Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Man returns stolen revolver to museum

A Civil War buff from western Pennsylvania has returned a historic revolver to the Chicago museum from which it was stolen decades earlier. • Article

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Click it, final chapter: Centennial map of Atlanta and the Civil War -- Downtown

The three previously posted centennial maps of the Atlanta Campaign continue to be of big interest to Picket readers, site metrics show. The maps came from a large 1964 State Highway Department of Georgia (now DOT) poster marking the 100th anniversary of the fighting.

They bring the fighting home to modern readers because they are superimposed over roads and highways. Be aware that some roads have changed names since 1964.

I’m wrapping up the series with this fourth map of downtown. The shaded area on the right is the Battle of Atlanta.

(Click the map to zoom in)

Before we get started, here are links to the previous three maps and descriptions of the 1864 battles that saved Abraham Lincoln’s presidency:

Battle of Atlanta
Battle of Peachtree Creek
Battle of Ezra Church

Downtown Atlanta was heavily fortified. That didn’t shield residents and Confederate soldiers from privation and the strains of siege. A few were killed by artillery shells. What is now the Georgia Tech campus used to be the northern edge of the city.

Here’s the key to the circled red numbers you can see after clicking the map. Most of the missing numbers are in the three maps listed above.

1. Georgia State Capitol: Regimental battle flags are displayed. Site of Atlanta’s City Hall during the Civil War.

2. Sherman’s headquarters: Corner of Washington at Mitchell Street. Later Atlanta Girls High School.

3. Confederate ordnance station: Muse’s clothing store later stood at the corner of Peachtree and Walton streets for decades.

4. Eternal Light of the Confederacy (right): Original lamp post with shell holes. Northeast corner of Whitehall at Alabama streets (Note from Picket: I believe this is now in Underground Atlanta. Anyone know for sure?)

5. Car shed: Center of original town of Terminus, now Atlanta. The car shed is gone.

7. The first shell falling within the city killed a little girl and her dog on the corner of Ellis and Ivy (now Peachtree Center Avenue) streets.

8. Oakland Cemetery, where Gens. John B. Gordon, Clement A. Evans, Alfred Iverson and many Confederate soldiers are buried.

9. James J. Andrews, leader of the Andrews Raiders (Great Locomotive Chase) was hanged here June 7, 1862. This spot is on Juniper Street, a short distance from Ponce de Leon Avenue. It was a ravine roughly bordered by Juniper, Fourth and Myrtle streets.

10. Seven of the Andrews Raiders were hanged at the southeast corner of Memorial Drive at Park Avenue, June 18, 1862.

12. Atlanta Cyclorama, the giant painting depicting the Battle of Atlanta, in Grant Park.

13. Fort Walker is the only remaining defensive position of the Atlanta inner defense perimeter during the siege.

20. Surrender: Mayor James Calhoun and a few citizens, under white flag, rode to Marietta Street at Northside Drive (now the southwestern edge of Georgia Tech), where they met the federal advance guard. Mayor Calhoun formally surrendered the city on Sept. 2, 1864.

Tenn. archivists digitizing memorabilia

Tennessee archivists will be hitting the road to search for Civil War memorabilia for a digital exhibit commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Staff members from the Tennessee State Library and Archives are looking for manuscripts, artifacts and photographs to be digitally copied and preserved. • Article

Monday, March 29, 2010

'Confederate General Rides North' a finalist for Georgia literary prize

The author of “The Confederate General Rides North,” the story of a young girl who imagines herself a star military commander, is a finalist for Georgia Perimeter College’s 2010 Townsend Prize for Fiction.

Amanda C. Gable of Marietta, is among 10 Georgia writers who are being judged for the best book of fiction over the past two years. The literary prize, named for Atlanta magazine founder Jim Townsend, will be awarded April 22 at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta. The event is free and open to the public.

Another finalist is Philip Lee Williams of Madison, author of “The Campfire Boys” (Mercer), a novel about camp entertainers during the Civil War. It follows three brothers who are very good entertainers and very bad soldiers. It’s been called an “enchanting read” by Robert Olen Butler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

“Confederate General” (Scribner) tells the story of Katherine McConnell, 11, who takes a road trip with her moody mother to Civil War battlefields, including Gettysburg and Appomattox, in 1968, when the nation was embroiled in the Vietnam War and the struggle for civil rights.

The book is a coming-of-age novel in which Kat fantasizes leading the life of Robert E. Lee while she comes to grips with her mother’s instability and other family issues.

