Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day in the South, 2013

Monument to First Memorial Day
Columbus, Georgia
Memorial Day has its roots in the South, where in the year or so after the close of the War Between the States, widows and wives and mothers and daughters went to cemeteries to place flowers on and care for the graves of their loved ones who had given their lives in the cause of the Confederacy.

It is still a special and moving holiday in the South today and this year there are many noteworthy events associated with it.  Here is a sampling:

Vicksburg National Military Park - Memorial Day 2013 falls during the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Siege and Battle of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Events set for tomorrow include a Memorial Day Parade through downtown Vicksburg at 10 a.m., Memorial Day Program at 11 a.m. at the Vicksburg Civic Center and a Wreath laying at 12 noon at Vicksburg National Cemetery.

Chattanooga National Cemetery - A Decoration Day Torchlight Tour will be held at Chattanooga National Cemetery tomorrow night at 8:45 p.m.  The tour is free but be sure to bring water, a flashlight and to wear comfortable clothing and shoes. The cemetery is located at 1200 Bailey Avenue in Chattanooga.

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park - There will be firing demonstrations by reenactors at the Visitor Center tomorrow at 11 a.m., 12 noon, 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.  Kennesaw Mountain High School's Color Guard will perform at 1 p.m. and a moment of silence will be observed at 3 p.m.

Andersonville National Historic Site  - The Avenue of Flags will be on display at Andersonville National Cemetery and visitors can reflect at the Naitonal P.O.W. Museum.

Shiloh National Military Park - Ceremonies will be held tomorrow at the Confederate Mass Graves (near Tour Stop #13) at 11 a.m., followed by ceremonies at Shiloh National Cemetery at 11:30 a.m.

Pea Ridge National Military Park - Closed due to budget cuts, which I find to be a particularly sad way to observe Memorial Day.  Perhaps closing on a different day this week would have been more appropriate?

Cowpens National Battlefield - Memorial Day services will take place at the Visitor Center at 11:55 a.m.

Fort Pickens - Living history encampment all day, ranger led tours of the fort at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and a moment of silence at 3 p.m.

There will be many other events coordinated on a local, state and national level tomorrow.  If you can attend one, please do.  If you are unable to attend in person, I hope you will join me in observing a moment of silence at 3 p.m.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Grants Grand Assault on Vicksburg (May 22, 1863)

Railroad Redoubt at Vicksburg, Mississippi
Blue (U.S.) and Red Signs (C.S.) show the scene of hand to hand fighting.
150 years ago today, after one of the most ferocious bombardments ever unleashed on an American city, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant sent his Union army forward against the Confederate defenses of Vicksburg, Mississippi.  It was an unmitigated disaster.

Grant had closed in on Vicksburg from the east 4 days earlier after battling Confederate forces at Port Gibson, Raymond, Big Black River and other locations. The Confederate commander, Gen. John Pemberton, fell back into the prepared fortifications that ringed Vicksburg and prepared to defend the vital city that controlled traffic on the Mississippi River and provided a link between the two halves of the Confederacy that the river divided.

Stockade Redan at Vicksburg
In a first attempt to break through Pemberton's lines, the Union commander had sent Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman forward against the Stockade Redan on May 19, 1863. Confederate forces - primarily the 36th Mississippi Infantry - sent Sherman's men reeling back for their own lines. Confederate losses in the assault, the first fighting of the Battle of Vicksburg, totaled 8 killed and 62 wounded. Union casualties were much higher, with 157 killed and 777 wounded.

Grant tried again three days later on May 22, 1863. It was that attack, which took place 150 years ago today, that resulted in some of the bloodiest fighting of the Siege and Battle of Vicksburg.

Confederate Cannon at Vicksburg

Pemberton's men knew the attack was coming when, on the previous night, the Union army opened on the city with more than 220 cannon. The warships of the Union navy steamed to within range and joined in the bombardment, as soldiers and civilians alike in the beleaguered city dug tunnels to protect themselves from the falling shells.

Then, at 10 o'clock a.m., the Union army advanced. Watching from their lines, the Confederates saw enemy columns forming for attacks on the Stockade Redan, Great Redoubt, Third Louisiana Redan, Second Texas Lunette and the Railroad Redoubt. In the military terms of the day, a redan was a triangular fortification, a lunette was a semi-circular or crescent fortification and a redoubt was a square or rectangular fort.

Second Texas Lunette
Confederate cannon swept the field as the three-mile wide attack developed. The attacks on the Stockade Redan and Great Redoubt were driven back with heavy losses. The Federals almost broke through at the Second Texas Lunette, where heavy fighting took place before Confederate troops finally broke apart their attack.

The critical moment of the day came, however, when Union soldiers stormed over the walls of the Railroad Redoubt and drove out its Confederate defenders. The desperately needed break in the Southern lines had been achieved, but before the Federals could exploit the advantage gained at the redoubt, Waul's Texas Legion counterattacked and drove them out in hand-to-hand fighting.

When all was said and done, the Confederacy still held Vicksburg and Grant had lost more than 3,000 men compared to a loss of around 500 for Pemberton.

To learn more about the Battle of Vicksburg and to check the schedule of planned 150th Anniversary events planned for this Memorial Day Weekend, please visit

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sherman's Attack on Vicksburg (May 19, 1863)

Stockade Redan and Scene of Sherman's Attack
As the sun set over the high bluffs of Vicksburg, Mississippi, 150 years ago tonight, darkness fell to the sounds of groans and cries for help coming from hundreds of Union soldiers.

It was 150 years ago today, on May 19, 1863, that Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to hurl his forces against the Stockade Redan, one of the powerful Confederate forts that ringed the city of Vicksburg. Grant hoped to strike a severe blow against the Southern defenses and break through into the city.

Stockade Redan from the Confederate Lines
The redan (a triangular fort) was powerfully-built, with earthen walls that were 17 feet high and a ditch of dry moat more than 8 feet wide. In front of the Stockade Redan was a cleared field of fire across which the Federals would have to advance into a hail of musket and cannon fire not only from the redan, but from an entire section of the Confederate line.

Stockade Redan was defended by the soldiers of the 36th Mississippi Infantry.

The Union soldiers attacked valiantly, but the Confederates were ready for them. By the time the heavy firing ended, Sherman's men had been hurled back in a bloody defeat. The Federals lost 157 killed and 777 wounded, while the Confederate army of Gen. John C. Pemberton lost only 8 killed and 62 wounded.

Rebel yells flowed over the open ground where masses of men in blue writhed in pain and agony. It would take all night to clear the wounded and give them even a semblance of care.

With the failed Union attack, the Battle of Vicksburg had begun. It would continue for more than six more weeks and when all was said and done, the Vicksburg Campaign would cost 20,000 men their lives. The fall of the city would break the Confederacy in two and give the Union control of the Mississippi River.

To learn more about the battle, please visit

To learn more about events planned for the 150th anniversary of the battle, please visit

Vicksburg 150th Anniversary Events Set for Memorial Day Weekend

Stockade Redan at Vicksburg
Memorial Day Weekend this year also marks the 150th anniversary of the Siege and Battle of Vicksburg, Mississippi, one of the most critical battles of the Civil War.

The battle for Vicksburg actually began on May 19, 1863 - 150 years ago today - when Gen. Ulysses S. Grant hurled his army against the Confederate fortifications at the Stockade Redan in an attempt to break through the Southern lines and capture the city without resorting to a long siege. The Confederate Army of Gen. John C. Pemberton, however, hurled back the attack in bloody fashion. Pemberton lost only 8 men killed and 62 wounded, compared to 157 killed and 777 wounded for Grant.

Battery De Golyer at Vicksburg
A second, larger attack came three days later on May 21, 1863, after a horrible bombardment of both military and civilian targets in Vicksburg, but ended in an greater disaster for the Union army. Some 3,000 U.S. soldiers were killed or wounded, compared to around 500 Confederates.

The fighting would go on for more than six weeks, ending only after the Confederate defenders and civilians in Vicksburg had been reduced to eating rats, mules and boiled shoe-leather. Gen. Pemberton surrendered the city to Grant on July 4, 1863, the same day that Pickett's Charge failed at Gettysburg.

To learn more about the Battle of Vicksburg, please visit

In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the bloody siege and battle at Vicksburg, the National Park Service has planned numerous events that are now underway and will continue thorugh Memorial Day Weekend.  Here is a schedule:

Sunday, May 19

First Assault Programs:
10:00 a.m. - Confederate Perspective, Begins at Stockade Redan (Tour Stop 12)
1:00 p.m. - Union Perspective, Begins at Stockade Redan Attack Display (Tour Stop 5)

Wednesday, May 22

Memorial Day Event:
7:30 a.m. - Placement of flags on graves at Vicksburg National Cemetery.

Second Assault Programs:
10:00 a.m. - The Forlorn Hope, Begins at Stockade Redan Attack Display (Tour Stop 5)
10:00 a.m. - Second Texas Lunette Attack, Begins at Second Texas Lunette (Tour Stop 12)
10:00 a.m. - Assault on the Great Redoubt, Begins at the Great Redoubt (Tour Stop 11)
1:00 p.m. - Assault on Railroad Redoube, Begins at Railroad Redoubt (Tour Stop 13).

Thursday, May 23

Memorial Day Events:
10:00 a.m. - U.S. Postal Service Sesquicentennial Stamp National Event at USS Cairo Museum.
7:00 - 10:00 p.m. - Shadows of the Past walk at Vicksburg National Cemetery.

Friday, May 24

Memorial Day Event:
7:00 p.m. - U.S. Navy Band Concert at Park Visitor Center.

Saturday, May 25

Memorial Day Events:

9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. - Soldiers Thru the Ages Display at USS Cairo Museum
9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. - Programs held throughout the day at:

  • Shirley House/Illinois Monument/Old Jackson Road 
  • Pemberton's Headquarters (Crawford Street, downtown Vicksburg)
  • Old Administration Building (Pemberton Ave., inside park) - U.S. Camel Corps program.
  • Living History programs at various locations in the park.
9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. - Book Signings at the Park Visitor Center featuring Jeff Shaara, Dr. John Marszalek, Tim Isbell, Jeff Biambrone and Rebecca Drake.
10:00 a.m. - Re-Dedication of the Iowa State Memorial.
7:00 p.m. - Concert featuring Mississippi Symphony Orchestra with guest appearance by Trace Adkins at Park Visitor Center.

Sunday, May 26

Memorial Day Events:
9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. - Soldiers Thru the Ages Display at USS Cairo Museum
9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. - Programs held throughout the day at:

  • Shirley House/Illinois Monument/Old Jackson Road 
  • Pemberton's Headquarters (Crawford Street, downtown Vicksburg)
  • Old Administration Building (Pemberton Ave., inside park) - U.S. Camel Corps program.
  • Living History programs at various locations in the park.
7:00 p.m. - Concert by Jackson Mass Community Choir at the Park Visitor Center.

Monday, May 27

Memorial Day Events:
10:00 a.m. - Vicksburg City Memorial Day Parade in Downtown Vicksburg.
11:00 a.m. - Vicksburg City Memorial Day Program at Vicksburg Civic Center.
12:00 noon - Wreath Laying at Vicksburg National Cemetery.

Wednesday, July 3

Luminary Commemoration:
7:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. - 20,000 luminaries will be placed throughout the park and on Confederate Avenue in Vicksburg at every State Memorial to honor the casualties suffered by each state, North and South, during the Vicksburg Campaign.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Sunbury - A Georgia Ghost Town!

An original street runs along Church Square in Sunbury
I have a fascination with ghost towns because I love to walk their former streets and wonder what they looked like and what life was like in them.

Perhaps my favorite of all Southern ghost towns is Sunbury, once a booming port town that rivaled Savannah in commerce. Today, all that remains are a few old roads, the earthworks at Fort Morris State Historic Site and a cemetery.

Founded in 1758 as part of the Congregationalist movement from Dorchester, South Carolina, to what is now Liberty County, Georgia, Sunbury grew dramatically in the years before the American Revolution. By 1773, for example, it had over 1,000 residents. The town was visited that year by the famed naturalist William Bartram:

Markers tell the story of the "Dead Town"
There are about one hundred houses in the town neatly built of wood frame having pleasant Piasas [i.e. piazzas] around them. The inhabitants are genteel and wealthy, either Merchants or Planters from the Country who resort here in the Summer and Autumn, to partake of the Salubrious Sea Breeze, Bathing & sporting on the Sea Islands.

The people of Sunbury were fierce supporters of the cause of American Independence and they paid dearly for it. The British occupied their town in both 1778 and 1779, even using it as a place to hold American prisoners of war. Residents fled the British occupation and by the end of the Revolution, Sunbury was but a shell of its former self.

The town continued its decline after the war until eventually it was gone.  Union troops even burned the Baptist church during Sherman's March to the Sea.  Not a building still stands and even the vast majority of the graves in the cemetery are no longer marked. Sunbury is a true ghost town of the Georgia coast.

