5/28/2015

"Writing through"

An instructor long ago rejected a history paper of mine with the comment, "You are trying to write your way through what is an historical problem."

I was not arguing from evidence, I was stylizing and applying tricks and tropes to press a weak point.

See if you think this author is doing the same.

5/27/2015

The point of Memorial Day

If it is the point of Memorial Day to honor all of the war dead, is it not wrong to honor only a portion?

With 364 days a year to honor the Civil War dead, why can't reenactors pause for a short while to honor the fallen of their own generation and others?

If reenacting is part entertainment, can't we postpone the entertainment for a day or two?

Some readers will counter that many Memorial Day programs include a little bit of this and that. Let's put an end to "this and that." Memorial Day is for remembering all.

Local officials must show decency and strength by denying permits for these kinds of events on this particular holiday.

5/15/2015

"Copying language from other sources"

A number of this blog's readers feel certain forms of plagiarism are "no big deal." The New York Times feels differently.

A reader noticed this editor's note in the Times [emphasis added]:
Two articles in this series last year, by the author Karen Abbott, copied specific language and passages from several books and papers. In most of these instances, the writer cited the sources in the article’s endnotes. However, copying language from other sources without proper attribution is a violation of Times policy.

The first article, about white Southern women during the Civil War, copied language verbatim from works by Catherine Clinton, David Silkenat, J. David Hacker, Libra Hilde, James Holland Jones and Mary Elizabeth Massey, and a volume edited by Stephen W. Berry, all of which were listed in the article’s endnotes. The article also copied one sentence each from James M. McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era” (1988) and from Williams G. Stevenson’s “Thirteen Months in the Rebel Army” (1862) without attribution.
This is a cut and dried complaint: two sources got no attribution. Simple, right?

But if you look at the article, scroll down to the citations. Do you recognize the method? It is one used by Stephen Sears and other authors. They compile and write long passages of text marking them with a single endnote that leaves the reader guessing as to how to match material against sources. Our errant author takes this terrible, nonsensical practice to a new level by putting her whole article under this system, again leaving the reader to figure out what came from where. One reader apparently did and complained about the two missing bits.

Now, the  Times very overgenerously credits such disarray as legitimate attribution but blames the author for leaving two ingredients out of her hobo stew. The editor's note continues:
The second article, about The Soldier’s Friend, a New York newspaper for Civil War veterans, copied sentences verbatim from a book by Frances M. Clarke and a doctoral dissertation by Jalynn Olsen Padilla, both of which were listed in the article’s endnotes.
Note that the charge here is that the author reproduced text without quote marks and the citation of said text does not then wash away the sin of plagiarism. Many of you will consider this nitpicking - it is not. History is about the evaluation of sources and just weighing of evidence. When evil practices strip away our ability to judge the author on these criteria, there's no history there. It's mere nonfiction that violates even a newspaper's editorial policies.

The Times invokes the word plagiarism at the end of its note:
Editors at The Times learned of the problem after a reader complained. Contacted by The Times, Ms. Abbott said that it is common for historians to draw on primary and secondary sources as long as those sources are acknowledged. However, according to the American Historical Association: “Writers plagiarize, for example, when they fail to use quotation marks around borrowed material and to cite the source, use an inadequate paraphrase that makes only superficial changes to a text, or neglect to cite the source of a paraphrase.” Had The Times known about the copied language in both essays, it would not have published them.
If we look at the articles in question, this editor's note has been added to the end of the first article and the second. The pieces remain online and searchable. The author, Karen Abbott, will justly be shamed as long as these come up on the Web. And she will be shamed for practices milder than those of James McPherson, Jean Smith, and many other celebrated Civil War authors.

We Civil War readers need to contact the editors of newspapers who publish pieces and extracts from our Civil War authors and report plagiarism. We could contact book publishers too, but the effect would less and one wonders if the publishers even give a damn.

4/22/2015

Not a Civil War Army

Not even close. The go along/get along Army culture on full display.

4/21/2015

Music is seasonal

Music is seasonal. Before Easter, Parsifal. After Easter, Hindemith's When Lilacs Last in the Doorway Bloomd." As natural as the spring.

Whitman's elegy to Lincoln has more music settings than Hindemith's. There is Dobrogosz's, McGrath's, Crumb's, and Session's. These are better tributes than any historian could pen.

Sadly, there is no good reading of the poem itself, apart from this grotesque curiosity. Avert your eyes and listen.

4/19/2015

Loathing Lincoln

Harry makes good use of some of Larry Tagg's stuff to put Lincoln's reputation in perspective. The material is from The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln.

If I were Larry, I'd be more than slightly annoyed at LSU Press for publishing Loathing Lincoln: An American Tradition from the Civil War to the Present. I guess the editors there don't read other publisher's booklists. Their author even cites The Unpopular in his biblio. What is the point of this work?

And why can't book reviewers be bothered to learn what books preceded the tome they review?

Civil War history is discouraging enough but the Lincoln people, with a few exceptions like Tagg and Jaffa, are the worst of the worst.

4/17/2015

OT - Tales of a Volunteer Army

I happened across a Russian site that was mocking the U.S. military for evacuating itself from Yemen ahead of 4,000 American civilians because to save civilians would have been "too dangerous" for the U.S. military. Sounds like a joke about the services' absurd "force protection" mission.

The joke is on us. Apparently, this is no prank info: Russia, China, Pakistan and India have been evacuating their own and ours since the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy pulled out of Yemen.

Item: "On Thursday, 59 American citizens, and 40 relatives, were among 400 passengers evacuated from the Red Sea port of Hodeidah by the Indian navy ship the Sumitra."

Item: "U.S. officials have said they believe it is too dangerous for U.S. military assets to enter Yemeni waters and air space...That, however, has left Americans largely on their own to find a way out of the country."

Item: "A few dozen Americans have made it aboard U.N.-organized evacuation flights from Sanaa to Khartoum, Sudan, and others have made it out aboard Russian ships..."

Item: A State Department official [reiterated] ... it is too dangerous to risk a military operation to rescue Americans.

Too dangerous for whom?

Item: "The US government has been sued over abandoning its citizens in Yemen, where up to 4,000 Americans are feared stranded. Pentagon officials claim an evacuation would be too dangerous for military personnel to carry out."

Item: "US citizens stuck in Yemen have lashed out at Washington for ignoring their pleas for help as they try to leave the war-torn country."

Item: India has wrapped up a successful evacuation of 4,640 of its own citizens as well as 960 foreigners.

Meanwhile, the Army, reacting to publicity about collapsed morale, has changed the formulas that measure morale to improve results.

As history readers we make a huge mistake if we conflate the military of old with the military of now.

4/01/2015

Dunning-Kruger: we're all guilty but some more than others

We used to say, "He knows just enough to be dangerous." Now we say, "This is a Dunning-Kruger case."

Dunning-Kruger is/be/are all over the Internet these days, and discussants do not dress in sackcloth. They are very concerned about those other idiots over there who don't know how foolish they are.

Now, Civil War discussions have a lot of pejoratives, many absolutes and all sorts of "common knowledge" backed by adamant posturing. OK, so here I am pointing my finger at those folks over there, but I avoid calling generals names and do not assume greater knowledge than the man who was there and on the spot.

How many of us presume to substitute our own judgement for a field commander's? How many do so with a caveat that the commander did not have information as good as ours ... and yet we don't analyze our own information? How many realize it's not entirely about the information?

Dunning himself has recently published an Internet piece justly called, "We are all confident idiots." He does not cite an ACW example but does mention pop culture evolutionary theory, a bugbear of mine. Dunning:
... purpose-driven misconception wreaks particular havoc on attempts to teach one of the most important concepts in modern science: evolutionary theory. Even laypeople who endorse the theory often believe a false version of it. They ascribe a level of agency and organization to evolution that is just not there.
"False" is a little harsh. "Outdated" or non-Darwinian is better. BTW, don't we ACW readers ascribe an agency and organization to the battlefield that is not there? Don't we know about the coordination and editing of battle reports?

But back to Dunning: check out your local public school and educational TV programming, especially. You'll learn that dinosaurs could not adapt (a Lamarckian formulation) but that successful mammals inherited those environmental adaptations forced upon them (Lysenko). Remarkable stuff and nothing remotely to do with Darwin and yet preached today as "settled science" by people who don't know the history of competing evolutionary theories. And Dunning falls into this by suggesting there is one "evolutionary theory." There are many evolutionary theories and some are discredited.

Our own little world is a simpler one. Nothing is discredited because there is only one master narrative of the ACW. The game is in retelling the story because there is nothing writers can say that did not already appear in Republican newspaper editorials during the war. The alternate Democrat analysis and commentary have faded yellow and crumbled to dust with the broadsheets of that era. Any new analysis is but a novelty that passes with any given publishing season.

Meanwhile this idiot general missed that glorious opportunity to end the war in a single bold stroke because of his [insert failing here].

3/29/2015

Military virtues of the lazy

Lucy Kellaway was talking about a lazy executive and mentioned Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord's formula. I had heard it before attributed to Frederick the Great.

The idea is that you classify your officers as either clever or dull and then again as either industrious or lazy. The clever lazies are assigned the highest field commands; the clever industrious are put on staff; the dull lazies are left to follow orders; and the dull industrious you isolate and keep a watch over them.

I worked for an industrious fool long ago in Saudi Arabia. When we last heard from this blustery whirlwind of a man, he was taking a taxicab from Riyadh to Beirut.

Interesting to sort the Civil War generals into these bins. What's your sort look like?

The Quote Investigator has a nice piece on this slippery attribution.

3/16/2015

Savior generals

It's not an adequate rebuttal to counterinsurgency doctrine but Col. Gian Gentile's polemic Wrong Turn has three very interesting memes relevant to our little world: "the bad general," "the better general," and "the savior general." His method of debunking these pop culture archetypes is to document the underlying and pervasive continuity (in policy and practice) between the "bad," the "better," and the "savior."

