Thursday, August 28, 2014

How did they do? Lecture surveys characters of four Atlanta Campaign generals

William Tecumseh Sherman savors victory in Atlanta (Library of Congress)

Maneuvering around the heaps of corpses, Second South Carolina Sgt. Richard Kirkland earned the sobriquet “The Angel of Mayre’s Heights” for bringing water to the parched lips of enemy soldiers wounded during a horrific, doomed assault at Fredericksburg.

“Heroism is a true reflection of character,” said Steve Davis, a Civil War author and historian living in Atlanta. “That is character.”

Of course, character is a complex aspect of man. It is made up of qualities, temperament and disposition, among other things.

And, as Davis will elucidate in a lecture on Sept. 2, timed to the 150th anniversary of the surrender of Atlanta, character can play out in many different ways.

Steve Davis
Davis will speak that evening at Lovett School, a private K-12 institution, which since May 2012 has sponsored, in conjunction with the Atlanta History Center, a series of talks entitled “The Civil War and the Forging of Character.” It continues through April 2015.

The author of What the Yankees Did to Us: Sherman’s Bombardment and Wrecking of Atlanta” and “Atlanta Will Fall: Sherman, Joe Johnston and the Heavy Yankee Battalion,” will focus on what the Atlanta Campaign revealed about the character and integrity of four pivotal generals: The Confederacy’s Joseph E. Johnston and John Bell Hood, and the Union’s William T. Sherman and George Thomas.

“They varied widely in performance and record,” said Davis. “All four were dedicated.” He will discuss their early military careers and the formation of character.

“General Johnston, for instance, was capable, experienced and respected as a general,” Davis told the Picket. “But he lacked the will to fight. In my first work I call him Johnston Cunctator, after the Roman Quintus Fabius, who cunctated (delayed) before the advance of Hannibal toward Rome.”

Joseph E. Johnston
“His flaw was that as a soldier and army commander he lacked that will and resolve which an officer has to have,” David continued. “He has to be able to send his mean to death. That distinguishes him from Robert E. Lee.”

Of Johnston’s successor, Hood, Davis said the hard-fighting general has risen in historians’ estimations from “buffoon and bumbler” to a talented and dedicated officer who did well at brigade and division levels but became a poster boy for the “Peter Principle” in higher commands, including Atlanta.

Hood did have a good tactical mind, said Davis. The Battle of Atlanta was a Stonewall Jackson-style flanking attack that was the “closest he came to a battlefield victory” during the campaign. Davis has a contract to write a book about Hood’s 1864 generalship.

John Bell Hood
Before his evening lecture, Davis will spend some time with upper classes at Lovett, which sits along the Chattahoochee River and has some remaining breastworks erected by the 20th Corps of the Federal Army of the Tennessee to protect river crossings.

The historian will ask students, who did summer reading about the Civil War, for their thoughts and definitions of character, which may include discipline and sacrifice.

One example is Thomas’ devotion to principle by deciding to stay with the Union, rather than join fellow Virginians in the Confederate army.

His family owned slaves, but he took an oath to the U.S. Army.” His sister despised him for the choice, said Davis.

“Sherman I call skillful, (a leader) who enjoyed a stellar rise to theater command. In personality, he was mercurial, if not quirky.”

George Thomas
The Federal commander, had a bark worse than his bite, at least during the Civil War, Davis argued. “He wrote letters with strong language. He talked about exterminating. He never killed people, he just took their stuff.”

Eventually, Sherman went from “hard” war to “total war,” where killing was the prime objective. The Plains Indians were the later recipients of that part of his character.

Davis is preparing a slideshow for his evening lecture at Lovett. Students, parents, faculty, alumni and the community at large are invited.

The author is keeping secret which of the four generals to whom he will give the highest marks.

Admission to the 6 p.m. Sept. 2 lecture at the Hendrix-Chenault Theater at Lovett School in Atlanta is free, but reservations are suggested. Please call (404) 262-3032, ext. 1717, or email Light refreshments will be served before the lecture starting at 5:30 pm. For more information, visit

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Medal of Honor, finally, for Gettysburg hero

More than 151 years after his heroic service at Gettysburg, 1st Lt. Alonzo Cushing, a Union battery commander, will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously, the White House announced. "He does deserve it without a doubt," said John Heiser, historian at Gettysburg National Military Park. "The tragedy is ... that it should have been awarded long, long ago." • Article

Sunday, August 24, 2014

PBS show in a 'race against time' to find the exact location of Civil War prison

Chelsea Rose with artifact (Ann McGarry, Oregon Public Broadcasting)

PBS’ “Time Team America” wants viewers to feel like they are right alongside archaeologists bent over in trenches, dabbing sweat while digging for historical treasure.

Viewers better be prepared to move quickly.

Tuesday night’s one-hour episode on a Civil War prison in Georgia will adhere to the show’s format of a “race against time” – 72 hours to unearth “secrets” and structures that give context to what occurred at a site.

The six-member team’s aim is to find the original site of Camp Lawton, which housed 10,000 Union prisoners near the small railroad town of Millen. At least 750 of them died.

“What artifacts are buried beneath the ground and what do they tell us of the hellish experiences of the prisoners once held captive here?” a promotional release asks.

Archaeologists look for stockade wall evidence (Georgia Southern U,)

The “Time Team America” crew was on site for three days in October 2012, but the episode is being broadcast only now because of a delay in season two of the series, which also has a strong online audience.

To some degree, the cat is largely out of the bag on what’s been confirmed at Camp Lawton. While the Civil War Picket and other outlets have written about more recent discoveries and research, most Americans likely know very little, if anything, about the prison. And I saw several artifacts for the first time while watching the episode.

The show’s quick pace, of course, is not typical of most archaeological digs.

But the quest for discovery, combined with solid storytelling and compelling characters, does create drama as the team deals with successes, setbacks and a deadline.

"Time Team America" crew (Ann McGarry, Oregon Public Broadcasting)

The “Time Team America” team splits up to concentrate on certain aspects of the large, 42-acre site that straddles a Georgia state park and a former federal fish hatchery.

Their goals: To confirm the location of at least one stockade wall and a corner, excavate Confederate guard and Union prisoner artifacts, and to find a powder magazine and the compound’s front gate. They also want to determine the age of timbers found in a stream, possibly associated with the stockade. One member even built a replica prisoner shelter, or shebang, and spent the night on site.

Among the discoveries is a Union soldier’s brass frame to hold a photograph.

“It was such a profound artifact,” archaeologist Chelsea Rose says in one segment. “That picture frame could have been somebody’s kids or wife. Someone they thought they may never see again … It would be hope, it would be freedom, it would be everything that was sacred to you.”

Excavation in the prisoner area. (Ann McGarry, Oregon Public Broadcasting)

The episode includes animation of the wall and historical context about the prison, which was built to relieve overcrowding at Andersonville prison. Camp Lawton was quickly evacuated in late November 1864 when the March to the Sea from Atlanta to Savannah would mean certain liberation.

Archaeology students at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro for several years have conducted digs on the site. The findings of one, Kevin Chapman, contributed to further research and the 2010 announcement of significant finds at the site.

Lance Greene, an assistant professor overseeing the work, said GSU since the filming has since done a lot of work inside and outside the stockade. “In particular, we have done more excavations on two prisoners' huts and on one of the brick ovens inside the stockade.”

(Georgia Southern University)

The Camp Lawton Facebook page on Sunday said the school will soon begin updating its website with 3-D scans of artifacts.

The scans and other information will begin appearing on the website soon. This is part of our effort to make information about Camp Lawton available to the public, not only in the region, but around the world."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Vicksburg park bans drone flights

Vicksburg National Military Park officially is closed to unmanned aircraft, including drones, because of safety and noise concerns.

"The use of unmanned aircraft in parks is a relatively new, but quickly growing trend," said park Superintendent Michael Madell in a statement this week. "Although we have not experienced problems here at Vicksburg, we are concerned that flying the aircraft may have negative impacts on visitor experiences and safety, the solemnity of the battlefield, and park resources."

Other sites in the National Park Service system this week are taking similar stances. In June, the NPS announced the prohibition, saying it needed time to develop the proper permanent policy on unmanned aircraft.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Elmira prison exhibit shows the struggle to survive, desire to make a fast buck

Items made by prisoners at Elmira (Chemung County Historical Society)

“There were people trying to help. There were people trying to cash in.”

Rachel Dworkin, archivist with the Chemung County Historical Society, succinctly summed up the two sides of human nature as they played out at the famed Civil War prison camp in Elmira, N.Y.

The society’s Chemung Valley History Museum on Thursday night opened “So Far From Home: Life in Elmira's Confederate Prison Camp.” The exhibit, the fourth in a series on the Civil War, is open until July 2015, the 150th anniversary of the camp closure.

Once a Union recruiting center, the camp was transformed into a prison facility that opened in July 1864 and eventually housed 12,123 Confederates. Nearly 3,000 died, a staggering 24% death rate.

Ball and chain and other items (CCHS)

The exhibit, which features panels and descriptions of prisoner and guard life and the camp’s connection to the city, includes a small structure that represents two competing, commercial observation towers that sat just outside the stockade walls.

Owners charged 10 to 15 cents for the curious to gawk at the prisoners below. Visitors also could buy photographs and snacks.

James Huffman, a soldier from Virginia, blamed the Northern press for sending "a constant stream of people winding their way to the top of these observatories to get a glimpse of the Rebs, as they supposed us to be some kind of curious, monkey-shaped animals,” writes Michael Gray in his book about the prison, “The Business of Captivity.”

Life was extremely difficult, as the exhibit points out. Prisoners weathered hunger, illness, melancholy and exposure to the elements. Not enough of the men had stoves during the harsh winter.

All that remains today of Elmira Prison is a well-kept cemetery along the banks of the Chemung River, according to the National Park Service.

Dworkin told The Picket that officials hope visitors “come away with a better sense with what life was like for both sides during the conflict here.”

Coat belonging to Union guard
Townspeople were both fearful and fascinated with the camp, and many took part in charitable efforts to ease the suffering. The towers, however, were typical of a “circus element” until they were closed.

The prisoners generally fared better when they had skills, such as carpentry, that benefited the operation of the camp. They tended to get better rations and shelter. “The unpleasantness varied widely,” said Dworkin.

Prisoners maintained a strange economy providing services to comrades, Dworkin said. 

“There were people who taught people French in exchange for rats.”

Others made furniture and jewelry to be sold outside the camp. The exhibit features a chair made by a prisoner.

The historical society’s previous exhibits focused on soldier life, the home front and artifacts owned by local residents. Officials are working on creating digital versions of those programs.

Civilian artifacts include telegraph machine from train station (left)

Wartime photograph of prison camp (Library of Congress)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Cannonballs blown up in NY quarry

About 180 Civil War-era cannonballs found on the grounds of the nation's oldest arsenal have been detonated in an upstate New York quarry. Army officials said the artillery rounds were found at Watervliet Arsenal just north of Albany. • Article

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gen. James Longstreet's granddaughter Jamie Paterson dies; she helped fight to win him vindication

Jamie L. Paterson at Gettysburg in 1998 (Courtesy Dan Paterson)

Dan Paterson remembers visiting Civil War battlefields where his famous great-grandfather’s name might be mentioned, but no monument stood.

Paterson’s mother, Jamie, also would drive Dan and his younger brother Jimmy to her hometown of Gainesville, Ga, the home and resting place of Confederate Gen. James Longstreet.

“When I was kid growing up and visiting that grave site, it was more like a family going to a family graveyard, not what it is today with the lights and the flagpole,” said Paterson, 55.

Recognition for Longstreet was slow in coming. In the latter half of his storied life, the general became the scapegoat for the South’s defeat. Vindication of the controversial general wouldn’t begin until several decades after his 1904 death.

The growing recognition of Longstreet’s contribution to the Southern war effort culminated with the July 3, 1998, dedication of a monument to the warrior at Pitzer’s Woods at Gettysburg, the battle in which Longstreet’s conduct was criticized by many historians.

The dedication was a poignant moment for Jamie Louise Longstreet Paterson, who proudly carried her grandfather’s name and did her part over the years to help remove the tarnish off the general who did the unthinkable after the Civil War -- support the Republican Party, Reconstruction and suffrage for blacks.

Jamie Paterson died at age 84 on Aug. 5 after an extended illness. She was a resident of Bowie, Md.

Fitz Randolph Longstreet in 1929
She was born in Gainesville to Fitz Randolph Longstreet – one of the general’s sons -- and Zelia Stover Longstreet. Randolph’s first wife, Josie, died in 1904 and he remarried in 1929. Jamie was born a year later, when her father was 61. He passed away in 1951.

Jamie never knew James Longstreet, who moved to Gainesville in 1875 and operated a hotel.

Randolph Longstreet was a farmer and loving father, said Dan Paterson. “My grandfather was  … easy-going, he did not go into the military.”

Jamie attended Gainesville Business School and worked for the Gainesville Midland Railway. In 1957, she married William D. Paterson, a Pennsylvanian who wooed her after they met at a dance while he was stationed at an Army Ranger camp in north Georgia. They lived in Washington, D.C. and then Bowie. William Paterson died in 2006.

As he grew older, Dan Paterson helped take up the family mantle in educating the public about Longstreet.

“I made it my life mission to understand his role,” he said. “After all these years of giving programs, living in (Centreville) Virginia and hearing about Stonewall, I know the origin of this.”

Longstreet’s most masterful moments during the Civil War were at Chickamauga and Second Manassas.

Dan Paterson (right) in 1969 at Longstreet grave. His mother is behind marker.
The veteran of Indian wars and the Mexican-American War was devoted and loyal to Gen. Robert E. Lee, who leaned heavily on Longstreet and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The latter was killed at Chancellorsville only a few months before Gettysburg.

A cabal, which included former generals Jubal Early and John Gordon, claimed Longstreet stubbornly resisted Lee’s plans at Gettysburg, resulting in the loss of the 1863 battle – and perhaps the war.

They said Lee’s “War Horse”, his principal subordinate, was insubordinate at Gettysburg. That he wouldn’t support the attacks. That he moved his 14,000 troops in a slow manner.

Longstreet’s supporters and some scholars counter this. Although Gettysburg may not have been his best effort, they say, the general fought effectively on Days 2 and 3.

Paterson said the claims against his great-grandfather’s conduct at Gettysburg are a lie. “But now the truth is coming out.”

The controversy about Longstreet began two years after the war’s end. While his wife, Louisa, stayed in Lynchburg, Va., with their children, including Randolph, the former general was a successful businessman in New Orleans. He kept the family in Virginia because of persistent fears of yellow fever in New Orleans.

Jamie Longstreet (far right) with relatives, circa 1946.

“The stuff hit the fan” in 1867 when Longstreet wrote in a newspaper report that he believed in reconciliation and black suffrage. His business began to fail, said Paterson, after critics accused him of being a scalawag – a Southern white who supported Reconstruction.

While living in Louisiana, Longstreet led a black militia against unruly white supremacists.

Southerners did not forget that affront or his Republican loyalties. While there is no evidence he was progressive on race, Longstreet thought giving blacks full citizenship and voting rights was the practical thing to do.

“All of this anti-Longstreet material was racially motivated,” said Dan Paterson, adding it’s important that people understand the timeline of events – that his great-grandfather’s stance on issues became clear before he joined the Republican Party and served in the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Paterson concedes James Longstreet offended many people in some of his answers to critics.

“He embittered people when he responded. When he wrote his book, it was like it is sending an e-mail out when you were angry.”

Zelia and F.R. Longstreet, circa 1940.

Family members portray Longstreet, who was born in South Carolina, as a pragmatist for his support of Reconstruction.

Among those who promote the general’s legacy is the Longstreet Society, which operates out of the old Piedmont Hotel in Gainesville. The family asks that donations in Jamie Paterson’s name be made to the organization.

Dan Paterson said his mother’s remains will be interred in the Longstreet family plot at Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville. A date has not yet been set. “I have to bring her home,” he said. “She requested that.”

Over the years, Jamie Paterson attended many functions related to the Civil War and her grandfather. She also spoke highly of the general’s second wife, Helen, whom he married eight years after Louisa passed away.

Dan Paterson said he has been treated well at events, including at “the lion’s den” of Richmond, Va. He met a descendant of Jubal Early and described him as a “real nice guy.”

The descendant said the war was about preserving slavery. “I am more intrigued about the expose of the Lost Cause than I am anything. That is the source for the negative stuff against Longstreet.”

Paterson continues to give occasional presentations and feels he has had some part in helping change the general’s reputation.

He’s been involved in re-enacting for years, portraying both Confederate and Union soldiers. It’s not about politics, Paterson said, but about “trying to follow what those guys did.” 

People joke that Longstreet most be rolling in his grave because Paterson is part of the 7th Maryland Volunteer Infantry, a re-enacting group that portrays Union soldiers. 

“I think he would be happy with what I am doing,” said Paterson.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Gettsyburg's top Monuments Man honored

Lucas Flickinger, supervisor of the monument preservation branch at Gettysburg National Military Park, has been honored for his dedication to cultural resource management.

"He was nominated for creating innovative partnerships and establishing efficiencies that have eliminated an enormous work backlog," the park said in a press release last week. "Of special note were repairs made to two monuments that had been vandalized in 2006. Flickinger and his team sculpted a new arm for the 11th Massachusetts Infantry Monument and a new bronze head and rammer for the 4th New York Artillery Monument."

At Gettysburg National Military Park, caring for 1,300 monuments, markers and tablets and 410 artillery pieces requires a small, but dedicated, team of specialists.
Work on the vandalized 4th New York monument

“We are preserving America’s history and there needs to be a high quality of work,” Flickinger told the Civil War Picket in 2013.

Flickinger, maintenance employee of the year, received the National Park Service's northeast region 2013 Appleman-Judd-Lewis Award for excellence in cultural resource management.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sign remembers Andrews Raid soldier

William Pittenger took part with James Andrews nearly two dozen others in the April 1862 Union raid that was supposed to destroy portions of the Western & Atlantic Railroad between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn. The event has been called the Great Locomotive Chase.

Pittenger's service has been remembered with a new historical marker in Knoxville, Ohio. The Medal of Honor recipient was exchanged during the war, later moved to Fallbrook, Calif., and lived until 1904. His descendants were on hand for the marker ceremony over the weekend. • Article