If you are going to be a big-picture historian, if you are going to draw sweeping conclusions about great questions, why, oh why get mixed up in a lot of gritty details? To show that you've mastered the materials? But then you have to get the details right, or you look like a fraud.

Look at these errors committed by John Keegan. It's kind to call them "sloppy," because they are career, status, and credibility killers. Note his answer to the challenge on dates of the American Revolution; it shows the kind of hateur pop historians may indulge in - a pride that is the opposite of historic sensibility.

I think this poster is onto something:

"It makes me wonder whether or not he wrote the book himself. I've read Keegan before and he never made such glaring errors. Also, I don't think I've heard of such errors written on anything pertaining the civil war. It's almost comical."

Successful pop historians do not seem to research their own books or write them, as we learned in the Goodwin and Ambrose scandals. They bless the content, then learn just enough about their "own" writings to travel the interview and commentary circuit, and that's that.

This explains the anomalies in McPherson's Antietam book last year. McPherson's interviews and endnotes credit works containing new information and new thinking, but none of the newer stuff makes it into his prose.

For instance, he praises John Hennessy's, Return to Bull Run without noticing four incidents in which generals capture each others' orders before McClellan finds Lee's orders in the Maryland Campaign. McClellan's find remains unique, in McPherson's narrative.

He cites John Michael Priest's Before Antietam: The Battle for South Mountain, without noticing all the movements and orders McClellan issued after finding the Lost Order: in McPherson's new book, McClellan still waits six hours before issuing his first command.

In an interview, he praises Harsh's Taken at the Flood, without actually adopting any of the book's views or conclusions. For example, one of its central ideas is that McClellan seized the intitiative from Lee before finding Lee's orders.

Search McPherson in vain for this or other new insights. And yet these citations serve him as bona fides.

The solution, of course, is to write your own books. If you are Keegan, and you insist the Revolution was fought from 1776 on, give the ghostwriter a little break and tell us why that is so. If you are McPherson and you cite new studies whose findings and content contradict your earlier conclusions, don't restate those conclusions with a smile and a nod to the new material ... send the ghostwriter on coffeebreak and tell us why you reject the new material.

McPherson: "I owe much to existing scholarship. What is different about my book is the compression of these complex events into a brief compass."

No sir. What is different in your work are citations that spite your conclusions. Again and again.

You have read the good stuff, use it.
NEWS | Civil War graffitti discovered in Bagdad, Florida * Cache of Lincoln photos found in Illinois school * Vanished island, site of Battery Wagner, to be restored


A few thoughts on remembering by Paul A. Shackel in Memory in Black and White:

Public memory is more a reflection of present political and social relations than a true reconstruction of the past.

Therefore, public memory does not rely solely on professional historical scholarship, but it takes into account the various individuals and institutions that affect and influence the versions of histories that have become part of the collective memory.

Public memory can be viewed as tactical power that controls social settings. Competing groups battle ceaselessly to create and control the collective national memory of revered sacred sites and objects.

The tensions between and within groups who struggle for control over the collective public memory is ongoing since the political stakes are high.

The meaning of sacred sites on the American landscape is continually being negotiated and reconstructed.
This columnist wonders how long observance of a federal religious holiday will last. She also outlines the three-step program that created Thanksgiving.
Starting in the 1940s, people began donating books to the Alabama State Archives. They were not thrown away, but neither were they cataloged. A part-timer is now going through boxes and finding collectibles like an 1862 Richmond edition of the federal standard, Instruction for Heavy Artillery. "It is a treasure that was neglected. It's not anybody's fault. It's just that they (archives officials) never had money to have the staff to do it," the part-timer said.

I'm not sure that's true. In another part of the same article, we read that "Archives staff members in the last two decades have spent more time repairing portraits and Civil War flags and organizing the archives' collections of photos, maps, newspapers, manuscripts and government records."

In other words, the Archive neglected its books to fuss with knick-knacks.
NEWS | Battle of Chattanooga marked with songfest * Woman veteran of Civil War featured in TV program * Gettysburg painting restoration attracts Dutch experts * Knoxville ponders the disappearance of Ft. Sanders * Gettysburg General Gregg's effects sold for $400


It would seem that Richard Norton Smith, who will oversee the conversion of the Lincoln Library and Museum into a tourist mecca, may have enough self-discernment to understand the role he is playing. In a recent speech he notes,

"By his reckless embrace of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Franklin Pierce helped touch off a civil war, even if he did wonders for the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau."

