Changes and New Views at Gettysburg

Yesterday on our trip up for Easter, we stopped for a few hours at Gettysburg.  I tend to get up that way at least once every few months, but in the time since my last visit there were a few changes to the park.

First off, Powers Hill is open so visitors can take in the “empowering” view.


The park has placed a couple of authentic 3-inch rifles along with four replica guns to represent the Federal artillery that massed on this hill during the battle.


The value gained by tromping this corner of the battlefield grew immensely after the park and its partners gained the ground directly in front of those guns.  The open field in the middle of the view above was once a private residence.  Visitors had to do their homework to understand why those monuments were placed on what seemed to be just a hill in the woods.  Once old sheds and buildings were removed, visitors can see why those batteries were placed there… more importantly, they can see exactly how those guns influenced the battle.

The other change is up on Cemetery Hill:


After years of studies, debates, and legalities, the old cyclorama building is gone.  Others have detailed its demise, in video and photo.  So I won’t repeat that here.  As I have some personal links to that War Department monument in the background (Battery F, 5th US Artillery), I look forward to how the park restores and re-utilizes this portion of the park.

I know some have voiced displeasure of the changes to the park in recent decades.  They make some valid points.  But none that, in my opinion, would out weigh this outcome from the project:


That’s the view from Devil’s Den overlooking the Confederate line of approach.  Priceless.  Yet, free for anyone who visits the park.   I call that tax dollars well spent.

The last change I noticed was the presence of several signs (and I should have stopped for a photo – Where’s Gettysburg Daily when we need them?).  These now delineate overflow parking.   Yes, we are just a few months away from THAT sesquicentennial.

Civil War Studies and the Digital (R)Evolution Seminar

From the Spirit of Jefferson (West Virginia):

Seminar’s goal: Bring the Civil War into the 21st century

CHARLES TOWN – Though the Civil is 150 years behind us, fresh details about the conflict are emerging every day thanks to new technologies, explains an expert from Charles Town’s online American Public University System.

“New tools are changing the way we research the Civil War,” said Brad Wiles, APUS’s archivist. “Every day, we’re seeing new arguments, new debates, in many cases, a new understanding of just what happened all those years ago.”

Saturday, APUS will host its second-annual history colloquium, a free exchange that’s open to scholars, educators and researchers as well as those with a more casual interest in the War Between the States.

“Civil War Studies and the Digital (R)Evolution” takes place from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the APUS finance center at 393 N. George St.

As more libraries, schools and other institutions make official records and other primary source materials on the war available on their websites, researchers the world over have access to a vast array of new insights, Wiles said.

“With video content and graphics, researchers now also have new ways of analyzing the information that’s out there,” he said. “With access to soldiers’ diaries, memories they recorded after the fact, regiment records and other vital statistics, researchers can start to fill in blanks and get a street-level view of what happened during the Civil War rather than just knowing about the big-picture battles and events.” …. (See full article here)

The articles goes on to discuss the speakers and some of the topics of the seminar.  I do wish news of this event was posted earlier.  Several in the blogging community would probably be interested in the seminar, myself included.

The topic has received a lot of attention of late.  And re-posting the notice gives me a chance to put in my two cents on this topic.  I submit that my day job places me closer to the National Archives than anyone else in the Civil War blogging community – I can measure the distance from my desk to the archive doors in hundreds of feet.

What I’ve come to realize is a distinct difference in the research methods between “on site” and “on line” venues.  When I’m in the “on site” mode, my method is that of rapid data collection.  I identify sets of records for viewing prior to arrival.  After the records pull, I proceed through those one page at a time.  Sort of like the Forrest Gump “box of chocolates” as sometime you never know what will be found in the files (or misfiled files as the case may be).  There’s a constraint at play – one must collect what is there, at that time, and analyze it later.  No time for tangents.  And I’ll admit, maybe this is just my rigid “old school” research techniques at play here.  Old school as in “that’s the roll of microfilm currently in the reader so you’d better make the most of it” approach.

In contrast, “on line” methods tend to play more upon threading of research.  I’ve grown to enjoy Fold3, particularly for certain sets of records, for this very reason.  Often I will open a page from the Confederate Citizens Files, then feel the urge to track down a name from that document.  From there, my research threads across service records or other documents.  Such methods focus on associations, actually inviting tangents to the original research focus.

Today, I can pull up images from the Library of Congress collection directly on my phone – taking accessibility to the extreme.  Certainly enabling, but at the same time a very high bar for records which have never been cataloged to being with.  The next generation of historians may slip around the archives virtually.  But they won’t do so with complete independence of the physical records.

Furthermore, in order for the researcher to gain the most of a digital record set, the artifacts require proper tagging and metadata.  A good, flexible data definition will greatly ease the problems inherent with retrieval within a digital repository. These are, in some ways, protocols used to map the data.  Those protocols become a layer between the user and the data itself.   What’s good is when the user retrieves exactly the data needed from a query for a key word.  On the other hand, that means the user must know, or at least have an ideal about, what should be returned.  Otherwise how does anyone know the system provided all the right information?

I’ve had a hand at defining such for more modern records – you know stuff related to the current unpleasantness.  I would submit that task is much easier for records that one is creating at the time.  For 150 year old information, I’d be concerned about imposing unnatural associations by way of tagging.  Certainly a daunting task that we should be thankful for next time our query nets return results. But we shouldn’t be lulled into the assumption the query returns all there is to look over.  The researcher’s query may not play against the tags in the way that best pulls the right data (you search for “Fort Sumter” and get records for some place in Arizona, for instance).  And not all data is in the digital repository.

And there’s another “protocol” or “layer” that we should be aware of – and what I think is the most exciting.  Social media has brought the ability to present information across broader spectrum.  Not regular blogging… but more so from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and such.  Micro-blogging allows us to front small elements of information within context without toting around the whole box.  The methodology that my wife is using to find better desert recipes may well lead us to a generation’s worth of collective historical research.

That, if you ask me, is where the revolution is taking place.  We aren’t changing the underlying information, rather putting protocols in place that will aid with analysis and interpretation.  As I said, there are pitfalls – not the least of which is that not all information will ever be digitized.  But the benefits are monumental and will change the way we approach the topic in later decades.

“Computer, retrieve all information on Edwards Ferry.”

Blazing a trail to where Sherman blazed Atlanta: Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails

Marker news this morning.  The Atlanta Campaign is a year out in terms of sesquicentennial, but there are efforts in Georgia to provide new interpretation for the sites related to the campaign in advance of the anniversary.

The Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails system is populating it’s Atlanta Campaign trail complete with new wayside markers and trail blazes.  The current listing on the website includes over forty existing or projected marker locations.  The waysides offer a modern layer of interpretation.  And I would stress “layers.”  Older markers that one may encounter while touring include some Works Progress Administration projects, state markers (excellent considering their time and purpose), and other localized series.

The Atlanta Campaign trail also touches upon some of the Chickamauga Campaign sites (a “this year” sesquicentennial).  But it is unclear to me if a similar Chickamauaga Campaign Heritage Trail is part of the Atlanta Campaign series, or just overlapping.  However I don’t think the two series are competing at the sites, and we won’t see a proliferation of markers.

I would also note the Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails is a part of a three-state Civil War Heritage Trails program.  This program is NOT linked with the Civil War Trails system that covers Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.  I’m not in tune with why different systems exist, nor care much about the reasons.  While I’ve transcribed or reviewed hundreds of Civil War Trails markers, I’ve not seen many of the Heritage Trails markers of yet.  So I cannot comment if there is any difference with the content portrayal between the series.

I’m just glad the sites are getting attention with new interpretation with better visualizations that come with modern waysides.  And at the same time, I’m eager to see how the March to the Sea sites are interpreted (with memories of many a summer road trip seeding my preferences).

A reader’s question: Paint on the cannons?

Jeanette, a reader, posted a question yesterday on the page for Napoleon Guns:

The Iron and Steel guns would either have been painted or treated with the preservation methods you use for hand-weapons today (if they knew that process then), otherwise they would be rusting rather fast, giving the crew a lot of work removing the rust and oiling the gun, but that would leave a rather shiny surface, visible at very long distance.
Now to my question:
Would Bronze guns be painted too, or would they just be left to get their patina (starting with a matt brownish surface that after many years would get the greenish color you see today)?

Let me start to answer that with some details about coatings on iron guns. By regulation, iron guns received a coat of lacquer, or “lacker” as the Ordnance Manual of 1841 called it

Iron cannon should be covered on the exterior with a lacker impervious to water, the bore and the vent should be greased with a mixture of oil and tallow, or of tallow and beeswax melted together and boiled to expel the water. The lacker should be removed as often as requisite, and the grease, every year.

The manual gave the recipe and instructions for producing “lacker.” When applying the lacquer, the men cleaned the gun surface and applied a coat while the mixture was hot. The manual prescribed two thin coats. For removal the manual called for scraping and scouring, but warned against heating the gun. 5 gallons of lacquer could cover 100 guns.

And notice the instructions expressly avoided lacquer in the bore. The manual was written for smoothbore guns, but even then there was a great reluctance to coat the bore. Later, when rifled guns entered service, there were many accounts of excess lacquer on the projectiles, or in some cases painted on the bore, causing lodgements and thence a burst gun.

British manuals of the period refer to “browning” and “bluing” of iron guns. However I’ve not seen specific, official, references for such for American cannons (… small arms… a different subject).

But what about bronze? No coatings were specified for bronze. But the expectation was that metal was polished, or at least maintained without any tarnish. Certainly the “green” patina seen on most guns today was out of the question.

Did the artillerists worry about all those lacquered and polished guns giving away their positions? I’d say no (although, I can’t cite any direct sources). A great deal of the effectiveness of artillery was simply “being” on the battlefield at a key position. Remember this was before the days of smart munitions and lavish use of indirect fire. A couple of batteries with shiny guns on the high ground – perhaps with the sun playing off the muzzles as they protruded from field entrenchment embrasures – was indeed a deterrent. And the counter to those shiny guns would be hauling up some shiny guns of your own for counter-battery fire. Once such an affair started, any shiny guns were obscured by the smoke.

But there were exceptions to the rule. One of those occurred at ….you guessed it … Charleston, South Carolina! And that is a story saved for a September sesquicentennial themed post.

Unearthing history at Moore’s Mill battlefield

Let me step back a bit, maybe a good bit, from the South Carolina stuff today. Time for some more news of Trans-Mississippi. From the Fulton (Missouri) Sun:

Unearthing history
Weekend dig in Calwood uncovers troop placement during Moore’s Mill

Calwood — As Mike Kisling and Westminster student Chris Leonard dig for treasure through the soft ground here with a spade and a small metal detector early Friday afternoon, they’re not searching for gold: They hope to strike lead.

And they find it. As a crowd of other “treasure hunters” gather around to see the new discovery, Kisling finally breaks apart a muddy clod to reveal a bullet they believe was fired from a .44 Colt variant, most likely fired by Union troops at ambushing Confederate guerillas during the Battle of Moore’s Mill.

Kisling and Leonard are two of about 55 students, researchers and volunteers searching through tracts of land for relics left over from Callaway County’s largest Civil War conflict this weekend as part of an archeological survey through the Missouri Civil War Heritage Foundation and its local affiliate, Kingdom of Callaway Civil War Heritage.

Students and researchers from as far as England began pouring into Callaway Thursday evening to prepare for dig efforts scheduled until today, weather permitting. Many came from history and archeology departments within Westminster College and Lindenwood University in St. Charles. The dig is sponsored through grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program.

Actual dig efforts began Friday morning, and by 2 p.m. surveyors had uncovered six bullets, one canister ball — a type of anti-personnel pellet fired from a cannon similar to grapeshot — and a ball puller — a screw used to remove a lead ball or other debris from the barrel of a gun in the event of a jam. (See story and pictures here)

During my archeology classes in Westminster, we excavated the site of a general store. Mostly postwar history and a lot of old bottle caps. Dog-gone! I wanted to find some cannister shot! I wonder if they will let me re-enroll for a semester?

I’ve written about the work in Callaway County on several occasions. Certainly glad to see the local Civil War history getting its due time in the spotlight. Particularly with the ABPP involved.

One of Beauregard’s Columbiads recovered from the ocean floor?

I’ve written some in the past about the remarkable find of the steamer Philadelphia. (And note, this is not the gunboat USS Philadelphia which plied the waters around Charleston during the war.) Some time after the Civil War the steamer left Charleston with a load of scrap metal, including several heavy artillery pieces of Confederate vintage. The Philadelphia never made it out of South Carolina waters and sank off the coast. Recently Rufus Perdue discovered the wreck and began recovery of some 25 cannons (!).

I mentioned a Bellonia 10-inch columbiad donated to the South Carolina Military Museum in that earlier post. Recently another of the cannons, this one a Tredegar columbiad of the same caliber, showed up in the news. Earlier this month, WMBF News of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina ran a story about cannons found in recent years, featuring both the Philadelphia cannons and relics from the CSS Pee Dee. Regarding the columbiads, the article notes:

Mr. Rufus Perdue was fishing for grouper off the coast of McClennanville when he discovered the sunken USS Philadelphia. The ship sank under the weight of cannons decommissioned from Charleston after the Civil War, being transported north.

“This is one of about 25 cannons,” Perdue said. “They were shipped out of Charleston at the end of Reconstruction.”

Mr. Perdue unearthed those cannons, which he now proudly displays outside his Murrells Inlet home.

I can’t embed the video from the article here, but please give it a look. I mean really take a look at around the 1:34 mark:


The four digit number on the muzzle stands out in white. Is that 1676? 1678? 1873? Any of those numbers match the Tredegar Gun Book entries for 10-inch columbiads. The first two are of interest to the discussion of Charleston’s defenses in March 1863.

Foundry numbers 1676 and 1678 appear on a receipt list from November 1862. According to the receipt, number 1676 was sent to Cumberland Gap (yes, up in the mountains).

Page 564a

I’ll have to research a bit to determine if the gun ever got there, and if not where it was redirected.

But number 1678, paired with 1681, were bound for Charleston.

Page 564b

Keep in mind this table from the Charleston board, which shows three 10-inch columbiads delivered to the First Military District in November of that year.


The J.R. Anderson receipt accounts for all three of the November columbiads – number 1672 delivered by the foundry on November 5 along with the two mentioned above. The receipt also accounts for 10-inch columbiad number 1687 delivered at Richmond in the last days of the month, the forwarded to Charleston in December.

But… if the number is 1873, then it was cast in July 1863 and was a later arrival at Charleston. Either way, the recovered columbiad was likely a participant in the long siege of Charleston.

150 years ago: “I firmly believe that such a vessel … would defy the Navy of the United States.”

I last mentioned Captain Francis Lee in connection with his successful spar torpedo experiment. On this day (March 25) in 1863 he wrote a letter to General P.G.T. Beauregard outlining the tactical application of the device, urging support for this type of attack:

The work on torpedo ram has nearly come to a stand for the want of iron. I have exhausted every private source of supply, and unless the Government comes to my assistance the work must stop. The whole sponsing of the boat is ready for the iron plating. The engine is in place, and the shield is finished as far as my supply of iron for bolts will permit. I have requested Commodore Ingraham to assist me, but he is unable to do so. I hope the practical demonstrations of the efficiency of torpedoes borne by vessels may remove any objections arising out of the novelty of the device and the departure from long-established custom. I would respectfully suggest that if row-boats may carry torpedoes and sink large vessels with them without damage from their own weapons, whether larger vessels may not use them more effectually and with greater security. The naval officers of this station, after witnessing the trial in the harbor, warmly approved of and adopted this terrible weapon of offense.

In proof of it, the iron-clads, together with every available steamer and small boat in the harbor, are now being prepared for their use. One thing has been clearly and fully demonstrated, and that is that vessels may be constructed impenetrable by shot and shell. There is a limit to the power of missiles; there is no limit to the means of resisting them. If six inches of wrought iron or even steel be not a sufficient protection nine inches may be, and so on to any thickness. Such is the resisting strength of iron-clads above the water-line in the rare and elastic medium of air, where comparatively little resistance is offered to the expansive force of gunpowder. But below the waterline, in a medium incompressible, where, consequently, the power of gunpowder becomes far more tremendous, the iron-clad vessels are undefended, for the reason that ordinary missiles cannot reach them. It is here, then, with a new weapon, that they must be attacked with hope of success; and I believe that the one satisfactory experiment with the spar torpedo has opened to us clearly the way to the attainment of this end. I may appear visionary, but after the most thoughtful consideration of the subject am free to confess that with one powerful vessel, strongly iron-plated, modeled for great speed, and with enormous motive power, with propellers so arranged as to enable her to turn quickly, without guns of any kind, without turrets or shields, with an iron-clad deck unbroken fore to aft, with nothing about it but a shot-proof smokestack, I firmly believe that such a vessel, armed with torpedoes, would defy the Navy of the United States. With a speed superior to any vessel afloat carrying an armament, she could always reach the enemy, while the instant of contact must be that of destruction. I believe that a vessel of this kind built abroad, where material and labor are ample, and where consequently the work may be rapidly accomplished, would not only keep open every port now in our possession, but would so embarrass the enemy as to drive them from those ports on our coast where they now have almost undisturbed possession.

I may perhaps in this communication have pressed the matter too strongly, but so firm is my conviction of the importance of the enterprise that I am assured you will excuse my unseemly ardor.

Yes, we have the one-thousandth reference to the Confederate shortage of iron.

As one who traces the history of weapons development, I find interesting Lee’s explanation about the effects of the spar torpedo. The discussion of escalating armor thickness reminds me of similar observations made in World War II as scientists perfected the shaped charge. Likewise the mention of pressure effects from underwater explosions matches to efforts to perfect both the mine and self-propelled torpedo in the 20th century.

But like many “wonder weapons” through the centuries, claims “this will change everything” were over-expectations. The Federals were already working on countermeasures as Lee experimented.

Beauregard forwarded Lee’s report to Richmond. In his endorsement, the general also suggested overseas purchase of suitable vessels to employ the spar torpedo.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 843-4.)