Commander's Pocket Watch Found With His Remains Aboard Hunley
June 10, 2002--A gold pocket watch that could conceivably answer the question of exactly when the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley sank has been found in a block of sediment holding the remains of the boat's commander, Army Lt. George E. Dixon.
The timepiece appears to be in excellent condition, researchers said, but has not yet been opened for a number of reasons.
"It is possible that there is a pocket of 'ancient' air trapped in an interior compartment," When senior archaeologist Maria Jacobsen said. "If that is the case, we will attempt to sample the air as well. A pristine sample of air from a secure 1864 date would provide important data to scientists studying atmospheric changes."
"The watch looks as if it was made yesterday; it's beautiful," Warren Lasch, chairman of Friends of the Hunley, told the Charleston Post & Courier.
"We can only hope there is an inscription or photograph inside," he added, noting that there is good reason to think that an inscription, in particular, is plausible.
A gold coin that Dixon carried as a good-luck piece after it took a bullet that would have otherwise hit his thigh during the Battle of Shiloh, was engraved "My Life Preserver."
The watch, said Hunley Commission Chairman Glenn McConnell, "will help us understand who this man was and the values that propelled him to put himself at risk for a cause."
Scientists caution that the time at which the watch stopped may not actually mean anything significant. If the crew died from a lack of oxygen the watch could have kept working for days or longer afterward. If the sub flooded, the watch might have stopped more quickly, but not necessarily right away.
Little is in fact known about Dixon, and even less about the other members of the Hunley's crew. Early reports that Dixon was from Kentucky, historians say, now appear to be wrong.
The watch, with its gold chain and fob, was mingled among other things in the Alabama infantryman's coat, including what may be binoculars, keys and even a logbook. The watch itself was spotted on a preliminary X ray of the excavated block last winter.
Jacobsen said the watch appears to be intact. Scientists want to X-ray the watch to figure out how to open it, but first they want to know if that would hurt any degraded photo that might be inside.
Six researchers from the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Tennessee are working on forensic analysis of the remains with scientists at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center. That work, designed to identify the crewmen and paint a portrait of how they lived and died, is expected to take another year and a half.
Dixon and his seven crewmen died aboard the sub on Feb. 17, 1864, shortly after the Hunley sank the blockade ship USS Housatonic.
Civil War Interactive: The Daily Newspaper of the Civil War
Gettysburg Cannons and Carriages Getting Long-Overdue Facelifts
June 6, 2002--The cannons placed around Gettysburg National Military Park, along with their carriages, are sturdy and durable items. But like any of us would after sitting outdoors for over 100 years, they are in need of touchups that go beyond facelifts.
They are in the process of getting them, too, park officials said. Out of 389 cannon carriages, 136 have been redone so far, according to National Park Service spokeswoman Katie Lawhon. The entire process will take five years, she said.
"We do look for unsafe carriages, and pull them off the battlefield right away." said Lawhon, adding that park visitors also report damage. Sometimes the cannon carriages may look fine on the outside, but have structural problems under layers and layers of lead paint.
A celebration of the 100th cannon to be restored under the program was held last year, supervisory exhibits specialist Vic Gavin said.
"We're two years out from doing the rest of West Confederate Avenue," he added.
Gavin said the restoration requires special skills, including blacksmithing, cast iron welding and pattern making. The cannon carriage restoration work is being done in an old factory off of York Street, the use of which was donated rent-free to the Friends of the National Park at Gettysburg for the purpose. There lead paint is removed, the carriages are repaired and detailed painting takes place.
Without the volunteer help from the Friends, the park could only restore 12 cannon carriages a year, Lawhon noted. With that assistance, they number is up to 40 a year. It takes about 120 man-hours and $4,850 to do each one.
"We just completed the cannons at the High Water Mark and the Pennsylvania Memorial, and we're also doing the caissons and limbers near the Meade Equestrian Statue," said Lawhon.
In fact, visitors to the park last weekend reported seeing restored cannon carriages at the Meade site which still had "wet paint' signs attached to them.
"Some of them still look horrible," Lawhon told the Gettysburg Times, "but the good news is that with the expanded space, we're doing more cannon carriages, faster."
Civil War Interactive: The Daily Newspaper of the Civil War
Maryland Town Names Park for Black Civil War Medal of Honor Winner
June 6, 2002--Across the street from what was once called Gravel Hill Park in Havre de Grace, Maryland, once stood the home of a man who won the Medal of Honor for bravery.
