Thursday, September 29, 2011

Re-enactor decides to hang up the kepi

After 20 years re-enacting, Rosario Roberts of Los Molinos, Calif., is giving up salt pork and hardtack. His organization, Re-enactors of the American Civil War, has been re-creating Civil War battles, as well as camp and civilian life, since 1991. • Article

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lowcountry events include Port Royal

Lowcountry residents and visitors will have a chance to see Civil War history come to life in December on Hilton Head Island. Historians and re-enactors will revisit the first major amphibious assault in U.S. history -- the Battle of Port Royal. • Article

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Excavating bombproof in Virginia

To mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, researchers at Historic Jamestowne in Virginia are excavating a shelter on the island that was built in 1861 and known as Fort Pocahontas. They are paying close attention to a bomb shelter. • Video

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Higher estimate for number of war dead

An analysis of historic census figures reveals the death toll in the U.S. Civil War was higher than previously estimated, a historian says. J. David Hacker of Binghamton University in New York says the war's dead numbered about 750,000, an estimate 20 percent higher than the commonly cited figure. • Article

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Historic Fort Monroe closes -- for now

Fort Monroe, located at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, was officially closed by the U.S. Army and handed over to the state. Since the closure of the fort, with its more than 170 historic buildings and significant Civil War history, was announced in 2005, its future use has been constantly debated. • Article

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ride honors Civil War dead, today's warriors

A retired Special Forces officer will lead hundreds of motorcycle riders on a 130-mile ride through four states, 19 counties and three national battlefields during the 8th Annual Battlefield Run on Sept. 17 to raise funds for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. • Article

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Survey of Missouri, Illinois artifacts

A library at Southeast Missouri State University wants to document the whereabouts of letters, journals, diaries, photographs and other original documents dating back to the Civil War. • Article

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Plans for Rebel flying machine up for sale

The papers of R. Finley Hunt, a dentist with a passion for flight, describe scenarios where flying machines bomb Federal troops. Hunt's papers will be sold at the Space and Aviation Artifacts auction. • Article

Monday, September 12, 2011

Part 2 of flag returned 147 years later: Savannah militia units were caught up in war fever

Last month, the Picket reported on a descendant of a Union officer returning a captured flag to Fort McAllister, Ga., which defended Savannah during the Civil War. The flag belonged to the Emmett Rifles, a volunteer militia company. This installment provides a closer look at the Rifles and the Republican Blues, with whom they served.

What a parade it was. Onlookers lined the streets of Manhattan, curious about these dashing young men who had just arrived from the South.

Dressed in woolen uniforms and toting knapsacks, Savannah’s Republican Blues marched smartly to the sounds of their own band as they made a grand entrance, writes Jacqueline Jones, author of “Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War.”

The venerable volunteer militia unit enjoyed all that New York society could offer that week in July 1860. As guests of the New York Light Guards, the company wined and dined, marched, drilled and enjoyed ceremonial dinners and receptions. Their tall plumed bearskin hats, dark blue dress coats and white pants made them look almost regal.

The Republican Blues, the New York Times gushed, boasted “some of the wealthiest and most honored citizens of Savannah.”

At the time, it wasn’t uncommon for exclusive companies to travel to other cities, where they enjoyed the camaraderie of their fellow armed and uniformed volunteers. After all, Jones writes, white elites of the North and South shared kinship and educational and business ties.

The Blues sailed back to Savannah to find a region in turmoil, martial spirit growing as the country began to split. The election of a Republican president appeared more and more likely. Abolitionists railed against slavery as Southern politicians defended states rights.

A rush to enlist in the militias

One of the oldest and renowned militias in Savannah, the Blues had a rich history.

They saw service in Florida during the War of 1812.

“The unit’s members were professional, well-drilled, and prepared to defend the nation, the Constitution, their state, and their community,” writes Roger S. Durham in “The Blues in Gray.”

“Over the years, membership in the Republican Blues became a tradition passed from father to son, from generation to generation, and as such, the ties that bound these men together became very strong,” according to Durham.

Volunteer militia units, largely made up by immigrant groups, particularly the Irish, saw their ranks swell in the months leading to the outbreak of the Civil War.

In the summer of 1860, young men rushed to join the Blues, Oglethorpe Light Infantry, Georgia Hussars, the Jasper Greens, Montgomery Guards, among other companies – and a new group, the Emmett Rifles.

Augustus Bonaud, a Frenchman from Marseilles, organized the Emmett Rifles and served as its commander for more than two years.

“They were more or less formed in the war fever,” said Jim Dunigan, 31, of Savannah, who participates in the Republican Blues and Emmett Rifles (left) living history group programs at Fort McAllister and other locations.

The Blues were among the better trained and professional of the militia units, akin to the National Guard of today.

Jones depicts prewar Savannah as a city determined to uphold its society and plantation-based economy.

“Together, with the fire companies, the militias provided white men with the near-universal experience of parading and drilling, and provided many bankers and hotel keepers with the title of lieutenant or colonel – testament to the overwhelming physical force that undergirded the system of slavery,” she writes.

In November 1860, Jones writes, the Blues unveiled a secession flag. Imprinted on the flag was a coiled snake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”

The drums of war were quickening.

Militia companies, part of the First Regiment Georgia Volunteers, seized Fort Pulaski (right) in early 1861 shortly before Georgia voted to secede from the union.

But after the fall of Hilton Head, S.C., Confederate coastal strategy was rethought. Savannah could be defended, but Georgia cities such as Darien and Brunswick, closer to Union warships, could not. Georgia’s barrier islands were abandoned in late 1861.

Durham’s book features the Civil War journal of William Daniel Dixon, a leader in the showcase Blues.

After firing the first shots in defense in Georgia and serving at Pulaski and Tybee Island, the Blues were deployed to Fort Jackson, on the edge of Savannah. They were soon joined by the Emmett Rifles.

Drilling, drilling and more drilling

The Rifles comprised between 50 and 95 members throughout the war. Although they first believed they would serve in the infantry, the company, like the Blues, served as artillerymen at Jackson and, later, at Fort McAllister, the vital fort southwest of Savannah on the Ogeechee River.

Service was not easy. Malaria and other diseases were prevalent, stalking soldiers and civilians like. Daily routines included mustering and drilling.

The dreariness of garrison duty and other distractions occasionally took their toll. Dixon’s journal provides accounts of drunkenness, absence without leave and desertion. According to Dunigan, the Emmetts did not maintain their equipment well and were not considered an elite unit.

Still, "they gave (of) themselves for the defense of the city," Dunigan told the Picket.

"They were not tested in combat until the naval attacks at Fort McAllister and to all accounts they stood up to it manfully, shoulder to shoulder with the Blues," according to Durham.

At Fort Jackson, on April 4, 1862, four months before they were sent to McAllister in the first of two deployments, the Rifles hosted a group of Savannah women who had supported the troops.

Officers of the company “drafted resolutions expressive of our thanks to our lady friends for their kindness shown towards the Company,” according to an article in the April 7, 1862, issue of the Daily Morning News of Savannah.

“We tender to Miss Mary Knox our sincerest thanks for the beautiful banner presented by her to the company.”

The banner was the flag returned earlier this year to Fort McAllister.

The newspaper also made note of “Glorious News from the West.” Confederate forces garnered a decisive victory against the Federals at Corinth, Miss., according to the article.

The fighting coincided with the Battle of Shiloh, which Dixon wrote was a complete victory for the South. Historians consider the outcome essentially a Union victory.

On Dec. 13, 1864, shortly before Savannah fell, the Emmett Rifles would lose their flag to a Union officer who fought at Shiloh.

Credits: Sketch of Republican Blues in camp appeared in Harper's Weekly; photo of Emmett Rifles living history group, courtesy of Jim Dunigan; newspaper article, courtesy of Georgia Historical Society.

READ PART 3: The man who returned the flag, William Zoron Clayton, was wounded at Shiloh, led a full life.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Doll stars in detective story

A doll suspected of carrying medicines to wounded and malaria-stricken Confederate troops has been X-rayed, taken a trip to Virginia's crime lab and starred in a nationally televised investigation. Nina still isn't giving up her secrets. • Article

Friday, September 9, 2011

On to Charleston! Bicyclist-teacher takes in Civil War sites, rolling scenery

Michael Ahern, 35, a social studies teacher at Brighton High School in Rochester, N.Y., rode his high-tech bicycle nearly 800 miles from Arlington, Va., to Charleston, S.C., stopping at Civil War sites along the way. The Aug. 1-16 trip was part personal challenge, part fund-raiser for the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa., and part research time for the classroom. The Picket spoke with Ahern about his adventure, which included encounters with about 15 dogs. He rode an average of 50 to 60 miles a day, though some were much longer. The Adventure Cycling Association provided some of his maps.

Q. Why did you make the trip?
A. I wanted to do something physically challenging and I thought about incorporating an educational component and a fund-raising component. I had been to a number of battlefields growing up. I wanted to visit more for my own professional development.

Q. What was the most difficult stretch?
A. Virginia, with rolling topography around Fredericksburg and Richmond. There are constant rolling hills. Once you got on the other side of the James River, it was pretty flat going into North Carolina.

Q. What scene do you most remember?
A. Guinea Station, Va., the “Stonewall” Jackson shrine. I got there in the morning about a half hour before it opened. There was still a lot of mist and it is a rural setting. It was a pretty intimate scene. To go into that house and see the original bed frame, quilt and mantel clock -- that was the neatest. Also Cold Harbor in terms of seeing the earthen trenches that are still intact. You get a sense of what both armies were facing on that day. Grant’s tactics changed after that and he began using his army differently at Petersburg.

Q. What were your stops?
A. Arlington; Fredericksburg, including Mayre’s Heights and Prospect Hill; “Stonewall: Jackson shrine; Seven Days in Richmond, including Beaver Dam Creek, Gaines’ Mill, Malvern Hill; Cold Harbor; Fort Fisher, North Carolina; and Charleston. I was hoping to hit more, but logistically I was under the gun for time.

Q. Who were the most interesting people you met?
A. I spoke to a couple of rangers at Cold Harbor and Fredericksburg. I did not know there was house to house fighting (at Fredericksburg), some of the first of the war. Until then, it was about keeping civilians and property out of it. There were five newspapers and they were vocal on their thoughts on the war. That area was kind of fascinating to me. In upstate New York, we tend to associate pressure being on Lincoln and on the North, especially in December 1862. In Fredericksburg, because of emancipation there was a lot of pressure on the Confederacy with the Union (army) being after Richmond.

Q. Are kids interested in the Civil War?
A. I am somewhat realistic. I feel if I can get a handful of kids a year interested in it, that’s a win for me. With instant gratifications and distractions, I am hoping to present them with information that if it doesn’t resonate with them (immediately) they will come back to it. My big message is if you are passionate about something, do it, live it, embrace it. I view the Civil War as analogous to the blues in music. Without blues there would be no jazz or rock ‘n roll. Without the Civil War, we would not have history as we know it. You can’t understand the 20th century unless you learn how we changed. The Civil War is the aquifer that has fed our history. It always resonates, always there.

Q. What do you hope the 150th anniversary of the war will bring?
A. To commemorate and reflect and have an appreciation for what Americans have gone through. What they sacrificed and have an understanding of that. Everyone at some point in their life should go to a battlefield or a national military cemetery. It has had a tremendous impact on my life.

Q. What battlefield would you like most to see for the first time?
A. I would like to investigate the Nashville and Franklin (Tennessee) area a little bit. It’s intriguing because of (Confederate general) John Bell Hood. An interesting guy throughout the war. What was going through his mind as far as that battle is concerned.

Read more about Ahern's adventure

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wheeler birthday event this weekend

The 175th birthday of Confederate cavalryman Joseph Wheeler will be celebrated Saturday (Sept 10) at his north Alabama home, which is being restored. Civil War re-enactors will be roaming the grounds at Pond Spring, outside of Courtland. • Article

Monday, September 5, 2011

Prof chairs Louisiana 150th task force

Officials at LSU Shreveport say an associate professor of history has been named chairman of Louisiana's Civil War Sesquicentennial Task Force and a member of the Louisiana Bicentennial Commission. • Article

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Battlefields group supports monuments work

A campaign to restore monuments to two generals killed at the Battle of Atlanta is getting help from the Georgia Battlefields Association.

GBA contributed $6,000 for work on memorials honoring Union Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson and Confederate Maj. Gen. W.H.T., killed within a mile of each other on July 22, 1864.

The Battle of Atlanta Commemoration Organization received grants for studies on the restoration. Elements, the proximity to traffic and vandalism have taken their toll on the monuments.

According to GBA's September newsletter, the McPherson monument was installed in the late 1870s by engineers from a U.S. Army garrison. The Walker monument (in photo) was installed in 1902 in Grant Park and relocated in 1936 to his death site.

Picket's previous coverage on restoration effort

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Visitors center set for Oklahoma site

The Battle of Honey Springs, also known as Elk Creek, took place in northeast Oklahoma 148 years ago. In two years, local and state officials expect to open a $1.9 million, 5,000 square foot visitors center at the rural battlefield. • Article