To learn more, visit

To learn more about Sunbury Cemetery, visit

To learn more about Fort Morris, visit

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fort Morris State Historic Site - Midway, Georgia

Fortifications at Fort Morris State Historic Site
One of the classic moments in American history took place at a rough fort in Liberty County, Georgia, in 1778.  The place was Fort Morris and the moment developed when a British force surrounded the outpost and demanded its surrender:

Sir: - You cannot be ignorant that four armies are in motion to reduce this Province. One is already under the guns of your fort, and may be joined when I think proper by Col. Prevost, who is now at the Midway Meeting-House. The resistance you can or intend to make will only bring destruction upon this country. On the contrary, if you will deliver to me the fort which you command, lay down your arms, and remain neuter until the fate of America is determined, you shall, together with all the inhabitants of this parish, remain in peaceable possession of your property. Your answer, which I expect in an hour's time, will determine the fate of this country, whether it be laid in ashes, or remain as above proposed. - Col. L.V. Fuser, British Commander

Earthworks at Fort Morris State Historic Site
The British had invaded Georgia from East Florida, which along with West Florida had not joined in the revolt and had remained loyal to King George III. One British force, commanded by Lt. Col. J.;M. Prevost, had defeated outnumbered Patriot forces at the Battle of Midway Church and had already burned the Midway Congregational Church, which Col. Fuser referred to in his demand as Midway Meeting-House.

Fuser's column, which was to surround and pin down the garrison of Fort Morris at the port town of Sunbury, had been slow in arriving and Col. Fuser did not know on the date he issued his demand that Col. Prevost had already begun a slow withdrawal back to Florida.

Neither did Col. John McIntosh, the American commander of Fort Morris, not that he would have cared:

American Cannon at Fort Morris State Historic Site
Sir: - We acknowledge we are not ignorant that your army is in motion to endeavor to reduce this State. We believe it entirely chimerial that Col. Prevost is at the Meeting-House; but should it be so, we are in no degree apprehensive of danger from a juncture of his army with yours. We have no property which we value a rush, compared with the object for which we content, and would rather perish in a vigorous defense than accept of your proposals. We, sir, are fighting the battles of America, and therefore disdain to remain neutral till its fate is determined. As to surrendering the fort, receive this laconic reply: COME AND TAKE IT. - Col. John McIntosh, American Commander.

"Come and take it!" would become a battle cry for generations of Americans and would symbolize defiance against attacking forces for years to come. In the Texas Revolution, for example, it was adopted in 1835 by the men of Gonzales who organized to defend a cannon from an attempt by the Mexican government to take it from them. They raised a flag emblazoned with the words, "Come and take it!" and when the Mexican army tried to do that, defeated them in the first fighting of the Texas Revolution.

Fort Morris also stood defiant against the British in 1778. Viewing the walls of the fort, its 24 pieces of artillery and having read Col. McIntosh's bold words, Col. Fuser decided not to make the attempt. His men withdrew from Sunbury and retreated to their ships, American cannon balls falling in their dust.

Fort Morris State Historic Site is a fascinating place on the Georgia Coast just south of Savannah. To learn more, please visit

Take a video tour of the site here:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Cannibalism at Jamestown? Scientists may have found the proof!

Fort at Jamestown, Virginia
Did the English colonists at Jamestown resort to cannibalism as they tried to survive during the "starving time" winter of 1609-1610?

The writings of early colonists have always said yes to that question, but there has never been any physical proof that the claims were true - until now.

A scientist with the Smithsonian says that the skeleton of a 15-year-old girl found by archaeoligists in a Colonial era trash dump at Jamestown shows marks that indicate she was cut up and eaten!

Read more:

Jamestown from the water.
Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States. It was founded in 1607, thirteen years before the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock. 

On the other hand, the Spanish settlers of St. Augustine in Florida were living in a well-established community with stone houses and a public park by the time the Jamestown settlers reached Virginia. St. Augustine was founded in 1565, more than forty years before Jamestown, and is the oldest permanent settlement in the continental United States.

Learn more about historic Jamestown, Virginia:

Learn more about historic St. Augustine, Florida:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Midway Congregational Church - Midway, Georgia

Midway Congregational Church in Georgia
One of the most beautiful landmarks of the Georgia Coast, Midway Congregational Church was founded before the American Revolution and played an important role in that war. The current structure dates from 1792.

It was at Midway Church, often called Midway Meeting House, in 1775 that the residents of what is now Liberty County gathered to elect someone to represent them at the Second Continental Congress. The Congregationalists settled in Midway, Sunbury and the surrounding area had originally come from Dorchester, Massachusetts, and were quick to support their their former neighbors there in the wake of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

The present structure was completed in 1792.
The community was targeted by the British in 1778 and Colonel James Screven, now buried in the Midway Cemetery, was mortally wounded at the Battle of Midway Church. The original church structure was burned by the British following that battle, but was rebuilt in 1792.

The church was occupied by troops again some nine decades later during the final days of Sherman's March to the Sea. The cavalry of Union Gen. Judson Kilpatrick corralled their horses in the cemetery and Kilpatrick made Midway Church his headquarters as Sherman was closing in on Savannah and Fort McAllister.

Please visit our new Midway Congregational Church page to learn more about this historic landmark: