Civil War, Gettysburg, John F. Kennedy, National Park Service, Presidents, Travel

Gettysburg’s Bill Frassanito: Father of “Then and Now.”

William A. Frassanito photo
Historian Bill Frassanito and Alan E. Hunter

Original publish date:  September 19, 2019

Over the past decade there has been a subtle yet perceptible shift in historical genre on the Internet (particularly on Facebook) known as the “Then and Now” movement. If you are a fan of historical photography, or of the time and space continuum theory, then no doubt you have noticed these images. They consist of a blended pair of photographs, usually landscapes or buildings, one old, one new, both morphed into a single image for comparison. They are eerie reminders of a shared place and time probably best described by William Faulkner in his classic Requiem for a Nun as “The past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” If, like me, you’re a fan of this genre you need to thank one man: William A. Frassanito of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

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Bill Frassanito posed in the Sniper’s Nest at Devil’d Den.

Mr. Frassanito first popularized the “then and now” movement in his groundbreaking book “Gettysburg. A Journey in Time“. He followed up that classic with two similar books on Antietam, another on Grant and Lee in Virginia and three more on Gettysburg, including his seminal study of Early Photography at Gettysburg. Mr. Frassanito was among the first to conduct a historical comparison based on identifying topographical elements found in archival photographs that remain consistent on the landscape today. Bill’s work sent a shockwave through the historical community that resonates to this day.
I interviewed Mr. Frassanito at the Adams County Historical Society research center (368 Springs Avenue Gettysburg) a couple times during the past few months. I was in Gettysburg looking for information on Osborn Oldroyd, whose father was a one time Adams County resident and former owner of a textile mill in the county. Most of my readers will recognize the Oldroyd name as a near constant in this writer’s work. early-photography-updated_1024x1024Needless to say, I was pleased with my visit to and pleasantly reminded how invaluable places and people like these are to the preservation and education of history. After the ACHS helped fill in some blanks in my research, I turned my attention to author Bill Frassanito. He is intensely private, yet unassuming and modest in demeanor. Although an author by trade and historian by nature, Mr. Frassanito has the soul of a teacher.
When I asked Mr. Frassanito how he developed the concept fot the modern “then and now” movement so prevalent on the Internet nowadays, he modestly answers, “I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of time and that today is tomorrow’s history. What I tried to do in the use of ‘then and now’ was to have the reader experience the photograph, but it’s not just the ‘then and now’, it’s the maps that allow people to go and stand on the spot and experience what the photographer experienced. So it’s a total picture used in a systematic fashion book after book after book. I didn’t invent the concept, but I took it to a level that was completely unprecedented. When my ‘journey’ book came out in 1975, there were about a dozen modern books on the battle of Gettysburg available. Now there are zillions on every aspect of the battle.”Picture106
When asked if there are any more books on the horizon, Bill answers, “My first book came out when I was 28 in 1975 and the last came out in ’97 and I’m through writing. I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do. I was much sharper 20 years ago than I am now. I’m especially pleased that part of my legacy are people like Garry Adleman and Tim Smith, and they constantly mention my work, so I do have a legacy. I’m not going to be around forever but I do know that 100 years from now there will be a group of people that are very familiar with the role my pioneering work played, so the average person probably won’t know about me but the experts will know indefinitely. I laid the foundation so when new stuff surfaces they will know how to fit it in.”
512DBQHBXZL._SX379_BO1,204,203,200_When asked what first drew him to Gettysburg, he explains, “My first trip to Gettysburg was in 1956 when I was nine years old, and I was just awed by all the monuments, cannons and stuff. I started my research when I was a kid and much of the research for Journey in Time was done when I worked it into a Masters thesis (he is a proud Gettysburg College alum). “When you went to Gettysburg College, I was the high school class of ’64, college class of ’68, at that time all the male students had to take either phys ed or ROTC for two years, after that you made the decision whether you continued on to advanced ROTC, then you were a part of the Army and you got paid. From there you are committed to, after graduation, serving for two years as a second lieutenant, then on to grad school.”
Frassanito continues, “I was accepted to Gettysburg College my senior year in high school. I went to high school in Long Island. I spent a weekend at the college as a senior. I had some time off and I visited the Red Patch Antique Shop and I asked if they had any old photos and he (the shop owner) brought out a basket full of cased images. Among the photos was an outdoor daguerreotype, which is very rare. I opened up this quarter plate daguerreotype, it was a farmer sitting on a bench with a horse in front of the barn. I asked how much and he said a $1.50, which doesn’t sound like much, but it was worth more back then. On the inside of the case was the name of the photographer, “G.J. Goodrich York, Pa.” Years later I discovered that Glenalvin J. Goodrich was one of the few black photographers in Pennsylvania. But because of the battle, he moved to Michigan.”

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Glenalvin J.Goodrich photo from the Frassanito Collection.

Glenalvin, son of former-slave, opened his first photo studio at the age of 18 in 1847 and later operated his studio out of the Goodridge residence on East Philadelphia Street. Mr. Frassanito has already allowed the daguerreotype to be used in two different books asking only that credit for the photo be given to the Frassanito collection. “Just last year I was contacted by someone who wanted to purchase the daguerreotype and I said I’m sorry it’s not for sale, I have personal attachment to it. His offer kept going up and up and up. His last offer was $10,000. And I told him, no it’s not for sale, I’m sorry. It’s going to go to the Adams County Historical Society. Now, when it is at the Adams County Historical Society, since it’s not Adams County related, if they wanted to make a deal with the York County historical Society, I would have no problem because technically that would be, probably, the most appropriate place.”
510dSFzAnXLBill’s collecting interests are not solely confined to Gettysburg. “All of my stuff is going to the Adams County Historical Society. It will be called the Frassanito collection. Including all my stuff that goes beyond Gettysburg and Adams County. My interest in military history includes World War I and Franco Prussian war, it’s very expansive.” Mr. Frassanito’s interest in all things military came when he saw the 1956 movie “War and Peace” starring Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda and, he states, “from that time on I’ve been fascinated by Russian history including the Crimean War” (October 1853 to February 1856 in which the Russian Empire lost to an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia).
“It was 1968, my senior year, my parents came to visit me from Long Island. We rode around the countryside and stopped at an antique shop in New Oxford. I asked my standard question, do you have any old photographs? The shopowner brought out this brown paper bag full of old photos removed from photo albums. Apparently he would sell the empty albums. There were 130 Carte de Visites, I asked how much and he said a dollar.” Among those CDV’s was a rare photo of an identified Franco-Prussian soldier. But more importantly was the discovery of two photos from a New York City gallery. One signed on front “G.G. Sickles”, the other “Susan M. Sickles.” Frassanito thought no more about the photos until years later when he discovered that these were the parents of the famous Gettysburg General Dan Sickles, who lost a leg in the Peach Orchard during the battle of Gettysburg. “I eventually made a connection with the Sickles family and learned that they had no photographs of these relatives.” says Frassanito, “Turns out I have the only photos. They were just stuck in this old brown paper bag.” he says with a chuckle.

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General Dan Sickles.

Bill then details a chance meeting he had with Pres. Dwight D Eisenhower while serving in advanced ROTC as a junior at Gettysburg College. “As fate would have it, they lined us up by size, and as I was the shortest cadet in the unit, I was positioned at the far left of the line, which turned out to be the sweet spot where all the cameras and newspapermen were positioned. Much to my surprise, Ike stopped in front of me and we had a short conversation while the cameras clicked away. It was not a substantive talk and you could of knocked me over with a feather.” That photo can be found in Mr. Frassanito’s updated Gettysburg Bicentennial Album book available for sale at the Adams County Historical Society.

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President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Cadet Wm. Frassanito.

