Federal legislation protects land at Gettysburg, Vicksburg

Two separate pieces of federal legislation passed late last year are set to add parkland to Civil War battlefields in  Pennsylvania and Mississippi.

At Gettysburg, the government expanded park boundaries to allow the Gettysburg Foundation to proceed with plans to donate the Gettysburg Lincoln Railroad Station and a 45-acre plot of ground on Big Round Top to Gettysburg National Military Park.

President Lincoln arrived at the rail station on the eve of delivering his Gettysburg Address on November 18, 1863; that summer, the station, built in 1858, had seen grisly duty as a hospital and depot for ferrying the wounded and dead out of town.

The vacant Big Round Top land on the park’s southeastern boundary was the scene of cavalry skirmishes during the battle, and is currently home to critical wetlands and wildlife habitat near Plum Run. The land was donated to the Gettysburg Foundation by Wayne and Susan Hill in 2009.

Meanwhile, the National Defense Authorization Act passed in December included money to add Mississippi battlefield sites associated with the Vicksburg  Campaign, including Champion Hill, Port Gibson and Raymond, to Vicksburg National Military Park.

According to the office of Sen. Thad Cochran,  R-Miss., the legislation authorizes the National Park Service to acquire 10,000 acres critical to the preservation of battlefield sites in Claiborne and Hinds  counties. The land also includes several historic houses that will be maintained by the park.

W.Va. Yank found buried with Rebels

Columbus researcher Dennis Ranney, who for seven years has been writing brief bios of the Confederate dead at the Columbus (Ohio) Confederate Cemetery, thinks he’s found a seventh Federal soldier buried among the Rebels. According to the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette, Ranney initially suspected there were Yanks among the Rebs a few years ago when he came across a soldier named John Kennedy identified as being a member of the “33 Ky. Vols. CSA.” Kentucky only produced nine Confederate regiments.

Kentucky supplied 60 regiments to the Union, however, and sure enough, when Ranney checked Federal muster records he found a match. Detective work on five other soldiers yielded similar results, turning up Union soldiers from Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Ranney now believes he has found a seventh, Pvt. Benjamin F. Fettro of Clarksburg, W.Va.

The mix-ups likely occurred when paroled (captured and conditionally released) Union soldiers were sent to Ohio’s Camp Chase stockade to be held in a separate facility until a formal prisoner exchange could be worked out. Some soldiers on both sides who died at the camp were buried in a city cemetery and later re-interred in the Confederate Cemetery. But poor record keeping and illegible headstones at the time made positive identification an imperfect science.

Ebenezer Creek property to become part of greenway

In one of the war’s many tragic episodes, hundreds of recently escaped slaves drowned on December 9, 1864, in a tributary of the Savannah River called Ebenezer Creek, about 20 miles north of Savannah, Ga.

Fleeing slaves following Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s army during his March to the Sea were trapped on the wrong side of the creek after soldiers destroyed the pontoon bridge that had carried them across. Panicking, men, women and children plunged into the flooded waters and  died or were captured.

As a result of the outcry after the incident, more than 400,000 acres of confiscated  coastal property was to be distributed in 40-acre tracts to former slaves in Sherman’s Special Field Orders No. 15. Although President Abraham Lincoln approved the order, his successor, Andrew Johnson, revoked it.

Now, the site of the tragedy has been acquired by the City of Springfield, Ga.,  and will be preserved as part of the Ebenezer Greenway, to extend from the creek to the river. The 275-acre acquisition was purchased with grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Program, the R. Howard Dobbs Jr. Foundation and the Knobloch Family Foundation.

“This coastal-Georgia property is quite special for people, history and the environment,” said Curt Soper, Georgia director of the Trust for Public Land. “The public recreational benefits along Ebenezer Creek  to the Savannah River will benefit generations of people  to come. And the historical significance of the Ebenezer  crossing is immense and this land is protected in memory of the many lives that were lost here 150 years ago in the pursuit of freedom.”

Künstler eases up on his easel

After a six-decade career painting historical scenes, with more than 30 of those years devoted to Civil War images, Mort Künstler is retiring.

His final work is “LaGrange vs. LaGrange,” taken from an incident about a week after the war’s conclusion in LaGrange, Ga. With the town’s men still gone to the war, the women of the town face down Union soldiers under, coincidently, Col. Oscar LaGrange. When he promises to spare the women’s homes if they put down their weapons, the women agree and actually prepare dinner for the troops.

“It’s a nice story and a celebration of the end of the war. It was a lot of fun doing this picture. I think it will be nice to end my Civil War paintings on a happy note rather than some of the tragedies I have portrayed in the past,” Künstler told Newsday.

Now 87, Künstler will continue to paint commissioned pieces and travel to promote his work in signings around the country.

Civil War graffiti uncovered in Virginia home

Homeowners William “Biff ” and Barbara Genda just wanted to repair peeling paint in their early 19th-century home Glen Owen, near Berryville, Va. The source of the problem was wallpaper that had been stripped long ago without removing the sizing underneath.

But while that was what caused the paint to peel, it had also protected the treasure underneath for 150 years: graffiti written by  Civil War soldiers, including a lively back-and-forth between Confederate and Union soldiers and a charming caricature of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in a kepi, which is Barbara Genda’s favorite from the assortment.

Architectural historian Maral Kalbian shared the graffiti’s contents with the Associated Press, including what seems to be a taunt of the Confederates, who then answer with taunts of their own: The first line reads,  “Rebels, if you can hear, we will whip you (undecipherable) shore.” That is followed by, “If you do, it will be the first time you impedent [sic] scoundrels.” The next line reads, “You are cowards nothing but a thief the robbers of millions of women and children you good for nothing skunk.”

Marker honors Minnesotans at Nashville

The last major battle of the Civil War in the Western Theater was also the deadliest for soldiers from the state of Minnesota. Four Gopher State regiments took Shy’s Hill during the December 1864 Battle of Nashville, leading to a rout of Gen. John Bell Hood’s Confederate army.

Minnesota lost 87 soldiers during the two-day fight, with hundreds more  among the wounded; on December 16 they were honored with a monument in Nashville on the battle’s 150th anniversary.

Late in 1864, as Gen. William T. Sherman made his way to the sea, Hood was hoping to land a haymaker punch on the Union troops remaining in Tennessee. After embarrassments at Spring Hill and Franklin, Hood decided to bait the Federals into leaving their heavily fortified Nashville  entrenchments and attacking his own defensive position.

But 1864 was not Hood’s year. Errors in strategy and poorly constructed entrenchments on Shy’s Hill helped do him in one last time, leaving his career and the Army of Tennessee in shambles.

War-era quilt blocks returned to Massachusetts

When Jane MacDonald, a quilter from Lake Wylie, S.C., saw a fragment of a quilt at a North Charlotte flea market, she recognized a valuable  antique and bought it. Her subsequent inspection of the 30 squares of the fragment showed signatures of the original quilters and the date March 16, 1863, on a number of the blocks, along with the words “Monument, MA.” Eventually her research led her to a genealogist who recognized Monument, MA as Monument Village, now a part of Bourne, Mass., and to the Bourne Historical Society.

Mary E. Sicchio, accessions manager at the historical society, told the Cape News in Falmouth, Mass., that it was former accessions manager Thelma R. Loring’s reply to an intriguing e-mail from MacDonald that ultimately brought the quilt squares back to Bourne. To Loring’s surprise, that e-mail described the signature that proved to be that of her own great-grandmother.

MacDonald returned the squares to Bourne, delivering them herself to ensure their safety. She and historical society members suspect that the heirloom quilt squares were created at the behest of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a private relief agency supporting sick and wounded Union soldiers. Quilt-making was part of the commission’s efforts for soldiers.

The society plans to display the quilt in May at the Bourne Historical Center, with a digital exhibit of what the completed quilt might have looked like.

Civil War cannonball found in California

A hiker walking along a San Diego creek bed last year came across an object fairly unusual for California: a 9-pound Civil War-era cannonball. The object was eventually donated to the Lincoln Memorial Shrine, a museum and research facility in Redlands, Calif.

Don McCue, director of the Shrine and the A.K. Smiley Public Library, told the Redlands Daily Facts that researchers will now try to learn how the cannonball came to its resting place in that particular spot. Troops were known to have been in the northern Orange and Riverside County areas, and there was a brief skirmish in Temecula. But that is the only Civil War–related gunfire to occur in the state, he said.

Historian Douglas Westfall said that some historians have speculated the ball might have been dropped by Union soldiers marching through north Orange County in an effort to guard the Southern California coastline from Confederate landings. “They formed a Union contingent to protect this area, and they’re the ones that they sent out to go after the guys who were trying to take Arizona,” he said.

Shrine officials hope to learn the cannonball’s history and have it displayed by 2016.

Diary donated

A small, leather-bound diary kept by Pvt. William Vaughan of the Confederate Missouri State Guard from December 14, 1861, to May 27, 1862, has been donated to Pea Ridge National Military Park in Garfield, Ark. The diary contains Vaughan’s accounts of the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862 and the Confederate retreat to Memphis.

Donors were Vaughan’s great-grandchildren Susie Angwin Heflin of Richardson, Texas, and two relatives in Missouri.

“This unexpected donation will enrich the park’s interpretation and our visitors’ understanding of the battle,” said Brenda Walters, acting superintendent of the Pea Ridge National Military Park in a press release. The park planned to begin displaying the diary in March to coincide with the anniversary of the battle, credited with enabling Union troops to hold Missouri.

H.L. Hunley finally emerging from crust

After four months of chiseling, conservators from Clemson University are finally revealing the exterior of the H.L. Hunley, a Confederate submarine that vanished after sinking the USS Housatonic on February 17, 1864, in Charleston Harbor.

The vessel was discovered in 1995 and raised in 2000. It was encrusted with layers of sand, sediment and shells. By late January, conservators had removed nearly 70 percent of the crust. Now that they can actually see it, they hope the sub will offer clues to the mystery surrounding its disappearance after its first successful mission.

 

Originally published in the May 2015 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.