Sunday, May 29, 2016

At Petersburg battlefield cemetery, new headstones and some discoveries

New headstones at Poplar Grove (NPS photos)

A rainy May hampered workers, but about 1,200 new headstones have been installed thus far at Poplar Grove National Cemetery at the Petersburg battlefield in Virginia.

The first of 5,600 upright markers that are replacing ones that have lain on the ground for more than 80 years were put in place in late March.

The new look is part of a multimillion project to upgrade the cemetery in Virginia. Brick boundary walls are being repointed, a lodge is being redone to return to its Victorian-era appearance and an 1897 bandstand is getting its original colors back – black support areas, a cap with an interior painted blue and the exterior red. Crews also are addressing drainage issues.

Graves that contain a known individual are receiving a new 200-pound headstone with a rounded top to ward off rain, and the signature federal shield and writing. Lighter markers for unknown individuals will have a flat top that will contain a grave number.

Petersburg National Battlefield ranger Betsy Dinger said officials hope the headstone work will be completed by December. Because the cemetery is closed, there will be no customary Memorial Day service this year.

Crews work respectfully around graves but during all the construction some items have been unearthed, said Dinger. That includes a ginger beer bottle, pottery shards and a few small personal items that may have belonged to Civil War soldiers, though that’s not certain. (It is a federal crime for individuals to use a metal detector on federal land or remove artifacts.)

The land held a family farm before the war and saw parts of the battles and siege in 1864 and 1865. The 50th New York Engineer Regiment set up camp for several months and they built quarters suitable to their occupation. 

Maj. George Ford of 50th NY at Petersburg (Library of Congress)

The U.S. Army site included an impressive church with steeple, paddocks, cabins and “raised walkways to keep them out of the mud,” said Dinger. The 50th did a range of work at Petersburg, including construction and repair on fortifications and destroying Confederate railroads.

Engineers built this church (Library of Congress)

The 9-acre cemetery, which filled the camp space used by the Union army, was established a year after the war’s end and the church was dismantled two years after that, Dinger said. For a time, an African-American congregation worshipped inside.

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

While Poplar Grove National Cemetery remains closed, "Hard Hat Tours" are scheduled throughout the year. The next is Saturday, June 25, at 10 a.m. Reservations are necessary; contact park ranger Betsy Dinger at (804) 732-3531 ext. 208.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Descendants want soldier to get medal

The New Jersey descendants of a Massachusetts man who believe their ancestor was the soldier who actually captured Confederate Major Gen. George Washington Custis Lee during the Civil War are hoping to get the Medal of Honor posthumously awarded to him. • Article

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

All is hushed at Shiloh: For Memorial Day weekend, park to display images of the fallen

Sgt. John P. Wright was killed, buried at Shiloh (NPS)

For Memorial Day, Shiloh National Military Park asked residents of counties surrounding the battlefield to send photos of soldiers and sailors who have died in America’s conflicts.

About 30 images will be displayed on a “Wall of Honor” beginning Friday at the visitor center, said park ranger Heather Henson. Ten served in the Civil War, while others fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere. A few were laid to rest after their military service.

“It is a way people can put a piece of their history into our exhibit,” Henson said.

Press releases went out to media in Hardin and McNairy counties in Tennessee and Alcorn County, Ms. A man living in Georgia found out from a newspaper in Tishomingo County, Ms. Some submissions came from elsewhere via social media.

The April 6-7, 1862, battle brought a staggering 23,746 casualties. A Memorial Day service at 11 a.m. Monday in the park’s national cemetery will remember those who died.

Among the Civil War soldiers whose images will be displayed are Capt. Humphrey Bate, 2nd Tennessee, who died at Shiloh, and Ole H. Gorehamer (or Gohamer), 12th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, who fought at Shiloh but died the next year of dysentery at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis.

Henson said relatives of two World War II soldiers provided significant details of their service.

Also this weekend, at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, park patrons will enjoy the first of the park’s summer concert series. The free program features Bobby Horton and Olde Town Brass.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Field hospital flag exhibited in Atlanta aided stretcher-bearers, witnessed war's horrors

(Photographs courtesy of Atlanta History Center)
Before he became a renowned landscape and marine painter, Harrison Bird Brown created signs and banners. During the Civil War, his business in Portland, Maine, produced a U.S. Army field hospital flag that had a distinctive yellow background and contrasting green “H” for hospital (style specified in January 1864 Army regulations). One of Brown’s flags is among only a dozen such banners believed to have survived the Civil War.

Gordon Jones
The flag was donated last year to the Atlanta History Center, where it is displayed near the “Agonies of the Wounded” case at the center’s “Turning Point: The American Civil War” permanent exhibition. The Picket asked AHC senior military historian Gordon Jones about the donation from John and Joyce Shmale of Mahomet, Ill. (Jones first wrote about the gift in Civil War News). His responses have been edited.

Q. Any clue in which theater it was used?

A. None. It was made in Maine, so you have to think Eastern Theater, but you never know. 

Q. Why did the Schmales (who each have worked in the medical field) donate it specifically to the AHC? Have they done so previously?

A. No, this was their first donation to us, but not their first donation to a museum. They were looking for a good home, not to sell it, and decided on the AHC due to a recommendation from their appraiser. On our end, we were thrilled beyond words. The DuBoses (an Atlanta father and son who amassed thousands of items) collected for 35 years and never found one – and this is not something you find every day, or something you can just buy from the antique store. We probably would have never had one had it not been for this donation. And it really helps our interpretation of medical treatment during the Civil War, which we cover in “Turning Point,” and is included on all the tours, especially for school groups.   

Q. On the conservation of the 63-by-46-inch wool bunting flag by Kate R. Daniels, how much was involved in it? What shape was the flag beforehand?

A. The flag was in good shape beforehand and needed very little cleaning. The main thing Kate did was prepare the mount: a backboard to which is attached layers of soft cotton batting covered by plain-cotton cloth, then she lightly stitched the flag to the cloth. Then we had a local framer who prepares the frame – powder-coat aluminum frame with U/V-protected plexiglass front and cleats on the back for securing to the wall. This frame has to be precisely matched to the measurements of the backboard (everything has to be custom-made). The idea is that once the mount is placed in the frame, the flag is “sandwiched” securely between the cotton cloth and the plex front, preventing it from sliding around, stretching fibers, etc. It’s the safest way to treat a flat textile item like this. And, of course, we wanted the flag on display as soon as possible.

Q. Any general thoughts on the flag's significance? Why are they so rare?

A. It’s like a lot of other Civil War artifacts: That which was most common shall be least common. In other words, what was ordinary back then was not considered worthy of saving and was discarded, hence making it incredibly rare today. That is why enlisted soldier’s uniforms are so much rarer than fancy officer’s uniforms. Our artifact storage area is filled with wedding dresses and tuxedos. but no blue jeans – that sort of thing.   

Q. Did a yellow or red field hospital flag prove effective in deterring enemy fire on the sites?

A. It was probably not about deterring enemy fire as much as being recognizable to one’s own stretcher-bearers in the smoke and confusion of battle. The field hospitals should have been far enough from the front lines to avoid direct fire, but they had to be easy to find in order to bring in the wounded quickly. The same type of flags, but larger, were used to designate buildings used as more permanent hospitals in towns and cities -- so again, to make sure everybody knew this was a medical facility. It was a way of making medical care more timely and efficient. If you recall how unprepared and overwhelmed the medical services on both sides were early in the war – hence the terrible suffering of the wounded -- you know why this was so important. (About 30,000 emergency amputations were conducted by U.S. Army surgeons during the war.)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Strike up the bands! Sounds of brass will waft over Gettysburg during annual festival

(Photos courtesy of Gettysburg Brass Band Festival)

Perhaps there is no more appropriate place for a U.S. brass band festival to take place than Gettysburg, Pa., where history and the arts intersect.

Lawn chairs, a blanket and a yearning for Americana are all that is required for those who attend the Gettysburg Brass Band Festival, which got its start 19 years ago.

“You will have all types of music played, from traditional marches and overtures, to jazz, patriotic songs and popular songs arranged for brass bands,” said Ben Jones, a member of the June 9-11 festival’s steering committee. The event is free.

