Thursday, January 28, 2016

Civil War show in Dalton, Ga.: Chance to buy period items, learn about failed strategy

(2010 Chickamauga Civil War Show -- Picket photo)

Failings of Confederate leadership in the Western Theater will be the subject of an upcoming seminar held in conjunction with the Chickamauga Civil War Show in Dalton, Ga.

Bandy Heritage Center for Northwest Georgia’s Feb. 6 colloquium will draw patrons who flock to the annual firearms, artifacts and relics show at the Dalton Convention Center, 2211 Dug Gap Battle Road.

“We have held our colloquium in conjunction with the Civil War show every year since 2010,” said Brian Hilliard, Bandy project director. “It is a natural tie-in with the community interest in the show.

The talks in the lecture hall on the upper level of the trade center are free and feature three prominent Civil War historians and authors. The schedule for “Losing the Heartland: The Failure of Confederate Theater Command in the West” is:

Tim Smith
9:15 a.m.: “Albert Sidney Johnston: Hero or Villain?”
Tim Smith will examine the general’s strategic and tactical decisions and their repercussions. Smith, including in “Shiloh: Conquer or Perish,” has written extensively about the fallen leader’s conduct at that 1862 battle. In an America’s Civil War magazine article, Smith took on the myth that the South would have won the battle if Johnston had lived.

10 a.m.: “Joseph E. Johnston and the Mess in the West”
Richard McMurry will explore the complex relationships between Johnston and his superiors and subordinates and how that affected strategy. The general had a defense-and-retreat strategy in northwest Georgia that eventually led to his loss of command. Johnston later argued he was heavily outnumbered and won support from early postwar writers, but McMurry has raised questions about his effectiveness. “It turns out that Joseph E. Johnston is not regarded now by a lot of people as the greatest thing since grits,” the historian said in 2014, adding the general’s retreat toward Atlanta was a political and logistical disaster for the South. (Coincidentally, Johnston led troops against Maj. Gen William T. Sherman around Dalton during the Atlanta Campaign).

Steve Davis
11 a.m.: “Bonnie Blue Flop: P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate Strategy in the Autumn of 1864”
Steve Davis, who has written extensively about the Atlanta Campaign, will discuss Beauregard’s role in Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ failed efforts to create a unified command structure in the West. The Louisiana-born general did not get along well with Jefferson Davis and other leaders.

11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Discussion panel

In the same building, the Chickamauga Civil War Show is scheduled for 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 6, and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 7. Admission is $10 for adults; children under 12 get in free.

Show organizer Mike Kent told the Picket he expects to have 475 tables with dealers from more than 20 states and England. Rafael Eledge, who appears on PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow,” and his business Shiloh Relics will be among the vendors. Eledge will give free appraisals, Kent says.

“We expect a great crowd as always, with several local Civil War Roundtables making their annual pilgrimages to the show,” said Kent.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Program will discuss Missouri massacre

Joplin, Mo., residents will get a chance Thursday to learn more about a skirmish that may not have unfolded as previously believed, according to new archaeological evidence. The Civil War came to the Rader Farm site in during two days in May 1863. Fifteen black soldiers of the 1st Kansas Colored and three white soldiers from the 2nd Kansas Volunteer Artillery Battery were killed by Confederate guerrillas. The bodies of some of the black soldiers were mutilated. • Article

Friday, January 22, 2016

War and illusion: Atlanta Cyclorama's dramatic diorama figures were made in all sizes

(Picket photo of AHC exhibit)

Onward the men rush to join the battle. They dodge shattered tree limbs and fallen comrades to meet the Rebel challenge. And, if the artists’ illusion is successful, they will be pulled from the foreground and into the painting’s maelstrom of death.

Like other cycloramas, the massive work depicting the July 1864 Battle of Atlanta was an immersive experience for patrons who gazed in wonder. It was all about building the illusion of being there – capturing the very human moments of anger, terror, determination and pain. The panorama allows a 360-degree view of the subject.

