7/31/2007

Carter House

CWPT is collecting money to buy a half acre at Carter House on Franklin Battlefield. Unfortunately, these kinds of snail mail appeals seem not to be represented on their website, so it's an "invitation only" contribution I suppose.

Anytime they aim to buy land (as opposed to easements), I'll contribute. Anytime they eschew partnering with non-ACW groups to secure land rights, I will contribute with gusto.

p.s. Anyone know why Mr. "Fountain Branch Carter" named his son "Moscow?"

The light table as software metaphor

Encountered a new way to find images across multiple search engines: searchcrystal. Of course, there's no guarantee you won't get the same picture endlessly, especially searching for Napoleon Buford.

"Appomattox"

Surprised?
In the Bay Area, the biggest, and most eagerly anticipated, event on the fall calendar is "Appomattox." Glass' opera, which focuses on the final days of the American Civil War, makes its world premiere in a San Francisco Opera production Oct. 5 at the War Memorial Opera House.
Meanwhile, the descendants of the owner of the home in which the surrender occurred yesterday convened, for the first time, on the reopening of the renovated structure.

Someone missed a tie-in opportunity.

7/30/2007

Call me grumpy

This "heartwarming story" bothers me on many levels.

* If a 13-year-old can make an "award-winning" documentary on the Civil War for the Park Service, the field of public history needs to look at itself.

* It's cute if she accompanies rangers with "color commentary," but on a deeper level it casts a shadow on the adult.

* And are these parents for real? Encouraging a four-year-old's (impossible) obsession for nine years? Or is the tabloid world bending my thoughts towards the sinister?

If it's all a charade to make a tyro feel good, let's not overdo it.

Simon breaks a heart

John Y. Simon, the editor of Grant's papers, comments on the soon-to-be auctioned Appomattox document: "I don't like to blow the whistle, but I hear about these all the time... I am in the heartbreak business. Whenever things like this come up, I am the one who says this is not what you think it is. Let's find out what it is. But I can tell you what it isn't."

Hat tip to reader Russell Bonds for passing this on. He would have us note that Foote's caveats to his own "authentication" appear farther down in the story.

The use of Foote in this matter is surreal. Recall that the appeal to authority argument is ranked as an error, a fallacy in rhetoric. Here an authority on one thing is asked to judge another matter and an appeal to authority - a false argument - is then constructed even where there is no authority.

p.s. My wife reads Lovejoy mysteries from which I gather antiques and collectibles are criminal activities everywhere and all the time.

7/27/2007

Just what we like

What the audiobook buyer wants:
…an endless spectacle of blood and dust and insects and carnage. That’s what the war itself was like, of course. Here are the fatigue, the despair, the pain, the screams, the deafening cannon plowing through human ranks, death, and dismemberment.
Yippee.

7/26/2007

Towards a new Civil War history

We have reached a point in time where the discrete rebuttals of individual points of doctrine within Centennial history can now be pulled together into a virtual "answer" to the kid stuff that has plagued advanced Civil War readers for 50 years.

The writers named below do not agree with each other, nor do they necessarily win their arguments, nor are they in each case necessarily more virtuous in their handling of sources or criticism than the consensus mongers. But at least we have here the beginnings of a composite picture of a different Civil War.

Warning: if we enter the mighty promotional engine of the Sesquicentennial with the usual talking heads disgorging the usual pap we will see another 20 years of pop history piled onto the 50 we have just suffered through. The Sesquicentennial may end up having the effect of a hit movie or novel in flooding bookstores with ignorant nonfiction readers holding onto profoundly antihistory values (narrative bias, detail aversion, love of archtype, emotional connection to "characters," and a taste for cheap literary tricks).

Consider:

(1) The war was not inevitable. It was caused by blundering and/or conniving. (Ayers, Marvel, Detzer, Lankford.)

(2) Party strife hurt the Union war effort, it did not help it. (Neely.)

(3) In terms of weapons and technique, this was not a modern war. (Nosworthy, Neely, Boydian 4GW theory.)

(4) It was the world's last major musket war and did not widen the battle space. (Nosworthy.)

(5) There could never have been a battle of annihilation between Civil War armies. (Hattaway and Jones, Jones)

(6) Historians persistently magnify and distort achievments of ACW soldiers and leaders due to a lack of military history context. (Nosworthy.)

(7) Napoleonic references saturating contemporary literature usually refer to Louis Napoleon. (Nosworthy.)

(8) "Political generals" were tremendously useful. (Goss.)

(9) There is no such thing as a non-political general. (Goss, Connelly.)

(10) Grant was profoundly political. (Simpson.)

(11) Any Rebel "invasion" of the North was a temporary raid operation, not an invasion. (Hattaway and Jones, Jones.)

(12) Judged as raids, the Rebel win/loss calculus changes entirely. (Hattaway and Jones, Jones, Masterson.)

(13) If Gettysburg was a raid, the Rebels won big. (Masterson.)

(14) The Union public put more stock in the small successes of McClellan, Lyons, and Butler than in the big loss at Bull Run. (Phillips.)

(15) Modern readers and the ACW public both falsely analyze the war on a tactical win/loss basis. (Hattaway and Jones.)

(16) Battles may not have mattered. (Hattaway and Jones.)

(17) Lee commanded in Western Virginia against McClellan in '61. (Newell.)

(18) McClellan was the first to understand "theatre" and was the only leader who could plan at that level. (Newell, Reed.)

