Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Fashionistas: Those dashing young Zouaves

Library of Congress
At the first battle of Manassas, the soldiers of the 14th Brooklyn hadn't just grabbed any old trousers they had laying around. They were proud examples of the "Zouave Craze": an unlikely military style that sent Civil War soldiers charging into battle wearing sashes, baggy pantaloons, tassled fezzes, and turbans.

Forged in North Africa and co-opted by the French colonists, the Zouave style was taken to new heights by Union and Confederates alike—all thanks to one dedicated super fan.
• Article

Friday, March 25, 2016

How rocks shaped Civil War outcomes

A century and a half ago, the Civil War rocked America. But as it turns out, the war itself — in particular, the pivotal battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 — was influenced by rocks. A just-published article in Geosphere, the journal of the Geological Society of America, details how rock formations helped to determine the outcome at Gettysburg. • Article

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

First headstone installed at Poplar Grove

(Courtesy National Park Service)

The first new, upright headstone at Poplar Grove National Cemetery at Petersburg National Battlefield in Virginia was installed on Tuesday. The marker is for the grave of W.H. Johnson, who served in the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT). According to one website, a William Johnson served with the 23rd USCT and was originally buried at Avery farm. See story below for details on the 18-month rehabilitation project that will replace headstones that were cut and placed on the ground more than 80 years ago.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

'Proper respect': First new upright headstones to be installed at Petersburg cemetery

New headstones after arrival. (Chris Bryce, Petersburg National Battlefield)

Installation is scheduled this week for the first of 5,800 upright headstones that will replace markers that have lain on the ground at Poplar Grove National Cemetery in Virginia for more than 80 years.

“It’s one of the perks of the job to be able to restore something to where it should be to (show) proper respect and care,” said David Beaver, facility manager at Petersburg National Battlefield, home to the 8-acre resting place for Civil War soldiers.

The first 66 marble headstones arrived late last week, officials said.

About 6,200 soldiers are buried at Poplar Grove; about 4,000 of them are unknown. In some instances, multiple soldiers are buried together, hence the 5,800 number. A few Confederates also rest at Poplar Grove.

(Ann Blumenschine, NPS)

The long-awaited, multimillion-dollar rehabilitation project at the cemetery, which closed last November and is expected to reopen in mid-2017, includes significant repairs on an old lodge, repointing and mortar work on a perimeter brick wall, and drainage improvements.

“I have been very impressed when I go out there and see the work the contractors are doing,” said Ann Blumenschine, a Petersburg park ranger and public information officer. “They are taking a lot of care ... they want to do it properly.”

The U.S. military maintained the cemetery for many years before transferring it to the National Park Service.

The park superintendent in the early 1930s believed that cutting off the bases of the gravestones and placing the remaining marble on the ground was a good way to save on maintenance money during the Great Depression.

Unfortunately, hundreds of the bottoms from the sawed-off monuments found a new, inappropriate purpose. They were sold to a man who used them on the exterior of his Petersburg house and sidewalk.

Beaver, who oversees maintenance at the park’s several units, said the official likely did not have enough resources to maintain the site. “You probably had a guy who made the best decision he could. I doubt there was malice or negligence.”

Once they are removed, the old headstones -- per custom and law -- will be broken up to leave no trace of their original purpose. “They will be ground basically down to gravel,” said Beaver. (The NPS will keep a few representative samples of the old stones.)

Graves that contain a known individual will receive a new 200-pound headstone with a rounded top to ward off rain, and the signature federal shield and writing. The tops will be about 18 inches above ground.

Work is being done on brick wall (A. Blumenschine)

Lighter markers for unknown individuals will have a flat top that will contain a grave number. They will have a lower ground profile.

Park officials hope that the refurbished lodge may one day be staffed and serve as a visitor stop.

Petersburg maintains a database of soldiers buried at Poplar Grove.

“By the end of the project, we should have an electronic database with an all-weather touch screen where visitors will have access to the information we have,” Beaver told the Picket.

Over the years, much of the cemetery has settled. Low spots occasionally are covered by rainwater. Contractors will raise the ground level in certain areas.

