Tuesday, February 22, 2022

CSS Neuse Center schedules a March event to roll out exhibition

The CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center in Kinston, N.C., will unveil its final phase of permanent exhibits. Entitled, “The Civil War in Eastern North Carolina,” these exhibits will showcase a variety of aspects of the Civil War including causes, military engagements and personalities and the involvement of women and African Americans during the conflict. An event is planned for the evening of March 11. -- Article

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Descendants of African-American soldiers honored for efforts to have marble tablets bearing 300 names displayed again in Amherst, Mass.

(Jen Reynolds, Senior Services, town of Amherst)
The Amherst Historical Society this past weekend honored a family that worked for years to have marble tablets containing the names of more than 300 Union soldiers and sailors put back on public display in the Massachusetts town.

The Arthur F. Kinney Conch Shell Award was bestowed to Debora Bridges and Anika Lopes, the daughter and granddaughter of the late Dudley J. Bridges Sr. The three lobbied to have the tablets -- which were put in storage in the mid-1990s -- restored and put on display. 

Bridges died in 2004, but townspeople, officials and descendants of Christopher Thompson of the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry continued the effort to have the heavy, but fragile monuments refurbished and reinstalled in a suitable setting. The artifacts were finally put on display last summer at Bangs Community Center.

Debora Bridges is a tour guide for the plaques and Lopes serves on the Town Council.

Debora Bridges, Anika Lopes and William Harris during Saturday's presentation
The Conch Shell Award is “given to recognize valuable contributions to the preservation and appreciation of Amherst history.” Referred in colonial times as “ye auld kunk,” the device was used in the 1700s to call Amherst residents to town meeting and worship, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

The historical society said it wanted to recognize Dudley Bridges Sr., a World War II veteran, for spending the last years of his life advocating and fundraising for the effort, and Debora Bridges and Lopes -- who are descendants of Christopher Thompson -- for seeing the work to completion. (Dudley Bridges Sr.’s wife, Doris, was a direct descendant of Christopher Thompson)

The elder Bridges wanted the tablets displayed to honor both white and black volunteers.

E.M. Stanton Post 147 of the Grand Army of the Republic, a national Civil War veterans group, donated the tablets to the town in 1893. They were unusual for the time by mentioning 21 Black soldiers, seven of whom fought with the 54th Massachusetts and 14 in the 5th Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry (Colored). Five died during the war.

(Jen Reynolds, Senior Services, town of Amherts)
About 100 African-Americans lived in the Amherst area when the Civil War broke out. According to family history, Christopher T. Thompson volunteered with his three brothers. He was a 44-year-old farmer when he enlisted in January 1864. His son also signed up.

The 54th Massachusetts, of course, is most known for its valiant attack on Battery Wagner near Charleston, S.C., in July 1863, a scene depicted in the movie “Glory.”

The 5th Massachusetts Cavalry fought in Virginia, including around Richmond and Petersburg, and guarded prisoners in Maryland. It was sent to Clarksville, Texas, east of Dallas, at war’s end.

Among the names on the tablets are the Thompson siblings: Christopher, Henry and John served with the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry while James joined the 54th. Christopher’s son, Charles, also was part of the 5th Cavalry.

The tablets were displayed in Town Hall until the building was renovated in the mid-1990s. They were placed in storage in 1997 and had been away from the public’s eye since. Four list veterans and a fifth tablet lists those who died during the conflict.

Dudley Bridges Sr. (left) developed a plan to move the tablets from a storage area at a nearby gravel pit to an intersection above Amherst College, not far from Town Hall. The proposal was approved in 2001 and the tablets were restored by a Connecticut firm in 2010. The next steps in getting the tablets in the public stalled for a while.

Christine Brestrup, the town’s planning director, told the Picket that the Amherst Historical Commission was instrumental in having the plaques restored and eventually put on display.

The award was bestowed Saturday afternoon via Zoom at the society’s annual meeting. William Harris, also a descendant of Christopher Thompson and CEO of Space Center Houston, spoke with Debora Bridges and Lopes during the presentation.

Lopes said of the tablets: “They represent unmatched courage and sacrifice that led to my sitting here before you all today with my family as free human beings.”

Harris said the family turned to the National Archives for research on the Thompsons, and they gleaned a lot of information through pension requests on file. The veterans needed depositions about their character and service and there are profiles about them.

(Jen Reynolds, Senior Services, town of Amherst)
“That's actually how I found the file of one of our … ancestors, who is part of the Fort Wagner assault and it was his medical file from and many of you know that these they ended up sending many of the African American soldiers ahead, and it was hand to hand combat.

“And it showed where he had been bayoneted in the battle. He survived that battle. We actually (were) holding his actual medical record from the field hospital where they were documenting his wounds.”

The tablets can be seen at the Bangs Community Center in Amherst from 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m on Tuesdays-Thursdays.

Amherst Town Hall was built in the late 1800s (Wikipedia)

Friday, February 11, 2022

Portraits of 17 Black Civil War soldiers to be exhibited in West Virginia

An exhibit of portraits of Black soldiers who served in the Civil War is coming to West Virginia's capital, Charleston. Artist Shayne Davidson has been touring the country with the exhibit "Seventeen Men," named for the 17 soldiers portrayed in the exhibit, since 2012, West Virginia Public Broadcasting reports. The portraits are based on tiny photos that were in an album once belonging to Davidson’s friend’s great-grandfather. -- Article

Monday, February 7, 2022

2 million artifacts later, Jim Jobling, conservator of CSS Georgia and other Civil War vessels, retires from Texas A&M lab

Jim Jobling, in 2017 at CSS Georgia recovery site, with 3D propeller model (Picket photo)
Jim Jobling, who was on deck when amazing artifacts from the CSS Georgia were brought to the surface in Savannah, Ga., and later tended to them during conservation, has retired from the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University.

The South Africa native was a familiar figure during the 2015 and 2017 recovery of the scuttled Confederate floating battery from the Savannah River. Beneath a hard hat, he was usually dressed in a blue shirt and white pants, helping to bring items onto the barge, where he helped clean and sort them for transport from Savannah, Ga., to College Station.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Savannah District was in charge of removing the wreckage of the ironclad as part of a harbor deepening project. Among the contractors was Texas A&M, renowned for its nautical archaeology program.

Jobling retired on Jan. 7 after 37 years with the university. He served as lab manager.

I have done numerous posts on the CSS Georgia, and visited the recovery operations twice. Jobling, the chief conservator, was always very accessible and helpful. He and the TAMU team sent more than 18,000 artifacts to the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command after they were conserved.

Of the CSS Georgia, Jobling said: “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.”

During Jobling's tenurethe CRL took on 203 individual projects, conserving over 2 million artifacts, officials said. "His background is pretty incredible; between his years as a soldier in South Africa to working as a technical diver in Antarctica, he's pretty much seen it all, and as such, he was always clear-eyed and steady-handed at the lab," lab director Chris Dostal told the Picket.

The archaeologist learned to scuba dive as a young man and explored shipwrecks in his native country before moving to the US. At Texas A&M he was involved in both land and nautical projects, among them the La Belle in Matagorda Bay, Texas, CSS Alabama (1864), Heroine (1838), USS Westfield (1863), and treatment of cannons from the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, and Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Fla.

The Conservation Research Lab recently posted a Facebook tribute to “the one and only” Jobling.

Jim has been many things to everyone who works at or visits the lab. He's an endless font of information -- and stories -- with a true love of history. He's a jokester. He's a problem solver - usually solving problems by cobbling together some clever device. He's there to remind us of what's important when we're feeling down or frustrated, usually with a few ‘Jim-isms’ thrown in (‘What you need to do and that is...’). He's a friend."

Gordon Watts, an underwater archaeologist who has worked on numerous shipwrecks or debris sites, including the CSS Georgia, worked with Jobling in Savannah and said he thinks the archaeologist will keep in touch with the lab in some capacity.

“He and Dr. (Donny) Hamilton made the conservation program at TAMU the best in the US,” Watts told the Picket in an email. “No one better.”

Dostal said Jobling was a great networker and was one call away from reaching someone who could help solve a problem or answer a question.

"I have no idea how many of our former students he has helped over the years, but there are quite a few of us that are forever grateful for his mentorship and friendship. It's a hard-earned and well-deserved retirement, but he is always going to be a major part of the lab, and we already miss him."

Jobling apparently hasn't slowed down since retirement. He is assisting in the study of Revolutionary War-era cannon recently raised from the Savannah River.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Robert Smalls: House bill would name a Beaufort, S.C., post office branch for the Civil War hero, former slave

A bill naming a post office in Beaufort, S.C., for Civil War hero Robert Smalls, who escaped slavery by commandeering a Rebel steamship, has passed a US House committee.

He leaves an unmistakable legacy of grit, bravery, and determination which is imbued in the spirit of the Lowcountry to this day,” Rep. Nancy Mace said in a statement Wednesday. She calls Smalls an "exceptional American."

At the start of the Civil War, the enslaved Smalls was a pilot on the CSS Planter. On the morning of May 13, 1862, Smalls led the takeover of the ship by its slave crew, sailed past Charleston 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.

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.

The entire South Carolina congressional delegation supports the honor at a shopping plaza on, fittingly, Robert Smalls Parkway, Mace said. John Seibels, Mace’s spokesman, told the Island Packet newspaper that the bill will go the House floor for a vote, which he said will likely pass easily.

The naming would be the latest honor for Smalls.

After the war, he returned to his hometown Beaufort and bought his former master’s home. Following a stint 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. Smalls died in 1915 at age 75.

Each day I spend in Congress, I strive to live up to the values which Robert Smalls so clearly embodied," said Mace.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Confederate generals decided in this Vicksburg home to surrender. Now Pemberton's headquarters is getting some much-needed repairs

John C. Pemberton and his headquarters (Library of Congress and National Park Service)
As Union forces tightened their siege of Vicksburg, Ms., in spring 1863, Confederate soldiers and civilians alike lived under constant terror from thousands of artillery shells raining down on the fortress city

Emma Balfour (below), whose stately mansion was among those on bluffs above the Mississippi River, chronicled the siege with colorful prose, including this passage in her diary: “As I sat at my window, I saw mortars from the west passing entirely over the house and the parrot shells from the east passing by, crossing each other, and this terrible fire raging in the center.”

At a residence next door on Crawford Street, Confederate Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton – working from a first-floor office -- and his staff tried to manage the desperate situation. But by July 2, it appeared his isolated, famished and exhausted army could withstand no more. That night, they met and decided to negotiate for peace with Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

“This was the culmination of one of the most brilliant military campaigns of the war. With the loss of Pemberton's army and this vital stronghold on the Mississippi, the Confederacy was effectively split in half,” the National Park Service says. “Grant's successes in the West boosted his reputation, leading ultimately to his appointment as General-in-Chief of the Union armies.

Many historians consider the loss of Vicksburg and the Union victory that day at Gettysburg to be the turning point of the Civil War.

Pemberton’s Headquarters survived, becoming a residence, Catholic school and bed and breakfast over the years. The NPS acquired the property in 2003 and opened it to visitors from 2008 to 2016, when it was closed because of safety concerns.

Now, the Greek Revival National Historic Landmark is undergoing a $704,000 rehabilitation by Vicksburg National Military Park. Work, which began Monday and is expected to last into October, will primarily focus on the front porch and roof.

“Installing a new roofing system to today's roofing code will allow for a weathertight structure which will include a new slate roof, a stainless-steel coated metal roof, proper flashing at chimneys and walls, structural modifications throughout, and preservation repairs to wooden elements,” an overview of the project says.

Crews will document and dismantle the porch’s wooden structure “and masonry base down to grade, and then reconstruct the porch with salvaged materials when possible,” according to the Vicksburg Post newspaper.

A dweller in a Vicksburg cave beseeches the almighty (Library of Congress)
Pemberton used the Willis-Cowan House as his headquarters from May 23-July 4, 1863. William Bobb built the residence in 1835-36 and it was owned during the war by John Willis.

The location was ideal for the general, situated on the airy bluffs well above the stagnant marshes along the river, and close to the city's commercial and government center,” the park service says. It was his second headquarters during the siege; the first deemed too exposed to enemy fire.

The home’s rich history is documented in a 2005 NPS report that includes other diary entries from Balfour during the siege.

On May 23, the day Pemberton moved into the Willis-Cowan House, she wrote:

“I had to stop writing on Thursday. The shells exploded so thickly all around us, all day… We sat or stood in front of the house til eleven o’clock, knowing that it would never do to go to bed as several houses had already been struck, Mrs. Pryor’s and Mrs. Willis’ … “

Bombproofs near the Shirley House in Vicksburg (Library of Congress)
At this point, hundreds of terrified Vicksburg residents were living in caves dug into hillsides. Balfour and her husband stayed at home, taking in wounded soldiers. She reportedly sent buttermilk to a Confederate general and his staff each morning.

Balfour penned this passage on May 30:

“We had comparative quiet yesterday, after the morning, till five o’clock when the most fearful cannonading commenced from the lines. I never saw anything like it. People were running in every direction to find a place of safety. The shells fell literally like hail. Mrs. Willis’ house was struck twice and two horses in front of her door killed. Gen. Pemberton and staff had to quit it.”

(National Park Service, click to enlarge)
Balfour’s diary speaks of some damage to Pemberton’s Headquarters, though historians considered it minor, according the NPS. Damage to the floor in one bedroom is believed to be a result of the bombardment and a number of windows were likely blown out.

By July, the situation was untenable for the besieged. Years after the war, Pemberton wrote:

“Feeling assured that it was useless to hope longer for assistance from General Johnston, either to raise the siege of Vicksburg or to rescue the garrison, I summoned division and brigade commanders, with one or two others, to meet in my quarters on the night of the second of July. All the correspondence that had taken place during the siege was laid before these officers. After much consideration it was advised that I address a note to General Grant, proposing the appointment of commissioners to arrange terms of capitulation.”

Pemberton sent a letter to Grant on July 3 and the surrender occurred the next day.

Home of William and Emma Balfour and an old photo of Pemberton HQ
(Robert Berryman, Wikipedia, and Library of Congress)
In a twist of fate, Balfour’s home became the headquarters of Union Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson. The couple returned later; Emma died in 1887, 10 years after her husband.

As for the future of Pemberton’s Headquarters? The park service said it is considering the best use in the long term. Given needed repairs to the interior, there is no current reopening date.

Brendan Wilson of Vicksburg National Military Park said staff will post updates on the project and a photo gallery of the work here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Gettysburg's famed Little Round Top will be closed 12-18 months during project addressing erosion, parking, accessibility and more

Tree cutting this month at Little Round Top will kick off a larger rehabilitation project that will include a 12-18 month closure of the hill where Union forces fought off a furious Confederate assault, Gettysburg National Military Park announced Tuesday.

Park officials said they are addressing ongoing problems at the overcrowded site. They cited erosion, overwhelmed parking areas, poor accessibility and related safety hazards, and degraded vegetation.

Once rehabilitation efforts begin, all of Little Round Top will be closed for 12 to 18 months, the park said. Officials said Wednesday they were unable to provide details on the exact timing of the beginning of the closure, other than "later in Spring 22."

“This project will also enhance the visitor experience with improved interpretive signage, new accessible trail alignments, and gathering areas. These improvements will allow visitors to better immerse themselves into the historic landscape that is essential to understanding the three-day Battle of Gettysburg,” a news release said. 

A park page on the project says the aim is to “reestablish, preserve, and protect the features that make up this segment of the battlefield landscape.” 

Little Round Top seen from Plum Run Valley (Library of Congress)
Little Round Top and Sykes Avenue will be closed Feb. 9-11 and Feb. 14-16 for the cutting of up to 63 trees along both sides of the road. The park says the removal is necessary for the project.

The work is happening now so as not to interfere with the nesting and breeding of northern long-eared and Indiana bats that may roost in the area. “Both species of bat are on the federal endangered species list and the select tree cutting project must be completed before their anticipated arrival in early spring when nesting activities typically begin.”

Little Round Top is the location of some of the most famous fighting of the battle

Rising 164 feet above the Plum Run Valley to the west, the boulder-strewn hill became the anchor of the Union’s left flank and a focal point of Confederate attacks on the afternoon of July 2, 1863.  The 4th,15th and 47th Alabama regiments made a series of legendary assaults against the 20th Maine, led by Col. Joshua Chamberlain (right).    

“The (Maine) regiment’s sudden, desperate bayonet charge blunted the Confederate assault on Little Round Top and has been credited with saving Major General George Gordon Meade’s Army of the Potomac, winning the Battle of Gettysburg and setting the South on a long, irreversible path to defeat,” according to the American BattlefieldTrust