Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tale of N.C. sheriff shot 150 years ago

The death of Haywood County Sheriff John Phillip Noland — a murder story set against the backdrop of the American Civil War — sounds as if it belongs in the pages of Charles Frazier’s "Cold Mountain." Noland was ambushed and gunned down on a remote mountain pass while chasing down men who deserted or evaded the war effort. • Article

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Battered and bloodied, New York flags tell stories of courage and conviction

Zouaves of the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry, having forded Antietam Creek, advanced toward Confederate positions and the town of Sharpsburg, Md., on Sept. 17, 1862.

Suddenly, the regimental colors (left) went to the ground. Several soldiers and Capt. Adolphe Libaire of Company E sprang into action.

“In the advance on the enemy and after his color bearer and the entire color guard of 8 men had been shot down, this officer seized the regimental flag and with conspicuous gallantry carried it to the extreme front, urging the line forward,” reads the citation that went with the Medal of Honor bestowed to Libaire in 1898.

Today, 45% of the silk flag is lost, victim to use, poor storage over time and, possibly, souvenir hunters.

What’s left speaks to the incredible valor and service of the New York regiment, which suffered 240 casualties at the Battle of Antietam. After further service, the unit was mustered out in May 1863.

The regimental banner is one of nine conserved New York flags that went on display in August and are on view through early June at the state Capitol in Albany.

The exhibit “1862: Red, White, and Battered”, supported by the Coby Foundation, “reveals the hardships and sacrifices New Yorkers endured in 1862, the first full year of the Civil War.” For example, the national flag (above) of the 61st Infantry Regiment contains blood of a color bearer.

Supplementing the exhibit is a free one-hour Capitol tour offered on the first Thursday of the month at 5:30 p.m. The next one is Feb. 7, led by a guide in Civil War reproduction clothing. Those taking the tour also will learn about the building’s “Million Dollar Staircase,” which veterans helped build.

“The flags are more than a simple tool used by the soldiers,” said Christopher Morton, assistant curator at the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs. “They had an emotional connection to the home and the state.”

The museum has the task of storing and conserving 2,000 flags, 900 from the Civil War, dating back to 1812. Nearly 450,000 New Yorkers served in Civil War.

“They call it the Empire State for a reason. It was a very important contributor to the union cause, in supplying soldiers, material and supplies for the soldiers,” says Morton.

The state’s permanent collection – the largest of its kind in the country -- includes banners of the Irish Brigade, including the 69th Infantry. Another well-known unit was the Garibaldi Guard (39th Infantry). Some were made by Tiffany Co.

At the monthly tour, Morton will tell visitors about the unit histories and flag conservation efforts.

Take the flag of the 16th New York Volunteers. Made by Tiffany in 1861, it was presented to the regiment on behalf of Elizabeth Howland, wife of a colonel in the unit. Pvt. John Moffitt received the Medal of Honor after picking up the fallen flag at the June 1862 Battle of Gaines’ Mill in Virginia. He was wounded.

 “You can see it has quite a bit of loss due to battlefield,” Morton says of the regimental flag (right).

New York State Military Museum
The state began collecting the flags, many of which were shredded by bullets and shells, in 1863. Many were furled and rolled up in the statehouse. That kind of storage was damaging.

“Most of the Civil War flags are in poor to fair condition,” says Morton. “It all depends on the materials, paint versus embroidered. They are 150 year pieces of fabric and they are very delicate.”

Rolling up the mostly silk flags can damage the fibers over time. Embroidery and paint also can have a gradual negative effect.

So far, New York has conserved more than 500 flags, storing them flat.

The museum, working with the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation  and the Office of General Services, plans to have different banners exhibited at the Capitol this year and in 2014 and 2015 to mark other units that served in 1863, 1864 and 1865.

“The collection is grand in quantity and quality,” says Morton.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Why they fought: Exploring the motivations of young men wearing the blue and gray

Francis Barlow (left)  (Library of Congress)
Young men of the North and South were quite frustrated with their elders by the time the first Confederate shots rained down on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

College students in New England blamed politicians for not keeping the peace, thereby setting in motion disunion, according to Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai's essay in “Children and Youth During the Civil War Era” (NYU Press).

Their counterparts in Virginia, meanwhile, were angry with “old fog(e)ys” who were not eager about secession. Labeled as "lazy, immoral, and hotheaded" the youth wanted to see Virginia restored to its glory and “progress” furthered, even in a slave society, wrote Peter S. Carmichael in “The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion” (UNC Press).

“There is a sense that Southerners are losing power and are being forced into a minority,” says Wongsrichanalai, assistant professor of history at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas.

While few were abolitionists, Northern men firmly believed in preserving the union.

The collision course of ideals arrived at Sumter and birthed four long bloody years of conflict. Hundreds of thousands of young men who believed their side was right were mowed down.

Wongsrichanalai and another Angelo State educator, Dr. William A. Taylor, will explore what made men fight in a Tuesday (Jan. 29) program entitled “Soldier Motivation and Life,” the latest in the university’s Civil War lecture series.

Topics include the reasons men volunteered, the beliefs of college-educated soldiers, small-unit cohesion and the factors that kept men fighting, even when facing certain death or injury.

Wongsrichanalai wrote his doctoral dissertation on what motivated college-educated New Englanders to fight.

Young men of that generation, he says, were taught at universities to be leaders and gentlemen. “How can I be useful? How can I be a leader in society? If I don’t do it, who will?” says Wongsrichanalai. Among the 48 individuals he studied were Francis Barlow, Joshua Chamberlain, Oliver Howard and Robert Gould Shaw.

These men from New England internalized their honor, preferring the term “character.”

“Southern honor is about public reputation and how people in the community view you,” the professor tells the Picket. “Northern honor is doing what is right despite what the public thinks about you.”

While men across the new Confederacy joined, regardless of class or privilege and because it was expected of them, educated young men in the Northeast sometimes had to contend with parents who believed someone else should do the fighting, perhaps immigrants.

“There is more of a choice for Union soldiers. Once you are in the Confederate army there is no way out,” says Wongsrichanalai, referring to Federal enlistment bounties and expiration of service.

The U.S. government eventually turned to the draft as the war wore on.

In his essay, entitled ”What Is a Person Worth at Such a Time”, Wongsrichanalai includes correspondence from Amherst College student Christopher Pennell to his father, asking permission to go.

A long war would require “men who shall fight treason from principle, & not from desire for spoils, of educated soldiers who understand what they are fighting for,” wrote Pennell. “Tom Dick & Harry will not be so ready to enlist then.”

Pennell, a young officer, was killed at the Battle of the Crater in 1864.

Southerners volunteered to defend slavery and support its expansion westward, to protect their institutions and to repel invaders, says Wongsrichanalai, a graduate of the University of Virginia and Bowdoin College in Maine.

Northerners were concerned about possible failure of the “national experiment” that followed the American Revolution.

“A lot of motivation is sustaining law and order, says Wongsrichanalai. “There was a presidential election that was contested but the Northern candidate won the election. Suddenly, these Southerners wanted to secede because they lost the election.”

All of those wearing gray and blue sought to prove their manliness and courage under fire.

Young Confederates
People in the mid-19th century, before the Civil War, did not think highly of professional soldiers, according to Wongsrichanalai. Graduates of West Point typically left the small U.S. Army to become civilian engineers.

“The view of the military (today) is certainly very different,” says the professor. “Since Vietnam, we have a much more positive view of honoring men, their service and sacrifice.”

San Angelo is home to veterans and service members at Goodfellow Air Force Base; Wongsrichanalai hopes they will be among those attending and taking part in a Q&A at the end of the program.

“This is a great opportunity to draw on experiences of people who have served in the military,” he says. “Why they enlisted, what their experiences were with combat, and how they were engaged in cultural events.”

The professors want to give students “a sense of the emotional impact of the war.” 


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Returning cannon tubes to place of honor

If Scott Bragunier has his way, cannon tubes that sat for more than a century in a Williamsport, Md., cemetery named for Union Gen. Abner Doubleday, will be returned to the same spot by spring. The three tubes, the objects of vandalism and weather-related wear,  have been refurbished. Article

Monday, January 14, 2013

'To hell with Sherman': Lecture links Georgia Tech campus and Civil War fortifications

Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson works by day in a building above where Confederate trenches once ran on the northern outskirts of Atlanta.

Georgia Tech photo
At night, he sleeps in the President’s House, not two miles due north, scene of the Federal siege line.

The distance between, in the summer of 1864, was a no man’s land – home to rifle pits and picket posts – that now is the heart of the Georgia Tech campus.

“There were people killed” between the main lines, said Charlie Crawford, a 1971 Tech mathematics alum and president of the Georgia Battlefields Association, a preservation group. Usually, one or two were killed at a time by potshots or stray rounds

“A record might read, ‘on the 21st we lost Private Jones to picket duty,’” said Crawford.

