Saturday, March 31, 2018

At Shiloh on April 7, the sound of 10 cannon during event will stir Hornet's Nest to life; cavalry, infantry re-enactors also will be there

Ruggles' Battery replica guns at Shiloh (NPS)

[Updated April 4 to indicate one cannon crew has canceled]

Visitors to Shiloh National Military Park next weekend will experience the largest artillery firing demonstration on Duncan Field, where in 1862 more than 50 Confederate guns pounded Union troops in the epic fight at the Hornet’s Nest.

Supervisory park ranger Joe Davis told the Picket that 10 cannon will be fired at a living history event on Saturday, April 7, during a four-day commemoration of the 156th battle anniversary.

Brig. Gen. Ruggles
At present, the artillery will be divided into one battery of six cannon and the other with four, all simulating the Rebel bombardment by what came to be called Ruggles’ Battery on April 6, 1862, during the first day of fighting. The artillery was a crucial factor in allowing infantry to encircle and capture Union Brig. Gen. Benjamin Prentiss and nearly 2,100 soldiers who formed a desperate defensive line after being pushed back.

The line of 53 Confederate guns (some historians put the number at 62) was the largest concentration of artillery up to that point in the Civil War.

"You want to give the sound of a battle as close as we can,” said park ranger Chris Mekow, indicating visitors to the federal park in Tennessee should get a taste of “the chaos involved in a live battlefield."

Fierce fighting at Shiloh (Library of Congress)
1st Minnesota Light Artillery fired back (Picket photo)

Event includes combined demonstration

The artillery crews will be joined by about 80 infantry and 15 cavalry re-enactors. The group will provide tactical field maneuvers and firing demonstrations throughout the day, Davis said.

Artillery crews from National Park Service Civil War sites at Kennesaw Mountain (Ga.), Stones River (Tenn.), and Chickamauga (Ga.) will be among those taking part.

One might have expected the largest artillery demonstration to have occurred during the 150th anniversary in 2012, but the park did not do such a program because there was a re-enactment on a private site. Mekow said there will be no depiction of casualties. Rather, visitors will get an idea of Rebel tactics and strategy.

Confederate Brig. Gen. Daniel Ruggles assembled the batteries on the western part of Duncan Field to fire on the Union center on the Sunken Road after it became apparent some extra punch was needed to dislodge their foes. The cotton field belonged to the J.R. Duncan family.

Capt. Hickenlooper
Firing back were a few stubborn Federal artillery units, including the 1st Minnesota Light Artillery and Capt. Andrew Hickenlooper’s 5th Ohio Light Artillery.

Eventually, the massive Confederate firepower – which included batteries from Arkansas, Tennessee, New Orleans and Mississippi -- wore down the Federal flanks and infantry took the Hornet’s Nest and many prisoners after about eight separate attacks. (Confederates named the area for what they described as enemy bullets sounding like angry hornets).

In his To the Sound of the Guns blog, Craig Swan said Ruggles’ Battery played a major part in taking the Hornet’s Nest, but not solely because of its firepower.

“I think more than anything what caused the collapse of the Hornet’s Nest was the Confederate flanking and encirclement.  That in consideration, perhaps the most important contribution of Ruggles’ guns was to hold the Federal’s attention,” Swain writes. “So perhaps in retrospect the impact of Ruggles’ batteries was more in word than deed.

(Interestingly, the National Park Service says more recent research tends to show that the Hornet’s Nest, while seeing fierce fighting, may not have been as important as lesser-known areas of the battlefield.)

Iowa monument at the Sunken Road/Hornet's Next

'Lick 'em tomorrow'

By nightfall of April 6, things looked pretty bleak for the boys in blue across the entire battlefield. But the stubborn Federal resistance at the Hornet's Next and elsewhere bought time to organize a counterattack the next day.

Brig. Gen. William T. Sherman visited the camp of commanding Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant.

Catton wrote: “He came on Grant, at last, at midnight or later, standing under the tree in the heavy rain, hat slouched down over his face, coat-collar up around his ears, a dimly-glowing lantern in his hand, cigar clenched between his teeth. Sherman looked at him; then, "moved," as he put it later, "by some wise and sudden instinct" not to talk about retreat, he said: "Well, Grant, we've had the devil's own day, haven't we?"

Grant said "Yes," and his cigar glowed in the darkness as he gave a quick, hard puff at it, "Yes. Lick 'em tomorrow, though."

Aided by reinforcements, the Union army regrouped on April 7 and turned near-certain defeat into victory, retaking ground lost the day before.

Gun at Duncan Field in 2012 (Picket photo)

Current schedule for the April 7 living history (check the park website here for other events during the anniversary):

10 a.m.: Artillery firing demonstration
11 a.m.: Infantry tactical and firing demonstration
12 p.m.:  Cavalry tactical and firing demonstration
12:30 p.m.: Civil War music
1 p.m.: Artillery firing demonstration
2 p.m.: Program on Dr. Mary Safford (Civil War nurse; that presentation will be at the visitor center)
3 p.m.: Combined arms tactical and firing demonstration. (The infantry, cavalry, and artillery will be in the demonstration field at the same time.)

Each program will last 30 minutes. There will be narration to describe to the public information throughout each of the scheduled programs, said Davis.

“There will be period camps set up for the public to view and they can visit with the living historians to view the life of a soldier in a camp setting and they can interact with the re-enactors with questions they may have.”

Monday, March 26, 2018

Ex-slaves helped shape Virginia after Civil War

Virginia’s legislature got a lot of attention this year for its historically diverse crop of lawmakers, including the most women ever to serve, the first Latinas and the first transgender delegate. But while the number of African-Americans in the House of Delegates was the highest in many lifetimes, it wasn’t the highest ever, the Washington Post reports. There was another time -- 150 years ago -- when African Americans were fully represented -and had an equal hand in shaping state government. • Article

Monday, March 19, 2018

Sorry, no evidence of gold at Pa. site

The FBI has come up empty at the Pennsylvania site where Civil War gold is rumored to be buried. State officials and members of a treasure-hunting group joined the FBI at the site 135 miles northeast of Pittsburgh where local lore has it a shipment was lost or hidden during the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. • Article

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Divided over NC Confederate monuments: More than 4,000 submit comments on proposed relocation of 3 memorials

Confederate Soldiers Monument
A request by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper's administration to move three Confederate monuments from the Capitol grounds in Raleigh has garnered more than 4,000 comments on a state website soliciting opinions.

The North Carolina Historical Commission has been tasked with talking with historians, legal experts and hearing from the public before it makes a decision.

The next step is a hearing on March 21 in Raleigh, at which speakers have one minute to make their positions known to a five-member study committee.

A 2015 state law makes it difficult to remove or relocate public monuments, according to the News & Observer. Cooper made the recommendation following the Charlottesville, Va., violence last summer.

The commission is trying to determine whether it even has the authority to order the state statues moved to the Bentonville battlefield about 45 miles away. A petition for relocation calls them “objects of remembrance.”

“This commission has not had a contentious issue before them until now,” Michele Walker, a public information officer for the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, told the Picket this week.

The three memorials on Union Square are the Confederate Women's Monument (1914), the Confederate Soldiers Monument (1895) and the Henry Lawson Wyatt Monument (1912). Wyatt was the first North Carolinian killed in the Civil War.

The comment page, which launched on Jan. 29, is not restricted to state residents, though most do come from them. As of the morning of March 15, 4,031 people had weighed in.

Confederate Women's Monument (NCDCR)

They reflect what commission member David Ruffin said during a committee conference call this week that set ground rules for the hearing: “We understand that opinions are strong and divided, and in many cases, passionately held.”

While some comments reviewed by the Picket showed nuanced feelings on the matter, most are solidly on either side of the contentious issue.

“The monuments were placed by the children and widows of these men on the capitol grounds at a time when these veterans were getting old, and passing on,” wrote a High Point resident. “They were placed to memorialize these heroes, plain and simple, with no ulterior motives. I would feel we would be doing ourselves and their memories a grave disservice to move these monuments from their time-honored spots.”

A Chapel Hill resident countered.

“These statues told black citizens that they were not welcome in their own country, and they continue to send that message today. As long as these statue(s) stand in our state capitol, we are implicitly condoning the white supremacists who put them up. North Carolina can do better. Please remove these monuments to hate.”

Some commenters said if the three are moved, so should statues of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  But James Leloudis, a history professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, told the News & Observer that equating the memorials ignores “fundamental moral distinctions.”

The Confederacy was built on the rejection of the founding principle that "all men are created equal," Leloudis said, while "King, by comparison, called the nation back to its core defining democratic values."

The public hearing is set for 1:30-3:30 p.m. on March 21 at the Archives and History/State Library Building in Raleigh. The chair has the option of extending the session by an hour if needed.

Henry Lawson Wyatt Monument (NCDCR)

During their conference call, committee members focused on ground rules and ensuring that all views are heard. Speakers must sign in before they can address the committee and they cannot mention other monuments, such as the Silent Sam monument in Chapel Hill.

“We are trying to be open and fair and respectful of all opinions,” said Ruffin.

Speakers get one minute, and a red warning card will be put up after 30 seconds.

“No applause or other noises or clapping shall be allowed or tolerated before, during or after any speaker. Individuals in attendance who violate this rule will first be warned and then removed from the audience if a second violation occurs,” the committee said.

Walker said no banners or flags will be allowed. While people generally respect others and the rules, she said, security will be present.

The committee members agreed that the chairman can ask for comments representing another view if they have not heard speakers with such views. “Whatever our positions, we must be both fair to divergent opinions and respectful of each other’s rights to utter those opinions,” Ruffin said.

The committee can vote to keep the monuments where they are, add interpretive signage that may give historical context, move them or consider other options. “They are not limited to yes or no,” Walker told the Picket.

A Durham commenter spoke to one possible option: “If the monuments stay where they are, additional information needs to be posted on the same site to put them into the context in which they were erected. The date the monument was erected, who paid for it, who supported it, who did not support it. The fact that many were erected during Jim Crow as a way to put down efforts at equality by African-Americans should be front and center.”

A Holly Springs resident disagrees. “It is a very dangerous idea to remove statues which certain people do not agree with. History cannot be rewritten to satisfy disgruntled citizens.”

Walker said the committee is taking its duties very seriously.

“They want to know what the people of North Carolina think and how they want this issue to be handled,” she said.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Wyse Fork monument is dedicated

People gathered last weekend in Lenoir County to remember those who fought in the second-largest Civil War battle in North Carolina. To celebrate the 153rd anniversary of the Battle of Wyse Fork, a marker with the names of 350 men was unveiled. • Article

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Picket tours the USS Monitor Center's conservation lab, where thousands of artifacts and science meet

Sheaves used in rigging blocks on USS Monitor
Thousands of artifacts are in plastic containers
Turret inside giant conservation tank (All photos by the Picket)

The anniversary “Battle of Hampton Roads Weekend” event beginning Friday at the Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va., will include behind-the-scenes tours of the laboratory that is conserving giant and tiny artifacts from the USS Monitor.

I got a look inside the USS Monitor Center’s Batten Conservation Complex during a visit last week. While I don’t know precisely what the $10 tours of the center and lab this weekend will include, I wanted to share some photos from my walk-through with conservation administrator Tina Gutshall. I also spoke with project manager Will Hoffman.

The ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia are famous for their March 9, 1862, clash that changed naval warfare. While the Confederate vessel was scuttled and largely lost, conservators and historians for nearly two decades have studied remnants of the Monitor that were recovered off Cape Hatteras, N.C., where it was lost in a storm.

Signature pieces receiving conservation treatment in tanks at the lab are the ship’s huge turret, the engine and condenser, and two 11-inch Dahlgren guns. Thousands of smaller items are being conserved in plastic containers filled with water or chemicals.

Hundreds of treated artifacts are displayed in the museum, including the propeller and anchor.

Organic materials are kept in a special cooler
Hoffman and Gutshall on walkway above tanks

Gutshall told me the goal is to have the conservation completed by 2029-30. But that’s somewhat of a best estimate.

“It has always been fluid because you do what is best for the object,” Gutshall said.

The chief challenge for Hoffman and his team is finding and utilizing  – or in some cases, tweaking -- the appropriate technology to treat a particular item. Cast iron and wrought iron have different properties, so while dry ice cleaning might work for one object, it may not for another. Hundreds of artifacts have been treated with dry ice, which has the effectiveness of sand blasting.

“We have to figure out every step of it,” Hoffman told me. “We have to understand how (an item) was made, how it was used and how it deteriorated.”

The conservation process largely concentrates on removing sea salts that permeated the iron for about 140 years. Over 15 years, conservators have made significant process on the turret, but fine corrosion is embedded in folds of the curved iron plates.

One of the 11-inch Dahlgrens
The Monitor's engine receives treatment

John Ericsson, who built the USS Monitor, utilized an innovative engine that is made of many materials.

“We have the earliest and most complete steam engine room in the world,” said Hoffman, referring to the engine, condenser, bulkhead, propeller and its shaft, two Worthington pumps and the reversing gear.

Conservators also are concentrating on gun carriages for the Dahlgrens that fired from the turret. One has been disassembled; the other is still in a tank. They are made of iron, copper alloy and wood. The preferred treatment for a composite artifact is to take it apart so that each piece can be treated.

Reproduction of a Worthington pump
One of the new cabinets installed in laboratory.
Some of the gaskets used on Monitor (All photos by the Picket)

Gutshall also helps students and researchers with questions about the USS Monitor, including its design and construction.

Hoffman admired the craftsmanship that went into the ironclad, which was built in less than four months.

“It was a guy’s livelihood. It was made to the nines,” he said. “The machining and milling is perfect.”

Iron bolts from disassembled gun carriage.
Room where photos of artifacts are taken.

'Shoot him on the spot' letter that made Northerners rally around the flag is donated to Treasury Department

Click to enlarge (Treasury Department)
John Adams Dix was US treasury secretary for just two months, but in that time a short message he wrote got the attention of secessionists,  surprised his boss, President James Buchanan, and brought cheers across the North.

On January 29, 1861 – a few months before the Civil War began – Dix issued an order saying a Federal revenue cutter must not be allowed to fall into the hands of Southern sympathizers in New Orleans. He concluded the message with, “If anyone attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.”

While a telegram bearing the message was stopped in Alabama, word got out and the line became a rallying cry in the North during the war. A song was written in its honor and banners and coins carried Dix's command, according to The New York Times' Disunion blog.

Dix token (Wikipedia)
On Wednesday, the letter was donated by the National Collector’s Mint to the Treasury Department’s library. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin presided over a brief ceremony, according to media reports.

Dix was an Army veteran, politician and U.S. senator from New York before the war. During the conflict, he suppressed draft riots in New York in 1863 and helped arrange prisoner exchanges through the Dix-Hill Cartel. He served as New York governor in 1873 and 1874.

Today, he’s perhaps best-remembered for the letter he sent to treasury officers who were being harassed in New Orleans following the election of Abraham Lincoln.

Buchanan would soon be out of office and secessionist sentiment was growing across the South, and there were threats of seizure of federal property. Buchanan's administration was considered to be vacillating and divided.

Just two weeks after becoming treasury secretary, Dix issued his order. It came as he worked to keep other ships in Federal hands. The Revenue Cutter Service was a predecessor of the Coast Guard.

The Rebel-sympathizing captain of the cutter McClelland had refused to move his ship north, according to the Disunion blog, and Dix dashed off his correspondence:

“Tell Lieutenant Caldwell to arrest Captain Breshwood, assume command of the cutter, and obey the order I gave through you. If Captain Breshwood, after arrest, undertakes to interfere with the command of the cutter, tell Lieutenant Caldwell to consider him a mutineer, and treat him accordingly. If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.”

Portrait of Dix (Treasury Department)

Dix later wrote that he didn’t tell Buchanan about the matter beforehand, fearing he would not allow the letter to be sent. The official told the president about the message a few days later while they were discussing the revenue cutters.

Dix described the order, and Buchanan questioned him about the “shoot him on the spot” line.

“Did you write that?”

“No, sir. I did not write it, but I telegraphed it.”

President Buchanan
Buchanan made no answer.

Dix later said the U.S. flag should never by hauled down by a foe, according to memoirs written by his son.

“I did not think, when I seized the nearest pen …. And wrote the order in as little time as it would take to read it, that I was doing anything specially worthy of remembrance.”

Despite the letter, the flag did come down on the McClelland and the ship eventually fell into Confederate hands.

Mnuchin expressed admiration for Dix's leadership at a "pivotal time" in U.S. history, the Associated Press reports.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

No bust for officer who fought Indians

A proposal to honor a Hispanic leader of Union troops during the Civil War with a bronze bust in the New Mexico state Capitol has been rejected, as details emerge about the officer's involvement in bloody campaigns against Navajos and other American Indian tribes, the Associated Press reports. Gov. Susana Martinez will line-item veto the $50,000 proposal for a bust of Manuel Antonio Chaves, according to a spokeswoman. • Article

Friday, March 2, 2018

What will weather data recorded in U.S. Navy logbooks during the Civil War tell us? Plenty, after it is digitized

Page from USS Jamestown (below) log in June 1861 (National Archives)
USS Jamestown (Naval History and Heritage Command)

Scientists and volunteers will pore through up to 1,000 U.S. Navy logbooks and digitize weather observations that will fill in the historical record and perhaps aid in future weather predictions, thanks to a new grant.

Before satellites, knowledge of the oceans and climate data was largely restricted to a ship’s logbook, and few recorded observations were made on land before the 1870s. War has a way of disrupting the collection of weather data and this effort will focus on 1861-1879, the University of Washington announced recently. The Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865.

“The better we understand the past, the better we can make models for the future,” said Kevin Wood, a research scientist with the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean. He's also a leader of the Old Weather project, which has transcribed U.S. Navy and Royal Navy weather records.

Besides weather, this phase of digitalization will include muster rolls and crew data, he told the Picket. Volunteers previously digitized logs from the USS Jamestown, a sloop of war that seized vessels off Florida and North Carolina during the Civil War.

Changes in the Jamestown’s log show officers went from observing only weather conditions to other details of the day: What the crew saw, punishment, drill and more. A June 8, 1861, notation, for example, talks about two men confined for fighting, one being placed in double irons. On June 16, the contingent was in full uniform and were read the articles of war.

More USS Jamestown entries (National Archives)

Scientists interested in extreme weather can add this information to data gathered before and after the Civil War to see if there were any phenomena such as an El Nino, Wood said.

"The Civil War is generally this huge missing era of weather overall, and ship logs the (largely) forgotten piece," Cary Mock, a University of South Carolina climatologist who has studied the logs for hurricane information, told The Post and Courier in Charleston.

The newspaper described a hurricane off Georgetown, S.C., in November 1861, and excerpted from a diary by Stephen Minot Weld that will be digitized: "One sea which broke over the ship killed one of Captain Hascall’s horses...The wind would blow and shriek through the rigging till it seemed as if it could blow no harder; and when I thought it was at its height, it would scream and whistle more than ever. There was something terrible to me in the waves, which were enormously high, and only rendered visible by the phosphorescent light on the tops of them."

Wood said the project has two components: The scientific aspect and the history of what happened on the voyages. “You can put some of it under the humanities aspect. It’s not data. It’s a story.”

Reanalysis (explained in Q&A below) of the data will allow for experts to spotlight a specific location and time during the Civil War. “You will be able to generate a weather map from that campaign.”

The work, which begins June 1, is being paid for by a $482,018 grant from the nonprofit Council on Library and Information Resources. The results will be posted on Old Weather and the National Archives website.

The Picket communicated last month with Wood by telephone and email. The following are his combined responses, edited for organization and brevity.

Kevin Wood (U of Wash.)
Q. Why is ship log data important, specifically when it comes to weather? Does it help with current prediction and modeling? How does it help us better understand past events?

A. The advent of high-performance computing combined with a particular method of using historical data in what is known as retrospective analysis, or more often “reanalysis,” has really transformed the value of historical meteorological observations like those found in naval logbooks. Reanalysis can produce objective reconstructions of the atmosphere at six-hour intervals as far back in time as there are sufficient data to ingest. Our particular objective is to recover as much unutilized data as possible, which ultimately increase the quality, resolution and range of the reanalysis, and hence lead to better understanding of the physical circumstances of past events (e.g. extreme weather, climate fluctuations, atmospheric rivers, etc.). This effort is also expected to improve long-range prediction and modeling of future weather/climate conditions. 

Q. How much impact does the Civil War and current marine logging of weather have on our weather records and knowledge (i.e. compared to land-based data)?

A. War in general disrupts the orderly collection and transmission of weather observations, and the Civil War, in particular, brought the pioneering work of naval officer Matthew F. Maury to a stop. This disruption can be seen in this animation (from about 7:30  to 10 minutes in):

The disruption, however, isn't that the weather observations weren't taken on board the ships. It’s that they were never fully extracted from the logbooks. (That’s) unlike land stations that may have simply been abandoned or the records lost in the general destruction. 

Also, once radio and weather forecasting emerged in the early 20th century then ships began transmitting their observations to national weather services. This was once the only way to get timely information into forecasters’ hands, and even up to the first years of my career we would radio a Coast Guard station (November-Mike-November in my case) with our weather. Now these volunteer observing ships (VOS) are equipped with satellite comms and often automatic weather stations. 

Finally, in some parts of the world, there are few land stations (and perhaps none in the past) and then the marine observations become even more important -- perhaps the only observations there are. The Arctic, Southern Ocean, tropical Pacific.

Q.  Please tell me about how the Old Weather project feeds into this? What motivates people to volunteer to digitize this and other historical material? How is the data accessed and who generally uses it?

A. Old Weather volunteers will help on it. Start with all the positions, latitude, longitude and time. They can annotate what they find interesting -- if someone is lost at sea, killed, or injured … sightings of auroras, volcanoes. Old Weather volunteers help transcribe the weather observed/observations from handwriting to digital text. Currently, there is no way to do this automatically. There are as many motivations as people have interests. Some are focused on doing something to meaningfully help advance the science; others are history buffs.

USS Sabine (Library of Congress)

Q.  Can you tell me about marine weather's impact on how Civil War commanders/captains would have used log data in their tactical and strategic campaigns?

A. The first part of my career I was a merchant marine officer, so I know something about the use of weather obs on a ship: the safety (and efficiency) of the ship depends on appropriately understanding and anticipating the weather over the horizon, often revealed by the hour-by-hour trends in the logged data. For consequences, look no farther than the El Faro case, the loss of the replica of the HMS Bounty and too many others. Obviously, even more important in times before marine weather forecasting was available on the radio. The same kind of judgment must have gone into the tactical decisions around a naval action during the Civil War.

Strategically, knowledge of the climatology of the ocean and its weather could be a significant advantage in both defense and commerce. This was the object of Maury's work before the Civil War -- he was trying to systematically collect the data needed to discern the larger patterns of ocean currents, trade winds, and so forth. Ultimately this kind of information was used to construct pilot charts of the world ocean, sailing directions and coast pilots.

Q. What kind of weather data was logged during the Civil War and how has that changed over time?

A. The easiest answer is to have a look at some of the logs. You can see the wx obs get more detailed with time, but seldom do you find a log where they aren't taken every hour. The instruments have changed with time, but the variables are basically the same: wind speed/direction, barometric pressure, sea-surface and wet/dry air temperature, sea and sky conditions (sea state, clouds, visibility).

Q. How have sailors and their skills changed over time?

A. Without weather forecasting info, they paid attention a whole lot more than sometimes we do nowadays.” Back then, they were completely self-reliant. They had a native understanding of what they were seeing. They would have had weather sense. You would think life as sailor today is universally better. But it is not. There is hubris and pressure by owners to be on time and without interruption. People still make bad judgments.

'Pivotal' parcel in Culpeper, Va., preserved

Virginia officials joined the Civil War Trust  on Thursday in announcing the preservation of a scenic ridge in Culpeper County, the Free-Lance Star in Fredericksburg report. The 400-foot-high Hansbrough Ridge is where 800 Confederate soldiers barred a Union cavalry division from the main fight at Brandy Station, a massive cavalry battle in June 1863. • Article