Friday, August 31, 2012

Telling story of 'hard luck' Minn. regiment

A new book looks at a historical incident I've never read about. In November 1863, a group of soldiers from the Ninth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment heard the agonized pleas of a slave, a father whose wife and children were about to be sold off and separated, and set off to rescue the family — in defiance of orders. As a result, the liberators were charged with mutiny and starred in a case that caught national attention. • Article

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Trust rolls out app for Second Manassas

The Civil War Trust, a battlefield preservation group, on Tuesday marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of the Second Manassas with the release of its latest free smartphone "battle app."

"Like its predecessors, which explore the battles of Bull Run, Cedar Creek, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and Malvern Hill, the new Second Manassas Battle App includes video segments from top historians, period and modern imagery, and detailed topographical maps, all of which help bring the battlefield to life," the Trust said in a statement.

Principal tour stops include Brawner’s Farm, the Unfinished Railroad position and Longstreet’s attack.

The apps are underwritten with grant funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation and created in partnership with NeoTreks, Inc. • Additional details

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Crowds remember Second Manassas

Saturday, visitors sought out the fields around Manassas, searching for insight into the battle and marking its sesquicentennial. It was one of the South’s great victories. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army outmaneuvered and outfought the army of Union Gen. John Pope, opening the door for the Confederacy’s first major incursion into Union territory in the East. • Article | • Schedule

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Submerged relics could have new home

Selma, Ala., has received a grant to study ways to protect weapons dumped into the Alabama River in the last days of the Civil War. Union troops burned the city and tossed into the war items produced at a Selma armament manufacturing plant. • Article

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lecture: 'Blue Coats Under the Big Sky'

After the Civil War, several Union generals went west to subdue and remove Indians, notably in the 1876-77 campaigns in Montana.

"Battles throughout the Northern Rockies and Northern Plains within those months were fateful for both United States expansion and the lives of thousands of American Indians," according to the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, which is co-sponsoring a program at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Missoula.

Tate Jones, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History (RMMMH) at Fort Missoula, will give the talk, entitled "Blue Coats Under the Big Sky." It is being held on the front lawn of the museum.

Subjects include George Armstrong Custer, Gettysburg veteran and Big Hole battle commander Col. John Gibbon (photo), Fort Missoula founder Capt. Charles Rawn, New England Civil War volunteer and later U.S. Army Commander in Chief General Nelson Miles, and Army of the Potomac field commander Gen. Oliver O. Howard.

After the Civil War, Howard headed the Freedman's Bureau for assistance to freed slaves and engaged in action against the “non-treaty” Nez Perce in 1877.

Jones told the Picket that the generals came out of the Civil War "determined there would be one central government" and an end to Western conflicts.

Howard, Jones said, had a somewhat humanitarian, but patriarchal view of the Native Americans. According to Jones, Gibbon was a competent workaday soldier, and "Custer got all the press but Miles did most of the work."

Miles played a major role in the Indian Wars and intercepted Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce in 1877. The campaign of scouring the West of Indians effectively ended with the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. Miles was not directly involved with that incident and criticized the commander.

Generals out West had much more local autonomy then under the Union command structure during the Civil War, said Jones. Soldiers from Fort Missoula participated in the 1877 campaign.

The national historic trail follows the 1,170 mile route of the 1877 war and flight of the Nez Perce.

More details on the program

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ala. pair recall hauling around artillery piece

Dr. Sidney Phillips and George Edgar and some other Mobile pals acquired a century-old bronze artillery piece and restored it in 1961. The group donned reproduction woolen Confederate Army uniforms and began to travel to events around the South. They once shattered windows of a railroad depot. • Article

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Artifacts displayed at Kentucky State Fair

Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s sword and Colt revolvers once owned by Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge (photos below) are among the artifacts displayed this month at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville.

The fair begins Thursday (Aug. 16) and continues through Aug. 26 at the Kentucky Exposition Center.

