Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Picket exclusive: 20 artifacts from the CSS Georgia are now on display at the National Civil War Naval Museum. Read all about them!

6-pounder gun, partial anchor, bottle top (National Civil War Naval Museum)
Serving on the Confederate ironclad CSS Georgia wasn’t a peach of an assignment. The vessel was too underpowered to move and needed constant pumping so it wouldn’t sink. Sailors, meanwhile, drilled and labored in Savannah’s brutally hot environment. And they never saw any action – at least the combat kind.

Visitors to the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Ga., are able to view artifacts that speak of weaponry, diversions and discipline for those who served on the floating battery, which was scuttled by its crew in December 1864 when Sherman’s army neared the city.

The U.S. Navy -- via the Naval History and Heritage Command -- recently loaned and shipped more than 20 conserved artifacts to the museum. Officials expect more shipments in the years ahead. (Picket photo at left shows propeller in foreground, with shaft just beyond)

Most of the ironclad’s wreckage was removed a few years back as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ deepening of the Savannah River to make room for larger tankers. 

Thousands of artifacts underwent treatment at Texas A&M University, which shipped them to the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. for storage. 

The Navy has been in contact with museums over possible loans regarding the CSS Georgia, but the National Civil War Naval Museum has been the only one to sign on thus far, officials said.

A portion of a sword sheath found on the river bottom.
Because the remains of the CSS Georgia were in a river that swept all kinds of manmade items downstream, it’s impossible to know how many artifacts pulled up during the project date to the Civil War. But, ostensibly, most do.

The Civil War Picket received the following inventory from the Naval History and Heritage Command and used information from an archaeological report on the project and other sources to describe the items that are now in Columbus. 

All photos are courtesy of the National Civil War Naval Museum except where noted.

Leg irons
: 15.5" x 5.0", 1.88 pounds
A few sets of these encrusted devices were recovered from the wreck site, likely used to discipline sailors who got into trouble on or off shore.

Ceramic ironstone bowl, partial, white glaze
: 9.25" x 7.0" x 2.25", 1.2 pounds
Hundreds of whole or broken pieces of ceramics were found on the river bottom, including four forged from ironstone.

Metal iron hook and eye: 11" x 7.5", 3.88 pounds

Copper alloy sabot: 6.5" (diameter) x 1.375", 7.8 pounds

The sabot, designed to ensure an artillery shell was in the proper position in the barrel, was described this way in the final report on the project:

“The shallow copper saucer, bowl or basin appearance of the aft face of a Brooke copper ratchet disc sabot. Interestingly, this is a spent or fired sabot indicated by the grooving on its exterior side. The hammer marks may have been a result of fitting the sabot onto the shell prior to firing.”

Light blue bottle
: 9.5" x 2.25" (diameter), 0.54 pounds, believed to have held wine

Colorless bottle, partial with broken neck: 6.0" x 1.75" (diameter), 0.5 pounds -- Photo of top of post
This “is a thick-walled, strangely shaped bottle with a small base of a diameter that would allow it to fit into one of the rings; glass fragments similar to this bottle were found in several units across the site. Seven glass bottle stoppers, divided into four categories, were recovered, and may belong to cruet or decanter sets.”

6-pounder iron cannon, Noble Brothers Foundry
125.25" (artifact length) 132" x 36" x 28" (crate), 1,240 pounds

This piece of ordnance is one of five recovered in 2015, and it was originally located on the spark deck aft. It is the only one of its type discovered in the river, and it was manufactured in Rome, Ga. It was presented to the Confederacy by the “Ladies of Rome.” The left trunnion is marked August 1862.

James Noble, an Englishman, organized the company with his six sons in 1855. By January 1862, the firm was heavily engaged in the production of cannon and battery equipment. “The Noble Brothers experienced considerable success in the casting of bronze and iron field guns. Between April 1861 and October 1862, some 58 field pieces were delivered to the Confederacy. Of these, at least 15 were cast iron 6 pounders.”

A dispute with the Confederate government in late 1862 ended all ordnance contracts with the foundry.

The Corps report says: “The Noble Brothers’ plant was destroyed when Sherman’s troops entered Rome on May 18, 1864. The large smokestacks of the foundry were blown up and the shops burned. The Union troops attempted to dismantle the lathe using sledgehammers, with little success. The hammer marks are still visible today and the fire caused minimum damage to the lathe. The massive machine stayed in production until the mid-1960s.”

