Monday, April 30, 2012

Amazing story of captured Bible's return to soldier from Maine -- 60 years later

The following is among my favorite stories in the nearly three-year existence of the Civil War Picket.

On April 21, 2012, Robert Clayton of Islesboro, Maine, returned a Confederate battle flag to Fort McAllister, Ga., 147 years after its capture by his great-grandfather, Capt. W.Z. Clayton. There's a side story that may be even more incredible.

Robert Clayton has in his possession the Bible that belonged to W.Z. Clayton. The Union soldier lost the Bible at a battle and it went into the hands of a Confederate. A Union officer "recaptured" it two years later in fighting near Atlanta. After a lot of twists and turns, the Bible got back to W.Z. Clayton in late 1923 or early 1924 -- 62 years after he had last seen it. Robert Clayton provided most of the following information, and I've done as much additional research as I practically can at this moment. I'd love to be able to fill in the gaps:

William Zoron Clayton, a native of Freeman, Maine, was 25 when the Civil War began. He joined the 1st Minnesota Light Artillery. His wife, Elizabeth "Lizzie" Rice Clayton, gave him this small Bible. She inscribed (above, click to enlarge) the first verse of a popular 1830s song, "Sweet Memories of Thee." The words are: "When soft stars are peeping, Through the pure azure sky, And southern gales sweeping, Their warm breathings by -- Like sweet music pealing Far o'er the blue sea, there comes o'er me stealing Sweet memories of thee."

Another inscription in the Bible (click to read) tells the bearer to keep it close. The penmanship does not appear to be Elizabeth's. At the time, the verse was commonly written in Bibles.

W.Z. Clayton, while a sergeant, wrote the following message to whomever might come in possession of his Bible. (click below to enlarge) The remainder of the message will be presented later in this post.

The 1st Minnesota Light Artillery saw its first significant action of the Civil War at Shiloh on April 6, 1862. Clayton was wounded in the great clash at the Hornet's Nest. It's not clear how he lost custody of the Bible. Perhaps the sergeant dropped it or the Rebel found it in the battery's camp, forward of the Peach Orchard. Clayton's unit barely escaped capture that day.

The Bible was then signed by L. Herndon, Co. I, 1st Regiment Mississippi Cavalry. Sgt. Lucien (possibly) Lucius Herndon was a member of the Pontotoc Dragoons. (Click photo below to enlarge)

On April 6, at Shiloh, the 1st Mississippi Calvary advanced on the left flank of Cheatham's Division. One of their officers captured a different Union battery that was poised to retreat to the Tennessee River at Pittsburg Landing. The Mississippi unit later fought in Louisiana, Alabama, middle Tennessee and Georgia.

Sadly, Clayton's wife, Lizzie, died on May 10, 1864, according to W.Z. Clayton at that time was in North Georgia taking part in the Atlanta Campaign, serving with 1st Minnesota Light Artillery.

I do not know what became of Herndon and whether he or the 1st Mississippi Cavalry were at the Battle of Jonesboro, a Union victory south of Atlanta Aug. 31-Sept 1, 1864. But I think it's likely they did.

At Jonesboro, the Bible came into possession of 1st. Lt. Obed Sherwin of the 47th Ohio Volunteery Infantry (click photo to enlarge, who added his name. Sherwin, of Jefferson Township, Ohio, was wounded some time during the war by a round that killed another soldier.

The 47th OVI saw early service in Virginia. The regiment transferred west and joined the 15th Corps in time for the 1863 Vicksburg operation. Later in the fall, the Buckeyes joined the Chattanooga-Ringgold campaign and took part in Georgia operations. Sherwin mustered out in January 1865.

Above Sherwin's notation is the balance of W.Z. Clayton's note to whomever might find his New Testament. It asks it be returned to his father, Bartholomew, in Freeman, Maine. It also notes W.Z.'s membership in a masonic lodge.

From here, the story of the recaptured Bible becomes murky, with few details.

Robert Clayton said the Bible eventually to a Capt. Thomas, who moved to Texas and held the Bible for about 40 years. Mrs. Thomas gave it to a J.A. Creath in Gurdon, Ark., in December 1923 (click photo to enlarge). Someone saw the inscription that indicated W.Z. Clayton was a Mason, and through that fraternal order, was able to locate the former Union officer and send the Bible to him.

After the war, Clayton married Laurette E. Knowles and they had six children. He passed away in October 1929 in Bangor, Maine, at 94.

Tussle 2: Updates on medals, prison key

Ohio cousins feuding over ownership of Civil War artifacts plan to ask whether the items could be displayed at a Veterans Affairs clinic being built near Toledo. • Article

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tennessee tussle over Farragut marker

Even as Tennessee and county officials prepare to dedicate a Civil War trail marker to Admiral David Glasgow Farragut this weekend, the fate of the stone monument marking the birthplace of the first admiral of the U.S. Navy remains uncertain. • Article

Friday, April 27, 2012

Will Sultana rise from the ashes to earn a more prominent place in U.S. memory?

• Last of a series

What's left of the SS Sultana is in loam, 35 feet beneath an Arkansas soybean field. The mighty Mississippi River changed course since the steamboat exploded and caught fire on April 27, 1865, leaving the ashes to slowly settle and be farmed over.

