My own candidate for the Lincoln Prize

If it's ever reprinted, I would enjoy seeing a certain book submitted to the Lincoln Prize committee. Their reaction to this passage, especially, would be delicious to observe:
The intra-cabinet feuding was beyond Lincoln's power to prevent, but he had let it go on much too long. Further, his willingness to let cabinet officers run their departments almost without supervision, except for the war office, had permitted vexatiously contradictory and independtent policies to go on at the same time. Though Stanton and Seward had learned better, Lincoln's slipshod ways encouraged Chase and Blair to assume viceregal attitudes when it pleased them and their ambitions to do so. As an administrator, Lincoln had a long way to go to excellence [in early 1863] and he never tried very hard to get there.
From Thomas and Hyman, Stanton: the Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War (Knopf, 1962). Nice antidote to the Goodwinian nonsense circulating just now.

Coming soon

A têtê-a têtê with Civil War Preservation is shaping up. They seem like very nice people.

Dear Carol Bundy:

Welcome to nonfiction writing! It must be quite a transition from filmmaking to compiling biographies.

You have done very well for yourself, landing a major book contract with a big trade house (FSG), your subject being an obscure Civil War officer who briefly served as McClellan's ADC.

There is no Irvin McDowell biography yet, but we at least have one of Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., thanks to yourself and your publisher. And why not?!

Now, if I could give a few little tips.

As your subject is connected to George B. McClellan, it would be good to know something about General McClellan. For instance, you might want to correct the next edition of your work so that it does not say that Lowell's fellow aide Arthur McClellan was the general's nephew. Arthur was his brother.

You also have to be alert for footnote readers, a sly bunch, quick to argue, quick to find fault. When you make a statement like this, it sends the footnote readers scurrying: "As part of his [McClellan's] efforts to improve morale and to gain publicity, he frequently staged grand reviews, and the army was often paraded through Washington."

The footnote reader is intrigued by the possibility that you have a source for McClellan trying to gain publicity - that would be a fine catch for a researcher. This kind of reader is also challenged by the comment "frequently" set next to grand reviews as well as the assertion "often paraded through Washington."

Your humble and ignorant correspondent is wracking his brain for the exact number of grand reviews and is coming up with two, only one of which was staged in Washington. In despair of his own ignorance, he turns to your endnote for clarification, where he sees, "For more information on General McClellan, see Stephen W. Sears..."

Was that an "appeal to authority" in lieu of data? Hmmm. You know the learned genlemen who accepted your nomination for this year's Lincoln Prize may not approve of that kind of thing.

They may also be surprised, if they ever read your book, to see that Salmon Chase was a senator from Pennsylvania.

I know Goodwin beat you for the prize this year, I hope that Chase thing didn't do it.

I hope, also, that it wasn't your loose, pop-history language that gave the game to Doris. When you say that David Hunter was "an early convert to the use of black troops" it makes it sound as if Hunter bought in to someone else's earlier idea for USCT regiments. I think Hunter could reasonably be called the source of the idea, Carol.

And Carol, note this: Hunter armed slaves - he was not smoking a cigar in his study when he came up with a futuristic concept for USCT regiments. No, Hunter armed runaway slaves for combat operations against the CSA as federal volunteers in the early war. Does that seem like an interesting point to you? You see how that might add a little more juice to your story than He was an early conver to the idea that... ?

No? Oh well, then there's no use trotting out all these other points I've made out.

Carol, you've lost the Lincoln Prize but you are utterly and totally Pulitzer worthy, the Pulitzers being what they are nowadays.

Your pained but faithful reader,



Who's the bravest Civil War author of them all?

The one who keeps going back to Iraq to file stories while embedded with units....

Richard F. Miller, author of Harvard's Civil War begins podcasting from the front in a few weeks.

Stay tuned.

Back at lunchtime

See you then.


Civil War Preservation Trust - secrecy and publicity

As we approach the Feb. 28 date for the release of Civil War Preservation Trust's highly idiosyncratic endangered battlefields list and press conference, it dismays me to say that the essayist and TV personality Ben Stein will be used to spark interest in this year's event. He should know better.

Ben does a money show. I have a little money trick I could teach him. I go to the website of any charity appealing to me for money and I hunt down financials. If there are no financials, I don't consider donating.

Civil War Preservation Trust has never posted its financials but at least up to a couple of years ago, it had a link on its home page to Charity Navigator. By digging around Charity Navigator, you could eventually find links to their tax filings.

I can't find the tax filings in Charity Navigator any more. And CWPT has removed the link to Charity Navigator from its home page. (I notice that Charity Navigator downgraded CWPT to three stars. Coincidence?)

One thing, the Navigator is still good for is charting the disparity between income and outflow. Look at the revenue/expenses trend chart on this page. CWPT is saving more than $3 million a year from its intake; it was sitting on $16 million in assets in 2002 and the savings keep accumulating. My feeling is that the nonprofit is currently clutching $20 mln - $25 mln in unspent donations.

When the government runs a surplus, we define that as overtaxing. How do we define this? As misfeasance? Underperformance? Organizational dysfunction?

For every dollar you donate to CWPT, some 30 cents seems to go into a bank vault. Forever.

On February 28, CWPT will moan and groan about properties it could buy in a heartbeat. After your press conference, go out and buy some land, skinflints.

Tell, 'em how Ben, 'cause they don't have much experience there.

