Saturday, May 30, 2015

'You never leave a fallen comrade'

A Civil War-era soldier who received the Medal of Honor will be buried with full military honors after his ashes were discovered in an unmarked, communal crypt. Sgt. Charles Schroeter will be buried at Miramar National Center in July, nearly a century after he died, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. • Article

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Three-fourths of Confederate trench will be preserved in suburban Atlanta development

Confederates faced west in this trench (Courtesy of GBA)

A senior residential development near the site of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia will preserve 700 feet of a 960-foot section of trench built by Confederates along what was called the Mud Creek Line.

The Marietta Daily Journal and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the Cobb County Board of Commissioners last week approved the rezoning on Ernest Barrett Parkway near Burnt Hickory Road for 76 cottages that will sell for $329,000 and up.

The action came after the developer, Thomas Homes & Communities, conducted a cultural resource study after it was made aware of the trench by local historians and preservationists. According to the Georgia Battlefields Association, the site plan was then modified and brought before the commission.

Rob Hosack, the county’s community development director, told the Marietta newspaper that “the best parts of the trenches are going to be protected. The developer has agreed to pay mitigation money into a fund for future preservation activity.” He also said the county has a “pretty good track record” of protecting trenches.

Development in mid-point of Mud Creek Line (GBA)

But in a GBA newsletter released Tuesday, President Charlie Crawford contended that “260 feet would be lost forever and similar earthworks would be threatened as the housing market rebounded.”

Developer attorney John Moore told the MDJ the preserved section of the trench will be protected during construction and will be bordered by a split-rail fence to keep people away and show its historic significance. The feature will serve as the centerpiece of a 3-acre park within the neighborhood.

The trench was built in mid-June 1864 as a Confederate defensive work and was lined in several places with rocks.

It had to be abandoned after a barrage of Union artillery fire; troops withdrew to the foothills of Kennesaw Mountain.

Moore said history buffs will have the opportunity to view the trench as long as they contact the new homeowner’s association, the newspaper reported.

(Courtesy of GBA)

While the attorney said historians were “ecstatic” because so much of the trench will be preserved, the GBA was less sanguine, headlining its newsletter “Cobb County earthworks threatened by rebounding development.”

Crawford told the Picket that he contacted Moore after a homeowner in the area first talked with him and the group examined the property. That’s when the project was delayed for the study, which found the trench to be in “good condition.”

“While GBA had a hand in preserving part of the trench, we hate to lose even a fragment,” the group said in its newsletter.

Cobb County once contained about 30 miles of Confederate earthworks.

“Some of those are preserved in Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park and in Cobb County’s Shoupade Park, but most fragments are on private property, and some of those (e.g., Pine Mountain, Brushy Mountain) are preserved only by the civic-mindedness of the land owners,” the GBA said. “We’ll continue to work with local historians and preservationists to save what we can.”

(GBA photo)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

NPS takes a new look at Reconstruction

With its observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War now past, the National Park Service is turning its attention to a lesser-known period of American history: Reconstruction. The agency is embarking on a yearlong study to inventory sites throughout the South and beyond that are important to telling the sometimes-bloody story of a time when 4 million freed blacks worked to build lives as a free people. • Article

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Keillor to speak at Gettysburg Dedication Day; ceremony to welcome 16 new citizens

Radio program host Garrison Keillor, known for his folksy descriptions of everyday Americans, will talk about the heroes who gave their lives during the Civil War and the president who spoke eloquently about their sacrifice.

Garrison Keillor
Gettysburg National Military Park and the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania announced that the producer of American Public Media’s “A Prairie Home Companion” heard on NPR will present the Dedication Day address on Thursday, Nov. 19.

The event had been scheduled for the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at the park, but officials on Tuesday, Nov. 17, said it was being moved to the Gettysburg Union College Ballroom because of the threat of inclement weather.

“It is something of a miracle that the prosperous Illinois railroad lawyer who won the 1860 election turned out to be Abraham Lincoln,” Keillor said in a statement. “He was a better man than anyone knew and a masterful writer, who gave us the Second Inaugural (“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right”), and the classic of Gettysburg, on 11/19/63.”

Since 1938, the fellowship on Nov. 19 has commemorated Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and rededicated the cemetery where he spoke on that day in 1863. Others now help sponsor the event.

The day’s events begin at 10 a.m. and are open to the public. A naturalization ceremony for 16 new U.S. citizens is planned. Lincoln portrayer George Buss will recite the Gettysburg Address.

The event will be live streamed here.

Keillor, in his “The Writer’s Almanac," often has mentioned Lincoln and his legacy.

“Poor Edward Everett stood up and orated for two hours that day and went down in history as a pretentious gasbag and Lincoln gave his address that thousands and thousands of schoolchildren have memorized and learned what greatness sounds like,” Keillor said. “But it is his plain humanity that so impresses us today. He feels like a contemporary.”

Monday, May 18, 2015

Photos: Grand Review parade in D.C.

