Friday, October 31, 2014

Divers may hit the waters in November to begin CSS Georgia recovery in Savannah

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

With the deepening of Savannah's harbor officially green-lighted, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to award a contract for the long-awaited recovery of the Confederate ironclad CSS Georgia, with dives possibly to begin in late November.

"We are working with our contractors and the Navy to finalize the CSS Georgia recovery plan and obtain final permitting so on-site work on CSS Georgia can begin," said Russell Wicke a spokesman for the Savannah district. "The first phase will consist of mapping, tagging and recovery of small artifacts by archaeological divers. The recovery of the large artifacts and casemate sections is scheduled for initiation in spring 2015."

While dates have not been finalized, field work is expected to last about ninth months and cost about $15 million.

"This figure also includes conservation of the artifacts and casemate sections.  Deepening in the area of the wreck cannot begin until all artifacts and casemate sections have been recovered," Wicke told the Picket.

Lacking much power, the locally built CSS Georgia was destined to become a stationary floating battery and part of the city defensive system. It was scuttled on Dec. 21, 1864, to keep it out of the hands of Federal forces that took the city. It has rested in the Savannah River ever since, damaged by dredging many years ago.

Recovery last fall of CSS Georgia casemate section (USACE)

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.

Federal and Georgia officials earlier this month signed the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) agreement. Recovery of the CSS Georgia will be the first major project in the deepening of the Savannah River. Its wreckage is close to downtown Savannah, just off Old Fort Jackson.

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.

Wicke said all conservation will be done at Texas A&M University and will take about two years to complete. Officials are working with the U.S. Navy, which owns the vessel's remains.

Details on when and where pieces of the CSS Georgia will be exhibited have not been determined.

The Georgia Historical Society will dedicate a CSS Georgia marker entitled "The 'Ladies' Gunboat" at Old Fort Jackson at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 12.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

'Tis as still as death': Family donates soldier's diary to Kennesaw Mountain park

(Courtesy of Kennesaw Mountain NBP)

Amanda Corman, park ranger and curator at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in suburban Atlanta, has learned you never know what treasure may emerge from someone's attic, basement or closet.

Last week, the great-great-granddaughter of an Ohio Civil War artilleryman donated a pocket-sized diary she had kept in a closet to protect it from harmful light.

While Corman hasn't had the opportunity yet to read much of the diary because of time constraints and the need to handle it as little as possible until it is preserved and its contents transcribed and digitized, she's excited about the new addition to the park's collection.

Personal accounts, including this one inscribed with pencil, help bring battle histories to life.

"They were people just like us," she said of the soldiers. "That makes the story richer."

Pvt. J.B. "Jerry" Creighton's diary covers parts of June and July 1864, right in the thick of the Atlanta Campaign. The first entry is dated June 29, two days after the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. While Corman does not yet know for sure whether it was written in Georgia, the dates match the unit's timeline in the area.

Battery A of the 1st Ohio Volunteer Light Artillery participated in the battle. "There is a strong possibility he was here," said Corman.

Debi Merchant, who coincidentally lives not far from the park in Marietta, Ga., made the donation on behalf of her father Jerry Creighton Barrington, who died Jan. 1, 2013.

"Daddy got the diary because he was named for Jeroboam," said Merchant. Some records show his name spelled as Jereboam.

Her father, who had thought about giving the journal to a museum, put it in her care about 10 years ago.

While Merchant kept the diary in the darkest recesses of a closet, the 15 or so pages of entries lost some of their readability over 150 years -- not an unusual occurrence. "It is very difficult to make out anything," she told the Picket.

Merchant hasn't read it in more than 20 years and cannot recall many specifics. So the upcoming transcription will help unlock Creighton's story to the public.

"It is in very, very good condition," said Corman. Preserving the work will take some time and money, whether it is done through the National Park Service or a contractor. She didn't have a timeline for the transcription.

Merchant said she recalls one reference in the diary, something to the effect of: "Father forgive, us. What we are doing is wrong. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ."

A photograph taken by the park of one interior page is dated July 1, 1864: "Tis as still as death this morning -- had another row last night one similar to the one of night before last, which was nothing but a waste of ammunition and a disturbance of peace."

It's not known whether the Ohio soldier kept other diaries lost over time.

Creighton didn't fit the profile of the typical young Civil War soldier. The native of Stark County, Ohio, was about 36 when the war broke out and he had apparently served in the Mexican-American War nearly 15 years before.

