Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How they started over at war's end

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park invites the public to attend a 2-hour car caravan tour on Saturday, April 18 , exploring the challenges faced by soldiers, civilians, and former enslaved people at the end of the Civil War. • Details

Friday, March 27, 2015

Grant hometown marks 'Peace in Union'

By April 1865, the nation’s bloodiest war had been headline news for four appalling years, but in Galena, Ill., people had reason to hope, and the reason was downright personal: One of their own was in command of the Union Armies — Ulysses S. Grant, Galena’s hometown general — and out in Virginia, he was pressing the Rebels hard. Starting April 9, this small town will honor Grant’s victory with 11 days of special events, and visitors are invited to join in. • Article

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Journal of POW Sgt. John Clark Ely: Tired, hungry -- and his 'brightest day'

Train carrying Ely passed through Montgomery, Ala. (Library of Congress)

Once out of Andersonville prison, Sgt. John Clark Ely of the 115th Ohio Infantry put a little more heft and color into his journal, adding descriptions of scenery as he and his comrades headed west through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. They were excited about their impending freedom at a parole camp. They would remain under Confederate guard until that occurred. Entries are courtesy of Andersonville National Historic Site.

March 25, 1865 (Saturday)
Left Columbus, Georgia, for Montgomery, Alabama, at 9 a.m., country looks like it did when we came through two months ago, though saw fields of corn planted and winter grain, looks green like spring.  Arrived at Montgomery at 8 p.m. went from cars to boat for Selma.  All along the road today wore many flowers in bloom such as peach, cherry, plumb, crab-apple, honey-suckle, wood-bine, June berry, soft maple, dogwood and many little ones.  We arrived at Selma at 9 a.m. on boat Cherokee.

March 26, 1865 (Sunday)
Took us in a small stockade just out of town a little, quite a cavalry force came in p.m.  There is some very fine bottom land between Montgomery and Selma at Montgomery is some force of Johnnys camping there looking for a yankee raid. Had big time lousing company all day, cooked but little.

March 27, 1865 (Monday)
Left Selma and got again to Demapolis near noon, it is a very fine rich farming country all the way oak, hickory, elm and birch timber between Fansworth and Macon is very fine with lime understratus, corn up fine in several places.  Moss on the timber a great deal, country rather flat but it is very rich, went down Tombigbee again on the boat Marringo to McDowells Landing, took cars and for a wonder we were put in passenger cars, one car run the rear track before we had gone very far.  Spent some time getting same back on track.  How the Johnnys did pile off, arrived at Meridian 8 p.m., went again to the old stocks to stay.  Hope it may be the last night in rebel ()

March 28, 1865 (Tuesday)
Left early for Jackson, Meridian looks very much as when we left January 19th for Andersonville, Ga.  Distance from Meridian Jackson 90 miles, arrived at Jackson about 5 p.m., feeling pretty well, went out of town and camped, this place has been much knocked to pieces, the route from Meridian mostly woody, low land. Lake Stations a little place, I did not see a good plantation till we got within 5 miles of Jackson.

March 29, 1865 (Wednesday)
Commenced raining early and rained all day. Broke camp and marched to Clinton, an awful day.  Had to wade many streams from knee to waist deep and of the march today, 1/3 has been wading water.  Maj. Tracy and I went up to a Mr. Johnsons and go r supper and stayed all night.  Had a good supper and got our clothes dry, gave the lady my fryer for what we had twas to us good.

March 30, 1865 (Thursday)
Started out quite early, wind blew cool from West, no rain.  There is some very fine rich country between Clinton and Edwards Station and before the war, must have been very rich in agriculture, the buildings now destroyed show evidences of wealth no often seen in northern states.  The timber is mostly oak with some elm and hickory, soil clay loam mixed with sand, should think the water scarce in summer and not at anytime fit for house purposes, use cisterns everywhere here for their water for drinking and we () till finally we came to Edward station, 33 miles from Jackson and we marched all over the country out of the way and we were all very tired, sore and hungry.  One man died of exhaustion by the way.

