Wednesday, October 03, 2018

2011: Body Found in an Iron Coffin During NYC Excavation Held African American Female Buried During 1851 now has Digitally Reconstruction of Face

Image result for A PBS documentary reveals the identity -- and an artist's digitally created image -- or the woman whose well-preserved body was found in a metal coffin in Queens seven years agoOn the afternoon of Oct. 4, 2011, a backhoe dug into an excavation pit in Elmhurst, Queens, and struck iron. Construction workers assumed they had hit a pipe. But when the claws of the backhoe emerged from the ground, it was dragging a body clothed in a white gown and knee-high socks.

Scott Warnasch, then a New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner forensic archaeologist, initially viewed the finding as a recent homicide. “It was recorded as a crime scene,” Warnasch, 52, told The Post. “A buried body on an abandoned lot sounds pretty straightforward.”
It turned out to be anything but. The almost perfectly preserved body was actually that of a woman born decades before the Civil War. She had been buried in what was once the grounds of a church founded in 1830 by the first generation of free African-Americans. Now a new documentary, “The Woman in the Iron Coffin,” premiering Wednesday on PBS, provides the woman’s identity.
The Post can reveal that researchers believe her to be Martha Peterson, who worked for a local white man with abolitionist leanings.

The first clue was discovered by Warnasch at the site. “I came across metal fragments that are pretty distinctive,” said Warnasch, now a forensic consultant. “Right away, I knew what they were.”
In fact, there were some 50 or 60 pieces of iron that had been smashed by the backhoe. As Warnasch explains in the documentary, they were from an airtight Fisk iron coffin, made by the now-defunct New York company Fisk & Raymond. A 19th-century phenomenon, it allowed corpses to be sanitarily transported via trains and ships.

A testament to the coffins’ effectiveness, Peterson’s skin was intact to the point that she appeared to have been deceased for only a week. Warnasch noted that “smallpox lesions covered her body.” Initially he was concerned by this: “The body was so well preserved that I would not have been shocked if the smallpox virus had survived.”

Image result for A PBS documentary reveals the identity -- and an artist's digitally created image -- or the woman whose well-preserved body was found in a metal coffin in Queens seven years agoResearchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the smallpox had degraded to a nonthreatening level. An autopsy revealed that the disease had infected Peterson’s brain and most likely killed her.

A geochemist pulled chemicals from the woman’s teeth that revealed she had lived for years in the Northeast; data collected from hair confirmed a balanced diet. Investigating bone structure, Warnasch put her age between 25 and 35.   He then went to work on figuring out exactly who she was.
Elmhurst used to be known as Newtown. By the 1850s it was home to a community of free and freed blacks. Assuming that the woman was local to the area, Warnasch turned to an 1850 census report.
“It was the first to list everyone in the population by name, age, sex and race,” he said. “Only 33 individuals fit her criteria.”

One stood out: Martha Peterson. “She would have been 26 in 1850, probably died around 1851 and lived in the household of William Raymond, a partner in the iron-coffin maker Fisk & Raymond,” said Warnasch, adding that its caskets were made between 1848 and 1854. Peterson may even have relatives living in New York City right now, but Warnasch has investigated only a couple of generations beyond her own.

Based partly on the curve of her spine, he believes that she worked for Raymond as a domestic. “She was buried in one of his coffins” — more specifically, one with an upside-down patent mark that probably made it unsellable.

“Finding out who she was, I got goose bumps,” Warnasch recalled. “But Martha’s skull and face [on the left side] had been so damaged by the backhoe that I did not know what she looked like.”
He contacted Joe Mullins, a forensic-imaging specialist who often works with the FBI — creating age-progression renderings that update the photographic images of missing children and fugitives.
Following a CT scan from Peterson’s autopsy, Mullins focused on the right side of Peterson’s skull and face, which were largely intact. “The skull tells where the eyes are. The width of the nose comes from the shape of the nasal aperture; lip thickness is based on teeth enamel,” he said. “I used the skull to tell me the height and angle of her ears.”

With nothing to go on but Peterson’s race, Mullins imparted her with brown eyes and a medium dark skin tone. “I saw this woman come to life on the screen,” he said. “Putting a face to history is remarkable.”

Congregants at the nearby African Methodist Episcopal Church gave Martha a proper burial in 2011. As seen in the show, women from the church scrutinized the photo-realist illustration and instantly related. One excitedly said, “She looks like family.”

