Thursday, December 26, 2019

2019's top 10 Picket posts: Boy's diary, stirrup found at POW site, Hunley, USS Monitor, stolen guns and the Atlanta Cyclorama

A Georgia boy who wrote a fascinating wartime diary, a cool archaeological find, ironclads and a soldier’s grave lying beneath a Long Island church were among the most popular Picket posts in 2019.

We’ve got a few items in the works, so we look forward to rolling those and others out soon. Thanks so much for your interest – and Happy 2020!

Stolen Henry repeating rifle (Harrisburg police)
10. MUSEUM HEIST UNSOLVED:  A reward for information leading to the recovery of guns taken from the National Civil War Museum in February 2016 was increased earlier this year. The Henry repeating rifle and two revolvers were presented to Simon Cameron, Abraham Lincoln's secretary of war from March 5, 1861, to Jan. 14, 1862. The guns had not been recovered as of this week. • Read more

9. USS MONITOR’S ROOF: Crews using hydraulic lifts 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. • Read more

Enfields at Sweetwater Creek State Park in Georgia
8. ENFIELD RIFLES STILL IN AQUARIUM TANK:  A crate of 20 British-made Enfield rifles that never made it into the hands of Confederate soldiers has remained in water ever since it was pulled from the wreckage of the blockade runner CSS Stono in the late 1980s. The rifles themselves are in great shape, as far as the wood goes. The remnants of the wooden crate holding them and its metal lining have not fared so well. • Read more

Leroy Wiley Gresham (LOC)
7. LEROY WILEY GRESHAM: He kept a compelling diary during the Civil War. The Macon, Ga., boy detailed daily life, what the family ate, the weather and what he gleaned from newspapers. This year, the final resting place for Gresham, who died at just 17, got a little TLC. • Read more

6. UNIQUE IRONCLAD FANTAIL: A Georgia museum is raising money to conserve the precisely built curved rear deck, or fantail, of the Confederate ironclad CSS Jackson. The section of armor and wood, which protected the vessel’s propellers and rudder, is a remarkable example of design and construction prowess. • Read more

(Trinity Episcopal)
5. GRAVE LIES BENEATH CHURCH: A Long Island, N.Y., church rededicated 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.. • Read more

4. HUNLEY MYSTERY:  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. • Read more

3. BULLET AND BATON ROUGE:  A 2018 Picket article  resonated with readers curious about a Civil War bullet that was found during the renovation of a church ball field in the Louisiana capital. I decided to check back to see whether there has been anything gleaned about its origin. • Read more

Restored Cyclorama detail (Atlanta History Center)
2. REBRANDED ATLANTA CYCLORAMA REOPENS: Seventeen men who created the colossal painting would be pleased it is still around and presented the way they intended. The artists likely could not have anticipated how the painting would be misinterpreted and its message spun over the years. • Read more

(Camp Lawton Project/ GSU)
1. “OUT OF THE BLUE” FIND: A stirrup likely used on a Confederate horse is a surprise find during excavations at the Camp Lawton prison site in Georgia. Project director Dr. Ryan McNutt said a pretty good chunk of metal remains in the rusted stirrup, which he estimates weighs about a half pound. He did not find any evidence of surviving leather and does not know why it may have been discarded. • Read more

Thursday, December 19, 2019

In hindsight, this failed Confederate breech-loading gun may have been a bit ahead of its time (or improved technology)

Firing mechanism of Columbus breech loader (Picket photos)
The road to innovation is lined, shall we say, with disappointments.

A double-barreled cannon on outdoor display in Athens, Ga., is one such example. Its inventor hoped to convince the Confederate army that the two rounds, joined by a chain, would mow down infantry and cause chaos.

It did cause chaos. Test-fired in April 1862 in the early months of the Civil War, the gun turned out to be a flop. On one try, the chain holding the two rounds broke -- with one ball hitting a chimney and another killing a cow, according to observers. Another firing resulted in the rounds going off-center and plowing “up about an acre of ground, tore up a cornfield, mowed down saplings, and then the chain broke, the two balls going in different directions.”