Iron gun port, partial: 24.0" x 14.5" x 4.125", 192 pounds (photo above, with cannon)

(Civil War Picket photo)

Complete triple-bladed propeller
: 6' (diameter) 55" x 82" x 73" (crate), 2,700 pounds

From the final archaeological report prepared for the Army Corps:

“It is not known what kind of engine the CSS Georgia employed, but it is known that the LGA Steering Committee searched for one far and wide. In a letter written on June 11, 1862, John Elliot states that the vessel had a double engine and twin propellers. The engines were only able to make about 2 knots under full steam. All agreed they were inadequate for propelling the vessel against the swift currents or tides of the Savannah River. The engines did, however, serve a functional purpose, as one writer in 1862 stated, ‘Our iron floating battery is a splendid failure. She has been taken down between the forts and they are obliged to keep her engines at work the whole time to prevent her sinking, she leaks so badly’ It is thought that the vessel’s leaking was most likely a result of building her with unseasoned wood, a common practice in Confederate vessel construction.”

Complete propeller shaft
: 12' x 5.68" (diameter) 132" x 36" x 28" (crate), 1,510 pounds

The triple-bladed propeller is mounted on a 6-inch diameter shaft approximately 12 feet 6 inches in length. Because two of its three blades were buried, jetting was conducted to uncover the blades prior to lifting. Once lifted onto the barge deck, the shaft was cut free from the 8-foot blade with a saw for ease of transportation and conservation. A single strut indicates the vessel would have had two propellers, and historical sources indicate that the CSS Georgia was powered by “a double engine and twin propellers,” according to the Corps report.

Leather shoe sole and upper fragments
: 4 pieces, “10 5/16" x 3.5" x 0.02" (sole), 0.14 pounds

Some 68 boot or shoe fragments were recovered from the site. Most are small fragmentary pieces of leather with no complete shoe or boot, the soles of several examples being the most intact portion of recovered footwear.

Leather shoe heel with partial sole
: 4.1" x 2.6" x 0.98" (heel thickness/ 0.02" (sole thickness), 0.16 pounds

Leather fire hose, partial with small bag of leather fragments: “9.75 x 4.5 x 1.02”, 0.56 pounds

Copper alloy sword sheath: “2.52 x 1.6 x 0.6”, 0.06 pounds

Numerous small arms including a mostly complete pistol, eight Enfield bullet cartridges, 90+ bullets of varying caliber for pistol and rifle, two bullet molds, two gunflints and two sword and five bayonet hilts were recovered.

Copper alloy gun sight, forward with "N 714" (mark): “3.98" x 1.34" x 2.36", 1.16 pounds

A naval gun had to be raised to an appropriate degree of elevation to achieve the necessary range to strike a distant object at sea. This sight was placed on the front of the barrel.

Small partial iron anchor: “40.5" x 21.0" x 10.0", 180 pounds

The use of this particular anchor is unknown.

Kaolin pipe bowl, with floral decoration: “1.61" x 0.91" x 0.87", 0.02 pounds

Eight kaolin smoking pipes were recovered in the wreckage of the CSS Georgia. Similar to the prehistoric ceramics, and some percentage of the glass and historic ceramics recovered from the site, “the kaolin smoking pipe bowls are potentially intrusive (non-Civil War), although some if not all could easily have been personal property of those on board.”

Worm-eaten wood wedges: 2 pieces, “3.5" 1.54" x 0.94" (larger fragment), 0.06 pounds

Coal fragments: 2 pieces, “2.56" x 1.73" x 1.06" (larger piece) / “1.73" x 1.57" x 0.83" (smaller piece), 0.18 pounds

The CSS Georgia could have easily carried 100 tons of coal, but it’s unknown how much it carried at the time of its scuttling. Bunkers would likely have been located outboard of the boiler on both sides of the hull.

The Picket recently visited the museum, which put smaller artifacts in a large glass case. Signage and interpretation are still in the works.

Smaller CSS Georgia artifacts (Picket photo)

Monday, May 30, 2022

Heg descendants help rededicate statue damaged during protests

The Col. Hans Christian Heg statue was officially rededicated to the people of Wisconsin during a special ceremony on Sunday at the Capitol. The statue was torn down after a social justice protest turned destructive in June 2020. It was repaired and reattached in September 2021.

About 25 descendants attended the event in Madison. Heg led the 15th Wisconsin Regiment to fight against slavery during the Civil War and died from wounds he received at Chickamauga in 1863. -- Article

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Civil War encampment, re-enactment is set for June in Michigan

History will come alive in Northern Michigan this summer. Wellington Farm, a 60-acre living history museum in Grayling, will open for the season on Friday, May 27.  The complex typically provides visitors the opportunity to experience farm life during the Great Depression, along with hosting events. One such event, a Civil War reenactment, is scheduled to take place June 3-5. During the weekend, an artillery battery, as well as infantry units, will be encamped throughout the farm. -- Article

Sunday, May 8, 2022

CSS Georgia: Navy sends batch of ironclad artifacts pulled from Savannah River to National Civil War Naval Museum for display

CSS Georgia propeller is raised from Savannah River in 2015 (Dept. of Defense)
Updated May 18:

The National Civil War Naval Museum has received a first shipment of artifacts belonging to the CSS Georgia, the ironclad vessel that was part of Savannah’s effective river defenses.

The U.S. Navy recently lent about 20 conserved items to the Columbus, Ga., museum, which has worked for years to receive items from the Confederate floating battery. The CSS Georgia was scuttled by its crew when Union forces took Savannah in December 1864.

Museum executive director Holly Wait told the Picket that the shipment included a propeller, shaft, cannon, part of an anchor, part of a gun port, pipe stem, sword sheath, several glass bottles, an eye bolt, gun site and an elevation screw.

“It was a really big feather in our cap to get such a collection as this,” museum director of history and collections Jeff Seymour told the Ledger-Enquirer newspaper.

The Civil War Picket has written extensively about the CSS Georgia and reached out to the Naval History and Heritage Command for comment and further details.

"NHHC hopes that through display of the CSS Georgia artifacts at NCWNM, the public will benefit from a greater understanding of archaeology, conservation, Civil War history and US Navy history," said Lt. Anthony Ivester, public affairs officer for the command.

Conserved and shipped 6-pounder from CSS Georgia (Courtesy of NCWNM)
Most of the ironclad’s wreckage was removed a few years back as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ deepening of the Savannah River to make room for larger tankers. Thousands of artifacts have undergone treatment at Texas A&M University, which shipped them to the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. for storage.

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.

In 2017, Navy officials invited several museums, including from Savannah, to the recovery site. The Columbus museum is the first to receive the artifacts from NHHC, which is the custodian of naval artifacts and history.

"We have received previous inquiries from other institutions, but there are no other active agreements for CSS Georgia artifacts," said Ivester.

The Navy and the museum reached an agreement on the loan in March and the items were shipped on May 3, officials said. For now, the CSS Georgia artifacts will be displayed in the museum's main gallery, Wait said.

When asked about long-term plans for a display, Ivester said:

"NCWNM has agreed to coordinate with NHHC as they develop the exhibit for the CSS Georgia artifacts. Archaeological artifacts are best compatible with certain materials and NHHC can provide specialized guidance on which materials are suitable for their continued preservation while on display."

Wait said the shipment was the first of a few expected over the next three to five years.

“The Navy has a standard 3-year loan agreement to confirm that items are cared for properly.  However, all our conversations with them have included our long-term plans," she wrote in an email.

The NHHC described the present loan as short-term, with the possibility of renewal.

Wait said the CSS Georgia will be the seventh Civil War vessel to be exhibited in the country. The museum has two others: the ironclad CSS Jackson and the twin-screw wooden ship CSS Chattahoochee.

Gordon Watts, who has dived on the CSS Georgia and was involved in its recovery and study of artifacts, told the Picket: "I think it is fantastic that museum personnel have been able to obtain a collection of artifacts from the Georgia. Now at least some of the numerous artifacts recovered from the wreck will be available for public access. Congratulations to the National Civil War Naval Museum on a significant addition to their already impressive exhibits."

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Remembering the versatile and passionate Ed Bearss: The public is invited to June celebration of life in Gettysburg

Bearss and former University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley (Georgia Battlefields Assn.)
The public is invited to Gettysburg, Pa., for a celebration of life for renowned Civil War historian, battlefield guide and preservationist Edwin Cole Bearss, who died in September 2020 at age 97.

The American Battlefield Trust announced that the Bearss family has invited people to attend the 1 p.m. June 26 celebration – what would have been Bearss’ 99th birthday -- on land the trust preserved near the Seminary Ridge Museum and Education Center, a nonprofit venue on the campus of the United Lutheran Seminary.

Speakers include retired Marine Corps  Lt. Gen. Richard P. Mills; Jerome A. Greene, retired historian for the National Park Service; and O. James Lighthizer, president emeritus of the American Battlefield Trust.  

