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Commemorating with caution

During the sesquicentennial, just how far can Southern sympathizers go without being flagged for excessive celebration?

Separating the South’s military heroes from their personally held beliefs and the perception they were fighting in defense of slavery has proved to be tricky business.

Mississippi dignitaries traveled to An­tietam National Battlefield in late summer to dedicate a granite marker in memory of the 11th Mississippi Infantry, which lost 119 men in the battle. But the commemorations remained purposefully low-key.

“Mississippi has such a troubled past that a lot of people are very sensitive about commemorating or recognizing or remembering the Civil War because it has such an unpleasant reference for African-Ameri­cans,” University of Mississippi Professor David Sansing told Emily Wagster Pettus of the Associated Press.

In Selma, Ala., the Friends of (Nathan Bedford) Forrest attracted some attention—not all of it positive—in August for efforts to repair and protect a monument to the brilliant general who went on to be­come the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The statue had been bounced from public property more than a decade ago, and then in March, thieves made off with Forrest’s bust.

Friends of Forrest spokesman Todd Kiscaden told WSFA News in Montgomery he would “recommend this man for any young people to model his life after. He took care of his people, and his people included both races.”

But historians say Forrest was also racist, noting the blood that remains on his hands for the killing of 250 black soldiers who had surrendered at Fort Pillow in Tennessee.

State Senator Hank Sanders, D-Selma, pointed to the unsavory aspects of Forrest’s life and expressed puzzlement that the general would be monument material. Still, the United Daughters of the Confederacy have donated an acre of land for the monument, and Friends of Forrest plan to fence it off to protect his countenance from the theft, mock lynchings and heaps of garbage to which the old officer was subjected over the years.

Suicide statistics confound conventional wisdom

Bad and inadequate food, freezing camps, horrid sanitary conditions, knee-deep mud, squadrons of insects, poor communication with home, rampant disease—the downsides of Civil War soldiery are well-documented. But a study by Bartley Frueh and Jeffrey Smith released during the summer indicates soldiers in today’s military are more prone to suicide than those who endured the unimaginably severe conditions of the Civil War.

Modern military suicide rates have been rising, and now stand at 20 per 100,000 troops. Union records, meanwhile, suggest a white suicide rate ranging from 8.74 to 14.54 per 100,000 troops. (The year after the war, however, the suicide rate surged to 30.4.)

There were more military suicides in 2010 (295) than occurred in the Union Army during the entire course of the war (278). The authors of the study caution that statistics from the time of the war are imperfect, and that the stigma against suicide might have discouraged reporting. Experts are at a loss to explain the increase in modern suicide rates.

Civil war stimulus pays off

At least one Maryland town is reporting that the Civil War has been good for business. The Frederick (Md.) News-Post reported this summer that local businesses savvy enough to link to the first year of the sesquicentennial have been reaping rewards.

“We have been busy all year with people coming because of our Civil War history,” John Fieseler, executive director of the Tourism Council of Frederick County told News-Post reporter Ike Wilson. “It has been gratifying to see people arrive at the Frederick Visitor Center from more than 1,000 miles away with the center’s Civil War–focused ad torn out of a magazine and pages printed out from our website in hand.”

Hits on tourism-related Web sites are up this year, visitor guides are flying off the shelves and hotel demand is up 12 percent. n Frederick County is home to Monocacy National Battlefield and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, and is 25 miles east of Antietam National Battlefield.

Cemetery of Alabama fallen dedicated-in Virginia

Eagle Scout project led to the dedication in September of a newly restored cemetery at the Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park in Northern Virginia. The cemetery holds the remains of up to 90 10th Alabama Infantry soldiers who died of disease in late summer 1861. Scout Dane Smith, guided by park officials, organized a group to clear the overgrown cemetery. The Alabama Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans donated a 4-foot stone for a monument. They also collected soil from each courthouse in the counties represented in the 10th Alabama to be placed in the cemetery. Descendants of the fallen, about half of whom have been identified, came to Northern Virginia to be a part of the dedication.

The 133-acre Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park, about an hour west of Washington, D.C., in Prince William County, is in the area where the Battle of Kettle Run was fought in 1862 and the Battle of Bristoe Station
in 1863.

Georgia soldier’s identity revealed

It’s a classic sort of Civil War portrait: The handsome young man cradles his weapon, stares intensely at the viewer and is dressed in what is probably his best outfit. The image had been published in several books and was even used in Ken Burns’ Civil War series before Tom Liljenquist and his family donated it along with more than 700 other images to the Library of Congress in 2010. But the Confederate soldier had never been identified until a chance meeting last summer at a Civil War memorabilia show.

Liljenquist met Steve and Patricia Mullinax, Civil War collectors from Villa Rica, Ga., and shared details about his donation. As Patricia later browsed the collection on the Library of Congress site, she recognized the portrait as that of her great-great-grandfather, Stephen Pollard, who fought in the Civil War. She immediately called Liljenquist with the news.

Ironically, she never knew the photo was considered unidentified until she saw the designation by the Library of Congress. Her family had a copy of the photo and it had been published
previously in a history of Georgia’s Confederate soldiers.

“We did not know what happened to the original,” great-great-grandson Mark Pollard of McDonough, Ga., told the Washington Post. “We’re thrilled that the Library of Congress has it and it’s in good hands.”

Stephen Pollard was from Carroll County, Ga., and served in both the infantry and cavalry. He survived the war, had eight children and died in 1899.

Virginia remembers victims of munitions plant explosion

Among 13 new state historical markers approved last summer by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources is a sign commemorating the massive explosion in March 1863 that destroyed a munitions plant on Brown’s Island outside Richmond.

The Confederate States Laboratory produced ammunition, friction primers, percussion caps and other ordnance and employed mostly women and girls, some as young as 11. Their small hands were well-suited to assembling the cartridges, fuses, caps and primers for the army.

Defective cartridges were disassembled and emptied of black powder, which is thought to be the cause of the explosion. An 18-year-old Irish immigrant, Mary Ryan, “accidentally ignited a friction primer,” according to the marker. Richmond residents, responding to the “terrific report,” found a scene of horror, with many victims “burnt from head to toe.” Ryan, and at least 40 others, died in the explosion; at least 23 were injured. The Brown’s Island explosion remains one of the worst industrial accidents in the nation’s history.

New projects announced at Petersburg National Battlefield

Petersburg National Battlefield is the beneficiary of two preservation projects announced in August. The South Side Depot in Old Towne Petersburg will be restored and developed into a visitor center. The depot was used by the South Side Railroad, the last rail line controlled by the Confederate Army. When Union troops seized it in early April 1865, the fall of Richmond and Petersburg became inevitable. A state transportation enhancement grant and a matching grant from the Civil War Trust will pay for the restoration.

The Civil War Trust has also purchased 81 acres at Cemetery Hill near Blandford Cemetery using, in part, additional monies from a state transportation enhancement grant. The land is part of a $1.1 million campaign to protect 120 acres associated with fighting around the city during the last year of the war. The newly acquired land at Cemetery Hill will be placed under a perpetual conservation easement and eventually incorporated into Petersburg National Battlefield. Cemetery Hill was the site of three major engagements during the siege: Petersburg on June 18, 1864; the Crater on July 30, 1864; and Fort Stedman on March 25, 1865.