(19) Combined operations campaign planning died with McClellan's relief. (Reed)

(20) Lincoln and Grant struggled - there was no free rein. (Simpson, Simon)

(21) The British military build-up in Canada continued throughout the war, preserving a war option long after the Maryland Campaign and Emancipation Proclamation. (Reese.)

(22) Meigs presided over nationalized war industries on a massive scale. (Wilson.)

(23) Union ironclad procurement was a failure and represented an abandoned model until taken up in recent times. (Roberts.)

(24) The economic effect of the war was to retard U.S. development. (Thornton and Ekelund)

(25) The blockade was effective and its secondary effects were devastating. (Surdam.)

(26) Sheridan was not whom you think he was. (Wittenberg.)

(27) McClellan was not whom you think he was. (Rowland, Beatie, Rafuse, Newell, Reese)

(28) Joe Johnston was not whom you think he was. (Newton.)

(29) Schofield was not whom you think he was. (Connelly.)

(30) Franklin was not whom you think he was. (Snell.)

(40) Rosecrans was not whom you think he was. (Lamers.)

(41) Patterson was not whom you think he was. (Detzer.)

(42) The Peninsula Campaign was not what you think it was. (Beatie.)

(43) The Maryland Campaign was not what you think it was. (Harsh, Reeese.)

(44) Grant's Richmond campaign was not what you think it was. (Grimsley.)

(45) Gettysburg was not a decisive battle. (Goss.)

(46) After Sherman reaches the coast of Georgia, no northeastern battle matters. (McMurry.)

(47) The election of 1864 could not change the outcome of the war, regardless of candidates. (McMurry.)

(48) Lincoln was an error-prone, problematic military superior (Beatie.)

(49) No one is integrating the findings of microhistories. (Nosworthy.)

(50) See next posting. (Rotov)

(Shown top right: what ACW history could become in the Sesquicentennial .)

"Which Civil War General are you?" (cont.)

More here under Brooks Simpson as Lee. Includes Eric Wittenberg (Longstreet), Ethan Rafuse (Sherman), Drew Wagenhoffer (McClellan-Burnside!) and many more.

Meanwhile, Jim Beeghley scored 90% as Burnside. One of his readers copped a Sherman.

"Which Civil War Politician are You?" is the game I want to play next. I'm developing this one and should have it up and running by Tuesday.

We love hokum

Civil War buffs can really dish out the cornballs.
Saturday's Civil War encampment ... featured a debate between the war's pre-eminent generals, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.
Next: potato sack races, Davis versus Lincoln.

7/24/2007

"Which Civil War General are You?" (cont.)

Mark Grimsley is Sherman. Samuel Wheeler is Grant. I am still Longstreet.

And everyone is carefully monitoring their Burnside scores.

What would Stonewall say?

A popular fiction writer can be expected to have as little interest in distinctions as a pop history writer - maybe even fewer.

I was not surprised, therefore, that the former pulp fiction novelist James Webb, now representing Virginia in the U.S. Senate, would make a claim as historically romantic and extravagant as this:


The lawmaker was making a point about certain National Guard troops deploying to Iraq in September after returning only two years ago from a deployment in Afghanistan. Those troops are deploying with roughly 1,400 Virginia Army National Guard members of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, "the famous Stonewall Brigade," he said.

"I would point out as an aside," Webb said, "that this is a brigade with a long history that dates back to the Civil War, and, in fact, one of my ancestors fought in that brigade during the Civil War, was wounded at Antietam, and lost his life at Chancellorsville."
Webb served in the military and was Secretary of the Navy at one time; if he was interested in unit history, he should have learned something about unit lineage.

There is no Stonewall Brigade on duty with the Virginia ANG, whatever the ANG claims.

The connection between the 116th Brigade Combat Team (BCT) and the Stonewall Brigade is a claim that the 116th Infantry Regiment, the core of the BCT, was once a Stonewall Brigade unit. Nonsense. Not even close. The regiment's own lineage page proves otherwise.

Start with the idea that there was no 116th Virginia anything in the Stonewall Brigade. The key connection seems to be that: "Former elements of the Stonewall Brigade and the 52d Virginia Infantry reorganized 1871-1881 in the Virginia Volunteers as separate infantry companies in the Shenandoah Valley." So the 116th is descended from companies of the Virginia Volunteers, post war.

I understand that there is a fungibility in lineage, but this pushes way past the breaking point. There is no history here, just sleight of hand for morale-building purposes. Take a look at the lineage of one of my old outfits and notice how clean by comparison.

A second point, more offensive than the contrived Stonewall connection: lineage as a rule does not flow upward or downward. The unit itself is the object of its own history. Units are deactivated, reactivated, merged, redesignated, but remain immortal - they are either active or not.

Assigning the 1/17th Infantry Battalion (my counter example in the last link) to another infantry division in the 1980s did not flow the 1/17th's historical association with the 2nd Infantry Division upward. When the Sixth ID gained the reassigned 1/17th it did not become the Second Infantry Division. Nor did it become the 17th Infantry Regiment.

So even if Stonewall had fought the 116th Virginia Infantry at Manassas, which he didn't, its heritage could not rise like baked dough to envelop the gaining 116th BCT in a warm pillow of historical identity - "the Stonewall Brigade." The 116th BCT is an historically unique unit. The Stonewall Brigade was a unique unit and not not defined by its constituent regiments (not legally nor organizationally only historically). Even if the 33rd Virginia had been redesignated the 116th Virginia before the end of the ACW, it could not bestow Stonewall Brigade status on a higher (gaining) unit.

