Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Alexander Gardner's 'Sketch Book,' on display in Toledo, showed power of war photos

John Reekie's photo of the dead at Cold Harbor
Curator Ed Hill looks through one volume (Photos Toledo Museum of Art)

Alexander Gardner and a cadre of fellow Civil War photographers had a huge impact on the way Americans looked at war through their compelling compositions, notably of the dead.

The Scotsman took haunting images at Antietam and included photographs by others of the fallen in his seminal “Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War,” a two-volume work featuring 100 photographs.

The familiar “A Harvest of Death” by Timothy O’Sullian depicts a half dozen dead Union soldiers at Gettysburg, their boots removed and their pockets picked.

“Such a picture conveys a useful moral,” Gardner wrote. “It shows the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition to its pageantry.”

A rare copy of Gardner’s sketchbook is on display through July 5 at the Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art. The American Civil War: Through Artists’ Eyes” uses paintings, drawings, sculpture, photographs and artifacts to retell the events of the time.

(Toledo Museum of Art)

“(Gardner’s is) one of the most important books published in American history and one of the most significant works of photojournalism,” the museum said in a press release about the exhibit. “The fragile volumes are rarely on display.”

Because of its $150 price tag in 1866 (about $2,000 today) and war fatigue, only about 200 copies of the photographic opus were published, according to an article by Middle Tennessee State University. An estimated 15 survive, including the one in the museum’s collection.

(NPS photo)
“Photographic book illustration in the 1860s was a cumbersome undertaking,” the George Eastman House says. “Lacking the ability to photomechanically reproduce photographs as ink on paper, photographic illustration required that original photographs be pasted onto boards that were then bound together with the text. These limitations help to account for the rather small number of copies of the Sketch Book that were produced and the high price of $150.”

The museum patron will recognize many of the works – because of their publication for stereo views, newspapers (as woodcuts), carte de visites and galleries.

Gardner’s September 1862 photographs of the Antietam dead were featured in the studio of his employer, Matthew Brady. A New York Times reporter wrote, “Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along streets, he has done something very like it.”

Gardner – who midday through the war emerged from the shadow of Brady and started his own studio -- wanted to create a lasting tribute to innovative Civil War photography. Forty-four of the 100 images are credited to O’Sullivan. Ten other photographers, including Gardner, produced the rest. (Unlike Brady, Gardner credited individual photographers. He took 16 of the photographs).

Alfred Waud created title page (Library of Congress)
Lincoln at Antietam, 1862 (Toledo Museum of Art)
Gardner's brother, James, took this photo (Toledo Museum of Art)

Other subjects of the albumen-silver photographs are military and civilian leaders,homes, camps, forts and general battlefield scenes. Gardner is believed to have written the text for the books. The volumes were bound in brown morocco and gilt-stamped.

The free exhibit in Toledo is meant to spotlight artists’ take on the Civil War and the impact those works still have on the public.

“These were stirring images at the time they were released, and they are equally moving now,” curator Ed Hill said. “Our country split itself in two, so the enemy could have been a brother, a cousin, a neighbor. It wasn't as easy to demonize people, yet the level of violence was still astounding."

Alexander Gardner
Battles covered in the sketchbook were largely restricted to the theater of operations of the Union Army of the Potomac. Scholars have in recent years argued that Gardner and a few other photographers may have moved corpses for staged shots -- a strict no-no today.

A kiosk in the exhibit features a slideshow presentation of all 100 photographs in the sketchbook.

Gardner, who later got into the insurance business, died at age 61 in 1882.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Descendants drop wreath, roses in memory of those who died, survived Sultana disaster

(Photos courtesy of Robert Burke, Marion, Ind.)

One by one, they dropped the long-stemmed roses into the Mississippi River to remember their Sultana ancestor: A red flower if he survived, a white one if he did not.

The Saturday ceremony and dinner cruise was a highlight of this year’s reunion of the Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends (ASDF).

