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The J.E.B. Stuart statue in Richmond, Va.New messages for old statues?

It wasn’t quite art, but it wasn’t quite vandalism either. So Richmond, Va., police and park employees were a bit stumped at how to handle ink-on-canvas plaques that were mysteriously bolted to the city’s iconic monuments of its Confederate war heroes last December.

The plaques each told a civil rights story—the one affixed to J.E.B. Stuart’s statue, for example, recalled Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple who successfully fought Virginia’s interracial marriage ban in 1967. Stuart fans were not amused, and city brass eventually concluded that statuary art was no place for street art. Stuart and Co. were relieved of their quasi-political statements, which, police said, did not damage the statues. No one has claimed responsibility for the act.

But this wouldn’t be the last effort to use a Civil War monument as a modern-day political messenger. On December 21, Occupy protesters spray-painted the base of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Va., with the words “Occupy will rise again.”

“For better or for worse, monuments to Confederate heroes are part of our story, but each of us can choose how to engage with these places,” Civil War historian Kevin M. Levin wrote for The Atlantic. “We can express outrage over their existence. We can alter them with statements of our own. Or we can let them be, appreciate their aesthetic qualities, and reflect carefully on their history.”

War-era estate donated to Rust College

In an ironic twist, an estate built by slaves and funded with money earned from cotton fields also worked by slaves has been donated to historically black Rust College.
Airliewood, a Gothic Revival mansion in Holly Springs, Miss., was built in 1858 and served as General Ulysses Grant’s home and headquarters for a time in 1862.

Previously owned by Memphis banker Joe Overstreet and his wife, Kathy, Airliewood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Overstreets offered Airliewood to Rust College if the college could raise $750,000 in matching funds. Rust took ownership of the 15-acre estate, valued at $3 million, last autumn.

“Plans are to add an annex to our library to house our collections and artifacts,” said Rust College President David Beckley, “and we are thinking about making it the official college museum hospitality center and a guest facility.”

Built on a former slave auction market, Rust College was founded in 1866 by Northern missionaries of the Methodist Episcopal Church.


Anonymous donations boosts Franklin, Tenn., park project

Batle of Franklin preservationists hope an anonymous $250,000 donation will trigger development of a Columbia Avenue Civil War park that will replace some nondescript retail shops and, with luck, be ready in time for the 150th anniversary of the grisly 1864 fight.

The Civil War Trust has pledged an additional $250,000, provided the nonprofit Franklin’s Charge preservation group can match the $500,000 by May 1. The mystery donor is a woman who has never been to Franklin, or even Tennessee, adding a bit of intrigue to the fundraising effort. The land to be preserved is now home to a pizzeria across the street from the Carter House, the battleground’s central landmark. The pizza shop property, historians say, was where at least eight U.S. soldiers won the Medal of Honor—and two of the six Confederate generals killed in the battle fell.

Civil War Trust tallies up properties saved in 2011

With the heart of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial—and the commensurate attention it will attract—yet to come, the Civil War Trust has already posted impressive progress for the first year of the commemoration.

The nonprofit preservation group announced at year’s end it had saved 2,042 acres of historically significant ground in 2011, bringing its all-time total to 32,000 acres.

“Interest in the history of this pivotal period…is at its highest point in a generation or more,” said CWT President James Lighthizer. “The results are tangible, as institutions and individuals alike seek to leave a lasting legacy through preservation of Civil War battlefield land.”

Often working in partnership with regional groups and tapping into a creative array of funding, the trust and its partners helped protect ground at
25 battlefields in 12 states.

Monitor’s human remains might be identifiable

A storm did to the Union ironclad Monitor what the Confederates could not, and when it went to the ocean floor in 1862 it took 16 sailors with it. Two sets of remains were recovered with the turret when it was raised in 2002.

Along with pain­stakingly identifying and preserving all the mechanical parts of the wreck, members of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary believe the human remains might be identified as well. “We’re actively trying to do genealogical work and forensic archaeology to identify those individuals and identify descendants of those individuals,” archaeologist Joe Hoyt told WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Va. The turret will need another 10 to 20 years of submersion in a chemical bath before it can be safely dried out.


Wreck of the USS?Narcissus could become underwater archaelogical preserve

The 1866 wreck of a Union ship lying in the mouth of Tampa Bay is proposed to become Florida’s 12th underwater archaeological preserve.

The tugboat USS Narcissus was a player in the Union’s victory at Mobile Bay, August 5, 1864 (from which the famous “Damn the torpedoes” command given by Rear Admiral David Farragut sprang into popular culture). In addition to the pivotal battle, the Narcissus supported the Union’s blockade of Confederate shipping routes from Pensacola, Fla., to New Orleans.

After the war, the Narcissus was ordered to New York to be decommissioned and sold. On its way, though, the tug ran aground in heavy seas in Tampa Bay. The boiler exploded, killing all on board. Once completely covered with sand, the Narcissus eventually reemerged and is now about 15 feet below the surface. “The USS Narcissus provides not only a fascinating underwater preserve to explore, it also offers a unique and adventurous look into our nation’s naval history,” said Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning.

The U.S. Navy, which still owns the Narcissus, favors the project. If there is public support, the proposal will likely be accepted.