Saturday, March 29, 2014

Remembering 'Stonewall' W. Virginia roots

Proponents of a cultural center in West Virginia honoring native son Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson are assessing the costs to interpret the Confederate general's life. They learned this week that moving a cabin to Clarksburg and transforming it would require more than $250,000 over 10 years from the city. Jackson was born in Clarksburg before it seceded from Virginia. • Article

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Grants for uniforms, seminar, Civil War play

The Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission has awarded $8,050 in grants for events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. • Article

Monday, March 24, 2014

'Our time to shine': Kennesaw battlefield, trail club prepare for 150th, seek volunteers

Organizers are updating this website with Kennesaw 150th information

The National Park Service and a group that maintains 20 miles of Kennesaw Mountain trails are preparing for up to 100,000 visitors who will take in interpretive talks, weapons demonstrations, music and ceremonies marking the 150th anniversary of the battle and the Atlanta Campaign.

Their partnership includes a website that is being updated with events, FAQs and volunteer and sponsorship opportunities.

Because of the anticipated crowds, visitors to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park will park in satellite parking lots and take shuttle buses to various points around the park just northwest of Atlanta.

The park staff and the Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club – which is raising $150,000 -- are busy finalizing plans for the sesquicentennial observance that begins Thursday evening, June 26, and goes through a 5 p.m. closing ceremony on Sunday, June 29.

Fred Feltmann, communications director for the trail club, said “lots” of volunteers will be needed.

They’ll be used in many ways: crowd control, guides, assistance in lighting luminaries on the night of the rededication of the Illinois Monument, interpretive hikes and more.”

Illinois Monument on Cheatham Hill will be rededicated (NPS

Frontal assaults at Kennesaw by Union Gen. William T. Sherman failed on June 27, 1864, to dislodge entrenched Confederates. The fighting over several days produced about 4,000 casualties in the eventually successful campaign to take Atlanta.

In 2013, 1.9 million visitors thronged to the 2,900-acre park in Cobb County, taking advantage of its trails, picturesque views and grassy meadows. Only about 20 percent come to learn about the site’s Civil War history.

Officials hope this summer’s events, combined with a new film at the visitor center and a new trail, will give thousands the opportunity to fully appreciate what happened in this scenic spot just northwest of Atlanta.

“One hundred and 50 years only comes around one time,” park Superintendent Nancy Walther recently told the Picket. “It is important for us to remember why this was designated a national battlefield and what went on here.”

Atlanta, Marietta and other communities this year also are sponsoring events related to Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign.

Walther and her staff and have been working with the trail club on the extensive logistics necessary for the signature observance, which is expected to draw between 60,000 and 100,000 visitors.

24-Gun Battery Trail will officially open in April (Kennesaw Mtn Trail Club)

The role of the website is to build anticipation, seek volunteers, donations and sponsors and direct visitors to events, says Feltmann and webmaster Jerry Givan.

It also will include the times of the various demonstrations and activities and where the parking/bus pickups will be.

The non-profit Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club has raised about $60,000 toward its $150,000 goal. 

Funds will go toward programming, concerts, traffic control, signage, first aid and restroom stations, transportation and more.

“With the help of our community, visitors will experience our Southern hospitality and leave with a lasting sense of our rich history,” says fundraising chair Lucy Denzin.

Trail club and park officials are excited about the upcoming debut of the 24-Gun Battery Trail, along the spot where Federal artillerymen opened up on Confederate positions in the heights above.

“These are some incredible cannon fortifications that the Union army built,” says Walther.

One of several bridges on the new trail (KMTC)

“The Federals massed guns to support attacks. This was for the attack on Pigeon Hill and Little Kennesaw,” says park historian Willie Johnson. “They were there the entire time the Federals were there and held until Confederates evacuated the line” in early July 1864.

The Union batteries were the 2nd Illinois, 5th Wisconsin Light, 7th Indiana and 19th Indiana Light. Lumsden’s Battery was among those in gray returning fire.

The park plans to eventually add interpretive signage to the trail, which is accessible from the visitor center and is near busy Stilesboro Road.