The deeper question is not one of historical procedure but about the meaning of unit history to soldiers. Does it matter that soldiers take a false historical consciousness to war? Have we done well to tell morale-building lies about lineage? And is it any kind of surprise that a politician would seem not to know the difference?

Coming out of Afghanistan, headed to Iraq, these men will not be allowed to make a name for themselves or their unit. A name has been given them and the name is a lie.

(More clean lineages here.)

"This Week in the Blogs"

Laurie Chambliss is really going to town at "This Week in the Blogs." More Civil War blogs have gone to sleep than she indicates at the link, however. I'll publish my own updated inactive list soon.

7/23/2007

"Which ACW general are you?"

Don't know who cooked this quiz up. I answered based on previous military service and current inclinations - not sure how a civilian would answer. (Hypothetically, asynchronously, and with a dash of wishful thinking?) The questions obviously play to pop lit stereotypes.

Somehow I was "scored as General James Longstreet." This means that Longstreet has some sort of obvious pop culture identity that I conform to. Wonder what it is. Lee: audacious. Grant: determined. McClellan: cautious. Longstreet: Deaf?
My top 5:

General James Longstreet - 75%
Robert E. Lee - 70%
U.S. Grant - 70%
General George McClellan - 60%
William T. Sherman - 55%

I scored least as Burnside = 15%. I am the un-Burnside.
You have to swallow a naivete pill before taking the test. If this is not intriguing summer fun, you can yourself design a better ACW test here. Tell me if you do and I'll post the link.

Kearney vs Sinatra

A New Jersey blogger calls for the removal of Kearney's statue from the Capitol building. "I think it is safe to say that no one either knows what Philip Kearney did or cares for that matter. [...] New Jersey isn't about some mummified Civil War guy..."

If we go down this road, may I suggest a statue of Governor McClellan? Oh, sorry, he's a mummified Civil War guy too. This blogger wants Sinatra.

In Usenet, you'd call this trolling except the poster is serious.

How we progress

This seems a rare thing in Civil War history: historians organizing their next project to complement an existing work by a third author. Collaborative. Web-like. Immensely constructive.

Eric and J.D. merit a salute.

Booktour dot com

This idea seems cumbersome to me but Civil War author Vernon Burton is using it.

Canby or can't be

Development around Ft. Blakely, near Mobile, is being opposed with a ritual invocation of Civil War history. Details are vague: "a Union general probably commandeered a still-standing home ..." And a Union general probably put his pants on that day.

I'm assuming the general in question was Canby although the newspaper does not want to trouble its readers with this level of detail.

7/20/2007

Idiot-proofing the command

This looks like a cruel hoax designed to mock civilians in uniform. It's like something Grant would have ordered built to keep Ben Butler out of trouble.

Instead, it's a commentary on the state of Army "professionalism" and its victory over the "native genius" of civilian leadership after 1865.

The Army's "zero defects" mentality now seeks high-tech idiot-proofing devices to keep career-inhibiting mistakes way down.

p.s. Hat tip to Opposed Systems Design.

Geneaology - the next step (cont.)

Another next step, once the genealogical research is done: use the material to write, produce, and perform in a one-woman show.

(Want to make a movie out of your family history? See here.)

Monocacy gets new visitor center

Quite a bit more here than a plaque and a torn flag.

7/19/2007

Lee's surrender up for auction

You would have thought it was in the National Archives already: "A letter handwritten by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to Gen. Robert E. Lee on April 10, 1865, discussing terms of surrender of the Confederate Army and originally penned at the Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, will be sold the weekend of August 4-5 by Gallery 63."

On the other hand, it could be a fake. Even if it "was authenticated by the late Civil War historian Shelby Foote."

Sudden death playoffs

If a sports nut ran a Civil War blog, this is what you'd get.

I don't mean "fan" or "rabid fan," I mean certifiable.

What Lincoln liked to eat

A Chicago newsman took Andrew Ferguson on a city tour of Abraham Lincoln sites. Ferguson told him,
"A guy I got to know doing the book is the greatest living Lincoln historian but almost unknown, 'Doc' Wayne Temple, now deputy archivist of the State of Illinois. He has a book called 'The Taste Is in My Mouth a Little,' and it is about Lincoln's eating habits, an entire book, 250-300 pages about what Lincoln liked to eat. It turns out that Lincoln liked really bland food -- oysters and ham hocks."
Actually, the book is 704 pages. Oysters are not "bland" and ham hocks are salty.

Golfing ghouls

Their driving range targets are the headstones of Civil War veterans:
Erin Robb said that at the centuries-old Mt. Vernon [MI] cemetery, she found about 700 golf balls dotting the grass between the headstones of Civil War veterans and the freshly dug grave of her 33-year-old brother, Scott. ... White paint outlined five areas from which golfers teed off toward graves...

7/18/2007

Splitting the difference

William Freehling has been consistent in resisting the "Inevitability of War" thesis, a long-dominant school of (Centennial) Civil War historiography.

Even back in 1971, Freehling's criticized psychological historians who promoted a hybrid "inevitability" thesis. Under that scenario, still very much with us, choices were indeed made by men that led to war, but they were the inevitable fruit of intense paranoia - insurmountable North vs. South prewar paranoia. In other words, psychological "forces" drove choices.

