Friday, August 21, 2020

Vermont town debates whether to change Colonels name at school

Sixteen years after retiring a longtime “Pride of the South” Confederate mascot, Brattleboro Union High School in Vermont hopes to quell a potential Civil War over retaining its “Colonels” team moniker. Sports uniforms once bore the same image of a plantation owner used by the University of Mississippi until both institutions dropped the logo during the 2003-04 academic year. • Article

Friday, August 14, 2020

Cannonballs galore: They were turning earth for condos in Pittsburgh and came across cannonballs at site of Union arsenal. A lot of it.

Dozens of artillery rounds at site (Pittsburgh Police Facebook post)

A construction crew building condominiums in Pittsburgh last month came across a cache of artillery rounds near the site of an arsenal that supplied the Union army during the Civil War.
Pittsburgh police on Thursday posted photographs of the July 2 find in the Lawrenceville area while crews were turning soil. The number of shells has not been determined. Police described the cannonballs as live.

ack Melton, who publishes the Civil War News and the Artilleryman magazine, told the Picket the rounds are 12-pounder cannonballs with Bormann fuses.
“Thankfully, this excavator operator had some prior experience and promptly called the Pittsburgh Police Bomb Squad when he recognized what his machinery had hit; a cache of Civil War era cannonballs.
“This was the same employee who had helped unearth 715 cannonballs while working not far from here in March of 2017, the site of the former Allegheny Arsenal, an important supply and manufacturing center for the Union Army during the American Civil War.”
Some Facebook commenters say this is a Bormann time fuze.
The Facebook post said the rounds are the property of the Army, and police will handle “mitigation” in coordination with the military. It’s not immediately known whether they will be destroyed.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the discovery is not unusual for the area, located at the site of the U.S. Allegheny Arsenal, which produced 128,000 rifle cartridges a day for Union troops during the Civil War. 
In 1862, 78 people were killed when three explosions erupted in a building called the laboratory. It was one of the worst civilian disasters during the Civil War, according to the newspaper. 
Ground was being turned for construction (Pittsburgh Police)
Police told the Post-Gazette they kept the discovery quiet so that the rounds could be removed without endangering the curious. They had no map or drawings from which to work.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Museum offers to display toppled Colorado monument

A history museum in Colorado has offered to display the Civil War statue toppled by protesters outside of the state Capitol earlier this summer. History Colorado said it would display the statue, which depicts a Union cavalryman, along with an explanation for why it was created, KUSA-TV reported. A petition to remove the statue in 2017 falsely claimed it depicted Col. John Chivington, who orchestrated the Sand Creek Massacre, which killed more than 150 people, including Native Americans. • Article

Letters from Camp Stephens: Remnants of earthworks at Ga. training site survive, as well as stories of soldiers and their loved ones

Interior of training entrenchments at Camp Stephens (Picket photo)
Letter written from Camp Stevens to Sarah Brinson (Siegel Auction Galleries)
Within weeks of the April 1861 bombardment of Fort Sumter, young men rushed to enlist, and training centers were soon established across the North and South. In Georgia, Camp Stephens trained thousands of eager recruits before they were sent to the front.

Remnants of trenches and breastworks built for training are still visible at two sites in a neighborhood on the northern outskirts of Griffin, a railroad city about 40 miles south of Atlanta. I made a short visit this week and walked some of the grounds on a muggy morning.

(As a side note, the land used for Camp Stephens had been owned by the father of John Henry “Doc” Holliday, a local boy who became a dentist and later gained fame as a gambler and gunman in the Old West. More on him in an upcoming Picket post.)

Several Confederate units, including the 27th and 44th Georgia infantry regiments, were formed at Camp Stephens. For most of the men, this was their first extended time away from home, and they became accustomed to drilling, discipline and perhaps a little homesickness.

While researching the camp, I came across envelopes of letters mailed by two soldiers, one of whom died in combat only a few months after his stint at Camp Stephens.

David Greene is believed to have enlisted with the 27th Georgia in September 1861. Members of his Company K were from Talbot County. Columbus State University in Columbus, Ga., has several of his letters in its collection.

On Oct. 25, 1861, Greene wrote to his mother Isabella, telling her that many in the camp had the measles and he “decided to raise the price of his horse from the $250 to $350.”

The soldier wrote her again on Nov. 8, from Manassas, Va., saying his company was building a bridge over the Occoquan River. In letters from February-May 1862, Greene detailed service at Manassas and Camp Rappahannock.

In an April 23 letter, according to the university archives, Greene “tells that they have now moved to York Town.  Here he was very sick and went to Richmond to get well.  He tells of a fight in York Town in which they lost eight men and the enemy lost between 400 and 500.”

Greene’s last correspondence home may have been on May 5, 1862, telling them the army was evacuating Richmond. He was killed at Seven Pines in Virginia – the regiment’s first major battle -- on May 31, 1862. The unit broke Federal lines the next day, with more than 150 casualties in the two-day battle.

Greene was 25 or 26 when he died. Two brothers who also served in the Civil War survived.

Letter from David Greene to his mother (Siegel Auction Galleries)
My impetus to learn more about Greene was an envelope posted online by Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries. The soldier used an envelope (above) he purchased at Camp Stephens to write his mother from Tudor Hall, Va., on Dec. 2, 1861.

The sender information includes the name Capt. Hezekiah Bussey of the 27th Georgia. According to my brief internet research, Bussey was captured and exchanged in autumn 1862 and later promoted to lieutenant colonel. He died at age 77 in Columbus in November 1917.

Another Siegel Auction Galleries envelope (top of this post) provides no clues to the Camp Stephens sender. It was simply addressed: Miss Sarah Brinson, Cannoochee (sic).

I found that a Sarah Missouri Brinson of Emanuel County married Confederate veteran James Emmett Coleman on Oct. 22, 1865, several months after the war’s end. This letter is postmarked Sept. 7 (likely in 1861 or 1862).

Sarah had two brothers who served in the Southern army and perhaps one wrote her from Camp Stephens. Or it could have been authored by Coleman while they were courting or engaged. I just don't know.

Coleman was a sergeant with the 5th Georgia Cavalry and Sarah served as a postmistress for both the Confederate and US governments in Canoochee, according to

The couple had 10 children and the couple lived to be 74 (1912) and 77 years old (1923), respectively.

Emmett, Sarah Coleman with family (Courtesy Emanuel County Preservation Society)
Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series includes photographs gathered by the Emanuel County Historic Preservation Society. One photograph, taken circa 1895, shows the Colemans with most of their children outside the home.

The caption provides a family memory from the Civil War.

“In November 1864, Emmett was with Company E, 5th Ga. Cavalry fighting a delaying action in front of Sherman’s army. His unit came to Canoochee, where Sarah Brinson was serving as postmistress, in time to warn her that a Yankee Cavalry unit was just behind them. Arriving soon after, the Yankee unit began loading pigs, hogs, and taking everything they could find including butter out of a butter dish. Sarah gave a masonic distress signal she had learned from her father. A young lieutenant ordered his men to unload everything and posted a guard to protect her. Sarah and Emmett were married shortly after the war.”

(Civil War Picket photo)

Sunday, August 9, 2020

New US Navy archival complex in DC will ensure artifacts from CSS Alabama, other Civil War ships will survive for a long time

1851 buildings at Washington Navy Yard; items from CSS Alabama (US Navy)
Construction of a modern archival complex at the Washington Navy Yard will enhance protection for conserved artifacts from several Civil War warships -- most notably the raider CSS Alabama.

U.S. Navy officials this week held a formal groundbreaking for the project. Current facilities built in 1851 were not designed to house artifacts and many lack environmental controls.

“For several years, the Library and Archives have fought to protect Navy’s intellectual property and heritage from the ravages of heat, humidity, water leaks, and cold. Records and photographs stored in these areas were subject to mold and damage, requiring Navy to pay for mold remediation for records and photos,” said Dr. Kristina Giannotta, assistant director of the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Histories and Archives Division, in a press release.

The new complex will house the Navy’s Operational Archives, Department of the Navy Library, Rare Book Room, Navy Art Collection, and the Underwater Archaeology Conservation Laboratory. The lab ensures overseas historic preservation of military ship and aircraft wreck sites. 