“I’m the definition of a baby boomer.” Bill reveals, “The war ended in ’45 and the millions of serviceman came home and the boom started in ’46. My pop was in the Navy and he got back from the Pacific in December of ’45 and I arrived exactly 9 months later to join my older brother and my parents. I was born in September 1946. The neat piece of trivia of here is that three months before I was born in June 1946, President Donald Trump was born. Two months before I was born in July 1946 President George W. Bush was born. And one month before I was born in August 1946, President Bill Clinton was born. It’s the first time in American history that we have three presidents not only born in the same year, but born in successive months.” Then, Bill says with a wink, “June, July and August and I’m September, so I’m technically the next president. But I haven’t made my final decision yet.”
51ZBRZ32XXL._SX372_BO1,204,203,200_Bill continued, “I fortunately survived Vietnam and I put it (his book research) all together when I got out of the Army. I tried to get a job in the museum field but the book took off when I signed with one of the top publishers, Charles Scribner’s. It was later picked up for the Book-of-the-Month club. That became the first of seven books on Civil War photography. I spent eight years and eight months on that project.” One of Bill’s most important discoveries was the “Slaughter Pen” near Devil’s Den. Bill’s book included detailed maps. Bill explains, “The whole purpose of the book was to enable people to re-experience standing where the photographer was. One of the questions I often get is why I don’t update the modern photographs. I’ll never do that as I see them as sort of a time capsule in themselves and I want people to know what the battlefield looked like when I spent five years looking for these spots.”
Another of Mr. Frassanito’s photographic discoveries was to identify the family of General John Reynolds pictured in Devil’s Den on the battlefield. When asked if there have been any more discoveries of historical photography at Gettysburg, Bill states, “As far as early photography of Gettysburg is concerned, the last major discovery were those photos of the posed soldiers in Devil’s Den (made by Frassanito). The hunt for the “Harvest of Death” is still going on. Those are the photos of the union dead. I established that these two camera angles showed the same group of bodies looking at a different direction.” Mr. Frassanito has not been able to pinpoint the exact location for this famous photograph, although many others have approached him with locational suggestions over the years.
4824523984Frassanito notes that the publication of that photo started a search that is still going on 44 years later. There have been two dozen sites that have been suggested as the site of the photograph. “When people make their discoveries it becomes a religious experience. Every one of those sites has major problems. As far as I’m concerned I don’t want to see a faulty location declared the site and have the search end. That’s the biggest mystery for Civil War photography at Gettysburg. And I’m hoping that one day a pristine 1863 version of the original stereoview or negative surfaces.”
Previous to my April visit, I shared, as part of my research at the Adams County Historical Society, the fact that I had just come from researching at the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress and the House Where Lincoln Died. While in Washington, my steward for the day was a young woman named Janet Folkerts who had just learned that she was now the curator in charge of the Vietnam War Memorial wall museum. I was aware that Bill had served (with distinction) during the Vietnam War, so I asked him about his service. He detailed his term of service in Vietnam and shared his story about the wall.
Bill was discharged in August of 1971 and upon returning to Gettysburg in November, Bill began taking all of his “modern” photographs used in his groundbreaking book. “I was there (Vietnam) in ’70 and ’71. I was assigned to the 525 military intelligence group in Saigon. I worked at MACV (aka ‘Mac-Vee’) headquarters (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) which was the nerve center for all of Indochina. I worked at the highest level of military intelligence, so we knew what was really going on. We knew that the war was a lost cause once the US troops left. We had very little faith in the South Vietnamese, there was corruption from the top down. So anyway, I worked in the safest place in Vietnam.” However, once Bill’s work shift was over and he departed, he was on his own.
grant-lee-william-frassanito-1st-ed_1_edb0ce335255c79d8238032d9886a873“I lived about 2 miles away in kind of a slum area of Saigon, it was a hotel we rented from the Vietnamese called Horn Hall. On the main floor was a narrow lobby, and there were two shifts requiring a duty officer, you had to spend six hours just sitting there. You had a pistol and if anything happened, you were in charge. One of the shifts was midnight to six. On the 16th of December 1970 I was assigned night duty at MACV headquarters so my name was removed from the night duty at Horne Hall. Later, we got a phone call that a bomb had gone off that night at Horne Hall and the Lieutenant on duty was instantly killed. And I realized that had I been sitting there, all of my discoveries would have gone with me. And these classic photos of the 24th Michigan and 1st Minnesota would still be misidentified.”
At this point, Bill slides over to the computer and, in somewhat surreal fashion, Googles his own name to find the photo online showing the devastation that may have been his own fate. “It was a 35 pound satchel charge and that’s the seat I could’ve been sitting in. It blew out both walls of this narrow hall and that’s where they found the body of the Lieutenant.” I asked if he knew the Lieutenant, “No, I socialized with the people I worked with, but the officers quarters (where the bomb exploded) you just slept there basically. I knew my roommate but I didn’t know the name of the Lieutenant and I didn’t want it bouncing around in my head for the rest of my life so I made no effort to remember it. Years later, I visited the wall down in Washington and I found out that the 58,000+ names are in chronological order. So I was curious to see, if I had died, where my name would be. There was only one 1st Lieutenant killed in military region three on the night of December 16th, so I found the spot and wrote the name of the officer down. I started wondering what it would have been like for people visiting the wall to see my name there.”

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The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Unsurprisingly, Bill researched the soldier (Gary J. Faculak) and contacted his family to learn more about the man; his hopes, aspirations and goals. Turns out the dead soldier was from Boyne City, Michigan and aspired to own a tour boat and lead tours on Lake Charlevoix (Michigan’s third largest lake) when he got out of the Army. Lt. Faculak is buried in Maple Lawn cemetery in Boyne City. Ironically, the cemetery made headlines in May of 2011 when two special Civil War veterans were honored not far from Lt. Faculak’s grave, thanks to the Robert Finch Camp No. 14 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Two Native American Indian sharpshooters (John Jacko and William Isaacs), buried a century ago in unmarked graves, finally received their long overdue headstones. Both soldiers were members of Co. K of the Michigan 1st Sharpshooters, the only all-Indian unit in the Union Army east of the Mississippi. Both men were also members of the G.A.R.

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Lt. Gary J. Faculak.

What’s more, Bill learned that he was not the only one to narrowly escape death that day. Turns out another young officer (Van Buchanan) had switched shifts with Lt. Faculak that night. “If it hadn’t been for the Internet, I would never have been able to make the connection,” says Bill. Well, Mr. Frassanito, if it hadn’t been for your dogged detective work for a group of dusty, old, mislabeled, long-forgotten photographs, we would have never made the connection either. Well done, soldier, well done.

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Alan E. Hunter delivering Bill Frassanito his Weekly View article.
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Bill Frassanito & Alan E. Hunter at the Reliance Mine Saloon in Gettysburg. You may visit Bill there every Monday, Wednesday or Friday night from 10:15 pm into the wee hours.
Civil War, Gettysburg, John F. Kennedy, National Park Service, Presidents, Travel

Gettysburg’s Lost Avenue.

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Original publish date:  September 12, 2019

Rhonda and I are celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary this week. One of the constants over those three blissful decades has been our shared love of Gettysburg Pennsylvania. It was one of the first places we visited as a married couple and has remained a favorite “haunt” of ours ever since. We visit the famous battlefield site 3 to 4 times per year, which may sound excessive to some, but it’s really not that unusual for fans of the area. The great thing about Gettysburg is that no matter how many times you visit, you can always find things you’ve never seen before.
That edict held true this past June when we visited an area of the Gettysburg National Military Park known as “Lost Avenue.” The National Park Service maintains this 6,000 acre battlefield and has continued to update the park in many ways since the Federal Government first began acquiring land back in June 1893. Over those years roads have been updated, changed and rerouted using various configurations designed for maximum ease of access by visitors. However, there is one area in the park that has remained unchanged for well over a century. Officially, it is known as “Neill Avenue”; colloquially it is called “Lost Avenue.” It was named to honor General Thomas Neill and his Sixth Corps brigade.

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The author and Dean Shultz.

For the soldiers positioned here, on the Confederate left flank and the Union right flank, July 3rd was not about the famous Pickett’s Charge. This was the end of the line. Lost Avenue was about skirmishing in the woods, snipers in the shadows, and withering gunfire from the fields, trees and stone walls on Wolf Hill that killed or wounded more than twenty of their Union comrades. No one knows how many Rebels died here. For these soldiers, both blue and gray, this was their Battle of Gettysburg. Billy Yank and Johnny Reb alike on Wolf Hill could hear (and likely feel) the immense bombardment that preceded Pickett’s Charge from roughly 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. For these soldiers, Gettysburg was about survival, pure and simple.

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Barb Adams of Gettysburg.

Although located on National Park Service land, due to its remote location and rough terrain, Lost Avenue is one of the most difficult spots to find on the entire battlefield. Luckily, my Gettysburg battlefield buddy Barb Adams put me in touch with a man who knows Lost Avenue like the back of his hand. Readers will remember Barb from past columns. Barb is the busiest, most dedicated person on the field in my opinion. As an unpaid volunteer, she paints, repairs and cares after every cannon on the Gettysburg battlefield. As if that weren’t enough, she also cleans and repaints all of the markers on the field. And those are legion. Barb introduced me to Dean Shultz, Gettysburg engineer and battlefield legend.

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L.-R.-Dean Shultz, Roger Branch, Jim Floyd, Alan E. Hunter touring Lost Avenue.