Full Text Link: Fox News

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

New and Noteworthy: Death, Disease and Life at War--Letters of a Civil War Surgeon

Death, Disease, and Life at War: The civil War Letters of Surgeon James  D.  Benton, 111th and 98th New York Infantry Regiments, 1862-1865, Christopher E. Loperfido, Savas Beatie Publishing, 2018, 170 pp., 26 images, four appendices, list of works consulted, index. $16.95

Christopher Loperfido offers the letters of James D. Benton as both a scholarly resource for educators and enlightening story for general readers of Civil War history. There are 42 letters spanning August 1862 through the post war era.

Among the several strengths of Loperfido's work are the introduction to each letter which includes a summation of the 98th and1 New York Regiment's history and combat experience, marches, winter encampments. Intriguing is the regiments' capture while at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1862, the branding of  them as the 'Harpers Ferry Cowards', and their interment at Camp Douglas while waiting parole.

Located at the bottom of the pages, Loperfido's notes are clear, concise and very helpful regarding, geography, diseases, medicines, and biography. Benton's presence in the Chancellorsville and Gettysburg campaigns is detailed in five letters which are enhanced by Loperfido's own experience and knowledge as a National Park Ranger at Gettysburg.

During the late autumn of 1863 Benton enters, as a patient,  the Seminary Hospital located in Georgetown, District of Columbia. His chronicling of his symptoms, diagnosis and remedies is insightful. He also at times discusses his pay, and his accompanying the paymaster on several occasions. His reflections on the temperaments of the Army of the Potomac, news reports of Grant and Sherman east of the Appalachians, and the  politics of the 1864 presidential election and the nominating conventions of both the Democratic and Republican parties is both informative and frank.

Loperfido places these letters in their proper context and needed transitions between each of them. He also describes Benton's life after the war; The four appendices review the work of Jonathan Letterman, director of the Army of the Potomac's medical division, the development of the Ambulance Corp, the use of amputations and dressings and the work of the U.S. Sanitary Commission.  Loperfido's work is accessible to those in high school and those readers who specialize in American Civil War medicine.


Monday, July 23, 2018

New and Noteworthy: Challenges of Command in the Civil War

 Harry Smeltzer, on the Bull Runnings weblog: 

"New from Savas Beatie is Dr. Richard J. Sommers’s challenges of Command in the Civil War: Generalship, Leadership, and Strategy at Gettysburg, Petersburg and Beyond, Volume One of the series Generals and Leadership.  

This is the first of two volumes, focusing on the actors and their performance. Volume II will look at Civil War Strategy, Operations, and Organization.
 
Five chapters of the ten in this volume focus on Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee throughout the war. The next five chapters examine: Union civilian corps commanders; Federal wing and corps commanders in the 1862 Maryland campaign; Federal wing and corps commanders in the Gettysburg campaign; senior Federal commanders in the fifth offensive at Petersburg; and Revolutionary War relatives of significant Civil War soldiers and politicians.

In addition to these ten chapters in 232 pages, you get:
  • An epilogue.
  • A 12 page bibliography
  • Bottom of page footnotes
  • Five tables and charts
  • Seven maps
  • 80 photographs
Dr. Sommers is a name with which all students of the American Civil War is familiar. You’ve seen his name in the acknowledgements of countless books, as he was for more than four decades associated with the Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC) in Carlisle, Pa. He has authored dozens of articles, chapters, entries, and reviews, as well as the epic Richmond Redeemed which has been recently updated and published by Savas Beatie Publishing.  

Slight edits were made in this post of the original text source 

Text source:  https://bullrunnings.wordpress.com/2018/07/01/preview-sommers-challenges-of-command-in-the-civil-war/

Friday, June 22, 2018

Forthcoming Non Fiction: Robert E. Lee Indicted For a Variety of Sins During June 1865 by the Citizens of Norfolk, Virginia


The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee: The Forgotten Case against an American Icon, John Reeves, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 270 pages, $27.00, Publication Date: July 15, 2018.

From the Publisher:  History has been kind to Robert E. Lee. Woodrow Wilson believed General Lee was a “model to men who would be morally great.” Douglas Southall Freeman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his four-volume biography of Lee, described his subject as “one of a small company of great men in whom there is no inconsistency to be explained, no enigma to be solved.” Winston Churchill called him “one of the noblest Americans who ever lived.” Until recently, there was even a stained glass window devoted to Lee's life at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Immediately after the Civil War, however, many northerners believed Lee should be hanged for treason and war crimes. Americans will be surprised to learn that in June of 1865 Robert E. Lee was indicted for treason by a Norfolk, Virginia grand jury. In his instructions to the grand jury, Judge John C. Underwood described treason as “wholesale murder,” and declared that the instigators of the rebellion had “hands dripping with the blood of slaughtered innocents.” In early 1866, Lee decided against visiting friends while in Washington, D.C. for a congressional hearing, because he was conscious of being perceived as a “monster” by citizens of the nation’s capital. Yet somehow, roughly fifty years after his trip to Washington, Lee had been transformed into a venerable American hero, who was highly regarded by southerners and northerners alike. Almost a century after Appomattox, Dwight D. Eisenhower had Lee’s portrait on the wall of his White House office.The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee tells the story of the forgotten legal and moral case that was made against the Confederate general after the Civil War. The actual indictment went missing for 72 years. Over the past 150 years, the indictment against Lee after the war has both literally and figuratively disappeared from our national consciousness. In this book, Civil War historian John Reeves illuminates the incredible turnaround in attitudes towards the defeated general by examining the evolving case against him from 1865 to 1870 and beyond.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Manassas Amputation Pit Discovery: More News, Enfield Bullets Key to Dating

Image result for washington post manassas amputation



The Washington Post reports . . .


The park service says it’s the first time that a surgeon’s pit at a Civil War battlefield has been excavated and studied. The complete remains of two soldiers were found in the pit, along with 11 partial limbs.  Researchers believe the bodies were those of Union soldiers who died in the Second Battle of Bull Run, also known as the Second Battle of Manassas. The battle was fought in August 1862. 

Researchers are confident the remains belong to Union soldiers because buttons from a Union jacket were found in the pit. In addition, one of the soldiers had an Enfield bullet lodged in his thigh bone — those bullets were used almost exclusively by Confederate soldiers.

The Enfield bullets also provide a key clue that the pit is from the second Bull Run battle, not the first. Those bullets were not yet in use during the first Bull Run battle, which was the first major battle of the war. The location of the pit also fits with the battle lines from the second battle.


Washington Post Text Source: Washington Post 

The two soldiers — referred to as Burial 1, with the embedded bullet, and Burial 2 — were placed side by side in the pit. The severed limbs were carefully arranged next to them, like broken tree branches, according to a photograph from the dig. Burial 1 probably went in first, because Burial 2 was partially on top of him.

The hole was about a foot deep, and over the years farm plows had carried off the skull of one man and part of the skull of the other.  Anthropologists from the Smithsonian Institution have studied the injuries suffered by the two soldiers and examined the cut marks on the severed limbs made by the surgeons’ saws. There were nine severed legs and two arms in all.

Washington Post Text Source:  Washington Post 

 

News--Second Manassas Battlefield Field Hospital's Amputation Site Discovery

Second Manassas Battlefield Field Hospital's Amputation Site: Discovery, Excavation, Evaluation, Identification, Reburial

Archeologists crouch over a bone embedded in the dirtIn August 1862, two Union soldiers were gravely wounded at the Battled of Second Manassas. They were brought to a field hospital, though both died as a result of their injuries. Their bodies were laid to rest in a shallow burial pit, intermixed with amputated limbs from other soldiers wounded in the battle. Then they were lost to history. The National Park Service (NPS) first encountered the remains during a utility project in 2014. With help from the Smithsonian Institution the NPS was able to identify the remains as Union soldiers, and worked with the Army to give these soldiers an honorable final resting place.

In 2014, Manassas National Battlefield Park was working on a utility project. Although previous archeological testing of the area did not identify any significant finds, during the utility installation several small fragments of bone were unearthed and collected by the archeologist assigned to monitor the work.

At first, no one knew exactly what, or when, the bone fragments were from. To find out, the NPS sent the fragments to the the forensic anthropology lab at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. Researchers there determined that the fragments were human, and that they dated to the Civil War. What's more, a piece of femur bone they were able to piece together had been sawed off, consistent with an amputation. All that information led to the conclusion that further excavation was needed. It was possible that something incredibly rare was on the site, and this was an invaluable opportunity to study and preserve the findings.
 
