Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Archaeologists return to Chicago home's back yard to search for evidence of Camp Douglas

Archaeologists and volunteers are returning to a Chicago residence to dig for more artifacts and evidence of Camp Douglas, a Federal military training center and prison camp during the Civil War.

Last fall's dig (Michael Gregory)
Last fall, a team unearthed debris, several postwar artifacts and one that did date to the period: A .58-caliber Minie ball, about 75 centimeters (30 inches) down, a depth where they were expecting to find Camp Douglas materials.

Diggers will again work in a backyard vegetable garden inside what is believed to be the prisoners’ living area. They will be working in two spots in the garden.

The Camp Douglas Restoration Foundation is trying to find precise locations of camp features in an urban area that has seen extensive development in the past century, and where much of history is covered by miles of pavement and buildings. 

Archaeologist Michael Gregory, a member of the foundation’s board, said the work begins Thursday and will likely continue through next Wednesday, April 25.

The home, built in 1885, is in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood.

Bullet found in home's back yard (Michael Gregory)

The resident had visited one of a half dozen such digs at nearby John J. Pershing Magnet School for Humanities on Calumet Avenue“He loves the neighborhood and loves everything that goes along with it,” Gregory said this week.

Gregory said the goal this time is to get a better view of the camp layer deposit, recover artifacts if present “and maybe find some type of feature --pier support for a building, pit, fence post holes, etc.-- that we can relate to plans we have for the camp in order to know more specifically where within Prisoners Square we are excavating.”

He believes the location where the bullet was found was relatively undisturbed since the end of the Civil War.

The foundation is trying to bring protection to the 60 acres by having it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That's an involved process that requires evidence that camp-related features survive, even if underground. No buildings survive.

Camp Douglas originally served as a Union training facility for about 40,000 soldiers – including African-Americans -- being rushed to the front. Much of the site was converted to a prison camp for 26,000 Confederates. About 4,000 Rebels died at the prison.

Gregory said the organization also hopes to conduct ground-penetrating radar surveys at six sites, most on public right of way, later this spring. The GPR can see deeper in the soil for any undisturbed camp features.

Camp Douglas exhibit at museum in Wisconsin (Michael Gregory)

Some of the artifacts found in the neighborhood in the past few years are on temporary display at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha, Wisc.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Fort C.F. Smith in Arlington was among 68 that kept Lincoln's Washington safe; park's new visitor center tells the story of these defenders

Men of the 2nd New York Artillery (Library of Congress)
New visitor center at Fort C.F. Smith Park (Arlington Co. Parks)

The boys of the 164th Ohio Volunteer Infantry were quite pleased with their new post after they completed a journey that took them from Cleveland to Washington, D.C.

Upon arrival, they marched down dusty capital roads, across the Potomac River and onto the ridges and ravines of Arlington Heights, on the Virginia side. There, they joined the garrison of Fort C.F. Smith, the last in a string of defensive fortifications that stretched southeast toward occupied Alexandria.

The troops could feast on luscious blackberries in the thickets (though the grounds had been denuded of trees so that the artillery would have a clear line of fire), or saunter down to the Potomac River, less than a mile away, to harvest tasty fish and eels.

“We have a most splendid location, at an elevation of two hundred feet above the Potomac river; overlooking the country in every direction,” a soldier wrote on May 21, 1864, to the Tiffin Weekly Tribune (left) back home. “Off to the east, in full view, is the city of Washington, and the capitol of our nation; to the south lies Fort Strong; in the west the Potomac winds its way through the hills, and in the distance may be seen Ft. Ethan Allen; to the north a beautiful array of hills, with splendid residences dotting them here and there.”

That sense of relative calm and comfort was common for thousands of artillerymen and infantry who occupied 68 enclosed forts encircling the capital. Twenty-two of them were in Alexandria (now Arlington) County.

None in the county saw action, but there was always the threat of a Confederate rush on the capital, which occurred in July 1864, sending the city into panic. That effort was rebuffed at Fort Stevens in Maryland, on the northern outskirts of Washington.

Fortification remnants at C.F. Smith (Arlington Co. Parks)

Earthwork remnants in the 19-acre Fort C.F. Smith Park are considered the best preserved of those 22 Arlington-area forts. While most traces are gone, the ruins of the lunette fort include a bomb proof, the fort well, the north magazine and 11 of the 22 gun emplacements.

Visitor center tells story of these sentinels

Arlington County park officials late last month opened a new visitor center at the site. Inside are artifacts, photos, a searchable database for soldiers stationed at the fort and items geared for children, including a tent and uniforms they can try on.

While the park draws birders, walkers and others interested in a meadow and generous tree canopy, officials want people in the county to know more about its Civil War past. For a long time, that was limited to Arlington House, also known as the Custis-Lee Mansion, said John McNair, acting park historian at Fort C.F. Smith.

 “Our goal is to … stir excitement in the local Arlington community for the Civil War history in their back yard,” said McNair.

 C.F. Smith and other forts (click to enlarge; Library of Congress)

The perimeter forts were abandoned in 1865 at war’s end. A few remnants exist, including at the county’s Fort Ethan Allen Park, which was located to the northwest of Fort C.F. Smith. Today, the site has a nearby county dog park.

A 1994 Washington Post article about the purchase of land for Fort C.F. Smith Park cited Civil War historians who said the capital's series of surrounding forts, trenches and cannon batteries made up a "largely forgotten legacy that literally is woven into the region's landscape."

Local counties and the National Park Service are trying to spark interest in their unheralded contributions to the war effort. After all, they kept the capital safe.

Trees were cleared and their wood used

Engineer Brig. Gen. John Gross Barnard designed and built the 68 forts, a task made much more urgent by the ignominious Union defeat at First Manassas in July 1861. Rebel troops weren’t far from the capital – in Falls Church, Va. The Union Army Balloon Corps spied on them from Fort Corcoran.

More scenes from Fort C.F. Smith (Library of Congress)

Alexandria County (which was renamed Arlington County in 1920) was largely made up of farms during the war. McNair said because the forts needed to be in cleared areas, few trees in those areas today are more than 160 years old. Barns and fences were taken down for fuel. The impact on Alexandria County residents was substantial.

Laborers cut down trees that were used for camp buildings, and the whole operation created new roads and infrastructure around the capital.

Barnard wrote: “Possession was at once taken, with little or no reference to the rights of the owners or the occupants of the lands -- the stern law of ‘military necessity’ and the magnitude of the public interests involved in the security of the nation's capital being paramount to every other consideration.”

Gen. Robert E. Lee’s victory at Second Manassas in 1862 brought renewed concerns.

“Fortifications suddenly grew stronger thanks to soldier and contract labor,” fort expert B. Franklin Cooling wrote in a feature article for the Civil War Trust. “A free black landowner watched her house crumble beneath soldier axes and sledgehammers as Fort Massachusetts was expanded and became Fort Stevens.”

About 20,000 soldiers were required to adequately man these forts. Generals who likely would have wanted them at the front knew that President Lincoln was consumed with protecting the city.


For some young men deployed in Virginia, it was their first experience in seeing plantations and enslaved persons.

“When soldiers enter Arlington from Washington they sometimes talk about entering the South, even the Deep South, like Arlington is like Alabama or Mississippi,” David Farner, a senior staffer with Arlington County Parks & Recreation, says in a video posted on the Fort C.F. Smith Park website.

It bristled with firepower

Fort C.F. Smith, built in early 1863, was considered to be well-designed and sophisticated, with C-shaped earthworks and protected areas for infantry.

C.F. Smith
Built on land owned by Thomas Jewell, it eventually was named for Maj. Gen. Charles Ferguson Smith, a mentor of Ulysses S. Grant who later served as a subordinate. Smith died of a non-combat injury shortly after the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862.

Armament included a seacoast howitzer, 24-pounder siege guns, 12-pounder field howitzers, Rodman rifles, three siege mortars and other guns, for a total of 17 to 20 artillery pieces.

The property included barracks, officers’ quarters, a cookhouse and other buildings. Photographs kept by the Library of Congress show a pleasant camp, a haven well back from the front lines to the south. 

Between 100 and 300 might be at Fort C.F. Smith at a time. The number included heavy artillerymen, who also could be deployed as infantry.

Among the units stationed there were the 3rd Battalion, 5th New York Heavy Artillery; the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery; the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, Battery H; and the 30th Company of Unattached Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. The 2nd New York is the unit featured in the Library of Congress photo collection.

Fortification remnants at C.F. Smith (Arlington County Parks)

All quiet on the Potomac?

The forts on the Arlington Line, plus Ethan Allen, were built to complement each other. “One fort doesn’t need to protect everything. It can rely on other forts,” said McNair.

That’s why most of the guns in the lunette at C.F. Smith are trained to the northwest, to cover the gap between it and Ethan Allen, instead of to the south, where Confederates attackers would likely emerge. Fort Strong took care of that sector.

The elaborate Arlington Line was meant, in part, to guard the Key Bridge and Aqueduct Bridge approaches to Georgetown and Washington. While there was plenty of drilling, training and marching, there would be down time. Baseball was popular.

In late May 1864, another soldier with the 164th Ohio writes that morale is good.

“All is quiet on the Potomac. But the grand veteran army of the Potomac is not quiet.”

Searchable kiosk at park's visitor center (Arlington County Parks)
Young visitors can try on uniforms

Things certainly weren’t too quiet north of the Potomac River, just two months later. Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early decided to attack the capital via Silver Spring, Md., where Fort Stevens’ guns bristled.

There was real cause for concern. The capital’s defensive fortifications had about 9,000 troops -- less half of their ideal staffing -- in the summer of 1864, because so many men had been sent to Grant’s Army of the Potomac for the push on Richmond and Petersburg. Many of those holding the fort, so to speak, were poorly trained reserves.

Reinforcements rushed to near Fort Stevens helped stem Early’s advance, on July 11 and 12, ending the only Rebel action against Washington. Some men of the 164th Ohio took part in the fighting there. President Abraham Lincoln went to Fort Stevens on July 12, and famously stood on the parapet. According to legend, young officer Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, “Get down, you damn fool!”

Entrance to visitor center, more earthworks

'Quality' earthworks remain at Fort C.F. Smith

After the war ended, Fort C.F. Smith’s structures were removed and it was largely forgotten, returning to residential and agricultural use. The 107th U.S. Colored Troops for a time occupied the Arlington forts, said McNair.

Some families whose land was taken were able to get compensation for the loss of property and damage during the war. The 65-year-old Jewell testified that he lived on the property with his family until "the soldiers robbed my house and ordered me off” what became Fort C.F. Smith. 

Artifacts are on display
The property was never developed, but the construction of 24th Street on Fort C.F. Smith’s southern edge plowed through one-third of the site, and other features wore away, leaving few. Not many earthworks are left.

But some well-reserved, unrestored ones remain, and they are the focal point of a park that includes a half-mile trail near George Washington Parkway and the Spout Run Parkway.

“Our earthwork remains … considering the condition of the individual gun platforms and ramparts, I am surprised at how good a condition they are in,” McNair told the Picket. “It was a quality over quantity issue.”

The property and a house used for events and weddings was acquired from the Hendry family, which witnessed rapid growth in the area -- “the story of the agricultural community giving way to suburban homes,” said McNair.

According to the Post article, only three perimeter forts, Stevens, Foote and Ward, are restored close to their wartime appearance.

Park offers programs and tours

Fort C.F. Smith Park is nestled into an Arlington neighborhood, where homes typically sell for $1 million to $3 million.

Trail at Fort C.F. Smith Park near George Washington Parkway

Day visitors include joggers, dog walkers and students out of school. “We do have a very good, dedicated birding population out here. This is a big site in Arlington for bird watchers.”

“Our big goal is to get people more invested in the role that Arlington County played during the Civil War,” said McNair. “By and large, Arlington County residents are very passionate about their local park spaces and curious about the history they never learned otherwise.”

The county is offering history-based summer camps, school trips and guided tours of Civil War sites. “Fort C.F. Smith historic programming is going strong now and will get bigger and better with the help of the new visitor center.”

The staff is contemplating doing more on the war’s home front, including interpreting the lives of white civilians and enslaved persons.

2nd New York at Fort C.F. Smith (Library of Congress)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Weighing in on Raleigh monuments: Historian David Blight, Sons of Confederate Veterans and CEO of the Atlanta History Center

Confederate Women's Monument (NCDCR)

What to do with three century-old Confederate monuments that dot North Carolina’s Capitol grounds in Raleigh: Leave them be? Add context? Move them to the Bentonville battlefield?

A study committee of the North Carolina Historical Commission has received passionate opinions on all three options from an online portal (more than 5,100 comments thus far), a public hearing last month and letters from historians and groups.

Michele Walker, a public information officer for the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, said the full commission is expected to receive a final recommendation from the committee by May.

The online portal will close at midnight Thursday (April 12). The committee, in a recent conference call, also noted it had requested and received comments from two experts on Civil War monuments: Yale history professor David Blight and Sheffield Hale, president and CEO of the Atlanta History Center. The call also mentioned comments filed on behalf of the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The Picket requested copies and here is a summary of each position:

David Blight: ‘Relocate but do not lose the lessons’

“Wide public consciousness about the nature and place of commemoration in our culture seems to be popping up everywhere. And widespread uses and abuses of "identity" are also a fact of our time. In periods of bewildering change many people feel or believe themselves to be threatened. We are also experiencing a lack of confidence in basic, important institutions. Hence, we live in an era of lots of grievance and resentment -- appeals to tradition and appeals against it.”

