On this day in 1864

Amazingly, Politico (a newspaper) gets 31 August 1864 exactly right.

How many historians suspect that "Throughout the campaign, McClellan supported a continuation of the war, then in its final months, and restoration of the Union"?

The Politico's comments section returns us "back to our regularly scheduled program" however.

Harvard's Civil War

Harvard's Civil War by Richard Miller is out today in paper and I have to agree with James McPherson; this is the best regimental history I have read. It is wonderfully accurate on the micro-level, on the tactical level, and its treatment of sources and material are commendable.

I read the Ball's Bluff chapters in tandem with Beatie's AOP Vol. III and Jim Morgan's A Little Short of Boats, that is I vetted the material three ways. The treatment of the battle in this higher level regimental history is nearly as granualr as Morgan's battle study, a bonus, I think, for readers of tactical history.

What marks the study as a specimen of its genre, however, is that the social coverage is so much richer. The regiment, especially the ACW's battalion-sized regiments, is a profoundly social (and political) organization. In the general run of regimental histories, the social and personal connections among personalities is sparse and not well documented. The result tends to be a fragmentary narrative in which clusters of personalities bob up and down as the record permits, the emphasis being on movement, action, events. In developing the rich record left by the 20th Mass USV and its officers, Miller offers us the picture of what a balanced regimental history would look like. If I have a quibble with it it has has to do with the underdeveloped political dimension - underdeveloped to my taste, anyway.

Buy one or scrounge one - this is an important work.


Stop the presses!

Headline: "Professor’s book offers 'narrative history' of Civil War."

The amazing details: "Downing likes to refer to his method of writing as 'narrative history,' a nonfiction approach that reads with the detail and ease of a work of fiction."

I think a patent is in order.

Weider's counterrevolution

The People's Cultural Revolution, launched this year at Military History magazine, appears to have been put down at last by publisher Eric Weider. The revolution crested in the July/August issue with the consciousness-raising cover story, "How Presidents Start Wars" (complete with a photo of Harry Truman).

Fearing a domino effect in Eric Weider's magazine group, Chris Lewis resigned from Civil War Times Illustrated, to be replaced by Dana Shoaf. (Shoaf must now be replaced at America's Civil War). Confronted last month by Eric Wittenberg, Eric Weider responded "...our August issue [of Military History] was one of the best selling issues of this magazine in a long time. And personally I think the Sept issue is better still."

Thus, without admitting anything about changed editorial direction, he said, Look at the September issue, then judge.

So we have.

The September issue of Military History appears to be wall-to-wall militaria with the single exception of a short item discussing Liz Taylor's art collection (I kid you not). Figure in the length of magazine publishing cycles and you know that Weider had already lowered the boom on his staff of frisky political evangelists before my own or Eric Wittenberg's open letters were put out.

Will this change for the better last? Are the ACW mags safe from the rot that gripped MH? The MH masthead has not changed. We hope there is not some Valley Forge camp within the Weider organization where political foot soldiers are gathering their strength for takeover.

p.s. I have rescinded an earlier post that said Weider History Group was owned by the company that publishes the National Enquirer. That company acquired Weider's old owners without taking on the history group.

Civil War movies - anyone can make them

We noted here recently that a Civil War movie you never heard of, "Strike the Tent," had reached the 3,590th sales position among all Amazon DVD orders.

With the recent release of the big-budget, major-studio "Seraphim Falls," we would do well to keep our eyes also on the premier of "Firetrail" in Aiken, SC., a follow-up to a film called "Battle of Aiken." Get this:
"I think the film turned out really good," said [director] Forbes. "I was very happy with our adaptation of Lydia's book. The book is a sprawling, epic, 500-page tome of the Civil War, and I think we did justice to it."
He did justice to it in three hours. Three-hour big-screen Civil War epics with no stars, small budgets, and limited theatrical release to sustain them. That is a working economic model folks, sustained by DVD sales to ACW buffs.

Makes me wonder if authors shouldn't just read their nonfiction facing a video recorder and then sell DVDs instead of books.

Civil War Florida - the blog

The blog fooled me. I must have landed on an archival page.

Blogger Dale Cox writes,
"Dimitri, I noticed the mention on your blog that my blog (Civil War Florida) was defunct. I'm not sure if you had trouble accessing it, but the blog is alive and well. I've posted to it dozens of times over the last two months. Here's the link if you want to give it a second try...
In fact, he posted about a very interesting practical joke just today.


Bullets and critics

Speaking of Craig Warren, he has quite an interesting link to some research on the death of the US Volunteer Ambrose Bierce. It seems Bierce may have collected all the bullets in Mexico that he missed at Perryville, Shiloh, Chickamauga, etc., in one fell swoop:
I talked with two eye-witnesses who had seen the whole thing. Apparently he suspected nothing until the three men turned on him and began shooting.

The first shot must have struck him in the leg or belly, because he dropped down, squatting on his heels. And the two Mexicans were impressed by the strange way in which he died. He squatted there in the dust of the road and began to laugh heartily. The three men kept shooting him, hitting him, but they could not kill him, and he did not stop laughing.

He sat there and laughed till finally they shot him in the heart. The Mexicans were amazed because he was laughing as though it were a tremendous joke that he was being killed.
Very Bierce-like. Suspiciously Bierce-like.

Which reminds me of a couple of Bierce stories from the funeral of author Percival Pollard.

The first: Bierce and H.L. Mencken were riding to Pollard's funeral together. Bierce was reputed to have broken with all his friends and yet, Bierce commented, he remained friends with Pollard "and that was for the reason of Pollard's untimely death. Had Bierce known Pollard was to die, no doubt he would have effected a quarrel with him."

In the second, Mencken, who arranged the service, asks Bierce what they should do with Pollard's remains. Bierce answers, cremate him, mold the ashes into bullets, and then fire them at Pollard's critics.

The Mexican shooters may have been channelling Bierce's own critics on that day.

Dickinson and Brady

Yes, Dickinson looked at Brady's photos. No, they could not be the sole source for her #639. Dickinson's family was steeped in the society that supplied young officers to the "Harvard Regiment." The inspiration for the poem is likely Ball's Bluff. There's even a clue in her line "More arduous than Balls."

And so I pick nits with Craig Warren.

A producer looks at re-enactors

Documentary producer "Jackleg Historian" likes ACW re-enactors. Here's the link he failed to post to Historical Entertainment LLC.

SC ACW letters go to auction

An appeals court has upheld the right of owners of over 400 Civil War letters to auction them off after South Carolina declared the letters to be state property. The collection includes letters written by Robert E. Lee during his the period of his blighted campaign against Union General Thomas (Tim) Sherman.


Civil War blogs, new and old

News from the blogosphere:

- Erin Carlson Mast, Matt Ringelstetter, and Jesse Nasta have started a group blog called President Lincoln's Cottage. Interesting to know that the Soldier's Home where Lincoln spent summers was a Jeff Davis legacy.

- Scott Mingus has started a Civil War blog to focus on York, PA, and environs: Cannonball.

- Dixie Dawn posts on the ACW and Southern heritage at Long Live Dixie.

- This spunky 18-year-old has started Battle Cry of Freedom. He's an Iron Brigade fan.

- Author Dale Cox's Civil War Florida covers the waterfront with some rich posts.

The following blogs expired before I discovered them:

- Minuend's Gettysburg Ride.
- Confessions of a New England Confederate.

Shown top: Leonidas Polk's flag, borrowed from Dixie Dawn's blog.

"Heritage experiences" trump site history

Well, well ...
According to Weiler and Hall (1992), heritage tourists are motivated “more by a search for heritage experiences than by a detailed interest in factual history.”

"My date with a black CSA re-enactor"

Funny stuff:
He immediately started telling me how super awesome he is. He's a Civil War re-enactor. On the Confederate Side. Fine, but when you're African-American, why is that your hobby? [...] He stops and asks me if I'm ok. I realize he's saying this because I'm rubbing my head like I have a migraine. This, my friends, is suddenly my exit strategy. But do I go with the whole "migraine" thing? No. Instead I say: "Oh....yeah, there's a ringing in my head. It happens ever since I got this implant."

A.P. Hill on the cricket pitch

Interesting that in 1847 "Capt. Brewster of the US Military Academy encouraged his cadets to organize cricket clubs."

If that was before the graduation of the '47 crowd, cricketers would have included A.P. Hill, Burnside, Gibbon, Heth, and Wilcox; lower classmen players might have included Buford and Gillmore.

Photo: Camden, NJ, cricket pitch in 1843.

Gen. McPherson impersonators

They're coming to an event near you.


