Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ambitious Tennessee project wrapping up

Years of searching across the state of Tennessee for Civil War artifacts is coming to a close this summer to end the commemoration of the war's 150th anniversary. "Folks are contributing bits and pieces to an overall bigger puzzle, filling in gaps about the Civil War that perhaps had been lost," Myers Brown, the archivist overseeing the project, said. • Article

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Donated gunboat model will be star of Sat. program at Louisiana's Port Hudson site

USS Essex (Marvin Steinback, Port Hudson SHS)

The USS Essex was a great big sister. Mess with me, and you’ll have to deal with her.

The Essex was converted in stages from a steam ferry to a fully armored Federal gunboat. Along the way, the crew saw action in the Fort Henry, Vicksburg, Port Hudson and Red River campaigns. The vessel took a beating, but it helped save the garrison in Baton Rouge, La., and it contributed to eventual victory at Port Hudson.

A 1:32 scale model of the gunboat was recently donated to Louisiana’s Port Hudson State Historic Site off U.S. 61 north of Baton Rouge.

“It is one of seven remote-controlled vessels that have a relationship to Port Hudson that I have built,” said Robert Seal, a park volunteer. “It is the largest, by far, and the most complicated.”

Using foam insulation and balsa wood, Seal, 69, crafted a vessel that is nearly 7 feet long and weighs about 30 pounds. “Everything is scratch built,” Seal told the Picket this week.

USS Essex in 1862 (Library of Congress)
(Martin Steinback, Port Hudson SHS)

Local artist Bill Toups has assisted with the USS Essex model, using a lathe to make 13 guns that comprise the business end of the ironclad.

The historic site and Seal at 11 a.m. Saturday will put on a program, “The Waterfront: Vicksburg, Port Hudson and the Fight for the Mississippi.” The event will be held at a pond that seasonally holds 1:32 models of ships that took part in Mississippi River and other campaigns. (The models are kept inside the rest of the year)

Seal, who researches their design and history, built them all, including a few in his personal collection. His entire fleet will be at Saturday’s program. The USS Essex and CSS Arkansas  -- which clashed in July 1862 -- will briefly sail across the water to help educate visitors.

The Confederacy put a lot of effort and manpower into defending the vital Mississippi River in 1861-1863.

“The whole purpose was to keep the Federals from going upriver at Port Hudson, while Vicksburg was to keep them from going downriver,” said Mike Fraering, an interpretive ranger at Port Hudson. The two forts were about 175 miles apart.

The Federal army and navy early in the war realized the importance of waterways and by controlling the Mississippi River, they could cut the Confederacy in half, disrupting commercial and military traffic and communication.

Annual re-enactment at Port Hudson (Robert and Pat Seal)

The USS Essex was heavily damaged by enemy gunfire at Fort Henry in February 1862. She was fitted with stronger armor and returned to service to take part in the Vicksburg campaign that summer. The Essex later hammered the CSS Arkansas and repelled an attack on Baton Rouge. The Arkansas was scuttled by its Rebel crew.

For a time, the USS Essex was the only Federal ironclad gunboat below Vicksburg, until July 1863.

“All the other gunboats on the southern end of the Mississippi were wooden or seagoing gunboats,” said Fraering. “The Essex had guard duty and protected wooden gunboats from gunfire. ‘Here comes the Essex to the rescue.'”

The Essex took part in the 1863 siege against Port Hudson and later served in the Red River.

The garrison at Port Hudson surrendered on July 9, 1863, five days after Vicksburg fell to the Union. Exhausted, short of supplies and knowing the fall of Vicksburg left them in a hopeless situation, the Confederates laid down their weapons after 48 days – the longest true siege on U.S. soil.

But it did not come without a few tries and heavy casualties among Federal troops and sailors over several months.

In March 1863, Union Adm. David Farragut defied Port Hudson, an earthen fort built on the east bank of the river.

“What we have on the pond is an annual static fleet,” said Seal. “They are anchored in position that represented the movement of Farragut as he attempted the battery.”

