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.”


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)

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Sons of Union Veterans honoring man for restoring Mass. graves

Gordon Shepard is being recognized by a national Civil War descendants’ organization for his restoration of Union graves. Shepard, a U.S. Army veteran, completed a restoration project on the Civil War section of Riverside Cemetery in Saugus, Mass., in April. The plaques in the Civil War section were mismatched. Some were taller than others and almost all of them differed in style and font. Shepard found one that was legible and used a combination of the different styles, and used the stone as a model when he recreated the markers. Shepard found an old picture of the monument and learned that two small ledges once held stacks of cannonballs. He reached out to another veteran volunteer, Nick Milo, who helped him replace them with stacks of granite balls. • Article