About a year later and 140 miles to the southwest, innovators at the Columbus Iron Works on the banks of the Chattahoochee River were experimenting with another relative oddity at the time: breech-loading artillery.

Manufacturers in Europe were trying their hand with such technology, including production of the Whitworth, an English rifled gun that saw limited use during the Civil War. Benefits of such guns included protection for the crew by being behind the weapon, accuracy of fire and faster reloading. Southern breech-loading guns included the Williams and Hughes models.

Designers and craftsmen at the Columbus Iron Works, a large war materials, steam engine, iron cladding and artillery manufacturer for the South, decided to build and test a breech loader.

According to its history, the Columbus piece was designed by engineer and steamboat Capt. W.J. McAlister and Freeman C. Stewart, who worked for the iron works, which was then under command of the Rebel navy.

Prior to the war, some 200 steamboats traveled between Columbus south and the river’s exit in the Florida Panhandle, carrying cotton, crops and other items. Like other captains, McAlister lived near the riverfront and main wharf.

The barrel was fashioned from the wheel shaft of the steamer John C. Calhoun, which had its own misfortunate history. In 1860, its boilers exploded and the mail vessel caught fire, sinking near Ridleyville, Fla. At least one man died and others suffered horrible burns.

A 1978 article in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer newspaper gave a brief description of how McAlister and Stewart fared in 1863.

The lathe work on the gun was done by Jacob G. Burrus. His sibling, George, paid a visit to the site, which was close to a naval yard.

"On a visit to my brother at the Columbus Iron Works, I found him engaged at the lathe turning the gun. When completed, it was tested three times, but the recoil broke the stirrup through which the breech screws passed for holding the breech plug in place.

"It was finally pronounced a failure. The federal raiders broke off a trunnion to prevent its further use. But it did service as a corner post at Springer's corner."

At this time in their development, breech loaders were fickle and presented some challenges.

An article in Wikipedia says: “The major problem to be solved with breech-loading artillery was obturation: the sealing of the breech after firing to ensure that none of the gases generated by the burning of the propellant (initially gunpowder) escaped rearwards through the breech. This was both a safety issue and one of gun performance – all the propellant gas was needed to accelerate the projectile along the barrel.

“The second problem was speed of operation – how to close the breech before firing and open it after firing as quickly as possible, consistent with safety.”

Eventually, designers came up with ways to create a safe seal and mechanisms that made the technology work. Along, the way they perfected what became forerunners of modern artillery. This Encyclopedia Brittanica article details how changes were made to improve breech-loading artillery, including increasing the strength of certain parts of the barrel to handle the pressure from firing of the weapon.

Today, the iron works gun sits outside the Columbus Museum on Wynnton Road. A sign affixed to its stand calls it “the first breech loading cannon.” It notes that Federal Wilson’s Raiders broke the trunnion when they took the city in April 1865.

(Picket photos)
The website for an auction house that sold a small replica outlined the concept: “This gun has a simplistic ingenious swiveling strap breech that allows easy access to bore for projectile and powder bag. Strap is then returned to position and screw is turned which closes breech, then friction primer is positioned through breech seal for firing.”

The Columbus Museum’s website says: “The breech-loading cannon is a testament to Columbus residents’ ingenuity and innovation in time of war.” It notes the North did not develop such a weapon, instead using a few imported Whitworths.

What became of the investors of the Columbus breech-loader? I have had no luck on McAlister, but Freeman died in February 1908 at age 77. He was superintendent of the Columbus Iron Works for 30 years after the war.

The W.C. Bradley Co. donated the cannon to the museum in 2016.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Richmond considers monument for black Union soldiers

An effort is being made in Virginia to honor unheralded black soldiers who fought in the Civil War. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Saturday that a group called the Honor the 14 Foundation is behind the push. It aims to memorialize 14 Medal of Honor recipients from a black regiment of the Union Army. • Article

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Who killed Tom Cobb? The Georgia general fell at Fredericksburg, but was it from artillery shrapnel, a sniper -- or fragging? These 8th graders were determined to find out

Cobb's and Kershaw's troops at the stone wall (Library of Congress)
This much is indisputable: On Dec. 13, 1862, Confederate Brig. Gen. Thomas R.R. Cobb bled out after he was wounded while leading his men along Fredericksburg’s Sunken Road.

“I am only wounded boys,” said the 39-year-old Georgia officer as he was rushed to a field hospital. “Hold your ground like brave men.” Hit within sight of where his mother was born, Cobb was dead shortly after he received medical care.

What is debated is how he was wounded and by whom. Most historians – including staffers at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia -- attribute the ghastly wound to shrapnel from a Federal artillery shell. Brig. Gen. Joseph Kershaw and Col. E.P. Alexander, however, reported that Cobb was felled by a sharpshooter.

Nearly 40 years would pass before a zinger of a claim came to light. In 1901, a veteran of the war told the Marietta (Ga.) Journal that a member of Phillips Legion, commanded during the battle by Cobb, killed the general in retribution for an incident that occurred weeks before the battle.

T.R.R. Cobb (NPS photo)
Gen. Cobb, whom contemporaries said had a promising military career ahead, was fragged by one of his men?

The revenge story is mentioned in the book To Honor These Men: A History of the Phillips Georgia Legion Infantry Battalion.” It’s occasionally discussed in Civil War forums.

John Hennessy, chief historian and chief of interpretation at Fredericksburg, isn’t buying it. He and Eric Mink, also with the park, cite sources of information, including from J.H. Lumpkin, Cobb’s father-in-law, to show he died from shrapnel.

“I think the evidence is clear that he was not wounded by his own men,” Hennessy said this week.

The fragging theory was the subject of a summer 2017 article in the magazine of the Watson-Brown Foundation, which operates the T.R.R. Cobb House in Athens, Ga.

Sam Thomas, curator at the home, wrote of all three theories, and left the debate a little open. So he and home’s staff decided to throw the whodunit to a group that would have no bias or prejudice – a class of eighth-graders.

“I was watching an episode of ‘Law and Order’ one night,” Thomas told the Picket. “This is kind of like the death of Tom Cobb. You have several men claim they saw him killed but there is nothing definitive. What if we do an investigation into his death?

The “Who Killed Tom Cobb?” project was on.

From politician to military officer

Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb came from a prominent slaveholding family. Cobb was an ardent secessionist and he and his brother, Howell, were well-known on the political stage in the years leading up to Fort Sumter.

Thomas Cobb’s “An Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America” was a rigorous defense of the institution and presented racist views of African Americans. Cobb was a professor, lawyer, author and helped write the Confederate constitution. 

Within months of secession, he turned toward military service and formed Cobb’s Legion. He led the regiment in Virginia and Maryland, but felt Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee were not treating him fairly.

Cobb was keen for promotion and equally paranoid of people seeking to undermine him. He felt that General Lee condescended to him and his political enemies were withholding his promotion,” the National Park Service says. “Unknown to Cobb, Lee personally recommended him for promotion, and on November 1, 1862, Cobb rose to the rank of Brigadier General within James Longstreet's Corps.

T.R.R. Cobb's home in Athens, Ga., is open to the public.
'Glorious light went out forever'

Just over a month later, Cobb was at the center of the maelstrom at Fredericksburg – the Sunken Road, which was bordered by a stone wall and just below Marye’s Heights.

“His men successfully repulsed repeated Union assaults on their position throughout the day on December 13, the park says on its website. “Between the first and second major wave of attacks against the Confederate position, Cobb was hit with shrapnel and mortally wounded. He had been standing behind the Stephens House when an artillery shell exploded through the house.”

In the book, “The Gallant Dead: Union and Confederate Generals Killed in the Civil War,” Derek Smith cites both the shrapnel and sniper accounts.

“However it was sustained, the general’s wound was severe. The projectile had ripped his left thigh, shattering bone and slicing the femoral artery,” Smith writes. A chaplain accompanied the semiconscious Cobb to the rear and said, “He could not be aroused, and soon the glorious light went out forever.”

Old soldier details incident at the creek

In their Mercer University Press book about Phillips Legion, Richard Coffman and Kurt Graham include details of the 1901 Marietta Journal article entitled, “Who Killed General Cobb?”

An unnamed veteran of Phillips Legion told the paper that Cobb had confronted him and a soldier named Sam during a march. They had dropped out to fill canteens at a creek and Cobb ordered them to empty them, the article.

The newspaper article says: “This Confederate soldier noted for his courage, told General Cobb he wouldn’t do it. General Cobb drew his sword and told him he would use it on him if he didn’t obey. The Confederate soldier replied to ‘use it.’ General Cobb put up the sword, drew his pistol and rode up to the defying soldier and said, ‘If you don’t pour that water out of that canteen at once, I will shoot your head off.’

“The soldier madly replied, ‘Sir you can kill me, but you can’t scare me. I will not pour out the water. Now shoot me.’ … General Cobb put up his pistol and rode off. The Confederate soldier called out to him, ‘I will kill you the first opportunity I get.’”

(In his 2017 article, Thomas, of the Cobb House, said the general wrote to his wife in late October 1862 that he had had problems with stragglers.)

The 1901 article continued: “At the battle of Fredericksburg, this gentleman tells us that he and another Confederate soldier were sent back to the rear to get some ammunition.” They saw Cobb ride up, a shot rang out near where Phillip’s Legion was in line, and Cobb fell from his horse, according to the account.

“This old Confederate soldier, on returning to the ranks, accosted the soldier who had threatened General Cobb’s life and asked, ‘Sam, did you shoot General Cobb?’ ‘Well, I got him.’ Shortly after that Sam was shot by a Federal through the breast and was placed in the hospital. This old Confederate soldier went to see him and said, ‘Sam, you are going to die and I want you to tell me did you kill General Cobb?’ He replied, “I did. I always do what I say I will.’ The man died, and in the ‘great beyond’ the private and general met face to face, the avenger and the victim.”

Coffman and Graham identified Sam as Pvt. Samuel Drake of Company M, Phillips Legion. The soldier died on Dec. 24, 1862, and is buried in Richmond.

Other Confederate veterans fire back

The claim was immediately disputed after it was published in the newspaper. (Drake was a 28-year-old farmer from Cobb County, which is home to Marietta.)

An article in The Atlanta Journal, under the headline “General Cobb was a Gallant and Magnanimous Soldier,” quoted veterans saying they didn’t believe the story and that Cobb was kind to his troops and would not have ordered a soldier to empty his canteen. .. “The shot which caused his death was fired from a cannon of a Federal battery," the veterans said.

One veteran who wrote to reject the Drake story did say the canteen incident did occur, but that Cobb stopped the soldiers from filling them because of possibly poisoned or tainted water.

Coffman and Graham wrote: “One question that troubled us is why the old legion veteran would come forward in 1901 to relate such a story if it were not true. It is hard to believe that he could have anticipated it would bring him any great acclaim, as Cobb had, by then, become an icon of the Lost Cause."

8th graders weigh in on debate

Bear Creek Middle School students at Cobb House
Earlier this year, and after a first session at their school, the Cobb House invited a class of middle schoolers from Bear Creek MIddle School in Barrow County to come to Athens. They broke into teams and examined the death theories. They worked from a map, personal accounts, a painting, photographs and other papers.

“What we were teaching kids was primary documents,” Thomas said. “A lot of what you get from these generals' reports was second-hand.”

Their school teacher, David Kendrick (right in photo), handed out certain bits of information as the students did their research. “They weren’t given everything at one time. Sort of like a murder investigation goes,” said the curator.

Was Cobb hit by artillery from a Rhode Island unit? Was he hit by a bullet fired from a member of the charging 116th Pennsylvania (Irish Brigade) or by an Ohio sharpshooter? And what about Sam Drake?

Their findings? “Half of them wanted the fragging (scenario) and half was sharpshooters," said Thomas.

They presented to a local historian, an archivist with the University of Georgia and Vince Dooley, the legendary Bulldogs football coach and a Civil War enthusiast. The children asked questions of other groups and the discussion was spirited, Thomas said.

Evidence for an artillery round

Gen. Cobb (Library of Congress)
Hennessy, with the National Park Service, said he found two accounts supporting the shrapnel theory to be believable.

One was written on Dec. 30, 1862, by J.H. Lumpkin, Cobb’s father-in-law, to a daughter. “While he was not present at Fredericksburg, he writes with some knowledge of the condition of the body,” the park historian said.

Lumpkin described the shell exploding outside the Stephens house, the fragment hitting his son-in-law above the knee, the removal of the general from the field, the cause of death and the funeral in Athens, Ga.

An 1897 article written by Confederate veterans H.D.D. Twiggs, who was not present at the battle, provides a detailed description of Cobb’s wounds. He cited Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws’ and others’ memory of that day.

“(Cobb) sustained a compound, comminuted fracture of the thigh bone. The bone was completely shivered and the wound terrible. I was informed by members of his staff that after he was struck, he sank into collapse from the shock and that amputation was impracticable,” Twiggs wrote, adding the wound could not have come from a musket ball.

Twiggs was in Richmond when the general’s body arrived on its way to Georgia. He provided this graphic description:

“The broken leg could be moved in any direction, or even doubled upon itself, so complete was the fracture, and I, myself, kept it straight, by holding it in place. From the character of this terrible wound, I was not at all surprised at the shock which so soon resulted in death. The members of his staff told me at the time, that the fracture was produced by the large fragment of a shrapnel shell, which struck the ground, ricocheted and exploded immediately in front of the general, and I have no doubt from the nature of the wound of the accuracy of this statement.”

Fredericksburg battle map used by students (Courtesy of TRR Cobb House)
Back in 1995, David Preston, now a history professor at The Citadel on Charleston, S.C., wrote in the Civil War Regiments journal that Cobb was hit by artillery shrapnel.

It has been a while since I have examined the evidence, but I definitely recall this story about the fratricide and dismissed it,” Preston wrote to the Picket in May 2020.

It all boils down to this: Do we trust a single letter written in 1901, or do we trust the huge preponderance of evidence (including eyewitnesses!) from December 1862? As I pointed out in my essay, no contemporary source supports Cobb being wounded by another Confederate or being wounded by a musket shot (with the sole exception of Kershaw's report -- but Kershaw admitted that he was only reporting something he had heard second-hand).

With these accounts, it seems, so much for the fragging theory.

What does Thomas of the Cobb House think?

He agrees with the shrapnel theory. The 1901 newspaper article, he said, is the earliest reference to the homicide story. “It doesn’t hold up under a lot of scrutiny.”

“Sam Drake is also the only one in the company who died in that battle. That seemed to be coincidental.”


Addendum: A reader of this post (see 2021 comment below) cited an historical society page about Charles Lyman of the 14th Connecticut. It contends Lyman claimed he hit Cobb with a rifle shot. In December 2022, I asked John Hennessy, now retired from the park service, about this. Here is Hennessy's response:

Whenever a general died on the field, opponents rushed to claim credit. I do believe this is the first individual claim to killing Cobb that I have seen. In the mayhem that was the Bloody Plain -- the 14th CT attached at the climax of it all -- it's virtually impossible that any US soldier could have known he killed Cobb. We have probably two dozen such claims for wounding Jackson at Chancellorsville. I confess that absent some corroboration, I reject or at least set aside claims like this. Is it possible? Sure. Is it likely? Not at all.  

Monday, December 9, 2019

Near covered bridge in suburban Atlanta, archaeologists to seek evidence of Battle of Ruff's Mill, tell stories of soldiers and civilians

Historic covered bridge on Concord Road (Georgia Battlefields Association)
Artifacts collected by Philip Ivester (Courtesy of Brian Hall Photography)

Philip Ivester’s interest in his neighborhood’s history and a collection of Civil War bullets and other relics he’s found on his property are the spark for an upcoming effort to research and locate evidence of the Battle of Ruff’s Mill, an overlooked clash during the Atlanta Campaign.

The National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program has awarded The Lamar Institute, a nonprofit archaeological group, a $96,000 grant to document the boundaries and features of the July 4, 1864, battle. The institute applied for the grant after Ivester contacted them and showed the artifacts.

“As one of over 30 strategic battles in reaction to Union flanking maneuvers and Confederate defensive fighting, the Battle of Ruff’s Mill represents these important linchpin battles resulting in the fall of Atlanta,” said Rita Elliott, education coordinator for the Savannah-based institute.

“Few of these battles have been studied archaeologically; however, and many have been destroyed, making the Battle of Ruff's Mill Project additionally important to interpreting the big picture of the Civil War, through a localized lens,” she said.

Recent public meeting on the Ruff's Mill project (Courtesy of Philip Ivester)

The Battle of Ruff’s Mill (Nickajack Creek) occurred in what is now the Concord Covered Bridge Historic District near Smyrna, Ga, about 15 miles northwest of Atlanta.

Elliott told the Picket the project’s aims include identifying specific areas of fighting, any remaining earthen works, and learning more about those involved with or affected by the battle, including enslaved African Americans who built defenses for the Confederate army.

Although there are many homes and roads covering the rustic area, county officials hope the effort “will empower the community in its education and preservation efforts.

Charlie Crawford, president of the Georgia Battlefields Association, says Ruff’s Mill has gotten little attention because it was a brief incident between much more notable events -- namely the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (June 27) several miles north and the crossing of the Chattahoochee River by Federal forces (July 9) to the southeast.

Click map to see July 3-4 lines (Courtesy of GBA)
After his army had repulsed Union Gen. William T. Sherman at Kennesaw Mountain, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston once again had to resort to delaying tactics and a slow retreat toward Atlanta. “Johnston occupied the Smyrna Line principally to buy time for his wagons to retreat behind the Chattahoochee, and he did not intend to hold the line once that was accomplished,” said Crawford.

On July 4, 1864, Brig. Gen. John Fuller’s brigade with the 16th Corps, supported by Sweeney’s division, attacked works held by Rebels in Hood’s command. “The Southerners fell back and dug in. Union casualties in this action totaled 140 killed and wounded. Confederate losses are not reported,” writes historian and author Stephen Davis.

That night, Johnston withdrew troops to their next position, even closer to the Chattahoochee.

Perhaps the best-known participant at Ruff’s Mill was Colonel Edward Noyes of the 39th Ohio. The future governor was wounded in the left ankle and subsequently lost his lower leg to amputation.  

Because the line was built and held so briefly, Crawford doesn’t expect researchers to find as much physical evidence of the battle as they might at other Atlanta Campaign sites.

“I expect (the) team will find more artifacts and perhaps some less obvious fortification sites,” said Crawford, whose group supported the awarding of the grant. “While there are accounts of the fighting from some of the participants, the project may better define the boundaries of the engagements.”

Ruins of the Concord Woolen Mills (Georgia Battlefields Assocation)

The Concord Woolen Mill ruins are the best-known artifact in the Concord Covered Bridge Historic District, which has a robust website explaining the neighborhood’s Civil War ties.

“I hope we get a better understanding of what took place in our part of Cobb County during the war. It is fascinating to see what modern archaeology can glean about events that took place so long ago,” Ivester told the Picket.

He said much of the fighting at Ruff’s Mill was in the area of Heritage Park, a passive park with hiking trails. The popular Silver Comet Trail brings tens of thousands of walkers and bicyclists through the park each year. The project could provide an excellent opportunity to educate them about the Civil War.

The Lamar Institute is conducting battle research now and will be during its principal archaeological work in April, followed by a report for the county and a video. Elliott stresses the importance of community involvement.

She told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution that the team will work on public land and seek written permission to go on private property. Residents will be asked to allow them to photograph and catalog artifacts and to share any information about the battle they’ve collected on their own.

“As far as preservation of private property goes, I think it is enough to educate landowners on what they have, and let that influence their future decisions,” said Ivester. “It is important to have landowner participation, and some owners might be reluctant if they thought it would have a negative impact on the financial value of their property down the road. I see this information as adding to the value of the land.”

