Saturday, April 29, 2017

Petersburg overhauls cemetery in disrepair

Back during the Depression, grave markers for 6,000 Civil War soldiers were placed flat or pushed to ground level at Poplar Grove National Cemetery at what is now Petersburg National Battlefield in Virginia. This caused damage over the years to many of the markers. A slow deterioration of the rest of the sacred resting round brought outrage. Finally, on Saturday, the soldiers got their honor and respect back. The cemetery was rededicated following a comprehensive rehab. • Article

Friday, April 28, 2017

With the shriek of a whistle, restored locomotive Texas makes its public debut

Jackson McQuigg and Gordon Jones of the AHC give a talk Friday (AHC)

Jackson McQuigg sounded very much like a proud papa as he described the public debut Friday morning of the restored Civil War locomotive Texas.

“It’s beautiful.” “It gives you goose bumps,” he said over the phone from the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer.

The 1856 locomotive – which tooted its whistle -- and tender got the “runway” treatment as a three-day “The Texas Returns” festival began at the museum.

The Texas, which underwent a detailed $500,000 overhaul, makes the trip early next month to the Atlanta History Center, where it will greet visitors taking in the giant Atlanta Cyclorama painting, also being restored.

As reported by the Picket, the locomotive is in a black paint scheme from about 1886, coincidentally the year the Cyclorama debuted. But it does retain some bright coloring. Gold lettering has a raised effect, the Russian iron boiler jacket is blue and the engine has a new smokestack and cowcatcher.

“The engine is honest to is parts,” said McQuigg, vice president of properties for the history center. “The 1936 restoration was great. This was even better.”

AHC officials have stressed the Texas will be interpreted with its complete history, not just its moment in the sun during the April 1862 Great Locomotive Chase.

The Texas is rolled out to the public (AHC)

McQuigg said he is most touched by the restored cab, the boiler jacket and the number plate on front -- No. 12, from the engine's days with the Western & Atlantic Railroad.

He said the museum and restorers were most surprised by how much the engine had changed over time. Basically, the Texas is a collection of parts added over the decades before it went out of service in the early 1900s.

It was saved from the junk heap because of its role in the Great Locomotive Chase, in which Confederates ran down a trainload of Yankee saboteurs. Some were hanged as spies.

The Texas and the painting were housed in Grant Park for decades before the decision was made to restore them and have them displayed at the Atlanta History Center campus in the Buckhead neighborhood.

McQuigg and Gordon Jones, senior military historian and curator with the AHC, are giving talks all weekend in Spencer, detailing the Texas' history as a railroad workhorse and the extensive restoration.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Confederate monuments coming down in N.O.

A monument to a deadly white-supremacist uprising in 1874 was removed under cover of darkness by workers in masks and bulletproof vests Monday as New Orleans joined the movement to take down symbols of the Confederacy and the Jim Crow South. In the coming days, the city also will remove statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. • Article

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Just the ticket: Restored locomotive Texas arriving at Atlanta History Center on May 3

(N.C. Transportation Museum)

Fresh from an extensive restoration, a new paint job and some fine detailing, the Civil War locomotive Texas will be placed May 3 in its new home at the Atlanta History Center.

The locomotive famous for the “chase” end of 1862’s “Great Locomotive Chase” will be trucked from the North Carolina Transportation Museum. Craftsmen with Steam Operations Corp. spent more than a year and a half restoring the 1856 machine.

The Texas will be placed in a hallway-gallery that ushers patrons to the Atlanta Cyclorama painting, which is being restored.

The AHC announced the move date in a news release Friday. 

“After many years of limited view in the basement of the Cyclorama building in Grant Park, we are putting the Texas in a place where it is going to be front and center,” said AHC Vice President of Properties Jackson McQuigg. The AHC is in the city’s Buckhead neighborhood.

The Picket has written extensively about the Texas and its restoration, including the decision to put on a black scheme, representative of its importance in the development of Atlanta as a bustling railroad town.

The Western & Atlantic iron workhorse will go on display later this year as work on the massive painting depicting the July 1864 Battle of Atlanta continues.

Locomotive cab during restoration (Picket photo)

The $500,000 restoration included voluminous research as technicians removed extensive rust and blasted the engine with baking soda. A new pilot/cowcatcher, smokestack and boiler jacket were installed. The wooden cab was stripped and repainted.

Gone is the colorful appearance the Texas had since the 1930s.

“Atlanta History Center leaders, believing the Texas has even greater importance as an artifact that speaks eloquently and authentically of Atlanta’s beginnings, decided to return the locomotive to how it appeared in the late 1880s,” the news release said.

The Texas next weekend will get a rousing sendoff at the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer. The April 28-30 event will feature other locomotives. (The Texas is no longer an operating engine)

A few days later, Texas and its restored tender will be driven to Atlanta on separate tractor trailers. They will lifted and placed on the same tracks that held them since 1927 at Grant Park.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Camp Lawton: Public welcome Friday to pitch in on excavation, learn prison's history

POW Robert Knox Sneden's map of Lawton shows the fort in the upper left, but the map is reversed. (Library of Congress)

Have a hankering to use a metal detector or take part in an archaeological excavation?

Friday’s “Public Day” at Magnolia Springs State Park near Millen, Ga., will allow visitors to get their hands dirty at the site of a large Civil War prison.

Ryan McNutt, who oversees Georgia Southern University’s Camp Lawton project, said students will be working just east of Fort Lawton, the Confederate earthworks that defended against attack on the camp and as a warning to prisoners.

“The public is welcome to participate however they want,” said McNutt. “They can try their hand at metal detecting survey, and excavating the hits, or assisting with excavating our open 1x2 meter test unit, which has some interesting features in it.”

Visitors also can see 3D printed artifacts or talk with Nina Raeth, whose ancestor was a Federal POW at Lawton, which operated for six weeks in late 1864. Many of the POWs were transferred to the site from Camp Sumter, also known as Andersonville.

GSU students have been working on two large grids east of the fort to see whether there is any sign of Confederate activity or occupation.

One of two brass harmonica reeds found at Lawton (GSU)

“The Confederate side of the story is largely unknown from an archaeological standpoint, and the area we're surveying to the east of the fort would be an ideal location for rifle pits, potential camp sites and so on,” said McNutt.

The 10,000 Federal prisoners were to the west and across a creek, on a hillside that later became a federal fish hatchery. That side of Camp Lawton is on property managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The project has located Civil War period cut nails, a buckle from a horse harness and other items near Fort Lawton.

“We've also found good evidence of the land around the fort being used for hunting during the 1890s to 1900s, with numerous shotgun shell bases turning up, all with head stamps that date solidly to the period between 1890-1902,” McNutt told the Picket.

“None of the artifacts we've recovered are really military in nature, aside from a possible cone cleaner. But it is adding to the story of Camp Lawton, both during its occupation, and what it was used for afterwards.”

Previous excavations on the prisoner side of the camp have yielded hundreds of Civil War artifacts that help illustrate daily life. Officials have a good idea of where the stockade walls were erected, having found some post remains.

Friday’s public day is from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Magnolia Springs State Park. Entrance to the park is $5 for parking or free with a park pass. Sponsors are Georgia Southern University, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Look for tents after the attendant’s hut and a volunteer will take you to the work area.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Thieves make off with wood from Port Gibson, Ms., house, leave outrage in their wake

Courtesy of Ms. Department of Archives and History

Preservationists, Civil War devotees and others are outraged about vandalism at a house that saw the opening shots of the 1863 Battle of Port Gibson in Mississippi.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History said thieves made off with four wooden support beams and damaged interior flooring and walls at the A.K. Shaifer House in Claiborne County.

“This was clearly theft. Unlike most acts of vandalism, this took planning and some effort,” Jim Woodrick, director of the department’s historic preservation staff, told the Picket on Thursday. “We can only assume that the thieves were looking to sell or reuse the original architectural features from the house. Some of the floor joists were, indeed, quite lengthy.”

One report put some of them up to 20 feet long.

The Port Gibson Heritage Trust Battlefield Committee offered a $5,000 reward and the local sheriff's department was notified.

