Virginia: USS Monitor Burials to be Interred at Arlington Cemetery

RICHMOND, Va. — Navy Secretary Ray Mabus says the remains of two unknown Union sailors recovered from the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor will be interred in Arlington National Cemetery on March 8.

In an announcement Tuesday, Mabus said they could be the last Navy personnel from the Civil War buried at Arlington.

The two skeletons and the tattered remains of their uniforms were discovered in the rusted hulk of the Union Civil War ironclad in 2002 when its 150-ton turret was raised from the ocean floor off Cape Hatteras, N.C.

Conservators of the wreck had a forensic reconstruction done on the two sailors’ faces in the longshot bid that someone could identify the sailors who went down with the Monitor 150 years ago.

A model of a skull, one of the phases of facial reconstruction of the older of two sailors of the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor is adjusted by gloved hands in the auditorium of the US Navy Memorial in Washington, Tuesday, March 6, 2012. In an effort to identify two Civil War sailors recovered from the shipwreck of the USS Monitor, Louisiana State University's FACES Laboratory worked with NOAA to complete forensic facial reconstructions on the two lost men recovered in 2002.

However, the sailors’ identities remain unknown.

The iconic Union ironclad sank in 230 feet of water 16 miles off Cape Hatteras on the way to Port Royal, S.C., on New Year’s Eve in 1862. Sixteen of her 62 crewmen were lost that night (see sidebar).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has administered the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary since it was created by Congress in 1975, has sent all artifacts recovered from the ironclad to The Mariners’ Museum.

After NOAA and the U.S. Navy determined that the entire ship could not be raised, selected parts have been recovered, the largest of which was the 140-ton turret in 2002.

When the ship sank, the turret came off and rested upside-down on the ocean floor, with the upside down hull then landing on top of it, covering the turret.

While doing some excavation inside the turret underwater on July 26, 2002, the remains of the first crewman, known as Monitor 1, were discovered.

“A few weeks later after raising the turret, we found the second set of remains, Monitor 2,” said Jeff Johnston, Monitor National Marine Sanctuary project historian, who was present on the expedition ship.

“We know all 16 men who were lost that night, four officers and 12 enlisted men. Any time we’ve ever gone out and worked on the site, we work with the knowledge that it is potentially a tomb for 16 men,” Johnston said.

There has been considerable speculation about who the two men were whose remains were recovered from the turret.

“After the order was given to abandon ship, somebody had to keep the fires going, because the only things keeping the ship afloat were the steam pumps,” Johnston said.

His educated guess is that the last two were a fireman and a coal heaver, both enlisted men.

The way the Monitor was rigged for the ocean trip, Johnston said, the only way to the outside was through the hatch on top of the turret. Anyone wanting to leave the ship had to climb a ladder in the turret to exit. That’s why it’s not surprising two bodies were found in there.

The skeletons are intact and there is no evidence of the two large XI-inch Dahlgren guns in the turret striking the two men, he said.

Excavation of the turret, which is nearly complete, has uncovered buttons, buckles, leather, a wool coat and other abandoned clothing, and a ring found with Monitor 2. Johnston said it had no inscription.

“The material found is typical of enlisted men — there is no gold bullion from an officer’s shoulder boards, for instance,” he said.

The skeletons were sent to the Department of Defense’s forensic lab in Hawaii. Its study suggested that both were Caucasian, so that would tend to exclude the three African-American sailors among the 16 lost men, although Johnston said they want to keep an open mind to all the possibilities.

Part of the challenge identifying the two men is that when sailors enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the 1860s, they did not have to produce identification, and thus could give a false name and age. Also, they did not have to list their next of kin, which makes it much harder to find their descendants.

–The Associated Press/Scott C. Boyd, Civil War News


Georgia: Farmers Growing Olives for Olive Oil for First Time Since Before Civil War

LAKELAND, Ga. — Extra virgin olive oil used by some of the most influential chefs in the South isn’t being imported from Spain or Italy or Greece; instead, it’s coming from farms in south Georgia whose owners are hellbent on lessening the region’s dependency on foreign oil.

Farmers are growing olives for the production of olive oil along the Georgia and South Carolina coast for the first time since the 1800s, when the practice was commonplace.

Olive groves were common along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia until the late 1800s when labor shortages caused by the Civil War, the advent of inexpensive cottonseed oil and strong hurricanes robbed the region of a crop first thought to have arrived with Spanish settlers in the l500s.

