Saturday, September 27, 2014

Tour of Andersonville: 'Hell on Earth' is tranquil today, but the past still speaks

A visit to Andersonville National Historic Site in central Georgia is always sobering. You drive around the Civil War prison site's perimeter in just minutes and wonder: How could it be possible for this many prisoners to live in such a small area? Earlier this week, acting Superintendent Eric Leonard provided me an overview of the camp's operations. Sobering indeed. (Please click photos to enlarge)

Robert Knox Sneden, who served with the 40th New York Volunteer Infantry, was one of the most famous prisoners at Andersonville and Camp Lawton, mostly for his sketches and watercolors depicting the sites. He is believed to have made a shelter that resembled this reproduction in the northeast corner of the Camp Sumter (Andersonville) stockade. A visitor to Andersonville wrote: "There was not a tree for shade, not a building or tent in the prison. There were all the rude contrivances that the men could arrange for shelter from the heat of the sun, the chill of the night, and the rain. ... Others dug down and burrowed beneath the surface."

On Aug. 7, 1864, Confederate photographer A.J. Riddle took a series of photos, the only such documentation of Camp Sumter during the Civil War. They were widely printed after the war. Did the Confederacy have him take the photos as a means of propaganda -- to shock the North into resuming prisoner exchanges?

More than 45,000 Union soldiers were sent to Camp Sumter over 14 months; almost 13,000 died -- a 29 percent death rate. Of course, other prisons, both Confederate and Union, witnessed their share of horrors. The death rate at the North's Elmira prison in New York, for example, was 24 percent, although the number of deaths was much lower (about 3,000).

Students from around the country are taking part in the Memory Star Project. "13,000 stars illustrate the physical scope of prison fatalities but also the infinite number of dreams, loves and unrealized futures that each person possessed.  Just as prisoners came from all over America, so too do we hope to have Memory Stars from every state."

The federal site north of Americus, Ga.,  is home to the National Prisoner of War Museum, which pays tribute to sacrifice and courage of those held captive in all American wars. This statue and detail is from "The Price of Freedom Fully Paid," with the sculpture by Donna L. Dobberfuhl. The water serves as a reminder of its essential need. The bronze figure is raising his eyes upward in Thanksgiving after taking a drink from the stream.

Two sections of stockade were built years ago to mimic the real thing, which was 15-feet high. This is the main gate, where prisoners entered after walking from the train station in Andersonville and undergoing rudimentary medical screening.

Soldiers from the Army's Fort Rucker in southeast Alabama take part in a "staff ride," programs meant to teach them leadership lessons from the Andersonville experience. They are near Providence Spring, a body of water that emerged after a storm during August 1864, the worst month of suffering.

Park officials update this board daily. By September 1864, Confederates were hurriedly moving soldiers to other Southern prisons, convinced, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman would move to free them after taking Atlanta. That did not happen.

Acting Superintendent Eric Leonard said there incredible management flaws at Camp Sumter, with little accountability because different men led different detachments with different responsibilities. "Not my problem," might be a common reply to a situation.

The so-called Star Fort southwest of the stockade served as one of the principal fortifications and headquarters area. The guard force had about 19 guns at Camp Sumter. Interesting, about half of the forts and earthworks were facing inward, toward the prisoners. Officials were concerned of a mass breakout, said Leonard. "They were afraid of the prisoners, more than the prisoners were afraid of them."

The 1912 Illinois monument at Andersonville National Cemetery, a short drive from the prison site. The figure Columbia, standing with America's children, points to thousands of graves as if to ask a question or demand remembrance.

From the National Park Service: "Headstone number 12,196 in Section H of the national cemetery marks the grave of L.S. Tuttle, a Sergeant in company F of the 32nd Maine Infantry Regiment. His death in the Andersonville stockade on November 30, 1864, resulted from diarrhea, a common cause of death in the crowded Confederate prison." To this day, no one knows who placed it there.

I made a stop at the village of Andersonville, where this United Daughters of the Confederacy monument in memory of Confederate Capt. Henry Wirz was erected in 1909. "Today few Civil War figures are as controversial as Henry Wirz. To some people, he is a martyr or a scapegoat for a failed Confederacy. To others he is the vilest criminal of the war," writes the NPS. He was executed in November 1865 for murder and conspiracy. His is a very complicated story. Click here for more about the commandant of the prison stockade.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Andersonville 'announces' death of Union soldier who kept compelling diary

(Civil War Picket photo)

His hopes are dashed. His agony is over. Samuel Melvin has died.

Funeral arrangements are pending. Burial will be at Camp Sumter.

Melvin’s death was “announced” Thursday morning via Facebook, 150 years to the day after he succumbed to severe diarrhea at the prison hospital in Andersonville, Ga.

The 20-year-old’s passing is sure to cause heartbreak for readers who have followed the Facebook page since early June, when the staff of Andersonville National Historic Site began posting Melvin’s daily diary entries.

"Oh no, I was so hopeful he would make it," one Facebook comment read after Thursday's post. Another wrote: "Thank you so much for posting his diary. I had avoided spoilers and hoped for the best as I waited for an update. So sad to hear he never made it home."

Samuel Melvin
Melvin, a private with the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, and 32,000 others were at Andersonville in August 1864, the darkest month and the apex of misery at the Confederate prison. By then, he was often sick.

His last journal entry was Sept. 15, 1864:  "... As things look now, I stand a good chance to lay my bones in old Ga., but I'd hate to as bad as one can, for I want to go home."

He died 10 days later.

Facebook readers have wondered about the gap in postings, hoping that Melvin would beat the illness. Of course, they could search for his fate on the Internet, but many opted not to, wanting to follow along in “real time” – only decades later.

“A lot of our virtual visitors were Samuel’s family,” said acting Superintendent Eric Leonard, who like others, has “adopted” individual American POWs in the park’s “Story in Stone” multimedia tributes to service and sacrifice. Staff members have made emotional connections with their subjects.

Nearly 13,000 men died at Andersonville over 14 month. But each of them had a story. 

The staff wanted to feature the stories of prisoners and decided to go with Melvin because he went beyond the perfunctory. He talked about camp life, other soldiers and the experiences of hope and despair.

“He clearly describes how he feels about it,” said Leonard.

June 25: “… Sam is in poor spirits, but I am getting as well as could be expected. But then, I am almost distracted, for things are dubious here indeed, and all we have to console us is to hope for better things. The seeming joy is great, that I have in thinking of the joy that I will have when I see the Stars & Stripes, for then I soon will see my friends. Orders came to give back the money taken from old prisoners. That is [a] good indication, but money nor anything can ever compensate us for one week's stop here.”

Chris Barr produces "A Story in Stone" videos (Picket photo)

July 7:  “… I dreamed last night of being paroled and seeing Dow, and the disappointment when I awoke & found myself still in Hell! — I have given up all hopes of hearing from home, likewise of their hearing from me. But while there is life there is hope, and that consoles me.”

Sept. 2: “Today I have another sad duty to perform, and that is to record the death of Friend Jonas Learned. He was sick only since last Wednesday with the sore throat, but they say it is not diphtheria, and for the life of me I do not know what it was. He died very easy, said nothing of his friends, and was but a little out of his head during his whole sickness. I took his things, and will see them safe with his folks, in Oxford, N. Y. Perhaps I would not like to see my folks!”

The Facebook video posting Thursday was accompanied by the 12th of the park’s “Story in Stone” series, which is produced by park guide Chris Barr.

Each features a voiceover and details of an American prisoner’s ordeal, about half from the Civil War. A piano version of “My Country Tis of Thee” that begins each clip was performed by Barr’s wife. “We didn’t want to do just short biographies,” said Barr of the ongoing project.

Samuel Melvin's last diary entry

Melvin, 20, was captured at Spotsylvania, Va., on May 19 and arrived at Andersonville on June 3. His diary, while relatively little-known, is rich with detail and observations on the human condition.

The young soldier, like others, held on to hope of exchange or parole. He boarded a train to leave Andersonville on Sept. 10, but the train wrecked and he returned to the prison.

What he didn’t know on Sept. 10 was that the Confederates were actually moving thousands of men after Union Maj. Gen. William T.  Sherman took Atlanta and there was fear Federal troops would march on the camp. There we no plans then to free or exchange the Union prisoners.

“He is convinced he is going home,” said Leonard.

Four Melvin brothers went off to war. Only one came home.

"I almost feel like I lost a friend I never met..." wrote another Facebook commenter.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Littleton brothers: Monument will pay tribute to 6 Iowa siblings who gave all for their country

Detail of planned Littleton Brothers monument (Courtesy Will Thomson)

Iowa's six Littleton brothers – George, John, Kendall, Noah, Thomas and William – stay together as they rush uphill into battle, their forms disappearing in the fog of the Civil War.

Their fate will become lost for nearly 150 years -- until the perusal of a scrapbook filled with old newspaper clippings gives hint to an incredible story.

A May 1907 article in the Columbus (Iowa) Gazette, cited this month in the Iowa History Journal, mentioned those in Louisa County who served.

“The Lyttleton (sic) family were less fortunate. Of the six brothers, only one lived to return and he shortly died of disease contracted in the service.”

This Thursday (Sept. 25) in Wapello, the Louisa County Historical Society formally launches its campaign to raise $250,000 to build a memorial to the brothers. A towering granite monument will contain an engraving of the six brothers going into a fight.

In doing so, officials and descendants are rescuing from obscurity the story of a family that moved from Maryland to Ohio and then to the small farming community of Toolesboro, in southeastern Iowa, not far from the Mississippi River.

Site plans call for six oak trees, other features in Toolesboro (W. Thomson)

Janie Blankenship, associate editor of VFW Magazine, told the Picket it is believed that with six deaths, the Littleton family had the most sons to die during an American war.

“It is a Civil War story that for some reason has been missed,” said Ed Bayne, a member of the historical society. “Any time you have six brothers who gave their life in conflict, it’s worth some mention.”

The young Federal soldiers fought in three Iowa regiments, with George serving with an Illinois unit across the river.

Kendall was killed in battle. John died of wounds. Thomas was captured and died at the notorious Andersonville prison in Georgia. William succumbed to disease. George was discharged for an illness after he was paroled from a prison. He is believed to have died within a few months.

And Noah, the youngest, drowned when he was washed away from a Union transport while crossing the White River in Missouri.

Magazine provides details of each man's military service

A comrade wrote of the horrible moment: 

“The river presented a scene I do not again wish to witness -- men and mules struggling in the water for life, many clinging to the sunken boat -- the water was icy cold & the current setting from the shore required a superhuman effort to reach it. While we as gazers … could render no assistance & be only witnesses of their death struggle.”

The monument won’t be paying tribute to generals or those who received medals. Rather, it is to six men who enlisted to fight for something they believed in.

It was designed by Will Thomson, who has an ancestor who fought for the Confederacy. Thomson, a North Carolinian who works in Iowa City, is a member of the Quakers, a group opposed to war and violence.

“It is not about that for me,” he said. “It is about belief and sacrifice. It is about courage, unity and about simple, ordinary people.”

The new story begins with a scrapbook

About four years ago, Rosalee Thomas of Raleigh, N.C., gave a copy of the scrapbook to Tom Woodruff, her late husband’s boyhood friend. Woodruff, of Davenport, Iowa, is a member of the Louisa County Historical Society and chairman of the Littleton Monument Commission.

Thomas’ grandmother had kept articles from the late 1800s and early 1900s about people and events in Louisa County. One of two of those clippings made a reference to the “Lyttleton” brothers.

Members of the Louisa County Historical Society asked Janice Hoelhe (pronounced Hayley) to put her research and genealogy skills to work. She reviewed the short newspaper article.

“I looked at it and saw it could just as easily be Littleton,” said Hoehle, who found the Littleton family name in the 1856 census.

She did further research at the courthouse and on the Internet, giving Woodruff and Bayne a boost in tracking down detailed service records and more about the family’s background. Bayne and Woodruff later co-authored a booklet, “Brothers in War.”

At first, the society had little reference material from which to work. The State Historical Society of Iowa, while it has information on Civil War units and soldiers, had not published anything about the Littletons.

The local society, led by Woodruff, began its odyssey of discovery.

Permelia Vanlaningham (Nicewanner family)

Descendants of the brothers knew virtually nothing about their story before Woodruff and others began digging around.

The brothers had three, perhaps four, sisters.

One of them, Permelia S. Vanlaningham, was the twin of Kendall. She died in 1929 at age 85.

She apparently never told anyone about her brothers’ Civil War service, said Julie Wagner, whose husband Scott is a great-great-great grandson of Permelia.

“You would have thought Permelia would have passed that down, unless it was such a painful subject for her. Veterans sometimes don’t talk. She did not pass it on.”

Research on family's background

James and Martha Littleton, the boys' parents, moved to Louisa (Lew-I-zuh) County in about 1840, six years before Iowa became a state. The young Littleton brothers likely helped on a 200-acre farm.
Toolesboro used to be a busy hub, said Wagner, who lives in Illinois City, Ill.

The 1860 census that shows the family was listed as mulatto, which traditionally refers to a person with one white parent and one black parent. There's debate today on that point.

The Littleton memorial will have a panel saying James came from free slave roots. “Records indicate Louisa County abolitionists had helped the family get settled there.”

But oral history within the Nicewanner family, as descendants of Permelia, states that James actually had Native American roots on one side, said Wagner. 

Doug Jones, an archaeologist and Iowa Freedom Trail project manager for the State Historical Society of Iowa, said the little information he has on the Littletons is “quite intriguing.”

“There was a mulatto settlement, and we don’t know much about the settlement.” 

Nicewanners, at reunion, are descendants of Permelia's grandson, Dana

While some communities welcomed such families, not all did, said Jones.

It is believed that Toolesboro did open its arms, and the boys served in white units. “Despite shades of color, we believe they were given the same advantages as others,” Woodruff said of the family.

Wagner said there was nothing unique about the Littleton brothers, “other than their willingness to sacrifice for their country and to fight for it.”

She made a reference to the five Sullivan brothers of Waterloo, Iowa, who died aboard the same ship during World War II. Their story has long been remembered.

“I would like for this story to be as well-known,” said Wagner.

They fought to save union, end slavery

Grave of Thomas Littleton, center, (Andersonville NHS) in Georgia

Only one of the Littleton brothers, John, had children, and that daughter died before having any of her own. James and Martha Littleton died before the war.

Here’s what is known about each of the brothers’ service records (thanks to the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum for much of the following information):

-- George Handy Littleton: George, 33, a cooper, volunteered from service from nearby New Boston, Ill., in March 1862. He is described as having brown eyes and dark hair and complexion. He was with Company B of the 65th Illinois Infantry. Captured by Confederates at Harpers Ferry, W.V., he was later paroled and discharged for disability in Chicago, according to official records, for a disease contracted before service. Woodruff said other material indicates Littleton got sick while in service. “We do not have the exact date or know where we died,” said Woodruff.  The Columbus Gazette indicated George died soon after returning home. His grave has not been found.

-- John Littleton: Enlisted in August 1862 with Company F of the 19th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. He suffered a severe thigh injury during fighting at Prairie Grove, Arkansas, on Dec. 7, 1862. He died in Fayetteville, Ark., of wounds on December 18. It’s possible he may be buried among 800 unmarked graves at Fayetteville National Cemetery.

-- Kendall Littleton: Also of the 19th Iowa, Kendall was killed in action on Dec. 7, 1862, at Prairie Grove, Ark. His remains were likely later moved to Fayetteville National Cemetery, and are marked as unknown.

(Courtesy Springfield National Cemetery)

-- Noah Littleton: Survived the fighting at Prairie Grove but drowned March 1, 1863, in the White River in southern Missouri. His remains were disinterred and he is buried at Springfield (Mo.) National Cemetery. He, too, served in the 19th Iowa.

--Thomas Littleton: A member of the 5th Iowa, suffered a head wound at Iuka, Ms. He was taken prisoner in Chattanooga, Tenn., in November 1863. The private died of chronic diarrhea at Andersonville on June 16, 1864, and is buried at the national cemetery there.

-- William Littleton: A corporal with the 8th Iowa, William was wounded at Shiloh in 1862 and died in December 1863 of diarrhea at Jefferson Barracks, Mo. He is buried at the national cemetery there.

Borden House was scene of heaving fighting (Prairie Grove BSP)

John, Kendall and Noah fought at Prairie Grove on Dec. 7, 1862. A National Park Service summary describes a Union strategic victory. The Confederates tried to destroy two Union divisions before they joined forces. A ferocious battle, including cavalry attacks and canister fire, ended in a Rebel withdrawal and the establishment of Federal control of northwest Arkansas.

Alan Thompson, museum registrar, at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park, said the 19th Iowa suffered 55 percent casualties within 15 minutes. 

“They made the first Federal attack up the hill where the Confederates were.”

Commanding officer Lt. Col. Samuel McFarland was struck nine times and knocked out of his saddle. “Their color guard was entirely wiped out.”

The 20th Wisconsin also saw huge casualties in the same attack, said Thompson, who has done research on the Littleton brothers.

Map of Prairie Grove battlefield, features (PGBSP)

Thompson and Woodruff have paid particular attention to the tragic end of Noah Littleton, who survived the battle only to drown with five others nearly three months later.

“(That story) touched me more than any other,” said Woodruff. He traveled to the river bank in Missouri.

Infantry and cavalry crossed the river despite concerns, wrote J. Irvine Dungan in "History of the Nineteenth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry.”

“The river was very high. White river has at all times the swiftest current I ever saw in a stream of that size, and the water was very cold. When the boat was near the middle of the stream the guy ropes became disordered in some manner, and one of them broke, letting the boat swing around and giving it such a jerk that it broke in the middle, the ends sinking several feet in the water. Men began jumping off, the teams struggled and got entangled in the harness, the force of the current sweeping over the partially submerged boat soon breaking the remaining rope, and they were at the mercy of the stream, with no boat or skiff to aid them. We, their friends, were forced to stand upon the shore and see one after another in their death struggle throw up their arms and go down. Long will we hear the bubbling cry of some strong swimmer in his agony, and the swollen river covered with the forms of many brave soldiers. …”

Cemetery log contains name of Noah Littleton

Will this be final Civil War monument?

Today, Louisa County – with a population of nearly 12,000 -- is still farm country, with a few small industries and recreational facilities for hunting and fishing.

“We are really a rural area,” said Bayne. “There is not a stoplight in the county.” 

Frank Best, president of the Louisa County Historical Society, said his group for years produced a quarterly publication and remains active in community affairs. 

“It has been a fun story, the kind of thing that came out of the blue and no one was expecting it,” Best said of the Littleton project.

Thursday night’s program at the society’s heritage center in Wapello will include a model of the monument, which is meant to have benches, six oak trees and markers, and a small parking lot.

Detail of planned monument (Courtesy of Will Thomson)

Woodruff said about $20,000 in donations have come in, with the goal of $250,000. Funds will be raised this winter, with construction eyed for 2015 and a dedication in May 2016.

“It is probably the last Civil War monument probably ever to be built. It is a tragedy that came out of Louisa County,” he said, emphasizing it will be American-built and entitled “The Last Full Measure of Devotion,” a phrase used by President Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address.

The 11-foot monument made of Mesabi Black granite and gray granite will tower over the fields on old Highway 99, next to the Toolesboro Indian Mounds and not far from the old Littleton family homestead.

The Hopewellian mounds at Toolesboro are among the best-preserved and accessible remnants of an ancient culture flourishing from around 200 B.C. to 300 A.D., according to a website.

Thomson, the memorial designer, said the monument will be chiseled off, in a Victorian motif, to symbolize lives cut short. The oak trees will be planted in an arc, supplemented by native Iowa vegetation.

Like others, he said the story of the Littletons needs to be remembered and publicized.

“They saw they needed to make some kind of contribution,” said Thomson.

For more information on the project or to donate, contact the Louisa County Historical Society at (319) 527-5247 or write Louisa County Historical Society, 609 Highway 61, Wapello, Iowa. 52653.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Only surviving Elmira prison camp building to be reassembled, serve as museum

A view of the Federal prison camp in Elmira, N.Y. (Library of Congress)

Two loads of lumber brought into Elmira, New York, last Friday on flatbed trailers will start taking shape soon as volunteers and roofers reconstruct what's believed to be the sole surviving building of the Civil War prison camp there.

Minus a few cracks and a little rot, the lumber – thought to be pine -- is in pretty good shape for having been out in the elements and in storage for 150 years. Even a couple of windows are intact.

Years of study and conjecture have failed to bring a firm conclusion on how the building was used.

“There are rumors, theories,” said Marty Chalk, president of the Friends of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp.

Possibilities include a commissary, a pharmacy or a “death house” that contained the bodies of Confederate prisoners before burial. Or it may have been a granary.

“In the interior, some of the wood is a little pitted,” said Chalk. “It is believed the pitted area came from loading and unloading grain. That’s just a theory.”

One thing for certain is the friends group, working with government officials and the Chemung County Historical Society, plans to use the building as a visitor/learning center and museum.

The building has been on a long journey before its return to the prison site, near a pumping station operated by the Elmira Water Board.

Once a Union recruiting center, the camp, sometimes called “Helmira,” 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.

Chalk said the building was moved after the war to nearby Hoffman Street, where the owner used it as an outbuilding for storage. It eventually was taken down and moved to a couple locations before ending up in a barn about five miles outside the city.

The Friends of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp has a budget of about $9,000 for the project, but has benefited largely from volunteer work and donations. It is trying to raise more money.

The site will include a foundation for the old building and a fence. The nonprofit group has found a source for square nails and will bring in a roofing company for that part of the work. Chalk said he expects the building will need to be augmented about 20 percent by new lumber.

Officials hope to reassemble the building by early spring 2015, with the learning center ready for visitors by mid-2015. “Our plan is to have a climate-controlled environment,” said Chalk.

The center is expected to include artifacts, rifles, interpretive panels, an 1863 artillery piece and original or copied prisoner letters, including some in possession of a North Carolina man.

Chalk said visitors to Elmira currently stop by Woodlawn National Cemetery and the Chemung County Historical Society to learn about what occurred at the Union prison.

An original flag pole and a marker greet those who walk part of the prison site.

“There really isn’t much there. We have numerous people from the South who come to that site, asking questions. They take all the pictures they can,” he told the Picket. “Unfortunately, there is not much to see right now.”

The friends group hopes the city and county get a little tourism boost from the welcome center, which will be a tangible link to the past. “Elmira probably should be more of a Civil War town than it is,” Chalk said.

He said Southerners who visit want to see graves of loved ones and where they were imprisoned. “If I had a relative who died at Andersonville, I’d want to know as much as I could.”

Re-enactors who have been on site treat the grounds along the Chemung River as hallowed.

“I got a phone call from a woman in South Carolina,” said Chalk. “Her comment was interesting. She said, ‘Don’t you dare glorify what happened in the Elmira Civil War prison camp.’ I told her our purpose is not to celebrate anything. It is to educate.” 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A loss for Georgia river city and its history

The Calhoun-Griffin-Mott House in Columbus, Ga., destroyed Sunday by fire, had historical significance dating back to the Civil War. When Union forces took the city during a night battle in April 1865, the home’s owner, a unionist, invited Maj. Gen. James Wilson to stay at his house. The riverfront property is owned by TSYS, a credit card possessing company. • Article

Friday, September 5, 2014

Memorial set for Longstreet granddaughter

(Courtesy Dan Paterson)
The Longstreet Society in Gainesville, Ga., will host a memorial reception on Sept. 13 celebrating the life of Jamie Louise Longstreet Paterson, granddaughter of Confederate Gen. James Longstreet.

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

The society will host the reception beginning at about 11 a.m. at the Piedmont Hotel, 827 Maple St., following a private burial service at Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville. The family will welcome all visitors, the society says in a Facebook post.

Jamie Paterson was born in Gainesville to Fitz Randolph Longstreet – one of the general’s sons -- and Zelia Stover Longstreet. She never knew James Longstreet, who moved to Gainesville in 1875 and operated a hotel.He died in 1904.

• Previous Picket article about Mrs. Paterson

Picket update 2: And the winner is .....

You may recall last week's preview of a lecture about four generals crucial to the execution and result of the Atlanta Campaign during 1864. Author Steve Davis spoke at the city's Lovett School about their character and integrity. Beforehand, he told the Picket he wanted his pick of the man possessing the most laudable character kept a surprise.

George H. Thomas
We can now share his summary:

-- Would I want to be remembered as a delayer and retreater? (Joseph E. Johnston)

-- Would I want to be remembered as a demonstration of the Peter Principle? (John Bell Hood)

-- Would I want to be remembered as "vicious, cruel and mean"? (William T. Sherman)

-- No, I'd rather have my gravesite remind everyone that in character I was solid as a rock. (George H. Thomas)

Thomas earned the title "Rock of Chickamauga" for rallying forces and preventing a complete rout at the 1863 battle in northern Georgia. Born in Virginia, he stayed loyal to the Union and contributed significantly to victory in the west. He died in 1870.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Thoughts on Atlanta's surrender: 'Your government can't protect you'

On this day, 150 years ago, Mayor James Calhoun and other officials rode up to Federal troops in northwest Atlanta to surrender the city. Much has written about the significance of the Sept. 2, 1864, fall of Atlanta. The Picket asked historians and others to share their thoughts.

Charlie Crawford, president, Georgia Battlefields Association:

The Confederate evacuation of Atlanta over the night of 1-2 September 1864 had significance beyond the normal abandonment of territory by the losing side.  Many people in the north perceived the war effort as going poorly, and the prospect of more years of fighting made them inclined toward a peace negotiation that would likely result in letting the southern states leave the Union.  On 23 August 1864, less than ten days prior to the fall of Atlanta, President Lincoln was convinced that he would not be re-elected because Grant appeared to be stalled before Petersburg and Sherman was unable to take Atlanta.  The news of the fall of Atlanta, telegraphed to Washington on 2 September, changed the perception of Lincoln and much of the northern populace.  They couldn’t know that the fighting would end less than nine months later, but the prospect of defeating the Confederacy on terms dictated by the United States government was enhanced, and more voters would support the man who had led them to this point.  What happened on this day 150 years ago meant the war would be fought until victory was achieved, the Union would be restored, and slavery would end.  

Ken Johnston, executive director, National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus: 

The surrender of Atlanta on September 2, 1864 can be (and has been) spoken of in terms of military, economic, or political significance – and rightly so on each count. The thing that stays with me, however, is the psychological significance. There had been major southern cities that were reclaimed by Federal authority before, but they tended to be cities where US military power was more easily projected along water ways by the US Army and Navy – places like New Orleans, Vicksburg, Nashville, Memphis, and Chattanooga. A southerner could take comfort, if so inclined, in the knowledge that Federal forces hadn’t penetrated into the deep heartland of the southern states with “boots on the ground”. Atlanta changed that.

After the surrender of Atlanta no southern partisan could realistically maintain that a city – or home – was beyond the reach of the US military. A heavily fortified southern city, over one hundred miles past previous front lines, defended by one of the two principal field armies of the Confederacy had surrendered to an army that had marched overland into the heart of territory previously untouched by war. The message was clear: “you are not safe, your government can’t protect you”. The psychological fall-out of fear, anxiety, and depression would be crippling to the Confederate war effort – and the surrender of Atlanta was but a prelude to the demonstration of power that General Sherman was soon to make.