KENTUCKY: Honor for Civil War Battlefield
We recently moved one step closer toward designating Mill Springs Battlefield a national park, thanks to Congressman Hal Rogers.
Before the House passed H.R. 298, a bill to authorize a National Park Service study on including the battlefield in the park system, Rogers offered an inspiring speech on the House floor on the value of the site.
The congressman stated, “After years of work preserving this precious historic site, the Mill Springs Battlefield Association has expressed its desire to turn the site over to the National Park Service and the people of the United States so that the joy of learning and history will be enjoyed by many more people through the years.”
Mill Springs Battlefield is an incredibly important site in American history, and deserves recognition as a unit of the National Park System.
More than 150 years ago, the Union achieved its first Civil War victory at Mill Springs. President Abraham Lincoln realized that winning support from the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware was crucial during the Civil War — and it began with this battle. With its rich history and identification by the Interior Department as an endangered battlefield, these and other stories deserve to be examined and shared by the National Park Service.
After the Interior Department placed Mill Springs Battlefield on its list of endangered battlefields back in 1991, the Mill Springs Battlefield Association was formed and started working with dedicated community volunteers to leverage private and public funds to preserve important tracts at the site.
The association opened a 10,000-square-foot visitor center and museum to interpret and educate visitors about the battle. Interactive interpretive exhibits, state-of-the-art archives, a gift shop and meeting rooms are adjacent to the association’s 500 acres of battlefield land. The association also maintains more than two miles of hiking trails and an eight-mile, 10-stop driving tour with more than 20 interpretive panels.
It is the goal of the association to donate all of the battlefield acreage, historic homes on the property and the visitor center to the federal government with the condition that the site be designated a unit of the National Park System. This would ensure the site is protected in perpetuity for future generations.
The designation of Mill Springs Battlefield as a national park would also bring a significant economic boost to Eastern Kentucky. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has touted the potential for Eastern Kentucky to become a regional tourist destination. A Mill Springs Battlefield national park site can and should be a part of that transformation.
National park sites are proven economic engines — every dollar invested in the National Park Service yields nearly $10 in economic activity. In 2012, national parks supported 243,000 local jobs and pumped $26.75 billion into the economy. We should work to bring some of those benefits to our communities.
With passage of a special resource study in the House, we are closer to our goal of national park designation for Mill Springs Battlefield. We now turn to the Senate for similar leadership in getting a bill introduced and passed soon. We encourage those throughout Kentucky who want to see this become a reality to stand with us and make your voices heard in the coming months.
Jack Keeney is executive director of the Mill Springs Battlefield Association; Emily Jones is senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.
Arkansas: Civil War in the Ozarks Vol. VIII
(This story was researched and written by Vincent Anderson.)
The Union cavalry which had captured Confederate Major J.W. Methvin and raided Mountain Home made its way back to Missouri after an encounter with Rebel troops at Tucker’s Flat in October 1862. The ill Methvin’s journey was about to become even longer.
The Union now had its claim on a sick soldier, Maj. John Woodward Methvin, in the military prison in Springfield, Mo. On Nov. 12, 1862, Methvin made a request for paper and pen to write a letter for his appeal of a parole.
This letter, currently on file at the National Archives, is the last documentation in Methvin’s hand. Methvin appealed to the Provost Marshall for his release, stating, “I was brought here on the 20th of October, last, and my health being somewhat impaired since I came here. I therefore ask parole with such bonds & terms as your honor may suggest. My certificate of appointment was taken from me at Ozark by the Adjutant or Sergeant Major of that place if you can do anything for me that would better my situation. The favor will be properly appreciated. I am, lieutenant, with much respect, your obedient servant.”
His request was not granted, and the decision was made that he should be transferred to infamous Gratiot Street Prison in St. Louis.
Weary trek to Gratiot
According to other Confederate POWs, the trip from Springfield to Rolla, Mo., was a weary trek; most men were made to walk most of the way, and the roads also were very rough. There were no tents, and the prisoners were compelled to lie on the ground every night without shelter. Sometimes it would rain, and in the morning, they would find themselves wet, muddy and nearly frozen.
Those who were sick, injured or incapable of walking from Rolla to St. Louis were allowed to board the rail cars in Rolla, since this town was the terminus for the railroad into the Ozarks. By the time the exhausted soldiers reached St. Louis, complete fatigue had set in.
According to one captured Confederate, “The weather being extremely cold, we had a very disagreeable trip indeed, nothing to eat for twenty-four hours, and when we reached St. Louis we were as hungry as wolves. We had to stand in the street for over an hour before we could be admitted to the prison, during which time one poor fellow took a congestive chill and died.
“Before our admission we were searched, and deprived of our money, knives, papers, and in fact everything we had about us, (except my journal, which they were unable to find.) We were then shown to our quarters, the upper room in the round building — a very dark, gloomy place, and very filthy besides.”