Sunday's Grand Review Parade in Washington, D.C., included more 1,500 re-enactors marking 150 years since the end of the Civil War. Most were dressed as Union soldiers and carried muskets. A few rode down the most famous street in D.C. on horses as ladies waved handkerchiefs at them. Tourists cheered on the participants. • Photos

Friday, May 15, 2015

Navy team soon will begin removing CSS Georgia guns, artillery rounds from river

Previously recovered CSS Georgia gun (Old Fort Jackson)

[Update note: Navy dives described below will now begin in mid-June]

A U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal team is expected to begin operations June 1 at the ongoing recovery site of the CSS Georgia, the Confederate ironclad resting in pieces on the river bottom in Savannah, Ga.

Initially, officials believed perhaps five to 10 artillery rounds might need to be removed and rendered safe.

But Russell Wicke, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah, told the Picket on Thursday that divers “kept finding more and more” – for a total of perhaps 30.

Wreckage and artifacts of the CSS Georgia are being removed from the Savannah River in the first phase of the deepening of the city’s harbor. The vessel, which served as a defensive floating battery, was scuttled by its crew in late 1864, just before Savannah fell to Federal forces.

The Navy disposal group, working from a barge, will be on site at least two weeks, lifting four remaining cannon and the artillery rounds, with a Marines team rendering them safe, said Wicke.

Officials are finalizing plans for a “safe zone” during the ordnance recovery -- meaning the public will have to be outside of that boundary.

Casemate section pulled up in 2013 (USACE)

After that work is done, the recovery shifts to the large pieces of the ship: The casemates, propeller and engine, Wicke said. Many of the pieces will be conserved for future display.

The public can learn more about the story of the CSS Georgia and its recovery at a free lecture June 2 (new date) at the Savannah History Museum, 303 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Two of the lead underwater archaeologists, Steven James and Gordon Watts, will talk about the vessel’s construction, life aboard it and how divers are documenting the wreck site. The speakers will bring some recently recovered artifacts. The museum will be open for light refreshments before the 7 p.m. talk.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Alonzo Cushing's Medal of Honor on display

The Medal of Honor awarded to Wisconsin native Alonzo Cushing for heroism at Gettysburg is on temporary loan to Delafield, where he lived several years. Though he died in 1863, Cushing didn't receive the nation's highest honor for valor until last November during a ceremony at the White House with members of his extended family present. • Article

Thursday, May 7, 2015

150 years ago: Arrest of Capt. Henry Wirz began assignment of blame for Andersonville

Harper's Weekly illustration of Capt. Wirz stomping on prisoner, based on testimony at his trial in 1865 (NPS)

On this day, 150 years ago, the commandant of the stockade at Andersonville prison was arrested, setting off a chain of events that remains controversial to this day.

Union cavalry Capt. Henry Noyes took Confederate Capt. Henry Wirz into custody at the site at war’s end. Wirz was sent to nearby Macon, Ga.; Nashville, Tenn.; and then Washington, D.C., where he was tried and convicted of conspiracy and murder.

Accounts by prisoners during the Civil War are full of stories of horror, heroism and extraordinary efforts to survive. At Andersonville alone, nearly 13,000 men died over 14 months -- an average of more than 30 a day. 

Conditions at Andersonville deteriorated quickly by the summer of 1864. Food often was scare and the staff was always short of supplies – matters not directly under Wirz’s control. And the Union army had largely ended prisoner exchanges.

But Union survivors testified he was cruel and would order some of them shot when he became enraged, or did the shooting himself.

“Wirz was unable to control the bureaucracy that plagued the Confederate military prison system, so he controlled the prisoners in the only way he could – through intimidation and punishment,” says a National Park Service article.

The officer was hanged on Nov. 10, 1865, after insisting those higher up the chain of command were responsible for the prison’s appalling conditions. He was punished for matters he could control – his own inconsistent behavior, actions and dehumanizing of prisoners.

Wirz has his defenders, and a statue in his memory still stands in the small hamlet of Andersonville near the national site.

The Georgia historian for the United Daughters of the Confederacy wrote an essay in 1921 about what she termed an injustice – suborned testimony and exaggerations at the trial.

She wrote that Wirz did not fearing going to Macon with Noyes because “he was conscious of having done all for the prisoners that was possible under the conditions.

Before they left, Wirz invited Noyes to share a small meal of bacon and cornbread with his family.

“With a woman's instinct, Mrs. Wirz did not like the ominous silence of Captain Noyes, and became greatly agitated when her husband bade her goodbye. Wirz tried to comfort his weeping wife and children, assuring then that all would be well. After an affectionate goodbye, he left for Macon.

This portrayal of a hospitable man just following orders did not match the memories of many who were guards or prisoners at Andersonville.

One Confederate soldier testified that Wirz ordered a prisoner into the stocks during a rainstorm. The soldier, observing the prisoner was drowning, placed an umbrella over the prisoner and approach Wirz, who was said to reply, "Let the damned Yankee drown."

