Monday, November 30, 2009

Click it: Centennial map of Battle of Atlanta

Dug through some materials today and came across this map put out by the Georgia Department of Transportation in 1964.

Click the map to zoom in.

Many street names have changed over the past 45 years. But if you are familiar with Atlanta, this will give you a good idea of where the fiercest fighting took place. Little Five Points, Cabbagetown, I-20, Clifton Road< Ormewood and DeKalb and Moreland avenues all were scenes of heavy combat.

Legend for circled numbers:

14. Battle of Atlanta began here about noon July 22, 1864.

15. Monument to slain Union Gen. James McPherson.

16. Monument to Confederate Gen. W.H. Walker. Walker and McPherson were killed within 20 minutes of each other.

17. Central point in the Atlanta Cyclorama.

18. Site of Troup Hurt House (DeGress Avenue just off DeKalb Avenue), which is the center of fighting in the Cyclorama.

19. Leggett's Hill (Moreland Avenue at I-20) was scene of the most significant fighting of the campaign.

See 1964 map superimposing Battle of Peachtree Creek over streets and highways.
See 1964 map superimposing Battle of Ezra Church over streets and highways.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Photos from Bummers 09 scenarios

A few weeks back I previewed "Bummers: All Hell Has Broke Loose in Georgia", the immersion-scenario event marking the 145th anniversary of Gen. Sherman's March to the Sea.

The organizers of Bummers, which was held a couple weeks back south of Atlanta, have posted these photos.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Science digs into Civil War sites

Call it Civil War CSI. A small but growing number of Georgia archaeologists and history buffs are starting to use high-tech gear, ground-penetrating radar, metal detectors, new software programs and detective-style techniques to detail with amazing precision what happened when U.S. Gen. William T. Sherman made good on his promise to “make Georgia howl.”

• See Atlanta Journal-Constitution article

Slot machines in Gettysburg?

A Gettysburg businessman wants to bring slot machines to the Pennsylvania town made famous by a bloody Civil War battle and the presidential speech that followed it.

David LeVan and a group of unidentified investors are seeking a license that would allow for no more than 500 slot machines in a facility. Only hotel guests or passholders would be able to access the machines, according to license requirements.

The Gaming Control Board in 2006 rejected a LeVan-backed project because of its proximity to the Gettysburg battlefield. This time, LeVan is eying the Eisenhower Inn and Conference Center in Cumberland Township, Adams County.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone

While the first Thanksgiving was celebrated by early colonists in the 1600s, it did not become an annual celebration until 1863. That year, in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln called on all Americans to give thanks on the last Thursday of November. I'd like to wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

History buff cares for gravestone

A former auto worker is keeping a Civil War soldier's memory alive by restoring the soldier's marble gravestone. • Article

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Christmas story of William Sherman

Check out Georgetown Associate Prof. Chandra Manning's review of Stanley Weintraub's new book.

She writes, "What is most useful about the book is the opportunity it provides for reflection on the question of why it is that we want so badly to simplify and mythologize everything about the Civil War, especially Sherman’s campaign, even when evidence hits us over the head with more complexity." She also serves up criticism of the book. • Review

Monday, November 23, 2009

Naval museum receives 6 cannon

Used for years as ship moorings, six Civil War cannon have a new mission at The National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus (Ga.)

The five 9-inch Dahlgren guns and one 30-pound Parrott Rifle will have a role in telling the story of the Water Witch, a sidewheel steamer captured by Confederates after vicious fighting off Ossabaw Island, Ga, in 1864.

The museum has built a $1.2 million outdoor replica of the Water Witch, which draws attention from 30,000 motorists driving on Victory Drive in Columbus each weekday. The museum’s Web site features a Web cam of the ship.

“Ever since we started building the replica, attendance has increased,” says Bruce Smith, museum executive director.

He says nearly 26,000 visitors have come to Port Columbus this year, roughly an 8 percent increase. Many are relatives of Army trainees graduating at nearby Fort Benning.

The Navy sent the large guns to Columbus as a loan from the Boston Navy Yard, where the cannon were inverted and used as posts to tie up ships. Smith says the museum particularly was interested in the Parrott rifle because one like it was used on the Water Witch.

When restored, the Parrott, which fired 30-pound shells, will be mounted on the bow of the Water Watch. The other guns will remain alongside the vessel, as if waiting transfer to another ship.

The Water Witch replica is 160 feet long, with a deck width of 26 feet and 90-foot masts.

Port Columbus is sponsoring an event this Friday and Saturday. About 20 living historians from around the Southeast will help illustrate scenes from the capture and talk about life aboard the Water Witch.

The tours are scheduled for 11 a.m, 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. both days, with a firing of the museum's huge original cannon following the final tour each day. Admission is adults, $6.50; senior citizens, $5.50; students, $5.

Confederate forces boarded and captured the Water Witch, used to carry mail and supplies, on the evening of June 3, 1864.

“There were cutlasses. Pistols. Very close-in fighting,” says Smith.

The Union lost two men, the Confederates six, but many more were seriously wounded. One of the Union dead was Jeremiah Sills, an African-American crewman.

Smith says the museum eventually wants to build a dock and water replica next to the Water Witch. Port Columbus has a few artifacts from the vessel, including a Bible, Parrott round and a canvas sea bag.

More information on Port Columbus.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Few troops got better rations on Thanksgiving

For most families in the eastern and southern United States, Thanksgiving in 1864 was a holiday with mixed emotions.

With boys and men gone off to the third year of war, many chairs at family dinners stayed empty.

But what was Thanksgiving like for those in the field? A tour at Petersburg National Battlefield gives some answers. • Article

Friday, November 20, 2009

Web site has articles, photos, video from Redford's 'The Conspirator' set

Robert Redford has been filming "The Conspirator" in Savannah, Ga, for a little more than a month now. Shooting will wrap some time in December. The celebrity-laden movie tells the story of the Lincoln assassination conspiracy and the role of Mary Surratt, the only woman executed for the crime. Her defenders say she should never have been put to death. • Updated site

Thursday, November 19, 2009

At Gettysburg, What did Lincoln mean?

A Minnesota columnist today wrote about the 146th anniversary of the famous address. Eric Black poses a few questions on the matter of secessionist movements. • Column

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Trail club keeps visitors moving safely at Kennesaw Mountain battlefield

I was looking for history, not a hawk.

But there, Tuesday at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, I saw a burst of motion above me.

The Cooper’s hawk briefly landed on a tree above me at Cheatham Hill, site of the most ferocious fighting at Kennesaw during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign.

Near us lay the remains of Confederate and Union entrenchments thrown up before and during the furious assault at the “Dead Angle.” A memorial to Illinois troops recalled their fallen leader Dan McCook and his troops who lay beneath Confederate fire and trenches for six terrifying days.

Soon the hawk was off, as was I, resuming my march to Kolb’s Farm on the south end of the park.

I spent Tuesday afternoon doing a 10-mile loop from Pigeon Hill to Kolb’s Farm. Admittedly, I missed Kennesaw’s most rugged terrain between Pigeon Hill and the visitor center.

I wanted to get a closer look at the park’s 20 miles of trails and some of its 3,000 acres. It was a rainy and gray weekday, so I didn’t see more than a few runners and walkers, along with three deer bounding across one trail.

I actually saw more homes than people. Thirty-two subdivisions surround the park. Cobb County thoroughfares cut through the park in several places. At times, you feel very much in a busy community.

Still, I recall some beautiful views, including Noses Creek.

The trails are lmaintained by the Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club, which has logged 35,000 volunteer hours since it was formed in 2002.

“Without their work we couldn’t keep the trails maintained,” says Stanley Bond, the park’s superintendent.

The club has between 50 and 100 active members, with hundreds of others helping from time to time on work days, like this past Saturday.

Although Kennesaw is the largest and most famous Civil War site in Georgia, 80 percent of its visitors come for recreational reasons. Bond and the trail club want more visitors to soak in the history of the park.

“They [the club] are well aware of the history of the period,” says Bond.

Kennesaw Mountain’s trails draw a range of visitors, from out-of-state war buffs to locals who enter the park from the subdivisions. There are joggers, walkers, horseback riders, tourists and hikers preparing for strenuous endeavors around the world.

The park runs 8 miles from north to south, with most visitors walking rugged trails in the top half. That’s where the familiar “Big” and “Little” Kennesaws rise.

Some see the monthly trail work and return to help.

“Most volunteers want to give back,” says Fred Feltmann, the club’s communications director.

The trails are in good condition and I saw little litter.

Feltmann says the club pays particular attention to earthworks. Gravel and sand runoff from the trails is a constant concern. The trails were established before switchbacks, increasing the runoff problems.

“We make sure we don’t do any harm” to fortifications, Feltmann says.

Both Bond and Feltmann say that Kennesaw needs better directional, mileage and points-of-interest signs (I echo that sentiment). Grants and federal funding are expected to make that feasible.

And while most visitors are good stewards, some still do not clean up after dogs or ensure they are under control.

Urban sprawl has long posed challenges for the park. Some 1.5 million visitors come annually, and the National Park Service has to balance recreational demands with historic preservation. I noticed signs prohibiting certain recreational activities on hallowed ground where soldiers died. The use of metal detectors is prohibited.

Union forces of General William T. Sherman launched a bloody frontal attack on the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston, at Kennesaw Mountain in June 1864. The assault was unsuccessful, but Sherman managed to flank Confederate troops soon afterward. He seized Atlanta within two months.

Bond says students of the Civil War are still drawn to Kennesaw. Members of the military study tactics and command decisions at the bloody engagement.

“They walk the battle[field] to see how it worked,” Bond says.

More information on the trail club.
More information on the Kennesaw battlefield

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

20,000 Native Americans fought in war

A 2007 History Channel documentary is the subject of a talk today at Colorado State University. The film describes the milieu in which Native Americans came into service as soldiers during the Civil War. The documentary chronicles the lives of three warriors: Stan Watie, Ely Parker and Henry Berry Lowery. Native Americans fought on both sides.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lifting Grant from history's landfill

Author Joan Waugh tries to separate facts from falsehoods in studying life, times of once-revered president, Civil War hero. Part biography, part military history, part social chronicle charting the rise and fall of Grant's reputation, "U.S. Grant" is a sobering reminder of the vicissitudes of fame.
Read review

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Have a drink with Billy Sherman?

I've decided that William Tecumseh Sherman is the Civil War figure I most would have liked to meet.

Sunday marks the 145th anniversary of Sherman and his 62,000 Yankees beginning their infamous March to the Sea.

It's not that Sherman is likable. My feelings are not reverential. His troops inflicted cruel punishment at various times on the 1864 march.

But, I find the grizzled, wild-haired general fascinating.

His mastery of modern warfare. The good lieutenant to Ulysses S. Grant. His ability to grasp Abraham Lincoln's strategy. The willingness to take the war to civilians.

I're written recently about Sherman in several of my posts, including one on Bummers '09 this weekend. The living history "immersion" event south of Atlanta poses several scenarios for participants portraying Union foragers.

I also thought today of the fascinating 1986 film by Ross McElwee. In "Sherman's March", McElwee set out to document the march's impact in the South, but the story really is about his romantic life and interest in women.

Still, there are times McElwee does ruminate on the film's title figure.

"I'm really intrigued by William Tecumseh Sherman," McElwee said in one scene. "I think he's one of history's tragic figures."

Sherman, as one observer writes, was destined to make war against the South, which he liked before the war, and then was rebuked by the North for offering the South an easy peace.

The Union was saved. The South was in ruin. Slaves were freed.

One hundred and forty-five years later, America still has a hard time categorizing Sherman.

That's because he engenders so many opinions and passion.

Sherman thought of himself as a soldier/educator. E.L. Doctorow's accout of "Cump" Sherman in "The March" doesn't try to explain his psychology. Hee sees the general as an incredible force, ushering a tide of change.

Sherman's own writings provide a glimpse of the motivation.

"My aim was, to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their innermost recesses, and make them fear and dread us. Fear is the beginning of wisdom," he wrote.

I had wanted to retrace much of the march this month, but other obligations prevent this.

To have been at Sherman's elbow would have been witness to history, in all its horror and glory.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ambush site to become monument

A 5-acre tract of land north of Joplin, Mo., where members of a regiment of black soldiers was killed during the Civil War will be developed into an historic site. • Article

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Secessionville re-enactment this weekend

Boone Hall plantation near Charleston is hosting the annual event. In June 1862, Confederate forces stopped a Union bid to take the city.

Although the battle was minor, it served as a powerful propaganda victory, increasing morale particularly in Charleston and offsetting recent Confederate losses in the Western Theater.

Hundreds of re-enactors are expected to take part Saturday and Sunday. About a dozen sutlers will be on hand.

Schedule, admission, a coupon and more

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ahoy, there! Ed Bearss recalls finding, raising the U.S.S. Cairo

Ed Bearss recalls the low-tech manner in which he found the U.S.S. Cairo, the first armored vessel reportedly sunk by an electrically detonated torpedo.

Using an old military compass, the famed historian and two comrades discovered the mud-encased ironclad on the Yazoo River near Vicksburg, Ms. The find was confirmed 53 years ago this week.

The trio used long iron roads to probe the sand and mud.

“We could feel them hitting metal,” he said of the moment of truth.

Bearrs, a tireless Civil War tour guide at 86, recounted efforts to raise the vessel during a talk Tuesday night at the Civil War Roundtable of Atlanta.

Speaking in his cadenced gravelly voice, the Marine and cultural icon entertained the large crowd with his account “of how not to raise an ironclad.”

But raise it they did. Despite financial shortfalls, barge problems and a zero-visibility river that deposited silt at an alarming rate, the vessel was eventually raised in 1960 and 1964-65.

Bearss, determined to raise the vessel, even won $20,000 for funding on “The 64,000 Question” TV show.

Bearrs, who was a historian at Vicksburg National Military Park at the time, recounted the history of the Cairo, which sank Dec. 12, 1862, after it struck a Confederate torpedo. It went down in 12 minutes. About a half dozen sailors were injured.

Hopes of lifting the ironclad and her cargo of artifacts intact were crushed in October 1964 when the three inch cables being used to lift the Cairo cut deeply into its wooden hull. It then became a question of saving as much of the vessel as possible. The wreck was moved in 1977 to the Vicksburg park.

More than 60,000 artifacts were recovered. Bearss brought a few with him Tuesday, and showed photos of other finds, including 13 artillery pieces, a chamber pot, pipes, medicine bottle and shackles for unruly sailors.

Last month, the Civil War buff traveled back to Vicksburg for the unveiling of a bust of him near the Cairo’s wooden hull and iron plates.

The discovery of the Cairo was a defining moment for Bearss, who relived the highs and lows of the salvage operation.

“The ship is a moment in time,” he said Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Re-enactors running out of space

The gradual disappearance of open land in Eastern Massachusetts is turning into a crisis for a 500-member group of Union Civil War reenactors known as the New England Brigade. • Article

Confederate shipwreck identified

The Appomattox was an armed steamer that defended northeastern North Carolina waters. Its Confederate crew set the ship on fire in 1862 while fleeing Union forces. • Article

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Forrest makes an interesting character

In "Devil's Dream," Madison Smartt Bell has chosen as his subject a Confederate general and slave trader who would go on to become one of the leaders of the early Ku Klux Klan. The drama that plays between Forrest's two sons — one white, the other mixed — provides some insight into the contradictions in Forrest's own heart. • Article

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Better than 'Gone With the Wind'?

Have you ever seen the silent film classic "The General", starring Buster Keaton?

I saw it decades ago while a college student. It'svery entertaining. And the cinematography is superb.

The release Nov. 17 of a Blu-ray version has pundits talking about its merit and comparing it to the more famous Civil War movie, "Gone With the Wind."

Read the article

Friday, November 6, 2009

Heritage tourism: Civil War trails being developed in Georgia

Steven Longcrier knows just about every twist and turn of Georgia’s highways.

He’s been on interstates. Two-lane arteries. Bridges spanning creeks, wire grass near the banks. Dirt roads.

As executive director of the non-profit Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails, Longcrier has logged more than 200,000 miles scouring city and country for Civil War sites and routes used by the armies.

At Ebenezer Creek in Effingham County, hundreds of freed slaves were left to angry Confederate soldiers during Gen. William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea in 1864. Many drowned; others were cut down. No sign tells the horrible story.

And in Emanuel County, a 10-mile stretch of the Old Savannah Road (which connected Savannah and Milledgeville) still rolls along in all its dirt-road glory. The scene is almost bereft of any power lines or structures.

“It takes you back to 1864,” says Longcrier. “This is the closest to what these [Union] guys saw.”

Working with federal, state and local government, CWHT will erect interpretive markers at these and about 400 other sites.

A few already are in place. One in downtown Atlanta recognizes Father Thomas O’Reilly, a Catholic priest who saved several churches from destruction. Another tells the story of the old Macon City Hall, where the state government operated after Atlanta fell.

CWHT is working to have three of six heritage trails in place by the war’s sesquicentennial: The Atlanta Campaign, the March to the Sea and Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ unsuccessful effort to avoid capture by the troops in blue.

Planners hope all the trails will be completed between 2011 and 2015.

The trails are meant to be driven. Smaller signs indicate that the road has Civil War significance.

“You will follow as much as you can the route the armies took,” says Longcrier, who lives in Evans, Ga.

The other trails are South Georgia (Andersonville prison), Wilson’s raid (cavalry) and Northeast Georgia (a divided region during the war).

Unlike existing signs, the well-researched interpretive markers will also tell the civilian side of the war, Longcrier says. “We will tell the local history.”

The state Department of Economic Development's regional tourism program will offer trail brochures and feature the drives on its Web site. Director Fay Tripp described heritage tourism as a "hot button" in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year.

The department estimates that the first three of Georgia's trails could generate more than $62 million in hotel and meal receipts, plus create more than 800 jobs.

This month is the 145th anniversary of Sherman’s March to the Sea. Several events around the state are observing its military and civilian toll.

Longcrier will lead a bus tour Saturday (Nov. 7) sponsored by the Rockdale County Historical Society.

The tour will highlight movements by the left wing of Sherman’s foragers from Conyers to Madison. Stops include a church occupied by Union troops and the Burge plantation in Newton County, where Dolly Burge kept a diary detailing life during the war and the liberation of the plantation’s slaves.

Feelings on the Civil War to this day are complex.

Longcrier recalls that his late mother, who grew up in middle Georgia, was taught to hate Sherman.

Years later, she confided to her son.

“I don’t really hate Sherman. I don’t hate anybody.”

More information on the project.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Skirmish over in South Carolina?

James Island and Charleston, after butting heads for years, may join forces on an interpretive park to preserve the area's history. The town is negotiating the purchase of a roughly triangle-shaped lot for an interpretive park to include markers, maps and monuments illuminating the area's Civil War ties. • Article

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Confederate statue may be moved

Some private groups are interested in relocating the two-story-tall, 15-ton controversial statute depicting a Confederate infantryman from its current spot on the grounds of the courthouse to the Ocala-Marion County Veterans Memorial Park.

One of the Confederate leaders noted on the base of the statue is Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a fierce combat leader in the Civil War who is credited as a key founder of the Ku Klux Klan. • Article

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sailor never got Medal of Honor

Officials in a western New York county are hoping to claim a Medal of Honor awarded to a Civil War sailor who never received the medal. • Read the article

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Who plays who in 'The Conspirator'

Robert Redford has been on location in Savannah, Ga., filming a movie about the Lincoln assassination conspiracy. Robin Penn Wright portrays Mary Surratt, the lone woman executed in the plot. • Details on the cast