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Unknown soldier to receive a place of honor

The recently discovered remains of a Civil War soldier, including a skull, jawbone, arm bone and single tooth, will be reinterred as part of a new unknown soldier monument in the city of Franklin, Tenn.

Ditchdiggers uncovered the remains in early June during a road construction project. They summoned local police, who in turn called officials from the state archaeology division as well as Franklin’s Carnton Plantation—which served as a field hospital following the November 1864 battle there—to examine the artifacts. Based on the location of the remains, Carnton historian Eric Jacobson believes that the soldier may have died during the Union retreat from Nashville in December 1864. Although the remains were found alongside eagle buttons, the evidence is inconclusive as to whether the soldier was Union or Confederate, Carnton officials say.

This fall the remains are to be reinterred in Rest Haven Cemetery, where famed Confederate Captain Todd Carter is buried. (Carter was mortally wounded at the Battle of Franklin only yards away from his family home; he later died there.)

Carnton Executive Director Margie Thessin, a member of the city’s battlefield task force, said at least two sites were considered for the burial and grave marker.

The task force planned to unveil a monument to unknown soldiers during the ceremony.

Thessin says she is happy to give the man a proper burial, and that it does not matter which uniform he wore. “We’re about honoring and remembering soldiers on all sides,” she says.

“When we saw the remains, we realized that some family never knew what happened to their son and brother, and now we’ve found him. It was very moving.”

—Kim A. O’Connell

Texas battlefield recovers from hurricane

Earlier this year the Sabine Pass Battlefield in Texas was in such dire straits from the destructive effects of two hurricanes that the Civil War Preservation Trust named it one of the nation’s most endangered Civil War sites. This fall, however, the park is finally reopening.

Sabine Pass, on the Texas– Louisiana border, commemorates the site where a Confederate artillery company under the command of Lieutenant Dick Dowling disabled four Union gunboats in September 1863 and captured 300 prisoners. Today the 57-acre state historic site includes a bronze statue of Dowling, depicted carrying a flaming torch and binoculars.

Two different Septembers brought new devastation to Sabine Pass. First, Hurricane Rita in September 2005 tumbled trees, littered vegetation and debris, and destroyed historical markers, forcing the park to close. The storm surge reached the chest of the Dowling statue. In September 2008, Hurricane Ike caused more damage and obliterated whatever recovery the park had made since Rita.

Today the Texas Historical Commission, which now manages the park, has launched a $600,000 building project to fund cleanup and repair. Although some historical markers need additional work, the park was essentially ready to reopen as this issue of America’s Civil War went to press. Park maintenance manager Efrem Hill, who has worked at the battlefield for nearly eight years and suffered personal losses during the hurricanes, is pleased with the turnaround.

“I’m happy,” he said. “I’m ready for the public to see this place again.”

New graduate course explores Brown raid

American Public University System is partnering with the National Park Service to provide a graduate course on John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry.

This course focuses on the causes and consequences of John Brown’s raid on the U.S. Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), on October 16, 1859. Students discuss early accounts of the raid and explore how interpretations of John Brown’s actions have changed in the 150 years since the raid occurred.

Thirteen teachers traveled to Harpers Ferry in July for a workshop on the raid, conducted on the grounds of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Eleven of the teachers are registered for the complementary online history course run by Dr. Jon Carleton, chairman of History & Military Studies at APUS.

Carleton notes that “this course seeks to help students better understand what history is, how historians conduct research and how both the times in which historians live and theories about historical change can shape historical inquiry. It also seeks to shed light on how people remember both individually and collectively. This course is designed for teachers who coach and advise students as they research and ultimately create an educational project idea for use in their classroom.”

Wilderness Walmart closer to reality

Walmart appears to have gained the upper hand in the battle to build one of its signature big-box stores across from the Wilderness battlefield near Fredericksburg, Va.

In late June, the Orange County Planning Commission voted 5-4 to recommend the county’s Board of Supervisors approve a special-use permit that would allow the 138,000-square-foot store to be built. The Board of Supervisors will soon vote on the plan, and three of the five supervisors have signaled their intent to approve the project. Walmart spokesman Tom Kleine has publicly promoted the potential benefits to the county in terms of income and job creation, which has had a strong reception among some county officials.