He fought with the 1st Ohio Light Artillery until he mustered out at the end of July 1865. He had one child, died in 1890 and is buried at Glendale Cemetery in Akron.

Battery A's engagements included Stones River, Tenn., Chickamauga, Ga., Chattanooga, Tenn., Dalton and Resaca, Georgia, Kennesaw, Peachtree Creek and Atlanta.

Rather than continuing on to the March to the Sea in late 1864, the battery was sent to tangle with Confederate Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood's Army of the Tennessee at Columbia, Spring Hill and Franklin, Tenn., said official Ohio records.

According to family history, Creighton may also have served in the Federal Navy during the Civil War and later helped develop a design for a railroad sleeping car.

Merchant said another ancestor, Charles Springer, fought for an Ohio unit and was killed at Pickett's Mill in May 1864, also during the Atlanta Campaign.

Depending on what preservation experts say, it's possible the diary could be exhibited one day at the Kennesaw battlefield, said Corman.

Documents and other diaries aren't currently available online, but researchers can contact the park to do research at its library.

Corman said she rarely sees such works join the park's collection.

"There is always something you never expect," she said. "Small tidbits can add more to our story."

Monday, October 27, 2014

'Stunning' coat worn by a USS Monitor sailor is conserved, will help tell famous ironclad's story

Sections of conserved coat. (Image courtesy of Mariners' Museum)
USS Monitor on James River in Virginia (U.S. Navy)

By now, they knew they were in serious trouble. Their vessel was rolling wildly in a terrible storm off Cape Hatteras, N.C. Leaks had sprung everywhere and the water pumps couldn't keep up.

The USS Monitor -- the famed ironclad that helped revolutionize naval warfare -- was doomed.

The battle to save the USS Monitor over, dozens of seamen rushed to make their way out of the boat's only available exit: The familiar cylindrical turret.

"People wrote of stripping off heavy clothing as they got off the ship," said David Krop, director of the USS Monitor Center at The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Va. "They were saying, 'I dont want to get pulled under in this outer clothing' and 'let's get out of here.'"

The USS Monitor, which had been under tow from Virginia to North Carolina, early on Dec. 31, 1862, slipped beneath the sea, its turret resting upside down on the Atlantic Ocean floor.

Sixteen men were lost, 47 were rescued and a stream of artifacts, including the clothing and shoes in the turret, over time became covered with sediment.

(Image courtesy of NOAA)

A pile of wool, stained in places, was found (above) inside when the turret was raised in 2002 for a long-term conservation process that continues today at the USS Monitor Center's lab. The 180 wool fragments were placed in frozen storage for four years.

Thinking at first it might be a blanket, staff members painstakingly worked on the pilot sack coat, ensuring it was stabilized and removing iron staining without taking out the color.

"It took many years to even know it was a coat," Krop recently told The Civil War Picket.

After years of conservation, USS Monitor Center and museum officials are excited that what turned out to be a double-breasted coat will go on display, likely next summer. The merino wool coat will again sport its hard rubber buttons found in the muck.

(Image courtesy of Mariners' Museum)

About 85 percent of the coat remains and though it can't be reassembled, visitors will be able to compare it to a more modern version and learn more about it through interpretive panels. "It is mind-blowing," said Krop.

The center does not know whether the civilian coat, fashioned by its wearer for U.S. Navy service, belonged to one of two crew members whose remains were found in the turret. One of the deceased sailor's was wearing two different types of shoes, a possible indicator of the mad rush to leave the USS Monitor.

The artifact will help further the museum's goal of bringing the human component to a story of the innovative ironclad that tangled with the Confederacy's CSS Virginia in nearby Hampton Roads in March 1862. The USS Monitor, while smaller, was more nimble than the CSS Virginia, and the two vessels fought to what many consider a draw.

Many museum visitors are interested in the USS Monitor's technology and innovations, including the turret and its eight steam engines. The largest engine also is being conserved in a large tank.

Pieces of coat during conservation process (Mariners' Museum)

But they also are curious about the vessel's crew. "When they see personal items, facial reconstructions or items with names," Krop said of visitors, "they stop dead in their tracks."

The director said the story of the coat encapsulates everything his staff does -- conserving about 1,600 artifacts while trying to add context to each item.

"That coat speaks to the struggle of people on the vessel trying to get off it," said Krop.

Matthew T. Eng of the Naval Historical Foundation wrote last month about a visit to the USS Monitor Center and his observations on the coat and its quality craftsmanship.