The trail club says the path will be officially open by the end of April. It is about 1.7 miles long, starting from the entrance of the environmental trail to Gilbert Road. The club urges walkers to stay on the path and not endanger the artillery emplacements.

“It is designed to be sustainable, such that it makes gentle grade changes,” said club President Scott Mackay. “There are five new wide bridges along the way and it passes some nice quiet sections of forest.”

Summer vegetation may screen some of the noise along Stilesboro Road.

New movie at visitor center was filmed in 2012 (Travis Devine)

While many will take advantage of the trail system, others attending the commemoration in June may be content to stay on the beaten path for events.

Activities will include music featuring Bobby Horton and bluegrass performer Claire Lynch on June 27.

The recently restored Illinois Monument, scene of the fiercest fighting on Cheatham Hill, will be rededicated at 8:30 p.m. on June 28. Luminaries in a field below will remember more than 3,000 casualties.

The June 29 closing ceremony includes lecturer Rebecca Burns and Oral Moses and the Georgia Symphony Orchestra choir.

In between, visitors to free events can hike the trails, take in living histories and see re-enactors drill and fire weapons.

Johnson, the park historian, said he will have re-enactors placed in Federal and Confederate camps on Cheatham Hill. They will drill, show camp life and have musket demonstrations. Invited units include the 21st Ohio, 125th Ohio, 11th Iowa, the Georgia Division, 45th Alabama and 34th Georgia.

Johnson hopes to have six firing artillery pieces – two each at 24-Gun Battery, Kennesaw Mountain and Cheatham Hill.

Walther said the trail club is indispensable for the year-round operation of the park. Among the coordination with the group is accessibility to events for visitors with disabilities.

She touts the real-time hike at 9 a.m. on June 27 to the “Dead Angle” on Cheatham Hill.

An area along Burnt Hickory Road will have interpretive programs, geared toward both adults and children, on civilian life. A tent aimed for children will be set up at the visitor center. The center also will have information on Civil War medicine.

“It is our time to show off Cobb County’s national battlefield, Georgia’s national battlefield,” says Walther. “It is our time to shine. We have something very special here.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

Got great sideburns? Show 'em off!

It's going to be a bit hairy. An Iowa village's "Civil War Experience" this summer will show off the results of a whiskers-growing contest. According to organizers in Bonaparte, whiskers "should reflect original styles from the Civil War years in the following five categories: Best longest, well groomed; Best Civil War goatee with or without mustache; Best Civil War lamb chops, mutton chops; Best shaggy, badly groomed beard and mustache; and Longest, well-groomed handle bar mustache." • Article

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

'Magnificent' restored Kennesaw monument will be focal point of 150th anniversary events

The Illinois Monument shines like new atop Cheatham Hill. Click to enlarge. (NPS)

Fittingly, what’s now known as Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park grew from the scene of the battle's most desperate fighting -- a bloodied spot on Cheatham Hill dubbed the Dead Angle.

Elderly Union veterans from the Midwest purchased a parcel where the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain occurred in June 1864 and decided to erect a monument in memory of more than 1,500 comrades killed and wounded while trying to push Confederate troops from the top of the hill, named for one of Rebel generals.

The Illinois Monument, dedicated in June 1914, is one of only a few monuments on the bloodied battleground in Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta. That’s because by the time the battlefield was designated a national battlefield park in 1935, the vast majority of the veterans of the war were dead and the move to place memorials at Civil War sites had ebbed.

Before and after shows dramatic changes (NPS photos)

“The Illinois Monument comes in the last stages of the prominence of Civil War soldiers in state and local politics,” says Willie Johnson, park historian. “You think of it in the same way we ran out of World War II veterans in Congress.”

The handsome eagle-topped marble monument, featuring a soldier flanked by two female figures, recently received a much-needed overhaul by the National Park Service’s historic preservation training center in Maryland.

The team, which cleaned and waxed the figures, pressure washed and did repairs to the monument and plaza, fixed drainage and made other improvements, drew praise from the Kennesaw Mountain park staff.

“I think it came out really good,” says facility manager Tom Sparks. “It is 100 years old … but people ask if it’s a new monument.”

