Civil War symposium 'Occupation and Liberation' at Chattanooga Convention Center

Civil War symposium 'Occupation and Liberation' at Chattanooga Convention Center

October 10th, 2013 by Todd South in Local Regional News

Harry Uffalussy, center right, shows Westview Elementary 5th grader Jax Phillips, right, how to load a cannon.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

What: Civil War Sesquicentennial Symposium: "Occupation and Liberation"

When: 9 a.m. start through Saturday, ending times vary according to event. To have personal items scanned, come today only from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1150 Carter St.

Cost: Free

Website for shared digital archives: www.tennessee.gov/tsla/cwtn

First it was Civil War fighting come to life on a mock battlefield in North Georgia.

Now what happened on and off the battlefield is being brought to life here in artifact and word through the largest such display from Tennessee's state archives ever to leave Nashville.

And you can see it through the Civil War Sesquicentennial Symposium: "Occupation and Liberation" through Saturday at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

Assistant State Archivist Wayne Moore has brought more than 35 items, from battle journals to maps and more, from the Tennessee State Library and Archives and Tennessee State Museum in Nashville for display during the four-day event that began Wednesday.

"These are direct links with that past," Moore said. "You can read about stuff in books and never get the direct connection ... the artifact was used by someone in these battles and in these places."

This is only the second time that the state's items have left the archives for exhibition, Moore said.

One museum item on display is the 3-inch-thick pocket Bible carried by R.S. Matthews, a Confederate soldier with the 6th Infantry.

The book saved his life.

A bullet is lodged three-quarters of the way through, where it entered more than a century and a half ago.

"I had no idea. It's almost like you learn history the way it was," said Tammy Carter, a Camden, Tenn., native who visited the symposium Wednesday while on a break from a conference being held down the hall.

The public is being asked to bring artifacts for showing and recording, as well.

On Wednesday, Ellen Simak, of Chattanooga, brought a guidon, a small, typically swallowtail-style flag used often by military units, that belonged to her great-great-grandfather, Edward Wiseman. He was quartermaster sergeant with the 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry, Company C.

"Honestly, I didn't know what it was but it looked like it was old enough to be from the Civil War," Simak said.

She inherited the flag and a Civil War saber from her brother, who died a few years ago. The flag had been stored folded in a plastic sack in her brother's Baltimore home.

The archivist told her that since the flag was in the dark in a climate-controlled room it was likely preserved better because of the conditions.

Wiseman's unit did not serve here but saw action near Memphis, in Arkansas and at the campaign for Vicksburg, Miss.

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Photographs and digital scans of personal war-related items are part of the Civil War Tennessee: Looking Back project in which state archivists visit each county in Tennessee to make the digital copies.

The digitized reproductions can be viewed on the Tennessee Secretary of State's website.

The item takes a few minutes to scan and the owner gets the item back along with a DVD copy of the scan.

The digitization project began three years ago as part of Tennessee's marking of the war's 150th anniversary.

In halls adjoining the exhibitions, authors, professors and experts on the era will explain the repercussions of the Civil War here and across the nation.

Opposite the symposium entrance, Dale Wykoff of Cleveland, Tenn., had finished sharing the story of how his grandchildren found a cannonball in his son's yard. The find sparked a lengthy bit of detective work on Wykoff's part.

He traced the munition back to a little-known 1864 battle that took place in Cleveland when Confederate Lt. Gen. "Fighting Joe" Wheeler led his cavalry troops in an attack on the city. His men were trapped in the downtown area when Union troops began firing from hilltop Forts McPherson and Sedgwick.

Wykoff's theory is that one of Wheeler's cannonballs overshot the fort and landed on the opposite side of the hills, where his son's property sits.

Moore has a personal link to one of the items on display from the archive.

A surgeon's report from the Battle of Chickamauga lists his great uncle Richmond McCauley as having had his foot amputated.

Moore remembers his father talking about "Uncle Rich" unscrewing his peg leg and playfully scaring young children in the family with it.

Keynote speaker Amy Murrell Taylor, a history professor at the University of Kentucky, said her talk will focus on emancipation in Tennessee. The state was exempt from Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation due to it being under martial law enforced by Union troops.

"It's a much more complicated story than we tend to remember," Taylor said.

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The four-day symposium is the longest of the Volunteer State's annual signature events planned from 2011 through 2015.

Across the state, the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission has held events marking key happenings from 150 years ago.

"There has never been one this long," said Susan Whitaker, commissioner of the state's Department of Tourist Development. Planners worked with the idea of a "broad umbrella" for anyone who had an interest in telling the whole story of the war.

Local nonprofit Friends of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park worked with the commission beginning in 2008 to plan for this event, said Patrice Glass, executive director of the nonprofit group.

As of Monday, more than 3,500 people had registered in advance for the Chattanooga symposium. That number includes an estimated 1,700 schoolchildren, from as far away as Memphis, who will attend the exhibits and lectures.

The symposium offers interesting history for newcomers and those versed in libraries of books written about the topic.

Due to the government shutdown, historian-led tours of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park were canceled, Glass said. But other speakers and exhibits will be open to the public.

The event offers a one-stop point for encountering multiple aspects surrounding the war and its local history.

"An important thing about events like these is they allow people to take what are often abstract events of history, you often hear about it, it feels very distant," Taylor said. "An event like this kind of makes it feel real and concrete."

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.