As hobbies go, privy hunting is not pretty. It's not like, say, remodeling a '55 Chevy. It takes a different searching soul to dedicate months to digging 8 feet down into century-old outhouses in search of ... what?See for yourself. It's magical.
Just a few multimilliondollar homes here and there on or about a fort in great shape. An exclusive island with a unique history. And a socially-responsible easement to preserve it just the way it was the day the last home was built. I think the conservationists will get behind that.
And did we mention that multimilliondollar home owners tend to not invite the general public to tromp around their historic estates? So much the better to preserve the unique charm of the site!
The Civil War Preservation Trust created this paradigm. This Fort Pemberton page was taken out of CWPT's playbook.
The preservation disaster continues. Unlike natural disasters, this one has leadership.
Piedmont seems destined to remain The Battle that Never Was so far as local officialdom is concerned, despite its importance as the fight that lost the Shenandoah for the Confederacy, and the site of some of the worst military violence ever to take place in the Valley.Note the reference to local officialdom. He's lucky the local editor did not edit out his local reference. I like the comment, though.
What is it that makes local officialdom consistently anti-local in its Civil War history? I tend to think it's a lust for framework, the need to simplify, and the siren song of "big picture." The Centennial views of the conflict are made to order for tour guides and tourism officials ... they just don't serve history, national or local.
I am reminded of local music reviewers whose universal model for success is not any kind of aesthetic criteria or even selfish enjoyment but rather commercial national success.
When this sort of writer interviews a musician, the entire discussion centers on matters of career progression. The Civil War history equivalent is the question of your local battle "making the big leagues" - as certified by others. More from our astute friend:
Fortunately, a bronze marker was placed at the site in the 1930s, and the accuracy of its location is a lucky break for today's visitor. Whoever placed it — a Civil War veteran perhaps — knew something that later historians would otherwise have had no way of knowing.Nor will they ever care to know - now that history models showbiz and "the man in the wraparound shades" calls the shots (as the Washington Post has referred to a the Pre-Eminent Civil War Historian of Our Times).
We would expect locals to inundate us with local history - more about the Battle of Piedmont than could fill a book. Those were old locals. They planted their lonely sign and moved on. The new locals found no reference to the battle in the CWPT's most endangered battlefields list, McPherson's Battle Cry, or Ken Burns' teleplay.
Grumble Jones vs. David Hunter (top, right). Worth a dozen new markers, in my book.
In putting together this year's Civil War Book News, I noticed more than a few things just a third of the way through the year's list. In no particular order, here are some impressions.
* Biographers are now debunking Nathan Bedford Forrest (even). (As Eric Wittenberg has also done on his blog.)
* Tom Desjardin spearheaded a downward revision of the importance of Little Round Top last year; the counterattack has begun.
* The Grant party in ACW publishing continues (see here and here).
* Mark Neely suggests that maybe party strife was not good for effective war management and that there might have been excesses in Republican patronage that harmed the cause. (Thuds indicate sound of Centennialists falling out of their chairs.)
* Little Phil, penned by blogger Eric Wittenberg, I've written about here already. Now I need to compare and contrast blogger Mark Grimsley's And Keep Moving On with a book by Civil War Talk Radio's Gerald Prokopowicz's All for the Regiment. The two books have some yin-yang going on the metathesis level.
* There are a number of new studies, fairly obscure, that touch on McClellan and therefore interest me: the long-out-of-print How we Elected Lincoln suggests an wisecrack - "Fraud?" Meanwhile, I can hardly wait to get hold of Hospital Transports: A Memoir of the Embarkation of the Sick and Wounded from the Peninsula of Virginia. Not to mention Veterinary Service during the American Civil War, which should enrich some of the excellent analysis previously supplied on this by Hagerman.
* Yankee spy Elizabeth Lew has gotten her story told.
* And I am always interested in the doings of Hans Trefousse, long may he prosper. T. Harry Williams imagined Lincoln-the-Conservative driven by the radicals into adopting their policies against his will (Lincoln and the Radicals); the Centennialists imagine Lincoln the pragmatist adopting radicalism as the rational outcome of the course of the war; Trefousse, bless him, envisions Lincoln as radical from the first manipulating conservatives to achieve what he knows needs to be done.
Lincoln, First Among Radicals, were it a book title, might encapsulate his views. Shake 'em up good, Hans.
Trefousse carefully crafts a clear picture of how his contemporaries measured Lincoln's great strengths - and shortcomings.
"Imagine after the Battle of Fredericksburg, during the Civil War, if Jefferson Davis had sent Gen. Robert E. Lee a telegram saying: "You've been out there for a year now. Why don't you come back to Richmond?"
There was no intention to make this a once-a-year update, but my tech hurdles this year have been remarkable.
I am, once again, humbled and gratified by the quantity and quality of the revisionism in ACW publishing. When I started Book News in 1998, our prospects as advanced readers seemed hopeless, the Centennial grip on the field being heavy and encompassing. The taste for nonsense was ovewhelming and publishers were hell-bent on seeking the lowest level of readership possible.
We have so much to be thankful for. I need to write about that in specific terms - and I will in the weeks ahead.
This has been a great year. Go to a bookstore and take advantage of it.
My hair-trigger judgement dumps this effort into the Centennialist minden heap, with one bit worth noting - author Walsh is a product/creation of ACW fiction, specifically Killer Angels. (See here for details.) He may have writings especially tasty to pulp fiction readers.
(Harry Turtledove’s successful series of Civil War fantasies may also have influenced this development.)
I think the Centennial interpretation of ACW history is very congenial to straight-ahead sci-fi of the Edgar Rice Burroughs type. This has to do with stylistic bias.
Scifi tends to be overwhelmingly conservative stylistically and culturally - favoring the most obvious forms of storytelling ... as is the case in all genre fiction. The principal work of the Centennialists has been to convert wild and wooly controversies - in their thousands - into a manageable mini-sets of predictable story elements.
I have long thought that ACW authors like William Davis – a Centennial stalwart - borrow heavily from pulp fiction literary techniques, Burroughs being a giant in pulp fiction. It may be worth a post to explore the direct borrowings and correlate these to practicing nonfiction hacks.
Meanwhile, the ray of hope here is that sci-fi fans, despite their hidebound literary tastes, view themselves as adventurous renegades with a tolerance for “weird.”
So the prospect of a sci-fi trade house going into ACW nonfiction encourages in us a certain amount of optimism. I hope some of the ACW revisionist authors dissatisfied with University Press outcomes will test the waters with new Tor submissions.
Are sci-fi/fantasy readers worth having in ACW nonfiction? Reading Blogfonte tells me "Yes, definitely."
Let’s see how “far out” Tor and its base may be willing to go.
There is increasing focus on fields like environmental history and women's history and social history and cliometrics, which is a sort of quantitative economic history with a specialized language. All of this makes what a lot of academic historians write either unintelligible or uninteresting to a broad lay audience. But it is what earns promotions, what earns tenure, what earns grants.
IM Jeremy Silman (the "Sil" in Siles Press) came to know and admire Benko in the 1990s, and conceived the notion of producing an ideal biography, one that would "demonstrate my own vision of how such a book should be presented." Incontrast to the common run of instant books and carelessly assembled rehashes, Silman's project took five years, and the results are impressive.
I am close to buying her book just to run down the notes, a malicious pleasure I treat myself to once in a great while. But what's holding me back is what bothers Eric Wittenberg – financially rewarding someone who has badly mistreated another author and then cruelly failed to make amends. St. Martins Press now reissuing her unrevised and disgraced work - with all plagiarized material intact - to piggyback on the expected success of Team of Rivals - sets a new low for sleaziness in publishing.
To buy or not to buy? But I'm getting ahead of my story.
For what interests me is that B&N did not have a Team of Rivals display. There was a biographies shelf, hello Tab Hunter, no Goodwin here, and there was a "new biographies" table prominently featuring work by Alan Alda, no less. The Civil War and Lincoln sections did not have it.
I could not find Team of Rivals. Maybe it sold out.
In the games section my eye stopped on a book almost as thick as Team of Rivals. It was Pal Benko's 2004 autobiography.
Pal Benko is a second tier grandmaster, an Hungarian immigrant. From 1958 on, he was "the other child prodigy" whose career developed in the shadow of Bobby Fischer's. My father and I used to see him (and Fischer) at the Manhattan Chess Club in the late 1950s. I studied his games as a youth. The name evokes an intense nostalgia for me.
Chess publishing is small business compared to Civil War bookselling. I don't know a trade house or university press that will touch chess. The field belongs to tiny commercial publishers.
Benko's autobiography is gorgeous – as fine a vestige of the publishing tradition as one could ask for. Great paper and binding; a vast number of pages; liberal distribution of photos throughout; and excellent jacket and book design. And there it was, prominently displayed in a huge retail outlet. As it has been, presumably, for the last 18 months.With the in-store discount, it was available for under $39.
I had a flashback to a Civil War title purchased there last week. At about $35, it was sold shrink-wrapped to prevent me opening and skimming the contents. It sported naked cardboard "hardcover" with a figleaf of cloth on the spine, cheap paper, skimpy index, and a great many necessary diagrams drawn smearily by the author himself with a broken-tipped felt marker. University imprint.
There is a lot more love and goodwill in chess publishing than in ACW publishing.
If the Goodwin affair teaches us how low this business can go, the Benko book gives our field a standard to imitate.
I have to take issue with the criticism of her (Goodwin's) use of the term "What's up?" in her apparently created Lincoln dialogue. I believe the term was in vogue at the time, and recall its use by Francis Donaldson of the 118th PA (I think) in his letters published as "Inside the Army of the Potomac". Sometimes it's hard to believe that we did not create all the slang and cuss used today in the last 50 years.
After the long months of intense strain, of keying themselves up to the daily mortal danger, of thinking always in terms of war and the enemy, the abrupt release from it all was physical and psychological agony. Some suffered a total nervous collapse. Some, of a steadier temperament, began to hope they would someday return to home and the embrace of loved ones. Some could think only of the crude little crosses that marked the graves of their comrades. Some fell into an exhausted sleep. All were bewildered by the sudden meaninglessness of their existence as soldiers - and through their teeming memories paraded that swiftly moving cavalcade of Cantigny, Soissons, St. Mihiel, the Meuse-Argonne and Sedan. What was to come next? They did not know - and hardly cared. Their minds were numbed by the shock of peace. The past consumed their whole consciousness. The present did not exist-and the future was inconceivable."
This is one more opportunity to develop something else that gives people a reason to come to Gettysburg and have a different kind of experience.Different from history. Again:
This town folds up in the winter. This might bring in money. There're going to be casinos in Pennsylvania. Why not here?Why not indeed? The question bypasses history to ask: aside from historical considerations, honoring the dead, reverencing a special place, why not multipurpose?
And guess what: the state and federal administrators of battlefields - multipurposing fanatics, every one - should be helpless before this question. Their operating principles have made the casino scenario normal and ethical. They have disarmed the truly preservation-minded for decades. The only logical grounds a state or federal parks administrator can have for objecting to a redlight district, casino, or animal rendering plant at Gettysburg is that of a social calculation: attendance levels and "appropriateness".
Likewise, Civil War Preservation Trust seems confused in condemning the casino, being more than happy to multipurpose battlefields by partnering with suchlike as wildlife groups and farmland preservation outfits to buy an easement on the cheap instead of own the land, an easement that keeps people off the land and out of history's way. CWPT has done so much to hybridize battlefield use that it seems weird they would suddenly get single-purpose religion in Gettysburg. Not that there is a lot of religion in that town:
Gettysburg Borough Council President Ted Streeter said he was neutral on the dispute, but he neatly summed up the concern that everyone shares, regardless of their point of view.Outrage. I know where mine is every time bird-watchers are invited to join CWPT in slapping restrictive covenants on hallowed ground to keep out the relatives of the fallen. The history minded. The reverent. Out. Rage.
Noting that the casino would be outside the boundaries of the battlefield, he said: "How far does the radius of `hallowed ground' extend? If the radius extends that far, it goes through Wal-Mart, Sheetz and the liquor store. Where was our outrage when those started?"
We have set ourselves up for a casino by donating to such as CWPT and applauding their allocation of our funds to multipurposing; we delight in the takeover of private battlefield land by public park administrations for multipurposing.
A casino at Gettysburg is what exactly what we deserve. Not what the dead deserve, no, but what we have earned for them - the most perfect paycheck for our corrupt and incompetent battlefield stewardship. The destruction continues, fueled by our misguided preservation dollars, by ill-conceived preservationist planning, and by that highest of public use principles, multipurposing.
This particular park when founded was an emblem of a certain generation. The casino shall be the emblem of our generation. We will be known for what we really were, not by the lofty names we "preservationists" called ourselves.
[This Bloomberg columnist disagrees and has a few kinder words for CWPT's Gettysburg posture.]
"Mister, can you break a 15-cent bill?"
"Sorry son, I don't normally carry that much money around."
Historiography is apparently like dropped coffee, splashing all sorts of surfaces in every direction. This bill was canceled for the best of historiographic reasons: its subjects weren't history yet.
Back in the day when McPherson revived the Centennial interpretation of the ACW, when Sears developed vaudeville characters to broaden sales and garner acclaim, Edward Hagerman "got" the Civil War - at least the military science part of it.
So it seemed to me while ingesting reams of pop culture on my mass transit daily reading back then.
Hagerman laid it out in a 1988 tome, The American Civil War and the Origin of Modern Warfare. I don't want to slight the neat things happening in publishing right now - I want to tell you about some of them this week - but let me indulge my nostalgia for Hagerman just now. Here's a taste:
EH: McClellan, ironically, was dismissed for inactivity ... while leading over 100,000 men in one of the most impressive strategic movements of the war.
DR: McClellan's second Richmond campaign not only has a clever underlying idea - separate the pieces of Lee's army by plugging the gaps in the Shenandoah range - it has good execution with a launch date (as Rafuse points out) keyed to the height of the Potomac waters. Once McClellan starts, Lee - lacking bridging - cannot get behind him, nor can he stop McClellan from isolating Jackson west of the mountains while the AoP bears down on Longstreet who is meandering between the mountains and Richmond. There are accounts of Longstreet, isolated, being shelled as the relief letter is delivered to McClellan - the pitch-perfect anticlimax to Richmond II. Surprising to see people as independent and capable as Jones and Hattaway rotely repeating Lincoln's strategic stuffandpuff about the arc of the chord being the road to Richmond - call that as-the-crow flies strategy. Hagerman got it right, though.
EH: McClellan was the first Union field commander of a mass army to filter this heritage of organizational theory and doctrine through the "fog" of mid-nineteenth century transition from traditional to modern warfare. He was the first to feel the friction of mass armies, industrial technology, and the restructuring of American institutional and intellectual culture complicated by political and geographical factors.
DR: GBM was uniquely qualified for this. As a student of European (especially Russian) military doctrines, as a visitor to the battlefields where European doctrines were applied, McClellan was also an outstanding pupil of military theorist D.H. Mahan; and he was a railroad innovator who developed the country's first transmodal railroad shipping system (between Chicago and New Orleans). As for political and intellectual complications, his whole family deserted the Whigs en masse during the party's radicalization.
There is (sadly) no deep organizational/doctrinal study of the Civil War; these kinds of books tend to be shallow or theoretically underdeveloped and run off the rails into applied tactics at the first opportunity. Hagerman could have done it right but his space is limited and his concerns are much broader.
EH: Yet one must also take into account the internal consistency of his military logic. [...] The failure of others in similar or more favorable circumstances tends to support McClellan's military if not his political judgement. [...] Moving with smaller armies than McClellan, Lee was unable to sustain maneuver or maintain his army in the field, or destroy an army following a tactical victory. [...] The course of early campaigning reinforced what McClellan ... had anticipated from the beginning: maneuver was an organizational monster.
DR: Moving on from Mac...
EH: Lee at least partially overcame the problem of the increased number of wagons needed to forage when he anticipated the organization for foraging that Sherman would develop ... [Lee rejected Longstreet's suggestion at Gettysburg because] the risks of maneuver led Lee to seek what he had come to reject: tactical victory by frontal assault.
If Buell refused to attack him within a very few days, Bragg had no alternative but to seek subsistence. Coming within range of the Confederate Army, Buell entrenched. He refused to rise to Bragg's bait ... His [Buell's] 110-mile march from Nashville had taken only fourteen days, a fairly impressive average of eight miles a day for so large an army foraging with such limite transportation ... Buell was learning the logistical art of extending limited field transportation through the combination of widespread foraging and rapid movement.
[Rosecrans began Tullahoma] with an extraordinary standard that may have exceeded sixty-nine or seventy wagons per 1,000 men. Rosecrans also moved 45,000 animals, the highest proportion of animals to men of any campaign in the war. [...] Rosecrans' success and the speed of his movement make a case for the virtues of careful preparation and an abnormal transportation standard ... Rosecrans' speed of movement was remarkable, considering that he had to cope with torrential rains... This rate exceeds Sherman's average of between 12 and 15 miles per day in his raid to Savannah...
The priority Grant accorded entrenching equipment in the Union supply trains reflected the increased respect for hasty entrenchment... In preparation for the 1864 campaign, Grant ordered one-half the wagons carrying entrenching tools placed at the head of the supply column of the leading division of each corps.
Good stuff. Break's over, Mr. Hagerman, get back to work.
Is this is a publishing house that thinks there's still plenty of money to be made in that old time (1961-1965) religion? Or is this the fruit of an acquisitions editor who does not know which end is up?
For someone in my position, even a book that sells poorly still gets me a (usually decent) merit raise in salary. In fact, from a purely financial standpoint that's the main reason for a professor to write books in the first place. The only time a professor is likely to make more money from royalties than raises is when she hits the jackpot on a major college textbook.I would guess that makes for a higher manuscript acceptance hurdle, since the editor reviewing the proposed book has some lingering suspicions in mind.
Mark was reflecting on Eric Wittenberg's comments about University Presses. Let me interleave some comments of my own.
Eric says: The advantage of a university press is that they don’t have to make a profit.
Comment: I think they do: professors used to complain a decade or so ago, that their university presses are more interested in commercially viable stuff than the school's monographs. I think the business model is just different from a trade house. There is a low first press run, keeping expenses down, there is a minimal marketing budget, and there is a hope that the books will become assigned reading - or be embraced by specialists. At a convention of the national organization of political scientists, I heard the director of LSU Press say that Volume I of Eric Voegelin's Order and History (a $45 hardback selling around 1980) had done quite well for them at sales of 1,800 plus copies. (Time frame: middle late nineties. Voegelin publishing is now at University of Missouri Press.)
This sets up explanatory for Eric's main beef:
Eric: ...they can get away with charging absolutely outrageous prices for things.
Comment: It seems to me that there is a cost-per-unit calculation at work in which the low press run is driving up unit prices. This is a hunch: I think in trade presses, some book costs are written off as overhead and in academic houses the full cost is account for in unit pricing. There is also a hope that a limited market of specialists will say "must buy."
Eric: ... although they can charge ridiculous prices, the university presses often cut corners in ways that detract from the overall quality of a book.
Comment: I have been humiliated on the author's behalf reading Oxford University Press offerings in which the author has been compelled to freehand his own battle diagrams using a blunt (damaged) marker.
Eric: ... university presses can take an unreasonably long time to get stuff published. LSU published one of my books in 2002. I submitted the manuscript in 1999. For the record, it took them nearly THREE years to get the book out.
Comment: I'll bet the politics around a university press's release schedule are ferocious. Up to a third of those I monitor will not even have released their catalogs at the start of the season covered by that seasonal catalog!
Eric: Kent State’s marketing efforts are stunningly lame.
Comment: I have never, ever seen a copy of Tom Rowland's George B. McClellan and Civil War History on a bookshelf in any store. I tried to buy the entire press run from them in case they had marked them for pulping or remaindering and the marketing department said, no worries, it may be slightly discounted at worst. At the time, I think they were having a catalog sale and it was 15% off list. So there's an upside: as an author you have years to gin up demand!
I was disconcerted but refreshed by Eric's and Mark's willingness to name names. (Grimsley's criticism of the University Press of Nebraska is here.)
p.s. Don't miss the comments section on both posts.
I see that Civil War Preservation Trust, preparing a story of the Battle of Chancelorsville, has invited National History Inc. to create an "interpretation" of the battlefield.
National History Inc. has resolved "to hear from residents about how to tell the story about what happened along a creek called Lick Run west of Chancellor Elementary School."
Perfect. At this rate even Ken Burns will be out of a job soon.
He is sponsored by something called the Vertical Immersion Program - McPherson is all horizontal immersion to me - and where Tennessee native Ayers has lately and publicly been applying purgatives to McPherson fans, the University of Tennessee can still muster a statement like, "James McPherson is the most prominent Civil War scholar of the past 30 years."
Unless I miscounted, that would be the most prominent since 1975. If memory serves, McPherson was an obscure race relations historian in 1975 with little familiarity with the Civil War.
The habit of praising McPherson extravagantly has passed beyond the bounds of reason, record, or history, or even decorum.
Not that I am an expert on decorum. But really.
As I pick myself off the floor, Goodwin herself decks me with this roundhouse punch:
After discovering additional passages [in her Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys) that closely paralleled the original sources, Goodwin ordered the book removed from stores and promised a new edition, which has yet to be written. "I just got right back to this (the Lincoln book), which was more important," says Goodwin ...Meanwhile, meanwhile,
Meanwhile, new paperback copies of The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys [unrevised edition filled with "borrowings"] remain on sale, not through the book's original publisher, Simon & Schuster, but through St. Martin's Press. [...] Goodwin said that she knew nothing about the St. Martin's edition until earlier this month, after The Boston Globe noted its availability. Simon & Schuster also expressed surprise.Surprise, surprise. Would she have been surprised if the royalty checks told the story instead of the Boston media? Get this:
John Murphy, a spokesman for St. Martin's, said Thursday that the publisher was hoping to resolve the matter. "We're looking into the history of it," he said.From beneath his rock.
Oh, but we're here for the reviews. Christian Science Monitor: "Goodwin isn't a prose stylist, and she could have included less play-by-play and more color commentary."
If she's no analyst and not much of a prose stylist, what the dickens is this? New York Daily News:
Goodwin's story of his great, troubled, triumphant life is a star-spangled, high-stepping, hat-waving, bugle-blowing winner.Which is what we want from history, I suppose.