There were about 800 prisoners in Gratiot, and more coming in every day from all parts of the country. When awaking on the next morning, it was discovered that Gratiot was a very hard place, much worse than Springfield. Again, a prisoner would testify, “The fare is so rough, it seems an excellent place to starve. Am not particularly fond of any prison, but must say that I give Springfield the preference over this.”
Methvin diesin prison
The prisoners were only allowed two meals a day, and the cooks kept busy, even working in the dark. Some 200 or 300 prisoners would eat at a time, and the tin plates and cups were never washed from the first to the last table.
Breakfast consisted of one-fifth loaf of baker’s bread, a small portion of bacon and a tin cup of stuff they called coffee. For dinner, the same amount of bread, a hunk of beef and a pint of the water the beef was boiled in, which was called soup. Sometimes a couple of boiled potatoes were portioned out. Knives, forks and spoons were not allowed, and all ate with their hands. Many would leave the table as hungry as they went to it.
It was in this institution that Methvin was confined. The hospital, which is the highest room in the prison, contained a great many sick at this time. The Sisters of Charity would visit daily, ministering to them and supplying such delicacies as their poor appetites could receive, and their weak conditions required.
Initially in Arkansas, Methvin was sick with pneumonia, and subsequently, he grew worse. In the last days of his imprisonment, Methvin contracted meningitis and died. Methvin passed from this life, away from his family and friends. Death records from Missouri newspapers made mention that he died on Dec. 10, 1862. Methvin was buried at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. A monument was placed in the cemetery for him on July 19, 1864. His body rests there to this day.
Upon hearing the sad news, numerous friends of Methvin made eulogizing comments concerning such a kind and considerate man.
He was a highly respected citizen before the Civil War, and the soldiers held him in great esteem. Methvin was known to defend his men’s rights in his regiment; he also put his life on the line several times in battle. They truly admired and respected him as an officer in their regiment.
In speaking of his death, Silas Turnbo said, “The Confederate Army lost a true and brave soldier and Arkansas a noble citizen.”
Rest in peace, Maj. John Woodward Methvin.
–Baxter County Historical and Genealogical Society
WHITE COUNTY, Ark. — The Dogwood Cemetery in rural White County is a special place for those who have friends and loved ones buried beneath its gray stones. The cemetery also has historical significance because of the 33 Confederate and one Union soldier whose final resting places are there. Tom Bird and the Sons of Confederate Veterans have made it their mission to restore to pristine condition not only the gravestones of the war’s dead, but the entire cemetery.
Bird explained that he is among five members of his division of the group, or “camp,” who have received training from the Historic Preservation Society on the proper way to clean and preserve gravestones. He said the process is not just a simple case of grabbing a bucket of water and a brush.
“There are do’s and don’ts,” Bird said. “If you use the wrong chemical, like bleach or Roundup, around the headstones, it can cause a sugaring effect because of the salt content in them, and you can end up causing more harm than good.”
The proper cleaning technique involves applying an algae-killing solution called D2 designed to clean limestone and granite. The stones are coated with the substance with a soft-bristle brush and tongue depressors to get into the grooves of a stone’s markings. After that painstaking process, Mother Nature takes over as rainfall washes the algae away from the stones to reveal their original condition.
In addition to the large number of known Civil War veterans’ gravestones at Dogwood, there is evidence that more soldiers may be buried there. Bird said that because graves are usually laid out in rows, when there are empty spaces between headstones it is possible that unmarked graves are present.
A mound near the center of the Dogwood Cemetery with a large rock resting on top of it has been noted by the White County Historical Society website as being a possible mass grave for Civil War soldiers because of its resemblance to a mass grave found in Pennsylvania.
Finding and preserving the graves of Civil War veterans is a worthwhile venture, not only for the families of the dead, but on a larger scale, Bird said.
“It’s our history, and it’s a part of the healing process of our nation,” he said.
Bird works with families to find the graves of their ancestors who fought in the Civil War, but said the process is often difficult-to-impossible. He said the National Registry for Confederate Soldiers is a good resource for those who are searching for information about where their Civil War ancestors are buried. Since Confederate soldiers weren’t buried in national cemeteries, many are buried in private cemeteries, while others’ graves remain unmarked.
“Battlefields are cemeteries. A lot of times soldiers were buried where they fell,” Bird said.
The Civil War veterans buried in the Dogwood Cemetery are believed to have been brought there from a nearby Confederate hospital at the site that was to become known as Egbert, according to records from the White County Historical Society.
Each member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is a descendant of a Civil War soldier. Bird’s ancestor was James Barnett Parsons, who fought in 28th Alabama Company 8 and was captured outside Nashville, Tennessee. He was held at Camp Douglas until Tennessee surrendered.
Bird’s family has a long history of military service. His father fought in World War II and was the recipient of four Bronze Stars and a Service Arrowhead from the invasion of South France. Bird also had family members who fought in the War of 1812, as well as the Revolutionary and Mexican wars.
HAMPTON, Va. — Archaeologists began peeling back the earth a few hundred yards from the center of this old Virginia port town Wednesday, probing for signs of the pioneering freedmen’s village where thousands of refugee slaves lived during the Civil War.
Using the giant shovel of a Gradall excavator, they shaved down through almost two feet of soil piled up over more than 150 years, looking intently for any stain or artifact that might provide a link to the densely built settlement of shanties that rose up in the scorched ruins of Hampton after its destruction by a Confederate fire in August 1861.
But even after several promising postholes and a scattering of mid-1800s artifacts emerged from the dirt early Thursday, archaeologist Nicholas M. Luccketti tempered his optimism with the recognition that finding any significant trace of the contraband slaves’ short-lived cluster of small dwellings, fenced-in lots and meandering alleyways will require both luck and determination.
But the structures we see in the pictures were slightly built and ephemeral. They were followed by continuous occupation and many more buildings constructed on top of them from the Civil War period on. So this is going to be an extraordinary challenge.”
Freedom’s first generation
Sparked by Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler’s landmark May 24, 1861, decision to give asylum to three runaway Hampton slaves as “contraband of war,” thousands and thousands of blacks converged on Union-held Fort Monroe, arriving in such numbers that their teeming camp soon overflowed into even larger satellite villages — first in what is now called Phoebus and then in the fire-blackened remains of Hampton.
After the departure of the encamped Army of the Potomac in April 1862, especially, as many as 7,000 souls crammed into the sprawling hodgepodge of shanties and cabins that sprouted up mostly north of Queen Street and the far western outskirts of town near what is now called Armistead Avenue.
Described by the late historian Robert Engs as the home of “freedom’s first generation,” the pioneering settlement quickly became a kind of social, political and racial laboratory in which black residents built their own dwellings, founded their own churches and schools and pressed the Union army to recognize their new status as free men.
But other than the names of the streets, which were dubbed “Lincoln,” “Liberty,” “Grant” and “Union, precious little physical evidence remains of the village where thousands helped shape the gradual redefinition of the Civil War into a struggle for emancipation.
“Much has been written about the contrabands here, but this is the first time archaeologists have looked for the remnants of the Grand Contraband Camp that once stood on this ground,” said Hampton History Museum Curator J. Michael Cobb.
“What they find will open a new window on the past that is unavailable anywhere else, giving us new insights into who these courageous people were and how they lived. This is the place where the contraband experiment began and eventually led to emancipation.”
Still, none of the experts conducting the city-funded dig for theJames River Institute for Archaeology thinks the job of ferreting out the settlement will be easy after all the changes that have altered the Hampton landscape since the Civil War.
The shanties of the contraband camp were “insubstantial to begin with,” said institute historian Matthew R. Laird, and the property itself was disturbed by successive waves of development, including the widening of Armistead Avenue and Lincoln Street as well as the construction of the Harbor Square apartment complex in the 1970s.
Coupled with the proliferation of single-family homes built on the 19-acre site during the late 1800s and early 1900s, those disturbances may have destroyed or — in the case of the giant concrete slabs on which Harbor Square was built — completely covered up any evidence of a settlement that lasted only a few years.
So Laird combined new aerial photographs of the property with some half-dozen old insurance maps and other sources reaching back into the 1870s, then pored over the resulting layers to single out the locations with the best chance for preserving any subterranean remains of the refugee village.
What resulted was a collection of primary targets covering fewer than 24,000 square feet — or just over half an acre.
“There are later structures almost everywhere here,” Laird said.
“So what we’re trying to do is find these little undisturbed parcels to focus on while avoiding anything from the late 19th and 20th century that could mask the ephemeral features of the camp.”
Staking out two broad trenches about 15-by-45-feet in size, the archaeologists started excavating just after noon Wednesday after conducting a series of preliminary shovel tests the previous week.
By early Friday, they had added a third trench, scraping the earth away inch-by-inch in search of the telltale stains left that could indicate such features as wells, fence posts, trash pits, root cellars and privies.
Many of the contraband shanties also incorporated crude chimneys constructed from salvaged bricks, creating the potential for finding hearths and chimney bases.
Among the most promising discoveries unearthed by the end of week were multiple post holes that appeared to be parts of various fence lines.
Also uncovered were the remains of what could be an artifact-filled well.
“This is a classic example of a barrel-lined well,” archaeologist Dave Hazzard said, pointing to a band of light-colored earth surrounding a much darker circle of soil left when the well was filled.
“So I’m excited.”
Erickson can be reached at 757-247-4783. Find more Hampton Roads history stories and photos at dailypress.com/history and Facebook.com/hrhistory.
Want to go?
The Hampton Contraband Camp dig
Where: Off Armistead Avenue between Lincoln and Union streets, Hampton
When: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. most weekdays, weather permitting, with guided tours of the dig, historic St. John’s Church graveyard and the Hampton History Museum exhibit “Toward Freedom: Hampton and the Contraband” at 2:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays beginning May 29.
Cost: Dig free, tour $10.