The Illinois Monument will be rededicated as the high point of the four-day 150th anniversary commemoration of the battle from June 26-29. The ceremony is set for 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 28. The program includes a wreath-laying and the lighting of about 3,100 luminaries in a field below to remember those lost in the battle, which was part of the larger Atlanta Campaign.

“Our emphasis is that this is where the park started. That tract of land was purchased by some actual soldiers that fought there,” Superintendent Nancy Walther tells the Picket. “So that’s where the whole commemoration of this battlefield started.  … The luminaries will emphasize why we need to remember what happened here.”

Brig. Gen. McCook (LOC)
It wasn’t just Illinois men that charged up Cheatham Hill, says Johnson. McCook’s, Harker’s and Mitchell’s brigades included many regiments from Ohio and a few from Kentucky and Indiana.

But the state of Illinois was the largest contributor for the monument. James Dibelka was architect, J. Mario Korbel was sculptor and the marble was produced by the McNeel Marble Co., based in nearby Marietta.

Walther said the park received National Park Service funding for the work on the monument.

“It is pretty magnificent,” she says. “The work is much-needed. It is evident they knew what they were doing. It is beautiful.”

The NPS team arrived in early January to find weathered Georgia marble, erosion problems and graffiti. The project was wrapped up by the end of the first week of March.

Scott Jones, an exhibit specialist at the historic preservation center, was project leader at Kennesaw. 

The team assists park staffs that are not large enough to do sustained maintenance of such fixtures.

“We do everything from top to bottom,” Jones says. “We got conflicting reports that it was hit by lightning. We did not see any lightning damage. But a falling tree knocked off the eagle in 1986.”

Weathered tunnel entrance in 2009
The team did “repointing,” which includes making repairs on marble joints and replacing or installing mortar. They also did a deep cleaning of the marble and also power washed and repaired the plaza holding the Illinois Monument.

Surprisingly, the century-old monument had little water damage. But there was some shifting and mortar in some places had faded away.

Walnut-shelling blasting was done on the bronze statue to remove corrosion. After further cleaning, a unique waxing takes place.

After flame torching, wax is applied to hot metal, says Jones. After a buffing, cold paste wax is applied, than buffed out.

The new wax darkened the green patina of the statue. “It goes from being a bright green to a dark olive, drab green,” says Jones.

The team removed “scratch” graffiti made by knives or keys and put a channel drain at the base of the concrete staircase to help with water flow. New sod and wood chips spruced up the site and will help combat erosion.

Jones says the tablets that appear to emerge from the monument center have a “unique feel” that give the 25-foot-tall memorial distinction. “They appear to be headstones.” A few of the tablets have inscriptions about the attack and participating Illinois units.

(Tom Sparks, NPS)

Interestingly, the figures are facing the direction from where the attack came, rather than its objective.

Over the years, the nonprofit Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club has made repairs on the vast network of trails at the park, including those leading to the Illinois Monument.

Regarding the monument, “we’ve spent literally hundreds of hours beautifying the area, erosion control and better trail grade, among other things,” says communications director Fred Feltmann.

Three trails converge at the site: the Unknown Soldier trail, the Illinois Monument trail and the Cease Fire trail.

Maj. Gen. Cheatham (LOC)
The park has invited Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to attend the rededication ceremony. It has not heard from Illinois, but Deal will be unable to attend. An invitation has since been extended to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, says Walther.

A descendant of Union Brig. Gen. Daniel “Dan” McCook Jr. is among the invitees.

McCook, a member of the “Fighting McCooks” family, gained fame in the assault on Cheatham Hill. He was mortally wounded and died three weeks later.

Federal army commander William Tecumseh Sherman was determined to dislodge Confederate troops from Pigeon Hill and Cheatham Hill.

On June 27, 1864, two divisions were assigned to take Cheatham Hill, taking on boys in gray who fought for Benjamin "Frank" Cheatham and Patrick Cleburne.

McCook, 29, uttered this line from the poem “Horatius” before his brigade's assault: "Then how may man die better than facing fearful odds?"