Kentucky Historical Society staff and volunteers will be on hand to answer questions about the artifacts and to talk about the Civil War tour on the recently launched smartphone app, “ExploreKYHistory.”

The show will be located in South Wing B in the special areas “War Hawks & Valiant Volunteers: Kentuckians in the War of 1812” and “United We Stand, Divided We Fall: Kentucky & the Civil War.”

The Civil War exhibit includes a Kentucky floor map, interactive computer programs, re-enactors depicting Union and Confederate soldiers and graphic panels that introduce various aspects of Kentucky’s Civil War story.

Photos courtesy of Kentucky Historical Society

Exhibit details | • Kentucky State Fair site

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Statue of marching soldier pushed over

A statue honoring Civil War veterans was likely the target of vandals at a historic Boston-area cemetery. Officials at Fairview Cemetery in Hyde Park found this statue on the ground early Thursday. • Article

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Gun salute to accompany site opening

A newly restored Civil War cemetery in northern Virginia will be formally dedicated next month in a ceremony that is expected to draw descendants of the 10th Alabama Infantry Regiment soldiers who died there during a disease outbreak. • Article

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Blood, sweat and special effects: The making of a Civil War visitor center film

First of two parts

The special effects alone are frighteningly realistic.

Paintballs filled with dust fly through the air, mimicking bullets as they make contact. A shell burst brings terrors to advancing troops, who move around fake boulders put in place by the film crew.

Then there’s the artillery.

Black powder and a small charge, buried in a pot, push up sod and cork to approximate explosions.

“They don’t blow it right where you are walking. Maybe a foot away. It doesn’t hurt you,” said Travis Devine (left), 26, of Sweetwater, Tenn.

Devine, caked in fake blood and dirt, was among about 175 re-enactors taking part in a film shoot in June for a new film at the visitor center at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. Officials expect it to debut before the 150th anniversary of the failed Union assault during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign.

Devine has taken part in other films, including one that will debut in October at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

While Devine says film shoots are fun, he realizes there’s a serious dimension to what he does, given the ghastly cost of the Civil War.

“When you are doing a historical film, you try to do your best in honor to the guys that fought,” said Devine. “You want to make it the best you can.”

The effort begins and ends with accuracy.

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield’s Chief Ranger Anthony Winegar and historian Willie Johnson traveled to Chitwood Farm in Resaca, Ga., for filming of several battle scenes, including the fighting at Cheatham Hill and Pigeon Hill.

They provided details of the Confederate earthworks at the “Dead Angle” on Cheatham Hill, scene of a fierce Union assault on June 27, 1864. Hundreds of men were killed or wounded in the dogged, but failed, attack waves.

“We knew the story of Kennesaw Mountain would be a story of earthworks,” said Winegar. “I said if we are going to do it, we need to do it right. We needed to show how substantial those lines were in 1864.”

Working from those plans, executive producer and director Chris Wheeler of Denver-based Great Divide Pictures hired a contractor to build a re-created section of the “Dead Angle.”

It took a week for the contractor, a Civil War re-enactor, to haul in dirt and build the fortifications, which includes pine logs and poles.

“We found some places where the terrain was pretty close” to the actual battlefield, Winegar told the Picket. “That’s the closest I have ever seen to textbook 1864 earthworks.”

Illinois regiments assaulted the “Dead Angle,” a relative weak spot in the Rebel line.

“There were no mutual fields of fire by the defending troops. Everywhere else the Confederate line is in a zigzag fashion to support each other,” said Winegar.

In addition to combat, the new visitor center film -- entitled “Kennesaw: One Last Mountain” -- will convey the war’s impact on Georgia civilians and two former slaves, Emma Stephenson and Austin Gilmore.

Stephenson served as a 17th Army Corps nurse. She fell ill while caring for white soldiers and later died. Gilmore enlisted in the 111th Illinois Infantry to fight for freedom. A stretcher bearer, Austin removed bodies of wounded and dead soldiers during the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. He was mortally wounded while rescuing a soldier.

Wheeler and his 25-member crew also filmed in Dalton, Ga., and at Pickett’s Mill Battlefield Historic Site.

Wheeler, whose company has made many films for the National Park Service, said special effects and animated graphics give productions like the recent “Shiloh: Fiery Trial” a certain wow factor.

“(But) We’re not trying to sugar coat or minimize the battle,” he said. “If you were still alive in 1864, fighting in this war, you had to be one tough SOB.”

“I’m not sure how to get my head around the carnage. It happened in our our back yards,” Wheeler added. “We are trying to convey and touch this nerve to get people interested.”

Great Divide Pictures paid most re-enactors about $50 a day, plus expenses, including food and powder, for the Kennesaw project. “These guys don’t do it for the money. We wish we could pay them more,” said the director.

The crew has worked with the same group of “hardcore” re-enactors.

“They practice how you react after being shot and what is the reaction when you have artillery going off,” said Wheeler.

Winegar did double duty at the film shoot.

A re-enactor with a Federal hardcore unit, he “got blown up twice and shot once, much to the satisfaction of several of my employees, I’m sure.”

Winegar, historian Brad Quinlin and park historian Johnson helped ensure accuracy.

They asked some re-enactors to remove hats or leather haversacks that wouldn’t have been worn by soldiers in that war theater.

“We had some younger children that were there in support roles as musicians. There was one scene at Cheatham Hill, having a 10 or 11 year old face there, we politely moved him to another part of the scene,” said Winegar. “It’s a delicate balance. You want to keep that spirit in a young kid. At same time, you don’t want to give the American public who views the film the wrong impression.”

A few women who disguised their gender were among those filmed.

Scott MacKay, president of the Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club, which does vital trail improvements in the battlefield, witnessed filming in Resaca, some of it in rainy conditions.

“There was smoke, explosives, soldiers and shouting,” MacKay said. “There is some standing around. I have been to other shoots. You feel like you are in 1864 until shortly after they say ‘cut.’ You see the smart phones come out and them checking it.”

Wheeler said work begins a year before shooting.

“The planning of these Civil War movies are monsters,” he said. “I know in my head what we want. We have a script. That said, we’re also flexible. Sometimes things happen you don’t anticipate -- and you must take advantage.”

The principal day of shooting for the Shiloh film was a “complete disaster” brought on by severe storms.

“The whole day was shot as far as I planned. (But) There was a silver lining,” Wheeler said. “There were incredible shots of guys in the rain … the mood that was created by that.”

Like others, Travis Devine portrayed both Confederate and Union soldiers in the Kennesaw filming.

Days are long and there were moments of hurry up and wait.

“One scene we shot almost 15 times. There would be noise in the background, someone was smiling or they could not hear it,” he said.

Devine is a member of a mainstream re-enacting unit.

“I’m working on my impression to get better,” he told the Picket. “I do campaign, but I don’t have the best of uniforms yet. It’s a work in progress.”

Devine said he’s satisfied with the modest pay.

“It pays for the gas and you have fun and you are doing something for the battlefield.”

CREDITS: Photos 2, 3 and 4 courtesy of Scott MacKay. All others courtesy of Travis Devine.

COMING SOON: These aren't your grandfather's visitor center films. Parks are telling a more inclusive story about the Civil War.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Plans shaping up for Perryville 150th

A re-enactment of the Battle of Perryville is set for Oct. 6-7 with three battles and weekend living history demonstrations. • Article

Friday, August 3, 2012

When campus was a battleground, garrison

Archaeologists working in William & Mary University's Brafferton Yard continue to uncover evidence of a time a when the normally placid Virginia campus was a Civil War battleground. Crews have have uncovered, among other things, remains of ditches that marked palisades erected by Union troops in 1865 to defend their position against possible attacks by Confederates. • Article

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Mystery of the marker: Group wants sign back at scene of pivotal Atlanta battle

Robby Mitchell has a simple mission that will take some work to accomplish: Returning a marker to a piece of land where Abraham Lincoln's presidency's may have been saved.

Mitchell (left), of Loganville, Ga., came across the plaque at an antiques mall east of Atlanta. How and when it got there remains a mystery.

Entitled "Leggett's Hill," the marker briefly recounts failed Confederate efforts to take the rise (then called Bald Hill) during the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864.

The monument was erected by the East Atlanta chapter (No. 108) of the Order of the Eastern Star, a fraternal organization.

Mitchell, a past president of the Georgia-based Armory Guards living history group, paid about $250 on the organization's behalf for the marker.

"The long-term plan is to get it back out there in some shape or form," Mitchell took the Picket during the recent B*ATL (Battle of Atlanta) weekend in East Atlanta, where he displayed the tablet.

"It's quite possible that the most significant battle of the entire war took place in Atlanta," said Mitchell. "This (marker) is a secondary piece of history that has been misplaced. It is a way to attach to these events."

Mitchell will have to use the skills of a detective to find where the monument stood, where it could fit in now -- and who even owns it.

The East Atlanta chapter of the O.E.S. folded in 1989.

Because of its size and configuration, the marker likely was screwed into a piece of rock, wall or a table, Mitchell said. (Click photo to enlarge)

Most of the hill was erased in the early 1960s to make way for Interstate 20. Mitchell suspects the marker, likely made in the 1940s or 1950s, may have been removed during construction.

Two larger Battle of Atlanta and Leggett's Hill historical are in place today along Moreland Avenue at I-20.

Even if the Armory Guards can donate the plaque or receive permission to erect it, finding the original or appropriate location could present challenges.

"Where do you put it where it is visible to everyone and it has some kind of meaning?" asked Mitchell.

He might find an ally in the B*ATL and other East Atlanta/Kirkwood associations that have helped revive interest in the Civil War and the combat that occurred across the neighborhoods.

Many historians write that the Union's success at Atlanta ensured the re-election of Lincoln, who faced stiff opposition from Democrat George McClellan. The victory proved the war was winnable.

Following is a National Park Service summary of the July 22, 1864, Battle of Bald Hill, which became known as Leggett's Hill after the commander of the XVII Corps division that defended it, Brig. Gen. Mortimer Leggett (above).

"On the evening of July 21 Hardee's Corps, accompanied by Wheeler's cavalry, began marching southward with the object of swinging around the Union left flank to Decatur, where it would strike McPherson's forces, after which it was to join Cheatham's and Stewart's Corps in sweeping the rest of the Union army toward the Chattahoochee. When it became evident that Hardee could not reach Decatur by morning, Hood authorized him to attack the immediate rear of McPherson. Hardee could not accomplish this until afternoon on July 22. His two right divisions, Walker's and Bate's, encountered Dodge's XVI Corps, which repulsed them. Only Cleburne's and a portion of Maney's division succeeded in penetrating a gap between the XVI and XVII Corps, in the process killing McPherson, and then bending back the XVII Corps until it occupied a line facing southward that was anchored on an elevation called the Bald Hill (No. 19 in map). Hood sought to transform this partial victory into a complete one by having Brown's and Clayton's Divisions attack the XV Corps. Two of Brown's brigades broke through along the Georgia Railroad. But a counterattack by the XV Corps drove back Brown's troops and ended the Confederate threat in this sector. Even though Hardee continued to assail the Bald Hill until nightfall, he failed to seize it and the battle ended in another bloody defeat for Hood."

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Driving tour a bit confusing in Corinth

Corinth, Ms., will replace dozens of 15-year-old Civil War signs. “Over the years, the Tourism Office changed the driving tour, but the signs were never changed,” said park ranger Tom Parson. “It’s very confusing for people coming from Shiloh who are on the new driving tour and they see the small driving tour signs.” • Article