March 31, 1865 (Friday).
Fine morning, started out and arrived at Blk River bridge at about 9 a.m. the place we have looked for now have found.  The country after leaving Edward Station is like river bottom land, very rich and still high enough not to be over flowed by high water.  I am very sore, also Tracy and Way.  Distance from Jackson to Blk River bridge 32 miles, from bridge to Vicksburg 13 miles, at the bridge we were counted and names called, a singular coincidence that men of Jacksons division, Rosses brigade who captured us were the guard delivering us over to our own men again.  Crossed river, took cars, went to parole camp 4 miles East of Vicksburgh, found Lt. Eadie, Capt. Lowry and all the boys of Co. C.  Oh this is the brightest day of my life long to be remembered.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Looking at history -- through whiskers

You know the saying: What’s old is new again. Here’s one for you: Civil War facial hair. It’s what’s hot in 2015. The Valentine’s new show “Beard Wars” in Richmond, Va., re-creates 23 famous beards from Union and Confederate generals in the ultimate face-off salute to facial hair. • Article

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sultana disaster: New museum, events, documentary to mark 150th anniversary

Overloaded Sultana awaits its destiny (Library of Congress)

The campaign to keep alive the story of the largest maritime disaster in U.S. history has come to fruition, with the upcoming opening of a Sultana museum, a 150th anniversary weekend in an Arkansas river city and the private screening of a documentary backed by actor Sean Astin, best known for the “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy.

“The Sultana is beginning to receive her acknowledgement as the great tragedy to end the Civil War,” said Louis Intres, an adjunct history instructor at Arkansas State University.

The steamboat, traveling on the Mississippi River, exploded and caught fire early on the morning of April 27, 1865, at war’s end. It claimed about 1,800 lives. Most of the victims were freed Union prisoners headed north, believing they were going home.

The incident received little publicity because Americans were weary of the Civil War and still mourning President Abraham Lincoln, assassinated only two weeks before.

Intres and others expect that anniversary events in Marion, Ark., and nearby Memphis, Tenn., planned for late April will bring folks from around the region and country to check out the museum, hear lectures, attend a wreath-laying ceremony and take a bus tour and a “riverboat cruise into history.”

Gene Salecker with Sultana model (Courtesy of Mark Randall)

On Saturday, April 25, passengers will board a vessel in Memphis, and travel on the Mississippi River to the site of the disaster and the wreckage, which lies beneath a cultivated field on the Arkansas side near Marion. The site is on private property, and the field may be underwater because of flooding this time of year.

“The captain has agreed to take the boat upstream, farther than ordinary, in order to get into the area where the (ship) remains are,” Rosalind O’Neal of the Sultana Historic Preservation Society told the Picket.

The Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends (ASDF) will be holding its annual reunion in Marion from April 23-27. Members who go on the cruise may drop roses into the water as a tribute to relatives who died or survived.

In 2012, the Picket wrote extensively about the Sultana, quoting several people as saying they hoped a temporary exhibit that year in Marion would be a precursor to a lasting memorial.

The first step in a permanent Sultana museum will occur April 9, said O’Neal, one of the organizers of the April 23-25 commemoration in Marion.

Sultana artifacts, memorabilia belonging to Gene Salecker

That’s when members of the Arkansas Historical Association will tour the interim Sultana Disaster Museum, leased at 104 Washington St. near the courthouse.

Among items on display will be memorabilia, a large riverboat model and Sultana artifacts belonging to Gene Salecker, who has written and lectured extensively about the vessel. A wall in the building has a list of known passengers.

“It’s almost like a memorial wall for the people on the Sultana,” said O’Neal.

The historical society, the city and the Marion Chamber of Commerce are planning a second, permanent location for the museum. The city, hoping for the benefits of heritage tourism, last year voted to spend $400,000 for such a facility.

(Interesting, an ancestor of Mayor Frank Fogleman was among residents who came to the aid of badly injured or burned Sultana passengers).

“We are in the beginning stages of planning for a permanent museum, and are close to retaining a firm for architectural and exhibit design services,” Michael Demster, president of the Marion Chamber of Commerce, told the Picket. “We have received some nice seed money, but will need to raise more to get the museum worthy of the Sultana.”

Salecker defies sabotage theories (Mark Randall)

O’Neal said there’s a desire for a small theater and interactive exhibits in the future permanent location.

For now, the community’s focus is on the anniversary weekend. Officials encourage people to register now for key events, because many spots are filled.

They hope about 200 people will sign up for the lectures, museum tour, reception, bus tour of Civil War related sites in Arkansas and Tennessee and the $50 riverboat cruise, which includes a barbecue dinner and lecture by Salecker, entitled “It Was Not Sabotage!”

PBS’ “History Detectives” examined whether the ship’s destruction was the act of Confederate sabotage, faulty machinery or “dangerous conditions.”

The overcrowded steamboat sank near Marion. In the end, no one was formally held accountable for putting too many men on the Sultana and sailing despite documented concerns about the safety of one of the boat's boilers.

Salecker and Jerry Potter have written about a kickback scheme between the vessel's financially-strapped captain, J. Cass Mason, the steamer's captain and master, and an Army quartermaster, Lt. Col. Reuben B. Hatch. According to Potter, the transport fee was $5 for an enlisted man, $10 for an officer. Mason agreed to take the enlisted men for $3; Hatch kept the $2.

Salecker collection includes passenger's comb

The Sultana, with nearly 2,300 people on board, was way above passenger capacity at the time of the explosion. Hundreds of Union soldiers died only a day and a half from a prisoner exchange and freedom.

Local residents, including freed slaves, helped the passengers, who found themselves swimming for shore, or thrashing about in the chilly Mississippi River.

“There were some amazing stories of heroism," said Intres. About 700 people were saved, with 200 dying for their wounds. Bodies were recovered over the next several months.

The South, focused on its own devastation, wasn't particularly sympathetic about enemy soldiers perishing, said Potter, a Memphis lawyer who has written extensively about the topic.

“I was giving a talk one time, and a man made a comment that they were just Yankees, too bad more of them didn’t die," Potter told the Picket in 2012. "I just lost it. A few people felt that way, but few people knew about the Sultana.”

Jimmy Ogle, a tour guide and community engagement manager for the Riverfront Development Corp. in Memphis, that same year said it was up to societies and local communities to build a Sultana museum. “It was just perceived as a small steamboat disaster in the South.” 

That’s appears to be changing. More Americans are learning about the disaster, and Intres believes the 150th anniversary and the new documentary on the disaster will do even more.
Sean Astin and Mark Marshall have created the “Remember the Sultana” through a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Monument in Hillsdale, Mich. (Stephenie Kyser)

A private screening is planned for Monday evening, April 27 (the actual sinking anniversary), at the Paradiso in Memphis.

O’Neal said a Civil War encampment in Marion on April 25 will feature re-enactors, a Civil War medicine wagon and an exhibit on the role of African-Americans during the war. Organizers are bringing in students taking Advanced Placement history.

“If they can feel it, see it, touch it, it makes an impression,” she said.

Norman Shaw, of Knoxville, Tenn., a member of the Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends, said he expects about 100 members to attend their reunion and related events in Marion.

About half may remain for the documentary screening Monday, an event independent of Marion's plans. Shaw is planning a visit to the presumed wreckage site for that Sunday, weather permitting.

The cruise the evening before will be an emotional experience, he predicted, especially with the tossing of roses into the Mississippi River.

“I think it will be very moving. It is very meaningful to our people,” Shaw told the Picket. “One person emailed me this is the closure to the story” of an ancestor who was among the victims.

