By Sam Burnham
We are once again seeing a spat surrounding the display of Confederate flags in Georgia. This time the flags, which supporters are often told only belong in a museum, are reportedly being forced from a museum.
The Nash Farm Battlefield Museum has announced, in a statement on its Facebook page, that it will be closing permanently as of June 1st. The reason cited is that Henry County District 2 commissioner, Dee Clemmons, has ordered the removal of all Confederate flags from the property, including the museum and gift shop. According to members of the Friends of Nash Farm Battlefield, the group had already removed a Second National flag from the the flag pole in front of the museum as well as an entrenchment demonstration that had been installed as an educational tool.
According to an additional statements on the Nash Farm Battlefield Facebook page, Clemmons was invited as a guest at an awards ceremony the Georgia Civil War Commission was hosting inside the museum. While visiting the site for this event, Commissioner Clemmons made a demand to Cassie Barrow, past president of the group, that all Confederate flags be removed from the museum to avoid offending anyone.
What is even more troubling is that Clemmons is also reportedly demanding that the word "battlefield" be removed from the park's name citing that no battle took place there and that the land itself has no historic connection to the war. According to the website of the Civil War Trust, the Nash Farm was the site of the August 20, 1864 battle known as Kilpatrick's Raid, the largest cavalry breakthrough saber charge in Georgia's history.
Multiple attempts to contact Commissioner Dee Clemmons were unsuccessful and she did not respond to any of my messages. Commissioner Clemmons' District 2 is home to the Nash Farm Battlefield Park.
This represents the bulk of the information that is available to me as I write this. I will clarify that the remainder of this post is my opinion. It is what I have come to believe in light of the available information. What follows is commentary, not news.
I'd like to start out by saying that in nearly 40 years of visiting Civil War sites, museums, battlefields, cemeteries, etc, I have yet to encounter a Civil War museum that does not display Confederate flags. The purpose of such a museum is to tell the story of the battle or event that is being commemorated there. This involves telling the stories of both sides involved. It is unrealistic to expect such a museum to not display flags and emblems of both sides. I have never seen a museum censor the history they portray like Commissioner Clemmons is reportedly demanding the Nash Farm to do. Once you begin to censor history, you can effectively rewrite it to say what you want it to say. That is a very dangerous precedent for an educational and cultural center such as the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum.
Next we need to discuss the reported statements Commissioner Clemmons made about the historic significance of the battlefield. Insisting that this property is not a battlefield and that the word battlefield be removed from the park's name and signage suggests that the commissioner may be trying to keep certain areas of the park from being redeveloped as she sees fit, rather than strictly adhering to the recommendations of historians and preserving historically significant areas. It suggests that someone may not want to be bound by the need for preservation at the Nash Farm Battlefield. If this were the case, it could raise serious ethical questions about such changes.
And I don't want to ignore the economic impart of tourism in Georgia. Much of those tourism dollars come from historic sites, especially pertaining to the Atlanta Campaign and The March to the Sea. Events at and near Nash Farm Battlefield played a pivotal role in the Atlanta Campaign and helped lead to the fall of Atlanta. Censoring this history robs students and adults alike of a powerful educational resource that interprets the history of our state and teaches us about ourselves and the land we call home.
I can't think of any excuse that would justify censoring the history in the exhibits in the museum of The Nash Farm Battlefield. There is no other historic site in our state, or neighboring states, that is held to this dangerous standard. It makes me worry about what might be next. What will Commissioner Clemmons find offensive next? What will have to be censored next? And in seven years of operation, the only documented case of a museum visitor being offended that I've found was Commissioner Clemmons on the night of the Georgia Civil War Commission's awards ceremony.
The flags need to stay, the historians, not agenda-driven politicians, need to determine what is in the museum, and the battlefield must be preserved. This should be the only acceptable outcome of this spat.
By Sam Burnham
During the Summer Road Trip Ft. McAllister State Historic Park served as our base of operations. Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites has a spacious campground and some beautiful cottages built along the coastal salt marshes in the park. The accommodations are affordable and comfortable as well as convenient to the sites we visited on out trip. We drove to each site from this location with the exception of Milledgeville, which we visited on our way to the coast.
Let me take a minute at this point to say that the people we encountered in Richmond Hill we as friendly as any we've met in Georgia. The park staff, people in stores, everyone we encountered were just good friendly folks. We definitely recommend dinner at Fish Tales on Ft. McAllister Rd. The restaurant sits right on the beautiful Ogeechee River, the food is good, the atmosphere great, and the bartender was wearing overalls and a bow tie.
Ft. McAllister is not a new site for us. We've been there a couple of times, including a Christmas road trip this past December. The Winter Muster is a great program surrounding the anniversary of the fort's capture that also ties in period Christmas traditions.
But this was their Independence Day celebration. There were fort tours, rifle and artillery demonstrations, a little music, and, appropriately, baseball.
Baseball in the 1860's was a bit different than baseball today. I'm not talking Field of Dreams and Shoeless Joe different. I mean different.
Needless to say, the game is unpredictable and full of laughs. It was a fun experience just to watch.
By Sam Burnham
The next step on our road trip carried us to the mouth of the Savannah River.
Situated between the north and south channels of the river is Cockspur Island. The island is connected to US 80 by a small bridge crossing the south channel. It's not a large island by any means and people often don't even make a distinction between Cockspur and the more developed and well known Tybee Island. But Cockspur is significant. It is currently the location of a United States Coast Guard station and Ft. Pulaski National Monument.
As with many of our national monuments, the name doesn't quite cover it all. But we'll start with the fort to give it its due. Ft. Pulaski is one of roughly two dozen masonry forts that the government commissioned in the 1830's to defend the Atlantic and Gulf Coast areas. Savannah was an important port and Pulaski was built to defend the shipping lanes in the Savannah River from attack.
A young Army engineer was sent to Pulaski for his first assignment after graduation from West Point. This young man, a Virginian by the name of Robert E. Lee, helped survey, design, and construct this massive fort. Ft. Pulaski is a bit of an engineering marvel. Cypress pilings were driven into the coastal wetlands. The foundation was built over these pilings and then over 25,000,000 bricks were used to build walls that average between five and 11 feet thick, of solid brick. Despite the weight of the structure, there has never been a crack in the fort from foundation settling. In over 170 years the fort has settled less on its foundation than the modern visitor center has in around 40 years.
The fort was heavily damaged by artillery fire from Union forces set up on Tybee Island. During this first major encounter between rifled cannon and a masonry fort, new technology proved to be superior. This was led to the end of the masonry fort age as military leaders found that the structures could not withstand the the force of the rifled guns.
But the site is not just about the fort.
Cockspur Island is an interesting natural location. The meeting of a major river, the coastal wetlands, and the Atlantic Ocean provides excellent opportunities to encounter wildlife, take in beautiful scenery, and enjoy an outing of fishing or hiking.
The fort's moat was designed to replenish the water in it with each incoming tide. The constant refresh of brackish water has created a miniature ecosystem that encircles the fort. Fish, turtles, crab, even alligator use the moat for a home. Viewing these animals involves merely looking in the moat.
The ruins of the Old North Pier are just a short distance further down the trail. This pier was where Wesley's ship landed. It was a bustling trade and transportation center in the 18th century. Ships from England and elsewhere brought goods and passengers to the new colony of Georgia and this was the first pier available to those ships. The Yamacraw Bluff site of the then new city of Savannah lay several more miles upstream.
The trail also takes visitors past Battery Hambright, which was built during the Spanish American War to defend the north channel against mine laying ships. While the battery never saw action, it does add to the military history of the site and makes for an interesting pit stop along the trail for an elevated view and maybe a photo.
The shipping in the area created the need for navigational assistance. In 1848 a 46 foot tall lighthouse was lit for the first time at the far end of the island. The brick structure marked the opening of the south channel. I've always had an affinity for lighthouses. In this area, Tybee Island Light gets the attention and the press. But there is just something about a little lighthouse perched on a sandbar that completely disappears at high tide, leaving the tower jutting up out of the waves. It would be easy to overlook Cockspur Island light, especially with its lofty cousin visible in the distance.
In the early 29th century, all shipping was moved to the north channel and Cockspur Light was abandoned. Over the years the elements took their toll and it looked like this brave little lighthouse was doomed. But preservation efforts have been intensified recently and it looks like this lighthouse will be with us for some time. Here's hoping.
Tybee Island is just a short drive from this site. There are plenty of local eateries, shopping, museums, and, of course, the beach. This area is just a short drive from Savannah and makes for a great stop on a coastal road trip.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire