Thursday, May 29, 2014

Andrews Raid soldier's Medals of Honor donated to Ohio VA clinic, Ga. museum

People on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line are now able to see a Medal of Honor awarded to an Ohio infantryman who took part in a daring Union effort to disrupt rail traffic between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn., during the Civil War.

How is that possible?

Southern Museum
Wilson W. Brown received one Medal of Honor a year after the April 12, 1862, Andrews Raid, also called the Great Locomotive Chase. Brown received a second medal in 1904 (photo, left) after a redesign. He died in 1916 at age 77.

The medals and a key to a Confederate prison cell were the subject of a feud between two cousins until 2013, when an agreement was reached, according to the Toledo (Ohio) Blade.

The agreement provided for the cousins to each donate one medal.

Last Friday, Linda Schwartz presented the 1863 Medal of Honor and the key to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Toledo Community Based Outpatient Clinic.

She told the Toledo Free Press she preferred that location over a museum, given the military connection between Brown and the clinic patrons.

“I just know what a great place it is,” Schwartz said, according to the newspaper. “Plus, in the reading of [Brown’s] story, he was injured after that event. He went back into service, he was injured and he was treated by the veterans. And he said if it hadn’t been for them he would have lost his leg, he would have died, and that was one of his big events in his life that he wanted to share with everyone.”

Ed Ward, also of Ohio and a great-grandson of Brown, and his family went a different route.

Wilson W. Brown
They donated the 1904 version last Saturday to the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Ga. The museum, steps away from where the railroad chase began, houses one of the locomotives, the General, and related exhibits.

“Our family wanted to donate this cherished family artifact to the Southern Museum for many years, and we are proud it will be displayed just feet away from the General locomotive,” said Ward, in a statement released by the museum. “We are gratified the Medal of Honor will be used to educate future generations about the Great Locomotive Chase, and the sacrifices so many made during the Civil War.”

James Andrews and his band of raiders tried to destroy much of the Western & Atlantic Railroad and communications as they rushed northward. They achieved little success and eight of the nearly two dozen captured participants, disguised as civilians, were later hanged in Atlanta as spies. Andrews was among them.

Brown, part of the mission because he had been a locomotive engineer, was among the first recipients of the Medal of Honor. He escaped captivity and took part in other battles during the Civil War. The Logan County native served in the 21st Ohio Infantry.

Brown manuscript was donated to Southern Museum in Kennesaw, Ga.

The Great Locomotive Chase, the Southern Museum points out, actually began on foot.

Western & Atlantic Railroad conductor William A. Fuller was shocked to see a group of men steal the General while passengers and crew were enjoying breakfast at the Lacy Hotel in Big Shanty, now called Kennesaw.

Fuller and a couple others ran north after his train. He didn’t yet know it had been taken by the Union commandos. The conductor ran across a handcar and three trains and traveled 86 miles -- along with Confederate horsemen who had been reached by telegraph -- after the raiders. The Union men were captured later that afternoon near Ringgold, Ga.

In addition to the medal, the Ward family donated a letter Brown received in 1906 from William A. Fuller Jr., son of the Confederate conductor, and a handwritten account of the raid that Brown penned in 1909.

“We are honored to receive this rare Medal of Honor given to a true American hero,” said Richard Banz, executive director of the Southern Museum.

In 2012, the Medal of Honor awarded to Sgt. John M. Scott for his part in the raid was donated to the museum.

Medal presentation at Southern Museum in Kennesaw, Ga.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

$2.8M needed to buy Tennessee battle land

Five of Reid Lovell’s ancestors fought and survived the cannon blasts and gunfire during the Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864. On Tuesday, nearly 150 years later, Lovell signed a contract to sell 1.6 acres adjacent to the Carter House for future Civil War park space. The deal is for $2.8 million. • Article

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Peachtree Creek 2: Charlie Crawford's expert overview and tour of battle sites

C. Crawford
Earlier this week, we had a post about my visit to the site of the Battle of Peachtree Creek in north Atlanta. It gave very general information and had some photos. I asked Charlie Crawford, president of the Georgia Battlefields Association, for his thoughts on the battle’s significance and places to see. By permission, the Picket offers here his wonderful and detail-rich tour overview, along with maps showing the battle movements and wartime and current roads in Buckhead. The post starts with his thoughts on the battle and how a sound plan ultimately went wrong for Gen. John Bell Hood, his subordinates and Confederate troops on July 20, 1864.