The Sultana Disaster Museum will be open Thursdays-Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Contact the Chamber of Commerce at 870-739-6041 to arrange a group tour. Admission is free for April. Beginning May 1, the cost is $8 for adults, $5 for children under 12. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Confederates' last great offensive

It was the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on North Carolina soil. On Saturday and Sunday, more than 40,000 people are expected to watch more than 2,500 Civil War re-enactors refight the Battle of Bentonville on its 150th anniversary. Commanding the remnants of four battered armies, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston tried to ambush one wing of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s army. • Article 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Journal of Sgt. John Clark Ely: Beautiful sight for departing 'skin and bones' POWs

Something big is about to happen to Sgt. John Clark Ely. He’s been languishing at Confederates prison camps, including Andersonville, for more than three months, praying for an exchange. Finally, like thousands of other prisoners held by both sides, he gets some important news. Here is this week’s installment of the journal of Ely of Company C, 115th Ohio Infantry, courtesy of Andersonville National Historic Site.

March 18, 1865 (Saturday)
Fine day, cool night, exchange rumors again numerous and men some excited over the news.  Hathaway tried hard to get out on parole by siding with the rebs all right p.m. a thousand men including those at the hospital and officers were taken for exchange twas sad.

March 19, 1865 (Sunday)
Beautiful day but cool night.  I feel quite poorly with diarrhea. The monotony of camp again broken by the Johnnys coming in for men to go out on parole. Carpenters, woodchoppers etc took out nearly or quite 100 men.

March 20, 1865 (Monday)
Fine day, felt very badly all day. Rumor in camp that 3000 are going tomorrow, may it prove true and may Co. C be of the number. Some excitement in regard to it.

Sgt. Ely
March 21, 1865 (Tuesday)
Rain heavy in night. Raining still this morning and continued through day, feeling better today, no prisoners away today.

March 22, 1865 (Wednesday)
Beautiful day again, late p.m. great excitement through camp occasioned by the reb sutler coming in and selling chances to leave in first squad, chances selling from 15 to 30 dollars confederate.

March 23, 1865 (Thursday)
Beautiful day, same excitement as yesterday.

March 24, 1865 (Friday).
Very fine morning, peach and cherry trees all in full bloom outside, for the Co bought our chance to go by the first train.  We gave eighty dollars greenback, 80 confed and my watch valued at 60  dollars, hope the chance will prove a good one.  Late p.m. a train came for us and we bid goodby to Andersonville.  Left at 8 p.m. and arrived at Columbus (Ga.) at daylight.


Emaciated prisoners including Ely were bound for a train headed westward for prisoners exchanges. An eyewitness recalled the scene as the men left Andersonville:

Coming like cattle across an open field were scores of men who were nothing but skin and bones ; some hobbling along as best they could, and others being helped by stronger comrades. Every gaunt face with its staring eyes told the story of the suffering and privation they had gone through, and protruding bones showed through their scanty tattered garments. One might have thought that the grave and the sea had given up their dead.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Folk art secretary recalls fallen soldier

The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, has acquired a remarkable memorial piece of furniture that stands 8 feet tall and is embedded with bone. The 1876 Bingham family Civil War memorial secretary is a moving tribute to a young Federal soldier lost at the Battle of Antietam in 1862. The secretary was made by members of Connecticut’s 16th Volunteer Infantry. • Article

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Journal of POW Sgt. John C. Ely: Rumors of possible exchange are rampant

Thomas O'Dea drawing of rumor exchange (ANHS)

By mid-March 1865, rumors of exchange are rife for the 5,700 prisoners still held at Andersonville prison in central Georgia.

They’ve endured a lot of rain and privation. About nine of their comrades die each day. The prisoners, of course, don’t know that the war’s end is only weeks away.

But they do have hope. And the fact that 2,411 prisoners are sent in March to Vicksburg, Ms., for future exchange raises freedom expectations for remaining Federal soldiers held at the camp, including Sgt. John Clark Ely.

Camp Fisk near Vicksburg was an exchange site that resulted from the efforts of Confederate Lt. Col. Howard Henderson and Union Col. A.C. Fisk.

“Rumors are a difficult thing to interpret,” says Stephanie Steinhorst of Andersonville National Historic Site.

“At best we convey the sense of confusion and that nothing is certain until you see it and touch it. Certainty of existence is something that is taken from a prisoner of war -- it is one of the intangible things lost upon capture,” Steinhorst tells the Picket. “Rumors are part of every prisoner's existence because they are attempting to piece together tidbits of information based on what they see, what they hear and what they hope for.”

The park this weekend is having a living history weekend.

“When we have folks out portraying prisoners, we encourage them to disagree about what they think is happening "outside,’” says Steinhorst.

Here is this week’s installment of the journal of Ely of Company C, 115th Ohio Infantry. Entries are courtesy of Andersonville National Historic Site.

March 11, 1865 (Saturday)
Fine morning, little frost, a recruiting officer in again yesterday and today. Renewed rumors of leaving.

March 12, 1865 (Sunday)
Beautiful morning, frost again this morning, feeling pretty bad.  Big rumors of exchange..

March 13, 1865 (Monday)
Very fine day, feeling better than yesterday.  Hope many exchange rumors may prove some of them true.

March 14, 1865 (Tuesday)
Cloudy morning, looks like rain, exchange rumors seem to have played out.  Hathaway says first on Friday, then Sunday and all along show paper was sent in to take the name Co. () of the men.

March 15, 1865 (Wednesday)
Rain nearly all night, lowery the a.m., exchange rumors still plenty.

March 16, 1865 (Thursday)
Rain in night and p.m. yesterday cloudy and wind with rain this morning cleared off p.m. cool.

March 17, 1865 (Friday).
Fine day, frost this morning. Heard that David McGrath, Co. G was dead, am sorry.  Borrowed money of Garrison and paid the Co. what I owe them.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Camp Lawton: Search for Confederate artifacts in Georgia turns up two recent items

Rifle percussion cap (top) and the artillery friction primer were manufactured after the Civil War.

(Updated) This past Saturday’s “public day” at the site of Camp Lawton in Georgia focused on archaeological evidence of the Confederate contingent that guarded about 10,000 Union prisoners.

As proof of you never know what you''ll find, two recovered items turned out to be from modern times.

Students thought they have recovered a brass friction primer from one of the artillery pieces inside the fort, said Lance Greene, an assistant professor. They also came across a brass percussion cap from a rifle, but quickly determined it wasn't 150 years old.

“We did notice on the top of the percussion cap a maker's mark, 'CCI', which is a modern ammunition company," said Greene. "Turns out, the percussion cap must have been dropped recently by re-enactors -- one of the problems we face when working on military sites, especially dating to the Civil War.”

After a photo of the two items went up on the project's Facebook page, two commenters pointed out that the friction primer, too, was modern. "We'll definitely have to be careful about identification of these kinds of artifacts inside the park," the GSU page responded.

Dig at the fort area (Photos courtesy of Georgia Southern U.)

A couple times a year, the public is invited to watch Georgia Southern University archaeology students do work at the site, much of it in Magnolia Springs State Park, just north of Millen. About 40 people watched students excavate a 2 meter by 1 meter space inside the fort and sift through soil.

GSU students over the past few years have looked for evidence of Confederate quarters and buildings in the fort. They’ve also recovered numerous legitimate artifacts from inside the stockade, where Federal soldiers were crowded on a hillside for six weeks in late 1864 until they were sent to other Southern prisons as Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s troops marched on Savannah.

Greene said students this spring will continue work on master’s candidate William Brant’s research on the Confederate occupation.

During the summer field school, they will look for evidence of barracks and other buildings.

“We will also finish excavating the remains of the brick oven within the prisoner area,” said Greene. “We removed all the brick rubble last summer, but there are still ash deposits that contain a lot of animal bone, and we are excited about the prospect of being able to talk in detail about prisoner diet.” 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

See what Richmond has planned for April

Richmond’s experience through and beyond the end of the Civil War will be commemorated at the beginning of April with enough activities to fill a 16-page brochure. The grand finale of the 150th anniversary commemoration will center on Capitol Square and Shockoe Bottom. Participating groups range from black re-enactors to historical museums• Details

Friday, March 6, 2015

To Hawaii and back: The facts and mysteries of Union Lt. Edwin I. Coe's sword

(Petersburg National Battlefield)

Paul Perrone and Chris Bryce had their “aha” moments nearly 5,000 miles apart.

For Perrone, research on a Civil War sword he came across at -- of all places -- a jewelry store in Hawaii, began with the inscription bearing the name of its owner: Lt. Edwin I. Coe of the 57th Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteers.

An online version of the unit’s history led to the 19-year-old soldier’s photograph and biography. There was now a human connection to this well-crafted piece of steel.

Seeing his face for the first time, and reading the moving account of his life and death, were the most exciting moments for me in this entire experience,” Perrone told the Picket this week. “From that point on, I felt that I had a moral and patriotic duty to ensure that the sword would end up somewhere public, protected and 'forever.'"

That “forever” will be at Petersburg National Battlefield, where Coe – who had in a dream a premonition of his death – fell with a bullet to his head as he took part in a charge on June 17, 1864.

Lt. Edwin I. Coe
Coe’s sword was sent from Hawaii to Virginia last summer after the park purchased it from the Honolulu business. 

Bryce, chief of interpretation at the park, and another staffer who helped in the research and transaction, took the sword made by Ames Manufacturing of Chicopee, Mass., to the area where Coe was killed and Poplar Grove National Cemetery, where he lies buried.

It was an emotional experience.

“Taking the sword to his grave carried a little more weight on me,” said Bryce. They placed the sword at the marker. “To have it lying on top of his resting place, it doesn’t get much more powerful.”

Perrone and Bryce realized this artifact is not like so many available for sale at online sites.

There’s a serviceman’s name, a photograph, an account of his unit and death. And he lies buried in the Virginia soil only a few miles from where the sword is expected to go on exhibit later this year.

(Courtesy of Paul Perrone)

“I cannot imagine this sword hanging on someone’s wall as a conversation piece, or in a private collection that is not open to the public,” said Perrone, a researcher in the Hawaii attorney general’s office.

Many mysteries remain: Was Coe carrying the sword when he died? How did it end up in Hawaii? Who were his friends in Worcester, Mass., that gave him the sword?

A soldier’s premonition before battle

The sword came to the Pacific Diamond and Swiss Watch Exchange in Honolulu a few years ago. Owner Ted Gonzalez bought it from an estate dealer.

“I thought it was unusual just because I’ve never bought one before. I decided to buy it and I decided to keep it,” Gonzalez told TV station KITV.

Perrone, who was shopping for a wedding ring for his fiancĂ©e, took an interest and began his research on the Model 1850 foot officer’s sword. The frosted blade contains patriotic motifs -- eagles, cannon, olive branches and arrows -- and was obviously manufactured and decorated with care.

Coe, the son of a Unitarian minister, was born in Medway, Mass., and moved to Worcester, first joined another regiment when he was just 17 or 18. He then joined the 57th Massachusetts and was serving as acting adjutant at Petersburg.

According to the regimental history, written by John Anderson in 1896 and now available in print from HardPressPublishing, the young second lieutenant was “of excellent character, fond of military service, zealous and ambitious in the faithful performance of duty, loved and esteemed by all who knew him.”

It’s not known when the sword was presented to Coe. The inscription said it was a gift “by his friends in Worcester.”

(Photos courtesy of Paul Perrone)

Coe was struck by a spent musket ball at Spotsylvania Court House on May 12. He threw up both hands and fell; his comrades believed he was finished. “But in a few moments he rejoined the regiment,” according to the unit history,” saying that he had only been stunned for a few seconds.”

Just before the charge at Petersburg, Coe told comrades he would be killed. The premonition proved correct: He was struck in the early part of the advance against Confederate troops. Ten enlisted comrades died in the battle.

Coe left no wife or children. His mother applied for a pension in 1891.

His brother, who served in another Federal unit, took charge of his remains and he was buried near where he fell. They were disinterred after the war and placed in the national cemetery now managed by the park.

How did it wind up in Hawaii?

Neither Pryce nor Perrone know how Coe’s sword came to be in Hawaii. It’s the $64,000 question.

The unit history notes that Coe’s brother claimed his possessions. If it was used for ceremonial purposes, it might have been in the fallen officer’s tent. Or if he carried it during the charge, it could have “ended up in practically anyone’s possession,” said Perrone.

“With every branch of the service having at least one base in Hawaii, and with so many government contractors and retired military personnel living here, all kinds of interesting things turn up,” said Perrone, adding the story is the sword belonged to a retired serviceman.

Paul Perrone
Gonzalez, the jewelry store owner, told KITV that he and his wife “agreed to do the right thing” with the sword, rather than sell it for several thousand dollars, and he enlisted the help of Perrone.

“I wanted to literally return the sword to Lt. Coe, and Petersburg is where he has been for the past 150 years,” said Perrone, who contacted former Petersburg park curator Jimmy Blankenship last spring and the discussions on the sword commenced.

Bryce said the park, using donations and sales proceeds from park bookstores operated by a private concessionaire, paid $1,600 for the Coe sword so that Gonzalez could recoup what he paid.

Officials had hoped to acquire the weapon in time for the 150th anniversary of Coe’s death, but the sword was not shipped until last July. Bryce said he is unaware of any surviving descendants.

‘He will be forever remembered’

The park has brought on a new curator. Bryce hopes the sword, which he described as being in good shape, will go on exhibit at the Eastern Front Visitor Center this summer or fall.

“We don’t have a great number of items that we can put to one person, let alone have an image of an individual,” he told the Picket. Coe was among tens of thousands of men in blue and gray who were in the area during the Petersburg campaign and siege.

Bryce and Blankenship took the sword to where elements of the 9th Corps made the June 17, 1864, assault, about 200 yards behind park headquarters on the eastern section of the battlefield, near the Army’s current Fort Lee.

“They were supposed to be in reserve. Their casualties mounted very quickly,” said Bryce. “They were dodging bullets.”

Jimmy Blankenship holds sword near where Coe fell.

The park official believes the Coe weapon is a combat, rather than a presentation sword.

“Chances are good he was carrying it in battle,” said Bryce. “By carrying it,” they (his friends) are with him in battle.”

It is possible Coe had two swords and did not carry this one, which Perrone considers a presentation sword, during the charge. Or he might not have been wielding a sword at all that day.

Coe’s sword and scabbard, along with his photo and possibly other items, later this year will be a visual reminder to park visitors of sacrifice and courage.

I hope the Coe display will serve to represent any and all of the individual soldiers who died at Petersburg and whose personal lives and contributions were forgotten through the passage time, just as Coe would have been had his sword not been recovered 150 years later,” said Perrone. “He will be forever remembered and honored -- in a sense, he is immortal.”

Thursday, March 5, 2015

First artifacts raised from Rebel ironclad

About 400 artifacts have been brought up by divers in the initial stage of the recovery of the CSS Georgia, which must be moved for a deepening of the channel in Savannah, Ga. "We have scratched the surface as far as the artifacts are concerned. There are a lot more to come up," Jim Jobling of Texas A&M University, which will conserve the items, told CNN. • Article

Gunboat models have moment in the sun during program at Louisiana site

(Photographs by Bonnie Guidry)

Two Civil War ironclads, through their miniature descendants, repeated their watery dance of death last weekend at a state park north of Baton Rouge, La. (Click photos to enlarge)

Models of the CSS Arkansas (left, above) and the newly built USS Essex tangled Saturday at Port Hudson State Historic Site. The Picket recently wrote about the gunboats ahead of the event.

Also on display were other 1:32 models made by Robert Seal, including (left to right), the CSS Manassas, the USS Barrataria and the USS Osage. They took part in naval operations on the Mississippi River during the Civil War.

USS Essex is about 6 feet long

On hand for the event were (left to right) Robert Seal; Marvin Steinback of the park; Dwight Landreneau, assistant secretary of the Office of State Parks; and Bill Toups, who lathed the cannon.

Pat Seal, Robert's wife, quipped that the USS Essex model, while under construction, was on saw horses in the living room for months until she banished it in order to put a Christmas tree. It received the final touches on their dining room table.

Marvin Steinback is dressed for the part

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Journal of Sgt. John Clark Ely: Prison brew and Lincoln's 2nd inauguration

Confederates buying beer at prison Point Lookout (Library of Congress)

Those Andersonville prisoners industrious enough to scrape up a little money or some form of barter could avail themselves of all kinds of goods and services inside the stockade – from green corn to a haircut.

They also could imbibe on beer, although, understandably, it was not premium stuff. Some referred to it as sour. Prisoner Robert Knox Sneden wrote of the crowds on busy and noisy Market Street.

“Hundreds are yelling all day, ‘Here’s your fine cold beer; coldest in the stockade for only 5 cents a cup,’ or, ‘Who’ll swap beans for soup?’ or ‘Who’ll give a chew of tobacco for half a raw ration?’ ” he wrote.

Ohio Sgt. John Clark Ely, 150 years ago this month, made a reference in his journal to beer at Andersonville.

Sale of the suds wasn’t just about Union POW entrepreneurship. Capt. Henry Wirz, camp commandant, began the brewing of "corn beer" at the urging of his medical staff.

The concoction was given to those suffering from scurvy. The beer was made from cornmeal and whole corn scalded in hot water until it turned to mash. Some yeast was added to promote fermentation, and in a few days a sharp acid beverage was produced, according to the National Park Service.

Pvt. W.F Lyon, of the 96th Regular Massachusetts Volunteers, 40 years later wrote a book about his Andersonville experiences.

“We had a great many breweries in the prison — in fact, there were a whole lot of breweries and saloon combined, for each one sold his own product,” he wrote, according to a 2013 Washington Post article about the prison. As soon as the mixture of cornmeal and sassafras root fermented, “the proprietor would go out on the street, find a stand, seat himself behind the tub of beer and cry, ‘Who wants a glass of this nice sassafras beer; only 10 cents a glass?’ ”

Here is this week’s installment of the journal of Sgt. Ely of Company C, 115th Ohio Infantry. Entries are courtesy of Andersonville National Historic Site.

March 4, 1865 (Saturday)
Big rain early this morning, feeling pretty bad today.  Old Abe Lincoln inaugeration at Washington, maybe in a few months see the end of this war.

March 5, 1865 (Sunday)
Fine day, feeling quite sick, good news relative to exchange.  Received note from Eadie.  Three months 1 day since our capture.

March 6, 1865 (Monday)
cloudy, hazy day.  Wrote note to Eadie.

March 7, 1865 (Tuesday)
Beautiful day, feeling some better.

March 8, 1865 (Wednesday)
Rainy morning, had a sick night, pleasant p.m., all division sergeants out at headquarters receiving instructions about beer for camp.

March 9, 1865 (Thursday)
Cloudy morning, some rain a.m., very heavy p.m.

March 10, 1865 (Friday).
Clear cool morning, felt no better.