How to sell trousers

You make up testimonials from fictional re-enactors.

The National Park Service celebrates ...

... itself! Perhaps budgets are not that tight.

When Halleck deposed Lincoln

It never happened, as much as Halleck disliked the man and considered his leadership "ruinous" to the country. Nor do I recall any newspaper editorials asking that generals suppress Lincoln & Co. Neither McClellan nor Hooker thought to march the AOP into DC to set up a dictatorship.

Here's a columnist, however, proposing today's chief of staff "relieve" the civilian commander-in-chief by invoking the UCMJ and then place him under military arrest.

We go to the Civil War for our reading. Sometimes you wonder if the Civil War is coming to us.

(Warning - clicking link exposes reader to contemporary political psychosis.)

Does virtual kill actual?

As the pathology of "heritage toursim" continues to sweep government tourism offices, chronic dizziness is taking its toll.

In Pennsylvania, Google Earth will now present panoramic views in and around 56 historical markers, an arrangement organized by state tourism folks. They thought it was a good idea. I suppose they have not heard the music industry say that free downloads are killing their business.

Will virtual tours kill actual ones?

The person looking to tour is seeking a special feeling that arises when the imagination is engaged standing on actual, historical ground. Seeing panoramic views of the same on your PC screen is no substitute - it's like looking at someone else's vacation snaps. If the tourism mavens understand that much, good. If they think, on the other hand, that these views are bait, they err.

History buffs are self-directed (inner-directed) - not impulse buyers packing up for a sudden trip to Pennsylvania Marker No. 56 (because the panorama there looks so good on Google!). They can drag indifferent family and friends along to "brand name" battlefields, but they cannot drag them to random markers in cow pastures. The corollary idea, that they'll enrich the state by buying $1.97 worth of soda at the nearest gas station after this Google-inspired vacation is touchingly sad.

How do you plan a vacation? There's a process of elimination in the planning during which stops are removed, itineraries are trimmed. This Google Earth project will help planners eliminate most Pennsylvania stops.

An afterthought. For most of this post, you have been reading under the assumption that we are talking about battlefield or campaign markers. No. We are talking about Civil War social history markers.
"This is a deeper immersion into the Civil War, beyond battlefields and generals and into the lives of the people living in Pennsylvania at the time," said Lenwood Sloan of the Pennsylvania Tourism Office.
You see the effect "heritage tourism" has on these people.

Robertson's radio show is retired

James I. Robertson's daily Civil War broadcasts have been retired after a 14-year run on a Virginia radio station.
His most popular shows, he says, have dealt with animals such as Stonewall Jackson’s horse or Little Sally, a Boston terrier with the Pennsylvania regiment whose story had listeners in tears.
Archives will be posted here after September 7.


Off the inactive list

My Civil War Notes is back and will focus "on the Civil War along the Gulf Coast—from the southern tip of Texas all the way to the Keys and Dry Tortugas—including all of Florida."

Meanwhile, Paul Taylor has launched a bibliophilic ACW blog dedicated to first editions and antiquaria.

Belated hat tip to Duane Siskey who is blogging up a storm about his new life at Gettysburg. Duane was travelling with J.D and Eric when I met them at Antietam recently. He's a quiet one. Saves his all for the blog, perhaps.

Speaking of Eric, this is an excellent rant. Let me put a cherry on that sundae: would you believe the dean of the Columbia School of Journalism writes only history books?

Hey trustees: ask yourselves if Nicholas Lemann isn't making a statement about being trapped in a lousy career. You can fix that...

p.s Follow-up on the Brooklyn redevelopment of Underground Railroad sites: here's a mini-roundup.

Another new Civil War opera

Are you in the market for "wrenching but humorous?"
A free campus performance Thursday (Aug. 23) of a wrenching but humorous opera about President Abraham Lincoln's assassination ...


The new thing for roundtables

It was inevitable. It will spread like wildfire:
Civil War Round Table to hold 'Roadshow' appraisals at meeting

Summer publishing schedules

Looking at my workload over at Civil War Book News, I'm seeing a pattern in Civil War summer publishing: I found 21 titles released in May, 43 in June, 23 in July, and when August finishes that month will have seen 33 new ACW books.

I have an idea about the June surge: publishers are mindful of beach reading. August, I'm not clear about, unless the potential of assigned school reading is making that number higher.

p.s. I reformatted this website into a blog in spring and will need to backfill Jan - Apr.

