Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Spotlight on J.E.B. Stuart

In October 1862, dashing Confederate cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart ran circles around the Union in Chambersburg, Pa.

"Stuart's Chambersburg raid was an event of national significance," said Ted Alexander, chief historian at Antietam National Battlefield. "The national publicity generated by the raid was an embarrassment to the Lincoln administration. It also was one of the final nails in the coffin of the military career of Union General George B. McClellan."

The Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 8 and Oct. 9 is sponsoring historical discussions and a bus tour about the raid.

Read more details about the seminar

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

If war is hell, 'neutral' Missouri was in the palm of the devil

Officially, neutral Missouri never left the Union.

But the border state was anything but calm before and during the conflict, says Dr. William Piston, a professor and historian at Missouri State University in Springfield.

“Missouri was the worst place to be [in the United States] between 1861 and 1865,” says Piston, who is beginning research on a comprehensive book about Missouri and the Civil War.

The Show Me State sent its sons to both armies, had its star on both flags and engaged in an internal war that left hundreds dead. Guerrilla warfare sprang up and neighbors became vigilantes. A pro-Confederate government was run out of state.

“Sherman burned farms in Georgia. This state eviscerated itself,” says Piston, an author of several books about the war. “Entire towns were burned and destroyed.”

Piston told me he wants his book to answer the “why” this state became so bloody.

Horror stories abound.

Pro-Confederate guerrilla William “Bloody Bill” Anderson (top photo) captured and executed 24 Union soldiers in Centralia in September 1864. In Palmyra, 10 Confederates were put to death in 1862 in reprisal for the abduction and presumed killing of a local Union supporter.

The future of slavery was at the nub of the crisis.

Missouri entered the Union in 1821 as a slave state, following the Missouri Compromise of 1820, in which it was agreed that no state north of Missouri's southern border with Arkansas could enter the Union as a slave state.

Federal law also decreed that if a slave physically entered a free state, he or she was free. Missouri slaveholders worried the state would become part of the Underground Railroad spiriting slaves to free Kansas, according to Wikipedia.

The result was a de facto war between pro-slavery residents of Missouri (called Border Ruffians) and Kansas free staters to influence how Kansas entered the Union.

Missouri’s famous military battles during the war include Pea Ridge (above) and Wilson’s Creek.

Piston (left), a native of Johnson City, Tenn., has been on the faculty at Missouri State University for more than two decades.

His first book, “Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant,” documented the campaign to discredit James Longstreet and blame him for the Confederate loss at Gettysburg, if not the entire war.

Subsequent books were about the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and two other engagements.

Piston just co-authored “Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Missouri in the Civil War,” which is scheduled to be published by the University of Arkansas Press in December.

Piston says research on his upcoming book will include the roles of women and African-Americans in Missouri.

After Colt pistols sale, she's loaded

Sharlene Perez of New York was stunned when Colt 1851 Navy revolvers given to her late husband sold at auction for $130,000.

The guns had been a gift from a friend to her late husband, but they held no sentimental value for her. So in June, Perez decided it was time to sell them.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a buyer in Anaheim, Calif., paid the princely sum for the matching pair of Colts, engraved by Gustave Young, a master of that time period.

Read more about the guns

Monday, September 28, 2009

62 dead are forgotten no longer

When Dale Mitchell was growing up in Trion, Ga., one of his teachers told him Chattooga County had not seen any significant fighting during the Civil War.

“That was false,” said Mitchell.

As a kid, he knew the town’s old cemetery contained graves of fallen Union and Confederate soldiers.

But there was no marker, and most local folks knew nothing of any fighting in the area.

Fortunately, historian Agnew Myers dug up history of the Civil War in Chattooga County, detailing several military encounters and a little known skirmish known as the First Battle of Trion Factory.

Union cavalry clashed with Confederate forces on Sept. 15, 1863, four days before the more famous Battle of Chickamauga, said Mitchell, commander of the Chattooga County Camp No. 507 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The 55 Union and 7 Confederate dead were buried on the side of the road, not far from the factory (cotton mill).

They then slipped into oblivion, a footnote in the Chickamauga campaign.

That began to change two years ago.

Mitchell and the SCV raised $3,000 for a monument at the Trion cemetery.

The 7-foot marker was dedicated on Sept. 12 of this year.

The effort was a joint project of the 507th and the Missionary Ridge Camp 63, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, with donations from the Pvt. John Ingraham Camp 1977, SCV from Chickamauga, the Tillotson Foundation of Menlo, Ga., the Chattooga County Historical Society and the Georgia Civil War Commission.

Mitchell says the SCV had a single mission in remembering the 62 casualties.

“They are all Americans. They should not be forgotten.”

More photos of the dedication

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Travel: Gettysburg gets an upgrade

Half solemn battlefield and half kitschy vacation spot, in 2013 Gettysburg will mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s most famous battle. To prepare, it’s sprucing up. • Article

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pickett's Mill Battlefield rebounds from flooding; visit it Saturday for free

Pickett’s Mill Battlefield State Historic Site took a licking from this week’s historic flooding, losing three foot bridges and part of the foundation of its namesake mill.

Still, its staff and volunteers from the Friends of Civil War Paulding County will be ready for Saturday (Sept. 26), when visitors can walk the trails and see the well-preserved Civil War battlefield for free.

