Monday, November 12, 2018

Antietam souvenir hunt: What two veterans snatched in 1889

At a reunion of 16th Connecticut veterans at Antietam in 1889, Alonzo Case took this piece from the
"stone wall where the 16th Conn. received their terrible fire." (Simsbury Historical Society collection)
Alonzo Case also took this piece of stone from the Dunker Church on the Antietam battlefield
at the 1889 reunion of 16th Connecticut veterans. (Simsbury, Conn., Historical Society collection)
A Page 1 story in the Hartford Courant on Sept. 27, 1889, detailed Julian Pomeroy's souvenir hunt. 
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Years after the Civil War, veterans returned to battlefields for reunions or monument dedications, events that allowed them to relive memories and to renew acquaintances with old comrades. Many also returned to the battlegrounds for another reason: to snatch a war souvenir.

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At a veterans' gathering at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1889, Alonzo Case took a small piece from a stone wall in the 40-Acre Cornfield where, according to a period tag on the relic, "the 16th Conn received their terrible fire." On the northern end of the battlefield, "within a few rods where Gen. [Joseph] Mansfield fell," Case snatched a stone from the famous Dunker Church. (Perhaps Dunker Church souvenir-seekers' efforts led to the structure's collapse in a wind storm in 1921.) Case was a officer in 16th Connecticut. His brother, Oliver, a private in the 8th Connecticut, was killed at Antietam.

Not to be outdone, 16th Connecticut veteran Julian Pomeroy also found time to collect a souvenir at the same veterans' gathering. Twenty-seven years earlier, the 16th Connecticut was routed in the 40-Acre Cornfield. To shield himself from Confederate fire that afternoon, Captain Pomeroy briefly rested behind a large tree, "about half the size of his body."

It may have saved his life.

During his 1889 battlefield visit, Pomeroy claimed he found the same tree he hid behind on Sept. 17, 1862. He removed "the bullet that tried to kill him" from it, and, according to a newspaper account, returned to New England with it.

Believe it or not.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2018

'Tears and love for the Gray': Walk among Franklin unknowns

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Cloaked in fall colors (and in sadness), the headstones and monuments at McGavock Confederate Cemetery in Franklin, Tenn., draw visitors near, holding them tight. The remains of a 16-year-old boy-soldier, killed in battle here nearly 154 years ago, rest under the shade of a massive tree. We know his story. The markers with the most power are inscribed "Unknown." They lure us in, never letting go.

The Blue And The Gray (Francis Miles Finch, 1827-1907)

By the flow of the inland river,
Whence the fleets of iron have fled,
Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver,
Asleep are the ranks of the dead:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Under the one, the Blue,
Under the other, the Gray

These in the robings of glory,
Those in the gloom of defeat,
All with the battle-blood gory,
In the dusk of eternity meet:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgement-day
Under the laurel, the Blue,
Under the willow, the Gray

From the silence of sorrowful hours
The desolate mourners go,
Lovingly laden with flowers
Alike for the friend and the foe;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgement-day;
Under the roses, the Blue,
Under the lilies, the Gray

So with an equal splendor,
The morning sun-rays fall,
With a touch impartially tender,
On the blossoms blooming for all:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Broidered with gold, the Blue,
Mellowed with gold, the Gray

So, when the summer calleth,
On forest and field of grain,
With an equal murmur falleth
The cooling drip of the rain:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment -day,
Wet with the rain, the Blue
Wet with the rain, the Gray

Sadly, but not with upbraiding,
The generous deed was done,
In the storm of the years that are fading
No braver battle was won:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Under the blossoms, the Blue,
Under the garlands, the Gray

No more shall the war cry sever,
Or the winding rivers be red;
They banish our anger forever
When they laurel the graves of our dead!
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day,
Love and tears for the Blue,
Tears and love for the Gray

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Thursday, November 01, 2018

A walk in Antietam's 40-Acre Cornfield, where stories linger

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Under a blue sky and billowy gray and white clouds, a lone Antietam battlefield visitor walks to the crest of the hill, stands for a minute next to a tall, granite monument and stares into a rolling field. A fall chill invigorates in the 40-Acre Cornfield this morning. In the distance, silent sentinels stand guard while a large bird circles... circles ... circles until it finally drifts away. Few visit this ground on the battlefield's southern end, a pity because stories linger here like mist over nearby Antietam Creek.