The tradition remained dormant until about five years ago when the Shaw Family of Lakeland, Ga., a small town about three hours southwest of Savannah, sought to revive the crop and resume production of local olive oils.

“Our family has been in row crop-farming for a while and thought it sounded pretty innovative,” said Jason Shaw, who is also a Georgia state representative. “We learned pretty quickly that if you don’t take good care of the trees and keep them clean, you’re not going to have a good chance of success. It was a pretty risky endeavor.”

The risk paid off.

The first fall harvest only yielded enough fruit for about 500 bottles of Georgia Olive Farms extra virgin olive oil but word about the product soon spread and put a state famous for peaches and peanuts on the map for a product typically associated with the Mediterrean.

Chefs like Brock, known in culinary circles for his refusal to use ingredients from north of the Mason-Dixon Line at his restaurant Husk, were early supporters.

“What I loved about it was that it was so fresh, it was just so grassy and herbaceous,” Brock told the Associated Press last year. “If you’re getting olive oil that’s two or three days old from the Shaws, it’s something we’ve never experienced as American chefs. It’s a whole new frontier.”

That buzz helped Shaw recruit other farmers and Georgia Olive Farms is now a collective of more than 10 farms in Georgia and parts of northern Florida that span more than 200 acres.

The family also founded the Georgia Olive Growers Association to foster growth in their fledgling industry and, along with growers in Texas and California, lobby the federal government to impose stricter regulations on imported oils.

“The USDA holds olive oils made in this country to a much higher standard than the oils produced in Europe,” said Vicki Hughes, the association’s new executive director. “A lot of what comes into this country and is labeled extra virgin olive oil not actually extra virgin. We’re just trying to even the playing field.”

Domestic producers supply only about 2 percent of the olive oil sold in the U.S., with the lion’s share coming from countries such as Italy, Spain and Chile, according to the International Trade Commission.

As the association seeks reform, Shaw said he and other olive growers in Georgia will continue tending their crops.

“It could get into the 80s here later this week, and we could turn very cold,” Shaw said. “But our yields continue to be great year-over-year and at a certain point, no matter what you’re growing, farming is farming.”

–Patrick Donohue, Hilton Head Island Packet


Florida: Story of Robert Smalls, Civil War Hero, Inspires His Great, Great Grandson

SARASOTA, Fla. — History often teaches us about the people who make a great impact on society, but it’s the people along the way that help pave the path with their own equally important accomplishments that are many times forgotten about.

“Robert Smalls was born April 15, 1839 in Beaufort, South Carolina,” says Michael Moore as he begins to share the story of his great, great grandfather with over 450 Booker High School students in Sarasota.

Robert Smalls’ mother was a household slave on a plantation, but it’s a life Smalls knew at a young he did not want to live. How he broke away from slavery and helped others to do the same is a story that is rarely spoken about in American history books, despite Smalls playing an important role.

Moore tells the students, “This is the story of someone who dared to dream big. He dreamed big, then he had a plan to do something about it. It’s relevant to everyone everywhere.”

Smalls, a pilot for a Confederate transport ship called the Planter, freed himself, his family and crew during the Civil War.

“He was 23 and commandeered a boat. It was an all-or-nothing thing. Robert Smalls decided he would be free, or dead and that decision for me- a couple of generations later- inspires me,” said Moore to the crowd.

On May 13, 1862 Smalls left the Charlotte Harbor of South Carolina and turned the ship over to the Union along with intelligence about the Confederate army. Moore grew up hearing about this hero to his family and American history.

“I’m still awed by him. The biggest thing that impacts me personally is his courage” he said.

Smalls helped the Union win by convincing President Lincoln to sign on 100,000 African-American men. He fought in 17 battles during the Civil War, he served in South Carolina’s Senate and House and in the US Congress.

His legislation is the model for America’s free public school system, which according to Moore, makes him the father of today’s public school system.

“He was the founder of the Republican Party in South Carolina. He’s the first African-American to pilot a US vessel. He’s the only African-American to have a US military vessel named after him” Moore added.

It’s the story of his great-great grandfather Moore makes his life’s mission to tell.

“I hope to encourage, to inspire and to educate. I love for young people to walk away after one of my talks and say, ‘it’s okay for me to dream big.'”

There is a Robert website and traveling museum that his great-great-grandson hopes to bring to the Tampa bay area soon.

–Isabel Mascarenas,


North Carolina: Efforts Underway to Restore Flag Used at Battle of New Bern

The largest Civil War re-enactment group in the state has begun a preservation project for a North Carolina state flag that flew during the Battle of New Bern in 1862.

