Saturday, December 31, 2022

2022's Top 11 Picket posts: Manassas marker mystery, Enfield rifles, artillery finds, Mary Surratt's bonnet and much more

The top 11 Civil War Picket posts – by Blogger page views -- in 2022 covered the spectrum, with an abiding interest in artifacts and archaeology. Among them: discovered artillery shells at national parks, the return of a long last marker to Manassas and the bonnet belonging to Lincoln conspirator Mary Surratt.

We’ve got a few items in the works and we look forward to rolling those and others out in 2023. Thanks so much for your continued interest. Please tell a friend or two about us. Happy New Year!

11. THE SULTANA STORY: A new Arkansas museum focusing on this little-known Civil War maritime disaster will feature artifacts from the current two-room venue, recently collected items and professionally produced exhibits that will tell all facets of the story. – Read more

10. LITTLE ROUND TOPGettysburg National Military Park has been implementing rehabilitation projects at sites on the battlefield that have suffered from the effects of erosion and crowds that have worn down trails and other features. Little Round Top remains closed for improvements. – Read more

9. UNEARTHED ARTILLERY ROUND: A team working on a trail project at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park near Atlanta got a reading while using a metal detector. Their discovery: a Parrott round about a foot below the surface. -- Read more

8. USS MONITOR: Twenty years ago this past summer, the turret of 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. – Read more

7. LINCOLN CONSPIRATOR’S BONNETMany visitors to the Drummer Boy Civil War Museum in Andersonville, Ga., are surprised to learn it displays a quilted black bonnet worn by convicted and hanged Lincoln conspirator Mary Surratt. A New Orleans conservator stabilized and did repairs on the unusual artifact. – Read more

6. REMEMBERING VINCE DOOLEYThe former University of Georgia football coach and athletics director, who died in October, brought celebrity and a real passion for history when he toured and backed preservation of battlefields or attended meetings of the Atlanta Civil War Roundtable. The Picket asked those who knew him about their memories and thoughts on Dooley's legacy in the history field. – Read more

5. SURPRISE FIND AT FORT SUMTERA keen-eyed visitor at Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, in August noticed a corroded cannonball protruding from the lower parade ground, prompting a bomb squad to be brought in. – Read more

4. MANSASSA MARKER COMES HOMEA missing stone fragment that once marked a position held by a bloodied Georgia regiment is back at the Manassas battlefield in Virginia, ending a saga that began decades ago. The Civil War marker’s story is a fragmented tale whose pieces finally came together earlier this year when the chunk of marble was donated to the park by a small private school in McLean, about 45 minutes away. How did it end up at the school? – Read more

A rural community in northern Ohio hopes to pick up the pieces – literally – and rebuild a Civil War monument that was obliterated when a tractor trailer careened through a downtown square. The stone memorial in LaGrange with a soldier on top was shattered and a flagpole was crushed. – Read more

2. RARE ENFIELD RIFLESConservation of 20 British-made rifles intended for Confederate use is in a significant new phase, as specialists in Georgia have removed two of them from an aquarium tank so they can be treated with a wood preservative. The Pattern 1853 Enfields were carried by a blockade runner and lost when it hit a sandbar in Charleston, S.C, in 1863. – Read more

1. RELIC HUNTER CAUGHT AT CHANCELLORSVILLEA Virginia man paid a civil penalty of more than $15,000 after he was caught using a metal detector and digging on the Chancellorsville battlefield in Virginia, officials said. The unidentified Alexandria man “was very forthcoming because he did not realize he was on federal property and gave up anything he had,” the park superintendent said. – Read more

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Ulysses S. Grant posthumously promoted to general of the armies in defense bill; supporters also cite his later support of civil rights

Lt. Gen Grant outside his headquarters tent in Virginia (Library of Congress)
Ulysses S. Grant, remembered for securing victory for the Union in the Civil War, has been promoted posthumously to general of the armies, only the third person to attain the rank.

President Joe Biden on Friday signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the appointment. Grant’s predecessors are George Washington (promoted in 1976) and John J. Pershing (1919).

The push for Grant to hold the rank was led by Sen. Sherrod Brown of his native Ohio and Sen. Roy Blunt and Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri. The bipartisan congressional resolution was linked to celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the officer’s birth. General of the armies is the highest military honor in the U.S.

The resolution recognized that victories achieved under Grant’s command “were integral to the preservation of the United States of America and that he “is among the most influential military commanders in the history of the United States of America.”

The general gained famed in the Western Theater – including wins at Shiloh and Vicksburg -- before he moved east to oversee the final campaigns to quell the Confederacy and Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. President Abraham Lincoln appointed him lieutenant general in March 1864.

Grant served two terms as president, from 1869 to 1877.

“Grant’s exemplary leadership on the battlefield could only be overshadowed by his commitment to a more just nation for all Americans during the Reconstruction Era,” Brown said earlier this year.

Although Grant’s presidency was wrapped in scandal, he is remembered for supporting civil rights, suppressing the Ku Klux Klan, establishing the Department of Justice and endorsing the 15th Amendment, which granted African-American men the right to vote.

Anne Marshall, executive director of the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library at Mississippi State University, earlier this month wrote in support of the promotion.

“I believe that the promotion would be much more than a symbolic nod to a great military general,” Marshall said in an essay on The Conversation website. “Rather, it would highlight the overlooked legacy of a man who fought to end the last vestiges of slavery.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Cannonball found at Fort Sumter likely to be used for training

A cannonball spotted jutting out of the lower parade ground at Fort Sumter is being kept by the U.S. Air Force and likely will be used as a training aid, park officials said this week.

In August, a keen-eyed visitor at Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, noticed the corroded round. Experts from Joint Base Charleston were called in and they removed the ordnance (Photo: Charleston police).

The Picket asked Brett Spaulding, chief of interpretation at Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historic Park, for information on what became of the cannonball.

It was found to be solid shot, with no potentially hazardous black powder or fuse, he said. Spaulding said he not know what type of ordnance was found.

Spaulding in August 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 South Carolina fort in April 1861, leading to its surrender. Union forces pounded away at Rebel 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 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.

The Picket reached out to Joint Base Charleston public affairs for comment.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

NPS staff members sink their teeth into building a yummy Fort Sumter replica. Ingredients included gingerbread, icing and other goodies

Staffers crafted the fort to include debris, damaged walls and cannonballs (NPS photo)
Another round of gloomy weather in the Atlanta area had me feeling the Christmas blues coming into this week. Then a Facebook post from Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historic Park in Charleston, S.C., came along, lifting my spirits -- and appetite.

Monday, in case you didn’t know, was National Gingerbread House Day, and the park’s staff did it up in style with a tasty recreation of the famous Civil War fort, albeit a representation of how it looked after a long siege -- including debris and embedded cannonballs.

It’s all part of December’s #GreatNPSBakeOff sponsored by the National Park Service. Staffers and those who follow parks on social media are encouraged to participate.

Fort Sumter ranger Summer Elcock provided the Picket details about the festive Fort Sumter delicacy. Her responses have been edited.

Fort Sumter, as imagined in a sweets eater's dreams (NPS photo)
Q.  What exactly is the Great National Park Service Bake Off?

A. The Great NPS Bake Off is a chance for people to show their love for the parks in a unique and fun way. During the month of December, we’re inviting anyone (regardless of baking skills) to get out a rolling pin and give it a go! Whether it’s recreating a historical landmark, such as Fort Sumter, or creating a tasty sweet inspired by nature, we look forward to seeing the outcome.

Q. Who on the Sumter/Moultrie staff came up with this idea? How long was the idea in the works?

A. Rebekah (Claussen), one of our interpretive rangers, is in a social media group for NPS and saw the upcoming campaign. She told me about it, and I came up with the idea to make a gingerbread version of Fort Sumter. 

Q. Can you tell me what the different components are made of, ie. the cannonballs, cannon, flags, etc.?

A. We decided to create what we thought the fort would have looked like in 1865 after the 18-month Union bombardment from Fort Morris (that ended in a Confederate evacuation). We used gingerbread for the walls and icing for the mortar. We then created a black icing to harden and cover little candies to create the cannonballs. Our cannons and the flag were made out of modeling clay to help them keep shape.

For the water around the fort, we pulled multiple icings together to create a color that best represents our harbor, complete with a swirling tide that we often see ourselves when out on the island.

Q. How long did it take to make?

A. It took five women across three different divisions (our historian, preservationist and our Interpretation team) plus one fun evening together to build the gingerbread fort. 

We made sugar cookies that night and realized Whoppers would be too big to represent a cannon ball. The scaling would have been way off.

Q. What will become of it?

A. It became a delicious treat for rangers coming in from the cold, and yes, it does get cold here in Charleston! 

Q. Anything else about the project?

A. We had so much fun coming together and collaborating on this piece. We’re very proud of how it turned out and can’t wait to do it again next year.

We’re already brainstorming bigger and better ideas, so definitely be on the lookout come next December.

One of the things we're making adjustments for next year is that we take more photos in the process. We were having too much fun!