I hope we need never say, "By his reckless embrace of heritage tourism, Smith triggered a nationwide replacement of scholars with celebrities - doing wonders for visitor bureaus everywhere."

Smith's writing is highly entertaining. It should be: he collects the best bon mots for any given president and packs them around fairly ordinary historical insights. But the history behind the writing rarely rises above the level of cafe (or dorm lounge) chatter.

See for yourself here and here.

Thanks for the laughs, but is this an Algonquin Roundtable approach to history? Are we sufficiently amused yet?

This talk was part of his leave taking from the Dole Library. Have Dole studies been advanced? Are there Dole studies?

A better use for such going-away speeches is this. Describe scholarship you admire. Tell us how you will advance Lincoln scholarship. Amuse us last of all.
NEWS | Winchester development plan takes note of Civil War camp, earthworks * Shirtmaker with Rebel flag logo banned in Florida school * New minstrels leave off the blackface


You could easily overlook the little firehouse where John Brown's rebellion ended in Harper's Ferry. It's small and it sits in a little park like some utility building. I had been to HF many times before I noticed it and realized what it was.

The signage is discreet, to say the least, and the location is new, for the "John Brown Fort" has travelled a bit. It was moved to Chicago for the World's Colombian Exhibition of 1893 where it attracted 11 paid admissions. It was supposed to go to New York, too, and at one point was marked for stable duty.

Paul Shackel has an intriguing chapter on the fort in his thoughtful new essay collection, Memory in Black and White. He talks about the different meanings it has, the people of Harper's Ferry not wanting it there, and the changing Brown historiography in which Brown's transformation from Abolitionist hero to sadistic murderer affected this particular artifact.

Underneath this is the question of how historical objects connect to historical understanding. If you think this is banal, think of all those historical institutions believing that objects convey history, or even that objects embody history.

John Brown's daughter refused to attend the Chicago fair or be associated with the firehouse. "I may be a relic of John Brown's raid of Harper's Ferry, but I do not want to be placed on exhibition with other relics and curios and such," she said.

So the human and historical essence of the raid escaped the artifact's fate. By choice. Historical institutions should take note. Especially those managing bric-a-brac.
Shelby Foote on replacing Confederate state flags: “I think the people who want a new flag are worried about tourists. I never cared much for tourists myself.”
NEWS | High schoolers try to save ACW field hospital * Philly museum loses ACW pistol to thieves * Northrup staff x-rays Monitor materials


Is it me or have you noticed reenactors being identified as such in crime stories? In this example, the fellow was returning from a reenactment, so it was part of the story. In another link I posted previously, the reenactor committed his objectionable acts in the uniform of a Rebel general.

The "new" or "revived" Civil War units should be careful of whom they recruit.
This nice lady has just unearthed a number of Civil War veteran headstones: they are now piled up in a corner of her yard awaiting disposal. She says her Massachussetts property was never a burial ground. The names are legible, regiments too.

Her hypothesis about their purpose made me think "Contractor shennanigans" and "double billing."

She has no idea of what to do with them.

I would hope a roundtable or historical society would take posession until the descendants can be contacted.

p.s. Wouldn't you have to be living in a civic and cultural vacuum to have this problem?
If you were going to study three Civil War governors, they would have to be Dennison, Morton, and Yates. Their impact on the war was boderline Cabinet level, with Dennison eventually joining the Cabinet. They were exceptional men and loyal Lincoln political operators whose common denominator was personal (career) indebtedness to the President.

Republican General McDowell (of Bull Run) was Dennison's cousin; Dennison seems to have appointed McClellan at Lincoln's behest (the evidence is circumstantial); and Lincoln had him convey to McClellan his relief from the position of general-in-chief (Mac was loading troops, missed his appointment, and read of the relief in the newspaper).

Dennison, Yates, and Morton were part of Lincoln's war management system, his regional (midwest) high command, and military patronage apparatus.

You can make a small start on Dennison here. Battle-centric publishing seem to preclude these men from getting any attention in the near future.

p.s. This is from the same Cincinnati Enquirer that drove U.S. Grant crazy during the Rebellion.
NEWS | Ohio town to honor Gen. McPherson * Lehman Brothers admits role in slavery * Citizen pushes against Lee and Davis names for county schools


I had forgotten all the uproar surrounding the Civil War Centennial, but author Paul Shackel brought it back for me in his thoughtful new book, Memory in Black and White.