The Society for the Historical Preservation of the 26th Regiment North Carolina Troops and the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh work to save the state’s Civil War artifacts.

The flag of the 33rd Regiment North Carolina Troops, which was captured by the Union at the Battle of New Bern on March 14, 1862, and returned to the state in 1917.

The flag is that of the 33rd Regiment North Carolina Troops and was captured by the Union army at the New Bern battle on March 14, 1862.

The estimated cost to restore the regimental flag, now at the Museum of History, is nearly $8,000.

“We have a very significant and large Civil War flag collection and flags, being a textile, deteriorate over time,” said Joe Porter, chief curator and curator of 20th and 21st century militaria at the Raleigh museum. “These are all in the range of being 150 years old. The museum created an adopt-a-flag program and various groups of re-enactors in the state of North Carolina adopt a specific flag to have it conserved and receive the most modern of textile conservation treatments.”

The groups raise money for the restoration and conservation treatment, which Porter said could range from $7,500 to $10,000.

“We have had a significant number of flags conserved in this fashion over the last decade,” he said. “Also, some re-enactment groups have identified parts of uniforms from the Civil War that need similar treatment.”

The 33rd Regiment of North Carolina Troops was organized at the old fair ground in Raleigh in September 1861 and experienced its first battle action in New Bern.

At the Battle of New Bern, the 33rd suffered the greatest number of casualties of any Confederate regiment, with 32 men killed and 28 wounded.

Along with the capture of its flag, the 33rd had more than 100 men taken prisoner, including its commander, Col. Clarke M. Avery.

The 33rd and the 26th were the last two units to withdraw from the New Bern battlefield.

In the official after-action report, Lt. Col. William S. Clark, commander of the 21st Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, wrote that “These two regiments were the best armed and fought the most gallantly of any of the enemy’s (Confederate) forces. They kept up an incessant fire for three hours, until their ammunition was exhausted and the remainder of the rebel forces had retreated.”

According to the Museum of History’s information file on the 33rd flag, “This flag is a standard wool bunting state flag, although it lacks any method of attachment to a staff. Union brigadier general John G. Foster reported the capture of the Thirty-third’s regimental commander, Colonel Clark M. Avery, and 150 of his men at New Bern on March 14, 1862. It seems likely that the flag was captured at the same time…

“According to a 1917 article in the Raleigh News & Observer, Foster gave the flag to his friend Colonel John L. Lay, who kept it in his possession until he gave it to his sister, Mrs. Mary A. Ensign of Buffalo, New York. Eventually, the flag came to the attention of the Reverend Charles A. Jessup, rector of Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Buffalo and a friend of Mrs. Ensign. Jessup urged that it be returned to North Carolina. He contacted Mrs. Mary Eugene Little of Wadesboro, an officer in the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who then notified North Carolina governor Thomas W. Bickett of Mrs. Ensign’s wish to return the flag. Mrs. Ensign died in September, and Jessup subsequently returned the flag in a ceremony at the Hall of History on October 14, 1917.”

Through a partnership with the N.C. Museum of History, the 26th N.C. has raised funds to restore battle flags belonging to seven other Civil War regiments — 1st N.C. State Troops, 16th N.C., 22nd N.C., 26th N.C., 47th N.C., 52nd N.C. and the 58th N.C.

The 26th also raised the funds to place a monument to the 26th N.C. at the New Bern Battlefield.

Once the 33rd flag project is completed, a special ceremony re-dedicating the flag will be held at the museum.

The New Bern Battlefield Park on U.S. 70 East is owned by the New Bern Historical Society.

Information is available at Select “Battlefield” and click for a battlefield brochure and/or a self-guided tour brochure.

The battlefield has six pristinely preserved redans. For a guided tour, call 638-8558.

–Charlie Hall, Sun Journal


South Carolina: Re-enactors Mark Columbia’s ‘Longest Day’

COLUMBIA, SC — They may not have been watching the skies for snow 148 years ago as they were in West Columbia Saturday. But it was a cold and blustery February day just the same when artillery shells began to rain over Columbia.

Squirrel" Franks of Swansea is in position 1 in firing the cannon. Position 1 is the ram and sponger. Saturday's reenactment used six pound and ten pound cannons. The Wade Hampton Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans held a firing on Columbia, Saturday afternoon. The reenactment illustrates the actual day of Sherman's firing on Columbia on Feb. 16, 1865. - Kim Kim Foster-Tobin /

On Feb. 16, 1865, the war that had been raging for four years arrived at Columbia’s doorstep.

