Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Gettysburg preservation project will redo finish of bronze Virginia Memorial and give a new pop to soldiers and horses

National Park Service technicians will bring new life to the bronze Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg, applying a patina that will remedy its current dull and flat finish.

The 41-foot memorial, dedicated in 1917, was the first Confederate state monument at Gettysburg National Military Park, and it came with controversy. Union veterans objected to its construction and officials had to walk a tightrope regarding its inscription.

The park on Monday provided details of the preservation project, which will begin by Sept. 6 and conclude by Sept. 30. It said the current brown ferric patination, applied in the 1980s, has failed in many areas and left the memorial with “little to no depth when viewed.”

Patinas bring a creative effect and highlight striking features of a work.

“It’s used to accentuate pieces, provide contrast, imply age, introduce color to the bronze, and sometimes to add a dose of reality to our detailed statues,” according to the Randolph Rose Collection, which makes bronze pieces. (It is not involved in the Gettysburg project).

The NPS said the existing brown patina on the Virginia memorial is not original to the work. The agency’s Historic Preservation Training Center will correct appearance and wear issues by removing the current sealer, patina and corrosion. (NPS photos above, below. Click to enlarge)

When reduced to a bare metal surface, a patina of sulphurated potash will be applied, and this surface will be sealed with clear microcrystalline paste wax. The use of a sulphurated potash patina has been historically documented on work at Gettysburg NMP and is very stable for outdoor exposure. The new patina will result in a darker finish that is historically correct and is the primary sealer in use for bronze elements throughout the park’s monument collection.

The memorial honors the 20,000 Virginians who fought at Gettysburg and their commander, Gen. Robert E. Lee. The general and his horse Traveler look toward the area of Pickett’s Charge, the disastrous failed attack on July 3, 1863. Below them are figures representing artillery, infantry and cavalry.

The American Battlefield Trust has a detailed article on the monument’s history and how its backers helped perpetuate the Lost Cause narrative rather than reunification.

In 1912, Virginia submitted this proposed inscription:





The monument as it appeared in the 1920s (National Park Service)
The head of the Gettysburg National Military Park Commission objected, believing the wording would bring criticism and violated regulations that inscriptions be without “censure, praise or blame.”

The approved wording was:


The monument was designed and sculpted by Frederick William Sievers.

He used photographs and a life mask to capture the features of Lee’s face, according to the Gettysburg Daily website.

“Those who knew Lee, and who were living at the time of the monument’s dedication, thought this sculpture was the best likeness of the general,” Gettysburg Daily says.

“Traveler’s bones were on display in Lexington, Virginia, where Lee had settled before his death. Sievers found a live horse that matched the size and shape of the bones as a model for Traveler.”

From the NPS: The immediate grass circle around the memorial will be closed during this project. The circle drive around the memorial is expected to remain open with intermittent closures to facilitate the work and visitor safety.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Civil War medicine conference will include program on prosthetic limbs

Civil War enthusiasts and some in the medical profession are expected in the Frederick, Md., area late next month for the 28th Conference on Civil War Medicine. The event is hosted by the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. John Lustrea, director of education for the museum, says, “We recently had some prosthetic limbs restored in our collection, and we’re going bring those out for people to get a close up look at. We’re to have the conservator on hand as well to answer questions and say a little piece of the process in preserving the limbs.” -- Article

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Human remains are found near site of Nashville's Fort Negley

A developer has unearthed human remains that could be two centuries old while digging to lay the foundation of a new Nashville project not far from a Civil War fort and a cemetery dating back to 1822. The discovery marks the latest intersection of economic boom times and the city's rich and sometimes troubled history — where new amenities sprout up on or near lands where people long ago settled, battled or toiled, then died and were buried, often with little record of their final resting places. -- Article

Monday, August 15, 2022

Visitors find an oxidized Civil War button at Little Bighorn battlefield

Button now has a bluish tint (Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument photos)
Rangers at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument are grateful visitors did not pocket a Civil War-era uniform button they found last week.

The general service button, possibly worn on a vest or on a jacket cuff, was found Aug. 8 at the federal park in Montana. These buttons also were used on capes for overcoats.

The visitors took a photo, left the artifact in place and contacted staff -- steps that showed they did the "right thing."

These objects are still telling the story of the battle. If artifacts found on the field are removed or taken, that part of the story is lost,” officials said in a Facebook post. “The button was properly collected as a field collection and will go into the museum collection.”

The Civil War Picket reached out to the monument with a set of questions but has not yet heard back.

The officials provided few details, such as the location of the discovery.

Markers show where 7th U.S. Cavalry members fell
Many members of the 7th U.S. Cavalry, including Lt. Col. George A. Custer and his brother Thomas, were veterans of the Civil War.

But it’s quite possible the button was not worn by a soldier during the Civil War. The War Department had a surplus of items from the conflict, and many were used during the Indian Wars, Stan McGee, chief of interpretation at the park, told Cowboy State Daily.

Custer and 262 other soldiers were killed on June 25, 1876, while battling Lakota and Cheyenne warriors.

The oxidized button depicts a large eagle and the federal shield, faded to a bluish tint. It would have been gold-colored and shiny at time of issue. The Union Drummer Boy website, which sells such items, said the buttons were worn by troops on both sides during the Civil War.

McGee and acting Superintendent Christy Fleming told reporters that there have been reports of items that have surfaced on the battlefield in the past year or so. “Shell casings, buttons, just relics of the battle,” McGee told TV station KTVQ. (Lt. Col. Custer, at right)

He told Cowboy State Daily that fires can reveal artifacts just below the surface.

“After those big fires back in the 1980s and early ‘90s, a lot of artifacts did pop up,” he said. 

Park officials picked up the button and placed it with the museum’s main collection.

Over 26,000 artifacts including weapons, ammunition, clothing and other personal items from the battle site along with over 120,00 archival documents have been recovered over the years, but this most recent discovery shows there’s still more to gather from the historic conflict,” the Billings Gazette said.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Fort Sumter visitor spies part of Civil War cannonball exposed in parade ground. How it got there and its back story remain a mystery

A keen-eyed visitor at Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, noticed a corroded cannonball protruding from the lower parade ground, prompting a bomb squad to be brought in, officials said on Tuesday.

The discovery occurred Saturday. The area was closed off and the last scheduled tour boat canceled, Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park said in a Facebook update. Normal operations at the famous Charleston, S.C., venue resumed Sunday.


The park said artifacts occasionally surface. “While digs have occurred on site, foot traffic, weather, erosion from elements, etc. can cause resources to be uncovered,” officials said in response to a question over how the shell just now was seen.


“Only a small part of the ordnance was visible, making it easy to miss.” (Both photos: City of Charleston police)


Brett Spaulding, chief of interpretation at the park, told the Picket in an email that the visitor contacted staff who contacted Charleston police, which sent its explosive devices unit.


We do not know what type of ordnance it is. The ordnance was heavily corroded. The explosive technicians who examined suspected it was solid shot, but the final determination is made by military EOD,” Spaulding wrote in response to Picket questions. “The Air Force took the ordnance back to their facility to be x-rayed. We don't know what will happen after that. If they suspect black powder is present, it will be destroyed. We do not have the training to handle found ordnance.”

There were no injuries or damage to historic structures with the cannonball’s removal by experts with the military’s Joint Base Charleston.

Spaulding said officials don’t have any documentation that would provide clues to how the shell came to be buried in the parade ground, when that occurred and whether it had been fired. It’s possible it was on site for 160 years, but he warned against speculation.


Confederates bombarded the fort in April 1861, leading to its surrender. Union forces pounded away at the Rebel fort defenders for the remainder of the conflict. Officials said they are uncertain whether the shell was Confederate or Union. No measurements were made on site.


“The US Air Force will make further decisions as to what will happen with the cannonball. We hope to get a disposition report from them at some point,” Spaulding said, adding it was up to the military branch to identify the weapon.


Tuesday’s Facebook post said it is important for visitors to be aware of their surroundings and “look for even the tiniest of details.”

Furthermore, they should alert rangers of any such finds.

When asked whether there have been other such incidents, Spaulding told the Picket, “There are three solid shot rounds imbedded in the left face of Fort Sumter that visitors can see.  There is certainly a possibility of other discoveries, but we are unaware of any documentation that provides any information.” 

