April, 2008

According to the statistics that I get from WordPress, this is the 700th post on this blog. When I started this exercise on September 24, 2005, I figured I would try it out, see if I liked it, and fully expected that it would probably go the way of the dodo bird much sooner than later. I had good reason to believe that–prior efforts to keep a journal petered out in a matter of a few weeks, and I figured that this would work out the same way.

Instead, I found that I really enjoyed having a place to vent, and that even more than having a place to vent, I discovered that I really enjoyed the interactions with the folks who give their valuable time to read what I have to say each day. Nearly 4,500 comments have been left on this blog (not counting the tens of thousands of spam comments that have been gobbled by the software that I use), which is really pretty staggering. I’ve met some terrific folks through the interactions here, and I’ve developed new friendships as a consequence, and all because of this blog.

Along the way, and to my very great shock, this blog was voted one of the top twenty sites on the Civil War on the Internet, and it’s regularly rated in the top 200,000 blogs on Technorati. When you consider that there are millions of blogs and that this is a niche blog, that’s really remarkable. It’s also incredibly humbling.

And so I will continue on. And I hope that you will continue to indulge my rantings.

Thanks to all of you who do.

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I finally shook off my malaise and wrote something new this weekend.

About ten days ago, Mary Koik, the editor of Hallowed Ground, the magazine published by the Civil War Preservation Trust, asked me if I would write an article for the next issue that gave an overview of cavalry operations in the Gettysburg Campaign. The article was to set the stage for the Trust’s efforts to preserve the Hunterstown battlefield, which made the list of ten most threatened battlefields this year for the first time.

Other than this blog, it’s the first thing I’ve written since we finished the additions to One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863. I just haven’t been motivated at all. I’ve tried to work on one other article that I’ve started, but I just haven’t been able to motivate to get it done. Hell, I haven’t even been able to make myself look at it.

I sat down yesterday and cranked out a 4700 word broad overview of cavalry operations in the Gettysburg Campaign in one afternoon. It was written pretty much straight off the top of my head. It’s certainly not intended to be the last word on the subject, but it’s a decent overview. J. D. did a quick edit of it for me, and I turned it in to Mary this afternoon. Considering that I had less than a month to get it done, I’m pretty pleased with the effort.

Once the article has been laid out for the magazine, I will make sure that the PDF file of it is made available on this website for anyone who might want to read it.

Next up is a short article on Lincoln and Meade that I’ve been asked to do. Now that I’ve finally broken the motivational logjam, I’m hoping that I can get it done quickly. Stay tuned.

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The following press release was issued by the Ohio Historical Society today:

Plan Positions Organization for Strong Statewide Services

(Columbus, Ohio, April 11, 2008) – The Ohio Historical Society today announced a restructuring to strengthen the organization and position the private nonprofit for the delivery of strong statewide services.

Facing a $2 million budget deficit resulting from the softening Ohio economy, decreased state funding and increasing inflationary expenses, the OHS Board of Trustees has approved a balanced budget of $20.9 million to support the Society’s activities in the 2009 fiscal year. These include managing a network of 59 historic sites and museums and preserving historic resources for Ohio. The approved budget represents a 3-percent decrease from 2008. The Society also will expend $4.4 million in state capital funds for various projects around Ohio.

Beginning July 1, the Society will focus its investments in priority areas of educational/interpretive programs, collections and outreach. The Board’s goal is to increase its ability to provide services to the people of Ohio, according to Richard D. Ruppert, M.D., president of the OHS Board of Trustees.

“Telling Ohio’s history and preserving our collections for all Ohioans to enjoy and learn from are our main responsibilities,” Ruppert said. “We are confident this strategic approach to restructuring will position the Ohio Historical Society for the future and to be more effective and efficient at providing statewide services.”

OHS Executive Director William K. Laidlaw Jr. added, “Since 2004 the Society has been less reliant on state support by generating income through grants and other private sources. We will continue our efforts to diversify our revenue and involve Ohio citizens.”

Budget priorities include increasing Web access, maintaining access to the Archives/Library at the Ohio Historical Center, continuing improvements in state and local government archival services, retaining most curatorial functions, providing services to local historical societies and operating the Ohio Historic Preservation Office. The Society also will continue its emphasis on museum exhibitions, public events and educational programs, such as school tours at OHS sites, National History Day in Ohio and teacher training.

In addition, the reorganization will position seven OHS sites as regional centers to provide stronger statewide history services and promote economic development through partnerships with local stakeholders, such as historical societies and chambers of commerce. These historic sites include: Adena Mansion & Gardens in Chillicothe and Fort Ancient near Oregonia for southwest Ohio; Campus Martius in Marietta for southeast Ohio; Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Fort Meigs in Perrysburg and Piqua Historical Area in Piqua for northwest Ohio; and Zoar Village in Zoar for northeast Ohio. All will retain their current hours of operation.

Although schedules have been reduced at other OHS sites, most will be open during periods of highest attendance. School and group tours will remain available. Sites with changes in hours include the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus, Paul Lawrence Dunbar House in Dayton, Flint Ridge near Brownsville, Harding Home in Marion, National Road/Zane Grey Museum near Norwich, Serpent Mound near Peebles, Youngstown Historical Center in Youngstown, Fort Laurens near Bolivar, Ohio River Museum in Marietta, Schoenbrunn Village in New Philadelphia and Wahkeena Nature Preserve near Lancaster. For Serpent Mound and Flint Ridge park access will be emphasized with limited access to buildings.

To help defray increasing operating costs, the Society will implement a $1 fee increase for adult ($8), senior ($7) and child ($4) admissions as of April 25 at all locations. School tour fees will remain $3 per person. The last fee increase occurred in 2004.

The Society will work with other groups to operate four sites under management agreements. These include Cedar Bog Nature Preserve near Urbana, Museum of Ceramics in East Liverpool, Ohio Statehouse Education & Visitors Center in Columbus and Tallmadge Church in Tallmadge.

As a part of the restructuring 47 full and part-time positions will be eliminated, including 21 coming from unfilled job vacancies. Of the 26 employees affected by job elimination, 18 worked at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus and the remainder worked at other OHS sites. In addition, 49 employees were notified of changes in their hours. The annualized savings of these position eliminations after restructuring is $1.8 million.

“The Society regrets that a number of dedicated, knowledgeable employees will lose their jobs as we restructure,” Laidlaw said. “We extend our most sincere thanks for their contributions. These are difficult decisions in a difficult economy. Our board is confident that the changes being made are necessary for the Society to help people connect with Ohio’s past in order to understand and create a better future.”

Over the last decade, the Ohio Historical Society has had to retrench its operations as state funding declined from a staffing level of more than 400 full-time equivalent staff members in the 2001 fiscal year to 270 full-time equivalents in the 2009 fiscal year.

Employees notified today of job losses will receive a severance package, full pay of eligible leave balances and outplacement counseling. They also are welcome to apply for the Society’s position vacancies. All employment categories, from professional and managerial to part-time and support positions, were affected among the total number of positions eliminated.

Other cost-cutting measures to be taken include deferred equipment purchases and staff travel restrictions.

Once more, the Ohio Historical Society ends up being the whipping boy for the legislature’s unwillingness to do anything constructive. Once more, state funding has been slashed from the OHS budget, leaving it to flounder on its own. At this point, there’s not much left to cut other than to shut the OHS down. I guess that comes next.

It’s tragic. Apparently, nobody gives a damn.

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Not having been aware of it previously, I’ve added Craig Swain’s Marker Hunter blog to my blog roll.

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Major, major hat tip to Harry Smeltzer for bringing this to my attention.

In a comment to yesterday’s post, Harry made me aware of a very useful resource, the Historical Marker Database, of which I was not previously aware.

It is a veritable fountain of useful information, including photos of the markers and directions to them, as well as the text on each marker, for each one in the database. It is an incredibly useful tool and one that I will inevitably make extensive use of over the years.

