Monthly Archives: August 2010

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of August 30

Twenty-seven additions to the Civil War category of the Historical Marker Database over the last week.  The new entries cover Civil War related sites in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia:

– On the campus of the University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, the observatory, known as Maxwell Hall, was among the few buildings remaining after a Federal raid in April 1865.

– Another memorial from New Haven, Connecticut.  This one honors the Connecticut Light Battery along with the 6th, 7th and 10th Connecticut Volunteers.

– Two entries from Kingston, Georgia this week.  The Rome Railroad played a role in the Great Railroad Chase in 1863 and the battle of Allatoona Pass in 1864.  General Sherman was in Kingston when he received orders to start his March to the Sea.

– According to the marker, the Philadelphia United Methodist Church near Eatonton, Georgia was saved from destruction during Sherman’s March to the Sea by a strongly worded warning.

– A somewhat battered marker indicates a stop on the Underground Railroad near Westpoint, Indiana.

– Outside Tullulah, Mississippi is a marker noting the battle of Milliken’s Bend, an action fought in June 1863 associated with the Vicksburg campaign and the second battle involving US Colored Troops.

– In Plaquemines Parish, down river of New Orleans, Louisiana is Fort Jackson.  The fort played a key role in the capture of the city, but is undergoing restoration due to recent hurricane damage.

– On the Vicksburg Battlefield in Mississippi is a monument to the 1st and 3rd Mississippi Infantry (US) for their service in the Vicksburg Campaign.

– Markers in Independence, Missouri note the First (August 1862) and Second (October 1864) battles of Independence.  The Jackson County Jail was used as the US Provost Marshal Headquarters during the war.

– A memorial in Sparta, New Jersey honors those 27th and 33rd New Jersey Volunteers.

– A marker in Edenton, North Carolina discusses a naval action there which left the CSS Albemarle badly damaged.  A nearby marker discusses the Edenton Bell Battery, with two field pieces used by the battery on display.

– A memorial in Chicora Cemetery near Dunn, North Carolina honors the Confederate dead from the battle of Averasboro.

– The McPherson Post No. 48, Grand Army of the Republic placed a memorial to the Union war dead in Miami, Oklahoma.

– “Loyalty to the Union” is the title of an entry from Comfort, Texas.  The subject is a group of German immigrants  with Union sentiments killed in August 1862 while attempting to reach Federal lines.

– The Bingham City Veterans Memorial outside Copperton, Utah notes the final resting place of several Civil War veterans.

Pearisburg, Virginia witnessed fighting in May 1862 as future President Rutherford B. Hayes defeated Confederate General Henry Heth.

– Two new NPS markers from the Richmond Battlefields.  One discusses the Federal use of balloons to reconnoiter the Confederate lines.  The other discusses the strong Federal position at Gaines’ Mill.

– Federal troops occupied the grounds of “Rural Plains” in 1864, near Mechanicsville, Virginia.  The plantation was home to the Shelton Family for three centuries.  Soldiers at the time took note of the ground’s association with patriot Patrick Henry.

– A marker at Virginia Beach, actually at the entrance to the Bay Bridge-Tunnel, discusses the naval activity during the war at the mouth of the Chesapeake.

– A new Civil War Trails marker in Upperville, Virginia relates more details of that June 1863 battle.

– Another Civil War Trails marker notes the location of Mitchell’s Ford, Manassas, Virginia.  The site is associated with the First Manassas campaign.

– A state marker notes Princeton, West Virginia saw action in May 1862 as General Cox’s Federals moved into the Kanawah Valley.

Mississippi River Placenames

Years ago in college I happened upon a useful Mississippi River reference – Marion Bragg’s Historic Names and Places on the Lower Mississippi River.   At the time I was studying all sorts of “local” history around the Memphis area,  and found it invaluable to figure out the twists and turns of old river lore.  The paperback copy was in the non-circulating reference section, so I spent about $20 photocopying the book.  But those were the old days….

A few weeks back I found the entire work on to PDF and posted to a Corps of Engineers site (a bit of warning, it’s on the .mil side of the internet and may pop up a certificate warning or even respond “access is denied” when changes are made on the server end).

The Mississippi River Commission published Bragg’s work in 1977.   The format follows the river from Cairo, Illinois to the Head of Passes, Louisiana, sequentially with references to river miles “above Head of Passes” or “AHP.”    Along the way, Bragg discusses treacherous river bends with deadly snags, vanished riverboat towns, and engineering changes to the river.  Civil War buffs will find mention of many battles fought along the river.

Placename entries vary between a paragraph to a couple of pages.  Yet there is enough information there to aid follow on research.  Unfortunately, while the river mile references are handy, the river’s course has changed enough since the 1970s to cause some confusion over exact locations.  And the map references included by Bragg don’t match the more recent navigation charts.  So readers must do a bit of translation.

While not quite Twain’s Life on the Mississippi in terms of literary style, Historic Names and Places is still entertaining.  And useful for those looking for historic sites in the old river bottom!

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Rowlesburg, West Virginia

Rowlesburg, West Virginia was another stop on my recent trips to see Civil War sites in the Mountain State.  I’ll admit before the visit my familiarity with the battle was limited to the name, date, and leaders.    And there is not a lot out there in the way of resources.  There isn’t even a battle summary from CWSAC!

At the time of the Civil War, Rowlesburg was (and still is) a railroad town.  The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) passed over the Cheat River just east of town. Then the railroad crossed multiple viaducts over the mountains while heading west.  Both sides recognized the importance of these structures early in the war.  Federals garrisoned the town in 1861 to protect the valuable rail line.  General Robert E. Lee considered the bridges “worth to me an army.”

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Modern Railroad Bridge at Rowlesburg

In April 1863, the Confederates launched a much delayed raid into western Virginia (as West Virginia was not yet a state!).  General William E. “Grumble” Jones led a brigade to raid the rail lines between Oakland, Maryland and Grafton, Virginia.  Concurrently General John D. Imboden targeted the Tygart Valley with his new command.  The Confederates aimed to destroy facilities along the railroad, disrupt communications with the Unionist government in Wheeling, and gather new recruits.  The raid looked good on paper, but heavy rains delayed departure.*

Jones arrived outside Rowlesburg on April 26.  After assessing the situation, he opted for a two-pronged attack on the town’s garrison.  One force, seen in red on the map below, proceed up the River Road (modern West Virginia Highway 72) .   A smaller detachment, depicted in black on the map, proceeded over a hill to the east end of the railroad bridge with orders to burn the structure.

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Rowlesburg Battle Map

Major John Showalter with 250 men, reinforced with civilian volunteers from the town, defended the town at the time of the raid.  Showalter took advantage of the terrain and placed barricades along the River Road and placed artillery on a hill overlooking the town.  Their positions are shown in blue on the map above.

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Cannon Hill from Rowlesburg

A mixed force of soldiers and townspeople, supported by artillery fire, thwarted the Confederates attacking the east end of the bridge.  Meanwhile along the River Road, the 6th Virginia Cavalry under Colonel John S. Green ran into a Federal barricade.  Instead of rushing through the defenses, Green opted to dismount and skirmish.  The Confederate attack then stalled.  With terrain restricting movement, a stalemate developed.  Despite repeated attempts, Green’s men could not push through the Federal defenses.

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River Road near the Site of Barricades

Jones withdrew at night and continued his raid in the direction of Oakland.  While damaging the rail facilities there, the main targets of the raid were left untouched at Rowlesburg.  Jones laid the blame for failure on Green, pressing formal charges.  The bridges and viaduct intact, the B&O continued to support the Federal war effort in western Virginia.  And within a matter of weeks, the area would formally become West Virginia.

Touring Rowlesburg today,  five markers provide interpretation.  Four are recent additions by the Rowlesburg Area Historical Society.  I will say that, while thankful for the markers, I found them quite wordy.  Just seemed as if a dissertation was pasted onto the displays.

The community has an active revitalization movement which has also secured an overlook on Cannon Hill, occupied by Federal artillery during the war.    I didn’t make it up to Cannon Hill, saving that for another visit.  However I did attempt to view the viaducts on the west side of town.  Unfortunately heavy summer growth prevented a good photo.  An archival photo of these impressive structures will have to do for now (more are here from the Historic American Building Surveys).

B&O Viaduct near Rowlesburg

Overall I was impressed with the work done by local groups at Rowlesburg.  Reenactments and other activities have raised awareness.  The townspeople I spoke with were rightly proud of their history!

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* Recall at that same time, rains also delayed Federals launching a raid into central Virginia and way out west, rains disrupted Marmaduke’s raid on Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  Someone would do well to offer a study of how weather affected the campaigns of 1863.

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of August 23

This week, contributors to the Historical Marker Database added sixty-three new entries to the Civil War category.  These are public displays at Civil War sites in Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

– The Soldiers and Sailors memorial in New Haven, Connecticut is perhaps the most impressive in a state with many impressive Civil War memorials.  The tower incorporates plaques listing soldiers who died in the war.

– Tradition holds that Confederates often camped under an old live oak in Port Orange, Florida.

– The war came to Eatonton, Georgia twice.  A brigade of Federal cavalry rode through, heavily pursued, during General Stoneman’s July 1864 raid.  On November 21 of that year, Sherman’s Left Wing passed through, destroying the railroad line and nearby factories.

– A G.A.R. Memorial in Iola, Kansas honors that community’s Civil War veterans.  Another memorial stands in the Elm Grove Cemetery in Cadmus, Kansas.

– General Meade may have commanded an entire army during the war, but as a plaque at Barnegat Light, New Jersey indicates he built lighthouses before the war.

– A marker in Sleepy Hollow, New York notes that General John C. Fremont lived in the nearby community of Cold Spring.  But alas, the Pathfinder’s name is misspelled!

– Harriet Jacobs lived in Edenton, North Carolina where a state marker mentions her book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.   As a nearby interpretive marker notes, the proximity to waterways allowed many slaves to escape through Edenton.

– The Ripley-Shepherd Building in Hendersonville, North Carolina served as a Confederate commissary during the war.

– The Alexander Dickson House served as General J.E. Johnston’s headquarters in April 1865.

– Our “Battlefields by Markers” tour of Bentonville, North Carolina now includes fifty-two entries.  Our tour by markers is arranged to support a driving tour.

– Several new Park Service interpretive markers around the Richmond, Virginia battlefields entered this week.  These include Chimborazo hospital, Seven Day’s Battle Begin, Chickahominy Buffs, the Garthright House (Gaines Mill and Cold Harbor), Grant’s Grand Assault and Killing Fields (Cold Harbor), Springfield Plantation, and A Splendid Field of Fire (Malvern Hill).

– Among the older markers in the Richmond area entered this week are several around Fort Harrison.

– Markers in Wheeling, West Virginia note the 1861 campaigns that secured Federal control of western Virginia, which later led to statehood.  Conventions held in Independence Hall established the “Restored Government of Virginia.”

– After the battle of McDowell, Virginia, General “Stonewall” Jackson pursued Federals past Franklin, West Virginia.  There, Union forces formed a hasty defense at Trout Rock.  Caves in that area supplied niter for Confederate munitions during the war.  Jackson remained in the area briefly before recalled back into the Shenandoah Valley.

– A couple of markers from Kingwood, West Virginia note the strong Union sentiment in Preston County.  The county provided more volunteers, in proportion to population, than any other during the war, according to one marker.  James McGrew, leader among the western Virginia Unionists, lived at “The Pines” in Kingwood.

– The Oshkosh, Wisconsin Civil War Memorial features three soldiers in a dramatic charge.

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USS Olympia Tour

A couple of weeks back I mentioned the sad story of the USS Olympia.  As the ship is due to close in November, I wanted to get a tour in before the summer ran out.   After all this is the last surviving warship from the Spanish-American War.  A Saturday morning drive to Philadelphia allowed me to miss most of the traffic normally encountered downtown.  The Olympia is a part of the Independence Seaport Museum, along with the World War II submarine USS Becuna (SS-319).

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USS Olympia and USS Becuna

While certainly small compared to the massive World War II battleship across the river, the Olympia is pretty impressive.   The white, tan, and red paint exterior paint scheme matches that used during the ship’s early service career.    Certainly different from the hazy gray paint schemes of more modern warships.    And the interior stands in even sharper contrast.

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Flag Officer's Cabin

Widespread use of wood recalls an earlier time when the ships were not only military vessels, but status symbols for a nation.  Every part of the Flag Officer’s and adjacent Captain’s Cabins were configured to impress visitors.   Of course the enlisted men’s accommodations were a bit more spartan.

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Hammocks and Mess Area on Main Deck

Below the Hammocks, angled up from the floor, is the cover for one of several coal chute.  A reminder of the Olympia‘s coal fired triple expansion engines.

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Olympia's "Landmark" Engines

Unfortunately because of needed repairs, the propulsion system, considered an engineering landmark, cannot be examined up close.   And another “first” – the Olympia also offered the Navy’s first mechanically chilled “scuttlebutt.”

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Olympia's Scuttlebutt

Tradition holds that sailors spent a lot of time chit-chatting around the scuttlebutt.

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Magazine Flood Valve

Brass fixtures such this are all around the main deck of the Olympia.   The magazine flood valves serve to remind that despite the wood-work, this ship was meant to go in harm’s way.

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Main Forward Turret

The Olympia boasted four eight-inch guns, arranged in pairs in two turrets.  The squat cylindrical profile is reminiscent of those used on Civil War monitors.  But these were steam-powered, for faster handling in action.

Below the main turret is a 6-pdr gun, one of such fourteen rapid fire guns arming the ship.  These guns defended against attacks by light craft, particularly torpedo boats.  The 6-pdr was mounted on a pedestal mount.

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6-pdr Gun

Between the 8-inch main guns and the 6-pdrs were ten 5-inch guns mounted in broadside casemates along the main deck.

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5-inch Gun

This gun position is in the flag officer’s cabin.  In service it was probably among the cleanest in the Navy because of its proximity to the brass.   The 5-inch Mark 2 guns formed the secondary armament for the cruiser, and were the first rapid-fire guns in this caliber made for the Navy – rated at twelve rounds per minute.

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Breech of 5-inch Gun - Interrupted Screw

The interrupted screw, partly responsible for the higher rate of fire, was just one of many innovations between the 1860s and 1890s which revolutionized naval warfare.   And the Olympia offers such examples at practically every turn.

The Olympia presents a window to look back over a century at not only military and technical history, but also the story of sailors in those days of steam.  The ship represents a time of great victories, that put the names Dewey and Gridley on the lips of people all across America.

Sadly, unless something dramatic happens in the next few months, the ship is destined to become history itself – perhaps scrapped or sunk in an artificial reef.  Hopefully the Friends of the Cruiser Olympia will have something to say about the fate of the ship.

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Artillery Crew Drill Photo

One of my all time favorite Civil War photos captures an artillery crew at drill.

Gun squad at drill

It captures the crew at the point when the lanyard was pulled to fire the piece.  Of course the photographer caught this image during a dry run.  So no flames and smoke.  But we do see what must have been a common sight, with the crew braced for the next set of moves in their carefully scripted drill – prepare, load, aim, fire.

