Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Popular Michigan muster, last held in 2018, is making a return

Michigan’s popular Jackson Civil War Muster is back after four years, and at its original location in Cascades Fall Park. The muster will be marking its 35th anniversary on Saturday, Aug. 27, and Sunday, Aug. 28. Officials are still choosing what battle will be reenacted. Organizers are adding a Civil War coffee wagon and other items. -- Article

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Black luminaries among potential new names for military bases

African Americans from Virginia honored for their Civil War service to the Union are among 87 potential new names for nine federal military posts that now honor Confederates, including three in Virginia -- Fort Lee, Fort A.P. Hill and Fort Pickett. A federal commission recently said that it has reduced 34,000 submissions to 87 potential names.

Among them are Virginia-born William Carney, the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor, Powhatan Beaty (left), who received a similar honor for service at Chaffin’s Farm, and surgeon Alexander T. Augusta. -- Article

Thursday, March 17, 2022

National Civil War Museum offers free admission for low-income visitors

The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa., just opened its doors wider by joining Museums for All, a program that allows people receiving SNAP benefits to get into cultural institutions for free. People receiving food assistance benefits now can get free admission for up to four people upon into the museum in Reservoir Park. -- Article

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

High-tech talent: Savannah College of Art and Design students bring wow factor to story of USS Montauk, other monitors at Fort McAllister

Renderings of the USS Montauk, tent, cabin base, home and cannon (Courtesy of SCAD)
A couple years back, Greg Johnson and his family traveled just south of Savannah, Ga., to visit Fort McAllister State Park home to well-preserved Confederate earthworks that withstood naval bombardments before the post fell to a Federal land attack in late 1864.

Johnson, interactive design and game development professor at the renowned Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), struck up a conversation with interpretive ranger Michael Ellis.

Ellis had a vision for an enhanced museum exhibit dedicated to the Rebel raider CSS Nasvhille (Rattlesnake), which was destroyed by the Union Passaic-class monitor USS Montauk near the fort. Ellis hoped for wall panels about the monitors, a model of the Montauk and a film about the day it encountered the famed Rattlesnake, causing a fire and massive explosion.

Greg Johnson
But money was tight, and there was a question about who could provide the technology and do the work.

An idea was born during the chat.

Johnson pitched it to his bosses at SCAD as a way for students to get real-world experience. SCAD students study all forms of graphic design, gaming and other technology. Administrators signed on – and donated thousands of dollars -- and Johnson and his students got to work.

The efforts are about to pay off in the park’s museum, with the interpretive panels and 3D model of the Montauk expected to debut this spring or summer, followed by the movie, likely next year.

Visitors will encounter compelling information on the innovative monitors and the students will take skills gleaned from this and other projects to the workforce.

“It is a real production opportunity. Students often work on their own projects and group projects,” Johnson told the Picket during a phone call involving him and student Rachel Langley. “It is another level to take student work and turn it into a professional production.”

Rendering of the CSS Nashville/Rattlesnake (Courtesy of SCAD)
Students in a SCAD class developed a script, graphic images and models for the film, which at first they hoped would have a gaming-type style.

“This serves as a real world example and using this for a very different, purpose -- for education. You can work for a museum. Not just for games,” said the professor.

Judd Smith, a Georgia parks historian who is overseeing the project, said it’s an opportunity to tell the story of these ironclads.

“A lot of people think about the Monitor and the Merrimack,” he said. “This is an opportunity to bring that story to Georgia, because these ships were there, part of the blockading squadron.”

Research, research, research

Langley, who took a leadership role in the early 2021 class, grew up in the town of Richmond Hill, home to Fort McAllister. “The project is very near and dear to my heart,” she told the Picket.

The USS Montauk receives fire from Fort McAllister as it pounds the Nashville
Among the first tasks was launching intensive research on the USS Montauk and other Passaic-class monitors that saw action at Fort McAllister and later in the Charleston, S.C., area.

Park staff and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources assisted and have provided oversight on all aspects.

The class took place in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, so many meetings were on Zoom. Students met three or four times at the fort, consulting with staff and doing research. “We went out one time for a cannon firing to record audio,” Langley said.

Johnson went to and dug up official histories of the Civil War. “We scoured the internet for every image of the Montauk.”

While the monitors were mass-produced, they did undergo changes during the service, and the class wanted to be sure the appearance of the Montauk matched the time it prowled off Fort McAllister.

"The Montauk had gone through a lot of changes by the time it had the battle with the Nashville,” said Langley (above).

