Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Treasures from the CSS Georgia: Conserved artifacts from vessel are carefully stored, awaiting their moment in a museum's spotlight

Shanna Daniel examines cannon (U.S. Navy: Spc. 2nd Class Mutis A. Capizzi)
CSS Georgia ammunition fuses (US Navy photo)

More than 4,000 artifacts from the ironclad CSS Georgia that have undergone conservation are at the Washington Navy Yard, where officials are cataloging and storing them in hopes that an institution will eventually come forward with a exhibit plan.

The items -- which run the gamut from ammunition and machinery to an artillery piece and propeller -- rest in crates, wooden boxes and other containers.

Many are put in archival bags and are covered with foam and padding, said Shanna Daniel, a conservator with the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch.

The first shipment from Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory in College Station arrived in Washington earlier this year and another was recently received.

Propeller is pulled from Savannah River (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Savannah)

Daniel and others ensure that the artifacts are kept in relative humidity between 40 percent and 50 percent and that rooms have a constant temperature of between 65 and 70 degrees. Humidifiers and dehumidifiers help keep conditions stable.

While items would normally go in cabinets, where they can be seen, the boxes will soon be moved to another facility as the warehouse is renovated.

The CSS Georgia was a floating battery on the Savannah River that kept any Union marauders away during the Civil War.

The scattered remains of the scuttled Confederate ship was moved by the US Army Corps of Engineers as part of a massive harbor-deepening project in Savannah. The contemporary salvaging of the ironclad began with the symbolic raising of a piece of casemate -- protective armor made up of railroad track iron -- in November 2013.

Since then, at least 14,000 artifacts were sent to Texas for conservation, which for several items will last many more years.

Daniel shows a brass elevation sight (U.S. Navy photo)

A unique aspect of the CSS Georgia was its armor: Builders in Savannah -- limited by resources and technology – used sections of railroad track for the casemate and other protective features. Some of those railroad pieces are now in storage at the Navy Yard.

“One archaeologist said there were seven types used to put this ship together. It was ingenious to come up with these resources to do that,” Daniel recently told the Picket.

The conservator said that story and those about other artifacts could be educational for a variety of audiences.

The US Navy -- which owns the vessel – has encouraged museums “to obtain a vision” on how they might display artifacts and tell the CSS Georgia’s story. Several institutions visited the salvage site in 2017, but there has been no recent contact from any, Daniel says.

Artifacts in shipping crates (U.S. Navy: Spc. 2nd Class Mutis A. Capizzi)

That’s not a rare situation, she said. The museums may be waiting for more of the artifacts – especially the larger cannon – to complete conservation. And institutions must comply with regulations regarding federally owned and administered archaeological collections and come up with a good bit of money for such an exhibit.

The Picket has reached out to the Army Corps’ office in Savannah for more information on the status and timetable of artifact conservation.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

More Camp Lawton prison site artifacts: Railroad spike, sash clasps, bricks, whiteware sherd and a copper rivet

Clasp for sash worn by a Confederate (Camp Lawton Archaeology Project, GSU)
A spring-fed stream and a towering stockade wall separated Federal prisoners and the young men in gray who guarded them at Georgia’s Camp Lawton for a few short weeks in autumn 1864.

A lingering question for archaeologists who have been working on the site for nearly a decade is what else separated them -- especially when it came to food, supplies, shelter and general living conditions.

The 10,000 Union captives lived mostly on a hillside while their captors were scattered in different areas of the stockade exterior and artillery fortifications. The Federals built shebangs and other structures to provide shelter while the Confederates, mostly members of Georgia reserve regiments, apparently depended on tents and perhaps a barracks for officers.

Based on some archaeological finds in the past couple years, evidence suggests it “seems like the guards are a little better supplied than initially suggested,” said Dr. Ryan McNutt, director of the Camp Lawton Archaeology Project at Georgia Southern University in nearby Statesboro.

The Picket spoke recently with McNutt about artifacts that are linked to the Confederate troops who occupied camps in what is now Magnolia Springs State Park. The following items were found this year. You can read here about a stirrup found last week.


DIE-STAMPED SASH BUCKLES/CLASP

Clasp for sash worn by Confederate (Camp Lawton Archaeology Project, GSU)

Sashes apparently were used as marks of rank for Confederate militia and quasi-military officials. Different colors may have been used by company officers or noncommissioned officers.

They were commonly found in Savannah, at jails and courthouses, said McNutt.
One of the buckles found at Camp Lawton (top image) has a crown motif; it may have come from Europe into Savannah via blockade runners, he said.

It’s known that elements of the 1st through 5th regiments of the Georgia Reserves were stationed at the site.

LINE OF BRICKS

Courtesy of Camp Lawton Archaeology Project, Georgia Southern University

McNutt is not yet sure how these were used. While it could be the remains of a chimney, they also could have been used as a foundation for a wall tent, with planks placed above. Bricks previously have been found in the prisoner area, the remains of ovens and tent foundations.

RAILROAD SPIKE

(Courtesy of Camp Lawton Archaeology Project, Georgia Southern University)

This likely came from the depot at Lawton, the terminus of a railroad line that carried Federal prisoners from the small town of Millen. It could find all kind of uses in a camp, including tents and other structures.

CERAMIC // WHITEWARE SHERD

Courtesy of Camp Lawton Archaeology Project, Georgia Southern University

From a Camp Lawton Facebook post in May: “Our whiteware sherd from yesterday has two possible sources. One is Clementson Bros, a North Staffordshire manufacture that produced a variety of plain and transfer print wares for the North American domestic market, and starts trading under the Clementson Bros name in 1867. However, the edge of the decoration appears to be a quasi royal arms, with a recumbent lion. You can just make out the paw. This doesn’t match any of their marks. It may be from Clementson & Young, which were imported into New Orleans for the southern market during the mid-19th century.”

COPPER ALLOY RIVET FROM A SOLDIER’S ACCOUTREMENTS

Courtesy of Camp Lawton Archaeology Project, Georgia Southern University

The Georgia Southern team the past couple years has concentrated on finding evidence of the Confederate camp and stockade features.

McNutt said they may return to the prisoner occupation area next, to look at how the camp was set up, what artifacts say about ethnic divisions among the POWs and to search for the sutler’s cabin.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

'Out of the blue': A stirrup likely belonging to Confederate horse is a surprise find during excavations at Camp Lawton site in Georgia

The recovered stirrup (Camp Lawton Archaeology Project, Georgia Southern University)

It’s been a fruitful summer field school for Georgia Southern University archaeology students conducting excavations on the site of Camp Lawton, a Civil War prisoner of war site that operated for a brief time in 1864.

They have found evidence of Confederate guard tent structures and other items that speak to the lives of those reservist soldiers, who had to make due with limited supplies and furnishings.

But it was an out-of-the-blue discovery Thursday that yielded perhaps the most compelling artifact of the season.

Project director Dr. Ryan McNutt was checking ground depressions – made more evident by recent heavy rains -- to verify areas that may have been marked by previous archaeological explorations.

“I was just basically pulling away pine needles, rotted vegetation and checking the area with a metal detector, looking for those spikes. When the metal detector hit (one) area, it overloaded the detector.” He thought he likely had come across a piece of garbage.

McNutt found, just under the topsoil, a stirrup that he believes was thrown into a trash pit during the operation of the prison. “I think it is pretty impressive. (Mine) was probably the first hand that has touched it since it was discarded there.”

He believes the stirrup and related horse tack found in the pit are almost certainly Confederate. “It is pretty much concrete evidence of Civil War activity,” McNutt said. “It matches those found at Confederate sites elsewhere.”

It’s quite possible the artifact was made before the war and belonged to an officer at the camp, perhaps a member of a Georgia reservist regiment or a Florida light artillery company.

McNutt said a pretty good chunk of metal remains in the rusted stirrup, which he estimates weighs about a half pound. He did not find any evidence of surviving leather and does not know why it may have been discarded.

The Georgia Southern team will check the maker’s mark and manufacturing style of the recovered artifact. They also will give it electrolysis treatment to protect the iron.

Views of summer work. (Camp Lawton Archaeology Project, Georgia Southern University)

Lance Greene, McNutt’s predecessor as Lawton project manager, said material students have been finding support the interpretation that the stirrup belonged to a Rebel soldier.

I think that Dr. McNutt is beginning to get a sense of the location of some of the areas used by Confederates, which is especially difficult because a lot of that area has been intensively used since just after the Civil War,” said Greene, an associate professor at Wright State University in Ohio.  

Greene said another stirrup was recovered at the park long ago. “As I recall, it was a surface find, or at least did not have a good provenience.”

Archaeologists are accustomed to finding items from multiple time periods when working a site, and that’s occurred at the Lawton site, which was located on what is now Magnolia Springs State Park and an adjoining federal fish hatchery. But McNutt told the Picket on Friday that most of the items found this year come from the mid-19th century.

The Confederate camp broke into the news in 2010 when federal, state and campus officials announced that its location had been confirmed and the site already was yielding a trove of artifacts. Lawton was only open for about six weeks in autumn 1864. It held about 10,000 POWs moved from Andersonville and other sites as Union troops moved into central and south Georgia after taking Atlanta.

COMING SOON: Photos of more recent discoveries at Camp Lawton

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Recovered guns from CSS Peedee now on display in SC

After four years of conservation in North Charleston, the three massive cannons of the Confederate cruiser CSS Peedee have been returned to Florence County, S.C. The cannons were installed at the Florence County Veterans Affairs Center, adding to the area’s rich history of artifacts from the Civil War, reported TV station WMBF. • Article

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

UPDATE: Rare flag carried by Pennsylvania African-American regiment sold for $196K to Atlanta History Center

(Courtesy of Morphy Auctions)
A flag painted by hand for one of 11 African-American regiments from Pennsylvania was auctioned for $196,800, including fees, to the Atlanta History Center.

Acclaimed African-American artist David B. Bowser created the banner for the 127th U.S. Colored Troops. It depicts a soldier waving farewell to Columbia, a symbol of the United States, with the words “We Will Prove Ourselves Men.”

Of the 11 such flags Bowser painted, the 127th flag is the only known to survive.

“Seven others are known only from photographs. Those seven flags were sent to the military museum at West Point in 1906, but incredibly, were thrown out in the 1940s,” said Dan Morphy, president of Morphy Auctions, in a press release, before the sale. The auction house had said the banner might go for as high as $250,000 on Thursday.

D.B. Bowser (Wikipedia)
The 1864 flag in recent years has belonged to the Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Museum and Library in Philadelphia. But the museum, which had the 6-by-6-½-foot silk flag restored a couple years ago, decided to part with it to help bolster the venue’s finances, the Associated Press reported. The Picket reached out to the museum for comment.

The Atlanta History Center, which recently restored and reopened The Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama, said the purchase was the most it has ever spent on a single artifact. "It's one of those things that doesn't need words to tell you what it is and what it represents," said center president and CEO Sheffield Hale.

Bowser, the son of a fugitive slave whose home was a stop on the Underground Railroad, designed banners and flags for a variety of clients. He helped recruit black soldiers and was commissioned to paint 11 flags for African-American regiments, which trained at Camp William Penn outside Philadelphia. The segregated units were led by white officers.

"Bowser's works were the first widely viewed, positive images of African Americans painted by an African American," according to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Joseph Becton of the African American Museum in Philadelphia told the Associated Press that Bowser’s flags were meant to be provocative.

According to the AP: “The banner for the 22nd regiment showed a black Union soldier pointing his bayonet at the chest of a fallen Confederate soldier who is tossing aside his sword, beneath a banner reading ‘Sic semper tyrannis,’ which translates into ‘thus always to tyrants.’ That was also the motto of Virginia at the time, so it was likely meant to enrage the enemy, Becton said.

127th USCT flag detail (Courtesy of Morphy Auctions)
The 127th was organized in late summer 1864 and took part in siege operations against Richmond and Petersburg until the end of the Civil War. Part of the Army of the James, it participated in one battle and several other actions. The regiment was at Appomattox for the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

"With meticulous attention to detail in restoration, the vibrant banner represents the epic struggle, valor and patriotism of the African-American troops during the Civil War," Morphy Auctions said.

Gordon Jones, senior military historian and curator at the Atlanta History Center, said in a statement:  “It’s an iconic knock-your-socks-off artifact. Even an enlisted man’s USCT uniform wouldn’t be as historically significant as this flag.”

The history center’s collection includes a brass drum belonging to a drummer boy of the all-black 55th Massachusetts Regiment, a knapsack used at the Battle of Olustee, Fla., by a solider in the 8th USCT and a recently acquired canteen bearing the stencile mark of the 15th USCT, which guarded railroad lines in Tennessee during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Maine's official state ballad honors the 20th Maine and the bad-ass color bearer who rallied them at Little Round Top




A song told from the point of a view of a color bearer who rallied a regiment that famously saved the Union’s left at Gettysburg has been designated the official state ballad of Maine.

The Portland folk band The Ghost of Paul Revere performed “Ballad of the 20th Maine” on Friday during bill-signing ceremonies led by Gov. Janet Mills.

Sgt. Andrew J. Tozier of the 20th’s Company I received the Medal of Honor in 1898, 35 years after the battle. His citation reads: “At the crisis of the engagement this soldier, a color bearer, stood alone in an advanced position, the regiment having been borne back, and defended his colors with musket and ammunition picked up at his feet.”

The song lyrics include this verse:

If we should die today, dream a dream of heaven 
Take your northern heart with you to the grave 
Be proud and true you are a union soldier 
Stand fast, ye are the boys of Maine

On July 2, 1863, the 15th Alabama made its way to Little Round Top and made a series of legendary assaults against the 20th Maine, led by Col. Joshua Chamberlain.

The family of Andrew J. Tozier; his son is second from right, top (Wikipedia)

Tozier, 25, was with the 2nd Maine Infantry, and been wounded and made prisoner in 1862. He returned to service and eventually was transferred to the 20th Maine.

The 2nd Maine was pressed into service with Chamberlain’s unit at Gettysburg. That’s because the unit had been disbanded and those who were not able to go home did not want to fly under another flag.

Chamberlain
According to the American Battlefield Trust: “Color sergeant was a dangerous but coveted position in Civil War regiments, generally manned by the bravest soldier in the unit. As the 20th Maine’s center began to break and give ground in the face of the Alabama regiments’ onslaught, Tozier stood firm, remaining upright as Southern bullets buzzed and snapped in the air around him. Tozier’s personal gallantry in defending the 20th Maine’s colors became the regimental rallying point for Companies D, E and F to retake the center. Were it not for Tozier’s heroic stand, the 20th Maine would likely have been beaten at that decisive point in the battle.

The Trust article said a desperate bayonet charge that followed blunted the Confederate assault on Little Round Top and saved the Army of the Potomac, which went on to win the battle and the war.

The Ghost of Paul Revere performed its song during the ceremony. The lyrics include these verses:

Well, our western flank was missing 
As the Confederates pushed on 
And we fought them tooth and nail 
Our ammunition all but gone 
Alone I stood with colors 
Flying proud and true 
For to let my northern brothers know 
the battle was not through 

Then appeared our lion roaring bayonets 
Charging down the mountain with what soldiers we had left 
We were steadfast as Katahdin, hard as winters rain 
Take that rebel yell with you to hell 
We are the 20th Maine 

The ballad was written by band member Griffin Sherry because he’s a history buff and has interest in the 20th Maine, according to the Press-Telegram newspaper. Tozier died in 1910 at age 72.

View from Little Round Top, with statue of Brig. Gen. Gouverneur Warren (NPS)

Maine already has a separate state song and state march. Apparently, not all legislators favored the selection, according to reports, with two Republican lawmakers saying the song may be unfair to the Confederate cause.

“Music transcends the bounds of time, distance, language, and culture to bring people together,” Mills said of the state ballad. “The ‘Ballad of the 20th Maine’ does just that by reminding us of our proud heritage, the role our great state has played in the history of our nation, and to be forever grateful to those who served and saved our country.”

This post has been updated to correct errors on Tozier's birthplace and the family photo.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

'In the silent camping ground of the dead': Sons of Union Veterans help dedicate grave site of soldier resting beneath Long Island church

Some of the SUVCW contingent (Courtesy of Patrick Young)
SUVCW members conduct ceremony near plaque above grave (Trinity Episcopal)

The singing of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” words from clergy and a ceremony conducted by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War were highlights of the rededication of the burial site of a Civil War soldier who rests beneath a New York church.

Eight members of Moses A. Baldwin Camp #544, SUVCW, participated in Sunday morning’s ceremony at Trinity Episcopal Church in Roslyn on Long Island.

“This is the main mission of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War -- to find the final resting place of every single Union veteran and make sure the grave is properly marked,” said Dennis Duffy, secretary-treasurer for the camp.

Parishioners had long known that Pvt. John Codman Pollitz’s 1863 grave was incorporated within the current building during construction in 1906. But most of them had no idea where; there was no recorded location.

That changed last summer, when the congregation fixed a longtime problem: The floor of the nave had been deteriorating and sinking. During the floor-replacement project, rotting wooden joists were removed and Pollitz’ headstone was exposed; it was lying flat in a crawlspace area.

Exposed church floor in 2018 and Pollitz headstone flat on ground
(Photos courtesy of Trinity Episcopal Church, Roslyn)

A new plaque marks the spot on the floor under which Pollitz rests. Sunday's dedication took place near the back of the nave, next to the small plaque.

Duffy told the Picket this week that the SUVCW has a database listing hundreds of thousands of graves.

He cited the work of the local Cemetery Restoration Committee of Pachogue, which last year dedicated new headstones for six Civil War veterans at historic cemeteries. Leaders at Trinity moved the Pollitz headstone from the floor area and are trying to determine where to place it.

It’s believed that the young Pollitz was living in Boston and barely 18 when he joined up with the 44th Massachusetts, ostensibly in the summer of fall of 1862. The regiment, which took part in skirmishes and sieges across North Carolina before it was mustered out in June 1863, was in New Bern for several months before transfer to Plymouth, N.C.

A history of the regiment detailed disease and illness that stalked the troops during campaigning and at their quarters. Pollitz, who served in Company F, died on Jan. 7, 1863.

According to the “Record of the Service of the Fourth-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia in North Carolina, August 1862 to May 1863,” Pollitz and 13 other soldiers in the regiment died from cerebrospinal meningitis.

(Photos courtesy of Patrick Young)
Pollitz’s father was an immigrant and businessman; a history of Roslyn indicated he immigrated from Northern Ireland. But an online search of ancestry-related pages shows Otto W. Pollitz was from Hamburg, Germany, and John’s mother was born in Massachusetts. Church members are unaware of any living descendants.

According to Duffy, John C. Pollitz attended Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute (now part of NYU) and had moved on to college in Massachusetts, where he enlisted with the 44th.

"John did not have to go to war. There was no draft at the time and when the draft would come six months after John's death, his family could have afforded to pay a substitute under the rules then in effect," Duffy wrote this week to other members of the SUVCW camp.

The Picket is grateful to Patrick Young, author of the Immigrants' Civil War Facebook page, for the use of several photos. He attended Sunday's event.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Stone Mountain Village near Atlanta notes its Civil War history, but wants to shed reputation and promote its black history, too

The Mayor's House in Stone Mountain Village

Only a couple miles from Georgia's Stone Mountain Park and its carving of Confederate leaders, Stone Mountain Village is a very diverse community with tributes to its Civil War past and dreams for a robust future that blends what one businessman, Daniel Brown, calls "community revival, history and opportunity."

This site (top), built in the mid-1830s by slaves, has seen several uses, including the home of Stone Mountain's first mayor, a Civil War hospital and other businesses, including restaurants.

A coffee bar co-owned by Brown is on the ground floor of what's called "The Mayor's House." It's believed the second floor housed wounded Confederate troops. The current owner wants to open a restaurant and the building is being renovated. 

For several years, the Sycamore Grill restaurant was in the building, named for the huge tree out front.

A fundraising page for the renovation effort says: "The Mayor’s House is valuable in our vision for reconciliation in Stone Mountain, due to its history and its undeniable location. Built in the very center of a town historically known to separate and mark boundaries between blacks and whites, the reclamation of Stone Mountain Village’s flagship building for a modern vision of community and economy will breathe life and restoration for this area."


Nearby is the old railroad depot. A marker recalls July 1864 Federal cavalry raids during Sherman's campaign against Atlanta.

Scores of Confederate soldiers killed in combat or who died in old age rest at an old cemetery near downtown. New headstones for unknown dead were installed in 2011 and 2012 by Confederate Memorial Camp 1432, Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Established circa 1850, the cemetery is the final resting place for the villages’ settlers, granite cutters, farmers and townspeople.

This house was one of several Confederate hospitals.
The old railroad depot, which was closed during my visit

According to an article last month in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the state of Georgia wants to help the majority-black city shed its "Old Stone Mountain" image -- which included the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan a century ago and white supremacy.

City officials hope a new tourism office will help the city attract new businesses and visitors, developing its image as an inclusive, diverse community. Currently, many storefronts are vacant.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The namesake of a revenue cutter that made history will fire a commemorative shot near Fort Sumter today

Harriet Lane (top, right) and the modern US Coast Guard cutter (USCG)

The namesake of the vessel that fired what’s believed to be the first naval shot of the Civil War will commemorate the incident this afternoon near Fort Sumter, the US Coast Guard says.

In mid-April 1861, the US Revenue cutter Harriet Lane fired across the bow of a merchant steamship that attempted to enter Charleston Harbor in South Carolina without displaying a flag indicating its nationality.

The ceremony marking the 158th anniversary of the incident will take place at 1 p.m. at the Coast Guard’s Charleston station at 196 Tradd St. The crew of US Coast Guard cutter Harriet Lane, which is making a stop in the city, will fire a commemorative shot.

The Harriet Lane was part of a fleet President Abraham Lincoln had ordered to bring supplies to Fort Sumter. The ships were turned back by Confederate artillery fire from land and the Harriet Lane returned to the harbor entrance late on April 11 and into April 12.

“Later that morning the cutter observed the rapid approach of a steamer flying no colors. The revenue cutter ordered the vessel to come to and show her colors. The unidentified vessel ignored these signals and continued toward Charleston Harbor. (Capt. John) Faunce ordered a 32-pound cannon shot fired across the steamer’s bow, which turned out to be the South Carolina steamship Nashville," the Coast Guard says.

The Nashville finally raised an American flag and Faunce allowed her to pass into Charleston Harbor (the steamer later became an infamous blockade runner and Confederate cruiser).

Federal Maj. Robert Anderson surrendered Fort Sumter on April 13, 1861.

The Harriet Lane, a sidewheeler, served the Union until captured and converted by Confederate forces in Galveston, Texas, in 1863.

The modern-day Harriet Lane, a 270-foot medium endurance cutter, is returning to its home port of Portsmouth, Va., after “conducting a successful 80-day counter-narcotics patrol of the Caribbean Sea,” the Coast Guard said.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Plant-based medicines used by a resource-challenged Confederacy are effective against modern drug-resistant bacteria

White oak was among remedies tested in study (Photo by Stephen Nowland, Emory University)

The resourcefulness of the Confederacy – hampered by a blockade that limited access to medicines – led to plant-based wound treatments that appeared to be effective, researchers said this week.

A team from Emory University in Atlanta found that white oak, tulip poplar and the devil’s walking stick had an antiseptic effect on three species of drug-resistant bacteria. They’re hopeful such remedies could help in modern treatment of injuries, once experts identify the active ingredients in the plants.

"Our findings suggest that the use of these topical therapies may have saved some limbs, and maybe even lives, during the Civil War," Cassandra Quave, senior author of the paper, said in a university article.

The study was published this week in Scientific Reports.

Germ theory was in its developmental stages at the time of the war and physicians utilized iodine, bromine, quinine and other medicines. But Confederate forces rarely had enough of any of these, and they turned to the botanical world for some treatments. Amputation was common as a medical treatment for an infected wound.

David Price, executive director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md., called the study “fantastic.” He said physicians at the time used the knowledge that they had from every source in order to treat the symptoms with which they were presented.

Francis Porcher wrote a guide used by Confederacy (Photo by Stephen Nowland, Emory University)

“When looking at medicine during the time of the Civil War you cannot use present-day standards,” Price told the Picket. “The reason we have such incredible medicine today is because of the work Civil War doctors did. It's the beginning of the modern health care system.  It was the largest health care crisis in American history; two-thirds died of disease. Camp life was deadlier than the battlefield.”

Confederate Surgeon General Samuel Moore asked botanist Francis Porcher to compile a book of medicinal plants in the South. Some were remedies used by Native Americans and enslaved Africans. “Resources of Southern Fields and Forests” was published in 1863, during the height of the war.

The book featured 37 plant species that were used as antiseptics to treat gangrene and other infections.

From there, the Confederacy devised what is called a standard supply table for using indigenous remedies for field service. A chart listed the remedy, its medical properties and recommended doses.

In his introduction to the guide, Moore advised: “It is hoped that Medical Officers will lay aside all prejudice which may exist in their minds against their use, and will give them a fair opportunity for the exhibition of those remedial virtues which they certainly possess.”

The Emory researchers used bark and leaf extracts from the plants they collected on three species of bacteria often found in wound infections today. The extracts inhibited growth or certain pathogens.

 Researcher Micah Dettweiler with devil’s walking stick (Photo by Stephen Nowland, Emory University)

The researchers said plant extracts provide another weapon against antibiotic-resistant bacteria – in this study Acinetobacter baumannii, Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumonie.

“The significance of the study is that it offers another proof-of-concept case that some of our solutions for the post-antibiotic era may be found in the medical traditions of the pre-antibiotic era,” Quave told Gizmodo.

Price pointed out that doctors for both the Federal and Confederate armies used plant-based medicines.

“There are so many lessons to be learned by studying Civil War medicine,” he said. “Water quality, nutrition and how to care for mass populations so they don't get sick. These are lessons that are at the forefront of the world today -- be it poor populations or refugee camps.”