Thursday, January 28, 2016

New Film---Birth Of A Nation Repurposed In An Age Of Terror With Nat Turner as Lead

Birth of A Nation [2016] is a cinematic retelling of  American History.  Its source is Nat Turner's Confessions of Nat Turner written in 1831  in which 60+ white men, women and infants are slaughtered in an 1831 Virginia slave rebellion and about 150+ slaves are victims of revenge. 

Coming during a presidential campaign season and well appreciated by those attending the Sundance Film Festival will . . .  well at this point I can't really imagine.   

I wonder if Turner's Confessions, which was a transcription of Turner's interviews to his white defense attorney and William Styron's novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner [1967] will even vaguely considered in the discussion of the film. I have read Styron's novel and have assigned Nat Turner's Confessions. As one of the characters in True Detective Season 2 says of journalists "They would rather be first and wrong than be second and right."

Birth of a Nation [2016]

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Preservation---Gettysburg's 11th Corps Hospital on the George Spangler Farm

spanglerphoto3.jpegFor five straight days during the first week of July 1863, Dr. Daniel G. Brinton sawed off mangled arms and legs in a desperate, exhausting attempt to save the lives of wounded soldiers in Gettysburg.

This historic photo of the site was taken sometime in the late 1800s. 
As the piles of limbs grew, so it seemed did the number of incoming wounded at the George Spangler Farm hospital   just behind the Union line, eventually reaching 1,800 Union and 100 Confederate patients. Brinton, chief surgeon at the Spangler Farm and a native of Chester County near Philadelphia, and other surgeons were overwhelmed, unable to keep up.

"The wounded came in so rapidly that by the next day we had over a thousand to attend to," Brinton wrote to his mother on July 8 from Gettysburg, a few days after the conclusion of the war-changing July 1-3 battle. "Many of them were hurt in the most shocking manner by shells. My experience at Chancellorsville was nothing compared to this & I never wish to see such another sight. To add to the scene a heavy rain came up on the fourth & many of the wounded were drenched to the skin & lay writhing with pain. ... The surgeons ... were insufficient in numbers to accomplish everything. For myself I think I never was more exhausted."

 The Spanglers operated a prosperous 166-acre farm until the Civil War came crashing down on them on July 1, 1863, when the Union 11th Corps claimed their property for a field hospital. Within hours, the wounded filled the barn, the house, outbuildings, tents and the separate summer kitchen building where it is believed Confederate Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead was taken and died. The wounded even lay on the bare ground, unprotected from the sun, rain and insects.

Spangler FarmAt least seven surgeons from Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York worked around the clock in the open air, amputating arms and legs on operating tables that were nothing more than doors stripped from walls. In the 1860s, with the destruction to bone and tissue caused by the Minie ball, losing a limb through amputation usually meant saving a life.
While at the Spangler Farm, wounded soldier Justus M. Silliman, 17th Connecticut Infantry, said, "The barn more resembles a butcher shop than any other institution. One citizen ongoing near it fainted away."
Maj. Gen. Carl Schurz, commander of the 3rd Division of the 11th Corps, visited the Spangler Farm after the battle ended.

"I saw long rows of men lying under the eaves of the buildings, the water pouring down upon their bodies in streams," he wrote. "Most of the operating tables were placed in the open, partially protected against the rain. There the surgeons, their sleeves rolled up, their bare arms as well as their linen aprons smeared with blood, around them pools of blood and amputated arms and legs in heaps. A surgeon, having been long at work, put down his knife, exclaiming that his hand had grown unsteady and that this was too much for human endurance, hysterical tears streaming down his face."

Two hundred and five men died at the Spangler Farm. They were buried on the farm – Union and Confederates separated – later to be exhumed and reburied elsewhere. "What makes this place so special," says Gettysburg National Military Park Spokeswoman Katie Lawhon, "is this is an authentic place. The real deal. It allows us to expand on the story of the battle, both by concentrating on the Spangler family's life before the battle and in its aftermath and on the wounded soldiers and medical providers who were there. It's something fresh, and you really get a sense of the importance of it."

Among the new offerings this year is the one-hour National Park Service ranger program "The Spangler Farm: A Field Hospital at Work." There will be living history portrayals, costumed interpreters, period trade demonstrations and encampments. Topics will include civilians' experiences and Civil War medicine. Even artillery will be explored, as the farm was also used as a Union artillery reserve during the battle, with 114 cannons, 2,376 artillery men and 1,500 horses sharing the property with the thousands of patients, medical personnel and civilian volunteers.
"There is something new to see every hour we are open this year," said Cindy Small, director of marketing, communications and visitor services for the Gettysburg Foundation. "We suspect this will encourage visitors to have a longer stay at the Spangler Farm and really learn of the extraordinary significance."

Remaining today from 1863 are the summer kitchen, which has been rehabilitated, and the house, barn and smokehouse, which have not, though the barn's structure has been fortified and temporary siding and roofing installed. Also in the works is a three-quarter mile walking trail from the Gettysburg National Park Museum and Visitor Center to the farm, with a planned opening in 2015.
The Foundation purchased the now 80-acre Spangler Farm in 2008 for $1.8 million, and it will cost $2.5 million more to finish preservation, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Work will be completed as the money is raised.

"The George Spangler Farm is essential because of the multidimensional stories of this place," Small said. "The fact that you can stand in the same spot where 1,900 wounded were cared for; where a family's life was hit by tragedy; where a major military officer died; where artillery fire occurred; where temporary burials had to be hurriedly arranged in the meadow. "People can come here and feel what those people felt. To stand in the barn and look up at the original beams and imagine a wounded soldier on the floor taking his final breath as he looked at that same beam."

George Nixon, a private from Company B, 73rd Ohio and great grandfather of President Richard M. Nixon, died at the Spangler Farm and was buried there. He was later reburied in Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg. Capt. Frederick Stowe, son of author Harriet Beecher Stowe, was treated at Spangler Farm and survived his wounds. Gen. Armistead's body was exhumed from the Spangler Farm in August 1863 and reburied in Baltimore. "This is a wonderful addition to the Gettysburg National Military Park," said noted historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author James M. McPherson, who has visited the Spangler Farm. "It has given the park the opportunity to educate visitors about the treatment of Civil War wounded and other issues connected with Civil War medicine, which is a matter of great interest to many visitors, but is not often treated in detail at Civil War battlefield parks."

Text written by Paul Vigna and Ron Kirkwood with slight edits by Civil War Librarian

Text and Images Source:

Preservation WebsiteGettysburg Foundation, The George Spangler Farm Restoration

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

News---Great Locomotive Chase's Texas Removed From Atlanta Museum For Restoration Purposes

 Press Release:  Atlanta History Center Prepares for Historic Restoration and Move of Atlanta’s Cyclorama Civil War Painting and Texas Locomotive

"Another part of the collection to move to the History Center’s new Cyclorama annex is the Western & Atlantic Texas locomotive. Atlanta was founded as the terminus of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, and only two engines are left in existence from that line. The locomotive Texas is one of them, and remains the best historical example of a Western & Atlantic locomotive of the era, prompting the History Center to dedicate $500,000 to the conservation efforts for the Texas locomotive, which was donated to the City of Atlanta in 1908 and has been exhibited with The Battle of Atlanta painting since 1927.

“As railroads are Atlanta’s reason for being, this steam engine is an icon of Atlanta’s founding and growth as the Gate City of the South – the commercial center of the Southeast,” said Sheffield Hale. “The Texas locomotive symbolizes Atlanta’s longtime relationship with railroads and the city’s importance as a hub for people, commerce, and ideas. No artifact can be more important for telling the story of Atlanta’s beginnings than this Western & Atlantic locomotive.”

Text Source: Atlanta Center For History 

The Great Locomotive Chase or Andrews' Raid was a military raid that occurred April 12, 1862, in northern Georgia. Union Army volunteers led by civilian scout J. J. Andrews seized a locomotive and drove it northward toward Chattanooga while creating damage to the Western and Atlantic Railroad line between Atlanta and Chattanooga. Confederates pursued them and used the locomotive Texas in the chase. Andrews' raiders cut the telegraph wires; Confederates could not send warnings ahead to forces along Andrews' route.   Eventually captured the raiders and some were executed as spies.  Others had escaped.  The Medal of Honor was created to recognize the raiders efforts and sacrifices.   As a civilian, Andrews is not eligible for the medal.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

New and Noteworthy----Gallagher's and Waugh's An American War

 The American War: A History of the Civil War Era, Gary W. Gallagher and Joan Waugh, Flip Learning Publishing, 304 pp., hardcover, $29.95

"The authors have written a succinct yet detailed and eloquent history of the conflict that preserved and reshaped the nation in ways that continue to affect us today. Noteworthy features of The American War are the inclusion of Reconstruction as an integral part of the war, as indeed it was, and a final chapter on the conflicting memories of the war by those who experienced it as they attempted to give meaning to their experiences." -James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom, winner of the 1989 Pulitzer Prize