Because the gun’s muzzle is displayed front and center, I’ve always wondered if given enough resolution one could trace the gun’s registry number.  If the gun was still around, I’d love to match it up in a “then and now” set of photos.

Earlier this week I was browsing the National Archives collection of Brady photos on Flickr, and noticed my favorite photo.  Just a few clicks here and there and I cropped a high-resolution view of the muzzle.

Not exactly good enough to read the markings.  Five very clear rifle grooves, which beyond a doubt means this piece was a 20-pdr (3.67-inch) Parrott.  Shading variations lead me to believe there are markings at the top (12 o’clock) and bottom (6 o’clock) of the muzzle. But not the large lettering that practically ringed the later production Parrotts (example below).

Muzzle of 20-pdr #205

Another detail to consider is the prominent front sight blade.  By 1863, Parrotts shifted to an off-center sight line, using a blade on the right rimbase and a socketed knob on the band.

Another detail leading me to think this was an 1861-2 production Parrot is the shoulder in front of the trunnions.

If the photographer’s angle had been perhaps 10 degrees to the right, then we’d likely see a year stamping.  Or is that the initials of the inventor “R.P.P.”?

Based on visual evidence, I’d wager this 20-pdr was one of about a hundred produced for Army or state contracts prior to 1863.  Of which, about two dozen survive.   Maybe a one in four chance the gun is still around to be identified.

Beyond that “gun stuff,” the real joy of looking through these old photos are the fine details one can pick out.   I think the expressions on the crew’s faces makes this photo a popular illustration used in books about the war.  I like that of what appears to be the number 5 man to the rear and left of the piece.

Is that “just going through the motions” for you?   Or is that “I’d better be stiff, I’m going to be in a picture” pose?  Hard to tell if that is a smirk or just the line of his mustache.  But over his right shoulder is a sign with a number – indicating gun position number 4 in a fortification. The record from the National Archives leaves little to aid identification of the exact fort.  I’d suggest this is one of the Washington defenses.  The gun position number and related equipment leads me to believe the fort is the same captured in another photo.

Artillery drill in Fort, defenses of Washington

The gun on the parapet is a 30-pdr Parrott on a siege carriage.  It has a threaded elevation mechanism attached to a hole in the knob.  That piece is likely a late production model of that type.  Behind it is a seacoast smoothbore on front pintle barbette carriage, my guess is a 32-pdr.

Although I thwarted in my goal to identify the exact cannon, I could waste several hours just scanning through the details of the photo.   There’s always some fine detail missed on earlier looks.  Even for a familiar photo such as this one!

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Round Tables: Selecting Speakers

Like our local Civil War Round Table, I suspect many round tables around the country are thinking about speakers for the next season.  And with the sesquicentennial of many of the opening battles of the war, that task is a bit more involved and interesting.  Everyone is in the mood to hear about those early war events – Fort Sumter, Manassas, Wilson’s Creek, and such.

That in mind, and assuming many readers attend round tables, I’d ask what folks look for as a good speaker and topic for such events?

Does a speaker need to be a published author?   Is a more recently published author a more interesting speaker? (Generally, I think all would agree they are more eager to accept invites!)

And for topics.  Do you reach out for authorities in particular subjects?  Say a particular battle or campaign or political theme?   If so, how do you select those subjects? Does your round table expect “western” or “eastern” themes?  Or is it pretty much an open table?  Is there a good way to mix the topics?

For the next few years, again thinking of 150 years past, do you expect an agenda featuring those events?  Or is that less important to the audience?

Thinking about the delivery, what kind of speakers leave you wanting to hear more?  Do you like more of a collegiate lecture style presentation?  Or perhaps something a little lighter in fare?  How about those who use the “new” media with prepared presentation slides or even video?

Certainly would like to hear your thoughts.  And by all means, if you have some suggested speakers, particularly those who can speak on the events which occurred in 1861, please pass them along!

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