Monument to U.S. Colored Troops dedicated, then vandalized
Last fall, several descendants of the Connecticut 29th Colored Regiment Infantry gathered to dedicate a long-awaited monument to their ancestors. Within weeks, however, the monument was defaced, causing a public outcry and leading local officials to promise greater protections at the site.
Located in a public park in New Haven, Conn., the dark granite monument features a tall central stone with a bronze plaque depicting the regiment and a listing of its engagements, including those in Petersburg and Richmond, Va. Eight smaller stones surround the obelisk, listing all the regiment’s members. First mustered in 1863, the 29th Connecticut enlisted 900 African Americans and was the first regiment to enter Richmond after it fell into Union hands. The 29th was also on hand when President Abraham Lincoln visited the conquered city just 10 days before his assassination.
Members of the nonprofit Descendants of the Connecticut 29th organization, local legislators, Civil War reenactors and about 800 onlookers gathered September 20 to dedicate the monument, which was 10 years in the making. In 1998, several descendants had traveled to Washington, D.C., to see the unveiling of sculptor Ed Hamilton’s Spirit of Freedom monument to African-American soldiers and sailors. They began raising funds and awareness to commission the Connecticut monument, which Hamilton also designed.
“These men were really fighting for their freedom,” says monument chairman Jacqueline Buster. “You think about the connection between 1863 and now, more than 140 years later, we have elected our first black president, and you think this is where it started, the quest for freedom, and this is how far we’ve come. It was an emotional experience.”
Only two weeks after the dedication ceremony, however, vandals sprayed graffiti on the monument. Most, but not all, of the graffiti has been removed, and the city is now looking into additional measures to restore the monument without further damaging the stone.
Buster does not believe the vandalism was racially motivated. “Most of us felt that whoever did it simply had no knowledge of the significance of the site,” she says. “We have to provide more education in the community so they know it is hallowed ground.”
—Kim A. O’Connell
New theory revealed in Hunley mystery
New scientific evidence may indicate that the eight-man crew of the H.L. Hunley, the Confederate submarine raised from the Atlantic depths in 2000, suffocated rather than drowned, as historians and scientists have long assumed.
After its successful sinking of the USS Housatonic in February 1864, the Hunley vanished; many surmised that the sub was damaged in the Housatonic explosion and subsequently flooded. Scientists working on the vessel at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston, S.C., have determined, however, that the Hunley’s pump system was not set to bilge water out of the crew compartment, as one might expect if the ship were taking on water. Consequently, scientists are investigating the possibility that the crew died of suffocation or some other cause.
Other forensic evidence bolsters this theory, such as the fact that a study of crew members’ remains indicates that they were each at their assigned battle stations when they died.
A flooding compartment would likely have led to panic and logjams at the exits, leading to an intermingling of crew member bones, according to Lasch Center reports. Yet archaeologists at the center are also careful to point out that the investigation is ongoing and that the Hunley’s pump system was fairly complex, with nine valves.
“By the process of elimination, we are moving closer and closer to solving the mysteries associated with the Hunley’s disappearance,” state Sen. Glenn McConnell, chairman of the South Carolina Hunley Commission (and prominent Sons of Confederate Veterans member), said in a prepared statement. “The Hunley does not give up her secrets easily.”
—Kim A. O’Connell
Planned riverside resort threatens Harpers Ferry’s viewshed, but still faces hurdles
A developer hoping to build a resort near Harpers Ferry, W.Va., faces several regulatory roadblocks.
The developer, Rattling Springs Associates of McLean, Va., has submitted plans for a 50-room lodge and as many as 60 cottages along the banks of the Potomac River, not far from Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and the 19th-century downtown. According to plans on file with Jefferson County, W.Va., visitors would be assigned golf carts to move around the 27-acre property, which would be situated above Potomac Street and offer river vistas the developer says are not often seen.
To continue with the project, however, the developer will have to get a variance from the county’s requirement for a 500-foot buffer along the Potomac. Water for the development would likely come from Harpers Ferry, but Mayor Jim Addy does not believe council members will approve the request, citing the potential strain on the current water system.
The NPS has adopted a “wait and see” attitude about the project. “We’re hoping that it’s not going to be approved,” says park spokeswoman Marsha Wassel. “The project would be adjacent to part of our land. It would certainly affect the viewshed.”
—Kim A. O’Connell
Long-sought Resaca historic site becomes reality
In May 1864, the first major confrontation of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign took place near the town of Resaca, Ga.—a battle that caused nearly 6,000 casualties. Despite its significance, the battlefield has never had any kind of protection until now. Last fall, after a long-fought preservation effort, the state announced that it had acquired more than 500 acres of the battlefield and unveiled plans to open a new visitor center in 2010.
“Gordon County is located halfway between Atlanta and Chattanooga, and residential development has been exploding in our area for the last 25 to 30 years,” says Ken Padgett, president of Friends of Resaca Battlefield, a nonprofit group that worked closely with state officials to protect the site. “Every day we were watching sections of the battlefield…just being lost to development.”
Between 2000 and 2003, the Georgia government purchased nearly 513 acres of the battlefield outright, as well as a conservation easement on an additional 61.74 acres still in private ownership. At an October ceremony, officials broke ground for the new visitor center that is scheduled to open in January 2010. Designed by the Georgia architecture firm BRPH, the center will be environmentally sustainable and have a low profile to avoid intruding on the stunning views and historic significance of the battlefield. Visit: resacabattlefield.org.
—Kim A. O’Connell
Monument to arsenal tragedy is restored
A Civil War–era memorial to those who died in an 1864 arsenal accident is now being restored. Located in the 202-yearold Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Arsenal Monument commemorates a massive explosion at the Washington arsenal that killed 21 munitions workers.
On June 17, 1864, 108 women were making gunpowder cartridges in the arsenal when sparks ignited a cache of fireworks stored in an adjacent lot, causing a terrible explosion and subsequent fire. In addition to the 21 women killed, another 20 were seriously injured. A 25-foot monument, designed by sculptor Lot Flannery, was erected a year later. The marble and granite monument is inscribed with the names of the victims and is topped with a female figure symbolizing “Grief.”
Over the years, the monument has suffered from a form of decay known as “sugaring,” in which the stone grains on the surface are disintegrating, softening the carving details and making inscriptions difficult to read. As part of a $1.75 million project that includes restoration of the cemetery’s 169 historic cenotaphs—monuments to people whose remains are elsewhere—which were designed by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the National Cemetery Administration and the Historic Preservation Training Center of the National Park Service have now partnered to repair the arsenal monument.
The work includes consolidating the sugaring marble with special treatments to adhere loose grains, and repointing any open mortar joints, according to Moss Rudley, an exhibition specialist with the Park Service. The monument also will be cleaned using a misting system and antimicrobial wash, Rudley says.
—Kim A. O’Connell
Originally published in the March 2009 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.