Now the park bears the name of Alfred B. Hilton, who was posthumously awarded the medal in the April 1865 for his actions Battle of New Market Heights, which took place the previous fall near Richmond.
A ceremony was held by County officials and members of the county's historical society to mark the event and honor Hiltons relatives last week, the Washington Times reported.
Hilton, a sergeant, grabbed the Union colors from the fallen color bearer and carried the flag to a line of entrenched Confederate soldiers before being shot several times in the right leg.
James Chrismer, the historian who researched Hilton, said the soldier died of complications stemming from the amputation of the wounded limb.
"It was previously thought that all troops from Harford County were white, and then in my research I came across Hilton," Chrismer said.
"White commanders were reluctant to use black troops, he added. "That's what makes this so amazing.
"This was an awesome experience for me," said Joyce Hilton Bransford Byrd, Hilton's great-great-grandniece. "I didn't approve of my last name when I was born, but now I'm proud to carry the Hilton name."
Byrd said she didn't know much about her Civil War-era relative, but was aware that he was a hero. The whereabouts of the actual medal is presently unknown.
Researcher Chrismer said Hilton was in his 20s when he died, leaving no children. Fourteen blacks who fought at New Market Heights, including Hilton, were awarded the medal.
Chrismer said he wants to find out how many more blacks fought for the Union. So far, he said, he has learned of 175 men who served in the Army and Navy.
Civil War Interactive: The Daily Newspaper of the Civil War
Fair To Tell History, Honor Victims of Little-Known Arsenal Explosion
June 18, 2002--The disaster may have been ignored by the rest of the country because it happened on the same day that the Battle of Antietam was fought. Even in the town where it happened it is little known today, and the site mostly obliterated by now.
What may have been the single largest civilian tragedy of the Civil War happened on Sept. 17, 1862, when the Allegheny Arsenal in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania blew up.
The death toll was put at 78, most of the victims women and teenage girls who worked at assembling the cartridges that went into Union soldiers' rifles. Sisters died together, as did fathers and daughters.
The plant superintendent, Alexander McBride, lost his young daughter, Katie, and narrowly escaped death when the second blast threw him 30 feet in the air after he tried to re-enter the laboratory to rescue his daughter.
A monument honoring the victims sits today alongside a fence in Section 17 of Lawrenceville's Allegheny Cemetery. The inscription reads "Tread softly. This is consecrated dust. Forty-five pure patriotic victims lie here. A sacrifice to freedom and civil liberty. A horrid memento to a most wicked rebellion. Patriots!"
The Daily Post, one of the city's newspapers, reported on fleeing victims covered in flames or blood. As a result of the explosions "the ground was strewn with charred wood, torn clothing, grape shot, exploded shells, fragments of dinner baskets, steel springs from girls' hoop skirts and melted lead," the news account said.
Women took industrial jobs during the Civil War just as they did in World War II, for much the same reasons. Men were at war, there was a need for workers, and it was a time of high inflation, James Wudarczyk said.
And young girls had replaced many boys who formerly worked at the arsenal because some of the boys had left matches around the gunpowder.
Wudarczyk said two garages in the Allegheny County Health Department complex and one building between Butler Street and the Allegheny River are relics of the arsenal at the time of the Civil War. They have no historic markers on them.
"The entire complex is listed on the city and national historical registers, which doesn't mean a lot when they are neglected," Wudarczyk said.
Wudarczyk is one of a few Lawrenceville residents who have tried to keep the history of the old arsenal alive. He told the story of the explosion in a 1999 book called "Pittsburgh's Forgotten Allegheny Arsenal, which is now out of print.
"The history of the arsenal has been shamefully neglected," said Wudarczyk, who has been researching the history of the arsenal since 1982.
Wudarczyk relied partly on materials from two local authorities on arsenal history -- Allan Becer and John Carnprobst -- as well as his brother, Jude Wudarczyk, who also is an authority on Lawrenceville history.
Sept. 17, 1862, was payday at the arsenal. A group of women who worked packing gun cartridges as "pinchers" and "bundlers" in Room 14 were lined up to get their pay at about 2 p.m. when an explosion rocked Building 1, the plant's main room, the Pittsburg Post-Gazette reported.
Two more explosions tore into the
arsenal, damaging other areas. The girls from Room 14 got out before the third
explosion blasted their work area.
Many others didn't make it, though. Forty-five of the arsenal explosion victims were buried in individual coffins in a common sepulcher near the present-day monument. The day after the explosions, the government provided plain black coffins for the remains and Allegheny Cemetery donated a lot that was used as a mass burial pit for the coffins.
Weeks later a coroner's jury found that the explosions were the result of negligent conduct by Col. John Symington, commander of the arsenal, and his subordinates for allowing loose gunpowder to accumulate in and near the magazine buildings.
However, a later military inquiry that heard contradictory testimony exonerated Symington and ruled that the cause of the explosion could not be determined.
In 1928, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and the ladies auxiliary of that organization installed a new monument for the victims of the explosion at Allegheny Cemetery. That monument used the same inscription as the original, but it also included the names of all 78 victims.
Precious Papers Protected by Pigeon Poop
June 27, 2002--Some people preserve documents for the ages by carefully wrapping them in acid-free wrappings and storing them in safe-deposit boxes.
Others, apparently unaware that a later age will consider the papers worth keeping, stick them in attics of train stations and leave them to be coated with deep layers of pigeon droppings.
This is what happened at the Lincoln Train Station in Gettysburg, currently undergoing restoration that will return it to its appearance in 1863. The documents found relate more, however, to the station's historic participation in the 50th Anniversary Reunion of the battle in 1913.
Veterans who had fought at Gettysburg returned by the thousands to camp with friend and foe on the field where they had earnestly tried to kill each other so long ago. Newspapermen flocked to the scene to gather human-interest stories.
These had to be filed by telegraph, just as they had been in 1863, and the telegraph sending mechanism was in the train station. After sending the copy the writers evidently just dropped their written notes in the station and headed out in search of more stories. What happened to these historic papers?
“We found this stuff up on a ledge underneath an inch of pigeon (droppings),” said the president of Main Street Gettysburg, Kevin Trostle. He noted that all of the papers are now being kept in a safe place for further study, which most likely will take years.
“The things we’ve found have been fascinating,” said Trostle. “There are two different types of things we’ve found. Some were saved as if someone thought, ‘this might be important some day.’ Others were spread out, like someone wanted to use them to cover the floor.”
One story telegraphed to the Pittsburgh Press detailed the adventures 112-year-old Micigah Weiss who arrived with his wife in an automobile. The author noted that Weiss was the oldest veteran in camp. He was a member of the 141st Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, it said.
(Stan Cohen's 1982 book Hands Across the Wall, about the 50th and 75th reunions of Gettysburg veterans, spells the name as "Micyah Weiss" but agrees he was, or at least claimed to be, 112 in 1913. A photograph shows him quite bowlegged and walking with the aid of two sticks, but upright. )
Photo of Micyah Weiss from Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg.
Another story sent to the Philadelphia Press said the author's name was Thom Stahle. This has proven impossible for even longtime Gettysburg historians to track down.
“There are a few names listed on these telegraphs that have stumped Jerry Bennett and Dr. Glatfelter of the Historical Society,” said Trostle. According to Trostle, the name “Stahle” stymied both Bennett and Glatfelter.
Some of the documents found come from earlier decades than the 50th Reunion, the Gettysburg Times reported.
The greatest mass of documents are from the 1913 Reunion. Some have been reprinted in books about the event over the years and others exist only in whatever crumbling archives preserve copies of newspapers long out of business.
A New York Times reporter filed his story about an old man dressed in Confederate gray revisiting the “bloody angle” where he was shot and then saved by a Union soldier. According to the article, A. C. Smith of the 56th Virginia met his savior again on July 1, 1913. It was Albert N. Hamilton of the 72nd Pennsylvania.
The article details the two men discussing the events of the day and the realization that they were the same two men who had met there 50 years before. The author of the article summed up the event by stating that the formal speeches were not the event.
“The event was the hunting up of the man who shot you or the man whose regiment fought yours. There was an amazing number of such reunions,” the article stated.
Monitor Turret Recovery Project to Launch
June 24, 2002--A ship called Wotan that normally services oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico will sail from Norfolk, Virginia on a different mission this week, carrying marine archaeologists and US Navy divers on what may be the final mission to the USS Monitor's watery grave off Cape Hatteras N. C.
"We've been waiting a long time for this, and its very exciting," said John Broadwater of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.
"But it's also white-knuckle time," he added. "We don't want to make a mistake and end up raising a 'turret kit' with lots of assembly required."
The turret, 22 feet in diameter, is not a solid cylinder of metal but is made up of 196 iron plates bolted together in a complex pattern, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. Besides the turret the project also will raise the two Dahlgren naval cannon inside, which weigh 16,000 pounds each.
The entire assembly of turret and guns is estimated to weigh some 160 tons, and all has to be lifted together to avoid Broadwater's "some assembly required" fear.
The turret is considered the most likely place where human remains may be found, if any have survived marine scavengers in the 139 years since the Monitor sank in a severe storm while under tow.
When the vessel began to founder the crew began to evacuate to the escort ship, USS Rhode Island. They succeeded in rescuing 47 officers and men but 16 were still aboard, mostly huddled in the turret section which held the only exit.
The turret then broke loose from the body of the Monitor--the "cheese box" fell off the "raft", to use the simile popular at the time--and the main hull sank next. The wooden floor of the turret, which landed on the ocean bottom facing upwards, has long since rotted away.
This may make the likelihood of recovery of human remains improbable, but just in case the team has reserved the services of a forensic anthropologist from the U. S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, which handles all cases of identification of possible remains of US soldiers from previous wars.
Genealogical studies are already underway to identify descendants of Monitor crew members in case DNA analysis is needed to identify any remains.
The first stage of the project, expected to take about two weeks with favorable weather, will involve clearing sand and mud from around the edges of the turret. Then the Wotan will deploy a specially designed devise known as the "spider" for the eight legs which will be used to hold cables wrapped under the turret.
The spider will then attempt to free the turret from the bottom muck and transfer it to a platform which Wotan will pull to the surface.
The project to recover important pieces of the Monitor is being financed by a Defense Department program dedicated to preserving military heritage. The Navy uses the project in 240 foot deep waters as training for its divers.
Once recovered the turret and guns will go into holding tanks at the Mariner's Museum in Newport News. There they will undergo chemical and electrical treatment for as much as ten years to reverse corrosion and stabilize the metal objects, after which they will be displayed at the museum.
Civil War Interactive: The Daily Newspaper of
the Civil War
Antietam Announces Schedule of Events for Remainder of Year
June 18, 2002--Officials at Antietam National Battlefield, in Sharpsburg, Maryland, have announced the schedule of events, demonstrations and activities at the park through the end of 2002.
All events are open to the public and all are free of charge unless otherwise noted.
Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 10 and 11:Technology of War:
Rapid technological change in the decade leading up to the war produces greater firepower, more accuracy, longer ranges and more casualties.
Park Day. On Aug. 25, 1916, the National Park Service was created. There will be no entrance fees on this date and in addition to our regular programs we will have a talk by park historian on how and why Civil War battlefields became part of the National Park System.
Battle Commemorative Ceremony.
Every year at the beginning of our Anniversary Weekend Programs we set aside a few moments to come together and reflect on the sacrifice made here. The Ceremony, held at the Dunker Church, will start at 6 p.m. At 7 p.m., author Andrew Carroll will discuss his book War Letters, lecture held in the Visitor Center Theater.
Noted author Joseph Harsh will speak on the Battle of Antietam. The lecture starts at 7 p.m. in the Visitor Center Theater.
Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 14 and 15:
Special ranger led hikes throughout the day. This is an opportunity to join a ranger for a walk through the pastures, woods, and farm fields at about the same time of day the fighting was taking place 140 years ago. Hikes take place rain or shine and hikers should wear comfortable walking shoes and be prepared to hike through farm fields.
The Sharpsburg Heritage Festival is held this weekend. Free concerts, workshops and lectures. Many activities take place all weekend in town. Shuttle bus service provided between sites. Details are available at www.sharpsburgheritagefestival.org.
Battle Anniversary Hike. Hike will cover the entire Battlefield, in two parts. The 9:30 a.m. morning hike meets at the visitor's center and covers the West Woods, Cornfield, East Woods, Mumma Farm, Roulette Farm and Bloody Lane.The afternoon hike will meet in the parking lot opposite the National Cemetery at 1:30 p.m. and will cover the Sherrick Farm, Burnside Bridge and the National Cemetery.
Ranger-led battlefield hike. One to two miles, 2-3 hours long. Will be held rain or shine so participants should dress for the weather.
Saturday Dec. 7:
Thirteenth Annual Memorial Illumination.
Volunteers place over 23,000 candles on the battlefield, each representing a casualty from the bloodiest single-day-battle in American history. Driving tour begins at 6 p.m. on Route 34 east of Sharpsburg. In case of very high winds or very heavy rain this event will be rescheduled to Dec. 14. Due to this special event the Visitor Center will be open from 8:30 a. m. through 3 p.m.. Several of the park roads will not be available to tour after 3 p.m.
Officials note that changes to the schedule may sometimes be made, and suggest that visitors check thepark website at http://www.nps.gov/anti/home.htm.