Where I used my NPS annual pass this year

Around this time every year I purchase a new “Interagency Annual Pass.”  The pass costs $80 and covers entrance fees at sites run by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the National Park Service.

Of course I end up using my pass mostly at national parks, and usually refer to the pass as such (“NPS pass” sounds “kewl” while “Interagency Annual Pass” sounds like some badge used to gain access to the office cafeteria).  Officially the program is “America the Beautiful – the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.”

Here’s a tally of places where my entrance fee was covered this year (from August 2010 to August 2011):

  • Wilson’s Creek – $10.
  • Pea Ridge – $10.
  • Shenandoah / Blue Ridge Parkway – four visits at $10 each.
  • Colonial National Historic Park (Yorktown) – $10.
  • Manassas – eight visits at $3 each.
  • Harpers Ferry – six visits at $6 each.
  • Antietam – two visits at $6 each.
  • Fort Pulaski – $5
  • Castillo de San Marcos – $18 (three adult passes).

I may have missed a few visits in the list.  But at a minimum the pass covered $165 worth of entrance fees.  Can’t beat a 200% return on an investment these days.  But as my wife is quick to point out, I end up blowing that “savings” in the park bookstore every single time!

Of course many (if not most) of the national parks have no entrance fee.  For those that do collect, 80% of the fees go to maintenance projects in the park where the fees were collected.  The other 20% goes to a larger fund for parks where fees are not collected.  It is my understanding that the money collected from the annual passes (such as the one I purchase) goes into that fund distributed to parks without entrance fees.

I figure with the sesquicentennial continuing over the next few years, the park pass will continue to pay for itself.  And that’s why I recommend these passes to others.  Nothing says “I’m a history geek who likes the great outdoors” better than an annual park pass!

Rifled 32-pdr Model 1845 Seacoast Guns

Back in March, I described the 32-pdr seacoast guns used by the Army prior to the Civil War.  The Army gradually shifted seacoast armament to the heavier columbiads during the 1850s, eventually suppressing the 32-pdrs (and 42-pdrs) on the eve of the Civil War.  But quantities of the 32-pdrs, particularly the Model 1829 and 1845, remained on hand and in service.   In an effort to make the most of these obsolete guns, both sides rifled some of the 32-pdrs.

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Rifled 32-pdr Model 1845, Tredegar #27

Three rifled 32-pdr Model 1845 Seacoast Guns sit on display in the city of St. Augustine, Florida.

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Right Trunnion of #27

All three were originally cast by Tredegar Foundry in 1846.

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Left Trunnion of #27

The guns are registry numbers 5, 27, and 30.

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Muzzle Face of #27

They range in weight from 7204 to 7256 pounds.

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Breech Face of #27

All three have the same nine-groove, flat, right-hand twist rifling.

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Bore of #5

Although some rifling patterns offer hints as to the weapon’s history, in this case the pattern cannot be attributed to a specific source.  And remarkably, none of the three have reinforcing bands, which also could help aid identification.

Other than the rifling, the guns conform with the Model 1845 specifications from muzzle to breech.

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Muzzle Profile of #27

A plaques near the displays indicate these guns were part of the armament of Fort Marion (a.k.a. the Castillo de San Marcos) “before, during, and after the Civil War.”

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Plaque at Gun's Base

But this story has several holes to fill.  First off, these guns were almost certainly not rifled before the Civil War.  Very unlikely that the Army would send relatively new rifled 32-pdrs to the much neglected backwater of St. Augustine (as opposed to the test ranges at Fort Monroe).

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Rifled 32-pdr Model 1845, Tredegar #5

Just as unlikely that when state forces overtook the Castillo in January 1861, they would send the guns off for rifling.  Not when every gun in place was a precious resource to fend off incursion by the Federal fleet.  Even more unlikely that the Confederacy would later rifle the guns, then redistribute them back before the Federals retook St. Augustine in March 1862.

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Rifled 32-pdr Model 1845, Tredegar #30

On the other hand, odds are rather good that Federals redistributed some of the less desirable guns, such as rifled 32-pdrs, from other forts or captured stocks, to the backwater of St. Augustine during the war.

One other 32-pdr seacoast gun is on display at St. Augustine.  A battered example, missing its left trunnion sits at the water battery at the Castillo.

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Battered 32-pdr at Castillo de San Marcos

This gun is a smoothbore, but with no markings to indicate its manufacture or exact model.  It could indeed pass for a Model 1840.

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Muzzle of 32-pdr at the Castillo

Even if the four 32-pdr seacoast guns at St. Augustine offer no great stories (that we know of), the weapons are worth examining as examples of the type.

The Civil War 150

Just in time for the Civil War Sesquicentennial, the Civil War Trust offers The Civil War 150: An essential To-Do List for the 150th Anniversary.  In an interview posted on the Trust’s site, Garry Adelman explained the motivation, purpose, and rationale for the book.  I won’t repeat those here – save perhaps for mention of the “three hour train delay” during which the first part of the list was compiled (Garry, I’ve been there!).  Instead I’d like to offer some of my reactions to the list.

Because of my “marker hunting,” I’ve acquired a fair number of Civil War tour guides.  But The Civil War 150 is different.  Instead of offering tour loops and back-road shortcuts, the list presents the Civil War as a collection of artifacts to experience.  And by artifacts, I don’t mean those “Indiana Jones” archaeology things – although some of these artifacts were dug out of the dirt.

I’m instead using the term artifact in the manner we do with software development.  In this sense, an artifact is a product, object, or item (or in a broader context a location) which substantiates the end product or result.  The first check in the Civil War 150 list is to hold a minie ball in their hand.  The list asks readers to consider the minie ball destructive power.  Then consider thousands of these fired by opposing forces.  The sum of those missiles is then measured as a battle.  The sum of all the battles, of course, is the war.  With that in mind, we can stand on the results.

As with any “list” there will be complaints about what was and was not included.  Some of us will complain that particular battles or points of interest were not included.  Others will point out the lack of emphasis on “artifacts” which press points about secession or emancipation or other more abstract subjects.  And there is an argument to be made in that regard.  Personally I would have added the site where the great Atlanta fires started, as it ties one of the “points of interest” into the larger narrative of civil rights (and gives a “real” counterbalance to Margaret Mitchell who has two checks in the list).

But I’d submit that the list was not presented as a way to forge some interpretation by way of rigid instruction.  Instead the list is an introduction to the artifacts, from which the reader and visitor should explore to reach the higher meaning of the events.  These 150 entries are not intended as the whole body of evidence, but rather the threads to start the exploration.  The list takes the reader out of the volumes of books on the Civil War to experience the physical reminders of the war – going beyond just “learning” and into “knowing.”

However, I must admit the full impact of the Civil War 150 is somewhat lost on guys like me.  After a cursory walk through the list, I find less than a dozen activities needed for completion.  But if you are a long time Civil War enthusiast (or buff, or what ever), I’d still recommend getting this book from Civil War Trust.  Get the book and pass it along to someone who’s interest is just at the sparking phase.  The list will kindle a life long interest coupled with deep understanding of the Civil War.