Today, April 27, is the 150th anniversary of the deadliest maritime disaster in American history. An estimated 1,800 Union soldiers, many of them Andersonville and Cahaba prisoners heading home at war’s end, were killed in the overcrowded steamboat’s explosion and fire a few miles above Memphis, Tenn.

Robert Burke of Indiana (above) was among those who crowded the Memphis Queen III’s rail for the ceremony. He dropped a custom wreath and white rose in honor of his ancestor, Enoch Nation, 9th Indiana Cavalry, who was a Cahaba prisoner near Selma, Ala.

“They never found his body,” Burke told the Picket on Sunday. “My only hope is he’s in an unknown soldier’s marked grave.”

The descendants group Sunday visited the national cemetery in Memphis, which has 23 marked headstones of Sultana victims and many more unknown dead, said member Norman Shaw.

(Photos courtesy of Robert Burke)

The reunion was based in Marion, Arkansas -- the closest city to the wreck site – which held sesquicentennial events over the weekend. The ASDF also toured Civil War-related sites in Memphis and those still in town Monday evening were to attend the screening of a Sultana documentary backed by actor Sean Astin.

About 150 people Saturday boarded the Memphis Queen III, a 110-foot true stern wheeler.

“We went up 7 miles north of Memphis,” said Shaw. “We tried to replicate (the position of the Sultana). It was close enough.” What’s left of the boat lies beneath a soybean field on the Arkansas side. That field, on the unprotected side of the levee, was underwater this weekend.

Memphis tour guide Jimmy Ogle was the cruise director for the ASDF’s ride up the Mississippi, which included music from the area's 52nd Regimental String Band.

52nd Regimental String Band provided entertainment

Aboard the descendants’ cruise, Greg Barats of Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co. presented a $5,000 check to Marion Mayor Frank Fogleman of Marion for a permanent Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion. Author Gene Salecker gave a lecture entitled "The Sultana Disaster: It was NOT Sabotage.”

(Courtesy of Ken Keene

Re-enactors gave a four-musket salute and there was a solemn “burial” of a replica Civil War-era U.S. flag wrapped around a cobblestone from the historic Memphis wharf, where the Sultana made a stop shortly before the disaster. (Shaw emphasizes the flag burial was not an act of desecration)

A wreath from the Marion Chamber of Commerce also was dropped into the river.

In essence, victims of the Sultana disaster were given a funeral they never received in 1865.

“It was emotional, especially for each particular ancestor represented in turn,” said Shaw.

(Courtesy of Jimmy Ogle)

Clinton Riddle, 94 and a World War II veteran of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, came to remember six ancestors, members of the Federal 3rd Tennessee Cavalry and 11th Tennessee Cavalry, who were on board the Sultana. Most of them died on the Sultana or in the river.

He was taken by the power of the Mississippi River and its strong current. “It reminded me of crossing the Atlantic during World War II and the rocking of the boat.”

He, too, dropped roses into the water. “It was an honor to be able to do that,” the Sweetwater, Tenn., resident said. “Having been in combat so much, seeing so many soldier friends killed, Sultana brings back a lot of memories.”

Riddle is the author of a poem, “The Fate of the Sultana,” on the descendants group’s website.

It concludes:

Today we are gathered here to pay them honor,
To those who were willing to go and fight,
We will always remember the great disaster,
April 27, 1865, at 2:00 o’clock in the night.

Visit to Memphis cemetery (Courtesy of Ken Keene)

Friday, April 24, 2015

'Missing features' will be returned to Cemetery Ridge, Ziegler's Grove at Gettysburg

Ziegler's Grove area before two buildings, upper parking lot removed (NPS)

The campaign to transform a small portion of the Gettysburg battlefield into what it looked like in July 1863 will include reducing the size of a parking lot, re-establishing a ravine that was filled in when the old Cyclorama building was constructed and the relocation of monuments to their original location.

Park officials on Thursday announced $1.3 million will go toward the latest phase of the rehabilitation of Cemetery Ridge and, specifically, Ziegler’s Grove.

“For the first time in more than 50 years, this portion of Cemetery Ridge will have its historic appearance, offering fresh experiences for a new generation of Gettysburg visitors,” said Ed Clark, Gettysburg National Military Park superintendent.

The National Park Service’s $600,000 will work with a $700,000 match from the nonprofit Gettysburg Foundation to lessen the footprint of what park management assistant Katie Lawhon has called “modern intrusions” on the hallowed ground while restoring some historic features.

The foundation previously has said the growth of the town, commercial development and the construction of battlefield buildings that came to be seen as eyesores had a significant impact on the landscape.

“These dramatic changes have hidden the site of important battle action under asphalt parking lots, concrete, brick and non-historic vegetation,” reads a blog post on the foundation’s website. “Thus, it is nearly impossible to visualize today the conditions encountered by over 6,500 soldiers in July 1863. The events that occurred along the western slopes of Cemetery Hill and the northern edge of Cemetery Ridge had a significant impact on the Battle of Gettysburg and, ultimately, the cost of the Civil War.

Monuments will be moved 20 feet to original locations (NPS

Officials knew something had to be done, and Thursday’s announcement is another step in the process.

The NPS demolished the old visitor center in 2009 and the old Cyclorama building in 2013. The visitor center parking lot was removed in 2014. The Cyclorama and visitor center are now combined, southeast of Ziegler’s Grove.

Some of the buildings and infrastructure constructed from the 1930s to the early 1960s came at the expense of historic landscapes. Jim Campi, writing in Hallowed Ground magazine, said this of the now-gone Cyclorama location: “The modern brutalist design of the building, which some equated to an alien spacecraft, ensured its incongruity within the battlefield landscape.”

Lawhon told the Picket said that a parking lot for visitors to Soldiers’ National Cemetery will be reduced, with room for four buses, 54 cars and three spots for disabled drivers.

Monuments that were moved for the construction of the old Cyclorama building will return to their original locations. The project also will rebuild ornamental entrance gates at Hancocke Avenue and Taneytown Road and commemorative walkways. 

Gateway to Hancock Ave. at Taneytown Road will be rebuilt.

Gettysburg Foundation President Joanne M. Hanley said, “The Gettysburg Foundation has contributed to the rehabilitation of Cemetery Ridge since the inception of the idea to bring back missing features of the battlefield landscapes.”

President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the cemetery. This portion of Cemetery Ridge was a crucial part of the Union army’s defense. Ziegler’s Grove is near the modern southern boundary of the town and just northeast of the “High Water Mark” of Pickett’s Charge.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

POW Sgt. John C. Ely: His journal and dreams board with him on steamboat Sultana

Sgt. John Clark Ely, Company C, 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, was finally heading home. He had endured captivity at Andersonville and other Confederate prison camps. On April 24, 1865, Ely and hundreds of others were sent from near Vicksburg, Ms., to board a steamboat for the journey north. (Journal entries courtesy Andersonville National Historic Site).

April 22, 1865 (Saturday)
Fine day, very cool last night, almost frost, wrote to Julia.

April 23, 1865 (Sunday)
Beautiful day, all men parolled were taken away today. Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee are yet left.

April 24, 1865 (Monday)
Beautiful day but very warm sun, about 10 a.m. we were ordered to take train for Vicksburg and then up the river, went from cars to boat Sultana, a large but not very fine boat. Vicksburg is truly a city set on not only a hill but hills. Left sometime in night for Cairo.

April 25, 1865 (Tuesday)
Fine day, still going up river very high over country everywhere, no places along the river where white people live but very many monuments of where people had been.

April 26, 1865 (Wednesday)
Very fine day, still upward we go.


Sultana a day before the catastrophe (Library of Congress)

Early on the morning of April 27, 1865, the gaunt school teacher’s dreams of home and the embrace of Julia and his four children came to an end.  Ely and nearly 1,800 others, most of them freed Union prisoners, would die in the horrific explosion and fire on the steamboat Sultana. 

The disaster, a few miles above Memphis, Tenn., on the Mississippi River, is the worst in U.S. history. The boat was licensed to carry 376 passengers; up to 2,400 actually were on board. 

Ely, from south of Cleveland, was buried at the national cemetery in Memphis. His grave marker lists him as a lieutenant, a rank he was supposed to be awarded in life. The Franklinville, New York, native was 36 or 37.

Ely's journal, one of two (the first disappeared), was found on his body. It is cared for today by descendants.

The small diary captured the soldier's despair, anguish, privations -- and hope. On Christmas Day 1864, three weeks after his capture in Tennessee, Ely wrote: "Christmas Day and such a day for us prisoners. Hungry, dirty, sleepy and lousy. Will another Christmas find us again among friends and loved ones?"

It was not to be.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Storied Civil War painting in northwest Ohio enjoys a new window to the world at exhibit

(Click to enlarge: Courtesy of Toledo Museum of Art)
(Courtesy of Oregon-Jerusalem Historical Society)
Oh, the places it’s been.

Commissioned by aging Ohio Civil War veterans who wanted to be remembered on canvas rather than by a monument, the large painting won a medal at the 1893 world’s fair in Chicago and then adorned a wall at Memorial Hall in Toledo, garnering praise for its striking, realistic detail of an artillery battery in action.

By World War I, however, “Battery H 1st Ohio Volunteers Light Artillery in Action at Cold Harbor” had largely slipped out of public view and went into storage after interest in such artifacts waned. The painting suffered damage while it was stored in a damp basement storage room at the city’s zoo and in a garage. 

About 25 years ago, an historical society across the Maumee River in Oregon, Ohio, received the oil painting after a complicated sequence of events. It was restored in 2002 and has since presided over the second floor of an old school building housing the society’s collection of Civil War and other artifacts.

Until now.

Military artist Gilbert Gaul’s six feet by 10 feet creation is on loan and is the centerpiece of the Toledo Museum of Art’s exhibit, “The American Civil War: Through Artists’ Eyes” (through July 5). The free exhibit “uses paintings, drawings, sculpture, photographs and artifacts to retell the events of the time.” It includes famed photographer Alexander Gardner’s sketchbook.

How the Gaul painting got to the museum has added another small chapter to its interesting history: Workers had to remove it through a second-floor window of Brandville School, home to the Oregon-Jerusalem Historical Society.

That’s because the main stairway was reconfigured after “Battery H” was returned in 2002, making it impossible to go through a door.

Last November, workers removed the canvas from its impressive, gilded frame. Both pieces were covered and taken out via an exterior lift.

“We had a party that day. We had cups of chili and everyone could walk around …. and watch the whole thing,” society President Connie Isbell told the Picket.

Isbell tells the story of a soldier’s great-grandson who one day brought in a photo of his ancestor to see whether he could identify him in the painting.

“It took us only a few minutes,” said Isbell. “There was not a doubt about it.”

David Brown last year told The Press that he believes Iraneaus A. Geren is the man wearing the bandana in the center of the painting, near a caisson wheel.

The unit saw action at the battle that ended in a major defeat for Union forces. “They were able to gallop into battle right now and they were the first onto the field,” Brown told The Press. “They were in action before the infantry was.” One battery soldier died in the fight.

Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer had encouraged the battery to get to the front, according to the article.

A Toledo chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic commissioned the painting for $2,000. The artillery battery had about 265 soldiers, about half from northwest Ohio.

The artist was William Gilbert Gaul (1855-1919), a well-known painter of military scenes, especially of the Civil War. While “Battery H” is not one of his more famous works, people have been mesmerized by its rich detail in depicting a scene from combat at Cold Harbor, Virginia, in June 1864.

Workers prepare to move painting from historical society (Courtesy of OJHS)
An article describes Gaul’s style as “usually denoted as realism with some hints of romanticism.” The artist primarily worked in Tennessee and New York City, with the Civil War, the West, Native Americans and pastoral scenes among his legacy. The Tennessee State Museum has many of his works. He was among the artists featured in “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.” His work fell out of favor later in this life, but his reputation has been restored in recent years.

The painting belonged to the Toledo Soldiers’ Memorial Association, which kept its large collection of Civil War artifacts at Memorial Hall. Future President and then-Gov. William McKinley attended the unveiling of the painting in 1894.

A local judge at the time spoke of the pride in having the painting in Toledo, calling it “a memorial of those days of blood and courage, a symbolism of sacrifice and heroism which shall thrill future generations with patriotic pride.”

“Battery H” fell onto hard times within decades of its triumphant debut.

A 2002 Toledo Blade article detailed how many of Toledo’s historic items had faded from view, many of them disappearing or enduring damage. The painting and other Civil War items were moved to various locations; Memorial Hall was demolished in 1955.

Frame is removed (Courtesy of OJHS)
Many artifacts were displayed at the Toledo Zoo and the military items eventually were moved to the basement. A society volunteer told the Blade that the painting, once the glory of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, was propped against a wall in damp darkness.

“It had a great big scratch and there was a little bit of water damage,” Isbell said of the painting before its restoration. “It was not in real good shape.”

But these are much better days for “Battery H.” The Toledo Museum of Art approached the historical society about borrowing the treasured painting and has agreed to provide an official appraisal in return, said Isbell.

The historical society loaned the painting to the Tennessee State Museum in 1993, but Isbell acknowledges its prominence at the exhibit in Toledo will bring it to a much larger audience. (The Toledo Museum of Art had about 346,000 visitors in 2014 and saw an uptick when the Civil War exhibit opened earlier this month. The historical society in Oregon is open only on Thursdays and by appointment).

“We are going to have a big party when it comes back,” she said.

COMING SOON:  Other items in the Toledo Museum of Art’s Civil War exhibit.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Journal of POW Sgt. John C. Ely: Curse on Copperheads after Lincoln death

(Library of Congress)

Sgt. John Clark Ely saw highs and lows over the next week. The member of the 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry mourned the loss of President Abraham Lincoln while at the same time seeing comrades being sent to freedom from their parole camp near Vicksburg, Ms. The former Andersonville POW awaited his turn. (Journal entries courtesy of Andersonville National Historic Site.)

April 15, 1865 (Saturday)
Very heavy rain in night but cleared up through day. P.M. prisoners from Andersonville had meeting and passed resolutions expressive of thanks to the sanitary and Christian commissions for their good things so generously given.

April 16, 1865 (Sunday)
Beautiful morning and day, wrote to Julia. The Illinois men were paroled today and getting ready for going North to Benton Barracks St. Louis.

(top of page torn off)
sad, sad (  ) of this morning our president, honest old Abe was shot by J. Wilks Booth in Washington on Friday night in theater and also W.H. Seward, Secr. of State, his throat cut from ear to ear and cannot live. The greatest man of the day and the best friends of the South, none would do for them as they. Oh, may the curse of Almighty fall upon northern sympathizers and copperheads who by their aid and countenance have helped this thing, our president gone, can it be true, too true

April 19, 1865 (Wednesday)
Fine morning, Mosuria men parolled today.

April 20, 1865 (Thursday)
Fine day, the men who have been parolled were sent away today, some 1600, may our turn come soon.  Reported that Secr. Seward is likely to recover. Hope he may so as to still preside over the affairs of our nation.

April 21, 1865 (Friday).
Camp reorganized, each state troops put in same company. Have charge of Co. I, all eastern and middle state troops parolled today.


By the time of these journal entries, Ely had been away from Andersonville for a little more than three weeks. What were conditions like in April 15-20, 1865, back at the infamous camp in central Georgia? Here's what Stephanie Steinhorst of Andersonville National Historic Site tells the Picket:

"Prisoners are being pushed in and out of Andersonville, they get repeatedly marched out, loaded on trains and then turned back to the stockade proving the chaotic nature of the last weeks of war. …

"Prison population remains about 3,400 men, with single deaths reported. The last part of the week most of the 3,000 men are moved to Macon and Jacksonville. By the 21st, there are 361 in the stockade and for the rest of the month less than 50"