Mr. Shultz has spent the last eight decades roaming the property surrounding Lost Avenue. He fairly grew up on this land and in its houses listening to stories relayed to him by members of the Baker family as told them by veterans of the battle and survivors of the aftermath. Our little group included my wife Rhonda, Kris and Roger Branch and Jim and Linda Floyd when we visited on Friday June 28th. Mr. Shultz met us in the driveway and immediately began detailing the history of the buildings standing around us.
Dean pointed out each building, detailing their significance, “That red barn is part of the Musser farm,” he explains. Musser farm was where Evergreen cemetery hero Elizabeth Thorn visited during the battle and witnessed dead soldiers “stacked like cord-wood and the front porch full of amputated arms and legs.” He points out the Hoke toll house “built around 1814 where General Zook (wounded at the wheatfield) was taken, according to Dean, “his wounds were such that you could look into his chest and see his organs. The night of July 2nd, 20 soldiers were buried in the field there.” Yes, it is immediately apparent that Mr. Shultz is an expert storyteller.
Dean points to the house used as a hospital, then pivots and aims towards the remnants of a dried up well used by the soldiers during the battle. The house was a log cabin, built about 1760, owned by Peter Baker at the time of the battle. Dean relates that the “farmhouse was built in 3 stages over 3 different time periods, the first section started out as a one room log cabin with a loft that is still inside. In 1820 another room was added on. After the battle, it was raised to 2 stories and the balcony was added.” The house still has blood stains on the floors and Dean points to a bench on the porch where many soldiers rested back in 1863. Dean points to the barn and explains that it’s siding is more contemporary because the original boards were removed and used to make coffins and grave markers.
20190628_150658Our tour guide explains, “The house had been in the Peter Baker family since 1847.” As a youngster, Dean listened to stories under the old tree that is still there near the house. He continues, “This is where the original guides used to gather under the tree and smoke cigars and drink a little whiskey. The Baker boys were bachelors and always had time to tell stories.” Dean has an encyclopedic knowledge of the battle, but also has personal stories told to him by the legendary figures of this battlefield town. As a youngster, Dean recalls visits by “Pappy Rosensteel who had a huge collection of battlefield relics that he took me to on many occasions.” George D. Rosensteel (1884-1971) had a fantastic lifetime collection of battle relics and displays, including the interpretive Battle of Gettysburg map, acquired by the National Park Service for use in the Gettysburg National Military Park museum and visitor center from 1974-2008. “But they didn’t get it all,” Dean says, “They didn’t get it all.”
Dean wears a safari hat, khaki vest and smokes a pipe, which simply lends to the historical provenance of the moment. Mr. Shultz is pure Pennsylvania. He speaks with an intriguing accent unfamiliar to our group of Midwestern ears, pronouncing regiments as “regga-mints” and Gettysburg as “Get-ahs-burg”, Baltimore as “Ball-er-mer.” In short, he could read the phone book and draw a crowd. No doubt about it, Dean Shultz is an unsung treasure of Gettysburg. His modesty is amazing. He seeks no personal publicity, really doesn’t care to have his picture taken and treats every visitor he encounters with respect and kindness.
20190628_143719We are standing at the base of Wolf Hill near Rock Creek on the far right of the Union Army infantry line; the sounds of traffic whizzing by us on the Baltimore Pike, but it feels like we have traveled back in time. Dean leads us up the slope, we walk about a football field’s length away as he stops in some shady spot, relights his pipe, and explains about cattle grazing in the woods or points out where soldiers were once temporarily buried. This amazing octogenarian halts often, not for his sake but for ours. He climbs these slopes with the agility of a man half his age. He is not winded, but we are.
Dean explains that the soldiers considered Powers Hill, just a short distance away, as the true end of the Union Line. “They called it a muleshoe.” He stresses the importance of the Baltimore Pike both during and after the battle. “Thousands of Rebel prisoners were marched right past this spot to the railroad to be shipped off to POW camps.” Then jokes that the debarkation point then is now “the spot where the outlet mall now stands.” He smiles with a wink towards Rhonda and says, “You look like you know where the outlet mall is, right?” With a giggle she replies in the affirmative and admits that she was just there last night. Now how did he know that? Dean Shultz knows everything. His cultural knowledge is not only limited to the battle, “There were 183 African Americans in Gettysburg at time of the battle. Only 60 some of them returned, probably property owners,” Dean says.
20190628_145528As we reach the entrance to Lost Avenue, Dean explains with a sweep of his hand, “This was an orchard at the time of the battle, the bodies of many soldiers were buried in rows right over there.” Former resident Cora Baker’s (1890-1977) grandmother told how, after the battle as the bodies were picked up for reburial, “the grass just quivered with lice and bugs where they laid and when the soldiers would roll up their bedrolls in the morning, the grass was alive with lice and bugs from the bodies of the living soldiers as well.”
Until recently, Dean had a dozen cows but is now down to just one. His cattle dutifully kept the grass down and ate the lowest leaves off the trees “as high as they could reach”, which made it easy to see through. Important historically because it helped maintain the look of the woods as the soldiers would have known it. “They could easily fight in here and could shoot 100 yards through those trees,” he says. Dean jokingly recalls that the only problem was that his cows left many “Confederate Land Mines” behind (what we Hoosiers commonly call cow-pies).
20190628_144938Upon entering Lost Avenue, Dean explains that General Neill was sent here to guard the rear flank of the Union Army and, most importantly, to protect the Baltimore Pike. Dean states, “When I was a boy I used to visit Lost Avenue with Arthur Baker (1893-1970), who as a lad had walked the fields with the old soldiers that visited the property and actually fought over this ground. Arthur would go and grab a bayonet, left here after the battle, from one of the farm buildings. He’d attach it to his walking stick, hide behind the stone wall and charge out screaming the Rebel Yell.”
20190628_150637Dean maintains the avenue. “The park service never comes out here. Most of the guides have never been out here. The only one I’ve ever seen up here was Barb Adams.” Lost Avenue is the last section of the battlefield that looks exactly as it did when the soldiers fought, and died, here. Dean further explains, “Monuments were set on grass lined strips with no thought of ever paving them. The roads you know now were paved much later. Lost Avenue is the last “pristine section” of unpaved roadway. The 40 foot wide strip is lined by the original stone fence that the 2nd Virginians & 1st North Carolinians fought behind. It was made of field stones picked up by farmers over the years and predates the battle. The second stone wall, the 1895 section, was built later after Sickles took over.”
Dean knows ever inch of Lost Avenue and rattles off stats and battle information the way others might recite the names of relatives: 43rd New York, 49th New York, 61st Pennsylvania & 7th Maine, they were all here. “Neill’s brigade stayed on the spot until the night of July 5th.” Dean says, while noting that “the reason the markers in Lost Avenue are slanted is because they were designed to be read from horseback”, which was the preferred method of touring the battlefield when they were first erected. Dean also points out that the monuments here are pristine and shiny because there is no car exhaust or pollution to dull or damage them. The pinnacle of any visit to Lost Avenue is finding the marker at the end of the Union line. It reads “Right of the infantry of the Army of the Potomac” Dean Shultz states, “There are a lot of historians who would like to see that marker but have no idea where it is. There is no “Left of the infantry” marker that I know of.”
Mr. Shultz is a co-founder of the Adams County Land Conservancy, which, with other organizations, has preserved more than 500 acres in and around the battlefield. Originally, Dean inherited 30 acres and now he and his wife Judy own over a hundred acres of battlefield ground. The couple are serious about battlefield preservation. They don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. Dean’s engineering company office is located across the Baltimore Pike on battlefield ground, and it’s portable. As Dean states, the mobile home office is temporary, “and when I don’t need it anymore, it will be hauled away and the ground returned to the deer.”

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Jackie Kennedy, Col. Jacob Sheads & John F. Kennedy touring Gettysburg 1963.

My favorite anecdotes shared that day revolved around stories of Dean’s friendship with the legendary Jacob Sheads. Colonel Jake Sheads is perhaps best remembered as the park ranger who escorted John F. Kennedy and wife Jacqueline on their tour of the battlefield shortly before JFK’s tragic assassination in Dallas. Legend claims that it was on this field, while viewing the Eternal Peace Light Memorial with Col. Sheads that the idea for JFK’s eternal flame grave marker found root. Dean once asked Col. Sheads how Neill Avenue got the name “Lost Avenue.”

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JFK, Col. Sheads (back to camera) & Jackie at Little Round Top.

Sheads, who was also a Gettysburg High School history teacher, responded, “Well, Dean, it was me, I named it.” Sheads explained that he needed a way to get lovestruck students interested in history. The teacher told his students that they needed to get out and live, touch and feel history to understand it, particularly those living on the most famous battlefield in the country. Col. Sheads developed Neill Ave. as a lonely, secluded “lover’s lane” destination to entice these young students to visit there. Sheads told Dean, “I don’t think it worked though because, after all these years. there were probably more people conceived than killed there.”

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John F. Kennedy & Col. Jacob Sheads at Gettysburg.

“Col. Sheads was the Borrough’s biggest Democrat”, said Dean. “I recently visited Col. Sheads’ tombstone and you know what it reads? ‘Husband. Historian. Democrat.’ Showing the Kennedy’s around the battlefield was the highlight of his life.” Well, Mr. Shultz, I think I can safely speak for our group and say that your tour was certainly one of the highlights of our lives as well.

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The author at the end of the Union Army line on Lost Avenue.
Abe Lincoln, Civil War, Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours

Sons of Union Veterans Ben Harrison Camp # 356.

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Left to right: Dave Wilson, Bob Winters, Mike Beck, Past Department Commander (PDC); Tim Beckman, PDC; Garry Walls, PCC; Bruce Kolb, PDC; Jim Floyd.

Original publish date:  July 11, 2019

Sometimes you just need to step back, relax, reflect awhile and think about what it means to be a Hoosier. The fourth of July seems a perfect time for such reflections. I was born in Indianapolis, as were my parents, grand parents and great-grand parents. Like many of us, I had forefathers who served in the Civil War. In my case, I had gr-gr-grandfathers serving on both sides of the conflict; my maternal forefather was riding with Morgan’s Raiders while my paternal forefather was chasing him. Had one caught the other, I might not be here.
This past Memorial Day, I finally decided to venture out to Crown Hill Cemetery and attend the official ceremonies hosted by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War-Ben Harrison Camp #356. Dave “The King” Wilson had suggested I join a few years back and I just got around to joining recently. I’ve known Camp Commander Jim Floyd for nearly two decades and was delighted to be present as a spectator while Jim and Dave led the ceremonies. Truth is, I joined not only to honor the veterans in my past family but also to honor my muse of the past decade: Osborn Oldroyd.

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Osborn H. Oldroyd

As many of you know, Oldroyd has been on my mind lately. Not only was he the very first curator of a Lincoln museum, first housed in the Lincoln homestead in Springfield, Illinois for a decade and then in the House Where Lincoln Died in Washington D.C. for over three decades more. Equally importantly, he also served as Assistant Adjutant General of the Grand Army of the Republic in the District for over twenty years. Regardless of how I got there, I got there. And hopefully by the time you’re finished reading this article, you’ll decide you might want to join too.
The Ben Harrison Camp No. 356 SUVCW was originally founded on June 19, 1884 with 46 members, most of whom were “real sons”. After that first camp disbanded, it reorganized on March 8, 1897 with 32 members. It continued meeting into the early 1970’s before it disbanded again. In 1981, the Ben Harrison camp was organized once again and has met continuously ever since. Their mission statement, quite simply, is to “Honor Union Veterans and all who have patriotically served our country in any war, preserving & perpetuating the Grand Army of the Republic, and Patriotic Education.” All with the goal to help America become a better nation by helping to keep the stories and sacrifice of our Civil War ancestors alive.
The Ben Harrison camp “honors the soldiers who fought to preserve the Union and free an enslaved people through activities including: maintaining their graves, teaching patriotism, and ensuring future generations continue to learn from the mistakes of the past.” As for the parent organization, “The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) is the volunteer, non-profit, charitable, fraternal, patriotic and educational organization created by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which was the largest Union Civil War veterans’ organization. The SUVCW is officially recognized as the GAR’s legal successor, and received its Congressional Charter in 1954.”

