New superintendent focused on Antietam sesquicentennial
there would have been some lower-profile time periods in which to take the helm at Antietam National Battlefield. But Susan Trail, who will guide the park through its sesquicentennial in this, her first year as its superintendent, is welcoming the challenge.
“It’s the highlight of my career,” she said in an interview shortly following her appointment.
And this September 17, all eyes will be on Antietam. “We’re focused laser-like on the 150th,” Trail said. “It’s been all-consuming, and judging from the e-mails we’ve been getting there is huge interest.”
Along with general sprucing up, the park has been hosting a number of programs, including guest speakers, living-history demonstrations and real-time battle hikes with rangers. Much effort has gone into making the programs and park social media- and youth-friendly, in order to get more kids interested in history.
Trail said Antietam is striving to tell the story of the battle in a larger context, including the Maryland Campaign as a whole and the effect it had on the people of Maryland, a border state with deep divides among its citizens. “Our interpretation [of the battle] has evolved, and we need to tell the whole story,” she said. “Visitors don’t care about boundaries, so we’re looking at the Maryland campaign as a whole [including the] Special Order, Monocacy and South Mountain. We’re hoping to make this a model for other 150th celebrations.”
Trail’s interest in parks developed as part of “the classic family with the station wagon that had to stop at every National Park.” Now the ride has taken her to one of the most celebrated battlefields of all. “I love this place, and look forward to being part of the continuum” that has shepherded it through the past 150 years, she said.
She’s well-versed in regional history, having served the National Park Service at Harpers Ferry, the C&O Canal and as superintendent at Monocacy National Battlefield.Trail comes to Antietam with 22 years of NPS experience. She holds a doctorate in American Studies from the University of Maryland, a master’s degree in anthropology from the College of William & Mary and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Virginia.
Shell game plays out on the East Coast
In keeping with the Civil War sesquicentennial, reports of ancient ordnance have been popping up along the Eastern Seaboard with impressive frequency.
In Maine, that hotbed of Civil War activity, two men working on a mooring in the Piscataqua River discovered a submerged 100-pound Parrott artillery shell. It was hauled out of the river by the U.S. Navy after disbelieving officials were finally convinced the snag wasn’t a fire extinguisher or some other piece of river junk.
In Charleston, S.C., a place that did know a thing or two about being bombed, a shell was discovered in a flowerbed at
the Medical University of South Carolina.
And a Richmond, Va., woman digging in her garden discovered a fist-sized cannonball—an unremarkable event in a city where police say they receive five or so similar calls a year.
Confederate soldier gets his name back
When Karen Thatcher of Martinsburg, W.Va., opened a Washington Post Civil War history supplement and saw the photo of an unidentified soldier in a Library of Congress ad, she said with a start, “That’s Uncle Dave!”
Uncle Dave is David M. Thatcher, from Martinsburg, who enlisted as a teenager in Company B, Berkeley Troop, 1st Virginia Cavalry, and was killed in battle at age 19 outside Warrenton, Va., in 1863. Thatcher knew the image from a photo she had of David Thatcher, her husband Larry’s ancestor. When she contacted the Library of Congress, she found that the Thatcher heirloom photo was a copy of the original image.
The photo was part of a significant collection donated to the Library of Congress last October by Tom Liljenquist, who purchased the image several years ago. Its designation of “unidentified” has been removed and replaced with David Thatcher’s name.
Confederate flags stir attention—again
In Virginia, the Confederate flag—or rather, the absence thereof—has once again provoked a little controversy. But in Georgia, an authentic flag was welcomed back to the fort that surrendered it in 1864.
The new Museum of the Confederacy site at Appomattox, Va., which opened this spring, will not display the Confederate flag on the museum’s exterior “reunification promenade,” which has opened the museum to some criticism. “The Confederate flag does not belong in that [exhibit], because the Confederacy never seceded, nor did it reunify. The states took their own action,” museum president Waite Rawls III told WDBJ-7 in Roanoke. The flag hasn’t been completely omitted: 22 Confederate flags are displayed inside, along with the uniform jacket and sword General Robert E. Lee wore at the surrender.
In Richmond Hill, Ga., a Rebel flag is back at Fort McAllister, 148 years after it was taken by one of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s artillery officers when the fort surrendered. The flag belonged to the 2nd Company B of the 1st Georgia Regulars.
Major William Zoron Clayton carried the silk banner home to Maine as a souvenir, where his family kept it in a box along with a handwritten note: “To be return [sic] to Savannah or Atlanta sometime.” Three generations later, it has been returned by the Union officer’s great-grandson, Robert Clayton. “It was my great-grandfather’s wish,” Clayton told the Associated Press. “I looked at it for 20 years, but it needed to go back where it belongs.”
The flag was placed on display in a ceremony on April 21.
More war artifacts get new homes in museums
Some notable Civil War memorabilia has recently been donated to museums and libraries, including:
The Civil War–era Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to Sergeant John M. Scott, a Union spy executed for his role in the famous heist of a Confederate train, has been donated to the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Ga., by Scott’s descendants, the Waggoner family of Ohio.
Scott was one of Andrews’ Raiders, a group of Union spies who masterminded the theft of the locomotive General in what has come to be known as the Great Locomotive Chase. The Southern Museum has an extensive collection of Andrews’ Raid artifacts.
“We’re very grateful to the Waggoner family because Sergeant Scott’s medal is of particular significance to the Southern Museum,” said Executive Director Richard Banz. “Not only is it one of the earliest Medals of Honor ever given, but it was also awarded for an event which occurred right here in Kennesaw.”
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Ill., received a photo of Nathan Hughes, an African-American veteran of the Civil War. Though the library holds other photos of African Americans, this is the first image in its collection to be identified as a black soldier.
Hughes was born a slave in Kentucky, escaped to Illinois and enlisted in Illinois’ only African-American regiment in the Civil War. He was injured in the Crater, near Petersburg, Va. His photo, showing his wife, Jane, standing beside him, was taken about 1900.
Kathryn Harris, library services director, said the library became aware of the photo being offered by an antiques dealer; two unnamed Chicago families purchased the photo to donate to the library.
The diary of a New York Civil War soldier was donated to New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs by Braintree, Mass., couple Jim Livingston and Sherry Penny, who obtained the diary over 30 years ago.
The 85-page diary of Corporal William B. Howard, a member of Company F, 48th New York Volunteer Infantry, begins with Howard’s 1861 enlistment in the Army, and ends in 1863, just before he was wounded and captured in the attack on Battery Wagner in South Carolina. Howard was paroled with his promise to not fight against the Confederacy and was discharged because of disability in 1865.
Park Service unveils anniversary Web site
4,000,000 freed. 620,000 dead. 1 nation saved. So begins a new National Park Service Web site promoting the sesquicentennial.
The site highlights diverse facets of the war, ranging from Lincoln’s family minister Phineas Gurley to the role of Fort Morgan on Mobile Bay—and, not insignificantly, how federal funding was used to rehabilitate the fort, considered “one of the finest examples of military architecture in the New World.”
The site also helps families plan visits and find relatives that served in the war. “More than a quarter of all national parks preserve Civil War sites or tell stories related to the war,” NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said in a news release. “This website offers a single online point of reference for the National Park Service’s Civil War resources and will be an invaluable tool for both students of the Civil War and visitors to our historic sites. It also gives the war and events that occurred a century and a half ago meaning to 21st-century Americans.”
Medical museum gets a hand
Long after the fighting has ceased, battlefields can be gruesome places. In one well-known example, a farmer plowing his field two weeks after the Battle of Antietam churned up a human arm.
He had it embalmed for posterity and, nearly 150 years after its discovery, the arm was given this spring to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md., by an anonymous donor who had acquired it from a private collection.
Still covered with skin and sporting shrunken, talon-like fingers, the arm has a mummified appearance but is otherwise well preserved.
It belonged to small young man, and museum curators suspect it may be possible to identify the soldier’s ethnicity and determine exactly how his arm came to be severed.
Defying Sherman was risky business
Looting soldiers frequently hauled away all manner of treasure, but in 1864, raiders in the army of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman bagged some nontraditional booty in Watkinsville, Ga.: Two businessmen who were never to be seen or heard from by their loved ones again.
The disappearance of George Jarrell and Jacob Klutz remained a mystery for nearly a hundred years, until a researcher discovered the two men were among those who died in an Ohio prison camp. In an effort spearheaded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a monument to the men was dedicated this spring at the Eagle Tavern Museum in Watkinsville, near a marker commemorating the Yankee raid. Until now, they were remembered only by a marker at the prison camp carved with the word “Citizen.”