Fourteen bands will perform around town and at Gettysburg National Military Park

Among them are the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, Spires Brass Band, the Rockville Brass Band and the Atlantic Brass Band. Most of the performances are at the historic Lutheran Theological Seminary.

The Wildcat Regiment Band (above), representing the 105th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, will perform at 2 p.m. June 11 on the lawn of the park’s visitor center. The band will have a “Grand Concert” at 6 p.m. at the Pennsylvania Monument.

“They have been here every year. They are very popular and an excellent playing band,” said Jones, a retired school band director who performs with his own band, Gettysburg Brass. “Those old horns are a challenge. They dress in military style from the period.”

Jones and other members of the volunteer-driven nonprofit group tout the festival’s contribution to the town’s culture and tourism.

Benfield Brass Band debuted at the Gettysburg festival

But there’s another benefit. Nearly all those in the brass bands are well out of high school.

“If you look at our mission statement, we have a ‘life after high school’ emphasis and we want to show students in high school bands there are opportunities to play after high school,” said Jones. “For the most part they volunteer because they love to play.”

Most of the groups who come to Gettysburg follow the British-style brass band model.

Jones told the Picket the musical form represents 19th-century town bands. Musicians often joined regimental bands during the Civil War.

A traditional British-style band uses cornets, which put out a mellow sound, instead of the trumpet, which makes a brighter sound. Tenor horns, trombones, flugelhorns, Eb and Bb tubas and euphoniums are featured, along with percussion.

The typical band will feature 25 to 30 musicians. The Hanover Lancers will bring about 60.

“I am a tuba player and I love the sound of brass bands,” said Jones. “It is such a gorgeous sound with a cornet.”

While the trumpet has surpassed the cornet in popularity in the past decades, he notes interest in the British-style brass band growing since the 1980s.

Last year, about 3,000 people, a mix of local residents and some visitors, attended the concerts, which featured more than 400 musicians.

Gettysburg is known for its active and varied arts scene. A local conservancy is having a barn art sale and show downtown the same weekend and the “History Meets the Arts” show will be held at Gettysburg College.

One of the brass band festival highlights is the playing of Taps at sundown at different locations on the battlefield (such as Little Round Top and Devil’s Den) and the cupola of Schmucker Hall on the seminary campus.

Jones said: “We have received comments from tourists who happened to be here… it is going dark and all of a sudden a bugler appears and sounds Taps. It is a very moving experience for them, and the bugler.”

Monday, May 16, 2016

Resaca Battlefield Historic Site opens with a bang (and volley), nice weather

Grand opening (Gordon County Chamber of Commerce photos)

Sunny weather greeted visitors this past weekend to the new Resaca Battlefield Historic Site in Gordon County, Ga. “I’ve received 100% positive feedback,” said county Administrator John King.

A grand opening was held Friday afternoon at the pavilion of the park, which is located off Exit 320 of Interstate 75.

Don Holley, who heads Gordon’s parks department, told the Picket he saw about 20 visitors Saturday morning while walking the Blue Battlefield Trail. He saw about 25 people on Sunday afternoon.

“We are expecting a larger crowd this weekend with the re-enactment going on at the Chitwood property,” he said.

The May 20-22 Battle of Resaca re-enactment is held a couple miles east of the historic site. It includes 2 p.m. battles on Saturday and Sunday, living histories, camps and services.

Photos by Gordon County Chamber of Commerce

Mystery Science Classroom 1864: Teachers delve into CSS Georgia discoveries

(USACE drawing and photos)

You might pity the CSS Georgia. It never got to fire on the enemy. The crew labored in dreadfully dull duty and a hot, inhospitable setting. To top if off, the ironclad was scuttled, the remnants lying in a jumble on the Savannah River bottom.

Nearly 152 years later, a more encouraging picture has emerged, along with a sizable portion of the shipwreck. The CSS Georgia’s most exciting time is now – as a tool of education, rather than war.

The ship’s lack of power and mobility were initially a disappointment to the Confederate navy. Rather than roving the river and sounds, the locally made ironclad was consigned to floating-battery duties in Savannah, Ga., before it was sent to the bottom when Federal forces reached the outskirts of the city.

With its many mysteries -- including its design, length and exact means of propulsion – the vessel has much to teach us.

