I have recently found out that if you get snail mailings from Civil War Preservation Trust, you tend to be more up-to-date than what the web site presents.
Based on the mail, I am very pleased to see CWPT take on ever more risk and more financial commitments as they struggle to raise $12 million for the Slaughter Pen.
An institution loading up on major risks - I want to encourage that behavior with a donation of my own.

Numerology and Union command

Will kick this series off on Monday.


Unlikely ACW blurbs of the future

Can you imagine blurbs like these on the back of a Civil War dust jacket?

Here is a work so controversial that some will barely be able to sit still as they turn the pages.

... ambitious new paradigm...

This study, highly original in both conception and content...

I suppose they could put that stuff on Tom Carhart's book but the publisher opted for James McPherson instead: Mr Nihil Obstat, Mr Goodhousekeeping Seal of Approval, Mr. Tom Carhart's professor.

That's significant, my friends. But the significance I leave to you.

Those blurbs could also have been attached to Beatie, pehaps Detzer, perhaps Rafuse, maybe Harsh. Richard McMurry wanted to be associated with "a New Civil War Paradigm," but he didn't leave it to the marketing department, he put it in the title of his book. ACW controversy: scary. Risky for sales.

That's significant too, my friends. Consider the significance.

And yet, love them or hate them, many ACW readers are contentious ... worth risking a little controversy on when you can get them off the skinny fringe of American Heritage doctrine.

The blurbs above come from the King's Three Faces an attempt to debunk the foreshadowing of Revolution in Colonial history. I bought the book on the basis of the blurbs. (It is not to be confused with The King's Two Bodies, a treatise on metaphysics in medieval politics.)

Bravo, UNC Press. Something tells me one of your editors, Gary Gallagher, was on vacation when this provocation passed over the transom.

And - on a more personal note - I sorely need someone to pave the way for my future romantic, heroic pop history biography of Guy Carleton (top right), the Chiang Kai Shek of American Nationalism and counter-revolutionary extraordinaire, plotting victory from the Formosa that was once Manhattan.

You think I'm joking. But that will be a work so controversial that some will barely be able to sit still as they turn the pages...

Willmott's CSA

Will be watching Confederate States of America this weekend and will pass on my reactions.

Updates tonight

Sorry for your wasted trips to this site - will post late tonight. Thanks for visiting.


Ray Raphael

Wow, I have (finally) spotted a counterpart in the Revolutionary War field named Ray Raphael - "True history and good stories work at cross purposes." Amen.

Look at this page! I need to do the same for the works of McPherson, Sears, and the whole host of talespinners. Ray, you make me feel so lazy.

Hat tip to HNN's myth pages.


Blog mortality (cont.)

HNN now has more dead blogs (10) than living ones (8). See here.

Meanwhile, say hello to the strangest Civil War blog you have ever read...


I've been looking at Confederate numbers from the point of view of an early war Union commander - doing a little self-imposed fog of war - and have been coming up with some startling perspectives. Will shape it into a series of posts for later this week...

Shaara has a big idea

Jeff Shaara has a new idea for a Civil War novel:

"There's a great story that I haven't told, which is the western theater," he said. "Sherman is a great story."

I think E.L. Doctorow would agree with him. Perhaps this idea was inspired by Doctorow's sales figures this year. But don't call these products "novels" in front of Shaara - who says he is not a novelist.

"That's so pretentious to me," he said. "I'm a storyteller."

Can we call you "a hack" instead?


Literature by (e)mail

A new use for technology: have bite sized pieces of Grant's memoirs emailed to you daily. (Attention Brian Downey!)
Speaking of whom, Brian recently met guest poster Harry Smeltzer in Sharpsburg and glazed his eyes with a little technobabble: see this nice post.

History grad students as cheaters

When I saw the news that "MBA students are the biggest cheats of all graduate students, with 56 per cent admitting to misdemeanours such as using crib notes in exams, plagiarism and downloading essays from the web," it roused my curiosity about history graduate students.

The people who did the study, Academy of Management Learning & Education, appear to have collected data across many disciplines, but what is percolating through the mass media just now is a little too general to be interesting: "And even among the most honest group, the social scientists and those studying humanities, 39 per cent admitted cheating." I'm not sure "most honest" can be applied to a group with a 39% cheating rate. Perhaps when the compete study is released, we'll see a history student breakout.

Interesting that the second biggest cheaters were engineering students (54%), followed by grad students in the sciences. As these cheaters are entirely self-identified, I consider the numbers low. We could more accurately say "shameless cheaters" number 54% among engineering grad students, although the total proportion of cheaters is not known.

This bit appeared in the University of Virginia's paper in the best tradition of faculty slapstick (emphasis added):

Donald L. McCabe, professor of management and global business at Rutgers Business School and one of the report's authors, said the increased cheating was due to students coming from business backgrounds where a different mentality is present.

Oh, the pain, the defilement of the academy! But wait: don't the faculties of MBA programs themselves come from business backgrounds? And yet they are themselves purified somehow while their students remain contaminated. Magic.

I suppose the cheat-crazy engineering and science grad students are also bringing "a different mentality" but whence?

One sees a report in which the academy is overwhelmed with cheating at the higher levels of admission and instruction; it floats on a stream of professorial ethics scandals; and the MBA crowd is at fault with their "different mentality."

I'm not an MBA - don't know that crowd as a student body - and therefore don't know how realistic this statement is, however it seems possible to me that MBAs among all the students surveyed were the most forthcoming about their ethical lapses.

Dr. McCabe should check in with Rutgers' ag students to help him sort out forest from trees. Meanwhile, we'll await further news on history cheating.


Blog mortality

Some die...