“What makes this so unique is trying to strike the balance of keeping the historic character and material while also attempting to present a cemetery that meets the solemnity and respect due to the veterans who are buried there,” said Beaver.

Work on Columbiad used as monument (A. Blumenschine, NPS)

Instead of golf course-style grass, the park will plant historically accurate, drought-resistant grass, possibly native fescue, said Beaver. A new irrigation system will not be installed. “It is hard on the stones to use a watering system or sprinkling.”

Having the gravestones upright won’t just restore honor to the soldiers. The previous stones suffered water damage from being in a supine position. Many of the identification etchings wore away.

“In some ways it was embarrassing (with) a national cemetery to have it in the condition it was in,” said Beaver.

A lot of people worked here over the years to raise awareness of the cemetery’s needs, the official said. “By the time it is done. I am looking forward to feeling like we have done our part.”

While Poplar Grove National Cemetery remains closed, "Hard Hat Tours" are scheduled throughout the year. The first is Saturday, April 30, at 10 a.m.  Reservations are necessary; contact park ranger Betsy Dinger at (804) 732-3531 ext. 208.
First delivery of new headstones (Chris Bryce, NPS)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Remembering 'Skip' Wells at hallowed ground: Young Marine stood in harm's way

Salute to "Skip" Wells (photos by ANHS volunteer Hugh Peacock)

About 1,000 people attended this past weekend’s living history event at Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia. Among the ceremonies was one honoring Marine Lance Cpl. Squire “Skip” Wells, 21, of Marietta, Ga. Wells was a living historian who attended programs at Andersonville and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, where he was a volunteer with the park artillery crew. These remarks (courtesy of his office) were made by U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), who represents southwest Georgia.

“Good afternoon. Thank you for your introduction park Superintendent Charles Sellers. We have been blessed with a beautiful day today at the Andersonville National Historic Site.

"As we are gathered here today, I would like to recognize and  thank all our veterans and service members – our family, our friends, and our neighbors – for the sacrifices made to defend and protect this great nation. Your contributions are unparalleled, and your courage and bravery have made this world a better place to live.

Rep. Bishop
"This afternoon we have come to hallowed ground. Whether today is the first time you’ve had a chance to view the  Andersonville Historic Site, the National POW Museum and Memorial, and Living History, or whether you’ve visited many times, you will always come away with a deeper appreciation of the courage and sacrifice that is depicted here.

"Andersonville is home to everyone who stands up for our veterans, POWs, and service members. And as we are reminded today, Andersonville is home to everyone who helps make sure America remembers what our brave men and women endured in defense of freedom for the rest of us.

"Today, we gather for a somber occasion. We pause to honor the memories of Squire “Skip” Wells, whose life was sacrificed during the tragic shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee last July. We can never forget the sacrifice of those who paid the ultimate price.

"Thanks to the vigilance of our armed forces, terrorism does often strike so close to home. But last year, it struck at the heart of Georgia when a young Marine from Marietta and four other Marines were gunned down in Chattanooga by a terrorist with a vendetta.

"Those that knew Lance Corporal Wells have said he was a proud Marine, a devoted Christian, and a true hero. But Skip was also a young man with pride and honor and love for his family.

"The death of Skip Wells, the four other brave service members who died in Chattanooga, and the millions of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines throughout the years have not only given us their lives in defense of our nation, but have given us so much more. They gave us their futures, and all the love and hopes and dreams that will never be felt or experienced.

"Nothing we say will replace the loss, the heartbreak, and the pain of his family and friends, those who knew him best. But we can remember the ultimate sacrifice of Skip Wells, today and tomorrow. May we never, ever, forget the great men and women who stand in harm's way every single day and protect our homeland. Certainly, as it is said, ‘This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.’

"May God bless our service members, and may he continue to bless the United States of America.”

Friday, March 11, 2016

Andersonville ceremony will honor fallen Marine, living historian 'Skip' Wells

Skip Wells
A memorial ceremony Saturday (March 12) at Andersonville National Historic Site in middle Georgia will honor a Marine who took part in Civil War living history programs until he was killed with four other service members last year in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park cannon crew will perform a salute to colleague Lance Cpl. Squire “Skip” Wells. Wells, 21, of Marietta, Ga., participated in Andersonville events, too, said Jody Mays of Andersonville.