USS Kearsarge sinks CSS Alabama (Library of Congress)
It’s Civil War holdings include items from the USS Tulip (lost in boiler explosion in Potomac), USS Westfield (scuttled with explosives in Galveston Bay), CSS Alabama (sunk in battle off France), CSS Georgia (scuttled at Savannah, Ga.), USS Housatonic, sunk by the submarine Hunley off Charleston, S.C.; and USS Hatteras, sunk by the Alabama off Galveston.

CSS Alabama artifacts include cannon, a bronze bell, a leather shore, Brazilian coins, glass stemware and, yes, a flushing toilet.

The lab also has conserved Enfield rifle barrels from the USS Tulip. The Tulip artifact collection includes military uniform components, navigation equipment, ceramics, personal items, medical items, ship’s hardware, tools, ordnance and artillery

USS Tulip rifle barrel and ramrod (U.S. Navy)
Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Day, a public affairs officer for NHHC, told the Picket: “With regard to the move, all of the items have been professionally and archival packed, and are being stored in a climate controlled facility until the renovations are complete and can then be placed in the new complex.”

Day said items in the NHHC holdings include the Navy’s first signal book, John Paul Jones’ calling card, unpublished World War II administrative histories, deck logs and photos.

According to reports, the $41 million renovation will be complete by 2022.

The UA lab, of course, has items from other conflicts. Among them is a brass trumpet from the USS Houston, which was lost in the Battle of Sunda Strait during World War II, and artifacts from the USS Salute, a WWII-era minesweeper.

Adm. Mike Gilday (left) at groundbreaking (U.S. Navy(
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony.

“This new project underscores the vital role the Naval History and Heritage Command serves in preserving our Navy’s institutional memory,” Gilday said in a statement. “With this archival complex we will continue to remember and present an accurate history of our Navy and tell the stories of those who have gone before us for generations to come.”

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Effort to build a permanent Sultana disaster museum in Arkansas city gets a boost as society members pledge $156K

Rick DeSpain's drawing of Sultana disaster (
Ten supporters of a plan to raise money for a larger museum focusing on the Sultana maritime disaster have put their money where their dreams are in the form of personal pledges totaling $156,000.

The board of the Sultana Historical Preservation Society in Marion, Ark., recently announced the gesture to further drum up interest and financial support for a modern and permanent venue.

Marion is a bedroom community just a 10-minute drive from Memphis, Tenn., across the Mississippi River. It was the closest town to where the steamboat Sultana exploded and caught fire on April 27, 1865, killing between 1,200 and 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.

Museum director Louis Intres told the Picket in an email this week that the board pledges and another by the city total $656,000.

With building costs, a desired foundation or endowment, and exterior infrastructure, the society is tentatively planning to raise $12 million to $15 million. He said. It recently hired a Little Rock company to lead the campaign, which may officially begin in October.

Current museum on Washington Street (Courtesy of Gene Salecker)
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 about 17,000-square feet of exhibit space. A small museum dedicated to the Sultana is a few blocks away.

“We’ve come a long way,” Intres recently told the Evening Times newspaper. “We’re not looking at just a Sultana museum that is going to bring a few thousand people in. We are actually promoting and designing a museum that will be a national destination site with around 35,000 to 50,000 visitors a year.”

Officials told the Picket the coronavirus pandemic slowed plans for campaign but they continue to look for possible government and grant funding sources as they prepare to launch a national campaign. Television station KAIT reported that the Union Pacific Foundation contributed a $10,000 grant. Officials would like the new venue to open in summer 2023.

Retired judge and society president John Fogleman and Intres said those interested in contributing to the cause should visit the museum website or contact Intres at

“The soldiers who were on the Sultana deserve more than a footnote in history and we intend to finally, at long last give them their due,” said Fogleman.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Saving the Adam Strain: Crews take first step in shoring up building that survived Darien's burning during the Civil War

Phase one focuses on clearing the interior (Courtesy of Marion Savic)
In the port town of Darien, Ga., the Adam Strain building – which survived a fire set by Union troops during the Civil War – has withstood hurricanes and tropical storms for more than two centuries. It will feel the effects of yet another storm system through Monday.

As I write this post, Tropical Storm Isaias is churning northward off the Florida coast,.making its way toward Georgia before making a run for the Carolinas and beyond.

But for all it has withstood, the Strain is fragile these days, and its new owners know they must first stabilize and repair the tabby walls before the landmark building eventually finds new life: Milan and Marion Savic are thinking of putting a nano brewery on the first floor, with retail in the front and event space or class areas on the second floor.

“Hopefully, we can get some beams and a support system in the next month or two,” said Marion Savic, a Marietta, Ga., businesswoman, a few days after the restoration of the Strain formally began.

The Picket wrote in April about efforts to save the 1813-1815 building after decades of deterioration. At one point in a long campaign to save the Strain, it appeared the beloved piece of history might be demolished. Made of oyster shell tabby and stucco, the oldest structure in Darien is beloved by 2,000 residents who were thrilled the Strain was saved when the Savics made the purchase.

The Strain has been filled with shoes, antiques and a lot more (Marion Savic)
During the Civil War, the Strain -- which sits on an upper bluff -- was used to store cotton prior to shipment in 1861 and 1862 before the Union naval blockade clamped down on Georgia’s coast.

Darien held little strategic value to the Union, but Col. James Montgomery, commanding the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers, supposedly believed it was a safe haven for blockade runners. Montgomery, who was a notable abolitionist, ordered Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the famed 54th  Massachusetts Infantry to participate in the town’s burning in 1863.

The Strain, which was burned in the fire but remained standing, was repaired and saw a rebirth for several decades before it was used for storage following World War II and then shuttered. 

Last week, cleanup of the interior, which is packed with old shoes, antiques, papers and other items, began. Marion Savic said the plan is for crews to bring in dirt to fill spaces at the foundation and then begin supporting the walls with steel rods and braces.

The stabilization process is expected to take three to six months.

View of waterfront (Landmark Preservation)
“We have started,” she told the Picket last week. “Everybody is very excited to get it restored.”

One of the walls is particularly weak and experts are installing digital monitors to monitor the integrity of the walls during the shoring-up and subsequent work. Any significant movement in the walls will set off an alarm alerting everyone to get out of the building.

“Any time you work with old buildings, you have to be prepared for anything happening,” said Marion Savic.

For example, part of a wall could fall when crews try to straighten it. One of the contractors is a tabby expert and will help with any repairs, she said.

The Strains put a new wood framing inside the building after the Civil War. It currently supports the existing second floor and is independent of the tabby.

Savic maintains a Facebook page on the revitalization of the Strain. She recently posted a photo of wooden planks that cover the original tabby walls. “Looking forward to getting the wood off and seeing the tabby and whatever else is hidden there.

The building interior will have the appearance of its immediate post-Civil War days. The Savics haven’t yet decided whether wood will cover the tabby. Tabby is a type of cement made from crushed oyster shells and was popular in the region in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Stucco is placed on the exterior to protect it from water damage.

Adjoining the Strain is a one-story annex that once housed a bank and law offices.
The Savics plan to establish there a small maritime museum that will convey the Strain’s and Darien’s history -- including shrimping, timber and the story of thousands of enslaved people who were the backbone of the economy in McIntosh and neighboring counties.

Wooden plans are currently covering tabby (Marion Savic)
Kit Stebbins Sutherland, who grew up in Darien and is a retired historic preservation planning consultant living in Atlanta, told the Picket she hopes to provide the Savics with photos, stories and other information that can help with interpretation.

“I will strongly encourage them to touch upon the long history of Broad Street and the Darien waterfront, as well as aspects of Gullah-Geechee culture and history.

Missy Brandt Wilson, a Darien native and former chairman of the McIntosh County Historic Preservation Commission, told the Picket she is feels “like a miracle is happening” with the planned restoration of the Strain.

“I also hope it will demonstrate to Darien and McIntosh County they should preserve their vast cultural and historical resources, and be good stewards of them,” she said.