Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rediscovering the Curtis Creek Iron Furnace

Today's post is brought to us by Dr. John Kille. John is the Assistant Director of Anne Arundel County's Lost Towns Project where he has worked as an historical archaeologist for 15 years. With a background in history, he earned advanced degrees from the University of Maryland and the George Washington University specializing in Material Culture, Cultural Landscape Studies, and Museum Studies. He also recently curated "Discover London Town!," an award-winning permanent museum exhibit at Historic London Town and Gardens.

Hope you all enjoy learning about the Curtis Creek Iron Furnace!

Rediscovering Anne Arundel County’s Curtis Creek Iron Furnace

As coordinated efforts to commemorate Maryland’s involvement in the War of 1812 proceed across our state, archaeologists with Anne Arundel County’s Lost Towns Project have partnered with the Maryland State Highway Administration to assess, document, and preserve the Curtis Creek Iron Furnace (c. 1759) in Glen Burnie. This investigation is being directed by Julie Schablitsky and complements a laudable effort spearheaded by the Ann Arrundell Historical Society* to preserve portions of the site prior to the construction of Route 10 nearly a half century ago.

The Curtis Creek Iron Furnace once stood on the southern shore of Furnace Creek, where over the course of almost a century it smelted local iron ore and charcoal into pig iron.  This manufacturing operation was among a growing number of enterprises that arose after the Maryland General Assembly passed an act in 1719 to provide various economic incentives to encourage iron manufacture.  The furnace and a later foundry also reportedly produced large castings such as cannons, cannon balls, and shot that equipped American forces against British invasion.

The site chosen for the furnace was advantageous for several reasons.  The location ensured access to local iron ore deposits, wood from surrounding forests necessary for the production of charcoal in kilns, a constant source of water power from a one-mile mill race fed by nearby Saw Mill Creek, and water transportation for exporting iron production.
Abandoned Curtis Creek Iron Furnace, circa 1911
This type of furnace was of a blast design, constructed of stone and brick and 30 feet tall.  A water wheel positioned next to the furnace powered a mechanized bellows which pumped blasts of air through pipes to achieve an intense heat during the smelting process.  A ramp leading up to the rear of the furnace would have been used to feed iron ore and charcoal into an opening located toward the top of the structure.  The furnace and several associated operations were positioned alongside high drop offs, to which water was channeled from a one-mile long mill race supplied by nearby Saw Mill Creek.  The entire mill race was reportedly still visible on the landscape prior to the construction of Route 10.

The furnace had several owners, including the Dorsey, Ridgely, and Barker families.  It also operated in conjunction with different furnaces in the region, including the Elkridge Furnace, situated along the Patapsco River, and the Northhampton Furnace in Towson.  Ads placed in the Maryland Gazette document that African Americans worked at the furnace.  In 1760, Caleb Dorsey advertised for the return of “Jem, a country-born Negro, 27 years old, who ran away from Curtis Creek Works.”   In 1817, another ad placed in the same newspaper described “the runaway Negroes Jack Boyer and Will Nevil…who ran away from Mr. Charles B. Ridgely Jr.’s farm… both bought of Mr. John E. Dorsey, in Feb. last at the Aetna Furnace, formerly the Curtis Creek Furnace…” 

During the War of 1812 John E. Dorsey entered into a contract with the United States Ordnance Department to provide both ammunition and gun carriages.  An order placed in 1813 called for “300 Tons of heavy Shot 18 & 24 Pdrs deliverable at Baltimore @ 72 $, 10 Tons Grape Shot @ 120.”  Also, “60 Gun Carriages (travelling) with Timbers complete 40 for 6 pdrs: at 215 $ a piece, 20 for 24 pdrs at 245 $ a piece.”   A first hand account of Miss Sarah A. Randle, 96 years of age, recorded in 1890, describes the involvement of the Curtis Creek Furnace during the War.  According to Ms. Randle, “At the beginning of the war of 1812 Captain Abner Linthicum’s company of the county militia, of which her father was a member, was called out, and was often in service, for longer or shorter periods, as required, which it lasted, sometimes at Fort Madison, opposite Annapolis, sometimes at Etna Furnace, Curtis Creek, where cannon were cast before and during the war.  The uniform of this company was gray, with dark blue facings.” 

