Sunday, February 22, 2015

New---William Cushing Versus The CSS Albemarle: Adventures and Heroics

Commander Will Cushing: Daredevil Hero of the Civil War, Jamie Malanowski, Norton Publishing,  303 pages, 20 b/w photographs, bibliography, index, 304 pp., 2014,  $26.95.

Commander William B. Cushing is best known for his leadership in the sabotage effort which sank the CSS Albemarle during the night of October 27-28, 1864. Born in Wisconsin and raised in western New York provided with a both down to earth view of life and the ability to create fun where every his lived and worked. He was expelled from the U.S. Naval Academy for poor study habits and a surfeit of demerits during his final year. He was forced to resign from the academy just 90 days before graduation. Jamie Malanowski describes Cushing throughout his early years as having a talent for buffoon.

Cushing's friends and relatives in Washington, D.C, lobbied the secretary of the navy who had been in the post for just 16 days.  Gideon Welles met with Cushing and informed him that his appeal would not be accepted. Then came the bombardment of Fort Sumter and the pleading of Benjamin Butler to Gustavus Fox, assistant secretary of the navy. In the emergency of the moment, Cushing reentered the navy as a acting master's mate and joined the crew of the U.S.S. Minnesota. Cushing found opportunities to create adventures. In 1862 Cushing was promoted to lieutenant and later in life to commander. 

The Confederacy's ironclad ram, Albemarle, dominated the frequently contested region of the Roanoke River and its major port, Plymouth.  During the late summer of 1864 considered various plans for destroying the Albemarle; two of the plans were submitted by by Cushing. Cushing's daring plan and heroic execution earned him a reputation and fame that lasted his lifetime.

Malinowski offers a witty portrait of Cushing and his adventures. With some very short captures and some very extensive chapters, he briskly moves the story forward from Cushing's childhood and to his death. Reckless and impatient during his childhood and adulthood Cushing rushed through his own life. The author does not loiter either and propels the narrative forward at a lively pace. Malinowski is a writer and editor who has served eight or more magazines and newspapers.  Most recently he has served as a lead writer for The New York Times' sesquicentennial Disunion column. Additionally he has written novels, biographies, plays, and an HBO film. Commander Will Cushing is a well assembled story which reflects the author's career in the field of magazine writing. 

Commander Will Cushing: Daredevil Hero of the Civil War is, as Malinowski states, a retelling of an exciting story about a remarkable individual whose fame is in this centur beginning to fade. He speculates that Cushing's heroics may have been part genius and part personality disorder. Malinowski outlines this possibility but does not force it down the reader's throat. The book ends with Malinowski reflecting on Cushing's death at age 32 and what another 32 years of life would have brought Cushing.  Commander Will Cushing: Daredevil Hero of the Civil War is accessible and enjoyable for readers of nearly all ages.  Though a benefit to readers would have been the addition of maps of Hampton Roads and Gosport, Virginia and coastal North Carolina.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Forthcoming---For The Union And The Catholic Church

For the Union and the Catholic Church: Four Converts in the Civil War, Max Longley, McFarland Publishing,  35 photographs, notes, bibliography, index, paperback, $45.00. Summer 2015.

Five men joined the Catholic Church in the mid-1840s: a soldier, his bishop brother, a priest born a slave and two editors at odds with each other. For the next two decades they were in the thick of the battles of the era--Catholicism versus Know-Nothingism, slavery versus abolition, North versus South. Much has been written about the Catholic Church and about the Civil War. This book is the first in more than half a century to focus exclusively on the intersection of these two topics.

Max Longley has written books and articles have also explored civil liberties, the theology of judicial oaths, and the Civil War. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.

Friday, February 06, 2015

News---The Passing Of A Great Gettysburg Historian

On the early afternoon of January 31st, the staff at Gettysburg National Military Park received a jolting bit of news:  one of our own, in a large and treasured sense, had passed.  And while the announcement of the death of Dr. Harold “Harry” Pfanz, while not wholly unexpected, certainly saddened many, it also gave us cause to once again recall the man for some whose very name meant “Gettysburg.”

Personally, from my perspective, as an interpretive ranger fairly new to the battlefield at the time, Dr. Pfanz was a quiet, unassuming gentleman; though one already looked upon with quiet reverence given the recognition earned by his first work, Gettysburg: The Second Day.  I was privileged to meet the good Doctor in the early ‘90’s, during his research on his second work, Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill & Cemetery Hill.   At that moment, he was on his way up to the library in the old Cyclorama building.  A fine scholar of the old school, he invariably carried a number of long yellow legal pads and pencils with him during these research forays. At one point, he related how he had conducted the research for The Second Day, utilizing this long-hand method.  Unstated, but understood, was that in his day he had accomplished all that without the aid of copiers, and (obviously,) without computers.  Quite an achievement; yet he was not satisfied with just one.

Although Dr. Pfanz (“Harry,” to those of us who saw him,) continued, on an infrequent basis, to make research trips in the years that followed, he spoke to all most fluently through his  collective writing on the Battle of Gettysburg.  In 2001, the final work in “the Pfanz trilogy” appeared – Gettysburg: The First Day.   Following the completion of that third volume, his appearances within the park were rare, yet his name was (and is yet) often heard in discussions as staff discussed elements of his research in debate.

PfanzWhile his landmarks in the field of Gettysburg literature are well-known, his private personality shied him away from sharing many other worthwhile accomplishments.  A seriously wounded artillery officer during the Battle of the Bulge, Pfanz later earned his doctorate at Ohio State, prior to becoming a historian for the Army.  In 1956, at the outset of the “Mission 66” expansion, he accepted a position with the National Park Service at Gettysburg, initially choosing to refight the battle that would come to dominate the majority of his later life.
Assigned to St. Louis, Missouri, between 1966 and 1971, at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, he served as the site superintendent when the site’s iconic Arch was opened there in 1968.  He left St. Louis in 1971, travelling to Washington, D.C.  In 1974 Pfanz became the Chief Historian of the National Park Service, functioning in that role until his retirement in 1981.

During the course of his work with the National Park Service, Dr. Pfanz received the Department of the Interior’s Meritorious Service Award, the Special Achievement Award, and its Distinguished Service Award.  Outside the “green and gray,” Harry was actively involved in the affairs of his church, of Phi Alpha Theta (the history honors fraternity) and other organizations.
Harry, however, did not boast any of that.  He was, as we recall, a studious and detailed researcher, quiet and efficient in his way.  Thankfully, his tremendous efforts resulted in landmark works that help us more fully understand the struggle that took place here.  They will remain, but their author has gone.  And I will miss him.

Ranger Bert Barnett

Full Text and Image Source: From The Fields Of Gettysburg

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

News---As Savannah Georgia's Harbor Is Dredged Confederate Ironclad Will Be Recovered

Divers Begin Recovery of Civil War Ironclad Before Deepening of Channel Friday January 30, 2015
The deepening of the shipping channel in Savannah, Georgia, won't be dredging up just mud and sand.  It will be raising up a link to the past: an ironclad that protected the city during the Civil War until the vessel met its undignified demise.

For about the next nine months, divers will be working to bring up the CSS Georgia, piece by rusted piece, from nearly 40 feet down in the Savannah River. The $706 million harbor deepening officially began Thursday with speeches and the firing of an old cannon at Old Fort Jackson near the wreck site.

The removal of the CSS Georgia is necessary for the state and federal project, which will see the channel go from 42 to 47 feet so massive cargo container ships can use the port without relying on the tide. While some material from the Confederate vessel was recovered after the war, four artillery pieces, parts of the propeller and propulsion system, a boiler and two casemates, which housed the artillery pieces, remain in the swift, dark waters. One of the casemates is huge: 68 feet by 24 feet.

"She is really in large sections scattered throughout the bottom down there," Julie Morgan, archaeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah, told CNN. The CSS Georgia didn't have enough power to maneuver and effectively trade artillery rounds with any enemy vessels that might approach from the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, the vessel became a stationary floating battery, bristling with artillery pieces.

CWL:  From a quick internet search it appears that the CSS Savannah and the CSS Georgia are the same vessel.  The first CSS Georgia was a floating artillery platform stationed for a time at Elba Island, then at Fort James JacksonThe first remnant of the ship was brought up from the bottom of the harbor on November 11, 2013.
 Full Text Continued:   CNN, January 30, 2015

Image Source: Deseret News

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