McClellan Poetry: happytalk doggerel

One of the odd things about war in the media since 1965 has been the absence of the bright/happy military feature in newspapers and magazines ... "the lighter side of," as it were.

The Civil War newspapers and magazines were brimming with cheerful "filler" and one of the staples of this type was comic verse. I wanted to do a few weeks of this to give a sense of how frivolous writers and editors could get - at least compared to today's sensibilities.

This is an anonymous offering that appeared in a newspaper somewhere and was anthologized in 1867 in Frank Moore's Anecdotes, Poetry and Incidents of the War: North and South; 1860 – 1865. You can read it on pages 9 and 10 hyperlinked on pages accessible after you make certain certifications and agreements *here*.

The poem serves no other purpose but fun. McClellan, Buell, and Halleck, separately or in combination, loom large as terrors for this fleeing Rebel.


The shades of night were falling fast,
As through a Southern village passed
A youth, who bore, not over nice,
A banner with the gay device,

His hair was red, his toes beneath
Peeped, like an acorn from its sheath,
While with a frightened, voice he sang
A burden strange to Yankee tongue,

He saw no household fire where he
Might warm his tod or hominy;
Beyond the Cordilleras shone,
And from his lips escaped a groan,

"Oh! stay," a cullered pusson said,
"An' on dis bossom res' your hed!"
The octoroon she winked her eye,
But still he answered, with a sigh,

"Beware McClellan, Buell, and Banks,
Beware of Halleck's deadly ranks!".
This was the planter's last Good Night;
The chap replied, far out of sight,

At break of day, as several boys
from Maine, New York and Illinois
Were moving Southward, in the air
They heard these accents of despair,

A chap was found and at his side
A bottle, showing how he died,
Still grasping in his hand of ice
That banner with the strange device,

There in the twilight, thick and gray,
Considerably played out he lay;
And through the vapor, gray and thick,
A voice fell like a rocket-stick,


That Crampton's Gap tour...

Yesterday the news section of this blog linked to this Crampton's Gap Battlefield tour. It should be noted that this tour is given by the state park service and by rangers pressed into history duty for the day; bless their hearts. Also, as previously noted here, Gathland State Park donations go into the park service's coffers not to helping the CG battlefield per se.

Please note that tours are also available from author Timothy Reese, certainly the expert of experts on this subject. See for yourself.

Turner "committed" to Last Full Measure

According to this story, red ink has not dampened the hearts of Maxwell or Turner:

Ron Maxwell said he "fully intends" to adapt "The Last Full Measure," the final book in the series that includes the films "Gettysburg" and its prequel, "Gods and Generals."

You can get a sense of the economics of this proposition from The Numbers:

Total US Gross $10,731,997
Production Budget $25,000,000

Gods and Generals
Total US Gross $12,882,934
Production Budget $55,000,000

Here are a couple of non-Turner projects:

Total US Gross $26,593,580
Production Budget: N/A

Ride with the Devil
Total US Gross $630,779 (Source: "The Numbers")
Production Budget: $38 million (Source: Box Office Mojo)

Needless to say, "Glory" had good press and a broader audience base than Turner's movies but did poorly - very poorly. As for Ride with the Devil - cineastes will immediately recognize that it was directed by Ang Lee and starred Tobey Maguire. It was also a much better movie than the other items on this list.

Turner and Maxwell are trying to reach mass audiences and failing. At the same time, I don't think any kind of Civil War reader, well-informed or not, is happy with the history content of their "product."

"The Last Full Measure" can be drunk after pop culture figures out the successful transition of ACW book to movie. So far, only "Cold Mountain" has suggested new clues.
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High-Water Mark, part six

In going through Timothy Reese's wonderfully dense and rich new book, High-Water Mark: The 1862 Maryland Campaign in Strategic Perspective, we reached the point in Reese's dissection of the Maryland Campaign where he analyzes McClellan's famous Sept. 13 order to General William Franklin.

I would like to present just a few key passages from his fourth chapter. My ambitious exercise in minimalism ridiculously truncates his material to blog-size with at least one benefit, that you hear Reese's own voice directly on this important matter.

Though well acquainted with McClellan's 6:20 P.M. dispatch to Franklin, historians have habitually cited it out of legitimate context irrespective of a highly mobile strategic situation, its sense lost in the shuffle.


McClellan's grand design was flawless in that it required Franklin to isolate McLaws, guardian of Harpers Ferry's backdoor, his being the only Confederate force north of the Potomac which could conceivably hinder any move against Longstreet at Boonsboro or potentially impede Franklin's westward progress.

With or without constraint, McClellan then spelled out the ultimate objective he allotted to Sixth Corps. This single statement has been routinely misunderstood, misconstrued, or oversimplified by historians due to its extreme complexity and because its purpose ultimately failed.


... Franklin had to crush McLaws and presumably Anderson, before the [HF] garrison could be assimilated. Thereafter the pontoon bridge into Harpers Ferry could be sealed isolating Jackson, then Franklin's combined forces could march up Pleasant Valley to pressure Longstreet's flank, provided McClellan's assault on Turner's Gap was stopped dead in its tracks.

Conversely, should McClellan burst victoriously through Turner's Gap, Franklin would then be at large to push westward through "Rohrersville Pass" to Sharpsburg or even Williamsport, driving a substantial moving wedge between Longstreet and Jackson as the former retired. In doing so he would force Longstreet to either confront him, or further withdraw into western Maryland, seeking another ford by which to rejoin Jackson. By the same token, Jackson, whether Harpers Ferry fell to him or not, would be compelled to cross the Potomac at Shepherdstown for the same purpose, or likewise move upriver to reunite with Longstreet farther west near to Williamsport. Franklin's mobile wedge would simultaneously impose the same nerve-wracking alternatives on both halves of Lee's army without his necessarily committing to a set-piece battle, Lee all the while relentlessly pressed by the cumulative might of McClellan's main body.

In summary, Franklin was tasked with an aggressive three-way mandate, its first element being the seemingly non-negotiable relief of Harpers Ferry, followed by one of two options to be determined by the outcome at Turner's Gap - a corps offensive in Pleasant Valley to the south against McLaws then north to threaten or at least contain Longstreet, or west as a flying column to keep the Confederate army halved.


Theoretically, Franklin would reasonably construe his partitioning role as alternately directed toward both Jackson and Longstreet, provided he shadowed whichever command first showed an inclination to reunite with the other.


In any event, neutralization or immobilization of McLaws command would have been a mere theoretical exchange of minor chess pieces should Harpers Ferry be lost, the primary objective still well in view to the north.


... McClellan chose to accompany the main body of his army to Turner's Gap, clearly intent on confronting Lee personally beyond South Mountain in a textbook Napoleonic showdown. By assuming this formal, geographically polarized posture, he relinquished his master stroke to Franklin, his proxy, via extended written guidance, when arguably such a delicate, pivotal maneuver might have been better executed, or at least overseen, by the master.