The 2:15 p.m. ceremony, which includes remarks by U.S. Rep Sanford Bishop, is taking place during the site’s living history weekend on Saturday and Sunday. Visitors can learn more about the Confederate prison called Camp Sumter and the lives of POWs and guards.

Living historians portraying Civil War soldiers will perform a 21-gun salute to Wells in a grassy area near the Wisconsin monument (just inside the stockade boundary and not far from the visitor center). The event includes the playing of Taps, the cannon firing and a benediction, Mays said.

In July 2015, a gunman killed four Marines and a Navy sailor at a Navy operational center in Chattanooga. Wells’ mother said, "My son died doing what he loved for the love of his country and his family."

The National Park Service said, “No matter what uniform Skip wore, he remains the epitome of a dedicated professional whose service cannot be replaced.

Wells joined the Kennesaw gun crew after seeing the artillery in action while on a visit, according to the Civil War News. “If he wasn’t shooting cannons with the Marines, he was shooting one here with us,” crew member Andy Cole said.

The Marine was knowledgeable and proficient with two centuries worth of cannons, Cole said last summer. “One time, he had just come off of training in the desert with the Marines, and within 48 or 72 hours of getting back here he was out shooting cannons with us this summer in a wool uniform. That’s dedication. And he loved doing it,” Cole told the Civil War News.

The Andersonville weekend includes guard drills and artillery demonstrations. There is no admission fee. Living historians will be in the prison site from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

4 recently emplaced artillery guns tell story of Federal bombardment at Kennesaw Mtn.

(NPS photo)

After a 152-year absence, artillery guns have returned to fortifications where Federal crews opened up on Confederate positions on the heights at Kennesaw Mountain near Atlanta.

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park’s cannon crew, working with Eagle Scout candidates and the Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club, on March 5 pulled the four pieces into position on the 1.7-mile long 24-Gun Battery Trail, which opened just before the battle’s 150th anniversary.

Marjorie Thomas, chief of interpretation at the park, told the Picket that one of the 3-inch ordnance rifles was previously located in front of the visitor center. The other cannons are two more ordnance rifles and a 12-pounder Napoleon that were moved to the park.

(Donald Olds, park volunteer)

“This is the initial phase of placing artillery pieces within appropriate locations throughout the park,” she said.

The effort has been a couple decades in the making. Retired park historian Willie Johnson was on hand last Saturday, providing history of the gun batteries and the June 1864 battle (a Union setback during the Atlanta Campaign) to Boy Scouts and volunteers who assisted.

“The Federals massed guns to support attacks. This was for the attack on Pigeon Hill and Little Kennesaw,” Johnson said in 2014. “They were there the entire time the Federals were there and held until Confederates evacuated the line” in early July 1864.

The Union batteries were the 2nd Illinois, 5th Wisconsin Light, 7th Indiana and 19th Indiana Light. Lumsden’s Battery was among those in gray returning fire.

Gun temporarily at site for 2014 anniversary (Picket photo)

A National Park Service wayside exhibit panel has been put in place, said Thomas. “Park staff and volunteers are currently working together to develop historic hike and interpretive programs for the location.”

Donald Olds, a trail club member who facilitates Eagle Scout projects, said the four scouts are with the Atlanta Area Council. They also constructed display platforms for the guns, which weigh about one ton. The platforms are "free standing" so as not to make any archaeological impact, said Thomas.

“It was an awesome site to see these cannon moved into place for the first time since Union Gen. WT Sherman vacated the works in the summer of 1864 on his march to Atlanta,” he said.

Olds said such projects have provided 75 enhancements to the battlefield near Marietta, Ga., in the last four years.

The trail, near busy Stilesboro Road, starts from the entrance of the environmental trail at Gilbert Road. The club urges walkers to stay on the path and not endanger the well-preserved earthworks.