Other NPS creations: Harpers Ferry, Grand Canyon, Tonto National Monument

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Unveiling of marker in Nashville will be the latest in the area to honor service of black Union troops (USCT) during the Civil War

Jack Richards checks out the new Civil War Trails sign (Courtesy of John Banks)
African-American troops --- many former slaves seeing combat for the first time – will be remembered this week in Nashville with the dedication of the latest sign in the region to honor their valor during the Civil War.

The Battle of Nashville Trust, local officials and STEM Prep Academy backed the Civil WarTrails marker focusing on U.S. Colored Troops (USCT).

“The fact that this small sliver of battlefield survives and is the place where this monumental event occurred is amazing.” Drew Gruber, executive director of Civil Trails, said in a press release. “It’s not hard to stand at the new sign and imagine the United States flags being unfurled as these men charged forward charting a new course for our nation.” 

The event is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday (Dec. 15) at the school.

A fanciful depiction of Nashville includes Black troops (Library of Congress)
Three USCT regiments (14th, 17th and 44th) took part in a futile attack on fortifications on Dec. 15, 1864, the first day of the battle. The sign, on school property, is placed where troops advanced that morning.

Their object was the so-called Granbury’s Lunette, named for a Southern general who died two weeks earlier at fighting in nearby Franklin. A deep railroad cut, stronger than expected forces and artillery doomed the USCT assault. A maneuver by seasoned troops trapped them, and the USCT regiments and white Union troops were forced to retreat within 10 minutes.

The 17th had nearly 120 casualties in the fighting.

Other USCT troops had a bit more success the next day in fighting at Peach Orchard Hill, which led to a Confederate retreat after intense combat. The 13th USCT suffered crushing casualties.

Granbury's crescent lunette was strongly defended (Battle of Nashville Trust)
The Tennessee Wars Commission provided grants for the new marker and one planned for Peach Orchard Hill. In 2021, the Tennessee Historical Commission erected a sign about a half mile from Granbury’s Lunette, emphasizing the role of African-American troops.

Also in 2021, the Battle of Franklin Trust and local officials unveiled a statue honoring former slaves who fought for the Union.

USCT units were relatively new when the Battle of Nashville took place and there were questions of whether they would make an effective fighting force.

Federal Maj. Gen. George Thomas inspected the battlefield and said to his staff, “Gentlemen, the question is settled; Negroes will fight.”

About 180,000 black men served in Union forces during the conflict.

Dedication of a related marker in October 2021 (Battle of Nashville Trust)

Monday, December 5, 2022

Shiloh's visitor center is closed for months during a museum overhaul that will focus on stories rather than objects

The museum is being largely gutted during the work (NPS photo)
Shiloh National Military Park has gutted its visitor center museum, with plans to transform the space from an object-based presentation to one that highlights compelling stories from the April 1862 battle, officials say.

The federal park in southern Tennessee recently announced the closing of the visitor center for several months. The film “Shiloh: Fiery Trial” is still being shown in the auditorium. Restrooms are available nearby.

The museum is long overdue for the overhaul: The exhibits are about 35 years old.

Park ranger Chris Mekow tells the Civil War Picket in an email that among new items to be displayed is the frock coat of Col. Francis Eugene Whitfield, commander of the 9th Mississippi Infantry.

Park officials remove artifacts, exhibits from the walls, floor (NPS photo)
He was wearing this coat in the Battle of Shiloh when he was seriously wounded. The bullet hole and blood are still there. We are very excited to get this on display for the first anywhere,” Mekow said.

The coat came from a private collection with help from grants and donations through the Friends of Shiloh National Battlefield Park. It was donated to the park several years ago.

F.E. Whitfield
Whitfield was wearing the coat on April 7, 1862, during fighting at the Hornets Nest. He accepted the surrender of Lt. Col. William Shaw of the 14th Iowa.

Whitfield, wounded in 1864 at Resaca in Georgia, survived the war and died in 1885.

The Civil War in North Mississippi Facebook page says the double-breasted coat appears to be made of imported gray wool and was finely tailored, with French blue facings, a gold sleeve braid and a three-button cuff.

In September 2017, noted Civil War collector Rafael Eledge donated uniform trousers Whitfield wore after the battle to the park (photo below).

The Picket has asked Mekow for more details on the nature of story-based items and interpretation that will greet visitors after the museum overhaul.

As for other new exhibits, you will just have to wait,” he wrote previously.

Col. Whitfield's pants before conservation (NPS)
During the work, a temporary station will be set up outside of the 87-year-old building and manned by rangers to assist visitors. Battlefield grounds and park’s bookstore remain open during the project.

Officials say updates will be provided on the park's website and Facebook page.

Visitor center exterior and dismantled exhibits (NPS)