Get that springtime feeling

... when you look at this ACW print. To avoid accidents, be sure to put down any sharp objects and empty your mouth before clicking.

Hat tip to art lovin' Mark Grimsley.

See you Monday.

Jean Smith and Grant (cont.)

The American Historical Association is always good for a few laughs, nowhere moreso than in its ethics. Taking that body's Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct for what it is, lax guidelines for ethically challenged historians, it may be worth looking at a couple of harder passages and applying these to the Smith situation in Grant. AHA: "A basic rule of good note-taking requires every researcher to distinguish scrupulously between exact quotation and paraphrase."

That's pretty black-and-white for this gray organization. Consider also that "No matter what the context, the best professional practice for avoiding a charge of plagiarism is always to be explicit, thorough, and generous in acknowledging one’s intellectual debts." [Emphasis in the original.]

Two key concepts are embedded in this tract: "Plagiarism, then, takes many forms. The clearest abuse is the use of another’s language without quotation marks and citation." Also: "When appraising manuscripts for publication, reviewing books, or evaluating peers for placement, promotion, and tenure, scholars must evaluate the honesty and reliability with which the historian uses primary and secondary source materials."

With that in mind, look again at our recent Smith/Grant entry:

Smith: The President's casket, draped in black crepe, rested on a raised platform under a domed black canopy.
Catton: Draped in crepe and black cloth, the President's casket lay in the East Room under a domed canopy of black cloth.

Smith: President Johnson, the Supreme Court, members of the cabinet and the diplomatic corps and other dignitaries, were seated in the room.
Catton: President Johnson, members of the Supreme Court and the cabinet, the uniformed diplomatic corps and other dignitaries, were seated in the room.

Smith: Correspondent Noah Brooks reported that the general "was often moved to tears."
Catton: Correspondent Noah Brooks said that the general "was often moved to tears."

And so it goes.

This comparison comes from the Grant Amazon page, where there are more intriguing hints of what might be happening.

Candace Scott, who manages an excellent Grant website, says on Amazon, "Most disturbing is Smith's propensity to borrow liberally from other authors in his interpretations. Certain sections of this book read similarly to words written by previous Grant biographers. See particularly his views on Grant's drinking, which are similar to McPherson's sections in his book, "Battle Cry of Freedom."

An anonymous Amazon reviewer says, "Further evidence that large parts of the book feel like a rush-job comes from the occasional word-for-word remarks "borrowed" from authors like Lloyd Lewis and William McFeely. Such (...) comments are jarring, and deepen the impression that Smith just did not put much mental effort into much of his work."

A reviewer named Hua Quach notes, "The almost verbatim lifting of passages from other books should be a call to the publishers this is not exactly the watermark of scholarship."

Where are the publishers in a matter of plagiarism associated with their author in a venue as big as Amazon.com?

More on Smith and Grant next week.

The inscrutable Chancellorsville land deal

The story so far...

Late last year, Mr. John Mullins agreed to sell some Chancellorsville battlefield land he owned to a Virginia developer named Tricord; Tricord agreed to sell 140 acres of this same land to Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) for $3 million. Central Virginia Battlefield Trust (CVBT) agreed to help raise part of that money for CWPT and in an initial fund raising message suggested that there was a March 31 deadline associated with this transaction. That website letter was later edited to remove "March 31."

Both CWPT and CVBT have fundraising appeals on their websites; both appeals use contingent language to suggest that the underlying deal is at risk in some way.

March 31 has come and gone. There has never been an article in the Spotsylvania papers to announce a sale closing; the deal is simply reported as consummated. But the language these nonprofits use suggest it is not at all a done deal. Here is CWPT with my emphasis added:
The Civil War Preservation Trust needs to raise $1.25 million to match another $1.75 million, to pay for 140 acres of hallowed American ground at Chancellorsville. [Without payment, there is no deal, I assume - DR]
If there was ever a time when I needed your help, this is it. If you never give another dollar to help save another battlefield, I need you to help with this one. It is that important. [Again, contingency.]
Our future is in the balance today. If we succeed in raising the $1.25 million we need to pay for this land, not only will we save 140 essential acres at Chancellorsville... [Look at this explicit linkage.]
As you look at the map of the 140-acre property we are buying... [Present tense, the deal is open.]
... a portion of the land was sold to another local, family-owned development company, Tricord Homes, which has proven to be a reasonable organization that wants to be a good neighbor and do the right thing.
Tricord agreed to sell us the historically vital 140 acres for $3 million, allowing us to protect the core ground, most of the "viewshed," and the existing National Park. Once we pay for this land, it will be preserved forever, and this will truly be our greatest victory.
And that is the key phrase, "Once we pay for this land..." Has it been paid for?

On April 15, I asked George Whitehurst, the reporter who has been coverning this matter for the Free-Lance Star. No answer.

On April 20, I asked Linda Wandres, Exec. Dir. of CVBT. Here is her answer:
The Tricord/CWPT land purchase is indeed, as CVBT President Mike Stevens put it, "a done deal." All issues and contingencies have been resolved at this point. As a result, 140 acres of the May 1 Chancellorsville battlefield will be preserved forever. CWPT and its partners, including CVBT, are now working to raise the $3 million dollar purchase price of the land. CVBT itself has committed to raising $250,000 for the purchase of this very important area of "dirt and grass." If you have more specific questions, please let me know.
I wrote back on April 25:
Thank you Linda, I appreciate it. As I understand your explanation, the land has not been paid for yet but the the deal is final and ownership cannot revert to Tricord due to failure to make timely payments. Please let me know if I have that straight.
No answer.

Next steps: I will contact Tricord and the Spostsylvania County supervisors.

These nonprofits do not give up their secrets easily, do they? Not even when they ask for your money.
NEWS | Hancock impersonator visits PA schools * Civil War mansion opens in MN * Artifacts collector focuses on Germantown, TN


Lee's intentions at Gettysburg

Attorney-turned-military-historian Tom Carhart has reconstructed Lee's intentions at Gettysburg in a new book issued by trade press Putnam one week ago. In Lost Triumph, he argues that Lee intended three synchronized hammerblows on day three, of which Pickett's was just one.

This is an interesting speculation that includes peeks into Lee's West Point lesson plans. It delivers good news about Custer and (more) bad news about Stuart.

Let's see how the Gettysburg experts respond.

Update (5:11 pm): I've started a thread on Usenet; the deeper Gettysburg readers are not impressed, judging by the first responders. See for yourselves.

Journalists, historians, museums

Springfield's newspaper, the State-Journal Register, notes a divide between historians and the press on the Lincoln Museum. The press seems to hold history and historians to a higher standard than historians themselves are comfortable with.

Surprise, surprise.

The paper says,
... simplification is an accepted practice among historians, according to the American Historical Association, the main professional society for 15,000 historians in universities and museums. The AHA’s Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct states that "Public discussions of complex historical questions inevitably translate and simplify many technical details."
Context and facts are "technical details"?
During "Lincoln’s Eyes," a shadowy Booth spews his hatred of Lincoln. The words are made up, but Schwartz says Booth’s actual words would require too much annotation, which would either ruin the narration or add too much time to the show.
The museum’s White House kitchen, for example, is based on an 1890s-era photo from the Benjamin Harrison administration. The photo is included in the exhibit.
Another is the closed casket in the Lincoln funeral scene. A photo in the exhibit demonstrates the casket was open, but museum officials say even the advising historians recommended keeping it closed.
To be trite about it, those journalists who write about history and museums are, like you and I, consumers of "the product." Even as tourists, our visits can be ruined by short cuts and fakery. This is because on our end, we want more, better, deeper stuff that is reasoned, reads well, and tries harder to be "true."

On their end, the fast and loose AHA types by and large seem to want to have a nice day.

That's a broad brush to paint with, but the dominance of amateurs in Civil War and Lincoln publishing is a market indicator - demand is not being met. The ratio of amateurs to professionals suggests demand is not even close to being met by professionals. There's even a deeper story in the wave of revision by amateurs of doctrine developed by professionals over decades.

Let's translate that into tourism. Aside from hostile newsmen, indicators that the Lincoln Museum is not meeting needs are few, but indicators will come. If I were running one of the competing Lincoln attractions in Illinois, for instance, truth and accuracy would be my differentiator vis a vis the Lincoln Museum. That would resonate with "history consumers."

The yellow buses full of little captives would still roll into Six Flags Over Lincoln for their school-sponsored entertainment, but at least alternatives would be available for bona fide history tourists.

Meanwhile, if you're a credentialled historian, here's an income opportunity for you: the Lincoln Museum will need more fake dialog written for their seasonal exhibitions. And if you are willing to authenticate new fake exhibits, there's money in that too.

And do have a nice day.

Noted Pea Ridge historian dies

"Doug Keller, who had worked at the park since 1991, died Sunday in his sleep of an apparent heart attack. He had turned 41 on Friday."

He was an enthusiast who became the park historian. Links here and here.

A Beatie reader checks in

Civil War reader Mitch Hagmaier delivers his impressions of Vol. 1 of Army of the Potomac.

His post reminded me of Beatie's analysis of Fitz John Porter. In Volume 1, Beatie presents Porter as a "stampeder" who was a malign influence on his boss Gen. Patterson. (I assume that he will carry his views over to the Porter-McClellan relationship in Vol. 3 of this series.)

This is worth a post, maybe next week.
NEWS | Archaeologists work to preserve complex that made iron for Confederacy * Board preserving Rappahannock Station battlefield * Reenactors bring Civil War to northern California


Jean Smith, Grant, and antigravity

Students - being innocent, ignorant, and contentious - are subject to fairly specific and stringent plagiarism rules at college.

Dr. Jean Edward Smith is a professor at Marshall University, where the student handbook says (p. 73) "It is the student's responsibility to clearly distinguish their own work [sic] from that created by others. This includes the proper use of quotation marks, paraphrase and the citation of the original source. Students are responsible for both intentional and unintentional acts of plagiarism."

Marshall is serious enough about plagiarism to make use of software called "Turnitin." "Turnitin is a plagiarism detection service as well as an online resource for faculty and students," the school's website says.

Keep this in mind and have a look at these two passages.

From Jean Smith's Grant, page 411, bottom paragraph:
The President's casket, draped in black crepe, rested on a raised platform under a domed black canopy. President Johnson, the Supreme Court, members of the cabinet and the diplomatic corps and other dignitaries, were seated in the room. At the foot of the catafalque were chairs for the President's family, represented only by Robert Lincoln. Mrs. Lincoln felt unable to attend. At the head of the catalfalque, standing alone throughout the ceremony, was Grant - the living symbol of the cause for which the President had given his life.

Correspondent Noah Brooks reported that the general "was often moved to tears." Grant later said he was grateful that Lincoln had spent most of his final days with him at City Point. "He was incontestably the greatest man I have ever known."
From Grant Takes Command by Bruce Catton, 1969 ed., page 479, bottom paragraph:
Draped in crepe and black cloth, the President's casket lay in the East Room under a domed canopy of black cloth. President Johnson, members of the Supreme
Court and the cabinet, the uniformed diplomatic corps and other dignitaries, were seated in the room. At the foot of the catafalque were chairs for members of Mr. Lincoln's family, represented only by Robert Lincoln, Mrs. Lincoln feeling unable to attend. At the head of the catafalque, all through the service, stood General Grant, alone.

Correspondent Noah Brooks said that the general "was often moved to tears." Grant reflected said he would always be glad that Lincoln had spent most of his final days in Grant's company, and when he tried to sum up the man he could only say: "He was incontestably the greatest man I have ever known."
Thanks to the reader who tipped me to these passages, which were posted as part of an Amazon.com review.

If students are subject to defined laws of academic honesty -let's call them "gravity" - can their professors function in an antigravity environment?

More on this tomorrow.

CWPT and the Cult of Personality

In my criticisms of Civil War Preservation Trust, I have avoided personalities and focused strictly on the awful policies authorized by the membership of this organization.

That approach may be more difficult to follow in the future. In its recent coverage of the group, National Geographic could not contain their enthusiasm for the great leader; now newspapers are getting into the act: "Man on a mission." "A major player." "[H]e's terrific at is judging talent [23 staff, no historians]."
Every day, I feel like Robert E. Lee - there are more of them (the enemy), and they keep on coming. They have the technology, they have the money.
The members were never of any account. Partners are now in the shade. The Leader has emerged. We shall be seeing much more of him, I'm certain.

The Lost Cause of Centennial historiography

Gary Gallagher has (perhaps temporarily) given up his endless retelling of the Civil War master narrative - as seen in American Heritage magazine, 1961-1965 - to focus on historiography, specifically on debunking what is generally called Lost Cause history.

Perhaps he mistakes Lost Cause thinking for the last major threat to his view of the war. A pocket of resistance between his leaders - Nevins, Williams, Catton, and McPherson - and the enemy capital. Men, take that bunker and take no prisoners!

Now here comes Bill Blair and his Cities of the Dead, on the face of it, quite interesting: "[He] examines the turbulent history of Civil War commemorations in the South, the role these civic rituals played in Reconstruction politics and race relations, and their lasting impact on the way the war is remembered."

But you read the interview with Blair, and you understand that this is the lowest octane historiography available:
The Lost Cause was the title of a book by Sir Walter Scott. The term was used deliberately by Southerners right after the war, by 1866. They started this interpretation that basically said, "We didn't fight for slavery, we fought against overwhelming odds for state's rights. By the way, we were never defeated, we were just ground down by superior force." That was the mythology that persisted, and still persists.
My friend, every man who fought on either side started the war with an interpretation - they didn't gin one up in 1866 as a rationale for a four-year bender of which they had lost all memory. If you want to attack the Lost Cause as it emerged in the flurry of articles post-bellum, have at it. If you want to plumb the social origins of heritage pride, you need a different plan. Go to the letters of the men, to the camp and battlefield speeches of their officers, and to the daily editorials of the leading papers. Read the letters of the wives, the sermons of the clergy, the reports of consuls and visitors. Convince me that these sentiments were not internalized.

If Lost Cause intellectuals like Jubal Early created and then harnessed an inaccurate historiography onto the cart of pre-existing sentiment, get the sequence right. Distinguish the horse from the cart and try to understand which pulls which.

Centennial-school historians have a huge stable of their own to clean. Look inward, Bill Blair, and weigh your own assumptions and interpretations. Historiography must start with the individual historian's own mythology.

Morris Island talks underway

According to a line buried in this National Geographic wire story, "[Owner Harry] Huffman is now negotiating a sale price for the island [Morris Island, SC], giving precedence to the preservation community."
NEWS | Developer wants to build casino complex in Gettysburg * States mark CSA memorial day * Dakota students march in Civil War drills * Antebellum homes draw new residents to Eutaw, GA


"Some of the museum is history"

The New York Times, in a wire story, is not impressed with the quality of history offered by the self-styled "impeccable scholars" of the newly opened Lincoln Museum:
The museum literature points out that its goal "is not to fully explain all of the issues that confronted Lincoln but to inspire in the visitor a deep sense of personal connection and empathy with the man."
This means that,
Complications are shunted aside for a series of psychodramas. [...] The personal is the political: That seems to be the motto of this life "experience."
I was surprised to learn that "The soundtrack of the assassination of Lincoln omits John Wilkes Booth's declaration from the stage after the shooting - Sic semper tyrannis... because there was concern about whether it would be understood." This reporter also noticed that "The words of the insults hurled at Lincoln and the arguments by his opponents [in exhibits] are almost all paraphrased or invented." And Lincoln's own language gives way to something synthetic but more digestible.
The problem is that some of the museum is history, and some of it is not. [...] The new museum, because of technological power alone, risks making invention seem like fact. It also enshrines a notion that the best way to know anything about politics and history is to understand personality, and even then only in a simplified fashion.

Blurbing Perret; and who is Perrett, anyway?

Is an author responsible for the mistakes in blurbs used to sell his books?

Random House is bragging that Geoffrey Perret's new book, Lincoln's War, is "the only full-length account to date on Abraham Lincoln as Com-mander in Chief." Anybody else remember British General Collin Ballard's The Military Genius of Abraham Lincoln? Not only was it published twice, but it even made eighth place in the Lincoln Bookshop's list of 163 essential AL works.

Not my cup of tea, but number eight!

Ballard's reprint came in 1952, as Civil War historical doctrine coalesced around the writings of Williams, Williams, and Nevins. It dovetailed snugly with Kenneth P. Williams' idea of Lincoln, as a militarily mature thinker, seeking and then finding his general. K. P. Williams had started down this road in 1949; Ballard's "essay" as he styled it, had first appeared in 1926 and may even have inspired Williams' multivolume project. So avid reader of 1950s ACW books might be ignorant of Ballard but still be entitled to ask "What about Lincoln Finds a General?"

Or put another way, where has Geoffrey Perret been?

He says he was in high school with Ricky Nelson - that would have been in the mid-1950s. That's when he told Brian Lamb that he began his ACW reading. Kenneth Williams was going strong. T. Harry Williams had published his own studies of Lincoln's war management in Lincoln and the Radicals , Lincoln and His Generals, and then McClellan, Sherman, and Grant. These books all focus on Lincoln's management of the war.

Good grief, the publicists actually use one of T. Harry Williams' titles generically to promote Perret's uniqueness: "This wide-ranging account casts new light on Lincoln and his generals..."

Authors have input into cover design and press releases. Perret likely saw these claims.

Pop historians cannibalize their own.

Update #1: Thanks to the emailer who noted that Catton's Mr. Lincoln's Army appeared in 1951 (I had said that "Catton's first effort, Stillness at Appomattox, appeared later in 1953.") A book named Mr. Lincoln's Army might also reasonably be construed to be a "full-length account ... on Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief."

This correspondent, widely published, reports that "Authors do see the blurbs; they often have a hand in composing them." He concludes that "I gather Perret personally made this claim about being the first to write on this subject."

Update #2: Tip of the hat to the same emailer for pointing out James McPherson's review of Perret's book in the Nation. McPherson says,
Perret's story was hardly untold before he told it, however. And if some things in his book were previously untold, it is because they were not true. Lincoln's War is riddled with an appalling number of errors large and small--by my count at least 120 of them, including multiple mistakes in the same paragraph on a single subject.
He goes on in this vein: "But the level of carelessness and ignorance manifested by the number and importance of miscues in Lincoln's War seriously compromises its integrity," etc. etc. See for yourself.

Political psychosis

... I'm seeing it whenever I look in the direction of history as a profession. Political psychosis has a displacing effect. The sufferer loses grasp of topicality and obsesses about party-defined "issues."

Here is an historiographic blog (?) set up by three UCLA history grad students; they should be overflowing with new ideas, reactions to readings, gripes about professors, textbooks, and schools of thought ... it contains almost no history content. It features the lowest grade of tit-for-tat partisan nonsense available. Recycled opinion pages.

If you want to drink the full draft of despair, look at the boilerplate political opinion churned out by professors on History News Network.

Do people become historians because they cannot get into journalism schools? History is an avocation. If politics consumes your waking hours, congratulations! You've found a different avocation. Go forth and master that realm.

If the history profession has become a holding pen for op-ed wannabes, the day of the amateur has arrived with peals of thunder.

Let's show them how to do history, my friends. Not that they would even notice.
NEWS | Kendall's cannon returns * Civil War monument erected in MS * AL ceremony memorializes Confederate soldiers


A point of comparison

Gallipoli remembrance (ANZAC Day) attracted 2,000 mourners to a service in London and drew record crowds Down Under - an estimated 15,000. There was even a re-enactment near Darwin.

Get a load of 96-year old General Paul Cullen marching like a youngster.

The PMs of Australia and New Zealand traveled to the Turkish beaches for a dawn service. Prince Charles was there. The Queen herself attended the London service.

Closer to home, I was cleaning the barbecue and airing out the beach blankets preparing for Memorial Day.

The other Lincoln Museum

... is part of Tennessee's Lincoln Memorial University and draws about 17,000 visitors per year. Lincoln Memorial is yet another university founded by General O.O. Howard.

Now you know.

Repurposing Pry House

It's never a good thing to multipurpose historic sites - it signifies that the thing we sought to preserve is not worth preserving in and of itself.

McClellan's headquarters at Antietam has been given over to a branch of Frederick's National Museum of Civil War Medicine. Owned by the National Park Service, Pry House has been closed to the public for the last 30 years, so the National Museum of Civil War Medicine has at least done us the favor of inveigling the Park Service to serve the public.

A second good thing about this bad idea is that it is site-specific, not just a random collection of surgery exhibits. It focuses on the work of McClellan's chief medical officer Jonathan Letterman, a talented medical administrator whose modern biography is long overdue. Having a museum tell your story may be as good as having a book do it and some reports indicate that Pry House will present the medical aftermath of Antietam as Letterman's ushering in modern triage and evacuation methods.

Off to Pry House I will go, with a promise to report what I find.

Meanwhile, the recent study Debris of Battle reviews the (failed) medical judgements of Meade and Letterman after Gettysburg.
NEWS | Descendants honor Civil War's fallen * Wade Hampton Park rededicated * Civil War mansion is settler's legacy * Buchanan remembered with wreath laying * Name change debate rages on in Memphis


How often do we get an ACW film in theatres?

Major Dundee has been in cinemas since April 8.
In this re-release of Sam Peckinpah's 1965 film, a Union officer is assigned the task of assembling a hunting party after a New Mexico settlement is massacred by a band of renegade Apaches. But with the Civil War still raging, he must fill out his ranks with Confederate prisoners, freed slaves, deserters and criminals. As the mission progresses, he must guard against not only both his quarry and his recruits, but his own personal demons as well. Starring Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, Jim Hutton, James Coburn, Michael Anderson Jr., Senta Berger, Mario Adorf, and Brock Peters
A 94% positive rating resides at Rotten Tomatoes. Lots of raves here, too: "a near masterpiece," "Greatest western/civil war drama of all time."

Consider: "Heston was so committed to the director's vision that when the studio shortened the production schedule, he actually forfeited his entire salary to buy back the extra days Peckinpah needed to finish shooting."

Am quite looking forward to this. Have a good weekend.

Guelzo wins Lincoln Prize again

Allen Guelzo has won a second Lincoln Prize from Gabor Boritt, this time for Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Harold Holzer won second place for Lincoln at Cooper Union.

Boritt and Holzer are splitters who broke away from the Abraham Lincoln Association during a plagiarism scandal; the ALA is involved in the management of the Lincoln Library.

Every year, Boritt's Civil War Institute gives us a lesson in history: start an organization, award yourself and your friends prizes.

McDonalds for the battlefield

Gordon County, Georgia, is considering an Historic Preservation Ordinance. County Attorney Suzanne Smith explains, "It deals only with the appearance, not with the use of the property."
"It doesn’t mean you can’t build a McDonald’s next to a Civil War battlefield," she said. It just means that the McDonald’s must have a compatible historic appearance. It can’t "stick out and be a detriment to that battlefield," she said.
I interpret that to mean the hamburgers should be served from a mess tent.

An immigrant takes her citizenship test

... and is grateful there were no questions about Civil War generals.
NEWS | Historians defend book that claims Lincoln was gay, call for more research * Protesters show up at Lincoln Prize ceremony * Peckinpah ACW film rereleased with new score


New books I wish I had read in 2004

(1) Bugle Resounding: Music And Musicians Of The Civil War Era by Kelley and Snell. A certain purchase in 2005. I'm looking forward to this essay collection.

(2) Army of the Pacific: Its Operations in California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, etc. 1860-1866 by Aurora Hunt. I get tingly just looking at the title. You get 100 arcana points just working this book into a conversation (or a blog). Pricey, though.

(3) Memoirs of Thaddeus S. C. Lowe. Can you ever get enough Civil War military ballooning?

The rest of this list features attempts at revision of the predominant (Centennial-era) interpretations of the Civil War era.

(4) Zeb Vance: North Carolina's Civil War Governor and Gilded Age Political Leader by McKinney. Vance is a well known, interesting, and overexposed figure. McKinney argues he was "as a far more complex figure than has been previously recognized." There are some pop history overtones here that scare me, but for now, Viva complexity!

(5) Little Phil: A Reassessment of the Civil War Leadership of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan by Wittenberg. Wittenberg, another author-attorney, specializes in Union cavalry history; I've long considered him weak and wrong on doctrinal history and pretty much in step with the American Heritage editorial board of 1961. Here, however, he proposes that Sheridan was much worse of a general than we ever thought possible - a nice break with the conventional wisdom that should be encouraged through book-buying.

(6) Scalawags: Southern Dissenters in the Civil War and Reconstruction by Baggett. I'm not clear on the revisions embodied here, however the book surveys an enormous number of individual cases. This looks like a cornerstone study, whether or not it reaches any conclusions.

(7) Jacksonian Antislavery and the Politics of Free Soil, 1824-1854 by Earle. A head-on debunking of the current wisdom that free-soil politics was watered-down abolitionism and a cop-out for anti-slavery men. It's going to follow the excellent Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party very nicely, as soon as I finish that massive tome.

Franklin council votes for history overlay

Franklin battlefield, in the largest sense of the term, may have a future:
"At the monthly meeting of the Franklin [city] Historic Commission, members voted to recommend possibly adding a historic overlay zoning to undeveloped historic battlefield sites along Columbia Avenue.

That would mean the land's owners would need to have their plans approved by the commission in addition to other city officials. The commission also wants to explore adding even more land and sites to historic zoning requirements at a future meeting.

The move will likely anger developers, but as Alderman at Large Pam Lewis said: "Everybody's already mad. They might as well be madder."
See this, too.
NEWS | Explosive uncovered at Vicksburg * Michigan geese win first round of this Civil War battle * Iowa Civil War battle flag displayed after restoration * Virginia cabin auctioneers eye Civil War buyers


A graduate-level course in heritage tourism

This is for the folks who decided on making Springfield a magnet for Lincoln tourism.

(1) Gettysburg poses a huge heritage tourism problem for the many second- and third-tier destinations in the same area. It's a magnet that consumes out-of-state visitors. Even second- or third-time visitors - people who must have some sense of the local geography - have told me, "I'll visit Antietam next year," as if that required a whole separate vacation. As for nearby Harpers Ferry, Crampton's Gap, or Ball's Bluff, forget it. Our regional officials have known about this effect for decades and struggled with it. You might have consulted with them.

Consider your many, many Lincoln sites officially nuked by the new Library and Museum.

(2) Heritage trails are useful and productive for channeling tourists among a number of sites of roughly equal interest. They do not (cannot) offset the absorbing effects of a mega-attraction. Prospects for your Looking for Lincoln tour are looking bad.

(3) Your megasite effect creates long-term systemic problems for your entire tourism industry. Pennsylvania officials listed their woes. Consider each of their ills in light of your new situation:

* Fragmentation of effort - It is now a war for resources arraying the small against the large.

* Lack of public education and awareness - Local attractions will get local press; the major attraction will draw national attention consistently.

* Uneven quality in site restoration and interpretation - This will be a function of uneven distribution of resources.

* Inadequate visitor service infrastructure - This will afflict the underfunded rural attractions.

* Lack of aggressive marketing - Ditto.

* Insufficient investment - The state will back its big winner on the grounds that one should reinforce success rather than failure.

Please keep in mind that you Illinois officials have yourselves blundered into these thoroughly documented intractable problems and that hotel taxes and other local fees are failed ideas that have not solved the tourism deficit anywhere.

Antique dealings

Be careful. Your friendly, neighborhood ACW antiques dealer may be an ex-con. Or even a murderer.
NEWS | ACW Medicine museum works on TV projects * Small town pays a premium to retrieve a Civil War cannon * Civil War life experienced up close


Lincoln Museum news roundup

The museum part of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum had its grand opening this week and gathered considerable press. Some points of interest:

High-Tech History: Long-Awaited Abrahan Lincoln Museum to Open in Springfield, Ill. This was the workaday AP piece picked up by hundreds of newspapers.

Bush Tours Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. Another AP story. "Bush was particularly amused by an exhibit showing mock campaign commercials of the 1860 presidential election."

Museum engages with showmanship. This is the Knight Ridder wire offering and it contains this bit: It is "a museum that moves visitors quickly from room to room." Hmmm, little time for reflection allowed: "'Everything is aimed at a 21st-century audience,' museum designer Bob Rogers said. 'For a generation tuned into TiVo and iPods, we had to pick up the pace, pick up the tempo. It's jazzed up without sacrificing scholarship.'" Without sacrificing scholarship - that's a good thing, Bob.

Bob Rogers shows up again in his own press release, BRC Imagination Arts Celebrates the Grand Opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, datelined Burbank! "Combining impeccable scholarship with brilliant showmanship, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum educates visitors of all ages of the life, times and historical importance of the 16th U.S. president."

Lincoln Museum a showplace. This was the UPI wire story. Note these items:

* "Smith said the gee-whiz special effects make Lincoln's history accessible to an audience outside the academy without dumbing anything down. [...] Smith said the museum successfully integrated showmanship and scholarship with an unapologetic and accurate presentation of tough subjects..."

* "Bob Rogers, chairman of BRC Imagination Arts, said the state-of-the-art displays developed for the museum over six years show what is possible when scholarship is combined with world-class storytelling and theme-park techniques aimed at keeping the attention..."

* "'We didn't whitewash him,' Rodgers said. 'For instance, we got right to the heart of darkness and show how the Emancipation Proclamation freed no one.'"

I don't want to get into an argument with impeccable scholarship, but scholar Allen Guelzo is currently out on the hustings flogging a book defending the proclamation. He gave a preview of some of its content in this lengthy article in 2002. If you present a controversy from only one point of view, Bob and Richard, you have sacrificed scholarship.

There's one more piece worth looking at and closing with. It's another AP filing, The people behind the new Lincoln Museum, in which we learn that the voice of Lincoln is supplied by "Bill Schallert, a veteran character actor most familiar as the father on 'The Patty Duke Show.' Whenever an exhibit features Lincoln 'speaking,' it's Schallert doing the talking."

Let me get trivial for a moment.

He has done a lot of acting, but everyone in my generation has been saturated - totally saturated - with Bill Schallert's commercial voice overs. He was insanely overexposed in the 1960s and 1970s. To hear that soap commercial voice oozing out of Lincoln's stiff, animatronic lips is going to be a killer. Never mind that Schallert at 83 was engaged to do the voice of a 56-year old (or younger) man. Realize that Schallert's rich, mellow timbre is on the edge of baritone. He didn't get all that soap commercial work by sounding "shrill, squeaking, piping, unpleasant" as Lincoln's law partner characterized the president's voice. And "a bystander described Lincoln’s voice at Gettysburg as 'sharp, unmusical, and treble.'"

So you're not even going to try to approximate the voice? You don't want to blast out a squeaky screech now and again? You're substituting a naturally beautiful, trained voice for Lincoln's ugly voice?
Schallert spent three days recording his lines. He went for a "light country" accent -- the sound of someone who grew up on the frontier but had moved up in the world.
He faked an accent. "You don't have any real model for Lincoln. You just have to guess."

Oh you impeccable scholars, you.

Williamsport mayor in Strain fracas

Speaking of tawdry:
Former Williamsport mayor John Slayman says three prints of a painting of Confederate General Robert E. Lee crossing the Potomac River were given to him in 1993. They hung at Town Hall and the Williamsport Memorial Library. But others say they were given to the town -- and a brass plaque on the frame of each picture says so too.
Slayman is battling the town to hold on to all three John Strain prints. They're kitschy but they retail at $999 each. Welcome to Williamsport, a hardscrabble town.

