Saturday, June 29, 2013

Gettysburg 150th events tell a wider story

Confederate veteran in 1913.
This weekend and through July 7, between 200,000 and 300,000 visitors -- more than the number of combatants -- will flock to the town and fields of Gettysburg National Military Park to mark the 150th anniversary of the three-day clash, which cost an incredible 51,000 casualties.

Times have changed since previous anniversary observances, including the 1938 reunion, at which grizzled veterans of the battle met at Gettysburg one last time in an event known for reconciliation. They shook hands across that famous wall at the Angle. Some let out the haunting Rebel Yell.

The 150th commemoration of the battle will tell a wider story than previous observances, officials told CNN. • Article

Monday, June 24, 2013

Vermont to remember St. Albans Raid

Vermonters will be able to get a glimpse of life during the Civil War era when both military and civilian re-enactors commemorate the northernmost action in the Civil War. • Article

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Two Battle of Resaca sites opening this summer in North Georgia

A park containing entrenchments built by the Georgia Militia during the Civil War will be formally dedicated Friday afternoon (June 21), making it the first of two historic sites opening this year ahead of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Resaca during the Atlanta Campaign.

Construction of the larger Resaca Battlefield State Historic Site, about a mile west near Interstate 75, is tentatively scheduled for completion in mid-August, subject to weather and other factors.

Both will be maintained by Gordon County, which has worked for years with the Friends of Resaca Battlefield to see the historic sites become reality, with the hope of bringing more visitors and their dollars to the area.

Near both parks is Resaca Confederate Cemetery, which contains more than 400 graves.

“A Civil War person can stop and see three Civil War sites within an hour,” said Randall Dowling, Gordon County administrator.

The county-owned Fort Wayne Civil War Historic Site on Taylor Ridge Road will have a paved pedestrian walking trail over its 65 acres. Visitors will be able to traverse a boardwalk over one of two areas containing entrenchments.

While the site is considered to be one of the best preserved of its kind in the state, Dowling acknowledges it may  take a discerning eye to pick up all the features in the terrain. The Federal redoubt, for example, was 5 feet taller 100 years ago.

Still, Fort Wayne is rich in history and strategic value to both sides during the Civil War.

The fort was built in 1862-1863 by the Confederate militia to protect the railroad and road bridges over the Oostanaula River, according to Charlie Crawford, head of the Georgia Battlefields Association.

For much of the war, Fort Wayne was used as a staging area for Confederate reinforcements that were being sent north by rail transport.

Confederate artillery in the fort fired the first round toward Federals advancing on Resaca, which lies between Chattanooga, Tenn., and Atlanta.

Battle of Resaca (LOC)
On May 13-15, 1864, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s army and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee bloodied each other at Resaca. There was no clear winner. Sherman continued his march toward Atlanta, which he took several months later.

( • Summary of battle)

The fighting at Resaca demonstrated that the outnumbered Confederate army could only slow, but not stop, the advance of Union forces, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

The Federals occupied the fort after the May 1864 battle, again to protect the railroad bridge. They constructed a larger fortification.

In October 1864, after the fall of Atlanta, Confederate Gen. John B. Hood attacked the rail line through northwest Georgia in an effort to cut Sherman’s supplies and cause a Federal withdrawal, Crawford told the Picket.

Hood sent a “no quarter” surrender demand to the Union garrison under Col. Clark Wever.

Wever pulled his 1,200 troops into two forts (Fort Wayne being one of them) and responded to Hood’s surrender demand with a memorable line:

“In my opinion I can hold this post. If you want it, come and take it.”

The Confederates shelled the forts, but being informed that Federal reinforcements were on the way, withdrew, said Crawford.  

Fort Wayne’s original parade ground and entrenchments are still in place, the county said. Plans for silhouette figures of soldiers on the site were dropped for funding reasons, Dowling told the Picket.

The site’s signs will include a history of the fort and of its namesake, Confederate Gen. Henry C. Wayne.

While Wayne organized and led the militia in Georgia, he probably is best known for an interesting footnote in U.S. military history.

Before the Civil War, then U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis ordered Wayne to the Middle East to procure camels to transport military supplies in the West.

Wayne purchased nearly three dozen. The camel corps was tried out in Camp Verde, Texas. Ultimately, the experiment ended at the start of the Civil War when officials determined the beasts were not suitable for combat in the United States.

Two Gordon County employees will patrol and maintain the county and state sites. They’ll be in charge of security, mowing and cleaning of restrooms at the state site.

Resaca Battlefield State Historic Site will be located just west of Exit 320 on Interstate 75, which divides the battlefield. A planned visitor center and museum did not come about because of a funding shortfall.

Visitors will take a nearly two-mile long road into the battlefield, and see observation points along the way and one at the end, said Sally Winchester, marketing and communications manager for Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites.

“These locations will be fitted with interpretive signage,” said Winchester. “There are about five miles in walking trails that also will have some interpretive signage. At the end of the road, roughly in the middle of the site, will be a covered observation platform that contains public restrooms.”

In March 2012, the Civil War Trust closed on the purchase of 51 acres of another portion of the Resaca battlefield, about three miles northeast of the state park site. The Georgia Battlefields Association has financially supported a conservation easement on 473 acres of land at Resaca.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Atlanta Cyclorama repairs its building, eyes ways to improve visitor experience

Click photos to enlarge. Courtsey of Atlanta Cyclorama
The building that houses the Atlanta Cyclorama has gotten some TLC the past several months as crews overhauled the heating and air system, gave the front of the building a facelift and repaired and repainted other features.

“We are trying to do a lot of things all at once,” says spokesman Yakingma Robinson.

The building in Grant Park is closed from Tuesday-Thursday this week as sheet rock is replaced in some areas of the museum and a new elevator lift is installed to the viewing area of the largest painting in the nation, depicting the 1864 Battle of Atlanta, one of several Union victories in the region.

“The building is in pretty good shape,” says Robinson, who also serves as marketing manager.

He says the same of the venue’s star attraction, the giant work of art – which covers 15,030 square feet and is 42 feet tall and 358 feet in circumference.

But Robinson acknowledges the painting, which has some ripples, needs a more state-of-the-art means of attachment to the walls of the building, which opened in 1921.

Also in need of modernization are the painting’s narration and sound system and the museum exhibits.

The Picket spoke Tuesday with Robinson about several aspects of the site, which is open Tuesdays-Saturdays. He would like to see Sunday one day restored to the schedule.


“There is a misconception of the work that needs to be done to the painting,” says Robinson.

The surface itself, with the exception of what he calls minor problems, is in decent shape.

Some observers contend the painting needs significant restoration.

The mural, painted in 1885-86, needs what its counterpart at Gettysburg National Military Park got five years ago: A new backing and a system for stretching the fabric, properly balancing its weight.

“That is something we are going to address real soon,” says Robinson. “The way the painting is hanging.”

 “They (observers) think it is balling up or something. But it drapes like a curtain since it has been here,” says Robinson, adding the 10,000-pound art work is not level all the way around.

The city has no current price tag, funding or definitive schedule for the work. Officials thought they had someone who might be able to do the work, but it did not work out, says Robinson.


Three levels of lights illuminate the painting, ideally working together to make a dramatic presentation.

The bottom level was replaced about a year ago.

“We were gunning to get new lighting fixtures that would produce the same viewing quality people have experienced and for them to be energy inefficient,” says Robinson.

Officials got the energy savings, but the harsh glare from the new lights has not been compatible with the other lights, creating the illusion of blemishes and shadows.

“The lights at the bottom are overpowering the lights they are supposed to work with,” he says.

The city is currently taking proposals to address the problem.


The movie and audio/visual program that goes along with the painting “may be a bit dated,” acknowledges Robinson.

Staff would like visitors to enjoy interactive exhibits, possibly a new cellphone tour or ways to upload information to phones. The building also needs wi-fi. The city currently has two proposals for interactive exhibits.