Here's Freehling:
The student of "paranoids," in short, whether discussing rhetoric or actions, can hardly evade the obligation to demonstrate massive "misunderstandings."
You cannot impute misunderstanding-generating paranoia to the key actors without doing the dirty work of analyzing events. Moreover,
If Southerners were largely correct in describing what anti-slavery Republicans were about, and Northerners were largely correct in describing what Southern disunionists were plotting, it makes no earthly sense to call everyone paranoid.
That would be a gloss - one that saves the writer time and anlytical effort.

Lately, we have a review in the WaPo that portrays Freehling himself as now splitting the difference between the Blundering Generation school and the Inevitables:
So why did war come? There were many reasons, and Freehling deserves credit for pointing out the seemingly small but ultimately crucial role of human forces -- the personalities at play, including that of John Brown, one of the most fascinating figures in our history -- over and against larger, more impersonal ones, such as geography and the economy, which were essential, too. Freehling's mature judgments recognize that history is driven by the grand and the minute, sometimes in equal measure, sometimes not. [My emphasis.]
I don't believe it. The publisher's own book description says otherwise:
The Road to Disunion is the first book to fully document how this decided minority of Southern hotspurs took hold of the secessionist issue and, aided by a series of fortuitous events, drove the South out of the Union.
Even McPherson himself (showing off his knack for rephrasing dust jacket copy) writes,
In richer detail than any previous study, William Freehling explains how a secessionist minority, even in the lower South before 1860, exploited sectional tensions to forge a majority for disunion.
So let me do a little psychologizing of my own. The "Inevitability of War" is so heavily imprinted on his mind that this WaPo reviewer cannot let go of the template; he himself works "inevitability" into the mix. His previous reading must not be wasted. His hard-won (secondhand) "understanding" cannot be unloaded like trash.

"There were many reasons." Not persons, or actions, but "reasons" (forces). Confronted by powerful contrary proofs, the reviewer agrees merely to split the difference.

Human agency in the affairs of Man - it's a lonely idea out here in Civil War historyland. It needs as many friends as it can get. Let's not wish them away, dear reviewer.

500 Clown Civil War history?

From a press release issued by the Pritzker Military Library:
The Pritzker Award [to James McPherson] will be presented on Saturday, October 6, 2007 during the Library's annual Liberty Gala at Chicago's historic Drake Hotel. [...] The evening will include a tribute to members of the armed forces and features a dramatic presentation by the Steppenwolf Theater Company.
The Steppenwolf Theater Company currently has two productions underway:

* 500 Clown Macbeth: "In 500 Clown Macbeth, three clowns descend upon a stage to perform Shakespeare's Scottish Play. Infected by ambition, they compete for the role of Macbeth. In the process, the clowns destroy the text, the set, and eventually each other."

* 500 Clown Frankenstein: "In 500 Clown Frankenstein, three clowns arrive onstage to tell the story of Frankenstein. Challenging costumes, poor lighting, difficult language and an ornery table prevent them from properly telling Mary Shelley's classic tale. The result is the creation of an unexpected horror."

7/17/2007

Tim Reese's books

I screwed up the links in an earlier post: here they are corrected. (They've also been corrected in the post.)

Hat tip to Bob F.

Understanding McPherson's Pritzker award

The mysterious, well-endowed Tawani Foundation (owned by the more cryptic Tawani Enterprises, Inc.) has awarded its first ever "Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievment in Military Writing" to James M. McPherson. There is a $100,000 stipend attached to the award.

Mr. Pritzker himself (lower right) had a few words on the whys of this choice:

By providing an annual award to the most thoughtful and articulate scholar writing about war and military activities, we may in turn be led to better solutions and perhaps a better life for all of us.
That seems rather generic and even a little muddled. Do you see McPherson as a military historian? A bit of a surprise there unless you remember that McPherson's career has its own momentum and he could just as easily win an award for best gardening author of the last 50 years. I think, in terms of institutional gamesmanship, Pritzker made the obvious choice: to start at the top of the heap - with the biggest brand name - and work down to lesser historians from there.

This award has so far (as of this morning) earned the Pritzker Military Library over 65 newspaper articles (including in organs like WaPo), a count that will rise during the day. Coverage was triggered by the McPherson angle: next year's awardee will generate less press. Given the going rate for a PR retainer (about $15,000 per month and up), this was good value for a $100,000 outlay.

Oddly enough, Mr. Pritzker has never asked me (or you?) for money to fund his various foundations and enterprises. I suspect that these are richly self-funded; Charity Navigator has never heard of the Tawani Foundation. There is no reference to an awarding committee in the press release. It may be that McPherson has received a present from the pocket of and on the say-so of a single person.

We should all be so lucky, of course. The thing that struck me about this news story, however, was how much more this money could do if delivered into the hands of Mark Grimsley and his project to fund university chairs in military history. The amount of press would be less, of course, which raises the question, what is this all about?

Now, the news coverage has done its job and sent us to the Pritzker Library where we drilled down into the mission statement where we found out that "Citizen soldiers are an essential element of a democratic society."

That resonates with me more than others. (Wish I had a T-Shirt: "Ask me about my citizen soldier paradigm.") But. But.