More on High-Water Mark on Tuesday.
NEWS Williamsburg redoubts in preservation fracas * Crampton's Gap tour scheduled for Aug. 14 * 'Doc' Carpenter is last living son of a Confederate vet in Lawrence


Dinner in Washington

I'm still new enough to the area to be struck by the novelty of dinner at the Hay-Adams Hotel tonight. Despite its name and its John Hay room, the hotel is relatively new, having been built in the 1920s.

Hay was the Lincoln secretary who wrote to his colleague John Nicolay that they were politically obligated to destroy George B. McClellan's reputation - he was that blunt about it. At the same time, the man was smitten with Fitz John Porter, considering him the epitome of military virtue. Odd.

This dinner venue was chosen by relatives from out of town. More interesting: Willard's. It's still there but has become an Intercontinental. And it's got a block-long bar.

Henry Willard bought the property in 1850 and transformed it from its origins as a modest hostelry in the dawn of the Republic to a grand gathering point where deals were made and art was inspired.

In addition to every U.S. President from Franklin Pierce in 1853 to George W. Bush in the modern era, past guests of the Willard include P. T. Barnum, Daniel Webster, John Quincy Adams, Mark Twain, Chief Justice John Marshall, Henry Clay, Walt Whitman, Tom Thumb, Jenny Lind, Samuel Morse, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert E. Peary, John Philip Sousa, the Duke of Windsor, Harry Houdini, Mae West, Flo Ziegfield, Gloria Swanson, and Gypsy Rose Lee.

Walt Whitman and Gypsy Rose Lee. The lines seem to merge, eventually, at Willard's.

Postscript at 1:50 pm: I learn that the Willard's these worthies stayed in was torn down and rebuilt. The current structure is not connected with their stays. Intend to check it out someday soon.

Which reminds me of another marketing scam. About 30 years ago I went to see a band whose day had already passed. They sounded not quite like their old selves. My newspaper editor (I reviewed books at the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer) had attended too and I asked her about the strange sound. She said something like this: "The band's name was bought by a corporation; they hire whomever they want to play the music and send them on tour." Sort of like building any old hotel and claiming a connection with the previous hotel's guests, I suppose.

One more anecdote. At the height of the Wave phenomenon, about 20 years ago, the English cartoonist Ray Lowry ran a panel in London's NME. There were all these band clothes on stage, draped on mannequins, with music piped onto the club floor. He showed one hipster remarking to another: "Nowadays, the band just sends its clothes on tour."

That also reminds me of the new Willard's for some reason.
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High-Water Mark, part five

We have been going through Timothy J. Reese's new book High-Water Mark: The 1862 Maryland Campaign in Strategic Perspective. Where the author's previous work focused on the importance of Crampton's Gap as a keystone in the Maryland Campaign (Sealed with Their Lives: Battle of Crampton's Gap, Burkittsville, MD, Sept. 14, 1862), this new work places Crampton's Gap within the context of the pivotal campaign of the war.

Our progress has taken us to the fourth chapter, which analyzes McClellan's orders to William Franklin written in the early evening of September 13, 1862. Dense with ideas, I am afraid of oversimplifying the author's points for mere blogging purposes; nor do I have any chance of addressing them all - nevertheless...

Reese begins by noting the persistent misinterpretation (or perhaps underinterpretation) of McClellan's orders to Franklin. He observes nicely that McClellan's response to the Lost Orders (SO 191) is half again as long as SO 191 itself. Needless to say, it has received a tiny fraction of the consideration.

The order is loaded with contingencies that require extensive visualization of alternatives. Reese has helped enormously with terrific graphics.

The bare two contingencies historians generally allow McClellan's order is a breakthrough to Harper's Ferry and destruction of McLaws' command. The dumbing-down of these orders for history readers is a boon to Franklin, who is thereby portrayed as having generally followed (simplistic) instructions, though failing to destroy McLaws.

As Reese shows, ably helping his readers with diagrams, that among its possibilities, McClellan's order contained within in it at least two large and apparently contradictory missions: (1) relief of HF and (2) Franklin separating Longstreet from Jackson by means of what Reese calls a flying wedge interposing between the two wings by marching on routes west of South Mountain.

The contradiction is nominal because McClellan gave Franklin wide latitude to implement his orders - Reese thinks he could have scotched the relief mission entirely - and after the fall of HF, the relief mission became moot. Given the possibility of bottling up McLaws near the Potomac to implement a Napoleonic movement against Longstreet, Franklin used his broad mandate to choose to merely defend against a McLaws reinforced by Jackson. Thus Reese argues that McClellan's masterstroke at Crampton's Gap was lost through delegation.

None of this recapitualtion conveys the depth of Reese's thinking on the order; I feel as though I am impoverishing the poetry of McClellan's vision and Reese's distillation.

For those unfamiliar with these ideas, I hope I've at least given enough food for thought until Thursday, when we'll revisit this subject. One could also buy the book.
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The strange tale of a boyhood home

When you mix the dynamics of heritage tourism with historical memory, results can be strange. For instance, take the notion of building a replica of Lincoln' Indiana boyhood home inside the Lincoln Library and Museum. Mind you, they have real artifacts to show, but not enough space to show them because of the crowding caused by fake artifacts.

The log cabin - in which Lincoln lived during his formative years after moving from Kentucky and before coming to Illinois in 1830 - is being constructed of logs from a circa-1800s cabin that was erected inside a barn in Virginia, said Patrick Weeks, fabrication manager for BRC Imagination Arts, the California-based exhibit designer for the museum.

Got, that? Here's the good part:

The museum’s cabin actually is larger than the one in which Lincoln lived.

“It’s been scaled up to accommodate the groups (of visitors), but it is the same configuration as the Lincoln cabin...”

We're going to need a museum and expo just to display the absurdities and garish anomalies associated with heritage tourism.

The strange tale of our national slavery museum

When you mix the dynamics of heritage tourism with historical memory, results can be strange. For instance: the former governor of Virginia has been working to locate a national slavery museum in Fredericksburg. It's not clear that the people of Fredericksburg want this.

Now that he's running for mayor of Richmond, this former governor promises to continue working for the siting of such a museum in Fredericksburg, not Richmond.

David Holder, Fredericksburg's tourism and business-development director, said the scenario would be unusual "under normal circumstances." "On paper, I would say, yeah, it's a little weird," he said.

A full article on this is here.

Jack the Ripper, ACW surgeon

This suspect is buried in Rochester and

he seems to have roamed the United States, from New York to San Francisco, posing sometimes as a military doctor and claiming friendship with Abraham Lincoln.
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McClellan and the suffragettes

SATURDAY | We're taking a little detour on this McClellan Poetry Day to look at some 1864 campaign verse that puts down women's suffrage. It does so in a "non-partisan" way without particularly implicating McClellan, Fremont, Lincoln or the other principal candidates.