It was fairly awful from start to finish, beginning with a small scandal, i.e. the Centennial Commission's scheduling an event that black members could not attend (in a white's only hotel).

This caused publicity that led to leadership resignations, including that of Ulysses S. Grant III. History writers Allan Nevins and James Robertson stepped up to run the show, though Grant came back for ceremonial purposes.

Some genius actually had Grant, the grandson of "Unconditional Surrender" shake hands with the great grandson of Robert E. Lee. Whose sense of history informed this little "drama"?

I had also forgotten how large the reenactments were, how many people they attracted, and how controversial they were.

After seeing the first Battle of Bull Run reenacted, Nevins withdrew the Commission's support for any further such events. He called it "trashily theatrical." The Atlanta Constitution referred to "sleazy imitations of Confederate uniforms" and made other complaints, and a Virginia paper pointed out that reenactments were "carnivals" that dishonored the dead.

The National Park Service's director asked the Commission to halt reenactments with the conclusion, "This soldier playing mocks the dead."

The grandstanding in these comments is remarkable. A quiet, comment-free "We do not approve," would have got the job done without insulting or angering large numbers of participants.

But everyone running a Centennial is going to be, by dint of the event, an amateur. And these were the mistakes of amateurs.

More good stuff from Memory in Black and White next week.
NEWS | Missouri Civil War Museum seeks to restore building to house collections * Kentucky golf course may yield battlefield park * Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation seeks funds to acquire field of the Third Battle of Winchester * School paper changes its name to Rebel, incites uproar * Civil War cannon finds new home


Author and professor Gary Gallagher thinks reenactors embody a specific theory of history, if this news story is to be believed.

Although he is part and parcel of the sad legacy of Nevins, Catton, McPherson, and Sears (for a time he was publishing two or more books per year in that tradition), Gallagher deserves credit for having enough perceptiveness to understand that there are schools of thought and that he belongs to one of them. This at least distinguishes him from the "my way or the highway" crowd dominating Civil War literature since the Centennial.

His Lost Cause researches seem to have led him to metahistory. Good.
Here's a report about a Florida town resisting reenactors. And it's not just about pragmatic stuff like noise and commotion. At least one resident opposes reenactment on principle:

"This is personal to me," said resident Arthur Benton, who is black. "Why would you want to live in the past? We need to go forward."
NEWS | Georgia labor commissioner decries Dixie’s failure to recruit black soldiers Officials worry that ancient cannons may accidentally fire * Monument to black soldiers taking shape in Vicksburg military park


Surprised to see that the state of Georgia's tourism division has a Civil War marketing department. A casual search suggests that they are pathfinders in this regard, at least stateside.

Meanwhile, Rwanda is marketing it's own civil war too. Tours are not family friendly.

And yet, which of these efforts will produce more actual historical content?
Sometimes, a parody can go too far.
NEWS | Planners consider Vicksburg for more casino development * Abner Doubleday club set to disband * Minstrel reenactors follow ACW shows


Pres. Bush is in London in his time, and here is a fine quote about London's view of Lincoln in olden times. From The Education of Henry Adams.
A new feature has premiered on Amazon, one so potentially useful to researchers, I'm not sure they'll leave any bandwidth available for bookbuying.

When you type in an author's name as a search term in the books section, Amazon returns a list of wherever it found that name internally referenced within a book (e.g. in footnotes).


I mentioned William Marvel, Burnside's biographer in the post below below. Try typing in William Marvel's name. This is what you'll get.
Thinking of yesterday's post, all of the skulking and AWOLs of the Civil War: imagine being an ACW veteran lucky enough to have gotten through a few battles and then having to swallow the pill of having the shirkers surround you in the veteran's organizations; having them win public offices; having them buried next to you with honors.

To give a sense of the dimensions of this problem, consider this:

Historian William Marvel has written that every one of the last dozen recognized living Confederate veterans was bogus. Marvel found that the last one, Walter Williams of Texas, would have been 5 in 1860 and 10 when the war ended. Williams didn't begin identifying himself as a Civil War veteran until 1932, when he applied for a Confederate pension.

The Civil War, and all of its associated phenomena, are something we do not yet even remotely understand .
NEWS | Model soldiers show held at Antietam * Chancellorsville preservers are on the move * SCV offers reward for info on cross thief * Chestnut diary is one-woman play


Our brave AWOLs

Our final Ben Stein question asked "How could all the men and women who participated in the war have been so amazingly brave?"

