Fredericksburg basement a Civil War time capsule
In what has proved to be a treasure trove for Civil War historians and archaeologists, a recently uncovered basement from a long-gone house on Princess Anne Street in Fredericksburg, Va., reveals what might be called “the trash of war”: clay pipe bowls, buckles, buttons, the remains of food tins, snaps from knapsacks, unused bullets, shards from whiskey bottles and more.
Thousands of items have been recovered since September when Cultural Resources of Glen Allen, Va., began to dig at the behest of the city prior to construction of a new court building. The dig concluded in late October. Ironically, there was no expectation that anything would be found when the excavation began.
“We’re ecstatic about what we found,” Robert K. Antozzi, the city’s coordinator for the courthouse project, told The New York Times. “Now we have a major expansion of the story of Fredericksburg, and that’s really exciting.” December marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg, a disastrous defeat for Union forces under General Ambrose E. Burnside. Burnside’s attack on General Robert E. Lee’s army resulted in more than 12,600 Federal casualties, with Lee suffering less than half that. The battle included door-to-door street-fighting in the ravaged city, fairly rare in the Civil War, with numerous accounts of Union soldiers looting and vandalizing. Archaeologists suspect soldiers seeking shelter from the fighting hid in the basement. The house itself was burned shortly after the battle and collapsed inward, thereby preserving the basement trove until now.
Saving Sumter’s shells
Confederates weren’t the only ones to fire on Fort Sumter. Northern forces peppered Charleston Harbor relentlessly between 1863 and 1865, and three Union artillery shells remain em-bedded in the bricks where they struck 150 years ago. The Clemson University Restoration Institute, in an agreement with the National Park Service, worked this past winter to preserve the shells in their places. Attempting to remove them could damage both the ordnance and the fortress masonry.
Preservationists doused the shells in deionized water to counteract the sea salt, then hardened the flaking metal to prevent further deterioration. During the Union siege of Sumter, Maj. Gen. Quincy Adams Gillmore pounded the fort with batteries stationed on nearby Morris Island but was unable to overrun Sumter’s Confederate defenders.
Man fined for stealing human remains from Wilson’s Creek
A Springfield, Mo., man who admitted taking human bones from Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield in February 2011, agreed in November to pay $5,351 in restitution and perform 60 hours of community service in a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.
Coy Matthew Hamilton, 31, was canoeing on Wilson’s Creek when he saw bones sticking out of a bank eroded by heavy recent rains. He removed the bones, breaking one in the process, but later returned them through an intermediary to the National Park Service, which administers the site. Officials believe the bones belonged to a Confederate soldier who was at least 20 years old at death. Hamilton could have faced up to two years in prison and a $20,000 fine under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, which prohibits excavating, damaging or removing archaeological resources found on public or Indian lands without a permit.
“It is a serious offense to disturb an archaeological site and to remove remains or artifacts,” David M. Ketchmark, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, said in a statement. “We hope this incident will serve to educate the public about the laws that protect our priceless archaeological resources.”
Gettysburg uses Facebook to share background stories
Gettysburg National Military Park is using Facebook to connect followers to some of the battlefield’s lesser-known sites and personalities. The park’s “52 Footsteps” Facebook Challenge, which runs through December, outlines a weekly story that leads visitors to specific spots on the battlefield. Upon finding the spot, visitors are encouraged to take a photo and upload it to the park’s Facebook page.
Those without easy access to Gettysburg can still play, by photographing a site significant to the subject of each week’s story Featured personalities include Thaddeus Stevens, the staunch abolitionist who lived and worked in the city from 1816 to 1842; Elizabeth Thorn, caretaker of the town’s Evergreen Cemetery who carried out some of the first burials while six months pregnant; and Federico Cavada, a Cuban immigrant who fought with the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry near the Peach Orchard.
Envelope draws attention to POWs in Georgia
A Union prisoner’s envelope sold in December by Siegel Auction Galleries in New York fetched $1,900—and may be a one-of-a-kind artifact of a little known facet of the war. The envelope—less its contents—was addressed on November 26, 1864, by Sergeant William S. Marshall to his family in Green Castle, Ind. Marshall was captured at Rowe Gap, Tenn., on May 3, 1863. Now faded, the envelope reads “W.S. Marshall, Adjt 51st Ind. Vols, Prisoner of War Augusta Ga,” and is stamped and canceled. It also carries notations from Confederate censors. It’s the Augusta, Ga., notation that makes the envelope so unique, as not much is known about Union prisoners of war being in that area.
The date places Marshall in Augusta as William T. Sherman approached during his March to the Sea in November 1864. “If Adjutant Marshall were being held somewhere in the path of Sherman, it seems logical they may have brought him to Augusta to hunker-down until the bummers passed,” Erick Montgomery, executive director of Historic Augusta Inc., told the Augusta Chronicle.
Restoration mission is personal goal
Among the Civil War flags stored in a secure, temperature-controlled state facility in Springfield, Ill., is the bloodstained banner of the 53rd Illinois Infantry, mustered in 1862 largely from LaSalle County. During a devastating July 12, 1863, battle outside Jackson, Miss., badly wounded color-bearer Sergeant George Poundstone tried to save his regiment’s flag by stuffing it in his shirt. Poundstone was taken prisoner and died shortly thereafter.
Streator, Ill., resident Dave Reed was so moved by Poundstone’s story that he’s assumed the task of raising the $15,000-$20,000 needed to restore the flag. Reed is speaking to groups and using images of Poundstone and the flag to illustrate the story. As he told The (Streator) Times in late December, “It’s dramatic being able to see that bloodstain; it really brings it home.”
If all goes as planned, the flag will be on display at home in LaSalle County in 2015, the 150th anniversary of the end of the war. Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.