The park has blueprints of the Montauk and Johnson used a special camera rig to take photographs of the large sheets to help in modeling the craft.

Greg Johnson used a special rig to take photos of giant blueprints (Courtesy of SCAD)
They produced a graphic of the Rattlesnake for the movie, but there were no known photos or blueprints to work from. Students studied a 3-foot wooden model in the museum and reached out to experts and online resources.

Langley pored over the Montauk’s ship’s log, which included some descriptions of the Confederate raider.

Ships, fort pounded away

Before we get into what the SCAD students are producing, first a little more background on the single-turret USS Montauk and the CSS Nashville.

The Union navy, as it continued its chokehold on Southern ports and readied for offensive operations, sent the Montauk and sister monitors Passaic, Patapsco and Nahantsupported by gunboats Seneca, Dawn and Wissahickon to bombard and capture Fort McAllister in January 1863.

Consider it a trial run of sorts for the armored vessels, which effectively brought to an end the day of the wooden fighting ship.

The skipper of the Montauk was John Worden (left), famous for being the USS Monitor’s captain when it clashed with the CSS Virginia in 1862.

Capable Confederate gunners at Fort McAllister hit the ironclad 13 times in its first action, but caused little damage. A second attack on Feb. 1 found the vessel, according to histories, pounded by 48 shells. The Montauk's sister ships also took part in the action.

Its big day came on February 28, 1863. The sidewheeler CSS Nashville, which was bottled up and hiding under the guns of Fort McAllister for protection, tried to get away from the Federal ironclads via Seven-Mile Bend on the Ogeechee River, said Smith.

"The Ogeechee River is a tidal river, with lots of sand bars,” he said. “It ran aground just past the fort.”

The 215-foot ship commanded by Lt. Thomas Harrison Baker became a sitting duck.

“During the February 28, 1863 attack, Montauk’s XV- and 11-inch Dahlgrens were able to destroy the former commerce raider CSS Nashville. Worden was pleased with his destruction of ‘this troublesome pest’” wrote John V. Quarstein, director emeritus of the USS Monitor Center in a blog post.

“However, Montauk suffered a huge jolt when it struck a Confederate torpedo en route down the Ogeechee River. Worden’s quick thinking saved his ironclad and he, the hero of USS Monitor,  received even greater laurels for his newest decisive actions.”

Limitations of the monitors

The Union naval attacks on Fort McAllister were less successful. The low-profile earthen fort could withstand the shelling and repairs could be readily made. This proved to be the case when the monitors later challenged Confederate fortifications in the Carolinas.

Earthen fortifications were a plus for fort defenders (Georgia DNR)
After the USS Montauk returned to Port Royal, S.C., Worden advised Adm. Samuel Du Pont that that monitors’ rate of fire was too slow and that shells could do little against earthen forts, according to Quarstein.

While monitors had adequate armor to protect themselves, Worden noted that these warships had several weak points, such as an exposed pilothouse and the unprotected link between the turret and deck that could be jammed by solid shot. He also reported that monitors were vulnerable to Confederate torpedoes as their hulls had only one-inch boilerplate. While Worden had not destroyed Fort McAllister or the railroad bridge over the Big Ogeechee, he was able to destroy the CSS Nashville, adding luster to this outstanding leader’s already impressive legacy.

USS Montauk (left) and USS Lehigh in Philadelphia, about 1902 (Wikipedia)
The Federal Navy made some improvements to the monitors to shield them from plunging, or arc, fire. They remained targets of Confederate snipers who tried to shoot through openings in the armor.

(Interestingly, the Montauk was a temporary prison for accused Lincoln assassination conspirators in 1865 and the body of John Wilkes Booth was examined there.)

While the Montauk was scrapped in the early 1900s, Fort McAllister State Park’s grounds and museum have a large number of CSS Nashville artifacts and facsimiles, said Ellis, who now works at Fort King Georgia State Historic Site in Darien, Ga.

A pavilion houses several pieces of the engine (above) and the interior collection includes part of a cannon, ship fixtures, fittings, cargo tag, personal items and much more.

The wall panels: Telling the story

The five new wall panels in the museum will cover these topics: Civil War monitors, the Passaic class of monitors, armament, ironclads versus an earthen fort, and what happened to the USS Montauk and he others at Fort McAllister after the fighting.

SCAD students wrote the initial text and they were reviewed by park staff and Smith and others.

“It was back and forth and back and forth several times,” said Adams, adding the class made sure the style was current for the museum and that the information was neutral and appealed to a broad audience.

The 3 feet by 5 feet panels -- which feature photographs, paintings and drawings -- are being printed this month Savannah and the park staff will install them. (Detail of one panel, at right, courtesy of Georgia DNR)

“The quality of the panels (is) above and beyond,” said Ellis.

The model: Born from a 3D printer

The SCAD class used a variety of programs, including Adobe Illustrator, Maya and Unreal Engine, for the Fort McAllister project. Raw images were put through Illustrator.

For the model and other graphics for the film, the team needed to convert files from pixel based to mathematical vector-based images. Once a 2D image file was created, another student worked on the 3D model from those images, according to Johnson and Langley.

“It turned into a much more extensive project than we estimated at first,” Johnson said. “It looks great.”

One of several computer-generated Montauk renderings (Courtesy of SCAD)
The rendering of the Montauk has to be high resolution for the printable model but a lower resolution for a game-style application. “A game can’t handle the level of detail that a 3D printer can handle,” Johnson said.

The 3D printer will produce a couple dozen pieces that must be glued and painted using Adobe Substance 3D PainterEach of the navy monitors had a slightly different paint job.

"The Montauk model is in the process of being adapted for 3D printing and should be ready by the end of the month," Langley said. "I’m super excited to get to paint this beautiful model."

The state is paying for a case for the 3D model so that it can be next to the CSS Nashville model. The USS Montauk will be about 3 feet long, a tad shorter than that of the Nashville.

The film: Maybe more like Ken Burns 

Cue up images of artillery pieces and a cannon ball. One bell sounds, 2 bells sound, three bells and then narration to a bird’s-eye views of the Confederate blockade runner.

“The year is 1863. It’s a cool February morning, the 28th. The CSS Nashville, a war-forged Confederate ship, had been refitted and renamed to run the powerful Union blockade stretching down the Georgia coast and over the Ogeechee River.”

Lifeboat rendering for movie (Courtesy of SCAD)
So begins the SCAD script to the planned five-minute film at Fort McAllister. It covers the action and destruction of the Nashville, with music fading out.

Langley said the class created the script, story board and an animation animatic that depicts every scene. “It is a very first rough draft of what eventually will be produced,” said Johnson.

While the original hope was to do a video-game look inside the Unreal Engine program, reality soon set in. The students were way too ambitious.

One class was not near enough to accomplish such a large task and several of the 15 or so students graduated or had to take other classes.

The team might adapt the Ken Burns style instead, using some of the graphic features that were produced, such as the cannons, a house, tent and the Rattlesnake. Another class or two will be needed to finish the film, which could turn out more documentary than video game.

“Movie work has not resumed yet, but we are hoping for it to resume next year with a new class of students and a proper production schedule to help them fulfill their goal," Langley said this week.

Model of CSS Nashville at the museum (Fort McAllister State Historic Park)
Burns’ documentaries are known for the presentation of high-resolution photos, with the camera moving over the photos -- creating motion from static images. “We are changing the graphics a little bit. Rather than one year, it can be done in one quarter,” said Johnson, adding there will be voices in the presentation.

“It will still look extremely good,” with live action and digital effects.

“It is going to look really slick, the closest thing you can get to building a monitor and a Confederate ship blasting themselves to smithereens,” added Johnson.

Park manager Jason Carter told the Picket that he is happy with the film being more of a movie or documentary, given game technology changes so fast. He is pleased that it will include 3D images and other CGI (computer generated imagery).

“It is using technology we did not have 20 years ago,” Smith said.

Weehawken, Montauk and Passaic fire on Fort Moultrie in Sept. 1863 (Wikipedia)

Friday, March 11, 2022

Devil's Den, a rocky focal point on the second day of Gettysburg, will close for 6 months as park addresses erosion and safety issues

Visitors to Devil's Den a few years after the battle (Library of Congress)
A second landmark at Gettysburg National Military Park will close for several months this year for major rehabilitation.

Park officials announced Thursday that work at Devil’s Den is expected to begin on March 21. The closure will last five to six months as crews address “significant erosion and safety issues in this highly visited area of the battlefield.”

Devil’s Den was the scene of fierce fighting on July 2, 1863, during the decisive battle. The boulder-strewn hill was the object of forces under Confederate Lt. James Longstreet. The Rebels took the position and engaged in fire with Union troops on Little Round Top.

The park said the work is needed because of the erosion along existing walkways and from unauthorized social trails that have created safety hazards.

“The scope of the project will reestablish, preserve, and protect the features that make up this segment of the battlefield landscape,” it said in a statement. “These improvements will allow visitors to better immerse themselves into the historic landscape that is essential to understanding the three-day Battle of Gettysburg.

Crawford Avenue, Sickles Avenue and the Devil’s Den parking area will remain open as much as possible for visitor use. Adjacent battlefield locations, such as the Slaughter Pen, Devil’s Kitchen, and the Triangular Field, will all remain open. The construction contractor will occasionally need to close all road access around the area, but notices will be posted ahead of time, the park said.

View of Devil's Den from Little Round Top (Wikipedia, Wilson44691)
The announcement came about a month after the National Park Service detailed a rehabilitation project on Little Round Top, where Union forces fought off a furious Confederate assault, also on July 2.

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.

“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. 

An update this week said tree cutting was completed last month and the overall project is out for bid, with two contracts: one for overall construction and the second for revegetation of Little Round Top.

The closure of Little Round Top is expected to begin sometime between March 20 and June 21. The project will take up to 18 months to complete, officials previously said.

After the park announced the Devil's Den closure in a Facebook post, critics and supporters weighed in. One said the need for work at both areas has been known for years and the public will be disappointed that two landmarks will be closed at the same time. Others said people should be grateful the work is happening to perpetuate the memory of those who fought there.

Park spokesman Jason Martz told the Picket in an email that the timing of the projects is coincidence, but they are both meant to address problem areas.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Cannons and cribs: Archaeologists provide details on Revolutionary War weapons and Confederate water obstructions found in Savannah River

Planks at the bottom of this obstruction are shown in dark area (USACE)
Over the years, underwater archaeologists have found that amid all the junk littering the bottom of the Savannah River is a trove of treasure.

Such was the case in 2021, when they spotted 15 Revolutionary War-era cannons and explored obstructions placed in the river 85 years later during the Civil War.

Contractors working for the US Army Corps of Engineers surveyed and dived two Confederate “cribs” -- or tall wooden boxes filled mostly with brick – that discouraged the approach of Union ships to the port city. Forces towed the wooden obstructions, believed to be 40 feet by 40 feet, and put them in place near Fort Jackson and the ironclad CSS Georgia, a floating battery that was part of the Savannah River defenses.

Archaeologists last month provided details of the Revolutionary War and Civil War artifacts during a public event at the Savannah History Museum. Three cannons were recovered last year, while the other 12 were pulled up in January.

The Army Corps’ Savannah district funded the hard-hat dives as part of the busy Georgia port’s channel deepening.

About a half dozen severely degraded cribs are on the South Carolina side of the river. Crews focused on what are called cribs C and D.

Commonwealth Heritage Group divers found some planks used to build Crib C.

“On top of the planks it was tons of bricks that we dug through, and then underneath the planks it was sterile sand and Miocene clay, which is the base of the river,” said archaeologist Stephen James. “That basically told us we were at the bottom of the crib.”

They found an intact corner at Crib D. While C won’t be impacted by the deepening, the remnants of D were documented and then largely destroyed by dredging, James said. “There is very little of the cribs left.”

The Confederacy used a wide array of weapons and obstructions to deter advances on Savannah from the sea. Besides forts and warships, wooden cribs, pile dams, torpedoes (mines), snags, logs and shipwrecks were employed.

Divers located an intact corner on this obstruction (USACE)
Time and dredging have taken their toll on the cribs over the past 160 years. But that’s not all.

After the Civil War ended in 1865, the city wanted to reopen the port and it hired salvage companies to remove river obstructions, including the cribs and pieces of the scuttled CSS Georgia. 

“They had their own demolition. Surprisingly, they had divers back then, had pretty heavy-duty machinery to pull that stuff down,” said Will Wilson of Commonwealth Heritage Group. Of course, not all of the objects were removed or recovered in the 19th century.

Topographic view of four cribs from survey. Dredged channel is in blue (USACE)
The Corps is in charge of the ongoing deepening of the Savannah harbor and the dives are part of an investigation of historical resources that have been or could be affected.

Officials referred to period maps and descriptions from Union Corps of Engineers Capt. William Ludlow and a Capt. Boutelle for information on the cribs.

The CSS Georgia is on the National Register of Historic Places and the cribs are eligible for inclusion, officials say.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Civil War author and preservationist Robert Hicks dies at 71

Robert Hicks, whose best-selling novel “The Widow of the South,” set during the 1864 Battle of Franklin, Tenn., evoked the bravery and bloodshed that he sought to memorialize as a leading preservationist of Civil War history, died Feb. 25 at his home in Franklin. He was 71. Mr. Hicks helped lead Franklin’s Charge, a nonprofit organization founded in 2005 to preserve the Civil War battle sites of Middle Tennessee and to educate the public about the history that transpired there. -- Article

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Trail project at Kennesaw Mountain battlefield turns up an artillery round from the Civil War. It's a mystery as how it came to rest there

Bomb squad members gingerly removed this round from the battlefield (NPS photos)
Last week, a team of seven people were out in the northern part of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, conducting a metal detecting survey for a trail rerouting project.

National Park Service archaeologists at the Civil War site northwest of Atlanta, meeting the requirements that they record historic resources or properties during a project, got a reading from something nearly a foot below the surface.

Chief Ranger Anthony P. Winegar dug and found an intact artillery shell, believed to be a Parrott round, and within minutes called in the bomb squad from the Cobb County Police Department. Technicians carefully finished digging out the shell and took it away.

“This was found behind the Confederate line in the northern part of the park,” Winegar told the Picket in an email Tuesday. “Without further evidence I am hesitant to interpret the location, orientation, or status of the munition. What is known is that it was likely percussion fused and still intact.”

Federal and Confederate forces tangled at Kennesaw Mountain and nearby sites from June 19 to July 2, 1864. A large frontal assault by Union Gen. William T. Sherman failed on June 27. Combat over several days produced about 4,000 casualties in the campaign to take Atlanta.

Artillery played a major role in the fighting, according to the NPS. Sherman, eliminating the element of surprise, launched a barrage from below the mountain on June 27 before the assault.

It had little effect on the Confederates above, who effectively used their guns to halt the subsequent Union attack.

Among the guns used at Kennesaw Mountain was the 10-pounder Parrott rifle, which had a range of nearly two miles (updated).

When asked how the round came to be in the location, Winegar said: “I can only say that orientation of the artifact in situ would indicate that it came from the Confederate line towards the Union line. Based on the depth it is possible that it was fired and impacted, likely short of its intended target, and did not detonate. That, however, is speculation.”

The Southeast Archeological Center of the National Park Service said it was conducting the survey for a new hiking trail with the help of four volunteers.

“There is an old ‘truism’ in archeology – the most exciting find is almost always on the last day,” the center said in a Thursday Facebook post. “And this project was no exception. On the last day the team found an intact 10 lb. Parrott shell! This shell had a percussion fuse that did not ignite when it hit the ground.”

Winegar says it is unusual to find unexploded ordnance (UXO) on the battlefield.

Often times UXO that the park encounters is brought to us by families who are trying to get rid of them.”

The ranger said the artillery round found Feb. 24 will be “disrupted” – meaning it will be hit with a charge to render it safe. The park will take custody of the remaining pieces. 

“This is common practice involving potentially unstable unexploded ordinance (UXO) that is not a rare item. Rarer pieces may be treated differently so that the intact piece is not lost. This does not appear to be a rare item.”

Cobb County police spokesperson Officer Shenise Barner said the ordnance was collected by the bomb squad for safe keeping.

Some on the Join Cobb Police Facebook page, which first posted news of the find, questioned why it is necessary to destroy or damage the item. "Absolute travesty to destroy this historical object. These are easy to make inert," wrote one person.

The page responded to such criticism: "The bomb squad stated that they would love nothing more than to preserve this piece of history, however there is no way to safely render it without counter charging it. They try to use the smallest charge appropriate. This charge is very small and will perforate the case. Unfortunately, even small amount of live explosives can set the whole shell off."

Winegar reminds people that metal detectors and the hunting of artifacts are forbidden on federal land, including Kennesaw Mountain.

“My advice to the public is to treat all UXO as potentially deadly. In short, leave it alone and ask for experts to get involved quickly and early.”

Parrott guns were a mainstay in the war. Here, one at Gettysburg (Wikipedia)
Another look at the shell found at Kennesaw Mountain (NPS)

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Niagara Falls marker to recall Confederate spy and saboteur

The name of John Yates Beall doesn't mean much today, even to heavy-duty Civil War buffs. But in late 1864, Beall was among America's most wanted men. And his capture in Niagara Falls, N.Y., is about to be commemorated with a historical marker.

Beall was assigned by the Confederate government to enter Union territory and do as much damage as he could. Beall captured and robbed a ship on Lake Erie, sank another ship, tried to derail a train running between Buffalo and Dunkirk and was steps away from making his getaway when he was captured. -- Article