Tuesday, February 21, 2023

At Camp Lawton stockade site in Georgia, archaeology students searching for sutler's cabin find POW buckles, nails and more

Nails may have had multiple uses, a Federal trouser buckle (Camp Lawton Archaeological Project)
Archaeology students trying to learn more about a Confederate prison that operated for less than two months in southern Georgia are exploring where Federal soldiers were held captive, and they’ve thus far turned up buckles, nails, a Rebel musket ball and intriguing turtle remains.

Georgia Southern University Associate Professor Ryan McNutt said this season’s dig on the site of Camp Lawton began in January and will go through April or early May. This is the first time the project has been on the Federal side of the stockade since 2014.

Hundreds of POWs died at Lawton during its brief existence in fall 1864. Prisoners were shuttled among several Southern prisons, most notably Andersonville as Union forces advanced on Savannah. The camp was built near Millen; a portion lies within Magnolia Springs State Park and the rest is on the grounds of a former federal fish hatchery.

Since the announcement in 2010 of the discovery of the Lawton site, GSU has studied several areas to get a better understanding of prisoner and guard life. McNutt responded this month to a series of questions from the Civil War Picket. His responses have been edited.

Q. One (Facebook) post said a prime focus is the sutler's cabin. Was it within the prison area (where Federal soldiers roamed)? What does the record say about the cabin, its purpose and operation? Why would you like to find evidence of the cabin?

Sutler cabin (top) at Camp Sumter/Andersonville (Library of Congress)
A. The sutler cabin seems to have been across the stream from the gate, and directly in line with it on the main west-east running road (in modern cardinal directions, not Robert Knox Sneden's). The record is frustratingly quite vague.

We know there was one, as there was at Andersonville (photo above, log structure with slanted roof), as POWs discuss it.

Sneden (see Union POW’s drawing below of Camp Lawton) seems to place it in the same general location, though in at least several instances he places it on opposite sides of the road leading to the bridge. 

Detail of Sneden's drawing shows sutler cabin, police area in center (Library of Congress)
The sutler at Andersonville seems to have been a James Selman Jr., followed by a James Duncan, who may have been a Confederate guard and was possibly replaced again by a James Selman. One of these individuals likely ran the sutler's (cabin) at Camp Lawton. They were authorized by the prison commandants to sell to the prisoners authorized items. From their stories, prisoners with money that they were able to hang on to, or make, could buy eggs, flour, bacon, cornbread, beans, baking soda, and blackberries; soap, shaving equipment, clothing, tobacco, tobacco pipes, cigars, reading material, and so on -- for eyewatering prices that were much higher than regular marker prices. Examples: Fifty cents an egg, six dollars for a pound of bacon, and 25 cents a spoon for baking soda.

We're looking for evidence of the cabin as part of a graduate student's thesis work, which is focused on shadow and underground economies inside prison camps. As one of the only sources of goods coming into the prison, it's like the sutler's cabin was the center point of much of the legal and illegal trade between prisoners, guards and prisoners and the sutler. 

We're hoping to find evidence of this in the material culture around the cabin, to get an idea of how heavily trafficked and used it may have been. Sneden certainly seems to imply the area around the cabin was always crowded. 

Students sift through soil (Camp Lawton Archaeological Project)
Q. What else are the students concentrating on this spring?

A. Essentially, just the area around the bank on the west side of the stream. Interestingly, while Sneden shows it lightly occupied, he does show an area of shebangs labeled 'Police' with no explanation, as well as potentially a chapel, though this might be reading too much into Sneden's maps and images.

We're also getting a better idea of how densely the camp was occupied, where we have evidence of POW activity, and in a very real way, the extent of past impacts on the site during its transition from timberland to state and then federal fish hatchery, and CCC work.

We used Lidar data to pinpoint potential anomalies that might be the sutler's cabin, and the students are learning how to locate those on the ground, test them and get an understanding that even with the most accurate technology you can get, archaeologists still have to dig to confirm our guess of flat areas and odd shapes that show up in Lidar.

Q. Can you briefly summarize what has been learned thus far in this field school? And what more you want to work on for the remainder of this session.

Q. So far we've got clear indications of a lightly occupied area of the stockade, and our current grid is likely just off of where the sutler’s cabin should be, but we have another area just west that might have more promise. We're working from our known to our unknown, from areas that were lightly tested in the past to areas that the project has never looked at before. We're almost finished with our current grid, which has clearly showed some POW occupation. Turtle bones and shells (left) possibly came from a hearth, and we have a few other spots that might be POW shelters. We'll explore these with test units, and we'll establish another area over our area of interest that might be closer to the sutler's cabin and the main road.

But we also clearly have empty spots, with no artifacts at all that seem to indicate the presence of roads and paths shown on the plan created by the Confederates as the camp was being built, and Sneden's water colors. 

Q. Social media photos by the project show numerous buckles -- trousers, knapsack or elsewhere. Are these believed to be from Union POWs? What about the iron nails --- suspected use for them?

A. So far, we have one whole and one partial trouser buckle, as well as three that are likely haversack or knapsack buckles. We also have some different files -- metal and wood working, that seem to have been fairly degraded when they were dropped. As well as one piece of ceramic and some fragments of glass bottles. One of which was likely a pickle or sauce bottle. These were all probably dropped by POWs. The trouser buckles are standard issue on several Federal trouser types, and the buckles match Federal issued equipment. While this isn't to say they are absolutely from POWs, the Confederates present at the camp do not seem to ever have been issued anything close to uniform items.

Some of the iron nails (right) are interesting, in that they fall into two groups. A couple (of them) are big enough to be structural and used to pin the corners of wooden structures together. Most, however, are of the size to come from express boxes (like those used on US Sanitary Commission aid boxes), and may represent the distribution of this material to the POWs, who are then repurposing the boxes.

The nails may have just been dropped -- most of them seem to have been pulled and bent, and aren't modified in any clear way. But we haven't done a full analysis yet.

We've also found a host of unknown items, and some personal effects such as what is possibly part of a match safe, and maybe even a cigar case. 

 [An] unexpected moment was one of our artifacts that is also the most puzzling. An iron strap with copper rivets, and a hinge on one side, and a threaded rod on the other, it still has preserved leather around several of the rivets. And it looks as though whatever it is, it may be period.

(The GSU team also found what appears to be a spent Confederate bullet. The Picket will have a separate article about this soon.)

Cast copper alloy buckle with iron tongue (Camp Lawton Project)

Q. Anything else readers might want to know?

A. I'd be interested in being contacted by anyone who might have an ancestor inside the stockade who left any memories, or anyone with photos of Magnolia Springs State Park and the stream going back to the CCC activity. Individuals are also always welcome to email me (rmcnutt@georgiasouthern.edu) with any questions, and I'll get back as soon as I can. They're also welcome to stop by the site, even if we're not running a public day. (The GSU team usually is on site Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during this field school.)

COMING SOON: Recovered Confederate bullets at Camp Lawton raise questions about how often and why guards fired upon prisoners there, at Andersonville and other sites. 

Previous coverage:

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Civil War rifles: Atlanta History Center collection includes carbine sent to Japan, terrifying Whitworth sniper gun and a Texas firearm not up to snuff

Carbine has Japanese cartouche, mums on stock, barrel (AHC, Picket photos)
A surplus Civil War carbine, sold to the Japanese government in 1868 and marked with  imperial chrysanthemums and another design, has been acquired by the Atlanta History Center for its growing collection of firearms.

The history center, home to the Cyclorama painting depicting the Battle of Atlanta and a major exhibit on the Civil War, has acquired dozens of weapons in the past couple of years, bringing the total inventory to nearly 400. It purchased the Starr carbine in November 2022 from a private dealer.

Gordon L. Jones, senior military historian and curator at the AHC, recently showed me some of the firearms kept in the museum's secured basement. We examined the carbine and two notable weapons – one highly regarded and the other considered subpar -- from the existing George W. Wray Jr. collection of rare Confederate guns at the history center.

While some of the long guns at the AHC are in the long-standing exhibit “Turning Point: The American Civil War,” the vast majority are awaiting their time in the daylight, minus the occasional special exhibit.

Gordon L. Jones with guns from the Wray collection (Picket photo)
The AHC would like in coming years to revamp “Turning Point” with a new and expanded area that would showcase many of the stored firearms, says Jones. He said it would compare to the impressive Fuller Gun Collection at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park.

The Starr carbine and many other surplus American weapons were shipped to Japan shortly after the Civil War.

There was significant upheaval there amid “the beginning of Westernization,” said Jones. The .54-caliber gun may have been used in the Boshin War (Japanese Civil War) in the late 1860s. Some experts say many were procured by the Tokugawa shogunate, which was desperate for such weapons.

New York arms dealer Schuyler, Hartley & Graham provided the gun to the Meiji government of Japan.

“It is marked with (the) chrysanthemum (photo, left) and what is believed to be a Japanese military school cartouche (not yet positively identified). The 1853-1854 visit of U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry opened the once-closed society of Japan and started a race between rival clans to acquire modern firearms from the West.

"What followed was the rapid Westernization and militarization of Japan under the Meiji emperors, ultimately culminating in war against Britain and the United States in 1941,” the AHC says.

“This carbine helps tell the story of the long term and sometimes unintended international consequences of the American Civil War, which will be a key theme in the new exhibition.”

The newly acquired gun will be displayed with another Starr carbine already in the DuBose Collection that was sold to Great Britain and used in the defense of Canada against the Irish Fenian incursions of 1866 and 1870.

The Starr carbine was a single-shot, breech-loading weapon. Not many were used by the U.S. military, relative to those put out by other manufacturers.

Other guns acquired in the past two years include:

-- A British Pattern 1853 rifle-musket of Pvt. Robert Marold, Company K, 143rd New York, used at Battle of Peachtree Creek and the Atlanta Campaign, 1864. (Interestingly, actor Chris Evans, who has portrayed Captain America, is a descendant of Marold)

-- U.S. Model 1861 rifle-musket, modernized with the patented Needham breech-loading system, as used by the Governor’s Guard, a Black volunteer militia in Atlanta in 1879.

-- U.S. Starr Arms Company breech-loading carbine with markings indicating use by the 1st Arkansas Cavalry, a U.S. regiment comprised of white unionists from Arkansas and West Tennessee.

-- Eleven European firearms shipped to Union and Confederate troops from 1861-1864.

Jones points to damage on the AHC's Texas contract rifle (Picket photo)
During my visit, Jones brought out two guns from the Wray collection as examples of the best and worst utilized by Confederates.

Visitors to the AHC’s “Confederate Odyssey” exhibit in 2014 learned how the Confederacy successfully adapted to modern warfare. They also saw failures or limitations: poorly crafted bayonets or makeshift clothing. Examples came from firearms, swords, uniforms, flags and other items collected by the late Wray over the years.

Southern manufacturers struggled to make firearms that could stand up to extensive wear and campaigns. Jones showed me a so-called Texas contract rifle, used for a time by William Malloy, a trooper with the 29th Texas Cavalry.

"William Malloy" is carved into the gun's buttstock (Atlanta History Center)
Jones believes the 1863 contract rifle, made by a small private company, is the crudest weapon in the Wray collection.

“This has a thick heavy barrel with tiny iron bands,” the curator told me in 2014. “It is poorly balanced and the back action lock is weak.” The wood behind the bolster was chipped away, despite a nail inserted as a repair.

One officer said of the carbines, “These things are more dangerous to my men than the enemy.”

“Malloy” and “Tex” are carved into the buttstock. It is unknown whether Malloy was still with the unit at its most famous battle at Honey Springs, Indian Territories, facing the First Kansas (colored) Infantry in 1863.

The star of the Wray collection is a Whitworth rifle made in England and shipped to the South during the war. The Whitworth was the first sniper weapon and was incredibly effective, supplied to only the best marksmen. About 50 came over and only 18 are known to survive, Jones said.

Several Federal generals were killed by Whitworths, perhaps mostly notably Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick at Spotsylvania in 1864..

The weapon had a range up to 1,500 years and had an open site on the barrel and a side-mounted Davidson telescopic sight (right), giving the shooter two options. The Whitworth had much tighter rifling than an Enfield, making it that much more deadly.

The AHC believes the one Wray purchased was likely used in the Western Theater, though the telescopic sight on the AHC weapon is a restoration with 20th century optics.

A book on the Wray weapons has this to say: “Although it is impossible to say when or where this particular rifle was used, as one of the Confederacy’s most valued weapons, it certainly did see use. Just as certainly, it killed and wounded many Union soldiers.”

Gordon L. Jones with a rare Whitworth sniper rifle used by the South (Picket photo)
AHC acquisitions from the past couple years (Picket photo)

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Little Round Top rehab project at Gettysburg yields artillery round

Nearly 160 years after the battle at Gettysburg, a Civil War-era unexploded artillery shell was found this week in the Little Round Top area. According to the Gettysburg National Military Park, the shell weighs about 10 pounds and measures about 7 inches long. An Army explosives ordnance disposal team later detonated the round. -- Article 

Monday, February 6, 2023

The use of spy balloons took off during the Civil War. Were they effective? How have their role and technology evolved over the years?

Union troops inflate Intrepid at Fair Oaks in Virginia (Library of Congress)
Thaddeus Lowe likely never imagined that balloons would one day sail in the stratosphere at 60,000 feet and up. Lowe and other aeronauts during the Civil War reached only 1,000 feet or so, and their balloons were tethered to ships or ground stations.

But, unlike the Chinese suspected spy balloon that was shot down off the coast of South Carolina this weekend by a U.S. fighter jet, no Union or Confederate airships were lost. They were behind front lines and too difficult to hit.

The flight of the unmanned Chinese craft over multiple states was a reminder that spy balloons have been used since the 19th century, seeing particular service in Lowe’s Union Army Balloon Corps.

For two years – until the corps was disbanded due to bureaucratic and logistical issues and indifference – Lowe’s brainchild provided valuable, if limited, service in spotting Rebel positions and putting them on the defensive.

Thaddeus Lowe observes Battle of Fair Oaks from the Intrepid (Library of Congress)
He was a patriot and knew he had the technology (of the time) to help commanders reduce the total time of the war and the total number of casualties,” says Kevin Knapp, a retired Army officer and former professional hot-air balloon pilot.

The Picket reached out to historians and writers who have documented the use of seven Federal and two Confederate balloons during the Civil War. We asked Knapp, historian Michael G. Stroud, author Russell K. Dutcher III and Gail Jarrow about their use during the conflict, changes in technology and the role of military balloons today.

Did the use of balloons have a major impact on the conduct of the Civil War?

Before we tackle that, a little previous balloon history is in order.

“Most people may not be aware that the use of balloons was proposed to the hierarchy of the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American War. Unfortunately, the use of the balloons was discounted by higher command authority,” says Dutcher, author of the book “Union Army Balloon Corps.”

“The introduction of military ballooning was proposed during the Seminole War, but again, fell upon the short-sightedness and unwillingness of the U.S. Army to accept new technology,” he said.

While the use of balloons never really got off the ground for the Confederacy, they did garner advantages for Federal forces in the first half of the Civl War.

After the Union disaster at the Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) in July 1861, both sides regrouped and expanded recruiting. Concerned that Confederates would cross the Potomac River and take Washington, Federal aeronauts took to the air.

Balloons went up in multiple locations from Edwards Ferry to Buds Ferry making observations and reporting which helped calm the general public and gave the North a greater chance at regrouping,” says Knapp. (Intrepid at left, Library of Congress photo)

The balloons gave observers a bird’s-eye view of the topography that was previously unheard of or unthinkable, according to Stroud. Two of the more well-known Federal craft were the Intrepid and Union. The small Confederate fleet included the Gazelle.

In and around the capital over the coming months, engineer Brig. Gen. John Gross Barnard designed and built 68 forts, a task made much more urgent by the ignominious Union defeat Manassas. Rebel troops weren’t far from the capital – in Falls Church, Va. The Union Army Balloon Corps spied on them from Fort Corcoran.

In Virginia, along the Potomac River, among the most imposing Confederate defenses was Cockpit Point Battery in Prince William County. Perched atop a 70-foot bluff, the fort had an air of mystery from the beginning. It was built in secret, with trees left in front to better hide the construction. Curious Federal troops on the Maryland side of the river eventually used a balloon to try to figure out how many men were at Cockpit Point and other batteries in the area.

At Island No. 10 in the Mississippi River, John Steiner’s Eagle balloon surveilled Rebel strength and defenses. Steiner directed Federal fire from 500 feet up, tethered to a ship. The island was eventually taken.

Balloon Intrepid watches fighting at Fair Oaks in May 1862 (Library of Congress)
Union balloons played a significant part of offensive operations in Virginia in 1862, including Fair Oaks.

Outside Richmond when Union forces were separated in two by a flooded Chickahominy River, multiple ascents and reports by Lowe helped reunite the forces and saved hundreds of lives,” says Knapp, who has portrayed Lowe at events and talks.

“Any time the balloons went aloft, the Confederates had to move their positions. They made false camps; matched in circles to kick up dust to give the impression they had more forces on the ground and they made false campfires at night,” he says. “All (of) this distracted and took time away from actual fighting. Look at all of the attention the China balloon (distracted) us from other more important things.”

In the end, Rebel aeronauts made fewer than 10 ascensions in 1862. Their enemies made about 3,000 flights from 1861 to 1863.

“I never understood why the enemy abandoned the use of military balloons,” wrote Confederate Brig. Gen. and artillerist Edward Porter Alexander. “Even if the observers never saw anything, they would have been worth all they cost for the annoyance and delays they caused us in trying to keep our movement out of sight.”

Kevin Knapp in a reproduction balloon and at site where Thaddeus Lowe landed in South Carolina
How has balloon technology changed since the Civil War?

By the Civil War, balloons had moved from construction of linen and paper filled with hot air to those made of durable varnished silk, powered by hydrogen and helium gasses.

Thaddeus Lowe made his a balloon inside of a balloon knowing they’d be used in a field environment: corn stubble, bush and tree stumps – anything but a freshly mowed lawn,” says Knapp.

Aeronauts could reach altitudes between 500 and 3,000 feet. Lowe tethered his balloons to the ground to provide a stable platform for aerial observation and so information collected could be delivered to the ground commander immediately, says Knapp. Observations were made by line of sight, aided by binoculars or telescope. Wind, trees and obstructions could limit the visibility.

According to Stroud (left), balloons would remain largely unchanged until the 1960s, “when Edward Yost utilized a propane burner to control a balloon’s ascension and descent thus allowing for a degree of balloon control that had not before existed.” Balloons now could carry their own fuel.

Today’s balloons have a thick vinyl envelope, and the helium or hydrogen allows significant lifts that are limited only by the size of the envelope.

Lifting gas expands with increased altitude, according to Knapp, and observation equipment may include radar, infrared, photo imaging and radio frequency sensing -- "all at the same time, in every direction for miles.”

How has their use in military/surveillance matters evolved since the 1860s?

The bulky and cumbersome balloons of the Civil War, with their labor-intensive field hydrogen gas generators, where outfitted with the highest tech of the day for field observation and reporting.

“Militarily, balloons has been used by various world powers since the 1850s predominately as an observation platform, but there were instances where it was used as a bombing platform such as the siege of Venice in 1849,” says Stroud. “The U.S. military considered using balloons as early as the 1830s during the Second Seminole War and even more so during the Mexican-American War of 1846-1846 to break strong Mexican defenses, but none were executed.”

Barrage balloons protected against aircraft at Normandy (Wikipedia)
It would only be during the Civil War when ballooning was given an official military role in both the North and South (though the South lacked the resources to properly outfit and run a ballooning corps), according to the historian.

Military balloons took major steps forward during World War I, and the conflict also saw the use of dirigibles, including the Zeppelin raids of Britain.

“WWII would see the use of barrage balloons or blimps by the UK as part of their defense network to thwart German bombers and V-1 attacks, the Japanese use fire balloons with explosives to cause terror to Americans on the West Coast, the Soviets used them to assist in artillery spotting and the U.S. Navy utilized balloons in their anti-submarine operations,” says Stroud.

While not receiving much publicity, balloons continue to be used as strong surveillance tools and assets by many countries. “The cheap cost structure, when combined with a balloons ability to stay aloft longer and over targets of interests, have made it an ideal platform for intelligence and information gathering,” according to Stroud.

Does this event give you any new thoughts on the practical role (or limits) of balloons to conduct surveillance?

Even with super sophisticated technology, there is something to be said for simplicity, Stroud says.

“Balloons in the military continue to surprise in their value and role diversity from nuclear test detection, to observation and most importantly, intelligence gathering. This alone shows world powers and nations that one does not have to spend millions if not billions on complex military platforms or spy satellites when a fraction of the cost can be invested in disposal yet effective balloons outfitted with surveillance gathering equipment to spy on a geopolitical adversary.”

They still provide a high rate of return

Stroud says military balloons provide a high rate of return for the investment.

“We have yet to develop and implement a relatively cheap surveillance platform that allows one to rise to 60,000 feet (or higher) and therefore out of the range of most fighters, keep eyes on a target for longer than satellites can and provide valuable intelligence on said target like a balloon can,” he says.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Steven D. Culpepper, writing in 1994, said the usefulness of information gleaned by balloons matured during the Civil War. Logistical problems decreased as aeronauts gained experience.

Knapp, who has participated in balloon races, says colleagues have had “to thread the needle” to avoid going into Chinese airspace. And he recalls when two Americans died when their balloon was shot down over Belarus in 1995.

He criticized U.S. leaders for waiting for the Chinese balloon to go over the ocean before it was taken down. Officials had said they were worried about shooting it down over land, were debris could potentially harm people or structures. China has insisted the balloon was used for civilian purposes.

“All of the information collected was immediately received by China as it was collected. We should have shot it down as soon as it entered our airspace, period,” Knapp says.

What would Thaddeus Lowe think of all this?

The aeronaut and scientist, as head of the balloon corps, would be impressed with modern ballooning and electronic technology, according to Knapp.

Lowe would feel extremely vindicated in the longevity of the balloon as a platform and as a military asset,” Stroud says. “He argued vehemently as to its value with President Lincoln and continued to do so up until his dismissal from the Union and the disbanding of the balloon corps.

“He instinctively and fortuitously saw the need for the military to be able to gain greater situational awareness of its surrounding and to gather data, with balloons being the only way to do that. He was only limited by the resources and primitive technology of the time, but his vision became a reality in both our military and those throughout the world.” 

One interesting side note on Lowe (above) involved his own adventure only weeks before the Civil War erupted.

Reading about the path of the Chinese balloon reminded her of Thaddeus Lowe’s flight from Ohio to the Atlantic Ocean (Washington, D.C., area) in April 1861, says Jarrow, author of “Lincoln’s Flying Spies: Thaddeus Lowe and the Civil War Balloon Corps.”

Lowe had future plans to cross the Atlantic in his balloon, and this was his test flight.

“Unfortunately, he came down in South Carolina eight days after Fort Sumter. The locals weren’t too pleased when they realized he was a Yankee,” says Jarrow. “Lowe was arrested, and some wanted to hang him as a spy. No one, including Lowe, knew that within three months, he would be a Union spy. He was eventually released and took a train north immediately.”

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Gettysburg to hold first sensory friendly event Saturday morning, with no loud sounds or flashing lights in Cyclorama, museum

The Cyclorama will be lighted, but sounds will be off Saturday (Gettysburg NMP)
Gettysburg National Military Park on Saturday (Feb. 4) will introduce its first sensory friendly event at its museum and Cyclorama, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The program is co-hosted by the Gettysburg Foundation.

The idea is to eliminate loud sounds and strobing lights for those on the autism spectrum or having PTSD.

During those hours, visitors will have free access to the painting and galleries. The Cyclorama will be displayed fully lit, but with no narration, sound effects or flashing lights, so visitors can spend an extended time with the painting. Where possible, loud sounds from audiovisual displays, interactives and films will be reduced or turned off in the Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War, park officials said. “Hands on History” carts will be available allowing visitors to touch and feel reproduction objects from the parks collection.

Chris Gwinn, chief of interpretation and education at the park, emailed the following responses to questions about the event from the Civil War Picket. The responses have been edited.

Q. How did the idea come about? Is this something park visitors have asked about/for?

A. We have had many visitors comment to us that the Cyclorama show and the museum galleries are loud. Most of the time this isn't an issue that detracts from the overall experience of visiting, and in the case of the Cyclorama presentation the intent is for the soundscape to mimic the thunder of battle. With that said, for anyone with sensory sensitivities, be it PTSD or individuals on the autism spectrum, the experience can be quite overwhelming. Our goal is to make sure all visitors have an opportunity to engage with our museum in a meaningful way and that our programming is as inclusive as it can be. This new event is an attempt to forward that goal. 

We have a great relationship with the Wounded Warrior Project, and in the past have offered them quiet time with the Cyclorama. It was such a positive experience for the attendees that we wanted to extend it to the general public. At the same time, our education team has been committed to offering more inclusive learning opportunities. In addition to this event, they have recently piloted new programming for the visually impaired, as well as those with hearing impairments. 

Q. Are there any specific groups or individuals you are expecting this Saturday? If so, can you provide a brief description?

A. We hope that anyone who enjoys a quieter or more relaxed museum experience will attend. We especially hope that young visitors, especially those on the autism spectrum, along with their friends and family members are able to attend. We also hope to provide a chance for those with PTSD to enjoy the Cyclorama experience and museum without the sound and strobing lights. 

Q. Are there other such venues around the country that have done this? If so, have you been in contact with them or discovered ideas?

A. We did not invent this concept. Other museums and historic sites such as Mount Vernon, the Smithsonian, and others have piloted similar events. I believe this is the first of its kind for a National Park Service Museum or Civil War site. We have been in close contact with these institutions and they have provided some wonderful tips. The big challenge for us is to make this event appropriate for a battlefield park / museum.

Part of the camp life exhibit at the park's museum (Gettysburg NMP)
Q. How will the day work? Will there be a program per se, or will the event be "self-guided"?

A. The program will be self-guided. Visitors can spend as much time as they want in the Cyclorama or museum. We will have staff and volunteers on hand to assist and provide opportunities to have a tactile experience (handling reproduction items, etc.). 

Q. Are you able to provide a small list of what will be in the "hands on history" carts?

A. Reproduction museum items. Uniform and equipment of the Civil War infantrymen, replicas of what visitors can see in the diorama surrounding the cyclorama, musical instruments and more.

Q. What is the specific purpose of the sensory bags patrons will receive? What is included and why? Will they be able to keep them?

A. Yes, visitors will keep the bags. The purpose is simple: 1) to provide basic park information (maps, museum guide, etc.), but also, 2) to provide a tactile experience. The bags are designed to help lessen the potential sensory overload for our younger visitors. It gives them something to fidget with that engages them at the same time. These are very common in museums, libraries, and classrooms. They will contain: A park map and guide, a social narrative guide, a small notebook, Legos, modeling clay, etc.

A "hands on history" cart at the museum (Gettysburg NMP)
Q. In your and the staff's experience, why are loud sounds, narration and flashing lights an impediment to some visitors?

A. It is the cumulative effect for those audiences I mentioned above. It is simply too overwhelming for individuals with these sensitivities, or it has the potential to trigger a previously traumatic experience. 

Q. During these two hours will only the target audience be allowed in the areas?

A. We won't turn anyone away. Anyone who wants to experience the museum and Cyclorama is free to do so. (A quiet space will be available in the Ford Education Center for those visitors who need a break during the event.)

From the park: Complimentary tickets for the sensory friendly hours at the museum and visitor center can be picked up day of at the ticketing desk in the main lobby. All sound, light, and audio-visual programming will return to normal beginning at 11 am. Visitors with sensory friendly tickets are encouraged to explore the museum galleries and remain in the visitor center if they wish. Please note: During sensory friendly hours the park orientation film, “A New Birth of Freedom,” will not be available.