A conversation with Malcom McLaren

Advice for amateur historians

DR: In Civil War history, we have this leavening of amateur historians – energy, insights, some risk. We also have new thinking from a segment of pros. Might the pros be stimulated by amateurs?

MM: When the culture supports the role of the great amateur, that’s when things are exciting. When that amateur suddenly turns a corner and becomes professional, it is never as interesting.

All these great amateurs or primitives make the world accessible. Sometimes you like your gods to walk amongst you.

DR: I wouldn’t say these are great amateurs, just that they bump consensus hard in some soft spots.

MM: The notion of being an amateur goes hand-in-hand with someone who desires adventure and much prefers to be a flamboyant failure than necessarily some kind of benign success.

DR: We’re not doing well in the flamboyance department. And our risk-takers seem to have at least one eye on acceptance, if not material reward.

MM: When I finally was kicked out of art school after almost eight years, all I said to myself was, “I’ve got to figure out now how to become an excellent failure…”

DR: The odd thing about our new thinkers is fear of certain kind of failure. They have to “make sense” to all the readers who have been fed garbage for 50 years. So we’ll go great lengths to make the bamboozled reader feel comfortable in his wallow of nonsense.

One effect is gigantism. Russel Beatie, an amateur, is going to retell the whole story of the war in the East on his own terms, across thousands of pages, in order to not frighten the failed reader. Joe Harsh, a pro, has published three revisionist books on the Maryland Campaign and is at work on a fourth, all in a struggle to gently, gently turn faces out of the ditch skyward. And ultimately, these massive efforts to win over the lied-to, exploited reader of bound commodities will fail ... in sales terms. Maybe the size of the failure is flamboyant.

MM: What was inbuilt in punk rock was something that prevented it ever from living in harmony with the industry. If it ever got close, it imploded.

DR: We seem to fear that implosion. Our revisions are therefore “propositional,” submitted to ill-informed readers for ratification and awaiting sign-off from some sort of superblurber - a McPherson figure. We’re afraid of not making sense to people – the wrong people. You yourself were not afraid when you started your clothes store.

MM: I liked the idea of having a shop in which nothing in it was for sale.

DR: The equivalent for us would be to stop trying to make sense to failed readers. Let’s make sense to ourselves as advanced readers. Let’s not buy and sell manuscripts but rather exhibit our wares (not for sale!). Let’s publish on the Internet.

MM: I remember when Vogue magazine used to come into my shop and I’d say, “For God’s sake, get OUT of here! Just the smell of you! Now get OUT!”

DR: You could stand in the middle of an ACW symposium and shout the same words.

I sometimes think there’s a whole parallel enterprise awaiting – mocking the nonsense that has passed for Civil War history. It reminds me of when hip hop broke out and there was all this focus on the sampling aspect. You can sample aspects of the ACW classics for entertainment.

MM: They were making all this music from the disposable pop rubbish from the past. They were making sense of it all. I remember the early days of hip hop: it was always the amateur aspect that was ingenious.

DR: Pop rubbish indeed. How can we stop making sense to all the wrong kinds of Civil War readers?

MM: [By] not doing it for any practical purpose. [By] doing it to create something to rub up against the culture.

[Interview constructed from McLaren quotes from Swindle magazine number 5 and the movie Not for Sale.]


Lots of posts

... being carried in head. Maybe tonight.


A new Civil War blog ...

... from attorney Sean Dail. Sean's interest in the ACW was inspired by Gary Gallagher, and we have that in common. I was motivated to start this blog reacting against Gallagher's writings.

(Now, how do I get a winky smiley image pasted in at this point?)

Sean has seen the quality of ACW blogs up and running enters the arena without fear or apology. We readers are entitled to expect much of him, I think.

Hat tip to Eric Wittenberg and thanks to him and Mark for recently thinking of this blog.

Privates and generals

The Canadian private won a Medal of Honor, but they misspelled the name on his headstone anyway. In his case, they are going to fix it soon.

More waiting ahead for the late General "Irwin" McDowell, however.

More medical speculation about Lincoln

A new article wonders if Lincoln carried the ataxia gene based on incidents detected in his larger family. (Subscription may be required.)

These excitement around these medical stories fascinates me. We know Lincoln through his record, his actions, his writings: why do people think medical information "may cast new light" on this subject? Since our picture of Lincoln is very well set, new information basically is put to work confirming the lines of the story we have agreed upon.

And so, a new book argues that Lincoln's depression made him stronger, better suited to deal with the national crisis.

And so, the discovery that Lincoln stopped medicating himself with mercury tablets at the start of the war produces the response "Whew! He could have killed himself!" rather than an "Aha, so that's why he was so erratic."

This ataxia finding, on the other hand, is so odd it cannot even be applied to the lines of Lincoln's legend, pro or con. It has no bearing on anything except that it touches on the subject of Lincoln.
NEWS | Fort Fisher MOH finds recipient * Thespian hopefuls try out for roles in Civil War musical * Chance purchase uncovers Civil War memorabilia


Twenty questions for CWPT (4/4)

Jim Campi, spokesman for Civil War Preservation Trust was good enough to entertain twenty questions from this blogger and I will be sharing my questions and his answers this week without edits or comment. Hat tip to Eric Wittenberg for facilitating this exchange.

