Civil War plaque finally rising
It was found after 11 years in a city office
A bronze National Historic Landmark plaque commemorating the sinking of the Union steamship Maple Leaf off Mandarin Point 141 years ago will finally be erected by a nonprofit Jacksonville group dedicated to preserving Southern heritage after languishing in a city office for 11 years.
The Kirby Smith Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans received city permission to plant the plaque along the St. Johns River near the Jacksonville Landing. Joining it on a green aluminum pole describing the Civil War sinking will be a historic marker that had sat in a city warehouse on aptly named Confederate Street since 2002.
After reading about the dormant plaque and marker in April, the group made up of descendants of the Confederacy called city officials to kick-start the installation. After repairs and some new paint, the two should be planted behind the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts soon, said Calvin Hart, the chapter’s adjutant.
“This is the kind of stuff we are involved in — Confederate heritage, cleaning up Confederate graveyards,” Hart said after finishing the green paint touch-up Aug. 7.
“It is a historic event that took place in Jacksonville. There are not enough historic markers in Jacksonville as it is, and to leave one in a warehouse downtown just seemed ridiculous,” he said. “No one else was doing it, and we were concerned. I looked at it and said, ‘We can do it,’ and we did.”
Amateur archaeologist and Southside dentist Keith Holland, who led the expedition that discovered the ship and recovered artifacts now on display, only learned the whereabouts of the plaque and marker in April after months of searching. He was almost speechless when he learned Tuesday that the nonprofit veterans group would complete the task.
“I will have to write them a personal thank you,” Holland said. “I can’t wait to see it, and they have done a great service to the city and the country. It is a national historic landmark and needs recognition.”
“It’s long overdue,” added Jim Towart, the Maple Leaf recovery team’s historian.
The 181-foot-long Maple Leaf hit a torpedo mine laid in the river near Mandarin Point by Confederate soldiers early April 1, 1864. Four died, but 58 others survived as the ship sank with 400 tons of supplies and personal items from three Union regiments on board.
Discovered in 1984 under 27 feet of water and mud, Holland and the St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions team recovered thousands of artifacts between 1988 and 1994.
The National Park Service presented the city with a bronze plaque declaring the wreck a National Historic Landmark during a 1994 ceremony, and Holland paid for another displayed at the Mandarin Historical Museum at 11964 Mandarin Road. But the first plaque’s voyage to an approved site near the Jacksonville Landing got dry-docked because of the cost of a granite marker and other matters, so it and a marker purchased by the city in 2002 languished uninstalled until city historic planner Joel McEachin found them again in April.
Hart read a Florida Times-Union story on the discovery, and his veteran’s group asked city officials if they could continue the signs’ delayed voyage. The group is familiar with historic markers because it just cast another for placement on Lenox Avenue and Cedar Creek to commemorate a March 1, 1864, skirmish between Union and Confederate troops.
City officials and the Jacksonville Historical Society agreed to let them take over if a line on the plaque stating 400 “pounds” of supplies went down with the ship was corrected to read “tons.” Jacksonville Historical Society Executive Director Emily Lisska acquired new metal letters and a friend of Hart’s shaved off the “pounds” and fixed it.
No date has been set for the marker and plaque’s erection.
Plaque found to remember sunken ship
Published Friday, September 30, 2005
By dan scanlan
river bend review,
The plaque and historic marker stand like lone sentinels on the banks of the St. Johns River next to the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Jacksonville, almost as if they are gazing upriver toward Mandarin and a ship that never came back.
The smaller burnished plaque was intended for a downtown display site 11 years ago, but ended up forgotten in a city office, while the marker lay stacked in a Springfield warehouse on Confederate Street.
But thanks to a local Sons of Confederate Veterans group, the two can finally tell Northbank Riverwalk users the story of the Union steamship Maple Leaf, sunk by Confederate torpedoes 15 miles south in 1864. The Kirby-Smith Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans planted the pole in the concrete Labor Day weekend, after the city gave permission to do what was planned years ago, said chapter adjutant Calvin Hart.
“It took us two days, one to put it in and the next day to install the sign,” said the Mandarin man. “It looks really good.”
Amateur archaeologist and Westside dentist Keith Holland, who led the expedition that discovered the ship, said he is proud the group took the initiative 11 years after he arranged for the historic plaque’s delivery.
“I can’t wait to see it,” he said. “It is a great location and it is about time. Thank goodness for the Sons of Confederate Veterans for their effort in seeing it to completion.”
The 181-foot-long Maple Leaf hit a torpedo mine laid in the river near Mandarin Point by Confederate soldiers early on April 1, 1864, sinking with 400 tons of supplies and personal items from three Union regiments on board and killing four crew members. It was discovered in 1984 under 27 feet of water and mud. Holland and the St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions team recovered thousands of artifacts between 1988 and 1994, when the National Park Service presented the city with a plaque declaring the wreck a National Historic Landmark. Holland paid for another plaque now on display at the Mandarin Historical Museum.
The first plaque was supposed to be planted on a stone base near The Jacksonville Landing. But the cost of installation and other problems sank that. The plaque and the historic marker purchased by the city in 2002 were found by city historic planner Joel McEachin in April. Hart read a Times-Union story on the discovery. After replacing the word “pounds” with “tons” to correct the quantity of supplies lost, the plaque was repaired and installed.
dan.scanlanjacksonville.com, (904) 359-4549