Thursday, July 22, 2021

On this day in 1864, a Federal counterattack saved the day in Atlanta. Who was artillery Capt. DeGress, a hero depicted in the Cyclorama?

Gen. Logan and Capt. DeGress rush toward captured cannons (Atlanta History Center)
If you are familiar with the Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama, the first image likely to come to mind is the brick Troup Hurt house, scene of a brief Confederate breakthrough during the fighting of July 22, 1864 -- 157 years ago today.

While the 370-foot circumference painting has dozens of small scenes and thousands of figures, the house is clearly the focal point of the battle – misinterpreted for years by its Southern promoters as showing a Rebel victory. Instead, something big is about to happen that will ensure this day will, in fact, see a Federal triumph.

Galloping furiously to the rescue, hat in hand, is Maj. Gen. John A. “Black Jack” Logan, head of the Army of the Tennessee. Behind him is Capt. Francis DeGress, whose artillery battery had been overrun shortly before.

Rebel breakthrough at Troup Hurt house (Picket photo)
“It is the point at which the 15th Corps is pushed back. Like a rubber band, it springs back,” says Gordon Jones, senior military historian at the Atlanta History Center (AHC), which houses the mammoth work of art.

DeGress, already a respected veteran, is about to become a folk hero to the Northern cause. He retakes the four 20-pounder Parrott guns and turns them on the retreating Confederates.

“He is an example of the sort of mid-level officer who was a natural leader, on whom the troops really came to depend. On whom the battle depended,” said Jones, adding it is the privates, sergeants, lieutenants and captains who are controlling the battle.

Exhibits at the AHC include several DeGress artifacts, including a saber he likely carried that day, a Pond revolver he purchased a few months before the battle, a 15th Corps badge and a bit that was used by one of the battery’s horses during the fighting. They were donated by family members. The AHC has papers related to DeGress at its Kenan Research Center.

The German-born artilleryman, commander of Company H, 1st Illinois Light Artillery, was a veteran of several campaigns by the time he arrived in Atlanta. The 23-year-old’s battery was deployed in a vulnerable part of the Union line, east of the city and near a railroad line. (Sketch of DeGress, left, appeared in Harper's Weekly)

At 4 p.m. on July 22, the battery was firing canister as fast as it could. The determined Confederates continued to push forward and were about to be upon them.

DeGress knew the horses could not pull back the guns in time, Jones said, and he had two guns spiked. The captain and Sgt. Peter Wyman stayed with the other two weapons, firing double canister. They eventually had to flee; Wyman was killed while DeGress fled back to the collapsed Federal line.

Fast-forward to the scene depicted in the cyclorama: Logan rallying his troops and rushing toward the breach. DeGress soon regains possession of the battery and gets back into the action.

Bit that belonged to one of the battery horses (Picket photo)
The painting also depicts the death of horses that pulled guns, caissons and limbers for Company H.

“You are seeing in the painting the Confederates are killing the horses because they are about to be overrun,” says Jones. But there’s a chance that DeGress ordered some of them be shot before his retreat. It was not unusual occurrence, because armies did not want their own guns used against them.

“Perhaps the mostly skillfully rendered figures in the painting are the horses,” says Jones. “The closest the artists got to real horror, they are showing them writhing in agony.”

Among the German and Austrian artists who created the cyclorama in 1886 was Albert Richter. He painted the horses based on sketches made at a Milwaukee slaughterhouse, where he apparently paid to use dying horses as models.

Depiction of the killing of battery horses (Picket photo)
Harper’s Weekly illustrator Theodore R. Davis is largely responsible for DeGress being depicted in the painting. Davis, who traveled with the Federal army, submitted an illustration and article for the publication about the officer soon after the battle and served as an advisor to the artists in Milwaukee.

DeGress’ battery took part in the March to the Sea after Atlanta and the campaigns in South Carolina and North Carolina, and was present at the surrender of Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston near Durham in April 1865.

After the war, the soldier went into business in Mexico, with a firearms company among his ventures. He died in 1883 – three years before the cyclorama was painted -- in Mexico City and is buried there.

DeGress' revolver (Picket photo)
Charlie Crawford, president emeritus of the Georgia Battlefields Association, said it is clear DeGress was highly regarded by superiors, subordinates and fellow artillery commanders.

“One measure of this regard is how quickly he was able to reconstitute his battery (H, 1st Illinois) after his guns were reclaimed on 22 July 1864,” says Crawford. “This is a testament to his own leadership and to how readily the other artillery batteries provided horses, harnesses, limbers, caissons and other equipment.”

The cyclorama shows the moment Alabama and South Carolina troops in Brig. Gen. Arthur Manigault’s brigade punctured the Union line. The AHC has the saber Manigault carried that day.

The Troup Hurt house is long gone. A church was built on the site, and now that structure is a private residence.

Troup Hurt house was where this home was erected (Picket photo)
It’s important to note the battlefield on July 22 was much larger than what is shown in the painting. For example, troops clashed for a much longer time on Bald (Leggett’s) Hill south near current Interstate 20.

By evening, Confederate troops under Gen. John Bell Hood were repulsed with heavy losses. Fighting continued in and around Atlanta for several weeks, until the Rebels evacuated and the city fell.

Among the clashes was the little-known battle at Utoy Creek. From late July to late August, Federal troops made several thrusts toward the vital Rebel rail line in nearby East Point. Ultimately, victory had to come elsewhere.

"The War in Our Backyards": See the AJC's 2014 comprehensive interactive on the Atlanta Campaign

DeGress swords, saber at top believed used in battle (Picket photo)

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

These 3 men fought at Peachtree Creek on this day in 1864. One carried a wound that eventually killed him. Their belongings tell their stories at Atlanta History Center

Pvt. Johnson's coat, Lt. Young's hat, Capt. Lindsay's sword (Courtesy Atlanta History Center)
Alabama Pvt. John E. Johnson had yet to meet his infant son. Capt. David J. Lindsay, who had been deemed too indispensable to be allowed to resign, was with his men of Company I, 149th New York Volunteers.  And 1st Lt. George Young of the 143rd New York Volunteers was about to go on a horseback assignment that would change his life.

On July 20, 1864, the lives of these three men and thousands of others collided near and in the wooded ravines above Atlanta in the Battle of Peachtree Creek -- Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood’s ill-fated debut as the head of the South’s Army of Tennessee. Hood had hoped to isolate and destroy Union Maj. Gen. George Thomas’ command before two other Federal armies could come to his help.

Lt. Young (Courtesy Seward Osborne)
Johnson, of the CSA’s 29th Alabama, and Lindsay were killed in the pitched fighting. Young suffered a leg wound that would eventually take his life 45 years later.

They all fought in the sector where Rebel forces perhaps had their most success that day: against the far right of the Army of the Cumberland. The end of the day saw a Union victory, just two days before the Battle of Atlanta. Confederates suffered about 2,500 casualties in just a few hours.

Lindsay’s sword, Johnson’s bloodstained frock coat and the hat, coat and trousers that Young was wearing that day area in the same display case at the Atlanta History Center’s “Turning Point” permanent exhibit on the Civil War and Atlanta.

“What is the chance of those three (soldiers’ belongings) surviving from the same part of the battlefield?” asked Gordon Jones, the AHC’s senior military historian and curator. “These three objects, the way they work together is spooky. They really speak to you.”

These were ordinary men who fought in a battle that helped shape the future of the country. On the anniversary of the battle, here’s more about the three and their units.

Peachtree Creek artifacts are at left (Picket photo)
1st Lt. George Young, 143rd NY Volunteers

At 4:30 p.m. on the afternoon of July 20, Young, 23, of the 143rd New York, was riding with urgent orders to regimental commanders from the brigade commander, Col. James Robinson. Confederate forces had launched an unexpected attack, and Robinson’s brigade was under heavy fire.

Bullets killed the officer’s horse and struck Young’s leg in the right tibia below his knee, splitting two bones. Young spent four days in the hospital and returned to New York, but his combat days were over due to the disability. An honorable discharge was issued on Oct. 26, 1864.

While he went on to marry and father two sons, work in the foundry business in Ellenville, N.Y., purchase a paper mill and serve as Ulster County sheriff, Young could never escape the effects of his wound.

He endured repeated operations and procedures to heal his leg, but the wound became reinfected each time.

An account of Young’s life and his medical condition were detailed by Seward R. Osborne Jr. in the March-April 1980 issue of the North South Trader. A copy of the article and other documents and papers pertaining to Young are in the AHC’s collections. (Photo at left, courtesy of Atlanta History Center, shows bullet hole in Young's pants)

Osborne wrote about how the veteran endured excruciating suffering. By 1906, he was losing weight and strength. On March 31, 1909, a doctor wrote of Young:

“His suffering was intense and had become general throughout his right side including arm as well as leg.” Young died at noon April 1 after trying to write some letters and drink eggnog.

The chronic infection had finally claimed his life -- 45 years after the Battle of Peachtree Creek.  The chief cause of death was "Gunshot wound, right tibia, chronic septic infection many years." Young was 66 or 67.

Osborne – a Civil War historian, collector and writer – for several years had Young’s hat, coat and trousers. He recalls paying about $200 for the items from a seller who likely got them at an estate sale. “This guy bought cheap and sold cheap.” Osborne told the Picket this week.

“What drew me to it was it was the first uniform that I have ever owned,” he said. “The fact it had a bullet hole, this is just dripping with research material, which I love to do. It just snowballed from there.”

Rebel attack at Peachtree Creek (Courtesy Georgia Battlefields Assn.)
Osborne, formerly of Olivebridge, N.Y., said he was unaware that Young’s clothing was at the AHC until the Picket contacted him this week. “I am ecstatic to learn where it is,” adding he became emotional upon seeing a photo of the exhibit. He’s been to Young’s grave several times

Osborne, now 75 and living near Gainesville, Fla., said he sold the uniform several years later for $15,000. He said he regrets having sold it, knowing the soldier grew up and later lived not far from where he lived. (The AHC acquired the items in 1992)

Osborne detailed the conditions of the hat, trousers and coat in the North South Trader article more than 40 years ago. 

He described the hat as a felt Stetson with gold braid. A five-pointed star made of red velvet represents the 1st Division, 20th Army Corps. “The crown has numerous repaired tears which were undoubtedly mended in the field, either by Young or an (aide), giving it great character.”

The coat, made of dark blue broadcloth and standard issue for a first lieutenant, is single-breasted with nine brass buttons. “Its condition is extremely fine with only the most negligible moth damage.”

Osborne found the trousers to be the most compelling item. They are made of heavy wool with gold cord on the outer seam, designating an officer of the general staff and staff corps.

“Just below the right knee, still very prominent, is the bullet hole. This jagged, gaping orifice tells the awful tale at a glance. The events from his wounding until his death literally flashed before my eyes as I viewed the trousers. The magnetism was powerful. Upon close examination it becomes quite apparent that the trousers have never been cleaned. They have remained virtually the same since the wounding. One sees, mingled with the Georgia clay, the stains of the life blood shed by George Young for his country and the preservation of the Union.”

The AHC also has a canteen that belonged to the young officer.

Jones said of the Young items: “There’s no better way to relate the human experience of combat (that was) literally in people’s back yards, a mile from where we stand, then to see the artifact with the hole in it.”

(Photo above right of Lt. Young, courtesy Seward Osborne Jr.)

