly killed those aboard the Hunley, she said. Such strong pressure would rupture lungs and damage neurons and blood vessels, she argued.

And she discounted the theory of suffocation.

Rachel Lance
After the Hunley was raised in 2000, conservators found the men were still at their stations, indicating there was no rush to escape or movement to bring air into the boat. There were no obvious physical injuries.

“The crew had about a 30-minute air supply before they would have had painful and uncomfortable symptoms from carbon dioxide,” Lance said. “They made no efforts to try to save themselves or bring air into the boat.”

The U.S. Navy and the Friends of the Hunley pushed back.

A week after the findings of her team were released, the Friends of the Hunley issued a press release that said Lance’s work is “unsubstantiated.”

“While the likely cause of the submarine’s demise has not been concluded, the scenario of a concussive wave killing the Hunley crew has been deemed not likely by those working on the actual submarine and who have access to this key data,” the organization said.

The Navy has questioned why World War II submariners survived close depth charges while the Hunley crew did not survive the torpedo blast. Lance said modern hull armor is much thicker and would have provided more protection.

Lance told a 2017 audience that the watch of sub commander Lt. George Dixon provides further evidence of the effects of a traumatic blast. The hands stopped at 8:23 p.m, the estimated time the torpedo went off.
Bellows before conservation (Friends of the Hunley)

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