Tuesday, March 30, 2021

This bayonet was found by an Illinois man tilling his garden. Did it belong to a soldier serving in Grant's first Civil War command?

The bayonet in its temporary exhibit (Nick Little, Market House Antiques)
Ulysses S. Grant camped here.

So reads a marker on the edge of the county fairground in Jacksonville, a city of 20,000 in west-central Illinois. The future American hero and the first men he commanded during the Civil War passed through the community only months into the conflict.

It would have been easier and quicker to put them on the train. But Col. Grant wanted the farm boys, merchants and bankers who joined the 21st Illinois Infantry to be infused with more discipline and “good preparation” as they prepared for eventual battle.

Grant in 1861 (NPS)
On July 3, 1861, the Mexican-American War veteran led the regiment out of Camp Yates in Springfield toward Quincy about 100 miles away. Thirty miles into the march, they made a stop in Jacksonville, on July 5, where they rested at the Morgan County Fairground.

Some 140 years later -- in May 2002 -- a resident on West Lafayette Avenue, a few parcels from the fairground, was using a gas-powered tiller for a garden when it struck something metal. The item, about 8 inches beneath the surface, was a rusted but intact bayonet, slightly bent from the impact with the tiller. He also reportedly found unfired musket balls.

Bob Anderson last week donated the bayonet, believed to be from a Springfield (Mass.) musket, to the Jacksonville Area Museum, which will display it after the venue opens later this summer. 

“There is no way to confirm with absolute uncertainty” that the bayonet is related to the 21st Illinois, David Blanchette, board chairman of the museum, told the Civil War Picket. But given its age, location and having been underground for such a long time, it could well be, he said.

Starting today and until it is relocated to the new museum, the bayonet will be display at Market House Antiques on State Street in downtown Jacksonville.

The donation came to light in a recent newspaper article and when the museum posted a Facebook item and photograph.

“It isn't hard to imagine a soldier who was being rushed off to war accidentally leaving it behind when the 21st Illinois left its overnight camp on the way to the Mississippi River,” Blanchette said in the post.

City to tell its story in a big way

The old post office will house exhibits (Jacksonville Area Museum)
The Jacksonville Area Museum, scheduled to open in late July, is preparing and building out its exhibits at its home in the city’s old post office. Jacksonville was founded in 1825.

The local convention and visitors bureau describes the town as “a community rich in historical treasures, with thriving arts, education, and culture, and wrapped in Midwest hospitality. Centrally located between St. Louis and Chicago, and near Springfield, Jacksonville offers an excellent place to live, work, and play.

Blanchette says other Civil War items in the museum collection include letters, photos, diaries and a sword that belonged to Lt. William L. English, a Jacksonville native who served in the conflict and during the Indian Wars (left, in photo).

English died in 1877 from wounds received while fighting the Nez Perce at the Battle of the Big Hole in Montana. The museum has swords from other members of the English family.

The museum hopes the bayonet donation will encourage others to do the same, whatever the subject.

The venue is developing "engaging exhibits and original artifacts that tell the Jacksonville area's important, fascinating and often surprising history."

(A footnote: Heavyweight boxer Ken Norton was from Jacksonville and excelled in high school sports.)

These men needed a strong dose of discipline

Grant wrote in his memoirs about his brief time leading the 21st Illinois, from late June until Aug. 7, 1861, when he was commissioned a brigadier general and received a new assignment.

The men of the regiment, shortly after they enlisted for 30 days, refused to be led by their elected colonel, who apparently sometimes joined them in their carousing in their off time. Grant, then 39, was appointed to command the unruly unit, which was mostly made up of recruits from the eastern part of the state.

“I found it very hard work for a few days to bring all the men into anything like subordination; but the great majority favored discipline, and by the application of a little regular army punishment all were reduced to as good discipline as one could ask,” he wrote.

(Courtesy of Nick Little, Market House Antiques)
The regiment was ordered to proceed to Quincy on July 3. By that time, the men were performing company drill and were more like soldiers. When they reached Jacksonville, Grant was on horseback, leading the men along State Street. Few people knew who he was.

