Tuesday, May 26, 2020

US Colored Troopers marker is installed at Ohio cemetery

A monument to black soldiers who fought in the Union Army during the Civil War was in place at a western Ohio cemetery for Memorial Day. The United States Colored Troops monument at Ferncliff Cemetery in Springfield bears the names of 139 men interred there. Dedication had been planned for Monday, but it has been postponed because of pandemic safety precautions. • Article

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Flag that was part of Lincoln funeral events is on display in Ohio

There is a new addition to the Ohio Statehouse rotunda in Columbus — a 155-year-old American flag. It is part of a display of Civil War artifacts related to the Abraham Lincoln funeral train. The 36-star flag flew over Capitol Square in April 1865. The flag was then given to David Nevin Murray for his efforts during the Civil War. • Article

Friday, May 15, 2020

At Arlington National Cemetery, an opened 1915 time capsule yields two items tied to the Civil War and national reconciliation

Caitlin Smith, Tim Frank open copper box containing capsule
"Confederate Dead" pamphlet (Arlington National Cemetery)
On Oct. 13, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson made the short journey from the White House to Arlington National Cemetery, where rows of headstones are set on the hills overlooking Washington. Surrounded by thousands of spectators – including veterans of the Civil War and Spanish-American War – Wilson laid the cornerstone for a new Memorial Amphitheater.

A crane lowered the hollow cornerstone to rest above a copper box that contained items those attending hoped Americans would find meaningful when opened a century later.

Among other items, there were maps and plans of Washington, a signed photograph of Wilson, a 46-star US flag, local newspapers, a signed Bible and two artifacts tied to the Civil War: A program for the recent 49th encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic near the U.S. Capitol and a pamphlet, labeled “Confederate Dead,” which detailed burial places for Southern soldiers in the area, including – in recent years – Arlington.

Items in amphitheater lower chapel (Elizabeth Fraser, Arlington National Cemetery)
Last month, the box was opened as part of the centennial of Memorial Amphitheater’s opening on May 15, 1920. The marble structure is used for services and special events, including the president’s annual Memorial Day address.

The cemetery is marking the amphitheater anniversary this week with the launch of an online exhibit. The Washington Post first detailed the opening of the time capsule.

Among those opening the box and examining its near-pristine contents on April 9 was cemetery historian Tim Frank, who described the “once-in-a-lifetime experience” in a cemetery blog post. The capsule included a Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia, and Frank was able to find a listing for an ancestor. 

Frank had the privilege of removing the contents of the box one by one, according to the Post. (Video above includes the examination of the items)

“These items were carefully tied, wrapped and arranged in the inner box, which was soldered shut,” he would later write in the blog. “That box was then surrounded by pieces of plate glass to keep an air gap between it and the larger copper box, ensuring that no condensation would damage the precious documents and mementos inside.”

The “Confederate Dead’ pamphlet’s cover was printed in gray, and featured the Southern battle flag and the words “Charles Broadway Rouss Camp 1101 United Confederate Veterans Washington, DC”

Removal of copper box before its opening (Elizabeth Fraser, ANC)
I was able to find a copy of the 1901 booklet online. Scattered throughout are references to and diagrams of Confederate burials at Arlington. About 400 Rebel soldiers are buried in that section.

The cemetery devotes an online page to the subject. Confederate soldiers were allowed to be reinterred at Arlington 35 years after the war’s end. The article notes the end of the 19th century brought a spirit of national reconciliation, at least for the white population.

In 1898, then-President William McKinley said, “In the spirit of fraternity we should share with you in the care of the graves of Confederate soldiers…. Sectional feeling no longer holds back the love we feel for each other. The old flag again waves over us in peace with new glories.”

President Wilson dedicates amphitheater cornerstone (Library of Congress)
The article points out that the “spirit of fraternity” cited by McKinley did not include African-Americans, who had largely been disenfranchised in the South.

“In 1871, a group of black soldiers had petitioned the War Department to relocate the graves of hundreds of United States Colored Troops (USCT) from the “Lower Cemetery,” where they were buried alongside former slaves and poor whites, to the main cemetery near Arlington House, where white Civil War veterans lay at rest. The War Department denied the petition. Arlington National Cemetery would remain segregated until 1948, when President Harry S. Truman desegregated the armed forces by executive order.”

The second Civil War item found in the capsule – which was moved a couple times since 1915 -- was a program for the Sept. 27-Oct. 2, 1915, meeting of the Grand Army of the Republic in Washington. This gathering of former Union soldiers was marking the 50th anniversary of the end of the conflict.

Tim Frank holds GAR program (Elizabeth Fraser, Arlington National Cemetery)
By then, membership in the organization had dwindled as time and wounds took the lives of tens of thousands. The succeeding Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War describes why veterans sought such fellowship, even into their 70s and 80s.

“Men who had lived together, fought together, foraged together and survived, had developed an unique bond that could not be broken. As time went by the memories of the filthy and vile environment of camp life began to be remembered less harshly and eventually fondly. The horror and gore of battle lifted with the smoke and smell of burnt black powder and was replaced with the personal rain of tears for the departed comrades. Friendships forged in battle survived the separation and the warriors missed the warmth of trusting companionship that had asked only total and absolute commitment.”

(The final encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic was held in Indianapolis in 1949.)

Ceremony at US Capitol during 1915 GAR meeting (Library of Congress)
President Wilson, just two weeks before the laying of the Memorial Amphitheater cornerstone, spoke to the group during its Capitol encampment, citing their reconciliation with former foes.

You feel, as I am sure the men who fought against you feel, that you were comrades even then, though you did not know it, and that now you know that you are comrades in a common love for a country which you are equally eager to serve.”

By their nature, time capsules are meant to provide a snapshot of what was important for those who left them for future generations. Cemetery command historian Steve Carney told the Post that 1915 was a time of nostalgia about the Civil War and Arlington was a symbol of reconciliation between North and South.

“You’re really transporting yourself back,” he told the newspaper. “You’re putting yourself in the mind-set of those individuals in 1915 that were saying, ‘Okay … what do we put in? What makes the cut?’ ”

Arlington National Cemetery plans to install later this year a time capsule to be opened in 100 years. Details on what might be included are not yet available.

David Ferriero, archivist of the US, with contents (Elizabeth Fraser, ANC)

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Gettysburg National Military Park launches virtual tour of battlefield

Not going to Gettysburg National Military Park because of closures, restrictions or health concerns raised by the coronavirus epidemic? Park officials on Wednesday announced the release of a virtual tour that is built around the 16 Auto Tour stops.

“This free virtual tour allows all visitors the opportunity to experience the battlefield, no matter where they are,” the park said in a press release.

Christopher Gwinn, chief of Interpretation and education at the park, leads the immersive program, which includes McPherson Ridge, the Wheatfield and Peach Orchard, the High Water Mark and East Cemetery Hill. The battle was fought at the Pennsylvania town from July 1-3, 1863, and was a major Union victory.

The videos range in length from 2 minutes to nearly 10 minutes long.

The park said the project took nearly four years to complete and it coincided with National Park Week in April. No one could have foreseen the pandemic limiting travel this spring and summer.

“At a time when many of our employees, volunteers, and partners are unable to provide public programming, the park virtual tour is a great opportunity to experience the battlefield with a park ranger,” Superintendent Steven D. Sims said in a statement. “Our education team is also using this virtual tour to help with their ongoing ‘At Home Civil War Lessons’ which provides educators an opportunity to expand their curriculums.”

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Mothballed Civil War tablets could find a new home

Officials in Amherst, Mass., are working on plans to put on public display the marble tablets that commemorate town residents who fought in the Civil War, including African American soldiers who served with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment. The tablets have been in storage for most of the past 20 years after they were removed from Town Hall during a renovation project. • Article

Thursday, May 7, 2020

H.L. Hunley fascination: Social media post about past conservation of bandana found in Civil War submarine quickly goes viral

James A. Wicks' conserved bandana (Photos courtesy of Friends of the Hunley)
The item shortly after recovery and during the conservation process
When it comes to interest in the innovative Civil War submarine H.L. Hunley, items pertaining to its crew are near the top, just behind the ongoing debate over what caused the vessel to be lost in battle

A Friends of the Hunley social media post Wednesday about the conservation of a knotted bandana worn around the neck of crew member James A. Wicks garnered more than 950 shares within 24 hours.

James A. Wicks
The exacting work on the artifact was detailed in the winter 2007 issue of The Blue Light, the newsletter of the Friends group.

“We will at times showcase past work on the project,” Kellen Butler, president and executive director of the nonprofit museum, told the Picket via email.

Since its recovery from the Charleston (S.C.) Harbor in 2000, the Confederate submarine has been undergoing extensive conservation at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston. From time to time, the Friends of the Hunley posts photographs of an item before and after conservation. Such was the case with Wicks' silk bandana.

When what appeared to be nothing more than a blob of mud was found in the Hunley crew compartment during excavation, it was hard to detect is was a fascinating – and beautiful – piece of history,” reads a Facebook post.

Wicks and seven others lost their lives in the Hunley during a mission that made history.

On the moonlit evening of Feb. 17, 1864, the 40-foot iron vessel -- bullets pinging off its iron exterior -- planted a torpedo in the hull of the Union ship USS Housatonic, setting off a charge that sent the Federal vessel and five crew members to the sandy bottom outside Charleston Harbor within minutes. The Hunley became the first submarine to sink an enemy warship.

Conservators several years ago at lab in North Charleston (Friends of the Hunley)
The Hunley, too, was lost, but exactly why remains a mystery. A host of theories -- from pressure emitted by the explosion, suffocation, a "lucky shot," drowning or other factors -- has been debated for decades. The position of the crew found during conservation showed no signs of panic. 

Wicks and the conservation of his fragile garment each have an interesting story.

Mary W. Ballard, a senior textile conservator at the Smithsonian Institution, consulted by phone and traveled to the museum and assisted in the challenging work of bringing the bandana back to life.

“Saving this unique artifact created a challenging question for conservators: how do you dry a fabric that has been waterlogged for over a century? Complicating matters, the bandana was also completely covered with mud and a metallic-like concretion,” reads The Blue Light article.

Conservators first tested dozens of detached small samples with various chemical treatments before deciding how to treat the bandana itself.

Details of the bandana during and after conservation (Friends of the Hunley)
To remove water, they applied a technique called vacuum freeze-drying. The process dries the fabric without applying tension to its fragile fibers.

“We will never know the true color of the bandana since the fabric’s vegetable dye was lost long ago,” the article states. “Still, the completed artifact speaks to the delicate skill of conservation and offers a rare insight into the divided loyalties many may have felt during the Civil War.”

What divided loyalties?

Wicks -- a Southerner by birth -- was in the U.S. Navy at the outbreak of the Civil War. When the USS Congress was crippled by the Confederate warship CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads in March 1862, he switched sides, according to the Friends of the Hunley. 

He was about 45 years old when he died in the Hunley mission.

Given his personal history, it is not surprising Wicks is the only crew member known to be wearing a bandana around his neck, a common practice for enlisted Union sailors during that time,” The Blue Light surmises.

Exhibit at the Hunley museum in North Charleston (Civil War Picket photo)
Wicks served on the CSS Indian Chief before Hunley skipper Lt. George Dixon chose him to be part of the eight-member crew.

The Friends of the Hunley says the father of four girls stood nearly 5 feet 10 inches tall and was a heavy tobacco user. He had blue eyes and brown hair, according to records. His family was living in Florida when war broke out.

Wicks had the Hunley’s sixth crank position and in an emergency, his job was to release the aft keel block, should weight needed to be jettisoned so that the submarine could rise from the ocean floor.

His remains were found associated with seven US Navy buttons, which is consistent with his military service, according to the Friends of the Hunley. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

As Sultana Disaster Museum adds items to its collection, plans are being finalized to raise money to build out a bigger location

Harper's Weekly illustration of the April 1865 disaster in the Mississippi River
A writing desk, reunion ribbons and other items belonging to two survivors of the Civil War’s Sultana maritime disaster have been added to the collection of a small Arkansas museum that is preparing to go national in its bid to raise money for a state-of-the art venue.

Author and lecturer Gene Salecker, board member and unofficial “picker” for the Sultana Historical Preservation Society, purchased collections that belonged to Cpl. Albert W. King of the 100th Ohio Volunteer Infantry  and Pvt. Abram Wiechard of the 18th Michigan.

A.W. King, who was recently released from
Andersonville; was on way home (SHPS)
The society operates the Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion. Leaders say they are nearing selection of a leader for a campaign to raise an estimated $5 million. While the pandemic has slowed efforts, officials hope to garner new momentum in the coming months.

The society once preferred a standalone building in the town of 12,500, but the project is now going with a 1938 former high school auditorium-gymnasium that will feature up to 17,000-square feet of exhibit space.The building has not yet been formally conveyed from the school district.

The Sultana museum, which is currently closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, wants to more completely tell the story of the vessel, including stories of heroism and sacrifice, along with claims of fraud and sabotage.

I believe the fundraising effort will take 18 to 24 months from inception to completion … A lot depends on what happens in the next nine months,” says retired judge and society president John Fogleman. Two of his ancestors rescued survivors of the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history.

Marion is a bedroom community just a 10-minute drive from Memphis, across the Mississippi River. It was the closest town to where the Sultana exploded and caught fire on April 27, 1865, killing about 1,800 passengers and crew. Hundreds of Federal soldiers, many recently freed from Confederate prisons, including Andersonville and Cahaba, perished on their way home, a cruel fate after enduring months or years of privation.

No one was formally held accountable for putting too many men on the Sultana, despite documented concerns about the safety of one of the boat's boilers. Accounts of the tragedy were overshadowed by headlines about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Gymnasium-auditorium will be the new home of the Sultana museum (SHPS)
It’s been a protracted march to raise awareness of the episode and bring in a large amount of money. A GoFundMe page has netted about $10,000 of a $35,000 goal.

The interim museum is on a quiet side street a few blocks away from the proposed new location. It brings in only about 120 visitors a month, although those who come provide positive feedback. A larger venue will require a lot more resources and marketing.

“We still believe only about one percent of Americans have even heard of the Sultana,” says museum director Louis Intres.

The current museum on Washington Street (Courtesy of Gene Salecker)
There have been plays and some film productions about the tragedy. Intres laments that a 90-minute documentary narrated by actor Sean Astin is no longer available on Amazon.

A major question is whether there is sufficient national interest now that the sesquicentennial is several years past. Still, community leaders believe a new museum -- with interactive displays and a “wow” factor -- is still worth pursuing. They’d like to see it open in 2023.

Society leader has a connection to tragedy

The story of the Sultana runs deep in the blood of Judge Fogleman and his cousin Frank, who is the city’s longtime mayor. Their great-great-grandfather, John Fogleman, after lashing two or three logs together, poled his way through the current of the Mississippi River and toward survivors.

He plucked dozens of people -- mostly Federal soldiers -- from the chilly river. It’s possible his sons Leroy and Gustavus assisted.

Franklin Barton and LeRoy and Gustavus Fogleman (Courtesy of John Fogleman)
Another great-great-grandfather, Franklin Hardin Barton, an officer with the 23rd Arkansas Cavalry, used a dugout canoe to reach survivors, many of whom were burned or scalded.

Judge Fogleman said he never heard much about the disaster until his father brought home a book on the Sultana and a pen-and-ink drawing depicting the chaos in the river. “I started trying to find out what I could about the Sultana and became fascinated by the story,” he told the Picket.

In recent years, Fogleman and cousin Frank Barton have made presentations on the subject.

“Without regard to my personal connection, this is a tragic story. In addition to the story of the soldiers, it is important to tell the story of the many, many people -- civilian and military -- that participated in the rescue,” Fogleman says. “It is shameful the way these veterans were treated and how little was done to remember all that they had suffered.”

Among steamboat-related items collected by Gene Salecker
Some remnants of the side-wheel steamboat are believed to lie beneath a bean field on the Arkansas side of the river.

“I have always been curious why the story was not big in my family when I was much younger in view of the fact that the hull came to rest essentially in the front yard of the Fogleman home place,” the retired judge said. “This home was the home of the very first Fogleman (George) to settle in Arkansas in about 1810. This property remained in our family until my grandfather sold the property when he was a young man.”

Scouring for grants and large donations

The society has hired Haizlip Studio of Memphis to design the proposed new museum. The studio produced some plans several years ago, but they will likely need to be modified for the gym, which features a 35-foot ceiling.

“As I understand it, the architects were licking their lips when they saw the possibilities presented by the old gymnasium,” said Salecker. “With such tall ceilings, they have already hinted at the construction of a portion of a full-scale mock-up of the Sultana as the main attraction, allowing people to walk across the steamboat and look at the troublesome boilers.”

The rear of the gymnasium-auditorium (SHPS)
Intres said the society has applied for grants to aid in the acquisition of artifacts, exhibit cases and materials and fund some of the infrastructure surrounding the building to improve public access. Officials have also sought the support of the governor (a $500,000 grant) and the area’s congressional delegation.

“My biggest hope is that somehow, someone with national name recognition will come on board and be our spokesman,” says the museum director. 

According to Fogleman, the $5 million will be raised through a combination of grants, large corporate and foundation donations, smaller donations from individuals and the city's Advertising and Promotion Commission, which has committed up to $100,000 per year for five years to be used as matching funds for grants and donations that require a local match.

According to a posting on the city’s website, if 30,000 visitors come annually, they would spend almost $2.4 million in the city and $3.2 million within the county/state. Spending would generate over $51,000 in tax revenue annually for the city, according to the projection.

The society’s board will meet next week with the fundraising candidate. “This candidate is so enthusiastic about the project that she has been making suggestions for contacts and grants to apply for since the day I first met her,” said Fogleman.

“We had hoped to have a formal kick off of our national fundraising campaign in August, but that is a decision we have not formally made yet.”

She made a kindly gesture after rescue

Much of the current museum’s displays can be credited to Salecker, who has written and lectured extensively about the vessel. Many items were once displayed at Grand Army of the Republic halls across the North.

The Sultana's story currently is being told from a third location, at 104 Washington St. Volunteers showcase a handful of artifacts directly related to the disaster, a 14-foot replica of the steamboat and associated items from survivors, including reunion items from the late 19th and early 20th century. Among the artifacts are a wooden comb belonging to a soldier and a unique alligator” box made by a survivor.

Wiechard's reunion ribbons (SHPS)
Some items are not from the Sultana, but are associated with a time when steamboats moved through America’s rivers. Recently, Salecker picked up a steamboat menu from 1862, a deck passage ticket, a cabin passage ticket, a steamboat meal ticket and numerous other period items.

The collection of Pvt. Wiechard of the 18th Michigan includes a collection of 18 reunion ribbons for the 18th Michigan Infantry and one POW reunion ribbon.

It includes a walking cane, made from a tree branch and attached with a small plaque that reads "A. B. Weigard 18 M.V.I. Sultana Survivor Co. K 1865." (Wiechard's name is spelled various ways in records.)

Wiechard, who lived until 1928, apparently was captured near Athens, Ala., in fall 1864, when a large Union force surrendered. They were scattered in prisons in Georgia and Alabama. Many of his regimental comrades were on the Sultana.

Wiechard cane (SHPS)
The museum now has material that belonged to Cpl. King of the 100th Ohio, including a large charcoal drawing of him in uniform and a small laptop writing desk.

King was the secretary of the Sultana Survivors Association and apparently used this desk, since it was filled with about a dozen envelopes with a return address to "A. W. King, Secretary, Sultana Survivors Assn."

According to the Defiance County chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, King fought in many battles, including Atlanta, and was imprisoned at Andersonville after his capture at the Battle of Franklin (Tennessee) in November 1864.

King in 1917 gave a riveting account of what happened after he and some comrades were awakened by the explosion of boilers on the packed Sultana as it steamed upriver from Memphis. Heat became so intense, King and others plunged into the river.

“I fought hard for freedom, and saw a chance to pass under the stern of the boat without being nabbed. When a lady jumped down upon me and getting a hold on my shirt and nearly strangled me, I soon broke away from her and swimming but a short distance where a board came up in front of me, which I grabbed for support and returned to help the lady who was loudly calling for assistance. When another board popped up in front of me, I placed one on top of the other and went back to her and placed the boards under her arms.”

Albert W. King writing desk (SHPS)
They made it to the Arkansas side and hours later were picked up by men in a large rowboat and taken to Memphis. As a gesture of appreciation, the woman gave him a ring that was on her hand.

She told King she and her husband lived in Cincinnati, but he was unable to locate them two decades later. (According to the papers of President Andrew Johnson, Jennie A. White – described as a Civil War and Sultana survivors – was married to William C. Perry. He was deceased shortly after the war; she may have passed in 1868.)

King, a German immigrant, ran a grocery store in Defiance after the war and was active in civic affairs. He died in February 1929 at age 86.

This article has been updated to correct how John and Frank Fogleman are related.