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McPherson Statue Supports Protest Tent

Last fall, when Occupy DC protesters pulled a huge blue tarp over the bronze equestrian statue of Union General James McPherson, at the square that bears his name, the 26-foot-tall monument briefly became a symbol of the movement protesting the concentration of wealth and power among one percent of the populace. The general’s head—wearing a Guy Fawkes mask—and torso poked out of the tent, and protesters gathered and slept beneath the makeshift shelter for some time. At least one counterprotester attempted to remove it, and winter winds shredded the tent fabric. At the urging of U.S. Park Police, a handful of protesters finally took the tarp, dubbed “the Tent of Dreams,” down by February 4.

The sculpture, which was unharmed during the protests, commemorates McPherson’s leadership in several battles in the West, including Shiloh and Vicksburg. On July 22, 1864, he was killed during the Battle of Atlanta. The statue, dedicated in 1876, was cast from a Confederate cannon captured in that city.

Like other D.C. public parks, McPherson Square has long been the scene of rallies. Although some people objected to the tent, protester Travis McArthur explained that he considered the general the patron saint of Occupy DC, adding, “I think we have done more to keep General McPherson’s memory alive than anyone has done in years; people around the world…are reading about [him] because we erected the Tent of Dreams.”

— Kim A. O’Connell

Grants Preserve Cedar Creek Battlefields

The Civil War Trust recently secured grants to buy two key sites on the Cedar Creek Battlefield. One is the 8th Vermont Volunteer Regiment memorial. During the fighting on October 19, 1864, the casualty count for that unit was 110 of 164, including three flag bearers and 13 officers. The 8th Vermont’s assignment was to hold back the attackers and give the XIX Corps time to regroup. In recent years the memorial could be seen only with permission of the property owner. The second site, known as the Rienzi Knoll, is where Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan arrived from Winchester to rally retreating troops, urging them to retake the land they had just lost. About $1 million of the $1.3 million price tag for the two sites, totaling 77 acres, will be covered by three federal and state grants. The Trust also released a free battlefield app for Malvern Hill for the Iphone.

Boars Abandon Vicksburg

When Mike Madell first arrived as director at Vicksburg National Military Park two years ago, wild hogs were not a serious problem. But with record flooding in the spring of 2011, the animals began migrating into new areas, including the park’s northern section, according to a recent interview with Madell by the Associated Press. The invaders were sizable—upwards of 200 pounds—and some had large and potentially destructive tusks. Under Mississippi law, workers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service had little choice but to kill them and bury their carcasses. According to Virginia DuBowy, the park’s resource manager, close to a dozen hogs were dispatched. Since then, the survivors seem to have moved on, and DuBowy anticipates no permanent scars to the battlefield.

The Full Hunley

 The Confederate sub- marine from its protective Hunley, freed 17,000-pound scaffolding, can at last be fully seen for the first time since it sank in 1864. The next steps in preserving the sub are to bathe it in a chemical solution to leach most of the salt from the iron, then chip off any remaining encrustations. Scientists and engineers at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, a former U.S. Navy facility in Charleston, S.C., are also hoping to find clues about what happened to the sub and its crew after it sank USS Housatonic in Charleston Harbor on February 17, 1864.

Alabama’s Last Daughter of the Confederacy

 The death of Norma Vivian Smith of Cullman, Ala., in January, at age 89, marked an end to the list of living daughters of Confederate veterans in Alabama. Smith’s father, Private Thomas Jefferson Denney, who was born in 1843, served in Company H of the 31st Alabama Infantry. Captured on June 15, 1864, at Marietta, Ga., he was sent to the prisoner of war camp at the Rock Island Barracks in Illinois. He was about 22 when he signed the oath of allegiance, and was released on June 18, 1865. He survived until 1934, and Smith’s mother, Dora, was Denney’s fourth wife. According to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, there are 16 first daughters still living.

Overlooked But Not Forgotten

A total of 515 African Americans from Ohio served in the Union Army. Now students in Paul LaRue’s history class in Washington Court House, near Columbus, are petitioning legislators to grant formal recognition of Ohio soldiers for their service in the 54th and 55th Massachusetts regiments. Barred from enlisting in Ohio due to their race, the men instead opted to join segregated units in Massachusetts, and they initially received less pay than their white counterparts.

On July 18, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry fought with distinction in the attack on Fort Wagner, a battle that was featured in the film Glory. One of its men, William Nelson (right), who has ties to Fayette County, is buried in the Washington Court House cemetery. The students hope the resolution will be adopted before they graduate in May.

APB for Slave Clothing

Historic textiles are generally fragile, but the clothing that was commonly worn by slaves is particularly rare, according to Lonnie Bunch, director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Bunch hopes to find slave clothing to display in a centerpiece exhibit on “Slavery and Freedom” at the African-American Museum—scheduled to open near the Washington Monument in 2015. So far, he has found nothing. The rough, ill-fitting garments were typically made by the wives of plantation owners and handed out to their slaves once or twice each year.

At the recent groundbreaking for the new museum, which will feature everything from artifacts of slavery to spirituals and protest songs, President Barack Obama noted that “when future generations hear these songs of pain and progress and struggle and sacrifice, I hope they will not think of them as somehow separate from the larger American story. I want them to see it as central—an important part of our shared story.”

Homage to Josiah Henson

Maryland’s North Bethesda is home to a public memorial to Josiah Henson, whose life and escape to freedom—described in his 1849 autobiography—inspired the main character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Riley/Bolten House, where Henson likely worked as a slave, was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. Although the dwelling was renovated in the 1930s, it still incorporates a log building believed to be the farm’s original kitchen, where Henson may have sometimes slept. The building and two acres of land now belong to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and will be opened for tours. See for more information.

Union Army Goes Sky-High!

Visitors to Genesee Country Village in Mumford, N.Y. (near Rochester) will soon get a chance to see what it was like to ascend in a gas-filled balloon built to Civil War–era specs. In 1861 engineer Thaddeus Lowe pioneered the first manned aerial balloon. The Union Army eventually had five balloons, in which crews could rise as high as 5,000 feet, survey the terrain and telegraph what they saw to troops on the ground. For more information on balloon rides, slated to start on July 4, visit


Originally published in the June 2012 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.