Jill McCorkle, author of “Carolina Moon” and “Creatures of Habit” writes this about ‘Confederate General”: "… [it] is the compelling story of Kat McConnell, an endearing young heroine who survives life on the road with her mother by retreating into her vast knowledge of Civil War history. She reenacts battles and imagines war-torn landscapes in a way that reflects her own life while also offering escape. ..."

Uphill battle to save Florida camp

On a weedy, wooded lot west of Jacksonville, history is disappearing. Most of Camp Finegan, one of Florida's largest Civil War camps and the longest-occupied site in Northeast Florida, has been swallowed by time and development. All that remains, according to a regiment of steel-willed preservationists, is a small but historically significant plot in residential Marietta. • Article

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Head of soldier statue returned

It took them a while, but vandals who beheaded a statue of a Union soldier two weeks ago finally had a change of heart.

Police found the detached granite head resting on a cemetery wall near the Shirley (Mass.) town common, where the Civil War memorial statue has stood for nearly 120years.

The statue is inscribed with names of 58 men who fought in the Civil War, including 19 who died. • Article

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Artillery rounds confiscated from home

A Washington, N.C., man says ordnances confiscated from his home were nothing more than Civil War artifacts. Carter Leary was asked by Washington Police if they could search his home for a dog that bit a young girl earlier that night. Leary voluntarily let the two officers search the residence. Officers did not find a dog, but did find two live Hotchkiss rounds. • Article

'Confederate Southern American' on Census?

The Southern Legal Resource Center is calling on self-proclaimed "Confederates" to declare their heritage when they are counted in the 2010 Census. The organization is urging Southerners to declare their “heritage and culture” by classifying themselves as “Confederate Southern Americans” on the line on the form, question No. 9, that asks for race. • Details

Friday, March 26, 2010

Filmmaker Ken Burns: We must not lose our historical compass

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns knew one thing when he completed the 1990 epic “The Civil War.”

He had seen enough of war.

Through photographs, diaries and stories, Burns had poignantly documented the bloody conflict that claimed more than 600,000 American lives. Like Civil War soldiers, he and his crew felt they had “seen the elephant.”

People then asked Burns to do a film on World War II.

He resisted doing “The War,” which was released in 2007, for several years.

But two startling truths changed his mind about again taking up the topic.

Some 1,000 U.S. WWII vets were dying a day. And high school graduating seniors thought Americans fought with the Germans against Russia.

“We were losing our soldiers and our historical compass,” Burns said in a talk Thursday afternoon at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

The prolific filmmaker has a large body of television work that helps tell the story of America. Among them are “Baseball,” “Jazz,” “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson,” and, more recently, “The National Parks: America’s Best idea.”

The New Hampshire resident said his films always ask the same question, "Who are we?" Sharing memories helps us heal from turmoil and war, he said.

Thursday’s speech centered on humanity’s fascination with war. Mankind, Burns says, has the lust for war in its DNA.

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee may have said it best. “It is well that war is so terrible – lest we should grow too fond of it.”

Burn’s talk was laced with quotations from Abraham Lincoln, his favorite president. As a young lawyer, Lincoln spoke at the Lyceum in Springfield, Ill., delivering a speech that foreshadowed the Civil War.

“As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide,” Lincoln said.

“The Civil War was the closest we ever came to national suicide,” said Burns, 56. “Paradoxically, in order to become one we divided ourselves in two.”

Burns, who is unafraid of controversy, said he was glad that the ghastly human toll documented in “The Civil War” tempered U.S. enthusiasm for bloodshed when the first Gulf War was launched against Iraq in 1990.

For “The War,” Burns told the story of 50 Americans and four communities.

Insisting “there are no ordinary lives,” Burns said the seven-part series stayed away from celebrity generals.

“If you weren’t on the front line in the war, you aren’t in our film.”

Like Lincoln, Burns worries about divisions within America. Citizens today should be aware of how much they are alike, rather than concentrating on their differences, said the documentary maker, who added that education is the key to preventing bloodshed.