Craig Swain mentioned in another comment that he is a regular contributor to the database–thanks for your good work, Craig. Each one you add is a real addition to the body of knowledge. Keep up the good work.

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10 Apr 2008, by

A Cool Discovery

I live in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus is the county seat of Franklin County, named for Ben Franklin. Many of Ohio’s 88 counties are named for Founding Fathers or for heroes of the Revolutionary War. Only a handful are not. The county immediately to the east of Franklin County is called Licking County, named for the Licking River, which meanders through the county. Recently, I’ve had a number of cases in Licking County, so I’ve been traveling to Newark, Ohio, which is the county seat with some degree of regularity.

I had a court appearance in Newark yesterday, and I took a different route than the one I normally take. When I reached the lovely college town of Granville (home of Denison University), I headed east on State Route 16, and, as I reached a golf course with the interesting name of Raccoon International, I spotted a new-looking state historical marker just beyond the entrance to the golf course. As I got closer, I could see that the marker was to Maj. Gen. Charles Griffin, the final commander of the Army of the Potomac’s 5th Corps (pictured here).

I was running late for my hearing, so I didn’t have time to stop. When I got home, I did a little digging was surprised to learn that Griffin had been born and spent most of his childhood in Granville, and that the handsome white farmhouse where the marker stands was his childhood home. This was a new one on me; I had not realized that Griffin was a Buckeye prior to yesterday. Griffin was a member of the West Point Class of 1847 and spent his entire military career in the Regular Army in the years prior to the war, including teaching artillery tactics at West Point. He was promoted from captain commanding a Regular battery to brigadier general of volunteers and assumed command of a brigade of infantry, meaning that he never served with a regiment of volunteer infantry.

The house still stands, and is in good repair. There’s quite a bit of text on the marker, so next time I have a court appearance in Newark, I’m going to have to time the trip so that I have time to stop and at least read the marker, and, hopefully, get a photo of it.

It was a cool discovery to make, and adds yet another important Union general to the list of the Buckeye State’s contributions to the Northern victory in the Civil War.

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From today’s USA Today:

Civil war soldiers’ bodies secretly exhumed

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — Working in secret, federal archaeologists have dug up the remains of dozens of soldiers and children near a Civil War-era fort after an informant tipped them off about widespread grave-looting.

The exhumations, conducted from August to October, removed 67 skeletons from the parched desert soil around Fort Craig — 39 men, two women and 26 infants and children, according to two federal archaeologists who helped with the dig.

They also found scores of empty graves and determined 20 had been looted.

The government kept its exhumation of the unmarked cemetery near the historic New Mexico fort out of the public’s eye for months to prevent more thefts.

The investigation began with a tip about an amateur historian who had displayed the mummified remains of a black soldier, draped in a Civil War-era uniform, in his house.

Investigators say the historian, Dee Brecheisen, may have been a prolific looter who spotted historical sites from his plane. Brecheisen died in 2004 and although it was not clear whether the looting continued after his death, authorities exhumed the unprotected site to prevent future thefts.

“As an archaeologist, you want to leave a site in place for preservation … but we couldn’t do that because it could be looted again,” Jeffery Hanson, of the Bureau of Reclamation, told The Associated Press.

The remains are being studied by Bureau of Reclamation scientists, who are piecing together information on their identities. They will eventually be reburied at other national cemeteries.

Most of the men are believed to have been soldiers — Fort Craig protected settlers in the West from American Indian raids and played a role in the Civil War. Union troops stationed there fought the Confederacy as it moved into New Mexico from Texas in 1862.

The children buried there may have been local residents treated by doctors at the former frontier outpost, officials said.

Federal officials learned of the looting in November 2004, when Don Alberts, a retired historian for Kirtland Air Force Base, tipped them off about a macabre possession he’d seen at Brecheisen’s home about 30 years earlier.

Alberts described seeing the mummified remains of a black soldier with patches of brown flesh clinging to facial bones and curly hair on top of its skull. Alberts said the body had come from Fort Craig.

“The first thing we did was laughed because who would believe such a story,” Hanson said. “But then we quickly decided we better go down and check it out.”

Weeks later, Hanson and fellow archaeologist Mark Hungerford surveyed the cemetery site and found numerous holes — evidence of unauthorized digging.

While records show the cemetery had been disinterred twice by the Army in the late 1800s, it wasn’t known how many bodies remained. Hanson said ground-penetrating radar revealed the Army left behind about one-third of the bodies.

A lack of funding and various federal procedures delayed the excavation until last summer.

Brecheisen’s son told authorities where the mummified remains from his father’s home were, and a person who hasn’t been publicly identified handed over a more-than-century-old skull packaged in a brown paper bag. Alberts said that skull, which still had hair attached, was the one he’d seen years earlier.

Authorities also found some Civil War and American Indian artifacts in Brecheisen’s home, but the display rooms that showcased Brecheisen’s collections had already been emptied out and auctioned off by his family after his death, Hanson said.

Investigators believe Brecheisen did most of his looting alone, but they also know he dug with close friends and family at the Fort Craig site. Some who accompanied him led authorities to the grave sites, Hanson said.

Brecheisen was a decorated Vietnam veteran and flew for the Air National Guard during a 26-year military career. His family described him as “one of the state’s foremost preservationists of historical facts and sites” in his obituary.

Those close to Brecheisen said his looting may have been motivated by anger toward the Bureau of Land Management, but no further details were available. Alberts described him as a collector; it wasn’t clear whether Brecheisen sold any of the items.

Investigators believe he also dug up grave sites in Fort Thorn and Fort Conrad in southern New Mexico as well as prehistoric American Indian burial sites in the Four Corners region.

Hungerford said they also believe he may have taken the Fort Craig burial plot map, which is missing from the National Archives.

The criminal case against Brecheisen was closed upon his death and there are no plans to investigate his family members, assistant U.S. Attorney Mary McCulloch said.

Alberts said he asked Brecheisen to come clean.

“I had urged him to simply return the remains, about 10, 15 years before he got ill. I offered to act as an honest broker to the deal and see that they were returned, but I didn’t get a response,” Alberts said. “I didn’t want to get a friend in trouble.”

He added: “But you look back and think you would have done everything differently if you would have known everything was going to disappear.”

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

There just aren’t a lot of things lower than grave robbing. Kudos to the folks showing respect for these poor, departed souls.

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Hat tip to Randy Drais for bringing this to my attention:

The Emmitsburg, Maryland Historical Society is apparently one of the sponsors of a new battlefield advocacy group, the Monterey Pass Battlefield Association. The Battle of Monterey Pass has always been a favorite engagement of mine. I’ve written about it at length, first in an article that appeared in North and South magazine, then in my editing of James H. Kidd’s various writings, and then again at length in One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863.

Here’s the description of the group’s mission statement from the website:

Our goal is to identify & raise awareness to educate the public about the historical Civil War significance of the Monterey Area.

I think it’s an admirable goal, and I intend to join the organization and do what I can to promote its objectives. John Buford’s cavalry marched through the Pass on its way to Gettysburg, and most of the Army of Northern Virginia used the Pass during the retreat from Gettysburg. The battle on the night of July 4-5, 1863 was one of the most significant actions of the Gettysburg Campaign, both for what it was, an also for what it could have been.

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Good news from Perryville!!!

Perryville rejects subdivision zoning near battlefield
By Greg Kocher

Lexington Hearld-Leader (KY)

PERRYVILLE — By a 4-1 vote Thursday night, the Perryville City Council rejected a proposed subdivision that would have been near Kentucky’s largest Civil War battlefield. “I’m relieved,” said Sherry Robinson, a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who had spoken against the proposal. “Right now, we’re ecstatic.”

Marion “Pete” Coyle Jr., the landowner who had wanted to develop a portion of his farm on U.S. 150 just west of downtown Perryville, had little comment after the vote.

“I’m upset right now,” Coyle said as he left City Hall.

Had the council approved the rezoning, Coyle could have put 53 single-family houses, an assisted living center and two commercial highway businesses on 34 acres.

But the proposal came under fire from Civil War re-enactors and preservationists who feared the rezoning would only open more farmland around the battlefield to development. At last count, city hall had received 169 telephone calls, many from re-enactors around the country who opposed the development. Re-enactors say Perryville remains relatively unspoiled and appears much as it would have to its original combatants.

“We have to continue to protect this land, because if we don’t there’s a strong possibilty it may rear its head again,” said Union re-enactor Chad Greene of Perryville.

The proposed rezoning prompted the Civil War Preservation Trust, a non-profit group in Washington D.C., to put Perryville on its Top 10 list of endangered battlefields last month.

Some 7,500 were killed or wounded in the October 1862 Battle of Perryville. It was a tactical Confederate victory, but Kentucky remained in Union hands for the rest of the war. Perryville council member Sheila Cox recalled those soldiers while reading a written statement about her support for Coyle’s proposal.

“I would hope to think that the soldiers that lost their lives for rights and freedom did not intend for us not to grow and make progress,” Cox said.

She added: “The battlefield and the city of Perryville both need to understand that each other have got to give and take in order to survive. The Coyle proposal has taken great pains in seeing that the plans include the best interests of both parties.”

But council member Georgeanne Edwards said Coyle had failed to demonstrate a need for the rezoning. And she said there was no evidence of any major economic, social or physical changes to the area that might warrant a zone change.

“Also, the development is not compatible with the efforts to preserve the Perryville battlefield, and the historically significant land surrounding the battlefield,” Edwards said.

On the vote to reject the rezoning, council members Edwards, Bill Chance, Julie Clay and Dawn Hastings voted yes, and Cox voted no. Council member Phillip Crowe was absent. Mayor Anne Sleet was not permitted to vote because she is not a member of the legislative body.

Troops did not fight on the Coyle property. However, Old Mackville Road, used by both Confederate and Union soldiers as they went to and from the battlefield, crosses through the property.

Last fall Coyle had preliminary talks with the state Parks Department, which wanted to purchase an easement for the old road and turn it into a walking trail.

But those talks stalled when Gov. Steve Beshear shifted $29 million in bond money to the Kentucky Horse Park for preparations for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Council member Clay said she was encouraged that Coyle wanted to preserve the Old Mackville Road corridor.

“I think that’s something we should look into,” Clay said. “We do receive a lot of visitors to the battlefield. And I think walking the land that the soldiers walked would be an interesting and agreeable thing to promote.”

Good news indeed. Thanks to everyone who called after reading about this situation on this blog. Together we prove the power we have to preserve hallowed ground.

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My first book, Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions, was published in 1998 by Thomas Publications. It won the third Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award as the best new work interpreting the Battle of Gettysburg of 1998, and, to this day, remains the only book-length treatment of the events it covers. Although never a spectacular seller, it always had steady sales and continues to be in demand. Nevertheless, Dean Thomas, in his infinite wisdom, decided to let the book go out of print, and upon my request, Dean reverted the publication rights to me.

Some of you may recall that I wrestled with the question of what to do with the book on this blog last spring. I opened it up to you readers to tell me what you thought I should do, and I never did make a decision other than that I wanted to find a way to keep it in print. Fortunately, I’ve now resolved that dilemma.

I’m pleased to inform you that I’ve found way to bring the book back into print without having to incur huge cost or to maintain a large inventory to do so. Ingram Books has a division called Lightning Source that does print-on-demand work, and will print as few as a single copy if that’s all that’s ordered. The best part is that the book will be available in the Ingram catalog and should be back on Amazon, although it will have a new ISBN. We need to design a new title page and to change the cover, in part to reflect the new ISBN, and then the book will once again be available for order.

In addition, I’m in the process of having a web site developed and designed to sell my books, and it will be available for sale there for sure.

I’m just pleased as punch that the book will be back in print after being unavailable for more than a year. There’s just no way that a ten-year-old 150 page book should be so rare and should be selling for more than $45 per copy on the secondary market, but it you check Amazon’s listing for it, that’s all that there is available. I will let everyone know when the book will be back in print and is available for order.

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