Field Notes- America’s Civil War July 2013 | HistoryNet MENU

Field Notes- America’s Civil War July 2013

By Tim and Elizabeth Rowland
7/7/2017 • America's Civil War Magazine

Scientists vow to ID Monitor sailors

Since dental X-rays and other such medical records didn’t exist during the Civil War, the job of identifying two sailors entombed in the USS Monitor for 150 years is a tricky one. But forensic scientists at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Honolulu vow to continue their work until they know who went to the bottom with the Union ironclad during a New Year’s Eve storm in 1862.

“To recover remains from the bottom of the ocean that sat there for 150 years is really phenomenal,” said Robert W. Mann, deputy director of Oahu’s Forensic Science Academy, who is leading the study.

The remains had to be purged of salt and cleaned of coal, rust and sediment. Scientists then established biological profiles of the men, trying to narrow down their identities from among the 16 crewmen known to have perished in the wreck. The search has been narrowed to five, with possible descendant families providing DNA for a match.

The sailors’ remains were interred near the Challenger and Columbia shuttle memorials at Arlington National Cemetery on March 8, a day before the anniversary of Monitor’s duel with the Confederate ironclad Virginia at Hampton Roads, Va.

Casino backers look beyond Gettysburg

Proponents of a Pennsylvania casino once planned in the shadow of the Gettysburg National Military Park might transfer their focus to nearby Hanover, according to published reports. Hanover is 15 miles to the east of Gettysburg, which might be far enough away to avoid another protracted battle over the development.

The most recent plan for a casino near Gettysburg was rejected two years ago.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, developer David LeVan is looking at a site “[f]arther away from Gettysburg, toward Hanover,” although LeVan did not mention a specific location. Local casino opponents have recommended a 10-mile buffer around the battlefield, and any action would likely depend on the exact site, members of No Casino Gettysburg told the Hanover Evening Sun.

What really sank the Hunley?

For the past 150 years, historians have been convinced that the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley—the first submarine to sink an enemy warship— planted an explosive charge on the hull of the USS Housatonic in Charleston (S.C.) Harbor in August 1864, detonated it remotely and made a clean getaway before later mysteriously sinking.

Now it appears the getaway might not have been so clean after all.

Historians believed Hunley’s leading spar stuck the torpedo in the Housatonic like a dart in a dartboard, allowing the eight-man vessel to detach itself from the ordnance and float a safe distance away before it exploded.

But according to the Charleston Post and Courier, scientists who are painstakingly studying the sub—which was raised from the bottom of the harbor in 2000— discovered during the winter that a fragment of the shell remained bolted to the spar.

That means the Hunley would have been much closer to the explosion than previously believed. In fact, the distance would only have been the length of the 20-foot spar.

Scientists will now focus on whether shock waves from the blast might have peeled apart any sections of the iron submarine.

“I would say this is the single-most important piece of evidence we have found from the attack,” Maria Jacobsen, senior archaeologist on the Hunley project, told the Post and Courier.

Virginian on a quest for a monument at Chickamauga

When James Christman learned in 2009 there was no monument for southwestern Virginia’s soldiers among the many other monuments at Chickamauga National Military Park near Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., he decided to do something about it. So began his campaign to raise $250,000 to build a monument to honor members of the 54th and 63rd Virginia Infantry regiments, which served in the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

After receiving authorization from the Virginia legislature to design, fund and erect a monument, Christman sold T-shirts, coffee mugs, hats, flags and other items at reenactments, and was accepting donations, to pay for it. He hopes to put the monument in place for the battle’s 151st anniversary in September 2014. “It is all grassroots funding,” Christman said. “No government money is going into this project.”

While he’s far from his goal ($10,000 had been raised at presstime), Christman remains undaunted. “It’s an uphill effort,” he said. “But I feel we owe it to these people. They are the reason we are here.” For information, visit

Maryland memorializes Harriet Tubman

One hundred years after her death, African-American abolitionist, humanitarian and Union spy Harriet Tubman has been honored in Maryland with the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park. Ribbon-cutting and groundbreaking ceremonies were held March 9. And the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument was designated by the National Park Service on March 25.

The byway shares the stories of freedom seekers who risked their lives to escape slavery in the 1800s. With more than 30 sites, the self-guided driving tour shows where Tubman grew up, worshipped, labored and led others to freedom. The state park’s 17 acres are adjacent to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, with marshes, woodlands and fields reminiscent of Harriet Tubman’s early home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. A 15,000-square-foot visitor center is scheduled to open in 2015.

Cyclorama Building finally demolished

Legal battles over, the Cyclorama Building at Gettysburg National Military Park has been demolished as part of the process to restore the battlefield to its 19th-century appearance. The building stood on the center of what was the Union army’s battle line.

The Cyclorama Building opened in 1962 and housed the famous 377-foot circular painting of Pickett’s Charge by Paul Philippoteaux. In 2008, the painting was moved to the park’s new visitor center.

The building, designed by acclaimed architect Richard Neutra in 1961, polarized visitors: They either loved it or hated it. While many believed a modern design had no place on the battlefield, some believed it had become architecturally significant in its own right and sought to preserve it. Supporters lost their court appeals.


Originally published in the July 2013 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.

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