Gun set in place on March 5 (Chuck Dillehay)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Tours and artillery demos at N.C. site

The Bentonville Battlefield in North Carolina will commemorate the 151st anniversary of the Civil War battle with a boom. On March 19 and 20, the state historical site will demonstrate various cannons, including 6-pounder field guns, 10-pounder Parrott rifles and 3-inch ordnance rifles. • Article

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Bring good shoe leather and curiosity to inaugural spring walks at Gettysburg

(National Park Service)

Visitors to Gettysburg battlefield next month can enjoy springtime blossoms while they take part in an inaugural special weekend of walks and talks focusing on the two armies that clashed there in July 1863.

Gettysburg National Military Park on Wednesday released details of the Spring Battlefield Foray scheduled for April 23-24. The program, entitled “Armies at War,” looks at the tactics, tools and organizations utilized at the crucial battle.

All programs are open to the public and no registration is necessary. The current schedule, with details provided by the park:

Saturday, April 23

Hikes -- some on rough terrain -- explore key episodes and phases of the battle from the perspective of the different branches of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia. Water, headgear, sun protection, insect repellent and comfortable, sturdy walking shoes are highly recommended.

8 a.m.-10:30 a.m.: “It was nothing more than a stand-up fight” -- infantry vs. infantry on July 1.  From the firefight in Reynolds Woods to the savage combat at the Railroad Cut, the foot soldier dominated the fighting on July 1, 1863, west of Gettysburg. Advantages and disadvantages of terrain, arms of the combatants, and the ability of unit commanders to make quick decisions made the difference in victory or defeat on the field that day. Join park historian John Heiser on a 2 ½ hour, in-depth hike examining the tools and tactics of the Union and Confederate regiments involved in the opening clash at Gettysburg. Meet at Reynolds Woods, Auto Tour Stop 1. Park along Reynolds Avenue.


11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.: "A Spirited Duel" -- The Artillery on July 2.
  Confederate artillerymen E. P. Alexander wrote of the fighting on July 2, “I don’t think there was ever in our war a hotter, harder, sharper artillery afternoon than this.” From Warfield Ridge to the Trostle Farm, follow park ranger Matt Atkinson as he explores the various Union and Confederate batteries that dueled for supremacy on the bloodiest day of the battle of Gettysburg. Meet at the Peach Orchard. Park on Sickles Avenue. Do not park on Wheatfield Road.
3 p.m.-5:30 p.m.: “Clash of Cavalry” -- The Battle at East Cavalry Field. After two days of stubborn fighting, the Battle of Gettysburg began anew during the early morning hours of July 3, 1863. Though the fighting at Culp’s Hill and Pickett’s Charge is more famous, the pitched cavalry battle fought three miles east of town represents a compelling chapter in the Gettysburg story. Join park ranger Tom Holbrook and explore the fields, farms, and crossroads where cavalrymen once crossed sabers. Meet at the parking lot on Confederate Cavalry Avenue. Park along Confederate Cavalry Avenue.

Sunday, April 24

“Hiking the Union Fishhook,” a special program from 8:55 a.m. to 4:55 p.m.  In better understanding the numerous battles within the Battle of Gettysburg, it becomes clear that the various fights were interconnected. Walking from place to place is the best way to grasp this. Led by licensed battlefield guides Tim Smith and Garry Adelman, this rigorous hike will cover the Union fishhook as it was generally positioned on July 2 and 3.  Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield and Cemetery Ridge are the goal by lunchtime with Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, Spangler’s Spring  and more rounding out the day.

Cemetery Ridge (NPS)

This hike not only entails 8 miles of walking up, down, around and along hills and ridges, but requires a relatively fast pace. Water, headgear, sun protection, insect repellent and comfortable, sturdy walking shoes and a packed lunch are highly recommendedThe hike will begin and end at the flagpole at the Gettysburg National Military Park museum and visitor center. All participants should park in parking Lot 3 of the visitor center.

Katie Lawhon, management assistant at the park, told the Picket that the event, co-sponsored by the Gettysburg Foundation, was the “result of several months of discussions about how to better serve the public, give greater access to the battlefield and reach more people with regards to our programming. The Foray gives us a high level of interaction with participants, more opportunities for the public to be physically on the battlefield, and the ability to have a wide range of excellent presenters.”

The park stresses parts of the programs will cover less-explored areas of the site in southern Pennsylvania.