By 1864, the women's suffrage movement was well organized and underway but pre-empted by events. In Australia, in 1864, a mistake in the wording of a new voting law allowed ladies with property access to the ballot. In the U.S., leading suffragettes

lectured and petitioned the government for the emancipation of slaves with the belief that, once the war was over, women and slaves alike would be granted the same rights as the white men. At the end of the war, however, the government saw the suffrage of women and that of the Negro as two separate issues and it was decided that the Negro vote could produce the immediate political gain, particularly in the South, that the women's vote could not. Abraham Lincoln declared, "This hour belongs to the negro."

McClellan's thoughts on suffrage were not voiced, as far as I can tell.

It's interesting that the question of woman's voting rights was prominent enough in 1864 to demand a response. The author of this doggerel is unknown and it may have appeared in a humor publication like Frank Leslie's Budget of Fun. (The references to Gouraud are to a cosmetics firm the products of which occasionally surface on eBay.)

Who's to Be President?
By a Lady

Up the famous Hudson River, as I sailed the other day,
About the nominations each person had his say;
Some said I am for Lincoln, for Little Mac some cried,
While others spoke for Fremont, and for Jessie, his fair bride.
As I listened to their speeches, a stranger came to me,
And bowing low said softly, "Dear madam, may I be
So bold as now to ask whom you'd vote for, or wish your husband to?"
He spoke so civilly, I felt an answer was his due,
And so I said, half smiling, "The household's my domain,
To my husband I leave politics, too oft our nation's bane!
I've no time to think of Democrats, or else of Copperheads,
I've to see my Biddies sweep and dust, and cook and make the beds.
But if you really wish to know the man I most admire,
And whom I recommend to husband, son and sire--
It is GOURAUD, whose benefits I never can forget,
And every day but adds to my still increasing debt--
For when my face one summer was freckled, tanned, and bleared,
I used his MEDICATED SOAP, and all soon disappeared;
And when some naughty hairs had grown upon my dimpled chin,
His wondrous POUDRE SUBTILE then made smooth as glass my skin.
I therefore, out of gratitude, most fervently declare
For the President of Fashion--


Lost orders and literary devices

In case my MacGuffin analogy in yesterday's post was difficult to grasp, here are a two examples centered on Special Orders 191, the Lost Dispatch.

"No other commander on either side during the Civil War enjoyed a comparable situation." - Gary Gallagher, "The Maryland Campaign in Perspective," Antietam: Essays on the 1862 Maryland Campaign, Gary W. Gallagher, ed.

To declare this statement patently false or even idiotic is to miss the point; it traps you into "doing history" where there is only literature present ... literature in a genre called "Civil War nonfiction." Mr. Gallagher is building interest and tension within his nonfiction narrative and to force him to hew to facts is to unfairly revoke his literary license.

The statement "No other commander on either side during the Civil War enjoyed a comparable situation" is not beautifully written, but it serves a purely literary purpose - it advances the plot via Hitchcok's "MacGuffin" technique.

Here's another beauty from a famous prose stylist:

"Even the great Napoleon himself had never been presented with such an opportunity..." Stephen Sears, Landscape Turned Red

Again, the misguided might assume Sears is recounting history instead of dramatizing an event and converting it into a plot mechanism. Of course, Napoleon was presented with such opportunities; so, for that matter, was "the Napoleon of the West," Santa Anna; not to mention Civil War generals like John Pope, Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, Stonewall Jackson, and many others. It's in the record. People know that. But he doesn't pay it any mind because it doesn't advance this particular tale at this time. Hence, "Even the great Napoleon himself had never been presented with such an opportunity..."

The knot of problems posed to actual, practicing historians by the finding of lost orders involves tedious analysis: decoding the staleness of the orders and their actionability; interpreting as precisely as possible how the find influenced subsequent operations; overlaying events on plans; and recreating complex fog-of-war perpectives. These chores do not a pop history tome make, not by a long shot.

The literary opportunities presented by any lost dispatches are different. Handled by a storyteller, they trigger a series of binary outcomes that channel crises into well-worn and easily understood drama: will the find be detected by those who lost the orders? Will the finder believe his luck? Will quick action/reaction follow? Will the lucky break yield fruit? How will all this tension resolve?

The optimal lost order outcome for a talespinner is the "race against time," complete with near escapes and close calls.

For a Civil War nonfiction entertainer, SO 191 is the perfect MacGuffin. Alfred Hitchcock himself explains:

The only thing that really matters is that in the picture the plans, documents or secrets must seem to be of vital importance to the characters. To me, the narrator, they're of no importance whatsoever.

Substitute "in the reader's mind" for "in the picture" and understand that where the SO is concerned, you've been MacGuffinned.

p.s. For the history-minded: a few years ago I tallied all the Lost Orders changing hands in the Virginia theatre in the five week period ending on Sept. 13, 1862. If you like that kind of tedium, the summary is here.

Secret identities and bugle calls

The Hagerstown paper is covering Chambersburg's feting of Ed Bearss, and what do I see: an old acquaintance from the former Trenton State College's music faculty in full military regalia (see accompanying photo). I had no idea he was a re-enactor.

The evening included a demonstration of bugle calls by New Jersey musician George Rabbai. More than "Reveille" and "Taps," Rabbai noted that there were 48 infantry bugle calls, 39 for the artillery and 26 for the cavalry, taking up most of their activities throughout the day and in battle.

An evening of bugle calls? Sorry I missed it.
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High-Water Mark, part four

Conventional accounts of the Maryland Campaign present a stereotyped cast of characters acting out a tightly scripted drama in which exaggerated personal traits produce highly predictable results amidst the topy-turvy of lost orders, missed timetables, meeting engagements, and incredible chances. In other words, in the popular literature, the drama of the campaign consists of placing certain stock figures (the "Lee" character, the "McClellan" character) within a maelstrom of incredible developments.

I'm not speaking here of much that has to do with history as such, but rather with the strict conventions of a literary genre we call "Civil War nonfiction."

One of the literary gimmicks used to generate dramatic tension in these nonfiction storylines is the Lost Order, Lee's "Special Order 191." In modern Civil War writing, SO 191 provides what director Alfred Hitchcock used to call a "MacGuffin" - an otherwise worthless artifice advancing a plot - a Maltese Falcon, for instance, or a ring binding two characters together.

The historic importance of SO 191 is real, but is generally unknown, as it now serves strictly as a "MacGuffin."

One's treatment of the Lost Order speaks volumes. Talespinners are deeply interested in the "color" elements: who lost it (guilt, shame, mystery); who found it (spunky, earthy enlisted men); whether the "Lee" character knew it was lost (calculation, risk-taking ); whether the "McClellan" character could exploit its tempting secrets (angst, cowardice, knavery); and also what kind of precedent this loss represented (utterly unique and never-to-be-repeated, for maximum dramatic effect).

If you are an historian, your interest in the Lost Order is of a different kind. You focus on how the loss shaped the events that followed; if you are ambitious you start building timelines to understand McClellan's decision cycle and command style.

This is where we rejoin author Timothy J. Reese in his new book High-Water Mark: The 1862 Maryland Campaign in Strategic Perspective. How the loss shaped the campaign is a question we will look at that in a later post. Here, early in his book, ingenuity and scholarship address the McClellan decision-making timeline with another unique piece of the Maryland Campaign puzzle: where the Lost Order turned up.

Fed on a strict diet of standard Maryland Campaign storytelling, you may wonder, so what?

This is what -- the timelines developed to analyze McClellan's decisions have been bridges built between two points. Anchoring one end is, in the popular imagination, McClellan's evening orders to Franklin on Sept. 13, the day of the find. On the other end is that much-debated point at which McClellan vetts the orders as both 'real' and actionable. Many erroneously put this at noon on the 13th (based on sloppy dating of a telegram sent to Lincoln). In my own view, these points would be like grounding one end of the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of the East River and the other end in Queens.

Reese had the exceptional idea of anchoring the timeline at the beginning. What few understand is that the beginning is both a time of find AND a location. "Where" holds no literary magic for talespinners, of course, but if the geographic starting point is fixed, and the Frederick location of McClellan's HQ is determined, we have information about distance, we can validate timelines, and we have connected the first two points in an important analysis. It's not Einstein's theory but it is rocket science to the current crop of pop historians.

Reese's placement of the field holding the three cigars debunks earlier sitings. It is very convincing and another pleasant surprise.

And if you now get the sense that this author is strewing the reader's path with discoveries, that's High-Water Mark in sum.

More on Tuesday.
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General Sweeny

You may never have heard of him, but he has a museum, gift shop, and website. Not to mention one hell of a URL.

Civil War tourism is full of odd turns and byways.

Talking clocks

For some reason, I am overcome with childish curiosity and delight when listening to voices from 1878.
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High-Water Mark, part three

Foreign intervention comes up as an issue in Civil War histories, but have you ever seen it take solid form?

In military accounts, it looms over the horizon as an indefinite, tantalizing naval possibility. In the better diplomatic accounts (Jones, Mahin), it at least takes the form of a hypothetical chain of events: the offer of mediation / is followed by Northern rejection / which triggers recognition of the South / followed by the voluntary end of an illegal Union blockade OR the forcing of the illegal blockade by the British Navy.

Even this tenuous analysis too often has to be constructed by the reader from an author’s hints. It fails as definite menace. For their "intervention drama" elements, the diplomatic historians rely on conversations, speeches, and correspondence among the principal British actors … all the ho-hum stuff of politics-as-usual. This does at least place the bulk of British discussions between Second Manassas and Antietam; it also correlates Britain shelving their planning process per military events in Maryland.

Since actions carry more weight than words, Britain’s intervention prospects always seemed rather hollow to me. The converstations in Whitehall were real, were documented, but remained talk.

Author Timothy J. Reese looks at the intervention issue in his new book High-Water Mark: The 1862 Maryland Campaign in Strategic Perspective. And he does a really clever thing that has not previously occurred to anyone – he looks at the land forces available to Britain in North America throughout the Civil War. He identifies units, their arrivals, their departures, their quality, their siting, and he offers us this major discovery: the British build up of land forces in Canada peaked in time to back any and all British diplomatic action that might have flowed from Maryland Campaign outcomes.

Britain’s army, forgotten by historians analyzing the intervention crisis of 1862, were very ready. (I will not spoil the reader’s future enjoyment of High-Water Mark by disclosing more about this.)

Reese offers a second large discovery in this same chapter: that land forces accumulated in Canada remained for the duration of the ACW. Those implications are very interesting.

In providing strategic perspective to the campaign, Reese considers the diplomatic "threat" as just one tile of the mosaic, and yet in his management of this piece he provides more substance than many of the usual book-length studies do. Which is one reason I cannot speak too highly of this work, of which we have not even scratched the surface.

More on Thursday.
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Book review round-up

We'll return to Tim Reese's High-Water Mark tomorrow. Meanwhile, there has been a bumber crop of ACW book reviews in the news lately.

I also found this interesting. Turnout probably has less to do with ACW readers than with political junkies.

Your patience is appreciated

I've noticed that this website loads slowly into browsers; it may be a problem with the size of this blog (well over 100,000 words) and therefore not correctible.
Your patience is appreciated.

NEWS Civil War women exhibit planned * Ohio bones may be ACW find * Battle of Monocacy re-enacted by about 1,000


McClellan campaign lyrics by a pop superstar

SATURDAY Last week we looked at some anonymous McClellan campaign doggerel from 1864; this week I'd like to spend a little time with campaign lyrics written by the equivalent of a pop music superstar. 

As I mentioned last week, these political pieces contain a lot of "issue themes" that are far beyond the understanding of modern ACW readers, since any loyal critique of Lincoln's Administration has long beeen lost to the common discourse. 

The central Democratic Party issue can be compressed into Clement Vallandigham's famous fighting slogan, "The Constitution as it is, the Union as it was." McClellan was perceived to embody that slogan, although I believe from reviewing his correspondence and speeches that he was against "the Union as it was" by 1864 - McClellan had fully accepted emancipation by the time of his run for the presidency (I'll leave that discovery to future scholarship). 

Some of the other persistent themes of the Democratic press centered on mismanagement of the war and profiteering by Republican contractors. These themes were developed in the campaign verse presented last week. (The idea that a Republican administration could mismanage a war of survival while its corporate friends profited from the struggle is so completely unimaginable to us today - isn't it? -  that we disregard this strain of Democratic criticism and exclude it from accounts of the election of 1864). 

What makes this week's piece so interesting to me is the 1864 Party peace plank that it takes seriously and affixes to McClellan even after he publicly repudiated it. 

Let's heal dissentions and unite, 
Then, stronger than before,
We'll bear our banner through the world, 
The flag our fathers bore. 
The composer of this piece was a Kentuckian revelling in the name of William Shakespeare Hays. He had a life we would expect of a western man of the arts, one involved in captaining riverboats, writing for newspapers, and penning hit music (his Molly Darling achieved three million pieces of sheet music in print - which means there is nothing in music sales in our lifetimes that we can compare that to). 

This McClellan piece was written in Hays' twenties, before he peaked commercially, and it is very hymnodic (to hear the campaign music click on the upper left notation on this page). Hays has modern followers who keep his music alive, although I don't know if they get many requests for McCLELLAN IS THE MAN. 

Well, we don't need to put out a request: we have the music and here's the lyric. 

Words and music by William Shakespeare Hays

The cruel war must have an end;
I'll tell you what we'll do;
We'll cast our votes for "Little Mac,"
We're bound to put him through.
The widow's wails and orphan's tears
Prevailing o'er the land
Pray heaven to send a rare relief--
McClellan is the man.