Sean Dail, Trans-Mississippi Times

Some are born...

My year of living Rangerously

What the horses of your army have done...

Randy takes a look at Lincoln's wisecrack and answers the question - in detail - about what McClellan's horses had done.

I would add just one point: McClellan failed to embark most of his cavalry for the Peninsula - the formations not embarked when the "hold order" was issued fell to McDowell. Organized by Pope for his campaign, they were then ruined by the time McClellan got them back for the Maryland campaign. Let that set the stage for what Randy presents.


The trouble with military history

David Woodbury has been running an interesting series of posts around the centrality of military history in accounts of the Civil War (see here and here).

As a reader, I abandoned military history about 27 years ago. Could not hack it anymore.

I'll give you two points now, maybe more later.

(1) The military historian all too often follows (relies upon) a few underlying sources. Example: I recently - accidentally - picked up a volume called The Teutonic Knights thinking it was a history of the religious order. It was a military history and typical of the failure and incompetence of military historians. It simply mined a handful of sources for military anecdotes and allowed itself immense gaps (with laughable discontinuity) where the sources stopped. Warning label needed for readers: You are not losing your mind - you are reading military history.

This is relevant to ACW history. Rich in sources, the ACW military historian automatically acquires a patina of rationality through the grace of having enough stuff available to bridge gaps in any chronological narrative. Underneath it all, however, the ACW military writer may be as crazy as the author of The Teutonic Knights, because even in resource-rich ACW history there are too few sources to refine and purify the account of a single event or action in more than a few cases. The apparent continuity in ACW military narrative often rests - here and there - on a single pylon of data.

This would not matter much were the military historian not rendering judgements of competence and art and science on real people - people more knowledgeable of the underlying events and circumstances than said miliary historian.

My (perhaps tedious) argument with the Civil War history, as handed down since 1950, has been about the management of sources: suppression, redaction, amendment, interpretation, selectivity. We all wish, divinely as history readers, that every contemporary account be accounted for. But we side with the devil when we all wish, as literature readers, that all loose ends be tied up regardless.

The corruption in Civil War history, military or political, has been to tie up loose ends regardless. Teutonic Knights lacks the sources to do that, freeing us to laugh at lacunae. Any given Civil War history conveys the illusion of completeness.

One example that comes to mind first is the account of any battle where Rosecrans executed but Grant commanded. The modern Civil War reader has no idea that there is a Rosecrans version of events and that Rosecrans is 180 degrees out of phase with Grant's account of these same battles.

Hey, so what, how many accounts of events do you need?

Nor is there the least need to account for any such difference, thanks to the standards of military history.

Where an absolute judgement is rendered about a military figure based on an incomplete or suppressed set of records, military history breaks down and reduces itself from history to mere military writing ... exposition on a military topic.

(2) The military historian is supremely careless about the origins of an idea or decision. In the infantry, we had a saying: the commander is responsible for everything that is done or that fails to get done. This saying separated the issue of legal and professional culpability from the mass of collaborative activity. It represented a sort of philosophy of liability. How and when military historians adopted it as a principle of historical method, I wish to know. Tell me.

Say, fellows! Stop researching! The commander is responsible for this idea, that movement, and that plan! Done and done!

Again, the ACW military historian enjoys an edge in the primitivism of American staffwork 1861-1865. The ACW commander was in the retarded state of Frederick the Great, a general with two aides. With the emergence of modern staff in WWI, military history becomes completely unreadable given the sloth of authors and the obscurity of records.

All this is not to let ACW military historians off the hook here; the origin of - for example - the idea of the water approach to Richmond is immensely complex and far transcends "McClellan commanded, McClellan is responsible." Got forbid we should untie ends and make loose what was once bound.

I don't wish here to offend friends who are military historians. I recognize efforts at reform, striving for completeness, and efforts at fairness. I salute the works of Grimsley and Wittenberg. But I want to explain my own aversion to military history as a discipline as it stands.

p.s. David Woodbury is responsible for everything I said or failed to say.


Rafuse and McClellan's War

It was interesting to see Johnny Whitewater's analysis of McClellan's War: The Failure Of Moderation In The Struggle For The Union set against the context of the McClellan's Society's views.

Compared to what the members of the Society believe, he concludes that "in reversing McClellan historiography, Rafuse's book is but one small step."

Let's add to that ... small perhaps and yet major. For example, consider the first four AOP commanders, as we have here - endlessly and falsely represented as products of meritocratic date-of-rank consideration. If Civil War historians cannot even touch on their political personas, we have a problem so large that a task on the scale of a partial reappraisal of McClellan looms utterly enormous.

So for Rafuse to point McClellan historiography ten degrees here or there, he also has to fix a 360 degree base of accidental and willful misunderstanding. The win is not whatever opinion Rafuse makes about the general, it is in shifting the entire ground of the discussion off of falsehood and contrived ignorance toward the truth embodied in a more complete public record.

Back in 1997/1998 we had an important book from an historian named Tom Rowland brought out by the respectable Kent State University Press; it gently and humorously mocked McClellan criticism as it had deeloped since the Centennial. Rowland was not interested in rehabilitiating McClellan as a general or in revisiting the controversies. What interested him was the over-the-top behavior of Civil War historians coming into contact with the subject McClellan. Johnny, in his posting, noticed the uniformity of McClellan treatment. So did Rowland and he had a lot of fun with it.

Sears, stinging under Rowland's chiding, lashed out in print repeatedly, drawing attention to Rowland. One would think, therefore, that post-Rowland historians would mind their excesses in writing about the general. And in general, I think they have begun to exercise some sense of self restraint, whether Rowland brought this about or not.

The drawback for these people, post-Rowland, was that although their emotionally charged reactions to McClellan might be under better control, they still operated on a wide and broad foundation of false or incorrect data - in fact a data set contrived to convict McClellan (and other famous "goats" in the ACW) in the court of public opinion.

And so - here in this blog and elsewhere - we address the small stuff. Corps commanders. Commissions. Pope being named field commander in the Maryland campaign. Bits and pieces that undermine the prevailing nonsense. Rafuse (and for that matter Beatie) do more faster; they apply wholesale changes to the (false) public record through a combination of proper use of known evidence and new research.

Thus Rafuse (and Beatie and Harsh) make the old McClellan bashing impossible to the extent that the field must confront and assimilate their work. Yes, Taaffe has simply chosen not to; he baldly excludes their work from his bibliography. Yes, Gallagher blurbs Harsh while painstakingly excluding him from any compilations or anthologies.

And they make themselves ridiculous in so doing. Ridiculous. That is progress.

One can say that Rafuse has helped push the pendulum. Will the pendulum swing back again? No, that energy is not yet played out.

Our starting point was restricted use of sources and the suppression of evidence to advance literary ends. We are moving away from the subordination of history to literature. I see it in every new catalog.

That is what is important about McClellan's War among other new books.


How to become a corps commander: McDowell

In his new book Commanding the Army of the Potomac, Stephen Taaffe breaks with Centennial doctrine – in three out of four cases - to suggest that there was more than date of rank behind Lincoln’s appointment of McClellan’s corps commanders.

I have abstracted all relevant comments on events leading to McDowell's corps appointment from Taaffe. I compare these to the material in Beatie’s Army of the Potomac and material from my own private research. This is the last in the corps commander series, I think, and I urge you to break out the books and compare what past historians have (so lamely) said about these appointments.

As down as I have been on Taaffe, as miserable as his little concessions may appear in comparison with the fuller historical record, let us rejoice in what these concessions represent for Civil War history - the beginnings of an acknowledgement that the record must be considered and that the storyline may not be allowed to trump the facts.

McDowell "never makes the transition" from peacetime to wartime officer * Both Scott [!?!] and Chase lobby for his appointment to the field force that fights Bull Run * The Committee on the Conduct of the War urges Lincoln to replace McClellan with McDowell in 1/62 * Radicals saw him as an alternative to McClellan

(Army of the Potomac, Vol. 1): Chase arranges McD’s promotion to general over the objections of Scott; Ohio Gov. Dennison also backs him * Chase wants McD to have one of the MG slots in the Regular Army but McD demurs * Scott makes an issue of McD’s promotion demanding the same for Mansfield * McDowell and Franklin help Chase draft General orders 15 and 16 in spring, 1861 * (Army of the Potomac, Vol. 2): McDowell urges McClellan on Dennison for the Ohio Volunteers (4/61)* Asked by Scott for ideas on whom to make general, McD suggests McClellan and Buell * McDowell proposes corps to McClellan in September of 1861 * McDowell and Franklin meet in Chase’s Treasury offices to plan the spring campaign (1/11/82); Franklin wants a campaign up the York, McDowell is against it; Franklin suggests informing McClellan, Chase quashes the idea * Chase begins to consider McDowell as a replacement for McClellan in February of 1861 * Rumors in the army say McDowell will replace McClellan; many officers prefer McDowell’s partner Franklin (Beatie here cites a Kearney letter from 2/62)

The following items follow on after McDowell's appointment and may be of interest:

Mrs. Lincoln receives Mrs. McDowell (3/21/62, Lincoln Day by Day) * Lincoln meets with McDowell during the day and again at night (3/21/62, ibid) * Lincoln brings Chase and Stanton to meet with McDowell on Aquia Creek. McDowell does not show up. (4/19/62, ibid) * Lincoln, Chase, and Stanton meet with McDowell on Aquia Creek, then bring McDowell back to Washington with them. (4/20/62, ibid) * McDowell receives a visit in the field from Lincoln (5/23/62, ibid) * Chase receives military affairs telegram from McDowell in the field. (Inside Lincoln's Cabinet) * Lincoln directs Chase to meet with McDowell in Fredericksburg to expedite McD's movements. (5/23/62, ibid) * Chase tells McD that he asked Lincoln to urge McD forward and failed to get Lincoln to issue an order; he then tells McD to act without waiting for orders from Lincoln (6/6/62, Lincoln the President, Vol. 1, J.G. Randall) * McDowell meets with Chase in his office "attributing our ill success to the conduct of McClellan." (9/4/62, ibid) * McDowell visits Chase at home in the evening to plan his military future. (9/5/62, ibid) * McDowell breakfasts with Chase and Lincoln. Lincoln asks McDowell what he will do. Later the same day sees Chase in his office. (9/6/62, ibid) * Meets Chase (Sunday) on the street. Calls on Chase that afternoon at home. (9/7/62, ibid)

Dennison seeks his cousin Irvin McDowell to head the Ohio USV but has to settle for McClellan instead (McClellan’s War by Ethan Rafuse, Donnybrook by Daid Detzer) * Chase relies on advice from McDowell, who proposes more aggressive schemes than his boss Winfield Scott (Donnybrook) * Lincoln invites McDowell and Scott to a Cabinet meeting. (6/29/61, Lincoln Day by Day, Morningside Press) * The Boston newspapers publish reports that McClellan is considering corps (11/61) * Sen. Zach Chandler and the CCW meet with Lincoln and the Cabinet to discuss replacing McClellan with McDowell (1/6/62, Inside Lincoln's Cabinet: The Civil War Diaries of Salmon P. Chase by David Donald) * Lincoln invites McDowell and Franklin to Cabinet meetings (1/10/62, 1/12/62, 1/13/62, Lincoln Day by Day). * McDowell and Keyes see Chase in his office. (1/11/62, Inside Lincoln's Cabinet) * Halleck writes McClellan to warn him of intrigues in Congress and in "the abolition press" to promote their favorites (2/24/62, Lincoln the President, Vol. 1, J.G. Randall)

See also:
How to become a corps commander: Taaffe
How to become a corps commander: Heintzelman
How to become a corps commander: Keyes
How to become a corps commander: Sumner
How to become a corps commander: McDowell (this post)

Understanding Keyes and Company
Pinkerton on the corps commanders
Doubleday (on the corps commanders?)
Preamble: McDowell
Sprague in a nutshell (tangent: McDowell providing cover for Sprague and Chase)

Spinoffs from this thread:

McClellan and U.S. Cavalry doctrine (tangent = Sumner)
Sumner, McClellan, Johnston, and Davis
Sumner, McClellan, Johnston, Davis, and Hardee

McDowell's brother and hat (tangent = McDowell)
McDowell's hat, revisited
Col. John A. McDowell - brother to Irvin?
Case closed on hat and brother
Tidball remembers McDowell
Topping off "McDowell's obnoxious hat"


That late-night noise in the kitchen

It's just Abe Lincoln playing chess with a talking beaver. Or reading a newspaper. Don't worry. Go look.

Civil War poetry in the news

Is it okay to borrow copyright-expired poetry for use in your lyrics? Without attribution?

Bob Dylan is on the hot seat for repurposing the work of the Confederacy's Virgil, Henry Timrod (right).

Personally, I view most Civil War poetry as a liability. Consider this from Timrod, from A Cry to Arms:

Ho! woodsmen of the mountain side!
Ho! dwellers in the vales!
Ho! ye who by the chafing tide
Have roughened in the gales!
Leave barn and byre, leave kin and cot,
Lay by the bloodless spade;
Let desk, and case, and counter rot,
And burn your books of trade.

It has its charm but suffers from a dread mid-19th Century malady called filler - filler used to pad a line or stanza, to round it out, to make it conform or rhyme or scan. This is better, from 1866 - "Addressed To The Old Year." The "coming reign" refers to the new year:

A time of peaceful prayer,
Of law, love, labor, honest loss and gain --
These are the visions of the coming reign
Now floating to them on this wintry air.

Not bad, except for HT's self-consciously archaic manner.

This news of Dylan's interest in Timrod is as off-putting as the old news that his contemporary, the late James Dean (right, with cigarette excised), showed interest in John Greenleaf Whittier, another ACW-era versifier:

Under the great hill sloping bare
To cove and meadow and Common lot,
In his council chamber and oaken chair,
Sat the worshipful Governor Endicott

When I read that I hear it in the voice of Bullwinkle J. Moose. Dean also liked James Whitcombe Riley producer of ACW lines like this:

When the army broke out, and Jim he went,
The old man backin' him, fer three months;
And all 'at I heerd the old man say
Was, jes' as we turned to start away,
"Well, good-bye Jim:
Take keer of yourse'f!"

Take gud keer indeed to steer clear of most ACW poetry.

More on the Bob Dylan - Henry Timrod plagiarism here.

Heintzelmann is coming

Apropos of the corps commander series of posts here, Drew Wagenhoffer has pointed out to me the imminent arrival of a new Heintzelmann biography.

General H's notes and diaries are so steeped in political content I wonder how the biographer will manage that, given the tendency of ACW authors to shield readers from such harmful substances.

Anyway, my last post in the series, on McDowell, will go up this weekend.


Topping off "McDowell's obnoxious hat"

I read John Hennessy and I forgot. Harry Smeltzer read and remembered. Harry:
Return to Bull Run, pp 7-8: "Some men even questioned McDowell’s loyalty, suggesting that the prominent hat he wore, 'which looked like an esquimaux canoe on his head, wrong side up,' served as a covert signal to the enemy that he was present and 'all was well.'" The footnote reads "for debate over McDowell’s obnoxious hat see the National Tribune, issues of November 12, 1891, March 31, 1892 and April 14, 1892."
His obnoxious hat! An Eskimo kayak! Tim Reese adds:
I have to agree with Harry. This is no proof that McD's helmet ever had a spike. Still, the allusion to "white" draws aside the veil of doubt somewhat. As before conjectured, he [McDowell] probably acquired one of the generic types pictured at top center of my montage. These were more often described as a coal scuttle turned upside down, rather than a canoe. Their white canvas was usually dyed with tea to deaden the glare, faint concession to camouflage.
When was Averell writing; postwar I presume after the spiked, white cork helmet had come into US service, however briefly. I'll wager that McD's had a pugri, a folded cloth wound about the base w/curtain (Havelock) at rear, this to deflect/absorb saber blows...

As an amusing aside, it was customary and traditional for British troops returning from the East to cast their battered toppees overboard when reaching the western terminus of the Suez Canal near Port Said. East meets West, so to speak. Ah, back to civilized head dress.
Postscript added 9/14/06 after Harry dug up Averell's unfinished memoir. Harry writes:
The manuscript of Averell’s memoirs (Ten Years in the Saddle) was begun in 1891, and was unfinished at the general’s death in 1900. On page 289 he describes McDowell’s appearance on the morning of 7/16/61, as his army began its movement on Manassas Junction:

"The scene presented on the gran portico of Arlington House on that day when McDowell came forth arrayed for the field in the uniform of a Brigadier General and otherwise distinguished by his white helmet with the bright lance-head on top, and followed by a well appointed staff, was impressive."

Anything is possible: McD may have had a lance head on the helmet, perhaps even custom fit it himself; Averell, writing in old age, may have mis-remembered, and morphed McD’s helmet with those that became popular in the intervening years; or Averell may have added the spike for dramatic effect - the polished spike representing the high hopes of the man and the nation as the campaign kicked off, the broken lance-head at the exhausted McD’s feet symbolic of the broken man and the broken dreams of a quick end to the war.
Many thanks to Harry and Tim for their input on this.

Tidball remembers McDowell

August marked the third anniversary of this blog; it was some time into the second year that Blogger's built-in search feature for this site began breaking down due to the volume of posting. The workaround that held up for the following year was to enter a search string plus cwbn.blogspot.com into the Google search engine home page, and now even that is failing.

I say this not in pride but in frustration in not being able to find material I have posted. For instance I cannot believe that I have not written more about artilleryman John C. Tidball's biography than just this ... a complaint from 2004 that Tidball's bio should be published before McDowell's.

And yet, it's a good biography; I love his stories about General Tim Sherman (but will save them for a future Tim Sherman extravaganza).

Reader Bill Bergen today reminded me of a McDowell pre-war anecdote that Tidball relates. McDowell was fascinated by a mechanical doll he bought for his daughter. Somehow, Tidball and McDowell got onto this topic during an inspection and McDowell became so engrossed in the subject that he forgot his main purpose.

Lost in the woods of his mind.

Tidball was arch enough to share this experience with his peers, who then ensnared McDowell repeatedly into re-enacting the same little lecture with the same results - escape from inspection.

Tidball: "Great minds are often prone to run to bigness in small things, and McDowell was no exception to the rule." His verdict on McDowell: "McDowell - poor man, will come out all right from the absurd accusations of disloyalty, drinking, etc., but nothing will ever make a general of him..."

The econo-lodges of Montgomery Meigs

That "upstart with the power to annoy," Montgomery Meigs, aspired to be an architect and ACW blogger Tom Churchill recently took the trouble to visit one of MM's lodges. Great post - but it seems to me what happened in this particular case was that Meigs' Second Empire style home (very contemporary in his day) was subject to a Dutch Colonial makeover, DC being quite popular in the 1920s.

It would really have been interesting to see Meigs' original Second Empire done in stone in that tiny scale Tom photographed - especially with a Mansard roof per the original design.

Good luck to Tom, Stephen McManus, and Donald Thompson over at Touch the Elbow.

(Don't keep touching your elbow, Gen. Halleck, you'll go blind.)

Case closed on hat and brother

We've got questions, guest blogger Harry Smeltzer has answers...

On McDowell's mystery headgear, he writes: "I found [this] in Detzer [Donnybrook], page 428. He gets the description from Averell’s Ten Years in the Saddle ..."
On the portico [Arlington House] was the solitary figure of a large man sitting on a chair with his arm hanging over the back of his bare head bowed on his breast. His flushed face and stentorian breathing indicated a profound slumber. At his feet lay a soiled helmet that had once been white and the metal lance-head on top of it was broken off.
Harry says, "The question is, Did Averell ever see the spike or is he assuming that it was broken off since he did not see one? It would appear that McDowell still had this or a similar hat one year later at 2nd Bull Run, where Union soldiers claimed he was signaling the enemy with his unusual headgear. ISTR that Hennessy describes the hat as wicker and looking like an inverted canoe. I don’t remember him mentioning a spike."

I'll look up that reference tonight. Could an "inverted canoe" describe a toppee? I don't think so - that description speaks more to some sort of custom headgear, some sort of straw Hornblower chapeau.

Tim Reese has more on America's love affair with the toppee:
Forgot to mention that the basic toppee shape is that which was later adopted by American cops, Keystone and otherwise. Just a blocked gray felt blank with a tin star stuck on the front. Brit Bobbies still wear a nearly identical version of the Army's 1881 Universal Pattern Helmet. Toppee, by the way - is Urdu for "clump of trees". I've been fascinated by this form since childhood. Very attractive to us graphics types. My example is attached, this from the Zulu War of 1879. I used to have half a dozen versions of this before I sold off my collection. Fascinating subject. They were so flimsy you could easily crush one between your hands. That's why so few originals have survived.
On the matter of McDowell's putative brother Col. John A., Harry Smeltzer writes: "I found mention of John McDowell in Wiley Sword’s Shiloh: Bloody April. On page 128 of the revised edition:
Portly Colonel John A. McDowell of the First Brigade [of Sherman’s division, 6th IA, 46th OH, 40th IL, 6th IN Battery] was the younger brother of General Irvin McDowell, leader of the Union army at First Bull Run. Yet John had only served briefly as a captain of an independent militia company about fifteen years earlier, and knew more about railroading than fighting. He held a low opinion of artillery and was fond of asking, "Whoever heard of a dead or wounded artilleryman?"
Harry says Sword's "source for this is a book by A. A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments. John McDowell is not listed in Heitman."

Last night my trail converged with Harry's at the doorstep of Simpson and Berliner's book Sherman's Civil War. I put the book down after a little checking, skeptical of finding the brotherly connection. Harry was more patient and produced this recap.
A footnote in “Sherman’s Civil War” says John was Colonel of the 6th Iowa. On page 341 is a letter from WTS to Irvin McDowell; Sherman notes that his brother John “is a good kind hearted Gentleman, full of zeal for our cause”, when he left him in command of a brigade at Oxford. Cump says he urged his name for promotion. A letter dated 3/13/63 “Camp before Vicksburg” says “that McDowell has resigned”, Simpson’s note saying that this was probably John who commanded a brigade in 15th Corps. The index to Sherman’s “Memoirs” (LOA edition) lists references to John under “McDowell, General J. A.”, but the text only refers to him as colonel. Sherman is complimentary of John in all the writings I looked at in these two books and in his report of Shiloh.
Gentlemen, I think this this calls for another cigar.


Lincoln simulacra

Even for a drug ad, this reaches new heights of obscurity. In case you care, Rozerem ramelteon is sleep medicine.

Baudrillard: In the fourth (and farthest out) order of simulation, that which is symbolized no longer has any relation to reality - it is a simulacra, the simulation of a simulation. Conceptually, it is a free floating radical. It has broken free of any link to meaning.

Col. John A. McDowell - brother to Irvin?

Andrew Wagenhoffer mentioned to me that he recalls some curious information in a work consulted in days gone - that Shiloh Brigade Commander Col. John A. McDowell was brother to Irvin.
I have not seen that (yet) myself and have been stymied by McDowell genealogy generally. Anyone for the brotherhood of John and Irvin?

How about anyone for a McDowell Cigar?

McDowell's hat, revisited

Tim Reese is as intrigued by the McDowell hat mystery as I was. His email is worth quoting at length:

Your closer about McDowell’s ubiquitous “hat” got my wheels to turning ...

The basic shape of the toppee or sun helmet was devised well before the Indian Mutiny of 1857. It was manufactured locally - primarily at Cawnpore - for use by troops of the Honorable East Indian Company’s private army, hence its more common use by HEIC troops rather than Queen’s troops. These were the days of forced concessions to both comfort amid heat and of rudimentary camouflage. Though white cloth was a near standard, varying shades of gray and khaki (i.e., dust) colored-cloth were also used on occasion. One popular pattern dubbed the “pipe helmet” had a tube affixed to the crown to admit fresh air (bottom center), though the “button” style ventilator quickly became universal.

The attached montage illustrates patterns in use during the 1850s and beyond.

The type shown at top center was most common, a basic shell banged out en masse. These were easily and cheaply made, at first of wicker, then universally of cloth-covered sheet cork.

It is conceivable that McDowell picked up one of these shell-pattern helmets while in India. Metallic embellishments on the other hand are suspect. It would be interesting to see if any contemporary sightings of McDowell’s headdress specify use of a spike and badge. Though present on very rare Indian examples, their use was unheard of in British service for decades thereafter.

The brass crown spike with floral base and brass star badge at front are of another era. The popularity of the spiked helmet was spurred by the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871, the British then adopting their own cloth helmet circa 1880 (left top) in imitation of the Prussian pickelhaube. The U.S. Army did likewise circa 1881 (right top & bottom). Confusion arises when one fails to perceive that the full-dress cloth helmet and the toppee/sun helmet experienced wholly separate evolutions in all national services, Brits alone retaining theirs for foreign service into the 20th Century.

The crown spike with floral base had different patterns for officers and for enlisted men. Moreover, the use of an eight-pointed radiant star badge [shown in yesterday's post - DR] far exceeds the period in which McDowell supposedly procured his example. The star badge itself - generic, devoid of regimental insignia - is strongly reminiscent of American militia use. Its spike and base more closely resemble those used on the later regulation American pattern cloth helmet.

[...] Imagining the helmet without these trappings might explain in part why it appeared so visually offensive to many viewers.

Sprague in a nutshell

From the site, Mr. Lincoln's White House. Quotes are verbatim with my emphasis added:

* As Governor of Rhode Island (1861-63), he put himself in charge of state militia but refused a regular army commission unless he could be a major general.

* [H]e needed contacts [a wife] that could help keep his nine mills supplied with cotton and supply his need to feel important...

* Sprague's "Texas Adventure" involved a treasonous scheme to sell arms to Confederates in order to buy cotton; publicity about it was suppressed by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

* [As senator] Sprague defied his father-in-law [Chase] when he voted for Andrew Johnson's impeachment—a vote which was probably dictated by his vulnerability to legal reprisals from Stanton.

* Sprague financially supported his father-in-law's abortive search for the 1864 presidential nomination ...

You can take a creepy Internet tour of the Sprague mansion here.


Preamble: Irvin McDowell

Before posting the last of the series on "How to Become a Corps Commander," I thought it best to separate the chaff of my impressions of McDowell from the wheat of analytic comparison that represents this series. This post, then, is summary and informal.

Yet another publishing season has come and gone without any scholar or publisher troubling him/herself with a biography of McDowell. You remain at the mercy of websites like this one. Should you ever wish, in the future, to contest my picture of Civil War publishing as broken, check books-in-print first to see if there is yet a McDowell bio. If not, cut me the break please. This is an ongoing disgrace.

Irvin McDowell was one of those rare high command figures who was on active duty when the war broke out, although he was not a member of the high command at first. He hailed from Ohio and was assistant adjutant general in Washington in April '61.

In the general pattern of patronage, at the war's outbreak the active duty officer was generally holding a mess of pottage. The connections employed to secure West Point appointment were broken by time and change of political fortunes. Consider William Franklin: his appointment to the USMA was arranged by Buchanan when Buck was an MC. His presence in Washington as engineer of the Capitol dome construction had much to do with President Buchanan. Serving officers were, by and large, politicaly orphaned before hostilities commenced.

Not Irvin McDowell. He was cousin to Ohio's sitting Gov. William Dennison, who had replaced ex-Gov. Salmon Chase, the treasury secretary. Chase and Dennison ran the Ohio Republican machine with a little help from political generals like Jacob Cox and a future presidents Garfield and McKinley. McDowell was one of the handful of prewar officers, like Sumner, Keyes, and Heintzelman, who was known as a Republican and an Abolitionist. He had a backer in the Cabinet and a cousin in the governor's mansion.

For reasons ostensibly having to do with overwork in spring and summer of 1861, Simon Cameron delegated large portions of his secretary of war portfolio to Salmon Chase. As Cameron was Seward's creature, and an unhappy one, the delegation of his work to Seward's nemesis Chase is worth studying in a future post.

The prodigious war work performed by Chase earned him the courtesy title "General" and for this work he needed military advice. He recruited capitol engineer William Franklin (ousted from his position by Seward's protege Meigs) and Irvin McDowell. J.G. Randall aptly calls this duo Chase's "military cabinet." One of their more substantial projects was the development - under Chase's direction - of the table of equipment and organization for USV regiments.

The duo of McDowell and Franklin became one of the best known military combinations in Washington, with the pair sitting in Cabinet meetings, drafting operational plans, and acting as a de facto planning group for Chase and even Lincoln. When Scott needed bypassing, the McDowell/Franklin team was there for the civilians. They foreshadowed the use to which McClellan would be put after Bull Run. They were revived, as a team, during McClellan's illness in December of 1861.

As McClellan would be foisted upon an unwilling Scott, so was McDowell. When Chase arranged McDowell's promotion from major to BG, Scott became outraged because he was against
grade inflation and because he had not been consulted on the matter (see Beatie, Vol. 1). Lincoln (and Chase) made McDowell Scott's deputy and then used McDowell and Franklin (again) to plan the advance into Virginia without Scott's involement.

Among McDowell's relatives, we should mention that Gen. John Buford, of cavalry fame, was married to McDowell's cousin; and McDowell met his wife through the old Whig General Wool, whose ADC McDowell had been. Oddly enough, when Chase's man McDowell became damaged, Chase's man McClellan took charge. When McClellan became damaged, Gov. Dennison's relative (by marriage) Napoleon Buford was sought as Mac's replacement (see here and here).

Again, exploring the Chase dimension, note that General Wadsworth, the upstate politician heading the anti-Seward wing of the New York Republican Party (i.e. the Chase wing) rocketed from volunteer ADC to McDowell to brigadier general immediately after Bull Run.

Note also McClellan's decision - under Chase's and Dennison's sponsorship - to keep McDowell on board after Bull Run. After McDowell allows the Radicals to use him in a plot to overthrow McClellan, it is Franklin who intervenes on McDowell's behalf to mend fences with Mac. All this is grist for that future biography.

After second Bull Run, McDowell ends up as as president of the Court for investigating cotton frauds. This is a sensitive post for any friend of Salmon Chase because Chase has married his daughter off to the biggest cotton mill owner in the North, William Sprague, ex-governor of Rhode Island. Sprague manages to get a lot of cotton during McDowell's tenure.

McDowell's brother Malcom, another personal ADC, later became paymaster of the Army of Tennessee. In an 1864 letter to his father, Gen. Frank Blair complains that McDowell's paymaster brother is running Treasury-authorized cotton deals through enemy lines on behalf of Governor Sprague. Irvin was not minding the cotton fraud desk as diligently as he might have.

Finally, on a trivial note, if you read soldiers' accounts of encounters with McD, you tend to find him wearing "that hat." They all seem offended by the hat but none bother to describe it. I once asked Thomas P. Rowland, who was then researching a McDowell bio, what on earth the hat might have been. He thought it a souvenir of McDowell's Indian sojourns, a toppee.

It's as much biography as has emerged, but I'll take what I can get.

(A non-period reproduction of any old toppee is shown at right.)

Digital publishing

Tim Reese is doing some interesting things with digital publishing.
This line looks set to grab a broad audience of non-readers and highly visual readers.


The Comte de Paris

Mark Grimsley has started a series of posts of his personal translations of passages from the Comte de Paris' unpublished diary  (1861-1862), a very good use for this blogging medium, I think. You can put your new Internet citational habits to work if you quote Mark's translations - and you'll want to.
Meanwhile Ted Savas comments that Russel Beatie has been using the same source for his AoP books ... but I wonder if he is referring by mistake to Louis-Phillippe's published history of the Peninsula Camapign.

You've been plogged!

Man, this is my kind of post; thank you Brian Downey. Someday mainstream historians will also become interested in the patrons, sponsors, friends, and enemies of military figures.

As long as we are swapping blog identities, let me opine, Brian-like, on his particular topic of digital history.

I logged onto Amazon today and noticed that I had been plogged. I don't know what "plog" stands for except that it seems to be a blog written by an author for Amazon to direct at recent buyers of said author's books. We're connected! Warm and fuzzies and purchases to follow...

The hitch seems to be that these "plogs" are authored specifically for Amazon. The margins of my Amazon page are brimming with clickable images of the covers of Eric Wittenberg's books, but Amazon does not import Eric's blog for feeding into the faces of his book buyers. Ditto for Grimsley-Simpson-Woodworth.

Is this a malfunction or a policy?


Cossacks in blue: McClellan and Turchin

In the midst of a most improbable family reunion back in November, the name of Union General John Turchin (shown right) came up.

My father's cousin Basil Rotoff, in from Canada, said that Turchin was a member of our Host, the Don Cossacks, and that there was a full biography of the man written in Russian. Uncle Basil put in a few good words for the hard war Turchin practiced, and in a room full of Cossacks, there was ready agreement.

I kept my own McClellanist mouth occupied with champagne and oysters, as it were.

Uncle Basil pointed out that Turchin was the commanding officer of one of the Czar's imperial Don Cossack guards regiments. This would certainly have made him an acquaintance of our own kith and kin, I think, for they served in the same capacity long before his time and after.

Guards officers were members of the court. They were not cavalry militia scraping out a life on the frontier subject to retaliatory passions. This makes Turchin an odd duck, for he was both a revolutionary, Basil told me, and a sexual libertine given to mistresses. Turchin was also - as any Civil War reader knows - a scorched earth general.

Moten tells us that when McClellan was in the Crimea, the French wanted nothing to do with him; the British were congenial but suspicious; but the Russians welcomed him wholeheartedly. This could have engendered that Russophilism Moten notes in GBM.

Taken into the bosom of the Russian army, McClellan concluded that Cossacks were a paradigm for a kind of frontier cavalry that could be repurposed for conventional war. A surmise: he did not get these ideas by associating with line officers, the kind who might have burned Athens, Georgia, in a trice. He spent time with the court's polished Guard Cossacks (right), who would have shown more "soft war" in their French conversation (French being a language of the court and McClellan being a French reader and speaker). The question arises as to whether McClellan might have associated hard war with an American-model Cossack-style cavalry. On the frontier, perhaps, but in conventional war?

I have good reason to suspect that hard war John Turchin met soft war George McClellan in the Crimea, not that either was advocating for a particular policy at that time. Turchin's Don Cossack Guard regiment was there - my own family history tells us so. Also interesting, is this item of information:

In 1856, at the end of the Crimean War, the Turchins immigrated to Chicago, Illinois, where he found work in the engineering department of the Illinois Central Railroad.
The chief engineer in that department was one George B. McClellan. Had McClellan's draft cavalry regulations, submitted to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis as appendices to his Delafield report, owed anything to John Turchin? In other words, did Turchin impose upon a friendship?

Recall also that the railroad's lawyer was one Abraham Lincoln, and Mr. Lincoln's boss was the same George B. McClellan. As often as Lincoln and McClellan toured the Illinois county courthouse circuit together on land cases - a subject Civil War history has yet to show the slightest interest in - the question arises as to whether Turchin might have stood in for his boss McClellan now and again.*

One wonders if a Lincoln connection prompted Illinois' Gov. Yates to give Turchin his state USV colonelcy in 1861. These were highly prized political posts. Most foreign officers with military experience lacked connections; the governors rejected them and they ended up on the staffs of Fremont or McClellan. Turchin got a regiment from Yates. Then he got a brigade from Mac's protege Buell.

There is enough Turchin literature about in English such that we, as readers, might get insight into the Turchin-McClellan-Lincoln connections without waiting for various Pulitzer winners to show us the light.

Notice that...

* The Illinois State Historical Society has some useful articles in print (scroll way down).

* The Army has archived a 100-page plus study of the general.

* There is a new book on the sack of Athens due out next month.

* An older book focuses on Turchin's abolitionism.

Amazon also lists a couple of old books by Turchin himself.


P.S. Later, when McClellan moved on to assume the presidency of an Ohio railroad, and when he vacated that presidency to prosecute a war, he was replaced by a certain Nathaniel Banks. But that is another post entirely.
P.P.S. "John Turchin" is an idiosyncratically Americanized name. I find it weird that there could be an actor and a developer of the same name at large today. In fact, there a lot of John Turchins out there.

Citations from all types of Internet sources

A reader had asked how to cite this blog and I posted a link to some style pages describing "how-to."
This page is comprehensive, however, and should be bookmarked. (Quibblers will say that blogs are not listed, however I think they come under the heading "Personal site" as shown.) There is never just one way, but these are good ways.
Hat-tip to the thoroughness mavens who put this together.


He read, she read

It was said of Ernest Hemmingway that he tried to broaden the market for novels beyond women.

That was then and this is now, and the divide between men (nonfiction) and women (fiction) is simply a given in publishing today. Cartoonist Tony Millionaire notices the gap widening further and illustrates it with this little dialog:
Her: You should read this great book! It's about these people who -
Him: So, when did this stuff happen?
Her: It didn't happen, it's a novel...
Him: So, it's like telling a dream?

Excess seeking success

In pulling together the raw data for Civil War Book News this year, I noticed a couple of striking anomalies.

First, November Irish madness. The following titles are slated for release in November. What were the odds?

The Harp and the Eagle: Irish Volunteers and the Union Army 1861-1865 (New York University Press)

God Help the Irish!: The History of the Irish Brigade (State House Press)

Irish Confederates: The Civil War's Forgotten Soldiers (State House Press)

Second, Confederate women on parade. The number of these titles is trending upwards annually:

Confederate Heroines: 120 Southern Women Convicted by Union Military Justice (Oct.)

The Widow of the South (Sep.)

First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War ( (Sep.)

Blood and Irony: Southern White Women's Narratives of the Civil War, 1861-1937 (Aug.)

Wild Rose: Rose O'Neale Greenhow, Civil War Spy (May)

Confederate Girl's Diary (May)

Defining Moments in the Lives of Mary Todd Lincoln and Varina Howell Davis (April

North Carolina Women of the Confederacy (Mar.)


Less of a bastard than commonly thought?

Two revisions of Henry Wirz's reputation appear in the same month:

Captain Henry Wirz and Andersonville Prison: A Reappraisal by R. Fred Ruhlman

Andersonville: The Last Depot by William Marvel

Civil War Book News

After a painful hiatus I have resumed updating Civil War Book News. More to come.


Can you imagine?

Civil War publishing seems to be a big party, complete with lampshades on authors' heads.

Can you imagine having your latest book - and your life's work - being called beer and pretzel fare in a favorable review?

Can you imagine writing a biography of Grant that reflects on Zachary Taylor's capture of Mexico City?