Saturday, December 21, 2019

Top 2019 posts: Skulls at Chickamauga to graves at Antietam

Confederates advance through the woods at Chickamauga. (Alfred Waud | Library of Congress)
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Three of my top-10 most popular blog posts in 2019 are about long-ago battlefield visits by a Philadelphia reporter named George Morgan.  Two are about one of the saddest places on Earth: Andersonville. In 2019, we surpassed 3.1 million page views all time on the blog and topped 7,100 followers on my Civil War Facebook page. Thanks for being part of our community.

1. Skulls, scarred trees: A reporter's 1882 visit to Chickamauga

"I saw a skull as yellow as the stones around ...," George Morgan wrote in a lengthy story about his visit to the battlefield in northwestern Georgia in the summer of 1882. "The round thing of bone, with unsightly sockets and the pitiful seeming of poor Yorick's skull, lay in a sort of hollow, with the green leaves of plantain for a pillow." Read more.

2. Bones, rusty gun barrels: 1881 tour of Seven Days battlefields

"He felt his spade grate against something hard and a moment later he cast up a skull. With more of a twitching of his fingers than Hamlet's first grave-digger felt, Swiffer stooped, scratched away the sand and disclosed a complete skeleton, which, from bits of blue and brass buttons about it, was pronounced to be that of a Federal soldier." Read more.

3. 'Find of a lifetime' at vanishing Stones River (Tenn.) battlefield

Sweating profusely in the early evening heat, Stan Hutson swung his Fisher F75 metal detector back and forth across the barren landscape. He had arrived at the construction site in Murfreesboro, Tenn. --- scene of opening action of the 1862 Battle of Stones River -- at 5 p.m., but in 90 minutes' hunting his finds included just two round balls, a 58-caliber Minie and camp lead. At about 6:30 p.m., Hutson heard a promising signal in his metal detector headphones. "I knew it was something good," he said." Read more.

4. 'Hidden' details in 1865 Bull Run monument dedication photos

The day was well documented photographically. At the Henry House Hill monument dedication, a photographer shot a series of images. At first glance, his two uncropped, glass-plate photographs in this post seem unremarkable. When we zoom in, however, fascinating details emerge. Arms folded almost defiantly, a soldier stands atop the mound of dirt next to a monument. Next to him is an imposing artillery shell. Read more.

5. Last days of Richard Ewell, who sparked Gettysburg furor

In the final days of his life, Richard Stoddert Ewell sensed something was terribly wrong. A "pall had fallen upon" his farmhouse in Spring Hill, Tenn., and "a feeling of depression ... was visible on every countenance." For nearly two weeks, his wife of nearly eight years took care of the former Confederate lieutenant general as he battled typhoid fever. But now she was nowhere to be found. Read more.

6. Now & Then: In their own words, POWs on Andersonville 'hell'

"... there never was such misery known since the world stood as there is on the streets in this den of Hell. There is no tounge or Pen that can discribe the situation of the sick Wounded & Rotten men in hear. God help the Prisoner for their life is a horable one especially those confined in hear" Read more.

7. In 10 images: A walk in Andersonville National Cemetery

At Andersonville National Cemetery, the rows of pearl-white tombstones are mind-numbing, almost impossible to process in just one visit. Nearly 13,000 Union soldiers who died at the prison camp a quarter-mile away rest in the red Georgia clay. Under a leaden sky, we examined the names on scores on the gravestones in the well-kept cemetery. The unknowns drew special attention. Read more.

8. In 15 images: A ballgame on hallowed ground at Shiloh

On a spring day in 1862, soldiers in opposing armies aimed to kill each other in farmer Joseph Duncan's field at Shiloh. On a Saturday in April, the 157th anniversary of the first day of the battle in southwestern Tennessee, opposing forces merely wanted to outscore each other on the same turf. At the invitation of the National Park Service, teams in the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball played two games on the hallowed ground. Gods of sport smiled. Read more.

9.'Afraid of soldiers' ghosts?': A reporter's 1882 visit to Resaca

"In this way Guide Brown showed me the whole line of defense until we came to the thick timber on the western bank of the Conasauga, where the works end. Having seen this line and having visited several points occupied by the Union troops, we found ourselves almost at the end of our Resaca rope. A ruined house or so, with chimneys standing in the midst of rank weeds, particularly fine patches of Egyptian clover, to which now clung romantic interest, and a few forgotten graves in the woods ..." Read more.

10. Letter from Sharpsburg: 'Autumn sun kisses ... soldier-graves'

"In the orchard, back from the stream, I saw seventeen graves in a row, each with its little pine board, with names or initials, “Sept. 17,” etc, etc. How many tearful eyes, in far distant homes, have looked in imagination to those graves beneath the old apple trees! The rabbit skips around them, the quail pipes his melancholy notes from the fence side, and the Autumn sun kisses those soldier-graves, day after day, and yet no kindred sheds a tear upon them. Alas! the poor soldier." Read more.

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