Overview of troops, roads and other Atlanta fixtures. Click to enlarge (GBA)

The plan was to have seven Confederate divisions (French, Walthall, Loring, Maney, Walker, Cleburne, Bate) attack four Union divisions (Williams, Geary, Ward, Newton), but the plaque wording (at Tanyard Creek Park) makes it appear that this was another charge by Confederates who knew they would be outnumbered from the get-go.

It was the Confederates’ fault that they didn’t get the three missing brigades from Stewart’s Corps (one each from French’s, Walthall’s, and Loring’s divisions) into position in time.  Likewise, Maney’s division didn’t fight well, Cleburne’s division was held back to exploit the hoped-for breakthrough, and Bate’s division got lost in the swampy ground around Clear Creek.

John Bell Hood
Consequently, the participating brigades form Walthall’s and Loring’s divisions and the entirety of Walker’s division did almost all the fighting.  In that sense, the Confederates were outnumbered, but it wasn’t by design.

Hood was trying to bring superior numbers to bear (i.e., his plan was sound), but coordination and execution of the plan were poor. Certainly, Hood is ultimately responsible, but he wasn’t well-served by his subordinate commanders (particularly Bate and Maney, and partly Hardee).  So this wasn’t the oft-portrayed circumstance of the outnumbered, ill-clad, starving, brave Southern boys charging the immigrant, well-supplied, overwhelming Yankee hosts.

The Confederates came close to breaking the Federal line and achieving at least part of their objective, though not at all in the manner in which they hoped.


Confederate assault. Click to enlarge (GBA)

Normally, I start at the north end of West Peachtree St.  The Land Lot 104 marker at the crest of the hill (on WSB property) refers to the Confederate outer line that ran through the site, and I stop at the small parking lot (just above where the MARTA tracks go underground) and explain the Confederate position on the morning of 20 July 1864 and the intended advance northward.

I then drive north on Peachtree Street and turn east on Palisades (another marker is there) to talk about Bate's inability to advance up the Clear Creek Valley.  I follow Palisades to Huntington and Wakefield, showing how low the ground is there and explaining how swampy it was at the time.  I turn left on Brighton to show the high ground occupied by Bradley's brigade as they repulsed the Confederates.

I emerge from Brighton at Peachtree Road (two more markers) and show the 1944 monument on the grounds of Piedmont Hospital, turn south on Peachtree to show the misplaced stone dedicated to Howell's battery, and continue to a right (west) on 28th Street, the old Montgomery Ferry Road, pausing at the marker that refers to Stevens' mortal wounding.  Continuing west on 28th, I turn north on Ardmore Road, passing Ardmore park on the left, with its one correct marker (Featherston's brigade) and two relocated (and now misleading) markers to Wood's and Coburn's brigades

George Barnard image of grave headboards (LOC)

I go north on Ardmore to a left on Collier (Mississippi brigade marker at corner), point to the location of Barnard's photo of the grave headboards, then turn into the parking lot at Tanyard Creek Park. The plaques have a wealth of information but a decidedly Confederate viewpoint (especially regarding the size of opposing forces).  If I have enough time, I walk the group south through the park, talking about the capture of the 33rd New Jersey flag (marker on east side of Walthall Drive) and the advance of Scott's brigade across this ground.  We walk under the railroad trestle, through Ardmore park (past the three markers again), north on Ardmore Road, cross Collier to pause at the site of the Barnard photo, then north on Dellwood to a left on Redland, where the clash was intense as Ward's division advanced to fill the gap in the Federal line (marker on Collier Road).  At the bottom of the hill is about where Collier's Mill stood, and we turn south along the creek to Harrison's brigade marker at the intersection with Collier. Scott's brigade marker is across Collier Road.

