Sunday, December 27, 2020

Williamsburg battlefield land purchased for preservation

A significant portion of Williamsburg’s historic Civil War battlefield was recently purchased to be secured for preservation. The Virginia Gazette reports the American Battlefield Trust bought the 29 acres in the area of the “Bloody Ravine” from The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The land was zoned for commercial used and valued at $2,743,000. Located about 1 mile from the city’s historic area and primarily within the city limits, the land is pristine and looks much as it did 158 years ago when the battle took place, according to the newspaper.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

2020's top 10 Picket posts: A treasure of artifacts hauled to surface; arson fire at museum, USS Monitor and innovative Colt revolving rifle

Recovered round from Colt revolving rifle (Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park)
Articles on arson at the National Civil War Naval Museum, an amazing trove of artifacts from a scuttled Confederate ironclad, historian Ed Bearss and battlefields in Arkansas were among the top 10 Picket posts -- by page views -- in 2020.

We’ve got a few items in the works, so we look forward to rolling those and others out in 2021. Thanks so much for your interest – and Happy New Year!

10. MYSTERY TIMBER:  Forty years ago, someone walking North Carolina’s Kure Beach found a curved piece of timber pocked with holes and containing a piece of iron. Its donation to the state earlier this year raised questions over whether it belonged to a blockade runner.  -- Read more

One of the two Dahlgrens that were cleaned (The Mariners' Museum and Park)
9. USS MONITOR’S BIG GUNS:  This February post previewed the cleaning of the famed Union ironclad’s two Dahlgren artillery pieces. “By boring the guns, we will finally have the ability to remove trapped ocean salts from the interiors of these massive artifacts; which sets the stage for us to dry and put the guns on display,” said Will Hoffman of The Mariners' Museum and Park. -- Read more

8BELOVED ED BEARSS: By the beginning of 2020, it was clear that the legendary Civil War historian, author and mesmerizing guide was no longer able to lead tours. One of his publishers encouraged fans to send Bears letters of appreciation. Bearss (left) died in September at age 97. -- Read more

7. SAVING THE STRAIN: A tabby structure that survived the federal burning of Darien, Ga., seemed destined for the wrecking ball just a year and a half ago. But an Atlanta-area couple came through, and they are restoring the Adam Strain building in the coastal town. -- Read more

6. PRAIRIE GROVE FIREPOWER: Removal of underbrush at the epicenter of a ferocious battle in northwest Arkansas has allowed archaeologists to recover about 400 Civil War artifacts, including spent bullets fired from innovative Colt revolving rifles. -- Read more

5. USS MONITOR REDUX: Earlier this year, conservators at The Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va., removed the last concretion from inside the barrels of the two large turret guns. They used a special drill to remove the hardened mix of sediment and sea life.  --  Read more

4. PUZZLE PIECE AT PEA RIDGE: A 140-acre parcel that was the scene of Confederate troop movements and a hospital during the March 1862 battle was bought by a coalition of conservation and historical groups, with plans to donate it to the National Park Service. -- Read more

Inverted fantail of the CSS Jackson (Picket photo)

3. RARE IRONCLAD FANTAIL BURNED: A suspected arson fire roared through a boat shed where rare components of two Confederate vessels are stored at the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Ga. Among the items heavily damaged was the ironclad CSS Jackson’s fantailwhich the museum has described as “a very unique piece of naval architecture." -- Read more

2. STAGGERING HAUL OF ARTIFACTS: An estimated 13,601 artifacts brought ashore from the Confederate ironclad CSS Georgia wreck site in Savannah were trucked to Texas for conservation. What’s known about the ship’s design, construction, propulsion, armament and life aboard the "Mud Tub" are detailed in a massive report about the CSS Georgia's recovery. -- Read more 

CSS Georgia Dahlgren cannon, bayonet hilt, breast plate (USACE-Savannah)
1. ARSON INVESTIGATION CONTINUES: Investigators have been pursuing leads in a suspected arson fire that damaged rare artifacts and destroyed modern vessels in a storage area at the National Civil War Naval Museum-- Read more

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Immigrants deserve much of the credit for winning the Civil War. A Wisconsin museum's new exhibit explores why they took up arms

Exhibit on soldier David Oram (Courtesy Civil War Museum, Kenosha, WI)

Whether motivated by money, patriotism, anti-slavery sentiments or the need to prove oneself, immigrants flocked to join the Union cause during the Civil War, sometimes not long after they arrived by boat. Their contribution to victory over the Confederacy cannot be overestimated: They made up 25 percent of soldiers and 40 percent of sailors in the Federal ranks. 

The Library Company of Philadelphia
"Defending the Union: Immigrant Soldiers in the Union Army,” a new exhibit at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha, Wis., explores the service and sacrifice of these men.

Military records, photographs, memorabilia and personal narratives of veterans help tell their compelling story.

Many immigrants had fought in European conflicts and were prepared for combat. Others arrived impoverished, ripe for recruiting – drawn by a bounty (enlistment bonus) and steady military pay.

“Some had families to support, or wives and children awaiting money for passage,” the museum says in an article about the exhibit. “Many men enlisted on the spot, or within days of reaching American soil. Others went to war for draftees who paid them to take their place.”

More than 500,000 immigrants showed uncompromised bravery while fighting for the Union.

Norwegian-born Col. Hans Heg (left), commanded the 15th Wisconsin, a regiment comprising mostly Scandinavian immigrants. David Oram, who came to the United States from Dundee, Scotland, when he was about 8, joined the 24th Wisconsin.

Both were at the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863. Oram was seriously wounded and spent six months recovering. Heg became the highest-ranking Wisconsin officer to die in battle.

Heg, 33, died defending the freedoms he found in the United States. “The State has sent no braver soldier, and no truer patriot to aid in this mighty struggle for national unity, than Hans Christian Heg,” the State Journal wrote Sept. 29, 1863, reporting word of his death. “The valorous blood of the old Vikings ran in his veins, united with the gentler virtues of a Christian and a gentleman.”

Early in the conflict, Heg wrote about what motivated he and other immigrants.

(Civil War Museum, Kenosha, WI)
"The government of our adopted country is in danger. That which we learned to love as freemen in our old Fatherland --our freedom -- our government -- our independence -- is threatened with destruction. 
Is it not our duty as brave and intelligent citizens to extend our hands in defense of the cause of our country and our own homes?"

The Civil War Museum largely concentrates on soldiers from seven Midwestern states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

“More than a third of Wisconsin’s population was foreign-born, giving it the second-highest proportion of immigrants of all states, says Patrick Young, who writes “The Reconstruction Era” and “Immigrants’ Civil War” blogs.

“For every one immigrant who served in the Confederate army, nine served with the Union. Many, particularly the Germans, said they did so to end slavery. Without these men, and their wives who supported their service, it is difficult to see how the Union could have been preserved,” Young tells the Picket.

A large proportion of those on the Union side were German and Irish, but Poland, Italy and many other countries were represented.

Some 369 immigrants received the Medal Honor for their heroism in the Civil War.

(Courtesy of Civil War Museum, Kenosha, WI)
“United if only by the desire to prove themselves worthy of becoming Americans, immigrants and ethnic groups often struggled to earn respect and a place in society,” the museum says.

In a video posted to the museum’s Facebook page, education coordinator Doug Dammann details the life and service of David Oram, who settled in Racine. He enlisted in August 1862.

Oram rejoined the Union army after he was wounded at Chickamauga, and mustered out in June 1865. He returned home, married and worked for a machine company. Like many Union veterans, Oram was active in the fraternal Grand Army of the Republic – in his case, the Gov. Harvey post.

Oram and his wife, Rosina, attended many events, including the 1915 encampment in Washington, DC,  marking the 50th anniversary of the war’s end.

In April 1935, a few months before Oram died at age 94, he was honored at a patriotic and military ball in Race County. Besides Chickamauga, he was a veteran of the battles at Perryville, Stones River and Franklin-Nashville.