The fairgrounds were then called Camp Duncan and it was used for drilling raw recruits. The Morgan County Fair is still held most years on the 30-acre site purchased by local farm leaders in 1858. The Illinois State Fair, now held in Springfield, was held there a year before Grant’s men stopped by.

According to the Jacksonville Journal-Courier newspaper, A.Y. Hart, a member of the regiment from Mattoon, years later recalled their brief stay in July 1861. Several accounts say the regiment rested at the fairground and left before nightfall.

“Col. Grant stationed himself at the gate at the fairgrounds and examined our canteens for whiskey,” Hart said. “One man of my company bought a coffee boiler, stopped the passage between the boiler and spout with wax, filled the boiler with whiskey and the spout with milk, and Col. Grant passed him in.”

Grant is promoted and destiny takes over

The fairgrounds monument (Jacksonville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau photos)
Shortly after leaving Jacksonville, the regiment learned its destination was changed to Ironton, Mo., with Grant ordered “to halt where I was and await the arrival of a steamer which had been dispatched up the Illinois River to take the regiment to St. Louis.”

“The boat, when it did come, grounded on a sand-bar a few miles below where we were in camp. We remained there several days waiting to have the boat get off the bar, but before this occurred news came that an Illinois regiment was surrounded by rebels at a point on the Hannibal and St. Joe Railroad some miles west of Palmyra, in Missouri, and I was ordered to proceed with all dispatch to their relief. We took the (rail) cars and reached Quincy in a few hours.

The regiment spent time in several towns in Missouri, across the river from Quincy, and then moved down to Ironton, where the promoted Grant was put in charge of the southeast part of the state.

The 21st Illinois, with a new colonel, went on to fight in Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. Grant, as we know, would go on to be general-in-chief of the U.S. armies and the 18th president, from 1869 to 1877.

The folks in Jacksonville recall their part of Civil War history.

“It was on Grant’s way to being an important part of U.S. history,” the museum’s Blanchette says.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Maryland resident given a live cannonball found near Monocacy battlefield calls the bomb squad

Cannonball before its disposal (Maryland State Fire Marshal)
A live Civil War cannonball found near Maryland’s Monocacy battlefield was disposed of after a homeowner who was given the ordnance became alarmed and called authorities.

The office of the Maryland State Fire Marshal on Tuesday said it got the call a day earlier from a homeowner in Jefferson in Frederick County.

The homeowner was given the cannonball by a family member who had found it near the site of the 1864 battle. Another family member told the resident that it could be live. Bomb technicians determined the fuse was intact, removed the artifact and conducted an emergency disposal, officials said.

“As proven today, the finding of military ordnance from the Civil War is not uncommon in Maryland, and these devices pose the same threat as the day they were initially manufactured,” the office said in a Facebook post.

Oliver Alkire, senior deputy state fire marshal, told the Frederick-News Post that the homeowner’s relative was using a metal detector near Monocacy National Battlefield, which does not permit them. No charges are expected, because the cannonball was found outside the park.

The cannonball was at the home for several months, Alkire told the newspaper, which indicated the round was blown up. "It would have caused significant damage" if it went off.

“If you should uncover or are unsure if an unidentified object may be military ordnance, be safe rather than sorry. Stay away and call 911,” said State Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci.  “Marylanders need to be mindful that military ordnance, even vintage artifacts from previous conflicts, have the potential to explode.”

The fire marshal’s office did not specify what kind of shell was found. Some on social media lamented that the shell had not been defused by authorities and saved, but others said it may have been unstable and there are plenty of safe shells housed in museums and historic sites.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Soldier's descendant connects with curious Minnesota history buff

Genealogist Aaron Syvertson of Southern California was surfing the internet when he discovered Free Press articles that mentioned his great-great-great-grandfather, Milton Hanna. One story in the Minnesota newspaper quoted history buff Marlin Peterson, who said he’d like to know what happened to Hanna’s Medal of Honor and if the Civil War soldier buried in Glenwood Cemetery had any living descendants. “We are right here!” Syvertson messaged to a staff writer. -- Article

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Virginia kids using metal detector come across Civil War shell

A small group of children found a Civil War-era cannonball in southeastern Virginia that might contain explosive black powder. Officers from the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office responded to the Seaford area of York County after children with a metal detector found a round metal object about two feet underground, the department said. The children brought the object inside, and parents called 911. -- Article

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Robert Smalls became a hero for bold escape with other enslaved persons. An Army ship named for him travels to where it happened

Maj. Gen. Robert Smalls in Kuwait (US Army photo)
The first Army vessel named for an African American will sail next week to Charleston, S.C., the city where Robert Smalls commandeered a Confederate ship and became a hero to the Union cause.