Out of his mouth, is this a pro-draft statement? Pro-militia? Is it a strike at the rapidly imploding ethos of "professionalism" that Grant, Sherman, and Schofield saddled us with? I notice this Pritzker is a colonel in the Illinois National Guard: does he have issues with the Regular Army?

Certainly, the Civil War presents us the richest example of citizen soldiers operating at all levels; perhaps remembering the Civil War calls to mind those citizen soldiers; perhaps McPherson's public position as "the greatest living Civil War historian" is a nod towards that Civil War history that presents us with innumerable tableaus of citizens as soldiers.

That is as much as I can make out of this prize. Certainly, McPherson is no particular advocate of citizens soldiering.

So we have loads of good press sending lots of people to a Website that solicits no donations, asks no action of the reader, and whose mission statement barely connects to the award.

Just give the money to Grimsley, Mr. Pritzker.

p.s. Chris Wehner noticed this story before I did. He awarded it one exclamation mark. I think it's worth at least two.

7/16/2007

"Antietam Campaigns"

I had mentioned Tim Reese's Maryland Campaign books in a recent post. Here's the link: they are now on CD in PDF format. The point of this post is to put out those links.

A lengthy aside: I remembered them this weekend after encountering Gary Gallagher's collection called the Antietam Campaign - a naively titled book, given the happenstance nature of the Antietam battle.

Joseph Harsh at length and Ethan Rafuse briefly did well to put paid to the idea that Lee had any initiative in the Maryland campaign - not just after the discovery of SO 191 but from the time Union forces decamped from the fortifications. Once Pope refused the field command, it became McClellan's campaign and devolved on his intentions. Lee's choice of defensive ground defined the battle but not the campaign.

If no one has done better with McClellan's activity up to the point of the discovery of the SO than Harsh and Rafuse, no one has done better after the discovery than Reese in that he produces the key insight about McClellan's campaign-level operational intent. He opens the door to what was to be.

Generations of incomplete analysis of McClellan's orders to Franklin have left us at the mercy of Gallagher-like Antietam Campaigners, compilers and summarizers with a painfully truncated view of Union commander's intentions - writers who can't see past the climactic final battle.
Reese's books are thus worth the deepest consideration.

7/13/2007

The return of the "Blundering Generation"

I am surprised to see that this month William Marvel's book Mr. Lincoln Goes to War has migrated to a paper edition, a suggestion that the hardback did well. (The surprise is that it did well in the prevailing climate.)

We have lived for some time under a dictatorship of thought called "The Inevitability of War" which, in the previous generation, overthrew an historiography called "the Blundering Generation." Under "Blundering" the question is naturally which decisions precipitated war. Under the "Inevitables" it's all moot.

The revisionists Inevitables, headed by James McPherson, have run a tight ship and there has been precious little serious public discussion about choices that caused war. I believe Edward Ayers to be the highest-stature scholarly "Blunderer" operating today. Here he is joined by what must be the highest stature pop historian in the same camp. Good luck to them both because "inevitability" is not an historical concept and those reasonable questions about the Civil War are which decisions triggered events not whether decisions triggered them.

I wrote a little bit more about the subject at the bottom of this post at Civil War Book News.
(That's Marvel, top right.)

Civil War document thief sentenced

He got 15 months. He was angry because other interns were paid and he was not. He needed the money. "Federal authorities were able to recover 161 of the 164 documents."

The warmed-over hackwork of the Associated Press appears here and the richer local reporting appears here.

Would it be too much to ask the National Archives to start copying everything in their holdings right now?

7/12/2007

James McPherson - some loose ends

1) Never update the Bible

Battle Cry of Freedom has not been revised since it was issued in 1988 - or so it would seem to me after looking at frontmatter in new copies in bookstores.

We hear constantly that this volume is not just "scholarship" but the best Civil War "scholarship" available. Is there a scholar anywhere who would not revise a 20-year old tome given the chance?

Oxford University Press opted to publish a picture-book edition of Battle Cry a few years ago when that same budget could have been used to issue a new, updated edition of the full work. I suspect McPherson told them no revision was necessary. Perhaps his timescale is like Gary Gallagher's, i.e. he thinks a new synthesis is needed once every 40 years. If so, he's got 20 years to go.

2) Never write anew when an old book review will do

I broke my promise to you to read and review This Mighty Scourge. The promise was based on the possibility of commenting on a collection of monographs but this is actually a patchwork of old book reviews. How I misled myself: Kevin had referred to the collection as "essays." John Hoptak did so as well.

A book review is a piece reviewing a book, not a monograph on an ACW subject. The author is not committing himself to a revelatory laying-out-of-the-sources or to the judgement of the reader who judges the hand that weighs the evidence. Mind you, the New York Review of Books, where McPherson reigns as an authority, likes reviews with broad scope and lots of context, so the casual reader might become confused. Reviews can be "essay-like" and there are those who will write an essay about a book - not reviewing it at all - but please do not call reviews (which Scourge contains) "essays."

The mixup does not stop with John and Kevin. The enthusiast who reviewed Scourge for the Washington Post was so muddled that he spawned errors now replicating themselves across the Internet. The Post:

He [McPherson] shows how the "Brahmin elite" of Boston provided invaluable leadership for the Union forces, acting with "an ethic of sacrifice, the noblesse-oblige conviction that the privileged classes had a greater obligation to defend the country precisely because of the privileged status they enjoyed."
McPherson does not show this. He is reviewing books by Richard F. Miller (Harvard's Civil War) and Carol Bundy (The Nature of Sacrifice). The work done by these two authors ("showing" anything about the "Brahmin elite") has here been assigned to McPherson as if he did the research, thinking, and writing.

Too fine a point for you? Look at this blog entry: the blogger takes the Post's goof and has now entered into a "dialog" with Brahmin expert McPherson and the reviewer.

At the Boston Globe, their reviewer was just as unguarded as the Post's and even less keen on distinctions. "McPherson explores," "He explains why," it's McPherson all over the place and the authors he is recapitulating disappear entirely. Entirely.

This part of the Globe's review of Scourge is amazing: "He [McPherson, not Miller] devotes a chapter [a review!] to the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 'the Harvard Regiment,' named for all the Brahmins who served and died in it, and plumbs the leadership that helped it fight so well for so long."

Got that? McPherson "plumbs" the topic in "his chapter." Poor Richard Miller. Reviewed by the greatest Civil War historian, his work becomes McPherson's own through the magic of the Boston Globe. The reviewer continues, "He [McPherson, not Carol Bundy] also enlightens us to Charles Russell Lowell, who led the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry before he fell with the 13th horse shot from under him, at Winchester, Va., in 1864." This afterthought mentions an entire second book, written by Bundy, covered in the same review. Again, thanks to the Globe, McPherson "enlightens us" about Lowell.

With book reviews paying dividends like these, it will be a wonder if James McPherson ever writes anything else again.

Note that this de-Bundifying and un-Millering effect can work in reverse, too. They are lucky McPherson did not make a mistake credited to them. Gore Vidal gives an example, which I linked yesterday:

I [Vidal] quoted to him Henry Adams ... For reasons unknown, the reporter then changed the author of my quotation, Henry Adams, to, of all people, Thoreau! This means that for scholars in the future The New York Times's error will be used as a primary source to prove that I—not the reporter—did not know Adams from Thoreau.
I hope Miller and Bundy can be as philosophical about their good luck as their bad luck.

3) Never stop talking to undergrads

McPherson was talking to Bloomberg Radio last week (hat tip to Lincoln Studies) and the interviewer made two Civil War references to "Brahmins" which led me to think McPherson himself had a new book out on the Harvard regiment. I looked it up. He doesn't - he simply again (new day, new venue) accumulated the intellectual capital of Miller and Bundy - their work being nothing but metal filings to his magnetic reputation.

The interview begins with the question of what the greatest Civil War historian was thinking when he wrote Battle Cry. The answer - let no one forget this - is that McPherson says he was thinking of his undergrads (he assigns them the age of 20). "I really just projected my technique of teaching" 20-year-old undergrads into this writing assignment.

Now that settles it, right? Battle Cry cannot, by definition, be a great work on that basis, can it? Can we please take McPherson at his word and agree that this book is no more than what he says it is? The entire interview, BTW, sounds like a professor talking to American History 101.

4) Never think past the blurb

McPherson is asked in this interview about a great Lincoln moment and mistakes the question as one being about a great Lincoln book. He leaps into it with a spirit missing from the rest of the interview - he wants to talk up Goodwin's pop history. It is the only great Lincoln book he wants to talk about.

What is really odd is that he reiterates the dust jacket copy where you or I would say instead "I really liked [something] about it." What is required of him is something more on the lines of "This book is important because it [does this really unique thing]." But McPherson does not even rise to our own level of idle chit-chat (our personal reason for liking). I have transcribed his full comments on Goodwin. See for yourself:

I think probably one of the best books on Lincoln in the last 10 years is Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals on the way in which Lincoln installed in his cabinet the four leading competitors he had for the presidential nomination and then proceeded to weld these disparate men into an effective team to win the Civil War. It's really a study of the way in which Lincoln exercised leadership and kept all of the four horses who wanted to move in different directions pulling in the same direction. And I think that's probably one of the best explanations of why the North won the Civil War - the way in which Lincoln was able to reconcile many different factions both as president and as leader of his party and as commander in chief - and keep them working together toward a common goal
Somewhere out there, someone is crediting McPherson with the most brilliant insight on why Goodwin's book matters. Somewhere out there, a dust jacket copywriter will be entitled to scream.

Don't do this

Don't write a new book about the Lost Order before having read Tim Reese.

Don't write about the Maryland Campaign not having read Joe Harsh.

Don't give us a page-and-a-half bibliography with the OR and B&L as your only primary sources.

Think twice before proudly listing Carl Sandburg in your bibliography.

Read more, much more, if all your secondary sources (except for five of them) are thirty years old or older.

Tell your cheapskate publisher to hire an editor to advise authors so you don't have to get tips like this from some blogger on the Internet.

Otherwise, your pointless, ignorant noise is going to do more harm than good.

7/11/2007

Vestiges of Vidal's Lincoln controversy

The ancient brouhaha over Gore Vidal's Lincoln (from 1988) has been preserved on the Web and still makes great reading, thanks partly to Vidal's lively baiting and needling of the opposition.

To flog my hobby horse again, we are going to see much more of such Vidalism next year because the Vidal of 1988 stands much closer to the academic and intellectual mainstream of 2008 than do (in his term) "the Lincoln hagiographers" of '88 - who have not changed and who will hog the public podium for the duration of the multi-year Bicentennial.

If you appreciate Vidal's witty invective, start here and then follow the thread here. The man who made McPherson, C. Vann Woodward, takes some nice slaps; Harold Holzer is referred to throughout as "the caption writer" or "the publicist"; and big hits are reserved for Richard N. Current, "scholar-squirrel." (Current, like Donald, was a student of the great J.G. Randall.)

A little taste:

For those of us inclined to the Jamesian stricture, a given scene ought to be observed by a single character, who can only know what he knows, which is often less than the reader. ... when it comes to a great mysterious figure like Lincoln, I do not enter his mind. I only show him as those around him saw him at specific times. This rules out hindsight, which is all that a historian, by definition, has; and which people in real life, or in its imitation the novel, can never have.

Nothing that Shakespeare ever invented was to equal Lincoln's invention of himself and, in the process, us. What the Trojan War was to the Greeks, the Civil War is to us. What the wily Ulysses was to the Greeks, the wily Lincoln is to us. I am neither Homer nor Virgil. But it is of those arms that I have tried to sing, and of that man — not plaster saint but towering genius, our nation's haunted and haunting re-creator.

How does a scholar differ from a scholar-squirrel? The squirrel is a careerist who mindlessly gathers little facts for professional reasons. I don't in the least mind this sort of welfare for the "educated" middle class. They must live, too. But when they start working in concert to revise history to suit new political necessities, I reach for my ancient Winchester.

Like so many hagiographers, Current refuses to face the fact that before Lincoln became a saint he was a superb politician. He did nothing without political calculation. He was also a master of telling different people different things, causing no end of trouble for later worshipers who can't deal with all the contradictions.

I am ... reflecting upon the nature of fact as observed in fiction, and, indeed, fiction in fact. That is why the scholar-squirrels fascinate me much more than the scholars because they are like barometers, ever responsive to any change in the national weather. This bad period in American history has been, paradoxically, a good period for American history writing. [...] But pure history, if such a thing could be, is flawed because "history will never reveal to us what connections there are, and at what times, between…." For the novelist it is the imagining of connections that brings life to what was. Finally, "History," as Tolstoy also observed, "would be an excellent thing if only it were true." Perhaps, in the end, truth is best imagined, particularly if it is firmly grounded in the disagreed- as well as agreed-upon facts.

7/10/2007

A site for bookaholics

This appears to me to be an E-book links aggregator. See blog entries for Lincoln, Tecumseh Sherman, and the Civil War.

Some explanatory here.

Carlyle and Marx on the Ohio

I see from the papers that the backlash against the Lincoln Bicentennial has begun and it is the material, not the principle, driving initial complaints.

Citizens Against Government Waste: "We're concerned that while this money is being spent, other priorities are being under-funded... We think making sure kids get a proper education and health care is a lot more important than this celebration."

Expect to hear more of that. I'm expecting formulas along the lines of "Lincoln would prefer us to ..."

Meanwhile, Indiana's would-be celebrators, having submitted their wish-list for state funding, are now having to make-do with a measely one million dollars. Guys, no hard feelings, check back with us in a hundred years.

The heritage tourism noises coming out of Indiana are fascinating - as they would be when no one has seriously pondered the question "Why do this?"
"People just do not associate Indiana with having such an important part in Lincoln's development and his life," [Connie] Nass said. "Certainly his life was formed from many of the values he learned while in Indiana."
Connie Nass, chairwoman of Indiana's bicentennial commission, has here espoused a core Marxist belief in "Historical Materialism." Wikipedia actually uses a variation of her quote to define the term. Marx: "... it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness."

Indiana forming Lincoln. Kentucky forming Lincoln. Illinois forming Lincoln. Historical Materialism is now the subtext of these state celebrations. If you are not a Marxist, you can still subscribe to Nass's unconscious equivalent. You did not, after all, need to be a Marxist to be a socialist in Marx's day; he called the competition "naive socialists." Here we have naive historical materialists.

What happens to Lincoln next, after HM is done with him is that he is remanded to Thomas Carlyle's Great Man school of history. Carlyle: "The history of the world is but the biography of great men."

If you are not on board with Historical Materialism or The Great Man Theory, you are going to have a rough Bicentennial. Promise.

Now here's the fun part, the piece I'm really looking forward to. Forget the tourism spokespersons for a moment. The big show is going to be all those Lincoln authors on TV, radio, billboards, in newspapers, talking out of their thoughtless, implicit HM/GM positions who are going to hit a solid wall of academic hostility and scorn. See much HM around campus lately? Seen any GM in the last 50 years?

So now you know where the Bicentennial fireworks show will be.

7/09/2007

Baltimore's Civil War Museum to close

Baltimore's Civil War Museum is slated to close on September 1, to remain closed until an organization other than the Maryland Historical Society volunteers to shoulder the cost of running the place.

The museum seems seriously short of knick-knacks and rubber Lincolns, according to this blogger:
After reading an article in the Sun the other day saying that the Baltimore Civil War Museum and the Fells Point Maritime Museum are probably going to be closing ... Paul and I decided we should go check them out while we still had the chance.