"The coat is absolutely stunning in person. The colors seem vibrant and alive, as if you just picked the coat out of the closet to wear. It is remarkable how together it looks. I have some clothes that look worse for wear than the Monitor coat," Eng wrote. "They have done a truly remarkable job keeping such a delicate artifact intact and well-preserved over a decade after it came out of the water. You can see every nuance and detail from the buttons."

The lab's work is aided by federal government funding (through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and contributions, including $20,000 put toward the coat conservation by the museum's Bronze Door Society.

Buttons that belong to the coat (Image courtesy of Mariners' Museum)

Officials want to keep actual and virtual visitors up on the results of such conservation efforts. Three webcams show ongoing conservation of the largest recovered pieces of the USS Monitor.

Tina Gutshall, a conservation assistant who has worked on the USS Monitor since 2002, has been operating the lab's social media accounts, since September 2012. Its Twitter feed is very active.

"We wanted to have something where we could keep throwing things out there to the public to try to reach as many people as we can. We want to share it."

Artifact images and information on the treatment process are particularly popular, with recent posts showing shoes, a spoon, the main engine throttle wheel, a ceramic dish and a sight cover for the turret Dahlgren artillery.

A website talking about work on the USS Monitor likened the shape of the sight cover to a piece of tandoori chicken.

Gutshall got a chuckle from that observation.

"It shows that (social media) is engaging people," she said.

COMING SOON: Q&A with Krop about the lab's ongoing work

Friday, October 24, 2014

French's Rock at Kennesaw battlefield

Troops under Confederate Maj. Gen. Samuel French, a native of New Jersey, occupied Pigeon Hill at Kennesaw and received Union artillery fire on June 27, 1864, before a major assault. I walked a bit of this area yesterday. I believe this is French's Rock on the Little Kennesaw Mountain trail.

The general wrote he and his staff took shelter behind the rock while they observed the beginning of enemy activity and an artillery exchange. "Presently and as if by magic there sprang from the earth a host of men and in one long waving line of blue, the infantry advanced and the battle of Kennesaw Mountain began." French's division checked the attack.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A descendant to acquire Medal of Honor?

The search for a relative to receive the Medal of Honor that Alonzo Cushing was awarded 150 years after his heroism at Gettysburg may have ended with some connections made in Fredonia, N.Y., on Saturday. Dr. Brian Cushing of Williamsville stood up and said he can trace his family history to the Cushing brothers, Alonzo and William. • Article

Monday, October 13, 2014

Camp Lawton website will feature 'artifact of the week' during 150th anniversary

3D of Union brass button
Georgia Southern University in Statesboro is updating a website that documents students’ archaeological work at the site of a Confederate military prison that was open for six weeks in autumn 1864.

The new features and Facebook posts with quotes from Union prisoners are timed to the 150th anniversary of Camp Lawton, which began operations about Oct. 10, 1864.

The website, which has a brief history of the camp and the Civil War prison experience, now has an “artifact of the week.” The first item, posted Monday, is a 3D Union brass coat button. "Several of these buttons have been recovered from the prisoners' encampment at Camp Lawton, and probably represent a trade item or form of currency in the camp," the page says.

(Courtesy GSU)
A descendant’s page includes information on individuals related to a Confederate guard and two Union soldiers. Nina Raeth, whose great-grandfather, an German immigrant, was held captive at Lawton, and Doug Carter, whose Georgia ancestor guarded the prisoners, have become fast friends in recent years.

GSU is seeking other descendants who might share their stories.

Lance Greene, assistant professor of anthropology, said the related Facebook posts about camp life will last through November 22, the last day of the prison’s existence. Greene said future website upgrades will feature more information on archaeology and artifact conservation, including a lab at GSU that includes water and alcohol baths, electrolysis and air abrasion.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Read up, then walk Civil War battlefields

There are more than 300 miles of trails to explore in the 24 national parks designated as significant battlegrounds of the Civil War, according to the National Park Service. “The war really did touch pretty much every corner of America,” said Mary Koik of the Civil War Trust, an organization that works to preserve the battlefields. “You have battles fought from Pennsylvania all the way out through New Mexico.” • Article

Read more here:

Read more here:

Monday, October 6, 2014

Museum opens at site of prison; visitors assume identity of real POW, learn fate

Exhibit hall at Magnolia Springs History Center (Ga. DNR)

Debbie Wallsmith’s favorite time period is South Africa during the Middle Ages, with a special interest in Stone Age technology in several African countries.
The past 15 years, however, have seen the trained archaeologist help protect and display cultural resources for Georgia’s state parks, with a special focus of late on Union prisoners held at a Confederate prison just north of Millen.