In 2015, archeologists from the NPS and the Smithsonian Institution removed the earth in a grid pattern, inch by inch, layer by layer. Using scientific techniques and measurements from a variety of tools, they carefully recorded the objects they found and their precise positions. Understanding the exact positions of bones in the ground helps scientists understand how the remains were placed and whether damage to bones happened before or after the person died.
A female scientist and male park ranger examine a bone in a laboratory
Beneath the surface, they found two nearly-complete human skeletons, and several artifacts including buttons from a Union sack coat, a .577 Enfield bullet, three pieces of .31 caliber lead buckshot, and an assemblage of eleven arms and legs. The discovery was something incredibly rare: a battlefield surgeon's burial pit. In fact, this was the first time such a burial pit had ever been excavated and studied at a Civil War battlefield.   To learn more about who these bones belonged to, the NPS again turned to the lab at the Smithsonian to investigate.
 
A sawed bone shows the lines left by the surgeon's saw on its end
Manassas National Battlefield Park Superintendent Brandon Bies inspects a bone fragment with Smithsonian scientist Kari Bruwelheide, 2018. Bies is a trained archeologist and participated in the excavation at Manassas.
NPS / Nathan King

Forensic anthropologists from the Smithsonian helped the NPS remove the bones from the site and moved them to a laboratory at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History for further study.  By analyzing the chemistry of the bones, researchers determined where the soldiers were from. Carbon isotopes and oxygen isotopes indicated they ate food and drank water from northern latitudes. Combined with the artifacts including sack coat buttons found with them, they were identified as Union soldiers.

By analyzing the teeth, joints, and bone structure of the two skeletons, scientists determined the first was a man in his late 20's who died as a result of injuries from an Enfield bullet striking his upper leg. Surprisingly, the bullet was still lodged in the femur bone, likely because it slowed as it passed through the man's cartridge box.
 
This detail photo shows the marks left by a surgeon's bone saw when the limb was amputated.
Smithsonian Institution / Kate D. Sherwood
The second skeleton, estimated to be a man 30-34 years old, died as a result of a buck and ball shot to the upper arm, pelvis, and leg.  Both men were taken to the field hospital, but appear to have died without being operated on. Their injuries were too severe.

Research on the eleven limbs recovered from the surgeon's burial pit continues. By examining the cuts, it is possible to determine the skill of the surgeon and even his physical position relative to the patient. With help from historical records, researchers believe it may be possible to match the bones with a specific surgeon and maybe even the soldier they belonged to, a truly unique discovery.
 
Army honor guard carries flag-draped boxes out of the Manassas Battlefield visitor center
The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, "The Old Guard," carries the remains of the two soldiers out of the Manassas National Battlefield Park visitor center. The remains will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
NPS / Bryan Gorsira

After the remains were identified as soldiers, the Army expressed interest in giving the men a permanent resting place at Arlington National Cemetery.  On June 19, 2018, the NPS transferred the remains of the two soldiers to the Army. The Army will inter the remains at Arlington National Cemetery in two caskets made by park rangers from a fallen tree on the battlefield.

The Union soldiers engaged in the Second Battle of Manassas showed tremendous valor. On August 30, 1862, the day these soldiers were likely wounded, Federal troops were ordered to cross an open field, assailed by crushing artillery fire and withering infantry fire from an elevated, entrenched Confederate position. Like many others that day, these soldiers gave the last full measure doing their duty.

Discovering these soldiers' remains led to valuable research that has helped us better understand what happened during the Second Battle of Manassas and of Civil War medicine. Being laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery will honor their memory and the sacrifice of so many service members throughout our nation's history.

Full Text Source: Manassas Battlefield Field Hospital Amputation Site

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

New and Noteworthy: The War Beyond My Window


The War Outside  My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865 Edited by Janet Elizabeth Croon, Savas Beatue Publishing, 480 pp, maps, images, medical forward, Dramatis Personae, $34.95

Residing in a family that owned two rural Georgia plantations but residing in Macon, Georgia, LeRoy W. Gresham, has left a remarkable document that reveals much about the daily life of a slave holding family.  Gresham is a resilient young adult who grievously suffers from known and unknown health conditions. While viewing a house that had recently burned down, a chimney collapsed and struck his leg. In his future are not canes, crutches or wheelchairs. He must be pulled around in a cart by his brother, cousins or a slave. Unknown to his doctor or his parents is that tuberculosis has entered his body and he is slowly degenerating.  He dies in 1865 at the age of 18.

The American Civil War is indeed outside of his window. In 1860 he gathers premonitions of the coming storm when he travels on a ship from Savannah to Philadelphia and New York City for the purpose of being examined by medical specialists. He notes the present of Japanese visitors walking the streets of Philadelphia. Back home, he views it by reading newspapers, conversing with relatives and visiting the troop trains that pass through Macon. Sherman’s march misses Macon but the refugees from the march don’t. 

If you are an environment historian, you should read the diary for the droughts and floods that interrupt the agriculture practices of the plantations and the fluctuating prices of food. If you are a social historian, you should read this for his description of his family’s extended relative connections, his education, the family’s parlor games and the diets of a plantation household that live in a city. If you are drawn to communications and journalism, you will find how fast news and newspapers travel between the United States and the Confederate States. He has his favorite Northern and Southern newspapers and he comes to an understanding of ‘fake news’ and how and why it exists.  If you are a medical historian, you will discover how doctors understand and treat Gresham’s coughs, back pains, headaches, nerve damage to his leg and hips.  Readers will come to learn that a belladonna plaster on the spine really, really itches. 

In Gresham’s diary there are fires which destroy homes; eleven homes and farm buildings are destroyed by fire during 1860-1861. Readers might ponder whether these fires occur when a fire place ember pops and lands on carpets and quilts or whether some slaves became arsonists. Funerals are a regular occurrence. Elders and infants die; adults get very sick very quickly and die.
Gresham is never not reading two or three books at the same time.  The works of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, James Fennimore Cooper, William Prescott [the historian] are each on his bookshelves which hold history, travel or fiction books.  If relatives come to visit him, they usually bring a book or newspapers and then take some time to play chess with him.  Also on his book shelf are manuals of chess openings used by the experts.   He does have opinions about the New York City and Philadelphia newspaper editors.

When Gresham is outside he travels to the train station to talk to the troops or ventures to a target range where he practices his archery and rifle skills. With help he flies a kite. At night he studies the constellations.  During the daytime he works on math problems, Latin and essays. 

The annotated notes by Janet Elizabeth Coon are clear, concise and insightful. There are maps, sample pages of the diary, and a list of those relatives, neighbors and slaves mentioned in the diary. What readers will not find in the book is ‘presentism’ inserted by the author.  Race, gender, class issues are not offered in the context of today’s social and political environment. They are not absent from the diary though.  You may read the diary and find out what women do, slaves do, capitalists do as viewed through the eyes of a young adult male. 

There are between twelve and fifteen book awards related to the American Civil War. The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865 will likely be nominated several times as a ‘book of the year’.  Other diaries of this caliber are by Mary Boykin Chesnut, Sarah Morgan, Sam Watkins and the Cormany Diaries.




Thursday, May 24, 2018

New and Noteworthy: Maine Roads To Gettysburg

 Maine Roads to Gettysburg: How Joshua Chamberlain, Oliver Howard, and 4,000 Men from the Pine Tree State Helped Win the Civil War's Bloodiest Battle, Tom Huntington, Stackpole Press, 432 pages, 2018, $32.95
From the Publisher:  Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his 20th Maine regiment made a legendary stand on Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. But Maine's role in the battle includes much more than that. Soldiers from the Pine Tree State contributed mightily during the three days of fighting. 
Pious general Oliver Otis Howard secured the high ground of Cemetery Ridge for the Union on the first day. Adelbert Ames--the stern taskmaster who had transformed the 20th Maine into a fighting regiment--commanded a brigade and then a division at Gettysburg. 
The 17th Maine fought ably in the confused and bloody action in the Wheatfield; a sea captain turned artilleryman named Freeman McGilvery cobbled together a defensive line that proved decisive on July 2; and the 19th Maine helped stop Pickett's Charge during the battle's climax.
  
Maine soldiers had fought and died for two bloody years even before they reached Gettysburg. They had fallen on battlefields in Virginia and Maryland. They had died in front of Richmond, in the Shenandoah Valley, on the bloody fields of Antietam, in the Slaughter Pen at Fredericksburg, and in the tangled Wilderness around Chancellorsville. And the survivors kept fighting, even as they followed Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania.  Maine Roads to Gettysburg tells their stories.

Tom Huntington is the author of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg, as well as Guide to Gettysburg Battlefield Monuments, Pennsylvania Civil War Trails, and Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia. He is also the former editor of American History and Historic Traveler magazines, and his writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Air & Space, American Heritage, British Heritage, and Yankee. He was born and bred in Augusta, Maine, but now lives in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, not far from Gettysburg.