Blight suggested that any community addressing such a choice about monuments create a good deliberative process, act and think with humility and “learn more history, lots more, before acting … About the origins and meaning of monuments at their inception, over time, and now. And all of us need to remember to try to learn some history other than what we may call ‘our own.’

“Having said this: It would seem that those monuments to the Confederacy are as public a statement as can possibly be made about who and what North Carolina was and is. If it is possible to move them to a prominent place that would allow their interpretation as part of Southern, American, and North Carolina history, it would seem to me a good idea. But don't erase them from the landscape. Replace, but learn. Relocate but do not lose the lessons. ..."

N.C. SCV: State hiding behind a fig leaf

The organization’s opposition to relocation doesn’t touch on the emotional arguments associated with Confederate monuments. Rather, it argues a 2015 state law prohibits the removal of them and that this effort does not meet any exceptions to the law.

It says Gov. Roy Cooper, while “under pressure,” proposed the idea of relocation after a “mob of demonstrators and political protesters illegally” tore down a memorial in Durham in August 2017.

Confederate Soldiers Monument
The SCV scoffs at the state’s contention that the relocation is necessary “to ensure the Monuments’ preservation.” And it argues that the Capitol’s Union Square – where the monuments sit – is the best location.

“The State’s proposal to move the statues to Bentonville is not a proposal to move them to an equally prominent place,” it argues. “Instead, the State is using the Bentonville battlefield as a fig leaf to allow it to move the statues to a remote location to get them away from politically inconvenient protests. That might be good politics but it is illegal.”

The SCV brief argues the state should hold activists accountable for damaging monuments -- rather than move the memorials: 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.

“There is no legal avenue to remove these statues. The law is clear and unambiguous. For this to continue to be a country made of laws and not of man, the Commission must deny the petition to remove the statues.”

Sheffield Hale: Context, context, context

The Atlanta History has been a proponent of contextualization – through marker panels, web pages or smartphones -- and understanding of the symbolism of Confederate monuments. 

In his letter, Hale said the 2015 North Carolina law does “not restrict how the history of monuments can be interpreted and presented …. There are legally viable strategies for onsite interpretation of monuments that is more inclusive of the history and sensibilities of a broad spectrum of the population.”

He argued those involved in the debate over such memorials should have a respectful discussion, humility and openness. 

Sheffield Hale
Hale recognizes that many Southerners believe the monuments are a positive representation of their heritage.

“While many who advocate keeping the monuments argue that removing them would erase Civil War history, this is simply not so. The historical evidence focused on the monuments’ creation, unveilings and events hosted at them actually testifies more clearly to the efforts of communities to resist Civil Rights activism than to commemorate the war.”

Hale argues the three Capitol memorials are of the “Lost Cause” variety – the idea that the South achieved a moral victory while denying the role of slavery as the primary cause of the war. Such thinking suppressed racial equality, he writes.

Whether the monuments stay or are moved, Hale told the study committee that North Carolina must find a way to provide proper context. “Historical context to these monuments must acknowledge slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War and explain how monuments promoted the myth of the Lost Cause and the practice of Jim Crow segregation. If the state of North Carolina is unwilling to create this context, I am of the opinion the monuments should be removed to a warehouse.”

A little background on the issue

Gov. Cooper’s administration last fall filed a petition calling for relocation of the memorials. Questions soon arose over whether the North Carolina Historical Commission has the power to order relocation.

Wyatt statue (NCDCR)
“The committee has requested advice from various legal experts on their authority under the NC monuments law,” said Walker. “They are currently proceeding under the understanding that they have the authority to make a decision on the petition before them.”

Walker said about 60 people spoke at the March 21 public hearing in Raleigh. According to media reports, many spoke against moving the memorials. “It was fewer than we anticipated, but we had some unusually wintry weather that day which likely accounted for the lower turnout,” said Walker.

She said the committee will make a recommendation and the full commission will vote on its final action, both in public settings. “I cannot speak for them, but I’m sure they will take the recommendation of the committee very seriously when making their final decision.”

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Where cannon roared: Pea Ridge excavation yields a trove of artillery, other artifacts

Bucket of artifacts, marker flags (Courtesy of Arkansas Archeological Survey)
Canister round (Courtesy AAS)
Students, volunteers, park staffers and archaeology hobbyists recently recorded and recovered about 1,000 artifacts – most of them related to a ferocious artillery fire exchange – at Pea Ridge National Military Park in northwest Arkansas.

The spring break dig comes in the third of four years that the Arkansas Archeological Survey is working with the National Park Service to better understand the battle and civilian life in the area. The March 6-9, 1862, Battle of Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern) has been called by some historians “the Gettysburg of the West.” The Union won control of Missouri and weakened the Confederate hold in Arkansas.

The Picket spoke with AAS station archaeologist Carl Drexler, who headed up the dig in mid-March, and a Pea Ridge park ranger. Students got important field experience and mapping crews used GPS technology to mark precise locations of the artifacts. The finds will now be cleaned and curated. AAS archaeologist Jamie Brandon assisted. The effort had help from about 30 people a day over six days.

Belches of flame on the ridge tops

(Photo courtesy of Arkansas Archeological Survey)

Drexler (right) and NPS staffer
The dig primarily focused on the hilly terrain north of Elkhorn Tavern. The Confederacy’s Missouri State Guard placed 21 guns hub-to-hub on Broad Ridge on the first day of the battle, exchanging fire with the plucky, if smaller 1st Iowa Battery. 

The Iowans' four guns were trying to slow the Rebel push and were about only a quarter mile away. “They were firing mostly canister back and forth at each other,” Drexler said. “They were trying to kill off the gunners.”

The excavation worked in an area where the Federal artillery fire landed, so most of artifacts were fired by those artillerymen, who eventually had to give way. The tree cover is denser today than at the time of the battle.

The volunteers also worked the area of a smaller artillery action to the south of Broad Ridge.

Bullet is encrusted with soil (Courtesy of AA)

What kind of artillery projectiles, pieces were found during the dig?

Most were related to canister – rounds packed with bullets, pieces of metal or other material – designed to cut through infantry or artillery crews. Whole balls, pieces of explosive case, .69-caliber Minie balls and .58-caliber bullets also were among the finds. Some were likely case shot balls, Drexler said.

(Courtesy of Arkansas Archeological Survey)

A trio of cool finds last month

The shoulder armor scale (above) was often worn by artillerymen. “The idea was if you were getting overrun by cavalrymen swinging sabers, it gave a little defense as they rode past,” according to Drexler. By the Civil War, sometimes they were used on dress uniforms.

The second item is a musket hammer lock (left) and the third (below) is part of a pistol handle frame.

Where were the Confederate guns?

While historians knew the general area from which the Iowans fired, the National Park Service has been interested in determining the precise location for the Missouri State Guard.

Troy Banzhaf, chief of interpretation at Pea Ridge, told the Picket that he was able to firm that up after the dig and by studying first-hand accounts, previous survey work where the Iowans were located, the short distance between the foes and the only geographical spot on Broad Ridge possible to put 21 guns.

(Courtesy of AAS)
It is the only explanation for the large concentration of artillery fragments and canister that you would find from two hours of artillery engagement. On the map, the distance between the two is around 500 yards, well within canister range,” Banzhaf said.

“Although used at close range against massed troops, canister can still travel well over 800 yards, it just loses its tight spread pattern over a greater distance and thus limits it effectiveness. However, since guns are spread out. too, canister can work effectively when fired at an enemy battery.”

How was the archaeological work done?

Drexler would place flagging tape along corridors through the words. Metal detector operators then swept the ground. “We are trying to get the general distribution of artifacts in the area.”

The finds were plentiful, most between 6 inches and 12 inches below the surface. Rock in the Ozarks generally prevents artifacts from sinking further, Drexler said. (Note: It is against the law for individuals to remove relics from a national battlefield.)

(Courtesy of Arkansas Archeological Survey)

“We weren’t specifically trying to find hot spots. We were trying to cover areas the park service knew had never been archaeologically covered before,” Drexler said.

After items were recovered, GPS would note the items within a half meter of the discovery. The items will be curated at a research facility and used for educational purposes or display.

“I was really quite astounded about how it went, how many artifacts were discovered, how many people volunteered,” Drexler said of the dig.

Other Picket Pea Ridge articles:

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Will Georgia park include name of general?

Residents and leaders in a Georgia county are debating what to call a new park that contains unique earthworks. The issue involving the 103-acre park in the Mableton area of Cobb County has sparked passionate viewpoints, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. • Article