“We know it’s there. It also is hallowed ground," said Louis Intres, adjunct history professor at Arkansas State University.

While Intres expects the charred timbers to stay put, he and a small band of scholars, authors and descendants have campaigned to keep alive the memory of the largest U.S. maritime disaster, which claimed about 1,800 lives. Most of the victims were freed Union prisoners headed north.

But it hasn't been easy.

Few Americans know about the Sultana, and there are concerns that future citizens won't wade deeply into history.

“Our younger generation is just not as fascinated by stories of the Civil War as we are," said Pam Newhouse of the Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends (ASDF). "My best hope is for people to talk about it. In that way, the story will never die.”

That was the mission of the Sultana Association, an organization founded in Ohio by survivors in 1885. Veterans shared their first-hand accounts and held reunions.

Survivors fought, to no avail, for congressional support for a national monument. Instead, communities home to the Union soldiers who were being transported after the war's end erected monuments. East Tennessee survivors put up one in Knoxville in 1916 (photo).

Pleasant Keeble (below) of Knoxville, survived the Sultana; his brother, John, did not. The last survivors' meeting in his city was held in April 1930, with only Keeble, 84, in attendance. The former private of Company H, 3rd Tennessee Calvary, died the following year.

Today, the ASDF is pinning its hopes for a lasting memorial on a museum, perhaps in Marion, Ark., a few miles north of Memphis, Tenn.

The overcrowded steamboat sank early in the morning near Marion. In the end, no one was formally held accountable for putting too many men on the Sultana and sailing despite documented concerns about the safety of one of the boat's boilers. Hundreds of men died only a day and a half from a prisoner exchange and freedom.

The disaster received scant headlines.

America was weary of the Civil War and was still mourning President Abraham Lincoln, assassinated fewer than three weeks before.

Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston had just surrendered his army in North Carolina.

The South, focused on its own devastation, wasn't particularly sympathetic about enemy soldiers perishing, said Jerry Potter, a Memphis lawyer who has written extensively about the topic.

“I was giving a talk one time, and a man made a comment that they were just Yankees, too bad more of them didn’t die," Potter told the Picket. "I just lost it. A few people felt that way, but few people knew about the Sultana.”

Excerpts from Sultana victim's journal

The city of Marion and the chamber of commerce last month sponsored an exhibit on the Sultana, featuring a few items from the ship, reunion pins, photos and accounts of the disaster.

Intres, 63, a retired banker, expects Arkansas State to house the Sultana's permanent archives. Marion would like to restore an old bank building and use is at a first location for a steamboat museum.

"Of course, we would likely use the Sultana as the central theme, but it should celebrate the great era of steamboats from about 1820 to the early 20th century," he said. As a child, Intres learned about rivers from a retired steamboat pilot.

But it will take about 10 years and a lot of money to make that happen. "It is a wonderful dream right now," said Intres.

(Read about alligator box made by survivor)

Intres and others say Marion and Memphis could benefit from increased heritage tourism. But governments aren't in a spending mode these days.

“There’s no state funding or local funding. It’s up to societies and communities," said Jimmy Ogle, a tour guide and community engagement manager for the Riverfront Development Corp. in Memphis. “It was just perceived as a small steamboat disaster in the South.”

“We’re trying to build that interest," said Ogle, who has led tours to the Sultana site. "The Civil War kind of skipped over Memphis.”

The city fell to Federal forces in 1862 and became a logistics and hospital center. “Sherman planned the March from the Sea here. There is no signature thing like a battlefield, such as Shiloh,” he said.

Memphis could serve as a hub to see additional Civil War sites, including Shiloh, Fort Donelson and Fort Pillow, according to Ogle. The Mississippi River Museum on Mud Island in Memphis has several galleries about the war.

Some people are afraid to discuss slavery and revisionism, according to Ogle. “All we’re trying to do is recognize history is an objective and historical perspective.”

Potter said he did not understand the magnitude of the Sultana disaster until he got into his research.

“I would love to see the national papers and networks pick up on the story again," he said. "There are still a lot of people who have ancestors on the boat who know nothing about it.”

Stories of those who died and survived are gripping.

In "The Sultana Tragedy: America's Greatest Maritime Disaster," Potter writers about Pleasant and John Keeble being on separate decks. Pleasant was pushed downstairs by a stampede but made it back on deck, unable to find John. (Photo: Sultana survivors in Knoxville, 1920. Keeble is believed to be on the far right.)

Pleasant Keeble jumped into the river and use a portion of a wheelhouse to get away. Gene Salecker, in his book "Disaster on the Mississippi, said an African-American man on the bank extended a pole to Keeble, pulling him to safety.

Pvt. James Collins, also of the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, wrote in his memoris about his excitement on being on the Sultana, his wartime hardships over.

Suddenly, the ship trembled as the boilers exploded.

"Men lay everywhere scalded to death by the hot, hissing steam . . . and everywhere on the ill-fated boat death was visible in countless horrible and shocking forms," he wrote.

Badly burned by the cinders, Collins made his escape.

(Read article about scale model of Sultana)

Local residents, including a freed slaves, helped the passengers, who found themselves swimming for shore, or thrashing about in the chilly Mississippi.

“There were some amazing stories of heroism," said Intres. About 700 people were saved, with 200 dying for their wounds. Bodies were recovered for the next several months.