CHORUS: Shout! boys, shout! 
and rally all you can,
We'll have another Washington-- 
McClellan is the man!

Corruption sits in places high, 
And Shoddy rules the roost;
"Fight on!" is still Corruption's cry, 
"More spoils!" is Shoddy's boast.
But we, the people, sov'reigns all, 
Declare our righteous cause;
"The Constitution as it is,  The Union as it was."


This cruel war will never cease 
Until the South comes back;
The only man to do the work 
Is glorious "Little Mac.
"Then let us put him in the chair, 
And he will give us peace;
For "Peace in Union" is his sin, 
And war's alarms will cease. 

Let's heal dissentions and unite, 
Then, stronger than before,
We'll bear our banner through the world, 
The flag our fathers bore.
In many stripes and golden stars 
Shall give the people ease;
And all th'opressed of every clime 
Will hail our happy peace.


The hot-heads South cried
"Let's secede," 
But find it doesn't pay;
The hot-heads North cried "Confiscate, 
And then we'll have our way. "
But both have failed and always will; 
There is a better plan:
We'll choose a righteous President-- 
McClellan is the man!


Puzzle for the Lincoln Library: buy robots or rare letters?

I have to laugh at this passage from a story about an important, newly discovered Lincoln letter:
Chris Schnell, an assistant editor at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, read a copy of the letter at The Abraham Lincoln Book Shop.  [...] Schnell said "the state of Illinois can't even come close to buying something like that, and our project is not in the business of buying Lincoln items."
The state of Illinois has spent its Lincoln budget on animatronics, 3-D special effects, a Lincoln "ghost show," and other neat stuff for the Lincoln Library and Museum. And they did it from their pure love of the heritage tourist.
Meanwhile, Schell says he hopes the buyer will allow a copy of the message to be made.

High-Water Mark, part two

I had written a little earlier this week about Timothy Reese's new book,  High-Water Mark: The 1862 Maryland Campaign in Strategic Perspective
In his previous book, Sealed With Their Lives, The Battle for Crampton's Gap, Burkittsville, Maryland, September 14, 1862, Reese developed in detail the importance of Crampton's Gap to the Maryland Campaign - a project of about 424 pages.
Where Sealed With Their Lives dealt with the place of Crampton's Gap in the Maryland campaign, High-Water Mark considers the centrality of that campaign to the war itself. And it does so without collapsing into the banality of a painful, McPherson-like recapitulation of currently approved thinking.
There is a summary here of the findings of Sealed, but most chapters in the new work peel away the onion rings of the Maryland campaign to reach the core of events - a Confederate point of irretrievable loss.  I will examine some of the most interesting research and analysis in separate posts beginning on Tuesday with Reese's look at British intervention in the Civil War.

On a personal note, I should say that I know this author through email correspondence only. I had developed an admiration for Sealed With Their Lives when it came out and consider it among my top three favorite Civil War books. Reese is an author Civil War writers can model should they ever wish to leave the storybook business.

NEWS NH congressman pushing for new Antietam memorial * Karaoke bar features civil war tunes * Chambersburg commemorates burning * Museum asks for tax funds to cober costs of Monitor center


With friends like this...

This is a disturbing preservation story on a lot of levels.

Forest Glen Commonwealth, a Kensington, Md.-based group, was considering buying a piece of land off Gapland Road in southern Washington County that includes a farmhouse and barn that once served as a Civil War field hospital.

The group had a change of heart and has instead decided to

purchase a former schoolhouse in Cearfoss at the intersection of Greencastle and Cearfoss pikes. The[ir] proposed Cearfoss Heritage Education Center would be on the trail where Confederate Gen. John Imboden led 13,000 wounded soldiers retreating from Gettysburg, Pa., in July 1863, Chairwoman Rebecca L. Rush said.

Whatever you think about private initiative versus the heavy hand of regional tourism planning, this is so free and easy it gives a thorough sense of that Wild West show we call Maryland's Civil War battlefield preservation.

The Gapland Road field hospital (barn) is logically part of a battlefield - a battlefield that exists on paper and in plans but is not managed. It is a property that could have been bought by Civil War Preservation Trust, a local organization, if that group were on the ball. Instead, this scratch team of general educators, marginally interested in the ACW, almost bought it and put it to their own purposes - they were, in fact, going to make a generic ACW hospital site out of it, which is part blessing, part curse, since that use divorces the hosrpital from its historic context. Now they are on another part of South Mountain planning Imboden/Gettysburg tours and more general educational activities from a center there.

A battlefield is a specific place, with a specific history that needs specific protections. It has no special value as a generic representation. Multipurpose-minded well-wishers are as dangerous to heritage as developers.

Close call.
NEWS | Civil War art moved to Birmingham * House Resources Committee Supports Park Expansions * Civil War history spotlighted in 3-day Ohio program


High-Water Mark, part one

"Great battles beget great results."

Timothy Reese invokes this shibboleth in the introduction to his new book, High-Water Mark: The 1862 Maryland Campaign in Strategic Perspective.

You recall the Bible story where one party chose a password particularly difficult for others to pronounce. Infiltrators would give themselves away in saying "shibboleth."

If, in the midst of Reese's intro, you are nodding in agreement with the idea that "Great battles beget great results," you are not going to pass through Reese's lines. Take his gently expressed contempt for this notion not just as a curiousity, but as a personal token to take home to Philistinia.

Civil War nonfiction is choked with reader assumptions that are not only wrong but have nothing to do with the events of the war per se. "Great battles beget great results" is a marvelous example and a fine early test of any reader's sensibilities.

It is Reese's strength that he understands how degraded Civil War history is; it's his strength that he wants to share important insights despite the double burden of explaining and unexplaining at once; and it is the reader's great burden to attempt Reese's work with the highest levels of alertness and flexibility.

I want to spend a little space on our foibles as ACW readers.

Goss's War within the Union High Command has this insight: "... the need for popular support for the war drove a tendency to measure the mood of public opinion on questions of the war's conduct." In other words, the crudest understanding of military progress and strategy conveyed by newspapers often drove military perceptions and actions. (Goss was explaining why Lincoln failed to live up to his analytic potential in army affairs.)

In How the North Won, Hattaway and his co-authors proposed that a politician's view of an optimized Civil War schedule would translate into a series of small victories incrementing into larger ones culminating in a final battle of annihilation. This pattern would generate the greatest amount of political capital for the winner. (Hattaway and company were explaining the odd ideas and behavior of certain ardent public figures of the time.)

Hattaway, Goss, Reese, and others can look past the nonsense but the run-of-the-mill Civil War reader cannot. He thrives in a publishing space where the crudest popular "military" ideas of 140 years ago drive all analysis today.

For example, no vintage fantasy has been more thoroughly debunked in the last 25 years than the possibility of a battle of annihilation between Civil War armies (thanks to Jones, Hattaway, Griffin, and many others); but the failure to annihilate still remains a keystone in reader evaluations of military capacity.

And for the many readers who buy into the most simplistic 1860s attrition theories, no battle is ever wasted because every battle changes the manpower pool calculations, hence the balance of power, thus bringing victory closer to one side or the other. For such readers, tactics is whatever produces the most casualties for the enemy; the concept of strategy has almost no meaning whatever. As one intelligent Civil war author told me a few years ago, "Strategy is anything a general does with an army."

Stanton's amazing tirades against strategy resonate with the reading public today. The spittle he once spent denouncing "cowards" and "imbeciles" was not wasted. Success is a body count. Don't attack a strategic point, attack the enemy army!

Across this muddy current of easy assumptions and impoverished, time-honored groupthink, Reese has to launch little models of insight, in directions non-linear, and non-intuitive; gently nuged, they form large, inescapably beautiful patterns despite waves of reader prejudice, ignorance, and doubt.

You see my difficulty in explaining this book.

Here is his full quote from the introduction:

A combat pecking order evolved within the Maryland campaign, arrayed according to size, in descending order - Antietam, Harper's Ferry, South Mountain, Crampton's Gap, Shepherdstown Ford - all arranged according to number of troops engaged and losses sustained. The prevailing perception is that great battles beget great results. By extrapolation, small engagements are therefore reckoned of little account.

Within this tangled forest scholars passively stunted the growth of those lying beneath Antietam, each in its turn diminished by the one preceding.

Thus, "it became nearly impossible to discuss that Crampton's Gap was, in the eyes of Robert E. Lee and George B. McClellan, the pivotal event of this, the pivotal campaign of the war."

Another shibboleth: are we, as readers, willing to take the testimony of McClellan and Lee on matters of importance? The honest mainstream reader will answer no immediately, "no" flatly or "no" cloaked in rationalizations about what the generals' testimony "really" means and how it cannot be admitted if it contradicts the "common sense" of the broad reading public.

Locked into the 1860s newsmonger's concept of tactics and strategy, we cannot hear the testimony of Lee or McClellan; should we hear it, we can make no sense of it. Because absolutely everyone agrees that

"Great battles beget great results."

More about this new book on Friday.
NEWS | Panel approves school at SC plantation * Locals try to save gen. Wheeler's home * SCV organizes research library in Georgia


Fleming on writing

Thomas Fleming has this interesting observation on ebooks:

One of the dirty secrets of the publishing world is how many good books get (and have gotten) mutilated over the last twenty five years, as costs of paper and labor drove book prices out of sight. Writers are told bluntly, coldly, that fifty or a hundred or even two hundred pages have to come out of a manuscript so the book can be published at a saleable price. This is a painful process, which leaves many writers bleeding psychologically for a long time. E-books will put an end to this barbarism. I can't wait to see them go mainstream.

He has some advice for Newt Gingrich:

Generally speaking, I think using real people in fiction should be done sparingly.

And he has this caution for ACW and other authors:

One day, [my agent] decided I should get to know some publishers. He set up a lunch with Alfred Knopf and George Brockway of W.W. Norton. Toward the end of the lunch, Malcolm turned to Reynolds, Knopf and Brockway and said, "I bet the three of you have a 100 years of experience in the publishing world, which do you think is more necessary for a writer, talent or luck?" In unison, in a bellowing chorus that almost blew all the dishes off the table, they exclaimed, "Luck." "See, I told you," Malcolm said to me. It's a moment I never forgot.

Here's the whole article.
NEWS | Fioravanti Fine Art Announces Initiative to Benefit Antietam & Monocacy Battlefields * Historian revisits burning of Chambersburg by rebels * More Civil War markers coming to Hagerstown


The search for Lincoln's voice

California particle physicists have figured out how to retrieve voices from 19th Century wax recordings, it seems. There are a lot of these old cylinders around, the technology has been used since at least 1857, and people are especially interested in finding a certain 1863 Lincoln track - if there is such. The voice of Florence Nightingale may provide a consolation prize.

Kitsch fix

If you need a Civil War kitsch fix, you're in luck. I had these cards:

* Observation baloons shot down in flames.

* Sharks eating sailors in Mobile Bay.

* Cavalry charging through a mess tent with seated diners.

* A "Train of doom" plunging over a cliff.

* Union troops bayonetting alligators en route to Rebel positions.

For 10-year-olds, they were like a pop history starter kit. Classic Comics were literature in comparison.
NEWS | Civil war veteran gets marker * Arkansas preservers near victory on Reed's Ridge * Civil War veterans remembered in Mass.


McClellan poetry: more campaign doggerel

SATURDAY | Whaterver its failures as poetry, campaign doggerel ususally provides a useful condensation of Democratic Party campaign themes. These themes are interesting because they present popular views of Lincoln and his Administration which are far beyond our understanding today.

This byline-free piece, "McClellan's Coming," refers to Lincoln's "thieving shoddy crew," their contracts and their "plunder." Lincoln is the "Joker," and will be sent up the river with Seward "and his bell." (This means Seward's quote about rininging a little bell on his desk to have any American he pleased put in jail was well known by 1864.)

The responsibility for the war seems also to rest with Lincoln: "he made us trouble/And he split us up for a spell..."

Here it is whole, with all its novelties:

McClellan’s Coming

Say, brothers, have you seen Abe Lincoln,
With a sour look on his face,
Go down the road towards Salt River,
Like a man who’s lost a race?

He heard a sound through all the nation,
Where the Union-lovers stay;
And he says to Hannibal, Let’s leave sudden,
While we can get away.

Abe may be smart, but Mac is smarter,
And the people think so too;
And on the eighth day of November,
I’ll tell you what we’ll do.

We’ll fix the flint of Old Abe Lincoln,
And his thieving shoddy crew;
We’ll have the Union back again,
And the Constitution too!

The shoddyites will feel so mournful,
When contracts come no more;
They can put their plunder on the Salt River steamer,
Where the Joker goes before.

We have two Georges and the Union,
And the old flag tried and true;
And it shall wave o’er all the nation,
From Maine to Mexico.

Old Abraham he made us trouble,
And he split us up for a spell;
But we will send him up Salt River,
With Seward and his bell.

The country’s saved, the word is spoken,
And McClellan leads us on;
So give three rousing cheers for the Union,
And Mac and Pendleton.


South Mountain tower opponents lose big

The Federal Communications Commission has approved construction of a 180-foot telecommunications tower on South Mountain that critics say would ruin the history-rich rural landscape.

The tower is planned for Lamb's Knoll, a 1,758-foot peak on the Washington-Frederick county line.

I have mixed feelings about this. The really important point is this, however:

The knoll, along the federally protected Appalachian Trail, is part of the state-managed South Mountain Civil War battlefield.

Read that again. Then note that opposition to the tower came from a private organization, the Harpers Ferry Conservancy. Not from Civil War Preservation Trust, another private group that has repeatedly claimed credit for "saving" this battlefield, nor from the state of Maryland, which is erroneously believed to manage some mythical place called "South Mountain Civil War battlefield."

There is no such state battlefield park - it is a paperwork patch-up of easement deals; there is no protection for the mythical state park; and nothing has been saved.

And when mailing in your next check to the CWPT, you might want to bring the fact of the tower to their attention before they print another press release bragging about having saved South Mountain's battlefields.

SCV battles change of name for Lee Highway

"Lee Highway is basically a monument to a loved Virginian," said Robert Brown, commander of the Frank Stringfellow Camp. "By changing that name, you're removing that monument."

The Fairfax council vote to change the name on part of the highway had been unanimous.
NEWS | Tennessee county delays rezoning CSA Camp Boone * Los Angeles police baffled by ACW cannonballs * North-South DVD package readied for October release * "Civil War Strategies" is Ohio war camp for kids * Rebel newspaper collector aids researchers *


July's best bet: High-Water Mark by Reese

I want to do justice to the most important work published this year, High-Water Mark: The 1862 Maryland Campaign in Strategic Perspective by Timothy J. Reese. It's out this month from Butternut and Blue.

Reese's analysis of the Maryland Campaign is the major contribution to understanding the subject in our lifetimes; there is nothing like it. In Sealed with Their Lives, he explained why and how the attack through Crampton's Gap was the master key to understanding events that followed. In High-Water Mark, he zooms out from the plan, the battle, and its aftermath to set material in a broader context, again with unique insights derived from his deep analytic powers.

I am taking my conclusions too far, perhaps, by saying that placing Antietam at the center of the Maryland campaign has stupefied Civil War historians and readers. Issues boiling under the surface of Sealed with Their Lives and High-Water Mark have to do with our bad habits as ACW readers and thinkers - matters Reese handles wonderfully.

High-Water Mark is going to be a difficult book to explain or justly summarize in this blog format. I want to spend some time with it. Until I work through that challenge, have a look at this.

Amusement park plans for the Lincoln Library

The good people in charge of amusement at the Lincoln Library and Museum have a website describing what they are up to.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum will plunge you into a fully immersive theatrical experience ...

Over the top? You decide..

p.s. Why not have the new "Ghosts of the Library" show contain a segment with Lincoln spinning in his grave?
JULY BOOKS | Scheduled for release this month: Sea Wolf of the Confederacy * Little Phil: A Reassessment of the Civil War Leadership of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan * High Tide at Gettysburg: The Campaign in Pennsylvania
NEWS | Divers find more damage to Monitor's hull * Sherman's horse to get statue * Private guides offer expertise on Battle of Gettysburg


So you want to be in Civil War movies...

There's a documentary in the making featuring Early's raid on Washington. It's shooting near Boonsboro, MD, later this month. This story gives an overview of the project.

The film's website has a casting call section that suggests they still need more than a few extras.

If you look like Henry Wager Halleck, you stand a decent chance of landing the part. One would think.
JULY BOOKS | Scheduled for release this month: Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell and the Making of Gone with the Wind * Colors and Blood: Flag Passions of the Confederate South by Bonner * With Lee in Virginia by Henty
NEWS | Columbus deploys Navy re-enactors on "Civil War boat" * West Virginians organize to preserve Falling Waters battlefield * Re-enactors to camp at Wisconsin railway museum * "Glory" author dies


Madison Avenue claims historian's office

There is an history author you've never heard of. He has sold millions of books to a mass, popular audience and to critical acclaim; one title alone sold over 3 million copies. His best selling historical novels have covered topics like slavery and the Civil War.

His name is Christopher Collier; he is a retired professor who has served as Connecticut's state historian for two decades. His best sellers are for juveniles.

He's typically interested in and researches deeply (for himself) such stuff as the effects of Revolutionary War inflation and the historic links between Connecticut and the Hamptons; he says his aim in taking the unpaid state post was to "bring sophisticated history to the general public."

To "bring sophisticated history to the general public" is not a recipe for success in Civil War literature. So when he was not amusing himself with adult-level studies, Dr. Collier pitched historical fiction to schoolchildren. The children would get the sophisticated history.

This is quite unlike the James McPherson formula for success, where you drag post-graduate complexity down to a seventh-grade level for lazy adults. Collier took the "sophisticated history" to audiences of intellectually ambitious kids and was crowned with great success.

But the times move on:

The new state historian will be Walter Woodward, a former advertising executive. Perhaps he can use his promotional skills to tell Connecticut's great stories.

This seems like one of those cases where a model or rock star takes on a serious acting role. It certainly answers the animatronic/touristic challenges of history with which Richard Norton Smith so nobly grapples at the Lincoln Library.

The editors of the Hartford Courant put it in perspective:

But today, we salute Mr. Collier with the certainty that not a single journalist in the state will delete his phone number.

No offense intended to history-minded admen, you understand, but somebody ultimately has to write the words - or vett the words - in your tourist brochures.
NEWS | Civil War units train for Iraq * Bearss salute planned at Antietam * Hawai'i celebrates Gettysburg anniversary


July the fifth

July 5, 1861: Lincoln signs a temperance declaration.

July 5, 1862: Keyes, Heintzelman, Sumner, Franklin, and Porter are nominated for the rank of major general, USV.

July 5, 1863: Pouring sheets of rain inundate the shelterless wounded at Gettysburg, hospital tents and equipment having been sent away before the battle.

July 5, 1864: Jubal Early, finding Harper's Ferry too strongly defended, begins operations against Washington, DC instead.

July 5, 1865: His work done, Major General George Cadwallader resigns his commission.

Gingrich book tour inches forward

After June 28, this seems to be the next promotional event for Grant Comes East:

The book signing will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Shellman House, 206 E. Main St., Westminster [MD]

William R. Forstchen, Gingrich's co- (ghost?) writer shares the limelight with two other authors.
JULY BOOKS | Scheduled for release this month: Memoirs of a Dutch Mudsill: The War Memories of John Henry Otto, Captain, Company D, 21st Regiment Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry by Otto * Ongoing Civil War: New Versions of Old Stories by Hattaway * Remember the Distance That Divides Us: The Family Letters of Philadelphia Quaker Abolitionist and Michigan Pioneer Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, 1830-1842
NEWS | Restoration begins on Keys Civil War-era fort * Civil War hospital attracts luxury apartment tenants * Civil War Preservation Trust solicits nominations for most-at-risk battlefields


More McClellan minstrels

SATURDAY | Before we leave the minstrels on the McClellan Poetry Day, I wanted to give another sample of how military personalities percolated into pop culture.

Wood's Mistrels was a rival to Dan Bryant's group (see last week's entry), and was also based in NYC.

In looking at this piece, consider the sequence of the generals named: Halleck, McClellan, Kearny. They appear in command order. Kearny is dead, so the piece was written after Chantilly. McClellan is in Dixie, which means he has crossed out of Maryland. The Library of Congress has dated the song "circa 1862." We can help them a little by narrowing the range to October 1862.

Civil War historians generally revile the McClellan of October, 1862. The minstrel shows were celebrating him.

I have been unable to find the music for this, but the repetion suggests a marching song.

Hold on Abraham, Uncle Sam's Boys Are Coming Right Along.

We're going down to Dixie, to Dixie, to Dixie,
We're going down to Dixie, To fight for the dear old Flag;
And should we fall in Dixie, in Dixie, in Dixie,
And should we fall in Dixie, We'll die for the dear old Flag.

Hold on Abraham,
Never say die to your Uncle Sam;
Uncle Sam's boys are coming right along,
Six hundred thousand strong

Our Flag shall float o'er Dixie, o'er Dixie, o'er Dixie,
Our Flag shall float o'er Dixie, the Red the White and Blue:
We'll ne'er give up 'till Dixie, 'till Dixie, 'till Dixie,
We'll ne'er give up 'till Dixie, sings Yankee Doodle Doo.

Our Halleck's bound for Dixie, for Dixie, for Dixie,
Our Halleck's bound for Dixie, with a million boys or two:
He'll never give up Dixie, old Dixie, old Dixie,
He'll never give up Dixie, 'till she's back in the Union true.

McClellan he's in Dixie, in Dixie, in Dixie,
McClellan he's in Dixie, and ready for the foe:
Do you think he'll give up Dixie, old Dixie, old Dixie,
Do you think he'll give up Dixie, oh, no no no no no no.

Bold Kearney fell in Dixie, in Dixie, in Dixie,
Bold Kearney fell in Dixie, While fighting for us all:
And there is Gen'ral Burnside, our Burnside, old Burnside,
And there is Gen'ral Burnside, he will avenge his fall.

And where is Gen'ral Butler, our Butler, old Butler,
And where is "Picayune Butler," he's gone to Dixie's town:
And there he keeps a stir'ing, a stir'ing, a stir'ing,
And there he keeps a stir'ing, the Secesh up and down.

Brave Corcoran's come from Dixie, from Dixie, from Dixie,
Brave Corcoran's come from Dixie, to speed the cause along:
He's going back to Dixie, to Dixie, to Dixie,
He's going back to Dixie, with a Brigade full and strong.

Our friends have gone to Dixie, to Dixie, to Dixie,
Our friends have gone to Dixie, to fight for the dear old Flag:
And we're all going to Dixie, to Dixie, to Dixie,
And we're all going to Dixie, to stand by the dear old Flag.


Hancock and Lincoln

The National Review remembers Hancock and Mario Cuomo remembers Lincoln.

Lincoln exchanging queens

Certain writers use a chess metaphor to explain Lincoln's mindset about defending Washington: Lincoln would not exchange queens with the Rebels. That is, he would not trade Washington for Richmond.

If the Civil War public ever heard and understood that metaphor, it was thanks to the newspaper coverage of the American prodigy Paul Morphy, a youth who challenged the chess world to achieve remarkable success.

My first exposure to the Civil War era, apart from John Wayne's Horse Soldiers, was through the study of the games of the great Paul Morphy of New Orleans, the uncrowned world champion who died the death of a Russian novel. The Civil War, I learned as a child, had killed his interest in the game as well as cut off his career at the height of his fame and power. The war eventually made him mad. Chess-playing American kids of my youth knew Paul Morphy's story, if not his games.

I remembered Morphy and Lincoln last night looking through Jeremy Silman's 1999 chess study, The Amateur's Mind. Silman was analyzing a game against one of his students. He has a harsh commentary style I like very much:

Also note his fear concerning the position of the White King. [...] Amateurs tend to panic in the face of any kind of kingside threat, and his comments show that he suffers from the same "King-safety" disease.

Lincoln, unfortunately, was not taking strategy lessons from chess experts and seems to have suffered more than a little "King-safety disease" in March/April 1862. Silman continues:

King safety is very important! But only worry if the enemy has some pieces aimed in your King's direction.

Think about the Eastern theatre in March and April, 1862.

In the present position, the only pieces Black has on the kingside are his f6-Knight and the e7-Queen; this can hardly be construed as a horde of attackers!

I'm picturing an pack of unsupported ragamuffins having a run up the Valley.

And, more disturbingly, I'm picturing Jefferson Davis consulting a Louisiana chess prodigy on strategy. There's some scary alternative history for you.
JULY BOOKS | Scheduled for release this month: Brush Men and Vigilantes * Fanatics and Fire-Eaters: Newspapers and the Coming of the Civil War * Into the Valley: A Historical and Tour Guide of Civil War in the Shennandoah Valley, 1861-1865
NEWS | Gettysburg church service to re-enact Civil War * Cold Mountain released on DVD * Biracial Thurmond daughter wants to join United Daughters of the Confederacy


Heritage tourism minus the heritage

James City, VA, is near the site of a settlement of 19th Century freed slaves. Despite all the archaelogical digging thereabouts, no one has come up with a single knick-knack from this old town.

County Director of Parks and Recreation Ned Cheely said most of the experts "felt like we should continue to look for the brass ring. But at the same time we should also interpret and celebrate what we've already found."

Heartbreaking. Not a single knick-knack.

Said Jim Dorsey, assistant site manager at nearby Jamestown Settlement:

"You're going to get a lot of people who will go there because of the location, regardless of what they find."

So there's hope! As long as we have a location, we can have tourism. But wait ...

"When you can put an X on the map, that's going to help you tremendously," said Curt Gaul, park ranger at the Jamestown National Historical Site.

Oh, so it's not just about artifacts ... we haven't even got a site yet. No site, no artifacts, and some word-of-mouth history. Are those enough elements on which to build an heritage tourism plan? Apparently so,

Robertson said the county should start working on educational components like signs and markers while still continuing to search for evidence in the ground.

And the educational markers will go where exactly? What sort of historical comments will they display?

James City is leading us into new dimensions in historic remembrance. It's the new, notional historic site.

Manet's Civil War painting is on tour

Here's quite a good commentary on Manet's famous painting "The Kearsarge and the Alabama."

The Battle of the USS Kearsarge and the CSS Alabama was Edouard Manet's first attempt to paint the sea.

He had not seen the exchange of fire between the two American ships, but, like everyone else in France, he had read accounts of it in the press. Working in his Paris studio from written descriptions, sketches, possibly from photographs, and above all from his imagination, he quickly completed his 4ft-square canvas. Speed was important because, by mid-July, less than a month after the battle, the picture was on public display in a shop window in Paris.

This is from John Keegan's paper, the Telegraph, and registration may be required.
NEWS | Special ceremony to highlight valor of troops on both sides at Gettysburg * Pickett's charge to end in handshake * Last Civil War vessel still afloat honored in Baltimore