Monday, May 4, 2015

Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club honored for heavy lifting before, during 150th events

Volunteers at 24-Gun Battery Trail construction (Photos: KMTC)

A club that maintains 22 miles of trail within Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park near Atlanta will receive a National Park Service award for its extensive volunteer efforts leading up to and during last year’s sesquicentennial events.

The NPS, in conjunction with the National Park Foundation, will bestow the 2014 George and Helen Hartzog Awards for Outstanding Volunteer Service at a June program in Washington, D.C.

The Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club will receive the volunteer group award. It is being recognized for:

-- Taking a large role in the park’s commemoration last year of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain by recruiting, training and directing 500 volunteers who contributed 3,000 hours to make the visitor experience more enjoyable; and by raising more than $100,000 -- making it possible for prominent historians, authors, and performers to participate in commemorative events. The club also maintained a website intended to build interest and volunteer and sponsorship opportunities.

-- Working closely with the park staff, spending two years planning and constructing the reroute of the Assault Trail (above), to follow the approximate path that Union soldiers took to engage Confederate troops at Cheatham Hill and past the McCook monument, which sat alone on the ridge for years;

-- Building the 1.5-mile long 24-Gun Battery Trail, along the spot where Federal artillerymen opened up on Confederate positions in the heights above at the June 1864 clash;

-- Creating school programs to bring children into the park for interpretive sessions about the history of the battle and the Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

-- Creating the “Hunt for History” scavenger hunt and holding a movie premiere to generate public excitement about the sesquicentennial.

Work along the 24-Gun Battery Trail (Photos: KMTC)

Members of the trail club, which was formed in 2002, have given about 28,000 hours of service. It has between 50 and 100 active members, with hundreds of other volunteers helping from time to time on work days.

Kennesaw Mountain’s trails draw a range of visitors, from out-of-state war buffs to locals who enter the park from subdivisions to get some exercise. There are runners, walkers, horseback riders and hikers preparing for strenuous endeavors around the world.

The awards are named for former National Park Service Director George B. Hartzog, Jr. and his wife Nancy. In 1970, the Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) was launched.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Live blog: Lincoln funeral re-enactment

The State Journal-Register newspaper in Springfield, Ill., is live blogging and posting compelling photos from this weekend’s re-creation of the funeral procession and burial of President Abraham Lincoln, 150 years ago this month. • Article

Friday, May 1, 2015

New CSS Georgia artifacts: Bayonet hilt, grapeshot, gun sight and much more

Stand of artillery grapeshot with cap (All photos U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

While TV cameras and the public may be more interested when the big stuff – cannon, the propeller and pieces of casemate – are lifted from the Savannah River, it may be the smaller items currently being carried up by divers that tell the bigger story about the operation and crew life on the Confederate ironclad CSS Georgia.

“The artifacts have just been more fascinating than I would have expected, and I think they are telling a better story than what people realized at first,” said Russell Wicke, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in the Georgia city.

More than 1,000 artifacts have been recovered so far from the 1864 wreck site. The underpowered CSS Georgia ended up serving as a defensive floating battery off Fort Jackson, just east of the historic waterfront. It was scuttled hours before Union forces took Savannah.

The dive area is about 150 feet by 250 feet. Visibility is near nil. Interestingly, pieces of pottery that pre-date the Civil War have been recovered from the debris field.

The current dives will continue into June, when a Navy barge and crane arrive on scene to begin the heavy lifting.

Wicke this week gave the Picket an overview of some of the items divers recovered in April.

Misbehave? Watch out for the leg irons
Divers have recovered two sets of these contraptions, intended either for prisoners or crew members that were in trouble or prone to desert. The image in the center is an X-ray and the one at right an epoxy mold that can be referred to while the actual artifact undergoes extensive conservation.

Remnants of a bayonet hilt
According to a Corps article, the P.S. Justice rifle bayonet, model 1861, type II, was not of the highest quality. The company was based in Philadelphia.

Eyes for tackle from pivot gun carriage
These shaped pieces of brass (left) and iron were part of the rope and wood assembly used to aim and direct fire (though the ironclad never fired a combat shot). Wicke said research by Texas A&M University showed the cannon were not fixed in position, as once believed. These eyes for tackle allowed the crew to fire the cannon from different articles.

Grapeshot and stand
Here’s one of the more remarkable finds. Wicke says the crew wrapped these pieces with leather straps, which have long ago disintegrated in the river. He likens the golfball-sized grapeshot to giant shotgun pellets – able to clear the deck. A cap was placed at the top.

Assorted fasteners and spikes
The CSS Georgia was believed to have about 24 inches of pine and oak beneath her iron cladding. These metal items were used to link the railroad track armor to the protective wood and other components of the vessel. Many of these pieces are covered in concretion, the result of sand and shell forming sediment. Wood used on the ironclad is now largely “mush,” said Wicke, because of ravenous worms.

Rear gun sight
Jim Jobling, a project manager with Texas A&M’s Conservation Research Laboratory, looks over a sight for a 32-pound rifled cannon on the CSS Georgia. He noticed the faint presence of a serial number.

Ever hear of a sabot?
This small metal disc was at the back end of artillery shells and helped in the rifling process, says Wicke.