Next, it's west along Collier, then north on Overbrook to Northside to explain how Geary's line was bent back by Walthall. Rather than a dangerous (heavy traffic) walk along Northside, I normally head back to the bus or car to leave the Tanyard Creek parking lot and go west on Collier (past a marker for Geary's division) to north on Northside and turn right into the Bitsy Grant tennis center. The marker to Williams' division has always been at the corner (on the back slope of a green on Bobby Jones golf course), but three other markers have recently been relocated there (and are consequently misleading): one (O'Neal's brigade at the ravine) was at the point where the ravine crossed Northside; two (Geary's refused line and O'Neal's brigade) were at the intersection of Northside Drive and Collier Road. The markers were relocated because they were difficult to reach on foot.  At least now, there's a better chance that they'll be read as a group.

Turn around at the tennis center and go back south on Northside Drive a short distance to a right on Norfleet Road to point out the still existing ravine on the south side and the high ground (Williams' position) on the north side. Following Norfleet to Howell Mill, I may mention the marker farther north on Howell Mill that indicates the right of the 20th corps. Then I turn left on Howell Mill and stop at the shopping center on the right to dismount and talk about the Preston marker that faces on Howell Mill. I usually end the tour there.

There are a few other markers that could be seen, but the Preston story is evocative for many and is a neat way to summarize what Hood was trying to accomplish and all the ways in which he failed, mostly through bad luck, bad coordination among his subordinates and a competent opponent rather than bad planning.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A grudge match -- with 1860s rules

On the lawn of the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday evening, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers banded together in a common goal: to defeat the Ohio Village Muffins. For the past three years, the Muffins, a vintage baseball team, had triumphed over the legislators’ team, the Capitol Cannons. But this year, the lawmakers vowed, things would be different. • Photos

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

It was no walk in the park for Confederates on the attack at Battle of Peachtree Creek

Tanyard Creek Park in Atlanta's Buckhead community

Yesterday morning, while on a day off from work, I decided to fill in a hefty gap in my travels to Civil War-related sites in metro Atlanta.

I drove into Buckhead, a major commercial and residential district in Atlanta, to walk a portion of the Battle of Peachtree Creek battlefield and drive through affluent neighborhoods where vicious fighting occurred on July 20, 1864.

Let me tell you: Turning into Tanyard Creek Park is not for the faint of heart. Commuters and service trucks whizzing along a curvy stretch of Collier Road don’t give you much time to slow to find or turn into the entrance.

But once there, I was rewarded with a scenic, narrow park that is popular with dog walkers, bicyclists and joggers. The creek, Tanyard Branch, runs north-south in what was the center of the Confederate assault on Union divisions waiting for them just below the east-west Peachtree Creek.

I was armed with a 1964 centennial map produced by what was then called the State Highway Department of Georgia. The map, with a legend, details the battles of Peachtree Creek, Atlanta (July 22, 1864) and Ezra Church (July 28), all doomed assaults by Gen. John Bell Hood, a fearless, young commander who observers say had been promoted beyond his abilities.

Near the parking lot and steps leading down to a trail, bronze tablets, installed by the city in 1964, give an overview of the battle and precise details of troop locations and movements. Unfortunately, like many markers and monuments of the time, there is little in the way of the humanity of the story.

You will have to drive north a couple miles to the Atlanta History Center to get that.

A wide, concrete trail part of the ambitious Atlanta BeltLine transportation and economic development project is the focal point now of Tanyard Creek Park. Opened in 2010, the trail is considered one of the most scenic in the BeltLine system. 

“The neighborhoods around Collier Hills are now linked by a continuous mile long trail. The updated trail traverses the Howard Property, ‘Cathedral Woods,’ and Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta Memorial Park, completing a gap between the existing trail in Ardmore Park and another that terminates at the intersection of Northside Drive and Woodward Way,” says the website.

My midday walk was very pleasant. I crossed a couple bridges and a playground as I gazed up at streets on either side of the tranquil park. A meadow and the grass were well-maintained.

Not that everyone was thrilled with a trail going through a battlefield. A letter writer in a local newspaper in 2007 lamented: “I thought about how beautiful this park is, and how fitting a tribute it is to the men who lost their lives in the struggle for it – and then of the reality of how a bike path running through it would ruin those two things and render it just another piece of city real estate.”

With hindsight a few years after the trail opened, I am not sure I agree with his assessment. The trail system and other parts of the Atlanta BeltLine are bringing a strong sense of community and direction to many of the city’s neighborhoods. And the park is beautiful.