Mortally wounded Newton Manross, a captain in the 16th Connecticut, was found in this field, his chest and shoulder carved open by artillery on Sept. 17, 1862.

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Seriously wounded Private Henry Adams, Manross' comrade, lay in this field for more than 40 hours before he was discovered. "Why did I not die?" he wondered years later.

On a slope steps from the 16th Connecticut monument, Samuel Brown's body was discovered, riddled with bullets. The 16th Connecticut captain was a school teacher in civilian life.

Somewhere in this field, Bridgeman J. Hollister, a 16th Connecticut private, was shot through the throat as he helped carry a comrade away from hell. He died eight days later.

Visit this place for the gorgeous scenery and solitude. And visit it for the stories, too.
16th Connecticut monument in the 40-Acre Cornfield.

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Friday, October 26, 2018

10 Gettysburg cycling tips for adventurous learners

It's not hard to imagine what this ride up Devil's Den will teach you about the Battle of Gettysburg.
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For a  perspective you won't get from your car or by walking the ground, I highly recommend riding a bike through a Civil War battlefield park. At Antietam, I especially enjoy the rush I get zooming from the parking lot above Burnside Bridge down the steep park road and past the John Otto farmhouse. And there's nothing quite like a slow ride down Hagerstown Pike, or on historic Keedysville Road, outside the national park boundary.

"Your senses are bombarded" on a battlefield bike ride, writes Sue Thibodeau, an educator, technologist and "bicycling historian," whose book, Bicycling Gettysburg National Military Park, will be available in the spring. Here are Sue's 10 tips for riding through that fabulous national park:

By Sue Thibodeau

"There's no better way to tour Gettysburg National Military Park than on a bike!" I hear that a lot. For people who love outdoor, experiential learning, it's a no-brainer.

In the above photo, you can see Little Round Top on the right and the cannons of the 4th New York Independent Battery straight ahead. I am riding under the bough of an oak "witness tree," so-called because the tree is old enough to have "witnessed" the Battle of Gettysburg. On a bike, your senses are bombarded with picture-perfect scenery, smells of grass, sounds of chatter (and silence), and even the salty taste of sweat. For history buffs, the battlefield is an outdoor classroom that provides an exciting opportunity to learn -- on your timetable, your way. Like a kid.

I am grateful that John invited me to share with his blog's readers 10 tips for cycling the Gettysburg battlefield. My "10 tips" are simply 10 examples of learning by doing:

RIDE THROUGH ROSE WOODS: Rose Woods is an ideal cycling experience, partly because this area is not on the official National Park Service (NPS) auto tour. That means no busses and less cars. Find a good park map, because the ride through Rose Woods has lots of twists and turns, and at least one confusing intersection. Brace yourself for a hilly ride through a heavily wooded area lined with many regimental monuments. If you make it up the short but steep incline that ends at the 2nd Delaware Infantry Monument, you will enjoy a fast glide down to The Wheatfield.

View from Little Round Top, looking southwest.
For a historical introduction to the fighting here on July 2, 1863, I hope that you enjoy this video of a ride through Rose Woods. It's one of my first experiments using a GoPro video camera to record a ride along with historical commentary. (Yep, amateur).

TRY TO SPOT MONUMENT SYMBOLS ... And connect them to the Army of the Potomac's seven Union corps that fought at the Battle of Gettysburg:
--full moon (circle) = 1st Corps (Reynolds)
--trefoil (clover) = 2nd Corps (Hancock)
--diamond = 3rd Corps (Sickles)
--Maltese cross = 5th Corps (Sykes)
--simple cross = 6th corps (Sedgwick)
--crescent moon = 11th Corps (Howard)
--star = 12th corps (Slocum)

... But why?