Bearss was a legendary figure in the Civil War world. Tour participants hung on his every word as he walked the grounds and gave precise details of what happened there, usually without notes. His voice, itself riveting, was described as thunderous or booming.

As "History's Pied Piper," he more than lived up to the title of Jack Waugh's 2003 biography of the decorated Marine Corps veteran and National Park Service chief historian emeritus.

The American Battlefield Trust detailed his career as a decorated Marine severely wounded during World War II, National Park Service historian, author, preservationist and lecturer. Commenters on the trust’s Facebook page this week remembered his tours and knowledge of battles to exacting detail.

Bearss gained fame for the discovery and raising of the USS Cairo in the 1960s, when he was historian at Vicksburg National Military Park. The majority of the public came to know him from his appearance in Ken Burns' 1990 “The Civil War” series on PBS.

The widower, after living 50 years in Arlington, Va., moved in 2018 to Mississippi, where he had family (Above, in Athens, Ga., in 2019. Photo courtesy of Georgia Battlefields Association.)

The American Battlefield Trust said the one-hour June 26 event will be tented, with seating available and water and light refreshments provided. Portable toilets and indoor restrooms will be nearby. 

Click this link for an email address in which you can express your intention to attend. For those unable to attend in person, a video of the celebration will be posted later.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Headstone of Union soldier buried beneath a Long Island church awaits its final resting place. John C. Pollitz died of disease while serving in N.C.

Current location of the Polllitz headstone (Trinity Episcopal Church)
The headstone of a Union soldier buried beneath a Long Island, New York, church awaits a permanent location nearly four years after it was found during a renovation project.

The Picket wrote two articles about the unusual circumstances involving parishioner Pvt. John Codman Pollitz, who died in 1863 while serving with the 44th Massachusetts in North Carolina.

Trinity Episcopal Church in Roslyn has long known that Pollitz’s 1863 grave was incorporated within the current building during construction in 1906. But most of them had no idea where; there was no recorded location. That changed in summer 2018, when rotting wooden floor joists were removed and Pollitz’ headstone was exposed; it was lying flat in a crawlspace area.

“My assumption was that the headstone was too high standing up for the crawlspace. I believe they simply laid it down on that same spot” during the 1906 construction, church property manager and sexton Mike Callahan told the Picket.

Removal of the floor exposed headstone for John C. Pollitz (Trinity Episcopal)
A June 2019 ceremony rededicated the soldier’s grave, which still lies beneath the floor. A plaque marks the spot on the floor under which Pollitz rests. Members of an area camp of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War took part in the ceremony.

At the time, the church said it was trying to determine what to do with the headstone.

“Plans are to build a cabinet mounted on the wall, but that’s going to take some engineering,” Father George Sherrill, priest in charge, told the Picket in a recent email. “The stone weighs a ton and affixing to the wall is going to be difficult, so no real timetable as of yet.”

The priest said the headstone does elicit conversation when people see if for the first time.

The headstone is currently propped up against a bell that has its own interesting history.

Bell was used during the funeral (Courtesy of Trinity Episcopal)
According to a June 1914 article in The New York Times, a dying Pollitz asked comrades to ensure his body was sent to Roslyn, where it was to lie in the shadow of the belfry. “With his army pay he had bought a bell as a gift to the parish, and its arrival and his death were so close together that it was tolled for the first time at his funeral,” the article said.

It’s believed that the young Pollitz was living in Boston and barely 18 when he joined up with the 44th Massachusetts, ostensibly in the summer of fall of 1862.

The regiment, which took part in skirmishes and sieges across North Carolina before it was mustered out in June 1863, was in New Bern for several months before transfer to Plymouth, N.C.

A history of the regiment detailed disease and illness that stalked the troops during campaigning and at their quarters. Pollitz, who served in Company F, died on Jan. 7, 1863 in New Bern.

Sons of Union Veterans lead 2019 ceremony near plaque (Trinity Episcopal)
According to the “Record of the Service of the Fourth-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia in North Carolina, August 1862 to May 1863,” Pollitz and 13 other soldiers in the regiment died from cerebrospinal meningities.

His remains were sent north to Long Island. “Shortly after his burial, February 1, 1863, the bell was taken down and another put in its place. John Pollitz’s bell was inverted, filled with dirt and flowers, and stood by his grave for many years,” a church newsletter states.

In 1914, the bell was moved and restored after church officials discovered the grave under that floor while investigating a break in the foundation walls, according to The Times.

Construction of floor during 2018 (Trinity Episcopal Church)