The 10 models on the pond include the Kineo, Genesee, Albatross, Monongahela, Richmond and Hartford. Seal acknowledges those models are not built with great detail, given visitors see them from about 50 feet away.

Port Hudson withstood the assault, and several of Farragut’s vessels were damaged. The USS Essex – which was about 200 feet long and had a crew of 250 -- helped rescue the crew of the sinking USS Mississippi.

The post was attacked two months later by a large Union ground force, among them soldiers of the Louisiana Native Guard, the first significant use of African-American troops during the war.

They earned respect of generals and white comrades, and black soldiers would see more action elsewhere in the months ahead.

“They were repulsed. (But) they showed they were capable,” said Fraering. “Everyone else got repulsed that day.”

The siege would continue for another six weeks.

Models are in pond February into June each year (Marvin Steinback)

Seal, an LSU retiree, said he wants to help schoolchildren learn what happened in Louisiana during the Civil War. He built a diorama of the Native Guard assault and has helped with other exhibits.

He and Fraering decided the Port Hudson story needed more of the naval aspect. “We like our boats,” Seal quipped about Louisianans.

Given the fact that he puts many of them in the water and transports and handles them, Seal says he cannot build his models to detail that includes individual rivets.

“(The Essex) is not sitting like a pretty girl. They break and if I put all the rigging and stuff on, you would have a difficult time launching them.”

Still, he wants them to be of high quality and reflect his research and period photographs.

CSS Arkansas model (Robert and Pat Seal)

Here’s a description of a radio-controlled models Seal will bring Saturday. They all likely will be placed in the water during an annual re-enactment on March 28-29.

-- CSS Arkansas: After the ironclad was intentionally sunk, its crew rushed to Port Hudson to help fortify its defenses.

-- CSS Manassas: Converted vessel fitted with iron plating, the Manassas did not see direct action at Port Hudson.

- - USS Barataria: The converted sternwheeler was lost in April 1863 during Louisiana operations.

CSS Missouri (Robert and Pat Seal)

-- CSS Missouri: Confederate ironclad paddle steam deployed in the Red River.

-- USS Carondelet: The City-class ironclad was “very effective in bombardment” and was used against Vicksburg and in the Red River Expedition.

Seal occasionally lets children use the radio controls to move the models.

“It would be good for people to learn something they didn’t know about the era, ships, crew and the different actions,” he said. “It lights me up on school days. We’ll have a couple hundred kids. There might be in a class of 30 with one or two kids that really connect with the program.”

Admission to the site and Saturday’s event is $4 per person and free for children 12 and under and those 62 and older. For more information, call (888) 677-3400 toll free or (225) 654-3775.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Journal of POW Sgt. John C. Ely: Watching desperate comrades switch sides

Union prisoners galvanizing at Florence Stockade (Library of Congress)

The journal of Sgt. John Clark Ely of Company C, 115th Ohio Infantry, mentions comrades at Camp Sumter “entering in the CS service.”

Stephanie Steinhorst of Andersonville National Historic Site said 192 prisoners took the oath of the allegiance to the Confederacy in January. Another 138 “galvanized” in March.

It’s well known that several thousand Confederates joined the Union army. The National Park Service has disputed the myth that Federal prisoners did not switch sides, too.

“During the conflict, both Union and Confederate forces turned to the imprisoned enemy as a potential recruitment pool, offering enlistment as an escape from the hardships of captivity.”

Some desperate Union soldiers held at Andersonville, Camp Lawton, Ga., and Florence, S.C., toward the end of the war became “Galvanized Yankees” to flee the horrors of prison life.

Did they see combat?

The timing is so late that they either hang to the rear of things or attempt it as means to escape,” Steinhorst told the Picket. “There is a possibility that they did, but (there's) not a solid story about it. Union men who galvanized at earlier parts of the war did, with a number of them being caught and imprisoned and some dying in United States prisons.”