Yet the development has drawn opposition from a coalition of preservation groups, including the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which claim the store will significantly mar the viewshed and visitor experience at the battlefield, and lead to additional incompatible development. The groups contend that their issue is not with Walmart’s right to build a new store, but with the proposed location. Although other sites have been suggested, so far the company has pressed for the Wilderness-area site.

“We’re certainly disappointed in the Planning Commission voting to recommend the project to be approved,” says CWPT spokesperson Mary Koik. “We’re still hopeful that Walmart comes to its senses and realizes that there are other places in the county where they wouldn’t receive this vehement opposition.”

CWPT plans to continue reaching out to Walmart officials for a solution. “Until ground is physically broken,” Koik says, “there’s always hope.”

—Kim A. O’Connell

American graffiti found in a West Virginia church

It’s not every day that a routine maintenance project leads to a historic discovery, but in Berkeley County, W.Va., workers scraping interior paint off Morgan’s Chapel found several examples of Civil War–era graffiti, a discovery that might help the long-shuttered building to reopen as a historic site.

The chapel is the third place of worship to be built on the site, in the small town of Bunker Hill. The first building was erected in 1740 by Colonel Morgan Morgan, an early settler. Now owned by the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia, the current church was constructed in 1852, and evidence shows the building was used as a fortification during the war.

The Rt. Rev. W. Michie Klusmeyer, diocese bishop, said graffiti had previously been found in one part of the chapel, but no one knew how widespread the scribbling was until this recent discovery. The original intent of the renovation was to reopen the church as a wedding chapel, said Klusmeyer, who is now consulting with historians and others to determine how to document and preserve the graffiti and decide on the best use for the site.

“You know that old saying, ‘If these walls could talk’; well, here the walls were talking, the soldiers were speaking,” Klusmeyer said. “They’re still present in the room. It took me immediately back to the Civil War period.”

The graffiti is a virtual treasure trove of first-person messages. Signatures, political statements and drawings—from both Union and Confederate troops—cover nearly all the interior. “Down with traitors, treason, and copperheads,” one commenter wrote. Others left behind prayer requests. And one soldier even indicated the extent of the graffiti: “I should not have written on the walls of the house of God. I would not have done so if it had not already been marked up.”

—Kim A. O’Connell

Local officials reignite incinerator fight

Just when it appeared a trash incinerator project proposed near a Maryland battlefield had gone up in smoke (see “Open Fire,” September 2009), the Frederick County Commission has again fanned the flames. In June the commission voted 3-2 to revive the project, which would allow a $527 million incinerator to be built near the Monocacy National Battlefield. In April the commissioners suspended the project in the face of widespread opposition, leading preservationists to assume it had been effectively killed. At press time, Carroll County (which would also have to approve the project for it to proceed) was weighing its options.

—Kim A. O’Connel

This old Gettysburg house to get some federal aid

During the Battle of Gettys burg, the Klingel farmhouse was a hotly contested property. On July 2, 1863, the circa-1850 homestead was occupied by Union troops, only to be used as a Confederate defense during the climax of the battle the next day. Today, by contrast, the home is not occupied at all, as it awaits some much-needed attention. With the infusion of some federal stimulus money, however, the Klingel House may finally be repaired.

Gettysburg National Military Park has amassed a major maintenance backlog for years. This year, a $717,000 stimulus allocation has helped to get some overdue rehabilitation projects off the ground.

The allocation includes $322,000 to rehabilitate the Klingel house, vacant for two years, for use as a National Park Service employee residence. Officials expect the project to be completed sometime next year.

The remaining $395,000 will be used to replace 5,000 feet of deteriorated waterline at the McMillan Woods Scout Camp on West Confederate Avenue.

Although some local residents have complained about the intended use of the money, park officials say the projects will help spur the local economy through the purchase of building materials and pipeline as well as labor. Park spokesperson Katie Lawhon says that every dollar invested in the National Park Service system equals a $4 return in terms of salaries and visitor spending.

—Kim A. O’Connell


Originally published in the November 2009 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here