Monday, June 30, 2014

'Blood of heroes': Kennesaw Mtn ceremony remembers the fallen 150 years later

Boy Scouts light memorial luminaries below Cheatham Hill

“We are the country’s millions ….”

The words rolled forth Saturday night from the hilltop where men in gray poured out lethal fire 150 years ago.

The words rushed downward, into the audience sitting where men in blue desperately dug into the earth, seeking protection from that windstorm of projectiles.

“… Our country was founded in 1776. But our nation was forged between 1861 and 1865.”

The words kept on, pushing into the wide, green meadow where bodies once were piled in heaps. They traveled over memorial luminaries – 3,138 of them – that flickered in the night.

“. … The ground on which we stand today was soaked with the blood of heroes in 1864.”

When the words finally reached the tree line, they echoed back up the hill. They told of a momentary Southern victory that gave way to defeat less than a year later.

… Confederate independence failed. The Union restored,” said Gordon Jones, senior military historian and curator at the Atlanta History Center. “Slavery abolished. One nation, not two. One vision of the future realized. Another denied.”

Jones was among the speakers at the centennial dedication of the recently-restored Illinois Monument on Cheatham Hill at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.

The ceremony was the most solemn event at the weekend commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in North Georgia during the Atlanta Campaign.

Jones referred to Sgt. Josiah Chaney of the Union Army, who wrote he and his comrades fought “for the sake of the country’s millions who are to come after us.”

While Saturday’s audience, which included re-enactors -- some portraying Confederate, some portraying Federals -- listened, Jones told the crowd that “we are the people they fought for.”

He spoke of the bravery of thousands of Union troops who had to cover 580 yards up Cheatham Hill, the strong center of the Confederate line, on the morning of June 27, 1864.

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

Two divisions were assigned to take Cheatham Hill, taking on boys who fought for Benjamin "Frank" Cheatham and Patrick Cleburne.

The assault ended in disaster for Federal troops, who were pummeled by an enemy that held a much better position with seasoned troops. Hundreds were pinned down at the “Dead Angle” for several days, before the Confederate troops were withdrawn.

Click to enlarge to see luminaries panorama

It wasn’t just Illinois men that charged up Cheatham Hill, says park historian Willie Johnson. McCook’s, Harker’s and Mitchell’s brigades included many regiments from Ohio and a few from Kentucky and Indiana.

Harker and McCook descendants were among the guests at the dedication, 100 years after the Illinois Monument was installed by Union veterans.

Brig. Gen. Dan McCook, a member of the “Fighting McCooks” family, gained fame in the assault. He rallied his troops at the top of the “Dead Angle” before he was cut down. He died three weeks later.

“The Confederates won the battle, but lost the war,” park Superintendent Nancy Walther said at the dedication.

Sherman continued his relentless move on Atlanta, before taking it only a couple months later and continuing on to Savannah, Ga., and the Carolinas.

Union veterans of the battle bought 60 acres on Cheatham Hill in 1899 and set about raising money for the monument, which was dedicated in 1914. Vintage automobiles were parked on the grounds Saturday night as a reminder of that first event.

David Crass, head of Georgia’s Historic Preservation Division, lauded the efforts of those early battlefield preservationists.

Memorial luminaries (Larry Knight, Kennesaw Mtn Trail Club)

Dozens of Boy Scouts set out the luminaries, one for each man who died within a few short hours of each other. LED lights inside flickered at the end of the ceremony, providing a powerful image of human courage and sacrifices. The overwhelming majority of the fallen fought for the North.

Park Chief Ranger Anthony Winegar talked of an ancestor who served as a Federal artilleryman. He encouraged the crowd to do their own research.

“You may not be as far removed (from the war) as you think.”

Catherine Shannon, deputy director at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, thanked volunteers, Georgia officials and the National Park Service for their efforts to keep alive memories of the fallen “for future generations.”

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Just back from Kennesaw Mountain 150th!

Luminaries are ready for lighting below the "Dead Angle" at Cheatham Hill.