Morris Island - "maritime habitat"

As is their wont, Civil War Preservation Trust has been delighted to turn over the future of Morris Island to non-Civil War interests. The Trust for Public Land will lead in the next phase of the financial transactions designed to "save" that place.

Their Morris Island web site scares the hell out of me: its history page generously refers to the ACW in one of seven paragraphs. I see a bird sanctuary in Morris Island's future.

The Charleston Post and Courier, which knows how to apportion credit correctly, has named Bobby Ginn the hero of this idiotic drama, brought on, I hasten to add, by the unwillingness of CWPT to pay for the land. Not only is Ginn taking a $2 million loss in selling the tract to the Trust for Public Land, he is going to spend an additional $500,000 of his own "to plan and provide for public access." $2.5 million while CWPT sits on a 2004 surplus of $3 million in unspent donations and dues.

Mr. Ginn, if you do not stipulate public access in your sale to the naturalists who run the Trust, the public access facilities you build will be shut down by the new owners. We, in the Civil War community are depending on you to look out for our interests; we have no one else in position to make stipulations in this sale.

The Post and Courier is careful to point out to Charleston that "the island provides valuable maritime habitat in a rapidly developing metropolitan area."

Lovely. Sinking. Feeling.

My gripes with CWPT

There are some who believe I have a "personal" thing against Civil War Preservation Trust. Let me lay out my problems with the organization, so that I can link to this post the next time the issue arises. CWPT:

Keeps financials offline.

Keeps decisionmaking offline.

Keeps "endanged" site ranking methodology offline.

Avoids owning battlefields.

Defines land as "saved" which no tourist can ever visit.

Enters situations in confrontational mode.

Claims victories in which it has, at best, a supporting role.

Builds assets from dues and donations (should spend money, not build assets).

Avoids buying land; buys cheaper easements with partners opposed to tourism.
NEWS | Restored Civil War flags on display * Nashville monument pays tribute to black soldiers' efforts in Civil War * Wheeling receptive to being home of National Civil War memorial


"Mr. Smith goes to Washington"

That is the title of an analysis of Smith's sudden departure from Illinois. Highlights:

* The museum was caught flat footed. They think they'll need six months to find a replacement.

* Smith has no consulting contracts with the Lincoln Library or Museum, the usual sign of an amicable separation.

* He has no job in hand; the George Mason business is a fellowship that pays $30,000 per year; he is leaving behind about $120,000 per year (not $300,000 as the article implies). ["Honey, pack your bags! We're going to live in D.C. on $30,000 per year!"]

Hat tip to the friendly reader who sent in this interesting link.


Smith out

Grant scholar Brooks Simpson, editor of the Great Campaigns Series, kindly tipped me on a missed story: Richard Norton Smith (right) is on his way out of the Lincoln Library and Museum.

Smith tends not to stay too long in these posts. He is off to George Mason, almost within arm's reach (choking distance?).

I don't think Smith was out front enough - that's very subjective but I don't think if I were the governor, I would consider Smith as having delivered to my project a sufficient number of media darling bonus points. A gut feeling.

Smith goes out with the kind of made-for-the-TV observation that gets under my skin:
Smith said his favorite memory from the museum was the time he watched a black family looking at statues of Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, with the mother telling her children about the famous abolitionists. Inspiring people to talk about history from a personal viewpoint instead of just listening to the experts is exactly what the museum should be doing, he said. "It's not just our history," Smith said. "It's your history."
Oh man.

I'm picturing a nightmare scenario: "Hey! Hey you people over there!" [Big, loud, tactless guy plants himself in front of a mother.] "It's not just our history," [thumps chest] "It's your history" [poking woman with index finger; children start to cry].

Cultural facilities can be very attractive as patronage dumps - Smith's job was to be the honest outside face of this Illinois project through launch phase. His job is done. Let the games begin.
NEWS | Slavery and Civil War Museum sponsors free movie marathon * Franklin controversy over country club simmers on * New book explores Confederate emancipation policies


Morris Island - where credit is due

You stop doing the news feature on a blog like this and the news creeps up on you.

Morris Island has been spared the latest development attempt. The news is here, and some analysis is here.

I have been in many a civic coalition: I'm in a civic struggle right now, as you read this. Civic organizations can expend masses of energy running down the wrong road and then avoid confronting the mistakes of the campaign just concluded. The way to do this is pass out the kudos and share the good feelings.

The Morris Island campaign, seen from this distance, does not encourage me.

The Morris Island Coalition spokesman is full of praise for Civil War Preservation Trust:

I told their board of trustees then that I truly felt that the Morris Island Coalition would not have succeeded in helping to preserve the island had it not been for the role played by the Civil War Preservation Trust. Their star glows brightest of all.
Note the apportioning of credit here: the Coalition succeeded and CWPT was key to the Coalition succeeding. And yet the same author makes the interesting observation that

Mayor Riley volunteered to contact Bobby Ginn and ask him to allow the island to be purchased by the preservation community. To his immense credit, Mr. Ginn readily agreed...
Get this, my friends: Riley steps in, calls on a friendship, and all this monumental sturm and drang ceases instantly. Riley asks a developer with an option to buy the property to exercise the option and sell the land to preservationists at a discount. The developer agrees! Crisis finished without reference to the Coalition and all its efforts.

And CWPT gets the credit of being key to the Coalition's success. I love it.

May I point out, in all humility, that the sale price of this place, a price that was so onerous as to generate a crisis, could have been paid at the outset, in a trice, by CWPT? Read their financials online; look at their assets. The cost of Morris Island matches hardly a quarter of their assets, which they could have mortgaged and paid off later out of dues or contributions.

We had a Morris Island crisis because of the way CWPT chooses to do the business of preservation.

Let that sink in.

Joe Riley stepped in after endless commotion and found a buyer less parsimonious than CWPT. Ginn will pay $6 million for the land and sell it for $4.5 million. Ginn will take the loss for Civil War buffs. And we now face a hugely complex disposition phase that could keep me and you off the ground.

All because CWPT did not want to lay out the asking price, own the island privately, and welcome tourists on terms friendly to battlefield visitors.

The Morris Island Coalition has done hard work - did it fight the battle in the right places? Did it enlist the right allies? Not if it all came down to Riley. Well, then, any port in a storm. But spare us the back patting.

I think I made it clear in this blog that the very first stop in this controversy should have been Riley's office, not CWPT's. I also lambasted CWPT for antagonizing the seller, just as they outraged the owner of Mullins Farm in Chancellorsville, endangering that site.

If CWPT's participation ultimately mobilized Riley, great. But this deal was done by a seasoned politician doing what seasoned politicians do best: impose on friendships and ask for favors. Simple stuff. Effective.

The real value begins now. Put the champagne away, guys, because saving Morris Island does not just mean saving it from housing it also means saving it for Civil War tourism.

If you can pull that off, I'll name my next child Morris Island Coalition.

(See also my Morris Island: Joe Riley bestirs himself and Morris Island - let's take heart)

The SCV fracas

This columnist offers a summary of the roiling internal politics of the SCV.
NEWS | Library debates Lincoln print options * Neglected African-American cemetery for veterans may be restored * ‘CSA’ movie heads for theaters


"The Friendly One"

I have the bad habit of picking out an emblematic tendency in some specific writing and then making the author the emblem of that tendency.

This has happened a couple of times with gentlemanly author Michael Aubrecht, who not only runs a conventional website but also a blog (50-50 baseball and Civil War).

I had recently groaned about book review editors letting reviewers run long content descriptions, using one of his reviews as an example. Michael says he was interpreting his editor's guidance correctly. A good rebuttal to my remarks appears here.

It's a new year and I am turning a new leaf; some of you have already noticed it, no doubt. Gratuitous complaints? Insulting insinuations? Out with the old.

When people ask of Civil War blogs, "Which one is Dimitri's," I want the answer to be, "The friendly one!"

p.s. People wanting to complain about my writings have been using the comments section of Eric's and Kevin's blogs to do so (perhaps other people's blogs also). You can complain to me directly at rotobo-x at mailcity dot com.

Blind man and the elephant

A minister reviews two pop histories about Lincoln and finds AL to be a "modern man" full of "Bible-based faith."

Oh, the human condition.
NEWS | CWPT to release endangered list Feb. 28 * Memories of Lincoln shared at annual dinner * Owner: Confederate flag is about home, family


Doris and me

Some net entrepreneurs have rigged up a site that makes it look like Doris Kearns Goodwin is blogging. And my link is next to her smiling face!

As the Instapundit likes to say, "Heh."

In other DKG news, it seems she has won the 2005 Lincoln Prize ... hat tip to Brian Dirck.

Brian notes:
In emails and casual conversation I have heard the opinion repeatedly expressed by my colleagues that Team of Rivals is an overrated disappointment with no original ideas (pretty much my reaction too, I'll admit). The general public, on the other hand, seems to have been much more enthusiastic about Goodwin's achievement, citing the book's storytelling qualities and general entertainment value.
Once I go through her sales figures for this book I hope you'll agree with me that the public enthusiasm is not really there. Media enthusiasm, maybe.

One of the prizegivers gave me a little heartburn with this: "This is a once-in-a-generation scholarly achievement that has drawn hundreds of thousands of new readers into history's greatest story."

If you read three books in your lifetime, this might be once-in-a-generation stuff.

Gabor Boritt, who is the prime mover behind the prize was more realistic:
This prestigious award was originally and specifically designed to honor signal accomplishments in the field that are "aimed at the literate general public." This year's striking achievement by Doris Kearns Goodwin gives us the welcome opportunity to highlight this important aspect of the Lincoln Prize.
I can endorse Goodwin's award on that basis.

Up to a point. If you want masses of fiction readers stomping about your nonfiction area of interest thinking that history is dramaturgy, the prize is designed to help do that. If you want readers impatient with a nuanced description of a controversy, you've got it. If you want publishers flooding our space with copycat stuff even worse than a Goodwin original, this prize is for you.

One does get tired of these talespinners being labeled scholars, however. A real scholar is coughing blood while reading some choice pop history passages.

p.s. Kevin has more on this.

p.p.s. Brian notes that the Spielberg movie based on this book has been placed on indefinite hiatus. Book sales softness, methinks.

Book sales in 2005

I went through Ingram's 2005 sales figures for a few dozen indicative titles over the weekend. I have to say ACW sales ranged from "subdued" to "miserable." Even Sears and McPherson look spent to me.

Don't know if "the effect" will take hold sooner or later. "The effect" would be sales forces rejecting ACW titles suggested by editors. That translates into higher ms rejection rates. That should translate into more good publishing on demand or digital books, but at this stage in the evolution of ACW publishing doesn't.

So, low sales means fewer titles.

Illinois launches ACW database

"The revamped research tool, available at www.ilsos.gov/genealogy, replaces large, bulky ledger books that could only be accessed at the state archives building in Springfield."
NEWS | Civil War museum winning its fight to survive * Irish Brigade's banner on sale in UK * Study finds similarities in vets of the Civil War and Vietnam


Memo to Mitch

I myself adore "autodidactic cranks."
What's not to love?


Contingency and Civil War History


DR: In Civil War history, the author of a narrative allows for some contingency in a work – it spices the narrative – but otherwise strictly rations the stuff. This creates inconsistency – swaths of inevitability are peppered with small spots of opportunity.

SŽ: History can always be read as a process governed by laws; as a meaningful succession of stages; however, insofar as we are its agents, embedded, caught in the process, the situation appears – at least during turning points “when something is happening” – open, undecidable…

DR: You may as well be a Civil War author if your view of history is going to feature an ocean of process and some islands of agency. If contingency is present, it is present in all things at all times. The question seems to me to be how do we narrate that?

SŽ: It is impossible for us to occupy a neutral position of pure metalanguage from which we could overview all "the possible worlds."

DR: But I think derivatives traders and quants try to do that every day – once you get beyond mere stocks and bonds, you enter a world where the metalanguage of mathematics is operated on through advanced contingency modeling – Monte Carlo systems, so-called Historical systems, even Value at Risk. These models are flawed but their users are immersed in myriad alternative worlds and they find ways to verbally describe those shadowy realities.

: Since what goes on now is the result of radically contingent acts, the only way to define our actual world properly is to include in its definition the negation of the "possible worlds" contained in its position – our lost opportunities are part of what we are …

DR: Of course, and the trader’s end-of-day reflections embrace that negative reality. So why would you to say it is impossible for historians to occupy a neutral position of pure metalanguage from which they could overview all the possible worlds?

SŽ: The point is not that "we will never learn what opportunities we lost," but rather that we will never really know what we have got. Since the position of a neutral observer is not accessible to us, we don’t know which this world is … we cannot ever actually determine the world we live in, we don’t know in which of the "possible worlds" we actually live.

DR: In his dinner reverie, the trader reflects on the world he chose to inhabit, the interplay of events and choices that shaped a world that froze at the closing bell, and he is either celebrating or moping. It seems you have creates a paradox to help yourself, a Leninist, escape the obligations of Leninist historicism – the dialectic, periodism, the other determinisms.

SŽ: This perception of our reality as only one of the possible outcomes of an ‘open’ situation, the notion that other possible outcomes continue to haunt our ‘true’ reality, conferring on it an extreme fragility and contingency, is by no means alien to Marxism. Indeed, the felt urgency of the revolutionary act relies on it.

DR: Then there should be communist "what if" narratives.

: Why is the flourishing genre of "what if?" histories the preserve of conservative historians?

DR: Because narrative history is a culturally conservative form; because contingency is structurally "right wing" – it is about agency, responsibility, decisions, and individuals; and since all historical outcomes represent "the march of progress" as we conceive it, that makes the what-if writer a challenger to the foundations of outcomes that are, as a minimum, linearly progressive.

: The conservative sympathies of the "what if?" volumes become clear as soon as you look at their contents pages. The topics tend to concern how much better history would have been if some revolutionary or 'radical' event had been avoided (if Charles I had won the Civil War; if the English had won the war against the American colonies; if the Confederacy had won the American Civil War; if Germany had won the Great War) or, less often, how much worse history would have been if it had taken a more progressive turn.

DR: Progressive speculation, on the other hand, will tend towards historicism. Less "what if" and more "what for." What would be a counter example?

: Lenin thrown into an OPEN situation. Are we, within our late capitalist closure of the "end of history," still able to experience the shattering impact of such an authentic historical openness?

DR: This "openness" is a literary construct called the "turning point". It does not embrace your "extreme fragility and contingency". It's not historical.

SŽ: There is a much deeper commitment to alternative histories in the radical Marxist view. For a radical Marxist, the actual history that we live is itself the realisation of an alternative history: we have to live in it because, in the past, we failed to seize the moment.

DR: So did Lenin seize a moment, or did Lenin arrive at a point in a cascading stream of contingencies?

: He had understood that the opportunity was provided by a unique combination of circumstances: if the moment wasn’t seized, the chance would be forfeited, perhaps for decades. Lenin was entertaining an alternative scenario: what if we don’t act now? It was precisely his awareness of the catastrophic consequences of not acting that impelled him to act.

DR: This seems to resolve history into unique "turning points" instead of resolving turning points into moments within cascading historical contingency. It points to a literary, not an historical "what if."

: The "what if?" dimension goes to the core of the Marxist revolutionary project.

[Žižek quotes from "Lenin Shot at Finland Station," London Review of Books 18 Aug 2005; "All’s Well That Ends Well?" from For they know not what they do; and from "Repeating Lenin" at lacan.com.]

Military reform - still needed

One of the signals of illness in our nation's current military - aside from its Civil War outlook - is in the proliferation of specialist roles and their elaboration not just into permanent functions, but into novel, permanent, and unnecessary organizations.

In a healthy organization, mission focus results in a compact organization with few internal divisions. Specialist units may exist - they tend to be resented and re-evaluated often - but they get infill by detailing people from the organization's core. Army fliers were once assigned from other branches (infantry, artillery, armor). Flying was not "core." And some fliers I recall as being grumpy about separation from from their mealtickets. Focus.

Call the doctor when organizations reach outside their missions or when organizations try to do each others' work.

Well, the Air Force is now forming its own combat infantry units. Not a rejiggering of sentries and base security this, nor another commando outfit ... we're talking about permanent organizations of ordinary light infantry combat units, hundreds of men strong, designed to take the war to enemy ground units, "to close with and destroy the enemy."

The Queen of Battle dons blue.

If history offers a guide, you next aggregate these demi battalions into Luftwaffe field divisions.

This is approaching the medical definition of cancer.

Griffith vs. Nosworthy

Mitch Hagmaier has been comparing Nosworthy's Bloody Crucible of Courage to Paddy Griffith's Battle Tactics of the Civil War and is irritated by Griffith.

I read Griffith as I would essays or blogs. It's more about the point of view. For example on Vietnam: "The US forces in Vietnam (contrary to common perceptions) were too few to do the job properly, and often lacked sufficient firepower where it mattered. In jungle terrain light US company-sized units often found themselves isolated, outnumbered and outgunned."

One Griffith factoid I treasure: the density of enemy combatants (people per yard) facing Meade and Grant at Petersburg was nowhere near the density facing McClellan on the Warwick line.

Getting into the act

For crying out loud.Instapundit is now recording web interviews with Civil War authors.
Glenn and Helen are no threat to Gerald Prokopowicz, as you'll hear, but they have a good guest in James Swanson who argues the obvious but interesting point that Booth  staged Lincoln's assasination as great theatre.


The Civil War as entertainment

I love Kevin Levin's meme, Civil War as Entertainment. I especially like the sentiment - live the sentiment - We are acting irresponsibly if we turn these men into overly simplistic forms of entertainment.

The problem is in the formulation of the meme: if I resolve to delve deeply into the lives of ACW figures, I am still entertaining myself on some level. It's the quality of the entertainment I suppose. The oft-told tale tends towards a Punch and Judy show.

I tend to disagree with Kevin's idea that "Their lives revolved and were interwoven with larger issues having to do with issues of national identity." I think that's adding a literary layer on top of the historical layer - which is alright but ultimately a higher form of entertainment. Those folks being caught up in patterns we identify after the fact is less interesting to me than the personal drama of life in war; life, with all its difficulties, loves lost and won, birth and death, success and failure, all the strengths and weaknesses of a single personality now heightened to the ultimate degree.

Lately, it's been getting harder and harder to unwrap our wars as an historical exercise. The abundance of open Civil War sources, however, makes it an ideal field for study of this type.

Kevin and I would probably agree that as Civil War readers we obligate ourselves (unlike other Americans) to come to terms personally with the leading figures of that time. Part of that means evaluating their context and their choices. I avoid writing about certain Southern leaders in this blog because I have such difficulty relating to them.

I'm starting to read a big Jefferson Davis biography. This is the beginning of a long road - I will never get a decent grip on Davis as subject - not without years of effort. But I want to learn to sympathize with him on some level more than I do now, and that's something I can effect sooner rather than later. When that happens, I will be able to experience his war as a complex personal drama.

Which is a kind of entertainment, unless it leads to wisdom.

Way, way off topic

I have started an arts-related activism blog with Trenton's Tricia Fagan, and others, to try to stop the condo-ization of a downtown art school in Trenton, NJ. If that's your cup of tea, I'll be posting there at least through May. I don't think this blog will suffer.

Comments on the command crisis timeline

Thanks to readers for expressing their enjoyment of the command crisis timeline post, especially Eric Wittenberg and Brian Downey. And Will Keene actually went through the OR - I suspect to check out how selective my items may have been, a good thing to do. (Reminds me of myself.) There's a risk in long posts - they seem unbloglike - so the feedback was helpful.

When you go through the primary material - always start with the timeline as Joe Harsh says - you taste the effect Tom Rowland referred to after he wrote his McClellan book:
Q: How has your McClellan historiography affected the way you read history in general?

Rowland: 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.
I will post briefly on the command crisis next week, exploring what McClellan and Marcy may have meant what they wrote to Pope about your command...

If you still have a taste for timelines, I have an old one here to map the period between McClellan's submission of his Urbanna plan to the capture of Yorktown. The thing is long and tries to do too much - it needs to be segmented - and I did not at the time cite each entry. It's interesting reading, I hope, but it needs an overhaul.

Maxwell didn't say it

David Woodbury was kind enough to notify me that the crazy quote I attributed to Ron Maxwell is not Maxwell's: "It [Antietam] is the first battle in the Civil War where the South does not beat the North outright." David says, "I think the quote in question is attributed to Bussler, some Fox executive ..."

It does seem unlikely that a buff could make a mistake like that. Thanks, David.


Reviving an old publishing model

To amuse themselves, back in the early 1980s, the editors of Forbes would run the occasional article on an antiquated business model that had survived into that present age.

One piece dealt with publishers whose catalog consisted of a single title. Or maybe two. This title would be updated every few years and would sell out until the next press run. One example, IIRC, was a legal publisher. Debrett's and Burke's were others. Anyway, the title not only supported the author - where the author, editor or compiler was still alive - it supported an entire business.

I was thinking of this making my way through Pope's information in Eicher and Eicher's massive compendium Civil War High Commands. This book is going to need updating. It also needs lots of notes, of which it has not enough, to become more "transparent" in the finality of its rulings.

That Stanford U. Press is going to pay for revised and updated editions of Civil War High Commands seems preposterous. It's a miracle we have it at all. At the same time, the immense labor invested here must not be lost.

When you think of it, this book is most like Debrett's or Burke's peerages, and it suggests a similar (single publisher) publishing model. Now, this is important: "Burke's Peerage is casting off the shackles of costly print publishing and embracing the brave new world of the internet." That was in 2004.

Like the OR, Civil War High Commands is best when searchable. Like the peerages, it is not for browsing but for look-up. Burke's has figured that out. "Electronic" is the right model for big searchable books. It puts the money in editing and revising, not in production and distribution.


Comments on Viva Rafuse

Reader Will Keene sent this clip in regarding the command crisis and it's a real find. "Saw something today I thought you might enjoy." LINK:

The Command of the Army of the Potomac. – The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser asserts as a fact that when the rebels threatened Maryland the President asked Gen. Halleck who should be placed in command of our forces to drive them back. The answer was, McClellan, but on being requested to accept the position Gen. McClellan
positively refused, because he had been so hampered in the past. The command was then offered to Burnside, who declined, saying that Gen. McClellan was the only
man for the place. Gen. Banks next received the offer, but he too declined it for the same reason assigned by Burnside. A second interview with McClellan, in which Halleck told him it was his duty to take the command, resulted in his acceptance on condition that he should not be meddled with. The Washington correspondent of the Chicago Tribune also states that the command of the army was in turn offered to the above named Generals. (Hartford Courant, October 25, 1862)
Will has his own take on the crisis chronology and I will yield the floor to him.
Some thoughts on your chronology (all my information is from the OR).

If you are going to start with the 8/30/62 message from McClellan to Barnard, I would also include 8/31/62 10:25 p.m. McClellan to Halleck: "I am ready to afford you any assistance in my power, but you will readily perceive how difficult an undefined position, such as I now hold, must be. At what hour in the morning can I see you alone either at your own house or the office?" and that Halleck's aide responded same night "he will see you at any time to-morrow morning that will suit your convenience."

You mentioned that on 9/2/62 McClellan, Halleck, and Lincoln meet. But you do not mention what McClellan stated that meeting resulted in: "I was verbally instructed by the President and the General-in-Chief to assume command of General Pope’s troops (including my own Army of the Potomac) as soon as they approached the vicinity of Washington; to go out and meet them, and to post them as I deemed best to repulse the enemy and insure the safety of the city." [This is from his report "of operations August 14—November 9" written on October 15, 1862 and the same source as the quote in my previous email "honored with the charge of this campaign, I entered at once upon the additional duties imposed upon me.".]

After the phrase "Does McClellan command in chief on this side of the river" in the message of 9/3/62 from Pope to Assistant AG Col. Kelton, you added the parenthetical '[north of the Potomac]'. I think you are mistaken. I think Pope is referring to the south side of the river.

I would have also included 9/3/62 1:40 p.m. Pope to Halleck: "We ought not to lose a moment in pushing forward the fresh troops to confront the enemy. ... Somebody ought to have the supreme command here. Let us not sit down quietly, but push forward again. I give you these suggestions because I believe them very important. ..."

You included Lincoln's order to Halleck to organize a field army. I would also include what comes right after it in the OR -- 9/3/62 (no time noted) Halleck to McClellan: "There is every probability that the enemy, baffled in his intended capture of Washington, will cross the Potomac, and make a raid into Maryland or Pennsylvania. A movable army must be immediately organized to meet him again in the field. You will, therefore, report the approximate force of each corps of the three armies now in the vicinity of Washington, which can be prepared in the next two days to take the field, and have them supplied and ready for that service."

You quoted portions of the message of 9/5/62 (no time noted) from Halleck to McClellan. I would have included the final clause: "so that you may act accordingly in putting forces in the field."

I would also have included 9/5/62 (no time noted) from Halleck to McClellan: "I think there can now be no doubt that the enemy are crossing the Potomac in force, and that you had better dispatch General Sumner and additional forces to follow. If you agree with me, let our troops move immediately."

In your summary of my objections, you state "it cannot negate the underlying evidence that he was not so honored (which unfolds in the timeline I have posted)." Here is what I see unfolding in the timeline (enhanced with the above):

1) On the 2nd, McCllean is given authority over all the troops in the defense of Washington including the Army of Virginia and the Army of the Potomac.

2) On the 3rd Lincolm directs Halleck to have a field army organized and Halleck directs McClellan to ready troops for that purpose.

3) On the 5th Halleck informs McClellan of command and organizational changes "so that you may act accordingly in putting forces in the field." and instructs him to "dispatch General Sumner and additional forces to follow ... move immediately."

Therefore, McClellan was commander of all the troops (see point 1) and under directions to organize a field army (see point 2) and to put that force in motion
(see point 2). Though Lincoln casts around for another commander, no one had been selected. As such, McClellan was by default the commander of the field


More on the command crisis...

In reviewing the essay, Viva Rafuse, I think I can comfortably admit to at least two errors.

First, Marcy's orders to Pope were not unambiguous because they contained the formula "your command" and Pope has (a) lost touch with his command and (b) proposed a new command to consist of Banks, McDowell, Reno, and Hooker and may have been awaiting word on the approval of this field army from Halleck.

Second error: an injustice to Rafuse. I had said

Rafuse [makes] what I believe is an inference – that Lincoln and Halleck had decided to liquidate the AoV and transfer its commander before McClellan issued his command to Pope and that Pope’s reaction to McClellan’s command then triggered the disclosure of some Lincoln/Halleck decision that had already been taken but somehow not communicated.
In rereading the events surrounding Pope's official report of the recent battles, I think an inference may be fairly taken, given the furor around Pope's report the previous evening and in the morning. Rafuse likely has the sequence right - the stage was set for adverse action against Pope; Pope's reaction to Marcy's orders may have triggered a decision taken earlier in the day.

On the other hand, orders to report to Stanton for assignment also indicate that the decision was not ripe. (Let's note also that Pope's report - at the center of the furor - was published against the wishes of Lincoln, and Halleck referred to that action as a component in the decision to relieve him in correspondence in October.)

In refreshing the crisis timeline, I noticed that Sears without notation in his Civil War Papers of GBM, says "Earlier that morning [Sept. 5] President Lincoln directed GBM to take command in the field against the Confederate invaders in Maryland." This is in a category of nonsense so foolish it can only be called "Searsian." Another such is Sears' willfull misdating McClellan's telegram to Lincoln on Sept. 13 as midday when it was sent that evening at midnight. (Rafuse has fallen for this too.) Another is Sears' comically inept account of Franklin at Antietam (see here and here). It goes on and on, but so must we.

The most intriguing discovery in reviewing the timeline was in Civil War High Commands by Eicher and Eicher. They carry Pope as commander in the Northwest from 6 September, which is per orders, but they leave him as commander of the AoV until September 12. Likewise, in their army chronology, they do not liquidate the AoV until September 12.

Any ideas?

Weekend reading

Author Michael Aubrecht reviews Edward Ayers' What Caused the Civil War. He seems to be saying, in a long piece, that he doesn't know much about what Ayers is going on about (historiography) but the book is an enjoyable read.

William Styple has a nice write-up in the Star Ledger and notices that the author of Team of Rivals seems not to have done her own research (again).

Which brings us to this historical observation by Ron Maxwell made about Antietam: "It is the first battle in the Civil War where the South does not beat the North outright."

Is he remembering something he read long ago in the Golden Book Treasury of Children's Civil War Lessons, the original uncorrected edition?

Maxwell is in the news glad to be narrating a "documentary" of the first battle in which the Union was not whipped.

The DVD will not feel like a history lesson, Maxwell says. He believes that, even if people don't always realize it, [it] works on a deep emotional level.

I notice "deep" coupled with "emotional level" and have my second Maxwell laugh of the morning.

[Update, 2/8/06 - It appears this "first battle" quote is not Maxwell's.]
NEWS | Object detected among GA CW dead * Memorial for ACW orphans is planned * Company to release Civil War DVD


Command crisis timeline, 9/1/62 - 9/7/62

This timeline considerably expands an earlier outline and, I hope, provides enough context for understanding the command transition from Pope to McClellan.

8/30/62 (no time noted). McClellan to Barnard. Responding to Barnard’s question about their respective jurisdictions, McClellan says "Of course, everything is under your charge as usual." [Everything = the D.C. forts.] (OR)

9/1/62 1:30 a.m. Halleck to McClellan: "… the falling back on the line of works must necessarily be directed…" (OR)

9/1/62 (no time noted). Halleck to McClellan: Pope has been ordered to fall back to the line of fortifications. (OR)

9/1/62 (no time noted). GBM, Lincoln and Halleck meet in Halleck’s office. They draft the order placing GBM in command of the Washington defenses (Lincoln Day by Day, citing the Washington Star. And the Philadelphia News.)

9/1/62 (no time noted). In the meeting with Lincoln and Halleck, "the general in chief instructed me verbally to take command of its defenses expressly limiting my jurisdiction to the works and their garrisons, and prohibiting me from exercising any control over the troops actively engaged…" (McClellan, Report)

9/1/62 (no time noted). McClellan meets with Lincoln about "unkind feelings" towards Pope. In his letter to Porter urging cooperation, dated by Sears as 9/1 at 5:30 pm, (Waritme Papers of GBM), McClellan says "I am in charge of the defenses of Washington…"

9/1/62 2:00 pm. In notes that appear to be taken from a letter sent to his wife annotated with this date and time, McClellan says "I have been placed in command of Wash and all the garrison…"

9/2/62 (no time noted). McClellan, Halleck, and Lincoln meet. (Prime and McClellan, McClellan’s Own Story)

9/2/62 (morning). Lincoln encounters Chase and gives him the same story as recorded by McClellan's letters. Chase enters in his diary that McClellan has been given the Washington defenses. (Life of Chase by Warden)

9/2/62, Lincoln briefs his cabinet at noon. Welles records events in his diary. McClellan has been given command of the Washington defenses. (Diary, Welles)

9/2/62 (no time noted). Halleck to Pope: "General McClellan has charge of all the defenses, and you will consider any direction, as to the disposition of the troops as they arrive, given by him as coming from me." (OR)

9/2/62 7:10 p.m. Pope to Halleck: Informs Halleck of his safe arrival within the defenses and says "I await your orders." (OR)

9/2/62 (no time noted). Townsend issues order in Halleck’s name: "… McClellan will have command of the fortifications of Washington and of all the troops for the defense of the capital." (OR)

9/2/62 (no time noted). Barnard to Marcy: sends a copy of his orders, just issued, relinquishing command of the forts. (OR)

9/3/62 (no time noted). Lincoln orders Halleck to organize a field army independent of the Washington defense forces. (OR)

9/3/62 (no time noted). Pope to Assistant AG Col. Kelton: "I do not exactly understand my situation here. Will you ask the general [Halleck] so I may know? Does McClellan command in chief on this side of the river [north of the Potomac] or do his functions only extend to designating the position [to be occupied by Pope’s units] … (OR)

9/3/62 (no time noted). Halleck to Pope: "General McClellan commands all the troops in the fortifications. A reorganization of an army for the field will be immediately made. Till then General McClellan, as senior and as commanding the defenses of Washington, must exercise general authority." (OR)

9/4/62 (no time noted). Pope to Halleck: Pope proposes a four-corps field army to Halleck, to be led by himself commanding Banks, McDowell, Reno, and Hooker. He says organization of this field army "can be completed in a day or two." (OR) [I do not know if McClellan became aware of this.]

9/4/62. Pope reads Lincoln his report of the recent campaign. Welles is present. Lincoln is disturbed. [Welles, Diary. Pope has been back from campaign for fewer than two full days!]

9/5/62 (no time noted). Pope to Lincoln: "I sent in to General Halleck this morning the official report I read to you yesterday. Justice to the living and the dead demand its immediate publication." "The blood of the slaughtered victims of this conspiracy cries from the ground.. In their name and the name of the country I ask that my official report be given at once to the public." "Will you please inform me of your decision that I may communicate it to the troops who are under my command who are clamoring for punishment to the offenders…" (Lincoln Papers)

9/5/62 11.30 a.m. Marcy to Pope: "The commanding general directs that you at once put your command in readiness to march, with three days' rations in haversacks, cartridge-boxes filled, and reserve ammunition in your wagons. You will please, when you are ordered to move from your present position, leave officers to forward to you such supplies as you are not not able to procure before."

9/5/62 12.5 p.m. Pope to Marcy: "Your order to have my command ready to march with three days rations received. Please inform me what is my command and where it is." (OR) [Could Marcy be referring to the four corps field army proposed by Pope to Halleck?]

9/5/62 12.5 p.m. [sic] Pope to Halleck: "I have just received an order to have my command in readiness to march with three days rations …" "Am I to take the field and under McClellan’s orders?" (OR)

9/5/62 (no time noted). Pope to Halleck: "It is understood, and acted on, that I am deprived of my command, and that it is assigned to McClellan. An order defining his exact status here as well as my own is necessary at once. I send you an official protest against his action." ["His action" = issuing orders to Pope.] Pope then urges Halleck to furnish his report of Bull Run II to the press "as soon as possible." (OR)

9/5/62 (no time noted). Halleck to Pope: "In the first place, I did not know what would be your command, the two armies having been virtually consolidated." "The troops at present are under McClellan’s orders, and it is evident that you cannot serve under him willingly." "We must all act together … reconcile differences … the ill feeling is very embarrassing …" (OR)

9/5/62 (no time noted). Halleck to McClellan: "The President has directed General Pope be relieved and report to the War Department." "I give you this … in advance of the orders…" (OR)

9/5/62 (no time noted). Halleck to Pope: "The Armies of the Potomac and Virginia being consolidated, you will report for orders to the Secretary of War." (OR)

9/5/62 (no time noted). Lincoln asks Burnside to command the field army while McClellan defends Washington. (Burnside by Marvel; cites Welles’ Diary) Burnside refuses.

9/5/62 Burnside and McClellan discuss the field army command around midnight as the 5th turns into the 6th. McClellan tells Burnside he would not want the field command if it is offered to him unless Stanton and Halleck resign. Burnside argues him out of this position after a long discussion. (Marvel, Burnside, citing journal extracts by Henry Raymond published in Scribners).

9/6/62. Pope is ordered to the Northwest. (OR)

9/7/62. McClellan takes to the field. "As the time had now arrived for the army to advance, and I had received no orders to take command of it, but had been expressly told that the assignment of a commander had not been decided, I determined to solve the question myself… " (Prime and McClellan, McClellan’s Own Story)

Some objections to Viva Rafuse

Alert reader Will Keene has looked up some items and proposes these points:

(1) Marcy's orders to Pope to take to the field refer to "your command" which is different than ordering him to take command of a field army or of those forces outside the defenses.

I agree. Pope could have been confused by such an order and it is wrong for me to say that Pope's orders were unambiguously directed toward leading the ad hoc field force. Nor is Rafuse mistaken in viewing this as an order to take the AoV to the field, based on Marcy's wording alone. Orders to Pope were not as "clear and unambiguous" as I stated.

I am rethinking the possibility that McClellan intended the AoV to take to the field on September 5.

(2) There is apparently an early McClellan quote that says "honored with the charge of this campaign, I entered at once upon the additional duties imposed upon me." I am not sure where this quote is from, but it cannot negate the underlying evidence that he was not so honored (which unfolds in the timeline I have posted). McClellan's communications at the time are consistent not only internally but externally (matched against diaries and recalled conversations).

(3) Will asks "when the Army of Virginia was consolidated with the Army of the Potomac, was was the new army called if not the Army of the Potomac?" That is worth a very long post. Look at this wording: ""The Armies of the Potomac and Virginia being consolidated... " that announcement does not name what in mergers and acquisition is called "the surviving entity." Note that the Eichers in their Civil War High Commands nebtion that army names were often "unofficial" and "arbitrary." I think AoP was arbitrary but that it stuck.

More on that in the future.

Please have a go at the grindingly long chronology I have posted; I hope it brings clarity to the command crisis.