Historic eagle still soars at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Historic eagle still soars at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

June 14th, 2011 by Pam Sohn in News

Dale Lupton uses an analytical instrument Thursday to determine that the eagle atop the Ohio Monument is 100% copper.

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.


Monument fixes this year ($265,000, national park maintenance funding)

• The Ohio Monument at Cravens House and several monuments at Chickamauga Battlefield

• The Illinois Monument at Bragg Reservation

Monument fixes last year ($445,000, mostly federal stimulus funding)

• New York Peace Monument at Point Park (inspection only)

• Ohio Monument at Cravens House (granite base only)

• Iowa and New York monuments at Cravens House

• Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Wisconsin monuments at Orchard Knob

Source: Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

The eagle atop the Ohio Monument at Cravens House may be one of a kind, and this week it's getting a special fix to keep it flying atop its 65-foot granite perch.

The copper eagle - damaged by a bullet and by lightning - was thought to be in danger of falling because rust was weakening its structural support.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park officials had thought the National Park Service's Maryland-based preservation crew would have to take the eagle down to repair it.

But contract conservator Gordon Ponsford gave park rangers a good surprise: The eagle won't have to be pulled from the air for the estimated $140,000 repair.

After getting eye-level with the eagle and removing some rust from its anchor rod, Ponsford said the support pole had lost only about one quarter of an inch from its 2.5-inch diameter.

"We think it's good for another couple of hundred years," Ponsford, a Kennesaw, Ga.-based conservator working with the National Park Service's one-of-a-kind preservation crew, said Tuesday. The crew is here for a second summer to complete a 100-year makeover to several massive Civil War monuments.

Jim Szyjkowski, chief of resource management at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, said he is glad the eagle stayed aloft. He'd had horrors about a "flyaway" eagle.

"Not that these guys would let that happen," he added quickly.

Keeping the eagle aloft also will save time and money, giving the preservation crew time to clean and work on perhaps 25 smaller monuments, most on the Chickamauga Battlefield.

Szyjkowski said Ponsford also will be able to train some of the Chickamauga Battlefield's local maintenance crew.

The fact that the eagle is both large and made of copper makes it a rare bird indeed.

Ponsford said he knows of only three copper monument statues of the eagle's size - 5 feet tall with a 10-foot wingspan - and its detail and era. One is the Statue of Liberty. The second-biggest is of Hermann the German, a nickname for Arminius, a Germanic chieftan who defeated a Roman army in 9 A.D. That statue is in Ulm, Minn.

"This is only the third one I know of, because 99.9 percent are all bronze," Ponsford said.

Szyjkowski said locals, too, assumed the eagle was bronze until the monument preservation project began here last year.

Scott Jones, the Maryland-based historic preservation crew's project manager, and Ponsford said the eagle's detail also is special.

"It's pretty impressive," Jones said. "There are about 16 different pieces that are all welded or brazed together. There's another [bronze] monument that's similar in design in Arlington Cemetery called the Spanish American. I'll be interested to see who the sculptor is on the eagle here. Gordon [Ponsford] said the detail on this is amazing, and it may be related to the one in Arlington."

On Thursday, the crew took one other precaution for the eagle. They injected a rust converter, a product that converts rust to a protective coating that seals out moisture. The coating also will prevent future rust from forming and give the bird a better grip.

They also healed a bullet hole placed there decades ago by a local youth who was target-practicing. The bullet hole was partially responsible for letting in water that rusted the support rod, Jones said. Damage to the granite base from a lightning strike was repaired last summer.

The crew will finish cleaning the bird and give it a new dark wax coating to restore the original patina and protect the copper.

More crew members will arrive in the next couple of weeks to work on the Illinois Monument on Bragg Reservation. That monument holds five statues, Jones said.

Szyjkowski said the work on the Illinois Monument will cost about $125,000. He said the park competed with other national parks for the preservation funding, and the fact that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War's first shot likely helped.

"We were the first national military park, too." Szyjkowski said. "The Gettyburgs and Antietams used us as a model."

Contact Pam Sohn at psohn@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6346.