The $5 parking fee will be waived, along with admission, as part of Georgia's Free Day in the Parks.

Interpretive ranger James Wooten says the foundation of Malachi Pickett’s mill is now rounded instead of square. “Some stones were washed away.” Water was up 15 feet in some places before slowly receding.

The flooding also closed one trail and means the merging of two others until repairs can be made. Wooten advises visitors to stay on marked trails and not go beyond yellow tape or rope.

Fortunately, the park’s infantry entrenchments are still intact.

Union Gen. William T. Sherman learned some tough lessons when he tried to flank and push back his foe at the Battle of Pickett’s Mill on May 27, 1864. Troops under Gen. O.O. Howard clashed with those of Gen. Patrick Cleburne.

The Federals charged down ravines and uphill against the Confederates. At least 700 of the men in blue died and the advance on Atlanta was delayed a week.

In addition to no proper reconnaissance beforehand, “the charge was difficult at best, suicidal at worst,” says Wooten.

Pickett’s Mill is one of the best-preserved Civil War sites in the country.

Visitors are able to look at the area where the Union troops climbed and say, “They had to go up that?” says Wooten.

Due to state budget cuts this summer, Pickett’s Mill is open three days a week, Thursday-Saturday. Wooten is the only employee remaining from a staff of five.

Pickett’s Mill Battlefield: 4432 Mt. Tabor Church Road, Dallas, GA 30157, Click its Web site for more information.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wal-Mart in court over Wilderness area store

Preservationists, residents file legal challenge to block a new Wal-Mart Supercenter near famed battlefield. • Article

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Southern-fried Longstreet: Part 1

Joe Whitaker sits at a wooden desk in the library of the restored Piedmont Hotel in Gainesville, Ga.

Around him are portraits and books about famed Confederate Gen. James Longstreet, who made this city an hour northeast from Atlanta his home for the last three decades of his life.

It was time to get to the meat of the matter.

Was the Piedmont Hotel, which was owned for many years by the general, in fact the birthplace of Southern (battered) fried chicken?

“I can’t prove that,” chuckles the treasurer of the Gainesville-based Longstreet Society. “But I won’t deny it, either.”

Chickens are big business in Gainesville. So it was no small addition to local lore when the Georgia Poultry Federation a few years back claimed that the Piedmont, built in 1873, was the first area poultry processor, albeit out of a hotel kitchen, in the area.

The Piedmont Hotel (left) is the centerpiece of the 200-member Longstreet Society, which was formed in 1994 to honor the life of Longstreet, who died here at age 82 in 1904.

The Longstreet Society also provides info on related sites in Gainesville. Visitors can see them all in about an hour.

When the society acquired the Piedmont Hotel property in 1995, it did not know for sure what it had. A close study of the hallway and other parts of the one-story building confirmed it in fact was a remnant of the imposing Piedmont, which was torn down in 1918.

The ground-floor structure is all that remains of the three-story, double-winged Piedmont. Since 1918, the remaining building saw life as a military school, apartment duplex and, possibly, a brothel.

It almost had a date with a bulldozer.

“It scared me what we had almost done,” says Longstreet Society President Richard Pilcher.

Since then, the society has treated the building with love, spending about $250,000 to restore it and make it a center for learning. More improvements are planned.

Longstreet, who was controversial in the South for becoming a Republican and backing Reconstruction, moved to Gainesville from New Orleans about six years after the end of the Civil War.

The lieutenant general, dubbed the "Old War Horse," was one of Gen. Robert E. Lee's chief lieutenants during the Civil War, achieving distinction in many battles, including a monumental attack at the Battle of Chickamauga. The Longsteet Society and others defend him against critics who say he was responsible for the Southern loss at Gettysburg.

Members also said he was a pragmatic, if somewhat naive, man who wanted to see the country come together after hostilities. Longstreet supported civil rights for former slaves.

The general in later years looked a far cry from his Civil War days. Instead of a general’s uniform and brown beard, he was white-headed and sported muttonchop whiskers. He was a genial hotel host who preached reconciliation and an end to war.

The society uses the old hotel rooms to tell his story. One has artifacts and paintings. Another has period furniture from the time of Woodrow and Ellen Wilson, whose daughter Jesse was born in the hotel in 1887. The main hallway has copies of documents on his appointment to federal offices, including postmaster, U.S. marshal and minister to Turkey.

Longstreet bought the hotel for $6,000 in 1875.

From its beginning, Whitaker says, the Piedmont was “a railroad hotel” and a popular summer resort for Atlantans and others passing through.

Guests included newspaperman Henry Grady, author Joel Chandler Harris and former Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston. They enjoyed the fried chicken, lawn and other amenities provided by the Longstreets.

The current Piedmont Hotel, which also hosts civic meetings and church services, sits only a few blocks from the railroad in an old part of Gainesville that had declined before some recent redevelopment.

“It [the neighborhood] was a whole lot worse,” said Whitaker, “but is getting better.”

The Piedmont, 827 Maple St., is open from 10-4 on Saturdays and 1-4 on Wednesdays. Admission is free.

Other sites:

Park Hill home place: A statue of Longstreet looks down upon motorists on Longstreet Circle off of Green Street. The general pruned muscadine vines on this 65-acre farm which featured an old Colonial-style home. The home burned in 1889, and the general’s wife, Maria Louise, died a few months later. The bronze statue was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Sadly, many of Longstreet’s wartime memorabilia, including his uniforms, were lost in the fire.
(959 Longstreet Circle).

Helen Longstreet Home: Longstreet was 76 and a widower when he married 34-year-old Helen Dortch. He was living here at the time of his death. The house, which in recent years was expanded to two floors, is operated now by Winters Chiropractic. Helen Dortch Longstreet lived a long life. The spry environmental activist even served as a riveter at the Bell Bomber plant in Marietta during World War II. Dortch led the uinsuccessful fight to stop the damming of the Tallulah River to form what are now known as the Georgia Power lakes. She had to sell the house to pay legal fees.
(746 Green St., across from First Baptist).

Whelchel House: Longstreet was visiting his daughter when he became ill and died. During a coughing spasm, his old wound from the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness reopened, and he bled to death. His last words were, “Helen, we shall be happier in this post.”
(House is gone. Businesses are now at corner of College Avenue and Bradford Street).

Alta Vista Cemetery: Two Georgia governors are buried not far from several members of the Longstreet family. Longstreet’s remarkable grave marker is made of granite and cites his Civil War and Mexican War exploits. Some 5,000 people attended his Catholic services in town and streamed to the cemetery. An aged veteran placed his gray jacket on the casket. Helen Dortch Longstreet erected the marker several decades after Longstreet’s 1904 death. Interestingly, a U.S., rather, than Confederate, flag flies over the plot. And to reflect the family’s belief in reconciliation, the American flag is crossed over the Confederate battle flag on the marker.
(1080 Jewell Parkway. Go to flagpole at the center of the cemetery.)

Next week in Part Two: The legacy and controversy surrounding Longstreet, who was villainized by some vocal Southerners.

More information on the Longstreet Society

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Monument will honor massacre victims

A Civil War battlefield in central Missouri has a new monument honoring 123 Union soldiers who died in one of the war's bloodiest clashes.

The monument in Centralia will be unveiled on Sunday, the 145th anniversary what became known as the Central massacre, according to the Associated Press.

Confederate soldiers who died in the battle have been honored at the site since 2006. The new monument is being unveiled by the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

The 1864 battle followed a guerrilla ambush of a train carrying Union soldiers. The pro-Confederate guerrillas set fire to the Centralia train depot. Among the guerrillas was the outlaw Jesse James.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Weekend a grind for coffee man

Please pardon Marty Liebschner for not having Wi-Fi at his coffee house.

For one thing, his business is portable.

Being in mountainous terrain this past weekend didn’t help, either.

So customers had to be content sitting in a wooden chair, enjoying a dark roast without all the Internet-suffused comfort of home or Starbucks.

No matter.

There’s plenty else to see when you walk out of his tent at a Civil War re-enactment.

Liebschner is new at the coffee business. The Savannah resident, who is known as “Music Hall Marty,” purveyor of musical instruments, was at the Battle of Tunnel Hill re-enactment “testing the market” in freshly-ground coffee.

When asked why he got into this line of work, Liebschner says, “I got sick of bad coffee at events.”

Liebschner has worked at several historic sites over the years. He’s currently working at Home Depot to help pay the bills.

At Tunnel Hill, “Music Hall Marty” had several vintage coffee grinders in use, crushing beans for Colombian, House Blend and iced coffee that sell for between $1 and $3. True to his background, Liebschner had signs in front of each, explaining their use and history.

He even serves chicory, a coffee substitute popular during the war. It doesn’t have caffeine, but it has a bearable taste.

Civil War soldiers were big coffee drinkers, even if it was bitter and strong by today’s standards. Southern troops often had to make due with substitutes like okra, potatoes and corn.

“Unfortunately, all these imitations lacked potency, tasted awful, and upset the bowels,” says one Web site.

We should all be grateful for the real thing.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday's photos at Battle of Tunnel Hill

• Museum, historic tunnel, re-enactment, spectators and more at this North Georgia weekend

At Tunnel Hill, rising above the rain

For organizers of the Battle of Tunnel Hill re-enactments over the weekend, there was light at the end of the rain-soaked tunnel.

Heavy rain and the ensuing mud cut deeply into the number of spectators and re-enactors at the 16th annual event in this town 5 miles north of Dalton.

Still, said Janet Cochran of the Tunnel Hill Historical Foundation, those who did come -- including 1,100 students on Friday -- learned a good deal about local history and the 1864 Civil War battles in the area. Visitors were able to visit the camps and buy goods from about a dozen sutlers.

“In light of the weather,” Cochran said, “we were very pleased.”

The Tunnel Hill re-enactment is usually held the weekend after Labor Day. It was moved back two weeks this year to accommodate a larger event. Organizers said from now on they will stick to the regular schedule.

The foundation had hoped for about 500 re-enactors. Less than half that number attended. The rain kept away hundreds of spectators, though the faithful toted umbrellas and slogged through the mud and wet fields.

Re-enacting units included the 125th Ohio, 35th Tennessee, 16th Georgia, 31st Alabama, 23rd Kentucky and the 123rd New York.

They gave a spirited demonstration Sunday afternoon. Smoke rose above skirmishes and battle lines. Soldiers yelled taunts at the opposing forces.

In Sunday’s action, Federal units eventually pushed Confederate forces back to a fort.

Before Sunday’s battle, I took a walk through the 1,477-foot namesake tunnel. Guide Steve Hall did an excellent job describing the construction of the tunnel, which saw its first rail service in 1850.

I saw drill marks left by the Irish workers, who used black powder to blast through the limestone. Portions of the tunnel have rock walls, while other sections had larger stones. Brick masonry covered much of the vaulted ceiling.

Hall showed me brick sections where locomotives scraped by. We could also see some soot in the tunnel.

The tunnel, which is open to visitors at the Tunnel Hill Heritage Center, closed in 1928. A replacement tunnel nearby is used by CSX, which operates rail service between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn.

Video: Battle of Tunnel Hill

The torrential weekend rains took a brief break Sunday afternoon (Sept. 20, 2009) for the Battle of Tunnel Hill re-enactment in Tunnel Hill, about 5 miles north of Dalton, Ga.

About 150 re-enactors took part Sunday, down in numbers from Saturday, when heavy rains deluged the site and the re-enactor parking lot, turning it into a sea of mud.

The battles Saturday and Sunday re-created several skirmishes and battles during the Civil War Atlanta campaign in 1864.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Portion of battlefield preserved

A Virginia Civil War battlefield that saw especially fierce fighting 145 years ago Saturday will be preserved under a $3.35 million effort involving an array of private and public funding.

The preservation effort announced Friday involves 209 acres of the so-called Middle Field of the Third Battle of Winchester, which was fought on Sept. 19, 1864. The Union Army's 19th Corps lost 40 percent of its men to injuries or death during the battle - a total of 2,074 soldiers.

Read more details on acquisition

Friday, September 18, 2009

Charges dropped against re-enactor

A Virginia judge has dismissed a firearms charge against Confederate re-enactor Joshua Silva, who accidentally shot a man portraying a Union soldier during a mock Civil War battle at Heritage Park last year.

In June, Silva, 30, of Norfolk pleaded guilty in Isle of Wight Circuit Court to reckless handling of a firearm for firing the shot that struck and wounded 72-year-old Thomas Lord Sr. of Suffolk. The charge was dropped Wednesday after Silva paid $1,200 in restitution and completed a required gun safety course, said Isle of Wight Commonwealth's Attorney Wayne Farmer.

Read more about incident

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What battlefield do you most want to visit?

I’m sure all of us have one battlefield or Civil War site we’ve been wanting to see for years.

For me, it’s Vicksburg.

And while I’m at it, I’d love to drive part of the Natchez Trace.

Vicksburg was such a huge win for U.S. Grant, coming just when Gen. George Meade and the eastern Federal army won at Gettysburg.

Both Union victories were complete by July 4, 1863.

Grant showed the doggedness and resourcefulness that would serve him well as he wore down Gen. Robert E. Lee & Co. around Richmond.

Any trip to the Mississippi River is good. Besides the battlefield, I’d love to see the antebellum homes and gardens in Vicksburg. I just haven’t had an opportunity to get to that part of Mississippi.

Tell me. What one unvisited battlefield is at the top of your roster?

Please keep the doctor away

With poorly trained staff, limited science and a mass of misery, regimental hospitals were often scenes of horror during the Civil War.

Military historian John Keegan in his new book writes about the conditions at a time when medicine was in a time of transition. Doctors new little about treating infections so common after wounds.

"The suffering was equally distributed between the two sides, and was felt particularly by those not present," Keegan writes. "The whole point of the war was to hold mothers, fathers, sisters and wives in a state of tortured apprehension, waiting for the terrible letter from hospital that spoke of wounds and which all too often presaged the death of a dear son, husband, or father."

Read more about the new book

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Civil War steamer found in Fla. river

Divers have discovered the remains of a Civil War steamship in the bottom of the Hillsborough River in Tampa.

A research team from the Florida Aquarium used advanced sonar technology to find the wreck of the Scottish Chief in 15 feet of murky water Tuesday. The vessel hadn't been seen since Union troops burned and sank it in 1863.

See the article

Medal of Honor: Then and now

I’m glad America still takes time to honor some of its military heroes.

Several news media outlets have been covering this week’s annual convention of Medal of Honor recipients in Chicago.

According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, 3,447 individuals have received the medal. Ninety-five are still living.

The Medal of Honor got its start during the Civil War in 1862.

Its first recipients were six Union soldiers who took part in the “Great Locomotive Chase” in Georgia, where I live.

Pvt. Jacob Parrott (left) has the distinction of getting it first. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society cites the Ohioan “who, by direction of Gen. Mitchell (or Buell) penetrated nearly 200 miles south into enemy territory and captured a railroad train at Big Shanty, Ga., in an attempt to destroy the bridges and tracks between Chattanooga and Atlanta.”

The only female Medal of Honor recipient is Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War surgeon.

A recipient acts "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his [or her] life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States."

Six U.S. service members have been chosen for the Medal of Honor during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During a ceremony Tuesday at Soldier Field, public and military officials called the medal recipients heroes.

"They're very special human beings," Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said. "They're the best of the best. The pride of our nation."

Members of all branches of the U.S. military are eligible to receive the medal, and each service has a unique design with the exception of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard, which both use the Navy's medal.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A mother's son finally returns home

Almost 150 years after his death, a Civil War soldier is now headed home to rest in peace.

Tuesday, at Antietam National Battlefield, the remains of the unknown soldier found at the battlefield last October were transferred from the Park Service to the State of New York.

The soldier will be reburied at 10 a.m. Thursday on the 147th anniversary of the clash, also called the Battle of Sharpsburg.

Read more about return of soldier's remains

Monday, September 14, 2009

Little visited, very important

You won't find monuments, statues or classic field artillery in Richmond, Va. - only one of the most impressive forts still standing from the American Civil War.

During the last year of the conflict, the former Confederate stronghold at Fort Harrison and its accompanying network of fortifications faced a Union onslaught designed to pressure the besieged Confederacy, and possibly break through to Richmond.

See story about this historical gem

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Battle of Chickamauga 146th anniversary

This coming weekend is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the bloodiest two-day battle of the Civil War.

Union artillery and Confederate infantry demonstrations will highlight the 146th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga in North Gerogia.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is marking the anniversary from Thursday, Sept.17, through Sunday, Sept. 20, with evening programs, walks, talks and tours.

(Not sure I can make this one. Busy on the 19th and probably going to Tunnel Hill on the 20th).

The infantry and artillery programs will describe the action at the Kelly Crossroads from both the Union and Confederate perspective. Demonstrations will take place along Battleline Road at the south end of Kelly Field. Both the infantry and artillery camps will be open to visitors throughout the weekend.

Union Artillery Demonstrations
Saturday, September 19 at 9:45 a.m., 11:15 a.m., 12:45 p.m., 2:15 p.m., and 3:45 p.m.
Sunday, September 20 at 10:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 2:30 p.m.

Confederate Infantry Demonstrations
Saturday, September 19 at 10:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 3:00 p.m., and 4:30 p.m.
Sunday, September 20 at 10:45 a.m., 12:15p.m., 1:45 p.m., and 3:15 p.m.

The action at Elisha Kelly’s farm became the scene of the most sustained fighting of the Battle of Chickamauga, particularly on the final day of the 1863 battle.

More info on the four-day event is at the park’s Web site. The Chattanooga newspaper also has this preview.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A duel, slavery and the Civil War

Nearly two years before the first shots were fired in the Civil War, simmering hostilities over slavery erupted on a "field of honor" in California, where a pro-slavery judge mortally wounded an anti-slavery senator in a duel. At left, Sen. David Broderick.

The duel, 150 years ago Sunday, showed how political disagreements over slavery had become increasingly violent, culminating in 1861 when the war broke out.

Read the article

Redford picks Savannah for movie

Famed actor and director is making a film about Mary Surratt, hanged after she was convicted of being part of the Lincoln assassination conspiracy. • See story

Friday, September 11, 2009

Making plans....

Regrouping a bit after the Battle of Atlanta. I hope to travel to Tunnel Hill for the re-enactment there on Sept. 20.

Coming up: Interview with the Longstreet Society, which promotes the Civil War career and post-war accomplishments of Confederate Gen. James B. Longstreet.

Meanwhile, on this day in history:

1861 - U.S. President Lincoln revoked General John C. Frémont's unauthorized military proclamation of emancipation in Missouri. Later, Lincoln replaced Frémont (left) with General David Hunter.

1861 - Confederate troops under General Robert E. Lee moved into position against a Union stronghold on Cheat Mountain in western Virginia. Three days later the Confederates retreated without firing a shot.

1864 - A 10-day truce was declared between General Sherman and General Hood so that civilians could leave Atlanta, Georgia.

Sad victory at Wilderness

A columnist argues that Wal-Mart should move a new supercenter a litle farther up the road from the edge of a monumental Civil War battle in Virginia. • Column

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Battle of Tunnel Hill Re-Enactment

Before there was an international airport, railroads made Atlanta a transportation hub.

Rail lines to and from cities across the South made Atlanta a strategic target during the Civil War.

James Andrews and his band of Union raiders unsuccessfully tried to destroy much of the Western and Atlantic Railroad as they rushed northward from Atlanta toward Chattanooga, Tenn., during the "Great Locomotive Chase" in 1862.

One of their targets was supposed to be the 1,477-foot tunnel blasted through Chetoogeta Mountain at appropriately named Tunnel Hill, a town 110 miles north of Atlanta.

Two years after the Andrews Raid, Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s forces and Confederate soldiers fought several times around Tunnel Hill during his 1864 campaign to take Atlanta.

Spectators at this weekend’s battle re-enactment at Tunnel Hill will get a taste of local history at the event, which benefits the Tunnel Hill Historical Foundation and the town’s heritage center, says re-enactment coordinator Ken Sumner.

The 15th annual Battle of Tunnel Hill Civil War Re-enactment will be Sept. 19-20 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. The battles start at 2 p.m. at 215 Clisby Austin Road.

Sumner says re-enactors can still register, at no cost, by calling him at 678-939-3679.

He said between 500 and 800 re-enactors will take part.

Admission to the re-enactment is $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 6 to 12, and free for children under 6. The fee includes a tour of the tunnel, which closed in 1928, and admission to the heritage center. By the way, another tunnel nearby currently serves CSX.

Foundation president Janet Cochran told me she hopes the event, which includes school visits on Sept. 18, will raise about $8,000. Much of that will help fund the operation of the Tunnel Hill Heritage Center.

Besides the battles, spectators can buy period food, items from sutlers and learn more about life in the mid-19th century.

More information

Scarlett O’Hara, before it all went so sour

I came across this Cultured Traveler piece in the New York Times. The writer compares Magnolia Plantation and Drayton Hall in Charleston, S.C., saying they present dueling visions of the Old South. I've been to Drayton Hall, not Magnolia. • See the article

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

One more from the video vault

The lads of the Florida-based 97th Regimental String band belted out several Civil War standards at Atlanta, including "Battle Cry of Freedom."

Luck be a lady

“Miss Annie Lee” endured a lot of indignity on her road to respect.

She’s been hit by lightning. Locked up in an armory. She's even been kidnapped, only to be found on the side of a road.

“Annie Lee” is a bronze 3” rifled cannon, tended by the MacBeth Light Artillery of Williamston, S.C., which earlier this year won the rights from the city to operate it.

The 22-member unit was at the 145th Battle of Atlanta anniversary earlier this month in Lovejoy, Ga., and fired the gun for visiting schoolchildren.

Although there is no record of action for the bronze gun, says Brig. Gen. Kenneth Bachand of Hendersonville, it was known to have been cast in Rome, Ga.

A beautiful new carriage holds the refurbished field piece, which is named for Gen. Robert E. Lee’s daughter, Anne, who died in 1862 during the war.

Bachand says a working bronze gun is rare at re-enactments.

MacBeth Light Artillery has fired the cannon at several events this year.

“It’s had more work this year that it’s ever had,” said Bachand.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A bridge (marker) too far?

The History Detectives from PBS recently visited Columbia, S.C. The mystery? Is a marker indicating the location of a bridge burned by Confederate forces in 1865 in the right place? • See what they found.

Panoramic view of skirmishing

Here's another one of my videos from the Battle of Atlanta this past weekend. Confederate skirmishers are in the foreground.

Thank goodness for eBay, clothing closets

Fun doesn’t come cheap for today’s Civil War re-enactors.

Count on spending around $1,200, minimum, for a full uniform. Leather accoutrements can cost hundreds and sidearms go for at least $150.

Want a replica rifle? Plan on dropping $400-$500. Some carbines and rifles, made in Italy, can go for as much as $1,500.

For the serious investor, think $7,000-$15,000 for an artillery piece.

Re-enactors at the Battle of Atlanta told me they have several options on buying what they need: Clothing closets, sutlers and bartering.

And don’t forget eBay, where you can purchase everything from overcoats to buttons.

Scotty Kilbourne of Knoxville, Tenn., (left) says he carries about $10,000 worth of equipment on the road. That includes a truck, trailer and horses.

A member of the Union 1st Tennessee Cavalry, Kilbourne showed off a replica Spencer repeating rifle that sells for between $1,200 and $1,500.

Cavalry re-enactors often carry several sidearms into battle, each valued at $150-$250.

1st Wisconsin Cavalry (Federal) member Jim Standard of Spotsylvania, Va., says powder has become more expensive. That powder is used to make ammunition/charges for rifles and artillery. Fees paid by re-enactors in Atlanta helped pay for the cost of firing two dozen cannon.

Most units let prospective and new members try out gear for free while they determine whether the hobby is something they’ll stick with.

Robert Nichols of the Confederate 19th Alabama says new members can buy gear in installments over 12 to 18 months.

Sutlers at the Battle of Atlanta 145th anniversary offered all kinds of goods to participants. Belt buckets. Authentic buttons. Enough hats to fill a closet.

But some re-enactors want to be especially authentic.

Pat Peterson of Griffin, Ga., says “campaigners” will go to specialty companies for their hand-stitched clothing.

Those hobbyists will research historic records before each event, making sure their uniforms, guns and other camp equipment are authentic to that particular battle or skirmish.

“Campaigners want to do a little better” in being accurate, Peterson said.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Cannon ball hits house

Pennsylvania state police have charged a self-proclaimed Civil War buff with accidentally firing a 2-pound cannon ball through the wall of a neighbor's home. • Details.

Another clip from Sunday at Nash Farm

Cleburne's Division wants you!

Thinking about becoming a re-enactor? Alabama-based Cleburne's Division is participating in the Skirmish at Luxapalilla Sept. 25-27 in Winfield, Ala., and is planning a meeting for new members afterward. See the division's Web site or call Jim Wilson at 256-683-2035 or Joe Grosson at 703-401-3747.

Fifers and drummers at Atlanta

What did you think of this year's Battle of Atlanta?

With the sounds of gunfire receding from my ears, I am taking stock of attending my first re-enactment event in years. I learned more than I can cover in this space.

I want to hear from you. If you made it out to Nash Farm or were a participant in the battles or living histories, I'd love to get your impressions.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

2,000 in grand finale at Atlanta

• Photos: Confederates take their objective, but the Yanks don't have defeat on their minds.

Baby, it's hot outside

The good news for a federal re-enactor in Atlanta this weekend: You won most of the battles.

The bad news: You had to sweat a little more than your foe in gray.

It’s no secret that the wool and linen uniforms worn by re-enactors were more than a little uncomfortable on a hot Georgia day that approached 90 degrees Sunday.

In battle, Civil War soldiers usually wore their coats, so shirtsleeves at a re-enactment is out of the question.

“Ice angels” handed out ice chunks to many of the hobbyists before Sunday’s hourlong engagement that re-created 1864 fighting in Lovejoy.

Re-enactors say the blue uniforms are hotter than the butternut gray. They say wearing an extra shirt or T-shirt soaks up the perspiration to provide a modicum of air-conditioning.

Still, EMTs were on hand to treat any form of heat exhaustion.

Video: Rebel attack at Nash Farm

Confederate troops move en masse up toward Union positions Sept. 6, 2009, during the final day of the Battle of Atlanta 145th anniversary.

Federal troops retook the hill during the engagement, which lasted an hour. Nearly 2,000 re-enactors took part in the three-day event at Nash Farm put on by Atlanta Campaign Inc.

The event won't return for at least five years.

The Atlanta Campaign's next big project is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga, in 2013.

far•be (far' be) adj. Characterization of any impression marked by period incorrectness.

Re-enactors use the term "farb" to describe peers who aren’t being authentic in dress or behavior.

For the most part, hobbyists I saw at Atlanta looked every bit the person they portrayed. Attention to detail is impressive. A few would put away a soft drink or prepackaged food if the items were seen by spectators.

The origin of the word "farb" (and the derivative adjective "farby") is unknown, though it appears to date to early centennial reenactments in 1960 or 1961. An alternative definition is "Far Be it for me to question/criticize" or "Fast And Researchless Buying.”

It’s a tough balance: Being historically “correct” while living in a very different world in 2009.

Saturday's photos at Battle of Atlanta

• Kilpatrick's Raid, Battle of Cheatham Hill, ladies' tea, camp scenes and much more!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Music to his comrades' ears

Patrick Peterson looks every bit the Confederate.

His $600 hand-crafted uniform features a gray linen jacket above brown jean-cloth pants. His chevrons are those of a bugler.

In the saddle of Woodrow, his Percheron cross breed, the goateed Griffin, Ga., resident exudes confidence.

This weekend, Peterson is portraying a bugler in Rambo’s Brigade.

At 52 and the recipient of an artificial hip, Peterson is a little older and weathered than a typical Civil War bugler. But he takes his charge seriously.

The bugler is using about 25 of 52 infantry bugle calls, including “attention,” performed above.

Because the sound of a bugle travels farther than a voice in the din of battle, officers used them to signal commands to troops.

At the Atlanta re-enactments, each battle or skirmish ends with the playing of Taps to honor soldiers who died during the Civil War.

The littlest re-enactors

Some toted sabres. A few shouted out orders. The rest were riflemen, running through the brush, looking for the enemy.

Pretty well organized for a knot of kids aged 5-8.

As Saturday’s two re-enactments unfolded around them, these children did what kids do best – play.

They ran about excitedly as the artillery went off and smoke rose into the hazy summer sky.

“I sure wish I could in there,” with the re-enactors one young boy said as he watched the fighting.

But they also were learning.

I could hear parents, re-enactors and scout leaders explain what went on in actual fighting and how tough a lot the average Civil War soldier had.

Organizers of the Atlanta Campaign, which puts on the three-day event at Nash Farm in Henry County, say public schools generally do an inadequate job of portraying the war.

Saturday was a chance, they believed, to remedy that.

Richard and Debbie Lute of Fayetteville sat on a blanket with their three children Saturday (left).

They said such events are a great opportunity to learn together as a family.

“We went to Gettysburg this summer,” said Debbie. “We are on fire.”

Nearby, Faustine Li, a junior at Rockdale High School, took advantage of the weekend to earn some extra credit in one of her classes. She brought her father, Feng.

“I didn’t expect it be this big,” said Feng, who was born in China.

The Battle of Atlanta 145th anniversary event is more than about the combat featuring 1,800 re-enactors.

Visitors learn about music, period food, clothing, blacksmithing and camp and home life.

Both the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Sons of Union Veterans have tables at Nash Farm, recruiting new members and raising money.

“We’re about heritage and not hate,” said Lee Stroud of the Confederate group.

Ted Golab sat at the Union exhibit. With ancestors who fought on both sides, Golab calls himself an “SOB”, or a “Son of Both” organizations.

I asked him the chief purpose of such groups.

“We’re saving our history for our kids,” he replied.

Battle of Atlanta: Raw video of Kilpatrick's Raid

I shot this on Sept 5 during a re-enactment of fighting near Lovejoy Station. Union cavalry troopers won the day in 1864, but had to withdraw later to prevent encirclement. Parts of the actual battle took place on Nash Farm in Henry County, scene of the Labor Day weekend re-enactments.

At this camp, no women or store-bought food

A private in the 19th Alabama Infantry Regiment still only earns $13 a month.

About enough for a Kroger steak and a few Snickers bars, right?


Inflation never happens at Co. I of the 19th, which is based in Huntsville and is part of Rambo’s Brigade.

The unit, which is camped in the tree line at the Battle of Atlanta this weekend, tends toward the “campaigner” style of re-enacting.

Women aren’t allowed to stay in the camp. Instead of big A-frame tents, the boys of the 19th sleep under a rain fly or in dog (pup) tents. Enlisted men in the Confederate regiment must report their whereabouts to noncoms and officers.

They are issued rations paid for by script (left), a form of money.

Capt. Robert Nichols, who lives in Fort Campbell, Ky., says members of the 19th earn their pay by attending events and fulfilling other functions.

The quartermaster has a stock of Civil War-era goods, including dried corn, staples, coffee and canned goods "captured from the Yankees."