Pvt. John E. Johnson, 29th Alabama Volunteers

The 29th was formed in Pensacola, Florida, in February 1862. Its members were recruited from the Alabama counties of Blount, Shelby, Talladega, Barbour, Russell, Montgomery, Bibb and Conecuh. After service in Mobile, the regiment joined the Army of Tennessee with 1,000 men in spring 1864. It would endure heavy casualties over the next year.

While Confederate forces were poorly coordinated and faced challenging terrain at Peachtree Creek, Maj. Gen. Edward C. Walthall’s division created a crisis on the Federal right flank, briefly collapsing it.

The 29th Alabama, part of Cantey’s Brigade (led by Col. Edward O’Neal), broke through the Union line and charged into a wooded ravine (map at left courtesy of Georgia Battlefields Association)

Union troops overlooking the ravine soon caught the Southerners below in a terrible crossfire,” the AHC says. “A bullet tore through John Johnson’s neck.” The coat was hit by two bullets; Jones said he does not know if Johnson was struck by the other.

The Southern attack, which had brief success, was repulsed by Brig. Gen. John W. Geary’s Second Division.

Jones said Johnson’s wife and son traveled about 100 miles to see him and were perhaps en route when he was fatally wounded. They likely saw him in the hospital at some point.

“John Johnson died on Aug. 9. His wife saved his bloodstained coat as a reminder of her slain husband. It is likely that she made it herself; his initials are embroidered above the right interior breast pocket,” the exhibit says.

A Findagrave page indicates Johnson, of Company C, is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Ga. He likely passed away at a hospital in that city. The AHC does not have a photo of the soldier.

The AHC received a package with the coat from a Houston man in the mid-1980s, saying he wanted the center to have it. The donor, Jones told the Picket, said the frock coat was made by his great-grandmother for Johnson in 1862.

Pvt. Johnson's coat on exhibit (Civil War Picket photo)
The coat is clearly homemade and Jones said the maker used extra strips of cloth in one area where material ran out.

The battlefield long ago became a busy residential neighborhood in the Buckhead community. Jones believes Johnson and Lindsay died in the same area, perhaps near current Springlake Park, above Collier Road.

In 2014, on the sesquicentennial of the battle, the AHC led a tour of the battlefield and, in a rare moment involving an artifact, took the coat to the site. Someone in a neighboring residence came out. “He had a box of Minie balls he found in the yard and he wanted to show to us,” Jones told the Picket.

Bloodstains near the garment's collar (Atlanta History Center)
The Alabama Department of Archives and History details the 29th’s heavy losses during the last year of the war:

“The Twenty-ninth was engaged at the battle of Resaca with a loss of about 100 killed and wounded, out of 1,100 men engaged. At New Hope the loss was very heavy, and at Peachtree Creek the regiment was cut to pieces. Again, July 28, near Atlanta, half of the regiment was killed and wounded in the fierce and protracted assault on the enemy's line. The Twenty-ninth then moved into Tennessee with Gen. Hood, and lost very heavily in casualties at Franklin, and largely in casualties and prisoners at Nashville. A remnant of it moved into the Carolinas, and was engaged at Kinston and Bentonville with considerable loss. About 90 men surrendered at Greensboro, N.C.”

Capt. David J. Lindsay, 149th NY Volunteers

The 149th and Lindsay were veterans of many battles in the east, including Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Lookout Mountain and Kennesaw Mountain.

A few months before Peachtree Creek, Lindsay, in his mid-30s, tried to leave the army so he could attend to his family and his failing business, the exhibit says. “Lindsay’s colonel considered the captain indispensable and refused to allow him to resign.”

Regimental colors for the 149th (New York State Military Museum)
Jones said Lindsay, a builder, must have become concerned about whoever was running the business while he was in the service. The officer made one leave request and two attempts to resign, but a document said Lindsay was a good officer and the regiment would be harmed by his leaving.

On July 20, the 149th was deployed with Geary’s division near the far right of the Union line. It was in the 3rd Brigade, commanded by Col. David Ireland.

A report by regimental commander Col. Henry A. Barnum recounted the fighting that day and how Yankee troops formed a new line against the Rebel onslaught (which included the 29th Alabama).

“At this time Gen. Hooker rode along the line, and with stirring cheers, the contest was renewed, and the enemy thoroughly repulsed. At about 6 p. m. the brigade advanced to the ground it occupied in column before the attack, and threw up works on the second line. In the brave effort to check the mad onslaught of the enemy Lieut. Col. Charles B. Randall and Capt. David J. Lindsay were instantly killed, at about the same time.”

Another view of Capt. Lindsay's sword (Picket photo)
Lindsay was shot in the heart as he and others met a charge head-on. The officer from Onondaga County (Syracuse) left a wife, Mary, and three small children, Albert, Mary and Cora.

The regiment reportedly suffered its most casualties of the Atlanta Campaign, with 17 killed, 25 wounded and 10 missing at Peachtree Creek.

Jones said the staff and field officer sword, engraved with Lindsay’s name, became part of the DuBose family collection, possibly in the 1970s.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Search for a spot at Fredericksburg cemetery to bury remains of Civil War soldiers makes a surprise find of road, culvert

A NARP archaeologist trowels around the culvert (NPS photo)
The search for a suitable location to bury remains of Civil War dead took an interesting turn recently at Fredericksburg National Cemetery in Virginia, with the discovery of a long-covered road and brick-lined culvert.

The National Park Service’s Northeast Archeological Resources Program was brought in to determine whether there were unmarked burial spots or other features that could be affected by interment of bone fragments found several years ago near the site of a temporary Civil War hospital in town.

Using ground-penetrating radar and magnetometer surveys, the team made the discovery, the program said in a Facebook post this week. They didn’t locate graves but decided to excavate an unexpected feature in the soil where the new vault had been proposed.

During excavation we uncovered a road/path that went around a site where a monument was proposed during the early design of the cemetery. That monument was never erected and through time the road was buried. Fortunately for us, the geophysics were right, and no evidence was found of a grave ever existing where we excavated,” the post said. “

The search also yielded the culvert. The post did not provide details on the length of the road or its construction. “Projects like this show just how complex park sites can be even just a few centimeters below the surface,” it said.

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park thanked the program and said it is evaluating the location and alternatives for the reinterment. The NARP will submit a report on its finds.

Eric Mink, historian and cultural resource specialist at the park, told the Picket in an email the bricks apparently were part of a gutter that once lined a drive or avenue in the cemetery.

“These gutters assisted drainage in the cemetery and were installed about 1867-1868. About 1878, the gutters were filled in to accommodate a horse-drawn lawn mower and ease pedestrian traffic in the cemetery. What was uncovered by the archaeologists may very well be a portion of one of those brick gutters. How much of the gutter survives is unknown, as the archaeologists only excavated a small unit.”

Mink said the avenue that was on the southern end of the cemetery was a circular drive around the Monument Mound. “It was reserved during the early design of the burial ground for a Soldiers Monument that was never erected. The mound was later used as a flower bed, before being removed in the 1880s. Even later, a rostrum was erected at this location.

Wartime image of the town, shows Rowe-Goolrick home at right foreground, 
facing the Eliza Eubank home at left (Library of Congress)
The cemetery holds the remains of more than 15,000 soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War; only about 2,500 are identified. It sits on Marye’s Heights, a strategic area located southwest of the town’s historic downtown. During the Battle of Fredericksburg, Confederate troops held the high terrain and successfully repelled numerous Union attacks.

The cemetery has not had a soldier or veteran buried there since 1945, but the city has asked the NPS to bury the remains at the cemetery.

John Hennessy, chief historian and chief of interpretation at the park, told the Picket: “This is part of the process of identifying a site for the permanent burial of the remains in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. As you can see, they came across some unexpected features. The process continues.”

Hennessy said that the reported 100 bone fragments were found on city property – the site of the downtown Riverfront Park along the Rappahannock River – by a cultural resources firm working with the city.

Park officials have made no decisions about the timing or nature of any ceremony that may attend the reinterment of the soldiers’ remains.

A November 2015 article by The Free Lance-Star newspaper detailed the discovery of the bone fragments near the Rowe-Goolrick house, which served as a hospital during the December 1862 battle. A report said the bones were found mixed in with buttons and bits of fabric from Union infantry uniforms and other items in what may have been a root cellar.

The discovery was made after a Masonic hall next to the Rowe-Goolrick house site was torn down and officials called the company in to study the site. Presumably, remains of soldiers who died at the hospital were buried in the adjoining parcel.

Recent grave site testing at the national cemetery (NPS photo)
The Rowe-Goolrick house was demolished in 1973 to make room for a parking lot that has since been removed as part of work on the park.

As at other battle sites, temporary hospitals were established in Fredericksburg.

According to the Free Lance-Star, there are written accounts from several individuals, including some serving in the 14th Connecticut Infantry, that describe convalescing on the house’s grounds. Park officials in 2019 said graves were often overlooked in the years following the war.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

H.L. Hunley: Sub's commander was a sharp-dressed man. Experts are piecing together a report on what crew wore when they made history

Nick DeLong and Johanna Rivera with Dixon clothing (Friends of the Hunley)
He was dressed more for a night on the town than for a moonlit submarine journey toward Union vessels blocking Charleston Harbor. Lt. George Dixon was decked out in a three-piece outfit, mid-calf suede boots and silver suspender buckles bearing his initials. Dixon’s clothing clearly demonstrated attention to how the young man presented himself.

So when he led his eight-man crew of Confederates on their mission, the soldier (rendering below) brought along the confidence that had sustained him since the early years of the Civil War. In addition to jewelry and an initialed pocket watch, he carried a disfigured gold coin that absorbed a bullet during the April 1862 fighting at Shiloh and saved his leg.

“My life Preserver” was engraved on one side of the coin.

On Feb. 17, 1864, H.L. Hunley made history by becoming the first submarine to sink an enemy warship. 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 within minutes.

The Hunley disappeared beneath the waves and entered the realm of legend. To this day, historians, scientists and others debate what caused it to end up on the ocean floor. Discovered a few miles off Charleston in 1995, and raised in 2000, the Hunley is being conserved at Clemson University’s Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston.

Experts have been analyzing the incredible array of artifacts found inside the submarine and are now working on a volume about the crew, including personal effects such as clothing, buttons and shoes. They hope to have the volume, which they are preparing for the U.S. Navy, finished later this year.

"The Hunley as a crew did not have a set uniform at all. They wore what they were comfortable or what they were used to,” said Nick DeLong, maritime archaeologist at the center. Six of the eight wore something that was part of a military uniform. 

G.E.D. is engraved in the suspender buckles (Friends of the Hunley)
Dixon’s clothing was the best-preserved of the group. Like the others, his remains were found at his station. “A lot of it (looked) like a disarticulated ball of wool and fabric,” DeLong told the Picket.

The Friends of the Hunley -- which supports the ongoing conservation of the submarine -- a few months ago posted photographs of much of Dixon’s clothing. The items had completed conservation a few years before.

DeLong and others are trying to put together a deeper picture of the crew from the many artifacts and the clothing they left behind. “He has interesting garments and we want to know a little more about the man himself,” he said of Dixon.

One of the first people brought in on the project to help with the analysis of the textiles was Mary Ballard, senior textile conservator at the Smithsonian Institution.

Conrad Wise Chapman depiction of the Hunley (Wikipedia)
“She was crucial in the identification of some of the fibers and helped the team determine that Dixon was wearing cashmere,” DeLong said. Textile curator Virginia Theerman of the Charleston Museum also was consulted and provided examples of clothing that might have matched what Dixon wore on the mission. It's possible he was wearing a sack coat, which is designed to fit more loosely than a tailored jacket.

The conservators are seeking additional experts to help determine what the crew members were wearing.   

DeLong and senior conservator Johanna Rivera have been carefully studying Hunley artifacts. Because the interior of the submarine was intact and filled with sediment, virtually everything the crew was wearing or carrying survived, although much of it is in fragments.

Dixon’s clothing had an impressive array of 19th century buttons (below, courtesy of Friends of the Hunley) made of several materials, including bone, brass and mother of pearl.

“We probably have all the buttons associated with him. Missing one or two can drastically change our understanding of what the garment looks like,” DeLong said.

The fabric itself is piecemeal, extremely fragile and it’s impossible to fully recreate each garment. Dixon’s undergarments, likely made of cotton, did not survive 135 years of being underwater, even in relative air-tight conditions.

The clothing appears to be brown, but experts are pretty certain its original color was black. DeLong said the cashmere wool was of high quality.

Conservators once thought that the clothing remnants included a cashmere vest, but DeLong says they have determined the vest no longer exists. It may have been made of a silk blend that deteriorated.

“We are trying to piece it all together. It’s a big puzzle and no picture to put it together,” he says of the endeavor to present some kind of picture of each man’s appearance.

The team hopes to get a fuller understanding what Dixon was wearing. “It could tell us more of the man himself, and the thought process going into the night of the attack.”

Traditional methods of excavating the human remains and textiles were not particularly effective because of the Hunley’s unique situation. Instead, a block-lift technique was used nearly 50 times to minimize damage to the items. Here’s how the center describes the process:

“The block-lifting technique consisted of probing the sediment and dividing the areas along major bone groups and sensitive artifacts. Steel plates were then slid under each block to separate the section from the rest of the sediment. The purpose of using block lifts was to safely retrieve the extremely fragile textiles that archaeologists were unable to excavate using traditional archaeological methods. The block lift would be removed intact and later x-rayed, documented, and excavated for small or fragile artifacts.”

A section of Dixon's cashmere coat (Friends of the Hunley)
DeLong said not much is known about Dixon before Shiloh. He was a Mason and is not believed to be Southern-born, though it appears he had some kind of social stature. In 1860, he was a steamboat engineer on the Mississippi River.

He enlisted in the Confederate army, likely in Mobile, Ala., and served with the 21st Alabama. At Shiloh, Dixon suffered a serious wound to the upper thigh when a bullet hit the gold coin, which is on display at the Lasch Center. Conservators found evidence of a healed wound while examining his skeletal remains.

At some point, Dixon returned to Mobile during the construction of the Hunley and became involved in the effort.

Dixon was perhaps in his mid- or late 20s when he became the Hunley’s third captain (two previous crews had died in sinkings). He had sandy hair and an athletic build, scientists determined from his remains. Gold fillings are another indication of some wealth.

As commander, Dixon navigated the submarine, using only a compass bearing and the limited visibility provided by the view ports in the forward conning tower,” the Friends of the Hunley say in an online biography. “Dixon controlled the movement of the rudder and the dive planes, which dictated the inclination and level of submersion of the submarine.

"Ultimately, Lt. Dixon was the crewmember who triggered the explosive device that would send the USS Housatonic  to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, a maritime first that changed the landscape of naval warfare worldwide.”

DeLong said the Dixon clothing, as depicted in the photographs, will likely stay in those positions. It’s possible the center can do a more visual presentation if it knows how the items were constructed and pieced together. (The photo above left includes suspender parts and buttons.)

“There will be no stitching back together,” he said of the fragile cloth.

A portion of Dixon's clothing before conservation (Friends of the Hunley)

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Their bones were found during work on a riverfront park. Now Union soldiers may be interred at Fredericksburg National Cemetery

Archaeologists test potential gravesite (National Park Service)
Scores of bone fragments found near the site of a hospital used during the Battle of Fredericksburg, Va., are expected to be interred at a federal cemetery that holds the remains of more than 15,000 soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War.

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park this week posted a Facebook update on the city’s request that the unidentified remains find a final resting place at Fredericksburg National Cemetery, which has not had a soldier or veteran buried there since 1945.

Park officials are trying to find a suitable spot for the burial. They posted  photographs of a National Park Service team at the cemetery testing the proposed location.

“Ground-penetrating radar (done earlier) indicates that the proposed location at the end of this row would work for a new gravesite,” the post says. “However, in this part of the process, the archaeologists need to make sure that the location of the proposed grave is clear of any other burials or archaeologically significant material.”

Wartime image of the town, shows Rowe-Goolrick home at right foreground, 
facing the Eliza Eubank home at left (Library of Congress)
John Hennessy, chief historian and chief of interpretation at the park, told the Picket in an email that the remains were found on city property – the site of the downtown Riverfront Park along the Rappahannock River – by a cultural resources firm working with the city.

“Any analysis of the remains has been done by them and to my knowledge has not been made public,” said Hennessy.

Hennessy said officials have made no decisions about the timing or nature of any ceremony that may attend the reinterment of the soldiers’ remains

The Picket reached out to Dovetail Cultural Resource Group but received no immediately reply.

Recent testing at the national cemetery (NPS photo)
A November 2015 article by The Free Lance-Star newspaper detailed the find near the Rowe-Goolrick house, which served as a hospital during the December 1862 battle. A report said the bones were found mixed in with buttons and bits of fabric from Union infantry uniforms and other items in what may have been a root cellar.

The discovery was made after a Masonic hall next to the Rowe-Goolrick house site was torn down and officials called the company in to study the site. Presumably, remains of soldiers who died at the hospital were buried in the adjoining parcel.

The Rowe-Goolrick house was among several on Sophia Street. It was demolished in 1973 to make room for a parking lot that is now part of the park development. The Picket reached out to the city for a status report on the park project, but received no reply.

A 2019 blog post on the Dovetail website details the discovery of several building foundations and artifacts in the historic area after excavations for the park. It describes the Rowe-Goolrick house:

The now-gone Rowe-Goolrick house in the 1930s (Library of Congress)
“Built in the mid-eighteenth century, this two-story, three-bay home did not face today’s street grid but rather the original town ferry lane, which ceased use shortly after the home was constructed. The foundation of the house was fashioned of local Aquia sandstone.”

As at other battle sites, temporary hospitals were established in Fredericksburg.

According to the Free Lance-Star, there are written accounts from several individuals, including some serving in the 14th Connecticut Infantry, that describe convalescing on the house’s grounds. Park officials in 2019 said graves were often overlooked in the years following the war.

Sophia Street fronts the Rappahannock River and was home to some of the earliest structures in Fredericksburg, Hennessy has written on his blog. A few survive.

A fascinating circa 1863 photograph of the city shows the Rowe-Goolrick house. It was then the home of Absalom Rowe, a cattleman and future mayor of the town. Near it was the Eliza Eubank home, also shown in the picture. It still survives and may be the oldest building in Fredericksburg (circa 1746).

The Eubank home (By Bradley Owen,
In recent years, the Eubank home was renovated into office space and a sign outside uses the name Thornton’s Tavern to mark a pre-Civil War establishment in the building.

The Historical Marker Database’s page on the home includes this description on the marker:

“In December 1862, Union and Confederate forces clashed violently in the city's streets during the First Battle of Fredericksburg. The Tavern's owner … one of Fredericksburg's few female property owners at the time … returned after the fighting to find that her home had miraculously survived the battle with only minor damage.”

The park visitor center, about a mile from Sophia Street, interprets the story of several Civil War campaigns and battles in the area over a three-year period.

Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania -- this is America's battleground, where the Civil War roared to its bloody climax,” its website says. “No place more vividly reflects the War's tragic cost in all its forms. A town bombarded and looted. Farms large and small ruined. Refugees by the thousands forced into the countryside. More than 85,000 men wounded; 15,000 killed -- most in graves unknown.”