Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Delving into what Camp Asylum has to say

Button from uniform of Union POW (USC)
Archaeologists exploring the site of a Civil War-era prison camp in Columbia, South Carolina, have uncovered three pits they say Union soldiers dug as crude shelter against the winter of 1864-65. One of the earthen pits on the grounds of the S.C. State Hospital held a half dozen artifacts, too. • Article

Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2014/01/27/3231027/archaeologists-unearth-pits-where.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2014/01/27/3231027/archaeologists-unearth-pits-where.html#storylink=cpyArchaeologists exploring the site of a Civil War-era prison camp in Columbia have uncovered three pits they say Union soldiers dug as crude shelter against the winter of 1864-65.
One of the earthen pits on the grounds of the S.C. State Hospital held secret a half-dozen artifacts, too

Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2014/01/27/3231027/archaeologists-unearth-pits-where.html#

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Family ties: Share your story with the Picket!

I'm trying to bring an occasional feature back. The Picket is sharing readers' accounts of their ancestors who served or were affected by the Civil War. We encourage you to get involved by e-mailing us at pgastjr@comcast.net.
Here's a sample from a few years back

Thursday, January 23, 2014

J.E.B. Stuart's personal banjo player and his famous brothers drew on instrument's African roots

Sam Sweeney (in tent), drawn by Frank Vizetelly for Illustrated London News
The popular song went:
If you want to have a good time, jine the cavalry!
Jine the cavalry! Jine the cavalry!
If you want to catch the Devil, if you want to have fun,
If you want to smell Hell, jine the cavalry!

We're the boys who went around McClellian,
Went around McClellian, went around McClellian!
We're the boys who went around McClellian,
Bully boys, hey! Bully boys, ho!

Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, ever the dashing figure, was known to dress handsomely and tap his feet joyously. On the trail, or by the campfire after a hard day’s ride, the Confederate cavalier enjoyed the rollicking and homesick songs played by his personal, “appropriated” banjo player, Sam Sweeney. “Jine (Join) the Cavalry” was a standard among Confederate horsemen.

Sweeney, from Appomattox, Va., was one of the famous Sweeney brothers, three Irish-American musicians who played at raucous minstrel shows and even for Queen Victoria in the years before the Civil War.

Sam Sweeney
Older sibling Joel Sweeney, experts say, is the first documented white man to play the banjo, having learned the music from slaves by the mid-1830s. Considered by many to be the first pop star in America, the so-called “father of the banjo” was considered an innovator in the use of the five-string banjo, an instrument with roots in Africa.

“He was the one who brought (the banjo) into white, middle-American culture,” says David Wooldridge, a museum technician with Appomattox Court House National Historical Park.

Wooldridge recently gave a talk about Sam Sweeney at the Museum of the Confederacy’s venue in Appomattox.

“His brother (Joel) cast a long shadow and for a long time … got all the credit,” Wooldridge tells the Picket. “Sam was supposed to be just as good as his brother, or better.” 

Joel and Richard Sweeney died before the war. Sam Sweeney, also an adept fiddle player, joined Company H, Second Virginia Cavalry, in January 1862. His skills and fame quickly came to the attention of Stuart, who insisted the banjo player join his headquarters.

Col. T.T. Munford, from whom Sweeney was “borrowed,” later wrote, “Stuart’s feet would shuffle whenever he was in Sweeney’s presence, or even at the calling of his name.”

“Lorena,” “Cottage by the Sea,” “Soldier’s Dream and “Old Gray Mare,” were among Stuart’s favorites, and Sweeney was often accompanied by a bones player and tambourine.

Sweeney rode with Stuart during several notable campaigns, including Gettysburg.

"Sam Sweeney's personality was much the same as his fun loving general and . ... he followed the dashing cavalier playing and singing songs that he and his brothers performed for many thousands of people," wrote John R. Broughton in a J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace Preservation Trust newsletter. "Wherever Stuart went, Sweeney was not far behind, his banjo ready."

The Charleston (S.C.) Mercury newspaper has this fascinating tidbit on Jan. 16, 1863:

"Are you readers aware that Gen. Jeb Stuart carries with him wherever he goes, in all his circuits and raids, a brother of Joe Sweeney, the famous banjo player? Such is the fact. Sweeney is also a banjoist, and Stuart calls him his band. He carries his banjo behind his saddle, wrapped up in a piece of oil cloth, and whenever the cavalry stops, even to water their horses, the band strikes up on the banjo and picks a merry air. The performance of the banjo band in Pennsylvania drove several Dutch farmers raving distracted, for Sweeney swore that his banjo strings were made out of the viscera of their departed relatives and friends!"

Two years into his military service, Sam Sweeney passed away at age 32 on Jan. 13, 1864, in winter camp. He likely never fired a shot in battle.

A grieving Stuart wrote of the loss to his wife, Flora. ”I Suppose you heard the sad tidings of poor Sweeney’s death. He died of small-pox while I was gone. His loss is deeply felt."

The general would himself be dead four months later, fatally wounded at Yellow Tavern, Va.

It was not until June 2010 that a headstone went up in Orange County, Va., to remember Sam Sweeney.

Wooldridge, a banjo player, helped organize a May 2013 event at Appomattox honoring the legacy of the musical family.

Flyer for 2013 event in Virginia.
"We wanted to make it entertaining, educational and respectful of the banjo's history and its African origins."

Among the performers was Sule Greg Wilson, a musician, folklorist and writer living in San Diego.

Wilson considers the Sweeneys to be early crossover artists, the first to appropriate African-rooted music to play before white audiences in America.

"I would say (the banjo) became a more harmonic instrument. The European sense of rhythm and melody is a different aesthetic than the African one."

Among the songs played at the gathering was "Grapevine Twist," an 1840 selection attributed to Joel Sweeney. But Wilson doubts Sweeney actually created the tune.

According to Wilson, the song refers to slaves taking precautions while visiting friends without permission from their owners. On certain roads, they would take grapevines and twist them, leaving them hanging at the neck height of pursuing horsemen. 

Although some songs of the era were about love, Joel Sweeney would play selections that appealed to everyday folks.

Sule Greg Wilson at Appomattox (courtesy of artist)
"He would talk about the neighborhood, people getting hurt or things getting burned down," says Wilson.

The Sweeneys would often perform in blackface during minstrel shows, a colorful if now-controversial form of entertainment that featured comedic skits and music that often would parody African-Americans and other ethnic groups. 

Rhiannon Giddens, a member of the African-American string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, said of minstrel music. “It is not hard to love it because the music is awesome. The words they are problematic. … There are some horrible words.” The earlier minstrel acts were not as racist as those once slaves were freed. Still, she said, the music tells us what was going on in America at the time and is part of our history.

A teaching lesson plan produced by the park says the story of the Sweeneys is part of the rich cultural patchwork of the United States.

“For, within the story of the banjo in America is the story of American culture; a story of cultural diffusion, a story of the power of music to bring disparate sections of our society together to create something distinctly American.”

• Videos: Wilson plays at Appomattox on Sanford Jig and another selection.

PART TWO: Banjo’s African roots, minstrels show and the instrument’s popularity during the Civil War. Click here for post

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Museum's 'living, breathing cyclorama'

(Courtesy of Civil War Museum)

The Civil War Museum in Kenosha, Wisc., is putting patrons in the thick of battle with the use of 360-degree technology and 11-foot-tall screens. The Journal Sentinel newspaper has detailed the feature and the related airing of an 11-minute movie, "Seeing the Elephant."

"Our idea was to produce a 360-degree film that puts the viewer in the middle of the action, sort of a living, breathing cyclorama," curator Doug Dammann, tells the paper. Eight projectors and seven speakers provide the experience.

Two hundred re-enactors helped in the production of the movie, which shows three men joining the Union army for different reasons.

• Read more about how the film was made

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Antietam's Burnside Bridge temporarily closes after section of wall falls into creek

(NPS photos of bridge)

The famous Burnside Bridge at Antietam National Battlefield is temporarily closed after a section of stone wall on the upstream side fell into Antietam Creek

Engineers and others will conduct a preliminary evaluation of the pedestrian bridge on Tuesday, park Superintendent Susan Trail told the Picket this morning.

At that time, they may be able to determine whether it is safe to reopen the historic structure. And they may discuss a more comprehensive bridge assessment, Trail said.

Recent bitterly cold weather from the so-called "polar vortex" and other systems are believed to be a contributing factor.

"We have had this rapid freezing and thawing the past couple weeks," said Trail. “We all have been in such strange weather.”

While the wall section is well above the creek, water from the roadbed of the bridge may be a culprit.

Burnside Bridge was a key part of the battle and remains a popular stop today, according to the superintendent.

“I would say the majority of our park visitors make it down to Burnside Bridge and walk over the bridge. It certainly is the iconic structure of the battlefield. It is imminently recognizable."

The site's current bucolic setting is incongruous to what occurred on a bloody afternoon during the Battle of Antietam.

Ambrose Burnside
On Sept. 17, 1862, America's bloodiest single day, a small force of Confederates on high ground for three hours defended the critical crossing against troops belonging to Ambrose E. Burnside's 9th Corps.

Critics say Burnside did not do adequate reconnaissance before the attack, which cost him about 500 casualties.

"After taking the bridge at about 1 p.m., Burnside reorganized for two hours before moving forward across the arduous terrain -- a critical delay. Finally, the advance started only to be turned back by Confederate General A.P. Hill’s reinforcements that arrived in the late afternoon from Harpers Ferry," according to the NPS.

Robert E. Lee's army was saved, but he had to end his Maryland invasion and return to Virginia.

Originally known as Rohrbach's or Lower Bridge, the battlefield landmark was built in 1836 by John Weaver at a cost of $3,200 as a wagon, horse and foot crossing southeast of Sharpsburg.

After the battle, the bridge was actively used for traffic until as recently as 1966, according to the NPS.

The section of stones fell on Wednesday, and officials closed it to foot traffic on Friday.

Trail said she is not aware of major repairs in recent years. The last significant work occurred in the late 1980s.

"When we meet on Tuesday, we will look at the bridge as a whole. We need to look at it holistically.”

The park is relatively quiet at this time of winter, but patrons and the public have expressed their concern and desire to see the bridge repaired.

"People care about it a lot," Trail told the Picket.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Scene of wild fight in Georgia to mark 150th

Living history event (Georgia DNR)

American literary giant Ambrose Bierce called it "The Crime at Pickett's Mill." The topographical engineer in the Union army wrote about the carnage suffered by comrades who never received reinforcements in their bid to "accomplish the impossible."

That desperate day is being remembered as the state of Georgia ramps up activities related to the 150th commemoration of the battle, which resulted in a bloody, if brief, setback for Federal forces moving on Atlanta.

Brad Butkovich, author of "The Battle of Pickett's Mill: Along the Dead-Line" will give a 10 a.m. lecture on Feb. 8 before a guided interpretive tour in the historic site, located in Paulding County.

At 10 a.m. on March 8, Michael K. Shaffer of Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center will discuss Camp McDonald, a Confederate training center in Cobb County. On April 12, visitors can learn about camp life in the vicinity of Pickett's Mill.

The signature event is set for May 31. Details have not been finalized, but the park website has this description: "Come watch real-time troop movements, infantry and artillery firing demonstrations, and see what life was like on the line. See how civilians survived as the Civil War came to Pickett's Mill."

The programs will have fees ranging from $2 to $4.

Union Gen. William T. Sherman learned some tough lessons when he tried to flank and push back the enemy at Pickett’s Mill on May 27, 1864. Troops under Gen. O.O. Howard clashed with those of Gen. Patrick Cleburne.

"The Confederates were ready for the attack, which did not unfold as planned because supporting troops never appeared," says the National Park Service battle summary.

The Federals charged down ravines and uphill against the Confederates, fighting at extremely close quarters. At least 700 of the men in blue died and the advance on Atlanta was delayed a week. The Union suffered about 1,600 total casualties, compared to the foe's 500. Sherman continued maneuvering and attacked Confederate lines at Kennesaw Mountain about a month later.

Bierce remained bitter about the doomed attack at Pickett's Mill. His short story included these lines:

"Most of our men fought kneeling as they fired, many of them behind trees, stones and whatever cover they could get, but there were considerable groups that stood. Occasionally one of these groups, which had endured the storm of missiles for moments without perceptible reduction, would push forward, moved by a common despair, and wholly detach itself from the line. In a second every man of the group would be down. There had been no visible movement of the enemy, no audible change in the awful, even roar of the firing — yet all were down. Frequently the dim figure of an individual soldier would be seen to spring away from his comrades, advancing alone toward that fateful interspace, with leveled bayonet. He got no farther than the farthest of his predecessors."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Intact GAR relics-meeting room in Pa.: A singular spot to share their war experiences

View today of Espy Room (©Bernadette Kazmarski)
And in 1911 catalog (Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall)

Item 48 in the collection of the Grand Army of the Republic, Capt. Thomas Espy Post 153, Department of Pennsylvania:
“Cotton: Was picked from the cotton bushes in 1881 by W. H. H. Lea, late Lieutenant of Co. I, 112th Reg., Pa. Vols., while on a visit to the Virginia battlefield, from the narrow strip of ground between the Union and rebel lines and directly in front of the rebel fort at Petersburg, Va., blown up July 30, 1864. Over this ground the charging columns passed. Almost every foot of this ground was covered with Union dead or stained by as brave blood as ever flowed from the veins of American soldiers.”

In 1906, Lea donated this clump of cotton for the GAR post’s new meeting room and artifact collection in a 24-foot-by-24 foot space in the upper floor of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library in Carnegie, a borough just west of Pittsburgh.

Cotton donated by Union veteran (©Bernadette Kazmarski)

While cotton may not seem a likely collectible, it must have meant something special for Lea to hold on to it for 25 years, well after the Civil War ended.

Each of the dozens of artifacts the members possessed or acquired – a rifle, drum, bayonet, Bible and even a canteen enveloped by a hornet’s nest – conjured to aging veterans who met in the handsome room for three decades a precious link to their service to country during the Civil War.

In 1937, the last member of the fraternal organization’s local post passed away.

“This was an outlet for them,” says Diane Klinefelter, who this month began serving as part-time curator for the Espy Post room. “Veterans today have a hard time talking about experiences to other than someone who went through it. These veterans were no different.”

Klinefelter’s duties at what is now called the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall will include maintaining the artifacts collection and detailed manuscripts of the post’s operation, raising awareness of the room and organizing Civil War-related programming.

Portrait of Capt. Espy (Maggie Forbes)
Gavel made from trees at Gettysburg (©Bernadette Kazmarski)

“There are people who are lifelong members of the library who never come up and look at the Espy Post,” according to Executive Director Maggie Forbes.

The story of the mill town’s library and the Civil War room is remarkable, one that saw the charming building ensconced on a hill endure “water, age and poverty” until a rebirth about 10 years ago.

The Espy Room had been largely shuttered since 1937. Dozens of items disappeared, some perhaps taken as a “badge of honor” by local youth. Poor stewardship accompanied the deterioration of the building.

“Water was pouring (in),” Forbes recently told the Picket. “We were hanging on by our fingernails.”

An effort got underway to raise money – about $7.5 million has been netted so far -- to bring the venue, which includes what Forbes calls an acoustically superb performance center, back to its original glory. 

A Pittsburgh man originally from Birmingham, Ala., made a donation that largely covered the restoration of the Espy Post room, leading to is reopening in February 2010. The result is a faithful version of the original, down to even the wall color: Pumpkin chiffon pie.

The room, deemed a national treasure by the library, is open to visitors on Saturdays and by appointment.

Members of the post  circa 1904 (ACFLMH)

Company A of  9th Pennsylvania Reserves, a living history and re-enactment unit, helped launch the restoration and has participated in events at the library.
Company A of the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves 38th Pa. Volunteer Infantry - See more at: http://www.carnegiecarnegie.org/espy-post/9th-pa-reserves/#sthash.r23HwleV.dpuf

Through the efforts of staff and volunteers, the community has honored an agreement issued more than 100 years ago by members of the GAR post.

“When every veteran of the Espy Post has answered his last roll call, we leave for our children and their children, this room full of relics hoping they may be as proud of them as we are, and that they may see that they are protected and cared for – for all time.”

There to give a helping hand

Within a few years of the Civil War, thousands of GAR posts were fixtures in communities that sent boys in blue to fight.

At its peak, about a half million veterans were part of an organization that served the needs of its members, widows and children. It quickly became a Republican-supporting political force, lobbying for soldiers’ pensions and voting rights for black veterans.

The Espy Post was a relative rarity – it was integrated.

Records of veterans' service ( ©Bernadette Kazmarski)

A photograph taken on Memorial Day in 1903 or 1904 of Espy Post members gathered outside the library depicts at least four African-Americans, according to Klinefelter. 

Among them is Jonathan Grinage, Company C, 8th U.S. Colored Troops. His descendants have visited the Espy Post in recent years. “To have his relatives here meant a lot to us,” says Klinefelter, who previously served as the library’s director.

The local GAR chapter was chartered in 1879 in memory of Capt. Thomas Espy, who died during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862 in Virginia. His portrait presides over the Espy Room.

The post met in several locations in Carnegie, then a railroad and mill town, before settling on the library room in 1906. “It conveyed a sense of importance and permanence,” says Forbes.

Diane Klinefelter shows ballot box ( ©Bernadette Kazmarski)

The library in Carnegie is one of only four libraries in United States endowed by industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. It opened in 1901. The borough, also named for the Scottish-born magnate, resulted from the 1894 merger of two communities, Mansfield and Chartiers.

The GAR meeting room clearly was a man’s domain, from pictures of Custer’s Last Charge (postwar) to spittoons neatly positioned on the carpeted floor.

The room features four double windows and 12-foot ceilings. Artifact cases and furniture are abundant. “It is very Masonic,” says Forbes, referring to an altar in the center.

A women’s auxiliary, Ladies of the GAR, eventually took on much of the post’s benevolent mission while the veterans concentrated on pensions and political matters.

( ©Bernadette Kazmarski)
Most members were middle class, with farming, carpentry, iron and mill work and blacksmith as listed occupations. Membership dues provided help to families.

“If you needed a shipment of coal, and you did not have the money, the post would chip in,” according to Klinefelter.

The veterans voted on those who would be allowed to join. While some veterans had legitimate service records, others were found to be impostors or dishonorably discharged.

The Espy Post had about 200 members over its lifetime.

The library still has the wooden ballot box that contains marbles. After a prospective member was interviewed, the members would drop either a white or black marble into the box, signifying their vote.

Two floors of the building contain the music hall (©Bernadette Kazmarski)

The GAR very much had a social aspect, woven into the fabric of the community.

“We also have their dishes,” Klinefelter says of the collection. “They were very big on potluck suppers. Baked beans and buttered bread were very popular.”

One of the curator’s favorite items in the relic collection is the commander’s gavel, “because it is quite unique.”

The head, containing a bullet, is from a tree at the famed Devil’s Den below Little Round Top at Gettysburg.

The handle is fashioned from wood from Spangler’s Spring, on the same 1863 Pennsylvania battlefield.

Another corner in the room ( ©Bernadette Kazmarski)
How it looked in 1911 (ACFLMH)

The gavel was featured in a commemoration last year for the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

The veterans’ soldierly eye for detail and organization is evident in the room’s manuscript collection of applications, membership information, financial records and correspondence.

While some may find the manuscripts dry, they are like a “time capsule” for researchers who want to learn more about the GAR, according to Klinefelter. A PhD candidate last year did some research at the Civil War room.

Forbes, Klinefelter and others are especially grateful for a 1911 catalog produced by the Espy Post. It includes photos of the room’s four walls and its artifacts – an invaluable guide to restoring the room after despairing conditions the veterans likely did not envision.

Epaulettes belonging to Capt. Espy ( ©Bernadette Kazmarski)

“Thank God for the post historian,” says Klinefelter. “They realized they all would be gone. Every artifact has a number. Some of the artifacts have heartbreaking stories for them.”

Splendor, years of neglect, rebirth

Item 52 in the collection of the Capt. Thomas Espy Post 153:

“Sword: Presented to Lieut. Samuel H. Davis by Company I, 112th Regiment, Pa. Vet. Vols., February,1863. Lieut. Davis was killed at Cold Harbor, Va., June 1, 1864. The sword was covered with his blood. Lieut. Thos. C. Sharp, while keeping the sword to be shipped to Lieut. Davis’s parents at the first opportunity, was killed at Petersburg, Va., June 17, 1864, while wearing the sword, and was covered with his blood. The sword was then shipped to Mr.George Davis, father of Lieutenant Davis, by Adams Express Co. to Pittsburg, Pa. Mr. and Mrs. George Davis being noted rebel sympathizers, refused to pay the express charges of one dollar on the sword of their loyal son who gave his life for his country….”

Over the years, the Davis sword, like dozens of other items – including Capt. Espy’s uniform -- went missing. 

Forbes one day got a call from an individual who would not give his name. He returned a rifle, shotgun and two swords.

One was the Davis sword.

( ©Bernadette Kazmarski)

Items that currently are in the collection include a Bible carried in knapsack of a soldier wounded at Cedar Creek, Va.; a bullet that stuck a cavalry soldier who donated it to the memorial hall in 1911; a pine knot with grape shot from Chickamauga; and a carbine found beneath the body of a Confederate soldier after the Battle of Shiloh.

The GAR was destined to die, because its charter called for membership of those who served during the Civil War. It effectively went out of operation in 1956. 

According to the Sons of Union of Union Veterans of the Civil War, its successor organization, “The final Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic was held in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1949 and the last member, Albert Woolson died in 1956 at the age of 109 years.”

As members of the Espy Post became infirm or died away, the frequency of meetings upstairs decreased.

Replica corps flag with uniforms ( ©Bernadette Kazmarski)

When Woolson died, the Espy Room had been closed nearly 20 years. Over the next decades, water, mould, vermin and pilferers or artifact “borrowers” took their toll.

By 2003, the Carnegie facility was in rough shape. It had $136 in its checking account, according to Forbes.

Fund-raising began, eventually resulting in renewed splendor to the facility.

People ‘fall in love with it’

Item 173 in the collection of the Capt. Thomas Espy Post 153:

“Bayonet: Was found by James A. Boles, about 1891. Mr. Boles, while passing through the timber on the battlefield of Chancellorsville, Va., the bayonet was seen high up, sticking in the trunk of a pine tree. The tree was cut down and the bayonet and wood cut out. The theory is that a Confederate sharp shooter had stuck the bayonet in the tree to support his leg or used it for a rest for his rifle. The tree was in the Confederate lines, opposite the Chancellorsville house. …”

( ©Bernadette Kazmarski)

Half of the building today is a library. It has largely an older clientele, although youths from a public housing complex use it for school work.

The music hall, which also features theatrical productions, covers two floors. While it may seem unusual for a performance center and library to be in the same building, it was common in Carnegie libraries, according to Forbes.

“The building is very handsome,” she says. “People who come in for the first time fall in love with it.”

The restoration of the Espy Post room included work on the plaster walls and the installation of a new air conditioning system. The walls were dirty and gray; a paint sample from behind a heating radiator was sent off to a lab at Bryn Mawr so that its true color could be determined.

( ©Bernadette Kazmarski)

The carpet was replaced with one featuring a design that closely approximates the original. Remarkably, most of the furniture was in pretty good shape, although one chair was replaced.

Klinefelter’s curator position is funded by a grant through the Massey Charitable Trust. She has written two books about the conflict.

“To combine a library with a Civil War component and one of the last GAR posts that is intact is a chance of a lifetime.”

She hopes to form an advisory board and develop some programming related to the room. One idea is an educational workshop. “We have a very devoted, albeit small number of volunteers.”

The library is planning an April 5 living history in most of the building. Officials want to concentrate on the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg and its impact on townspeople. The day will include a photo exhibit to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Petersburg in Virginia.

Various items in collection (ACFLMH)

Klinefelter says an examination of ledger books with biographical information about post members showed many served at Gettysburg in July 1863.

The curator, who has ancestors who fought on both sides, says she is interested primarily in the social context of the post and its vital part in the community.

“I don’t focus on the battle statistics. I am more of a social historian.”

Not used for events, the Espy Post room speaks to the public through its records and relics. The long-gone veterans might ask: Will people of today pay attention to stories of sacrifice and service?

Forbes hopes to see more visitors and perhaps expanded hours at some point. One thing is certain. 

The Civil War Room has captured a moment in time.

“There is an aura that you feel they just left the room.”


Espy Post hours: Saturdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. or weekdays by appointment. Groups interested in a tour should call, 412-276-3456, x5 to make special arrangements.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sunday's ceremony will recall 'Old War Horse'

The worn gray jacket of an unknown Confederate went to the grave with  Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, who died Jan. 2, 1904, in Gainesville, Ga.

