Heritage & News - May 2003

'Gods & Generals' Movie - CSS Hunley: artifacts - Harper's Ferry, WV: building development -Petersburg, Va. Mortar restoration - Civil War Preservation Trust: volunteers. (Reproduced from issue 71 of Crossfire, the magazine of the ACWRT(UK)


Compiled by Ken Grant-Coker


The president has asked me to take over the Heritage page. In the past it has been a report on what is happening with regards to Civil War related topics of interest centered of course mainly in the United States.


I would like to develop the Heritage Page a bit further and would appreciate comments and ideas from you the members to me at or via the editor. Many thanks to David Hughes for setting the standard to follow.



"Gods and Generals": a true representation of the way things were?


My first report should start the ball rolling; it concerns a review of the new Civil War film "Gods and Generals" which as many of you know is a prequel to the film "Gettysburg". The US reviews of the film are mixed but do bring into question the role of slavery and religion. One reviewer did not like the depiction of a devout Stonewall Jackson and his fighting for the right to continue slavery. The reviewer also took a dim view of a scene where Stonewall is seen discussing the bible and the issue of slavery with his Negro manservant. Another reviewer called it a piece of revisionist history from a southern perspective.


Religion was very important to both sides in the War and I think it is very difficult for persons of our generations to comprehend how deeply religious people were in the mid 19th Century and the way that they viewed slavery and States Rights. I consider it quite logical that Stonewall could have had discussions concerning the bible with his Negro servant but whether it would have featured slavery or not is debatable, on the other hand not all slaves were ill-treated and although they were owned, they were treated with kindness by their owners. Another reviewer said that they "may have been God fearing, but not God following".


The Civil War in the beginning was not about slavery but concerned State’s Rights. People like Lee, Jackson and Chamberlain fought in the first instance for their States and considered these rights more important to themselves and their families than the Union. In addition to which they had their deep-seated religious convictions, which governed all matters in their lives.


I await, as I am sure most of you are the film opening in the UK and if it is anything like "Gettysburg" it will be well worth watching. However I would appreciate your comments and views on Slavery, Religion and States Rights.


Hunley artifacts traced to owners


As many of you know the "Hunley" was the first submarine to sink an enemy warship. The submarine has recently been raised and is now kept in a cold-water tank at a conservation lab at the old Charleston Naval base. Recently efforts have been made to identify individual crewmembers. During the course of the investigation a wallet was found, which seems to contain decomposing paper marked with thin grey lines. An attempt is to be made to ascertain whether it is writing paper and whether it can be deciphered to give a clue to the identity of the crewmember.


The only items so far traced to their owners have been those of the submarine's commander, Lt. George Dixon. They include his gold watch, diamond ring and a $20 gold piece that saved Dixon's life at Shiloh by deflecting a Yankee bullet.


‘No pacts with the Devil’ say preservationists after county rejects warehouse proposal


The proposal for a mini-warehouse complex being constructed at the intersection of Route 340 and the Bakerton Road, near Harpers Ferry, WV, ended with a unanimous rejection by the Jefferson County Planning Commission on January 14, 2003.


The Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (FHAFE), who had raised several objections regarding the mini-warehouses' negative impact on the Harpers Ferry water supply, the historic battlefield, traffic congestion, and the National Scenic Byway, called the vote a "decisive victory for preservation".


Not all the preservationists have flatly refused to deal with developers. In spring 1999 one member of the local preservation coalition advocated working with developers to create a "middle ground" that would allow the construction of 188 houses on historic land in exchange for a temporary easement to a local land conservancy on approximately 30 acres of ravines. The developers reserved the right to revoke these easements if they proceeded with development of a second phase of their subdivision.


Most of the preservation coalition rejected the idea as a "deal with the devil" and, after a series of legal and public battles, the entire Murphy Farm acreage, which formed the core of the development area, became part of Harpers Ferry National Park.


(Ed note: In 2001 the ACWRT UK donated $500 for a new interpretive marker at Harpers Ferry.)


'The Petersburg Express'


No, it is not a Civil War train but a 17,000 pound mortar that fired a 225 pound, 13-inch shell about 2.5 miles. The mortar has been situated at the Petersburg battlefield near the site of the Battle of the Crater where it was used to support the infamous attack. The mortar has now been moved to the Mariner's Museum in Hampton Roads to enable experts to remove rust and other substances that are causing the casting to deteriorate.


The process involves placing the old artillery piece in an electrolysis bath. It will take approximately two years to complete the clean up and renovation work, following which it will be returned to its old site at the Petersburg Battlefield park.


History Buffs clean up Civil War Battlefields


The Civil War Preservation Trust held its annual clean up of Civil War Battlefields to take place on the 29th March. This is the seventh year that the CWPT has worked on assisting with routine repairs and maintenance.


Volunteers gather at designated Battlefields and assist with activities that include raking leaves, rubbish clearance, painting and trail building. In return they receive T-shirts and the opportunity to hear local historians describe the significance of the site they have worked on. Some 91 sites in 23 states were affected.


© ACWRT(UK) 2003