“I never expected that this would become my obsession,” Wallsmith says of her ongoing effort to develop a database of those prisoners – including their birthdate, hometown, military unit, where they were captured and their fate during and after captivity.

That searchable database of nearly 3,000 names is among the highlights at the new Magnolia Springs History Center, which formally opens at 2 p.m. Tuesday (Oct. 7) with a ceremony at Magnolia Springs State Park. The program includes speeches, a ribbon-cutting, refreshments and costumed rangers demonstrating Civil War medicine and camp life.

Guests will assume the identity of a Union prisoner

The museum, in a renovated building near the springs, will tell the story of Camp Lawton, a Confederate military prison built to handle the overflow at Andersonville prison in central Georgia. It held more than 10,000 Union soldiers for six weeks in the late autumn of 1864. 

Visitors will “check in” to assume the identity of an individual POW, learn more about the experience of being at Lawton and then find out that prisoner’s fate.

The venue also will explain the springs’ importance and the story of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the New Deal program that put millions of young men to work. They built park facilities around the country, including at Magnolia Springs.

Officials are excited about the museum’s potential to increase tourism in Jenkins County and teach visitors about the camp’s history and ongoing archaeology on the grounds of the state park and an adjoining federal hatchery.

“A lot of people from the region are really interested in learning more about the site, and a museum on site is a great way to fulfill that need,” said Lance Greene, an assistant professor of anthropology at Georgia Southern University. “I'm glad that it will be open before the 150th anniversary of the occupation of the camp. I think it will generate a lot of interest.”

Greene and his students have conducted extensive archaeological digs of the site, a virtual time capsule because it was relatively undisturbed after the Civil War. Prisoners were quickly evacuated in mid- to late November 1864, leaving a trove of personal artifacts.

Greene is grateful to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for providing space for the students to process the objects.

Visitors to the museum will be able to watch students when they are at work in an old kitchen that has been converted into the small lab. The items are then taken to the campus in Statesboro.

“There is a perception that, when an artifact comes out of the ground, not much else is done with it. The reality is that excavation is just the beginning. We have to wash and process the artifacts, catalog them and enter them into a database,” Greene tells the Picket. “We also spend a lot of time conserving artifacts; a lot of the material we recover from Camp Lawton is corroded metal. If these artifacts aren't treated quickly and in a professional manner, they can literally fall apart. Our new lab space at the park allows us to teach the public about all those things we do after excavations, in the lab, that are just as important as digging.”

Visitors on the self-guided tour also will see reproduction uniforms and a surgeon’s kit, a movie, a replica of a prisoner shelter, panels about the camp and a display of some of the recovered artifacts. They can vote, as the prisoners did, in the 1864 presidential election, choosing between President Abraham Lincoln and challenger George B. McClellan, a former general.

Debbie Wallsmith
The museum, which officials say has state-of-the-art security, also has a place for them to download a QR (quick response) code scanner. Visitors can then use smartphones to scan codes on various displays to learn more about a subject.

Dustin Fuller, site manager at the park, said there will be between 15 and 20 QR stations, with information on such topics as Sherman’s March and a Robert Knox Sneden, a Union soldier who produced important sketches and watercolors of Camp Lawton during his captivity.

Fuller is excited that the park can show visitors something more than a few remaining earthworks.

“For the longest time, Camp Lawton has literally and metaphorically been underground,” he says. “We have a pretty big story to tell. We will learn more.”

Museum visitors will get one of about 125 prisoner cards at a check-in station that features a desk and mannequin. They will be of Illinois soldiers because of the richness of detail and biographical information.

Wallsmith, an interpretive specialist with the DNR’s Historic Preservation Division, has used a variety of databases and resources to build out the Camp Lawton prisoner database.

Many of the men ended up back at Andersonville shortly after Lawton closed; others went to camps in Blackshear and Thomasville in south Georgia. Some died at Andersonville, others were exchanged at Vicksburg and a few ended up on the Sultana, which caught fire and sank in the Mississippi River shortly after the war ended, leaving hundreds of released prisoners held across the South dead.

Wallsmith began her research with a death register published as the Roll of Honor by the U.S. Army. It lists 748 POW deaths, with 415 names. Information was verified through state muster rolls, where available.

