Wednesday, January 21, 2015

News---Confederate Weapons Cache May Have Been Found In South Carolina River

Huge Cache Of Confederate Weapons Seized by General Sherman may have Been Found In South Carolina River, Washington Post, January 21, 20155

Drunk and rowdy, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops captured South Carolina’s capital on Feb. 17, 1865. It was nearing the end of the Civil War, and Sherman’s plan was to destroy the state where secession began.  “The truth is, the whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance upon South Carolina,” Sherman wrote to Gen. Henry W. Halleck. “I almost tremble at her fate, but feel that she deserves all that seems in store for her.”

Sherman’s 60,000-man army torched Columbia in retaliation for seceding from the Union. The blaze, which he later blamed on a Confederate general he said left cotton bales in the streets, destroyed a third of the city. Sherman’s troops made off with the Confederate armory. They confiscated cannonballs, rammers, sabers and bayonet scabbards. And, on their way out of town, they dumped whatever they couldn’t carry into the Congaree River.

Amid a massive toxic tar cleanup, historians have found possible evidence of the loot using sonar and metal detectors near the Gervais Street bridge in downtown Columbia, the city’s State newspaper first reported over the weekend. The munitions, if indeed they are munitions, are said to be buried in 40,000 tons of black tar that spilled into the river several years ago from a now-defunct power plant. Historians are trying to find the best way to retrieve the stash, with explosive experts on hand.

“Hopefully, none of it is going to blow up,” Joe Long, curator of the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, told the newspaper. Researchers located more than 200 sites in the two-foot-thick oil sludge as “exhibiting signature characteristics that could be associated with ordnance.”

Full Text is continued at Washington Post, January 21, 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

News---Union Navy Coat Found In Underwater Debris Of USS Monitor Is Nearly Restored

Civil War jacket
 Wool Coat That Sank With Civil War ironclad Monitor Is Nearly Revived, Mark St. John Erickson, Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2015.

More than 150 years after it sank off Cape Hatteras inside the warship Monitor, a woolen coat discarded by a Union sailor trying to escape the doomed Civil War ironclad is approaching another milestone.

Found inside the gun turret, which was recovered from the Atlantic in 2002, the rumpled expanse of Navy blue cloth had to be chiseled and coaxed from the grasp of the thick marine concretion that trapped it — a painstaking process that took archaeologists and conservators from the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and Mariners' Museum several days.
But that was only the start of a decade-long treatment program that included hundreds of hours of tedious yet precise manual labor as conservators used ultrasonic dental scalers to break down the concretions embedded between the fragile fibers.

Now the museum is engaged in the final steps of a $20,000 effort to reassemble some 180 pieces of fabric onto custom-made archival mounts, then put the conserved coat on display inside its USS Monitor Center here in southeast Virginia. And with weeks to go before humidity indicators determine the optimum place for the artifact, the leaders of the effort to bring it back to life say that all the time, money and attention has been more than worth it.
"We've found all kinds of buttons inside the turret — some made of wood, some of glass, some of bone, some of rubber, some even mother-of-pearl. Clearly the sailors were just tearing their clothes off before jumping into the water — and doing it so fiercely that their buttons were popping off," Monitor Center director David Krop said.

"This coat was left behind by one of those sailors — and it gives you a very real, very personal connection to the story of those men and this ship during its chaotic end."
Recognized around the world after its clash with the Confederate ironclad warship Virginia — also known as the Merrimack — in the March 9, 1861, Battle of Hampton Roads, the pioneering Monitor sank less than 10 months later off Cape Hatteras.
Civil War jacket
Most of the officers and crew escaped the ship, which had just celebrated Christmas. But 16 men were lost when the vessel went down during a frantic, storm-tossed rescue attempt.

Not until 1973 was the wreck found in 220 feet of water — and 25 years passed before Navy divers working with archaeologists from the Newport News-based sanctuary launched the first in a series of summer expeditions that led to the 2002 recovery of the turret.

That's when conservators and archaeologists began the task of excavating and preserving the contents of the revolutionary gun platform, which had flipped upside down as it sank, jumbling its two giant guns and gun carriages, two ill-fated sailors and the rest of its contents together.    Among the most poignant objects discovered as they sifted through the tons of sediment and concretion that had accumulated over 141 years was the coat, which wrapped around several of the Monitor's gun tools — including a rammer and worm — as the sinking vessel descended.
Puzzling that mass apart from the surrounding concretion with small hand and pneumatic chisels was delicate and tedious work.  "It was heavily concreted in a lot of places — and the concretion had grown into the woven fiber structure," senior conservator Will Hoffman said.  From the turret, the mass went immediately into a tub of water — the first of countless baths it would undergo over more than 10 years in an effort to remove the destabilizing chemicals absorbed from the sea.
But long before the conservators freeze-dried the cloth to remove the last traces of its final water bath, the disintegration of the original cotton thread had combined with its long exposure to the sea to pull the garment apart into about 180 pieces. "It looks like it's in great shape," Hoffman said, "but it's actually pretty degraded."

Full Text is Continued at Los Angeles
Images are from Los Angles

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

New and Noteworthy---Sherman's March: How Popular Cultures Fib About The Civil War

Through The Heart of Dixie: Sherman's March and American Memory, Anne Sarah Rubin, University of North Carolina Press, 2014, 300 pp., 20 b/w illustrations, 2 maps, end notes, bibliography, index, $35.00.
Below is a book review written by Krista Kinslow and published January 14 2015 on H-Net.
  In Through the Heart of Dixie: Sherman's March and American Memory, Anne Sarah Rubin presents the many stories that have been told about Union General William T. Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea in late 1864. She is interested in showing how these stories emerged and evolved over time, rather than discerning which are more accurate. Rubin writes that “this project explores the myriad ways in which Americans have retold and reimagined Sherman’s March,” and she examines several groups’ stories about this event, starting with “the participants themselves, including white Southerners, African Americans, Union soldiers.” Drawing on “travel accounts, memoirs, music, literature, film, and newspapers,” she aims to unpack “the many myths and legends that have grown up around the March, using them as a lens into the ways that Americans’ thoughts about the Civil War have changed over time” (p. 4).
The book begins with an overview of the march, setting the stage for Rubin’s analysis. She captures the confusion of the campaign, showing foraging and destruction, but also acts of kindness. She discusses the complicated relationship between the march and African Americans who came into its path. Rubin stresses that the Union army was not wholly made up of abolitionist proponents and showcases events, like the abandonment of black camp followers at Ebenezer Creek, to demonstrate the callous and strategic choices the military made in the context of complicated racial views and the realities of war.
Not surprisingly, different groups told different stories about Sherman’s march. White Southerners saw the march as indicative of Northern excess and rapacity. Rubin focuses on stories told about Southern women hiding their valuables and livestock and Northern soldiers stealing, although she only briefly discusses rape and assault, which is surprising given later accusations of such crimes. In contrast to legends about Sherman’s scorched-earth policy, Rubin points out that a large percentage of buildings were not burned, and Southerners had to come up with creative explanations for unaffected structures. According to Rubin, one of the most common ways to explain a structure’s survival was to link it to the Freemasons, which conveyed a sort of Passover message, in that if the Masonic symbol was displayed, the building was spared. Alongside such conspiracy theories stood stories about Northern kindness, especially tales of soldiers helping women and children. Rubin’s work could have benefited from further analysis of when these stories circulated and whether there was any indication that some narratives were more popular in certain contexts.
African Americans also told stories about the march and were often part of tales spun about it. Stories ranged from the predictable “faithful slave” narratives white Southerners told, to tales of liberation. Throughout, Rubin explains how “Sherman’s March was the epitome of the double-edged sword,” bringing not only emancipation but also “hunger, destruction, and mistreatment” for African Americans (p. 69). Throughout her analysis, Rubin stresses the ambivalence soldiers felt about emancipation, showing that the cause for which Union soldiers fought was more complicated than the view that many Americans continue to espouse. Although such complexity strengthens the book’s argument, more discussion on how black audiences received these stories would have been helpful.
Rubin suggests that “the importance of the March for African Americans seemed to wane over the twentieth century,” but it returned to importance in the 1960s with the intersection of the centennial of the march and the civil rights movement. When John Lewis, newly elected chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), wanted to use rhetoric about the march in his speech for the 1963 March on Washington, other civil rights leaders considered it too incendiary and told him to change it. Reformers seeking peaceful change needed to avoid symbols of conquest and violence, no matter how important they were historically.
Northern soldiers, the “bummers” in the Union ranks, and Sherman himself told stories that focused on the justification of the march. Rubin stresses that nineteenth-century soldiers were different and should not be compared to their twentieth-century counterparts—for instance, Union soldiers reflected on the march in a “light or celebratory fashion” (pp. 97-98). Further, Union soldiers pushed back against the Lost Cause narrative—they wanted to “make sure that their version of the March dominated” (p. 98). This meant spinning tales that emphasized the Union and ending slavery as well as the restraint of soldiers and the triumph of the good over the evils of rebellion and oppression. Rubin notes that Sherman and his march became inseparable in memory and the general worked hard to present his own version of events. His own actions during the aftermath influenced historical memory. In the years just after the war, white Southerners were willing to forget Sherman’s destruction because he advocated for a gentler reconstruction. But in the 1880s, Southern views toward Sherman became much more negative, perhaps because Sherman’s march “was being conflated with the economic challenges of Reconstruction, and a sense of nostalgia for an imagined golden age.” Rubin notes that “Sherman became the symbolic repository for white Southerners frustrations” (p. 132).
Finally, Rubin examines the literature, songs, and movies inspired by the march. These chapters are perhaps the most illuminating and illustrate the divide in interpretations. Rubin joins other recent scholars like Caroline E. Janney (Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation [2013]) in pointing toward a more complicated view of reunion. Rather than seeing it as a process that proceeded linearly, she notes the twists and turns that the rapprochement between the North and South took. For example, in 1902, a Louisville, Kentucky, schoolgirl refused to sing or listen to the Unionist classic, “Marching through Georgia.” The girl was hailed as a Confederate hero because of the incident. “That this sense of sectional grievance persisted even during what historians have told us was the peak of reunionist sentiment, after the Spanish-American War, is telling,” Rubin suggests, before adding that “beneath the placid surface of joint reunions and Southern whites fighting under the American flag again, lay a deep well of animosity” (p. 182).
This study is an excellent addition to the flourishing literature on Civil War memory, and scholars and Civil War enthusiasts will find it interesting. In her commitment to examining the many different stories told about the march, Rubin shows how contested one event can be and how different people work to present their own narratives and construct their own memories of the past.
 Link To Full Text: H-Net