“Those who had survived so much felt like a calling," said Intres. "A great many went on to do wonderful things with their lives.”

Salecker has a large collection of Sultana memorabilia, including a wooden comb (right) and a box made by a survivor. He loaned a portion of it to the Marion exhibit and would like to see it housed in a permanent museum.

A fitting time would be by April 2015, the 150th anniversary of the sinking.

“I have a funny feeling the Sultana will be pushed aside much like it was in 1865. There will be attention to the Lincoln assassination, hunt for Booth and it will be a side note, said Salecker.

The ASDF is holding its 25th annual reunion today and Saturday in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Norman Shaw, an active member, said he is worried about the organization recruiting enough new members.

“We have got a lot done in spreading the word," said Shaw, of Knoxville. “Even those who died had a story to tell. They didn’t get to finish their story.”

Intres, the historian, said most museums are at least 30 years old. But, he said, America would lose much by forgetting its past.

“How valuable do you think your past is? How valuable is your heritage?" he asked. "You can’t go out and remake history."

Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends

Photos of Pvt. Pleasant Keeble and Knoxville monument, courtesy of Norman Shaw; photo of 1920 Knoxville reunion, Thompson Photograph Collection, McClung Historical Collection; photo of Sultana, Library of Congress; photo of Sultana tour, courtesy of Jimmy Ogle; photo of exhibit, Marion, Ark., Chamber of Commerce.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

This soldier actually was a sailor

Almost 150 years after George Adams Harriman of Orland, Maine, enlisted to fight the Confederacy, descendants have confirmed which military service he joined. They have marked his grave with a memorial stone that honors his service. • Article

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sultana disaster took lives of those who had endured so much, hoped for the future

From his rail car, Sgt. John Clark Ely, Company C, 115th Ohio Infantry, saw the lush fields of winter grain and corn, "green like spring," roll by. That same day, March 25, 1865, between Columbus, Ga., and Montgomery, Ala., he savored a world in bloom -- crabapple, honeysuckle, woodbine, peach and dogwood.

Life's sublime pleasures, after months in Confederate prison camps, promised something even more precious for Ely (left). Soon, he hoped, he would be in the arms of his wife, Julia, and their children.

A March 31 notation in his journal mentions "the place we have looked for," a parole camp a few miles outside of Vicksburg, Miss. He was getting closer to home and release.

"Oh this is the brightest day of my life, long to be remembered," Ely, 36, wrote.

The gaunt school teacher from Ohio, who survived miserable prison conditions at Andersonville and other locations, would not live to see those brighter days.

Early the morning of April 27, 1865, Ely and nearly 1,800 others, most of them freed Union prisoners, would die in the horrific explosion and fire on the steamboat Sultana (below). The disaster, a few miles above Memphis, Tenn., on the Mississippi River, is the worst in U.S. history. The boat was licensed to carry 376 passengers; about 2,500 were on board.

Ely's journal, one of two (the first disappeared), was found on his body. Today, it is cared for by a great-grandson, Norman Ely, of Glenwood Springs, Colo.

"It took me a while to decipher the writing," Ely told the Picket. "Not that his penmanship was that bad."

Norman Ely's mother told him about the small diary, which captures the soldier's despair, anguish, privations -- and hope. On Christmas Day 1864, three weeks after his capture in Tennessee, John Clark Ely wrote: "Christmas Day and such a day for us prisoners. Hungry, dirty, sleepy and lousy. Will another Christmas find us
again among friends and loved ones?"

Will Sultana's legacy rise from ashes?

Norman Ely said he became interested in the family's geneaology later in life.

"The fact that he went through this ordeal, the fact that he died there and left four children is very sad," he said.

The little-known disaster, which occurred 147 years ago Friday, is being remembered this weekend by descendants of those who died or survived the Sultana disaster. Few Americans know about incident; it was largely overlooked at the time because of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination and other events surrounding the end of the Civil War. (Below, monument in Hillsdale, Mich., where many victims lived).

The Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends is having its 25th annual reunion in Cincinnati.

Pam Newhouse, of Madison, Ind., is one of the group's leaders and for years published a newsletter. Her great-great-grandfather, Pvt. Adam Schneider, 183rd Ohio Infantry; was among the victims.

“This man had no luck at all," Newhouse said of her Prussian-born ancestor, who had a wife and three children. "He was captured on his first battle of the war. He went to prison and died on the Sultana. He was always at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

There is a terrible irony, of course, that Schneider, Ely and hundreds of other half-starved and sickly men would survive Andersonville, Cahaba and other camps -- only to die in the flames and frigid waters near Marion, Ark. A few hundred would survive.

“Every man who got on the boat has a unique story," said Norman Shaw of Knoxville, Tenn, also active in the descendants and friends group. "They went to battle as a young men and had survived the battles and diseases in the war. They had to survive the prisoner of war camps. They had to survive the Sultana disaster.”

The disaster was not without controversy.

Authors Gene Salecker and Jerry Potter have written about a kickback scheme between the vessel's financially-strapped captain, J. Cass Mason, the steamer's captain and master, and an Army quartermaster, Lt. Col. Reuben B. Hatch. According to Potter, the transport fee was $5 for an enlisted man, $10 for an officer. Mason agreed to take the enlisted men for $3; Hatch kept the $2.