One wonders if the germ of this idea came from Civil War readings.

Update (3/29): A reader alerts us that Victor D. Hanson had a book out called The Savior Generals. Gentile quotes Hanson on other matters but does not attribute "savior generals".

3/12/2015

Atlanta's numbers (cont.)

Andrew Wagenhoffer wrote in to mention that Steve Newton wrote about Johnston's retreat numbers in North & South ages ago. "I found some talk on the article on the Armchair General." Here's a snip from that board:
There was an excellent article in the April 2000 (Vol 3, No.4) North/South magazine that did just that. The name of the article was "Formidable Only in Flight: Casualties, Attrition, & Morale in Georgia" by Steve Newton. Steve does an excellent job of breaking down battlefield casualties, missing soldiers, losses to sickness, & readmissions amongst both Federal & Confederate armies. "Under Johnston's leadership the average daily casualty rate was 195 casualties per day for 73 days; under Hood this average increased to 375 casualties per day for 47 days. Although daily averages only show general trends over weeks & months, it is evident that the Army of Tennessee suffered signficantly more casualties over a much shorter period under Hood than Johnston."

Where things break down for the Confederates is in the hospital & recovery phase. The Federals were MUCH better at getting men back to the battlefield than their Confederate counterparts. For the Confederates, the really telling part is not casualties TAKEN, but in casualties INFLICTED. While Johnston in 73 days of combat generates nearly the casualties that Hood does in 47, the Yanks take 20,000 LESS casualties due to the battlefield & sickness under Hood than Johnston. Hood takes greater casualties faster & inflicts less damage than Johnston.
These numbers need more scrutiny; one may have to repair to eBay to get a copy of the issue in question.

How to communicate

Just came back from a company meeting in which we were urged to begin communicating with each other at a (lower) level such that "even a New York Times reader could understand." Seriously. It was a comment on reading levels made without malice.

I often think on these same lines when I see discussion of complex issues reduced to one syllable words.

3/07/2015

Atlanta's numbers

Crimes against numbers, being the special mark of the Civil War historian, always catch my eye.

The question of Johnston's strength during the Atlanta campaign and at the point of relinquishing command to J.B. Hood is a controversy of which I have been innocent until drawn in by an aside in Stephen M. Hood's new book The Lost Papers of Confederate General John Bell Hood:
...Johnston had declared that during his May and June operations in North Georgia his army had lost 9,972 men, killed and wounded, in his infantry and artillery. Many subsequent writers had contented themselves with simply repeating what Johnston had written and even had ignored the restricted nature of the general's own statement ("killed and wounded," "infantry and artillery," "May and June"). In fact, if one adds other known losses and makes reasonable estimates of deserters, stragglers, men lost as prisoners, men lost to sickness, casualties in the cavalry, and losses in the 1-17 July period, one gets a different picture. Johnston's losses then total about 25,000.
Russell Bonds has a comment on Johnston's tallies in his War Like the Thunderbolt:
Johnston only counted enlisted men armed on the front lines as "effectives," while adding every orderly, cook, staff officer, and teamster west of the Appalachians to the Federal total ... In short, Johnston's reports compared apples to oranges - Confederate "effectives" versus Union "aggregate present" - and then compounded the problem by undercounting the apples and overcounting the oranges.
This useful criticism does not get us to a larger picture of relative strengths, so I turned to another new book, Robert Jenkins' To the Gates of Atlanta: From Kennesaw Mountain to Peach Tree Creek. Its Appendix C, "Estimated Strength of Hood's Army," puts the handover at 44,400. The unit breakdowns show figures such as 4,00, 2,000, 1,000 and, not surprisingly, they come from the OR. The OR does not say who made this estimate, why or how, nor the  excessive resort to zeroes. This is not to single out Jenkins because we often see historians who cite the early information of the OR in preference to the refined data and analysis that come later.

Have a look at this article from Battles and Leaders published lifetimes ago to see the kind of rigor that would be useful if we could ever train historians to take an interest in figures. Note that the authors say "between April 30th and June 10th, [Johnston must account] for at least the following men available for battle," namely 84,328. Subtracting Stephen Hood's estimate of 25,000 lost en route to Atlanta and we come somewhat near to the Battle and Leaders authors' reckoning for Gen. Hood's new command: 65,032.

"Somewhat near" because contemporary accounts also feature an abundance of zeroes. Among the Lost Papers is another estimate made by a Kentucky regimental surgeon who writes to Gen. Hood that "... it was estimated, from despondency and our retrograde movement, the army had lost between 17,000 and 20,000 men by desertion ..." [Emphasis added.]

There is a lot of work to be done here.