Burns said Americans have a history of seeking unity. He quoted remarks Lincoln gave at his first inaugural address in 1861:

"The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

S. Carolina may issue 'Big Red' flag plates

The "Big Red" flag linked to South Carolina military school cadets firing on a Union ship before the Civil War could be preserved with the help of a new state license tag. A battery of Citadel cadets on Morris Island fired at the supply ship Star of the West as it approached Fort Sumter, forcing the ship to turn around. • Article

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Largest Ala. re-enactment this weekend

Hundreds of Civil War re-enactors will converge on Jackson County to replicate the 1862 "Siege at Bridgeport." The 16th annual re-enactment will occur at a 350-acre farm. • Article

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Excavations begin at site of little-known Confederate prison that replaced Andersonville

Hewn by at least 300 slaves and a platoon of prisoners, the pine timbers stood in mute testimony to the horrors they had witnessed.

Between 12 and 15 feet tall, the poles formed the stockade wall at little-known Camp Lawton, Ga., which helped replace the infamous Andersonville prison in fall 1864.

The timbers are long gone, but archaeologists and college students are trying to find remnants and signs of where they once stood.

Life at Lawton wasn’t much better than Andersonville, with the exception of plentiful water from a spring. In its six weeks' existence, between 685 and 1,330 men died at the Confederate prison camp a few miles north of Millen.

“It’s a side of the war you don’t hear about very often,” says Kevin Chapman an archaeology graduate student at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro. “You don’t hear about the nastiness of the war.”

“Foul and fetid” Camp Lawton largely disappeared into history. There are no maps or photos. Few prisoner journals were found. Clara Barton chose Andersonville for reburials that would lead to a national cemetery.

And, unlike the case at Andersonville, where 13,000 died, Lawton’s commandant didn’t survive the war to face justice. Gen. John Winder, who left Andersonville to build Camp Lawton, died of a heart attack in Feburary 1865. His onetime subordinate at Andersonville, Maj. Henry H. Wirz, was hanged later that year.

Chapman and fellow Georgia Southern students, in partnership with the state Department of Natural Resources, this year began excavations at the site of Camp Lawton, which lies in Magnolia Springs State Park, about 80 miles northwest of Savannah.

They are working in two parallel trenches not far from the park office, looking for evidence of the 42-acre fort’s wall. The public is invited to join them this Saturday and on two other dates this spring.

The Union forces that burned the camp, the scavenging of materials and the passage of time haven’t helped the excavation effort.

Camp Lawton was built to hold up to 40,000 prisoners and relieve Andersonville’s overcrowding. It never reached that level because its 10,000 inhabitants were moved elsewhere when Sherman's army approached during the March to the Sea.

Union cavalry in early December 1864 found the empty prison, a freshly dug area and a board reading “650 buried here.”

Outraged, troops apparently burned much of the stockade and the camp buildings, and a depot and hotel in nearby Millen, which was a transportation hub.

“They saw the conditions and took it out on who was available and it happened to be Millen,” said Chapman, 35, a native of Summerville in North Georgia.

Georgia Department of Transportation archaeologists using ground-penetrating radar found subterranean features that may pinpoint the location of the stockade. The LAMAR Institute recently found an L-shaped feature that could be the southwest corner of the prison.

“My primary goal right now is to verify the footprint of the stockade,” said Chapman. Eventually, he and other students and volunteers hope to find the foundation of the hospital, commandant’s quarters, the Confederate camp, a butcher shop and other facilities.

Many of Magnolia Spring’s facilities, including a pool, houses, an aquarium and the main office, sit atop the prison site.

Few visitors to the state park, which features camping, boating and fishing, are aware of Camp Lawton’s existence, said park manager Andy Barrows, but he does get some who are interested in the history.

Barrows says some earthworks are intact. An information kiosk tells the camp's story.

Georgia Southern and the state hope the excavation will benefit impoverished Jenkins County.

“We’re helping them increase tourism,” said Chapman. Tourists want to see [evidence of] the stockade.

Chapman says the excavators are “looking for a feature, a disturbance in the ground.” Darker or stained soil may indicate evidence of the stockade. So far, the team has found nothing conclusive.

The public will be invited to view the progress of the excavations on specific Saturdays each month during the spring. This Saturday, they can join the dig at 9 a.m. and work until about 4 p.m. Under supervision, they can screen the spoil buckets for any evidence of soil disturbance.

Although two buttons and a minie ball have been found, Chapman cautions that most of the site has been picked over by relic hunters.

“There will be no golden monkey found in the trenches,” he said.

Camp Lawton may have been a historical footnote, save for the 5,000-page diary kept by Union Private Robert Knox Sneden, who detailed the misery and made paintings of camp life while he was a prisoner at Lawton and Andersonville (painting above).

"The weather has been rainy and cold at nights," he noted in his diary on Nov. 1, 1864. "Many prisoners have died from exposure, as not more than half of us have any shelter but a blanket propped upon sticks. . . . Our rations have grown smaller in bulk too, and we have the same hunger as of old."

Chapman says life at Lawton was terrible. The guards ate no better than their Union prisoners. Dysentery, malnutrition and the ravages of nature took their toll.

“A case of the flu could kill you,” he said.

Click here for more information of public days at Camp Lawton excavation.

On the origin of 'sideburns'

Faces of War blogger Ron Coddington quotes a letter to the editor, published in a Southern newspaper, deriding the generalship of Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside. • Article

Trees to mark route of Knoxville battle

The men in blue and gray are long gone, but city Public Service Department crews spent Tuesday posting sentinels in green along the route to Knoxville's defining Civil War battle. The 38 trees will stand at attention along the north end of 17th Street, which leads to the University of Tennessee campus and the Fort Sanders community, site of the battle that cracked the Confederate siege of Knoxville in November 1863. • Article

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Try out the first Civil War Picket poll!

In-depth April hikes set at Shiloh

Shiloh National Military Park will offer in-depth hikes of the Civil War battlefield April 6-8 to mark the anniversary of the conflict's bloodiest fight. Visitors will experience portions of the battlefield not routinely visited by the public. Hikers will interact with battlefield guides who will present in-depth analysis of the strategic and tactical movements of the troops. • Details

Monday, March 22, 2010

Later this week: Camp Lawton

I'm doing some reporting on an excavation this weekend, open to the public, at Magnolia Springs State Park near Millen, Ga. Camp Lawton was a Confederate prisoner of war camp open for a few months in late 1864. The state and Georgia Southern University are working to locate the remnants of the stockade and buildings.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Politically incorrect Joe Johnston statue

Proud Confederate-history buffs in North Carolina erect a statue of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, causing friction with the state-owned Battle of Bentonville site. • Article

West Virginia soldier's body exhumed

It took nearly five hours of slow and painstaking digging Saturday before a group of archeologists and volunteers found the remains of Capt. Philip James Thurmond. A foundation and historical society have tentatively set the reburial date at a differen location for Oct. 30. • Article

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Maryland not tilting to South these days

Though Marylanders live just south of the Mason-Dixon Line, their attitudes and even their accents straddle that border. These days, legislative leaders feel they've got more in common with states to the north. • Article

Friday, March 19, 2010

Battle of Bentonville this weekend

The Bentonville Battlefield is the largest Civil War battlefield in North Carolina. The re-enactment draws thousands of spectators and re-enactors, making it the largest in the state. • Article

Thursday, March 18, 2010

NW Georgia county decides not to build Resaca battlefield park, visitors center

Citing costs and inherited permit problems, a northwest Georgia county has punted on building a Civil War battlefield park at Resaca.

Gordon County commissioners on Tuesday decided to give the project back to the state of Georgia.

Gordon County, which only a few months ago agreed to build the park, wanted to see Resaca Battlefield Historic Site built in time for the national sesquicentennial of the Civil War, which lasts from 2011-2015.

Prospects for that timing are now uncertain.

“We’ve run into time, permit and money issues we could not foresee,” Commission Chairman Alvin Long said Thursday.

In a letter, commissioners asked the state to do a “scaled down version using the available state funds that have been earmarked for this project.”

A proposed visitors center, the centerpiece of the original proposal, may not be built for years, if ever.

State Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Kim Hatcher said “nothing has been finalized” and that the department has not seen the letter from Gordon County.

“The DNR is committed to moving forward on the project and is looking forward to seeing Resaca open for visitation,” Hatcher said Thursday. “I can confirm that we are continuing discussions with Gordon County about development of Resaca,” she said.

“It's possible that the DNR will be responsible for building the road, trails, outdoor exhibits and restrooms, and that Gordon County would be responsible for maintaining the historic site, but this has not been formally agreed to yet.”

(Click above map to enlarge)

Long and County Administrator Randall Dowling said the county is willing to provide maintenance, security and trash pickup.

Georgia, which faces significant budget issues, originally earmarked $5 million for the project. That amount was reduced. The state eventually gave Gordon County $3.3 million and a 50-year lease to the nearly 600 acres. But the county would have had pay the additional $1.7 million from general funds or sales tax money.

Gordon County has a high unemployment rate and officials have been grappling with coming up with enough taxpayer money. Commissioners recently had to reduce benefits for county employees.