Up to 20 4th -12th grade teachers will attend a hands-on workshop about the CSS Georgia that is focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) topics. They’ll use their experience to create lesson plans that will engage students beyond the textbook.

“Participants may use elements from the wreck, its history, and underwater archaeology to engage students in achieving state performance standards as well as Next Generation Science Standards,” says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Navy diver prepares for CSS Georgia salvage in 2015

The May 31-June 3 “From STEM to Stern” workshop will be held at Georgia Tech’s Chatham County campus. Among the highlights is a field trip to the site of the Civil War wreck and a video conference with Jim Jobling of the Conservation Research Lab at Texas A&M University. Much of the vessel was recovered in 2015 as part of the Savannah harbor deepening. Jobling will provide educators a tour of the lab and describe the conservation process.

“It is a perfect opportunity” for participants to enhance STEM-related teaching approaches, said Rita Elliott, a researcher helping to organize the workshop, which will be hosted by the Corps' Savannah office and the Georgia Tech Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing.

First off, there’s the matter of the CSS Georgia’s design and construction. Pending artifacts analysis, little is known because no blueprints exist. Archaeologists and researchers are trying to figure out the ship’s dimensions and power train. 

Last year, contract and U.S. Navy divers used sonar, GPS and other disciplines to lift small and massive pieces – including cannon -- from the river bottom. A CNN article last summer provided some details of the rigors of documentation:

“The sonar system provides a 3-D, real-time image of what the divers are doing. Moving dots on some computer screens show the location of the divers and the I-beam used to lift some items. One of the divers carries a tracking beacon and crew members can follow the divers with an image of the plume made by their bubbles.”

Reinforced armor included pieces of train rails.

A boat will take the teachers to the wreck site east of downtown Savannah after they review a PowerPoint presentation on the research. Archaeologist Stephen James will show them a side-scan sonar sweep, said Elliott.

“They are going to have very professional exposure to the science,” she told the Picket.

The educators from three Georgia counties and two in South Carolina will have time to mull ideas for lesson plans before returning to the Savannah campus on July 29 for feedback and further discussion. They will make final presentations.

All the lesson plans will go the website of the Museum of Underwater Technology (MUA), where they will be available to teachers nationwide. The website is a repository of CSS Georgia images, documents, videos, educational outreach and more.

Elliott has been tasked with helping the Army Corps of Engineers provide public outreach about the ironclad.

CSS Georgia artifacts on display at Old Fort Jackson

A public lecture is planned in early June and a CSS Georgia documentary is being produced. A traveling “teaching trunk” is being developed. It will contain lesson plans and 3-D objects for use in classrooms. Rack cards were developed for the trunk and to give out at festivals and other events in the region.

The “Raise the Wreck! “ festival last summer at Old Fort Jackson gave the public the opportunity to learn about the CSS Georgia recovery dive just a few hundred yards away.

The unknowns about the Georgia show that history is not always in black and white, said Elliott. “It lends itself to critical thinking outside the box.”

Of course, the CSS Georgia’s artifacts tell a lot of the story. Divers found six pair of leg irons, or manacles, used to confine and punish crew members who went AWOL.

“That shows so much what life was like on this vessel,” said Elliott. “It was horrible. It was like being in a boiler, so hot, with it raining inside because of the humidity.”

Rack card to be handed out at festivals

Thursday, May 12, 2016

'So much potential': Resaca battle park has promise for county, Civil War visitors to region

A section of the Blue Battlefield Trail near I-75 (All photos by Picket)
Resaca Battlefield Historic Site put on its soft opening last weekend. The curious drove past replica defensive fortifications at the gate and down a road bordering a scenic valley and forested hills.

The peaceful scene that greeted them belied the fact that the May 1864 Battle of Resaca in northwest Georgia was the second-bloodiest of the Atlanta Campaign.

Ten cars came Friday, 20 on Saturday and about 30 on Sunday. Gordon County Administrator John King and Ken Padgett, head of the Friends of Resaca Battlefield, pointed out the first visitors were a Michigan family.

The Civil War park, which will have its grand opening ceremony this Friday at 3 p.m., in some ways carries the mantra, “If you build it, they will come.”