Mason, who died in the disaster, rushed upriver to pick up the prisoners, putting a temporary patch on one of the steamboat's boilers. To this day, historians argue over whether the failed patch is responsible for the explosion and fire.

(Read article about alligator box made by Sultana survivor)

But they do agree the Sultana was overcrowded and top-heavy with all of the men packed together, causing the vessel to rock and putting stress on the boilers. At least one other vessel was available to carry soldiers to St. Louis, relieving the passenger load on the Sultana.

“In some places the guys couldn’t even lay down. It was so crowded. In some cases if they went to the bathroom or go to eat their place would be taken," Salecker, author of "Disaster on the Mississippi," told the Picket.

“It was crowded but they were happy. They were going home.” The soldiers were to disembark at Cairo, Illinois, and take a train to Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio, to formally complete a prisoner exchange.

(Read article about scale model of Sultana)

Potter, a Memphis attorney and author of "The Sultana Tragedy: America's Greatest Maritime Disaster", began researching Ely and other soldiers on board the Sultana.

“They became real people. The real tragedy was they were basically murdered by their own army. It was just gross negligence," said Potter.

Ely, who was supposed to get a promotion to lieutenant at the end of the war, was captured by forces under Nathan Bedford Forrest on Dec. 5, 1864, near LaVergne, Tenn.

“I became fascinated with him because he was the only soldier I could find a diary (left)," said Potter.

Ely, from south of Cleveland, Ohio, was buried at the national cemetery in Memphis.

“When you read in his diary, he talks about longing to be with his wife and kids. He goes through the day-to-day activity of being a soldier," said Potter. He helped correct Ely's headstone, which initially said he served with the 115th Illinois.

Most of the Sultana victims buried at Memphis are listed as unknown.

John Clark Ely, born in Franklinville, N.Y., wrote about a march to Corinth, Miss., time in Meridian, Miss., and two harrowing months at Andersonville in middle Georgia. The passages by the soldier, who enlisted in 1862, are permeated with rumors of possible exchanges.

"He had all the great hopes. He couldn't wait to get home," said another great-grandson, Clifford Ely of Connecticut. "When he got on the steamboat, he kept writing to her (Julia)."

Clifford Ely also was touched by his ancestor's time at Andersonville. "There was a lot of sickness around. Other people stole things from him. It was just a sad thing, day by day. People tried to escape, (but) he never did."

Andersonville National Historic Site has a copy of Ely's journal (click photo to enlarge). Selected excerpts capture just a small portion of Ely's ordeal:

Dec. 5, 1864: Rebs came in sight early in large force under Gen. Forrest. Capt. Hake surrendered the fort and the Co. are prisoner, were marched out to North 5 miles of Nashville to General Hoods quarters.

Dec. 10: Broke camp at 9 a.m. and marched 27 miles to a church and school house between Franklin and Spring Hill near a Mr. Combwill who treated me very kindly, gave me some supper, we had no rations today, very slippery walking, I am very lame.

Dec. 25: Christmas Day and such a day for us prisoners. Hungry, dirty, sleepy and lousy. Will another Christmas find us again among friends and loved ones? We got to Meridian at 5 p.m., took us to prison corral, pretty hard place for prisoners to live. Balance of prisoners came up in night, also the officers.

Dec. 28: Usual routine of prison life, nothing new or strange. The war news is good, Hood has been thoroughly whipped with a loss of half his artillery and 9000 men and that Sherman has taken Savannah, tis good news.

Dec. 31: Nothing new, all usual scenes such as cooking, washing and catching lice. John Fitzwater sent to hospital.

Jan. 12, 1865: Beautiful morning, heavy white frost this morning. Some sneak stole all our mess rations last night. May they set heavy on his belly. Many rumors today of Hood and Thomas.

Jan. 26 (one week after transport to Andersonville): Usual duties and same rounds of prison life. Many men suffered severely, it was so cold. Men die every day, went over to see the hospital for our men, it is like a smoke house.

Feb. 9: Cold morning with wind. Rebs got scared yesterday, took all the axes out of camp, put on an extra guard and planted a battery East of camp. Do not know whether they are afraid of out or inside, the commissioners returned from their visit to Washington, old Abe’s reply: lay down arms before negotiations.

Feb. 12: Again a fine day, news that Sherman has taken Branchville near Charleston, may it be true. Feel much depressed in feeling today, anxiety of home weighs heavy.

Feb. 22: Washington birthday. How different from where I was a year ago, some scalloway opened our tent at bottom and stole from me one shirt, one pair drawers, one () and haversack with 4 days rations meal.

March 19: Beautiful day but cool night. I feel quite poorly with diarrhea. The monotony of camp again broken by the Johnnys coming in for men to go out on parole. Carpenters, woodchoppers etc took out nearly or quite 100 men.

March 24: Very fine morning, peach and cherry trees all in full bloom outside, for the Co bought our chance to go by the first train. We gave eighty dollars greenback, 80 confed and my watch valued at 60 dollars, hope the chance will prove a good one. Late p.m. a train came for us and we bid goodby to Andersonville. Left at 8 p.m. and arrived at Columbus (Ga.) at daylight.

April 9 (near Vicksburg): Rain in night and this morning, feeling some better this morning, quite a number of ladies out yesterday p.m. from town. Looks like being among humans again. War news good, cloudy and rain all day. Clothing was issued to company today.

April 13: Cool wind, cloudy and lowrey, no very important doing, a few men exchanged most every day. Oh! How I wish I could hear from Julia, it seems as if it would do me more good than anything else. Went out with Boody and got some sweet river roots for pipes. Heavy cannonading in Vicksburg, tis reported that Lee has surrendered and that Mobile is taken. Wrote Julia p.m. Was news glorious, Lee has caved to Grant, bully, bully, glorious bully,if any man can save the union, why General Grant is the man, rumored that Johns(t)on has also surrendered to Sherman, if this be ture, the confederacy is most certainly pretty nearly played out for this time, bully news bully.

April 24: Beautiful day but very warm sun, about 10 a.m. we were ordered to take train for Vicksburg and then up the river, went from cars to boat Sultana, a large but not very fine boat. Vicksburg is truly a city set on not only a hill but hills. Left sometime in night for Cairo.

April 25: Fine day, still going up river very high over country everywhere, no places along the river where white people live but very many monuments of where people had been.

April 26, Ely's last full day alive: Very fine day, still upward we go.

Coming Friday: The Sultana's legacy and hopes for a museum.

Photos of Sgt. Ely and his journal, courtesy of Norman Ely. Photographs of Sultana and Andersonville, Library of Congress. Hillsdale, Mich., monument photo, courtesy of Stephenie Kyser, Osseo, Mich.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Longstreet Society bivouac this weekend

The Gainesville, Ga.-based Longstreet Society's annual spring bivouac this Saturday (April 28), features tours, music, lunch and the groundbreaking of a new walkway.

And if you're not too squeamish, stick around to look for ghosts.

The event is being held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Piedmont Hotel, where Confederate Gen. James Longstreet lived his last years. The building serves as the society's headquarters.

There is no admission, but donations are accepted for helping to pay down a loan on the property. The society has done extensive renovations at the site.

The 30th Georgia Infantry also will make a visit Saturday.

A brick and granite walkway will replace the present concrete pavers connecting the front steps to the gravel parking lot, with a leg going to the front gate. Bricks for engraving are still available.

"We are trying to get the general public to visit the historic restored section of the old Piedmont Hotel," said society treasurer Joe Whitaker. "The portion remaining has a lot of pictures, prints, documents and other items of interest."

At 9 p.m., Night Life Paranormal Investigations, a Georgia organization, will use sound and motion detectors and other devices to detect any activity.

"There has been some success in the past at discovering some activity," Whitaker said.

For more information on the event, call the society at 770-539-9005 or e-mail The society is at 827 Maple St., Gainesville, Ga.

More information about Longstreet Society

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bugler sounds 'Tattoo'

Buddy Jowers of the 22nd Georgia Heavy Artillery performed with the unit's band Saturday at Fort McAllister State Historic Park. "Tattoo" was the signal for the men to prepare for bed and to secure the post. It is one of the longest calls in the Army. Jowers of Guyton, Ga., is principal bugler for the Georgia Volunteer Battalion, a re-enacting group.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Homecoming: Hundreds celebrate return of Civil War battle flag to Georgia fort

Facebook gallery of the activities

Richmond Hill, Ga. -- With a chorus of "Hip, Hip, Hooray! and the firing of a cannon, Georgia on Saturday officially welcomed home a Civil War battle flag captured nearly 150 years ago.

Robert "Bob" Clayton of Islesboro, Maine, great-grandson of Union artillery Maj. William Zoron Clayton, had the honor of pulling the cannon's lanyard.

Maj. Clayton kept the banner, one of five seized Dec. 13, 1864, when thousands of troops overran 230 Confederate defenders at Fort McAllister, southwest of Savannah.

"In my house it was a war trophy, a piece of fabric," Bob Clayton told park visitors. "It belonged here, not on my wall."

A general contractor, Clayton last year donated the flag to Georgia, which conserved the silk flag and found a prominent position in the museum.

Clayton, 67, was the guest speaker at the unveiling of the Emmett Rifles flag. The Savannah militia unit was one of several that served at McAllister.

The flag was originally presented to the Emmett Rifles by Mary Knox and other women on April 4, 1862.

"Over the years, I would look at the flag and think of the ladies of Savannah stitching the flag," said Clayton, who spoke about 100 yards from the Ogeechee River as pleasure boats sliced the smooth water.

Clayton, speaking outside the museum under Spanish moss and dappled sunlight, carried a small Bible (below) that has a large part in the story of the flag's return.

After moving into his father's house about 20 years ago, Clayton and a son looked through cardboard boxes and discovered old letters and flags, including that of the Emmett Rifles.

He displayed the flag, but over the years was mindful of a note that was stored along with it:

“To be return(ed) to Savannah or Atlanta sometime.”

Also among the family possessions was the Bible the elder Clayton's first wife, who died during the Civil War, gave him when he went off to join the 1st Minnesota Light Artillery. Clayton, a native of Maine, had moved to Minnesota by then to farm.

W.Z. Clayton, then a sergeant, lost the Bible on April 6, 1862, at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, where he was wounded in the thigh. He carried the ball the rest of his life.

