Monitor Turret Excavation Going Slowly; Ring No Help in Identification

Sept. 30, 2002-(CWI)-It caused great excitement and raised great hopes when a small, perfectly preserved gold ring was found in the turret of the USS Monitor. Perhaps it would have an inscription, as was common at the time, that would confirm the identification of one of the sailors lost when the historic ironclad gunboat sank on New Years Eve, 1862.

No such luck. Nothing on the recovered ring will help in the identities.

Remains of two sailors have been found, and more remains could be found once two 11-inch Dahlgren cannons are removed from the 120-ton turret.

While the ring was probably the most dramatic discovery, it is far from the only one scientists have made, the Charlotte Observer reported.

With about another month of excavation to go, the scientists have found most of a wool jacket (stuck to a mass of sea-encrusted iron), the gold band from a skeletal hand, a leather boot, a spoon, rubber buttons, a pile of coal and a rubber comb stamped with "U.S. Navy."

One surprise, Peterson said, is that the cannons are braced by two additional trusses not shown in drawings. The cannons won't be removed until the excavation is complete

(CWI) indicates courtesy of: Civil War Interactive: The Daily Newspaper of the Civil War -

While some are frustrated that the work is not going faster, researchers point out that speed is far less important than painstaking care in the proceedings.

"It's a slow go, and it has to be," said Peterson, "There is only one Monitor turret, and we are trying to be very conservative on this. The greater danger would be to try to excavate in haste and risk losing archaeological artifacts and materials."

The work on the Monitor's turret is being carried out at The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Va., where the turret, engine, propeller and hundreds of artifacts will go on display years from now once they are preserved.

Writings from those who survived had the ship going down shortly after 1 a.m. A stopped clock from the engine tells when the boat slipped beneath the surface in a merciless storm off the North Carolina coast. Most of the hands on the clock recovered from the engine were rusted away, but stains on the face confirm the time.

Workers crawl in muck and tight places, among odors described as what you smell at low tide. The turret is kept submerged in a tank of chemically and electrically treated water when not being directly worked on, to slowly leach out salt and other chemicals forced into the metal during its years of submergence on the ocean floor.

The tank is drained when researchers arrive to work on it, but submerged or heavily sprayed once it appears to be drying out. Soaker hoses keep the exterior constantly wet.

Previously recovered

History says the Monitor received seven dents from the CSS Virginia in a conflict known to generations as the "battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack". Besides the two ironclads, however, a number of other, older, wooden ships from both sides took part in the fighting.

A letter written by sailor George Geer to his wife a month before the Monitor sank said sailors engraved by each dent the names of the ships that delivered the blows

Geer also wrote that the cannons were engraved with the names Ericsson, after John Ericsson, the ship's Swedish-born designer, and Worden, after John Worden, the ship's captain.

Museum spokesman Justin Lyons said the cannons are still encrusted with sea life, as is the visible dent, punched into 8 inches of turret armor, so scientists haven't been able to confirm what Geer wrote.

The concretion also prevents them from getting a look inside the cannon tubes that might confirm or refute one of the most famous legends of the Monitor. This story, recorded in eyewitness accounts, says that a ship's cat was stuffed into the cannon barrel to stop its yowling as terrified crewmen waited for their turn at the rescue boat sent by the USS Rhode Island.

The majority of the crew was saved despite a ferocious storm that raged at the time of the sinking. Of the 12 crewmen and four officers who were not accounted for, it is unknown how many were swept overboard during rescue attempts and how many went down with the ship.

And Then There's The Battle That Never Ends

Sept. 11, 2002-(CWI)-Outside of the boundaries of Antietam National Battlefield itself, visitors often find it difficult to locate significant areas of Civil War action in the surrounding areas of Washington and Frederick counties in Maryland.

Their difficulties are being compounded, rangers say, because many of the plaques that should be in place to mark and explain events are missing. Some of them are victims of accidents, usually by poorly driven automobiles. But others have been outright stolen in some cases and damaged by senseless vandalism in others.

The plaques were cast in the 1890s and historians consulted Civil War veterans in creating the text and deciding their locations to mark the battle lines for the Battle of Antietam.

"We could recast [the informational markers] but it's another little piece of history that has disappeared," Antietam Superintendent John Howard said.

The park's some 350 plaques are cast iron and painted black with white raised lettering. Officials are asking the public to keep an eye out at Internet auction sites, antique shops, flea markets and Civil War shows in case the thieves are stealing the items for profit rather than personal collections.

Some of the plaques met their fates at known times. One War Department plaque at the intersection of Gapland and Mount Church Roads in Frederick County was hit in June by a car. The driver could not be billed for the $4,500 it will cost to replace the marker because he or she fled the scene and was never caught.

Another sign, this one indicating directions at the corner of Smoketown and Dunker Church roads just up and vanished last year, Chief Ranger Ed Wenschhof told the Hagerstown Herald-Mail. The most recent case of theft was a tablet reading "Piper's Barn" taken from the intersection of Richardson Avenue and Bloody Lane.

The "Piper's Barn" sign also contains a white arrow pointing to the right.

Dan Sickles’ Leg
The Civil War plaques are mounted to the ground with bolts and have either been pried free with a crowbar or tilted until the bolts broke, Wenschhof said. If the missing markers are found they may or may not be able to be reused based on their condition, he added.

Cracks in the flat sections of the cast iron can be fixed but fissures through the raised lettering are likely too difficult to repair, Wenschhof said.

Penalties for removing archaeological resources from federal lands can include up to five years in prison and $200,000 in fines, Wenschhof said.

The only patrol presence the park currently has is its four park rangers and Washington County Sheriff's deputies. Increasing ranger patrols is not likely because of the park's tight budget, Wenschhof said. The only other option the battlefield can take would be to gate additional sections of the park, but officials are hesitant to restrict public access and some park roads are needed by the public to reach private homes, he said.

Anyone with information on suspicious behavior or the whereabouts of missing artifacts is asked to contact the battlefield at 301-432-7648 or 1-866-677-6677, which is a 24-hour line. Calls can be anonymous. A reward is being offered in case of successful prosecution.

Sickles' Leg Declared Safe Despite Changes in Walter Reed Museum Exhibits

Sept. 13, 2002-(CWI)-Some people actually go to the National Museum of Health and Medicine to see silly things like a huge human hairball (taken from a girl who compulsively ate her hair) or a skeleton sitting in a rocking chair, that belonged to a man whose bones were all fused together by arthritis.

Other people, of course, go to the museum to see the bones of Gen. Dan Sickles' leg, separated from the rest of him by a cannonball at the Battle of Gettysburg.

In recent interviews, museum staffers have noted that over the last few years the institution has been reshuffling some of its exhibits to give more information about fewer objects, and to downplay the repetitious or simply bizarre objects on display.

"We have moved with the times, so we have a more contextual approach," said Dr. Jim Connor, assistant director for collections. The museum's displays used to consist of large numbers of similar objects — rows of bones with the same fracture, or jars of brains, each showing the effects of a stroke.

Now, a few specimens are incorporated into bigger-picture exhibits, the Washington Post reported recently. One current exhibit about orthopedic injuries and healing, for example, includes spines mangled by scoliosis.

The museum has a good number of Civil War related exhibits, which is appropriate since that conflict was what gave the 140 year old museum its start.

It was founded as the Army Medical Museum in 1862, with about 2,000 bones, mostly amputated arms and legs. The military surgeons' notes detailing the damage to each specimen, whether inflicted by lead Minié balls, bayonets, gangrene or cholera.

These notes were collected into a six-volume set, "The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion." It is a monumental (and very expensive even in reprint) study of battlefield wounds, infections, treatments and outcomes.

After Abraham Lincoln's assassination, at Ford's Theater, Army surgeons conducted Lincoln's autopsy, and they kept skull fragments, hair and the bullet that pierced the president's brain. All those items remain on display. Out of public view is a section of John Wilkes Booth's spine, showing the trajectory of the bullet that killed him.

Dr. Adrianne Noe, the museum's director, said she and her staff now strive for greater context in the exhibits and installations. As might be expected of an institution started and run by and for military doctors, explanations were often not given of technical terms common in the profession but unknown to the lay public.

But Dr. Connor said the museum would never abandon some of its more shocking displays, such as Sickles leg. Those, he said, give the museum "particularity."

And, he added, many visitors come specifically for the graphic reality. "Our audiences aren't shocked but are actually enthused," he said.

Sickles leg, along with Dwight Eisenhower's gallstones and the skeleton of early astronaut Ham the chimpanzee, are safe, although the latter two items are not presently on display due to a lack of room.

Less than 1 percent of the museum's collections are on display, said Steven Solomon, a museum spokesman. The rest are kept in a warehouse in Maryland.

The Washington museum's display capacity has shrunk drastically since it was moved from its own building on the Mall to Walter Reed in the early 1970's. As part of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, the museum now serves three military branches.

The museum still attracts around 75,000 visitors a year. Dan Sickles used to visit the museum once a year, on the anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, to visit his leg bones.

Workers at the museum are occasionally called upon to assist in modern police work, such as the incident in which curator of anatomical collections Paul Sledzik was asked to check the age of a mummified body left at a flea market in West Virginia.

Sledzik found that the mummy's organs had been preserved with cornstarch, a method popular in the early 20th century. He dated the skeleton to that era and said it probably had been in a traveling freak show.

(Freak shows were a type of lower-class traveling carnival, a once-popular form of entertainment whose functions have been largely taken over by television.)

Gettysburg Park Advisory Commission Announces Meeting

Sept. 25, 2002-(CWI)-The next meeting of the Gettysburg National Military Park Advisory Commission will be October 17, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., at the Gettysburg Cyclorama Center, 125 Taneytown Road, Gettysburg.

The meeting agenda includes sub-committee reports; federal consistency reports on projects within the Gettysburg Battlefield Historic District; operational updates on park activities, including the museum/visitor center partnership; battlefield rehabilitation projects; repairs of the Pennsylvania Memorial; construction projects in the park; transportation planning; and other activities.

The public is invited to attend the meeting and anyone may submit comments on the agenda to the Commission Chairperson, care of Gettysburg National Military Park, 97 Taneytown Road, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 17325.

The purpose of the Commission is to advise the Secretary of the Interior on coordinating activities within the Gettysburg National Military Park and Gettysburg Battlefield Historic District with local government and the community.

For more information contact Gettysburg National Military Park, (717) 334-1124.

Gettysburg Repairing Observation Towers

Longstreet Tower
Sept. 6, 2002-(CWI)-The three low-tech observation towers on the Gettysburg battlefield are getting preventative maintenance and cosmetic makeovers. They are in fact getting just about everything except elevators.

"The National Park Service has hired a firm to do structural repairs, sandblast and paint all three towers,” said NPS spokesperson Katie Lawhon.

Lawhon noted that the project is funded by a special $360,000 congressional appropriation for rehabilitation and repair. The work is being done by a company called EarthSavers Inc.

“At any one time it’s possible that two out of the three towers will be closed, but between steps they’ll be reopened when possible.,” said Lawhon. The repair project began on the observation towers on Tuesday, the Gettysburg Times reported.
The three platforms are known as the Oak Ridge Tower, Culp's Hill and Longstreet towers. The first two are located near their namesake battlefield sites, while the Longstreet is located near the general's headquarters, affording it a view of
the Eisenhower Farm as well as the battlefield.

Two other such towers were once situated on the field, one on Big Round Top and the other on Cemetery Ridge. The latter was torn down to make way for the Cyclorama Building, itself now scheduled to be demolished as soon as the new Visitor Center is opened several years from now.

The Big Round Top tower was little used by the public, usually already tired from climbing the hill itself, which has no automobile access. It became the abode of the famous Gettysburg vultures, who befouled it with their droppings.

“The observation towers were built during the War Department era and are primarily used by the military, which is still studying the battle,” said Lawhon. The War Department took over the battlefield in 1896 and continued until administration was turned over to the National Park Service in 1933.

“The work should be completed in November,” said Lawhon, adding that the firm may be back in the spring to do some finishing work. She added that the towers should be open through the winter months.

Looter Convicted at Fredericksburg

Sept. 26, 2002-(CWI)-On April 6, Bruce Stanley, 43, was apprehended while relic hunting in the Wilderness Battlefield by ranger Dave Laclergue. Stanley had six Civil War era artifacts, a metal detector and digging equipment in his possession.

Rangers identified a total of 38 separate sites that Stanley had excavated. An archeological damage assessment was conducted which placed the archeological value at $18,896 and the cost of restoration and repair at $1,816.

The commercial value of the artifacts was placed at $5.50.

Stanley plead guilty to a misdemeanor ARPA violation on September 17 in federal district court in Alexandria. He was sentenced to a year of supervised probation and fined $1,000, of which $500 will go as a reward to a park neighbor who provided the tip that led to Stanley’s arrest.

Stanley is to pay the park for the cost of restoration and repair as restitution. He has also purchased $4,000 worth of advertising in a local newspaper to publish a looting prevention message.

Latest Threat to Manassas Battlefield Comes Riding In on Dirt Bikes

Sept. 30, 2002-(CWI)-Civil War soldiers thought that two battles were more than enough to fight at Bull Run Creek near the northern Virginia town of Manassas. For modern day folk just trying to save the land for future generations, it seems the battles just keep on keeping on.

The latest assault on the peace and quiet of what should be a sacred bit of American landscape has arisen in the form of a man who appears determined to use land adjacent to the park as a track for dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles.

Neither preservationists nor county officials are at all pleased by this development. The county objects on the grounds that a commercial enterprise on the land in question would violate Prince William County law and zoning regulations.

Sam Unuscavage of Centreville said that he has a right to use his land as he sees fit and that, regardless, he's not opening a commercial venture for the public. Instead, any dirt bike park would be a private club.

"It's my land for my personal use, for me and my friends' personal use," Unuscavage told the Washington Post as trucks of fill dirt rumbled onto the site behind him. "We're going to do whatever I feel like doing."

County officials stopped work on the site briefly this month on the suspicion that Unuscavage was building a commercial bike park without permission. But they allowed work to resume when Unuscavage told them he is clearing the trees and bringing in dirt to make the land usable for agriculture, which zoning allows.

Fliers and a Web site advertising the "Redline MX and ATV Club" that include Unuscavage's name and the site's western Prince William address have appeared, raising concerns that Unuscavage might have something other than purely agricultural uses in mind.

The fliers, which the Post noted are being circulated at bike shops and other outlets, read, in part: "3 Tracks will be available 1 for kids and 2 for adults. Club is for both off-road bikes and ATVs. The track will be opened year round and is located off of route 29 in Prince William Co."

The flier also says the "opening date for the club is October 31, 2002 (or sooner)."

Deputy County Attorney Joe Howard said his office is "considering taking some action based on those fliers" because they are a clear example of advertising and marketing a business. If the county doesn't take action now, it will as soon as it becomes clear that Unuscavage is operating a business on the site, county officials said.

"There will not be any commercialized track out there. The public can rest assured of that," said Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III (R-Gainesville), whose district includes the site. Neither addressed the question of what recourse would be available if Unuscavage billed the operation as a "private club" rather than a business.

"How dare this guy come along now and just think he can put a motocross track there?" said Mary Anne Ghadban, who lives down the street from the site. "He absolutely has no regard for the rules and the proper way of going about things."

Unuscavage, who bought the land last year, had a straightforward, although not entirely polite, response to the criticism.

"I don't care what they believe, and I don't care what they think," he said. "They need to mind their own business. What I do with my own front yard is my business. If the property is so . . . historic, why didn't they buy it? The war's over."

Particularly galling to the preservationist community is the fact that the proposed track abuts not only Manassas Battlefield Park but the property of Annie Snyder, who defended the park land and surrounding area for decades before her death in late July.

Harvey Simon, vice president of Friends of Manassas National Battlefield Park, said he'd prefer a mall--one of the many intrusions Annie Snyder fended off-- to a "very offensive and noisy" bike park.

"We're looking at the degradation of a site that is a commemorative site," he said.

Old Philadelphia Museum Proposed as Unified Home for Towns' Civil War Collections

Sept. 20, 2002-(CWI)-Philadelphia has a vast trove of Civil War artifacts scattered among a number of institutions, some of which are too small and poor to display or even protect them adequately.

Philadelphia also has a beautiful and historic building--not quite Civil War vintage, but close--that is not used for historic purposes and is also in danger of deteriorating to the point of collapse.

Proposals are now being discussed to bring the two together.

The building is Memorial Hall, a large structure in the Beaux-Arts style in Fairmount Park, clearly visible to drivers on the Schuylkill Expressway if they are foolish enough to take their eyes off the road long enough to glance at it while negotiating that
roadway. It is capped by a green dome.

Originally constructed in 1876 for the Centennial Exposition, it then served as Philadelphia's main art museum for 50 years. It currently houses a police station and the Fairmount Park Commission administrative offices, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Harris Baum, a new member of the Fairmount Park Commission, has now officially proposed the commission conduct a study that would look into uses of the hall, including as a Civil War and Underground Railroad museum. While Baum is the first to formally propose it, sources give credit for the idea to Seamus McCaffery, a former police officer turned lawyer turned Municipal Court judge.

McCaffery, besides his regular court duties, is best known as the "Eagles Court" judge. This judicial body exists only during home games of the Philadelphia football team, administering on-the-spot justice for attendees accused of misbehavior.

The judge is also a great fan of the Civil War who was delighted when his wife bought him, as a birthday present, a burial plot in Laurel Hill Cemetery near the grave of Gen. George Meade, the Union hero at Gettysburg.

Meade Statue – Memorial Hall

The challenges involved in reaching the goal of a consolidated Civil War museum in Memorial Hall are many. The building itself is in need of major restoration for such problems as roof leaks and termite infestations.

The next matter would be to persuade the notoriously competitive groups fighting over Civil War "turf" in Philadelphia to come together in one site. Institutions holding such artifacts include the Civil War Library and Museum on Pine Street, the Atwater-Kent Museum; the Mutter Museum; local historical societies; and the Grand Army of the Republic Museum in Frankford.

Memorial Hall

It was the critical situation at the Library and Museum that brought the discussion into being in the first place The building in which their collection is housed is historic in its own right, but is difficult to maintain, hard for visitors to find, and severely lacking in nearby parking. The institution, which has been plagued by thefts, no longer has paid staff and relies entirely on volunteers to open. A court-ordered inventory of the collection has yet to be completed.

Andy Waskie, a professor at Temple University and a Civil War scholar, agrees about the importance of Philadelphia in the Civil War - and not just for the usual reasons. It also was a major site on the Underground Railroad and it provided 11 regiments of African American volunteers to the Union Army.

"Harrisburg built a Civil War museum," Waskie said, "and they not only had to build the building but buy the artifacts. Philadelphia already has a phenomenal collection of artifacts. We just don't have the building."

The Memorial Hall building also comes with one bonus feature to offset its many difficulties. It has one bit of outside decor already in place--an equestrian statue of Gen. George Meade.