I would have less complaint with the question, "How could all the men and women who lasted out a battle have been so amazingly brave?"

The formula, "all the men and women who participated in the war" being "so amazingly brave" does not come close to the reality. Not even a little bit. It's a product of our social promotion mindset, its a little certificate of achievement we want to award everyone for showing up for work, shaved and sober.

In these armies, few actually showed up for work; often more people called in sick than clocked in for their daily ration of menace and mayhem.

The reality was overwhelmingly one of desertion, malingering, illegal leave-taking (furloughs authorized by officers not empowered to grant them), and on the battlefield itself, there was a great deal of dropping out through shirking.

There is a tendency among Civil War historians to take the Official Record's monthly muster roll for pay as something approaching battlefield strength. This would be the most inflated number available, since it represents the elected officers of the company taking care of their people in the most important matter of pay.

A better number, and it is still inflated, is that given for the various armies in The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (1861-1865), GPO 1875. This is not a primary source you have ever seen cited outside of this blog. And that's a direct reflection on Civil War historians.

The medical department did not want their death, disease, injury, and recovery statistics corrupted by the nonsense found in monthly payroll counts, so they took the trouble to add "together the mean strengths given in the individual [daily morning] reports consolidated for the month." The morning reports were the basis for the day's details and included everyone accounted for as "present for duty." The result was a better number that was also a smaller number than our imaginations, fueled by pop history, will allow.

For example, notice the medical department's view of the manpower pool of the Army of the Potomac as it marches towards Richmond:

4/62 - 71,250
5/62 - 72,536
6/62 - 78,733

This is the total count of men available to McClellan to capture Richmond; this is before illness, wounds, malingering, battlefield desertion, and shirking. Doesn't match the pop history version of things, does it?

McClellan and Lincoln had an ongoing dialog about the ghostly contingent that existed on paper but not in the field; Lincoln's quip about shoveling fleas across a barnyard was in the context of their ongoing discussion about this.

In speaking to some ladies after Antietam, Lincoln told them that McClellan lost 30,000 men to straggling within two hours of the start of the battle.

At the end of the battle on the Antietam, Mac had George Meade, then commanding Hooker's Corps, prepare a secret memo for Lincoln's visit telling how many men Hooker had brought into battle versus what the returns said he brought to bear. Here is Meade:

I prepared a statement showing that Hooker's corps on paper was thirty-one thousand five hundred strong; that of this number there were present for duty only twelve thousand, and of these, a numerical list, made on the day of battle after we came out of action, showed only seven thousand. Hence, while the United States were *paying* and the authorities at Washington were *relying* and basing their orders and plans on the belief that we had thirty-one thousand five hundred men, facts showed that we had in reality, on the field fighting, only nine thousand. As to the seven thousand that came out of the fight, we should add some two thousand killed and wounded in it. (Geo Meade, letter to his wife, 10/5/62)

Here is an artillery colonel on the same unit:

This corps has been filling up by the incoming of stragglers, and arrival of some recruits, so that we now have twice as many men present as we had a week ago. Still not half those borne on the company rolls are present. (Charles Wainwright, Diary of Battle, 9/26/62)

By 1863, the situation was barely manageable. The same colonel, Charles Wainwright, observed during the Mine Run campaign:

Never have I seen so many stragglers from the Army. [...] But when about halfway to the ford, in a place where the wood was somewhat more open, I
saw thousands, literally acres of them, cooking their coffee or sleeping around their fires.

In one horrifying episode very early in the Peninsula campaign, chief surgeon Charles Tripler tried to get 260 sick soldiers off on a boat, the Daniel Webster No. 1, bound for Boston. Stragglers had rushed on board and taken posession. They set off without the 260. Tripler then counted 1,020 more skulkers in hospital tents who had failed to make their getaway on the Daniel Webster No. 1.

The rate of AWOL experienced by both sides was staggering. In making the Army of the Potomac and its soldiers the collective hero of their books, Nevins, Catton, McPherson, Sears, and their followers could never face this dark side of historical truth, so necessary to forming any idea of the real burden shouldered by those few willing to fight. And in the process, they misled poor Ben Stein, along with a lot of other people.
ON TOPIC| Desertion During the Civil War * A Higher Duty: Desertion Among Georgia Troops During the Civil War * Disloyalty in the Confederacy * The Free State of Jones * A Diary of Battle * The Life and Letters of General George Gordon Meade
NEWS | First battlefield-related easement in MO protects Wilson's Creek * Chicago debates slavery reparations * Drunken Grant featured in Thurber Carnival * Civil War Cross of Honor stolen from gravesite


If I had spent my life maintaining the 1962 editorial line of American Heritage magazine, if I had spent it writing blurbs for other people's dust jackets, if I had spent it educating class after class of Princeton history grads, if I had spent it drawing crowds to indifferent Civil War symposia, then I would be James McPherson and I would expect I could end my life in some dignity.

Perhaps my students would hail my contributions to history in book after book, article after article; perhaps colleagues I had helped would be compiling annotated editions of my works; perhaps readings would be organized of my articles; perhaps analyses would be published listing my breakthrough discoveries and insights; perhaps things would be named after me.

Instead, as James McPherson, I am left at the end of my life to myself compile a picture edition of my best selling work (not even a disciple around to do this and spare me the shame). As my colleagues dive into new research, I sign the imitation leather-bound deluxe picture books, hoping they earn back my advance.

Does McPherson deserve such a fate?

Sorry to say, I caught a review of his picture book yesterday and from the snippets served up there, it's hard to work up sympathy for the man. Here, the reviewer begins:

Side-by-side pictures ... reveal an important Civil War subplot simply because they're placed next to each other: "The tired, lugubrious countenance of Simon Cameron and the determined, confident mien of Edwin M. Stanton speak volumes about their respective performances as secretary of war. Lincoln replaced Cameron with Stanton in January 1862 because in ten months on the job Cameron had made a mess of things; in cleaning up the mess Stanton did not make himself popular with war contractors, but he got the job done."

The reviewer notes that "it's not just that the pictures are well chosen; they're also well captioned."

I would not say this picture is well captioned at all. First, McPherson is reviewing his own caption: the miens "speak volumes," he says. The reviewer, having been told how to interpret the photos parrots McPherson, telling us the photos "reveal an important Civil War subplot simply because they're placed next to each other."

McPherson's career has been based on telling us how to interpret everything connected with the Civil War. And he has not done that in an open way, by reviewing the controversy surrounding 10,000 individual matters; he simply issues his fiat. If you ever read Catton or Nevins, you have a sense of which way his fiats will run.

So in the simple matter of Cameron and Stanton, it's not just that Cameron made a mess (is his suit rumpled to signify this?) and Stanton cleaned it up. No, it's not this impossibly basic conclusion: the analysis is ascribed to Lincoln. McPherson has the self-confidence to tell us authoritatively why Lincoln removed Cameron and replaced him with Stanton. He conveys a conclusion as a fact without actually conveying any information, historical or otherwise. And that is his way.

Here is some information any of which clould have been crafted into a single caption for two photos of these secretaries of war:

* Simon Cameron assumed his position having lost his Pennsylvania power base in the 1860 elections, but continued to appoint his own men to federal positions to the outrage of the faction that beat him at the polls.

* Edwin Stanton worked for Cameron in the war department while working with Congressional Republicans to have Cameron removed. He succeeded.

* Cameron's proudest boast was that he raised, outfitted, equipped, and deployed more soldiers than Napoleon Bonaparte; the effort exhausted him.

* Cameron surrendered his post after publicly opposing the President's policy on arming slaves.

* Cameron and Lincoln remained friends and Cameron performed many useful services for the Union during the war.

* Cameron's failure to control military contracts would be followed by Stanton's failure to control cotton speculation behind military lines.

This is just top-of-the-head stuff, folks, but the raw material for a decent caption is widely known and available.

For more bathos, we return to the review:

Here's nifty piece of descriptive writing that accompanies an image of Abraham Lincoln: "This photograph was taken in Macomb, Illinois, a day before Lincoln's second debate with Douglas in Freeport. Lincoln could scarcely be considered handsome; he joked that he was the ugliest man he had ever known. The beard that he decided two years later to grow filled out his face but could not conceal his large ears."

If you don't want to end up writing "nifty" captions about Lincoln's ears sticking out, practice real history and really practice it.
We'll take our leave of Ben Stein next week, sending him off with an analysis of today's question (below) the gist of which you have never seen before, I promise.
BEN STEIN ASKS | How could all the men and women who participated in the war have been so amazingly brave? (from The American Spectator, 10/03)
NEWS | Car crash totals Civil War monument at Gettysburg * Mass Society returns Confederate flag * HIPAA rules may block Civil War research * Foundation sues to remove Lee statue from Antietam


Here is a mission statement that should be nailed to the door of the Baltimore Historical Society:

The Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) is a major research library and manuscript repository.

You can read that here. Even their so-called "objects" are documents with intellectual content.

Scroll down for more.
"We deserve to have this kind of facility," society director Dennis Fiori said at a news conference. You certainly do; and nothing more.

Read on (below).
There is a “mega trend” in which history projects of various sorts get special funding far beyond their natural (mission-determined) levels of support in exchange for adopting a public, tourism orientation. This redo is often permanent and, I think, fatal to the missions of these compromised organizations.

If this seems like an abstract point, let’s say that history as a discipline is being corrupted, one institution at a time, by popular storytelling, political expediency, and heritage tourism. Collaborators in historians’ garb, are so glad to be bought, they view each sellout as a triumph for their imagined calling. Richard Norton Smith, publicly labeled a “showman” by the press, is placed at the fore of a Lincoln scholarship complex repurposed for Illinois tourism. James McPherson, a popular storyteller who aggregates the work of scholars, is tenured in the history department of an Ivy League university.

The best hope we have had against this rot has been the local historical society. In our imaginations, these are stuffy organizations filled with determined old-timers who keep an eagle eye on local heritage, the sites, the memories, the archives. The Civil War Roundtable movement is somewhat in this mode, though more open. It has actually revived a central feature of the old-time historical society, the writing and reading of papers by non-specialist members.

The local society is going the way of all history, however. No longer publishing and collecting local history, the new model society is about educating the public in the current fads of pop history. Here is a story on Baltimore’s society. Notice how their chief has redefined its mission to be a local knick-knack center:

"The society never found its voice," the director said, recalling the cramped, badly lighted facility that used to house its collection. Pieces were displayed haphazardly, while exhibits were short on both explanation and context. The museum seemed more an afterthought than a destination or potential tourist attraction.

Of course any museum will be the afterthought of an historical society. Historians running museums is as natural an idea as writers running libraries or printing presses. Historians have history to do; they are not to be used for the dusting off of memorabilia, for the painting of a new Men’s Room sign; for brochure copywriting.

“The museum seemed more an afterthought than a destination or potential tourist attraction.” This is the perspective of a city planner, not of an historian.

Look at this kitsch. The society now has three buildings and on one, “Nipper, the RCA dog, currently sits on its roof.”

Let Nipper, the RCA dog, represent the Baltimore Historical Society. Let it represent the historians of heritage tourism everywhere. His Master's Voice emanates from the state house and city hall.
BEN STEIN ASKS | Why do we find the South so haunting and sympathetic? (from The American Spectator, 10/03).
NEWS | Civil War tombstones get a bargain update * Discovered records give a Civil War history lesson * Monument will honor black Connecticut soldiers * Cavalryman gets gravestone at last


The Day Dixie Died is a powerful reading experience. It conveys the feeling of occupation by the North more vividly than most battle books convey their battles, and its effects are cumulative, a chapter-by-chapter buildup of gloom and horror. I have put it down more than once thinking, "This is the darkest thing I have ever read."

Not a direct polemic against the occupation, it registers its points one awful anecdote at a time. A chapter title could have served as a better book title: Death by Peace.
BEN STEIN ASKS | Was there a way of buying up the slaves? (From The American Spectator, 10/03)
NEWS | Syracusans restore and display NY battleflags * Lee supported Jewish holidays in the Rebel army * Fundraisers Gathering Money To Remember 'Connecticut 29th' * Foundation seeks funds to improve Confederate cemetery


This morning was a perfect November 11: overcast, cold, threatening rain or sleet.

Awoke thinking about that great link between the Civil War and the Great War, the deployment controversy.

I recall how McClellan and Grant (and a few in-between) decried forming new men into new units; it was a waste of human life, it was a waste of depleted veteran units, it was a waste of combat efficiency and effectiveness. But it was not something under any general’s control.

On the other side of this were the arguments that enlistments would be reduced if men could not be formed into new units made up of friends and neighbors, commanded by men of their own election; that they would be reduced if the governors’ patronage was reduced (a natural outcome of feeding men into the line as replacements). If enlistments fell the outcome of the war would be in doubt.

And so, from McClellan to Grant, the federal generals never had their chance. But the next best step was available to them; they could mix units, seasoned and green to the best of their abilities, to reduce the exposure of green regiments, and they need never after McClellan’s time, form green regiments into green brigades or divisions, except under the direst circumstances.

The argument repeated itself in the Great War. Americans would not be fed into Allied units as individual replacements; their green regiments would not be patched into veteran Allied divisions; their green divisions might in very limited numbers, be attached to Allied Corps, but generally, the green men would fight as a green army; men of 1861 level experience would be deployed en masse next to men of 1865 experience.

This time, the outcome of the war was not at issue; there was simply the issue of pride and political calculation. Were the casualties worth it? A question for Armistice Day.
Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918

"By the time you read this letter, I will no longer be alive. I will have died on enemy soil. [...] I died voluntarily for a cause I loved; I sacrificed myself; this is the most beautiful death."

- Historian Marc Bloch, June 1, 1915
BEN STEIN ASKS | How could they have carried such heavy loads, under such grueling conditions, slept in the rain, slept in the snow, marched right into massed rifle fire and certain death? (from The American Spectator, 10/03)
NEWS | Colfax statue dedicated in California * Rock Island prison dead commemorated * Living children of Civil War veterans number "hundreds"


If you're looking for historical Civil War content in the forthcoming movie The Last Samurai, I'm not sure you'll find any. If this is the shooting script, the Civil War dies out after page 11.

There is actually a book called The Last Samurai about the fellow who would have been the boss of Tom Cruise's character. It has nothing to do with the film and I myself don't know of any ex-ACW veterans who went to Japan to become "the last samurai" or to work for the "last samurai."

The best known expatriate of that era was, of course, the tempermental Rebel general William Wing Loring who was employed by the Khedive of Egypt. He has a website devoted to his Egyptian generalcy. His memoirs of that service are public domain - Hollywood would suffer no cost in optioning them.

An unreconstructed Confederate, he fought a black Christian Empire for his white Muslim overlords.

Fresh as today's headlines? A contemporary theme in historical spectacle? Yes. And nothing to prevent Hollywood from having Gatling guns chop down loads of miltary extras in the last scene.

We would get a Loring pic and Hollywood would get the umpteenth Gatling gun ending, in slow motion ... can we shake on that?
BEN STEIN ASKS | Why was war the response to popular sovereignty? (from the American Spectator, 10/03)
NEWS | Monument to Rebel general and his former slave unveiled * Brooke/Porter controversy over ironclad idea continues * Indiana city plans new Civil War monolith * Antietam group fights to tear down privately owned Lee statue


This matter of vandals attacking Civil War headstones (see yesterday's news section) is not one I can shake off. It reminded me of these words of a French war widow written in 1919 about the unburied fallen, her husband among them:

He will lie for days and days, forgotten, on the bare earth, with a smashed skull or chest, and German crows will steal away his dearest memories. Nothing! He will have nothing! Not even a pauper's grave, not even a stone, not even a cross. ... Christ could be resurrected from the tomb, for he had a tomb. As for him, he will have the earth, like the animals.

Vandalization reduces the war dead to nothing, to having earth "like the animals." And the cemetery vandals in yesterday's story were repeaters.

There is some little comfort in this report about the painstaking work of a man who repairs headstones, Civil War headstones, and old funerary monuments generally.

Thank you, sir. Unfortunately for the Civil War dead and for ourselves, this is the society we live in.
BEN STEIN ASKS | Of all the amazing, breathtaking truths and myths about the Civil War, why is this one almost always omitted from mention: that men of one race fought and died in the hundreds of thousands to free from bondage men and women of another race? (from the American Spectator, 10/11)
NEWS | Tom Ridge to speak at Gettysburg Address anniversary * NPS made lowball offer on $3.2 million battlefield house * Wisconsin "roots" of Jefferson Davis recalled


The article listing the many desecrations of Lincoln's corpse and grave (below) appeared at a time when Lincoln's cousin's grave barely escaped vandalism. Oddly enough.
This had never occurred to me before, what a wrong thing it is, what bad judgement it reflects:

Nearly 35 years after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, a tomb holding the "Great Emancipator" had to be rebuilt and his body was held in a temporary grave until reburied in 1901.

