Thursday, October 27, 2016

Scene at the ravine: Candlelight tours at Pickett's Mill to highlight night attack

(Georgia State Parks)

**Editor's note: Due a burn ban in Paulding County and the drought, this event has been postponed.**

Spots are filling for five candlelight tours next month at the well-preserved Pickett’s Mill Battlefield Historic Site in Paulding County, Ga.

Participants in the Nov. 11-12 event will have a chance to see “how an Atlanta Campaign skirmish might look light at night,” said park interpretive ranger Dillan Lee.

The tours, at a cost of $10 per person (no cost to children 2 and under) can be booked online here. There’s also a $5 parking fee. Participants are encouraged to dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes.

The event, being put on by the Friends of Pickett’s Mill and the park, will focus on a Confederate counterattack and significant victory at the May 27, 1864, battle.

Capt. Thomas Key and his Arkansas four-gun battery played a large part in the outcome. Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne ordered Key to place two guns to the right oblique to enfilade a ravine.

Federal troops under Brig. Gen. William Hazen charged uphill that afternoon in an attempt to take the top of a ridge. Key’s howitzers were ready for them. A second attack also failed.
The Federal soldiers were mired in the ravine that evening “rooting like hogs” to get cover, said Lee.

About 10 p.m., Brig. Gen. Hiram B. Granbury’s Texas swooped down and pushed the Yanks out.

Lee said a reproduction howitzer at the park will be used to demonstrate the action that night. He and the friends group are looking for more volunteers and re-enactors to take part. At least 20 soldiers are needed.

Participants in the hourlong tour will walk part of the Blue Trail, witness a cannon firing, walk Granbury’s lines and see re-enactors clash in the ravine. Their first stop will be a civilian site. Women in a cabin will talk about fears of where Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s forces may appear as they moved on Atlanta to the southeast.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

'Hard hat' tour: Petersburg will update visitors on Poplar Grove National cemetery work

Lodge walls now are violet, as they were back in 1872 (NPS)

The cemetery lodge is receiving new flooring on the first floor. Work continues on the brick wall and the base of the rostrum. Trees and grass are being planted, and the new flag pole is about ready.

And, if you register by 4:30 p.m. ET Thursday (Oct. 27.), you can participate in a two-hour guided walk Saturday and see many of the 5,000 new headstones that have been put in place so far in Poplar Grove National Cemetery at Petersburg National Battlefield.

Park ranger Betsy Dinger will conduct the two-hour “hard hat” tour at 10 a.m. this Saturday.

To make a reservation, contact Dinger at (804) 732-3531 ext. 208 or by the deadline. Parking is available at Fort Wadsworth, located by the intersection of Halifax and Flank Roads in Petersburg.

About 6,100 Federal soldiers are buried at Poplar Grove, which has been closed since November 2015 for a major rehabilitation. The biggest project has been the replacement of all headstones, which since the 1930s had been flat on the ground. 

The park also is addressing drainage issues across the 9-acre site. Officials hope work is wrapped up this December.

The public will be invited to a rededication ceremony on April 29, 2017, Dinger said.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Bye-bye, clutter: Civil War Trust completes Lee headquarters restoration at Gettysburg

(Photo courtesy of the Civil War Trust)

The Civil War Trust two years ago pledged to restore the site of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s headquarters at Gettysburg as much as possible to its July 1863 appearance when a maelstrom of war descended on the property.

The widow Mary Thompson would be proud. Her love for a dog and flowers have been restored for posterity.

This Friday, visitors will be able to see the exacting detail rendered in an ambitious $6 million project that included the razing of a motel and restaurant, the building of an interpretive trail and preservation of Thompson’s stone home.

Working from Mathew Brady photographs taken shortly after the battle, crews built replicas of an arbor and doghouse that were features of the small residence along Chambersburg Pike, the Washington Post reported.

Doghouse above number 6 in top photo (Civil War Trust)

The Civil War Trust, along with other preservation groups, will have an 11:30 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil all that’s been done on the 4-acre property.

Gary Adelman, director of historian and education for the Trust, told the Gettysburg Daily website that the transformation of the property will give Gettysburg visitors a new appreciation of what occurred July 1, 1863, the first day of the momentous battle.

Adelman says on a video“Now that we can stand here and not be standing in the bottom of a swimming pool, not with a putt-putt golf course right over, here, not with a hotel complex literally surrounding us over here -- we can now see what the soldier saw here on Seminary Ridge. This is the last position to fall on July 1, 1863, in this part of the battlefield.”

The Thompson home, built in about 1833, was co-owned by U.S. Rep. Thaddeus Stevens. Thompson, about 70, lived across the road from one son (also part of the Trust property); seven other children lived elsewhere.

The Federal army used the area as a defensive position as hordes of Confederates converged west of town. Among the units who held the ground for several vital hours were the 143rd Pennsylvania, Battery B of the 4th U.S. artillery and perhaps the 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade.

Brig. Gen. Alfred Scales said his North Carolinians “encountered a most terrific fire of grape and shell on our flank, and grape and musketry on our front. Every discharge made sad havoc in our line, but still we pressed on at a double-quick.”

Widow Thompson may be figure at right (Library of Congress)

There was heavy fighting all around the house, leaving parts of the home’s wooden fences trampled and windows shattered by gunfire. After the Yankees were pushed back toward other positions (and a large surrender of U.S. troops in the Railroad Cut), Lee set up his headquarters for the next two days. Tents surrounded the Thompson home.

“This is the site of the nerve center of the Confederate army during the battle,” historian and Licensed Battlefield Guide Tim Smith told the Trust. There is some debate on whether Lee used the house or was in a tent nearby, Smith told Gettysburg Daily.

The house was used to treat wounded soldiers, with the widow among those rendering aid. Thompson died in 1873. According to the Trust, a longtime tenant was arrested in 1907 for “keeping a bawdy house.”

Interestingly, the property did not become part of Gettysburg National Military Park when it was created in the 1890s. The home became a museum (1921) and was surrounded by a motel and restaurant, virtually erasing any sense of its 1863 appearance.

Demolition of motel office (Civil War Trust)

The Trust in 2014 launched its fundraising effort to buy the property and museum collection. The hotel and restaurant were demolished, parking lots were removed and the property was regraded to more approximate its wartime appearance. The house itself saw extensive restoration – inside and out -- and got a new roof. New fences were built and trees planted.

Meg Martin, communications manager for the Trust, told the Picket that the Thompson house in the future will be open for special events. Visitors can walk the grounds and interpretive trail.

Officials would like for Lee’s headquarters to be managed one day by the National Park Service.

“We consulted with the Civil War Trust when they acquired the property and were very pleased by their intentions to remove non-historic intrusions and bring back missing features," said Katie Lawhon, a spokeswoman for Gettysburg National Military Park.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Artifacts from site of Chicago's Camp Douglas a window into war, the Great Migration

Minie balls found during Camp Douglas dig (Courtesy of  Michael Gregory)

The 34 bankers boxes are filled with seemingly ordinary items from a Chicago neighborhood that has seen extraordinary change since its days as home to Camp Douglas, a Federal training center and prisoner of war camp during the Civil War.

Archaeologist Michael Gregory plans to further analyze a wide array of these artifacts at his Milwaukee home. There’s the 1908 license tag for a horse-drawn vehicle, a water dish for a bird cage, Canadian cheese tubs and a ceramic dust bin.

“It has been one of the most interesting collections I have ever worked on,” Gregory recently told the Picket.

Nestled in those containers are 200 artifacts related to Camp Douglas. About 4,000 Confederates died at the prison, most of whom are buried in a mass grave. Gregory, formerly associated with DePaul University, has worked with the Camp Douglas Restoration Foundation on a half dozen digs in a corner of the camp.

(Photo courtesy of Michael Gregory)

While those excavations have largely found items produced after the Civil War, experts and volunteers have recovered Minie balls, a Union cap pin, smoking pipes, a haversack J-hook, grommets, a spread-eagle button, an 1859 penny (below), and other Camp Douglas items.

Gregory and David Keller, head of the foundation, believe they have clearly identified the camp, though there are significant challenges for urban archaeology.

“The history of the site shows initial significant development between 1900 and 1915.  The property remained substantially unchanged until 1950, when urban renewal affected the area,” said Keller. “There remains about 40% of the property that is available for further study. Alleys and back yards have been identified and offer the best opportunities.”

The excavations, which started in October 2013, have taken place on a grassy lot near a school on Chicago’s South Side. It is in what was the prisoner barracks area in the 60-acre site. The digs have been about 3 feet deep.

U.S. button (Camp Douglas Restoration Found.)
Gregory said it’s difficult to know exactly where in the camp site they are working.

“Our problem right now is we find something that looks like a ditch between barracks, but we will find another feature that would be right in the walkway area,” he said.

One eventual aim is to find a portion of the western stockade wall. “The wall is (elusive) since we cannot find posts or other evidence,” said Keller. “They are likely affected by the development of the property.  However, the streets are largely unchanged.  This gives us a 30-foot area where the fence might have been located.”

Hook for a haversack (Michael Gregory)

Fetid conditions for the prisoners

The Union facility was constructed in an area called Douglas, named for Stephen A. Douglas, the famous Illinois politician.

Camp Douglas originally served as a training facility for Illinois soldiers being rushed to the front. Much of the site was converted to a prison camp. About 26,000 Confederates were housed at the camp during the war.

“Had the military been involved (the site) never would have been selected,” said Keller. “It was noted for its flooding, swampy conditions.”

Confederate POWs at Camp Douglas (Library of Congress)

The U.S. Sanitary Commission, during an inspection, found that the “amount of standing water, of unpoliced grounds, of foul sinks, of general disorder, of soil reeking with miasmic accretions, of rotten bones and emptying of camp kettles … was enough to drive a sanitarian mad.”

It earned well the sobriquet “Andersonville of the North.”

Officials estimate 1 in 7 Confederate prisoners died, although the exact number is not known. Keller said he believes between 5,000 and 6,000 perished.

Pipe bowl likely used at camp (Camp Douglas Restoration Found.)

Area became a 'Black Metropolis'

The prison’s 200 structures went down when the site was dismantled in December 1865. Camp Douglas largely faded into history.

What used to be a rural tract just outside city limits soon became part of Chicago’s rapid growth. A part of Douglas became known as Bronzeville. It attracted German Jews after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It was home to the Swift family and the Marx Brothers.

But the biggest change was on the horizon.

Hundreds of thousands of African-Americans came to Chicago from the South during the Great Migration at the turn of the 20th century. They wanted a new start after enduring Jim Crow laws.

1908 license tag for horse-drawn vehicle (Michael Gregory)

While they didn’t get away from segregation, they were able to establish an area where they have left a cultural, arts and economic imprint.

“At the Regal Theater on 47th Street, notable entertainers such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington performed frequently, and Nat “King” Cole got his start,” according to articles about the South Side on the website of TV station WTTW. “Other notable Bronzeville residents included boxer Jack Johnson, gospel legend Mahalia Jackson, journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells, the writer Gwendolyn Brooks, and many others.

The area did run into hard times.

“Following World War II, decades of economic disinvestment and social change, Bronzeville's luster diminished. Businesses shut their doors and African-Americans moved further south due to the elimination of restricted housing covenants,” says a neighborhood council.

Animal bones found on site (Michael Gregory)

The recent decades have been kinder, though, according to an October 2014 article in the Chicago Tribune, crime has remained a problem.

“Today, Bronzeville is experiencing renewed energy and development, with an emphasis on the arts and a respect for the rich cultural legacy that Bronzeville has brought to Chicago as a whole,” writes WWTW. It is a center of African-American enterprise.

There’s been a recent move in Congress to create the Bronzeville/Black Metropolis National Heritage Area.

Digging in a land of asphalt

Gregory has worked on all but one excavation outside the John J. Pershing Magnet School for Humanities on Calumet Avenue. He has studied flood insurance and other maps to learn more about the neighborhood during and after the Civil War.

(Wikipedia/public domain)

The foundation is trying to obtain National Register for Historic Places status for the Camp Douglas site, a move it believes should add protection for what’s left. “A listing is a long shot, but important step in recognition of the camp,” said Keller. “The process should be completed early next year.”

While most of the area is under pavement or has been redeveloped, Gregory said it is important to note that “even if you had 140 years of development, it doesn’t mean archaeological resources have been destroyed.”

Ink well may be from camp (M. Gregory)
Teams were able to find a rectangular pit, but Gregory doesn’t know its purpose. A laundry facility is a possibility. He said he believes some smoking pipes pieces and bowls may well be associated with the Civil War. It’s known that one Confederate POW procured or made them for comrades.

Many camp subsurface features have been destroyed by development, along with an untold number of artifacts, since the war. Still, Gregory believes future excavations may find camp-related ditches and footings.

“We have had some residents in the area who said they would be happy for us to bring ground penetrating radar in their yard,” said the archaeologist. “It may provide little windows” into Camp Douglas’ story.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

DC project frustrates Civil War buffs

More than a decade ago, Emory United Methodist Church in the District of Columbia first floated the idea of rebuilding the aging house of worship and adding a multipurpose building. The rear of the church faces Fort Stevens, the only Civil War battlefield in the nation's capital. That fact prompted a fierce fight over the project that only ended last week, when church and city officials joined to break ground on the $42.5 million facility that will include 99 units of affordable housing. • Article

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Protecting cultural resources during Peachtree Creek bridge replacement project

(Digital Library of Georgia)

Transportation officials in Georgia will ensure that any artifacts discovered during the replacement of a bridge in the area where the Battle of Peachtree Creek occurred will be saved for curation at the University of West Georgia.

The Georgia Battlefields Association responded to a request for comments on the proposed project at Northside Drive and Peachtree Creek. The Georgia Department of Transportation says the span, built in 1926, needs replacement. It is seeking neighborhood feedback on the project’s potential impact.

Northside Drive did not exist during the July 20, 1864, battle, but the location was a crossing point for Federal troops. Today, Northside is a heavily traveled north-south corridor for commuters and neighborhoods. The bridge is within the American Battlefield Protection Program’s core area for the Peachtree Creek battlefield.

Any time land in this area is disturbed, I expect bullets will be found, principally overshot from the 20 July battle," said Charlie Crawford, president of the GBA. "Since Federal infantry was in the area for a few days, and since they used it as a cavalry marshaling area thereafter, I expect horseshoe nails, bridge building debris, buttons, etc."

The area was the site of three bridges built by Brig. Gen. John W. Geary’s division of the U.S. 20th Corps as it crossed Peachtree Creek on July 19-20, 1864. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Monocacy learns more about fallen Rebel soldier and the Bible that took a bullet

(Courtesy of Perry Adams Antiques)

Park rangers at Monocacy National Battlefield have seen success and setbacks in their bid to learn more about the life and death of a Confederate soldier wounded when a bullet passed through his Bible and went through his chest.

Pvt. Thomas Cox, a member of the Red House Volunteers, Company A, 21st Virginia Infantry, was wounded and captured on July 9, 1864, at the battlefield near Frederick, Md. The 33-year-old farmer from Carroll County died on Aug. 15, 1864, at a Baltimore hospital.

A park intern conducting research this past summer learned that Baltimore hospital records had been damaged or destroyed, possibly in a fire, curator Tracy Evans told the Picket.

What is known about Cox’ final weeks was that he asked a fellow prisoner at the squalid West Building’s Hospital to inscribe a message in his battered Bible.

“The ball that struck this book entered my left brest (sic) and came out of right – it saved instant death & will be the means of saving my soul. Thomas Cox,” reads the penciled writing on the margins of a few pages. On succeeding pages is written: “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.”

In 2015, the park purchased the New Testament from $12,500 for brokers in Petersburg, Va.

The park intern learned that Cox and his wife had two children before the war and one on the way when he enlisted in 1861. The soldier was able to return to his farm several times during the war and fathered two more children. He recuperated from two illnesses at home while on medical leave.

(Courtesy of Perry Adams Antiques)

The 21st Virginia had seen considerable action, including at Gettysburg, before the fight at Monocacy.

“After the men forded the Monocacy River, they formed up in battle line and assaulted the Union line. 5 According to Sgt. John Worsham, the men in the 21st tore down a fence railing and with the years of hardened experience behind them, rushed forward in a charge against Union positions without orders from their officers. Somewhere in this rush and exchanging volleys of fire, Private Cox was struck by a bullet,” intern Chris Sniezek and ranger Kelly Henderson wrote.

Cox died five weeks later of infection and was buried in Baltimore, where he remains buried.

Evans said the research led to emails to potential descendants, but officials have not heard back. They did learn from research of a relative in the Confederate unit that Cox’ widow remarried and was believed to have additional children.

The bullet-struck Bible is remarkable in its own way. There’s a gaping hole in the center of the book. “We are thinking it must have gone in sideways,” said Evans, adding that is perhaps the reason Cox was not killed outright.

Officials want to display the Bible next year, but they know it likely can hold up only to certain lighting conditions, and perhaps for brief periods of exposure. They are looking for more information on Cox and other soldiers whose names and information were written on the Bible’s pages. There is no known photo of the soldier.

The Bible itself has been given an initial condition assessment and will likely go for light preservation next year with recommendations on how it should be put on display and for how long,” said Evans. “We would also like to have a better analysis done of possible blood on the Bible.” She cautioned there is no evidence of blood, but officials are curious as to whether small traces remain on the pages.

(Perry Adams Antiques)

Conservation experts at the National Park Service’s Harpers Ferry Center also will give advice on mounting of the Bible and whether it should be displayed opened or closed.

In an article prepared for an upcoming issue of Civil War News, the park researchers also delved into the story of the Bible’s publication. This one was published in 1862 by Wood, Hanletter, Rice and Company of Atlanta.

“Prior to the Civil War, Bibles were mostly printed and distributed by the American Bible Society based in New York. When the war broke out, the American Bible Society decided to continue distributing Bibles to Confederate soldiers, but a Union blockade soon left the South in a severe shortage. Faced with this shortage, the Confederate States Bible Society was established to print and distribute new Confederate Bibles.”

The dying Cox got the writing assistance from Pvt. H.S. Shepherd, a Confederate who was captured at Gettysburg in July 1863 and assisted sick comrades while serving as a ward master at the Baltimore hospital.

“I was with Thos. Cox when he died,” Shepherd wrote in the Bible. “He was willing … & appear ready to leave this world for a better one to come."

Another inscription indicates Cox asked that his ring be sent to his widow, Frances.