While moving uphill and crossing a field that is larger than the one that lies today below the Illinois Monument, Federal troops lost hundreds of men within a half hour.

“As elsewhere on the battlefield, terrain, undergrowth, and Confederate fire caused command and control to collapse,” reads an article on the Civil War Trust website. “Musketry decimated the compacted Yankee formation as it approached the Confederate entrenchments, and concentrated fire from previously concealed Rebel batteries sent torrents of canister ripping through their ranks. Despite this maelstrom, Union troops reached the Confederate trenches along Cheatham’s Hill at a spot that will forever be known as the “Dead Angle” and engaged the defenders in savage hand-to-hand fighting.”

(Tom Sparks, NPS)

McCook was wounded while leading one of the brigades and the Union troops became pinned down at the Dead Angle.

A tablet about McCook’s brigade on the monument reads: “Brigade reached Confederate works and at less than one hundred feet from them maintained a line for six days and nights without relief, at the end of which time the Confederates evacuated.”

Johnson, the park historian, said the Rebels left on July 2. The campaign for Atlanta continued and Sherman maintained the initiative, despite staggering losses at Cheatham Hill, Pigeon Hill and elsewhere at the battle.

“Some historians are the most critical of him,” Johnson says of Sherman. “My take is had it worked, it might have shortened the campaign by a couple months. It didn’t. …. I think it was a reasonable assumption, but I tell you this, he did not make any more frontal assaults.”

Confederates suffered about 500 casualties at Cheatham Hill.

Johnson says Federal attackers had a stretch of about 25 yards during the uphill charge to avoid enemy fire. Once at the top, they dug a tunnel in an attempt to place gunpowder under the Confederate lines and blow a hole. “Initially, they are digging in with bayonets and cups. After darkness, they bring in shovels and picks.”

Confederate troops withdrew before the tunnel was completed.

New monument for regular Army units (Tom Sparks, NPS)

The staff historian gives visitors a grim account of what happened.

“I just talk about the intense nature of it. They said you could walk across that field stepping on one blue-clad body to another. That might be some hyperbole, but that was said.”

Georgia and Texas are the only other states that have monuments at Kennesaw Mountain.

A new monument, which has a temporary home in a field off Burnt Hickory Road, honors the Kennesaw service of Union regular Army infantry units – the 15th, 16th, 18th and 19th.

The 15th Infantry Regiment Association raised money for the new monument. Its dedication is scheduled for noon on June 27.

It will be moved later a bit south to an uphill location off Hardage Mill Trail, also maintained by the trail club.

Monday, March 17, 2014

National Park Service black-powder course: Teaching the authentic and safe use of historic weapons

Castillo de San Marcos in Florida (NPS)
Last year, 1.1 million people who flocked to America’s national parks witnessed 9,145 programs involving historic weapons. Venues that fire reproduction 18th and 19th century small arms and artillery must have an employee certified in their use and safety. Of course, actual rounds are not fired. The National Park Service recently concluded a 10-day black-powder course at Fort McClellan Army National Guard Training Center near Anniston, Ala. Course coordinator George Elmore, chief ranger at Fort Larned National Historic Site in Kansas, talked with the Picket about the course, which featured 11 instructors, and the value of living history programs that use such weapons. Here is an edited version of our conversation:

Q. Why are these weapons programs put on at park?

Elmore: What makes a powerful demonstration is when you have successfully created the illusion you could be a soldier from the Civil War or Revolutionary War, and you draw persons so much into the talk and program, that you created a picture in their mind of what an individual soldier went through.

Training participants (NPS)
Q. Why is the course held?

A. The purpose of the course is to keep the use of firearms safe. You can lose a hand. You will see that occasionally in (non-park) re-enactments. We have never had a major accident in the park service. We are very concerned about safety. Each park is required to have its own magazine, meet the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) requirements and to have a loading area.

Q. You had about 80 participants this year. Where are they from?

A. We had a couple from San Juan National Historic Site (Puerto Rico), those using early Spanish iron-type cannons at Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Fla., Civil War parks, Revolutionary War Parks, War of 1812, cannon and flintlocks. It is just a broad spectrum. We also have people from state sites. We had 11 from those and two U.S. Forest Service employees.

