Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Gettysburg National Military Park, Eisenhower National Historic Site name Steve Sims as new superintendent

Steve Sims will begin his new job early next year (NPS photo)

A West Point graduate and longtime National Park Service employee has been named the new superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site in Pennsylvania.

Steven Sims will begin his duties at Gettysburg in January, the park said in a recent press release.

“As a former Army Officer, I feel a deep responsibility to care for the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg, moreover, honoring the legacy of one of the most notable military generals and presidents of our nation is a privilege. I look forward to serving these parks and our neighbors in this new role,” Sims said in a statement.

Sims is currently serving as superintendent of Valley Forge National Historical Park, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site and the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail.

He will replace Ed Clark as the new permanent superintendent, according to the Hanover Evening Sun. Clark went on special assignment in 2017 and is now the branch chief for the National Park Service Search and Rescue Program in the Washington Support Office. Since he left, the parks have filled in the position with various other hires for 120-day periods, the newspaper said. The current acting superintendent is Thomas Forsyth.

Gay Vietzke, a regional director for the NPS, said Sims “brings a broad set of skills that will be very beneficial to both park units. He is experienced at bringing partners together to work towards a common goal and values the importance of community engagement.”

Sims led Valley Forget through a $14 million visitor center renovation and the production of five new park orientation films scheduled for completion next summer, Vietzke said.

“His background as a West Point graduate and (US Army) military officer will provide the valuable leadership that is needed to define and carry out the mission of the parks. In his current assignment, Steve has made significant strides in reducing the park’s maintenance backlog and preserving park resources,” the director said.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Mississippi monument gets TLC at Vicksburg, to be rededicated

A Mississippi monument is being rededicated in a national park on a Civil War battlefield.  A ceremony is taking place Monday at Vicksburg National Military Park. The Vicksburg reports the Mississippi monument underwent a $75,000 restoration funded by the state and promoted by a group called Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park and Campaign. Work included masonry repairs, testing of the monument’s lightning suppression system and thorough cleaning. • Article

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Remembering historian Bud Robertson: Civil War experts, authors tell the Picket why he had such an impact on the public

Bud Robertson was instrumental in naming Virginia's state song (Va. Tech)
James I. “Bud” Robertson Jr., professor emeritus of history at Virginia Tech, is being remembered for his legacy of vivid books, engaging lectures, battlefield tours and media appearances about the Civil War. Robertson, 89, died Saturday after a long illness, the school announced.

The author of 40 books about the Civil War, Robertson is best known for one about Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. It won eight national awards and was a key source for the 2003 movie “Gods and Generals.” During the 100th anniversary of the Civil War, President John F. Kennedy asked Robertson to serve as executive director of the United States Civil War Centennial Commission.

“For fully six decades Bud Robertson was a dominant figure in his field, and a great encouragement to all who would study our turbulent past during the middle of the 19th century,” said William C. “Jack” Davis, former director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. “Moreover, amid a conversation that can still become bitter and confrontational, his was a voice for reason, patience, and understanding.”

Robertson had other interests, including football. He was an Atlantic Coast Conference football referee for 16 years.

The Picket reached out to historians, authors and others to talk about Robertson’s legacy. Their responses have been edited for brevity.

GORDON JONES, senior military historian and curator, Atlanta History Center

Gordon Jones
He was one of the greats, one of the names that will live on in Civil War historiography for many years. He led a magnificent life, filled with many and varied experiences that gave him a sort of “every man” perspective in his work and teaching. Perhaps because of this, his was a voice of calm, rational thought, full of practical insight into human nature. 
   
He once told me in detail what he had done to organize John F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1963. Mrs. Kennedy (“Jackie”) had requested that the funeral replicate many of the elements of Lincoln’s funeral 98 years earlier. Bud was much more closely involved in researching the historical precedents for Kennedy’s funeral than I think anybody realizes. In this instance especially, his historical work literally made history.   

Personally, I think I enjoyed his football stories as much as anything else. What a great guy -- he was just fun to be around.

JIM OGDEN, historian, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Dr. Robertson was, is, one of the giants.  Amazon or Worldcat him. The lists of books and works you get back will certainly show you that. How many people did his history of the Stonewall Brigade or biography of T. J. Jackson or volume on soldier life in the Time-Life series shape?  A lot.

But even beyond the shelf of books he's left those who are interested in the Civil War, for several generations of Civil War buffs, it is his accessibility that stands out. He wasn't an academic hiding away in some closet on their campus writing only for other academics. He was engaged with the general history public.

Jim Ogden
He was a regular speaker on the Civil War round table circuit for decades and not just at the "big" ones. The Virginia Tech Civil War Weekend he started has been one of the most successful Civil War conferences there has been. A "Civil War" group might have had him on the Delta Queen but other passengers often heard his lectures, his talks, his conversations with those to whom he was speaking as well.

He was one of the best Civil War speakers -- organized, clear, pointed, concise. For more than 50 years, from before the Centennial to after the Sesquicentennial, Bud Robertson helped shape the history of the Civil War and countless Civil War historians professional, avocational, incidental and even accidental.  He has set a fine standard to emulate.
  
D. SCOTT HARTWIG, author and former National Park Service ranger and historian

I found him to be a kind, good man, always approachable, and with a great sense of humor.  He was one of the giants in the Civil War field and kindled an interest in the era in thousands of students and others. We will long value his scholarship on the war but one of his greatest legacies will be the work he did to advocate for understanding the war and preserving its memory on the nation's landscape.  

CHARLIE CRAWFORD, president, Georgia Battlefields Association

Charlie Crawford
I was grateful to meet Dr. Bud Robertson over 20 years ago and interact with him several times since.  He always greeted me with a smile, and it made me feel good that an eminent historian seemed to remember me, though I suspect he probably greeted everyone with the same warmth.

As was noted in the official announcement, he was selected as a young historian (in his early 30s) by President Kennedy in 1961 to be executive director of the Civil War Centennial Commission in an effort to overcome racial tensions generated by the refusal of some hotels and restaurants to accommodate African-American members of the Commission. That Bud, a Virginian, was able to salvage the commission’s work is one testament to not only his credibility as a historian but also his ability as a manager and conciliator.

Bud served for many years as a college football official, which showed his versatility beyond the classroom. This led to a long association with many coaches, including Vince Dooley, himself a student of history with academic credentials. On several occasions, I saw the two of them share conversations about the capabilities of Civil War leaders mixed seamlessly with reminiscences of coaches, teams and specific games.

Robertson at a 2015 talk (Gould Hagler)
More than once, I heard Bud say that anyone who asserts that slavery was not the root cause of the Civil War is the F student of history. He was obviously well aware of the ancillary causes, such as the rights of states versus the power of the federal government, the divergent economic systems of the north and the south, the radicalization of political leaders of both sections, the failure of the founding fathers to resolve the slavery issue in the Constitution, etc.; but Bud always pointed to slavery as underlying it all. 

Bud was ordained in the Episcopal Church, and at one historical conference I attended, he conducted a Sunday morning service wearing his clerical collar and illustrating how the prayers and services of the 1860s reflected that ministers both north and south believed that God was on their side. This also demonstrated Bud’s versatility as a teacher, as he was willing and able to employ techniques other than a standard lecture format.

Many of his books received excellent reviews, and I can testify that his biographies of Stonewall Jackson and A.P. Hill strongly influenced my perceptions of both. His presentations about Jackson’s character, personality, and idiosyncrasies were particularly memorable.

Robertson (second from right) with JFK in 1962 (Va. Tech)
Bud lost his first wife, Libba, to illness in 2008. He attributed his recovery from his own subsequent serious illness to the care and support he received from his second wife, Betty. His devotion to both of them was often manifested in the credit he gave them during his presentations. Bud was a gentleman, courteous and personable, in his interactions with me, and I witnessed the same consideration in his interactions with others over the years.

DAVID EVANS, historian and author of "Sherman's Horsemen"

David Evans
His contributions to Civil War historiography were both numerous and noteworthy and his iconic biographies of “Stonewall” Jackson and A. P. Hill will stand as lasting monuments to his diligent scholarship his discerning analysis of people and events and his passion for Civil War history.

He was an accomplished writer, much sought-after public speaker, and an inspiring teacher. Rarely does one man so successfully combine the gifts of talent and modesty, but Dr. Robertson did.

The skills he brought to the study and understanding of our Civil War will be sorely missed and not easily replaced.

AARON ASTOR, author and associate professor of history, Maryville College

Aaron Astor
I never knew Bud personally but I know many people who did, and everybody spoke of him as a warm and friendly teacher and scholar. His books were uniformly excellent. In fact, he was one of the most important military historians of the Civil War that bridged the divide between public and academic history.

As a public historian from the Centennial to the Sesquicentennial, he really embodies the development of the field of Civil War history.

His biographies were especially sharp, both in assessing the military decision-making and the pre-war backgrounds of Confederate generals. I used his book on AP Hill for my research into Gettysburg.

WILLIAM GARRETT PISTON, Professor Emeritus, Missouri State University

Bud Robertson was one of the foremost scholars in his field, one of a generation of giants in Civil War literature who inspired those of us who grew up during the Civil War centennial.

Tim Smith
TIM SMITH, author and faculty member at University of Tennessee Martin
(His books) obviously are the staples of his career, especially the Jackson biography. Amazingly, that continued on for years, including his recent editing of the (J.B.) Jones diary and other books. In fact, I use the edited Jones diary (a Confederate war department clerk) very often. Yet there was so much more to his body of work, including his efforts in the centennial, his work in film and his teaching at Virginia Tech. That's just the academic portion of it, there being so much more to him such as sports and charitable work. Still, I think the thing that most stood out to me was the voice and accent. He was a lecturer's lecturer. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

New clue? Hunley crew wasn't using air circulation system the night Confederate submarine sank ship, then vanished

Rendering shows snorkels above conning tower (Friends of the Hunley)
A new finding by those conserving the Confederate submarine Hunley revives the question of whether the eight-man crew ran out of oxygen after sinking a Federal vessel in Charleston Harbor.

A Friends of the Hunley press release this week said Clemson University researchers determined the doomed sub’s air circulation system was not in use when it made the historic February 1864 attack on the USS Housatonic.

During ongoing conservation, scientists and researchers found that a rubber hose connecting snorkel tubes to hand-pumped bellows was “intentionally disconnected and tucked underneath the crew bench.” The reason remains unknown.

The snorkel-bellows system was intended to pump out carbon dioxide and allow the replenishment of good air from the surface. The snorkel tubes were in a lowered position and not engaged during the attack, researchers said.

Set of bellows before, after conservation (Friends of the Hunley)
“The air circulation system is certainly one of many important clues to consider when trying to piece together the events of that night.” Clemson archaeologist Michael Scafuri said, according to the press release. “Still, this finding alone does not mean the Hunley crew perished from lack of oxygen.”

The Hunley could hold enough oxygen for the crew to survive for roughly two hours. There were two ways to replenish the supply.

“One was to use the air circulation system, which was designed to be stealth and allow them to discreetly get fresh air,” the release said. “The only other alternative was to come to the surface and open the hatches, a potentially dangerous move if enemy ships were nearby.”

Rubber hose was part of air circulation system 
Scientists say it is possible the builders were unable to perfect the air circulation design or when the system was not in use, the crew dismantled it to make more room in the cramped crew compartment.

The Friends group said the Hunley crew may have opted to stay well below the surface after sinking the Housatonic so as to escape detection. "If they miscalculated the timing or thought it was too dangerous to come back up to open the hatches for air, they may have slowly run out of oxygen to breathe."

On Feb. 17, 1864, the Hunley left its base on Sullivan’s Island, S.C., and placed its torpedo into the Housatonic, one of many blockade vessels on the edge of the harbor. Those on board desperately opened fire on the attackers. Five U.S. sailors were killed in the explosion and a chaotic scene ensued as other Federal ships came to the rescue. The Hunley vanished, and there have been many theories – but no proof -- of what happened to it.

Snorkel box before and after conservation (Friends of the Hunley)
Conserved snorkel tubes (Friends of the Hunley)
A 2017 archaeological report issued by the U.S. Navy, South Carolina Hunley Commission and Friends of the Hunley looked at theories on what might have happened. Among those are that a Federal vessel hit the sub, the Hunley submerged and eventually lost oxygen, a “lucky shot” brought torrents of water through a conning tower or the hull was breached. Since then, researchers found a broken intake pipe, indicating water may have flooded into the tiny war machine.

The organizations cautioned that it could have been a combination of factors that caused the disappearance.

But researcher Rachel Lance told CNN in 2017 that the crew died from blast injuries.

Shock waves from the torpedo detonation would have instantly killed those aboard the Hunley, she said. Such strong pressure would rupture lungs and damage neurons and blood vessels, she argued.

And she discounted the theory of suffocation.

Rachel Lance
After the Hunley was raised in 2000, conservators found the men were still at their stations, indicating there was no rush to escape or movement to bring air into the boat. There were no obvious physical injuries.

“The crew had about a 30-minute air supply before they would have had painful and uncomfortable symptoms from carbon dioxide,” Lance said. “They made no efforts to try to save themselves or bring air into the boat.”

The U.S. Navy and the Friends of the Hunley pushed back.

A week after the findings of her team were released, the Friends of the Hunley issued a press release that said Lance’s work is “unsubstantiated.”

“While the likely cause of the submarine’s demise has not been concluded, the scenario of a concussive wave killing the Hunley crew has been deemed not likely by those working on the actual submarine and who have access to this key data,” the organization said.

The Navy has questioned why World War II submariners survived close depth charges while the Hunley crew did not survive the torpedo blast. Lance said modern hull armor is much thicker and would have provided more protection.

Lance told a 2017 audience that the watch of sub commander Lt. George Dixon provides further evidence of the effects of a traumatic blast. The hands stopped at 8:23 p.m, the estimated time the torpedo went off.
Bellows before conservation (Friends of the Hunley)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Cornfield relics can help in battlefield mapping at Maryland site

By using metal detectors and ground-penetrating radar to locate artifacts, archaeologists in Maryland hope to create a more comprehensive map of how each skirmish during the Battle of South Mountain played out. As a result of their findings, a historic military geographer will then be able to map out which roads and areas the troops traveled through still exist and document them more fully. • Article

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Civil War-era bell passed down by family is back home in Appomattox

After almost 50 years spent in the basement of Ora McCoy’s Appomattox, Va., home, a family bell passed down through five generations has found a new life ringing in history along the East Coast. Originally unearthed for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House in 2015, the bell found its way to other park ceremonies. McCoy’s great-grandparents, Daniel and Phoebe Scruggs, once lived as slaves on the Scruggs family farm in Appomattox. They have owned the bell since the Civil War, passing it from hand to hand until it found its way to McCoy. In September, after a stint at the Fort Monroe National Monument, the bell came home. • Article

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Red Jacket: A reconstructed cannon, colorful coat and a beer tell the story of the Columbus Guards, a Georgia militia unit

The Red Jacket (Courtesy of Columbus Georgia Convention & Trade Center)
You have to look closely to spy it near the corner, but there it is – a small brass cannon propped between a pair of iron wheels and a Char-Broil barbecue grill topped with a spatula, tongs and fork. Named for the bright red coat worn by members of a 19th century militia unit that used the artillery piece to fire salutes, “Red Jacket” rests in a brick room at the Historic Iron Works, also known as the Columbus Georgia Convention & Trade Center. The room showcases items important to the city’s history and growth.

Courtesy of the Columbus Museum
What the visitor can’t fully make out is the fractured condition of Red Jacket, which belonged to the Columbus Guards and was fired during celebrations. In its early days, Red Jacket fired a salute when Georgia seceded from the Union and was hauled to Montgomery, Ala., for the February 1861 inauguration of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy.

An historical marker not far from the Iron Works, which was a major manufacturing site for the South, summarizes the gun’s rather unique story:

“Red Jacket was purchased by Mrs. Laura Beecher Comer in 1861 and presented to the Columbus Guards. During the war period it was used to fire salutes to Confederate victories in the Army and Navy. When a Federal army approached Columbus in 1865, some members of the Columbus Guards, fearing the little gun would be captured, threw in into the Chattahoochee River near the city wharf. Four years later, it was accidentally drawn up on the fluke of an anchor. The finders sold it as junk and it was carried to New York City and bought by J. W. Godfrey, an armorer. A newspaper reporter saw Red Jacket and wrote a description of it in a New York paper. The clipping was sent to L.H. Chappell, then Captain of the Columbus Guards, in 1884. Correspondence ensued and Mr. Godfrey restored the gun to the Columbus Guards. In 1930 Red Jacket was stolen from its carriage on Upper Broad Street and conveyed to the river bank. When fired, it burst into many pieces. Alva C. Smith, secretary-treasurer of the Historical Society of Columbus, found all the pieces and had the gun mended and rebuilt.”

Whew.

Today, the Red Jacket name lives in several places in this west Georgia river city that borders Phenix City, Ala. There are the Jordan Vocational High School Red Jackets, a replica cannon and Red Jacket beer at a brew pub not far from the Iron Works, and the sole surviving example of the Red Jacket coat itself, on rotating display at the Columbus Museum.

City provided much to Confederacy, fell at war's end

The Columbus Guards, local histories say, provided more men for Confederate service than any other local militia unit and its members took part in more than 30 battles with the Army of Northern Virginia.

One of the giant halls at the Iron Works in Columbus (Picket photo)
Apart from that, Columbus was an important manufacturing site for the Confederacy, second only to Richmond, Va.. Factories and shops produced cannon, engines, guns, swords, textiles and more. The Confederate navy had a shipyard just below the Iron Works. The ironclad CSS Jackson (Muscogee) was built and tested on the Chattahoochee River, only to be burned by Union forces after they took the city.

Columbus fell in April 1865 in what is believed to be the last battle in the Federal campaign through Alabama and Georgia.

Today, the rebuilt Iron Works, the Columbus Museum and the National Civil War Naval Museum on Victory Drive are the principal reminders of the Civil War.

Replica of the Red Jacket and beer bearing its name (Picket photo)
Cannon Brew Pub, one of many restaurant and retails establishments on Broadway in downtown Columbus, sports a replica of the Red Jacket cannon out front.

The restaurant (above), which opened in the mid-1990s, serves several brews, including Red Jacket Ale, which features “the rich taste of extra malt and hops.”

You can sample that along with the Red Jacket Monte Cristo sandwich. The cannon is fired for the start of road races and other special events, managers say. The business has numerous other artifacts and references to the Civil War.

Jacket makes a statement: 'It's quite striking'

Photos Courtesy of the Columbus Museum
A few miles inland along Wynnton Road, at the Columbus Museum, is the only known surviving jacket from the militia unit. Made from wool and featuring a cotton lining, the garment was worn by Watkins Banks, one of seven local brothers who fought for the Confederacy and one of three to die.

The Columbus Guards formed in 1835 and served in several conflicts, most notably the Civil War. It was considered among the best-drilled militia units in the South and was an integral part of upper-class society.

The museum’s website says this: “Banks wore this jacket at Davis’ inauguration in Montgomery, Alabama, and also during the Guards’ departure from Columbus to join the Confederate army.

Banks identified his jacket by writing ‘Wat. Banks’ and ‘1861’ on the coat’s interior lining, notations which are still clearly visible.

Six original buttons remain, the rest were likely cut as mementos for the family after he was killed near Atlanta in 1864. New buttons were cast. The buttons bear the initials “CG” and an eagle.

Button from Watkins Banks' jacket
The garment is featured in an exhibit about this Chattahoochee Valley city’s history.

“It’s quite striking in the gallery, where it rotates with Confederate Col. Peyton Colquitt’s gray coat,” said Rebecca Bush, curator of history and exhibitions manager at the museum.

Inevitably, some people are happy to see whichever jacket is currently on view, while others are disappointed that the other jacket is resting to give it a break from potential light damage,” she said. “In a way, it’s a nice problem for the museum to have.”

According to one history, Banks and about 135 others joined Company G of the 2nd Georgia Volunteer Infantry when the war broke out. The unit wore the jacket for a few months before receiving their new issue of gray. The regiment, which served in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, had its most famous moment at Antietam, where it held the heights above Burnside’s Bridge with the 20th Georgia.

Banks’ great-great-great nephew, John Sheftall, who lives in the old family home in Columbus, says Banks fought in Virginia, returned home and at some point joined Nelson’s Rangers with a brother. He was the son of John and Sarah Banks, who lived with their large family in a home called The Cedars in the Wynnton area.

Watkins Banks (left) and cousin Willis Butt (Courtesy of Columbus Museum/John M. Sheftall)
In 1863, Watkins Banks paid for a substitute, lived in Columbus and then returned to service during the Atlanta Campaign. The private was killed in August 1864 outside Atlanta. The bachelor’s obituary states the 31-year-old was then serving with Georgia State Troops, Sheftall told the Picket.

These Red Jackets try to sting sports foes

The town’s Civil War history also is represented at another site a few miles from downtown.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Jordan Vocational High School, a fixture in a middle-class Columbus neighborhood, displayed two cannon that came from the CSS Jackson.

They were moved to the old Confederate Naval Museum in the 1960s, said Jeffrey Seymour, director of history and collections at the National Civil War Naval Museum on Victory Drive.

Courtesy of the National Civil War Naval Museum
These are the two VII in. Brooke Rifles that we have,” he said. “One of these is the one that we fire (above). The other is sitting out in front of the building. Both were recovered from the river.”

“There is a belief held by many Jordan people that the Red Jacket was named for the iron guns overheating. Not sure where that story came from,” said Seymour, adding that the small gun was associated with the Columbus Guards, not the Confederate navy.

Jordan HS has used the Red Jackets name and logo for years (Picket photos)

A page on the school’s website says Red Jacket was placed outside of the old city library and the Muscogee County Courthouse, where it remained many years before the 1930 caper. Another Civil War weapon, a brass cannon made in Columbus and dubbed the Ladies Defender, also was placed at the courthouse after the war. Today, the Ladies Defender is in the same room as the Iron Works as Red Jacket.

Jordan’s sports teams, along with the marching band, still feature the Red Jackets name and wear maroon and white uniforms. The school’s alma mater appears to capture the spirit of the little cannon and the Columbus Guards.

With the Carmine and
the Grey afloating,
On high JVHS.
Your name and fame we’re shouting
As we cheer you to success.
As you march unfaltering forward,,
your future great we hail.
May your glory never lessen
And your courage never fail.

Courtesy of Columbus Georgia Convention & Trade Center)

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Atlanta on the move: A stone railroad marker that survived the Civil War got a new home while a replica was put in place

Replica Zero Mile Post and interpretive signs in downtown Atlanta (Picket photo)
On Nov. 14, 1864, the eve of the beginning of the March to the Sea, brevet Lt. Col. Orlando Poe, chief engineer of the Military Division of the Mississippi, supervised demolition of the main passenger depot in downtown Atlanta.

Lt. Col. Poe
Poe’s troops used a battering ram to knock out the support columns of the “car shed,” a cooperative venture of the four railroads that served the Georgia city and the Confederacy. The station had been a fixture for about 10 years.

The loss of the structure was just one of many blows to the city when Union Gen. William T. Sherman ordered the destruction of buildings and supplies that could possibly help the Southern cause after his men left town on their campaign to bring the Civil War to civilians.

Not far from the northeast corner of the shed stood a stubby granite post that is associated with the birth of the city. Since 1850, the so-called Zero Mile Post marked the southeastern terminus of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, one of several rail companies vital to the growth of a young Atlanta.

In addition to the car shed, a succeeding depot is long gone. And Zero Mile Post departed in 2018 for a new home at the Atlanta History Center, several miles to the north.

A replica post (right), interpretive panel and revamped metal sign were put in place earlier this year.

The Georgia Building Authority decided to move Zero Mile Post because a building in which it was enclosed needed to be torn down for a viaduct improvement project.

The relocation idea was opposed by the Atlanta City Council and preservation and civic groups, which argued that the landmark should stay put. They complained about the move’s secrecy.

George Barnard's view of the car shed in 1864 (Library of Congress)
The view today (Picket photo)
The history center and the Georgia Building Authority said the relocation would protect the post and improve its accessibility to the public. The authority feared motorists or pedestrians might damage the post because it would be exposed after the building was razed, officials said.

The Georgia Battlefields Association called the debate a “different sort of preservation issue,” given you could see both sides of the argument – while the post’s significance was due to its location, how to protect it once it was out in the open?

Sherman's men destroy track; car shed rubble at right (Library of Congress)
“The mile post had not been routinely accessible in several years since it was in a closed state government building,” the preservation group said in a newsletter this month. “The explanatory historical marker had been in the hard to access basement of a nearby state government building.”

Now, those curious about Zero Mile Post, the Civil War and the city’s rich railroad history can go to two locations, in a scenario that might appear to be a compromise.

(Georgia Battlefields Association)
The original marker (right) is in a gallery at the Atlanta History Center, next to the restored locomotive Texas, famous for its part in the Great Locomotive Chase.

The replica milepost is accessible under the Central Avenue Bridge near its intersection with Wall Street.

The interpretive panel and an updated Georgia Historical Society marker detail the landmark’s significance. Sunlight filters into the dark and dank parking street and parking area where the replica marker juts out from a bed of gravel. (Click here for text of GHS sign)

The building that surrounded the post for three decades was torn down. It had been used as a tourist trolley and police station.

Markers like Zero Mile Post informed train crews where they were along a route. One side of this marker is engraved with "W&A RR OO" – the W & A indicating the Western & Atlantic Railroad and the double-zero designating the beginning of the rail line.

The other side of the marker is engraved “W&A RR 138.” That indicates the 138 miles from downtown Atlanta to the W&A’s endpoint in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The original 800-pound marker measures 7 feet 5 inches, and weighs approximately 800 pounds. That is how the Atlanta History Center displays it, as opposed to 42 inches exposed in its old location.

Mile post before it was enclosed (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Wartime sites, including car shed (Georgia Battlefields Assn.)
Jackson McQuigg, vice president of properties for the Atlanta History Center, said the Georgia Building Authority asked the center to remove the original post.

It's worth noting that the replica is on the exact spot of the original. GBA surveyors used GPS to locate the original site (where) the old marker was installed; they came back when we installed the replica."

Building that housed Zero Mile Stone has been demolished (Picket photo)