Before going to the museums I totally expected that the Civil War museum would be much more interesting than the maritime museum. I was sorely mistaken. I probably wouldn't bother going to the civil war museum. I don't really think you're missing anything. Basically they just tell the story of the fight that occurred in Baltimore as Union troops from Massachusetts were on their way to DC and had to stop in Baltimore to change trains. Shots were fired and the first casualties of the civil war occurred. They basically just tell this story in panels along the wall with a bit more information on slavery and the Underground Railroad in Maryland. There are no artifacts or anything to look at. You might as well just stay home and read the informtion in a book or on the internet as opposed to going to the museum to stand there and read it off the wall. There is also a short video that basically just repeats everything you just read. So the maritime museum was definitely better.

Dred Scott's sesquicentennial

Someone remembered the anniversary of the Dred Scott decision - a museum in St. Louis - and the local press managed to run a 1,500-word story about it without mentioning the name of Montgomery Blair. Notice also the local historian making Gallagher-type utterances:
"From town to town, they [Lincoln and Douglas] knocked it around," Moore says. "And Lincoln made his sentiments very clear in those debates, and they were reported nationwide. So there was no doubt about what this guy thought about slavery."
"This guy" musta been somethin' else.

The first bicentennial editorial?

I think I have spotted the first newspaper editorial celebrating Lincoln's birth's bicentennial (a scarce 18 months away). Thank the NPS, which authored this totally content-free piece.

Savor the taste of things to come.

Blog mortality

Have included a list of inactive ACW blogs in the blog roll (lower right corner of this page). Am wondering when the list of inactives will be longer than the actives.

7/06/2007

OT: Tagging bloggers

Have been tagged by K L Katz (groan). Am bailing my friend - as you can see, the gestalt here at CWBN does not allow for lists of personal facts, games of tag, etc. May I offer a substitute for myself in this draft? If you tag over yonder, you'll get five for one. (Hah!)

"Emotional engineering" at the ALPLM

Slate was charmed enough by Andrew Ferguson's Land of Lincoln to begin running excerpts from the book. Wednesday's featured "How to Design a Museum" with some choice reading about the Abraham Lincoln Museum and Presidential Library:
"Weren't you ever worried about dumbing Lincoln down?" I once asked him.

Bob sat back in his chair and looked at me for several seconds in silence.

"I don't understand that dumbing down," he said. "You can do a lot worse than aim at today's seventh-grader. Seventh-graders are damn smart these days. They are the toughest crowd there is ... The way they process information in a digital age—it's incredible, beyond anything you or I can do."

Notwithstanding this intelligence—this dazzling capacity for processing information—Bob felt the way to reach these young savants was "through the heart." He said: "You lead with the emotions rather than the intellect. And remember, it's not just any old emotion—the emotion they feel is the one we want them to feel. With Lincoln, we are hooking them into a specific cascade of emotions. Then, if they want to follow up, they can find the intellectual part, read a wall plaque or buy a book or whatever." He called this strategy "emotional engineering" — a way of insinuating knowledge into people who, on their own, would have no interest in it.
Simply breathtaking.

Confederate flags in Edinburgh

Scotsmen want to honor Colonel Robert Alexander Smith "of the 10th Mississippi Volunteers [who] died in battle at after fighting in the front line at the Battle of Munfordville."
"We are going to have a service in September and we want any descendants who live here to come along. We are convinced they are here because there is a synthetic flag at the stone so someone is tending to it.
It might not be family. It might be the UK chapter of the SCV.

7/05/2007

"In history it is not uncommon for one event to follow another"

The title of this posting came from the answer on a history test. Know also that "African [slave] merchants were Buddhists and Hindus that [who] believed in reincarnation and thought the slaves' next life would be better."

This is probably why they write really long-winded historical markers.

The Historical Marker Database

Just discovered this: a DIY marker database. Seems to operate on a Wiki model.

There must be some system to composing text for plaques; most of the ACW ones seem impossibly verbose.

My model marker would read "George Washington slept here en route to Valley Forge." Everyone knows Washington and Valley Forge. This marker would tell who, what, where in a short sentence. Many of these ACW markers, on the other hand, seem to be trying to educate the reader on multiple points of history; some read like excerpts from textbooks; some even give background information.

The trend, as with advertising in the 1960s, is clearly towards long copy.

Joy and life

A family visits Gettysburg on the Fourth:
I watched my kids run down a lane in a field -- still a field, gold with wheat this time of year -- where history actually happened. I watched them whoop and holler and man the cannons and pretend to be Civil War generals and tell me they wanted to live in Gettysburg when they grew up and couldn't we come back sometime. They talked about Robert E. Lee and George Meade and Stonewall Jackson like they were real people whom we might have met before, and not just names in books. My four year old walked around clutching his Civil War comic book like it was his most prized possession.

It seemed fitting to me that there should be this kind of joy and life again in this place -- the kind of joy and life only children can bring.

Daguerreotypes

Got quite an eyeful of daguerreotypes at the Nelson-Atkins photo show, "Developing Greatness," in Kansas City this week. Had no idea how much better an image the daguerreotype offers compared to paper photography. The silvery metal undercolor makes the black and white overlay incredibly crisp and vivid - almost holographic.

Naturally, this effect is lost in paper reproductions and book plates. I got a second shock, however, in noticing how much closer to paper both computer and CRT renditions in general are. You would expect what is essentially a lit tablet to capture some of the magic of daguerreotyping but the result is more muting and more muddiness, as with the fisherman (circa 1850) shown at right.

The museum did a superb job lighting these CDV-sized images, so if you're in driving range, go and enjoy the sensation of seeing how technology has walked backwards since Louis Daguerre.

7/01/2007