This Sunday, Jan. 12, at 1 p.m., members of the Longstreet Society and Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp #1860 Blue Ridge Rifles will honor Longstreet at an annual memorial service at Alta Vista Cemetery.

The society defends and promotes the legacy of one of Lee's Lieutenants. Members believe he was the scapegoat for what went wrong at Gettysburg and the loss of the war by the Confederacy.

Longstreet, who for many years operated the Piedmont Hotel in the North Georgia city, was buried on Jan. 6, 1904. An honor guard, with horses, took his remains to the cemetery after two days of lying in state in the Hall County courthouse.

Sunday's ceremony will be highlighted by a rifle salute, wreath presentation and prayer, according to the Longstreet Society. The group says interest in the program, in its 16th year, has been growing.

Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Archives, University System of Georgia 

The group will hold an open house afterward at the hotel, 827 Maple St., in Gainesville. The Longstreet Society is headquartered in the building. Cookies and hot chocolate will be served. Tours of the hotel will be available.  

Call 770-539-9005 for more information.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Camp Nelson a National Historic Landmark

A celebration is set for Saturday at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County, Ky., to mark the site’s designation as a National Historic Landmark. The designation covers 525 acres of the Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park, the original site of  Camp Nelson National Cemetery, as well as an African-American village that grew up on the former military site after the war ended. The camp, established in 1863 as a depot, became a recruiting station for escaped slaves and freedmen. • Article

Thursday, January 2, 2014

First word: Andersonville NHS details 150th anniv. commemoration of notorious prison

Burial trench at Camp Sumter in August 1864 (NPS)

“We did this to ourselves.”

That will be the central theme of Andersonville National Historic Site's two-year 150th anniversary commemoration of the story of the infamous Civil War military prison formally called Camp Sumter.

That story is both complicated and emotional, Eric Leonard, chief of interpretation at the federal site in Middle Georgia, told the Picket on Thursday.

“We will not re-create it, cannot re-create it and probably shouldn’t. We are not going to re-enact a shooting at the deadline. It’s murder. It’s really awful.”

But what visitors will get is an overview of Andersonville and the 150 prisons across the North and South, the travails of those housed there, and the complicated history of how Civil War prisons were devised and operated.

The park, which has programs and exhibits about POWs in all wars involving American troops, this week released information on the Andersonville anniversary events. The program is entitled, "When We Held Each Other Prisoner."

Key events include a living history weekend in March 2014, October 2014 and March 2015; a memorial illumination (with nearly 13,000 candle luminaries on the prison site) on Sept. 18-19, 2015, coinciding with National POW/MIA Recognition Day; and a "Funeral for Thirteen Thousand," on Sept. 19, 2015, at Andersonville National Cemetery to remember the nearly 13,000 Union soldiers who died at the Confederate prison. About 56,000 soldiers died as prisoners of war during the Civil War.

"This service will be the funeral they never received," according to the National Park Service. Leonard said he expects descendants of POWs will be among those joining the public at the ceremony.

A scene of Camp Sumter (NPS)

The first Union POWs were in the 16-acre stockade at Camp Sumter on Feb. 24, 1864. The first of  12,920 deaths occurred three days later. The camp was expanded a few months later. By then, dozens were dying a day amid the overcrowding, fetid conditions and hot weather.

At one point, more than 30,000 Union soldiers were squeezed into the Andersonville prison, which was existence for 14 months. The camp effectively became the poster child for the inhumanities and loss at Civil War prisons.

“They did not have to die," said Leonard. "They are not victims in the simplest sense, but political passions, war passions conspire in many respects to end their lives far from home, in conditions far from ideal.”

While Andersonville is the most well-known Civil War prison, others in the North and South had appalling conditions and high casualty rates, too.

“Whatever prison you or your ancestors were held in, you consider the worst place of the war."

Andersonville National Cemetery (NPS)

Leonard says "First Saturdays" will kick off in February. They will be conducted every two months.

The focus of each Saturday program will be on a single word or theme that represents conditions, events and emotions. The themes include desperation, apprehension, sacrifice and accountability.

The living history weekends are March 8-9, 2014, October 25-26, 2014, and March 14-15, 2015. Lantern-light tours also are planned in January and March 2014.

As customary, Memorial Day observances will be conducted at the cemetery, which had 192 burials in 2013.