Stephen Hood's book opens another door to a related matter, of which I had not heard. Bragg writes Hood on December 17, 1865:
My recollection is perfectly clear ... In addition to the Army of Tennessee, then at Dalton, the General Commanding was offered for an offensive campaign, Polk's Corps from Mississippi & Ala., Longstreet's Corps from East Tennessee, and a sufficient number from Beauregard's command in S. Carolina & Georgia to make up 75,000 effective infantry. The Cavalry with these commands numbered at least 10,000 and the artillery 6,000, total 91,000. Besides the effectives so reported there were not less than 15,000 able bodied men bearing arms but reported on extra duty such as clerks, cooks, mechanics, laborers, teamsters &c, &c. One half at least could at any time be placed in battle without impairing the efficiency of the army.
I have always considered it a great misfortune that the generous offer of President Davis was not promptly accepted, and the campaign energetically undertaken. To furnish the means all other armies were for the time being to be subordinated to the Army of Tennessee.
This is gist for an alternative history and suggests the outnumbered JJ may have been outnumbered by his own choice.

---

p.s. Johnston was no stranger to spin. For details on how Johnston falsified his report on Fair Oaks, see Cliff Dowdey's The Seven Days.

3/05/2015

The Comte de Paris on the climax of McClellan's second Richmond campaign

During a recent stay at the Union League Club in New York, I found an original edition (are there newer ones?) of the Comte de Paris' History of the Civil War in America. There is a digital edition somewhere, no doubt, and perhaps I could have read read it on a tablet in a dirty taxicab, but better to browse in a beautiful setting (shown above).

McClellan's second Richmond campaign promised a solid win. The largest-ever AOP had concentrated against Longstreet in the Piedmont near Culpeper-Warrenton, while Jackson's isolated, distant, scattered command scrounged Valley supplies beyond the mountains (the passes of which had been blocked by commands posted by GBM).

While acknowledging the advantage McClellan developed, the Comte speculates on alternative outcomes:
Jackson and Lee, who had a thorough knowledge of the situation, had certainly projected some bold movement upon McClellan's rear similar to that which had proved so successful against Pope ... but they were playing a very dangerous game.*
Strong statements but History lacks notes. Why did the author think Lee had thorough knowledge and a certain plan?

Russel Beatie, perhaps alone among ACW historians, used the Comte's unpublished papers in writing his Army of the Potomac series. Is the answer in those papers?

---
* Vol 2, 554-555

2/12/2015

ALPLM hits the wall

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the management of which has long been derided in this blog, now faces reorganization driven by the Illinois legislature. A new report makes interesting points:
* "The library has been unable to maintain its professional staff and to make necessary investments in digital technology"

* "The museum’s famously innovative exhibitions, created a decade ago, are in need of a major reinvestment"

* "The lack of a professional culture is acutely evident at the State Historical Library"

* "... maintaining the status quo for ALPLM governance is untenable."
The place has been a patronage sink made ludicrous by its pretensions. Will separation from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency fix that?

2/11/2015

James McPherson's favorite books and authors

In a New York Times interview, James McPherson recently identified some of his favorite authors and books. I thought I'd add some fun links to the names below.

Best ACW book ever: Allan Nevins' Ordeal of the Union. (Scroll down to the sixth para where Nevins plagiarism is discussed.)

Favorite ACW biography: "Jean Edward Smith, Grant. (See my posts, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).*

"Most important military history ever written": John Keegan's Face of Battle.

One of "the best historians writing today": Eric Foner.

In the "first rank of military historians": Craig Symonds, Gary Gallagher, Joseph Glatthar.

Happy reading!

----
* Smith and McPherson make beautiful music together:

McPherson: "He may have been an alcoholic in the medical meaning of that term. He was a binge drinker." [BCOF P 588]
Smith: "Grant was a binge drinker. In a clinical sense, he may have been an alcoholic." [Grant P. 231]

McPherson: "For months he could go without liquor, but if he once imbibed it was hard for him to stop." [P 588]
Smith: "He could go for months without a drink, but once he started it was difficult for him to stop." [P. 231]

McPherson: "His wife and his chief of staff John A. Rawlins were his best protectors." [P 588]
Smith: "For the most part, Grant remained sober, protected from alcohol by his adjutant, Colonel John Rawlins, and especially by Julia." [P. 231]

Smith can also make Catton's dead prose come alive!

Catton (Grant Takes Command): "Grant saw more of the fighting here than he did in the Wilderness because the country was more open."
Smith (Grant): "Grant was able to witness more of the fighting at Spotsylvania than in the Wilderness because the terrain was more open."

Catton: "During the afternoon he saddled up and rode out to several points where he could watch the fight for the tip of the salient."
Smith: "During the afternoon he ordered his reliable pony Jeff Davis saddled and rode out to several points where he could observe Hancock's troops fighting at the tip of the mule shoe and Wright's assault on the west angle."

Catton: "It seemed to him that on balance things had gone well and that evening back at headquarters he sent Halleck a wire summing up his impression [quotes wire]."
Smith: "On balance, Grant thought things were going well. Back at headquarters that evening he wired Halleck [quotes and paraphrases wire]."

Catton: "On the evening of May 11 Grant had sent Julia an optimistic message [quotes message]."
Smith: "Later he wrote Julia he was well and full of hope [quotes message]."

The passing (cont.)

I shared some thoughts with Brooks Simpson and his readers on how the old guard's views will be carried on into the future (see comments).

2/10/2015

My, how history rhymes

"If he lacked the flexibility to suffer fools gladly..."
The Papers of Jefferson Davis: 1808-1840, page vii
Lynda Lasswell Crist 1971

"One of the adjectives that is usually applied to President Davis is the word 'austere'..."
The Papers of Jefferson Davis: 1808-1840, page vii
Lynda Lasswell Crist 1971

"He appears humorless..."
The Papers of Jefferson Davis: July 1846--December 1848, p vii
Lynda L. Crist, Mary S. Dix, 1982

"Austere and humorless, Davis did not suffer fools gladly."
Battle Cry of Freedom, p 429
James McPherson, 1988

"Austere and humorless, Davis did not suffer fools gladly."
The Illustrated Battle Cry of Freedom : The Civil War Era, p 363
James McPherson, 2003

"He did not suffer fools gladly ... Davis could be austere, humorless and tediously argumentative."
Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief quoted in reviews
James McPherson, 2014

---

(p.s. If anyone knows who these fools are whom Davis did not suffer, please drop a line.)

2/07/2015

Low Davis content in "Jefferson Davis"

Began reading Jefferson Davis, Confederate President by Hattaway and Beringer, which came out in 2002.

Reading and reading, I got angrier and angrier. The book is really a general history of Confederate military operations, many of these operations undertaken with no Davis input. No Davis strategy, no Davis decision trees, no Davis work habits, no Davis routine interactions, no business style, not even superficial analysis of this presidency: this is what the authors deliver. They supply 5-10% Davis content at most and no more than 15-20% presidency content.

Expect a handsomely bound Civil War primer that treats its real subject, operations, hurriedly and it's pretend topic, the Davis presidency, not at all.

2/03/2015

The passing

A friend writes,
Just saw news of Pfanz’s death, and was thinking about Civil War history and generations of historians:

I guess you saw Harry W. Pfanz just died (age 93). Albert Castel died in November (age 86).

Stephen Sears is 82. McPherson is 78. James I. “Bud” Robertson is 84 or 85. Ed Bearss is 91. William C. Davis is a spritely 68, but just retired.

Are we now, fully and finally, in the age of Simpson, Rafuse, Grimsley, Symonds, Woodworth, Carmichael, Hess, et al.? And if so, what will they do as they seize the wheel? With their power to shape history? Will we see new and powerful analyses of battles and leaders and logistics and politics, or just blog posts about social history and latter-day “controversies” like the Confederate flag? How many of those guys are working on major books at this point? Do we have anything to look forward to?

(Then there’s the threat of Michael Korda and the like. Don’t get me started.)
Your thoughts, dear reader?

1/14/2015

New Lincoln resettlement document

This undated blog posting refers to a new find: a resettlement agreement signed by Lincoln that puts freed slaves in what is modern Belize. I had heard of these plans but had no idea they reached the point of government-to-government agreements.

History is full of messy details which writers take pains to eliminate.

12/11/2014

World plagiarism study

At first this article surprised me with the benign estimate of America's scientific plagiarism. You could be forgiven for mistaking the USA for a beacon of integrity if you did not notice this bit of methodology:
The final check is a computer program that compares the paper's text with the text of every other paper already published on arXiv.
Emphasis added. Excluded: books, paywalled papers, unpublished papers, lectures. The limits of this check are so obvious, that it's a wonder any significant cheating was discovered at all. But is this kind of thing at least useful for a snapshot?

We need much more such policing in Civil War history and social science generally. There is the problem of plagiarizing others and then of plagiarizing one's own work.

Academics have the luxury of blaming graduate assistants for their crimes but others are not so lucky.

And although an Allan Nevins could confidently steal Fremont research from an unpublished paper, one wonders at the mentality of a pop culture celebrity who thinks his theft from a recent issue of the New Yorker would go unnoticed. Hell, who among his TV fans reads at all?

Thieves. A friends' house was burgled in the night and the next day, he found the stolen stuff scattered around the garden, under bushes and in the driveway. It made no sense. He asked the police, "Why?" He received a look of scorn. "These aren't rocket scientists, you know."

Plagiarists: not rocket scientists. Not even garden variety scientists, really.

11/27/2014

Books

This post is to acknowledge some of the many review copies received here over the last year even though most fall outside of my competence and interest. I'll give the same comments you would receive if we were browsing in a bookstore.

Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War is by Michael Adams whom you may know through his Our Masters the Rebels, a book I thought interesting and worthwhile but as a "speculation" (author's characterization) it seemed to me to go too far. This new work looks to be a corrective the general run of airbrushed history, compiling the miserable squalor of the soldier's daily grind with the plight of civilians and veterans. There are war crimes too: "Evidence exists that, as the war went on, Union authorities deliberately reduced the ration" allowed to CSA POWs. This is the kind of remark that demands a little more exploration. So too do many hit and run observations: Thomas's "preference for winning through superior deployment;" "Many officers also failed to register that defensive firepower had shifted the tactical advantage...;" "Billets remained unclean." There is a tendency to footnote generalizations instead of argue them.

The Civil War as Global Conflict: Transnational Meanings of the American Civil War is a collection of essays under a title that suggests more focus than the assembled content possesses. Here we have King Cotton, atrocities, immigration, Gone with the Wind, quite the grab bag. The essay that attracted my interest especially was "Nurse as Icon," examining Florence Nightingale's effect on the ACW entirely as a pop culture phenomenon. The leading American nurses appear in Jane Schultz's piece ever so briefly as failed celebrities. This is a remarkable and disturbing way to approach Civil War meanings.

Last to Join the Fight: The 66th Georgia Infantry follows the misadventures of this late-war regiment through the famous end-of-war Western campaigns. Generally, the author works his data  into narrative but this book does offer one table and it is fascinating: it shows the individual and parental wealth of the regiment's officers. Of 25 officers listed, only one shows neither personal nor parental wealth; I notice $400,000 on the top end and these are US dollars based on previous census figures.

The 66th Georgia (speaking of which) rates no fewer than 13 citations in Robert Jenkins' The Battle of Peachtree Creek: Hood's First Sortie, an enormous study of 423 pages, not counting rosters, bibliography, notes, front matter, pictures, etc.  Two complaints about the book posted to Amazon address the unit-by-unit storytelling approach and the emphasis given to Stewart's part of the battle. My own complaint is about discouragement. I dread starting a book this detailed on such a specific topic outside of my more familiar reading. It seems an invitation to enter into disputes about which I know nothing. In this case, the treatment of Hood is of a mainstream/neutral flavor and Hardee is found wanting. The author, at least, is not a polemicist, and follows a process of describing actions and results.

Challenges on the Emmaus Road: Episcopal Bishops Confront Slavery, Civil War, and Emancipation offers, as its title says, an Episcopalian  view into the ACW. This does not, however, mean that this big book enjoys a single point of view. The material ranges across time and personalities and the effect is episodic. Our good friend Leonidas Polk figures here, as he ought to, but many others also appear briefly as specific issues come up. There is, for instance, the matter of John Pope's Indian executions, to which Minnesota's bishop objects. An interesting church history.

William Gilmore Sims's Selected Reviews on Literature and Civilization offers the views of a leading Southern critic in short pieces often on books or personalities known to us. Sims is regarded by some as the leading literary figure of that place and time but to those of us steeped in contemporary research, too much of this reads like ordinary newspaper fare. He becomes interesting when pushing outside that range of tone, for instance when savaging De Forest's  ACW novel, Miss Ravenel's Conversion ("the embodiment of all the brutal malignity Northern writers have ever conceived..."). Occasionally, the editors' introductions run longer than the piece itself, as in the review of Carlyle's Latter Day Pamphlets, and sometimes, as in the case of Carlyle, the underlying review is worthless except as a brand-name touch-point for readers and an opportunity for Sims to take another swipe at the North.

 The Devil's to Pay: John Buford at Gettysburg: A History and Walking Tour brings us new work by Eric Wittenberg. We know the author as a cavalry specialist, a Buford advocate and a deep researcher whose treatment of primary sources is exemplary. This volume includes material from new primary sources, with the walking tour following the narrative in an appendix. There are other appendices (among maps, notes and other goodies), including Eric's masterful debunking of "The Myth of the Spencers" in Appendix B. This "Myth" reveals Eric's deep powers as historian, historiographer, researcher, analyst, and critic. If future writers skip this tome, mistaking it for a tour guide only, they will lose a broader understanding the general battle.

On the general theme of tour books, Savas Beatie has released a series of what might be considered to be battlefield backgrounders. These are not guides or map books but rather short, heavily illustrated descriptive narratives. The series includes Simply Murder, the Battle of Fredericksburg; A Season of Slaughter, the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House May 8-21, 1864; That Furious Strugle:  Chancellorsville and the High Tide of the Confederacy May 1-4, 1863; Hurricane from the Heavens: The Battle of Cold Harbor, May 26-June 5, 1864; and No Turning Back,: A Guide to the 1864 Overland Campaign from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, May 4-June 13, 1964.

11/20/2014

Election note from '58

On October 6, 1858, The Loudon Democratic Mirror newspaper reprinted an article from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin about the elections occurring in the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia:
A Sardinian Election
[...]
The qualifications for a voter, though apparently reasonable to a "European mind," would be so many shackles to a freeborn American. In the first place, a voter is required actually to be born Piedmontais and to reside in the district where he votes.
[...]
Interesting!

11/18/2014

Virginia vintners promote Sesquicentennial

Sorry I did not mention this earlier... a tie in between battlefield tours and nearby wineries.

McClellan's Retreat

A cocktail bar with an ahistorical name.

(H/T to correspondents.)

11/14/2014

Civil War beer

Those who have read Jonathan Wainwright's diary will recall his entering General Burnside's HQ tent and finding it pleasingly stocked with all kinds of ales, porters, wines and ciders.

I thought of this today while reading the October 6, 1858 edition of the Loudon Democratic Mirror in a library near Ball's Bluff. There was a beer advertisement that opens a window into the popular tastes of that time. The ad was placed by Arny & Shin, bottlers out of Georgetown, and the units offered were 12-bottles per price shown. The list below is complete as posted. The numbers are dollars. The bottle shown top right is contemporary with the ad.

Kennett Ale ---------- 1.25
Burton Ale ----------- 1.00
Philadelphia Ale ----- 1.00
XX Ale --------------- 1.00
XXX Pale Ale --------- 1.00
India Pale Ale ------- 1.50
XX Family Porter ----- 1.00
Brown Stout ---------- 1.50
Crab Apple Cider ----- 1.50
Champagne Cider ------ 1.50

If you were going to be an 1858 Joe Sixpack, it would cost you no less than 50 cents per day in a land where $5/week was a decent income.

Interesting that Loudon's significant German population is not represented in these beer styles. Perhaps they were Moravians and therefore abstainers. These English beer styles would be supplanted from coast to coast by the all-pervasive Central European yellow lager after the war.

But what of these beer styles?

Kennett ale seems to have been a strong ale spiced with coriander and chili peppers.

Burton Ale seems to have been strong, dark and sweet and a precursor to today's Baltic porters.

Philadelphia ale is something I could not identify.

XX Ale is probably something we would recognize as similar to a Sam Adams Boston Ale, though as an XX, I assume weaker.

XXX Pale Ale is a style we know well. It's having quite a revival just now.

India Pale Ale, likewise. This extreme form of Pale Ale caters to hop heads and was devised in Burton-on-Trent to help offset the loss of sales in Burton Ale caused by Russian import duties.

XX Family Porter has the most intriguing name. "C'mon, kids! Drink up!" It seems to be an over-hopped porter with the added ingredients of licorice and molasses. This 19th Century recipe lets the fermentation run its course, so the molasses would increase the alcohol content rather than act as a sweetener. At the same time, it's just an XX, so we have unanswered questions here.

Brown Stout:
Here’s a quote from a book called ‘A General Dictionary of Commerce, Trade and Manufactures,’ published in 1810: ‘Porter may be divided into two classes, namely brown-stout and porter properly so called … Brown-stout is only a fuller-bodied kind of porter than that which serves for ordinary drinking. A great deal of this is exported to America and the West Indies.”
Here's a discussion of an 18th Century recipe for brown stout.

Today's beer snobs would be very happy in Civil War times.

----

p.s. A note on the bottle shown here:
The true green bottles pictured [above] are very typical short, squat, mid-19th century beer (ale, porter, stout) bottles with fairly abrupt shoulders and comparatively tall, straight (non-bulging) necks. Mineral finishes are most commonly seen on this style, though occasionally other finishes are present like the blob or oil finish. This distinct shape was and is often referred to as a "porter" or "porter bottle" (von Mechow pers. comm. 2011) and was undoubtedly used very frequently for that early type of beer (and occasionally mineral water); bottles noting that they contained "Porter" or "Ale" via the embossing are frequently seen.

The early example pictured [displays] an overall crudity befitting its manufacturing date of about 1854 to 1856.

9/09/2014

An antidote to Easter Bunny history

On Sunday I spoke with a business owner who takes his employees on outings once or twice a year. He had no idea I was interested in Civil War history much less that I was an ACW contrarian.

On Friday, instead of a seminar "where people fall backwards and are caught," as he put it, he took his staff to the nearby Antietam battlefield for a staff ride conducted by the Army War College Foundation (apparently in exchange for a donation to that charity). He couldn't stop talking about it.

As I probed with questions about the tour, each answer surprised me. The guides had an interesting view of the causes of the war that they shared with their audiences. They had a fully developed economic perspective, and their political view of Lincoln was one that a mainstream reader would have found difficult. They offered something like 360 degree views of strategy and tactics deeply intertwined with personalities, political struggles, political economy, and skulduggery. It was an escape from the readymade world of easy answers. I could paraphrase the fascinating specifics but coming from me, it would be third hand stuff.

This War College tour was not the history you get through headphones, my informant told me. "I can't stand Santa Clause history," he said, adding (perhaps unfairly) he would never take a battlefield tour with battlefield park staff. Once you get into that consensus-driven mainstream, that "Easter Bunny" stuff, all the richness and detail is lost to future generations, he told me with great force.

This must be quite a program. In its effect it resembles evangelism for big H History.

9/08/2014

Confederate Tide Rising and Southern strategy

Steve Woodworth compiled some reviews of Joseph Harsh's Confederate Tide Rising that give glimpses of what might be a Confederate strategy. This may whet the appetite of those not familiar with this work. I have an alternate view which I will recap in a future post.

Meanwhile, as President Obama prepares for his big strategy speech on Wednesday, he might consider the wisdom of the 17th Century Book of Five Rings:
The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy's cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him.

9/05/2014

Confusion about strategy

When President Obama recently said "We don’t have a strategy yet," political reporters became obligated to define "strategy," which (predictably) they refused to do (in any story I've seen).

Leaving "strategy" to the imagination of the political class, it could mean "objectives," "tactics," "general intentions," political or military posture, or "frame of reference."

To the military history reader, strategy refers to an outcome based on overall goals, with intermediate objectives, timetables, possibly means, and pre-selected milestone events (as needed). Such a reader might imagine WWII in the west: North Africa landings, Sicily, Italy, France; likewise the island hopping in the Pacific culminating in a home islands invasion.

We cannot, however, reasonably expect any politician anywhere to ever adopt anything like what we would call strategy. This makes the idea that Obama was "speaking our language" absurd. Whatever the "gaffe" was in making his statement, we can assume it was not military or strategic because politicians do no strategy, politicians do contingency.

I have said it before:

- Any strategy is death to political control of the military. It puts the politician at the mercy of events, ends and means having been decided and posted to the court of public opinion.

- There is a long list of inhibitors that guarantee strategy cannot be formulated or adopted.

- "He means to win the war by strategy" - biggest laugh line of the Civil War.

What about Roosevelt's war strategy, unfolding as it did? North Africa, specifically Operation Torch, was the military's desperate, improvised reaction to Roosevelt's non-negotiable demand that the European Axis must be engaged by American troops in 1942. It was pick a front and go. After Torch, Sicily was clearly opportunistic and with the fall of Sicily, the second opportunity of Italy promised a political effect against Mussolini: this was low hanging fruit. The decision to invade of France was a political football that remained in play into early 1944. After accepting the conditional surrender of Vichy in Africa and Badoglio in Italy, unconditional surrender suddenly became unconditional - a policy that would govern strategy or the absence of strategy to war's end. Note to political pundits: policy is not strategy.

In the Pacific, the same pattern emerges. The Navy's war was haphazard and self-directed. The Army's war, under MacArthur, followed the general's strategy for returning to the Philippines (one new book showing how MacArthur obtained incremental buy-in from Roosevelt in the absence of a presidential strategy).

And of Korea, Vietnam, the post war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the less said the better.

Since WWII, the political control of the military has so deeply affected the military's culture, our generals and admirals are at a complete loss as to what strategy is. They cannot seem to transcend the political bubble. Here are the comments of the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs on "strategy" (emphasis added):
Yeah, I will say up front that normally we talk about ends, ways and means mostly during the budget season, when the means become the prominent feature in strategic discussions.

The other way we talk about strategy throughout the year is choices and consequences. You know, we are blessed as a nation to have, you know – we have multiple options in how to deal with issues, in ways that some other countries – most other countries around the world have far, far fewer options.

[...]

And then the other interesting thing about strategy, to me, is whether it’s best to define an end state and then deliberately plot a series of actions to achieve that end state. That’s the traditional thinking, by the way. You identify the end state and then you back plan from that and you chart a course with milestones to decide whether you’ve got it right or not; or whether the world in which we live today actually is one where, kind of like the Heisenberg principle in physics, where you should touch it and see what happens.
To understand how confused the general can be about strategy, consider these pop culture assertions:

- Strategy is operational excellence
- Strategy is is perspective, position, plan, and pattern
- "Strategy is that which top management does that is of great importance to the organization"

And yet, Google's top-of-search gives all the presidents, policymen, and policy executors what they need: strategy is "a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim." This definition is surprisingly close to what military readers think of as strategy, not that we should raise our hopes that others will agree with us. Because strategy is clear and actionable and measurable and it succeeds or fails, this must be poison to politicians. President Obama will adopt no strategy. Neither did Lincoln or Davis.

8/26/2014

Civil War soldiers: measurably smarter than us

You might also ask: can I match my wits against any Kentucky 8th grader of 1912?

Probably not.

8/12/2014

Lincoln bric-a-brac: some ideas

It's the 40th anniversary of Hello Kitty and the various writings on the subject, from scholarly papers to marketing analyses, miss the really big point about this little emblem. Hello Kitty was and is a floating signifier. So,
Hello Kitty doesn’t have a body of film work or comic strips that define her character in a meaningful sense such as Mickey Mouse and Snoopy. She is like a mirror, reflecting back any desires or feelings you project upon the character
Hello Kitty was and remains content free. This helps me understand why Lincoln's face adorns so much product.

For the broad masses, Lincoln suggests no more than "good guy" or "president whatever." At the same time, the hat and beard are "branded." The Lincoln image offers manufacturers a royalty free, license free trademark.

Hello Kitty went through stages.
In 1962, Shintaro Tsuji, founder of Sanrio, began selling rubber sandals with flowers painted on them. Tsuji noted the profits gained by adding a cute design to the sandals and hired cartoonists to design cute characters for his merchandise.
This early phase in Hello Kitty's development seems to be where things are with the Hello Abe franchise. Hello Abe has had much time to go beyond this point but remains in plastic sandals, as it were.

In summary, Lincoln imagery offers free branding. The buyer projects something from within onto the meaningless but "cute design" of Lincoln's image. A transaction results.

It has taken me a long time to work this one out.