Andersonville’s “A Story in Stone” video series tells the story of Joel Eaton, an Illinois soldier captured in Mississippi in 1864. In February 1865, he went to the Camp Sumter hospital with chronic diarrhea.

Eaton, knowing that most prisoners died at the prison hospital, decided to enlist with the CSA’s 10th Tennessee Infantry on Feb. 28, 1865. He was then treated as a Confederate soldier at an army hospital in Macon, Ga., but died March 17, 1865.

“He served and suffered as a United States soldier but died as a Confederate. His decision to try and save his own life failed and had permanent consequences,” the video states.

His survivors did not receive a pension because of his switching sides and he was buried in a Macon cemetery, with other Confederates.

Those who “galvanized” generally were treated with contempt by former comrades after the war.

John Clark Ely did not switch sides. His journal entries, which the Picket is publishing once a week, are courtesy of Andersonville National Historic Site. Feb. 24, 1865, marked the one-year anniversary of the first prisoners arriving at Camp Sumter.

Feb. 25, 1865 (Saturday)
Very cloudy, rain in night, showery all day, heavy thunder and some lightning. Rain very heavy p.m. Rumors still of exchange and that Charlestown has been evacuated, a severe blow to the Johnnys I think.

Feb. 26, 1865 (Sunday)
Cleared up this morning.

Feb. 27, 1865 (Monday)
Beautiful day, nothing new yesterday.  I felt badly such pain in back and hips, quite unwell all day.

Feb. 28, 1865 (Tuesday)
Last day of winter, rain in night and still this a.m. Some excitement in camp, some entering in the C S service, good many. Received note from Lt. (), seems to feel very hopefull. C S papers give news of the fall of the city of Charleston and Columbia So. Carolina and of Sherman’s rapid movement, capturing large numbers of cars and provisions. They admit a great loss to them, tis also rumored that Lee has evacuated Richmond and Petersburgh. May this prove true is my prayer for his army will soon be like herds completely broken up and used up. Sherman is winning himself a () place in the hearts of the American people. Feeling badly all day.

March 1, 1865 (Wednesday)
Heavy rain in night and very cloudy this morning and all day.  Wrote note to Eadie.

March 2, 1865 (Thursday)
Still cloudy, rainy and misty a.m., p.m. cleared up.  Rumors of exchange continue, late p.m. 100 new prisoners brought in from So. Car. from Sherman, give good account of old Billy.

March 3, 1865 (Friday).
Feeling some better this morning, foggy this a.m.

Monday, February 23, 2015

And the 1865 Person of the Year is ....

Humanitarian and relief organizer Clara Barton was overwhelmingly voted Person of the Year at this past weekend’s symposium at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.

The audience made its selection at the final such program during the Civil War sesquicentennial.

Biographer Elizabeth Brown Pryor made the case for Barton, saying she set about creating a system for identifying killed and missing soldiers, the results must evident at Andersonville. Barton campaigned for black suffrage, better treatment of prisoners and devised the first aid kit, Pryor said.

Barton earned the title “Angel of the Battlefield” because of her efforts to assist wounded Union soldiers during the Civil War. She later became the founder and first president of the American Red Cross.

Other nominees were Jefferson Davis, the Freedmen, Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln.

The Museum of the Confederacy and the American Civil War Museum are co-sponsors of the event.

Past Person of the Year selections are Abraham Lincoln (1861), Robert E. Lee (1862), and Ulysses S. Grant (1863) and William T. Sherman (1864).

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Learn how to give programs on CW medicine

The National Museum of Civil War Medicine will host its annual Civil War Medicine Living Historians Workshop on March 14 in Frederick, Md. The workshop is an all-day symposium featuring some of the skills, knowledge and resources necessary to provide quality living history programs to the public. • Details

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Inside the CSS Georgia's armor: Without preferred rolled plate, railroad iron had to do

(USACE, Savannah District)

I’ve researched and written about the Confederacy’s CSS Georgia for years, noting that the vessel had armor made of railroad iron. But I never really pictured what the outer layer of its casemates might have looked like – until recently.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Savannah office, in charge of removing the wreckage in the Savannah River as part of a massive harbor deepening project, released a photograph of a cross section of one of the three casemate chunks remaining on the river bottom.