The scene and grave markers after Peachtree Creek

Still, I had a hard time imagining the scene of Confederate troops under Gens. William Hardee and Alexander Stewart hurrying into battle.

Hood had taken command of the Confederate Army of Tennessee just two days earlier after President Jefferson Davis had sacked Joseph E. Johnston, who had waged a defensive strategy against William T. Sherman. That strategy had resulted in the army’s gradual retreat from North Georgia to the vital city’s defenses, and Davis was convinced Johnston might give up Atlanta itself without much of a fight.

Hood, known as a fierce fighter, modified Johnston’s plan to attack Maj. Gen. George Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland near Peachtree Creek.

A marker on busy Collier Road in Buckhead.

The men in gray began the assault mid-afternoon on July 20 and things got tough quickly. The hilly terrain and ravines made communication and coordination difficult.

An article provides this account: “While Major General William Bate's division on the Confederate right became lost in the Peachtree Creek bottomlands, Major General W.H.T. Walker's men assaulted Union troops led by Brigadier General John Newton. In a series of piecemeal attacks, Walker's men were repeatedly repulsed by Newton's division. On Hardee's left, Cheatham's Division, led by Brigadier General George Maney, made little headway against Newton's right. Further west, Stewart's corps slammed into Hooker's men who were caught without entrenchments and not fully deployed. Though pressing the attack, the divisions of Major Generals William Loring and Edward Walthall lacked the strength to break through XX Corps.”

Stewart continued the attacks, but Hardee canceled one by Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne when Hardee decided to aid Confederate cavalry elsewhere. Hardee was later criticized for his corps’ performance.

While there were near-breakthroughs, Hood’s aggressive attack, like the clashes to come, proved disastrous for the Confederacy. The estimated 4,700 casualties at Peachtree Creek included about 2,600 for the Rebels.

After leaving the park, I drove along several streets where the fighting and troop movements occurred: Northside Drive, Howell Mill Road and Wilson Road. While there are a few monuments amid the high-end neighborhoods, it’s the geography of the place that is most telling. The hills and ravines played to the advantage of the defenders – in this case, the Federals – at Peachtree Creek.

Train trestle in Tanyard Creek Park

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Working to bring American chestnut back to glory it had during the Civil War

A chestnut burr at breeding farm (American Chestnut Foundation)

It may be fitting that the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, the man remembered for rising from humble beginnings to great heights, will be the planting ground for 20 saplings that are part of a broad effort to bring the American chestnut back to its former glory.

Volunteers at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in Hodgenville, Ky., on Saturday will plant year-old American chestnuts in the park’s picnic area.

Officials hope the young chestnuts, part of the American Chestnut Foundation’s breeding and testing program, will grow to be resistant to the blight that wiped out hundreds of millions of their ancestors early in the 20th century.

This will be the second such planting at the site in the past seven years.

Symbolic birthplace cabin in Kentucky (NPS)

Several buildings there are made of chestnut, as is at least part of the “Symbolic Cabin” that represents the tiny abode where the future 16th president and commander in chief was born to Thomas and Nancy Lincoln in 1809.

During the Civil War, chestnuts made up about one in four hardwoods in the Appalachian region that stretches from Maine to Alabama.

"Families in rural America, including the Lincoln family, once depended heavily upon the American chestnut for both food and shelter. The trees grew straight and tall and were rot-resistant, making the wood desirable for construction. The small nuts were sweet and fed entire families, as well as livestock and many species of wildlife," says park Superintendent Bill Justice.

Straight-grained chestnut timber was ideal for furniture, telephone poles, railroad ties and plywood. Lighter than oak, chestnut logs were used for river rafts.

(Lynn Garrison)
But the blight’s fungus and another malady, root rot, conspired against the fast-growing American chestnut.

Stacy Humphreys, chief of interpretation and resource management at the federal site, says about 200,000 people come annually to Sinking Spring Farm, the birthplace, and Knob Creek, where the family moved when Lincoln was about 2. They moved to Indiana when he was 7.

Many visitors are surprised the actual birth cabin no longer exists. That was confirmed when a test in 2004 showed the structure placed in a stone memorial hall was actually from the 1840s. “We have to disappoint a lot of people.”