Russel Beatie's website has been redone

... and relaunched. The design is the same but the functionality has been enhanced. Lots on all volumes of Army of the Potomac.

Very nice: have a look and read some samples. Actually, forget the samples. Just buy the books.


Glass gives "Appomattox" details

Philip Glass has been talking about his much-anticipated opera, "Appomattox:"
With Appomattox, the composer has chosen a historical topic that lends itself to an arched yet linear narrative leading to a well-defined climax. And judging from his newer works, his compositional style has acquired a surprisingly lush lyricism. One might suspect Appomattox of being Glass's first opera in grand 19th-century style, although the composer reassured those who fear he might be softening with age, "It is going to be a very confrontational piece. Some of the elements will be quite difficult for some people."

One such element is Appomattox's score, which integrates Old Testament hymns sung by black Southerners to welcome Abraham Lincoln during his visit to Richmond, Va.; military songs by the Arkansas First Brigade; and civil rights ballads.
"I wanted to include in the musical language the feeling and the musical culture of that time and of the present time," Glass explained. "While this was written for voices skilled in operatic singing, there are other kinds of music in this opera as well. This was for me one of the most interesting things, to try to bring together different music that would normally not be heard at the same time."
Glass also commented on the significance of the war today:
"The issues that were raised at the time are very much at the heart of social change in our country today: states' rights, racism, you name it," Glass said recently from his home in Nova Scotia. "On the good side, we are still engaged in resolving these issues. That is one of the great things about our country, that we haven't shied away from the issues. We embraced the difficulties as we tried to find solutions. We had some measures of success and some not. But [these issues] never stopped being relevant, because they were never resolved."

A foretaste of the Bicentennial

This "all star" event is self-conciously styled as an early start to the Lincoln Bicentennial.

This is exactly the kind of event that is going to sink the Lincoln Bicentennial.

You get 10 like-minded middle-of-the-road Lincoln buffs, empanel them, and then have what the organizers call "... a wide-ranging debate on all things Lincoln."

Surely you jest.

Lawrence remembers Quantrill's victims

This is public history at its best:
“This commemoration is a way of honoring not only the recruits that were killed here by Quantrill, but also the men and boys and baby that were killed,” said Herschel Stroud, a participant.


The "Narrative Fallacy" 2/2

As you've had a chance to react to Taleb's statements "in the raw," I'll now rerun some of them and interleave thoughts of my own.

Taleb: We like stories, we like to summarize, and we like to simplify, i.e., to reduce the dimension of matters.

Comment: Memorable data is portable data; portability and manageability are important to us because of the limitations of and demands on our memory (Taleb shows). In nonfiction there is tremendous concern about overburdening the reader with nonessentials. Meanwhile, in the realm of novels, people will spend immense time in multivolume sets mastering the details of ersatz lives and incidents. Think of the work of Anthony Powell and Lawrence Durrell, not to mention Marcel Proust.

In these very long novels we see the author taking "we like stories" to the outer limits of the reader's interest, a gamble, a display of storytelling virtuousity (and guts) few Civil War historians - overwhelmingly storytellers themselves - have dared imitate. It seems odd that ACW historians also bet heavily that "we like stories" in order to develop works that - when they run long - resemble at most a large single-volume novel. This seems self-limiting. Having thrown historical virtues overboard to hoist the black flag of literary pandering, there really is nothing to stop the Civil War authors from developing an extended, commercially successful multivolume nonfiction work. And I don't mean multi-volume biography here.

Taleb: ... our predilection for compact stories over raw truths. It severely distorts our mental representation of the world...

Comment: It basically essentializes all issues, all context, all interplay; it stereotypes persons, situations, and problems; it abridges timelines, falsifying decision cycles; it substitutes the Sturm und Drang of theatrical convention for chaos, "noise," social texture, personal style, and command reality.

Taleb: Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.

Comment: Notice the vital distinction: our "impression of understanding" is not related to any approximation of understanding per se.

Taleb: By finding the pattern, the logic of the series, you no longer need to memorize it all. You just store the pattern.

Comment: This is good for dealing with the fluid gestalt of driving, bad for trying to understand what happened in the past. The bad Civil War writer - and bad abounds in this field - takes the reader's tendency toward inappropriate patterning a step further. He deals out archtypes, rubrics, classic storylines, dramatic exclamations and dialog, and as many inferences as may be needed to bridge gaps in "the logic of the series."