“It definitely would give us an edge,” says Robinson, whose principal dream for the venue is more exposure.

The city must balance its approach to the Cyclorama between those who like it the way it is and those calling for innovative means of telling the story of Atlanta and the Civil War.

“We could use some updating to the museum and things of that nature to really start to draw more of the 25 to 40 crowd.” The Cyclorama currently caters principally to seniors, school children and out of towners.


The Cyclorama’s offerings include a summer lecture series. Despite the construction work, a talk scheduled this Thursday by former state labor commissioner and author Michael Thurmond is on for 6 p.m. in the auditorium.

The venue is in the early stages of planning for the 150th anniversary of the crucial Atlanta Campaign by Union Gen. William T. Sherman.

One possibility is a re-enactment, a favorite request among patrons.

The Cyclorama would have to overcome ordinances and possible negative impact on its next-door neighbor, the Atlanta Zoo, where creatures may not enjoy the sounds of cannon or gunfire, says Robinson.


The Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum’s attendance is about 70,000, about half its number 15 years ago. It has seen a bump of about 3,000 to 5,000 in the past few years, according to Robinson.

In 2011, Kevin Riley, editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, wrote about his visit to the center: “The Cyclorama looks tired — from the seating, to the diorama, to the painting itself."

With concerns about attendance, funding and the condition of the painting and exhibits, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in 2011 assembled a task force to study solutions.

Several options are on the table -- including new revenue models, an estimated $10 million restoration or a more high-profile location.

The task force has not issued a recommendation.

Staff members at the Cyclorama, who have heard such discussions in the past, are heartened the city is making the infrastructure improvements as it considers its options.

Recent upgrades include new thermostats and gutters, repaired window sills and the resurfacing and repainting of the building’s signature terrace.

“The past seven or eight months have shown there is interest in making sure we are operating in the best capacity while here,” says Robinson.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Burning of Darien: Festival will recall one of war's most controversial moments

Scene from the movie "Glory"

By summer 1863, coastal towns in the Deep South knew that where the Union army was going, emancipation of slaves was soon to follow.

That fact permeated society in Darien, Ga., where rice was king and slave labor served it. Most of the town’s 500 souls had fled before June 11, frightened by the Federal blockade and the deployment of African-American troops on nearby St. Simons Island.

On that day, the town, its buildings perched on tabby foundations, was vacant.

It held little strategic value to the Union, but Col. James Montgomery, commanding the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers, supposedly believed it was a safe haven for blockade runners.

Montgomery -- virulently opposed to slavery -- apparently had another reason for shelling, looting and burning Darien, leaving only a few buildings standing among the charred ruins.

“There was not much justice for burning Darien,” said Steven Smith, site manager for Fort King George Historic Site in Darien. “He wanted to make a political statement. Here was a town built on the backs of slaves.”

Darien’s destruction by two black regiments caused a howl of protest across the South and even in newspapers in the North. Those favoring emancipation were split on whether the act was barbarity or a necessary evil as it became clearer to many that the Civil War was about slavery.

Smith is among local leaders who launched a “Burning of Darien” website and Facebook page as a way to elevate knowledge of the incident and increase tourism in McIntosh County, long one of the poorest in Georgia.

Lectures about the 150th anniversary and the recent opening of a related museum culminate this Saturday (June 15, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.) with a daylong festival and living history in the city better known these days for its seafood fleet and as a gateway to the Golden Isles and retirement communities.

Among re-enactors that will be on hand is a Charleston, S.C., contingent that portrays the famed  54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, which also participated in the burning of Darien.

The incident is featured in the 1989 movie “Glory.”

Col. James Montgomery
Montgomery ordered Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th  Massachusetts to participate. While Shaw didn’t mind the looting to help resupply his troops, he opposed setting the town to torch. He apparently relented under threat of court-martial.

In a letter to his wife, Annie, a couple months before he died during his regiment’s assault on Battery Wagner near Charleston, Shaw gave this description of Montgomery:

“The reasons he gave me for destroying Darien were, that the Southerners must be made to feel that this was a real war, and that they were to be swept away by the hand of God, like the Jews of old.”

At the same time, the colonel said Montgomery was a “conscientious man” and believed he was faithfully executing his duty.

Shaw further wrote his wife, “Besides my own distaste for this barbarous sort of warfare, I am not sure that it will not harm very much the reputation of black troops and of those connected with them.”

After the war, the Shaw family worked diligently to exonerate their loved one’s reputation by saying he did not order Darien’s burning.

Col. Robert G. Shaw
Montgomery was an extreme character, even among abolitionists, according to historian Colin Woodward, archivist for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Center for Arkansas History and Culture.

Historians debate whether Montgomery was acting under orders of Gen. David Hunter, commander of the Union’s department in the region. Hunter is known for an unauthorized 1862 edit emancipating slaves.

But it’s clear where Montgomery, a Kansas Jayhawker, stood on slavery.

“He had this religious Old Testament idea of an eye for eye and I hate slavery and I will do whatever it takes, even if this town is undefended,” Woodward told the Picket. “It’s almost like if John Brown had not been hanged and went into the army. That’s how this guy operated.”

Woodward, who also authors the Southern Historian blog, said the burning of Darien foreshadowed further Union efforts to take the war to the Southern people, and not just at the battle lines.

“I call Montgomery a Sherman in miniature,” Woodward said. “This is how the Union is going to prosecute the war further out.”

Buddy Sullivan, a historian in coastal Georgia, has given lectures about Darien and he is quick to point out that the raid occurred well before Sherman’s March to the Sea.

He told the Picket that the Burning of Darien initiative might help get more tourists off Interstate 95, which cuts through McIntosh County, off the road and into its communities.

Darien in recent years has gotten on the “train of progress” in promoting itself for eco-heritage tourism,” Sullivan said. This year’s events are a way to reach people “who haven’t even heard of this place.”

Buddy Sullivan
“This area has a lot of natural beauty and history,” Sullivan said. “We want people to come back and take a second look.”

Organizers of events have attempted to have an expanded view of the burning of Darien, to include the story of slavery.

“We are trying to draw a more diverse element,” said Sullivan. “We don’t just want Civil War buffs. It may be unpleasant history for some, but it is history.”

The 2nd South Carolina Volunteers was largely comprised of freed slaves, while the 54th Massachusetts had many freedmen and business professionals.

Steven Smith told the Picket the 54th Massachusetts was in the area to recruit freed slaves, destroy Southern crops and take out Confederate assault works.

Darien was slow to rebound from the war, and a now-gone timber industry for decades replaced the rice-based economy.

Like Sullivan, Smith said eco-heritage tourism is beginning to take off.

“It is a pretty town, a quintessential Southern town, with live oaks,” he said. “It is a perfect town for recreational boating.”

The Burning of Darien has provided educational opportunities and this week a museum opened at the town’s Trailhead Center.

Colin Woodward
Scholars have long debated the significance of the event and what it meant to the reputation of African-American troops, led by white officers. Hence, Shaw’s concerns about the image of his troops following the “wanton destruction.”

Historian Keith Wilson, in an article about Union officers who waged war in the region, has said when it came to Darien, “condemnation was not a universal response” in the North.

Woodward said there was varying reactions to the event.

“In the abolitionist movement it created a divide between those saying the ends justify the means and those thinking it was going too far, we don’t need to do this.”

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Photo contest: Civil War sites in Georgia

Images of the Old State Capitol in Milledgeville and a quaint lighthouse near Fort Pulaski were recognized in a Civil War in Georgia photo contest. The project, sponsored by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, coincided with National Preservation Month in May. Fifty-five photos of buildings and sites were submitted. Milledgeville was the fourth capital of Georgia, before Atlanta. The statehouse was evacuated in November 1864 as Union Gen. William T. Sherman approached, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. Sherman spared the capitol, but the building was ransacked by Union troops. It has since been restored. See photos