To find out the identities on information and survivors, Wallsmith used the National Park Service’s “Soldiers and Sailors Database.” But it has limited information on men who were transferred from Andersonville to Millen.

Exterior of the new history center (DNR)

She ran into discrepancies with different spellings of surnames and some handwriting was difficult to read.

Wallsmith also turned to Andersonville prisoner records and

The Andersonville records include “Departures” volumes with the headings of “Died, Escaped, Paroled, Exchanged, or Released,” as well as the date.

“Millen” is found written in the logs, and while not searchable, the records and the names can be checked on the database, which has an entire section for Andersonville, says Wallsmith.

Still, that leaves about 7,000 names of prisoners held at Lawton in which the database currently has no disposition. But Wallsmith cautions she has only gotten through the M’s in the Andersonville departure list.

Wallsmith has reviewed obituaries and read entries to learn about those who survived the war. “Interestingly, a lot of them went west, as far as Seattle, Washington.”

Boston Corbett, who killed Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, spent a few days at Camp Lawton after he was transferred by train from Andersonville.

Charles Plumleigh of the 15th Illinois Volunteer Infantry wrote about his capture at Kennesaw Mountain, Ga., and Charles Edward Bartholomew, 1st Connecticut Cavalry died, in Spokane, Wash., in 1936.

“I have been fascinated by how many survived and how many went on to be successful people,” Wallsmith says.

The Magnolia Springs History is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. The cost is $2 per person. Check in first at the park office. Parking at Magnolia Springs State Park is $5 per vehicle. The DNR is continuing to update the Camp Lawton database and is seeking the public’s help in gathering information on prisoners and guards. Please write to with information or questions.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Gettysburg park's prescribed burn aims to make fields look closer to 1863 condition

Looking northwest toward Neinstedt field. (Images: GNMP)

(Editors note: The fire was postponed because of moisture in grass and weather conditions, the park announced. It has been rescheduled for Oct. 30.)

A prescribed burn scheduled for next week at Gettysburg National Military Park will result in visitors being able to see a more historically accurate version of a 30-acre plot of farmland that hundreds of soldiers, as well as horses and artillery pieces, trampled during the pivotal, three-day battle.

The burn includes a large field that was owned by Conrad and Henry Neinstedt and produced wheat in summer 1863. Another portion was the site of George Weikert’s pasture.

“Native grasses will be allowed to come back,” Katie Lawhon, management assistant at the park, told the Picket on Thursday. “It is preserved as grasslands now, although many other areas in the park are crop fields through permits with more than a dozen local farmers.”

The first prescribed fire at Gettysburg was in October 2013, covering 13 acres of the Snyder farm. Officials say such burns reduce herbicide use. The controlled fire of the 30 acres northwest of the intersection of United States and Hancock avenues is currently set for Oct. 7 (Tuesday), weather permitting. (click map to enlarge)

The overall objectives are to maintain the conditions of the battlefield as experienced by the soldiers who fought here; perpetuate the open space character of the landscape; maintain wildlife habitat, control invasive exotic species; and reduce shrub and woody species components,” the park said in a press release.

By the time of the July 1863 battle, the wheat on the field owned by the Neinstedt’s was tall and rich, according to the NPS. The wheat fed their Pennsylvania families and they sold the rest as a cash crop. Weikert maintained an orchard and pasture.

Neinstedt field on left, Weikert orchard on the right

“Union skirmishers deployed over the Neinstedt’s land overnight of July 1, and by the end of July 2, the Neinstedt’s wheat crop was gone; trampled near to dust by hundreds of soldiers as well as horses and artillery pieces rushing to the front. Near the center of the field, Battery I, 5th United States Artillery had made a desperate stand against the 21st Mississippi Infantry, only to be overrun and captured until Union reinforcements arrived to re-take the guns. This scene of intense fighting on July 2, 1863, has been preserved as farmland ever since.”

Lawhon said the areas around nearby monuments, including along Hancock Avenue, will be mowed prior to ignition and sprinkled with water. A sprinkler line will be placed along the perimeter as another means of protection. If winds are too high or fields are too dry Tuesday, the prescribed fire will be rescheduled.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Savagery played out in Centralia

By 1864, the guerrilla war in Missouri had reached a level that people at the time and historians since have labeled “savage.” Indeed, it was the Confederate guerrillas whom Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price recruited, not his regular soldiers, who committed the worst atrocities during the invasion, including the infamous massacre of Union troops at Centralia. • Story