County officials and the friends group want the site to be an educational, recreational and historic beacon for local residents, travelers and Civil War buffs. The park contains significant remnants of earthworks, including an impressive length of trenches visible on the Red Battlefield Trail (Signs point out metal detectors are banned and artifacts cannot be removed).

And they would like to see the quiet Exit 320 interchange on I-75 and the town of Resaca get an economic boost.

Ken Padgett of the Friends of Resaca Battlefield
“There is so much potential,” King said earlier this week during an interview at the site’s picnic and restroom pavilion.

A big advantage is the park is right off Interstate 75 between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn. (Construction of the interstate decades ago did destroy parts of the battlefield). While there are no signs or billboards noting the new venue on I-75, Gordon County officials are working with the state to have one installed.

For now, they are largely depending on websites, local media and groups and word of mouth to publicize the park. (They don’t know how the Michigan family learned of the site.)

Gordon County may benefit from a bit of synergy.

Just to the north is Whitfield County, which is believed to have the most surviving Civil War fortifications in the country. The Civil War Trust is working to buy and preserve a 309-acre tract there where Confederates built defensive works on Rocky Face Ridge before they slipped south to Resaca as Federal forces pushed on toward Atlanta. Whitfield officials plan to open a park, perhaps next year, according to CNHI newspapers.

Gordon and Whitfield counties are southeast of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, which draws nearly 1 million visitors annually.

Section of trenches on Red Battlefield Trail
Jim Ogden, historian with the federal park, said he can now direct those interested in the Atlanta Campaign to a well-preserved site between Chickamauga and Pickett’s Mill or Kennesaw in suburban Atlanta.

“In addition to recently developed access at a couple more Dalton area sites, with the opening of the Resaca battlefield, there's now a lot more from that first epoch of the campaign for one to visit,” Ogden wrote in an email. “This also means, for Civil War round tables or other history-based groups, particularly if they'll do a little walking, there's now … enough in the Tunnel Hill-Dalton-Resaca area to make a multi-day tour of just that part of the campaign. With a good guide and a willingness to walk, there's potentially a day now at Resaca by itself.”

For now, the Resaca battlefield site will be open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

The park contains most of the battlefield on the early afternoon of May 14, 1864. Late-afternoon action is on the east side of the interstate. Chitwood Farm, site of an annual Battle of Resaca re-enactment, is a couple miles east of the new I-75 park.

While the battle was a stalemate, Confederates withdrew and Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman continued his eventually successful march on Atlanta. 

Ogden said the new historic site illustrates the growing strength of Rebel fortifications and the importance of Federal flanking attacks and movements.

Confederates manning the fortifications one sees in the park turned back several Union assaults,” he said. “This is not just reflective of the course of the Battle of Resaca itself but also of the larger Atlanta Campaign: W. T. Sherman would use his larger army to maneuver against Joe Johnston's flanks to force him out of positions that were seemingly ever more fortified as the campaign extended week by week.”

I spent several hours Monday at Resaca Battlefield Historic Site. A word to the wise: Bring plenty of water and good walking shoes. The 1.-2 mile Red Battlefield Trail on the south end is hillier than you’d expect, but the experience was enjoyable. I saw several deer at the top.

The 2.6 Blue Battlefield Trail on the northern side of the 483-acre park has a whole different feel. On its east side, you do walk through some hills that held Confederates, but as you walk counterclockwise much of it features gorgeous meadows in the valley that separated the two armies. The west side of the trail is where the Union brigades prepared for assaults. 

Bridges cross Camp Creek and other small streams. Butterflies flitted about and I saw a large snapping turtle as I neared the pavilion to conclude my hike.

The site features many state-produced interpretive panels, with some geared toward children (though they would be of interest to most anyone). King would like to see more of them along the trails.

Several include a helpful inset of a Battle of Resaca map made years ago by the late historian Bill Scaife. I wished those carried a “You are here” designation to better orient myself when looking at the park map and Scaife’s order of battle.

Wayside stops and loop trails offer plenty of opportunities to put the battle into perspective (though I wish a few had not been so jammed with text). King said three part-time park managers at the site and nearby Fort Wayne can help visitors with further questions on the battle.

Local residents began pushing for the park in the 1990s and the state acquired the property. The Friends of Resaca Battlefield organized support and raised money. Georgia appeared poised to build the visitors center after an October 2008 groundbreaking.

The Department of Natural Resources realized it did not have the money to finish the project. 

Frustrated, Gordon County stepped in and took over, agreeing to do the construction and staff and maintain the facility. But in March 2010, citing costs and inherited permit problems, Gordon County punted on building the site. The state agreed to take the project back, with the caveat that the county would operate it once the work was done. State budget woes put an end to plans for a visitor's center/museum and film.

Things have come together over the past year. Improvements have been made to signs and trails and a widening project on Ga. 136 at Interstate 75 has been finished, allowing for better access to the site.

Exit 320 is one of the least-developed I-75 interchanges in Gordon County. There’s only a large truck stop on the east side to offer refreshments to park patrons.

“It is not going to be a flip-the-switch to economic impact,” King said of the opening.

John King
Still, he touts in development possibilities and efforts toward building a more educated workforce. He cites the area’s schools and a new college and career academy in nearby Calhoun. (Gordon County is known for its floor-covering industry).

While King acknowledged there was some opposition to the project, particularly a few years ago during the economic slowdown, he said residents are starting to get on board.

“It’s very exciting,” he said. “(We originally thought) the baby was ugly, but it belongs to us. It's not an ugly baby. It’s beautiful. We are very proud of it.”

He wants to focus now on the opportunities the site will bring, and asks that groups and individuals help raise awareness and pitch in to make the historic site a success.

“We have always focused on getting to this point,” King said. “This is not the end of the campaign. It is just the beginning.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sonar provides details of blockade runner, shows cargo may remain in N.C. wreck

(N.C. Natural and Cultural Resources)
Archaeologists exploring and making sonar images of a wrecked Confederate blockade runner said cargo spaces may still contain items carried on its doomed final voyage.

Bill Ray Morris, North Carolina deputy state archaeologist, told the Picket on Tuesday that sonar detected preserved sections of cargo holds in excess of 5 feet – roughly half of the original depth.

“This bodes extremely well for the preservation of a fair amount of the vessel’s cargo as we know from an eyewitness account that she was not salvaged for goods during the war,” Morris wrote in an email.

On Monday, officials announced “unprecedented detail” from the Agnes E. Fry captured via a digital, sector-scanning sonar. The press release included a sonar mosaic image (above) that showed the broken iron hull, smoke stack sections, I-beam frames, outer hull plating and more.

The Agnes E. Fry made several successful runs for the Confederacy before it ran aground south of Wilmington in the closing months of the war.

The state, working with divers from the Charlotte Fire Department and Nautilus Marine Group, wants to create a 3D display of the wreck site.

The specific details visible on the computer screen in the field on our last trip, (but not, unfortunately, in the mosaic), included the hinge detail on boiler fire doors, clearly defined fire tubes within the tube plate on a partial broken boiler, a pair of collision bulkheads and what could well be the deck clamp/shelf arrangement,” Morris said.

The shipwreck was discovered Feb. 27 during a search for the ships lost during the Union campaign to blockade the port of Wilmington during the Civil War.

The mosaic, part of a project funded by the National Park Service, will allow archaeologists to create a research plan for further investigations of the blockade runner.

Morris said among the items recovered from the shipwreck are a possible homemade knife handle and a coal sample. The Scottish-made Agnes E. Fry ran aground on Dec. 27, 1864, as the crew tried to elude Federal vessels.

Brandy Station purchase finalized

Purchase of the Mitchell tract on the Brandy Station battlefield in Virginia has been completed, the Civil War Trust said Monday. The 10.5 acres are part of Fleetwood Hill, heart of the largest cavalry battle fought in North America. • Article

Friday, May 6, 2016

Big doings this month in NW Georgia: Opening of Resaca historic site, annual re-enactment

Site includes large open field with walking trails (Gordon County)

Next week’s formal opening of Resaca Battlefield Historic Site in northwest Georgia will be the culmination of a two-decade campaign by local residents and officials to establish the park.

The 3 p.m. May 13 grand opening will include speeches, a ribbon cutting, the firing of an honor volley by re-enactors, tours and a song about the 1864 clash during the Atlanta Campaign. The ceremony comes one day before the 152nd anniversary.

Gordon County, which will maintain the 483-acre site following its construction by the state of Georgia, has touted seven miles of walking trails and interpretive markers.

The site initially will be open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Charlie Crawford, president of the Georgia Battlefields Association, which has played a part in the preservation, called the Friends of Resaca Battlefield the driving force to protect the property and open it to the public.

(Georgia Battlefields Association)

“Every battlefield is a teaching tool.  A battlefield with easy access, the remnants of wartime earthworks, open vistas and interpretive signage is a better teaching tool,” Crawford said. “This will bring more visitors to the site, resulting in economic benefit to the town and the county.  More importantly, visitors will better understand what happened at Resaca. People with a more accurate knowledge of history tend to be better citizens.” 
Resaca Battlefield Historic Site, off Exit 320 of Interstate 75, will feature 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.

While the battle was a stalemate, Confederates withdrew and Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman continued his eventually successful march on Atlanta. The fighting at Resaca demonstrated that the outnumbered Confederate army could only slow, but not stop, the advance of Union forces.

An annual re-enactment, left, is held on a different portion of the battlefield, at Chitwood Farm. This year’s event is scheduled for May 20-22.

Before the state completed work on the site earlier this year, local advocates 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.

But that now appears to be in the past.

According to the Friends of Resaca Battlefield: "With the addition of the Resaca Battlefield Historic Site to a long list of key areas including, Fort Wayne Historic Site, the Resaca Confederate Cemetery, the WPA Roadside Park, the conservation easement property, and the State’s oldest annual Civil War Reenactment held the third weekend in May, we are looking for Gordon County to become a national tourist destination."

Interstate 75 actually runs through the middle of the Resaca battleground, making the Civil War site literally just an exit ramp away. Exit 320 currently has no hotels and little fanfare. 

Sarah Husser with the Gordon County Convention & Visitors Bureau cited the park’s historical significance and preservation.

“Residents can enjoy the site for educational (field trips) and recreational purposes and (the site) will attract visitors to our community, resulting in increased expenditures and a positive economic impact,” she said.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Brothers in arms: Monument to six Iowa siblings who served, died is set in place

Designer Will Thomson inspects granite stele (Courtesy of artist)

Tom Woodruff recalls the moment late last month when workers lowered into position a granite monument to six Iowa brothers who served and died during the Civil War.

“I have never seen such a reverent group of young men,” said Woodruff. “They would not have let a piece of dust get on that stone.”

The Littleton siblings – George, John, Kendall, Noah, Thomas and William – will forever be memorialized in Toolesboro, the small southeastern Iowa farm community where they grew up after their parents moved from Maryland and Ohio.

The monument, which includes the words, “The last full measure of devotion,” will be formally dedicated on the afternoon of June 14. Gov. Terry Branstad and two descendants are among those on the program.

Those involved assert the 11-foot-tall monument, made of Mesabi Black granite, may be the last Civil War monument ever erected. It will sit among cornfields and near the Toolesboro Indian mounds.

The story of the Littleton brothers had largely slipped into history until 2010, when the widow of one of Woodruff’s boyhood friends gave him a copy of a scrapbook. The scrapbook contained a clipping of a May 1907 article in the Columbus (Iowa) Gazette.

Detail from new monument (Courtesy of Will Thomson)

“The Lyttleton (sic) family were less fortunate. Of the six brothers, only one lived to return and he shortly died of disease contracted in the service.”

Woodruff, chairman of the Littleton Legacy Project, and fellow members of the Louisa County Historical Society launched research that eventually unearthed details about the Littletons.

They soon decided to build a monument to honor their sacrifice. Thus far, supporters have raised more than $200,000 of their $250,000 goal. That includes a $150,000 grant from the Iowa State Historical Society cultural affairs department.

Janie Blankenship, associate editor of VFW Magazine, told the Picket in 2014 that it is believed that with six deaths, the Littleton family had the most sons to die during an American war.

James and Martha Littleton moved to Louisa (Lew-I-zuh) County in about 1840, six years before Iowa became a state. The young Littleton brothers likely helped on a 200-acre farm.