It is against this broad historical backdrop that Lost Towns Project archaeologists Shawn Sharpe, John Kille, Anastasia Poulos, and Stephanie Sperling, and volunteers Skip Booth, Jim Morrison, and Barry Gay assessed the integrity of this multi-faceted industrial site.  This team was directed by Dr. Al Luckenbach, Anne Arundel County Archaeologist, C. Jane Cox, Anne Arundel County Cultural Resources Planner, and the author.  This work was extremely challenging due to a formidable overgrowth of trees and brush, many decades of trash dumping and looting, dredged soil spread over much of the site during the construction of nearby Route 10, and mounds of slag debris.  Despite these obstacles, much progress has been made to document the physical layout of the furnace complex, including a number of later buildings and wharves in close proximity to the water.
Total station transit used by Maryland State Highway Administration Survey Team and Lost Towns Project archaeologists at Curtis Creek Site.
Precise mapping tools such as Lidar and Total Station, helped to identify areas where the natural landscape had been altered.  Lidar mapping is an optical remote sensing technology that measures distances and properties of targets by illuminating the target with laser light and analyzing the backscattered light.  The Total Station transit uses laser light to create accurate maps that delineate topography and the relative location of landmarks and site features.  Maps created with these advanced tools proved very useful in exploring and recording landmarks and physical features.

Map of Curtis Creek Site created with Lidar and Total Station mapping technology.  Lidar map shows gradations delineating elevations and human disturbances upon the natural landscape, with an overlay of landmarks discovered by Lost Towns Project archaeologists that were precisely recorded with a laser transit by MSHA surveyors.
The first landmark identified by the Lost Towns Project was the spot where the Curtis Creek Iron Furnace once stood.  The furnace complex was found to be situated upon a high, flat area overlooking Furnace Creek, free of dredged fill and trash and perhaps the most well-preserved area of the site.  Large stones and brick used in the construction of the furnace were documented on the surface of this high area and the slope leading down to Furnace Creek below.  Heavy concentrations of slag were also spread over much of this general area as well.  

It was not possible to determine the type of operations that stood alongside the drop offs west of the furnace, as they were covered with dredge fill.  Perhaps the biggest surprise of this field survey was the recent discovery of extensive foundations for a later industrial complex and wharf landing situated east of the furnace site, along the shoreline.  The existence of early stone foundations, as well as cinder block and concrete construction, suggests a long period of occupation.  However, much more focused research and analysis will be necessary before the story of this built environment can be told.

This project has provided an outstanding opportunity to examine both the rich history and the intriguing cultural landscape of the Curtis Creek Iron Furnace.  Representing one of the earliest industries in Anne Arundel County, this venerable works also deserves recognition for its involvement in War of 1812.  A more detailed report of this investigation is found in the Spring 2013 edition of the Anne Arundel County History Notes, published by the Ann Arrundell County Historical Society.

[1] Maryland Gazette, February 14, 1760.
[1] Ibid., August 7, 1760.
[1] National Archives, Record Group No. 156, Contracts, Vol. 1, Entry 78, pp. 5 and 6.  1812-1829, 7W2, 223-241.
[1] Baltimore Sun, September 16, 1890.

*Yes, it really is spelled like that

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Native Allies: The Battle of Credit Island Part V

Welcome to the final post in a series about the forgotten (but now, clearly, remembered) Battle of Credit Island! Today our guide, Chris Espenshade, addresses another significant piece in the puzzle of that 1814 battle: the Native American warriors who fought with the British. Who were they, and what might they know about what happened that day? You can read Parts I-IV in this series by clicking on the links below.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV


One might think that it would be relatively straightforward to identify the tribal affiliations of the 800-1200 Native American warriors who participated in the Battle of Credit Island. That would seem like too many participants to be ignored or misidentified in the contemporary accounts. However, most of what we know comes from British and American accounts, and the sources were not always specific or accurate in ascribing fighters to specific tribes.
Chief Black Hawk of the Sauk (from History of the Indian tribes of North America, with Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of the Principal Chiefs). 
It is clear that warriors from the nearby Fox and Sauk villages participated, including Chief Black Hawk.  It is also clear that a group of Sioux was assigned to protect the British artillery.  Unfortunately, “Sioux” was a generalized term that was interchangeably applied to diverse groups throughout the region.  One account mentions the participation of Kickapoos and Puant. We do not know if there were other tribal participants beyond the Sioux, Sauk, Fox, Kickapoos, and Puant.

History is always enriched by a variety of perspectives, so information requests were sent to the Flandreau Santee Sioux; Ho-Chunk Nation; Iowa Tribe of Kansas & Nebraska; Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma; Lower Sioux; Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community; Otoe-Missouria Tribe; Prairie Island Indian Community; Sac & Fox of the Mississippi in Iowa; Sac & Fox Nation of Missouri; Sac & Fox Nation of Oklahoma; Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska; Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community; Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate; Spirit Lake Tribe, North Dakota; Upper Sioux Indian Community of Minnesota; and Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.  

In the hope that some oral tradition of the battle may have survived, I asked if there was any tribal oral history or archival record that the tribe had participated at the Battle of Credit Island. Once the British lost the war, it was probably not a good thing for a tribe to broadcast their participation on the British side at the Battle of Credit Island. 