DR: Are alliances with local ACW groups temporary or permanent?

JC: CWPT prefers its partnerships with local preservation groups to be long-lasting, not temporary. Because we are a small organization, we need local groups to be our “eyes and ears” in a community, keeping us informed of threats to a battlefield and potential land acquisition opportunities. Without a permanent relationship, too many preservation opportunities would fall between the cracks.

DR: Does CWPT take positions on state and federal battlefield management policies?

CWPT generally tries to shy away from battlefield management issues, primarily because they can impact our efforts to encourage further funding for battlefield preservation on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. But we have been known to take a position on occasion. For instance, just last year we came out in support of timber cutting to restore battlefields to their 1860s appearance.

DR: If CWPT had an unlimited budget, how would it spend the funds?

JC: If we had substantially more money that we do now, CWPT would almost certainly use it to buy up additional battlefield land in high-growth areas – such as central Virginia, middle Tennessee, and the Atlanta suburbs – before prices escalated even more. Right now, with our limited resources, CWPT and other preservation groups are fighting the clock to save significant parcels in regions such as these.

DR: Ideally, by whom or by what agency and at what level should battlefields be managed?

JC: Ultimately, CWPT’s goal is to own as little battlefield land as possible. We want to turn the our properties over to a responsible governmental entity so the money that is currently be used to maintain them can be used to purchase more land.

When it makes sense to do so (for instance, when we own land adjacent to a national battlefield), we try to turn over land to NPS to maintain. In other instances, it makes more sense to turn over the property to state or local governments, or sometimes to local groups (although this is rare). Before turning over any property, we always put restrictions on its use so it can never be developed.

DR: Is re-enactment an appropriate use of saved battlefield land?

In really depends on the scale of the reenactment. Small reenactments, or tacticals, can be very positive for preservation – because reenactors are often willing to donate money for the opportunity to reenact on a real battlefield. For instance, last year a small group of reenactors staged an event on our Payne’s Farm property on the Mine Run Battlefield in Orange County, Va. Thanks to an aggressive fundraising campaign, the participants were able to raise more than $10,000 for preservation.

However, CWPT tends not to support large reenactments on actual battlefield land, primarily because they can leave scars on a battlefield that last for years. If the ground is soft from rain, the large trucks that are often used to haul horses, cannons and gear can literally “turf” a battlefield. As stewards of battlefield land, we believe it is the organization’s mission to prevent such ill effects.

You can find earlier installments of this series here:

Part 1 * Part 2 * Part 3
NEWS | Fed funds sought for Lovejoy's Station * Insects considered as Civil War culprits * Civil War weapon of local man found at dog show * State of KY battlefields considered


Twenty questions for CWPT (3/4)

Jim Campi, spokesman for Civil War Preservation Trust was good enough to entertain twenty questions from this blogger and I will be sharing my questions and his answers this week without edits or comment. Hat tip to Eric Wittenberg for facilitating this exchange.

DR: Does CWPT endorse or oppose political candidates based on their preservation positions?

JC: As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, we cannot endorse or oppose political candidates.

DR: Is Civil War tourism the rightful purpose for saving battlefields or is it secondary?

JC: CWPT sees tourism as a powerful tool for promoting battlefield protection. It provides preservationists with an economic argument for protecting hallowed ground, which is often more persuasive with local governments considering the development of historic land. Many understand that tourism to battlefields is a valuable commodity, because tourists (particularly heritage tourists) spend large amounts of money in neighboring communities, but put little or no demands on local services (such as schools, police and fire protection).

DR: What is CWPT's position on saving sites through eminent domain?

JC: We generally shy away from saving sites through eminent domain for two reasons:

(1) Use of eminent domain is a very polarizing issue. Once invoked it can make any other preservation in a region difficult, if not impossible. As one very respected preservationist once told me, you can use eminent domain once, then you will never have enough local goodwill and government support to save land in that area again.

(2) It is not cost effective. The legislative taking of the Stuart Hill Tract in the late 80s is a case in point. Although that parcel without question needed to be preserved, those 500 acres wound up costing taxpayers more than $120 million – more money than has been invested by the federal government in battlefield preservation in the last 7 years. Please note that the developer had bought the property only a few years before for $2 million.

DR: Why not buy land?

JC: I believe this was the question in which you were trying to differentiate between outright land acquisition (fee simple purchase) and conservation easements.

First, please be aware that – by far – most of our land deals are for the outright purchase of battlefield land. In this, we are just like you – we want to be able to walk on battlefield land, not view it from afar, or only with a landowner’s permission.

In general, CWPT only uses easements to protect property around core battlefield (for instance, at Antietam, where much of the viewshed is protected through conservation easements). The only exception is when we cannot get the seller to commit to an outright purchase, but he/she is willing to accept an easement. Then, at the very least, we do not have to worry about the property being sold for a subdivision. Later, we can perhaps buy it outright (for substantially lower cost, because we already hold an easement).

I recall you are not a fan of easements – particularly on South Mountain. I agree that easements don’t make sense in many preservation situations. However, CWPT believes easements can play an important role in protecting battlefields – but they have to be used judiciously, when public access is not an issue.

DR: Is saving viewshed like saving battlefields?

JC: I think we all agree that viewshed is important for maintaining the historic context of core battlefield land. As we discussed in the previous question, it makes sense to use easements to acquire view sheds, so that financial resources can be conserved for outright acquisition of core battlefield land. Easements tend to cost about half the fee-simple purchase price of a parcel.

Lincoln and Lee at Antietam - warning, spoiler

I see this review and it's a long one that concludes: "a compelling portrait of an American hero [Lincoln], a man who located his own ethical center and remained steadfast and true to its focal point in some of his country’s most dire hours."

They gave away the surprise ending - Lincoln, a hero!

Breakthrough Civil War novel

Oh good, a new Civil War novel.

The reviewer says, "Historical novels don't shy away from blood and grime." The reviewer says that in this novel, "uplifting lessons are in short supply amid the gore and filth."

The author used "gore and filth" to attract his readers. He removes "uplifting lessons" to speed their reading.

How flattering to Civil War readers.

Memo to hertiage tourism planners

The two million tourists per year passing through Gettysburg battlefield don't much stop in town to spend money, according to this new Washington Post article. If Gettysburg can't get visitors into town, heritage tourism as a planning strategy needs a deep rethink.
NEWS | Re-enactors lose Battle of Selma * DVD preserves local Civil War collector's legacy * History buffs hunt ghosts on Civil War battlefields * Improvements coming to Danville's war memorial


"New" Civil War blogs and what they mean

The pros get going

This is big news ... from January. Have been so wrapped up in my own affairs I failed to notice a group Civil War blog written by Mark Grimsley, Steven E. Woodworth, and Brooks Simpson.

With this particular roster of Civil War writers, "Civil Warriors" has the potential to become the diary of new thinking in Civil War history. Brooks Simpson, in fact, had been instrumental in recruiting Grimsley and Woodworth to write "new thinking" Civil War books for series he's edited since the late 1990s.

If the potential is great, there are some risks here. All three men are professors and may fall into shop talk occasionally. There's going to be collegial reticence displayed towards the work of hacks. Additionally, being authors, their interesting and valuable "lessons learned in publishing" posts may crowd out their more important historiographic insights - insights that will help get us off the Centennial carousel.

I have mentioned before that there are large, positive changes in Civil War history. This new blog is at the center of those changes. Expect much. Comment much.

As to the future of ACW publishing, takes us with you, gentlemen. Or rather "get us out of this hellhole."

The trainees are on their heels

It looks like a class of Massachusetts College students have put a group ACW blog together - not just for course credit, I assume. Head blogger Andy Etman seems to have a raft of contributors but wants more:

"Strike The Tent..." is soliciting historians and/or college professors to give their honest opinion about this blog. I am also looking for contributors to add stories, writings, opinions, and discussion to the blog. If you are interested. please email me at fifthnycav@yahoo.com.

Careful, my friends: focus. Free advice for what it's worth: (1) Any old piece of ACW info is not interesting (2) We have a nonfiction system in stasis and crisis at the same time - lots to think about and write about (3) As students, ask yourselves, "Is ACW history more or less defective than other fields of history taught at my college?"

Have you noticed?

American Civil War overwhelmingly dominates the blogroll under "Wars and Warriors" at HNN's Cliopatria. And this is a good group of bloggers on or off the roll, a good cohort.

What can it mean, just that we are more vocal? More concerned about the quality of reading? Can it be that the Civil War is more "with us" in daily life than other military history?

Twenty questions for CWPT (2/4)

Jim Campi, spokesman for Civil War Preservation Trust was good enough to entertain twenty questions from this blogger and I will be sharing my questions and his answers this week without edits or comment. Hat tip to Eric Wittenberg for facilitating this exchange.

DR: Why does CWPT run cash surpluses instead of spending all of its annual income?

JC: CWPT does not run cash surpluses. We do have $25 million in assets – but these assets are preserved historic land and easements, not cash. We currently own and manage 5,500 acres nationwide. Sometimes, because of the way nonprofit rating groups judge the effectiveness of an organization, they hold our “assets” against us – treating it as if we were running a surplus. However, we see it as just doing our job.

Also, please be wary of looking at a year-end balance sheet that shows, for example, $5 million in total revenue and $4 million in total expenses and assume that an organization is left with $1 million on December 31. As with any business, there are revenue peaks and valleys, and the same goes for expenses. As a general rule, we operate on a very close cash flow margin, sometimes almost too close for comfort. We also believe that most of our members want us to run CWPT as an efficient enterprise, almost like a business, even though we are nonprofit. Therefore, it is important to not incur unmanageable amounts of debt.

DR: What method establishes the annual top ten endangered sites list?

JC: The procedure for selecting the top ten list is relatively simple. In June, we begin the process of asking our members and local partners to nominate battlefield. Sometimes, this generates news coverage, so the net is even wider. In the Fall, the nominations are due. Once received, they are initially vetted by staff, and interviews are conducted with local partners to determine the extent of threats. Then, the board of trustees reviews this information and, in consultation with historians, makes the final decisions (this usually occurs in December and early January).

