Thursday, December 30, 2021

2021's top 11 Picket posts: Hurricane leaves a surprise, Cockspur Lighthouse, submarine Hunley skipper, Longstreet and more

Hurricane Ida uncovered these artillery shells in Florida (Gulf Islands National Seashore)
The top 11 Civil War Picket posts -- by page views -- in 2021 covered the spectrum. Among them: a bayonet found in a yard, cannonballs uncovered by Hurricane Ida and the lingering mystery of a coffin found near Fort McAllister in Georgia.

We’ve got a few items in the works and we look forward to rolling those and others out in 2022. Thanks so much for your continued interest. Please tell a friend or two about us. Happy New Year!

11. USS MONITOR: The little ironclad that could sported two Dahlgren guns in its famous rotating turret. Conservators at the Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va., were honored this year by the Navy for cleaning their barrels of salts and sediment, keeping them on the path for one day being put on display. -- Read more

10. JAMES LONGSTREET: The Longstreet Society in Gainesville, Ga., acquired a brief but fascinating letter from the legendary Confederate general seeking a federal pension 20 years after the Civil War’s end. Longstreet expressed guarded hope that his valiant service in the U.S. Army in the Mexican-American War would outweigh any concerns about him later donning the gray uniform. -- Read more

9. UNEARTHED BAYONET: An Illinois man tilling a garden came across something way the down the list of possible surprises: A rusted bayonet. Did it belong to a soldier serving in Ulysses S. Grant’s first Civil War command?  -- Read more

The bayonet in its temporary exhibit (Nick Little, Market House Antiques)
8. “FIGHTING JOE WHEELER”: A quick jaunt to the Brown’s Mill cavalry battlefield below Atlanta recalls one horrible day for Federal troopers in 1864. Riders under the command of Confederate Lt. Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Wheeler raised hell and sent a Yankee general fleeing across the river into Alabama. -- Read more

7. MYSTERY COFFIN: We invited you to come read the adventure of one coffin, 20 rifles and two caretakers of Georgia history. And you did. The coffin found at Fort McAllister State Park near Savannah is being conserved and officials might use the same chemical treatment on Enfield rifles (right) that were smuggled into Charleston Harbor but were lost when the blockade runner ran aground. -- Read more

6. IRONCLAD REMOVAL CONCLUDED: The CSS Georgia, while woefully underpowered, did its job in Savannah, Ga. It was among a myriad of stationary defenses that kept Federal forces from sailing into the city during the Civil War. Federal officials have now wrapped up their removal of the gunboat’s debris as part of a harbor deepening project. -- Read more

5. CAMP LAWTON SKIRMISH: Archaeology students at a Georgia university found artifacts that might derive from a skirmish between Union and Confederate cavalry during Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea. The fighting took place near a Confederate POW camp that held Union prisoners for several weeks in autumn 1864.  -- Read more

Spencer rifle casing and toe tap with nails
(Courtesy Camp Lawton Archaeological Project)
4. HURRICANE IDA: The Category 4 storms -- bringing heavy rain and wind – hit Gulf Islands National Seashore in late August, and its impact left quite a surprise: Days later and over a period of three weeks, park staff discovered 194 Civil War-era cannonballs, deposited in a couple clusters along a Florida beach. -- Read more

3. COCKSPUR LIGHTHOUSE: Fort Pulaski National Monument near Savannah, Ga completed a project aimed at protecting the small but resilient lighthouse. The 46-foot structure has endured high tides, hurricanes, waves from ever-growing container ships, vandals and – for a deafening 30 hours – the April 1862 bombardment of Fort Pulaski during the Civil War. -- Read more

2. HUNLEY’S SHARP-DRESSED SKIPPER: He was dressed more for a night on the town than for a moonlit submarine journey toward Union vessels blocking Charleston Harbor. Lt. George Dixon was decked out in a three-piece outfit, mid-calf suede boots and silver suspender buckles bearing his initials. Conservators have been analyzing the incredible array of artifacts found inside the submarine since it was raised two decades ago and are now working on a volume about the doomed crew, including personal effects such as clothing, buttons and shoes. -- Read more 

1. CONFEDERATE “CRIBS”: Archaeologists using sonar to scan the bottom of the Savannah River located the remnants of four underwater obstructions placed by Confederate defenders during the Civil War. Dubbed cribs, the wooden structures held bricks and other debris meant to thwart ships. -- Read more

Sonar image of four Confederate cribs in Savannah River (USACE, Savannah)

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

It's a wrap: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officially ends recovery of ironclad CSS Georgia's artifacts in Savannah

Exultant workers lift a piece of the CSS Georgia in November 2013 (USACE)
The recovery of the CSS Georgia, a Confederate ironclad gunboat that saw no action but left thousands of fascinating artifacts in its wake, has been officially completed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah, Ga., recently announced the end to its archaeological data recovery.

“We were able to recover much of the vessel from 2015 to 2017 and have been working to conserve the historical artifacts we found since then,” said Andrea Farmer, Savannah District archaeologist, in a news release. “Removing the Georgia from the river was important, not only for preserving the archaeological record, but also to ensure its safety during the district’s Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.”

Most of the ironclad’s wreckage was removed a few years back as part of the Corps’ deepening of the Savannah River to make room for larger tankers. Thousands of artifacts have since undergone treatment at Texas A&M University.

Conserved artifacts have been transported over the years to Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) in Washington, D.C., where they are being stored and curated for possible museum display. (At left, a Dahlgren hauled up in 2015).

Post-Civil War salvage operations, dredging damage in more recent times and a dearth of historical records make it impossible to come up with firm conclusions on many aspects of the scuttled CSS Georgia, a floating battery that defended the entrance to Savannah’s port during the Civil War.

Archaeologists and historians pored over data that resulted from 2015 and 2017 recovery operations near Fort Jackson and from earlier dives. While they learned much about the underpowered ironclad, a report issued last year said the derisively nicknamed “Mud Tub” will continue to hold mysteries because some vital parts are missing or so disarticulated that it is impossible to come up with a complete picture of the vessel’s design and operation.

There were, however, some critical findings.

“The most specific information concerns the dimensions and construction details of the armored casemate with evidence indicating it was approximately 120 feet long by 44 feet wide,” Panamerican Consultants wrote in a report to the Corps.

Illustration of CSS Georgia near Fort Jackson (USACE)
The sheer number and array of artifacts -- which includes interlocking railroad iron used to for armor -- found in the river made up a large part of the massive report.

This month’s news release from the Corps said the project, which involved contractors and U.S. Navy divers, recovered more than 30,000 artifacts, including 241 pieces of ordnance, five cannons and two large casemate sections. The latter were documented and left in the water.

“Restoring historical artifacts, especially ones found underwater, is a lengthy and expensive process,” Farmer said in the news release. “The artifacts that were not chosen for restoration were placed in containers, transported upriver, and reburied where they will be safe and out of the way for many years to come.”

About 1,600 non-conserved artifacts were shipped to Savannah from Texas and reburied in a secure location in December, ending project data recovery and mitigation activities, said spokesperson Nathan Wilkes of the Corps' Savannah District. “These artifacts were individually inventoried, visually inspected and assessed as nonsignificant at Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Lab.”

Jim Jobling, lab manager at Texas A&M's Conservation Research Laboratory, told the Picket in an email that about 18,500 conserved artifacts have been sent to the NHCC. 

Jim Jobling with a 3D model of an artifact (Picket photo)
Jobling was on barges used in the CSS Georgia recovery and witnessed artifacts being brought up by divers or by machinery and helped catalog them. "It was a good project, with a lot of good people putting in many hours of hard work -- over and above the call of duty."

Locally built in 1862, the CSS Georgia was an integral element of the Confederate defenses that protected Savannah until the Union Army captured the city. In December 1864, the CSS Georgia was scuttled by Confederate forces to prevent it from falling into enemy hands.

Navy officials would like to see many of the items displayed but no museums have committed to such a project, given the expense and required environmental controls to protect the items.