Q. Participants bring their weapons. How much experience do they have?

A. We do have safety inspections (of weapons brought to course). We found a couple problems -- gun locks that did not work correctly, weapons not properly cleaned or malfunctioning in strikes. About half are novices. We have people who never handled a weapon. You have some experienced people, perhaps some who have re-enacted. You have to start with the lowest level and bring everybody up to speed.

(NPS photo)
Q. Can you tell us a little more about the curriculum of the course?

A. This is a supervisory course that involves black powder, drill manuals and how to manage those weapons. It is a combination of teaching accurate interpretation and safety. We actually use the original manuals. The people have to study the manuals, learn how it was done then and proficiently drill using that manual. It is kind of like training the trainer. There is a lot of repetition and hands-on drill until they get the muzzle safety down. We have to teach ATF regulations, how to move black powder from point A to point B without blowing yourself up and how to store black powder safely. Those who are certified supervise the program at their park, and they train (those who fire weapons). We try to impress upon them the importance of what they are doing. To be sure, no matter what, to be safe.

Q. Anything else about the course?

A. We make sure when they leave they have passed required written exams and tests. They must look professional (and wear period clothing). None failed this year, but we have had that happen. We have sent people home halfway through.

Q. What is the role of the historic weapons supervisor at his or her park? I understand they work with staff members and, occasionally, re-enactors.

(NPS photo)
A. Each person cannot personally supervise more than 40 people firing those weapons. For demonstrations, they have to inspect each weapon, and go through the loading procedure. He or she has to get to know their leaders and have knowledge of these people. Sometimes before an event, you may have to pull someone from the line (if they don’t meet specifications). There are a lot of cheap replicas that were never intended to be fired that someone has adapted to fire a blank round. We require hearing protection. A lot of re-enactors don’t use it elsewhere.

Q. The National Park Service doesn’t use original weapons. Why?

A. We cannot use period weapons. No more is being made. If someone drops it and cracks a stock, it is gone. You have destroyed an original item from the 1860s or whatever era you are using.

Q. So you use exact replicas. What does that mean?

A. The replicas are never as good as the originals. We train them what to watch and look for (in quality and components). Some replicas have a two-piece stock. They have to know how to totally disassemble the weapon. The biggest safety problem is the quality of the (commercially produced) equipment being used today. Almost nothing today would pass the original ordnance specifications of the time.

Graduating class of 2014 - click to enlarge (NPS)
Q. What kind of weapons are fired at national parks?

A. The most common are 6 pounders and 12 pounders, howitzers and Napoleons. Some parks have 3-inch ordnance. With side arms, Colt and Remington, Army and Navy, .44-caliber and .36-caliber. Civil War can include Springfield musket models 1861 and 1863, Spencer carbines and Henrys.

Q. How much does black powder cost?

A. We buy it commercially at about $15 a pound. Cannons will use a half pound per round. Some of the larger ordnance requires more. With the (cost) and time of staff to perform it … it gets to be an expensive program. (But) it is one of most popular interpretive programs we do.

Safety first for Civil War re-enactors (NPS)
Q. What are some of the more scenic places at which these weapons are fired?

A. Fort Pulaski in Georgia, Fort McHenry in Baltimore, San Juan, Castillo de San Marcos. These fortresses make for great views. You can walk through the portal and you can take yourself back. It sometimes can be eerie.

The Picket also spoke with Willie Johnson, historian at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in Georgia. Johnson is certified as a historic weapons supervisor. In June, for the 150th anniversary of the Atlanta Campaign battle, re-enactors will be at encampments and will perform weapons demonstrations. Black-powder supervisors from other parks will assist Johnson.

Q. What is your role when it comes to re-enactors?

Johnson: To ensure that their drill is correct and they are safe. You basically make sure that the lock functions properly, the weapon is clean and it is not loaded.

Q. What if, say, a musket doesn’t pass muster?

A. Sometimes we turn someone down. We have some weapons used by staff. If there were to be a weapon not pass inspection, I might check him one out temporarily.”