George Barnard photo of Ponder House (Library of Congress)
Modern view, looking east (Charlie Crawford)
For six weeks, Rebels held their line within sight of the Federals’ 20th Corps while elsewhere generals Joseph E. Johnston and John Bell Hood attempted to parry flanking movements initiated by their Union counterpart, William Tecumseh Sherman.

Crawford, who went on to an Air Force career and retired as a colonel, will detail what happened on Georgia Tech’s land at a Jan. 24 lecture on campus. He also will cover the importance of the Atlanta Campaign to the re-election campaign of President Abraham Lincoln.

His talk is being held in conjunction with “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War,” a traveling exhibit on display at the campus through Feb. 6.

Georgia Tech photo
The Georgia Institute of Technology was founded in 1885, and it opened its doors to students in 1888. The research university, built to support the industrialization of the South during Reconstruction, has since garnered an international reputation.

Crawford’s reference points will include modern-day views of Confederate fortification scenes taken by Federal official photographer George Barnard shortly after the fall of Atlanta. Those photographs are part of the Library of Congress’ collection.

“It wasn’t anything but a smattering of houses,” Crawford said of it the land. It wasn’t even a suburb.” North Avenue, the main east-west thoroughfare on the south end of campus, did not exist.

While there are almost no traces left of what was hurriedly erected by soldiers, the Georgia Battlefields Association wants to impart history and encourage listeners to be preservation-minded. “We all come from somewhere,” said Crawford. “If you can tell the story in relatable terms…”

Case in point: Fans of the Yellow Jackets football team might be interested in knowing that the east-west Confederate line ran through what is now the south end of Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field, right next to the Downtown Connector.

The original defensive line, built July-October 1863, was closer to the city and downtown, with its apex near the current Fox Theatre. Atlanta was vulnerable.

Ponder House (Library of Congress)
“They (defenders) began to realize artillery fire was getting longer and had higher range,” said Crawford.

Slaves and other workers, in July 1864, furiously threw up more defenses, to the north and west of the old line, as Sherman’s troops closed in. “When the Confederates built the line they cut down almost all of the woods” that covered the current campus, according to Crawford. Lt. Gen. Alexander Stewart took command of the forces.

The Confederates used letters, X, Y and Z, to name their forts in the area. Fort Z was near the current administration building, known for the familiar Tech Tower. Fort Y rests below the campus student center or a nearby parking deck.

The Southern line also ran near what is now the landmark restaurant The Varsity, just east of campus.

The Federal lines generally ran across what is now the north end of the campus and private property. They held troops from the Northeast, including New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Barnard’s most-famous photo is of the shell-pocked Ponder House, which he referred to as the Potter House. It was owned by a wealthy land and slave owner and reportedly was used by Confederate infantry.

The residence, east of Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts (Fort X), was an inviting target for Union artillerymen.

Archaeological map includes Confederate, Union lines
“The Ponder House got hit by shells a lot,” said Crawford. “Part of it was because it was a big white building. It was the most significant landmark for miles around.” The heavily damaged home was razed after the battle.

Although Confederates had attacked three times during the campaign, the Federal siege lines on the Tech property weren’t built with such an assault in mind.

“The assumption was they weren’t going to have to defend their trenches. They made them better each night,” Crawford said.

Sherman determined he would not attack the city’s prodigious fortifications head-on, realizing it would be a waste of manpower. He had already bloodied Hood at Peachtree Creek, the Battle of Atlanta and at Ezra Church.

Rather, Sherman concentrated on extending lines, cavalry raids and seizing railroads in his eventually successful effort to cut off Atlanta. Hood was forced to leave after Jonesboro, south of Atlanta, fell.

The weary Rebels left their defensive posts on the Tech campus when the army evacuated Atlanta on Sept. 1 and Sept. 2, 1864.

Eventually, the city grew north, enveloping the Tech campus. The world headquarters of Coca-Cola is a stone’s throw from where Confederate trenches, chevaux de fries and forts once stood.

Students and visitors alike must employ a vivid imagination when conjuring images of the campus during its Civil War days.

“Parking lots, decks and buildings tend to smooth stuff out,” said Crawford.  

The preservationist remembers his student days at Georgia Tech.

“It’s fascinating to think of walking to class every day and sitting (in class) on top of a trench.”