Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018's top 10 Picket posts: Cyclorama, Pea Ridge artifacts, unearthed bullet and Custer

I’m grateful for readers’ continued interest in the Civil War Picket. Other responsibilities don’t allow for me to write as much as I’d like, but this year’s 10 most popular posts, per Google analytics, demonstrate the variety of topics you appear to like. We’re excited about 2019 and wish you and yours the very best!

(Atlanta History Center)
10. MAKING THE ATLANTA CYCLORAMA WHOLE: When this treasured piece of city history goes back on public display in February after an extensive restoration, viewers will see the painting as its creators intended. That’s because artists restored two sections of the circular mural that were removed over the years, for different reasons• Read more

9. BEHIND EVERY CIVIL WAR PHOTO THERE IS A STORY: Ronald S. Coddington, an author, magazine publisher and historian, doggedly pursues the back story of thousands of cartes de visite, or small portrait cards, he owns or people bring to his attention. At a show in Dalton, Ga., Coddington interacted with patrons on a number of levels, scanning tintypes, ambrotype images and cartes de visite, networking and weighing in on a card’s value. • Read more

(Library of Congress)
8. SMOLDERING RESENTMENT: Walking tours held a couple times a year examine how volunteer firefighters in Alexandria, Va., dealt with the sweeping Federal military occupation during the Civil War. While the occupation did modernize firefighting – the Yankees brought in the first two steam pumpers – it put locals on the defensive, requiring them to take an oath of allegiance to the United States or use a password to assist in putting out a blaze. • Read more 

(Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation)

7. GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE: A northwest Georgia city hopes a reinvigorated downtown, economic incentives and potential tax breaks will bring new life to a railroad depot that played a small part in the Civil War’s “Great Locomotive Chase.” After this Picket post was written, Dalton officials sold the building to the lone bidder. • Read more

(Civil War Picket photo)

6. THESE 2 SAILORS WENT DOWN WITH THE USS MONITOR. HERE’S WHAT WAS FOUND WITH THEM: They are the kinds of things one might carry in a pants pocket: A rubber comb, a small pocketknife, a wisp of string and a stray button that needs reattaching. While seeming so ordinary, two dozen artifacts under glass at The Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va., tell an incredible story filled with mystery, hope and terror -- a very human story. • Read more

Documentary maker Michael Jordan films diver 

5. CSS GEORGIA DOCUMENTARY GOES DEEP: “Red diver, into the water when ready,” are the first words uttered in a documentary about the recovery and history of the CSS Georgia, which earned the derisive nickname “Mud Tub” when its supporters learned it was too underpowered to attack Federal ships that had bottled up Savannah’s river entrance. • Read more

4. PORTION OF REBEL TRENCH TO BE PRESERVED: A new park northwest of Atlanta will feature the remnants of a trench briefly occupied by Confederates during the Federal army’s push on Atlanta in summer 1864. Experts believe the defensive trench was occupied for a few days by Mercer’s Georgia brigade after Confederates withdrew from the New Hope Church line on June 4, 1864. • Read more

Courtesy of Arkansas Archeological Survey

3. PEA RIDGE EXCAVATION YIELDS TROVE OF ARTIFACTS: Students, volunteers, park staffers and archaeology hobbyists earlier this year 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. • Read more

2. THE BULLET, BALL FIELD AND BATON ROUGE:  Perhaps it was dropped by a young Confederate soldier working furiously to reload his rifle as his regiment advanced in summer 1862. Or maybe a shot fired by the opposing 14th Maine or 21st Indiana regiments missed its mark and drilled harmlessly into the soil. The bullet was undiscovered -- until February. Crews renovating a Louisiana church parcel spotted the artifact in soil excavated for a new light pole at its ball field. • Read more

(Courtesy of Cisco's Gallery)
1. ALL THINGS CUSTER:  A lock of the dashing Union cavalryman’s hair sold for $12,500 at an auction. Whomever wants his Civil War uniform, Tiffany sword and other items captured at the June 1864 Battle of Trevilian Station in Virginia will need to pony up a ton more. (The items are still for sale.)  • Read more

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Gettysburg monuments: Nonprofit partners supporting preservation of 350 memorials

Park staff waxing the Vermont monument (NPS photo)

Two nonprofit groups have matched federal funding so that Gettysburg National Military Park can perform preservation work and repairs on about one-fourth of the battlefield’s 1,300 monuments.

Park officials on Wednesday said that the Gettysburg Foundation provided $50,765 and the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association (GBPA) gave $43,300 in a dollar-for-dollar match, for a total of $188,129 toward the work.

Preservation specialists on staff will continue work on 350 monuments by “steam cleaning stone features and pedestals, repointing and preserving masonry, power-washing and waxing all bronze elements, and repairing and replacing missing or broken bronze features, as necessary.”

The federal funding comes from the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013, which provides $20 million in fiscal 2018 from proceeds from the sale of federal helium, to be used for deferred maintenance projects requiring a minimum 50% match from a non-federal source. 

“Public-private partnerships help stretch federal dollars to take care of national parks,” said Ed Wenschhof Jr., acting superintendent at Gettysburg National Military Park, in a statement.

Park staff reset the 3rd Massachusetts Battery monument (NPS)

A February 2013 Picket article gave an overview of the work done by monument specialists at Gettysburg.

Among the park’s most popular monuments are the colossal Pennsylvania State Memorial on Hancock Avenue and the Virginia Monument, topped by a statue of a mounted Robert E. Lee looking on at the futile Pickett’s Charge.

“The interesting thing I find about this battlefield is the monuments were erected by the veterans. It’s not that you and I put it up to our great-grandfather,” Lucas Flickinger, head of the monument preservation team, told the Picket at the time. “They fought the battle and put in their time and effort to putting up this monument … It is a testament to that generation they came back and had strong feelings about what they did.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Wrought in fear and just a little desperation, 'Joe Brown' and other pikes made in Southern states never got off the ground

Fragile remains of pike (Courtesy of Old Governor's Mansion)

• First of two parts

The 2003 restoration of the Old Governor’s Mansion in Milledgeville, Ga., yielded a curious – but perhaps not unexpected – find in the attic.

A staff member found the business end of a weapon -- an 18-inch blade that originally was joined to a 6-foot-long wooden staff  -- on the top of an attic rafter. The pikes were named for Gov. Joseph E. Brown, who lived in the mansion during the Civil War and in February 1862 asked blacksmiths and others to produce 10,000 of the primitive weapons.

Recently, the mansion staff posted on Facebook a photograph of the fragile blade, which mansion director Matt Davis said may have been in the attic since the 19th century (the pole is long gone). They asked followers to identify it. While a couple guessed the artifact might be the top of a gate, others were spot on.

“Pike! Rather imaginatively planned to be used against the Yanks by some sort of home guard defending their hearths,” one commenter wrote. “Sherman’s men filled a coffin with them and held a mock funeral.”

Gov. Joseph E. Brown
Though I was aware of the pikes, the post prompted me to dig a little into their history and see whether any are in museum collections across Georgia.

I had two underlying questions: Why would anyone think a pike would be effective against a gun or other weapons? And where did the idea come from? The whole concept seems ridiculous.

The answers are a bit complex, and there is some rationale to the idea, particularly if you put yourself in the mindset of those living at the time.

As a 2012 article in The New York Times’ Disunion series stated, the “pike was hardly ancient history. The Duke of Wellington had put 79,000 pikes in the hands of the Spanish against Napoleon, and they had proved superior weapons against cavalry charges during the War of 1812.”

By early 1862, many of Georgia’s young men were fighting in Virginia and the Western theater, and they had taken most of the state’s guns with them, leaving civilians largely helpless should the Federal army sweep in. “I need to arm every able-bodied person in the state of Georgia,” the governor said of the predicament.

The pike was cheap to produce and could be used at close quarters. As Brown said, they were reliable, suitable for militia, home guard units and able-bodied citizens. A few did make it to the front.

“The short-range pike and terrible knife, when brought within their proper range, and wielded by a stalwart’s patriot’s arm, never fail to fire and never waste a single load,” the governor intoned.

CCC worker with Joe Brown pike at Fort Pulaski (Courtesy of NPS)

Brown is remembered for looking after the welfare of Georgia and soldiers and civilians during the conflict, but his resistance to the authority of the central Confederate government in Richmond helped hinder the overall war effort, argues the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Jim Ogden, historian at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, told the Picket that the actions of Brown and “others advocating the use of pikes at the time of secession and the beginning of the fighting reflects the views of most at the time that any war would be short and with little bloodshed, that the other side did not hold their convictions very strongly at all and would give up as soon as they were shown how strongly the opposing side held theirs. They also reflect the fact that so quickly the size of the military forces mobilized outstripped the supply of arms.  They are or can be a window into that era.”

But it wasn’t just a shortage of arms that inspired Brown and other Southern governors to order the manufacture of the spears. There was something even larger: fear of rebellious enslaved persons.

Travel back in time to 1859, when the country was fractured over slavery and Southern states were on the verge of secession. Radical abolitionist John Brown, while raising money to launch an anti-slavery campaign in the South, hatched the idea of raiding the federal weapons arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Va. (now West Virginia).

Brown’s contingent took with them nearly 1,000 “John Brown pikes” that were intended for an army of slaves to take the fight to plantation owners. Brown’s mission failed and there’s some question of how many slaves actually took up the pikes during and after the brief clash at Harpers Ferry.

Regardless, the discovery of the pikes whipped up anti-North sentiment across the South.

Edmund Ruffin, a pro-slavery and secession extremist, obtained several pikes and sent them to governors with the message, "Sample of the favors designed for us by our Northern Brethren.”

Brown embraced the pike as a defensive weapon after the Confederate loss at Fort Donelson, Tenn. The governor believed that “Had 5,000 reserves thus armed and well trained to the use of these terrible weapons been brought to the charge at the proper time, who can say that the victory would not have been ours.”

About 7,000 of the pikes were made in Georgia, while arsenals in Tennessee, Virginia and Alabama turned out the spears.But they were treated as little more than a novelty, a relic of strategies abandoned for the more dashing and inspiring offensives of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia,” according to the Disunion article.

“It really served no practical military purpose,” said Davis of the Old Governor’s Mansion, which is on the campus of Georgia College. The mansion's pike has occasionally been put on display.

A cache of Joe Brown pikes was found in 1980 where Wilmington & Manchester Railroad cars were destroyed in South Carolina during a federal attack in April 1865, at war’s end. 

Reproduction naval boarding pike at Old Fort Jackson (OFJ)

Today, there’s a scattering of pikes at Civil War and other sites in Georgia. Some are not associated with John or Joseph Brown, such as naval pikes. 

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park near Atlanta has a pike on display.

The Atlanta History Center has a half dozen in its collection. “We have two of the retractable type, which are generally assumed (to be) Confederate,” said senior military historian Gordon Jones.But as you probably know, every pike is either a ‘John Brown’ or a ‘Joe Brown,’ or sometimes both. It’s like dark splotches on flags – always blood.”

CSS Chattahoochee pike (Courtesy of NCWNM)

Jeffery Seymour, director of history and collections at the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Ga., said the venue has two naval pikes, both on display.

One was recovered from the wreck of the Chattahoochee, a Confederate gunboat that was scuttled and burned nearby. The museum has two Joe Brown pikes in storage.

Pike of undetermined origin, with replacement shaft  (NCWNM)

The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, near Columbus, has two pikes that are believed to be Confederate. Senior curator Jefferson Reed said one is a Joe Brown retractable pike; the other is a cloverleaf.

The collection of Old Fort Jackson in Savannah has reproduction naval pikes, which were wielded to discourage enemy sailors from boarding a vessel, said staff member Dianna Jowers.

Fort Pulaski National Monument outside Savannah has a retractable Joe Brown pike in storage, says cultural resources specialist Laura Waller.

The Civil War site came into possession of the weapon in the mid-1930s, shortly after the fort was transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service, and major repair work and rehabilitation were undertaken by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

A park description of the “rare” item mentions old church bells and iron from homes across Georgia were donated in order to manufacture the pikes. “The blade, when not in use, may be lowered into the hollow staff, but by release of a safety catch the blade is freed and may be snapped out into position for action where it is firmly held in position by another metal catch.”

CCC workers show off the Joe Brown pike at Fort Pulaski (NPS)

By autumn 1864, after Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman had taken Atlanta, the Confederacy was heading into its last throes, and there was no spirited or effective resistance to the March to the Sea. Offensive attacks across the Confederacy had largely failed. The pikes were gathering dust.

Sherman’s legions in late November took Milledgeville, then capital of Georgia. By then, Gov. Brown and his staff had fled. Yankee troops held a mock legislative session, declared “deep sympathy” for Brown “as now departed” and planned a symbolic funeral.

Soldiers used a box that held 100 pikes as a casket.

“They found Joe Brown’s pikes, and arming themselves with these, they formed a procession, arms reversed, marching to the tap of the funeral drum through the main streets. Stopping at the Baptist church, of which Joe Brown was a member, they there stacked their arms… and listened to a very pathetic funeral discourse.”

Joe Brown would live another 30 years and people filed past his body in the newer Capitol in Atlanta. Numerous pikes survive him.

COMING SOON: The “John Brown pike.” The roots of the weapon, intended for a slave revolt, go back to Kansas.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Refurbished Napoleon gun is rededicated

Several thousand dollars was raised by a Boy Scout in order to refurbish a piece of history located in the Walnut Grove Cemetery in Ohio. A cannon used in the Civil War now has a new place to rest following the building of a new carriage. Several people made a recent visit to the historic cemetery in Martins Ferry to witness the rededication of a 12-pound Napoleon. • Article

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

CSS Georgia: Five years after the recovery of thousands of ironclad artifacts began in the Savannah River, no museum has committed to putting any on display

Uniform belt buckle recovered a few years ago (USACE)

On a summer day in 2017, representatives from museums across the South took a short boat ride to a barge not far from downtown Savannah, Ga. There, they got a first-hand look at artifacts and casemate belonging to the CSS Georgia, an ironclad floating battery on the Savannah River that kept any Union marauders away during the Civil War.

The scattered remains of the scuttled Confederate ship had been moved by the US Army Corps of Engineers as part of a massive harbor-deepening project. What might be called the modern effort to salvage the ironclad began with the symbolic raising of a piece of casemate -- protective armor made up of railroad track iron -- in November 2013.

The US Navy -- which essentially owns the vessel -- was encouraging these museums to “obtain a vision” on how they might display cannons, armor, a propeller and countless other items once they had undergone conservation.

It’s been more than 16 months since that visit, and no loan agreement has been reached with any of the institutions, which must weigh the costs of building or maintaining a structure that can securely hold the items and safeguard their condition. While conservation continues in Texas, the artifacts, at least for now, will remain out of the public view. 

The Picket recently contacted the Naval History and Heritage Command for an update on the endeavor. The emailed questions were answered by Shanna Daniel, a conservator with the command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch Conservation Lab.

Dahlgren gun in 2015 (USACE)
Q. What is the status of conservation of CSS Georgia artifacts, from Naval History and Heritage Command's perspective?
Conservation is one of the most important elements of underwater archaeology as artifacts recovered from underwater require special care and can vary in condition, depending on the environments from which they're recovered. The artifacts’ material makeup, such as wood, iron, brass, ceramic, are also important considerations in the conversation process. Thus, conservation takes time to ensure overall stability of artifacts. That said, conservation continues with artifacts recovered from CSS Georgia at Texas A&M University's Conservation Research Laboratory (CRL) to ensure long-term stability for curation and display.

Q. Are all items still being held at Texas A&M, or are some in new locations, i.e. US Navy facilities? Are any currently on display, or scheduled for display?
A. Many of the CSS Georgia artifacts are currently undergoing conservation treatment at Texas A&M University CRL but some have completed the treatment process and will be shipped to the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) in Washington, D.C. at the beginning of next year for curation.

Q. Has any decision been made on the disposition/display of the artifacts -- all or any portion? If so, what are the details?
A. As CSS Georgia artifacts finish conservation at Texas A&M CRL, they will be shipped to NHHC for curation and available through the NHHC Archaeological Loan Program to institutions or museums that meet the loan requirements. They'll also be made available as needed to researchers interested in viewing the collection. No official request has been made by a potential institution for a loan of CSS Georgia artifacts.

Q. What is the command's current view/goal for display of the artifacts?

A. One of NHHC's mission objectives is to share the Navy's history and heritage. In the case of archaeological artifacts, we accomplish our mission by making it possible for eligible and qualified organizations to borrow and exhibit artifacts for public display. Placing the CSS Georgia collection at a suitable location that meets the loan requirements to display and curate the artifacts would meet that objective, and provide the public a unique look into the naval history of the United States, as well as American naval ship design and employment. This collection tells an important story from our history that, until recently, was lost in the waters of the Savannah River for more than 150 years.

A portion of the armor casemate in 2017 (Picket photo)

Q. Is the command in active communications with any institutions? 
A. We did receive initial interest from various museums about the collection, but they have not corresponded with us in some time. As mentioned before, we regard our archaeological artifact loan program as one of our most important tools for sharing America's rich naval history and heritage with the public and are happy to discuss the program with qualified institutions.

Q. If so, are you at liberty to name them?
It would be inappropriate to discuss an artifact loan during the predecisional phase (Click here for a list of institutions that were invited to see the artifacts in 2017).

Q. Pending any loan agreement, would the Navy likely display any artifacts on its own, or does the command believe they will stay in storage until any agreement?
A. There are no internal Navy plans to display the collection at this time. However, artifacts from NHHC's collection are frequently used by our network of 10 official Navy museums in their exhibits. For example, the National Museum of the U.S. Navy recently opened an exhibit featuring artifacts recovered from the wreck of World War I cruiser USS San Diego (ACR 6).