Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Visitors at fort near Savannah can see flag returned by descendant of Yankee officer, personal items of Rebel officer who grew up nearby

Emmett Rifles flag (left, Georgia State Parks)
For reasons I cannot fully explain, a Civil War artilleryman I blogged about years ago occasionally saunters back into my mind. I find him fascinating.

Maj. William Zoron Clayton joined the Federal army while living in Minnesota, served in numerous campaigns – including Shiloh, Vicksburg, Atlanta and the March to Sea – lost his first wife during the war and moved to his native Maine afterward. He operated several businesses and died at age 94 in Bangor on the eve of the 1929 stock market crash.

The reason I first wrote about Clayton was the decision by his great-grandson, Robert Clayton, of Isleboro, Maine, to return a flag that his ancestor took home as a war trophy. 

Bob Clayton mailed the flag to coastal Georgia -- 147 years after Fort McAllister’s capture.

W.Z. Clayton at some point had expressed hope that the Emmett Rifles flag “be return(ed) to Savannah or Atlanta sometime.”

The flag was unveiled to much fanfare in April 2012 at Fort McAllister State Historic Park, where the Emmett Rifles, a Savannah militia unit, served during the war

I recently called Bob Clayton, 74, to reminisce and to learn more about his ancestor’s siblings who also served during the war.

While W.Z. joined the 1st Minnesota Light Artillery, three brothers served with the 1st Maine Cavalry. Rufus ended up in Minnesota, where he died in 1900. Collamore died in Minnesota, apparently in 1936. Edmund did not survive the conflict. Wounded at Brandy Station, he was captured two years later and shipped to Andersonville prison in Georgia, where he died of disease in 1864.

Lt. Col. McAllister items
Bob Clayton said his father recalled conversations with an elderly W.Z. Clayton.

“He told me how his grandfather was chasing a Confederate on horseback and the Confederate galloped off the road and came back on it. Because he did that my great-grandfather was able to capture him.”

The veteran spoke about landmines that were placed around Fort McAllister.

“He remembered seeing a train with a bunch of Confederate prisoners heading somewhere and he really felt sorry for them.”

According to a 1900 Grand Army of the Republic account of the Atlanta campaign, Clayton was the chief of artillery for the 4th Division of the 17th Corps. He and a signal officer were the first to enter Fort McAllister after its surrender on Dec. 17, 1864, and the Rebel commander surrendered the flag that Clayton kept.

Bob Clayton has a few relics from the war, including a guidon of the 1st Minnesota and a Bible that belonged to W.Z. The Bible was captured during battle and returned to him decades after the war. Bob has a map of his great-grandfather’s travels during the Civil War, letters and insignia.

Jason Carter, park manager at Fort McAllister, says the Emmett Rifles flag “is kind of a highlight of the tour.” Staff members tell visitors about how the banner disappeared for 150 years and was returned by Clayton, who stopped by the park one day while on vacation and mentioned having it.

Exhibits in the museum (Georgia State Parks)
“It’s probably by far the most valuable thing in there,” Carter said of the site’s museum.

The flag is directly across from an exhibit that opened in December 2017.

A saber, spurs, uniform vest and other items belonged to a Confederate officer who served at the fort early in the conflict and is from the family that owned the surrounding property.

The items, including a photograph of Lt. Col. Joseph Longworth McAllister, were donated by descendant Carolyn C. Swiggart, an attorney in Greenwich, Conn.

McAllister, 43, died June 11, 1864, at the Battle of Trevilian Station, a Confederate victory in central Virginia. The lieutenant colonel with the 7th Georgia Cavalry fought to the last, throwing an emptied gun at Federal troops just before he was cut down by bullets.

Like Bob Clayton, Swiggart has not returned to McAllister since the dedications of their gifts. I am happy that the objects are ‘back home’ and on display,” she told the Picket this week.

Panorama showing the two exhibits (Georgia State Parks)

Monday, April 29, 2019

American flag that flew over Lincoln mourners in 1865 dedicated at Ohio Statehouse

The flag is 22 feet long and 9 feet high (Ohio Statehouse)
A large US flag that was among several that flew over Ohio’s Capitol Square during the April 1865 repose of President Abraham Lincoln was dedicated Monday morning in Columbus.

The family of David Nevin Murray of Portsmouth, Ohio, whose foundry and machine shop produced cannon balls for the Federal army, donated the 22 feet by 9 feet banner to the state in 2016. Murray was presented the flag for his contributions to the war effort.

