Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Telling the stark stories of Andersonville

Union prisoners (NPS photo)
Visitors to a living history event will learn about conditions faced by prisoner and guard alike at Camp Sumter, the infamous Civil War miiltary prison in Georgia.

The program is Saturday, March 9, and Sunday, March 10, at Andersonville National Historic Site, about 10 miles northeast of Americus. Most of the activities will take place at a re-created section of the stockade wall, next to replica prisoner tents. Artillery and guard demonstrations will occur twice each day. Admission is free

Bobby Hughes in white frock
"Inside the stockade, we are now going to an approach that recognizes that while there was a routine to the life of prisoners, they certainly didn't set a watch by it," Eric Leonard, chief of education and interpretation at Andersonville, told the Picket. “This is also intended to draw visitors in to ask more questions and more actively experience the event.”

Camp Sumter was in operation only 14 months, but 12,920 Union prisoners -- 29 percent of the overall population -- succumbed to poor diet and water, disease, the elements and unsanitary conditions. 

Among the living historians and re-enactors on hand will be about a dozen members of the Georgia Sharpshooters, portraying Confederate guards.  

NHS photo
Bobby Hughes, who leads Company B, 2nd Battalion Georgia Sharpshooters, said he hopes visitors get “a better understanding of what it was like on both sides of the wall. It was not all peaches and ice cream for the guards.”

Approximately 3,600 men served as guards at Camp Sumter, with about 870 required to cover a 24-hour shift.

“They were doing their job,” said Hughes. “Many did not want to be there.”

They suffered from many of the same disease problems as the prisoners, although they sometimes received extra food to supplement meager rations. According to the National Park Service, 202, or 6.5% died, at Andersonville. Among the ill, the death rate was about the same as for POWs.

On Saturday, Hughes’ group will represent the 26th Alabama Infantry, which delivered the first groups of Union prisoners to Camp Sumter. They were more sympathetic to the growing plight of the prisoners, said Hughes, who lives in Savannah.

Eventually, old men and young boys in the Georgia Reserves did more of the guard duty. The Georgia Sharpshooters will portray that contingent on Sunday.

“They were a little more apathetic,” according to Hughes “They had never seen action.”

Photo: Bobby Hughes
Prisoners who crossed the stockade’s lower wood rails, or “deadline”, were shot dead. The number of those shot was probably exaggerated at the trial of camp commandant Henry Wirz, said Hughes. Wirz was the only man executed for war crimes during the Civil War.

Members of the Georgia Sharpshooters have portrayed Union soldiers in previous events at Andersonville. To Hughes, their story is of perseverance.

“You had your freedom taken away,” he told the Picket. “You learn to adapt, overcome and carry on.”

Friday, February 22, 2013

Gettysburg's granite guardians: Dedicated monument team preserves the past

Across our nation’s battlefields, monuments serve as tributes that withstand the test of time.

Few of us realize these valiant sentinels do not stand alone.

11th Mass. monument before damage
At Gettysburg National Military Park, caring for 1,200 monuments, markers and tablets and 410 artillery pieces requires a small, but dedicated, team of specialists.

“We are preserving America’s history and there needs to be a high quality of work,” said Lucas Flickinger, supervisor of the monument preservation branch at the battlefield.

Some visitors may see monuments as helpful landmarks during their driving tour of the hallowed ground. They may admire the artistry behind likenesses of soldiers locked in mortal combat or squint at tablets describing that particular stage of the great battle of July 1863.

Others may have a personal connection to the storied battlefield – a forebearer fought there.

Plaster cast (background)
 “If you are touching the monument, you are touching your ancestor directly because they were here,” said Flickinger.

 Among the park’s most popular monuments are the colossal Pennsylvania State Memorial on Hancock Avenue and the Virginia Monument, topped by a statue of a mounted Robert E. Lee looking on at the futile Pickett’s Charge.

 “The interesting thing I find about this battlefield is the monuments were erected by the veterans. It’s not that you and I put it up to our great-grandfather,” Flickinger told the Picket this week. “They fought the battle and put in their time and effort to putting up this monument … It is a testament to that generation they came back and had strong feelings about what they did.”

Flickinger, whose team counters the effects of water, falling trees, lightning and occasional errant vehicles and vandalism, says the 11th Massachusetts Infantry monument near Emmitsburg Road is one of his favorites (top four photos).

Finished arm (NPS photos)
For starters, it’s a bit unusual.

Rather than depicting a full figure, the monument depicts an upraised arm, poised to bring a sword down. “I think it is a very powerful symbol of resolve,” said Flickinger, 37, a native of Carlisle, Pa.

The monument was one of three vandalized overnight in February 2006. Despite a $30,000 reward, no arrests or convictions have been made. Two of the monuments have been repaired.

The park recently received the 11th Massachusetts finished granite arm it ordered after a National Park Service specialist made a model.

As he got started, Brian Griffin studied historic photos – including those by Willliam H. Tipton -- and fragments of the arm, fingers and sword.

“Brian … got a perspective of distances, lengths and sizes,” said Flickinger. “It was pretty painstaking. There were two or three weeks of scaling from the photos.”

Brian Griffin at work on 11th Mass. model
Griffin spent about three months on the clay modeling and made a plaster cast that was sent to Granite Industries of Vermont.

After the sword and hand guard are completed, the feature will be returned to its park setting, sometime before Memorial Day.

The other two vandalized monuments were of the 4th New York Artillery (Smith's Battery) and the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry. Griffin helped make a new head for an artilleryman in the 4th New York setting. The vandal or vandals had dragged the monument 150 feet and removed the head.

While relatively rare, vandalism has its cost.

“It adds to the workload of what we are doing and (results from) someone ignorant of the history of the country, degrading that,” said Flickinger, who has been at Gettysburg since December 2010. “We put a lot of time and energy to make sure it’s right.”

Flickinger has three permanent staff members and five seasonal workers. About half of the work is on cannons and carriages, the other on monuments.

Ninety-eight percent of the cannon tubes at the park are Civil War-era.

In the mid-1990s, Flickinger’s predecessor began a long-term cannon restoration program, in which lead paint was removed. Cast-iron carriages are being repaired due to rust and water damage.

So far, 306 pieces have been overhauled. “It’s a huge job,” said Flickinger. “We are fixing any structural defects, cracks and cosmetic fixes. It takes one of my guys a month to complete the repairs on one carriage.”

Iron cannon tubes are prone to rust. “Once we have them sandblasted and a couple coats of painted, they are pretty much in a preserved state at that point.”

The vast majority of the Gettysburg’s monuments are made of granite, with bronze elements.

“Veterans quickly found marble and sandstone were not preferred materials,” said Flickinger. “They deteriorated and stained more easily.”

Griffin works on 4th New York monument
The biggest threat to the granite monuments is water, which can seep into joints between base stones and other features.

There’s also regular cleaning, maintenance and work on fences, such as those around the famous Copse of Trees. The fences were damaged twice by falling trees.

The list of preservation projects is long.

“You are trying to preserve what is here,” said Flickinger.” If I tried … to get ahead, this job would drive me crazy, quite honestly.”

The work takes time and money, which is limited. “It is very easy with a large collection for things to fall off and not get done,” said Flickinger. “I am trying to get 1,000 things moving ahead at the same time.”

Future projects include the Eternal Light Peace Memorial and a bronze soldier figure on the 121st New York monument, damaged by a tree.

Flickinger said he looks for employees with a strong work ethic, an attention to detail and a willingness to learn. 

Maintenance includes artillery (NPS)
Their efforts are especially on display this year for the 150th anniversary of the three-day battle. Throngs of visitors are coming to Pennsylvania.

“It means a lot of people (will be) here looking at how we as stewards have been taking care of the public collection of art,” said Flickinger, who received a bachelor’s degree in historic preservation at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va.

And while the park staff is excited about the anniversary, there will be little rest after the commemoration.

“Preservation of the park is not going to stop after July 3 of this year,” said Flickinger.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Park plan moves forward in Franklin, Tenn.

Preservationists are heartened that efforts in Franklin, Tenn., are finally paying off. Pieces of the onetime battlefield have been bought one by one. Supporters of a park hope to raise $120,000 so a cotton gin that stood on one of the bloodiest spots of the Nov. 30, 1864, Battle of Franklin can be rebuilt in time for the event’s 150th anniversary. • Article

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Saturday seminar: Stonewall, old soldiers and the confounding sound of silence

As July 2, 1863, dawned at Gettysburg, Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell had an important task ahead. His troops were to make a strong show of force against the Union right as Lt. Gen James Longstreet’s men moved to take the Round Top mountains at the south end of Cemetery Ridge.

But Ewell missed the signal to commence activity. He claimed later he could not hear the barrage of Confederate artillery, and failed to move his troops in time, allowing Union commanders to shift troops to blunt Longstreet’s assault.

Longstreet's July 2 assault at Gettysburg (Library of Congress)

“The hot temperatures near the ground probably caused a dramatic upward refraction of sound waves,” Charles D. Ross wrote in 1999 newsletter of the Acoustical Society of America.

Union commander George G. Meade also claimed not to hear the sound of fighting at one point during Gettysburg, while people in Pittsburgh, 150 miles, heard the din of battle.

The phenomenon, known as “acoustic shadows,” is among the topics being covered Saturday (Feb. 16) at a daylong free seminar at Longwood University in Farmville, Va.

The 14th Annual Civil War Seminar is sponsored by the university and Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, which is 30 miles from Farmville.

Unusual acoustics due to atmospheric conditions sometimes make it difficult for commanders to hear sounds of battle that can help them deploy trees or react. Temperature inversions, terrain, absorption and wind can factor in, creating an auditory dead zone.

Professor Ross
Ross, a professor of physics at Longwood, is among the speakers focusing on 1863, “A Year of Decision.” Chancellorsville, another 1863 battle, also witnessed acoustic shadows.

Patrick Schroeder, park historian at Appomattox Court House NHP, told the Picket that organizers are hoping for a crowd of about 300.

“They are topnotch speakers for free,” he said. “We are going to get people from Civil War roundtable groups, Sons of Confederate Veterans groups. We will get a fair amount of Longwood students and local people.”

The 8:45 a.m.-4 p.m. program is being held at the 800-seat Jarman Auditorium on campus.

Other speakers are:
         --  Frank O’Reilly, National Park Service employee and author, will discuss the Battle of Chancellorsville. O’Reilly also has written extensively about Fredericksburg.

T.J. Duckett of S.C. at 1913 reunion
n       -- Historian and writer Robert K. Krick will describe the mortal wounding of Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville. Krick has written more than 20 books. For 30 years, he was chief historian of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.

n      --- Troy Harman of the NPS will discuss the fighting at Gettysburg. “He is probably going to cover how the federal troops would use the terrain to their advantage,” said Schroeder.

n     -- John Heiser will talk about Gettysburg and the “Great Reunion of 1913.” That meeting was the largest combined reunion of Civil War Veterans ever held.

Registration to attend the seminar is not required. “If you want to come in just the afternoon or morning you can just do that,” said Schroeder.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

USS Monitor pair to be interred at Arlington

Despite extensive scientific and genealogical research, experts are unable to identify the remains of two crew members whose remains were found in its gun turret decades after the USS Monitor went down off the North Carolina coast.

Facial reconstructions (U.S. Navy)
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced Tuesday that the sailors will be buried March 8 – the 151st anniversary of the famed ironclad’s clash with the Confederacy’s Virginia -- in a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

The battle at Hampton Roads, Va., marked the first time iron-armored ships met in naval warfare and signaled the end of the era of wooden ships. The battle ended in a draw.

"These may very well be the last Navy personnel from the Civil War to be buried at Arlington," Mabus said in a statement. "It's important we honor these brave men and all they represent as we reflect upon the significant role Monitor and her crew had in setting the course for our modern Navy."

The Monitor sank Dec. 31, 1862, off Cape Hatteras, claiming 16 lives. About 50 men survived. The ship’s wreckage was discovered in the early 1970s.

During the summer of 2002, while attempting to recover the 150-ton turret, Navy divers discovered human remains inside.

The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, working with other federal agencies, tried to identify the men, last year releasing facial reconstructions of the pair. But, so far, there has been no definitive DNA match.

“Given the age of the remains, efforts to identify them were unsuccessful,” the Navy said. “However, JPAC was able to narrow down possible descendants of the unknown sailors to 30 family members from 10 different families.”

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Town wants to find evidence of POW camp

An historical marker near Blackshear, Ga., is the only indication that 5,000 Union prisoners of war and their 700 Confederate guards once bedded down on land that slopes down gently to what was once a free flowing creek. The creek has dried up and trees cover most of the 35-acre site. But local and state officials think there’s evidence in the ground and they want an archaeological study done to find it. • Article