There they are. Five sliced pieces of T-shaped railroad track wedged in an iron box, corrosion and river sediment filling the gaps. Wow.

It seems almost everything about the CSS Georgia -- which lacked the locomotion to fight the enemy in open water, and instead became a floating battery defending the city – is currently up for study: Exactly how long was the ironclad? How did its propulsion system work? How was the casemate, which housed the Georgia’s guns, put together?

The CSS Georgia was believed to have about 24 inches of pine and oak beneath her iron cladding. Historians and archaeologists are eager to see how all of that was held together. They don’t have blueprints from which to work.


Alvin N. Miller’s machine and shipbuilding business in Savannah produced the “one-off” CSS Georgia in 1862. Estimates on the vessel's length range from 150 to 250 feet.

Bob Holcombe, a naval historian living in Columbus, Ga., said the builders relied on railroad iron for armor because that’s what was available.

Most Confederate ironclads were armored with rolled plate.

“Rolled plate was considered stronger than railroad iron. Railroad iron was used as an expedient,” Holcombe told the Picket. “It was readily available and it did not have to go through the process of being heated and rolled flat; indeed, there were only a couple of rolling mills in the Confederacy capable of rolling 2-inch plate: Tredegar in Richmond and Schofield & Markham in Atlanta.”

What does that mean in battle?

The CSS Georgia, with its casemates at a nearly 45-degree pitch, likely would have stood up to smaller artillery pieces. But, the 11-inch 15-inch Dahlgren might be another matter.

Commenters on the Legacy of the USS Monitor Facebook page have been discussing the photograph of the railroad iron, asserting that the CSS Georgia would have been vulnerable to the Passaic class of Union monitors.

One cites the testing by Texas A&M University on a section of casemate brought up from the CSS Georgia in late 2013. An 8-inch section of rail featured “relatively large impurity inclusions,” an indication of some weakness in the iron.

Holcombe said the Arkansas, Manassas and Louisiana were among the Confederate ironclads fitted with railroad iron armor.

“After the (CSS) Atlanta was pounded by the monitors off Savannah the Confederate States Navy started adding additional plate, which seems to have better resisted the 15-inch guns.”

Cross-section of CSS Georgia rail (USACE)

While some material from the CSS Georgia was recovered after the war, four artillery pieces, parts of the propeller and propulsion system, a boiler and three casemates remain in the swift, dark waters, according to a CNN article. One of the casemates is huge: 68 feet by 24 feet.

Divers have begun preliminary work and recovery; the larger pieces are expected to be brought up in the spring and summer.

The Corps of Engineers said previous recovery efforts, the absence of the lower hull and extensive damage from dredging many years ago will hinder their effort to give a full picture of the CSS Georgia’s operations, which ended in December 1864 when her crew scuttled her as Federal forces rushed to the city.

Still, archaeologists and others want to glean as much as they can during and after the $15 million recovery.

“A detailed examination of the surviving elements of the casemate might support the hypothesis that it was designed to accommodate standard lengths of available iron,” the Corps says on its new website on the CSS Georgia. “Documentation of the rails … could provide evidence that would identify different types of rail used and provide insight into the companies that supplied that material.”

The Corps is not sure all of the casemate can be brought up intact, given most of the wood that held it the vessel is long gone. The wreck site includes disjointed pieces of railroad near the casemates.

Holcombe, who has studied the CSS Georgia and followed developments, said the reason for vessel’s lack of motive power “is the $64,000 question and one I don't think can be fully answered until the machinery comes up and, hopefully, some sections of the hull.

“My gut feeling is that it has more to do with machinery issues and/or hull design than weight of armor, but until everything comes up and is examined it's just a guess.”

Wreck site in the Savannah River (USACE)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Journal of POW Sgt. John Clark Ely: 'Scalloway' steals his clothing, food rations

Sgt. John Clark Ely of Company C, 115th Ohio Infantry, was captured in Tennessee in late 1864. Following his transfer from Confederate prison camps in Mississippi and Alabama, Ely was imprisoned at infamous Camp Sumter in Georgia. His journal entries are courtesy of Andersonville National Historic Site. (By "scalloway," Ely probably meant "scalawag.")

Feb. 18, 1865 (Saturday)
Beautiful morning and day. P.M. some 800 prisoners came in, were the sick left at Meridian, captured of Hood.

Feb. 19, 1865 (Sunday)
Slight frost, fine morning, some rumors of exchange. 9th Division drew cooked rations again.

Feb. 20, 1865 (Monday)
Fine day.

Feb. 21, 1865 (Tuesday)
Lowery in morning, pleasant p.m. Wrote note to Lt. Eadie.

Feb. 22, 1865 (Wednesday)
Washington birthday. How different from where I was a year ago, some scalloway opened our tent at bottom and stole from me one shirt, one pair drawers, one () and haversack with 4 days rations meal.

Feb. 23, 1865 (Thursday)
Slight shower in night, many rumors of exchange in rebel papers yesterday. Drew more cooking vessels p.m. division sergeants sent communication to Capt. Wirtz relative to changing quarters, refused.

Feb. 24, 1865 (Friday)
Rainy night, showery day with some thunder.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ohio site would mark Morgan's Raid

Officials hoping to boost tourism in an eastern Ohio county are seeking a U.S. National Park Service grant to help create a park commemorating a raid by Confederate Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan. Officials hope for support from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program. • Article

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Fort Pulaski remembering 'Immortal 600'

Fort Pulaski National Monument near Savannah, Ga., is hosting a living history Feb. 28-March 1 event focused on the “Immortal 600,” a group of prisoners incarcerated at the fort during the fall and winter of 1864-65. They were Confederate officers who were captured at various battles during the war. They were held under an order of “retaliation,” a harsh response to the conditions Union prisoners experienced during the conflict. Thirteen men died. “The Immortal 600 became famous throughout the South for their adherence to principle and for refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance under extremely adverse circumstances,” the park states. • Details

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Journal of POW Sgt. John Clark Ely: "Johnnys are getting very much alarmed"

Thomas O'Dea drawing of cooking rations (ANHS)

In February 1865, one year after it began operations, Camp Sumter, Ga., had about 5,100 prisoners, well below its high the summer before. Halfway through February, though, about 700 prisoners are moved to the stockade from Meridian, Ms. 
Sgt. John Clark Ely of Company C, 115th Ohio Infantry, captured in Tennessee, by then had been at the camp for about three weeks, following his transfer from Confederate prison camps in Mississippi and Alabama. His journal entries are courtesy of Andersonville National Historic Site.

Feb. 11, 1865 (Saturday)
Fine morning and day, white frost, seems like April at home. J.S. Cook went out on parole work at his trade. Some reb came in and preached. Johnnys commenced putting up sheds.

Feb. 12, 1865 (Sunday)
Again a fine day, news that Sherman has taken Branchville near Charleston, may it be true.  Feel much depressed in feeling today, anxiety of home weighs heavy.

Feb. 13, 1865 (Monday)
Pleasant, cool East wind. Johnnys are getting very much alarmed on our account, fearful that we may break out, took out the wood squad and searched them before letting them go for wood.  Sent in the men from the bakery and took some one armed men. Brought in raw rations and very small cooking utensils.

Feb. 14, 1865 (Tuesday)
Rainy morning, cold rain all day and such rations for prisoners and so abundant.

Feb. 15, 1865 (Wednesday)
Rainy all night, cloudy and misty this morning, cleared up a.m., some rumors.

Feb. 16, 1865 (Thursday)
Fine morning and day. Many rumors in camp.

Feb. 17, 1865 (Friday)
Beautiful day, very high wind, sand blew very bad. Some prisoners brought in from Macon, they being exchange rumors big.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Big push to digitize photos in archives

Digital archivist Duane Rodel is painstakingly scanning the Wisconsin Veterans Museum's collection of more than 1,700 Civil War era images, and the image of Old Abe, the bald eagle mascot of the 8th Wisconsin, is his favorite. With interest in the Civil War boosted by 150th anniversary observances, museum staff members have seen a surge in requests for Civil War era photos and documents. "We're moving into the Google Age, and people wonder why (the collection) isn't online," said Andrew Baraniak, the museum's processing archivist. • Article

Friday, February 6, 2015

Michigan exhibit: They fought for liberty, opportunity -- and brought back an oddity

Children can have a hand at building a bridge (Michigan Historical Center)

President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address provides the framework for an exhibit that details Michigan’s contribution during the second half of the Civil War and what many of the veterans did upon returning home.

Themes from the address are used throughout “Conceived in Liberty” at the Michigan Historical Center in downtown Lansing.

“It set the tone for both the end of the war, this time when Native Americans and blacks are allowed to fight in the war, and this period of Reconstruction of the South after the war,” center director Sandra Clark told the Picket this week. “It asks what does liberty mean and what does it mean in achieving it for everyone?”

One area focuses on Company K of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters. The company was comprised of Native Americans who served with valor in the Virginia campaigns. (The Picket will be doing a separate story on Company K soon and will include pertinent photos then.)

While “Conceived in Liberty” has a good bit of information on the struggle for civil rights, it includes a wide range of items about the entire Michigan experience, and includes a couple of oddities. Clark provided an overview of a few of the highlights of the exhibit, which continues through Sept. 27.

(Photos courtesy of Michigan Historical Center)

Michigan made a significant contribution to Union cavalry. Its most famous horseman? George Armstrong Custer. James H. Kidd of the 6th Cavalry served with Custer during part of the conflict, and Kidd’s saddle is one of the exhibit’s focal points. “Little girls walk in and see saddle and think about horses and they are interested,” said Clark. But cavalry duty wasn’t a piece of cake. “They rode hard and slept on the cold ground.”

Capt. McCarter drew sketches for cannon mounts

They saw no glory in battle but make no mistake: The First Michigan Engineers and Mechanics made a vital contribution to the war effort in Kentucky and Tennessee.

“It was fascinating how quickly they could move, build a sawmill and build pontoon boats, whatever,” said Clark, referencing a book about the unit, “My Brave Mechanics.”

The engineers constructed the Elk River bridge in south-central Tennessee and built block houses and other structures to keep the army and supplies moving.

Exhibit artifacts include a diary, tools, instruments and sketches. “We have some pretty amazing photographs of some of their work at the time.”

The unit was pretty good at destroying stuff, too. They crippled Confederate infrastructure during Sherman’s March to the Sea and Georgia.

Talk about an attention-getter. “Conceived in Liberty” includes a copy of a newspaper printed on wallpaper at the end of the siege on Vicksburg, Ms., which ended in a significant loss for the Confederacy.

“When they see wallpaper on the back, it stops them and makes them curious about this,” said Clark, who wants people to see how tough the siege was on Southern civilians. “The town was without any kind of supplies by the time it fell.”

It’s not known whether the editor of the Daily Citizen peeled wallpaper from homes. More likely there were stocks somewhere in town. On July 2, the newspaper made a snide remark about Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant’s plans to have dinner in Vicksburg on July 4. Grant first had to catch the rabbit, an article said.

Once the city fell, mischievous Union soldiers reprinted that final edition with an updated article to show that Grant, in fact, had caught the rabbit. This copy was brought back by a Michigan soldier, said Clark.

The exhibit includes a coat worn by a sailor who served on a Union gunboat during the campaign against Vicksburg, a Rebel strong point on the Mississippi River.

Luther Baker helped in the successful hunt for Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth and received a handsome reward for his contribution. After the war, the native New Yorker moved to Michigan and eventually lived in Lansing.

The exhibit includes a case Baker carried during the war and a cabinet card showing him with his old war horse, Buckskin. The text of a card details the exploits of the horse, from his point of view.