The responses are just starting to come in, and we have not yet added any tribes beyond the Sauk, Fox, and Sioux. The letter also serves the purpose of inviting Native American input into how the battle is interpreted and commemorated.  The City of Davenport strongly desires to publicly interpret the battle, and 2014 will likely see a major bicentennial celebration.  

From the existing accounts, we have been able to determine that Native Americans at the Battle of Credit Island scouted far downstream and kept the British informed of the progress of the American boats. They encouraged and assisted the movement of the artillery on the morning of September 5. The Native American warriors prevented the Americans from landing a party to flank the British gun position. Given the important role of the Native American forces in this battle, we are hopeful that descendants will provide input into how they would like the battle remembered.  

And with that, we have come a complete circle back around to the first post, identifying Credit Island as a forgotten battle. With the data from our recent efforts, the City and the ABPP will be able to begin a process of public outreach and interpretation.  Our initial proposals include signage along the existing bicycle paths, and a self-guided canoe/kayak tour of the battlefield.  If you find yourself anywhere near Davenport, Iowa in September of 2014, we encourage you to visit the battlefield and see the steps the City and the ABPP have made in bringing the battle back to life. 

This research – conducted by Commonwealth Cultural Resources Group -- was sponsored by the American Battlefield Preservation Program and the City of Davenport, Iowa.  This material is based upon work assisted by a grant from the Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Understanding Military Terrain: The Battle of Credit Island Part IV

Once again, we return to Credit Island with our guide, Chris Espenshade, who is going to walk us through a KOCOA analysis of the 1814 battle. Parts I-III can be found by clicking the links below.

Part I
Part II
Part III


As noted in the earlier posts, the study of the Credit Island Battlefield was hindered by weaknesses in two areas, archaeological data and collector information. The nature of the battle actions, the natural forces of the Mississippi River and its flooding, and modern intrusions onto key battle locations together meant little evidence of the battle survived.  There were not any productive areas for avocational metal detectorists, and the archaeological survey likewise came up empty.  In the previous blog (Part III), we discussed how the various battle accounts were reconciled.  It is now time to look at the military terrain.

 Glossary of Terms Used in KOCOA Analysis (from McMasters 2009).

Key Terrain
Any local feature that dominates the immediate surrounding by relief or another quality that enhances attack of defense
Decisive (or Critical) Terrain
Ground that must be controlled in order to successfully accomplish the mission
The ability to see friendly and enemy forces and key aspects of the terrain to allow management of the conflict
Field of Fire
An area that weapons may effectively fire upon from a given position
Dead Space
An area within the maximum range of a weapon or an observer, but which cannot be seen or fired upon from a given position
Protection from enemy fire
Protection from enemy observation
Natural or man-made terrain features that prevent, impede, or divert military movement
Avenue of Approach
Relatively unobstructed ground route that leads to an objective or key terrain
Avenue of Withdrawal
Relatively unobstructed ground route that leads away from an objective or key terrain
Mobility Corridor
Area or location where movement is channeled due to terrain constrictions

One of the key issues in the KOCOA analysis was the position of the American boats.  Earlier studies assumed that the boats were on the western side of Pelican Island, because the British had a clear line of sight from the Iowa bank of the river.  However, as we examined the accounts, two items called this conclusion into question. Both items appear in the accounts of clearing the Native Americans from Pelican Island.

Zachary Taylor reported driving the troops across the island, emerging on the Iowa side, implying an east-to-west movement.  The Americans would not have been moving toward the own boats, and that would have created the risk of friendly fire incidents. Taylor further reported that the American left was close enough the Credit Island to fire on the Native Americans wading to Credit Island from Pelican Island.  For the American left to have been on the south, the Americans had to be moving east-to-west.

When the American boats are repositioned to the northeast shore of Pelican Island, a number of KOCOA outcomes are derived.  In the War of 1812, artillery depended on line of sight, and shots were not made through or over vegetated landforms. This fact, combined with the reported distance of approximately 600 yards from the artillery to the boats, and with the report that the British could see the boats broadside, led to a secure best guess of the British artillery. Once this position was determined, it was possible to address other issues such as where the dead space began as the Americans retreated downstream.
KOCOA Analysis figure showing field of fire (yellow) and dead space (red) from the likely British artillery position (produced in Google Earth 2013).
The archival data for this battle are strong, and the landscape allowed us to place great confidence in our KOCOA analysis. Although it would have been great to have collector information or archaeological data, by using multiple means of data collection and analysis, we have crafted a well-supported battle analysis.

But wait, there's still a missing piece to this puzzle! More on that in the fifth and final post!

This research – conducted by Commonwealth Cultural Resources Group -- was sponsored by the American Battlefield Preservation Program and the City of Davenport, Iowa.  This material is based upon work assisted by a grant from the Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Reporting a Snowball Fight: The Battle of Credit Island Part III

Hello all, and welcome to the third installment of Chris Espenshade's series about the investigation of the Battle of Credit Island! You can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. Chris explains not only the history of this almost-forgotten battle, but also how archaeologists help reconstruct and interpret battle events. Enjoy!

Reporting a Snowball Fight: Biases in Military Reporting of Battle Actions

As you may recall from my previous post, one of the data sources for revising battle narratives is the archival record.  At first blush, some readers might think that the archival record should be given primacy, as, after all, these are the first-person accounts of the actual participants.

In order to attempt to explain to a 5th Grade class the many biases affecting such accounts, I introduced the analogy of a snowball fight.  How accurately could the student describe a snowball fight between just two combatants, in a small side yard of the school, lasting only five minutes, and limited to three snowballs for each?  That seemed a fairly reasonable task.

From that starting point, I then began elaborating, to get closer to a military situation.  The forces were increased to hundreds or thousands.  The landscape was one with which the participants were unfamiliar.  The snow balls were actually replaced by artillery and small arms, and the battlefield was enshrouded in trees, fog, and gun smoke.  The observers would not be allowed to prepare their reports until a week or two after the battle.  The reputation and career advancement of the observer might be affected by what he reported.   The battle would be one of dozens fought in the past few weeks, and the observer is likely sleep-deprived, poorly nourished, and possibly wounded.  I asked the fifth graders what they thought would happen to the truth as all these factors were added into the mix.  How could you possibly know what really happened?

So, it is not surprising to find wildly divergent accounts by the various participants of a battle. One of our key tasks in the Credit Island battlefield study was to reconcile the various accounts. This requires considering how a given participant gained knowledge, and what motives they may have had to mis-report the situation.  It should be noted that it is unusual for a single source to be the most reliable on all major issues of a battle, and the narrative has to be taken apart and addressed issue by issue.

Below you will see a table for the issue of the count and size of British artillery.  You might expect fairly consistent data on this very basic information, especially given the importance of this artillery to the outcome of the battle.  Instead, you see that the number and/or size of the British guns was consistently over-stated by the Americans (artillery are characterized by the weight of the round ball they fire, so a 3-pounder shoots a projectile that weighs about 3 pounds, and that measures about 2.75 inches in diameter).

Black Hawk (Native American)
“our big gun”
Black Hawk is focused on the largest piece, but is not necessarily intent on offering a full inventory.  Eye-witness.
Zachary Taylor (American)
“a six, a four, and two swivels”
Taylor had a strong incentive to exaggerate the strength of the British guns.  The Americans actually had greater artillery power present at the battle, but failed to bring their 6-pounder into action. 
J. Callaway (American)
(letter) “one six one four and one three Pounders”
Callaway did not closely observe the guns.  He had incentive to exaggerate the strength of the British.
J. Shaw (American)
Two 12-pounders, plus logs disguised as additional artillery
This seems complete fiction on part of Shaw
Reynolds (American)
“six pieces of cannon”
Account written well after the battle.
D. Graham (British)
“three-pounder and two swivels”  He identifies artillerists, Sgt. Keating (3-pounder), Lt. Brisbois (swivel), and Colin Campbell (other swivel)
Directly observed the weaponry and their deployment.  His gun list is consistent with what he was ordered to bring to the battle.
T. Anderson (British)
In his order of August 29, he states “one brass three-pounder, and two swivels”
After action: 3-pounder (Keating), Lt. Brisbois (swivel), Colin Campbell (other swivel)
Orders are highly reliable unless counter-manded.  Not the case here.

The after-action is based directly on Graham’s account.
Meese (1915)
Three-pounder and two swivels
Accepts Graham/Anderson accounts.
Mahon (1972)
Three small cannon
Generalizes from Graham, Anderson, or Meese.
Ferguson (2012)
Three-pounder and two swivels
Accepts Graham/Anderson accounts.
George Eaton (personal communication 2013)
3-pounder and 2 swivels
Accepts Graham/Anderson accounts.

Example of a British 3-pounder (from the Web-page of John Lamb’s Artillery Company)  The reconciliation of various accounts led to the conclusion that the British at Credit Isalnd has one 3-pounder and two swivel guns (probably 1-pounders).
Variety of Swivel Guns (from Henry and Delf 2004:Plate C).
It is not possible to know if certain of the observers purposefully lied, or if they simply did not have good information.  

Only after reconciling the accounts issue by issue was I able to define key data for the KOCOA analysis and the revised battle narrative. To return to the 5th graders, I now know which accounts of the snow ball fight are most reliable on each issue.  At this juncture, it is time to take the class outside, and see how the information jives with the military terrain of the battlefield.

This research – conducted by Commonwealth Cultural Resources Group -- was sponsored by the American Battlefield Preservation Program and the City of Davenport, Iowa.  This material is based upon work assisted by a grant from the Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior.