Monthly Archives: May 2010

Considering Blue Star Memorial Highways

On Memorial Day weekend, my attention is focused toward honoring those who gave their lives in defense of our country.  If current plans hold, I will spend some time at Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, which has some rather strong Memorial Day ties, even a good claim to be the “first” town to hold a Memorial Day.

One of my favorite activities, no matter where I am this time of year, is to visit a war memorial.  I’ll often select a memorial in an often overlooked location (and many sit on courthouse lawn, in plain sight, overlooked by hundreds if not thousands).  During these visits I focus my thoughts on the memorial’s components – artwork, text, composition, and location.  To me, these components tell us much about the people honored by the memorial, but perhaps more so how the people who placed the memorial felt.  I have not selected my memorial this weekend.  Likely it will be one of many in Central Pennsylvania as we are weekending with family.

But I’ve already “driven over” one war memorial – A section of the Blue Star Highway.   Indeed, if one travels any distance at all this weekend, you would be hard pressed NOT to use a part of the memorial highway system.

Blue Star Memorial Highway Sign at New Market, Virginia (Wikipedia Commons)

The Blue Star Memorial Highway dates back to World War II when first began by the predecessor of the National Garden Club.  The intent was to link the club’s goal of beautifying by-ways with that of honoring the servicemen and women.   While similar set-asides and parks have been around practically since the beginning of our nation, the highway project was the first (and only, to my knowledge) to approach such a grand scale.  By adding trees, shrubs, flowers, and other landscaping features to the roadways, the club turned entire strips of land into war memorials.

However, I must clarify one point with regard to the Blue Star signs and the Historical Marker Database.  Some time back we opted, for editorial purposes, to disallow Blue Star signs.  Yes, at first glance those signs, such as the one pictured above, look like “historical markers.”   But we felt the signs themselves lacked the requisite properties to be classified either as markers, or by themselves, as memorials.  Our reasoning was the memorial was the highway itself, not the sign.

The highway itself… and that tells me something about how those who made the initial designation, and to a degree how we Americans to this day, view military service.

The highway is Blue, not Gold, Star, thus is honoring all who served (Gold Star is reserved for those who died in service).  Perhaps, and such is my opinion not that of the founders of the system, the designation indicates any service in the armed forces should be respected and honored.   Service for the country, no matter how routine the assignment, means subordinating one’s needs to those of the country.   While higher honors and memorials often relate to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and thus are Gold Stars, the highway system looked at sacrifice in a broader context.

Consider the use of flora and landscaping.  Yes, the club’s over-arching goal is to add beauty to America, by reducing blight.   But I find it somewhat symbolic of how we Americans perceive military service.   No matter how brutal, we tend to look towards a war’s end state as renewal.  Americans didn’t focus on conquest but rather to set the world right.  While some might well contest that perception, given military actions of the last fifty years, but in 1945 we looked to rebuild a better world.  How better to honor service which brought forth that end state than a garden.

Instead of placing that garden in a town center or cemetery, these memorials stand at intersections, round-abouts, traffic control points, rest stops, or plots beside the highway.  In almost direct contradiction of the Civil War generation, or even that of the World War I generation, those of the World War II era (and we today) sought to bring the memorial out from the town square.  The highway links Americans as a vital part of our infrastructure.  World War II bonded Americans, perhaps as never before or since, and the service of those men and women was the link that held that bond.

But highways are so commonplace that we seldom consider them in our daily lives.  We drive on them daily, but how often do we consider the importance?  We thrive under the peace and stability, but do we often think of the sacrifices made to ensure those?  Perhaps without intending to, those who created the Blue Star Highway provided an analogy for us to consider.

The only issue I’ve ever raised with the Blue Star Highway has been that signage.  While it is nice to have the signs to remind us, and certainly proper to indicate the local organization which supported the local improvements, I just find the text of the signs lacking.   Some of the signs offer a bit more background than others.  But other than mention of the local club or chapter, nothing links the memorial to the locality.   My suggestion, to anyone listening, is to add references to local heroes or locally raised units.   I think it would be nice to know a Medal of Honor awardee lived nearby, or similar bit of local history.  Such would fully tie the memorial to the locality.

Next time you happen to travel on a Blue Star Memorial Highway, take some time to consider the memorial and what it means.  Consider the components of the memorial, and perhaps complement or refute the interpretations I’ve offered here.  But above all, please recall the highway is a memorial to those who served.

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of May 24

This week’s additions to the Civil War category at the Historical Marker Database cover sites in Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  All told fifty-eight new entries:

– Adding to a state marker (added earlier this month) a memorial near Kennesaw, Georgia stands at the site where Confederate General Leonidas Polk was killed.  “Thus standing a cannon shot from the enemy’s guns crashed through his breast, and opened a wide door through which his spirit took its flight to join his comrades on the other shore.”

– Three new entries from a marker cluster in Rome, Georgia related to the Atlanta Campaign.  Markers note the advance of Davis’ Federal Corps, French’s Confederate Division which resisted the advance, and the Federal occupation of the town on May 18, 1864.

– A plaque in Mattoon, Illinois notes the spot where U.S. Grant first took command of the 21st Illinois, the first command in the war for the General.

– A simple plaque in Oakland, Illinois is the locality’s Civil War memorial.

– Troy Grove, Illinois is the birthplace of James Butler Hickock, Federal scout who was more famous by the name “Wild Bill” and for his exploits in the west after the war.

– The veterans’ memorial in Strasburg, Illinois lists the town’s Civil War veterans.

– A state marker in New Albany, Indiana notes a stop on the Underground Railroad.

– Several markers this week around Richmond, Kentucky, but not all directly related to the August 1862 battle there.  A state marker indicates the site of a Federal field hospital used in the battle.  A tour marker notes the site of a Confederate Cemetery on the battlefield.  A nearby wayside tavern served as a field hospital during the battle, then later in the war by General Grant who was passing through.  A masonic memorial honors both Union and Confederate soldiers.  Cassius Marcellus Clay, US Minister to Russia during the war, is buried in Richmond.

– 20th century Marine General Field Harris, buried near Versailles, Kentucky, came from a family of military leaders, including Confederate General Charles Field.

– A batch of markers from Fayetteville, North Carolina this week.  C.M. Stedman, from Fayetteville, was the last former Confederate officer to serve in the US Congress.  A Civil War trails marker at the old Parade Ground relates the story of the Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry who went to war as Company H, 1st North Carolina Infantry.

– Also in Fayetteville, a Civil War trails marker discusses Cross Creek Cemetery where many Confederates were buried.   A Confederate memorial in the cemetery was carved by George Lauder, a stonecutter of note.   Warren Winslow, a congressman in 1861 who negotiated the surrender of the Fayetteville Arsenal in 1861, is buried in the cemetery.

– And as any Airborne(!) trooper knows, Fort Bragg, outside Fayetteville, was named for Confederate General Braxton Bragg.

– A Civil War trails marker in Tarboro, North Carolina discusses the brief occupation of the town by Federals during Potter’s raid of July 1863.  Also in the town common is the Edgecombe County Confederate Memorial.

– Three Civil War related markers from Greensboro, North Carolina this week.  The Piedmont Railroad, a vital supply line to Danville, Virginia, had its southern terminus in the city.  Jefferson Davis met with the Confederate cabinet on April 12-13, 1865 in Greensboro while fleeing south.  The cabinet remained in Greensboro until April 15, meeting in a railroad car.

– The home of Confederate General Matt Ransom, who later served as minister to Mexico after the war, was near Jackson, North Carolina.

Six markers in Pennsylvania and Maryland provide interpretation for the Battle of Monterey Pass.  The battle, fought during the retreat from Gettysburg, was the second largest action in Pennsylvania during the war.

– Seven entries this week round out the set of markers and memorials at Fort Sumter, South Carolina (with map showing marker locations).

– A marker on the east end of Sullivan’s Island near Charleston, South Carolina notes the location Breach Inlet.  The inlet saw fighting in the Revolutionary War and during the Civil War Battery Marshall was part of the Confederate defensive line deterring Federals.

– In North Augusta, South Carolina, in the Wade Hampton Veterans Park, stands a tribute memorial to those who served in the Civil War.

–  The Bethel Community Training Ground in Simpsonville, South Carolina served as a muster point for the “Jeff Davis Guard” which became Company F of the Hampton Legion.

– A state marker in Nashville, Tennessee discusses the black laborers who helped build nearby Fort Negley.

– In Charlotte County Courthouse, Virginia, a Civil War trails marker discusses the passage of Federal raiders on June 25, 1864 (part of the Wilson-Kautz Raid).  One quote from the marker stands out – “People complimented us very highly. Seemed very thankful that we did not rob or burn.”  Nearby stands the county Confederate memorial.

– Also in Charlotte County, the Wilson-Kautz Raid passed through Drakes Branch and Saxe, which are now marked with Civil War trails waysides.

– Continuing with additions to the Wilson-Kautz Raid Civil War trail, a wayside in Halifax, Virginia discusses the raiders activities on June 23, 1864.  A state marker mentions the stay of General George A. Custer in April 1865.  Nearby stand the Halifax County Confederate Memorial and the war memorial, which includes a roster of men of the county who served.

– Markers in Boydton, Virginia continue the Wilson-Kautz tour.  A Civil War trails marker near Boyd Tavern notes the muster of men to serve the Confederacy, and the passage of the Federal raiders.  And again we find the county’s Confederate memorial nearby.

– County line markers for Dinwiddie County and Prince Edward County, Virgina note the birthplaces of Generals Winfield Scott and Joseph E. Johnston.

Dahlgren Boat Howitzers, Part 4

In earlier posts I discussed the design history, carriages, and variants of the boat howitzer family.  Now I turn to discuss the ammunition used by the boat howitzers.  While generally similar to projectiles used in land service, the naval ordnance offered a few notable differences.  In A System of Boat Armament (1852) , John A. Dahlgren recommended shell, shrapnel (case shot), and canister.   Grape shot, while mentioned, was not considered standard.

Particulars for Shell and Shrapnel Case, Dahlgren, 1852

Dimensions for the Navy’s 12-pdr shells matched almost perfectly to Army shells of the same caliber.  The Navy’s 24-pdr shell, with a 5.72 inch diameter, had less windage compared to the Army’s 5.68 inch diameter shell.  But for reasons not noted, the Navy’s projectiles were listed as slightly heavier than the Army’s.  Otherwise the specifications were the same.  (See page 34-35 of the Army Ordnance Manual of 1862 for details.)

Similarly, the Navy’s specifications for shrapnel case appeared similar to the Army’s comparable projectile, called spherical case shot.  As with the shells, the Navy’s 24-pdr retained the slightly larger diameter.  While in 1852, the Army’s specifications closely matched the Navy’s, by 1862 the Army opted for Bormann fuses requiring different diameters for the fuse-hole.  As result, empty Army case shot was slightly heavier.  Both Navy and Army case were filled with a mix of lead balls and sulphur.  The Army specified 82 lead 0.79 caliber musket balls for a 12-pdr case shot, and 175 for a corresponding 24-pdr.  Dahlgren specified 80 lead 0.65 caliber musket balls for his 12-pdr shrapnel and 175 for the 24-pdr.

Dahlgren, a strong proponent for shells, also championed the use of shrapnel.   In addition to a detailed discussion of the history of shrapnel, Dahlgren offered the results of tests performed to determine the dispersion of fragments.  Test indicated the optimum bursting height for 12-pdr case was 15 to 20 feet above and 50 to 75 yards in front of the target.

Navy canister differed in construction with the Army’s.  Navy 12-pdr canister consisted of 39 1-inch diameter cast iron balls stacked inside a tin case.  The 24-pdr used the same number of 1.3-inch balls.   The Army opted for 48 1.17-inch balls for the 12-pdr and the same number of 1.35-inch balls in the 24-pdr howitzer’s canister.  The Navy’s 12-pdr canister weighed 7.75 pounds complete.  The 24-pdr was 14.55 pounds when dressed out.  With more and larger sub-projectiles the Army’s weighed 10.8 pounds and 21.25 pounds respectively.  Of interest, the Army’s 12-pdr Mountain Howitzer fired a 11.2 pound canister with 148 0.69-inch led musket balls.  (See the Navy Ordnance Instructions of 1866 and The Army Ordnance Manual of 1862 for more details)  Tactically, the differences between Navy and Army canister was negligible, but the lesser weight of each round was a mobility factor.

The Navy’s ordnance manuals of the Civil War era did not identify grape-shot for the boat howitzer calibers.  I would assume from the omission that Dahlgren only mentioned grape-shot to cover all options.   For arguments’ sake, the Army’s 1862 Ordnance Manual listed particulars for both 12- and 24-pdr calibers.  Grape-shot always took the form of a stack of nine cast iron balls – three rows of three each.   12-pdrs used 1.14 pound, 2.06-inch diameter cast iron balls.   The 24-pdr grape-shot used 2.4 pound, 2.64-inch diameter.  Overall grape fell into disfavor as canister became practical and popular.  While offering some range advantage over canister, grape was best used against rigging.  And of course with the advent of steam power, rigging was less critical to a ship’s operations.

For the 12-pdr and 20-pdr rifled howitzers, the Navy issued Hotchkiss, Schenkel, and Dahlgren’s own projectiles.  The listed weight of a 12-pdr shell was 11 pounds, while that of a 20-pdr was 18 pounds.  The Navy Ordnance Instructions do not mention bolt or canister projectiles for these cannon.

One discrepancy arises when comparing service charges listed in the Ordnance Instructions against Dahlgren’s notes and physical dimensions of the boat howitzers.  The instructions note two pound charges for the 24-pdr smoothbore and 20-pdr rifle.  The 12-pdr heavy and 12-pdr rifle used one pound service charges.  But, although the 12-pdr medium and the 12-pdr small featured the same chamber dimensions, the Ordnance Instructions list 0.625 pound service charges.  Such loading would either require a special sabot, which is not noted in any instructions, or leave an unacceptable air gap between the charge and projectile.  (UPDATE:  Dahlgren Boat Howitzer service charges)

The Navy transported the boat howitzer projectiles in boxes with either nine projectiles.   The 24-pdr boxes measured roughly 22 x 21 x 14 inches, weighing 270 pounds loaded with shells.  And the 12-pdr, measuring 19 x 18 x 12 inches, weighed 140 pounds.  Often the boxes were issued in sets.  As time progressed, the field carriages were modified with braces, with cleats, to mount these boxes beside the cannon.  This of course added 300 to 500 pounds to the weight in action.

In summary, the Navy used projectiles similar to the Army’s in most regards, but with slight variations in weight and composition.   Perhaps, if I were carrying about canister rounds in a haversack, I would appreciate the two-and-a-half pound difference between 12-pdr rounds!