The dedication in the Ohio Statehouse rotunda was held on the 154th anniversary of the eight-hour repose of Lincoln’s remains following his assassination. The Statehouse was draped in black crepe on April 29, 1865, when thousands filed by the president's coffin.

This 36-star flag, made of wool bunting, was among several that flew in the square in Columbus for the solemn occasion. It will return for further conservation after its display for several hours Monday.

Burt Logan, executive director and CEO of the Ohio History Connection, told the audience that the flag is an important part of the state's history. But it saw happier times following the national mourning. In subsequent years, the family would allow the banner to fly at special events and be used in parades.

Conservators said 22,000 stitches were used to stabilize the massive flag.

Columbus was along the route of the Lincoln funeral train that left Washington, D.C. and passed through seven states, culminating near his Springfield, Illinois, home on May 4 for burial, according to NBC4.

"It is estimated that 50,000 mourners turned out at Capitol Square for the repose of Lincoln," Chris Matheney, historic site manager at the Ohio Statehouse, told the station.

This banner is one of the five depicted here (Library of Congress)
Mary Van Tilburg and other descendants of Murray donated the flag to the Ohio History Center. It had flown during numerous events following Lincoln's death but ended up in a Tyson chicken cardboard box in Oklahoma for 45 years before the family decided to have it returned to Ohio.

“I am just so grateful that it is OK and back home in Ohio where it belongs,” Van Tilburg said in 2016, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Conservators said at the time that the flag was in remarkable shape, though it needed some repairs.

Emma Lou Normand, a great-great granddaughter of Murray, spoke Monday on behalf of the family. "This beautiful Old Glory ... I think of family. Family that have gone on before, that are here today." She said David Nevin Murray came from Scotland and worked hard at his foundry and machine shop. To old to go to war, Murray "wasn't too old to serve."

The 1st Ohio Light Artillery, Battery A, a group of Civil War re-enactors, will provide an honor guard in the rotunda for a replica of Lincoln’s casket from 10:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

New West Point statue of Ulysses S. Grant notes his humility and heroism as his presidential stature increases

Grant during the Civil War (Library of Congress)
Ulysses S. Grant had a quiet strength that impressed his classmates at West Point, even if his so-so academic record and long string of demerits might suggest that he would not have been held in high standing.

Shortly before the U.S. Military Academy cadet graduated in June 1843 -- as Ron Chernow writes in his biography “Grant” -- a classmate said Grant would be just the man of character to meet the challenge of a “great emergency.”

That emergency, of course, was the Civil War and its aftermath. Grant, who got to know many of his eventual battlefield foes while at West Point, led Federal armies to a victory that ended slavery. As the 18th president, he worked to protect the rights of men and women freed by the war and against terror unleashed by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

West Point will commemorate Grant's courageous service Thursday afternoon with the unveiling of a statue of its famous graduate. It comes in celebration of the sesquicentennial of Grant’s presidential inauguration and the culmination of “Inspiration Week” at the academy in West Point, N.Y.

According to military.com, the monument will be unveiled by the statesman's great-great-grandson, Ulysses Grant Dietz, an art curator at the Newark Museum in New Jersey.

Sculptor Paula Slater’s work features a full-figure 7-1/2 foot bronze statue upon a 4-1/2 foot granite base. (The general stood at 5-feet, 8 inches, a height he attained at West Point). A hatless Grant wears a four-star general uniform.

Slater said she wanted to capture Grant’s humility (Although he was known to eschew pomp and wore a private’s uniform with a simple rank designation).

“Imbued in this portrait of Grant is the torturous weight of life and death decisions he was required to make. It is this glimpse into his deeply enduring humanity that inspires and stays with the viewer,” her studio said.

The unveiling comes at a time of reputational rehabilitation for Grant, whose standing among presidents has risen in recent years. His legacy has long been dogged by accounts of his drinking and corruption and cronyism within his administration.

Chernow, in a 2017 interview with NPR after the release of his book, said Grant was stained by such descriptions.

“But to my mind, the big story of his presidency is he's really farsighted in courageous action in terms of protecting those four million former slaves who are now full-fledged American citizens, but who were under constant threat from the Klan in the South.”

Chernow and biographer Ronald C. White point out that Grant has moved up 11 places to No. 22 in C-SPAN surveys of presidential historians.

White, author of “American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant,” writes in a Washington Post op-ed piece this week that the new statue is going up for the right reasons as other monuments of Confederate figures are being removed.

“A chief insight in the reappraisal of Grant is the recognition that, at the beginning of the post-Civil War period of oppression, he acted courageously to protect the rights of freed men and women,” White writes. “Grant’s fall from American grace largely coincided with the rise of white supremacy in the early 20th century. During that period, leaders who stood up for the rights of African-Americans were not often lionized.

Observers might be surprised that only now a monument to Grant will rise above the West Point campus. A congressional committee in 2016 encouraged the secretary of the Army to install a memorial to the first academy grad to become commander in chief. He graduated 21st out of 39 cadets, but he obviously left marked for greatness, even though he fell upon tough times between the Mexican-American War and the Civil War.

“Ulysses S. Grant embodied the West Point motto of duty, honor, country,” said Col. Ty Seidule, professor and head of the Department of History, in a West Point statement. “As a soldier, he led an army that emancipated four million people, ended slavery, and saved the United States of America. The Grant statue will inspire generations of cadets to become leaders of principle and integrity for the nation.”

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Statue of soldier will again stand tall over Long Island village

The Civil War monument portraying a valiant soldier holding his rifle is returning home to Patchogue on Long Island, New York, this month. Last year, the fracturing of its base worsened and officials feared the leaning monument was in danger of collapsing. The village sent the memorial, which was erected in 1870, to the McKay Lodge Art Conservation Laboratory in Oberlin, Ohio, for repairs. • Article

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

'Nobody ran': Cowboy poet recited lines about his ancestor's regiment. Here's a deeper look at the 46th Illinois at Shiloh

Dick and James Hart at 46th Illinois monument in 2012 (Picket photo)
By day, Dick Hart was a range land ecologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Wyoming. When he wasn’t out studying miles of grasslands, he would take that experience and a good ear for rhyme and meter to become a cowboy poet -- the “Poet Laureate of Cheyenne.”

Now retired, Hart once said he wrote about “stuff I did on the (Iowa) farm growing up, things that happened to me, the people I worked with the peculiarities of the critters I work with – cattle, horses and wild critters.”

He created a poem about a “stupid steer that ran in front of a pickup driven by a herdsman,” his son James told me my phone. “They called him 'Tripod' after that.”

And there’s this sly 1995 verse:

Mary went a-walkin'
In the tall and rain-wet grass;
When Mary got back to the house
She was wet up to her... knees.
And he said, "Oh, an' if the grass had been taller, that woulda been cowboy poetry!"

I knew none of this on April 6, 2012, when I met father and son at Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee. Some 150 years before, to the day, their ancestor, Pvt. James Hart, desperately fought with comrades of the 46th Illinois Volunteer Infantry to stem a furious Confederate assault.

The 46th eventually was forced back to Jones Field, where it rallied to re-engage Confederate forces that same day. On April 7, the unit helped force the Rebels back toward Shiloh Church.

I called the Harts on Sunday afternoon to catch up and talk about Dick’s cowboy poetry. Dick, 85, was taking a nap and has difficulty hearing phone calls, so James and I reminisced about their trip to Shiloh.

I remember that pretty spring day in 2012, as I darted across the park to attend sesquicentennial programs, hikes and to see landmarks of the battlefield. I came across the Harts, both dressed in replica Yankee uniforms, at the monument to the 46th.

At some point, Dick mentioned his ancestor and I recorded his charming poem about the 46th -- “Nobody Ran.”

The second of seven stanzas set the premise for the challenge the 46th met that day. The regiment was assigned to the Second Brigade, 4th Division, Army of the Tennessee. The brigade was commanded by Col. James C. Veatch (25th Indiana) and consisted of the 14th, 15th, and 46th Illinois Infantry, along with the 25th Indiana Infantry.

At Shiloh, on a bloody April day
We thought, as we faced the men in gray,
“When this fight’s over, can we still say
In the 46th, nobody ran?”

Histories of the battle and the unit indicate the courage shown by officers and men on those two days in April. Stacy D. Allen, chief park ranger for interpretation at Shiloh, sent me a summary of the 46th’s casualties during the battle. Twenty-five men died and 134 were wounded and one man was missing.

“Their battle loss of 160 totaled 22.5% of the effective strength of 710 reported engaged, which is slightly less than the 26.75% total percentage of losses recorded among the effective force engaged (e.g. 39,830 officers and men) among the organizations assigned to the five divisions of Grant's army present on the field when battle began on Sunday.” Regimental commander Col. John A. Davis was among those wounded.

By any measure, that is a significant casualty rate.

Col. Veatch
According to the book, “Shiloh and Corinth: Sentinels of Stone,” the 46th Illinois showed its valor on April 6, when the Confederate army almost swept Federal forces from the field and into the river. The regiment was encamped north of Corinth Road and moved up when it heard the sound of gunfire that morning.

“The 46th could see an oncoming tide of gray and butternut soldiers advancing,” according to the book. “The soldiers of the 46th were stunned when the Federal regiment in the front turned tail and ran. The rattled soldiers broke through the ranks of the 46th Illinois in an effort to escape the Confederate juggernaut.”

The Illinois boys poured on heavy fire to slow the assault, but the retreat of an adjoining regiment forced them to withdraw. The brigade was forced to retreat a second time, but the regiment fought valiantly later that day in Jones Field and in other locations.

Now the 46th stood to their work
Carpenter, farm boys, dry goods clerk
You couldn’t let your comrades see you shirk
So in the 46th,  nobody ran

Brigade commander Col. James C. Veatch later wrote that Davis “displayed coolness and courage in resisting the heavy columns thrown against them.” Davis was severely wounded on the second day. (He would die in October 1862 from wounds suffered in a battle in Tennessee.)

Davis, in his official report, said his men “did not waver under the fire of the enemy.”
And the division commander praised his troops, saying they held under “the most terrific fire” the key point of the left of the army on April 6, to withdraw only under overwhelming numbers. On Monday, April 7, they held the line and contributed to the Union victory at Shiloh.

Dick Hart wrote in a 2004 publication of the Society for Range Management that the Battle of Shiloh was found by two amateur armies. “Thousands in both armies turned and ran: Union soldiers huddled under the banks of the Tennessee River; Confederate soldiers disappeared into the woods."

Dick Hart at monument to Col. Veatch (Courtesy of James Hart)
The Hart family previously visited Shiloh in 1998 and noted on the 46th marker that only one man in the regiment was listed as missing, buttressing Dick’s point that “nobody ran.”

I asked James Hart whether his dad has written another Civil War poem, but he couldn’t recall one. Dick Hart has published three books, including “Rhymes of a Rexall Wrangler” and “Return of the Rexall Wrangler.”

James Hart, 56, said the 2012 trip to Shiloh had been planned for eight to nine months. They stayed for all three days of the sesquicentennial.

“I remember the luminaries they put out. That was something awesome. It’s hard to believe they put that out for every dead person,” he said.

The men of the 46th held the line as long as possible, James added.

His father put it succinctly in “Nobody Ran.”

Well, I fought my fight and gained no fame
No commendations bear my name
But still I’m proud to make my claim,
In the 46th, nobody ran

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Rhode Island city to improve access to general's grave

Gen. Greene
Officials in a Rhode Island city are embarking on a project to improve access to the grave of Civil War Brig. Gen. George Sears Greene. Greene, a cousin to Revolutionary War hero Gen. Nathanael Greene, is known for helping win the Battle of Gettysburg for the Union Army despite being more than 60 years old. The Providence Journal reports Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon's office says the cemetery where Greene is buried will see a series of improvements, including adding a multi-tier staircase with handrails, interpretive signage panels and benches. • Article

Friday, April 5, 2019

An important step in USS Monitor turret conservation reveals an impressive view of the famed Union ironclad's roof

A new view of the ironclad's roof (Mariners' Museum and Park)

Crews using hydraulic lifts have installed new support stands under the massive turret of the USS Monitor so that conservators can have better access to the famed ironclad’s roof.

The work concluded Friday at the USS Monitor laboratory at the Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va., museum spokeswoman Crystal Breede said.

The long-anticipated project is a major milestone in the lengthy conservation of the turret, which is upside down, as it was on the sea floor. The turret rests in a 90,000-gallon tank usually filled with a caustic solution that has helped remove tons of marine growth.

Turret rests on temporary lifts (Mariners' Museum and Park)

“The current support structure under the turret will be replaced by eight pedestal support stands to give conservators full access to all sides of the iconic artifact and reveal its roof’s exterior for the first time since the massive ironclad sank in the Atlantic Ocean after the 1862 Civil War battle,” the museum said in a press release before the project began Thursday.

Those new supports were in place by Friday afternoon, Breede told the Picket, and the turret was lowered two inches back into place.

2016 photos of turret interior (NOAA)

The artifact will help further the museum's goal of bringing the human component to a story of the innovative ironclad that tangled with the Confederacy's CSS Virginia in nearby Hampton Roads in March 1862. The USS Monitor, while smaller, was more nimble than the CSS Virginia, and the two vessels fought to what many consider a draw.

The USS Monitor, which had been under tow from Virginia to North Carolina, early on Dec. 31, 1862, slipped beneath the sea, its turret resting upside down on the Atlantic Ocean floor.

The giant artifact was recovered off Cape Hatteras, N.C., in 2002.

Breede said that once the resupport work is done, the tank will be refilled. It may be another three years before the roof is removed. The museum is still years off from turning the turret over, and the goal is having the artifact on public display by 2035.

Crews with old and new supports (Mariners' Museum and Park)

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Prescribed burn at Gettysburg to cover area of Confederate advance on Little Round Top, doomed Federal cavalry charge

Phase 1 of the prescribed fire was this one in April 2018 (NPS)

A field crossed by the 15th Alabama as it made its way toward Little Round Top, where it made a series of legendary assaults against the 20th Maine, will be part of an upcoming 117-acre prescribed burn at Gettysburg National Military Park.

The fire, on portions of land between Slyder Lane and South Confederate Avenue, will occur some time this month, on a day that meets proper weather conditions.

Prescribed fires are among the tools that national parks at Civil War sites use “to maintain the conditions of the battlefield as experienced by the soldiers who fought here,” and to control invasive species, reduce fire hazards and maintain wildlife habitat.

Park historian John Heiser told the Picket that the land was in agriculture use in 1863 and open, with few trees or bushes. “We know there were burials on the Slyder Farm, most being from Benning's and Law's Brigades, around or near the buildings and removed between 1871-1872.”

Area of planned prescribed fire (NPS)

Heiser gave a description of the historical significance of the burn area in an email:

“The bulk of the area is the historic John Slyder farm and the adjoining farm of Michael Bushman. Both were first occupied by the 2nd US Sharp Shooters, deployed to cover the front of the Union Third Corps, which had moved out from Cemetery Ridge around 1 p.m. of July 2, 1863. The Sharp Shooters contested the advance of both Law's and Robertson's brigades from Hood's Division on July 2 before withdrawing to Big Round Top and beyond. The burn area was subsequently crossed over by Law's Alabama Brigade, including the 15th and 4th Alabama Regiments, that would both advance up the side of Big Round Top before descending into the saddle between it and Little Round Top to do battle with Vincent's Federal brigade.”

View from Little Round Top shows burn area in far left distance (NPS)

The 4th, 15th and 47th Alabama are remembered for their attacks against the 20th Maine, led by Col. Joshua Chamberlain, on the end of the Federal army’s left flank.

“The (Maine) regiment’s sudden, desperate bayonet charge blunted the Confederate assault on Little Round Top and has been credited with saving Major General George Gordon Meade’s Army of the Potomac, winning the Battle of Gettysburg and setting the South on a long, irreversible path to defeat,” according to the American Battlefield Trust.

Slyder farm barn and building (NPS)

Heiser said the burn area also figured on the afternoon of next day, July 3, as the scene of Union Brig. Gen. Elon Farnsworth’s charge, which came after Pickett’s Charge. Farnsworth was ordered under protest to make a controversial attack against a large contingent of Confederate infantry.

“Leading the 1st West Virginia Cavalry and 1st Vermont Cavalry of his brigade, Farnsworth charged into the pasture south of the Bushman farm buildings. The 1st WV was repulsed by the 9th Georgia Infantry positioned on the southern extension of Seminary Ridge, but the Vermonters rode on, one battalion racing north into the rear of Hood's line and the other battalion under Farnsworth veered east and north where they ran into Robertson's Texans posted along the western base of Big Round Top.

Gen. Farnsworth
“The two battalions of the regiment met and reformed along the Slyder lane (the northern edge of the burn area) and from there headed south to return to the relative safety of Bushman's Hill, from where the charge had begun, but Farnworth's group ran into a hornet's nest on the edge of Big Round Top and the troopers scattered. Farnsworth was killed on the west side of the hill where the monument to the 1st Vermont Cavalry stands today. The refugees from his column made their way back across this field and rejoined the other battalion in the woods south of Bushman's Hill, where they rallied. “

On the day of the prescribed fire, South Confederate Avenue will be closed, said park spokesman Jason Martz. “A combination of lawn sprinklers, hoses, mowed lines, and fire engines will be used to create a buffer and fire break to protect monuments and other cultural resources in the burn area.”

Martz said crews had hoped to burn the entire 215-acre site in April 2018, but were only able to do the northern half before it persistently rained. "This year's planned prescribed fire is a continuation of last year's efforts and will complete what we started, with Mother Nature's help, of course."