David Oram before the Civil War
The program for the veterans council ball included this verse:

To Our Comrade David Oram

The last of Abe Lincoln’s boys,

And to his Comrades departed;

Our Boyhood Heroes

To You, We the younger veterans,

Affectionately dedicate this Program.

Ourselves, we dedicate

To Carry On the Work, so well and nobly done

By the Grand Army of the Republic

(Courtesy of Civil War Museum, Kenosha, WI)

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Dear mom: Unfiltered letters from three Massachusetts brothers about combat and camp life are featured in new book

Nearly 100 letters written by three Massachusetts brothers have been transcribed and published in a new book, “My Dear Mother: Civil War Letters to Dedham from the Lathrop Brothers.”

The correspondence by John, Joseph and Julius Lathrop to their mother and three sisters stretched from December 1861 to a postwar visit to the Antietam battlefield by John in September 1865.

“The letters tell of the fierce battles, long marches, camp life and the brothers’ dedication to the Union cause,” says a description by the Dedham Historical Society & Museum, which transcribed the material. “The letters are published as written, without corrections or sanitation, but transcribed using the language of their time.”

A letter written by Julius to his mother on Feb. 13, 1862, details the taking of Roanoke Island, N.C., several days before and describes the 24th Massachusetts Infantry’s role in the capture of more than 2,000 Confederate prisoners.

Brig. Gen. Ambrose Burnside and his troops secured a vital victory in the Union effort to put a stranglehold on Southern ports. Rebel forces surrendered after they were routed from one battery and rushed to the northern end of the island, as described in the letter.

The corporal wrote his regiment was supposed to be among the first to land early in the battle but the steamer carrying troops ran aground. “We had the mortification of watching all the other regiments pass by us as while we were left lamenting.”

The unit witnessed the bombardment of the Confederate battery and its line was eventually formed near hospital buildings. Wounded Federal soldiers cheered the regiment and its brass howitzer, he wrote.

Fanciful depiction of Union attack at Roanoke Island (Library of Congress)

Other Federal forces took the battery as the 24th moved up. Lathrop got his first look at the horrors of war, seeing dead and maimed men, some nearly cut in two by artillery shots. “I saw … a poor fellow who was shot through the head with a grape shot. He was still alive though his brains were running out of his wound.”

His letter home to Dedham, about 10 miles southwest of Boston, asked his loved ones to “excuse the dirt but, I must tell you this is Secesh paper; of course it can’t be clean.”

Between them, the Lathrop brothers saw action across the breadth of the war, from Antietam and Fredericksburg in the east to Port Hudson in the west, the historical society says.

Julius, who later in the war accepted a commission with the 38th Massachusetts, was a captain when he was mortally wounded on April 23, 1864, in a skirmish at Cane River, La.

A regimental history says Lathrop "has rode in an ambulance the day previous, unable to march; but upon the approach of an engagement, had taken command of his company, and was leading his men when he received the fatal shot." He died a few days later.

John Lathrop
John Lathrop served as a captain in the 35th Massachusetts, took part in several battles, including Antietam and South Mountain. He left service in November 1863 because of disability resulting from malarial fever. He became a lawyer and associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. He died in 1910.

Joseph Lathrop, who served in the 43rd Massachusetts Infantry and the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry before capture late in the war, also survived. He wrote only one of the letters in the book.

Michael B. Chesson, editor of “The Journal of a Civil War Surgeon (2003),” wrote an Amazon review praising the book and the range of subjects in the letters, from Army life to skulkers and the home front.

Chesson wrote: “Some of the letters describe close combat as raw and immediate as a scene from the movie version of 'Cold Mountain.' The letters span the full range of human emotions, expressed in the characteristic reserve of old time New Englanders.

A recording of Julius’ letter is on the Dedham Historical Society & Museum website. Five other recordings are being uploaded weekly. The letters were donated to the society in 1928. Volunteers began transcribing them about three years ago, according to the Dedham Patch.

The book includes photographs of the brothers and images of battlefield maps drawn by John and Julius in their letters. The volume, put out by Damianos Publishing, sells for $25 through Amazon and the publisher.