The Shaifer House had its moment in history on April 30, 1863, when forces under Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant approached Port Gibson during its famed march on Vicksburg.
A Confederate general checked on pickets in the home’s area. A marker on the site says: “The general found Mrs. A.K. Shaifer and the ladies of the house frantically piling their household effects on a wagon.” A crash of musket fire sent the women fleeing.

The home served as a hospital and headquarters during the battle, which ended in a Federal victory and an opening to Vicksburg, which fell two months later.

Officials said the damage was found on April 1; it likely occurred in the preceding week. Woodrick said emergency repairs have been made  to stabilize the floor and other features. The property has been temporarily closed.

“The repair of the Shaifer House is a top priority,” said MDAH director Katie Blount in a statement. “We are consulting with state legislators, local governments, the Port Gibson Heritage Trust, other state agencies and the National Park Service to ensure the house is preserved for future generations.”

National Park Service photo

The home, which was restored a decade ago, did not have regular security, Woodrick said. Officials are working with agencies and volunteers to improve protection.

The Shaifer House was built by A.K. and Elizabeth Shaifer beginning in 1826. The Port Gibson battlefield is a National Historic Landmark and the Shaifer House is a Mississippi Landmark, officials said.

Woodrick called the crime “horrendous” and social media commenters voiced their displeasure. The website Preservation in Mississippi referred to the act as “bold thievery” and an article was headlined, “Let’s nail the thieves who did this to the Shaifer House.”

A Facebook page listing the reward said a chain indicated the vandals used a vehicle to carry off the structural beams. It asked for tips that might lead to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators.

“Hopefully, this will bring some much-needed attention to the plight of our historic resources and encourage people to get involved in local preservation efforts,” said Woodrick. “Certainly, there's been outrage among my Civil War brethren.”

Thursday, April 13, 2017

USS Monitor: Maker's mark uncovered in turret believed to be from iron foundry in Hudson Valley

(Photos courtesy of Mariners' Museum and Park)

A discovery in the turret of the famed Civil War ironclad USS Monitor has brought to light the story of an iron mill that for decades was the industrial heartbeat of a Hudson Valley town.

The Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va., announced this week that conservators removing corrosion from a brace uncovered the word “ULSTER.” It’s the first time a maker’s mark was found in the turret.

Officials believe a forward diagonal support brace was produced by Ulster Iron Works in Saugerties, about 100 miles north of New York City. The brace is between two guns and is separate from the large turret "ring."

“While this firm was never mentioned as a supplier during the Monitor’s construction at Continental Iron Works, it is now believed that Ulster provided materials for modifications to the ship while it was undergoing sea trials at the Brooklyn Navy Yard,” said the museum, which houses the USS Monitor Center.

Ulster Iron Works, which operated from 1827 to 1888 and took advantage of iron deposits in Ulster County, was a Navy contractor.

Will Hoffman, Monitor project manager, told the Picket his team is hypothesizing that when the ironclad was turned over to the Navy and the turret was tested, “they used Ulster to make modified parts. This makes sense, too, because the company was located just up the Hudson River.”  

Audrey Klinkenberg, historian for the town of Saugerties, said she had previously heard of a connection, but the find was compelling. “We’ve always had in our literature that Ulster Iron Works had made … plates for the Monitor.”

Interior of Monitor turret (Mariners' Museum and Park)

Beginning last August, conservators in Virginia used dry ice to remove corrosion from large wrought iron artifacts on the Monitor. Among the cleaned items were engine room structural bulkheads, gun slides and the forward and aft diagonal support braces from the turret, the museum said.

The turret, which housed the warship’s guns, currently rests on a lower support pad. Hoffman said his team is preparing for this summer’s placement of a new support system.

Remember, the turret is upside down, and therefore, all the weight of the guns and carriages were resting on (the roof). The roof was not designed to hold that amount of weight,” Hoffman wrote in an email. “Currently, the turret is still sitting on that support pad, which inhibits our ability to remove the roof and subsequently turn the object over.”

Officials said they want to do more research on the role of Ulster Iron Works.

The manufacturer, which drew workers from as far away as England and Wales, was known for using European technology. A process called “double puddling” could produce appreciable amounts of high-grade bar iron.

Damage to the USS Monitor turret (Library of Congress)

Histories kept at the Saugerties Public Library provide accounts of the foundry’s history.

“History of Ulster County, New York,” written by Nathaniel B. Sylvester in 1880, details the manufacture of a chain with small links for the Navy. It passed a series of stress tests at the Navy yard in Washington.

Ulster Iron Works sat on the lower side of Esopus Creek in Saugerties. A dam and a long raceway cut through rock provided water power for the mill. The mill had an annual capacity of 6,700 net tons of iron products.

An old pamphlet, “Focus on Saugerties,” mentions the demise of the company after steel, which was stronger, began to surpass iron in demand.

The mill’s buildings are long gone. “The wheels have stopped turning and the Esopus Creek does no work.” The site, according to the book, serves as a “monument to advancing achievement.”

COMING SOON: More on Ulster Iron Works and what Saugerties is known for today

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Nutmeg and bad shots: 3 tidbits about the victorious Federal siege of Fort Pulaski

Damage from Union artillery (Picket photo)

Today marks the 155th anniversary of the surrender of Fort Pulaski to Federal troops who laid siege on Cockspur Island east of Savannah, Ga. Once considered nearly invincible, this brick fortification fell to rifled artillery that began bombarding the Confederate garrison the day before. Col. Charles Olmstead, fearing ammunition might explode if struck by a powerful shot and knowing the breach left his troops vulnerable to an infantry assault, surrendered after 2 p.m. on April 11. The Picket asked Joel Cadoff, spokesman and chief of interpretation at Fort Pulaski National Monument, to share some little-known facts about the 1862 siege.

1. When Maj. Gen. David Hunter's surrender demand was rejected, he sent the message: "The General sends his compliments and desires you to open the ball at once."

The siege began at 8:15 a.m. on Thursday, April 10, 1862, and the first shot fired was a shell from a 13-inch seacoast mortar in Batter Halleck on Tybee Island. A member of the 7th Connecticut Infantry chalked on the shell, "A nutmeg from Connecticut; can you furnish a grater?"

Quincy A. Gillmore
2. While there were 10 rifled cannon utilized by the Federals on Tybee Island, there were two rifled cannon utilized in the Confederate garrison. In November 1861, a blockade runner, Fingal, later turned into the CSS Atlanta, brought in materials and supplies included Enfield muskets and two 24-pounder Blakely rifled cannon. Those two cannon would be emplaced at Fort Pulaski for the battle.

3. Members of the 46th New York Infantry manned the rifled guns of Battery Sigel. The regiment’s commander, Col. Rudolph Rosa disregarded his firing instructions and mounted the parapet. He drew his sword and directed all six guns to fire in a volley. He continued to do this, much to acting Brig. Gen. Quincy Gillmore's chagrin.

The 46th New York "was making bad work of it," and Rosa was ordered away. When the men of the 46th refused to work their guns, they were replaced by sailors from the USS Wabash.   

Friday, April 7, 2017

CSS Georgia: No home yet for artifacts, but Texas City exhibit may provide inspiration

Dahlgren and carriage reproduction at Texas City Museum (Photo Texas A&M)
USS Westfield exhibit in Texas City. (Clifford Davis/US Navy)

Dr. Robert Neyland can picture it: A large exhibit hall featuring sections of armor that once encased the CSS Georgia, a floating battery used to defend Savannah, Ga., during the Civil War.

Several of the ironclad’s artillery pieces, including 9-inch Dahlgrens, jut through reconstructed portholes. Nearby display cases include pieces of the ship’s equipment and personal artifacts, all telling the story of how the Confederacy tried to create a worthy navy in a very short time.

So far, as thousands of CSS Georgia artifacts begin to emerge from conservation in Texas, there’s only a vision. No museums have committed to exhibit and care for large remnants of the vessel, which was scuttled in December 1864 as Federal forces neared the port city.

“Somebody needs to have the means, influence, funding and take the lead,” said Neyland, head of the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the Naval History and Heritage Command. The CSS Georgia belongs to the Navy.

Officials say it is appropriate that key elements of the ironclad be exhibited in Georgia or, if not there, South Carolina.

Neyland said he is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- which is removing the CSS Georgia as part of a harbor deepening project and is having items conserved at Texas A&M University -- and others to find a suitable spot.

“That is more preferable than sitting in a Navy warehouse in storage,” he said.

CSS Georgia sword hilt (USACE)
And that’s what will happen if no home is found. CSS Georgia artifacts will be shipped to the Washington Navy Yard, where they will be curated and stored – out of the public eye, with no opportunity to tell the story of an ironclad utilizing casemate made – of all things – from railroad iron.

But there may be a plan on the horizon. A project manager at Texas A&M’s Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation is devising a proposal for an affordable display of the CSS Georgia at a possible partner location.

Justin Parkoff is using his experience in building such an exhibit for a city-owned museum in Texas City, Texas. The university and students reconstructed parts of the USS Westfield, a Federal gunboat that churned the waters in nearby Galveston Bay during a blockade before it ran aground in early 1863 and was destroyed by its crew.

Such an idea can be a win-win, officials say. Students learn and a city or museum put up less money to get the ball rolling.

USS Westfield remnants (Courtesy of Texas A&M)

Like the CSS Georgia, the recovery of the remains of the USS Westfield was a salvage operation led by the Corps during improvements in a shipping channel. But the CSS Georgia is in better shape. While it suffered damage decades ago during dredging and from previous salvage attempts, the USS Westfield went down in a massive explosion, reducing much of it to pieces.

“Thousands of disarticulated fragments … would be difficult to present to the general public," Parkoff  wrote of the USS Westfield for the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. “This difficultly inevitably turned many museums away.”

Texas A&M found a solution for items brought up in 2009: A display could tell the story of the ship -- through personal and ship artifacts and a reconstructed engine cylinder, boiler and a bearing block that supported the engine. Texas City accepted the idea and work formally began. The exhibit opened just last month.

Parkoff, who specializes in steam machinery, is drafting the proposal for the Navy.

“If they have a facility that can house this, my proposal is we reconstruct a large section of the casemate and put the cannons on display under the casemate, on reconstructed carriages,” he said.

No commitments yet for CSS Georgia

CSS Georgia armor (USACE)
The Savannah District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, using Navy and contract divers, brought up much of the CSS Georgia’s remains in 2015. A variety of recovery techniques were used: Hand, rigging, clamshell and grapple. Divers this summer will be back on the site, working to remove 160 tons of the ironclad’s protective casemate from the Savannah River.

What’s left of the wreckage is close to downtown Savannah, just off Old Fort Jackson. The fort is operated by the Coastal Heritage Society, a nonprofit that uses museums to preserve and present cultural resources in the area.

Cannon, cannonballs and other items recovered previously from the CSS Georgia have long been displayed at Old Fort Jackson.

Coastal Heritage Society has served as voluntary stewards of the CSS Georgia story for over 40 years and was actively involved during that time in efforts to understand and preserve the sunken remains,” spokeswoman Holly Elliott told the Picket.

But opening new exhibits and caring for items is not cheap. What about this larger collection of casemate, guns, personal items, a propeller and machinery parts?

Since the Georgia was moved in 2015, Coastal Heritage Society has had discussions with the US Navy about the possibilities of having the remainder of the Georgia items, now undergoing conservation, returned to Savannah and housed at Savannah History Museum," Elliott said in a statement. "Housing and displaying these items will require significant commitment of space and funds. These factors along with many others must be considered to determine whether this collection is right for Savannah History Museum and whether our museum is the best fit for these items long-term."

Artist's conception of the CSS Georgia (USACE)

Corps and Navy officials said another option is in North Charleston, S.C., where remains of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley are being conserved at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center.

Given reports that plans for a permanent museum for the Hunley itself are slow to move forward, such a scenario does not seem to be a priority.

Kellen Correia, president and executive director of the Friends of the Hunley, said the CSS Georgia might be considered at some point.

Currently, all we have considered besides the Hunley and correlating artifacts for display in the future museum are artifacts from the maritime collection that is owned by the state,” Correia said. “The extensive collection has thousands of items from Union and Confederate (sources). We have not narrowed down what all would be finally displayed.”

Another possibility is the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Ga.

“We are in process of negotiations with the right people with the US Navy,” said Jeff Seymour, director of history and education. “However, the process of recovery and conservation is much bigger than expected. The Navy has made no decisions as to the final disposition of the vessel or its artifacts. I've been in regular contact  with … Texas A&M for updates. They are returning this summer and are expecting to recover another 100 tons of material off the riverbed. It still may be two, maybe three years, before we can get a decision from the Navy.”

Scuttled ironclad had a unique history, design

Belt buckle recovered from CSS Georgia (USACE)

In College Station, Texas, the pipeline of conserved artifacts is at full throttle: A 6-pounder artillery piece was recently completed. One of two propellers used for the underpowered ironclad has been painted.

So far, about 3,600 items have been conserved, including fuses, gun sights, brass sabots, artillery shells, and bayonet and sword handles, said Conservation Research Laboratory project manager Jim Jobling. (Conservation of thousands of additional artifacts will take up to four more years).

One of the Dahlgren cannons appears to have something at the back of barrel, possible evidence that the crew sabotaged the piece before the CSS Georgia’s engine was cut off. With pumps no longer in operation, water slowly filled the vessel and it sank.

There are thousands of pieces of ceramics and glass -- some modern, many prehistoric Native American. Those will not go to the Navy Yard.

Julie Morgan, an archaeologist with the Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah, said many pieces may have belonged to Woodland or Mississippian tribes.

“We are pretty certain that the wreckage of the CSS Georgia acted as a catch mitt, an object these artifacts got caught on as they were being swept through the river,” Morgan told the Picket.

CSS Georgia machinery (USACE)
There’s a strong possibility some ship pieces in the CSS Georgia site are from other vessels. And, officials say, the builders of the ironclad may have “borrowed” components from other vessels. “The South did not have the same technological advances, specialized metallurgy” as the Union, Morgan said.

Very little is known of the vessel’s size and design and there is a debate over whether a photograph of the CSS Georgia survives. Divers recovered a section that might give some clues on how the hull was fastened. “The west casemate has a lot of potential,” Morgan said.

Neyland said an exhibit could impress patrons by its sheer size alone: A 20-foot tall side of the CSS Georgia.

“You have got this casemate made from railroad iron. It is quite impressive and quite unique. It doesn’t look very pretty being brought up,” he said, referencing chunks of iron and wood remnants brought to the surface.

Neyland said he believes the CSS Georgia is the only raised Confederate vessel with armor. Officials want to learn more about the builder and the engine and propulsion system, which weren’t strong enough to allow the ship to go to sea.

He recounted the story of the CSS Virginia and Monitor, which did not do much damage to each other during the 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads. The CSS Georgia’s railroad iron and deep layers of wood backing “would have been effective at bouncing off cannonballs.”

Alas, the ironclad never saw any action. That led to boredom and discipline issues. “The crew must have seen horrible conditions inside this ship,” Neyland said. “We know they had problems with desertion. We had leg irons in the ship.”

The CSS Georgia was probably close to two stories tall at the water line, Parkoff said. Exhibit designers should be able to figure out the angle of the casemates and the position of the top catwalk and boat davits.

“You could do a generalized reconstruction, which could be pretty accurate,” he said.

In Texas City, exhibit is a ‘perfect marriage’

(Photos courtesy of Texas City Museum)

Dennis Harris heads up Texas City’s parks, recreation and tourism. The city of 46,000 is best known as a petrochemical port between Houston and Galveston. Harris said the community has “big city amenities” and is a popular fishing tournament destination.

The Texas City Museum’s marquee exhibit is on the 1947 disaster, an industrial accident that killed nearly 600 people as ships exploded in succession.

The recovery of the USS Westfield -- a flagship converted from a Staten Island ferryboat -- in the Texas City shipping channel during a dredging operation brought a new opportunity.
“Our mayor and city leaders really showed an interest,” said Harris.

Drawings of the USS Westfield and its explosion

The USS Westfield ran aground on Jan. 1, 1863, during the Battle of Galveston, which ended in Rebel control of the port. Commodore William Renshaw didn’t want it to fall into Rebel hands. Renshaw and 12 of his men were killed during the detonation of the forward powder magazine.

Before Texas City signed on, the university approached a dozen Texas museums, hoping the collection could stay together. “Nobody had an interest. They just wanted small personal artifacts, like belt buckles” and rotating exhibits, Parkoff said.

But once they saw scale models and heard the pitch, officials in Texas City got on board. A 9-inch smoothbore Dahlgren gun arrived at the museum in 2014.

The city contracted with Texas A&M for the USS Westfield exhibit. “We thought it was fitting as they preserve it they can help interpret it. It was a perfect marriage. ... We were developing (the exhibit) as it was being conserved,” said Harris.

The museum provided extra space for the large reconstructions made from many small artifacts. “We wanted as many artifacts as we could get,” Harris said.

Texas A&M
The wire mesh boiler reconstruction (left) includes artifacts and reproduced areas. Visitors can see the engine cylinder and six display cabinets feature dinnerware, part of a gun shaft, belt buckles and many other items.

“There is a lot missing, but we have a mural that shows the entire side view of the ship,” said Parkoff. “The public starts getting the idea, ‘Wow, this was a big ship.’”

The city wanted patrons to be able to understand the exhibit by taking a self-guided tour.

“We said there are a whole lot of pieces here. We wanted to make sure the story could really be told so that when John Q. Citizen walked in,” he could make sense of it, Harris said.

A grand opening was held on March 2. “Now we are in the planning stages to really promote the exhibit.”

Big selling point: Saving on costs

Now, back to the win-win situation possible for the CSS Georgia.

By using technologies available at the university and labor from graduate and undergraduate students, the cost of designing and building the USS Westfield exhibit was about $80,000, as opposed to $200,000 if it had been done elsewhere, Parkoff said. The College of Architecture's Automated Fabrication Laboratory provided expertise and fabricated 85 percent of the exhibit.

USS Westfield exhibit in Texas City (Courtesy of Texas A&M)

“It gave these students an opportunity to learn all of these skills, whether welding or using plasma cutters.” They also learned to design an exhibit and use AutoCAD. “These students have walked away with an amazing set of skills.”

Texas City put in about $100,000 into the project, Harris said. “We feel that is very cost effective with this particular exhibit.” A turnkey job with a private firm would have cost more, he added.

The Navy’s Neyland and Parkoff don’t want the bulk of the CSS Georgia to go into long-term curation and storage. The latter is optimistic a plan will move forward after he submits it in coming weeks.

Lab at the Washington Navy Yard (Clifford Davis, U.S. Navy)

If artifacts do come to the Navy Yard, they will be stored at a laboratory, where experts can monitor damaging humidity. “It is not a long-time solution to Georgia materials,” said Neyland. The Navy also has a storage warehouse in Virginia, though it may not be suitable for much of the ironclad.

Conservation at Navy Yard (U.S. Navy)
Dr. Parkoff said like the Westfield exhibit, a CSS Georgia display could feature information on technology and life on an ironclad. But the CSS Georgia exhibit would be much larger. “We would promote this around Georgia,” he said, and officials could attempt to raise money through historic preservation grants and historical societies.

The Navy and Army Corps of Engineers could work to broker an impressive exhibit, he said.

“I am optimistic that it won’t be sitting in the warehouse long,” said Neyland. “Someone will see it is worth exhibiting. Maybe we will have a bidding war.”

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Atlanta exhibit to show tossed drawings

As preservationists restore Atlanta's colossal Cyclorama - a landmark that's a sort of 19th-century high-tech Civil War history lesson - they also plan to showcase an all-but-forgotten drawing that reveals a little-known fact: There once were plans for another Atlanta Cyclorama. • Article