2nd Delaware Infantry monument.
Because if you want to learn the battlefield military story, the monuments give helpful visual clues about what corps fought where. (Read about it here). For example, notice the clover on the top of the 2nd Delaware Infantry Monument in Rose Woods. (It's not a coincidence that this monument is on Brooke Avenue, a park road named for Union Col. John R. Brooke, the brigade commander for the 2nd Delaware regiment).

COLLECT "THEMED" PHOTOS ON YOUR RIDE: In other words, pick a topical area and then hunt for and photograph the monuments that fit that topic. Here are some examples (all of which are documented in my forthcoming book, Bicycling Gettysburg National Military Park, March 2019):
--State monuments (USA, CSA)
-- Equestrian monuments
-- Bronze statues of individuals
-- Corps Headquarters monuments

Then try to figure out the meaning behind each monument's placement and history. The George G. Meade (USA) and Robert E. Lee (CSA) Equestrian Monuments, for example, each face the other, just as their two armies squared off with each other on July 2-3, 1863, across a one-mile wide field.

Union Maj. Gen. George G. Meade Equestrian Monument, Cemetery Ridge.
Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee Equestrian Monument (on top of Virginia State Monument), Seminary Ridge.
FIND YOUR FAVORITE STATE MONUMENT (USA, CSA) ... And don't miss the ride down the entire length of West Confederate Avenue, because it's on that straight-away that you will find the North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, Texas, and Alabama state monuments -- in that order, from north to south. Union state monuments are on Cemetery Ridge and Cemetery and Culps hills.

WHERE DOES THAT CANNON POINT? The roughly 400 cannons at Gettysburg are positioned for historical accuracy. So, pick a cannon and peer down its barrel to where it points. In the next photograph, for example, you might want to research Confederate Brig. Gen. Ambrose R. Wright's (Georgia Brigade) attack through the Codori farm to Union positions protected by this rifled cannon on July 2, 1863.

Union cannon on Cemetery Ridge facing the Codori Barn and Seminary Ridge (in the distance).
CONNECT PHYSICAL AND NATURAL STRUCTURES TO BATTLEFIELD MAPS: If your maps identify Gettysburg barns, observation towers, ridges, roadways, and tall monuments, you can use these maps to get and stay oriented on the battlefield. That's no small feat on 6,000 acres of park land. (Click here for a "how to" example. Or, for a more interactive approach, click here.)

Looking west from the Copse of Trees on Cemetery Ridge. The Virginia State Monument 
is visible in the distance.
Looking east  from near the Virginia State Monument. 
RIDE DOWN CULP'S HILL: After a  one-mile climb to the top of Culp's Hill, who wouldn't enjoy "flying" down to Stevens' Knoll?  Here's a video clip of one ride down.

200-million-year-old dinosaur footprint
 on a stone bridge over Plum Run,
 South Confederate Avenue.
Before your trip, make a list of things that you want to find. Here are some examples to get your thinking juices flowing (you can enter GPS coordinates into the Google Maps search field):
--Witness Trees (click here for GPS coordinates for 17 trees)
--Monument sculptures that include dogs (39.84222, -77.24256; 39.79703, -77.24511)
--Dinosaur footprint (39.78479, -77.24475)

KNOW THE "SECRET" MEANING OF THE PARK ROADS: Did you know that most of Gettysburg's park roads are named after Union officers, and that the shape of these roads roughly matches the officers' most significant battle lines? Simply by reading park road signs, bicyclists can learn basic battlefield formations without the drudgery of rote memorization.

PARK YOUR BICYCLE AND VISIT SOLDIERS' NATIONAL CEMETERY: Read the Gettysburg Address on the bronze plaques of the Lincoln Address Memorial, visit the Honey Locust Witness Tree (39.81788,-77.23152), find the grave of Sgt. Amos Humiston (154th New York), or enjoy a quiet circular stroll among labeled species of native trees.

WRAP-UP: Over the decades, I have toured the battlefield many dozens of times -- on foot, by car, by bus -- and since 2012, by bicycle across all four seasons. I learn something new every time. I look forward to hearing about your learning adventures cycling Gettysburg National Military Park. Take a ride back in time ... on bike.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

'What are you thinking, Momma?': A goodbye to Peggy Banks

Peggy Banks, "movie star," as a teenager.
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When I found Mom at the assisted living center, she was sitting alone in a chair, staring straight ahead with those beautiful blue eyes. Gently stroking her thinning white hair, I hugged her frail body and kissed her on the cheek. An uneaten bowl of vegetable soup sat on the small wooden table in front of her. Unable to feed herself, I carefully fed her several spoonfuls of broth and dabbed her mouth with a cloth. Then I grasped Peggy Banks' wrinkled hand and whispered into her ear, “What are you thinking, Momma?”

Mom, brother David and a mischievous mini-me long ago.
She often said David resembled her.
A family member told me our ability to hear might be the last of the senses to go. I hope somehow Peggy processed what else I said to her: “We love you, Mom,” I repeated several times. “It's time for you to go see Dad.” She attempted to mouth some words in response, but nothing came out, and I just bawled. Our visit was the last time we spent together. The soul-crushing Alzheimer’s disease had accomplished its evil work.

Watching a loved one die is tough. Watching a loved one die from Alzheimer’s -- as Mom, 81, did at noon Wednesday -- is doubly awful because you lose them when their mind goes and again when they pass on. But while we grieve for Peggy, we have much to celebrate, just as we did two years ago when we lost Dad, “Big Johnny.” What tremendous lives they led. What great examples they were for their children, David, Mary Ann and me.

Mom and my sister, Mary Ann, in Glenside, Pa.
From Eastern European heritage, Mom disliked her given name, Olga. Kids in her grade school teased her about it, so she went by Peggy. One of six children from a family of modest means, she grew up in a skinny, three-story row house in a working-class neighborhood in Allentown, Pa. Her father, who died before we Banks kids were born, served in the U.S. Army during World War I and worked as a coal miner, among other jobs. Her mother, our “Grammy,” thankfully passed on to Mom the ability to cook Slovak food. The smell of halupkis often wafted through our kitchen, much to our delight.

Mom didn't have an opportunity to go to college, but she enjoyed telling us she skipped third grade because she was so smart. She also won a school contest for memorizing the Gettysburg Address. Perhaps Peggy passed along the "Civil War gene" to me.

Mom worked as a bank teller for a time, and had an innate ability to pick stocks. We had no clue until near the end of her life. She had a few idiosyncrasies, too. "Don't use so much hot water," she always told us before we showered in our bathroom with the funky blue-and-pink tiles.

Dad, Mom and our daughters, Meredith and Jessica, atop
 Mount Washington overlooking downtown Pittsburgh.
She never hesitated to tell us kids what we meant to her and "Big Johnny." "We're so proud of you," she often said.  (Damn, it's hard to even type that now.)

Mom was beloved by my pals in the Sunset Hills area of Mount Lebanon, Pa., who called her the “sweetest lady on Old Farm Road.” But this sweet, little lady once chased a teenager behind a toilet in the downstairs powder room in our house, smacking him with a broom. My punishment was well deserved. Years afterward, we often laughed about it.

Our friends often observed Peggy tooling around town in her blue Volkswagen Beetle with a sunroof. She didn't learn how to drive until she was in her late 20s. Rarely, if ever, did she top 35 mph, and she never drove on an interstate. At least we think she never did. How Dad had the patience to teach Mom to drive a stick remains one of the great mysteries of life.

When we kids married and had our own children, she and Dad made 321 Old Farm Road a welcoming home base for all of us. Oh how she loved her grandchildren, Evan, Ryan, Camille,Travis, Jessica and Meredith. “How are the girls?” she often inquired in a sing-song voice about our daughters. Those words will forever remain on the soundtrack in my mind.

The Banks family at 321 Old Farm Road, Mount Lebanon, Pa.
Here’s a story that makes my wife and me chuckle: During visits home, Peggy frequently made  little roast beef sandwiches, racing past Carol and my sister to the basement to deliver the feast to her first-born. She was the mustard master, placing just the right amount of the condiment on each sandwich for me. In fact, she always wanted to feed people. " (____________), you look hungry," she'd say. "Do you want a sandwich?" We must have heard that line thousands of times.

In the hospice room near Mom's bed, my sister hung our paternal grandmother's painting of a guardian angel. Neil Diamond songs played. She loved his singing. Mary Ann and David believe it brought her comfort. Thank you, Neil. Dressed in a beautiful purple top, Peggy fought until the end. "She had a strong heart," my sister said. We all knew that.

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And so life moves on without her here physically. God, we wonder sometimes why it must be so hard. Watching aged parents go can be agonizing. No playbook exists for The End.

Wherever your spirit soars now, Peggy Banks, know you’ll always be in our hearts. Tell Dad in heaven we said hello. We know he'd appreciate several of those little roast beef sandwiches now, too. We're so proud of both of you. Bravo for lives well lived.

Holding Peggy Banks' hand for the last time.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Monumental photography: Who stands watch at Antietam

On Rodman Avenue, the 50th Pennsylvania monument at sunrise.
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A spectacular sun, billowy clouds, a deep-blue sky -- all serve as exquisite backdrops for images of the silent sentinels at Antietam. On an early autumn morning or late afternoon, the old French impressionist painters would have appreciated this landscape. When the light is right and Mother Nature cooperates, no Civil War battlefield compares for photography.

130th Pennsylvania monument at Bloody Lane.
The soaring New Jersey State monument at the intersection of Hagerstown Pike and Cornfield Avenue.
The "Wounded Lion" atop the 15th Massachusetts monument in the West Woods.
At the 124th Pennsylvania monument, a backdrop Claude Monet would appreciate.
A figure of an eagle atop the 28th Ohio monument on Branch Avenue.
Ready for action: 128th Pennsylvania monument faces Confederate position.
The Bloody Cornfield serves as backdrop for this image of  the 128th Pennsylvania monument.
Another view of 128th Pennsylvania against a deep-blue sky.
The 130th Pennsylvania monument near the lip of Bloody Lane.
A setting sun illuminates the plaque of the 137th Pennsylvania monument on Cornfield Avenue.
 In the immediate background, the 128th Pennsylvania monument.

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Saturday, October 20, 2018

'Hidden' Gettysburg: Where Confederate soldier left his mark

In 2011, I shot this image of A.L. Coble's name and regiment carved into a Gettysburg boulder.

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Deftly avoiding dangerous plant life, I recently re-discovered the site near Spangler's Springs where A.L. Coble carved his name and regiment into a boulder. A 20-year-old private in the 1st North Carolina at Gettysburg, he probably did his handiwork during a veterans' gathering well after the battle. Spangler's Spring meadow once was a popular picnic ground.

Years ago, a local old-timer -- a volunteer battlefield guide -- showed me this spot, one of many on the field where soldiers left their mark. As he was walking through this area once, the guide told me he spied what he suspected were relic hunters. Instead it was a couple looking for the Coble carving. They said they were direct descendants of the North Carolina soldier, whose last name is pronounced COH-bull.

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Nashville street scene: The man in black in black and white


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Three blocks from the honky-tonks on Broadway, The Man In Black lives on on a Nashville street mural. In the glow of city lights, a man runs past the weather-worn work of art. Johnny cradles June. Cash scowls. Fans show some love. Listen carefully and you can still hear the train a comin'

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