 "Staying on top of the past generation's scholarship on the Civil War would be a full time enterprise, and still any reader would inevitably fall behind. That makes all the more impressive the synthesis provided in Gallagher and Waugh's The American War. No other recent work has so mastered the content and contributions of the best historians of our time, and distilled it into a work that is at once comprehensive and yet manageable. In their graceful words, Gallagher and Waugh offer the full context of the war's coming, its course at home and in the field, and its consequences, both as it happened and as Americans chose to remember it. This is easily the best one-volume assessment of the Civil War era to date." -William C. Davis, author of Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee-The War They Fought, The Peace They Forged

 "It is hard to see how any one brief volume could better deal with this vast subject. Gallagher and Waugh know all there is to know about the Civil War and manage to convey that knowledge with balanced judgment, engaging quotations, up-to-date scholarship, and humane insight." -Edward Ayers, President Emeritus at the University of Virginia

"The authors manage to do justice to individual experiences and national goals in both the Union and the Confederacy, consider military strategies and battlefield tactics throughout the entire geographic landscape, and contemplate the war through the eyes of celebrated leaders, anonymous citizen soldiers, and a diversity of civilians - both white and black." -Matthew Gallman, author of Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front 

 The Authors:

Gary W. Gallagher is the John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War at the University of Virginia. The author or editor of numerous books, most recently The Union War (2011) and Becoming Confederates: Paths to a New National Loyalty (2013), he has also participated in more than three dozen television projects in the field, and is the recipient of the University of Virginia's highest teaching award.

Joan Waugh, professor of History at UCLA, has published numerous essays and books on Civil War topics, including her prize-winning U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth (2009). Waugh also has held fellowships from the Huntington Library, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Gilder Lehrman Institute and been honored with four teaching prizes, including UCLA's most prestigious teaching honor, the Distinguished Teaching Award.
CWL:  A college text book for under $30, 304 pages, and  a hardcover to boot. Might be a scholarly book market crossing over to the popular culture market.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

WVU marshals effort to restore Harpers Ferry after devastating fire, Bill Schackner, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 29, 2015

After a fire destroyed almost a third of its commercial district in July, this renowned Civil War town suddenly faced a nightmarish list of recovery tasks, among them deciding which landmark buildings could be saved.The crush of work, and the level of expertise it demanded, threatened to overwhelm a small group of officials who oversee the tiny river community of 286 people.“We were just not in a position to do all of this on our own,” Mayor Gregory Vaughn said.  As it turned out, they wouldn’t have to.  The cavalry was on its way.
Some 120 miles west in Morgantown, on the sprawling campus of West Virginia University, leaders already had begun marshaling resources from schools across campus for an extraordinary recovery assistance project — one in keeping with WVU’s outreach mission as a land grant university.
In the days that followed, WVU dispatched experts in structural engineering, law, writing and marketing. A representative of the university’s extension service split his work week between WVU and Harpers Ferry, so he could quickly pair the most urgent needs with university expertise.
Oh, and there’s the drone.

The unmanned, computer-guided aircraft and the aerial pictures it took are helping Charlie Yuill, an associate professor and chair of WVU’s landscape architecture program, write an intricate grant proposal so town officials can repair outdoor areas damaged by the fire — and while they’re at it — create a streetscape more in keeping with Harpers Ferry’s Civil War identity.

On a recent sun-splashed afternoon, he was the man in plaid shirt sleeves standing on High Street not far from the national park devoted to the town’s place in history, cradling a tripod with a laser surveying tool that can measure 100,000 points a second.  Across the street, a sign on a boarded up storefront with the words “We are strong! We are positive! We will survive!” was an obvious clue to visitors walking past of the destruction that had occurred a few months prior.

Over the years, Mr. Yuill and others at WVU have worked on scores of community outreach projects, often to improve life in struggling towns that never fully recovered after the mines shut or the steel mills closed. But this has been different, a chance to help a national symbol, a top tourist destination and a vital part of West Virginia’s economy quickly get back on its feet. “Outside of perhaps Boston and Philadelphia, this is one of the most historically significant places in the country,” said Mr. Yuill. “Opportunities like this don’t come along often.”

Said Chad Proudfoot, a program coordinator with WVU’s extension service: “Harpers Ferry is a national treasure.” Understanding why involves geography as well as history.  Harpers Ferry, a valley town just below the Blue Ridge Mountains, sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers and straddles the states of West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia. Hikers nearby on the Appalachian Trail and bikers emerging from the C & O Canal Towpath easily can feel they have slipped back in time as they enter Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and approach the brick and stone commercial fronts, some dating to the 1830s and 1840s.

