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.”

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A Civil War soldier's grave and his headstone were under a Long Island church. But for years, no one knew exactly where. Now it's time to honor his dedication to congregation and country

Removal of  floor exposed headstone for John Codman Pollitz (Trinity Episcopal)

A Long Island church on June 2 will rededicate the grave of a young Union soldier whose headstone rested beneath the floor of the church for more than a century only to be uncovered last year during a renovation project.

Parishioners at Trinity Episcopal Church in Roslyn, New York, knew that Pvt. John Codman Pollitz’s final resting place 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’s headstone was exposed; it was lying flat in a crawlspace area.

“My assumption was that the headstone was too high standing up for the crawlspace. I believe they simply laid it down on that same spot” during the 1906 construction, said longtime church property manager Mike Callahan.

Bell was used during soldier's funeral (Courtesy of Trinity Episcopal Church)

The stone indicates Pollitz died at age 19 on Jan. 7, 1863, in New Bern, N.C. The immigrant was serving with the 44th Massachusetts Infantry, a militia unit, and died following a brief illness. Before he enlisted, the young man served as Trinity’s first Sunday school superintendent.

An expert used a radar device that pinpointed an area that likely held a coffin. The church decided to leave the soldier’s grave alone. “Why disturb it? There is no need to,” said church member Karl Hansen.

The headstone was removed; church leaders are trying to determine where to place it in the nave.

(Courtesy of Trinity Episcopal Church)
According to a June 1914 article in the The New York Times, a dying Pollitz asked comrades to ensure his body was sent to Roslyn, where it was to lie in the shadow of the belfry. “With his army pay he had bought a bell as a gift to the parish, and its arrival and his death were so close together that it was tolled for the first time at his funeral,” the article said.

For decades, the instrument has rested on a stand inside the church, an affixed plaque indicating the soldier’s grave lies beneath the church.

The congregation will dedicate Pollitz’s final resting place following Sunday services. The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War will conduct a ceremony. A new plaque marks the spot on the floor under which Pollitz rests.

“He was a member of the church over 100 years ago,” Hansen told the Picket. “He was a founding member. He was a soldier, a veteran. … He served his country.”

Young soldier died during wave of illness

The Pollitz family immigrated from Northern Island in the 1840s. Otto, the patriarch, built two houses and raised his family, according to a local history. The boy taught Sunday school for the Episcopal congregation in Roslyn starting in 1859, a decade before Trinity parish was founded, according to a recent article by the Episcopal News Service.

The congregation worshipped in a chapel, a “dream come true” for Pollitz, according to a 2007 church newsletter.

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

A history of the 44th Massachusetts detailed disease and illness that stalked the troops during campaigning and at their quarters: Dysentery, malaria, dysentery and meningitis, among others. It recounts the loss of several soldiers, including Pollitz, who served in Company F and died on Jan. 7, 1863.

Construction last summer (Trinity Episcopal Church)
“Having been previously well, he came in from guard in the morning, was sent to the hospital, and died the same afternoon. This sudden fatality naturally produced much consternation in the regiment. Quinine rations were issued as a prophylactic measure, and Surgeon Ware was untiring in his efforts to determine the cause of the epidemic.”

The surgeon said barracks were built near a fetid swamp. Losses to a “fever” accounted for 12 deaths over two months. The New York Times said Pollitz died of “camp fever.” Church members believe it may have been dysentery.

His remains were sent north to Long Island. “Shortly after his burial, February 1, 1863, the bell was taken down and another put in its place. John Pollitz’s bell was inverted, filled with dirt and flowers, and stood by his grave for many years,” the church newsletter states.

The Pollitz grave rests under this new floor marker (Trinity Episcopal Church)
During its brief time in service, Pollitz’ bell was “sweet in tone,” The Times article said. But it was lowered when it gave out a note that indicated it was damaged.

In 1914, the bell was moved and restored after church officials discovered the grave under that floor while investigating a break in the foundation walls, according to The Times. The congregation for 100 years following had only a general sense of the grave’s location.

There was a surprise concerning the bell: “It was struck with a sledge hammer and gave out a sweet, pure, true tone. The conclusion what that is must have been the missing clapper that had been cracked.”

(Courtesy of Trinity Episcopal Church)
Remembering a parish hero

Today, Trinity Episcopal church sees 40 to 50 parishioners and visitors on Sundays, well below the hundreds that attended a half century ago. But members keep true to their calling and remember the generations that worshipped there before.

“It is considered Gatsby country,” Callahan told the Picket, making a reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Part of the novel refers to "West Egg" and "East Egg" with one setting in Great Neck, not far from Roslyn.

The area is hilly and wooded, with mansions perched next to Hempstead and Manhasset bays.

The Rev. Clark with the Pollitz marker
The Rev. Margaret Peckham Clark took a new assignment recently and supply priests are serving the congregation for the time being.

Neither Hansen nor Callahan are aware of any Pollitz descendants living in the area.

Clark termed Pollitz a child of the parish, according to Callahan.

The grave has “never been recognized or honored in the modern day. We are taking this opportunity to honor his service.”

Update: Read about the June 2 ceremony: 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Canoe trip next month will take in Virginia Civil War sites

National Park Service historian Greg Mertz will be the guide on the third annual Friends of the Wilderness Civil War canoe trip on June 22. His narration will bring to life such historical figures as Stonewall Jackson, George Armstrong Custer and J.E.B. Stuart during the day-long tour of Civil War sites, some inaccessible by land, along Virginia’s Rapidan River, according to the organization. Participation is limited and the fundraising event costs $50 per person. • Article

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Artifacts are now interpreted at Alabama tavern museum

Employees with the city's Arts and Museums Department in Florence, Ala., have been getting Pope's Tavern Museum ready to reopen in JuneThere have been numerous changes taking place, from repairs and upgrades to using the museum's various artifacts in a whole new way. Pope's Tavern is believed to have served a variety of purposes over time, from stagecoach stop to a hospital used for both Union and Confederate soldiers. The diary of Sally Independence Foster sheds new light on the events of the Civil War from a child's perspective. "She was 12 years old when the war started, so we see a young person's account of the war, and it's just fascinating," said Libby Jordan with the department. "We have pulled several of her quotes to place in some of these panels to make it feel a little more real." • Article

Sunday, May 5, 2019

At the Smithsonian: Bullet-riddled tree stump, Sherman's campaign hat, Mosby's cavalry jacket -- and more

I paid a very brief visit last week to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War” exhibit on the third floor includes some incredible Civil War artifacts. The following descriptions of items I photographed are based on the Smithsonian's online guide:

(Civil War Picket photos)
“Spotsylvania Stump”: On May 12, 1864, the combined fire of Union and Confederate guns near the "Bloody Angle" at the Battle of Spotsylvania managed to annihilate this oak tree, leaving a bullet-riddled stump. The same fury of bullets that cut down 2,000 combatants tore away the 22-inch tree trunk. Several conical bullets are still deeply embedded in the wood. Grant attacked Lee’s stout defenses at Spotsylvania repeatedly. The Union attack at the Mule Shoe faltered after 20 hours of explosive mayhem, which reduced the tree to a nub, surrounded by piles of bodies. 

Zouave uniform (below): 5th New York Volunteer Infantry (Duryee’s Zouaves), 1861. It consists of a distinctive jacket, vest, sash, baggy trousers and fez. The Zouave uniform adopted on both sides by many volunteer units during the first year of the Civil War was based on that of the elite battalion of the French army, whose dashing appearance matched its fighting abilities.

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman campaign hat: Officers wore many types of hats, more often non-regulation than regulation. The hat is made of gray felt and has a gold general officer's hat cord as prescribed in the 1858 regulations for general officers; also in keeping with the regulations is a gold-embroidered wreath, encircling the letters "U.S." embroidered in silver, on a black-velvet patch sewn onto the front of the crown.

John Singleton Mosby’s cavalry jacket and hat: This double-breasted wool shell jacket (left) is adorned with brass muffin buttons. The gray felt slouch hat is trimmed with grosgrain ribbon. This hat was worn by the Confederate officer when he was wounded by Federal cavalry in December 1864. The hat, left behind at a home in Virginia, was returned to Mosby -- also known as the "Gray Ghost" -- years later. He later gave it to the president.

Union infantry uniform: 
This wool fatigue jacket with a roll-down collar is matched with light blue Kersey cloth trousers. The set includes a shoulder belt, cartridge box, a percussion cap box, bayonet and canteen.

Confederate infantry uniform: Gray wool frock coat with black facings and gold-colored buttons. Black leather belt with brass CS belt plate. Leather cartridge box and bayonet scabbard. Buff slouch hat. Sky blue trousers.

Col. Vincent sword beneath Confederate shell jacket
Zouave uniform, Sherman hat, recruiting posters (click to enlarge)
Col. Strong Vincent’s sword: A Confederate shell jacket is a backdrop to this Model 1850 weapon used by the Federal officer at Gettysburg. The Union saw the value of securing a rocky outcropping called Little Round Top. Vincent seized the opportunity, taking the boulder and brandishing his wife’s riding crop as he yelled to his men, “Don’t give an inch.” As he uttered the words, a bullet tore through his thigh and lodged in his body. The line held, but Vincent was mortally wounded. He lingered for five days before succumbing to his wound.