The second part of this is grotesque and should be learned by every schoolchild in America, as part of Lincoln's biography:

Lincoln's coffin has been moved 17 times and opened five times because of vandalism and reconstruction of his tomb.
BEN STEIN ASKS | If popular sovereignty and right of self-determination mean anything, why did they not mean something in North America? (From the American Spectator, 10/2003)
NEWS | Manet exhibit includes USS Kearsarge vs CSS Alabama *Repeat vandal attacks Civil War headstones * Civil War costumes featured in Barney's store window * Marylander monument at Antietam in need of repair


The Ambrose Burnside Virtual National Heritage Trail.

It's not a real idea outside of this blog but if you've been reading the stories in the news section, you'll see a pattern that forms the outlines of this thing.

Recall that NC began trying to develop its Burnside (I'm sorry, "Civil War") attractions after some Carolinians saw the economic wonders that the Burnside legacy (I'm sorry, the "Civil War" legacy) had done for trade in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Now, a major Burnside battle (I'm sorry, "Civil War" battle) is commemorated in grand style with major politicians attending in Tennessee.

It's interesting to see what a despised, hardly-known general can accomplish for heritage tourism. Not under his own name, of course.
BEN STEIN ASKS | What would have happened if Lincoln had just said, "Erring sisters, go in peace?" (From the American Spectator, 10/2003)
NEWS | New Yorkers try to rename federal building after Frederick Douglass * Dean refuses to apologize for Confederate flag quip * Sand sculptor specializes in Lincoln Memorial


Birth of scope creep?

The fixation on better instead of good enough first appeared in the growth between the original specifications shown to bidders in August 1862 and the modified specifications sent to bidders in October. Among the changes, the deck armor was doubled in thickness from 1 to 2 inches, the pine armor backing became oak, auxiliary boilers were added and horizontal tubular boilers replaced the smaller Martin boilers originally specified. The contractors only became aware of these changes when they received the specifications and the first few drawings in late September or early October 1862. - Civil War Ironclads: The U.S. Navy and Industrial Mobilization by William H. Roberts

The table was set for the acceptance of Navy scope creep once Fremont had been deemed corrupt for buying "good enough" at premium prices in 1861, I think. An interesting problem for military contractors this, and their "get along" attitude with the government may have set back the war effort, if not national defense generally, Roberts suggests.

As someone who spent years working with engineering drawings, let me award two-inch ironclad kudos to Roberts for studying this form of record to bring us closer to the truth. Would your favorite pop historian have done the same for you?
BEN STEIN ASKS | Why do we find Lee so much more compelling than Grant? (From the American Spectator, 10/2003)
NEWS | Clark comes out against Confederate flags * Historical preservation suffers downturn in giving * Southerners seek local history of Underground Railroad


Even Lincoln's individual Supreme Court justices are now getting biographies. This looks interesting:

Lincoln's sole criterion when choosing new justices, however, was whether they would uphold his vigorous assertion of extraordinary war powers...

He was therefore not aware that his nominee, Samuel Miller, was the "melancholy legal voice of a lost Republicanism" one that functioned as an "anti-bond warrior." To Miller (and his strain of Republicanism) bondholders were "parasites" and the moral equivalent of slaveholders.

What would Salmon Chase and Jay Cook have thought of that?
In our battle-centric misuses of Civil War history we often encounter historians passing judgements on the basis of military science. The extent of the historian's military science tends to be very poor, infantile almost, being limited to evaluating a straight-line sequence of top-level orders (where these are even available).

This is one reason I like Debris of Battle: the Wounded of Gettysburg, a new book by Gerald Patterson. All of the phenomena associated with neglect of the wounded on a massive, unimaginable scale are here put into play and include army organization, military decisions, command transitions, headquarters' culture, and personalities. The light this volume sheds on the quality of the command and staff of the Army of the Potomac is remarkable.

It takes a major breakdown to make this level of insight available.
Speaking of cities, like Boston, that have shelved most of their history to develop just one theme, scroll down to today's news items and and click on the last one. It seems a Philadelphia Civil War group will try to break the heritage tourism monopoly politicans have accorded the Revolutionary War in that place.
BEN STEIN ASKS | Was it Jefferson Davis's fault that the South lost the war for keeping on such incompetents as Bragg and Hood? Was it Lee's fault for his catastrophes at Gettysburg and Malvern Hill? (From the American Spectator, 10/2003)
NEWS | Black Carolinian leads rebel flag defense * Delaware is only state without national park, national monument, national historic site * Chief park ranger recounts ghost story * Philly Civil War museum still seeking new home