Saturday, February 29, 2020

Every artifact has a story: Kepi worn by Georgia officer who fell near Kennesaw will get much-needed preservation work, go on display

Kepi worn by Capt. George Burch of the 29th Georgia
Wear, damage in kepi's interior (Photos: Kennesaw Mountain NBP)
An officer's kepi has been in storage for decades at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, too fragile to go on public view. The cap's interior -- from its leather and lining to delicate silk -- has deteriorated since the Civil War to the point of being a pile of fabric. Small holes perforate the woolen exterior and the stitching connecting the brim to cap is loose, allowing for partial separation.

But the kepi, which belonged to Capt. George Tilley Burch of Company I, 29th Georgia Infantry, will soon receive new life. The park near Atlanta recently received an $8,000 donation from the Artist Preservation Group to have the item – considered to be in poor condition -- sent off for conservation and preservation treatments.

“Each item has a story,” park ranger and curator Amanda Corman says of Kennesaw’s artifact collection.

This kepi certainly has a story. Burch, 23, likely wore it during the Atlanta Campaign, which for him, ended in a charge on Union entrenchments at Pine Mountain near Kennesaw Mountain. He got within 30 feet of enemy lines before he was shot through both knees on June 14 or 15, 1864. He was taken to City Hall Hospital in Atlanta.

"He lingered four weeks, during which time his sufferings were frequently excruciating, but the Christian grace which sustained him on that bed of languishing far outshone his heroism on the battlefield," said this obituary, which noted the officer’s last words were, “I am willing to die, I am willing to die.” He passed away on July 13.

(Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefied Park)
According to documents kept by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, Burch was a graduate of central Georgia’s Mercer College – the class of 1861 had lost eight members in battle by summer 1864 -- joined the Confederate army in Savannah in August or September 1861 and fought in Mississippi and Georgia. He was elected captain in May 1862.

“In his disposition he was most affectionate, gentle in his manner, firm in action, incorrupt in principle, and pure in spirit," Burch's obituary reads.

A broadside sheet created as a memoriam extolled his valor and belief in Southern patriotism. It describes his peers’ admiration for Burch’s leadership, faith and his strict “but ever just” demeanor.

While a junior officer, Burch was in command of the 29th when it made its assault near Pine Mountain.

“In that fatal charge he was among the foremost and scorned to screen himself the hated foe, preferring rather to face them bravely in death, rather than cower and tremble before their approach,” the memoriam recounts. The 29th Infantry fought until war's end -- through the Atlanta Campaign, Hood's winter operations in Tennessee and at the Battle of Bentonville, N.C., in March 1865.

Amanda Corman, members of Artist Preservation Group (NPS photo)
Burch’s kepi has been in the park’s collection since 1978, when it was donated by a nonfamily member, Corman told the Picket.

The Artist Preservation Group recently had their annual conference in Marietta, not far from the park. “They will reach out to various organizations they want to assist.”

Corman felt Burch’s kepi, which apparently was crafted for him in Savannah, was a good candidate. 

Even though the work to preserve it has been immense, after 155 years it shows some major signs of deterioration,” the park said on a Facebook page. It’s been stored in a humidity-controlled environment, not exposed to UV light.

Corman believes most of the damage and wear occurred before donation.

The artifact will spend about a year at the NPS Harpers Ferry Center. Museum Conservation Services will stabilize the material and make some repairs and corrections. 

While it won’t be returned to its original condition, Corman says, the park hopes to put the kepi on rotating display at its visitors center.

29th Georgia marker at Chickamauga (Library of Congress)
The Gilder Lehrman Institute collection on Burch includes a letter from his sister to a cousin for whom he had much fondness. The officer is buried with family members in Newnan, about 40 miles southwest of Atlanta.

The park thanked Artist Preservation Group for “keeping the story of Captain George Burch alive for current and future generations.”

[Feb. 2021 update from Amanda Corman: "The kepi has been transferred to NPS Harpers Ferry Center for conservation. As you can imagine, it is an extensive process. It is estimated that the process will require a year; however, that timeframe may differ depending upon what needs to be done. Currently, I do not have a date for its return."]


  1. How do I get in touch with Kennesaw? This kepi/hat belonged to my great, great Uncle George T. Burch. My father, my brother, and my nephew were all named after him. And I think my parents donated that hat as well as his sword and powder horn. I believe there is also a sash there that he wore. Please let me know if you can help me get in contact with Kennesaw or with the Artist Preservation Group.

    1. I would appreciate being able to speak with you about this. Are you willing to speak by phone?