The cannon fire came from across the Congaree River, as Union troops led by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman began blasting the Capital City at dawn.

Often called “Columbia’s Longest Days,” Sherman’s march on Columbia would start, much as it did Saturday, with ear-splitting, teeth-rattling cannon fire. It would end with most of what is now Columbia’s downtown area, including the old State House, burned to the ground.

“It scared the populace to death here,” said Mike Keller, who had driven from Greenville to take part in Saturday’s re-enactment.

Keller was one of about 25 men and boys who carried out the “Cannonade of Columbia” in temperatures just under 40 degrees.

Set up in a vacant parking lot in West Columbia, across from the Gervais Street bridge, participants wore Civil War garb and manned three 6- and 10-pound cannons, named for the size shell they used. Across the river, Confederate “sharpshooters,” or snipers, returned fire just as they had in 1865. (Back then, the bridge had already been burned by Confederate soldiers in an attempt to slow Union forces.)

Of course, there were many more artillery weapons used that day than Saturday’s cannons – Ordnance-rifle and Parrott-rifle cannons, to be exact.

And the cannons Saturday fired only blanks.

But the loading of the rounds with long “ramming staffs” and the cooling of the barrels with water was done in much the same way as it would have been done in the late 1800s, said Keller.

Part of “Culpepper’s Battery,” named for the Confederate unit from South Carolina, Keller has participated in the firing on Columbia for nearly 20 years. As a member of the Military History Club of the Carolinas, he also participates in re-enactments from other wars in American history.

“We do (from) the French and Indian war, on up,” he said.

The 61-year-old said it was important to mark such events and had brought his 10-year-old grandson, Easton Keller, to participate.

“He’s really gotten into social studies and is just now learning about what was going on then,” he said. “He is living something that actually happened 148 years ago.”

–Mindy Lucas, The State


Alabama: Racist Past Echoes in Current Supreme Court Cases

To Frank “Butch” Ellis, the racist culture that defined Alabama 50 years ago is gone. Integrated neighborhoods are common, and blacks are winning local elections with white support, he says.

“It’s not an issue anymore with us here,” the white lawyer said from his office across the street from the Shelby County courthouse in Columbiana.

To Harry Jones, a black minister, the racism has just moved underground. “Shelby County has modernized the ‘good ole boy’ syndrome,” he said at his church in Calera, 10 miles away.

Mounted Alabama State Troopers charge into a group of civil rights demonstrators in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 18, 1965. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

Those divergent views of Alabama and the American South are at the core of a U.S. Supreme Court fight over the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the landmark law that did more than any civil rights-era measure to empower blacks at the ballot box. Which perspective the court adopts will determine the fate of a central prong of the law being challenged by Shelby County. The court hears arguments Feb. 27 and will probably rule by late June.

The dispute is one of two major race cases now before the justices, who are also considering whether to scale back university affirmative action programs. Together, the two clashes may mark a turning point for civil rights, ending decades-old legal protections for blacks and Hispanics.

At issue in the Shelby County case is the law’s requirement that all or parts of 16 states, including virtually the entire South, get federal approval before changing election districts, amending voting rules or even moving a polling place.

‘Different Nation’

Critics say the rule was justified in an era of segregated schools, voter literacy tests, Ku Klux Klan marches and police brutality. Now, they say, it’s outdated.

“The Alabama of 2013 is not the Alabama of 1965,” said Luther Strange, the state’s Republican attorney general. Today, “Alabama is no different than any other state in the union.”

The Supreme Court has already hinted that a majority of the justices may agree with that assessment. In a 2009 Voting Rights Act ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “in part due to the success of that legislation, we are now a very different nation” than in 1965.

Roberts, writing for eight justices, said the so-called preclearance provision raised “serious constitutional questions” because it applied only to some parts of the country.

The court avoided the constitutional question in that 2009 decision, with the justices instead reaching a compromise that let more local governments seek an exemption from the preclearance rule.

Voter-ID Laws

This time, civil-rights activists are bracing for a much bigger ruling, one that would invalidate a provision that the Justice Department has invoked to block more than 2,400 voting changes as discriminatory since 1982.

The Obama administration last year used the preclearance requirement, known as Section 5, to stop Republican-backed voter-identification laws in Texas and South Carolina from going into effect.

Elimination of Section 5 would open the way for renewed efforts to suppress black votes, Jones said.

“If we lose it, we are going to go back, I can assure you of that,” said Jones, 49, from his office at New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church. “I can see things happening if Section 5 is removed, and it frightens me.”

Birmingham Neighbor

By almost any measure, today’s Shelby County bears little resemblance to the 1965 version. Although the county experienced less turmoil in the 1960s than other parts of the state, Shelby sits just south of Birmingham, the city where police used water hoses and German Shepherds to disperse demonstrators and Ku Klux Klan members killed four girls in a church bombing.

Shelby has seen its population quintuple since 1970, to 195,000 from 38,000. What once was a collection of small towns separated by farmland now teems with strip malls and subdivisions. It’s a heavily Republican county, giving Mitt Romney 77 percent of the presidential vote in November.

It’s also overwhelmingly white. Long after legal barriers to integration disappeared, many neighborhoods and schools have only a handful of black faces. A person can walk the two blocks that make up the heart of Columbiana’s downtown without encountering a racial minority. Blacks constitute 11 percent of the county, compared with 27 percent statewide.

How much race relations have changed is a matter of opinion. The most blatant forms of Alabama discrimination, including violent intimidation of blacks, are mostly history even if memories remain seared in the minds of older residents.

Confederate Flag

Some residents still resist letting go of the Old South, as Bobby Joe Seales discovered when he took over as president of the Shelby County Historical Society in 1999. One of Seales’ first actions was to take down the Confederate flag that hung outside the society’s headquarters in an old courthouse in Columbiana, replacing it with an American banner.

The move drew angry phone calls from the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Seales says. “Boy, did I catch H-E-double-L,” he said.

The racial demographics also limit black political power in Shelby County, where the nine-member county commission is entirely white. Two recent clashes underscore the challenges blacks have securing even a single seat on some city councils — and highlight the impact of the Voting Rights Act.

In 2008, President George W. Bush’s Justice Department objected when Calera changed its voting lines to eliminate the only majority-black district on its city council. At the time, Ernest Montgomery was the sole black on the five-person council. Blacks constitute 23 percent of the town’s 12,000 citizens.

Justice Lawsuit

The city ignored the objection and held the election anyway, causing Montgomery to lose his seat and prompting a Justice Department lawsuit. The city agreed to hold a new election, with all the candidates running citywide and the top six vote-getters obtaining spots on the council. Montgomery received the most votes of any candidate, reclaiming his seat.

Ellis, who serves as Calera’s city attorney, said the municipality’s increasingly integrated neighborhoods were making it harder to maintain a majority-black district.

“You couldn’t draw a line around the new black population,” he said. “It was mixed in with the white population, which I always thought was the objective.”

Montgomery, meeting with a reporter after a council meeting, said the most disturbing part of the redistricting episode was that fellow officials didn’t tell him about the Justice Department objection letter, which arrived just before Election Day.

“Many of the people whom I represent feel that it was a plot” to remove a black from the council, Montgomery said, adding that he has “a difficult time believing that.”

Something Amiss

Even so, the lack of candor “made me feel like something was wrong with this picture,” said Montgomery, 56.

Federal intervention similarly kept Bobby Lee Harris in place as the only black on the seven-member Alabaster city council in 2000.

The Justice Department objected to the city’s plan to supplement Harris’ district with two newly annexed areas, both almost entirely white. The move would have dropped the minority share of registered voters from 51 percent to 46 percent, the federal officials said.

Faced with federal opposition, the city agreed not to count the votes from the annexed areas for the council race. That secured the victory for Harris, though he lost four years later to a white candidate.

Still Racism

Ellis, who represents both Shelby County and Calera and helped put together the lawsuit, said the city mishandled the redistricting that almost ousted Montgomery. At the same time, he said isolated incidents aren’t enough to justify a system that treats Alabama differently than other states.

“I’m sure that there’s still racism,” said Ellis, 72, a former state senator who has served as county attorney since 1964. “I’m sure it exists in Washington, D.C., New York.”

The Voting Rights Act was enacted to combat discrimination that kept black people away from Southern polling places for generations. A separate section of the law bars voting discrimination nationwide and isn’t affected by the court case.

Congress reauthorized the law in 2006, extending it for 25 years on lopsided votes: 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House. Bush, a Republican, signed the measure into law.

In defending Section 5, the Obama administration says lawmakers had ample grounds to conclude that the covered jurisdictions remain the most problematic parts of the country. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli pointed to the number of lawsuits in those places leading to rulings or settlements that bolstered minority rights.

“That evidence,” Verrilli wrote, “showed that discrimination remains substantially more prevalent in covered jurisdictions.”

The case is Shelby County v. Holder, 12-96.

–Greg Stohr,