The town was settled in 1732 by an individual who then sold his “squatters rights” to the town’s namesake, Robert Harper, according to a municipal history. A ferry he created in 1761 to cross the Potomac helped settlers move into the Shenandoah Valley and destinations to the west.
In 1859, an armory and arsenal built by the U.S. government saw an incident that contributed to the Civil War. Abolitionist John Brown led a raid on it hoping that weapons stolen would help incite a slave uprising, but he was captured and later hanged in a nearby town for treason.

During the war itself, Harpers Ferry suffered mightily. It was so coveted by the North and South armies that it changed hands in bloody fashion eight times between 1861 and 1865. Today, that legacy translates into 15,000 or so visitors a week, a total aided by a passenger rail line from Washington, D.C. In fact, one retail shop in October logged customers from all 50 states and 34 nations, some of whom had come for a taste of rural tranquility less than two hours by train from the nation’s capital.

But that peace was shattered at 3:18 a.m on July 23 as residents were rousted from sleep.
A fire that started in a wooden deck just down a hillside from High Street was spreading rapidly among four close-in buildings on that street and below on Potomac Street. Eventually, nine businesses were destroyed and a 10th was damaged. In an amateur video shot before firefighters arrived, a woman’s terrified screams are heard as residents look for people living above the storefronts.

Tammy Dubrueler was one of them. Asleep in an apartment upstairs from her High Street bakery and gift shop, she awoke to barking from her eight-pound cross-breed dog, a Morkie, and saw an orange glow outside her window.She grabbed her flip flops, a computer and a few other belongings and, with her boyfriend, fled down a flight of stairs.  “You could see the flames shooting up the side of the building,” she said. “We had maybe two or three minutes.”At about the same time, Billy Ray Dunn and his wife, Cindi, got a call from a retired firefighter in Winchester, Va., telling them the building housing their shop, The Vintage Lady, was ablaze.

“When we first came, we could see smoke coming out of the building and we were hoping that’s all it was, but a little later, you could see flames coming out the bui
lding,” he said. The couple, who since have reopened at a temporary location nearby, could only watch as their inventory burned. “We were just stunned,” he said. Martha Ehlman, whose store, Tenfold Fair Trade Collection, also has reopened nearby, had no idea how complete the destruction was when her husband first called in the morning to say the Potomac Street business had been affected. “I came with boots and jeans thinking an hour or two and [I’m] done,” she said. Instead, she remained until early evening.

In all, firefighters from three states and two dozen departments worked until late morning to put out the fire. Investigators later reported that money was missing from Private Quinn’s Pub, one of the businesses that burned, but the fire’s cause itself is undetermined, said George Harms, assistant West Virginia state fire marshal. Told by local elected officials about Harpers Ferry’s predicament, WVU president E. Gordon Gee said it struck him as an opportunity to put his university’s mission into action. “We can’t solve every problem in the state, nor should we, but we can give hope and capacity to communities to help themselves,” he said. “This is the university doing what it should be doing.”

Within a week, Mr. Gee, WVU extension service dean and director Steven Bonanno and a dozen other campus and elected officials were in town for a meeting. Over lunch, the president got right to the point: “Mayor, what do you need?” There were insurance concerns, legal questions and a mountain of clerical tasks to be done, but within all that, certain needs stood out. “The first thing that we were concerned about was people thinking that Harpers Ferry was totally destroyed,” the mayor said. “So the university brought in their journalism people and their marketing team and helped us market the fact that Harpers Ferry was not closed. That was a huge help.”

Given Harpers Ferry’s historic designation, officials had to know quickly which brick and stone buildings and their newer additions could be saved. Hota GangaRao and P.V. Vijay, two engineering experts from WVU’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, examined the structures and deemed older parts intact, a finding that allowed the mayor through the local Historic Landmarks Commission to mandate that historically significant portions not be razed.

Mr. GangaRao said the buildings survived in part because smaller rooms with less open space — typical of construction back then — helped contain the fire. The building’s plaster included not only cement and lime but another ingredient used at the time — horse hair. It minimized shrinkage cracks, he said. The timber, he added, was more mature and thus sturdier and the fired brick was superior, too.

During the summer and into the fall, the college of law at WVU offered advice on governmental affairs issues. And two weeks ago, the municipality, with guidance from WVU, won Home Rule status, meaning it can take steps to raise revenue for needs including a rainy-day fund should another disaster like the fire strike. Some say Harpers Ferry’s post-fire resilience is tied to its rich and varied history, conjuring images from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to the Niagara Movement at the roots of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or NAACP. The town, steeped in rail and river history too, is headquarters for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
“There is a real sort of get-up-and-do-it feeling here,” Mr. Proudfoot said.

When he gives speeches, the mayor is not shy about expressing gratitude to the research university that swooped in to help. Some locals, even if they know little about WVU’s presence, have been impacted by the result. Mr. Dunn is heartened to know his shop’s original location appears to have survived the fire. After all, he said, “it survived the Civil War.”

Bill Schackner:, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG.

Text and Image Source:  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Vermont Family's Civil War: Divided By Place and Time

H.T. Cushman: Civil War Soldier, Inventor, and Manufacturer, Susan and David Bonser, Create Space Publishing, 112 pp., profusely illustrated. $12.95.

The H.T. Cushman Manufacturing Company factory was a fixture in North Bennington, Vermont from 1892 until its purchase by Green Mountain Furniture in 1971. Cushman's "colonial creations" were popular throughout the nation and were designed and constructed in North Bennington.  The company's founder, Henry Theodore Cushman, commenced manufacturing in North Bennington shortly after the Civil War. His first products were corks and erasers, but the focus became furniture by the 1890s. Cushman  catalogs are full of coat stands, umbrella racks, smokers'  and music stands. 

H.T. Cushman: Civil War Soldier, Inventor, and Manufacturer offers a discussion of the genealogy of the Cushman family from the Mayflower, through the Revolutionary War and Civil War generations. As the family grew, three sons moved to the South and became soldiers in Confederate armies. The portion of the family that stayed in Vermont entered Union armies.   John Halsey and Henry T. Cushman became Federal volunteers in Vermont regiments; both served as quartermasters  of the 4th Vermont Regiment.  John Halsey became quartermaster in 1861 and his brother entered the service as a quartermaster sergeant. When John Halsey resigned in 1863, Henry became the chief quartermaster of the regiment.

The Bonsers rely primarily on regimental records and letters home for their description of the work performed by the Cushman brothers. Investigations of missing invoices and supplies is a large portion of the brothers' work. The sending correspondence to Vermont newspapers relieve the brothers homesickness.  In addition, the arrival of maple sugar candy allays the tedium of there life in camp.H.T. Cushman: Civil War Soldier, Inventor, and Manufacturer details regarding the duties and camp life of regimental quartermasters, as well as the struggles and success of a Union veteran. The Bonser's work is a fine example of Vermont family history and their contributions to the Union cause. 

Text Sources: Cushman Furniture
Image Source: Sentinels in Stone

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Folklore, Social History and a Haunted Village---Civil War Ghosts of Sharpsburg, Maryland

Civil War Ghosts of Sharpsburg, Mark P. Brugh and Julia Stinson Brugh, History Press, 2015, 130pp, 40 b/w photographs, bibliography, index, $19.99.

Keep in mind that a Pennsylvania court decision states that in terms of copyright, ghost stories are folklore.  The authors of Civil War Ghosts of Sharpsburg seem to have this in mind when they state that "...  another perspective gathers in and attempts to understand that impact [on a community] by combining eyewitness accounts, personal experience and the logical consequences and resulting folklore." (p. 16)

Civil War Ghosts of Sharpsburg provides brief discussions of the historic architecture and ironwork of the village and sketches of the effects of battle upon the civilian population. Relying upon period press coverage of the desolation wrought by war, the authors offer concise descriptions of post-battle injuries, sickness and deaths among the civilian population.  Striking are the stories of hasty Confederate burials and later disruption of graves by dogs and hogs, farmers and weather. "Flooding from heavy rains and fast snow melts sometimes washed Confederate bones . . . [and] brought the bones directly to the town square, where they floated and bobbed in a slow-draining temporary pond that would form." (p.40)

Among the 26 short chapters are 14 that contain ghost stories.  In the table of contents, the authors have placed an asterisk beside each of those 14 chapters. The other chapters focus upon men, women and children who lived through the battle and left a record of their memories, a few of which supply background information regarding a ghost story in another chapter.

The bibliography offers an indication of the authors' diligence in research: a booklet published in 1868 regarding Confederate burial places, Kathleen Ernst's very fine Too  Afraid To Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign and Wilmer Mumma's essay The Aftermath among others. Items which would have enhanced Civil War Ghosts of Sharpsburg are a map of the village with the locations of those houses and farms and a map of the battlefield with those nearby villages mentioned in the text. Additionally, a brief history of the founding and the growth of the village  would have benefited the work. Overall, the authors have set the folklore of hauntings with the context of a major historical event.