The 1860 census that shows the family was listed as mulatto, which traditionally refers to a person with one white parent and one black parent. There's debate today on that point. Oral history within the Nicewanner family, as descendants of one of four Littleton sisters, states that James actually had Native American roots on one side. 

Only one of the Littleton brothers, John, had children, and that daughter died before having any of her own. James and Martha Littleton died before the war. So all the descendants come from four daughters.

(Courtesy of Will Thomson)

Here’s what is known about each of the brothers’ service records (thanks to the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum for much of the following information):

-- George Handy Littleton: George, 34, a cooper, volunteered from service from nearby New Boston, Ill., in March 1862. He is described as having brown eyes and dark hair and complexion. He was with Company B of the 65th Illinois Infantry. Captured by Confederates at Harpers Ferry, W.Va., he was later paroled and discharged for disability in Chicago, according to official records, for disease. “We do not have the exact date or know where we died,” said Woodruff. The Columbus Gazette indicated George died soon after returning home, possibly in December 1862. His grave has not been found.

-- John Littleton: Enlisted in August 1862 with Company F of the 19th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. He suffered a severe thigh injury during fighting at Prairie Grove, Arkansas, on Dec. 7, 1862. He died in Fayetteville, Ark., of wounds on December 18. It’s possible John, at least 31, may be buried among 800 unmarked graves at Fayetteville National Cemetery.

-- Kendall Littleton: Also of the 19th Iowa, Kendall was killed in action on Dec. 7, 1862, at Prairie Grove, Ark. His remains were likely later moved to Fayetteville National Cemetery, marked as unknown. He was about 19 years old.

Grave of Noah Littleton (Springfield National Cemetery)

-- Noah Littleton: The youngest boy survived the fighting at Prairie Grove but drowned March 1, 1863, in the White River in southern Missouri. His remains were disinterred and he is buried at Springfield (Mo.) National Cemetery. He, too, served in the 19th Iowa, Company F.

-- Thomas Littleton: A member of the 5th Iowa, Company C, saw several battles and suffered a head wound at Iuka, Ms. He was taken prisoner in Chattanooga, Tenn., in November 1863. The private died of chronic diarrhea at Andersonville on June 16, 1864, and is buried at the national cemetery there.

-- William Littleton: A corporal with the 8th Iowa, William was wounded at Shiloh in 1862 and died in December 1863 of diarrhea at Jefferson Barracks, Mo. He is buried at the national cemetery there.

Permelia Vanlaningham (Family)
Jake Shoppa’s great-great-great-great-grandmother was Permelia Vanlaningham, a sister of the soldiers. Shoppa, 37, of Grandview, said he and other relatives his age grew up knowing “almost nothing” about the men.

Relatives joined the public awareness and fundraising effort for the monument. Shoppa touts small-town values in Louisa County, which has fewer than 12,000 residents.
He will deliver remarks on the plaza.

“I will talk about how much this has inspired me and how proud (I am) to be in a family that can trace back to the Civil War … the sacrifice and service by these men,” Shoppa said. “It has been a completely humbling experience.”

Historical society President Norma McCormac said people will be bused on June 14 from Wapello to the site, where they will take in the 26-ton monument, flags, six benches and six trees. The donated native red oaks will be next to white stones bearing each soldier’s name.

“It is going to be a beautiful monument, of course, and the setting is just wonderful,” said McCormac.

Designer Will Thomson was among those on hand when the monument was set into place in late April. He said he reworked the main drawing of the brothers charging into combat a few times. “You have to be satisfied with yourself.”

Thomson acknowledged the current debate, particularly in the South, about monuments with Civil War themes. He said he focused on honoring the sacrifice and the dedication of the Littletons, rather than glorifying war.

(Courtesy of Will Thomson)

Woodruff will be busy the next few weeks as the site work is completed. Once it is completed, the county will own and maintain the memorial. Two donors to the project will help assure funds are available for maintenance and research on other subjects. And officials hope the monument will draw visitors to Louisa County. Being next to the Hopewell Indian mounds is a bonus.

Dedication day and an accompanying reception will be the culmination of work performed by a number of volunteers.

“The day that I see the family all there together and when they give acceptance of the project … that is the day I will look at that family and understand what it is all about,” Woodruff said.