Dioramas were a big part of the experience. Plants, structures and human figures close to viewing platforms and in the foreground of the painting added a realistic perspective – and the Atlanta Cyclorama has all of that.

The Cyclorama was closed last year in anticipation of its relocation from Grant Park to the Atlanta History Center in the Buckhead community.

The 120 plaster figures built in the 1930s are now in storage at the Atlanta History Center. They will be patched and touched up during construction of a new Cyclorama building at the AHC.

So important is the Civil War to Atlanta’s story is that several related items are currently on display at the AHC’s exhibit “Atlanta in 50 Objects.”

(Library of Congress)

Near the exhibition entrance is one of the plaster figures from the Cyclorama, created in a supine position. The Union soldier, blood running down his shirt, may be in his dying moments as others rush by him. Not on display with him are his cap and rifle.

(If you enlarge and look closely at the painting above, you can see the figure on the right, just above the railroad track.)

Erica Hague, collections manager at the Atlanta History Center, said some of the plaster figures “are in really good shape. Some have guns that fell off and have chips.” Others may have lost a few of their fingers over 80 years.

The figures were made in a variety of sizes, ranging from about 18 inches to 5 feet. They weigh from 10 to 100 pounds.

And because the only perspective that mattered was what was seen from the viewing platform, the backs of many figures were not painted and some of their faces and other features are not complete.

“It’s a little creepy in a good way,” said Hague, adding a few can appear zombie-like.

The figurines were fashioned between 1934 and 1936 as part of a Works Progress Administration project. Artists Weis Snell, Joseph Llorens, and Wilbur Kurtz fashioned plaster figures for a diorama as foreground for the painting. Set on a flooring of red clay, the shrubbery, cannon, track, and 128 soldiers gave the painting more realism for visitors,” the AHC says.

Some of the figures were created from the same structural form, but with different features or expressions (others face away from the viewer). Their interior was bolstered by rebar and some have rust, Hague said.

All but six of them depict Union soldiers. (The Milwaukee company that employed German artists to produce the painting was influenced by one patron, politician John A. Logan, who commanded the XV Corps at the Battle of Atlanta.)

The most famous figure is a Union corpse with the face of Rhett Butler. Clark Gable, who played Butler in “Gone With the Wind,” has visited the Cyclorama in December 1939 while in Atlanta for the film’s premiere.

The Cyclorama was cleaned and treated during a major restoration in 1979-1981. Clay in the old diorama was replaced with a fiberglass and plastic coating and the figures were reset.

Hague said the figures have been digitally mapped in their old setting, but a new diorama floor will have to be constructed (real tree stumps will be replaced with faux versions).

The plaster soldiers won’t be in their exact original positions when the refurbished painting opens in a couple of years. That’s because the Atlanta Historic Center will restore the massive mural to its full hyperbolic, or hourglass, shape. That will re-create the intended visual perspective lost when the painting was cut to fit into the Grant Park building.

Once the painting is moved and its new building is opened, visitors will be able to witness the ongoing restoration.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Mass grave speaks to sacrifice, loss

Matthew Barbour, a New Mexico state archaeologist, says the remains of Confederate soldiers discovered in 1987 in a mass grave site speak to the violence, loss and futility of war. “It shows the very real consequence of war,” said Barbour during a presentation on the uncovered remains of soldiers killed during the Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass in 1862. “The battle pretty much ended up being pointless,” Barbour said. • Article

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Raising the CSS Georgia (update): Artifacts recovery by the numbers

9,000-pound Dahlgren recovered i n 2015 (USACE)

As first reported by the Associated Press, CSS Georgia conservators are treating fewer than half of the 29,716 artifacts recovered from the scuttled Confederate ironclad’s watery grave in Savannah, Ga.

Russell Wicke, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district’ office, told the Picket that 165 tons (13,019 artifacts) went to a Texas A&M University laboratory for conservation, while 134 tons (16,697 items) were reburied in the river.

Why more artifacts reburied, while weighing less? That’s because the more mundane bolts, washers, nails and smaller items were not considered “unique,” according to the AP report. They were documented and placed in underwater storage containers.

Among the larger items being conserved are several heavy artillery pieces and sections of the armor casemate.

The Army Corps of Engineers has supervised the $14 million removal of the one-off CSS Georgia as part of a major harbor deepening project in Savannah. Research will continue for years on the vessel and its huge load of artifacts.

Wicke told the Picket his office is working with Texas A&M on obtaining a list of all artifacts and a progress report on conservation.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Resaca battlefield site: NW Georgia county still hoping for a May grand opening

Pavilion at new Resaca historic site (Georgia Battlefields Association)

Storm cleanup, work on trail markers and the installation of corrected interpretive markers are among the items Georgia officials have been completing as they prepare to hand off operation of the new Battle of Resaca historic site.

The Department of Natural Resources had hoped to finish work on the site by the end of October, but work on the punch list continued until early this year.

Mary Kathryn Yearta, director of public and government affairs for the department, told the Picket last week that crews were cleaning up from storms over the Christmas holidays (the 500-acre property off Interstate I-75 in Gordon County is in a flood plain).

“Some of the trails and roads had debris and were washed out due to the large amount of rainfall we received,” she said. “After the storm cleanup, the work done on the property by DNR will be complete.”

The DNR and Gordon County are slated to meet this month about setting up a final review prior to county commissioners accepting a transfer of Resaca Battlefield State Historic Site for operation and maintenance, said county Administrator John A. King.

During our last visit, we noticed that the new entrance sign looked very nice, and all of the trails that we observed were in the best condition that we have seen so far. Some of the trail markers needed attention; and several of the interpretive signs, which had been slated for correction, were still pending installation,” King told the Picket. The county is pleased with the progress that DNR had made on the site, and we are continuing to discuss a soft opening this spring that would precede a grand opening in May.”

Marker for the 103rd Ohio (Georgia Battlefields Association)

Charlie Crawford, president of the Georgia Battlefields Association, said visitors to the site will see well-preserved trenches from both sides and most of the battlefield on the early afternoon of May 14, 1864. Late-afternoon action is on the east side of the interstate. 

On May 13-15, 1864, Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s army and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of the Tennessee bloodied each other at Resaca. There was no clear winner, but Sherman continued his march toward Atlanta, which he took several months later.

Opening the park has not been easy. For two decades, supporters of the site have been frustrated by false starts, permit problems, negotiations by state and local governments, construction delays and a massive road project at the interstate interchange at Resaca.

Ken Padgett, a leader of the Gordon County Historic Preservation Commission and Friends of Resaca Battlefield said he is anxious for the project to be completed and acceptable to Gordon County. “Enough delays,” he said.

The park will have trails and signs, but no interpretive center, when it opens.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A walk in Bermuda: Bumping into the 'rogues' of Confederate blockade running

Blockade runner at St. George's (Wikipedia, public domain)

My wife, eldest son and I winged our way Saturday to Bermuda for a quick (25-hour) getaway. We lucked out on the weather and saw much of the gorgeous British territory by ferry, bus, taxi and on foot.

After marveling at the rocky north shore of St. George’s Island, we left the azure waters and gentle breeze and sauntered down to the village of the same name. While walking the charming streets (Duke of York Street, to be precise) at midday Sunday, I stumbled into the American Civil War.

A sign on the stucco wall of the site, now the Bermuda National Trust Museum at the Globe Hotel, calls the building the “Confederate Headquarters during the American Civil War." Apparently, commercial agent Maj. Norman Walker used the second floor of the 300-year-old building to coordinate “the flow of guns; ammunition and other war supplies through the Union blockade.”

The museum was closed, but I pledged to do a little reading when I got home last night.

Picket photo
Rogues & Runners: Bermuda and the American Civil War” is the star attraction among several exhibits. An accompanying book talks about how the Confederacy turned to Bermuda, Cuba and the Bahamas as vital stops for blockade running. Those harbors “teemed with ships full of arms and supplies for the South and others loaded with cotton on their way back to Europe as payment.”

Blockade runners were employed to fight the North’s “Anaconda Plan” of choking off Southern ports. There was a lot of profiteering and many items early in the war were meant for civilians willing to pay high prices.

But, according to a U.S. National Marine Sanctuaries article, “To prevent blockade-running companies and captains from loading their ships with high-value commodities for better profit, the Confederacy operated government-owned runners, and, in 1864, the Confederate Congress passed a law banning luxury goods on the steamers to focus the incoming cargoes on what was needed to win the war.

Great Britain controlled Bermuda and the Bahamas and encouraged blockade running. According to a teacher resource guide produced by the museum, although Bermuda was neutral, most of its residents favored the South.

The upper floor of the Globe Hotel was used by Confederate Commercial Agent John Tory Bourne and Confederate Shipping Agent Major Norman Walker as the office from which they coordinated the flow of desperately needed guns, ammunition, uniforms and other war materiel through the Union blockade, established to starve the southern Confederacy,” reads the guide. “It was a turbulent yet profitable period in St. George’s history and the Globe was at the heart of it.”

Former Globe Hotel now houses museum (Picket photo)

Goods that were brought from Europe and meant for the South were transferred from larger vessels to the faster blockade runners in Bermuda.

The guide continues: “The opportunities for Bermudians to profit from blockade running were boundless. Ships needed coal and provisions. Crews required lodging, food and entertainment between runs. Cargoes had to be unloaded, stored and reloaded, while crews and cargoes had to be ferried to ships lying at anchor. Bermudian pilots guided the ships through the reefs; those with skills as mates, carpenters, firemen and ordinary seamen signed on as crew. The Civil War proved to be the road to riches.”

The U.S. government during the Civil War tried to pressure Bermuda to quash such trade. Occasionally, navy ships tried to capture the fast and daring blockade runners, which used the territory as a stopping point in journeys from England to Wilmington, N.C, and Charleston, S.C.

Bow of Mary Celestia (NOAA photo)

Among the blockade runners that sank off the southern Bermuda shore was the 1864 steamer Mary Celestia, which has been explored by archaeologists and is the subject of a film documentary. A case of fine wine was discovered a few years ago among the well-preserved contraband. The vessel -- and wine -- never made it to Wilmington.

The venue in St. George’s apparently used to be called the Confederate Museum -- and the name change and exhibit title brought out some online critics, including those who blamed the conflict on the North and used terms such as “invasion.” One wrote that the Yankees were the real rogues.

Mary Celestia perfume bottle
One commenter said he didn’t think the trust was being disrespectful to the memory of those who fought in the war: “I think to be fair that the title ‘Rogues and Runners’ is more a jibe at us islanders and those who were not directly involved in the war in gun running etc. Many of the Captains of the runners were English naval officers for example on extended leave who made huge sums of money from this enterprise – together with those of ‘us’ islanders who were in it just for the money were the real ‘rogues’ in all of this.”

On a side note, there’s an exhibit in St. George’s Tucker House about Joseph Rainey, a free black man from South Carolina. Rainey, who later became a U.S. congressman, escaped Confederate service and went with his wife to Bermuda, which had abolished slavery in 1834. The couple lived there for four years before returning to the United States.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

'Atlanta in 50 Objects': 6 Civil War-related items make the cut in new exhibit

Plaster figure on exhibit  (Picket photo)

Before there was a famous beverage (Coca-Cola), a Nobel Prize winner (the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.) and a popular Christmas ride (the Pink Pig), there was an Atlanta down on its luck. Some 150 years ago, Atlanta was a small town knocked to its knees by the Civil War and hoping for better days.

Out of the Civil War’s ashes – as depicted by the city’s seal of a winged phoenix – rose a spirit of recovery and can-do that eventually turned the rough-edged town into a major American city. Along the way, certain people, events, businesses and cultural items gained iconic status.

The Atlanta History Center will tell the evolving city’s story in a six-month exhibit, “Atlanta in 50 Objects.” But it wasn’t curators who set out to determine the defining items to display – about 300 suggestions came from area residents.