After Buckskin died, his remains were displayed. His whereabouts are unknown today, says the Detroit Free Press.

African-American men could not become Federal soldiers until after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

The 102nd U.S. Colored Troops was organized first as the 1st Michigan Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The unit was sent to South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, where it participated in smaller skirmishes and picket and guard duty.

Clark told radio station WKAR that a Detroit newspaper urged black men to join the Michigan unit rather the famous 54th Massachusetts. The exhibit provides examples of men who joined both units.

The exhibit includes a  tobacco pouch belonging to abolitionist and former slave Sojourner Truth.

The men of the First Michigan Engineers were among those who came home and got into the furniture-making business.

“They upped their game,” said Clark. “Grand Rapids becomes the furniture capital of the world.” 

The exhibit includes this bed frame made by a soldier.

(Dr Pepper Snapple Group)

The story of Vernors, a Michigan soft-drink staple, adds a little extra fizz to “Conceived in Liberty.”

James Vernor, who served in the 4th Michigan Cavalry, was a Detroit pharmacist who experimented with flavored waters.

According to legend, Vernor stored a secret mixture containing ginger in an oak keg before he shipped off to serve as a hospital steward. Upon his return, he found the ginger concoction tasted pretty darned good. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

'Bells across the land': April 9 ringing will mark 150th anniversary of war's end

(NPS photo)

Communities are being asked to take part in a nationwide bell-ringing in April that will mark the 150th anniversary of the symbolic end of the Civil War.

The National Park Service and Appomattox Court House National Historical Park in Virginia are inviting churches, temples, schools, city halls and other public institutions to take part in the commemoration at precisely 3:15 p.m. on April 9. Bells will ring for four minutes, each ring to mark one year of the war.

“We ask participants to ring bells across the nation as a gesture to mark the end of the bloody conflict in which more than 750,000 Americans perished,” the park service said in a press release this week. “Some communities may ring their bells in celebration of freedom or a restored Union, others as an expression of mourning and a moment of silence for the fallen. Sites may ring bells to mark the beginning of reconciliation and reconstruction, or as the next step in the continuing struggle for civil rights.”

The bells will ring first at 3 p.m. at Appomattox, to coincide with the historic meeting between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the McLean House in the small village in southwestern Virginia.

While Lee surrendered his army in Virgnia, fighting continued elsewhere across the South for more than a month, culminating with the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Georgia.

Officials are encouraging those who take part to share how they observed it at #BellsAcrosstheLand2015.

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park and its friends group have many other sesquicentennial events scheduled for April 8 through April 12. See the schedule here. The park is looking for volunteers to assist in programming.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Journal of Sgt. John Clark Ely

Sgt. John Clark Ely of Company C, 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, was a prisoner at the Confederacy's Camp Sumter in middle Georgia. Journal entries are courtesy of Andersonville National Historic Site.

Sgt. Ely
Feb. 4, 1865 (Saturday)
Rained hard in night, rainy this morning, cleared up a.m. very fine p.m. drew soap, boys had big time washing.

Feb. 5, 1865 (Sunday)
Cloudy morning, hounds were out all day yesterday and in night, usual prison life, many rumors of Lee in camp today, that he recommends laying down arms.

Feb. 6, 1865 (Monday)
Rain in night and misty rain this morning and through day. 26 new men in today.

Feb. 7, 1865 (Tuesday)
Rain through night and this morning, felt quite sick in night and this morning.

Feb. 8, 1865 (Wednesday)
Fine morning, cleared off in night. Many rumors of an exchange again, hope it may prove true.

Feb. 9, 1865 (Thursday)
Cold morning with wind. Rebs got scared yesterday, took all the axes out of camp, put on an extra guard and planted a battery East of camp. Do not know whether they are afraid of out or inside, the commissioners returned from their visit to Washington, old Abe’s reply: lay down arms before negotiations.