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Left to right: Dave Wilson, Jim Floyd,  Bob Winters, Jim Floyd.
These fellows truly practice what they preach. In the past few years of outside observation, I’ve watched from afar as these men have repaired, reset, restored, cleaned and replaced the markers of dozens of Hoosier Civil war soldiers; led the charge by decorating soldier’s graves for memorial day at Crown Hill Cemetery and Remembrance Day every November in Gettysburg as well as protecting a Hoosier monument in distress at Vicksburg. This past effort is of particular interest to me as it was on this field that Osborn Oldroyd was wounded three times in battle. I’ve fairly worn out my family, friends and readers over the past several years by rambling on about Oldroyd, so I’ll spare you any further abuse on the Lincoln collector / curator…for now.
IMG_3521This memorial day, the Ben Harrison camp honored Hoosier Civil War soldier Captain Richard Burns. With temperatures in Indianapolis hovering above or around the 90 degree mark for nearly two months now, Captain Burns’ story seems apropos to the moment. For you see, Captain Richard Burns died of sunstroke. At 5′ 10″ and weighing 143 pounds, Richard Burns was light skinned with piercing blue eyes and prematurely gray hair. Burns first enlisted on September 21, 1861 as a private in Third Battery, Indiana Light Artillery. The unit was organized in Connersville, Indiana, and mustered in at Indianapolis on August 24, 1861. Ironically, the unit would muster out nearly 4 years to the day (August 21, 1865) at the same place.
Within weeks of his enlistment, Burns was appointed corporal on October 1, 1861. From there Burns advanced to squad sergeant then orderly sergeant. On November 25, 1862 he was appointed second lieutenant then rose to first lieutenant on October 25, 1863. On July 25, 1865 Burns was appointed captain, a rank he would retain until his discharge on August 21, 1865. While his rise through the ranks might be described as meteoric, it did not come without cost. During his service, Burns contracted typhoid pneumonia (more commonly known as consumption back then) and was plagued by chronic diarrhea for nearly all of his military service. The latter, while uncomfortable, was temporary. However, the Streptococcus pneumonia remained and slowly invaded and weakened his heart for the remainder of his life.
Before the war, Burns worked in the “burnt district” of Wayne County as a heavy machinist. After his discharge, Burns returned to Cambridge City but was confined to light duty, working as a grocery clerk and a brick mason. Burns relocated to Montana in 1867, presumably chasing gold or cattle alongside other fortune-hunting Civil War veterans, but moved back to Cambridge City the next year. From there, Burns moved to Anderson and finally to Indianapolis.
According to an article titled “THE OPPRESSIVE HEAT” found in the August 16, 1888 Indianapolis Journal newspaper (page 8), “The remarkably cool weather of the first three days of the week was followed by a hot wave yesterday that raised the mercury to 91 degrees at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The air during the afternoon and early evening, in the absence of any breeze, was very oppressive, and as people were not prepared for the sudden change there was much discomfort. At 5 o’clock in the evening Richard Burns, a brick-mason, living at No. 90 North New Jersey street, was prostrated on Hadley avenue, where he was working. Kregelo’s ambulance was called, and the attendants were taking him to the City Hospital when he died. He was fifty years of age.”

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August 16, 1888 Indianapolis Journal newspaper

The Indianapolis News of that same day, reported “Yesterday afternoon the temperature mounted to an uncomfortable degree, and the heat was very oppressive. Late in the day Captain Richard Burns, residing 90 North New Jersey street and employed on Hadley avenue, was overcome by the heat, and he died while Kregelo’s ambulance was removing him to the hospital. He was aged about fifty, and was a member of Chapman Post, G. A. R., and a pensioner. he leaves a wife, but no children….” He was buried on Lot 49, Section 4 in Crown Hill Cemetery on August 19, 1888 at 2:00.

This memorial day’s ceremony at Crown Hill was solemn, stirring and well organized. However, it wasn’t until afterwards that I learned of a connection between Captain Burns, myself and Irvington. The Third Light Battery was assigned to General John C. Fremont’s Army of the Tennessee and accompanied it in the campaign through southwestern Missouri in the Western Theater. In December, 1863, the battery moved to Columbus, Ky., where it served in the winter campaign through western Tennessee before it moved to Vicksburg and joined Sherman’s army on the expedition to Meridian, Miss., in Feb., 1864. From there, the battery assisted in the storming and capture of Fort De Russy. It then served at Memphis and Tupelo, Miss. In Jan., 1865, the unit moved to New Orleans, where it took part in the siege and capture of Fort Blakely, which resulted in the surrender of Mobile. It next moved to Montgomery, thence to Selma, Ala., where it remained until July 30, 1865, when orders were received to proceed to Indianapolis. It was mustered out Aug. 13, 1865, numbering 3 officers and 71 men, having lost 64 in killed and wounded.

Captain Richard Burns served in in the Third Battery, Indiana Light Artillery alongside fellow Captains James M. Cockefair, Thomas J. Ginn, and Watton W. Frybarger. Capt. Frybarger was promoted major and was wounded in the head during the Battle of Shiloh. After which he was ordered back to Indianapolis to organize all of the state’s artillery units by his pre-war friend, Indiana’s Civil War Governor Oliver P. Morton. It should be noted that Frybarger has the distinction of organizing the Hoosier state’s only artillery battery in place BEFORE the war. Frybarger went to work shoring up the southern border of Indiana by placing guns at several places along the Ohio River. His invasion fears were realized in early July of 1863 when Morgan’s Raiders invaded the state via Kentucky. Yes, Major Frybarger was a born artillerist.

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The W.W. Frybarger ring on Dave Wilson’s finger.

If you have taken my October tours of Irvington, then you’ve met Major Frybarger. Well, sort of anyway. I conclude every tour of Irvington with a stop at the spot where Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train slowly steamed past in the pre-dawn hours of April 30th, 1865. As I share with my guests, many years ago I was offered some of the personal effects of Major Frybarger. Among those effects were an ancient leather-bound album full of family tintype and CDV photos, a lock of his hair, a large silver platter, and his regimental ring. The platter, which at 21″ tall and 33″ wide, is quite large. It is inscribed “Presented by the 22nd and 23rd Indiana Mounted Artillery to Mrs Major W.W. Frybarger Indianapolis March 1863” and was given to the Major’s wife by grateful soldiers in thanks to the Major securing the southern Indiana border.

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Major W.W. Frybarger

Equally important to the Frybarger saga is his role in the Lincoln funeral here in Indianapolis. As every Hoosier student of Lincoln knows, when the martyred President’s remains arrived in Indianapolis, it arrived in the midst of a torrential downpour so strong that the official public ceremonies had to be cancelled. For that evening of April 30th, 1865 Mr. Lincoln’s body remained in the rotunda of the old statehouse. Who was in charge of the decorating and care of the railsplitter’s body that night? Major W.W. Frybarger. I tell October visitors to Irvington that story while placing the ring on the finger of every guest I approach with the admonition that Frybarger’s regimental ring may well have touched the body of Abraham Lincoln.

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Major W.W. Frybarger.

Now, thanks to the impeccable research of Sons of Union Veterans Camp Commander Jim Floyd and Eliza E. George Auxiliary No. 356 Secretary / Treasurer Jennifer Thompson, I now have another connection to Frybarger. I should note that by the time you read this article, I will have joined the Sons of Union Veterans Ben Harrison Camp No. 356 as an official member. I am sure that the brothers would be happy to have you in their ranks as well. For more information, contact http://benharrisoncamp.org/ Or drop me an e-mail and I’ll steer you towards this fine organization.

 

 

 

 

 

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Rhonda Hunter with flowers at the ceremony.
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Dave Wilson, Rhonda Hunter & Jim Floyd.
Civil War, Creepy history, Medicine

Coughing up Bullets-A Civil War Tale for the Ages.

Bullet in eye

Original publish date:  April 4, 2019

So you say you have a scratchy throat? Runny nose? Nagging cough? Blaming all those hugs, handshakes and office hours for catching a bug? Well here’s a reminder that it could be worse. This reminder reaches all the way back to the Civil War and comes with a twist that extends to the present day.
Private Willis V. Meadors (erroneously identified as W.V. Meadows for decades) was a Confederate Veteran who served alongside his brothers and cousins in Company G of the 37th Alabama Volunteer Infantry. The 37th was involved in nearly every campaign of the western theater of the war between the states. Meadors was a sharpshooter with the Rebel army commanded by Lt. General John C. Pemberton posted at Vicksburg, the last major Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. General Ulysses S. Grant’s army had besieged the city since May 25.
Z MEADOWSIt was July 1st, 1863, the day before the pivitol battle of Gettysburg commenced. After holding out for more than forty days, with no reinforcements and supplies nearly gone, things were getting desperate. While languishing in the trenches, Pvt. Meadors cobbled together a shield made of pig-iron. His crudely constructed armored bulwark had one hole to see through and another to fire his weapon. The shield worked well at first, allowing the Rebel sharpshooter to fire with impunity and relative security. Then, like a scene from a Hollywood movie, as the sharpshooter lined up his next shot, he was shot in the eye through his very own peephole. Miraculously, he survived.
Meadors was found and brought to a field hospital where Union surgeons probed for the bullet, but were unable to locate it. The bullet was resting perilously close to the soldier’s brain and the doctors didn’t feel it was safe to perform an operation. He was put aboard a POW ship and transported to a Union hospital. Later, he was paroled to a Confederate hospital, where he spent the rest of the war. In time, Meadors recoved well enough to serve as an aide at the Rebel hospital. His official medical records confirm that he’d been “severely wounded” in the head by a minie ball.
After the war, Meadors returned to his farm in Lanett, Ala., just east of the Georgia state line. The bullet cost Meadors his right eye and would remain lodged in his head for the next 57 years. He married, but had no children. He probably would have died in obscurity had it not been for a coughing fit in March of 1920. 78-year-old Willis Meadows had been steadily coughing all day long. His coughs soon turned to violent spasms. To Meadors, it felt like something was caught in his throat. Finally, with one great whoop, that something flew out of Meadors’ mouth and landed with a clatter on the floor a few feet away. It was the one-ounce bullet, trapped in Meadors’ head for over two generations.
Instantly, the “Coughs Up Bullet” story became headline news. It ran in every major newspaper in the U.S. When the story made it into Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Meador’s story got even more unbelievable. Union veteran Peter Jones Knapp, who served at Vicksburg and Shiloh, saw the story and realized he was the one who fired the bullet that lodged near Meadors’ brain. In 1863, 21-year-old Knapp was serving with the 5th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. On July 1st, Knapp and three other Union soldiers of his Company were approaching from the east with specific orders to kill Confederate snipers. Knapp spotted Meadors, aimed his rifle at the boiler plate peephole and fired. Meadors fell to the side, blood running from his right eye. Knapp was sure his man was dead and the trio moved on.