“I’m getting a lot of flak from people during tough economic times,” said Long.

The kicker for the county appears to have been notification from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the permit application is not complete. The Corps is concerned about wetlands issues.

Dowling said the county had been assured by state officials last year that the permit was completed and would be forthcoming. It wasn’t.

Gordon learned that the Army Corps wants further study, drilling, compensatory mitigation and soil testing to ensure a proposed elevated roadway won’t cause harm. The Corps wrote in a February letter the proposed site would have an “adverse impact to intermittent streams.”

That means a six-month delay and a $100,000 expenditure by the county. Modifications could cost thousands more.

Dowling said he was “na├»ve” in believing the state when it said the county would have the permit by now. “They led us to believe it [the project] was biddable.”

Hatcher said the DNR “expected to get all of them [the permits] approved, but one ended up being rejected. At this time, I don't know what the next step would be.”

Local residents began pushing for the park in the 1990s, and the state acquired the property. The Friends of Resaca, a nonprofit group interested in telling the story of the battle, organized support and raised money.

The 600-acre tract is shaped like a fish hook. Some of it is flood-prone and in wetlands, and the U.S. Army Corps ordered the county to move the proposed location of the visitors center. Long said the plan was wrongly placed in a flood plain.

Resaca is where Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s army and (left) Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee bloodied each other in fighting occurring May 13-15, 1864. There was no clear winner. Sherman continued his march toward Atlanta, which he took several months later.

Long maintains Gordon County could have built the site quicker and cheaper than the state but was bound by state plans and requirements. Gordon County will suspend the bidding process.

In its letter, commissioners thanked the state for allowing the “county the opportunity to construct this state historic site on behalf of the state and sincerely wish[es] things had turned out differently.”

Gordon County officials had hoped the battlefield park would provide an economic shot in the arm.

“I am very disappointed. I have worked on it 10 years myself,” Long said.

Previous article on the battlefield

Museum rejects secession monument

The board of the Patriots Point (S.C.) Development Authority split on whether to allow the Sons of Confederate Veterans to place a granite monument to the signers of the secession ordinance at a maritime museum. The tie killed the proposal. • Article

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Irish Brigade and St. Paddy's

The hardy Union soldiers started the day with horseracing and hurdle-jumping. Dancing followed in the evening. Refreshments included eight baskets of champagne, eight gallons of rum, and twenty-five quarts of whiskey. Whew! • Article

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

S. Carolina sites off beaten track survive

Some of the Lowcountry's best-preserved Civil War-era fortifications haven't really been "preserved" at all -- at least not in the sense that someone ever worked to maintain, repair or reconstruct them. They've managed to survive rather nicely for more than a century by being ignored. • Article

Monday, March 15, 2010

Trying not to fight the war over again

John W. Guss gets the question all the time.

“Why are you dressed like a Confederate soldier?”

Like other living historians and re-enactors, Guss (left), site manager for Bennett Place State Historic Site in Durham, N.C., walks a fine line.

He wants to teach young and old and what life and combat was like for men in both blue and gray. But he tries to avoid heavy politics.

“We don’t try to project the Southern cause. We don’t try to project the Northern cause,” says Guss.

Bennett Place is the site of the largest surrender in the Civil War. Guss, his staff and volunteers are preparing to observe the 145th anniversary on April 17-19.

Guss says he doesn’t want to talk just about how slavery and states rights. He says there were many other factors, just like the many reasons cited today for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Visitors, he hope, come away for respect for Civil War combatants on both sides -- and how they contributed to society after laying down arms. For example, John Stith Pemberton, the inventor of Coca-Cola, was a Confederate veteran.

“We’re living off what they built,” says Guss.

Palace remembers Battle of New Bern

On the 148th anniversary of the Battle of New Bern, Tryon Palace hosted period music and special tours to teach visitors what it was like when the city was occupied by Union troops. • Article

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ken Burns sets Atlanta appearance

People still come up to documentary maker almost daily to discuss his 1990 film about the Civil War and another film about WWII, which aired in 2007. Both will be on his list of topics when he speaks at Georgia State University on March 25. • Article

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The mystery of the stolen cannon

A mystery has arisen after the discovery of a Civil War cannon in a home. State officials say the gun belongs to Georgia. Atlanta representatives say it belongs in the city. Wait, say federal officials; the cannon could be the property of the U.S. Army. And then there’s Arkansas, where the weapon once helped train cadets in the art of war. In the past few weeks, representatives of each government has telephoned the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office, asking after this aged piece of bronze. • Article

Friday, March 12, 2010

College football coaching great Vince Dooley a student of Civil War, other passions

Legendary college football coach Vince Dooley made sure his grandson appreciated history at an early age.

Every year, Dooley took Patrick Dooley Cook, now 24, to sites across the country, including Vicksburg, Antietam and Gettysburg.

“To walk in footsteps of history is so important,” says Dooley.

Most people know Dooley for his teams at the University of Georgia that won the National Championship in 1980 and six Southeastern Conference titles.

They might be surprised to know that Dooley, 77, earned a master’s in history while he was coaching at Auburn University in the early 1960s. One of his passions, besides the American West, is the Civil War, and he regularly attends meetings of the Civil War Roundtable of Atlanta.

“The Civil War probably is the most critical time in our history. It defined who we are,” he says.

Tuesday night at the roundtable, the Mobile, Ala., native scanned information on an ancestor who fought for the Confederacy. Pvt. George Stanter (the surname shared by Dooley’s mother) served with the 24th Alabama Infantry.

This weekend, Dooley will join the Georgia Battlefields Association for a tour of northwest Georgia. Famed historian Ed Bearss will provide a detailed lesson on the fall 1864 campaign following the fall of Atlanta.

Dooley believes in battlefield preservation and he counts pristine sites such as Shiloh and Pickett’s Mill in Georgia among his favorites. He works with the Civil War Preservation Trust and Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails.

He remains busy even after retirement as UGA athletics director. He is publishing a book on gardening next month and he and wife Barbara are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary March 19. They recently returned from a Persian Gulf cruise near Dubai. The couple also is renovating their Athens home, which features a spectacular garden.

The coach is a fan of Patrick Cleburne, the Irish-born Confederate general who was “ahead of his time” in pressing for African-Americans to fight. The idea was squashed until late in the war.

When asked if there is any comparison between a general and a head football coach, Dooley cites leadership, tactics, spirit, discipline and camaraderie.

“They must be demanding, but at the same time fair.”

A student at heart, Dooley has audited a variety of classes at UGA, including political science, gardening, art history and religion. He took a class taught by UGA history professor Stephen Berry, author of “House of Abraham: Lincoln and the Todds, A Family Divided by War.” Berry attended the roundtable meeting.

Dooley, who also served two years in the Marines, says auditing is “a great way to go to class.” He takes notes and does the readings. But there is a key difference between him and the rest of the folks in the class, Dooley quips.

“When it comes to the tests I get up, leave and wish students the best.”

Fund-raiser to be held at Applebee's

Descendants of the two opposing sides from long ago will come together Saturday at Applebee's restaurant in Swansea, Ill., for the first "North Meets South Blue and Gray Breakfast." • Article

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Meeting focuses on post-slavery South

Dozens of scholars from across the nation are gathering in Charleston, S.C., for a three-day conference on life after slavery in the American South. • Article

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The military genius of Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was hardly prepared to be commander-in-chief when the Civil War broke out at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.

Until then, Lincoln’s only military experience was serving in the Illinois militia during the Black Hawk War of 1832. He saw no action.

As president, he had to learn on the job.

Pulitzer Prize winning author and Princeton University professor James M. McPherson detailed Lincoln’s wartime strategy and policies in a talk Tuesday night at the Civil War Roundtable of Atlanta.

“He made mistakes and he learned from them,” said McPherson, who received the group’s Richard B. Harwell Book Award for his 2009 work, “Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief.”

McPherson, who is best known for "Battle Cry of Freedom," said Lincoln’s policies and military strategy evolved during the bloody conflict.

Unshakeable in his belief of a unified, sovereign nation, Lincoln moved from appeasing border states to making them a vital part of Union success.

Of the war, Lincoln wrote, “It is an issue which can only be tried by war and decided by victory."

Lincoln, McPherson argued, knew that war is affected by policy and politicians and is not an autonomous effort. Early in the conflict, he appointed political generals to unify the effort. With a few exceptions, including John Logan, many failed.

By 1862, Lincoln relied on the professional generals. “Military patronage had largely served its purpose,” said McPherson.

Lincoln waited for the proper time to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. At the beginning of the war, he was concerned about the reaction to arming black troops. By 1863, he knew they were essential for success.

McPherson also detailed Lincoln’s frustrations with generals who concentrated more on taking territory than defeating Confederate armies and resources.

He disliked the constant “procrastination” of Army of Potomac commander George B. McClellan, who he later fired. “He [Lincoln] became his own general-in-chief as well as commander-in-chief,” said McPherson.

In Grant and Sherman, Lincoln eventually found the final ingredients for crushing the South. They moved troops quickly and targeted forces, using numerical superiority to earn success. Sherman crushed the Deep South’s infrastructure and will of the people.

Even in frustration, Lincoln’s letters to generals and politicians can are fascinating. In November 1862, Lincoln wrote to Union Gen. Nathanial Banks, frustrated at the general’s preoccupation with having everything in place before moving against the enemy.

Early last week you left me in high hope with your assurance that you would be off with your expedition at the end of that week, or early in this. It is now the end of this, and I have just been overwhelmed and confounded with the sight of a requisition made by you which, I am assured, cannot be filled and got off within an hour short of two months. I enclose you a copy of the requisition, in some hope that it is not genuine -- that you have never seen it. My dear General, this expanding and piling up of impedimenta has been, so far, almost our ruin, and will be our final ruin if it is not abandoned….”

Gettysburg hero recommended for medal

Alonzo Cushing, a Civil War hero and the most famous of three Wisconsin brothers who distinguished themselves in military service, has been recommended to receive the Medal of Honor, 146 years after his death at Gettysburg. • Article

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fight over horse's head finally ends

People will fight over the strangest things. Like a stuffed horse head, for instance. Two Pennsylvania museums fought over the remains of the horse ridden by Union Gen. George Gordon Meade at Gettysburg, where he was the victorious commander. A new museum-quality display case is being built, and the horse is expected to be on public display this summer. • Article

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sesquicentennial adds to Vicksburg's lure

From Civil War battlefields, antebellum homes and historical museums to outdoors adventures, Delta blues and riverboat casinos, Vicksburg, Ms., tourists are attracted to the River City for myriad reasons. The year 2011 also will also bring the start of Vicksburg’s participation in the nationwide Civil War Sesquicentennial. The first event will be in April 2011, and local events will continue through July 4, 2013. • Article

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Remembering the war's largest surrender

Union Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman carried a secret with him as he rode on horseback to negotiations that would result in the largest surrender of the American Civil War:

Abraham Lincoln was dead.

Days before Sherman began first of three days of talks with Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston at Bennett Farm in Durham, N.C., Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia.

The North’s celebration quickly ended days later with the April 14, 1865, assassination of President Lincoln. Sherman received the coded news via telegraph. As he rode west toward Johnston, Sherman was concerned about recriminations by his 90,000 troops in and around Raleigh.

Sherman delivered the news to Johnston at the James and Nancy Bennett family’s home, which lies on the Old Hillsborough Road in Durham. The generals, who later became fast friends, met on April 17 and 18 before reaching a final agreement on April 26. The surrender effectively ended the bloody Civil War.

Most Americans have no idea that Bennett Place witnessed the real end to the war, not Appomattox.

“This is one of the sites overlooked in history,” says John W. Guss, site manager for Bennett Place State Historic Site, situated between Johnston’s dwindling troops in Winston-Salem and Sherman’s command to the east in Raleigh.

Bennett Place gets about 15,000 visitors a year. Appomattox Courthouse National Park, about two hours to the north, had 185,000 guests in 2009.

Still, in these tough economic and budgetary times, Guss and his small staff do their best to get the word out.

“The Internet has been the greatest asset to advertise,” says Guss. The park also has its own Facebook page.

I spoke with Guss on Friday during an hourlong visit to the site, which includes a rebuilt version of the Bennett home, a few outbuildings and well, and the visitors center, which includes a compelling film on the Carolinas campaign. We took in an informative afternoon guided tour.

The site, which is free to the public, had a recent living history and is planning for its biggest event of the year, marking the 145th anniversary of the surrender.

Guss expects between 2,000 and 3,000 people to come for the weekend events on April 17 and 18.

Visitors will witness re-enactments of the surrender by about 125 people portraying infantry and cavalry. There is no battle re-enactment. Mark Bradley, author of “The Astounding Close: The Road to Bennett Place,” will participate, as well as vendors and musicians.

“Some of the guys [uniformed Confederates] will be dressed very filthy, some are going to be barefoot and some will have no guns,” says red-haired Guss, who will portray Sherman.

Surrender negotiations were not without controversy. Initially, Sherman and Johnston’s agreement included political terms that were generous to the South. Union officials in Washington, angered over the recent assassination of Lincoln, turned them down in favor of purely military terms.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered Johnston to dissolve his army into guerrilla bands to continue the fight, but the general, who knew continuing was useless without Lee’s forces, disobeyed the order and signed the revised agreement.

His surrender ended the war for nearly 90,000 Confederates in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Read more about Bennett Place State Historic Site

Saturday, March 6, 2010

'Big Red' battle flag returned to Citadel

A Civil War-era flag believed to be the one that flew over Morris Island when Citadel cadets fired upon the supply ship Star of the West arrived at the school after nearly 150 years. • Article

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sunken vessels, treasure and more

The 11th annual Ghost Ships Festival this weekend in Milwaukee will feature a special presentation on the SS Republic, an 1850s steamship that went down off the coast of Savannah, Ga., in a hurricane in 1865. • Article

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Meet the Three Musketeers of target shooting

I’ve meet many fascinating, helpful and amiable folks since I started this blog last year.

But (from left) Cecil Pinner, Jim Wyatt and Jim Beale have to be the most jovial.

I met the Virginia-born pals as I was leaving the Civil War show in Dalton, Ga., last month. It was clear they are good friends.

Wyatt, who turns 63 next month, had just purchased a $275 1863 Springfield rifle (modified after the war into a shotgun) to return to its original length and rifle use. He will either use it in competition or sell it for nearly $1,000 to help pay for his hobby.

That competitive hobby is the North-South Skirmish Association, which sponsors events around the country, mostly in the East.

The group promotes the shooting of Civil War firearms and artillery and “encourages the preservation and display of Civil War materials.”

Skirmishers are not battle re-enactors. Instead, uniformed Confederate and Union teams use muskets, Henry repeating rifles, carbines, pistols, mortar and cannon to hit fixed targets.

“We love it. It’s a blast,” Wyatt, with a hint of his pun, says of the hobby.

The trio are from the Tidewater region and have known each other for 30-35 years. Beale, 62, lives in Franklin, Va. Wyatt resides in Homer, Ga., and Pinner, 65, now calls Suwanee, Ga., home.

The organization is broken into regions. The three men are members of Tucker’s Naval Brigade, competing in the Deep South region. The public is invited to the free events.

Wyatt says the brigade recently finished in second at an eight-member musket shoot in Brierfield, Ala. Each member has five minutes to hit four clay pigeons 50 yards away. Points are deducted for each target left.

The N-SSA national event is scheduled for May near Winchester, Va.

Pinner hauls the unit’s 325-pound mortar around in the bed of his pickup truck. In competition, teams fire five rounds from a mortar at 100 yards, trying to get closest to the target.

Skirmishers enjoy the camaraderie and the competition.

“A lot of people in the N-SSA are veterans,” says Wyatt, an OSHA trainer and sales manager for a billboard supply company.

When I asked them what their wives thought of their weekend forays, the men were unanimous.

“They’re glad to get rid of us.”

More on North-South Skirmish Association

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Aged memorial statue laid to rest

Some 135 years have passed since hands touched it.

Now, a Civil War memorial soldier, which stood a silent watch over the Muscatine (Iowa) County Courthouse, has come down to be saved from more damage by the Earth's elements.

Fund-raisers hope to have a new soldier built and installed on the memorial. • Article

Georgia Battlefields Association turns 15

The Georgia Battlefields Association, which has had a role in saving sites at Griswoldville, Resaca and Kolb Farm, among others, recently elected officers.

GBA, founded in March 1995 as private non-profit, owns almost five acres of the New Hope Church battlefield and also conducts tours of Civil War sites.

According to its Web site, the GBA has "worked with government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels and with other preservation organizations in Georgia, neighboring states, and at the national level. We thank everyone who has helped us thus far, but we still have a lot to do."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

New battlefield boss at Gettysburg

Thirty-six year National Park Service veteran Bob Kirby took over as the new superintendent at Gettysburg National Military Park. He called his new position “a tremendous challenge,” noting that Gettysburg is the most famous Civil War site in America. • Article

Monday, March 1, 2010

Life of a Confederate soldier

Young men who served in the Confederate Army of Tennessee likely spent their entire lives close to their homes before fighting. In April 1865, they were also barefoot, ragged, hungry, lonely and far from home, a Confederate interpreter explained to visitors at Bennett Place in Durham. • Article