Feb. 10, 1865 (Friday)
Beautiful morning, white frost. Many rumors in camp, but very little news.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Return to Utoy Creek: Walking little-known sites of the Atlanta Campaign

Remnants of Federal trenches

Surprisingly, our May 2011 post on the Battle of Utoy Creek during the Atlanta Campaign is among the most-read articles on the Picket. Few people know about this failed Union push against troops defending a vital railroad.

Two chums and I visited three Utoy-related sites over the weekend and one near East Point. With the exception of a few historic markers along busy roads, a visitor won’t glean much battle history and context.

From late July to late August 1864, Federal troops made several thrusts toward the vital Rebel rail line in East Point, just south of Atlanta. Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood’s troops were spent by this time, having suffered significant losses and initiative at Peachtree Creek, Ezra Church and Atlanta. But Atlanta’s inner fortifications were too strong to take head on.

Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman had failed to get around Hood’s left flank at Ezra Church. He wanted to extend his right flank to hit the railroad.

He transferred Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield’ s Army of the Ohio from his left to his right flank and sent him to the north bank of Utoy Creek, according to the National Park Service battle summary.

Our first stop, at Beecher-Hampton Nature Preserve, covered ground where Schofield’s troops dug in and built trenches and other fortifications to prepare for an assault. Of course, the woods look far different at the end of January compared to early August. I'm not sure whether much of the park was then farms or cleared land.

The trenches, which have been hunted out for relics, continue toward Westview Cemetery. 

Our walk reminded us of the terrain’s hilly features and we could appreciate the Federals’ position, on the top of a ridge with a yawning ravine below that attackers would not have wanted to cover.

The regrouping of Federal troops in this area allowed Confederates to build up their defenses along what is now Cascade Road in southwest Atlanta. The Union had a nearly 3-to-1 numeric superiority.

“The delay allowed the Rebels to strengthen their defenses with abatis, which slowed the Union attack when it restarted on the morning of the 6th. The Federals were repulsed with heavy losses by Bate’s Division and failed in an attempt to break the railroad,” according to the NPS.

On Aug. 7, the Union troops moved back toward the Confederate main line and entrenched. Here they remained until late in the month. Sporadic fighting occurred in the area for a couple more weeks. 

Historians to this day debate whether the Battle of Utoy Creek was a skirmish or a serious setback for Sherman during his eventually successful effort to capture Atlanta. 

Mention of fortifications (click to enlarge)

Our second -- albeit brief -- stop was gorgeous Cascade Springs Nature Preserve (above), which features the springs, South Utoy Creek and rolling hills and trails. The park was in the thick of the Utoy Creek fighting.

Unfortunately, we had no time to climb up to the high ground to see a few remaining Confederate defenses, which one of our party has seen. That’ll have to wait until next time.

Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails later this year will be installing an interpretive marker at the beginning of the walking trail at Cascade Springs.

Next, we drove about a mile and a half east to Utoy Cemetery, which has the grave of Atlanta’s first physician, Joshua Gilbert. Atlanta's oldest cemetery contains the remains of at least two Revolutionary War soldiers and a War of 1812 veteran.

Confederates established a hospital at Utoy Church (also known as Utoy Baptist and Utoy Primitive Baptist) behind the battlefield. Col. James S. Boynton of the 30th Georgia was wounded and brought to Utoy Church for medical care. He later became a politician and briefly served as Georgia governor.

The cemetery lies next to the church.

About 250-300 people, possibly including slaves and Native Americans, are buried here. There are a couple dozen graves for fallen Confederates, most of them unknown.

The church, which operates under a newer name, and cemetery are near the intersection of Venetian and Cahaba drives.

Finally, we drove south to East Point and Mount Olive Baptist Church on Washington Road. A dozen headstones (above) lie near the road, set off from other graves.

“War in Our Backyards,” an interactive produced last year by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Atlanta History Center, provides this description:

“Graves of 12 unknown Confederate soldiers are buried here. Local legend has it they were in a squad that was helping guard the East Point railroad, and were having breakfast when they were surprised and killed by Union cavalry.”