Back home after a long day at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park for 150th anniversary events. I walked a new trail where 24 Union guns fired on Confederate positions, watched a Civil War fashion show, witnessed drill, musket and artillery demonstrations, took in a couple ranger-led programs and finished the night at Cheatham Hill, where young Federals littered the bloody meadow after their assault was crushed on June 27, 1864. The rededication of the Illinois Monument at Cheatham, and the lighting of more than 3,100 luminaries below, representing the dead, made for a contemplative end to the day.

Look for Civil War Picket articles here in the coming days, including an interview with a mother and daughter whose ancestor was killed at Kennesaw Mountain. For now, check our Facebook link on this page for several photos.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

'Whole different side' of the Civil War

Eliza Richards's students at UNC-Chapel Hill have created an exhibit called “Imagining the U.S. Civil War 1861-1900," with some items not often seen. “It’s not what your typical Civil War enthusiast or buff might think,” said Claudia Funke of UNC libraries. There are dime novels, women’s poems, children’s stories, photographs of ruins left behind by Sherman’s march through Georgia, black narratives pre- and post-Emancipation – impressions of the war, many of them consciously composed to play a role in the conflict. • Article

Friday, June 20, 2014

CSS Georgia: Recovery dives may begin in October; precautions made for live ammo

Recovery last fall of CSS Georgia casemate section (USACE)

Possibly as early as this October, divers will begin retrieving objects left behind by the crew of the Confederate ironclad CSS Georgia, which was set afire and scuttled to keep it out of the hands of Union troops closing in on Savannah.

The dive teams will be looking for buttons, accoutrements and other personal belongings that have managed to stay intact for 150 years since the sinking of the CSS Georgia on Dec. 21, 1864.

U.S. Navy divers could start removing larger pieces of the locally-built ironclad – including two casemates, a boiler, cannons and propeller -- as early as February 2015, said Russell Wicke, a spokesman for the Savannah district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Corps has recently firmed up its timetable for the removal of the CSS Georgia, the first major project in the long-anticipated deepening of the Savannah River to allow larger vessels to use the port. Its wreckage is close to downtown Savannah, just off Old Fort Jackson.

Only known photo of CSS Georgia (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

President Barack Obama early last week signed the legislation for the $706 million multiyear deepening of the shipping channel from 42 feet to 47 feet at mean low tide.

The CSS Georgia, resting on a slope about 40 feet deep below the surface of the Savannah River, must be removed so that an additional 5 feet of river bottom can be dredged. With the expansion of the Panama Canal, even larger ships will be able to travel to U.S. cities. That requires deeper channels.

“The Georgia has been down there since 1864 and it can tell us a lot of what occurred in the local area and how it was built, because no blueprints survived,” said Wicke.

Corps officials say they are awaiting final approval from the Office of Management and Budget in order to negotiate contracts for the massive dredging project. "We have no indication that this approval will be long delayed," said Wicke.

One of the previously recovered guns (Courtesy of Old Fort Jackson)

The CSS Georgia was a “one-off local design” rather than one provided by the Confederate navy department, said Bob Holcombe, retired curator and historian at the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Ga. “The dimension of the vessels are not known with any degree of certainty.”

“We know so little about the vessel itself so there will be a lot of answers to how it was built,” Holcombe told the Picket last year. “Even in chunks, and no lower hull, there should be answers.”

Lacking much power, the CSS Georgia was destined to become a stationary floating battery on the river, part of the city’s defense system.

U.S. Navy divers, working with archaeologists for the Corps, which is overseeing the deepening project, retrieved a 64-square-foot section of the ironclad last November. It was sent off for analysis of the railroad iron’s strength and integrity.

“The best sense I have is that the integrity of the casemate isn’t as strong as what they expected it to be,” said Wicke, meaning it may be difficult to bring them up in one piece. Further analysis will continue ahead of the recovery, he said.

A rendering of the CSS Georgia (USACE)

Debris includes four of the CSS Georgia’s original 10 cannons, parts of the propeller and propulsion system, a boiler and the two casemates. The wooden hull is believed to have largely disintegrated over the years.

The signature pieces are the casemates -- the compartments where artillery pieces were housed. 

Experts say they are the only ones surviving from a Confederate ironclad. One is huge: 68 feet by 24 feet.

Wicke said contract and U.S. Navy divers will be involved in the $10 million removal process, which is expected to last three to six months. Conservation of the recovered items could take three years before they are ready for a museum setting.

Divers, using lights on their helmets in the low visibility, will be able to spend up to one hour on the river bottom on either side of the tide, depending on the velocity of the current.

With the chance that surviving cannonballs may be live, even after all these years, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) specialists will be on hand.

A red buoy marks the wreckage site of the CSS Georgia

“There are several types of ordnance that have been recovered and can be expected to be recovered from the site,” said Wicke. “Based on the most recent investigations, it appears that most of the ordnance, nearly 90 pieces, was recovered in the 1980s. Some ordnance was discovered in October 2013, but it appears that most of it has already been recovered.”

To date, 6.4-inch cone-shaped Brooke shells and 9-inch round Dahlgren shells have been brought up.

The CSS Georgia was part of the so-called Savannah Squadron, which included the ironclads Atlanta, Savannah and Milledgeville.

Hours before the massive army of Major Gen. William T. Sherman took Savannah by land, the CSS Georgia’s crew lit a charge, creating an explosion and fire that sent the ironclad down nearly 40 feet deep, just a couple hundred yards from Fort Jackson, which itself is only a few miles east of River Street.

Confederates, before they fled, also burned the eastern wharves district, putting an end to the shipbuilder's machine business and foundry.

Divers use helmets fitted with lights to see through murky waters (USACE)

Beyond the salvage of a few items, the CSS Georgia was largely forgotten until 1968, when a dredge struck the vessel. A similar incident occurred in 1983, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers placed a buoy above the wreckage and set about protecting the site and warning huge commercial vessels using the main shipping channel to steer clear.

Today, much larger vessels cruise the river surface. The new “super ships” resulting from the Panama Canal expansion will be 1,000 feet long or larger. 

They would dwarf the CSS Georgia, which is estimated to have been between 150 and 250 feet long and 45-60 feet wide.

The current shipping channel from Savannah’s port to the Atlantic Ocean past Tybee Island is 32 miles. The deepening project will increase the length to 40 miles, with nearly half of that in the Atlantic, said Wicke.

With the deepening, post-Panamax larger ships won’t have to wait on the tidal windows to approach and leave the port.

Barge used during a recovery dive in 2013 (USACE)

The Corps is working to mitigate side effects from the project, including anticipated lower dissolved oxygen levels that could affect fish and other wildlife in the river, said Wicke. An oxygen injection system is planned along the river. “Ocean water will go further upstream. We have mitigation efforts.”

While there has been concerns raised about the possible environmental impact of the deepening project, Wicke said the plans won approval from four federal agencies and the concerns are unfounded.

He said the project will result in a large economic benefit for Georgia and South Carolina, with $5.5 realized for every dollar spent. Lower costs and increased fuel efficiencies will result for shippers who make fewer trips because they have larger vessels, he said.

The Savannah Corps office is working on CSS Georgia public outreach plans, with possible Boy Scout workshops, a mobile booth about the project, lectures with subject matter experts and public viewing from Old Fort Jackson when larger pieces are brought to the surface.

Officials plan to launch a special website and go heavy on social media, said Wicke.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Massachusetts town rededicates monument, remembers its debt to fallen soldiers

(Town of Braintree)

Braintree, Mass., has kept a 140-year-old promise to honor the sacrifice of nearly four dozen men who died during the Civil War.

The town near Boston on Tuesday rededicated a restored soldier’s statue that sits on Town Hall Mall.

In 1874, also on June 17, Braintree dedicated the Westerly granite statue about 50 yards from the current location. That ceremony lasted about six hours, complete with music from a brass band, a parade and a dinner on the Commons.

“Braintree at last renders tardy honor to the memory of its dead heroes,” principal speaker Asa French said at the time.

(Town of Braintree)

“Today we build a monument which proclaims to the world our undying gratitude and affection for the brave men whose names are inscribed upon it," French told the crowd. "And we fondly hope that it will endure for all time as a testimony to our children and our children’s children that we are not unmindful of the debt we owe to them.”

The monument has long held a prominent spot in this town of nearly 35,000 residents. But time and wear left the statue and its base looking weathered, and the tip of the soldier’s musket and a trigger guard eroded away.

The $10,000 restoration of the monument and viewing area largely came from grants from the Massachusetts Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and the town’s community preservation fund, said Barbara Mello, grant writer and contract administrator in the mayor’s office.