While much of the “diverse” exhibition opening Jan. 16 resulted from ideas of a more contemporary nature – the growing Atlanta movie industry, immigration and hip-hop music – six objects have ties to the Civil War. They are:

First page of Sherman's order (Courtesy Atlanta History Center)

-- Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order #67, which expelled starving residents after the besieged city fell in early September 1864. Sherman and his soldiers had a great deal to do with the ashes. Before leaving Atlanta on the March to the Sea, his engineers destroyed everything of military value. Sherman forced remaining families to abandon their homes.

-- A 1930s plaster soldier figurine from the diorama in the foreground of the Cyclorama painting, which depicts the July 22, 1864, Battle of Atlanta.

-- A 1936 first edition of Margaret Mitchell’s classic “Gone With the Wind.”

-- A bronze model for "Atlanta from the Ashes," a 1967 sculpture by James Siegler. It was given to the city by Rich's department store. It now resides in downtown's Woodruff Park.

-- A 1936 Georgia Railroad timetable panel will make mention of the strategic importance of railroads to the city during the Civil War.

(Picket photo)
-- A small boat made from shells from the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition, which showed off economic resurgence following the conflict’s devastation and sealed Atlanta’s position as capital of the “New South.”

Part of the exhibit’s intro covers the concept:

How do you tell the story of Atlanta in 50 objects? We decided the best experts were Atlantans themselves – residents who cheer the Braves and rue I-285 rush-hour traffic, who understand how Civil War losses and Civil Rights victories together helped forge the city’s unique identity.”

Howard Pousner, manager of media relations at the Atlanta History Center, said the public made thematic suggestions (such as “include the Civil War because …”) and then curators had to determine, sometimes in concert with partner institutions and companies, what was the best object to convey those themes.

While there are references to the Civil War and Atlanta’s formative years, others cover the waterfront, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Rev. King and Coca-Cola, to Hank Aaron’s 600th home run bat and a Chick-fil-A billboard cow. Several people nominated something from the 1996 Summer Games.

“Atlanta in 50 Objects” is a precursor to the April premiere of a permanent exhibition on the history of Atlanta.

(Picket photo)

Moviegoers, of course, are familiar with the screen version of Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind,” which tells the story of a resilient woman who uses her wits and guile to deal with the Civil War’s impact on her Georgia family.

The Cyclorama diorama figure was among those fashioned between 1934 and 1936 as part of a Works Progress Administration project. Artists Weis Snell, Joseph Llorens, and Wilbur Kurtz fashioned plaster figures for a diorama as foreground for the painting. Set on a flooring of red clay, the shrubbery, cannon, track, and 128 soldiers gave the painting more realism for visitors,” the AHC says.

The painting is being moved from Grant Park to the Atlanta History Center campus in Buckhead. The public will be able to see much of its restoration in a new building.

Library of Congress

The Cotton States and International Exposition (above), held on the grounds of present-day Piedmont Park, drew nearly 1 million attendees and helped the city draw investment. The event also is remembered for the “Atlanta Compromise.” Educator and orator Booker T. Washington did not explicitly challenge segregation. Rather, he advised African-Americans to seek economic security before equality.

As for Sherman, the South’s favorite bogeyman? He issued his order on Sept. 8, 1864. More than 1,600 individuals, who had suffered privation and bombardment, were registered and ordered to leave later that month. The order also authorized the construction of new Federal defensive works around Atlanta.
Major Gen. Sherman
Mayor James Calhoun pleaded for Sherman to withdraw the evacuation order. “You know the woe, the horror, and the suffering cannot be described by words.”

The general’s reply included this line: “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it. …”

“Atlanta in 50 Objects” will be on display from January 16 to July 10 at the Atlanta History Center, 130 West Paces Ferry Road NW. The exhibition is included in a general admission ticket. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Ship's 'unique stuff' went to conservation

Nearly 30,000 artifacts were recovered from the wreckage of the sunken ironclad Confederate gunship CSS Georgia. More than half of the haul retrieved during the $14 million government project, however, were returned to a watery grave at the bottom of the Savannah River. • Here’s why

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