The Bible was recovered by a Rebel, and then recaptured by Union forces two years later near Atlanta. The Bible changed hands a couple more times, and eventually was returned to W.Z. Clayton -- more than 50 years after the end of the war. W.Z. Clayton (right) died in Bangor, Maine, at age 94 in 1929. (The Picket will have a more detailed article on the Bible in the next couple of days)

"I think this kind act led to one good turn deserves another," said Bob Clayton.

The descendant told the audience he believes W.Z. Clayton empathized with the outnumbered men in gray who tried to block Sherman's March to the Sea. W.Z. Clayton was allowed to walk into the fort after it was taken because he was then chief of artillery for the 17th Corps.

Fort McAllister guarded the back door to Savannah, engaging in duels with Union ironclads sizing up and trying to soften the defenses on the Ogeechee River.

In the end, that tactic didn't work. Like other river forts during the Civil War, McAllister's garrison fell to land troops.

A couple of years ago, the younger Clayton visited Fort McAllister while vacationing in Charleston, S.C.

He spoke with Fort McAllister State Historic Park manager Danny Brown.

"What would you think if I said the Emmett Rifles flag is hanging on my living room wall?" Clayton recalls telling Brown.

Brown on Saturday recognized Bob Clayton for the donation.

"In all the time of my career, 34 years, I have never had someone return a battle flag to us," Brown said.

Four other flags were captured by the Federals that day. One of the garrison flags is in the museum. A Clinch Rifles flag is privately held, and a Confederate national flag is at the state Capitol in Atlanta. The identity and whereabouts of the fifth flag is not known.

Saturday's celebration included music, musket and artillery demonstrations and drilling and talks by a few dozen re-enactors and living historians who portrayed the Emmett Rifles. Patrons also took in a screening of a new documentary, "Savannah in the Civil War." (Photo above, bugler Buddy Jowers)

Previous Picket coverage on the flag return:
Detailed photos of the returned Confederate flag
A closer look at Savannah's Emmett Rifles
Profile of Union officer who captured flag

Two stamps issued next week

On April 24, the United States Postal Service will issue two new Forever stamps for the second year of its ongoing commemoration of the Civil War. The 1862 battles of New Orleans (April 24-25) and Antietam (Sept. 17) are featured for this year. The series will continue through 2015. • Article

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Grant helps build Arkansas fort replica

The Walton Family Foundation has awarded $627,000 in grants for construction of Arkansas Civil War sites in Helena-West Helena, including a Fort Curtis replica. • Article

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Coming full circle with Maj. Clayton

I'll be traveling Saturday to Fort McAllister Historic Park near Savannah, Ga., for a celebration of the recent return of a Confederate flag captured by Union troops there in December 1864. The Picket has written three articles about the subject.

A descendant of Maj. William Z. Clayton will speak at the ceremony.

Clayton, who served during the Civil War with the 1st Minnesota Light Artillery, left instructions for the return of the Emmett Rifles flag to either Atlanta or Savannah.

During my recent visit to Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee for the 150th anniversary of the battle, I made a point of visiting spots where the battery saw its first significant action during the Civil War.

The unit was led there by Prussian-born Capt. Emil Munch, who, like Clayton, was wounded in the fighting.

Early on the morning of April 6, 1862, the unit was forward of the Peach Orchard, in Spain's Field (top photo).

After fierce fighting and a Confederate push, the 1st Minnesota saw heroic action at the Hornet's Nest, in the Union center. Its marker there reads:


I believe that Clayton was wounded while Union artillery units attempted to repulse heavy Confederate assaults at the Hornet's Nest. He was a sergeant at Shiloh and was promoted soon after to second lieutenant.

Clayton first suffered a flesh wound in one of his lower legs late in the afternoon. Then came the more serious injury.

“I saw one of my best boys fall and in came a shot and killed my horse and I jumped from him and just as I raised to my feet I received my wound,” he wrote in a letter. The round “paralised” his left leg and he sat against a tree, revolver drawn because he expected to be bayoneted. Clayton witnessed others being shot.

“I looked towards the guns and as I peaked out from the tree a ball struck the tree right in the rainge (sic) of my face but it struck the tree just far enough to glance the ball and carry it by my face knocking the bark into my face. My gunner was with me and jerked me back.”

The Minnesotans, unlike thousands of others in blue, avoided capture at Shiloh. A general wrote that Clayton should be promoted for his service that day.

By nightfall, the exhausted men were back near Pittsburg Landing (above), where they were dug in for the remainder of the battle. With Munch's injury, Clayton commanded the unit for the balance of the war.

By the time he helped capture Fort McAllister, Clayton had seen more than two years of combat since Shiloh, including the Vicksburg, Corinth and Atlanta campaigns.

He would survive the war and life a long life, dying in 1929 at age 94. Clayton carried the Confederate ball in his leg to the grave at Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor, Maine.

Photo of Clayton grave courtesy of Stephen G. Burrill.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Confederate brothers are reburied

The bodies of two Confederate brothers were reburied Saturday in Raleigh, N.C. Joel and Joseph Holleman died in 1862, but their remains were unearthed last month by development. • Article

Friday, April 13, 2012

Georgia town recalls Andrews Raid

"The Great Locomotive Chase," which occurred 150 years ago Thursday, made heroes of Union soldiers and civilians -- who tried to put a critical railroad line out of commission -- and the Southern train crews and troops who pursued them. • Article

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

You'll learn, you'll exercise, you'll love it

One of the highlights of my journey last week to Shiloh National Military Park were two ranger-led hikes scheduled to occur exactly 150 years after the events.