A basic instict for history

"It does seem to me that Lincoln is a terrifically sexual guy. He seems to exude testosterone from every pore."

"History" meets the supermarket checkout line.

Repairs at Antietam

The workers repairing the Maryland State Monument at Antietam battlefield have a lot to contend with: crumbling structure, deteriorating dome, and injured statue.
While the monument is dismantled for the project, the bullet-damaged statue atop the dome will also be repaired ... "I don't know who would take shots at 'Lady Peace,' but she's got three of them.".
NEWS | Bush helping to open Lincoln museum in Springfield * Two Civil War collections given to Beauvoir Archives * Mansion was Grant HQ - opens to visitors


Library to heal rifts among Lincoln scholars?

Here's an interesting review of our national Lincoln scholar problem and how the new Lincoln Library and Museum may heal the bitter spirit of contention:
If Lincoln scholars could choose which Lincoln quote best describes their world, it probably would not be "with malice toward none, with charity for all."

We previously covered this here and if you check out that post (and the article linked above), you'll understand that the Library and Museum are in the hands of one of the fighting factions, making reconciliation difficult.

Hat tip to Abraham Lincoln Online.

Postscript: Tim Reese says that Richard Norton Smith, the nominal head of the Library and Museum, appeared on CBS's Sunday Morning. When asked about Disneyfication of the facility, he answered that this was a case of snobs versus the people. Not a scholar-friendly position; gasoline on the fire, I would say.

Hairy history

Best quote from an attendee of the new Lincoln Museum:
"The statues are so real, right down to the hair on their arms," she said. "It's very informative."
Personally, I think historians would have had to guess at the correct follicle spacing. The historians supervising hair implants really should have a disclaimer on display: "hair imaginatively reconstructed." Meanwhile, hairy arms are creating interest in constitutional interpretation, race relations, and military history ... if I understand this story correctly.

National Geographic does flips

Have you seen the National Geographic magazine's Civil War battlefield issue? It went to press with a reversed image on the cover. Someone flipped the negative. The U.S. soldier's large beltbuckle, in the center of the photo, proudly diplays the letters ".S.U" with the S reversed, of course.

Inside, the story circles around Civil War Preservation Trust, elevating that body to a kind of "gatekeeper" of the preservation role. Too bad for the regional organizations; too bad for groups that believe in buying land rather than placing conservation easements on it; too bad for battlefields that never make the CWPT "top ten" list; too bad for nonprofits that take the high road of financial transparency.

The magazine includes a color map with tinted circles indicating degree of danger to a battlefield. There is no key to explain how danger was assessed in each case; it also uses thick-lined circles to show "saved" battlefields. I looked at three unlabeled mid-Maryland "saved" circles trying to figure out which battlefields they might correspond to. Could these be Monocacy, South Mountain, and Crampton's Gap? We don't have three saved battlefields corresponding to NG's map, which makes me wonder about the rest of the information.

The short article accompanying the photos was what we used to call "soft news." Short on data, long on impressions.

Memo to the editor of the National Geographic: I was taught magazine feature writing by one of your predecessors 35 years ago. He would have fired the layout team that allowed a flipped negative on the magazine's cover; and he would have fired the writers and editors who churned out a puff piece with multiple sources but just one point of view.

Times have changed and this isn't journalism, it's civic partnership. A little backscratching, a lot of politicking, leaven that with heaping doses of self-congratulation.

It's not just the negative that flipped.
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A history carnival

This blog seems to have made the latest History Carnival organized by HNN. Thanks to editor Jonathan Dresner who liked the Doubleday post.

I drilled down into some of the other listed history blogs and found way, way too many "my life as a professor" postings. History is an avocation, not a job. Let's do more history, folks.

The quality of historical speculation, part 2

Déjà vu in Civil War reading: you've felt it.

The author brings us to some moment in battle, a single point of decision; he gives us information to provide an overview the protagonist never had; he directs our attention to a limited number of choices available, just one or two; he infers simple, inevitable, single-tracked outcomes for each choice; and finally, he invites the reader to make a choice that has been pre-selected by the author. Missed opportunity. Failure to annihilate. The enemy escapes. Drat.

The day for this kind of historical writing is over.

Archer Jones explains that there never was an opportunity to annihilate an enemy in the Civil War.

Joseph Harsh directs us to consider what the general knew, when he knew it, and what options he reasonably could make at any given decision point.

Thomas Rowland points out that the idea of an early end to the war contradicts everything we know about American history. Reality impinges on "opportunity."

Wall Street teaches us that decision points do not yield single outcomes traveling down single paths, but rather that hosts of consequences cascade from single points, each in turn generating waves of unexpected outcomes.

Nassim Taleb tells us that in trading, he sees each outcome surrounded by a cloud of "invisible history" indicating all the possible outcomes surrounding each decision.

Brent Nosworthy points out that our underlying assumptions about the dynamics of a Civil War battlefield are wrong and have been wrong for generations.

Benoit Mandelbrot has proved that volatility scales. Small inputs (decisions) can produce massive outputs: we are norm-biased and do not understand discontinuity or risk.

Taleb's term for this is that people are "probability blind" and generally not competent to predict outcomes. If mathematicians are probability blind, the historian should probably lay down that divining rod.

Skip past the alternative scenarios in your old favorites. Reserve judgements suggested by belle lettrists bending complex realities into dramatic storylines. Decline the author's invitation to judge historical figures; the reading pleasure will still be there.

Chancellorsville: send for the Kremlinologists

It used to be that you would study the photographs of the May Day Parade reviewing stand in Red Square to figure out what was going on inside the Politburo. Hey, Gromyko is up there with Kosygin! Power shift!

I have been applying the best Kremlinology I can to determining what Civil War Preservation Trust is up to at Chancellorsville. Do they own the battlefield land that Tricord intended to sell them? No mentionon their website of closing the deal.

Clue #1: Central Virginia Battlefield Trust has subtly changed the wording of an appeal on its site. It used to mention a financial deadline of March 31, 2005 in connection with the CWPT/Tricord deal. It now says, it would like to meet its financial commitment to this transaction early this year. Here is the passage I believe has been modified:
The Central Virginia Battlefields Trust has pledged $250,000 as its contribution for the preservation of this land. Half of this amount is due to the Civil War Preservation Trust by December 15th, 2004, with the other half due early next year.
The deadline appears to have been missed, and then the wording altered. The bottom of CVBT's message says "date published: October 30, 2004," however this is static text that could be left in place after changes are made.

Clue #2: An April 3rd article in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star reports on a CWPT tree-planting effort on Chancellorsville land. It mentions CWPT "now owns 140 acres" and that "The Trust acquired the property in December." Again, I have seen nothing to indicate that the deal was consummated; continued fund raising for the purchase by both CWPT and CVBT suggests that cash is needed to close the deal. For instance, on its site, CWPT still says, "Today, CWPT needs your help to raise the $1.25 million we urgently need, so we can finally declare this consecrated land saved forever!"

Will we pierce the Politburo's veil of secrecy? Stay tuned .
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The quality of historical speculation

Few things are simpler than an alternative history scenario in the hands of a Civil War writer. How simple is that?

Generally, we see a single "story element" changed to produce a domino effect in an otherwise static narrative. The effect is linear ... think of Lee winning Gettysburg. We looked at a raft of ACW alternative history scenarios in June, and here's a really complicated one - by the standards of ACW speculation.

Whatever the merits of this content, this (linked) alternative history is pretty ambitious in containing two variables instead of one (the defeat of Sheridan and the death nof Lincoln) - though both trigger straight line effects. And that is as complicated as it ever gets in this subgenre.

The poverty in this contingency-making stems directly from the structure of speculation in the best-selling narratives we love so well. The speculators seem to model the nonfiction they admire.

Stereotypically, bestselling nonfiction narrative shamelessly ladles out hindsight and an omniscient view of conditions in the two contending commands. It then flatters the reader by asking him, given the situation depicted here, why did not someone act in suchandsuch a manner? The reader joins in the fun and entertains bafflement or outrage. This is followed by the author's summary judgement of the historical figure and a low-grade analysis of the "failure" in question. The last step is for the reader to internalize the author's judgement based on the manipulation just experienced. The nonfiction speculation is dry - there is no context outside of what the author has given - and the potential results from a single possible action are implied to be single-track and moving in one direction.

A "lively" argument among readers of the bestselling authors might involve discussing two (gasp!) possible outcomes from a hypothetical course of action.

Our real task in these situations has been well put by Wall Street trader Nassim Taleb: "The trick is to stay away from those who do not seem to know that they are just entertainers..."

This may come as a surprise to those dealing with a retail stockbroker or trading their own accounts, but Wall Street spends great efforts trying to predict the future based on historical analysis. Past performance may be no guarantee of future results, but history is viewed as highly indicative and potentially lucrative.

Thus, portfolio managers have tools for modeling history that historians should know more about - if not the tools themselves, then the underlying concepts. My own time in financial software covered three major developments in portfolio modeling - I was going to go here and relate that to Civil War history and speculation, but it would all be too much for this format. I'll stay with Taleb and piggyback a few simple points taken from his book.

Taleb's particular angle on trading (options) is to find economical ways to bet on surprises. He is not betting that he knows a random event is coming, he is betting that a random event is going to suprise him and everyone else. So he differs from the Wall Street consensus in that he works against the expectations of normalcy and because Wall Street, like any given Pulitzer committee, has its historical pants on backwards. Taleb:
I will repeat this point until I get hoarse: a mistake is not something to be determined after the fact, but in light of the information until that point.
A few historians understand this: Harsh and Freeman, with that "fog of war" technique readers hate so much; and Beatie with his painful reconstructions of timelines. The general run of writers and readers don't buy into Taleb's definition of mistakes, however.

Taleb sees, surrounding every historical contingency, a swarm of "invisible histories" comprised of "might-have-beens." In the world of the portfolio manager's "Monte Carlo" simulations, multiple possibilities burst into life and begin a cascading effect as each alternative spawns additional alternatives. Taleb:
It can be electrifying to generate virtual histories and watch the dispersion between the various results.

...by dint of playing with the Monte Carlo engine for years, I can no longer visualize a realized outcome without reference to the non-realized ones.
That is profound historic sensibility.

We'll apply that observation and others to Civil War history's wave of revision in the second part of this post.

"Lincoln and the Railroads"

The Indiana Historical Society is doing a two-day symposium on "Lincoln and the Railroads." "The symposium will address Abraham Lincoln's ties to America's rail industry and his contributions to railroad history." Brochures can be had by calling (317)232-1882.

I assume this is going to be about his pre-war work and not the effects of the Civil War on railroading. As many of you know, Lincoln was McClellan's railroad's lawyer and McClellan alluded to his extensive business association with Lincoln before the war - not that this is anything that would interest Lincolnologists or ACW researchers.

McClellan's great achievment as a railroader was his creation of America's first ro-ro route (roll on, roll off, land/sea). He opened a Chicago to New Orleans link for his company using this hybrid transport system and I assume Lincoln helped to a greater or lesser extent in securing the rights.

But there's nothing more to discover in Lincoln studies, you know.

Having collected details of the specific cases Lincoln and McClellan collaborated on, I dread missing this symposium. I hope there are proceedings. And I hope they keep the Civil War out of this.
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A few paradigms from Thomas J. Rowland

You wouldn't think that early war and late war are difficult historiographic distinctions to make for the Civil War, but they flew entirely over the heads of the 1960-65 generation of ACW writers and remain invisible to their star pupils (McPherson, Gallagher, Sears, et al).

Early war and late war conditions are not only easy concepts, they are almost too easy - in a pop history way they compress too much context; but they certainly serve their purpose and Thomas J. Rowland unpacked them nicely in his George B. McClellan and Civil War History. He set the early/late war historiographic paradigm against the Centennial's non-historic, entirely literary paradigm of "good generals" and "bad generals" - all operating under some sort of universal historic constants, all succeeding or failing based on character.

A few other Rowland coinages for cliched Civil War topics might be useful to keep at hand:

"Dodging the albatross" - This refers to McClellan's and Grant's reactions to Lincoln's ideas on the defense of Washington. The underlying error is to think that Lincoln's ideas were reasonable, militarily wholesome, and worthy of general acceptance - in other words to bury the underlying controversy with a snappy salute to the Chief - and to paint McClellan's aversion to Lincoln's obsession as unique and rooted in failures of character. The defense of Washington was, as conceived by the president, an albatross.

"The illusion of easy victory" - "Even a cursory review of the American experience of war dispels the notion that the outbreak of any major conflict has ever been a quickly concluded matter." Rowland favors comparisons of the ACW with the French and Indian wars: very apt, I think in terms of the duration, destruction, depopulation, and great swings in military fortune. We expect the civilians of 1861 to pathetically hope for an easy or quick victory. When contemporary historians follow them into the illusion, we give them a pass. And a Pulitzer or two.

"Bagging Bobby Lee" - This is the error that bedevils more writers and readers than any other and historian Archer Jones has done well to discredit the idea of Civil War "battles of annihilation." Jones has previously, and I think effectively, also debunked the Centennial idea that Lincoln wanted armies to focus on the destruction of enemy armies. This, Jones demonstrates, was a particular instruction given to one army in one particular context and never repeated to any other commander anywhere any other time.

Rowland has a few thoughts on this:
The interpretation that the destruction of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia should have always been the northern objective of the war has become a cardinal and inviolable underpinning in Civil War history. [...] It seems strange in many ways that Civil War analysts have, at times, overly devalued the capture of geographical locations during the war. True, each individual conquest could not guarantee the death of the Confederacy, but they did contribute toward that end.
He goes on to recite a roll call of famous places, to which we can add our own: Donelson and Henry, New Orleans, Memphis, Vicksburg, Knoxville, Petersburg, ad nauseum. The war began with plans for the capture of places and it ended with such.

At the heart of Rowland's idea of Civil War history is a cumulation of effects distributed over different contexts over time. I find that very historical! The historiography of the Centennialists is speculative, saturated in what-if, dripping with the fat of alternative outcomes, and laced with acid for "bad generals" and honey for "good" ones.

Or as the book review editor of a newspaper once told me, Civil War history is infantile. She was referring to the primitivism of certain bestselling authors and their followers.

Tomorrow I'll look at the quality of Centennial "what-if" thinking from the perspective of portfolio modeling and historic scenario testing in modern financial analysis.
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Chicago critic bashes Lincoln Museum

Well worth reading:

This is a deeply flawed model for bringing the past into the present and future.
And apparently, the architecture is lousy.

Springfield reacts.

Rowland on Centennialism

In 1998, Thomas J. Rowland framed the historical problem represented by George B. McClellan as one linked to and perhaps created by Centennial Civil War doctrines (George B. McClellan and Civil War History). (What I call "Centennial" he calls "Unionist"). I want to post some of his observations on ACW history writers today and then tomorrow spell out some of the very concrete methodological errors these people commit in their writings and analysis.

[The ACW] is defined in our consciousness by the cliches with which historians and the purveyors of popular culture have surrounded it. - Alan Nolan, quoted by Rowland

Bruce Catton and T. Harry Williams, as well as Kenneth P. Williams, a mathematician by profession, will be forever remembered by succeeding generations in the professional historian community; after all, they have provided a basis on which careers and livelihoods have been built.

One of the consequences of their undisputed [Centennialist] influence is in the unquestioned and matter-of-fact presentation of Civil War platitudes, analogies, and individual comparisons employed by those who write for popular or public consumption. The Unionist interpretation of the Civil War is accepted lock, stock, and barrel.

While elements of the Unionist interpretation have been targeted for revision, the body of their work, aprticularly as it relates to the quality of Civil War commands, has remained largely intact and greatly respected.

Of all of America's wars, the Civil War has produced such an incredible variety of intriguing military personalities as to lend itself easily to the standard characterizations that the film industry adopts.

What seems to be missing is any sense of balance, perspective, and proportion.

Civil War history lends itself to sweeping myths and generalizations. [...] However, history has a way of catching up with myth.

Postscript. In 1999, I asked Rowland what McClellan historiography had taught him. In this context, his answer is worth reprinting in full (emphasis added):
Well, it has made me quite humble. I realize just how much effort was expended to understand the historiography of one figure. It makes me aware of just how much study is required to make well informed judgements about issues and persons during the Civil War. It also made me aware of just how reliant I am upon the consensus thinking of most events in virtually all historical writing. That realizaton is both amusing and frightening at the same time.
Read humbly, read frightened, my friends. And give the blowhards a full measure of skepticism.
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Handpicked kids give museum mixed review

... or so it seems to me from this article on a preview visit to the Lincoln Museum by select children. To whit:
There was lots of chatter as the students walked through the Whispering Gallery, where angry voices hurl insults at Lincoln... A museum volunteer had to hush the students so they could hear the servants' conversation [in the kitchen].
Waiting to enter "Lincoln's Eyes," the short, special-effects driven documentary of Lincoln's life, there was a conversation about someone with "cooties." Two hours after arriving, Lincoln Magnet students were bused back to school. [...] The students agreed they could have stayed at the museum for at least another hour.
At least another hour!

Is this going to be the mighty engine of Springfield's economy?

Turchin bad, very bad man

Athens does not fondly remember Col. Ivan Vasilevitch Turchininoff ("John Basil Turchin"), the only experienced Russian officer to make general in the Civil War. And with the anniversary of the sack of Athens, locals are again remembering this obscure proponent of hard war.

But hard war against rebellion is what you'd expect from an ex-Imperial officer in Federal service. Abolitionism, less so.

War profiteers bad, very bad

"While most men were off fighting the Civil War, he was making beer and becoming filthy rich."

Well, at least it was beer.

McClellan bad, very bad man

If you scorn McClellan, you'll like this new book that tries to revive Centennial-era judgements about the Army of the Potomac.

It's reviewed by Centennialist Gary Gallagher ("Fresh look at Army of the Potomac") and includes these breakthrough concepts:

* "... the army’s operations 'defined the fortunes of Abraham Lincoln and his administration'"

* "Joseph Hooker, Burnside’s replacement, did well in planning the campaign of Chancellorsville but stumbled badly as the action unfolded."

* "Wert’s heart lies with the common soldiers, most of whom fought steadfastly on difficult fields."

* "Only with Ulysses S. Grant, who accompanied Meade’s army as general-in-chief in 1864-65, did a man possessing an 'inner core of cold steel ... who understood and accepted that fighting meant killing' take charge of the war in Virginia."

Gallagher's summary speaks volumes [emphasis added]:
Readers conversant with existing literature do not need to be reminded that the Army of the Potomac played a leading role in restoring the Union, but anyone new to the topic, as well as veteran students seeking a convenient one-volume treatment, can turn with confidence to Wert’s narrative.
... with confidence that the editorial decisions reflect the very best in predigested opinions.

Civil War history parodies itself.

Custer, bad, very bad man

If you hate Custer, you'll love this column.
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Blogger has been down

... so I have been posting at the emergency standby site today.

Back on Monday.


Nosworthy's critique of ACW history

Brent Nosworthy's Bloody Crucible of Courage puts his conclusions at the end of the work, after he has made corrections to various misconceptions. I don't think that makes sharing his conclusions with you a spoiler since it would have been better for him to start with the indictment and then frame the case.

I'll start summarizing part of his critique with a trivial point close to my spleen, use of the term "Napoleonic" by ACW authors. You would be amazed, for instance, how many people think that McClellan's sobriquet "The Young Napoleon" refers to Napoleon Bonaparte rather than Louis Napoleon. They have no idea of the cultural footprint Napoleon III left on America in the 1850s, including that of trend-setting facial hair.

Yes, facial hair: McClellan imitated Napoleon III in grooming; he was younger than Napoleon III; his beard style is called "the Napoleon." (BTW, Napoleon I was clean-shaven.) Stephen Sears says some ladies once exclaimed that Mac looked like "a young Napoleon." Sears knows what they meant - but he falsely plays the Napoleon I analogy in every writing and is followed in this by imitators and admirers. By the same token, PGT Beauregard was sometimes called "the Little Napoleon," under the same false Searsian light. Beauregard imitated "the Napoleon" beard too. He was taller than Napoleon I but shorter than Napoleon III (thus, a "little Napoleon" in appearance). Victor Hugo's famous polemic "Napoleon the Little" was published in English in America before the war, lending a coinage for wags to invert for PTGB.

As we cannot anytime soon exhaust the facial hair foibles of ACW historians, let's go on with Nosworthy and loftier stuff. Points are Nosworthy material, comments are my own:

POINT - "… the use of the word Napoleonic … has two different meanings, depending on the time of use. This is a subtle distinction that has unfortunately been lost to posterity … confusing generations of Civil War historians" "Up to 1848 the term refers exclusively to Napoleon I. However," by the late 1850s, "the meaning shifts and is used to characterize the new [military] methods of Louis Bonaparte…"

COMMENT - Bloody Crucible spends much ink reviewing the innovations of Napoleon III and their effects on pre-war European and American military doctrine.

POINT - Civil War history generally "ignores foreign accomplishments. It is … part of the process that decides what is important and what can be dismissed out of hand."

COMMENT - It is an indicator that we are not dealing with a research mindset but rather a storytelling dynamic in which nonessentials are jettisoned for speed.

POINT - ACW historians tend toward framing it as the first modern war; Europeans see it as the last musket war. The Europeans are closer to the truth. Beliefs about rifles widening battle space in the ACW "appear to be overly simplistic."

COMMENT - Bloody Crucible spends much ink on this too. This particular error represents a lazy hand reaching for a easy conclusion.

POINT - "When judged strictly by first-time use under battlefield conditions, the Crimean War saw a greater number of technical innovations."

COMMENT - Which leads Nosworthy into the risky position of charging ACW historians with an insecurity vis avis European history and materials.

POINT - ACW historians magnify and exaggerate wartime accomplishments.

COMMENT - On a military level, they have no context and want none. When you have Pulitzer winners like McPherson using expressions like "never before in history," run for the hills. On a literary level, this is a trick played on readers. The writer has inveigled the reader to emotionally identify with some person or unit in the story and the exaggerated praise passes through to the reader vicariously. Stroking the "characters" pets the readers.

POINT - The tone of too many ACW histories are marked by smugness and television era thought-bites.

COMMENT - The author of a Civil War "story" is projecting confidence in his thesis and trying to enlist the reader emotionally rather than rationally. The mass reader, with no concept of good research or bad, needs these primitive demonstrations of certainty to stave off book-buyer's regret.

POINT - Magnifying and distorting the accomplishments of historical figures is disrespectful and shows a lack of appreciation for who they were as they were.

COMMENT - Remember that on a literary level, every "character" has to play to some type to advance the story; and the reader has to be flattered that he identified with the right "character." On the historiographic level, the distortion has been well explored by Thomas Rowland, for one.

POINT - "This tendency to appreciate accomplishment in a specific context and then elevate this performance to "best in kind" is "frequently encountered" in 20th Century Civil War literature.

COMMENT - Again, a literary device to impress the non-analytic reader and to flatter readers vicariously: "You identified with the good; and let me tell you how great the good is, oh wise bookbuyer."

POINT - "All too often the historian succumbed to the urge to discount any shortcoming of the Civil War soldiers and commanders and exclusively focused upon, or even magnified, their positive qualities. Statements that tout some aspect of the Civil War as "the most," "the first," or "the best" when unaccompanied by a detailed analysis to substantiate the claim are usually symptomatic of this tendency."

COMMENT - This is part of a general aversion to analysis. The Civil War historian is a storyteller illuminating some byway of the master narrative developed around the time of the Centennial (1960-65). The failings of soldiers and leaders were staggering, consistent, and seemed to get worse with time; and there was no post-Vietnam soul-searching into "why we failed" except generally to blame Democratic generals.

POINT - Microspecific histories (regiments, campaigns, biographies) tend to dispense the "received wisdom" in place of accurate general context, thus strengthening generally wrong views of the war.

COMMENT - As recently covered in this blog. Which means the microhistorians perform a disservice - promulgating a nonsensical party line - along with a service - uncovering details that enrich understanding of some specific.

POINT - Someone is going to have to develop a horizontal history that integrates all these vertical studies (microhistories).

COMMENT - Eric Voegelin made this comment half a century ago in response to the universities' love of specializtion. Take a campaign analysis as deep as Tim Reese's, and you have a building block for the reconstruction of the history of the war.

Note that these observations are a few from Nosworthy's 26 years reflecting on the errors in Civil War military history; it took Beatie three decades of reading Centennial narratives to mount his own magnificent corrective in the Army of the Potomac series. These are companion efforts in setting right the sad project called "Civil War history." These are the beginning of a great revision that is underway.
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The Amazon list of top ACW titles

Temperance Blalock comments on the top 12 Amazon ACW sellers. And she includes a nice plug for this blog.

Man, Jay Winik's sales just keep going.

Savas on Beatie

In my recent Beatie post, I forgot to include these interesting public remarks on Army of the Potomac by publisher Theodore Savas. He's replying to observations by ACW writer Larry Tagg. "Cap" is Russel Beatie:
I cannot directly comment on Tagg's observation that Vol. 1 is "idiosyncratic," as that is subjective to each reader. Some will like Cap's style and presentation (it is very old school and proper), and others will not. I can indeed confirm that Cap has spent more than three decades on this project, has found reams of material no one else has used or has used very selectively, and it is my opinion that the series will transform how serious scholars look at the AOP in general, and McClellan in particular. It will be many volumes, though the latter ones should cover more territory that the first 3-4 because Cap believes it is important to deeply examine the early foundation of the army, which has essentially been ignored or misunderstood for far too long.

Battlefield monuments and the battlers

The Duke of Wellington was apparently no fan of battlefield monuments:
Eight years after the battle of Waterloo, the Dutch decided to memorialize the precise spot where the Prince of Orange was wounded... It took them three years to complete the monumental piece of landscaping, a 130-foot high earthen mound topped by a statue of a lion. The Duke of Wellington ... [a]sked his opinion of the work ... replied, "They have ruined my battlefield."
Food for thought.
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Sister site updated

Civil War Book News has been updated to finish off the 2004 publishing season's titles; there are now well over 200+ descriptions listed. To view the new listings, go here for frames or here for a no frames option. I recommend the frames.

The newly added material is designated with an asterisk. Archives go back to 1998. I am doing a site redesign for the spring 2005 list and hope to begin publishing incrementally in three weeks.

Conspiracy pedagogy

Washington's International Spy Museum has caught Lincoln fever and will stage a "Spy Seminar: The Lincoln Assassination Conspiracy," Monday, 18 April 2005; 5:15 - 9:45 pm at Ford’s Theatre.

I love their premise:

On one fact alone do scholars agree: President Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865. All else is suspect!
There's a lot of historic sensibility in that. It is the diametric opposite of McPherson-flavored Centennial certitudes. And think about this:
... experts including Ed Bearss, Warren Getler, Elizabeth Leonard, and H. Donald Winkler will immerse you in the key conspiracy theories. Was Booth acting as a lone gunman? A player in an internal Union scheme? A tool of the Confederacy? A cog in an insidious global plot?
You could break down every major controversy in the Civil War into a Socratic dialog of this type in which the contrary interpretations are tested, examined, and weighed.

Your storylines would fall apart, of course, and with that your chance for mass sales slip away. And so, the ACW pop historian's credo must remain "Relax reader, I've got it covered."

Civil War readers will not be immersed in theories. Nor in competing accounts of the same event. No one will ask readers to exercise their judgement after presenting raw evidence.

That's for conspiracy buffs. And spy museums.
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Credit for Abner Doubleday

Historiography has its cartoons. One of them is the story of the founding of baseball, history done so poorly as to pass over into slapstick.

By now, everyone understands that Union General Abner Doubleday did not invent the game, but the debunking stories keep coming, offered, perhaps to that one newspaper reader who has not yet gotten the word:

* "Just last year, officials in Pittsfield, Mass., uncovered records from the late 1700s that mention the game being played there."

* The letter testifying to Doubleday's baseball activities, the basis for the "inventor" claim, seems to have been referring to his cousin (named "Abner Doubleday").

* "[The] letter is full of holes ... it's a weak document at best."

* "Congress, citing the work of a New York City librarian, declared that Alexander Cartwright was baseball's true founder ... but his designation as baseball's founder is no more legitimate than Doubleday's."

And so it goes.

For me, Doubleday represents a different kind of pathbreaker. He was the first Union officer - a mere captain when he started the practice - to write directly to Lincoln to complain about the loyalty and competence of his boss and peers.

You can see it for yourself in David Detzer's Allegiance. He wrote Lincoln from Fort Sumter and Lincoln encouraged him, as he would so many other intriguers. By the end of the first year of the war, Lincoln would have a tattler in every major command.

The president was buying what Doubleday was selling, a commissar function within the politically "unreliable" U.S. officer corps.

Give credit where credit is due.

[p.s. Welcome HNN surfers. You are visiting an historiography site, the main page of which is here.]
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Cleburne's historic Pizza Hut is for sale

That Pizza Hut under which CSA Gen. Patrick Cleburne is believed to have died is for sale and the City of Franklin intends to buy it.

The city says this shows battlefields can be reclaimed. See "Pizza Hut may be topping on battlefield reclamation."

Your preservation dollars at work

The Civil War Preservation Trust has clamped down on news about its deal to buy 140 acres of Chancellorsville battlefield land from developer Tricord. Yesterday, there was a deadline; Central Virginia Battlefield Trust was due to turn over $250,000 to CWPT to help pay for the land. We do not know if the land has been paid for, the deal done, or whether there are sales contingencies tied to payment dates.

That's not information worth putting up on a website.

Meanwhile, a surprise announcement from faraway Wirral and Liverpool, England:

... they have been named an American Civil War Heritage Site, only the second place outside the US to achieve this. Both local authorities are now mapping out a tourist trail incorporating historical sites on both sides of the Mersey.

CWPT have made this designation; and for anyone asking "by what authority?" - the Liverpool paper says they are "a historical group backed by the White House."

I kid you not. CWPT, "A historical group backed by the White House."

Nor is this a project devised by Englishmen. "The decision was made by the White House-sponsored Civil War Preservation Trust."

The White House again. Hey, Liverpool, show me the business cards these folks were passing out. I'd love to see them.

The newswriter notes that
A delegation from the group will visit Merseyside later this year to make the official presentation.
The first of many such trips, I'm sure. And you know that other famous Civil War battlefield, Cherbourg, France, is just a short hop across the water. CWPT designated that an ACW site, too.

Please don't write me explaining Cherbourg's and Liverpool's Civil War connections; I think I know this better than even the historians of the White House-backed Civil War Preservation Trust. I also know what patronage is, what junkets are, and what people who donate for the preservation of battlefield land have in mind when they write checks.

This Liverpool item has not found its way into the American press yet. Not worth a news release stateside, I guess. Here's the foreign link.

Prediction: Nassau, Bahamas, will be the next ACW historic site designated by the CWPT. ("Here's where the blockade runners drank their mint juleps.") Meanwhile, business trips to France and England are not cheap. Donate generously.

(And whenever CWPT feels it appropriate to tell you what your Chancellorsville donation bought, whether or not they now own Tricord's 140 acres, they'll get around to that. It's been kind of hectic lately.)