I was impressed by the authenticity of the camp. Ice was stored in a cracker box, water was in old containers and all personal items are styled after the period. The captain concedes hygiene in the new 19th is a little better than in the old days.

“We’re not perfect but we are better than most,” Nichols said of his camp’s historic appearance.

Occasionally, members of the unit walk across a broad field to the sutler area at Nash farm to enjoy fry bread and cold drinks.

“We call that ‘going to town,’” Nichols said.

Get to know a real Civil War general!

For a few moments Friday, I forgot Union Major Gen. James B. McPherson was dead.

In fact, the dashing general, complete with a full red beard, was in my presence.

Scott Thomas stood before me at Nash Farm, doing his “impression” of the gallant officer who fought in the Georgia campaign only to be killed during the Battle of Atlanta in July 1864.

I was wowed by Thomas’ knowledge of McPherson and Snake Creek Gap in North Georgia, where Union commander William Tecumseh Sherman was determined to push through two months before Atlanta.

Thomas is a member of the Confederation of Union Generals, a Gettysburg-based living history group that educates young and old about military personalities in the Civil War.

I talked with Thomas and William Vosseler, who portrays Union Gen. George Thomas, and John Saporito, who gives an impression of Col. Robert Gould Shaw. The young officer led black troops of the 54th Massachusetts and won fame in the movie “Glory.” He died in battle in 1863.

The trio admitted that re-enactments may not be their best venue because spectators are more interested in the fighting. Still, they are getting some receptive audiences and school groups.

“We don’t politicize the history,” says Thomas. “We get questions about colored troops and we tell black kids about him [Shaw].”

Historical accuracy is a must.

Recently, a student asked the three if they knew who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

Gen. McPherson (Thomas) and Col. Shaw (Saporito) were shocked. They had no idea that Lincoln had died.

That’s because both officers were in the grave before the 1865 assassination.

Horses learn to keep their heads

Turns out a re-enactment horse just wants to be one of the guys.

“They get into it as much as people do,” says Brandon Lentz, 19, who serves with the Confederate 3rd Texas Cavalry.

The 3rd is taking part in this weekend’s Battle of Atlanta re-enactments at Nash Farm in Henry County. Federal and Confederate participants brought about 75 horses between them.

Hobbyists who serve in cavalry units train a new horse for about a year, getting him accustomed to gunfire and the sounds of battle.

Re-enactor Dyson Nickle says horses “get to where they like the drills.”

Not all horses have the temperament for such duty.

But those who do make the cut enjoy running with the other horses because of the herd instinct.

Riding a horse in battle is not a cheap endeavor.

Cavalry re-enactors spend about $2,000 for a steed. But that's just part of the cost. A trailer, food and leather gear can add up to a significant investment.

First day at Battle of Atlanta

• Camp scenes and re-enactment photos from Friday's Battle of Atlanta anniversary

Friday, September 4, 2009

Antietam casualty finally comes home

Last October, a hiker discovered bone fragments and artifacts that sparked an extensive archaeological excavation. The remains were those of a young New York soldier. • Details.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tents go up for re-enactments

Photo album from Thursday's Battle of Atlanta re-enactment preparations at Nash Farm in Henry County

Drumming up business in Atlanta

Yes we'll rally round the flag, boys, we'll rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom,
We will rally from the hillside, we'll gather from the plain,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

-- “Battle Cry of Freedom”

Sutlers and entertainers at the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Atlanta are all about the business of transporting spectators back in time.

The popular 97th Regimental String Band – with renditions of “Goober Peas” “Rose of Alabama” and “The Battle Cry of Freedom” -- proudly proclaims that it “sets music back 100 years.”

Visitors to Nash Farm in Henry County this weekend will have the chance to tap their feet as the 97th’ performs songs about soldiers, adventures and scoundrels.

They’ll also have ample opportunity to buy Civil War-era inspired musical instruments, uniforms and food at the tents spread across a fresh-cut lawn.

“We do a lot in hats, toys and kids stuff,” Cindy Warlick of Heirloom Emporium, based in Strasburg, Va., said Thursday.

Her store has a range of goods. Others are more specialty. “Old Doc” Bell sells root beer, birch beer and other period drinks. Sidekick Sutlery out of Florida specializes in re-enactor gear.

While the economy has hurt some of the businesses, they are hoping good weather will bring out buyers at a three-day event competing with other Labor Day activities.

Don and Jackie Gardner of Grafton, Ohio, are venturing from economically-depressed Ohio to Atlanta for the first time, hoping to drum up new business among re-enacting units they have not seen before.

“It’s a hobby that turned into a business,” says Don Gardner, a retiree.

The couple sells banjos, violins, mandolins and a $189 cherry and cedar dulcimer that gives out a quiet sound and “peace of mind,” Jackie Gardner says.

Although they have a Web site and referrals, such events can be successful. Most who come to the tent are musical novices. The dulcimer can be learned in just a few minutes, the Gardners say.

“People want something that’s joyous in their life,” Don Gardner says. “Music is one way to do that.”

Back at Heirloom Emporium, Donna Huffman of New Market, M.D., prepares a ball dress that will go for $325.

Saturday’s agenda at Nash Farm includes a ladies’ tea and an evening ball at 8 p.m.

Huffman says she has customers across the South who want the dresses and hoop skirts for balls and social events.

Repeat customers are assured.

“Women don’t wear the same dress over again,” Huffman says.