That being said, threat is not the sole criterion we use. We also consider military significance and geographic location. We also try to keep the list newsworthy, which means we do not have the same sites on the list every year (usually 2-3 are the same).

In the end, the primary purpose is to increase awareness of the plight of battlefields everywhere – under the theory that even battlefields not listed are helped in that we can create more enthusiasm for preservation nationwide. Put another way: a rising tide raises all boats.

DR: How does CWPT define "saved battlefield"?

JC: From our perspective, there are very few battlefields that are “saved” in their entirety. Antietam, Shiloh and Malvern Hill are among the best, but even at these sites key parcels remain vulnerable to development.

Also please note that, in our communications, we never claim to have “saved” an entire battlefield. Instead, we refer to a specific parcel or parcels as being saved, or that we are engaged in an extended campaign to save an entire battlefield.

DR: What is an "endangered battlefield?"

JC: That’s an excellent question – and I think the answer has evolved over time. Most preservationists agree that any Civil War site where core battlefield land is threatened by development qualifies as endangered. CWPT defines core battlefield according to maps developed by the American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP). Additionally, we verify ABPP information with independent historians.

However, CWPT is also concerned about the potential impact development outside the core battlefield can have on a battlefield as a whole. Not only can it destroy a battlefield’s viewshed (imagine looking out from the Bloody Lane at Antietam onto acres of McMansions), it can also put enormous pressure on local authorities to widen roads through battlefields. This increases traffic to the point that situations similar to Manassas and Kennesaw Mountain arise – where visitors cannot travel into certain parts of these parks after 2 or 3 p.m.

Further, these parks are rapidly become islands of green in a sea of sprawl – making them practically the only open space available for local residents. When that happens, the battlefields become less a hallowed memorial and more a recreational park.

Finally, we rely upon the 1993 Congressional Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields to help guide us. They ranked the 383 primary determinative battles of the war based on threat level, preservation progress (at that time) and military significance. ABPP is currently in the process of updating that report, so it will be interesting to see how some sites have either moved down the list in priority (because we have saved land) or how some have radically moved up the list (due to threats that we not there 13 years ago).

DR: Would CWPT ever reject a coalition partner (among non-ACW groups) in saving battlefield land?

JC: I am not aware of CWPT ever having rejected a coalition partner. However, that being said, we don’t ask organizations with incompatible agendas to join us in preservation alliances. Groups we invite to join in coalitions are usually national, state, or local conservation groups, with a similar interest in land or historic preservation.

That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t consider partnerships with non-conservation groups. For instance, in 2000 we partnered with a local homeowners association to save the Davis Tract at Manassas (near Sudley Church). We are also part of the Morris Island Coalition, which includes a surfing advocacy group.

NEWS | Indiana colonel gives school name * Confederate brothers finally get their due * Civil War art spotlighted at Liberty * UTC offers "Chattanooga in the Civil War" * Documentary will explore Charleston during Civil War


Twenty questions for CWPT (1/4)

Jim Campi, spokesman for Civil War Preservation Trust was good enough to entertain twenty questions from this blogger and I will be sharing my questions and his answers this week without edits or comment. Hat tip to Eric Wittenberg for facilitating this exchange.

DR: Where can prospective members find CWPT financial information?

JC: The best source of financial information is our annual report, which we publish every year in April or May. We make the annual report available upon request – we also have it available on our website, at:


Right now, the 2005 annual report is still in production. However, we have put some preliminary data up on the website, showing expenses and revenues. Please note that our “overhead” is 12.2 percent, making CWPT one of the leanest conservation groups in the business.

Also, please note that the link to the 2004 report was inadvertently down part of the last year – I apologize profusely if you tried to access it, and were unable to (CWPT has for the first time hired a full-time technology officer/webmaster to help prevent those types of problems in the future).

DR: Do members elect CWPT officers?

JC: The 29-member CWPT board of trustees elects its officers once a year, at a regularly scheduled board meeting toward the end of April (this year’s elections will be held on April 19). The chairman can only serve two consecutive 1-year terms, which helps guarantee fresh leadership every few years.

The current officers are:
James Gilliland (Tenn.), Chairman
John Nau III (Texas), Vice-Chairman
Tod Sedgwick (Virginia), Treasurer
Henry Simpson (Alabama), Secretary

Also, there is a process for rotating trustees on and off the board – again, primarily to add fresh leadership to the board every few years.

DR: How is CWPT's board constituted?

JC: As I mentioned above, the CWPT board of trustees consists of 29 members. The board is composed of historians (such as Ed Bearss, Jay Winik and Dr. Libby O’Connell), successful businesspeople, and members of the preservation community. Many trustees were board members of the Civil War Trust and the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites before they merged to form CWPT. All are passionate about Civil War battlefield preservation, and each brings a different perspective to the challenges facing the organization.

DR: How might CWPT members change CWPT policies and operating principles?

The best method is by contacting CWPT staff and board members. We really are committed to trying to create the leanest, most effective preservation group in the nation. However, we recognize that we do not have a monopoly on good ideas – so we are always looking for suggestions from our members, who often have been volunteering on behalf of preservation for years.

The members of the CWPT staff are located at:
(we provide emails and phone numbers for staff).

The members of the board are located at:
(we do not provide e-mails and other contact information for board members, as they serve in a volunteer capacity, and are very busy at their full-time jobs; however, members can write trustees in care of the CWPT Washington office, and they will be mailed to them).

DR: Should preservationists oppose CWPT's policies from inside or outside CWPT?

It is probably not my place to say – individual preservationists should do what they think is in the best interests of the battlefield/battlefields they are trying to save. However, I would say that we at CWPT do take constructive criticism very seriously, and welcome the chance to correct mistakes or implement suggestions.

One thought that might help enlighten you on our commitment to improve the organization and the service we provide members: many of us here at CWPT donate our own money and time to the preservation cause. For instance, I personally volunteered for the organization prior to being hired, have donated my own money to CWPT fundraising appeals, and continue to volunteer on my own time. I also belong to several local battlefield preservation organizations. In this I am not unique – many other CWPT staffers do the same.


Controversies and Commanders

Among the odd ACW materials reclaimed from the Macintosh yesterday is this 1999 review of Controversies and Commanders by Sears. The reference to Scott Sherlock suggests I had intended to submit it to Ted Savas's "Civil War Regiments" magazine (I did not). The style reflects my normal "dense" style rather than the airy first-drafts that are blog postings. The piece summarizes, in sketch form, my feelings about Sears:

Stephen Sears is a great storyteller and storytelling, however erudite the teller, sets major roadblocks before scholarship. These are inherent to storytelling: there is the requirement for a focused narrative, with as few digressions as possible; there is a framing of antagonists; there is broadbrushing of issues; there is a progressive development of tensions, conflict and resolution. A popular dramatist will make the audience easy, painting the good especially good and the bad especially bad. A masterful dramatist, a Shakespeare, will build complexity into the leading characters and convert the humdrum of plodding inevitability into the electricity of unfolding tragedy.

Where T. Harry Williams and Bruce Catton used a Biblical theme to structure their narratives - Lincoln Finds a General is rather like the Lord Finds a Prophet - Stephen Sears uses Shakespearean devices. In his fuller McClellan writings, Sears brings down McClellan under the weight of his personal failings as one brilliant opportunity after another is ruined in a catastrophic unwinding of vanity, timidity, and delusion. This approach has translated into broad appeal, making Sears one of those "crossover artists" who escapes the Civil War readership for a mass audience.

It is on the strength of this mass audience, perhaps, that a major trade publisher has commissioned from Sears a work on Civil War controversies, a work requiring the careful review and weighing of evidence. This is not Sears' forte, it is his weakest point, and it is unfair to his readers to expect them to follow a popular writer into swamps of analysis and arcana. To ease their paths, Sears chose his controversies well and considerately made his essays as story-like as possible. Unfortunately for Sears, this perpetuates the problems in his narrative works by again ensnaring innumerable delicate issues in the brambles of storytelling expediency.

The book begins with an historiographic essay reviewing scholars' treatments of McClellan. The best approach for this piece would have been an issue-by-issue review of the many McClellan controversies and how various historians handled them. Instead, we find a narrative form, of all things, based weakly on chronology, the order of appearance of major McClellan studies. The historians, so briefly mentioned, are assigned white or black hats, and Sears' temperament and his narrative requirements ensure that the black hats are handled very roughly. They are handled so roughly, one wonders if this essay will not affect his relations with even friendly academics such as Gary Gallagher and James T., McPherson.

For example, the great Lincoln scholar J.G. Randall (David Donald's teacher) is dismissed as a McClellan" apologist." So too, the widely cited Naval historian Rowena Reed. The major McClellan biographers before Sears, Myers and Hassler, are likewise labeled "apologists," without offering even token refutaion of their older (and perhaps vulnerable) conclusions. This essay is so clearly an apologia for Sears' own handling of . McClellan that one wonders why he could not do a better job in building public confidence in his conclusions.

The rest of the topics are well chosen, but are not studies, being stories dressed in controversy, and they are not examined with the thoroughness controversy demands. The shortfall is embodied in the provocatively titled "Last Words on the Lost Order." Sears simply restates his previous positions in this essay while presenting the same subset of overall evidence that supports his previous conclusions. One area in which he does reach beyond a previous position, he falls. This in the matter of just when Lee discovered that McClellan had a copy of SO 191. Sears' has previously relied on speculation to overturn the related evidence: here he finally cites evidence to overturn evidence. This issue is illustrative of problems throughout the work.

As Scott Sherlock noted in a previous issue in this journal, Sears previously discounted evidence that Gen. Stuart brought Lee word of McClellan's discovery because to Sears, Lee's behavior in the Maryland campaign did not appear consistent with such knowledge. In other words, he could not have known, and then behaved the way he did. Now, in in this book, Sears elaborates further, saying that the historians claiming Lee did know have actually gotten their facts wrong by reading into the evidence. He grants that Lee said he knew McClellan learned something but he accuses historians of jumping to the conclusion that that something was SO-191. His source is a memo cited by Douglas Freeman in Lee's Lieutenants.

Those readers entertaining confidence in Sears the scholar should read that memo. There is no ambiguity in it. It is followed by a second memo, not cited by Sears, that is even stronger than the first. These memos, recording conversations with Lee, emphatically state that Lee knew. Freeman cited them to undo the arguments of those - like Sears - who claim otherwise.

Sears, instead of taking Freeman's material head-on, addresses the hypothetical misconstructions of unnamed historians (Freeman?) in intrerpreting Freeman's own, clear-cut evidence. This is shoddy and smacks of reversal - citing your adversary as a source for your own, opposite, conclusions. In Gates of Richmond, Sears thus reversed General Franklin, mis-citing Franklin's Pleasant Valley strength figures as the source for his own radically different numbers (Sears and Franklin are on opposite poles of this issue). In his collection of selected Civil War papers of George B. McClellan, Sears cites a McClellan letter volunteering to release from his control siege-enabling engineers as evidence that McClellan was planning a siege.

One cannot emphasize too strongly that Sears must be read with the primary materials at hand. Which is not to say, he is not entertaining: he is doubly entertaining in this way and Controversy and Commanders is a trial-size package of the Sears medicine with less than the usual the candy coating.


Techno heaven

I unboxed my 1988 Mac Classic, set it up and presented it to my daughter for her birthday today. She is 12 and is working on a book very diligently. Shocking to think she'll finish before I even get one started.

This Classic outputs to an HP inkjet from about 1990 - the first inkjet ever. When I unpacket it and connected it to the Classic - it had been in storage since the summer of 2003 - it began printing just like that. I guess HP ink does not coagulate.

We had a partner in the office today making a presentation. He said that if a piece of electronics survives its first six months of operation it is immortal. It never fails. He set the tone of my day.

I found some ACW stuff while cleaning files off the Mac that I had written in 1998 and began printing it out on the HP in super high (300 dpi!) resolution. I then walked the pages over to my cheap newish PC printer, an HP 7100. It has a scanner and built in OCR software.

The 7100 scanned the printed pages and then the software OCR'd them flawlessly, diplaying the immaculate text in Word running on Windows XP.

Wow, that unlocks a lot of ACW writing I've done. Maybe 75,000 - 100,000 words - a year's worth of blogging at least.

Now let's see how the OCR translates my smudgy ACW newspaper book reviews when scanned ...


Let the record show

Brian Pohanka had left a donation to Civil War Preservation Trust, after all, as Eric Wittenberg recently found out. I had speculated that the absence of such a bequest "made a statement."

History has proved me wrong.

Join an exclusive club today

The Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association has a task like few others.

* It is trying to save just half a battlefield - the other half is already gone.

* The cost is $1 million on the shoulders of an organization of 84 people.

* Unfortunately, the time is now.

* Joining the organization requires a hefty initial donation of $100.

Why not join today?

And if you want to mail in less than a $100 and forego the membership, I suspect they'll accept your check nonetheless.
NEWS | Civil War book 'The March' wins critics prize * Event marks National Civil War Naval Museum's fifth anniversary * History of Fort Miles is published


Civil War bloggers - a durable bunch

Of the blogs launched in the last year, none have whithered away, all are interesting. That is remarkable, I think.

Andrew Wagenhoffer has been going through David Detzer's body of new work and makes some interesting points. I am a little more Detzer-friendly myself. For instance, I like idiosyncracy and take it wherever I can find it. Secondly, I like authors who do original research for the express purpose of embarassing the pompously ignorant authorities who have gone before them. Having said that, I don't like Detzer's recycling of the Centennialist "my way or the highway" tone.

I have to express personal appreciation to Brett Schulte for undertaking a massive (on the blog scale) analysis of Shock Troops of the Confederacy. I have the book, thanks to author Fred Ray, I understand it has major implications on how we interpret the history of the war's tactics, but tactics are beyond my competence. I will be following Brett's six-parter, for sure.

Kevin Levin wonders about battlefield ghost hunters: these historians are fantasizing about being on TV, I imagine. Or on a DVD narrated by Maxwell. Or on the cover of Fortean Times.

Eric Wittenberg is winning me over to his anti-Google position on scanning and storing books without permission. I have become more suspicious and distrustful of the company since he started his series. A couple of aspects of Google's stated positions: (1) If I can see it on my screen, I can save it to disk, no matter what back end technology may be running - count on it - and I'm not particularly technical. (2) If my scanned book is accessible in countries with low cost printing technology, then my books will be sold without reference to me or my publisher, given sufficient demand. I have seen bootleg editions abroad.

Brian Dirck has noticed that the new Lincoln book by Burnside's biographer maintains that Lincoln favored military solutions in the spring of 1861. That would make author William Marvel a member of the old J.G. Randall school of revisionists, who saw a generation of political blunderers start an avoidable war. I would note that Edward Ayers pointed out in his last book, historians like James McPherson have spent their entire lives fighting this thesis and they will not easily relinquish their victory over Randall and company.

Andy MacIssac has found the Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion on CD and recommends it: I agree. He is fascinated by the medical material within; I am fascinated by the strength figures given and love matching them against inflated pop history numbers for Union strengths. Any eventual History of Absenteeism in the Civil War will owe much to the Medical and Surgical History.

David Woodbury considers writing that Irvin McDowell bio; go for it, I say. Tom Rowland had a contract do do one in 1999 for University of Missouri Press, I think, but it appears that project died. McDowell is not just interesting as a person, his Civil War persona is entirely wrapped up in the overwhelming politicalness of the ACW. Understand McDowell, and you understand the early war dynamic and the formed course of the later war. Unfortunately, we don't know where any McDowell papers might be. Writing a source-deprived bio, whatever it's uses, may at least produce McDowell family holdings - it's happened before. It's a no-lose scenario.

Mike Koepke has me wondering about the issues involved in saving exactly one half of a battlefield (Shepherdstown). Do you move heaven and earth to raise $1 million for a fragment? Shouldn't CWPT buy this? With Brian Pohanka's new gift?

Randy has a long post on the Gettysburg casino proposal making a crime argument: "Some of those who commit gambling related crimes will do so on the roads and grounds of the battlefield. This will tax already limited park financial and personnel resources." I assume this points to small-h hookers taking their Johns to the park - but I can't associate hookers with slots and day trippers. Moreover this mixes the moral with the financial. I hate that. Can someone point me to a clear anti-casino argument?

Michael Aubrecht needs to post more often. I expect his hybrid baseball/ACW blog will bloom pinstripes soon, leaving the dead foliage of Civil War posts a relic of winter.

Civil War author Mark Grimsley has done a spring thing - he redesigned one site and launched another. Refresh yourself.

Newspaper presidents

Have been reading the extravagantly titled Lincoln's Wrath: Fierce Mobs, Brilliant Scoundrels and a President's Mission to Destroy the Press. (I think the editors at Sourcebooks who crafted this handle need some time off.)

The book is a wealth of information on Northern newspapers and the war, some of the material from secondary sources, some from primary. I did not know, for instance, that Lincoln had financed the startup of the Illinois Staats-Anzeiger in 1859, nor that he picked its editor. The political dimension of government printing contracts, I had forgotten, and the number of editors Lincoln appointed to diplomatic posts I never knew. For a man with as slender a political career previous to the presidency as Lincoln experienced, Lincoln knew patronage like nobody's business.

Something I found useful appears in Wrath but was originally formulated in The North Reports the Civil War. It's a description of Washington's daily news cycle:
The Baltimore dailies were sold by hundreds of newsboys every morning by six o'clock; these included the American, Sun, and Clipper. The major Washington newspaper, the National Intelligencer and Chronicle, were peddled an hour later at seven. The Philadelphia train arrived at eleven, bringing The Press and the Inquirer. At three in the afternoon, the Washington afternoon papers were on the streets, followed every thirty minutes by later editions, if warranted. The arrival of the New York train at five in the evening brought the day's Herald, Tribune, and New York Times..."
Lincoln himself read three papers in the morning, the Daily Morning Chronicle, the National Republican, and the Evening Star. I'd like to read them myself to find out "why these" and to map their editorials against major Lincoln decisions on a timeline.

In addition to reading these papers whole, Lincoln's secretaries, Nicolay and Hay, operated a clipping service for the president, perusing and snipping from a dozen papers each morning.

Thanks to Michael Burlingame, we know that John Hay, in fact, wrote many pro-Administration editorials for various newspapers under pseudonyms. His enthusiasm for anonymous editorializing seems to have dried up after he lost his place in 1864.

The authors of Wrath call Lincoln "the newspaper president." With that there can be little argument. They've done as much as pop historians can reasonably do: excite interest in a subject. The next level of really useful work will be to determine what "newspaper president" means.

(Stained glass image from Boston University's Marsh Chapel.)


News notes

The York County (PA) historian is going to run Cobb house in Georgia. I'm sorry to see local history posts go down the path(ology) of local newspapers and local schools - to become roosts for wandering bands of rootless "professionals." Let York now recruit a Georgian to tell them about their pasts.

Re-enactors are about to take a big hit from a "satire" called "Shiloh Rules," opening March 24. Description reads more farcical than satiric. Once stigmatized as "those laughable, lovable kooks," the jig may be up for re-enacting. They survived Confederates in the Attic, but how much public scorn is comfortable?

What do you think of when meditating on those great swaths of green at Gettysburg and Antietam? Why, golf, of course! And now you can golf Antietam and Gettysburg, thanks to Golf Digest. "The option for golf is as self-evident as the futility of Pickett's Charge. " Indubitably!

A new turn for the top ten

The annual release of the Civil War Preservation Trust's top 10 list of most endangered battlefields is followed by a predictable media pattern. CWPT's press conference is held, the release issued, and then waves of supportive stories appear nationally, most pieces tying in to local sites on the CWPT list.

This year something new has disturbed the pattern: it's the "why did my site drop off the list?" article. I haven't noticed these before.

The story comes in a benign form:
Northeast Mississippi sites may not be on the recently released list of the nation's 10 most endangered Civil War battlefields, but they are no less at risk.

And it also comes in a critical form:
Despite the delisting, [Wilson's Creek] supporters said the battlefield remained threatened."We're very happy we were able to acquire the piece of land," said April McDonough, the foundation's executive director. "But that doesn't mean the battlefield is no longer in danger." She said the housing project is proceeding, and more development is possible in the area.


Civil War hospital for sale

Come March 11, you can own a Civil War hospital that was also a fort during the French and Indian War - Fort Evans. (Its dimensions suggest more of a stronghouse than a fort.)

It's in Berkeley County, WV, where Washington took the waters en route to what became Pittsburgh.

According to Breaking the Backcountry, at the high water mark of Indian success against the Virginia and Pennsylvania frontiers, raiding parties followed the Potomac into Eastern Maryland.

As co-owner of a German stone farmhouse in Loudon County predating the French and Indian War, I sometimes like to picture those war parties moving across the periphery of our property, between the Catoctin and the Potomac.

Breaking the Backcountry describes the successive waves of Indian raids making ever greater inroads against frontier communities until the west is entirely depopulated and Eastern cities like Philadelphia are choked with starving refugees.

I assume this place became a Civil War hospital during Lander's defeat of Stonewall Jackson in 1861, or after Antietam, or even during the Gettysburg retreat. Perhaps all of the above.

It's an auction, so name your own price. Become a neighbor. Plenty of pictures here.
NEWS | Pea Ridge battle anniversary observed * Researchers gain new insights into Harriet (Mrs. Dred) Scott's life * Celebration for the Fighting 69th Set for March 17th

Theatre of the absurd

The Orange County Cemetery District is trying to decide on the best way to implement orders to "clean" 200 ACW headstones.

The stones, in disrepair, were rehabilitated by Air Force veteran Gene Platt on his own time over a period of three years. He cleaned the stones and painted name inscriptions gold.
The clean up could cost between $5,000 and $14,000, district general manager Tim Deutsch wrote in a memo to the board.


Preservation notes

The battle of Franklin in Waterford

Some friends from Marblehead, Mass., recently told us of a landmark 17th Century house we knew of in that town. I couldn't credit the story, it was so absurd: people who wanted to live in Marblehead, a town of mighty strivers and significant incomes, bought this historic house, gutted it and rebuilt the interior to suit themselves, all rather quickly and without interference from city, state, or county.

Reminds me of the stories a Princeton, NJ, realtor used to tell me about what Princetonians did to the insides of their historic homes in the 1980s. But that was the twenty years ago. Who could believe such a story in these days?

Then I saw the most amazing item in the Leesburg paper this weekend. A family called the Franklins had bought a home in Waterford, Va., slightly upstream from me on the Catoctin Creek (picture, right). Waterford - the whole town - has national historic designation. It has been so since the days of FDR.

The Franklins were thwarted by local government from gutting their house and rebuilding it to personal taste and so they have applied to have the entire town of Waterford delisted from the national historic register.

Isn't that the best preservation story ever?

He noticed

Author Tim Reese pointed out to me that South Mountain dropped off Civil War Preservation Trust's ten-most-endangered sites this year. The mountain moved.

History of Gettysburg vandalism

This piece offers a nice recap of recent attacks on Gettysburg monuments. Rewards are upt to $36,000 for the scalps of the latest depradators.

This old house

You buy the Vicksburg old place because you love history.

You start finding old tools lying around. Then Civil War bullets.

Then you find the blood - lots of it.

True story.

Author remembered

The author of the book, Horse Soldiers, is remembered in this recent piece. The book was about Grierson's raid and became a movie with William Holden and John Wayne.
NEWS Civil War subs elude Shreveport searchers * 'Monument guy' is no Civil War buff * Cannon carriages being replaced on USS Cairo * N.C. celebrates Confederate flag


The new publishing season

Eric Wittenberg is tring to break some sort of William Davis record: he has two books coming out from one publisher in a single season, Savas Beatie. Interesting that they would concentrate risk this way (on both sides of the deal). He has been good about posting his publishing experiences and I'll be very interested in how this turns out.

Speaking of Russel Beatie, I came across his Army of the Potomac Volume 1 in B&N the other day. Haven't seen it around lately. It had a blue color like the original issue in 2002. Here is that cover as it was issued; there is a flaw in this Amazon picture in that the navy blue color theme does not show well here - too much brown.

Anyway, the edition I picked up had a different picture on the cover than that shown above and it had a different shade of blue on the spine and different typeface. Had they reprinted the volume? Checking the copyright and reprintings info, I saw no, this was the old book in a new cover. Weirder still, when you go to the B&N website a third variant of the cover appears.

Well, the new cover also sports a new price: $60. This is a new marketing technique. Up from $49.98, IIRC. Haven't seen this before.

Nor have I seen the short writing efile model adopted by Amazon, before author Francis Hamit wrote to me about The Shenandoah Spy - Part 1, an Amazon Short. You get almost 10,000 words for under two bits. This business model has to be based on the idea of topic searches on Amazon.

Never thought of Amazon as a place to do topic searches but Mr. Hamit has published a ton of stuff through there in short format.

What an odd publishing season Spring 2006 is turning out to be.

CWPT issues endangered battlefields list

It's that time of year again. The press release is here. Original reporting is there:

* The AP does a minimal rewrite of the press release.

* Charleston coverage revisits Morris Island.

* The Washington Times keeps it local.

* Medill News Service tries for balance.

* Alabamans survey Ft. Morgan.