Friday, October 30, 2009

Booo! Scary Halloween costumes

Just for fun, I decided to Google "Civil War" and "Halloween."

Never mind any history, or related events.

Almost all of the searches pointed to costumes. Southern belles, Union officers tunic, etc.

This one really cracked me up. A Civil War Mustache and Sideburns.

That is too much fun!

Note: Uniform not included.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Good news for battlefield preservation

Among the sites saved as a result of a program approved by Congress are historic properties at Antietam and South Mountain, Md.; Champion Hill, Miss.; Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, and Manassas, Va.; Chattanooga and Fort Donelson, Tenn.; and Harpers Ferry, W.Va. • Read the article

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wilmington, N.C., remembers hero

Maj. James Riley was a leader in the Civil War who eventually surrendered Fort Fisher to the Union in order to save the lives of his men. • Read the article

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Listening to the 'The March' on CD

I'm in the middle of a long drive from Texas to Durham, N.C., and then back home to Atlanta.

We're been listening to the audio version of E.L. Doctorow's novel "The March." The book, published a few years ago, is a compelling account of Gen. Sherman's March to the Sea.

The story is told through the ideas of turncoat soldiers, freed slaves and a populace who saw their way of life go up in smoke, literally.

The portrayal of Sherman is interesting. This, from a New York Times review: "True to this rather minimizing metaphor, Doctorow doesn't spend much energy probing Sherman's inner self or itemizing his thoughts and feelings. Instead, he sets Sherman's body on a horse, gives him a broadly recognizable face and a head full of practical military wisdom, and sends him off into the story to wreak havoc as befits his temperament and training."

I'm about a third of the way through. the book. The audio has made me think about the people who went through all of this 145 years ago next month. So far, I heartily recommend "The March."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lincoln and the role of New York City

Abraham Lincoln visited New York City only five times in his life, and only once as president, yet the growing 19th-century metropolis played a central role in burnishing his enduring public image.

That's the point of a new exhibition, "Lincoln and New York," that opened Friday at the New-York Historical Society on Manhattan's Upper West Side to celebrate the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth.

The exhibition runs through March 25.

Read the entire article

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dear Abby weighs in on re-enacting

In which the advice giver talks about proper behavior when a participant fires a weapon. • See the item

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New sports complex at Atlanta school will result in loss of rare earthworks

The eternal struggle between historical preservation and modern needs is playing out at Atlanta’s Lovett School.

Nearly 110 yards of rare Civil War entrenchments are being lost to make way for a $6 million-$7 million baseball and softball complex. School officials said they had no other feasible locations.

Site work is under way this week. Trees will be cleared and grading at the Paces Ferry Road campus is scheduled to begin Friday. The new softball field will be ready for play in fall 2010. Baseball will be played on the site in spring 2011.

The school, which resides where Union forces built defensive breastworks during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, will preserve an adjoining 42-yard section of entrenchments and another section on the northeast corner of the 100-acre campus.

The work follows intense study, as well as feedback from some Lovett students, parents and faculty concerned about the loss of the breastworks and nearly 5 acres of trees.

In the end, the cost of building off-site, the safety concerns involved in transporting students and the environmental impact of building elsewhere made the current location the only choice, says Lovett’s headmaster and two trustees.

“We looked exhaustively off site,” says Headmaster William S. Peebles IV, but the cost would have been two to three times higher.

The Georgia Battlefields Association, a preservation group, is not pleased with the construction project.

“I sympathize with this from a managerial position. From a preservation standpoint, I don’t like it,” says association president Charlie Crawford (behind breastworks in photo).

“We worked very hard to do the right thing there, to do it the right way,” says Gordon Buchmiller, a trustee and chairman of the private K-12 school’s Buildings and Grounds Committee. “We have been open.”

As part of the permitting conditions, Lovett will build an interpretive exhibit to detail the area’s environment and historic importance, says Peebles. Ideas on its content and presentation are welcome, he says. The school has invited interested parties to discuss the ideas at a meeting this Wednesday.

The exhibit will augment two historic signs currently on school property.

Lovett also is paying $200,000 in tree recompense for the planting of trees in the city of Atlanta.

Athletics is an important part of Lovett’s mission to its nearly 1,600 students. More than half are involved in interscholastic sports. The school has 100 coaches. The number of girls participating has grown tremendously, officials say.

“We believe in educating the whole child,” says Buchmiller.

Leaders say Lovett has been two to three fields short of what it needs. That keeps many students at practices well into the evening, sometimes not getting home until after 9 p.m. Teams compete for practice space.

The school’s master plan, which includes the construction of academic buildings and other facilities/improvements, has been revised several times over the years, says John Holder, chairman of the trustees.

The softball and baseball fields currently are on the north side of the campus. The idea is to have them built on a rise near the old Paces Ferry Road, where the breastworks were erected by the 20th Corps of the Union Army of the Tennessee.

A new multisports field, with an artificial surface, will be built where the ballfields currently are.

The school sits alongside the Chattahoochee River. The recent major floods put three fields, including football, out of action. Observers say the river’s water reached to just a few feet below the horizontal bar of the football goalposts.

Federal and state regulations on rivers and streams restrict where the school can put new facilities. A stream running through Lovett also limits development. Lovett also has very little impervious space left on which to build.

The current plan for the softball-baseball complex is part of a revised master plan that has been publicized for five years, Lovett officials said.

Talk about the project has heated up in the past few weeks. Leaders say they have heard from relatively few members of the Lovett family.

“Not everyone is excited about this,” Peebles said.

Buchmiller says many of the 50 who contacted Lovett, a mix of students, parents and faculty, weren’t opposed but had questions the school subsequently adequately answered. Some are now in support of the plan.

“We have gone to extraordinary lengths to talk to our community,” says Holder, adding that the school agonized over where to grow its athletics facilities.

“People don’t pay enough attention until bulldozers start showing up,” he said.

Lovett held public hearings and received necessary local, federal and state permits for the work. The school, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state entered into a memorandum of agreement in May 2009.

Elizabeth Shirk, environmental review coordinator for Georgia’s Historic Preservation Division, says the state looked at the alternatives for another location but supported the agreement.

“They [Lovett] have built everything they can on their property,” she says.

The impact of the construction project will be documented through photographs, written description and historic narrative, according to the agreement, allowing for an archaeological and historic “permanent record” of what stood there.

Buchmiller says the site of the new softball/baseball fields is a “challenging location” on which to build. A lot of dirt will be required to level the area off.

Besides the capital and operational expense savings, Buchmiller says, keeping the fields on campus will greatly reduce the school’s environmental footprint by reducing car and bus trips.

Because Lovett has infrastructure and parking, it will require only 5-6 acres of construction, rather than 10 acres off-site.

Other considerations were the cost of transporting athletes and coaches several miles away, as well as their safety on the roadways. Buchmiller says neighborhoods Lovett looked at would have been adversely affected by traffic and noise.

“This will have far less [environmental] impact than if we had built away from the campus, said Buchmiller.

Crawford, of the Georgia Battlefields Association, met Friday with Peebles.

The school already has done an archaeological study and returned items such as minie balls to the site. Crawford is asking the school to display or ask the state’s guidance on displaying any items found during the construction.

Lovett officials say few items were found during the study. Relic hunters have retrieved items there for years. The agreement with the agencies requires the school to record any significant finds during the destruction of the trenches.

The breastworks are readily discernible and are relatively rare because they are intact, said Shirk.

Crawford said he found Peebles to be open and civic-minded. “He has more considerations than historic preservation.”

Because Lovett met requirements and is on private property, the GBA is powerless to stop the project, Crawford says.

Still, he wrote in an e-mail to interested parties, “we are about to lose another section of very rare earthworks.”

Crawford says the trenches that are being leveled were built by Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s 20th Corps in late July 1864. They were held about a week. The 20th Corps was on site to guard Union lines, bridges and a ferry while Sherman’s other corps moved below Atlanta to cut railroads.

The Confederates knew that Sherman’s troops had moved, but were not sure where. A cavalry detachment moved up to Paces Ferry only to run into a fortified division. They turned back.

Click here for Lovett’s updated statement on the project.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A weekend visit to Fort Pulaski, fallen gateway to Savannah

Wearing a blue period military cap, volunteer guide John Meier does his best to have Fort Pulaski visitors prepared when they cross the drawbridge into the well-preserved fortifications.

I chatted briefly Sunday with Meier about typical questions the curious have when they come to the fort, 15 miles east of downtown Savannah.

Pulaski, made with millions of bricks, is known for representing the end of an era. When the Civil War began, the fort was considered a “spectacular” defensive structure.

But Union rifled guns fired from over a mile away reduced a good bit of the fort to rubble, leading to Col. Charles Olmstead’s surrender in April 1862.

Meier said folks often are surprised at how young Olmstead was. He was only 25 when he took command of the fort in 1861. The young soldier was haunted for years by his decision, but later said it was still the best possible given that a direct hit to the magazine would have blown up Pulaski.

“That the fort could and would be absolutely destroyed by the force of the enemy was a demonstrated fact . . .” he wrote.

Other visitors don’t realize how difficult it would have been for the Confederates to retake the fort over the next three years of the war.

We spent a couple hours at Pulaski, first walking by its cisterns than taking a gorgeous trail out to Cockspur Lighthouse, which was built in 1856. The structure escaped damage during the fateful hours of the Pulaski bombardment.

The fort is offering two special events in November and December.

Veterans Day (event is Nov. 7-8): Re-enactors from the 48th New York Volunteer Infantry will be on hand. They will give demonstrations of military and camp life. A special military salute to veterans will be offered at 4 pm Saturday. The 48th was garrisoned at Pulaski after its fall. Regular admission of $3 per person.

Candle lantern tours (Dec. 11-12, 6 p.m.-10 p.m.): Staff and volunteers will re-create the Confederate Nog party of 1861. Visitors will share in the Christmas season with cookies and hot cider, music and merrymaking. Advance reservations required, with limited spaces for each program. Programs begin at 6, 6:20, 7, 7:20, 8 and 8:20 each night. Each program runs about 45 minutes. Call 912-786-5787 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday beginning Nov. 1. Reservations end Dec. 8. Cost is $5 per person, including admission to the fort.

Henry repeating rifle stars at Iowa show

Unless you know what you're looking at, there's nothing to distinguish it from the other old guns on display, until you notice the price tag -- $32,000. It's a rare engraved .44-caliber Henry rifle manufactured in 1864. • More details about the weapon

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Seminar will bring Civil War to life

The Southern Museum hopes to draw aficianados and those new to the subject at "The Civil War in Georgia," its first academic seminar.

Five authors will be at the 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 24 event at the Kennesaw, Ga., venue.

“This will show Georgians the Civil War story right in their back yard,” said Jennifer Legates, director of curriculum and educational initiatives at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History.

Authors will discuss battlefield and homefront implications of the war. They are:

Tammy Harden Galloway, author of “Dear Old Roswell: The Civil War Letters of the King Family of Roswell, GA”. The book features letters from the Barrington King family.

Kurt D. Graham, author of “To Honor These Men: A History of the Phillips Georgia Legion Infantry Battalion.” Members of the unit with stationed at Camp McDonald, not far from the museum.

John Randolph Poole, author of “Cracker Cavaliers: A Regimental History of the Second Georgia Cavalry under Wheeler and Forrest”

Dr. John Fowler, contributor to “New Georgia Encyclopedia”

Russell Bonds, author of “Stealing the General.” The famed locomotive from the Great Locomotive Chase is the star of the Southern Museum collection.

Onsite registration is $20, which includes admission to the museum’s permanent exhibits. Light refreshments are provided. Guests must provide their own lunch.

The Georgia Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities are sponsors.

Call 770-427-2117, ext. 3177, or go to the museum Web site for registration info. A coupon at the site provides a $2 discount.

Charges upgraded in firing of cannonball

A Pennsylvania Civil War buff faces a felony charge for accidentally firing a 2-pound cannonball through the wall of his neighbor's home, the Associated Press reports.

William Maser, 54, had been charged with reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. Authorities on Thursday added a felony count of discharging a firearm into an occupied structure.

Maser has acknowledged firing a homemade cannon outside his house in Georges Township in early September. The small cannonball ricocheted and hit the neighbor's home about 400 yards away, smashing through a window and a wall before landing in a closet. Police say nobody was hurt.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Redford attracts crowd at 'Conspirator' set

Crews decorated a downtown block in Savannah, Ga., to look like Civil War era Washington D.C., complete with dirt covering the brick street and horse drawn carriages nearby.

Director Robert Redford is in town through the end of the year to shoot "The Conspirator."

Redford's film tells the story of Lincoln assassination conspiracy figure Mary Surratt (left). It is the second major film production in Savannah this year.

More about the filming

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fort Sanders re-enactment this weekend

This year's re-enactment will include portrayals of a lone artilleryman's ride, Union Gen. William Sanders' death and the failed Confederate assault on the fort - a life-sized model of which stands on the re-enactment's site in Corryton, outside of Knoxville, Tenn. • Read preview of the event

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

42 artillery shells found south of Atlanta

A contractor installing a new water line at a home near Lovejoy, Ga., made a surprising find last Friday.

Workers discovered 42 Civil War-era artillery shells, believed to have been left behind or misplaced by Union soldiers in September 1864.

Mark Pollard, Henry County’s Civil War historian, said the homeowner, whom he declined to identify, contacted him after he had pulled all but two of the Hotchkiss projectiles out from the 2-foot-deep cache.

“It’s exciting to know there are finds like that out there,” says Pollard, who completed the recovery and transport of the rifled rounds.

The Clayton County homeowner agreed to donate them to the Nash Farm museum, where Pollard leads battlefield tours. Nash Farm is a Henry County historic park.

Pollard says the shells may have been stored in a long-gone limber box. Only one was struck by the line-cutting equipment.

He said the house, which sits on a ridge, was near a U.S. artillery battery belonging to the Union 15th Corps. They may been stored underground for future use or simply left during an evacuation. “It was a good defensive position,” Pollard said.

Lovejoy, Jonesboro, Nash Farm and other Southside communities were scenes of bloody fighting and troop movement during the Atlanta Campaign.

All but five of the shells had fuses. Pollard says they have been since defused by a friend and will undergo electrolysis at a site to preserve them.

Pollard, relic hunters and police offices warn that a lay person should not attempt to touch or move old ordnance. On rare occasions, the rounds can go off. A Virginia relic collector was killed last year when a cannonball he was restoring exploded.

Pollard said he has handled shells before and is qualified to preserve them. He claims the 42 shells did not appear to be in a volatile condition.

The rounds, made for 3” ordnance rifle, “should be used to educate the public rather than be blown up or put in the corner,” he said.

For now, the 42 shells are early in the preservation process. Pollard hopes they will one day be a significant part of the Nash Farm collection.

The Georgia Battlefields Association considers Lovejoy Station an endangered site. Historians and activists have been concerned about the loss of significant property to development.

“You lose the land, you lose the artifacts, you lose the story,” Pollard said.

Jefferson Davis: Not always tough when he needed to be

Renowned Jefferson Davis scholar William J. Cooper Jr. has this succinct summary of the Confederate president:

A. Able leader and a master communicator.
B. A notch below as military commander-in-chief.

“He was no dictator,” Cooper says of Davis’ leadership style. “He led, but he also heard.”

Cooper, an author of several Davis works and a history professor at Louisiana State University, summarized his research at a Tuesday evening talk at the Civil War Roundtable of Atlanta.

Davis, a reluctant secessionist, had an enormous task on his hands.

With too few troops and limited materiel, he had to defend the entire Confederacy so that governors would continue to send him troops. He enacted conscription early in the war and knew taking the offensive against Union troops was almost impossible. “Reality governed,” Cooper said.

As the war wore the South down, Davis traveled across the region “to rally his country” and clearly enunciate the Confederacy’s goals. He survived particularly harsh criticism from two Georgians, Gov. Joseph Brown and Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens.

Cooper says the commander-in-chief articulated well his belief that Confederate nationalism sprung from the American Revolution, with white liberty at stake. And he believed only Southerners could pass judgment on slavery.

Still, Cooper said, Davis eventually, and successfully lobbied, to have slaves fight for the gray.

“He was willing to jettison slavery in order to gain Confederate independence.”

It was too little, too late.

Cooper reserved most of his criticism of Davis in his role as military commander-in-chief.

“He definitely was a micromanager.” Matters great and small, including transfers, orders and disposition of artillery, crossed his desk, Cooper said.

And, yet, he kept too lose a reign on his generals, said Cooper, author of “Jefferson Davis: American” and the more recent “Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era.”

Cooper cited several examples when Davis should have relieved or reassigned a commander.

Davis visited the Army of Tennessee in 1863, around the time of the Battle of Chickamauga, the lone Confederate victory in the theater.

Several generals, including James Longstreet, told Davis that Gen. Braxton Bragg was not up for the command job.

“Davis’ inexplicable decision was to leave Bragg in command. It was his most horrible decision,” Cooper says.

As a West Point grad, veteran of the Mexican-American War and a U.S. senator with military oversight, Davis had the pedigree to perform well in this capacity.

But often, Cooper said, the president let generals make too many ill-advised decisions with little or no consequence.

Critics have often harshly judged Davis and his wartime role, placing him a distant second to his Union counterpart, Abraham Lincoln, the scholar told the audience.

That might not be fair.

“Lincoln was the greatest war leader in our history,” Cooper said.

Review: John Bell Hood battles misfortune

'A Separate Country' doesn't let us forget that Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood was once a man who "cared very little for the men [he] ruined." Yet, this is a work which seems designed to remember Hood neither as a legend nor a monster but as a man.
Read the review of Robert Hicks' new book

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hell's broke loose in Georgia: March to the Sea meets 'Apocalypse Now'

Not too many years ago, movie audiences clung to a powerful scene from “Gone With the Wind” as their image of Gen. William T. Sherman’s marauding Yankees.

A soldier comes to Tara to loot the premises, sees Scarlett O’Hara and moves up the stairs toward her, a leer across his bearded face.

Scarlett calmly shoots him dead, takes his money and, with the help of Melanie, buries him outside.

To many, the soldier portrayed the worst side of the Union troops who made life miserable for Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina during the 1864 March to the Sea.

Whether he was a deserter or a forager is unclear. True foragers, nicknamed “Bummers,” were used to secure food for the vast army.

A forager was faced with many scenarios and moral dilemmas as he approached a farm or plantation: Are there crops and livestock for the taking? Should the home be burned and the family put out? Are there armed militia lurking in the shadows, ready to pick him off?

Or, should a home, instead, be bypassed?

Such choices will be posed to more than 600 people taking part in an “authentic immersion event experience” next month, 145 years to the day that Sherman’s army began the March to the Sea.

The Georgia-based Armory Guards and Mess No. 1, their Union counterpart in Ohio, are sponsoring “Bummers: All Hell Has Broke Loose in Georgia,” at Molena, Ga., about an hour south of Atlanta.

“Bummers” will take place Nov. 13-15 at the Boy Scouts’ 1,600-acre Camp Thunder, which the authentic campaigners/living historians are renting.

“It’s a way to learn the history by doing it,” says Eric Tipton, a member of Mess No. 1 and one of the organizers.

Tipton (left) likens the event, which is not open to the public, as a version of “Apocalypse Now.”

Rather than traversing rivers in Southeast Asia, Union foragers, as individuals or members of small teams, will head down trails.

Danger could come at any bend. And like the GIs in “Apocalypse Now,” participants may see scenarios and resulting decisions in shades of gray.

Many Southerners saw them as little more than criminals, destroying or seizing private property. But for Sherman, they were an instrument to wear down the South and take food away from the Confederacy’s breadbasket.

Tipton, who lives in West Chester, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati, likens the scenario to a “scavenger hunt,” with the foragers searching for food. Civilians, militia and Wheeler’s cavalry will attempt to parry these moves.

There will be burnings, prisoners, encounters with civilians and gunfire, says Tipton, who is hesitant about giving away too much of the story line, which “is more like play” than a re-enactment.

“Our goal is to pose moral dilemmas,” for foragers, says Tipton. “Human nature hasn’t changed over the years.”

He says keeping the event private will keep it realistic and free from distractions that come with public events.

While Tipton, 39, and other participants often re-enact in public, they tend to think of themselves as “living historians” or “campaigners,” as opposed to the larger group of “mainstreamers” who are not quite as concerned about authenticity.

The hobbyists coming to Molena adhere to strict rules, doing research on each event, outfitting themselves in authentic gear (from the tip of their Hardee hats to their leather-clad toes) and camping with no modern gear. They cope with weather, insects and conditions common to the everyday Civil War soldier.

“We go out in the field carrying only what these guys carried,” says Tipton, a real estate developer whose home unit is the 6th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

Participants in “Bummers” pay a $35 registration fee. Tipton says 350 hobbyists will portray Federals while about 150 are members of the Confederate militia. Another 30 or so will be in the Confederate cavalry, and 50 will portray civilians.

Tipton hopes the event and other fund-raising will garner nearly $10,000 to help the Atlanta History Center buy the George W. Wray Jr. Civil War Collection, which contains 1,000 objects.

I asked Tipton whether Camp Thunder sits in land covered by Sherman’s foragers.

Not quite. But the Union 15th Corps, on the right of Sherman’s 62,000-strong force, did operate in the area beforehand.

These guys do their research.

Read more about the event

Monday, October 12, 2009

John Brown's raid remembered

The bell that once hung in a tower in the brick firehouse where John Brown made his last stand will ring on Saturday, the 150th anniversary of the fiery abolitionist's raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

But the ringing will be heard only in the Massachusetts city of Marlborough, not the West Virginia town where Brown's raid took place. The bell is housed in a small tower in Marlborough.

Read the news article

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Unknown soldier reburied in Tenn.

A Civil War soldier whose remains were found in a battlefield grave last spring was reburied Saturday by admirers who knew neither his name nor even what side he fought on.

Among the history buffs paying tribute to him in Franklin, Tenn. were two old men whose fathers fought on opposing sides in the War Between the States.

"This soldier represents all of the soldiers, the thousands that were lost and are still buried across the South," said Robin Hood, chairman of the Franklin Battlefield Task Force that organized the event.

More about the ceremony

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

Confederate ghosts will greet visitors

An annual tradition takes visitors to a South Carolina city back to the Civil War era and the spirits from that period.

The Confederate Ghost Walk is today and Saturday in Charleston's Magnolia Cemetery and visitors can see vignettes about those buried in the cemetery, the Associated Press reports.

The yearly event, using re-enactors from across the state, is sponsored by the Confederate Heritage Trust. Proceeds provide for maintenance at the cemetery including the plot where the crews of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley are buried.

An estimated 4,000 Confederates are buried at Magnolia.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Guide writer's favorite battlefields, sites

Jim Miles wants to be alone.

While he is visiting Civil War battlefields, that is.

Miles has written eight guides to campaigns, battles and skirmishes. Among them are “Civil War Sites in Georgia, “Fields of Glory” and “A River Unvexed,” about the Mississippi campaign.

His works are part history, part tour guide.

He’s traveled on interstates, blue highways and gravel roads to research the books. Miles likes getting off the beaten track and goes to sites early in the morning or late in the day “to be alone.”

I asked the Georgia-based author this week to identify some of his favorite sites:

-- Antietam: “You really have to go there.” Nothing like the crowds in Gettysburg.

-- Shiloh: Gorgeous scenery, walks

-- Chickamauga: Especially the less-traveled sites and trails.

-- Fredericksburg: “I love to walk around the stone wall” where Confederates under Gen. Lafayette McLaws rebuffed thousands of Federals.

-- Home of T.R.R. Cobb, a Confederate general, which was recently moved to Athens, Ga.

-- Petersburg: “It is so vast and not so much of a crowd.”

-- Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge: “I like the complexity of the battle, how badly [Braxton] Bragg defended it and the bravery of the Union troops going up.”

-- Griswoldville, Ga.: Gen. William T. Sherman’s forces crushed a militia that came out on this field. Hundreds of young and old Georgians died in the carnage. “You can stand and imagine the terrain at the time,” says Miles. “I bet it was just like this when it happened.”

Miles also appreciates Kennesaw Mountain, Jonesboro and Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery, where Gen. John B. Hood watched the battle.

He acknowledges Atlanta’s traffic, development and scarce Civil War sites “can be depressing.”

Still, he said, there are times a visitor can conjure a historical moment.

“You have to ignore the present to remember the past.”

Readers can contact Jim Miles and learn more about his books at

Battle site to be preserved

A piece of Mississippi history will be preserved with the acquisition of 67 acres of a Civil War battlefield where roughly 1,000 men were killed, wounded or declared missing after fighting in 1863, the Associated Press reports.

The Battle of Raymond was a part of the Union Army's campaign to capture Vicksburg, which it eventually did.

In 2006, the first cannons were placed on the Raymond battlefield and 14 interpretive signs were installed. In 2007, an asphalt path was added and an information kiosk to complete a walking tour of the battlefield, where Confederates were forced to retreat two days before Jackson fell.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Collecting my thoughts after seeing powerful Atlanta History Center exhibition

More photos from the exhibition

I could kick myself for having missed out so long on a great thing.

Subjects I interviewed for three recent Picket articles mentioned specific items in the Atlanta History Center exhibition “Turning Point: The American Civil War.”

With this in mind, I headed down to Buckhead this morning and braved school groups to soak in the experience.


The 1,500-piece collection is absolutely superb. And while I thought the theme would be heavy on the Southern perspective, I was surprised to see an approach that touched on all sides.

Father and son Beverly M. DuBose Jr. and Beverly M. Dubose III spent years acquiring these historical gems before donating them to the Atlanta History Center, which opened the exhibit 15 years ago.

There’s the sword that presented by troops to Irish-born Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne. It was rescued from a junk shop and was eventually bought by the DuBoses.

Another room has an extremely rare original wagon used by Gen. William T. Sherman’s army.

The DuBoses were especially proud of a ship’s log from the Confederate raider Shenandoah and a Medal of Honor won through the effort of U.S. Colored Troops.

The exhibit is built around the artifacts, and is heavy on the military. But it also provides a human touch, soberly emphasizing the toll of the war, including the deaths of 50,000 Southern civilians to disease and hunger.

Display cases contain coats and other items worn by soldiers killed in battle. One features a specially made Union uniform made for a small boy after his father died.

A light-colored coat belonging to a Confederate and a Union officer’s sword (below) are juxtaposed. They belonged to soldiers who died minutes apart at the Battle of Peachtree Creek in 1864.

The relics in the first half of “Turning Point” are close to each other, impressing the visitor with the sheer volume and scope of the collection.

The exhibit opens up in the second half to show a re-created parapet, flags, the Sherman wagon and artillery pieces.

On the lighter size is an original autographed (yes, autographed) piece of hardtack, the tough cracker that was a staple of soldiers.

I strongly recommend the free audio tour, which is comprehensive and often provides a back story on a particular item.

School tours are held between 10 a.m. and noon. I did not mind the distraction; it was gratifying to see the Civil War story being told.

Visitors are asked to share their thoughts on the exhibit.

“The Civil War was very hard and sad,” one youngster wrote.

I spent a little more than two hours at “Turning Point”, which concluded with a film and display asking, “What does the Civil War mean to us?”

For some it conjures painful memories. Some find it irrelevant. Others experience continued racism. We now have a stronger central government, for better or worse. Others may feel renewed Southern pride.

There is, of course, no one answer to the question.

But “Turning Point” poses questions that should stay with a visitor after he walks out into the sunshine.

Prices, hours, more info on exhibit

Pa. 'road show' will mark 150th anniversary

Using traveling exhibits, special events, and an interactive Web site, "Pennsylvania Civil War 150" will chronicle the state's major role in the Civil War from the landmark Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 to runaway slaves traveling on the underground railroad .
Read more about commemoration

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

March to the Sea: 145 years later, some in South still smolder

While most folks don’t fight the Civil War these days, Georgia author Jim Miles remembers one scary occasion.

Miles, who 20 years ago wrote “To the Sea: A History and Tour Guide of Sherman’s March,” recalls what happened when he made a joke about the march while speaking to a civic group.

“I thought this guy might come at me with a knife or fork,” remembers Miles.

Nearly 145 years have passed since Union Gen. William T. Sherman and 62,000 Union troops left a conquered Atlanta and began a 36-day blitz to Savannah, foraging on the land and committing some atrocities.

As a result of Sherman’s successful campaign in Georgia, the Confederacy was split in two and deprived of much needed supplies, ending the war quickly with a Union victory.

The unparalleled march, bold for its size and its move away from supply lines, took the war to Georgia civilians and the state’s heartland. Homes and farms were burned. Familes were left homeless and hungry. Thousands of slaves left plantations and followed Sherman's army.

Many people are still passionate in their dislike of Sherman and the march.

“I think it’s a psychological scar,” says Miles.

At least one Georgia event is marking the 145h anniversary.

"Bummers 09" will be held Nov. 13-15 in Molena, about an hour south of Atlanta. The event "will be a scripted scenario which will recreate actual historic encounters between elements of Sherman's army and 11th Georgia State Militia," according to its Web site.

Several hundred people are expected to participate.

Miles, 56, knows a lot about Georgia and the Civil War. He taught history for more than three decades at Peach County High School.

Interested in the war since his early childhood in Mobile, Ala., he’s traipsed across the South to produce eight books that are part history, part tour guide.

His book on the march, which began Nov. 15, 1864, is considered his finest work. It includes battles in South Carolina and North Carolina that followed Sherman’s arrival in Savannah.

Civil War blogger Brett Schulte has praised its unbiased approach.

“It provides the starting point for tours of these places, and should lead those interested into further study of the material,” Schulte has written.

Miles says some readers with a Federal perspective think he was too sympathetic to the South or overstated the march’s effect. The Warner Robins resident says he took an open mind into his research, only to find that Sherman’s strategy and techniques truly were harsh.

“It makes Southerners angry,” says Miles of the march’s legacy.

At the same time, Miles says, the campaign shortened the war and saved lives. It demoralized Georgia and South Carolina troops serving in Virginia and the Carolinas and crushed their will to fight much longer.

“From the Northern perspective it was a grand campaign. They reached South Carolina. It was a triumph,” Miles told me.

Sherman famously wrote his ideas on war: “My aim, then, was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them fear and dread us. Fear is the beginning of wisdom.”

The exact physical toll of the march is hard to figure. Sherman estimated $100 million in destruction, including the wrecking of 300 miles of railroad. Thousands of horses, cattle and mules were seized. Valuable corn and cotton were burned.

There is no agreement on the number of assaults on women. Miles says there is only one documented case in Georgia.

Sherman’s march is still the stuff of controversy and new books, such as “The Bonfire” and “War Like the Thunderbolts,” which detail the scorched-earth tactics.

Edward Caudill and Paul Ashdown had an apt summary in “Sherman’s March in Myth and Memory,” which was published last year.

“Grant only defeated an army,” the authors pointed out. “Sherman killed a culture.”

Readers can contact Jim Miles and learn more about his books at

New walking trail at 'Gettysburg of the West'

Unlike states in the East, New Mexico isn't known for its Civil War battlefields, of which there are less than a handful.

But there is at least one site memorializing an important fight.

Union soldiers stood their ground against Confederates at a pinch along the Santa Fe Trail known as Glorieta Pass, resulting in an 1862 battle that historians often refer to as "the Gettysburg of the West."

Until recently, public access to the Civil War battlefield was limited. But earlier this year, the National Park Service opened a new 2-mile trail that allows visitors to explore the area.

Read more about the battle, trail

Monday, October 5, 2009

Killed Marine was re-enactor

A U.S. Marine who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country was laid to rest Sunday.

Lance Cpl. Jordan Chrobot received full military honors at his funeral in Frederick, Md. The Marine died last Saturday from a gunshot wound in Afghanistan.

Chrobot was also a Civil War re-enactor. His family says several friends attended his service in period costume and he was buried with his Civil War rifle.

Unknown soldier to be reburied Saturday

The sons of two Civil War veterans who fought for separate causes will meet for the first time over the unearthed remains of an unknown soldier, whose body never made it home from the battlefield 145 years ago.

Harold Becker, 93, of Grand Rapids, Mich., and James Brown, Sr., 97, of Knoxville, Tenn., will join together to help re-inter the unknown soldier’s remains, discovered in a shallow grave during a commercial construction project on the field where 10,000casualties fell in five hours at the Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864.

See the article

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Civil war historian honored

A bust was to be unveiled Saturday to honor Edwin C. Bearss, a national historian who contributed to the restoration of the USS Cairo, a Civil War-era Union gunboat now preserved at the Vicksburg National Military Park.

Bearss, who served as chief historian of the National Park Service, is in Vicksburg leading a weeklong History America Tour to sites important in the Vicksburg Campaign.

The tour started in Memphis, Tenn., and follows the route taken by Union forces in capturing the Vicksburg in 1862 and 1863, according to the Associated Press.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Ringgold honors Cleburne on Saturday

A life-size statue of famed Confederate Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne will be unveiled Saturday (Oct. 3) at the first annual Ringgold Gap Civil War Festival.

The festival includes talks by authors and historians, living histories, period-style food and an evening ball open to the public. A replica of the Confederate submarine Hunley will be on display.

The statue unveiling will take place at 10 a.m. in Ringgold Confederate Park, Highway 41, in Ringgold, Ga.

The parking area surrounding Confederate Park is extremely limited. Any individual wishing to attend the unveiling ceremony will be required to park at the Ringgold Gap Festival Grounds on Robin Road.

Shuttles will be provided, organizers say.

Cleburne’s forces staved off Federal forces in the town. The November 1863 victory gave the artillery and wagon trains of the Army of Tennessee safe passage to retreat through the "Ringgold Gap" mountain pass and caused high federal casualties.

Some 100 re-enactors are expected to be on hand for the free, all-day living history. A battle will not take place, but the hobbyists will tell visitors about what life and combat was like during the Civil War.

Festival organizers say Cleburne, an Irish immigrant who died in combat in 1864, is the first Confederate general since 1912 to have a statue dedicated in his honor in Georgia.

The festival is being held off of Robin Road, which is accessible from Alabama Highway and from Tennessee Street.

Ringgold downtown events coordinator Andrea Sherman told The Daily Citizen of Dalton that this is the first year for the festival, and it could be an annual event.

“We have so many people that are fans of Gen. Cleburne,” she told the Citizen. “He’s quite well respected.”

Details, directions, map, full schedule

Citadel says it has found 'Big Red' flag

Officials think a flag used by S.C. military cadets three months before the Civil War has been found in Iowa museum. • Details

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Part 2: The vilification and vindication of Gen. James Longstreet

Part 1: The general, fried chicken and Gainesville

James Longstreet carried his wounds with him until the day he died at age 82.

He carried the memory of his five young children who died more than four decades before. Three of them passed away in Richmond, Va., while he was away at the battlefront.

The aging warrior also contended with the effects of a wound to his throat, the result of friendly fire during the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864.

That wound reopened after pneumonia set in during a visit to his daughter’s Gainesville, Ga., home in January 1904. He bled to death.

But perhaps the most enduring wound has been the one to his reputation.

The controversy about his conduct at the Battle of Gettysburg and his postwar support of the Republican Party, Reconstruction and suffrage for blacks dogged him to his grave at Gainesville's Alta Vista Cemetery and for years afterward.

And while the debate continues, it now appears that the brilliant military tactician, may be winning the war -- thanks in part to scholars and pop culture.

First came Michael Shaara’s historical novel “The Killer Angels,” which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975. Shaara’s book is character-driven, looking sympathetically through the eyes of commanders at Gettysburg.

Longstreet is shown as a father still grieving over the death of his children. His tactics are generally defensive, and he believes Lee’s momentous attack, known as “Pickett’s Charge,” is doomed before it begins on a hot July afternoon in 1863.

William Piston, a history professor at Missouri State University, published “Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant” in 1987.

The book “ reveals how Longstreet became, in the years after Appomattox, the Judas of the Lost Cause, the scapegoat for Lee's and the South's defeat.”

Six years later, the Ted Turner-backed movie “Gettysburg” came out. Based on “The Killer Angels,” the film featured Tom Berenger as “Old Pete” Longstreet.

The movie and books, along with a more recent study by historian Jeffrey D. Wert, have put Longstreet back in positive territory.

“I think he [Longstreet] is much less tarnished,” Piston says, referring to the title of his book.

Piston’s work, which details the attacks on Longstreet’s military skills and politics, ended with a statement that the general would forever be found wanting.

“I am happy to say I was wrong,” Piston states.

Longstreet’s most masterful moments were at Chickamauga and Second Manassas.

The veteran of Indian wars and the Mexican-American War was devoted and loyal to Gen. Robert E. Lee, who leaned heavily on Longstreet and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The latter was killed at Chancellorsville only a few months before Gettysburg.

Longstreet was a “rough gem” compared to the patrician Lee, says Joe Whitaker of the Longstreet Society. “He wasn’t polished.”

Vocal critics during his lifetime excoriated the Confederate general for perceived failures at Gettysburg and in eastern Tennessee.

This cabal, which included former generals Jubal Early and John Gordon, claimed Longstreet stubbornly resisted Lee’s plans, resulting in the loss of the battle – and perhaps the war.

They said Lee’s “War Horse”, his principal subordinate, was insubordinate at Gettysburg. That he wouldn’t support the attacks. That he moved his 14,000 troops in a slow manner.

Longstreet’s supporters counter this. Although Gettysburg may not have been his best effort, they say, the general fought effectively on Days 2 and 3.

“I think Longstreet did well on the second day,” says Piston. “I do not think he did a good job on the third day.” The scholar believes Longstreet should have had George Pickett’s division in proper position to support the day’s events.

Historian Robert K. Krick has long been a Longstreet critic, claiming the general sulked when forced at Gettysburg to go on the offensive rather than his preferred defensive stance.

Krick wrote that Longstreet was not prompt in organizing vital troop movements to attack on Day 2. The march was without vigor or leadership.

“The spectacle of a corps under arms, groping its way without a commander . . . makes one of the most pathetic vignettes in the army's annals," argues Krick, stating the loss of Jackson a year earlier left Lee without his best corps commanders.

Piston counters, saying Longstreet “could attack very powerfully when he thought it was appropriate.”

It’s the “appropriate” part of Longstreet that divides scholars. Did he underperform when he was overruled by Lee (above)?

According to the late historian Douglas Southall Freeman, author of the classic "Lee's Lieutenants," when Lee disagreed with Longstreet's suggestion to flank federal troops and ordered him to attack the hill, a sullen Longstreet moved so slowly against Little Round Top that it gave the Yankees time to "dig in" and repulse his assault.

“Longstreet did not set a record for speed but he was not as slow as people would argue,” Piston says.

His supporters have claimed that Longstreet was correct in his reluctance to attack Little Round Top, and that Lee should have taken Longstreet's advice. They also say Freeman re-evaluated his criticism of Longstreet later in life.

Dan Paterson, (left) the general’s great-grandson, defends his ancestor’s conduct at Gettysburg.

“It’s wrong to blame one person” for the loss, says Paterson, a 50-year-old network engineer living in Centreville, Va. “Lee was culpable for the army group being spread out.”

And Piston says Longstreet was scrutinized when some wondered whether the war’s outcome would have been different if Jackson lived.

“The Civil War is seen as the everlasting ‘if’ search for alternate history,” says Piston.

Paterson dislikes Krick’s “personal attacks” on his great-grandfather and says Longstreet never disliked Lee, as Krick asserts. Krick did not return a message for comment on this article.

“My great-grandfather was not jealous” of Jackson, says Paterson. “He did have some envy when the legend began.”

Interestingly, Paterson, who gives talks about his ancestor, is a Civil War re-enactor who portrays both Union and Confederate soldiers. He has other kin who fought for the Union.

He scoffs at the “mythology” of those who demonized his great-grandfather.

“He was not a Virginian. There was favoritism” toward Lee and Jackson, says Paterson.

Joe Whitaker, Richard Pilcher and 200 hundred others are the keepers of the general’s flame through the Gainesville-based Longstreet Society, housed in a hotel the general ran after the war.

Pilcher, the society’s president, says visitors to the Piedmont Hotel are a mixture of Longstreet admirers and detractors, particularly the former.

“The people we have are not your normal tourists,” says Pilcher, who, like Whitaker, learned about Longstreet’s tactics while a student at North Georgia College.

Longstreet’s principal admirers, according to Paterson, are military historians. Harold Knudsen says the flexible warrior was the Confederacy’s “most modern general.”

“We don’t seem to defend him any more. People understand what happened,” says Pilcher, who insists Longstreet was a better battlefield commander than Jackson. Longstreet understood the value of high ground and a clear line of fire, supporters say.

Whitaker says the general’s reputation has been “partially salvaged” in recent years.

The society’s treasurer (left), like many others, believes Longstreet was a bit na├»ve about how his post-war politics would play with fellow Southerners.

“He did not understand. He thought everyone was a pragmatic, having the common sense he had,” Whitaker says of Longstreet’s backing Reconstruction and joining the Republican Party. “What he did not take into account was that it was the party of Lincoln.”

“He led the charge and no one followed.”

Historians and family members portray Longstreet, who was born in South Carolina, as a proud and stubborn warrior who was a truly loyal lieutenant to Lee. He had a bit of a temper and, according to Shaara, worked to keep his drinking under control at Gettysburg.

“He was not a perfect man,” Pilcher says. “But he was not as bad as he was made out to be.”

After the war, Longstreet held several federal offices and was a friend of President Ulysses S. Grant and Dan Sickles, former foes on the battlefield.

White living he Louisiana, he led a black militia against unruly white supremacists.

Southerners did not forget that affront, or his Republican loyalties. While there is no evidence he was progressive on race, Longstreet thought giving blacks full citizenship and voting rights was the practical thing to do.

In his autobiography, “From Manassas to Appomattox,” Longstreet was at times combative, lashing back at his critics. Sometimes he overstated his case.

He attended several military reunions, including a few at which he was not invited. He was called a scalawag and traitor. Some residents of Gainesville would not sit near him at the Episcopal Church. Longstreet later converted to Catholicism.

Because of the controversy, monuments to Longstreet (Gainesville, Gettysburg and his birthplace) have been erected only in the past few years.

Deaf in later years, Longstreet also had eye cancer. His suffering came to end while he and his second wife, Helen Dortch Longstreet, were visiting his daughter, who lived a few blocks away.

While despised by a generation of Southerners, Longstreet was lionized by soldiers and other loyalists.

Some 5,000 people thronged to his funeral. Several trains rolled up from Atlanta.

“I don’t think it was all out of curiosity,” says Whitaker.

Piston argues the country would have united much earlier if more Southerners were as “practical” as Longstreet, when it came to moving forward at the war’s end.

“I think he was brave,” Piston says.

• More information on the Longstreet Society