Taleb: The more random information is, the greater the dimensionality, and thus the more difficult to summarize.

Comment: This is a statement that applies to war, front and rear echelons alike. S.L.A. Marshall's microtactical histories, say Pork Chop Hill, attempt to capture the immense "dimensionality" of first-hand experience differing widely from any Civil War work I have seen above regimental history. Whatever your stance on the Marshall controversies, the man leveraged his status as dean of official Army historians to say to the reading public, I refuse to supply you with linearity, omniscience, interpretations, literary conventions, or meaning. He gave us one kind of exit from the reading morass that was to form around the Centennial.

Taleb: ... the same condition that makes us simplify pushes us to think that the world is less random than it is.

Comment: The normal, natural effects of randomness have been universally purged from ACW histories, leaving the reader in a bubble of ignorance. Consider all the orders lost to generals in the five weeks before McClellan discovered Lee's SO near Frederick (there were five such exchanges among Lee and Pope and Longstreet and Jackson). There is the randomness of rumors, false news reports, personal intrigue, political shifts, family developments, social life, raw intelligence reports, and individual spiritual crises. No one has "control" over these - they arise, they influence, they pass. The novelist would work them into storylines; the talespinning historian fears them as a distraction.

Taleb: ... the (stated) purpose of science is to get to the truth, not to give you a feeling of organization or make you feel better.

Comment: The purpose of Civil War history is to make you feel better. It has developed as nonfiction entertainment. It conveys truth in the occasional snappy quote.

Taleb: Our tendency to perceive – to impose – narrativity and causality are symptoms of the same disease – dimension reduction.

Comment: I am struck by the possibility that re-enactment is a revolt against the dimension reduction practiced by Civil War authors. This would explain the common wisdom that re-enactors are not readers. This would put them on an honorable path of historical truth-seeking that represents a social response to the disastrous state of Civil War history since the Centennial.

Taleb: ... we will tend to more easily remember those facts from our past that fit a narrative, while we tend to neglect others that do not appear to play a causal role in that narrative.

Comment: This might be the greatest single injustice (among many) perpetrated by Civil War historians - the eviction of data obstructing the author's march to conclusions foretold by the storyline, the "characters," and the "story arc." The personal vice of selective memory becomes the institutional vice of historian's discretion.

The American as book reader

Another fascinating article on this subject:

* "People from the South read a bit more than those from other regions,"

* "More women than men read every major category of books except for history and biography," and

* "The Bible and religious works were read by two-thirds in the survey, more than all other categories."

Reparations for descendants of slave owners?

I think they qualify under this program.

Shepherdstown, PA

Mark Snell caught an error in this post, which is now fixed.

Maryland's Taney controversy

Maryland has just now awakened from a long slumber to discover Roger Taney is controversial. Someone must have cracked a history book.

Catch up on your reading:

A symbol of bigotry

Effort to remove Justice Taney bust is political correctness on steroids

Our Legacy: Forever controversial

Tearing down monuments won't erase painful history

A town founded by escaped slaves

It's named Buxton and it's in Canada.


The "Narrative Fallacy" 1/2

Very pleased to see an entire chapter entitled "The Narrative Fallacy" in N. Nicholas Taleb's latest book, The Black Swan. Readers of this blog know how I feel about the corrosive effects of narrative on ACW history, but let me make a caveat.

Narrative is inevitable (not an evil choice) where the structure of an exposition must follow a time-sequence of events and where it examines that sequence to resolve gaps and untangle evidence. Battle books are inescapably narrative in form. (BTW, thanks to Harsh and Beatie - esp. Harsh - for showing us how to load up analysis to the very limit that a narrative structure can support).

Biographies need not be narratives, nor need studies of organizations or institutions be such (see for example Never for Want of Powder). It is at the higher level of synthesis that narrative becomes a crime against understanding, a crime that wins Pulitzers year in and year out and where all sorts of vile narrative artifacts are unnecessarily injected into the history (dramaturgy, casting historical figures as "characters," hindsight, omniscient viewpoint, fudging the data, manipulating the reader with lit tricks, excluding informational outliers, etc.).

At this point I'll quote from Taleb's chapter, "The Narrative Fallacy," and let the reader consider how each statement applies to which part of our Civil War reading. Emphasis in the original.
We like stories, we like to summarize, and we like to simplify, i.e., to reduce the dimension of matters.

The fallacy is associated with our vulnerability to overinterpretation and our predilection for compact stories over raw truths. It severely distorts our mental representation of the world; it is particularly acute when it comes to the rare event.

The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship, upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.

By finding the pattern, the logic of the series, you no longer need to memorize it all. You just store the pattern. […] You looked into the book and found a rule.

The more random information is, the greater the dimensionality, and thus the more difficult to summarize. The more you summarize, the more order you put in, the less randomness. Hence, the same condition that makes us simplify pushes us to think that the world is less random than it is.

The very same desire for order, interestingly, applies to scientific pursuits – it’s just that unlike art, the (stated) purpose of science is to get to the truth, not to give you a feeling of organization or make you feel better.

Our tendency to perceive – to impose – narrativity and causality are symptoms of the same disease – dimension reduction.

Narrativity can viciously affect the remembrance of past events as follows: we will tend to more easily remember those facts from our past that fit a narrative, while we tend to neglect others that do not appear to play a causal role in that narrative.

Past Taleb posts: Contingency * An "acute expert problem" in ACW history * Black swans and the Civil War

Blue & Gray readers

Welcome to Blue & Gray magazine readers: you'll find this a strange blog I fear.

(B&G has hoisted a blog links page - recently judging by the visitors.)

"Why study war?"

A long meditation from Victor Davis Hanson. Perhaps Mark Grimsley will comment.

The crooked tale of a hotel

Prolific Civil War author William C. Davis owned the Union Hotel in Shepherdstown. It was built in 1860 and used much in the ACW.

Davis "donated it to the university" (presumably his employers, Virginia Tech).

"The university" then put it up for sale "to make money."

The building was a white elephant. It was an immense stroke of luck that a local person with deep pockets stepped in to keep it as it was:
“The whole building needed completely redone, and we've modernized it with public water and natural gas,” Appleby said. “We've updated everything. It cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to get this reopened. We had to go through the township's special exception process to make sure we would be doing what the building was originally used for. Historically, the Union Hotel was a bed and breakfast and tavern with a general store in the hotel.”
Close call.

Update, 8/21/07. I had thought this was in WV. Mark Snell writes: "Dimitri, the Union Hotel that Jack Davis donated to Virginia Tech is not in Shepherdstown, WV. Apparently there is another Shepherdstown in PA, although I've never heard of it, and I live in Gettysburg."

I see from this that it is south of Harrisburg on Rt. 15 and shares some a legal identity with Upper Allen Township.

Mea culpa

It was quite unfair of me to lump Brian Dirck's obit in with the institutional piffle released on the death of Phillip Paludan. Brian's comments came shortly after the death of a beloved professor and - blogged - would inevitably be heartfelt. I have excised mention of him from the offending post.


Villainous preservation

It sits on the grounds of a Civil War training camp and of previous houses that were Underground Railroad sites. A poor, elderly widow want to sell her house to the one offeror who's interested in it: a developer.

Preservationists block the sale as the house collapses around her.

"The Gettysburg War"

Tim Reese recently remarked to me that for many people, the Civil War is actually "The Gettysburg War."

Even so, I could hardly believe it when I saw that "Virginia fifth-graders are required to know that it was the turning point of the Civil War." Good grief.

No wonder "... a lot of our visitors today, they come and they go and they figure that since Gettysburg was so huge and so important, it must have decided the Civil War. They tend to leave not realizing the war went on for more than two more years."


His friends couldn't write a decent eulogy

The Lincoln "community" is compelled by the death of Phillip Paludan to serve out the dish it best knows how to prepare: puffed rice. Hardly fare for a wake and you wonder if these people have ever seen a steak (or the combination of claim and proof).
Illinois state historian Thomas Schwartz [said Paludan could] "provide these wonderful flashes of insight into issues that others had studied and studied. He was able to say something new, and something important."
Don't tantalize, give us "something important."
[Schwartz] said many of Paludan’s books and essays are considered seminal works in Lincoln scholarship.
Seminal? This is no new field. Details, please.

His employers at UIS released a death notice that simply recapped prizes and positions. It's as if we have a university with no hint as to how to signify the importance of a thinker. The obit published by the Gettysburg Institute is even more shallow (it seems to originate with this).