Lt. Anthony Ivester, public affairs officer for the Naval History and Heritage Command, confirmed it has received all conserved artifacts from Texas A&M.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Some unexpected finds and absences in Lee statue time capsule

A rust-colored 1875 almanac, a cloth envelope and a silver coin were found in a time capsule that lay hidden beneath a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Va., for more than 130 years. As intriguing as the water-damaged items were, they’re not what many were expecting to see. Historical records led many to believe the capsule held dozens of objects related to the Confederacy as well as a picture of deceased President Abraham Lincoln -- Article

Monday, December 20, 2021

If he were to die, this Pennsylvania soldier wanted his family to know his fate. Monocacy battlefield in Maryland now has wounded private's ID tag

This metal disk was customized to provide info about Weigel (NPS photos)
Back in October, Matt Borders was on eBay, searching for anything connected to the 138th Pennsylvania Infantry, a unit that was involved in extensive combat during the Civil War.

Borders, a park ranger at Monocacy National Battlefield near Frederick, Md., came across something remarkable -- a rare identification Civil War badge for sale. It bore the name of Pvt. Samuel M. Weigel, who fought with Company G of the 138th at the July 9, 1864, Battle of Monocacy.

Civil War soldiers were afraid of dying in battle unidentified and being laid in an unmarked grave -- their loved ones not knowing their fate. They often would write their name on a piece of paper and attach it to their clothing. Better yet would be a metal disk, such as the one Weigel purchased from a vendor. He likely carried it during several campaigns, including Monocacy, where at age 24 he was seriously wounded.

Matt Borders
Borders spoke with others at the park about the find and whether it could help further tell the story of the battle in which outnumbered Federals delayed Confederates bent on taking Washington, D.C. By the time Jubal Early’s Rebel troops reached the capital’s outskirts, Union reinforcements had arrived.

“We looked to see if it was within the scope of the collection and it fits very nicely,” Jana Friesen McCabe, chief of interpretation at the park, told the Picket.

The National Park Service cannot make purchases on eBay, so the Monocacy National Battlefield Foundation stepped in. The group paid about $1,700 for the tag from a reputable seller on eBay and donated Weigel’s tag to the park, which announced the acquisition last week.

The "final stand" at Monocacy battlefield (NPS)
“It is amazing that after 157 years, this ID disk is returning to the battlefield,” said Andrew Banasik, superintendent of Monocacy National Battlefield, in the press release. “This small piece of metal is a tangible reminder of the price paid by so many to save Washington.”

Telling more stories of the everyman

The donation comes at a fortuitous time for the park.

“We are currently in the process of planning to redo our exhibits, and one of the things we really wanted to highlight and focus (on is) the individual stories of the soldier and the cost of the battle to soldiers and people in the community,” said Friesen McCabe. Among such items already in the park’s collection is a Bible struck by a bullet during the fighting.

The silver ID tag for Sgt. Nicholas G. Wilson (NPS photos)
The Union suffered about 1,300 casualties at Monocacy. The 138th Pennsylvania, which engaged in some of the fiercest fighting, suffered nearly 70, according to its regimental history. Among the severely wounded were Weigel and Sgt. Nicholas G. Wilson, also of Company G. Wilson was shot in the right hand, losing two fingers.

The battlefield already had Wilson’s identification tag. The foundation did not assist with its acquisition.

While Weigel’s disk is believed to be made of copper alloy and customized from a mass-produced design, Wilson’s tag is silver and is in the shape of a shield. The reverse of Weigel's tag features an American stars and stripes shield and the words "AGAINST REBELLION."

Before the United States military provided standard issue identification tags – often called ‘dog tags,’ -- soldiers had to find their own way to ensure their bodies could be identified,” the park says. “Because soldiers had to purchase these tags with their own money, there is no standardized style and no official record of how many soldiers had them.

The men of Company G came from towns in Adams County about 10 miles north of Gettysburg, Pa., according to the Battlefield Back Stories blog. Wilson and Weigel were from the Bendersville farming community.

Wilson was a farmer and blacksmith before the conflict and served to its end, mustering out in June 1865 after being hospitalized in Baltimore and York, Pa. (He is in the photo at left, part of the Library of Congress' collection.)

He had an impressive career afterward, serving as superintendent at the national cemetery in Gettysburg for 15 years, on the local city council and school board and as a state representative for two years.

He died in 1907 at age 75, having worked for years to help develop the Gettysburg battlefield for visitors.

Samuel Meals Weigel’s story is not so well known, according to park officials. He was married to Martha Ann Harmon and they had two boys and two girls.

The retired carpenter died at age 82 in 1922 of intestinal nephritis, according to his death certificate, and was buried in Harrisburg.

Jana Friesen McCabe has served 20 years with the NPS
Park officials say they want to learn more about the private and any descendants. They do not have a photograph of the soldier.

“That is always the dream -- to make those connections and learn if the family has stories to pass down,” said Friesen McCabe. “You find a little piece of something and you have to dig for the other nuggets and threads associated with it.”

Regiment endured fierce fighting

The 138th Pennsylvania was mustered in Harrisburg in 1862. While it missed the fighting at Gettysburg in July 1863, it saw heavy action and casualties at the Wilderness, Cold Harbor and other campaigns in Virginia.

At the November-December 1863 Battle of Mine Run in Orange County, Va., Wilson, shown in a later photo at left, survived a bizarre incident.

“During the engagement a rebel bullet ripped through his knapsack -- in which he had stored 40 rounds of ammunition. The bullet ignited those rounds, and his knapsack was blown right off his back,” says Battlefield Back Stories. “Wilson was otherwise unhurt, and lived to record the tale in a book of personal wartime sketches individually recorded by members of the Corporal Skelly G.A.R. Post 9, today preserved at the Adams County Historical Society.

The regiment was assigned to the Army of Potomac’s VI Corps and took part in Grant’s Overland Campaign. An estimated 27 soldiers with the 138th died at the Wilderness.

In July 1864, the 138th and several other battle-hardened regiments were rushed from Petersburg to Baltimore and by train to Monocacy to help intercept Confederate troops, says Borders, the park ranger. Early had invaded Maryland in a bold plan, and caught the North off-guard.

“They are part of the veteran soldiers who were brought in, says Borders, saying the other half of the Federal troops on site were green. “They are going to have the stiffest fighting along the Thomas Farm portion of the battlefield. They will turn to guard against the flank attack … that is attempting to roll up the Union line.”

By 5 p.m. on July 9, the much larger Confederate force had outstretched the Federal flanks. Having run out of artillery ammunition, troops are ordered by Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace (right) to leave the field and fall back toward Baltimore. While a tactical victory for the South, the battle saved Washington by buying time for Grant to rush men to defend the city.

The regimental history, which transposes the spelling of his name to Wiegel, does not detail Weigel’s wounds. A regimental muster roll spells his name as “Weigle,” says he enlisted in August 1862 and that he was absent following his wounding.

Dedication of the Pennsylvania monument in 1908 (NPS photo)
It is possible Weigel attended the November 1908 dedication of the Pennsylvania monument at Monocacy. The memorial recognizes the service of the 67th, 87th and 138th regiments. About 200 survivors attended the event. (A modern view of the monument is below)

Are there any Weigel descendants?

It’s somewhat providential that Borders, who collects carte de visites, or small portraits of soldiers, came across Weigel’s ID tag, which includes the name Bendersville, his hometown, on the bottom.

Using his private eBay account, Borders every few weeks types in the names of Federal regiments that were at Monocacy and sees what comes up.

The ranger theorizes the artifact probably came from an estate sale to a collector before being offered by the seller on eBay, but officials at this early juncture don’t which descendants may have had it and why it was not kept.

“That is something we are actively working on,” he said.

Borders and Friesen McCabe say Weigel’s ID disk will help tell the story of the battle, its aftermath and medical care (the National Museum of Civil War Medicine is in Frederick).

Alan Duke, president of the Monocacy National Battlefield Foundation, told the Picket:

“The Foundation was very pleased to be able to purchase the ID tag for the Battlefield's museum, especially since it will fit in very nicely with an upcoming planned exhibit.”

Park officials have no firm timetable for the revamped exhibits, but they stress the Weigel tag will help highlight new stories.

“It is a tangible touchstone to talk about Samuel, his injuries, the medical care, survival,” says Friesen McCabe. “A lot of men survived their injuries but they are scarred for life.”

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Questioner seeks more info on Virginia depot destroyed during war

When Union horsemen under command of Maj. Gen. George Stoneman took their extended 1865 sightseeing tour of the New River and Roanoke valleys as well as points west and south, they laid waste to much more than lengths of Virginia and Tennessee Railroad tracks. The federal cavalry visit to Salem that spring involved destruction of the local depot. That episode prompted a related question. -- article

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

USS Monitor: Navy recognizes Virginia museum for cleaning of ironclad's two Dahlgren guns, which are still being conserved

Erik Farrell uses special drill in Dahlgren bore in early 2020 (Mariners' Museum and Park)
The conservation team that cleaned the inside of the 13-foot guns of the USS Monitor has been recognized with a maintenance excellence award from the U.S. Navy and a video showcasing the exacting work that involved precision tools and a whole lot of muck.

The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) awarded the Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va., a Pennant of Excellence for helping to preserve the heritage of the armed service.

In February and March 2020, the conservators removed the last concretion from inside the barrels of the smoothbore 11-inch Dahlgren guns.

They used a special drill and spade bit to remove the hardened mix of sediment and sea life.
The weapons were inside the USS Monitor turret that was raised from the Atlantic Ocean floor in 2002 and have been in their own treatment tanks since 2004.

The first gun yielded pieces of crab, seashells and coal while the second held a bolt. Neither contained the remains of a cat that legend holds was stuffed into a barrel by a sailor moments before the USS Monitor sank on Dec. 31, 1862.

Once conservation is complete, the two guns will go on display. They will help tell the story of the innovative warship that tangled with the CSS Virginia in March 1862 – the first battle between ironclads.

"The guns still require additional work. Desalination has to be completed, followed by removal of the treatment solution, controlled drying, and the application of different coatings to strengthen and protect the guns,” Erik Farrell, an archaeological conservator, said in a statement to the Picket.

“Because of the fragility of the material, the guns cannot be dried until an environmentally controlled case is available. Funding dependent, the remainder of the conservation process is expected to take around three years," he said.

Farrell is among those showcased in the new video, which was produced by the museum and SoundVision Studios. It shows the boring process and includes interviews with those involved.

The museum team and Master Machine & Tool of Newport News built a custom boring apparatus and cradle support to clean the bores. The barrels had between 1" and 3" thickness of concretion covering them all the way down the bore and forward to the muzzle -- hence the need to clean the inside of the 8-ton guns and help remove harmful ocean salts.    

In 2018, Farrell and others traveled to a Naval History and Heritage Command facility to look at a similar Dahlgren -- one used by the USS Kearsarge, the sloop of war famous for sinking the Confederate raider CSS Alabama off Cherbourg, France, in 1864.

They were able to measure the interior of the gun and learned both the Monitor and Kearsarge barrels -- which were made at the same foundry – were built to a specific Board of Ordnance pattern. The measurements would help crews know exactly how far down to drill without causing damage.

(Photo at left: One of the Dahlgrens in its treatment tank. The Picket took this photo during a visit a few years ago)

During the project in early 2020, water was pushed inside the barrels as the drilling did its magic, forcing sediment and muck out. “Sludge in this operation is a sign of success,” said one speaker in the eight-minute video. The effort included chiseling hard material to see what was inside.

The NHHC maintenance award is presented to nonprofits that demonstrate the greatest improvement in an artifact’s conditions over the past year.

Conservators with the pennant honoring their work (Mariners' Museum and Park)
“Private museums are critical in telling the Navy story, and this award recognizes The Mariners’ Museum and its Conservation team as a force multiplier in informing the public of our Navy’s history,” NHHC Director Samuel Cox said in a press release. “Their efforts honor those that have served as they continue to inspire and educate our next generation.”

Conserving the thousands of recovered items is not work for those who want instant results.

The process can take anywhere from months to years. The turret, which has been in a treatment tank for nearly two decades, needs another 10-15 years of conservation to draw all the salts out, officials say.

The museum has a blog with posts by USS Monitor conservators about the ongoing work to prepare artifacts for possible display. Click here to see posts about the boring and the turret.

One of the barrels before the boring project (Mariners' Museum and Park)

Sunday, December 5, 2021

North Carolina Civil War center gets some good news on funding

The N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center, an $80 million project, appears to be on the glide path to construction in Fayetteville, N.C., thanks to a cash influx in the recent state budget. “Absolutely yes, it will be built,” said David Winslow, a consultant for the center. “No ‘ifs’ ‘ands’ or ‘buts on that.’” Organizers hope to break ground in July 2023 and plan a grand opening for April 2025. -- See article