Ivester stressed individuals not from the area should not do any metal detecting; the land is either privately owned or belongs to Cobb County.

A myriad of groups and landowners will be following or involved in the work.

Edward Noyes lost his lower leg
In a Cobb County press release last week, District 4 Commissioner Lisa Cupid said: “While Cobb County residents appreciate and preserve their history, they cannot preserve something until it becomes tangible and locatable,” Cupid said. “This project fulfills the need to locate and identify the battlefield and its related resources, and share the information about its significance with the community so that residents and policymakers can address the battlefield’s preservation and interpretation for the public.”

The Picket had a number of questions for Elliott with The Lamar Institute. Her emailed responses are edited for brevity.

Q. What are you hoping results from the project? Preservation or interpretation?

A. There are multiple goals for the project:

1. Locate the battle, define its boundaries, identify specific activity areas within the battlefield, and identify associated defenses and offensive works;
2. Use extensive historical research of documents and maps to uncover significant detail about the battle and its troops and develop a context for it within the broader war;
3. Identify those involved (on an individual and group level) in not only the battle, but in activities and events before and after, including African-American and white men, women, and children;
4. Collaborate with various members of the community in many phases of the project in ways the community finds beneficial;
5. Share information uncovered and derived from the project with the local community as well as the broader public;
6. Encourage this information to be used by the community to interpret all facets of its past (in K-12 and college curricula and educational programs, interpretive signage in parks, trails and other green spaces, museum exhibits, on the internet, and in public programming); and to preserve portions of the site when possible.

Public meeting on the project (Courtesy of Dan Elliott)

Q. What evidence of the battle is known to exist?

A. Physical evidence likely associated with the battle currently consists of artifacts collected from the area by local landowners as well as non-local relic collectors. Documentary evidence of the battle exists most extensively in Union records, such as military records and order books, maps, and private letters. 

Q. You mentioned to The AJC you want to learn more about people who lived in the area at the time of the battle. Why is that important and what is known about them now?

A. The battle itself reflects military history -- military strategy, warfare techniques, the movement of armies, men, munitions and supplies, and wins and losses. We know about the major generals and other officers involved in the decision-making and the actual battles.

Traditional military history; however, has tended to exclude other aspects of war, including the human face of it. We know that the miles of river line defenses, shoupades and other defenses were constructed in large part by enslaved African Americans. Yet most histories rarely address this important role of African Americans in the Civil War, nor their social history on an individual level within this enforced enterprise. Likewise, women of both races played important roles in the war and were impacted by it in many different ways. Their roles are usually treated superficially, if at all, in military histories.

Click map of several Civil War clashes in Cobb County (ABPP)

And finally, there are the children. They are almost universally ignored, in spite of the fact that they may have been the most affected by war. Children also participated in the war, not the least as drummer boys and even soldiers. This project seeks to illuminate both the specific military history of the Battle of Ruff's Mill and the more elusive civilian, human history of the battle in what is to date, America's most horrific conflict.

Q. Any other thoughts on what the institute will bring to the work?

A. The Lamar Institute has received seven National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program grants over the years, been involved in an additional five with other organizations, and worked on numerous other conflict archaeology sites. Like these, the Ruff's Mill Battle Project is a scientific study that will incorporate historical research, ground-penetrating radar, and controlled metal detection survey to document the exact GPS location of every battle-related artifact.

(Courtesy of Georgia Battlefields Assocation)
Such methodology will allow us not only to find artifacts, but to uncover their complete story, including what their locations tell us about troop movements, skirmishes, and other important details within the battlefield. We will complete a comprehensive report of our research, discoveries, interpretations, and data and make this available to Cobb County and to the public.

Cobb County and many of its residents have already shown a great interest in the project.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Here's why some Civil War soldiers dyed hair for photographs

New research suggests soldiers off the battlefield during the Civil War still made time for a wee bit of vanity. Archaeological excavations at Camp Nelson  -- a former Union outpost in central Kentucky -- have unearthed broken bottles that once held hair dye likely used to darken light-toned locks that might otherwise wash out as gray or white in photographs, reports, the Lexington Herald-Leader. • Article