Friday, August 5, 2022

Twenty years ago today, a giant 'Spider' lifted the USS Monitor turret from the ocean floor. It's still cause for celebration, including this weekend

Cheers erupted when the USS Monitor turret was brought up in 2002 (NOAA)
At 5:47 p.m. on Aug 5, 2002, the turret of the USS Monitor broke the surface of the Atlantic Ocean off the North Carolina coast, the crowning achievement in the recovery of much of the legendary Civil War ironclad.

The operation utilized an eight-legged contraption dubbed the "Spider," which locked around the upside-down turret and lifted it from the ocean floor, 140 years after the USS Monitor sank during a storm off Cape Hatteras.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Navy and the Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va., where the giant artifact has been in a conservation tank since its recovery, this week have been recalling the momentous turret recovery.

A webinar about recovery of the ironclad’s principal components was held Tuesday.

The museum on Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary (NOAA image left), with programs set from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. ET. Speakers include Will Hoffman, chief conservator of the Monitor, and John Broadwater, who was part of recovery operations. You can find more details about the events here.

The Mariners’ Museum has been conserving the vessel’s two large Dahlgren guns. Responding to a Facebook question this week about the turret’s orientation, officials said:

“The turret will be flipped right side up in the next year or two to continue conservation work, so we should definitely be able to display it correctly. The guns will most likely be displayed separately since we will want to do everything we can to preserve all of the artifacts.”

While much of the USS Monitor’s wreckage has remained on the ocean floor since Dec. 31, 1862, the turret, guns, anchor, engine components and thousands of artifacts are housed at the Mariners’ Museum.

Researchers found the wreckage of the USS Monitor in 1973 and subsequent trips included the recovery of a famous lantern and anchor. Between 1998 and 2001, most of the engine room was excavated and brought ashore.

Hoffman, in a blog post this week, wrote about the unique and meticulous recovery involving divers and crews in a barge above.

The turret carried two Dahlgren guns (Mariners' Museum and Park)
“Due to the turret being upside-down, the weight of all artifacts and marine debris within it rested on its roof, which was not designed to handle it all. Therefore, once in the spider, the iconic object would be picked up slightly off the seafloor and set onto a lower support pad which would then be affixed to the spider, creating an ‘artifact Oreo.’ This would ensure no objects would be lost as the turret was brought up.”

The turret popped to the surface with much fanfare on Aug. 5, 2002. The artifact was brought to Newport News a few days later, greeted by pleasure boats and a 21-gun salute. The turret was then trucked to the museum in an informal parade.

The USS Monitor revolutionized naval warfare.

A specially built "spider" lifted the turret from 230 feet (NOAA)
On March 6, 1862, the new Union ironclad – its radical design dubbed “Ericsson’s folly” by its doubters -- steamed down New York City’s East River for the short journey to Virginia. There were doubts about whether the Monitor could withstand the seas and intense enemy firepower; it fired only two cannons from the revolving turret.

But the small ship quickly challenged the heavily armored CSS Virginia upon arrival and ended the latter’s rampage against Federal ships. The stalemate foreshadowed the end of wooden warships.

An expedition in May, utilizing an underwater robot, visited the USS Monitor and other shipwrecks in the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. According to media reports, officials said the ironclad was in better shape than expected, probably because of its superior construction.

NOAA schematic shows a portion of the turret under the ship's armor belt
"During those (2002) projects, it was necessary to cut into the ironclad's armor belt, hull, and deck to gain access to the turret since the shipwreck was on top of it,” said Tane Casserly, resource protection and permit coordinator at the sanctuary. “The question for us at NOAA was, did those cuts into the shipwreck cause further deterioration? Would we see significant changes caused by these actions today?"

The answer to those questions "was a resounding 'No'," Casserley told McClatchy News.

The Monitor turret before its recovery in summer 2022 (NOAA)

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Two Civil War Enfield rifles that have been kept in water are chosen for wood conservation. The hope is to put them and 18 others on display

Conservation of 20 British-made rifles intended for Confederate use is in a significant new phase, as specialists have removed two of them from an aquarium tank so they can be treated with a wood preservative.

Josh Headlee, curator and historic preservation specialist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and parks division archaeologist Aimee Bouzigard last month cleaned the tank that contains the wooden rifle crate and weapons.

The Pattern 1853 Enfields -- carried by a blockade runner and lost when it hit a sandbar in Charleston, S.C, in 1863 -- are in water at Sweetwater Creek State Park in Douglas County, Ga., as corrosive salts are removed.

The tank also safeguards the rifles while the state develops means to one day exhibit them in open air.

Headlee told the Picket he will use SP-11 treatment made by Preservation Solutions. Conservators recently used SP-11 to treat an intact coffin found in 2013 on the edge of the marsh at Fort McAllister, a Confederate river outpost below Savannah.

They were pleased with the results and decided to try the chemical on the rifles.

“We feel optimistic about it,” said Headlee, adding the two removed weapons will remain in water until treatment.

“We are going to pick around each one, try to get the crusty stuff off the wood.” He said the rifles are coated with hardened materials, including rusted iron from the barrels.

Headlee travels to the park a couple times a year to do maintenance, which includes cleaning the tank and using a light stream from a hose to remove gathered muck and sediment from the crate and its contents. He adds fungicide to limit algae growth in the tank, which holds filtered freshwater.

Unfortunately, the iron rifle barrels, locks and bayonets are heavily deteriorated or gone. A tin and lead lining that sealed the cargo from salt air and ensured the rifles were not tampered with likewise is in bad condition.

Josh Headlee and Aimee Bouzigard handle rifles in July (Photos, Georgia DNR)
The trigger guards, butt plates and nose caps at the end of the barrels are brass and are still intact.

“The wood is in remarkably great shape. There are rifles we have that are broken. I assume that was damage they sustained when they were sinking,” Headlee said. One end of the crate was damaged, apparently when the CSS Stono sank.

The rifles were placed in an alternating butt to muzzle pattern before shipment, and blocks were used to prevent the weapons from shifting.

Headlee transported the rifles, a piece of the crate and a short wooden block. The items will be treated at a facility at Panola Mountain State Park.

While SP-11 worked well as a composite for the coffin, likely made of pine, Headlee is mindful that the rifles have stocks made of walnut, a harder wood.

Without chemical treatment, pieces of wood taken out of water will shrink, warp and crack. “They could literally just fall apart,” Headlee said last year.

The product is designed to displace water in the wood with preservatives that help to solidify the wood so it can be permanently exposed to the air.

Treating each rifle could take several months, so there is no timetable on completion of the project. The brass items will be treated separately and the conservators hope one day to reassemble them on the rifle stocks and what’s left of the barrels.

The CSS Stono, laden with precious arms, munitions and goods from Europe, in 1863 ran aground on a submerged sandbar off Fort Moultrie in Charleston Harbor while trying to evade Federal ships. Headlee believes the captain scuttled the vessel so the items could not fall into Union hands.

An archaeological diver pulled up the pine crate from the shipwreck in the late 1980s. Officials did not initially know how many of the highly-prized Pattern 1853 rifles were inside, their position or condition. Each weapon originally weighed about 9 pounds and was approximately 53 inches long. The bore is .577-caliber.

The craftsmanship involved in the manufacture of the guns was very good, Headlee said. “Enfield was top quality.” The Enfield was the second-most widely used infantry weapon in the Civil War after the Springfield.

The 1851 and 1853 Enfields, made for the British army, were an important technological advance from smoothbore to rifled muskets, increasing the accuracy and distance.

Researchers years ago found in the crate a bullet mold, tools and tampions, or cork and brass plugs inserted into the muzzle to ward off moisture.

At least one of the weapons bears the mark, “T. Turner,” a reference to well-known English gunmaker Thomas Turner, who turned out quality weapons in the mid-19th century.

Only three intact cases of the single-shot weapon are known, according to a 2007 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article.

The CSS Stono was previously known as the USS Isaac Smith, a steamer that saw Federal service before its capture by Confederate land forces.

Example of a Civil War Enfield rifle (NPS photo)
Some of the CSS Stono’s contents were retrieved by the South, but others, including the crate of Enfields, could not be salvaged at the time, apparently because they were below the water line. In 1865, the “stuck” ship was burned to prevent it from falling into the hands of Federal troops.

The crate was originally curated by the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (at the University of South Carolina), say Georgia officials. The South Carolina institute did conserve smaller items, but donated the rifle crate to Georgia for extensive conservation treatment and display. 

Headlee said “the sky is the limit” on how the weapons can eventually be presented and interpreted to the public, should conservation of the wood and remaining metal components be successful.

“To bring them to the light of day would be a huge success,” he said.