At the start of the Civil War, the enslaved Smalls was a pilot on the steamship CSS Planter. On the morning of May 13, 1862, Smalls led the takeover of the ship by its slave crew, sailed past the harbor's formidable defenses and surrendered the vessel to the Union blockade fleet. His wife and children were among those on board who gained freedom.

The Maj. Gen. Robert Smalls LSV-8 -- which carries troops, equipment and supplies – has been with the Army since 2007. It has been reassigned to Hawaii and transferred from the reserves to active duty, Maj. Oliver Schuster, an Army spokesman, said in a statement to the Picket.

The voyage from Virginia via the Panama Canal will take about 34 days.

LSV-8 will be part of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command in Hawaii. The command is led by Maj. Gen. David Wilson, a Charleston native and Citadel graduate. Wilson, a member of the Class of 1991, is the first African American graduate from the Citadel to become a two-star general.

“This voyage is unique as it will be the only time a vessel named after a son of Charleston will be in Charleston while in a unit commanded by another son of Charleston,” Schuster said in an email.

Harpers Weekly article on Smalls' daring ride (Library of Congress)
The vessel is expected to arrive in Charleston on or about March 15, Schuster said.

The 8th Theater Sustainment Command saved LSV-8 from being decommissioned by bringing it to active service in Hawaii, he said.

Smalls, 23 at the time, was celebrated across the North for his daring ride to freedom and he served as a ship’s pilot for the rest of the conflict.

After the war, Smalls returned to his hometown Beaufort and bought his former master’s home. After serving in South Carolina’s Legislature, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served several terms.

The congressman fought against the disenfranchisement of black voters across the South, according to the American Battlefield Trust. He also fought against segregation within the military.

Robert Smalls' portrait on ship's bridge (U.S. Army photo)
Smalls died in 1915 at age 75.

The Maj. Gen. Robert Smalls LSV-8 was inducted into the Army’s water fleet at a commissioning ceremony in September 2007 in Baltimore.

"This is a great day, and one I will never forget," Freddy Meyer, great-great grandson of Smalls, said at the event.

"Maj. Gen. Smalls was a renaissance man -- an educator, a politician, a soldier, a businessman and a family man, and the Army could not have picked a better person to name this ship after."

Saturday, March 6, 2021

54th Massachusetts memorial back in Boston Common after conservation; will remain under wraps as work continues at site

The Shaw memorial has been a beacon since 1897 (Picket photo)
A remarkably detailed bronze memorial depicting the valiant black men of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the subject of the Civil War movie “Glory,” has been returned to Boston Common after extensive conservation.

The Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial was lowered by crane Wednesday to the spot where it has presided since 1897, across from the Massachusetts State House. It will remain crated for at least a month as work is completed on its foundation and the Tennessee marble surround.

Leslie Singleton Adam, chair of the Friends of the Public Garden, one of the sponsors of the $3 million project, told WCVB  “the critical issue is the base, and any sort of event, seismic event, or weather event could have potentially toppled it over.” The foundation was deteriorating because of water damage.

The Friends of the Public Garden, the city, the National Park Service and the Museum of African American History in Boston partnered in the project. (Below, the bronze is put back in place. Video courtesy of Boston Parks and Recreation)

The bronze bas relief was hoisted off its base in August 2020 and was conserved at Skylight Studios in Woburn (photo below, courtesy of Friends of the Public Garden).

There, experts stripped previous coatings and refinished and repatinated the bronze. The memorial has 20 parts and was in structurally great condition, GBH Boston reported.

The site work is expected to be completed in mid-April. Susan Abell, director of communications and outreach for the Friends, told the Picket a formal rededication is planned for the fall.

The memorial originally was intended to be of Shaw, but his family wanted the men with whom he fought and died at Fort Wagner near Charleston in 1863 be included.

Sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens spent 14 years on the work. “The sculptor’s ability to combine startling naturalism with lofty allegory made his work eminently suited to such endeavors,” says the National Park Service.

The memorial depicts regimental commander Col. Robert Gould Shaw leading his all-volunteer regiment, an angel flying above.

A 1997 Washington Post article said this of the depiction: “Each is individualized. All were portrayed from life. They're not victims, they're heroes. It isn't just the drum -- or the marching rhythms of their blanket rolls, their canteens and their rifles -- that drives them to their destiny. They know where they are going. The justice of their cause leads them willingly to death.

In more recent years, many have found the depiction of a white officer riding on horseback while 23 black soldiers walk in the background to be problematic.

But supporters say the memorial still projects a powerful message.

“It’s symbolic of social justice of the time, it is symbolic of freedom,” said Leon Wilson, CEO of the museum. “It is symbolic of a group of men who are absolute loyalists, patriots, and knew that they’re fighting for more than just change -- they were fighting for survival and freedom.”

The Shaw memorial before restoration (National Park Service)
In 2012, the Picket spoke with Joseph McGill, who reenacted in the Charleston, S.C., area with a group that portrayed men of the 54th.

“You have to look at the social aspect of it and what it meant to the African-American race and this nation,” said McGill. “There were doubts on the ability of these men to actually be soldiers. These men did prove they could be soldiers.”

About 280 of the 600 charging 54th soldiers were killed, wounded or captured in the assault on Fort Wagner, which fell two months later.

The crated memorial before it was set in place (Friends of the Public Garden)

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Archaeology students find likely evidence of a brief cavalry skirmish in southern Georgia during Sherman's March to the Sea

A Spencer repeating rifle casing and a toe tap with nails found during recent
excavation near Millen, Ga. (Courtesy of Camp Lawton Archaeological Project)
Archaeology students at a Georgia university have found artifacts that might derive from a skirmish between Union and Confederate cavalry during Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Ryan McNutt, assistant professor of historical archaeology at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, said recent field work yielded fired casings from a Spencer repeating rifle and from a likely Allen & Wheelock .32 Rim fire side hammer revolver, a fired percussion cap, toe caps from footwear and a bridle rosette that matches types used by Union cavalry.

McNutt heads up the school’s Camp Lawton Archaeological Project, which for several years has been researching the remains of a Confederate prison camp that was in operation for several weeks in fall 1864.

In 2020, the university was awarded a $116,247 grant from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program to document and evaluate the archaeological integrity of two skirmish sites near the end of Sherman's campaign in Georgia: Buck Head Creek and Lawton (Lumpkin's) Station.

“Both of these conflicts occurred as the Confederacy attempted to tactically slow, or at least constrain, Sherman’s inexorable approach to southeast Georgia,” McNutt wrote in an email to the Picket.

Round believed to be from .32-caliber rimfire revolver (Camp Lawton Project)
The artifacts were found in the past month near the site of Lawton Station, a Dec. 4 clash that followed fighting at Buck Head Creek. Lawton Station had served the prison camp, which closed a few weeks before these skirmishes.

The Battle of Buck Head Creek on November 28, 1864, involved U.S. Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick’s and Confederate Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry forces. It took place across what are now Jenkins and Burke counties, a fighting Union withdrawal north from the area around the still-standing Buck Head Creek Church, through Reynold’s Plantation across the course of a day and over approximately three miles of period roads, McNutt said.

Kilpatrick was in the area to destroy railroad between August and Millen and burn a trestle. Another objective was to release the Camp Lawton prisoners, but Union forces discovered they had been moved to other sites. Federal forces were able to destroy a mile of track.

Gens. Judson Kilpatrick and Joseph Wheeler
On the 28th, Wheeler “almost captured Kilpatrick, and pursued him and his men to Buck Head Creek. As Kilpatrick's main force crossed the creek, one regiment, supported by artillery, fought a rearguard action severely punishing Wheeler and then burned the bridge behind them,” says a National Park Service summary of the fighting. “Wheeler soon crossed and followed, but a Union brigade behind barricades at Reynolds's Plantation halted the Rebels' drive, eventually forcing them to retire.

The main body of Sherman’s army, notably the 14th and 20th corps, approached Millen days later and engaged with Rebel cavalry.

According to McNutt, Capt. S.P. Dobbs and the 9th Alabama Cavalry burned a bridge at Buck Head Creek Church and fell back to Lawton Station, “where they sheltered under fire for a period before withdrawing into Screven County toward Beaver Dam Creek.” (Lawton Station/Depot is where Federal prisoners were brought to the POW camp a couple months before.)

Front and back of bridle rosette (Camp Lawton Project)
The professor believes some of the Lawton Station fighting occurred with the boundaries of Magnolia Springs State Park, meaning it is protected. Much of the prison site, particularly the section where the guards lived, is inside the park. The Union prisoners lived in an area that is now federal property.

Georgia Southern students used Lidar, a remote sensing method, at the Lawton Station area and will do so again when they get to Buck Head Creek this summer. The aim of the project is to document any surviving above-ground indications of Lawton Station, field fortifications from Buck Head Creek, and historic roads, structures, houses, bridges that would have been used by both Confederate and Union forces throughout both battlefields.

McNutt believes the Lidar found what is believed to be the site of Lawton Station.

Students used metal detectors on an old road that went from the station, past Confederate barracks and the stockade to a larger road that goes north toward Augusta. This is where the artifacts were found.

“This would have been the retreat route of Captain Dobb's Confederate regiment, and the (pursuit) route of the Union cavalry,” McNutt wrote.

POW Robert Knox Sneden's map of prison (Library of Congress)
Beyond the artifacts mentioned above, the project found at Lawton Station “material culture remnants that are more ambiguous, but might be Union in origin.” That includes bits of saddlery and horse tack elements, “implying a greater presence of horse-mounted troops than were stationed at Lawton by the Confederates when it was operating as a prison camp,” McNutt said.

“These are all tantalizing bits of material culture that suggest we're looking at an edge of the skirmish, or at least an area where Union forces were firing at something or someone further along the road. As we progress through the spring field school, we'll fill this picture in more as we finish our search grid, and move up the road to investigate with another systematic metal detector survey the site of Lawton Station itself.”

McNutt concedes there is commingling of artifacts from the operation of the prison camp and the December skirmish. The survey has taken place on the edge of Rebel barracks and what may be an open parade ground.

But the Spencer and .32-cal rimfire round are really only going to come from Union cavalry, given the Confederacy's inability to manufacture cased ammunition, especially with the copper shortage. I'm pretty confident in saying at a minimum, the Spencer and the .32 round are specific to some kind of engagement, and the bridle rosette is likely to come from that as well.”

“We have a few other ferrous items that I need to investigate in more detail, but a few are potential gun furniture, and there is a possible carbine sling bolt. So in short, there is some comingling, but these items range from being certainly not Confederate in origin, to being ambiguous, and possibly Confederate or Union.”

The professor said Kilpatrick sent troopers to Lawton in late November, but a major did not report any fighting. “I suspect given as deep as they were in Wheeler's turf, with extended (and uncertain) supply lines, conservation of ammunition would have been enforced, so they're unlikely to have just rode into the barracks area guns blazing.

“The more likely possibility is that these are items from that December cavalry skirmish -- but we need more information to be sure, and hopefully we'll know more as we finish up our search area.”

(At left is an adjustable buckle found by metal detector.)

In the meantime, the Camp Lawton Archaeological Project is contacting landowners in the area of Buck Head Creek to obtain permission to do field work there in the summer.

This field work will continue into 2022. McNutt says landowners, anyone interested in volunteering and those who might have collections of artifacts and would like him to take a look should contact him at rmcnutt@georgiasouthern.edu

Monday, March 1, 2021

Exhibit recalls speech Lincoln gave before inauguration

For the next three weeks, Historic Fort Steuben Visitors Center in Steubenville, Ohio, is offering residents a glimpse of life during the Civil War. There’s a tattered drum from the Continental Drug Corps autographed by the men who played it, bugles, swords, canteens, pocket watches, a doctor’s kit, a McClellan saddle, saddlebags and flags — one a South Carolina flag, and the other a beautiful but tattered 34-star flag carried by the 2nd Ohio Independent Company Sharpshooters. -- Article