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Peter Jones Knapp

Knapp was captured a few months later at the Battle of Missionary Ridge and was held in a number of Confederate prisons, including the notorious Andersonville in Southern Georgia, where almost 13,000 Union soldiers died. After the war, he farmed in Michigan, married, and in 1887, moved to Kelso, Washington. Knapp contacted Meadors and when the two old soldiers compared notes, they made the connection. Once mortal enemies sworn to kill each other, now, the aging veterans would spend their last few years as friends, exchanging letters, photographs and wishing each other good health.
Willis V. Meadors died at his home on October 10, 1927. His obituary stated that his health had been exceptionally good until the past few months except for a cancer on his face, which caused his death. He is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Lanett, Alabama. Peter Knapp, the man who’d made that incredible shot at Vicksburg so many years before, preceded his target in death on April 13, 1924. His obituary states he died peacefully in the arms of his wife on April 13, 1924. His remains were sent to the Old Portland Crematorium. When Knapp’s wife Georgianna died in 1930, her remains also were cremated in Portland and placed next to those of her husband.

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Peter Jones Knapp

You’d think, that was the end of this fascinating story. But it turns out that in 1990, the story takes an even more bizarre turn. A man named Henry Kilburn was doing some genealogy research. Mr. Kilburn has the personal diary of Peter Knapp. Kilburn circulates a photograph of the coughed-up bullet flanked by photographs of Willis Meadows and Peter Knapp, which rekindles interest in the story. Kilburn admits that he is no blood relative of Peter Knapp, which prompts the question, how did Henry Kilburn end up with those items?
Turns out, Peter Knapp and his wife, who were childless, adopted Henry Kilburn’s younger sister, Minnie Mae. Their mother had been divorced and abandoned by her husband. She must have decided that adoption by the Knapps would provide her daughter with a better life. It was Mae who gave the items to Henry. The story fades from the pages of history once again for another generation. In 2012, Alice Knapp, the wife of the 3rd great nephew of Peter Knapp is researching the Knapp family history. In particular, she was searching for the burial site of Peter and Georgianna Knapp. She finds an obituary for Peter stating he had been cremated but it made no ,mention of the final resting place. Fortunately, the Old Portland Crematorium is still in business as Wilhelm’s Funeral Home in Portland, Washington.

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Peter Jones Knapp’s ashes

Alice contacted the crematorium and was told no one had ever claimed the cremains of Mr. & Mrs. Knapp. She was told that the couple’s ashes were still on a shelf in the back room where they had been resting for decades. Astonished at the news, she then made contact with the Oregon Military Department of Veteran’s Affairs. She reasoned that because Peter Knapp was a Veteran of the U.S. Army he deserved a military funeral. On April 13, 2012 he got it.
Peter Knapp was laid to rest in Willamette National Cemetery, the first Civil War veteran to be buried in Oregon’s largest military graveyard. Knapp received full military honors from the Oregon National Guard 88 years to the day of his 1924 death. The funeral also fell on the 151st anniversary of the Confederate victory at Fort Sumter, S.C., which ignited the Civil War.

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Peter Jones Knapp’s ashes

The burial attracted a mix of veterans, historians, Civil War re-enactors and people who were simply curious. Eras collided as cellphone and digital cameras recorded men and women dressed as Union soldiers and civilians marching alongside Patriot Riders holding 50-star American flags perched on shiny Harley Davidson motorcycles. The hearse carrying the twin gold boxes containing the ashes led the procession. The speakers largely focused on what Peter Knapp endured as a soldier, his incredible reunion with the man he shot and his commitment to his wife of more than 53 years.
The Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War performed a ritual for the dead based on a Grand Army of the Republic ceremony from 1873. The funeral also included a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace,” a bugler who performed “Taps,” and culminated with the laying of wreaths. Following a musket salute, a folded U.S. flag was presented to Alice Knapp. And, despite his connection to one of the strangest incidents of the Civil War, there was not a Confederate in sight.z knapp stone

Civil War, Gettysburg, National Park Service

Barb Adams- Gettysburg’s Nurse of Artillery.

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Original publish date:  September 13, 2018

155 years after the last cannon shot was fired in anger on the hallowed fields at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a dutiful volunteer keeps watch over the cannons located there. The Gettysburg National Military Park is 9.358 mi.² in size and features some 1,300 monuments and 400 cannons. It takes an army to maintain the monuments but there is only one angel left on the field caring for those artillery pieces, many of which saw use in the battle itself.
I ran into Barb Adams quite by accident in late June 2018, just a couple days before the 155th anniversary of the great battle. I was visiting Gettysburg with my wife and friends Kris and Roger Branch. I have recently taken up a new hobby of “etching” tombstones, plaques and monument faces at the many historic places I often find myself visiting. Etching is a fairly simple hobby that involves paper pencil and a little masking tape. If you, like me, ever traced a Lincoln penny with a pencil by rubbing the graphite over the surface of the coin, then you have etched too.
Roger Branch is a former U.S. Army artilleryman with an interest in cannons. Last year I found an “artsy” photo collage of the crest of Little Round Top which I gave to Roger. One of the photos was a close up of the muzzle from one of the big guns. Little did I know, that minor gift would set him on a quest to find that cannon, the very gun pictured in that old photographic display. Kris, Roger and I hit the battlefield at dawn in search of the many rock carvings made by soldiers still existing there. (Sleepyhead Rhonda stayed behind) I was determined to make a couple etchings if practicable. I also knew I wanted to make etchings of the Irish brigade monument along with the Hancock, Sickles and Lewis Addison Armistead wounding monuments. Especially since Armistead was the man I named my son Addison after.
Roger wanted to make an etching of the Alonzo Cushing marker at the bloody angle just yards away from the high water mark of the Confederacy. All of these we did and more. Etching can get into your soul and literally seep into your blood. Once you’ve been out etching, you notice that your fingers are covered with black graphite. It gets on everything you touch from that point on. Oh, it washes off easily, but somehow that sooty residue makes you feel authentic, especially when you’re on a battlefield.
Flush with excitement and caught up in the moment, our grimy little trio headed to the massive Pennsylvania monument in search of Roger’s cannon. We had checked all of the guns at the high watermark for comparison; to no avail. While checking the muzzles of the guns near the First Minnesota monument, it occurred to us that we could easily etch those muzzles. The guns are dated per time of manufacture, so the thought of getting one etching from each year (1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, & 1865) became our quest of the moment.
There we stood, three middle-aged graphite-stained 8-year-olds tracing our little hearts out. Kris held the paper taut like a spider web on a gutter spout. Roger traced away like a Hollywood makeup artist on an aging starlet. My job? To keep watch. Because we weren’t entirely sure we were allowed to do this. We were stretching the boundaries of our usual mantra: “Take nothing but pictures-leave nothing but footprints.”
Suddenly, a car pulled up and out stepped an athletic looking woman whose shirt, pants, shoes, wrists, fingers and elbows were be-dabbed with paint. She walked up to our sheepish looking little trio and for a few seconds we wondered if we were in trouble or not. Roger remained cool, calm and collected and never stopped etching. He remained focused and was determined to complete his task. Turns out, this handsome suntanned lady was Barb Adams and she was the keeper of the cannons.
We asked if we were in trouble, and she answered, “No, I just want to watch you do one.” Roger finished his etching as we chatted with Barb and she informed us of what she does every day. Her job is to maintain, clean and repaint every cannon on the Gettysburg battlefield. She knows them all by heart and maintains a detailed accounting of every gun on that field. Roger immediately pulled out his cell phone and asked, “Do you know where this gun is?” To which Barb answered, “Are you guys going to be here for a while? I can go check my book and let you know.”

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Heading into the cannon shop at Gettsyburg.

She jumped in her car and drove back to her office, returning several minutes later with her binder identifying the location of her cannons. “Sorry guys, that gun is not on this field.” came Barb’s reply. To say we were crestfallen might be an understatement. Our spirits were lifted when Barb invited us to come visit the cannon restoration shop later that day. “I have to get permission from my boss first, but I don’t think he’ll mind,” she said. So off we went to spend our day trying to contain our excitement until 5:30 rolled around and we could visit what we were sure was going to be a magical place.
The Gettysburg cannon shop is located just off Confederate Avenue on the outskirts of the Lutheran seminary. You wouldn’t even know it was there unless someone (like Barb) gave you directions. Our little group, now joined by Rhonda, entered the shop and were immediately transformed back to 1863. The shop is littered with all things cannon. There are barrels, carriages, limbers, wheels, and parts of every sort. Guns, howitzers 3 inch ordinance rifles, 10 pound parrots, and 12-pound Napoleon’s; Wrought Iron, Bronze, and Cast-Iron; Smoothbore’s, James and Whitworth’s; 6 pounders, 10 pounders, 12 pounders, 14 pounders, 20 pounders, 24 pounders, and 3-inch ordinance rifles. Truly, an artilleryman’s dream.
20180628_183203Barb guided us through every step of cannon restoration, carefully explaining what it took to keep her guns in perfect order. This was heady air we were breathing. Terms like breeches, swells, trunnions, rimbases, chambers, astragals, base rings, vents, bores, girdles, chambers, cascabels, knobs, wadding, windage and calibre seeped into our heads like sand through an hourglass. Barb Adams knows every inch of these guns.
She explains that the cannon restoration program was started by the “Friends of the National Park” at Gettysburg over 20 years ago. Barb spends her days, especially in summertime, on the un-shaded, boiling hot fields of Gettysburg. “I try to get out there early, before it gets too hot and the buses start rolling in, ” she says. “I love talking to people, especially schoolkids, but I never seem to get enough work done because I get wrapped up in talking about cannons.”
Barb’s routine is a patient one. Each cannon, when removed for restoration, is taken back to the shop where it is sandblasted and the carriage refurbished. “The wood wears down quickest and we have to replace the wooden carriages and the spokes of the wheels most often. It takes two months just to get each gun to my paint room.” Barb continues, “Each cannon gets two coats of primer, two coats of green paint and two coats of black paint. Anywhere two pieces of metal meet has to be caulked to keep moisture out.” Add to those duties that Barb also paints the white letters on all of the coal black battery markers and itinerary plaques found scattered throughout the battlefield, and you can tell she has her hands full.
I wondered, how did a distinguished looking lady like Barb get started in this meticulous business? “It was my husband’s dream to paint a cannon. Just one cannon. Somehow, one cannon turned into all of them.” Barb explains that she met her husband, John Scott Adams of the Washington Post, on the battlefield July 1st, 1998. The couple was married in 2001 and John died in 2002. In her previous life, Barb was a nurse from Rochester, New York, which seems fitting for someone who cares so lovingly for the cannons on the Gettysburg battlefield. “I was a fan of Lincoln and that’s what brought me to Gettysburg. I met John here and he told me he had always wanted to paint a cannon, which I thought sounded interesting. So we did. That’s how it all started.”
Sixteen years later, Barb is the only volunteer caring for the cannons full-time. She’s at it everyday, weather providing, with her ancient brown metal folding chair, coffee can full of paintbrushes, paint rags, paint cans and, pardon the pun, an abundance of patients. “You’d be surprised how much wear and tear these big guns take.” Barb says. Besides schoolkids climbing all over them and overzealous reenactors incessantly rubbing / leaning on them, Barb says squirrels cause a lot of damage. “Squirrels sharpen their teeth on the wooden carriages and even on the metal parts like the rings, axles, knobs and necks of the guns. If you look close you can see their little tooth scratches.”
Barb explains that while there are many good part-time volunteers that sometimes help her in her task, it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to what still needs to be done. “At any given time, there are 30 to 40 cannons waiting to be restored.” she says. When asked who will take over when she decides to hang it up, Barb forlornly replies, “I don’t know. I’m the only one left. There just doesn’t seem to be an interest anymore. I tried giving it up once, and answered the phones at the desk for two weeks, but then I said that’s enough of that and headed back out to the battlefield. Luckily, there are other people just as passionate as I am about these cannons. You should talk to Bruce Vanisacker, he lives in your neck of the woods near Monroe Michigan. He knows everything about the history of these cannons.”
Well you didn’t have to tell me twice. I can talk to an expert from the adopted hometown of General George Armstrong Custer? Yeah Boy! I called him straightaway. Although it is a 7 hour drive from Monroe to Gettysburg, Bruce seems to know every inch of that battlefield like the back of his hand. Like Barb, who is 435 miles away, Bruce knows every gun on that field. He knows where every gun is placed, which ones have been restored and which ones are waiting. Bruce created a large wall map hanging just inside the door of the cannon shop featuring hundreds of tiny red and blue cannons designating their condition.

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Bruce Vanisacker & President George W. Bush.

Bruce’s expertise is in the repair and manufacture of broken or damaged cannon parts. A dedicated tool and die maker who makes the 45-mile (one way) commute every workday, Bruce can cast any artillery replacement part in a flash. He visits Gettysburg on average three times a year and has for the past quarter century. He is a walking textbook of Gettysburg artillery. Bruce notes that in 1916 there were 410 cannons, which he calls “tubes”, placed on the field. Attrition brought that number down to 370 by 2002 “counting cannons damaged by vehicles or trees falling on them.” Bruce says that cannons were largely ignored until 1896. Bruce recalls how 8 cannon tubes were taken from storage and traded away to other parks for other items to add to the Gettysburg NPS Museum. “The carriages were in pretty bad shape so it seemed like a good idea at the time. In the 1930s one cannon was removed from the field and sent down to the Stones River Battlefield. It had the name “Murfreesboro” carved in the barrel so we sent it home.” says Bruce.
He explains how most of the ordinance stacks (cannonballs and parrot shells) were removed in the late 1970s / early 1980s. “The only original stacks left on the field are located on Benner’s Hill. There are a couple stacks at the Confederate High Water Mark, but I believe those are cast in bronze and not original ordinance. The High Water Mark does have the earliest tubes on the field though, place there in 1892. I have records showing that 60 original 24-pound field howitzers were shipped to Gettysburg in the 1890s. They were left laying in an open field for 3-5 years before being mounted.” Bruce states that before the age of battlefield preservation at Gettysburg, there were howitzers being used as flagposts on parts of the field, muzzle up with the “flags sticking out of the tubes. We had two cannons stolen back in 1968 and 1972 and they were never recovered. But one of those was a replica, so…” Bruce states that since the artillery restoration program began in 1996, “We started pulling tubes off 10-12 at a time for restoration and repair. When those were finished we’d pull another 10-12 off and replace them with the restored tubes.”
I couldn’t resist asking Bruce about the range of firepower used on the field during those three hot days back in 1863. “The best example I can think of is that the Union was using 10 pound parrot guns and three-inch ordinance guns placed on top of Cemetery Hill. Those guns could easily hit the tree line on Seminary Ridge 3/4’s of a mile away. They could fire over a mile but were most accurate at 3/4’s distance. The most common ordinance was canister shot. Like a coffee can filled with golf balls that was deadly at 400 yards or closer.”
Bruce can’t say enough good things about Barb Adams. He worries that hers is becoming a lost art. And, that there is no one to replace her. “There is absolutely no one to take over when she leaves. No one with the enthusiasm and pride that she has. It’s more than a hobby to her, it’s a labor of love. She is so humble that I don’t think she realizes how truly talented and valuable she is to the Gettysburg battlefield.”
On our last morning at Gettysburg, we revisited the crest of Little Round Top to drink our morning coffee atop the ridge and watch as the fog rolled in over Devil’s Den. About 30 yards away from the rock where the life-size statue of Union General Gouverneur K. Warren stands (the only rock on the entire battlefield visitors are forbidden to climb) rest the cannons known as “Hazlett’s guns”. This is truly hallowed ground. Here alongside these guns Brigade commander Stephen Weed fell mortally wounded, and when Lieutenant Charles E. Hazlett knelt to hear the General’s dying words he, too, fell mortally wounded.
Roger decided to check and see if one of these cannons, some of the most famous Union cannons in the history of the Civil War, might be the one from his photo. We were stunned to find that the object of our search had been right under our noses the entire time. Roger found his cannon and we immediately left the summit in search of Barb Adams. We found her at the bloody angle painting one of Cushing’s guns. She was elated at the news, saying, “I thought we were looking for a 6-pound gun, those are 10 pounders up there. See, YOU taught ME something new.” No Barb, YOU taught us everything we know. And what of her husband, the cannon man John Scott Adams? Barb wears his wedding ring on a chain around her neck. Meaning that, although he’s been gone for 16 years now, he’s still with his bride Barb… cleaning cannons on the Gettysburg battlefield everyday.

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Barb Adams and Alan E. Hunter
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The picture of the St. Gaudens Lincoln Statue in the break room of the cannon shop.
Civil War, Indianapolis

The Battle of Pogue’s Run.

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1871 Pogue’s Run painting by Jacob Cox.

Original publish date:  December 7, 2013~~Republished September 27, 2018

Quick name the Northern-most battle fought on Union soil during the American Civil War? Gettysburg? Nope, but here’s a hint…it was fought in Indiana. Corydon? Nope. Indianapolis…the Battle of Pogue’s Run. Okay, okay, so no shots were fired, but it’s still a great story from the archives of Civil War Indiana. And during this, the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, what better time than the present to revisit Indianapolis past?
It’s May 20, 1863 and there’s a battle raging at the Indiana statehouse. Rumors were spreading that Copperheads within the Indiana Democratic party were determined to take over State Government and turn it over to the Rebels. Named for the poisonous snake indigenous to Southern Indiana which gives no warning before it strikes, Copperheads were Hoosiers who opposed the American Civil War. Considered traitors by others in the North, they favored immediate peace with the Confederacy.
These “Peace Democrats” accepted the label and often identified themselves by the use of stickpins featuring the likeness of Lady Liberty, which they cut from copper pennies and proudly wore on their lapels. Copperheads damaged the Union war effort by fighting the draft, encouraging desertion, and forming conspiracies in effort to incite unrest far behind the front lines.

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Poster on display at Historic Connersville museum.

The “Battle of Pogue’s Run” began when a rumor circulated that that many of the delegates to the Democrat state convention were carrying concealed firearms, hell bent on insurrection. Union soldiers entered the delegates hall and found personal weapons on many of the delegates. Afterwards, Union soldiers stopped departing trains carrying delegates and began another search of the delegates. Many of the delegates fled the train and began to throw their weapons into the creek that ran diagonally southwest through the city known by locals as Pogue’s Run. Some blamed the Republicans, some the Democrats, while others pointed the finger at powerful Governor Oliver P. Morton but it might be easier to place the blame on the fear and paranoia that permeated the Civil War itself.
Oliver P. Morton, Governor of Indiana for the duration of the Civil War, strongly supported President Abraham Lincoln and the Union. Perhaps more than any other northern Governor. Under his leadership, Indiana raised more men and money for the war effort than any other northern state. Whether you loved him or hated him, there was no doubt about it, Oliver P. Morton was large and in charge.
Within days of his inauguration as governor, Morton saw the war clouds on the horizon and began to prepare the state for the inevitable. He appointed men to important positions who he knew would never compromise with the southern states. Time and time again, he chose Republicans loyal to him over others connected to politicians like Congressmen George W. Julian or Schuyler Colfax, his chief rivals in the Republican Party. When the legislature resisted his call for the creation of a State armory, he collected private funds and built one himself. Morton’s new state arsenal employed seven hundred men to produce ammunition and weapons without legislative permission in preparation for the war he was sure was coming. When the South Carolinians’ fired on Ft. Sumter on April 12, 1861, he telegraphed President Abraham Lincoln within hours to announce that he already had 10,000 soldiers under arms ready to suppress the rebellion.
Lincoln and Morton maintained a close alliance during the war, although Lincoln was wary at times of Morton’s ruthlessness. Lincoln once said of Morton that he was “at times the shrewdest person I know.” Governor Morton wrote to Lincoln claiming that “no other free state is so populated with southerners”, and that these “Copperheads” kept Morton from being as forceful against secession as he wanted to be. Through sheer determination and projected self confidence, Morton kept the state united early on in the war. That is until Lincoln began to raise the emancipation question in 1862.
The cracks in Morton’s armor began to show in the mid-term elections of 1862. The Republican party suffered a major defeat at the polls and the Democratic Legislature, which had been strongly Pro-Morton during the Governor’s first 2 years in office, now turned against him. The Democrats, under future Vice-President Thomas A. Hendricks, declared that while they were strongly pro-union and supported the war effort, they opposed the abolition of slavery. In protest, and possibly out of arrogance, Morton never called the 1862 State Legislature into session.
z op mMorton believed that should he call the session, radical elements in the opposition party might undermine the Hoosier state’s devotion to the war effort, instigate riots, harbor southern spies and possibly vote to secede from the Union. The Governor issued secret instructions to GOP legislators asking them to stay away from the Statehouse, thereby thwarting efforts to attain a voting quorum. With Morton’s aid, the Republicans fled to Madison where they could cross easily into Kentucky should the Democrats attempt to forcibly return them to the capitol. Because of this, the government was at a virtual stand still. No budget, no taxes, no revenue. The state quickly ran out of money and teetered dangerously on the edge of bankruptcy. Exceeding his Constitutional powers, Morton solicited millions of dollars in personal loans to keep the Government going.
Although patently Unconstitutional, Morton’s plan worked and the Hoosier contribution to the war effort rolled on without the help of the State Legislature. The atmosphere created by Morton’s actions only worsened tensions between the two parties and guaranteed a confrontation, which was probably already inevitable. Now Democrats saw Morton as the embodiment of the National Republican agenda, with its expansion and corruption of power. They saw him as Lincoln’s henchman in Indiana as well as a tyrant in his own right.
The rage among the Democrats was bubbling to the top. They launched vicious attacks in the press against Morton, who responded by accusing them of treason. Morton again pushed the limits of his wartime authorities by using an intelligence network to deal with rebel sympathizers, the Knights of the Golden Circle, Democrats, and anyone who opposed the Union war effort, or him. While this helped to keep the state more secure, his secret police force also carried out arbitrary arrests, suppressed freedom of speech and freedom of association (particularly in the press), and generally maintained a repressive control of the southern-sympathetic minority. It was easy to see that a battle was brewing in the Circle City.
The Battle of Pogue’s Run commenced when Morton had soldiers disrupt the Democratic state convention based solely on conjecture. Many leaders of the Democratic Party were arrested, detained, or threatened and charged with the possession of firearms. Which is ironic considering Morton had been making his own guns and ammunition statutorily illegally for years and while nearly every citizen in Indianapolis, at that time considered the far western frontier, was armed to the teeth.
Governor Morton developed an incendiary plan to place Union troops inside the convention hall specifically to intimidate the delegates to the convention. About four o’clock in the afternoon, while Thomas A. Hendricks was speaking to an estimated 10,000 delegates from the rostrum, a group of a dozen-or-so soldiers entered the hall with bayonets fixed and rifles cocked. The menacing looking soldiers entered the crowd and advanced slowly toward the stand, causing a great uproar. The delegates and attendees scattered in every direction. A high fence on the east side of the state-house square was pushed down by the panicked crowd. To make matters worse, a squad of cavalry galloped back-and-forth along Tennessee street.

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General John Coburn.

The soldiers moving towards the stand were ordered to halt by Colonel John Coburn, who had been guarding the quartermaster’s stores north of the State-house but who had rushed over after hearing the disturbance. He asked what they were doing. They replied they were “going for Tom Hendricks,” that he had said too much, and they intended to kill him. Coburn reasoned with the agitated soldiers and they halted. Meantime, there was much confusion on the stand. Perhaps needles to say, Hendricks closed his remarks prematurely by quickly suggesting that the resolutions be read and the meeting adjourned. The record reflects that there was no second to his motion.

When calmer heads prevailed, it was found that the resolutions declared that the Federal government had two wars upon its hands; one against the rebels and one against the constitution. The quorum breaking Republicans in the late legislature were denounced in the strongest terms and it was further declared that the Governor could not “clear himself from complicity, except by taking steps to prevent repudiation.” In reaction to the Governor’s crack-down on dissent, the Indiana Democratic Party called Morton a “Dictator” and an “Underhanded Mobster” while Republicans countered that the Democrats were using “treasonable and obstructionist tactics in the conduct of the war”.
Although now calmer, the soldiers remained agitated. Occasionally, if they heard any of the remaining Democrats speak against the war, the Republican Party, the President or Governor Morton, that individual would be grabbed roughly underneath the armpits and marched out to the street followed by a great rabble. The intent was not to harm the poor fellow but to frighten him. Eventually the scared temporary detainee either slipped away or was told that he would be released if he promised to behave himself. A number of men were taken to the police court and charged with carrying concealed weapons, and about forty pistols were taken from those arrested. Later that night as the convention concluded, many of the Democratic delegates took trains departing from Indianapolis. As the trains slowly departed from the city a great number of shots were fired from within the cars traveling on the Lafayette and Terre Haute railroads. z 9225172_2
The delegates felt the rough treatment they deserved from the Governor’s armed thugs was undeserved and their anger manifested by an intention to create an armed disturbance. Perhaps justified in their feelings, it was not the wisest thing for them to do, and the re-agitated soldiers quickly determined to teach the remaining “Copperheads” a lesson. As the Indiana Central Railroad train left Union station a cannon from Morton’s nearby armory was commandeered and placed on the tracks in front of it. The train stopped. A small body of soldiers and policemen boarded the train and demanded the surrender of all firearms by the passengers. The delegation collected nearly two hundred weapons. The train bound for Cincinnati was also stopped and many revolvers were taken from the passengers.
Some of the enraged delegates refused to hand over their personal firearms and chose instead to throw them out the open windows into Pogue’s Run, a shallow waterway parallel to the track. Some delegates gave their pistols to women on the train, in the belief that they would not be searched. They were mistaken and in one instance, seven firearms were found hidden upon a single woman. A two foot long Bowie knife was discovered hidden in the smoldering ashes of a stove in one of the cars. In all, about five hundred loaded revolvers were taken from passengers, not all of whom were delegates to the convention, or even Democrats!
z cody-dug-up-gun-museumAccounts of just how many weapons were thrown into Pogue’s Run ranged from 500 to 2,000. The Indianapolis Sentinel described it as: “It is with feelings of sorrow, humiliation and degradation that we witnessed the scenes of yesterday. . . . Indiana is as completely under military rule as France, Austria or Russia”. But to those who supported Morton’s action, it seemed to them that would-be insurrectionists would be too cowardly to actually rebel. The term “Battle of Pogue’s Run” was given to the event by the Republican Party derisively, who praised the soldiers involved as “halt(ing) a meeting of traitors to the Union cause”. The Democrats, on the other hand, called the event “still more assaults upon constitutional rights” by those supporting Abraham Lincoln and Governor Morton.
The Run flooded in 1882, killing at least ten people and exposing the skeletal remains of many of the weapons pitched into the water that May evening two decades before. The flood destroyed a covered bridge that once crossed Pogue’s Run near the spot where the battle took place. More than three decades after that devastating flood, in 1914, Pogue’s Run was rerouted into the storm sewers of downtown Indianapolis in order to allow for a perfect grid pattern for Indianapolis’ roads. The stream goes underground at New York Street, east of I-70, and eventually spills into the White River near Kentucky Avenue. Indy Parks established a Pogue’s Run Trail alongside the creek bed on the section northeast of downtown.

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1871 Pogue’s Run painting by Jacob Cox.

Today, wildlife can be found on the path including ducks, geese, red-winged Blackbirds, and the occasional blue heron. A plan called “Charting Pogue’s Run” intends to mark where the creek once ran in downtown Indianapolis. The plan calls for a blue line, made of thirty permanent steel medallions and a semi-permanent blue thermoplastic line, to “meander” across roads and parking lots following the route of the historic waterway. That proposed blue line promises to show how Pogue’s Run now lies under Lucas Oil Stadium and Banker’s Life fieldhouse. I expect that at least one of those markers will be dedicated to the rich history of Pogue’s Run and the Civil War battle that bears it’s name.

Art, Civil War, Gettysburg, Museums

General James Longstreet at Gettysburg. Part III.

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Gettysburg Longstreet Monument Sculptor Gary Casteel and Alan E. Hunter.

 

Original publish date:  June 22, 2018

Any student of history knows that Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War. Up until 2:00 pm on July 3rd 1863, when General James Longstreet ordered General George Pickett out of the woods along Seminary Ridge, the South still had a chance. Pickett’s charge would fail miserably and less than 2 years later, the war for Southern independence was over. But the battle to restore both men’s reputations had just begun. As detailed in parts I and II of this series, that battle was waged by the General’s widows and would last well into the 20th century.

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Longstreet and his former Union adversaries in Gettysburg.
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Enlargement of the William Tipton image. Civil War commanders (from left)
Joshua Chamberlain, Daniel Butterfield, James Longstreet and one-legged Dan Sickles
 pose in Gettysburg on July 3, 1888. Sickles lost his leg at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.

After the General died in 1904, his widow Helen Dortch Longstreet, known as the “Fighting Lady,” spent the next half century fulfilling a promise made to her husband that “in the future, so long as I shall live, whenever your war record is attacked, I will make answer.” In 1939, as the founder of the Longstreet Memorial Association, she arranged to have a statue of her late husband placed at Gettysburg. The proposed Longstreet memorial would be created by sculptor Paul Manship and a scale model of the statue was unveiled at the site dedication event in July, 1941. The sample statue featured General Longstreet on a horse (with one foot up) urging his men forward with a wave of his hat held in his outstretched arm. At 12 feet high and 12 feet wide, it was placed atop a base of red marble and would be surrounded by stone seats for viewing.

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1940 Paul Manship model of James Longstreet Memorial at Gettysburg: never placed.

However, after a photo of the proposed statue was published in a local newspaper, the National Park Service wrote a letter to Mrs. Longstreet voicing a concern: “There is one feature that has caused considerable local comment and one I feel to be of sufficient importance to be called to your attention…The position of the horses’ feet in each of the existing equestrian statues now in the park tell a story. This fact is widely known and has become one of the items of which the visiting public likes to check. 1. Both feet of the ground: Rider died in action. 2. One foot off the ground: Rider wounded in action. 3. All four feet on the ground: Rider unscathed. As far as I have been able to determine this uniformity of position is but a happenstance. However, it is true within the park.”

 

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Helen Dortch Longstreet

Mrs Longstreet replied: “This will thank you warmly for your constructive criticism of the model of the proposed equestrian statue of General Longstreet for the Gettysburg field. I am forwarding it to Mr. Manship, the sculptor, who will, I am sure, will appreciate it as sincerely as I do. I know it is Mr. Manship’s intention to make the Longstreet Memorial the noblest on the Gettysburg battlefield and to correspond in every respect with the magnificent memorials already there.” And that is where the question remained until December 7. 1941. The bombing of Pearl Harbor changed everything and put the brakes on the Longstreet memorial plans at Gettysburg.

 

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Helen Dortch Longstreet (center) at the original site set aside by the National Park Service for the Longstreet Memorial, October 27, 1939. Park Superintendent James R. McConaghie (left of Mrs. Longstreet) and sculptor Paul Manship (right of Mrs. Longstreet). Little Round Top can be seen behind them.

With the coming of World War II, raising funds to build the Longstreet monument seemed pointless in the face of homefront shortages and War Bond fund raising rallies to fight the Axis. After the war, interest for Civil War monuments evaporated. Although Mrs. Longstreet’s efforts to raise funds for her husband’s monument continued, her health declined rapidly. By the mid-1950s, Mrs. Longstreet developed “mental problems” and in 1957 she was placed in Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia. She remained institutionalized there until her death on May 3, 1862. Three years later the Soldiers and Sailors of the Confederacy monument would instead be placed on the original ground selected for the Longstreet memorial.

 

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Helen Longstreet (left) with actress Mary Pickford and UCV Commander Julius F. Howell at the Gettysburg groundbreaking ceremony for the Longstreet equestrian statue on July 2, 1941. National Park Service Dr. J. Walter Coleman is at the left.

The Longstreet memorial remained forgotten for the next 30 years until pop culture and history collided to rekindle the legend of General James Longstreet. Ken Burns 1990 PBS documentary miniseries on the Civil War changed everything. Suddenly the Civil War was brought to the forefront like never before. Then came the 1993 movie Gettysburg which detailed the complicated men and ideals of this highly misunderstood period of American history. One of those most affected by the tarnished legend of Longstreet was a Sanford, North Carolina state forestry service heavy-equipment operator named Robert C. Thomas.
Thomas was moved to action after reading a 1990 book, “Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant: James Longstreet and His Place in Southern History”, written by Dr. William Garrett Piston, editor of North and South magazine and Professor at Southwest Missouri State University . Thomas shared the book with fellow Civil War enthusiasts and together they decided that Longstreet’s time was overdue. In June 1991, Robert & Joe Thomas, along with Ray King, Bill Bates and Sion Harrington formed the Longstreet Memorial Fund Committee. This band of dedicated activists began selling mugs, T-shirts, tote bags, pens and cross-stitch portraits of the general at re-enactments across the country to raise funds for a proper monument to honor General James Longstreet. Gettysburg sculptor Gary Casteel was enlisted to craft a monument for placement in Pitzer Woods on Confederate Avenue on the battlefield.

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The former Hall of Presidents & First Ladies Museum-Now Gary Casteel’s Studio.

As fate would have it, during a late April trip to Gettysburg, I happened across the studio of Mr. Casteel. My habit is to wander the battlefield on early fog wrapped mornings before the tour buses role in while my wife Rhonda sleeps in. Last year, the Hall of Presidents and First Ladies wax museum was closed and all of the figures were sold off. The 363 lots sold in a January 2017 auction for a total of $217,409. If you’re interested, as am I, the average cost of a wax president was $3,088 while the average cost of a wax first lady figure was $437 proving that the wage gap transcends the pages of time. The top three highest-selling presidents were Abraham Lincoln ($9,350); Teddy Roosevelt ($8,800); Ulysses S. Grant ($6,820). Mary Todd Lincoln sold for $990 while Rosalynn Carter hammered down at a mere $247.50.
While relaxing atop my sunny perch on the Hancock equestrian monument base (across from the Evergreen cemetery gatehouse) I noticed that the old wax museum had undergone a facelift. So I wandered over to take a peek at the new digs and quite happily stumbled across the studio of none other than Gary Casteel, the sculptor of the Longstreet monument. i could hardly contain my excitement. I had heard stories about that monument for years since it’s 1998 installment and unveiling and immediately altered my travel plans in hopes of meeting this accomplished artist. It was well worth the wait.
Rhonda and I ventured over to the studio (at 789 Baltimore St. in Gettysburg) and much to my amazement, we were greeted by the artist in the flesh. Gary Casteel is the epitome of a southern gentleman. He speaks in measured tones that bespeak his West Virginia birthright. When I hear a West Virginia accent, I think of General Chuck Yeager. Tom Wolfe said it best in his book “The Right Stuff” when he described it as: “a particular drawl, a particular folksiness, a particular down-home calmness” that seems to draw the listener in and immediately put them at peace. Phrases like “Oh my” frame words like Riv-ah, He-ah and Nev-ah to form sentences with genteel insight rarely heard in Hoosier land.

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Sculptor Gary Casteel in his Gettysburg studio.

Classical music fills the air of Gary Casteel’s studio and adds to the importance of the moment. Gary’s studio, adjacent to the entrance to the National Cemetery, is sparkly clean and meticulously organized. Not at all like certain media portrayals would lead you to believe an artist’s studio should look like. There is no tortured artist at work here my friends. This is the workplace of a practiced hand that is straight as a preacher and as long a memory. One look at Gary’s work and that attention to minute detail is easily discerned. Although his work appears effortless, it is obviously the result of decades of difficult training and practice.
Gary Casteel grew up in the coal mining region of West Virginia and resolved early to become a sculptor while attending grade school there. Contrary to the stereotypes of the region, from an early age, he listened to classical music on the radio, devoured the works of William Shakespeare and idolized Michelangelo. In Gary’s own words, “through marriage, divorce, military service, occupation transfers, relocation, business ownership or family strife, I stayed true to my commitment to become a sculptor.” The Longstreet commission was the culmination of a lifetime dream for sculptor Casteel.
“My point of view has always been that heroes are larger than life. They are to be physically and mentally looked up to.” says Casteel. “In my youth, I was reared with ideals of heroes such as Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Robert E. Lee, George Patton. Now as a middle aged man with more than half a century of experience, living in an age of of hero deterioration and downfall, I choose my Icons with more wisdom. Longstreet, the General, was larger than life.” Gary Casteel decided that the memorial to Longstreet should be larger than life as well.
Unlike most monuments at Gettysburg, Casteel’s Longstreet rests at ground level and is not perched upon a lofty pedestal. The General is shown astride his favorite horse, Hero. Longstreet is pulling hard at the reins as Hero’s hooves dig into the soft Pennsylvania soil. The General’s attention is directed towards the copse of trees, the focal point of attack, mere moments before his troops would emerge from the treeline behind him. The field has become known as Pickett’s Charge and the copse of trees is forever referred to as the high water mark of the Confederacy. General Longstreet’s steely gaze is forever fixed on the target his men would never attain and one he never believed was attainable in the first place.

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Jamie Longstreet Paterson-The General’s Granddaughter at the dedication.

Longstreet's grandaughterI asked Mr. Casteel if it was true that Longstreet’s granddaughter attended the unveiling ceremony. He answered quickly, “Oh yes. Jamie Longstreet Paterson attended the dedication ceremony. We brought out a ladder and she climbed up to get a better look at the General. I was worried because she was 67-years-old but more worried when she started to cry,” said Gary. “I thought, oh my, we may have a problem here. When she came down, I realized they were tears of joy as she said, ‘I never thought I would look him in the face’.” Sculptor Casteel’s Longstreet memorial was one of the last monuments erected at the Gettysburg National Military Park. It was dedicated on July 3, 1998, the 135th anniversary of the end of the battle of Gettysburg. Jamie Paterson Longstreet died six years later on August 4, 2014.
IMG_3339It should be noted that Casteel is not only an accomplished sculptor, knowledgeable historian and well versed art scholar, he has deeper personal roots in the Civil War and Battle of Gettysburg itself. Casteel says that his own family had two ancestors -brothers in fact- who actually fired at each other from opposing sides during the Battle of Gettysburg. “I call him Uncle Bill and he placed his rifle against that stone wall and fired our way from right over there” as he points out his studio window. Casteel is currently hard at work on several pieces for the proposed National Civil War Memorial. “Did you realize that there is no national monument to the Civil War?” he asks.

 

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Me inside Gary Casteel’s studio.

z 31398193_1822681077763147_4410866842453671936_nGary guides us to a loose leaf binder containing images of the large sculpture medallions he has created for the museum. Lincoln, Lee, Jefferson Davis, and John Wilkes Booth are just a few of the completed images resting on the drying racks in the back of Gary’s studio. Gary remarks, “I asked Ed Bearss (Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service), who serves on the museum board, why there was no plaque for Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Hero of Gettysburg’s Little Round Top) in the selection. He responded, ‘Gary, no one ever heard of Chamberlain before Gettysburg or afterwards for that matter.” Yes, talking with Gary Casteel gives new perspective to an old subject and promises to make a visit to his studio an unforgettable memory.
If Longstreet had died in battle, he undoubtedly would have been placed among the South’s greatest heroes, with monuments located everywhere he led men into battle. But after the death of Lee in 1870 and Pickett’s death five years later in 1875, Longstreet became the living scapegoat for the South’s defeat at Gettysburg. Gary Casteel’s statue has helped alter that view. Sometimes all it takes a new perspective from an old school craftsman to help cast things in a new light.