Participants marveled at guide Bjorn Skaptason's ability to recall, in exacting detail, troop movements and the order of battle.

The afternoon walk of April 5 focused on Gen. William T. Sherman's outposts and how the Federal army failed to detect the Confederates' surprise attack. Stops included Fraley Field and the appropriately named Reconnoitering Road.

Sherman was dealing with green troops and officers not trained in proper reconnaissance and the deployment of pickets.

But, more importantly, Sherman failed to properly interpret events occurring before his eyes, thinking the attack might come from another direction.

Other factors included his previous reputation of overestimating the strength of the enemy and the desire to hold off engaging with the enemy until the Army of the Ohio reached Pittsburg Landing.

For history buffs, the sesquicentennial at Shiloh offered 20 hikes over four days. The weather was spectacular.

On the morning of April 6, Skaptason covered "Turning the Enemy's Right: S.A.M Wood's Brigade and Confederate realignment."

Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston's battle plan had called for the Confederate army to turn the Union left flank and drive them northwesterly into flooded Owl Creek.

Instead, the Confederate attack broke into two distinct efforts, one pushing the Union left and one pushing Federals who were falling back on the right.

Amid confusion and heavy smoke, Wood's brigade pressed the attack, despite significant casualties from friendly fire. His troops helped pushed the Union army back to Pittsburg Landing by the end of the first day of the battle.

Skaptason likened a Civil War army to a dinosaur: Massive power in the body, but limited by a small brain. Troop movements and alignments took hours and commanders had a difficult time modifying them in the heat of the battle.

This was the first time I had participated in such a program. I heartily recommend trying one at another park during the sesquicentennial.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

These women put their lives on the line

Loreta Janeta Velasquez was a determined woman. Born in Cuba, she enlisted in the Confederate army in 1861 -- without her husband's knowledge.

After being discharged after the Bull Run, Ball's Bluff and Fort Donelson campaigns, she decided to try once again to serve in a male guise. At 20, she was wounded at Shiloh, before being discovered and slipping into the espionage world.

Joyce Henry, an interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg, portrayed Velazquez, aka "Lt. Henry Buford", at a talk last week at Shiloh National Military Park.

No one knows for sure how many women served in the ranks. Estimates range from about 250 to more than a 1,000, a tiny percentage of the ranks. It was strictly prohibited -- but that didn't stop women from trying.

"They stepped into a realm we cannot even imagine," said Henry (right). "They merit recognition we give to all veterans."

Their motives were similar to the men with whom they served: A paying job, patriotism and adventure.

Some of the more well-known soldiers are Albert Cashier (Jenny Hodgers), Sarah Edmonds (Franklin T. Thompson) and Frances Clayton. They served along young men or boys, whose voices weren't always much deeper. Women who feared being detected sometimes moved to another unit. Some women wore special corsets. Physical exams at enlistment were cursory, at best.

According to Henry, Americans in the mid-19th century assumed only men who wear pants and dress as a soldier.

"The social and cultural stigma about what women could do blinded them to what was in front of them," said Henry.

The discovery of a woman's true gender almost always came after a wound or death.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Spotlight on Fort Pulaski, Savannah

Fort Pulaski's scarred brick walls are reminders of what advancements in technology can do to affect the fortunes of war.

Rifled Union cannons brought about the surrender of the Confederate-held masonry fort near Savannah, Ga., on April 11, 1862.

Beginning Tuesday, Fort Pulaski National Monument will commemorate the siege and the 150th anniversary of the fort's fall with tours, living histories and the premiere of a film about the war's implications for Savannah.

$5 boat tours explaining the naval campaign for Pulaski and the city are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. They depart Tybee Island at 11 a.m. and last about 2.5 hours. Seating is limited. Ken Johnston, executive director of the National Civil War Naval Museum, will present a free lecture at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

A free program at 7 p.m. Wednesday focuses on life in Savannah during the conflict.

Local filmmaker Michael Jordan's film, "Savannah in the Civil War," will premiere at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on a 26-foot-wide screen in the fort's parade ground.

(Photo, Kim Michael Polote as Susie King Taylor, the only African-American woman to publish a memoir of her wartime experiences.)

Jordan told the Picket he spent about two years making the 90-minute film. He employed about 30 local residents, actors and friends. It includes historic photos of the city and the reading of diaries.

"It tells the entire story of Savannah. From parties around squares, to the battles for the forts, and the losses during the war," Jordan said. "There is plenty of Confederate heritage, but there also an unapologetic look at what it was like to be black during the Civil War."

Jordan said there is more to Savannah's story than being spared by Union Gen. William T. Sherman.

Visitors usually go to the area's forts, but they likely don't think of the war's impact on residents, he said. "It took a huge toll on Savannah."

(Photo above, Jim Dunigan portraying Lt. William Dixon of the Savannah Republican Blues, a militia unit)

Admission for the film is $5 for adults. Children 15 and under are free. DVDs of the movie will be on sale. The fort also will screen a 15-minute documentary on archaeological research at the site of the Battle of Monteith Swamp, just west of Savannah.