Still, visitors, through a film and exhibits, gain insight into the early days of Lincoln, who later became famous as the “Rail Splitter” by splitting wood for rail fences.

Humphreys said that the planting and mulching will begin at about 10 a.m. Saturday. Wire cages will be placed around the 2- to 3-feet-tall saplings (above) “so the deer don’t eat them. We have a very robust deer population.”

The blight-resistant trees, known as Restoration Chestnuts 1.0, aren’t guaranteed to not become diseased, but continued breeding and testing will increase the variety’s chances in the coming years.

A study last spring on Restoration 1.0 found 16% are highly resistant and 50% moderately resistant, says Mila Kirkland, director of communications for the American Chestnut Foundation, based in Asheville, N.C.

Giant chestnuts in the Great Smoky Mountains (ACF)

“Now and the coming years we are going to hone in on that 16 percent and continue to breed with those trees,” she says.

The foundation’s effort involves crossing the American chestnut with the Chinese chestnut, which is resistant to the devastating blight. Many of the resulting trees are grown at the organization’s farms in Meadowview, Va.

The foundation is doing “test” plantings all over the country. Patience is required because the blight can take a while to develop, says Kirkland, and the Restoration 1.0 program only began in 2005.

After an American and Chinese chestnut are crossed, the resulting tree is crossed back with the American, resulting eventually in a product that is 15/16th American.

The Chinese chestnut is shorter, with spreading branches. “The wood is not the beautiful chestnut colored wood of our native trees. It is much more inferior as a forest tree because it is an orchard tree,” says Kirkland.

Restoration 1.0 seeds (ACF)
While the American chestnut can be found in commercial nurseries, the hybrids developed by the foundation and other groups are the best chance to develop characteristics that will help the tree rebound in the coming generations.

The native range is in the Appalachians. “They prefer slopes and well-drained soils. They don’t like water and soggy bottom land,” says Kirkland.

She, too, emphasizes the importance of the tree to man and wildlife during the mid-19th century. “They were definitely prevalent at Lincoln birthplace.” Animals and humans prized the nut as a food source.

“(Settlers) would take these wagons full of chestnuts into cities and sell them as a cash crop or trade for things they needed.”

The American chestnut isn’t the only tree that has been ravaged by disease. A canker devastated the butternut, a hardwood tree. During the Civil War, the color of Confederate uniforms was created using butternut husks as a source of dye. 

The chestnut foundation’s 16 state chapters, from Alabama to Maine, do the ground work of breeding regionally adapted chestnuts. “A tree that is native to Georgia is not going to work so well in Maine, for many reasons,” says Kirkland.

Lynn Garrison, president of the Kentucky chapter, says he has high hopes for trees being planted Saturday, but acknowledges it is still part of a larger test.

“You can’t tell when it shows up,” he says of the blight. “It varies somewhat.”

He says his chapter’s goal is to cross trees that can work in all 20 eco-regions in Kentucky
The American chestnut is a fast grower (ACF)

“We will have trees …. that will be mostly Kentucky genotypes. We want to preserve as much genetic information as possible.”

The best hope against the blight is through the breeding program, rather than fungicides and other chemicals, says Garrison. “They tried to cut every chestnut tree and they thought it would stop migration of the blight, but it didn’t.”

“We think the answer is in developing a resistance,” he says. And while the foundation is moving forward with caution, it is hopeful about restoration.

“We think it won’t be long before we are ready to start restoring them in the forest.”

The Kentucky chapter has planted about 1,000 trees in controlled settings over the past year.

The planting at the Lincoln birthplace can help educate generations that were born long after the blight virtually wiped out the American chestnut population. The effort has both historic and ecological lessons, Garrison says.

In their heyday, chestnuts could live up to 300 years. Some reached 120 feet and they were opportunistic mainstays in the forest canopy.

Of course, there will be setbacks along the way, as some chestnuts succumb to the blight. But the breeding program will produce thousands of hardy trees that will thrive.

Kirkland says the hope is that 50 years from now, the American chestnut will be restored to the forest – “that it is a common tree people talk about, interact with and use in their daily lives.”