Ivan Myjer of Arlington, Mass., performed the work on the statue and base. “It came out beautiful,” Mello told the Picket on Wednesday.

Forty-six names appear on the monument pedestal. Interestingly, one is of Richard Furfy of the 9th Massachusetts Infantry. While wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia in 1864, he was very much alive and present at the 1874 monument dedication.

Those in attendance in 1874 heard extensive biographies of each of the fallen men, including their family history and military service.

(Book from 1870s. Courtesy: Town of Braintree)

George Frederick Thayer, for example, enlisted in 1863, made a dramatic escape after capture in 1864 but was killed by a shot through the head only days before the war’s end in Virginia.

“His twenty ninth birthday occurred three days before his death,” reads his necrology. “His officers spoke of him as a soldier of sterling character, modest and retiring, but of strong, outspoken principle. To this testimonial those who knew him in civil life will gladly bear witness.”

Twenty-three soldiers died in battle, said Mello. Fifteen succumbed to illness, two of injuries while prisoner, one to a “friendly” injury and four died of unknown causes.

Mello said that Braintree, the birthplace of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, has long shown its appreciation to veterans of all conflicts.

About 90 people attended Tuesday’s rededication, which included a wreath-laying, music by the Braintree High School concert choir and remarks by Mayor Joseph Sullivan and local historian John Dennehy. Members of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War also attended.

Dennehy, according to Mello, talked of the call for troops after Confederates fired upon Fort Sumter in South Carolina in April 1861.

(Ceremony on June 17. Courtesy: Town of Braintree)

Young enlistees gathered at what would become the site of the original monument within 12 hours.

“They headed down Railroad Avenue to take the train to Boston, from where they traveled to Washington, D.C. to join the Union Army,” said Mello.

While Tuesday’s ceremony had a little less fanfare and speeches than in 1874, those who attended showed their appreciation for the sacrifice from others.

“We can say to Asa French we are not unmindful of the debt we owe to the fallen soldiers of the Civil War,” said Mello.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Bringing sunken steamboat back to surface?

Some 151 years ago, John Hunt Morgan’s Confederates captured the stately Alice Dean steamboat on the Ohio River, employing it to ferry troops and horses. The raiders torched the vessel and it sank near the Indiana shore. A retired factory worker has launched an effort to raise the Alice Dean from its watery grave and create a floating museum. • Article

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Researching America's defining moment

Purdue University history professor Caroline E. Janney, who has a particular focus on Reconstruction,  on Thursday becomes the president of the Society of Civil War Historians, a national group of scholars, researchers and docents of historic sites that focus on 1830 through 1880. “It’s kind of fitting that I’m starting my term now because my interest has been the postwar years,” she tells Gannett. “What has always intrigued me is the way the war is very much present in our lives 150 years later.” Janney intends to lead the effort to make the society’s webpages more interactive and user-friendly. • Article

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sale of Gettysburg soldier's skull called off

An auction house canceled the sale of a Civil War soldier’s skull after outrage grew over the plans, according to Gettysburg National Military Park, which announced the remains will be laid to rest at the national cemetery there.

The Gettysburg Foundation late Monday accepted the donation of the skull from auctioneer Tom Taylor of Estate Auctions of Hershey, Pa., the park announced Tuesday.

“The Gettysburg Foundation will work with the National Park Service to authenticate the human remains,” the park said in a statement. “Once provenance of the remains has been verified, the Gettysburg Foundation will donate them to Gettysburg National Military Park for interment with full military honors in the Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg.”

The remains of the killed soldier are now in storage at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center pending verification of their authenticity.

“We are thankful to have the opportunity to honor what is very likely an American veteran and have his final resting place recognized,” said Ed W. Clark, superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park.  “The outpouring of support, passion and concern from American citizens made the difference and a positive outcome was achieved.”

According to news reports, the auction house had hoped the auction of the skull and relics would raise between $50,000 and $250,000 from a private collector or museum.

The skull was found in 1949 near the Benner Farm, site of a Confederate field hospital, by someone tilling a garden, Reuters reported. A breastplate found nearby came from a Louisiana unit of the Confederate Army, the auction house said.