For $5, visitors on Friday can take in a film and presentation on the African-American soldiers of the Civil War. There will be a special program by the 54th Massachusetts Civil War Re-enactment Regiment.

The week's events conclude Saturday and Sunday at Pulaski and Battery Park on Tybee Island with living histories. The program includes a children's drill, artillery demonstrations, fort tours, musket demonstration and music. The fee is $5.

Fort Pulaski blocked upriver access to Savannah. Fortifications such as Pulaski were considered invincible, but the new technology of rifled artillery changed that.

Capt. Quincy A. Gillmore, a Federal engineer officer, began the bombardment on April 10 after Col. Charles H. Olmstead refused to surrender.

"Within hours, Gillmore’s rifled artillery had breached the southeast scarp of the fort. Some of his shells began to damage the traverse shielding the magazine in the northwest bastion," according to the National Park Service. "Realizing that if the magazine exploded the fort would be seriously damaged and the garrison would suffer severe casualties, Olmstead surrendered after 2 pm on April 11."

Fort Pulaski 150th anniversary details

Call Fort Pulaski National Monument at 912-786-5787 for updates on the programs or for any required reservations. Images from "Savannah in the Civil War" courtesy of Cosmos Mariner Productions.

At Civil War sites, social media and relevance

National Park Service rangers were armed -- with cameras -- on the rolling battlefield at Shiloh last week, snapping photos of guided tours and other programs marking the 150th anniversary of the deadly engagement.

Like orderlies carrying urgent messages, they rushed the images to a webmaster who posted them on Shiloh National Military Park's Facebook page. Take a look you will see an impressive collection of photos, videos and vignettes.

Shiloh was the third stop, after Fort Sumter and Manassas, for a group of NPS employees who are shaping the agency's social media engagement during the sesquicentennial.

They gave out cards bearing addresses for Shiloh's website, YouTube, Flickr and Twitter accounts.

This week's focus will be at Fort Pulaski National Monument near Savannah, Ga.

It comes amid reports of increased attendance at some Civil War sites. But as USA Today pointed out in an article last Friday, the average visitor to the nation's parks is getting grayer.

According to the article, visitors ages 16-24 are most underrepresented. James Gramann, a Texas A&M professor writing a book on people and parks, said his concern is that the NPS "is maintaining a 21st-century relevance."

I did notice young people at Shiloh while I was there a day and a half. Several asked questions of rangers and expressed knowledge of what happened there in April 1862.

But as at other Civil War events I've attended, there were few people of color.

That's where the relevance comes in. The park service has attempted to bridge this gulf with its "From Civil War to Civil Rights" theme.

Twenty miles away from Shiloh, the NPS's Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center provides a deeper look at the "war's meaning and significance."

David Vela, Southeast regional director for the National Park Service, told a crowd attending a program at Shiloh that the NPS has published "Hispanics in the Civil War," which tells stories of those who served, including Union Adm. David Farragut.

About 20,000 Hispanics served in the Civil War, Vela said.

Parks, museums and other venues increasingly are looking at the role of African-Americans in the Civil War.

"Our aim is to make this period relevant in our lives," Vela said.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Dateline Shiloh: Former Boy Scout returns

Bruce Jeremiah first came to Shiloh as an 11-year-old Boy Scout. The troop's two-night campout near the battlefield featured a 14-mile hike.

That was 50 years ago, in June 1962. Jeremiah brought his father to the site later that year and did not return until this week for the 150th anniversary of the battle.

His wife, Barb, accompanied the 60-year-old miner and electrician from Steeleville, Ill.

"There are a lot more trees," he said of the current park. Those in the famous Peach Orchard are newer and smaller.

The Jeremiahs earlier this week saw the premiere of "Shiloh: Fiery Trial," the visitor center film that is replacing a very dated 1956 (yes, 1956) version. Jeremiah recalled seeing the older film and his first visit to the Tennessee site.

"I've been a Civil War buff ever since then," he said.

Photo gallery from Shiloh battlefield

Have backpack and 150th anniversary of battle, Picket will travel. Join us for a walking tour we made this week of this hallowed land. (Left, monument recognizing service of Louisiana infantry unit.) • Photos

Friday, April 6, 2012

Wonderful tribute to his Shiloh ancestor

I enjoyed meeting cowboy poet Dick Hart of Cheyenne, Wyo., today at Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee. I recorded the verse you can hear by clicking this image.

Hart's great-grandfather, Pvt. James Hart, served with the 46th Illinois Infantry during the Civil War. The monument is at the site where the unit fought 150 years ago that same day, April 6, 1862. Hart's poem pays tribute to the regiment's bravery.

The 46th, veteran of many campaigns, was in a line of units that caught the full brunt of a Confederate assault on the morning the Battle of Shiloh began. The 46th eventually was forced back to Jones Field, where it rallied to re-engage Confederate forces that same day. On April 7, the unit helped force the Rebels back toward Shiloh Church.

Hart was accompanied on the trip by his son, James.

Picket back from Shiloh! Look for reports

Just back from Shiloh National Military Park. Spent a day and a half traipsing through the battlefield and cemetery, taking in two powerful ranger-led hikes and one evening program on women in combat. Glorious weather and good crowds, with even more folks expected Saturday. Today we followed the path of one Confederate assault on day one, 150 years later to the moment! Photos, posts and video in the coming days.