My friends, when a beloved prize-laden Lincoln scholar passes away, we want to know why that man was so highly regarded and what he contributed. Now, Schwartz, talking of Paludan, said "Everyone was very much impressed by his broad intellect and his ability to take complex issues and break them down into very understandable and discreet parts."

The friends of Paludan needed to do what Schwartz attributes to Paludan - it was their turn to take complex issues (the winning of prizes, the winning of their esteem) and break that down into very understandable and discrete parts. Here's an example one can copy the next time a Lincoln scholar wins a prize or publishes a book or dies: "Whitehead's Philosophy of Organism gave rise to process theology."

Model that. It's understandable. It's discrete. Show us the goods. Otherwise, your eulogies sound like the last words spoken by the city chaplain over the body of a John Doe found in the landfill.

Brooklyn to celebrate abolitionism

... just as soon as it razes homes that were part of the Underground Railroad.

Freedmen vs. Cherokees

Indians and freed slaves. An 1866 treaty. Intense controversy. These are news currents made for history readers.

Inside job

When board members go bad:
A board member with the Clinton County Historical Association is charged with stealing exhibit pieces and placing them on Ebay. Police say 25-year-old Matthew Boire stole an 1863 sword and scabbard and placed it on the Internet auction site. ... During a search of Boire's home, police found 2 more swords and scabbards, along with a Civil War era rifle and flag.
A 25-year-old board member?


Shades of Goss!

From yesterday's WaPo:
But are military officers, specifically flag officers (generals and admirals), also political partisans? Increasingly -- and sadly -- they are. More important, the brass is profoundly "political," which is to say that its recommendations and decisions are hardly ever made for purely tactical or operational reasons.

... the current political system practically demands that the top military leaders declare (through actions or statements) their political leanings.

It is no coincidence that the chairman selected during the Clinton administration, as well as many of the top commanders, are openly Democrats today.

To become a flag officer requires political (nonpartisan) skill. To become a member of the inner circle requires political (partisan) affinity with the commander in chief.
If only we could get Civil War historians and readers to accept these ideas. Sorry to report one glaring error, however:
Military historians are still arguing about civil-military relations in the Civil War.
No, not at all. Actually, Lincoln's infallibility was settled during the Centennial and opposition to his views are today viewed as impudence.


New Civil War casualty figures

Secrecy News today published a Congressional Research Service study of U.S. war casualties.

The compilation is intended for use by MCs and the methodology is completely obscure - the only thing these numbers have going for them is the imprimatur of the CRS.

Quick and dirty comparison:

Wikipedia - Union KIA, 110,000; 275,200 wounded
Infoplease - Union KIA, 140,414; 281,881 wounded; 224,097 other deaths in service
New CRS study - Union KIA, 138,154; 280,040 wounded; 221,374 other deaths

They have the tourism part covered

When American Public Media reports on preparation for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, it's done on the Marketplace show.

You can predict the launching point for the program: "... states that were in the thick of the fighting are planning now to cash in on what they hope will be a boom in tourism..."

The heritage tourist - that's you - is a prize duck with no spending discipline: "the heritage tourist has really become kind of the darling of the tourism industry."

Tourism officials spout the usual mix of avarice and ignorance: "With help from the National Park's logo, town leaders expect the number of [Franklin] visitors to jump from 40,000 per year to more than 200,000."

The only thing missing here is the heritage.

How to "theme" a battlefield McDonalds

Just hang a couple of photos inside the building.

Breaking news

Lincoln's face was asymmetrical.


A social form of OCD

There is a remarkable thing about the photo on the right. The people are unveiling a Civil War statue that has stood unveiled for a century.

In other words, they veiled it for a ceremonial unveiling.

The reason they performed this superfluous ritual is because the statue was erected long ago without a formal dedication ceremony.

They were "correcting" the "omission" of a public dedication many decades after the fact.

It's worth noting that
Most individuals with OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder] recognize at some point that their obsessions are coming from within their own minds and are not just excessive worries about real problems, and that the compulsions they perform are excessive or unreasonable. When someone with OCD does not recognize that their beliefs and actions are unreasonable, this is called OCD with poor insight
OCD with poor insight - seems a useful idea in this context.

Private tour guides

The AP has noticed them. (Go to the end of the article for links to guides.)


What are we protesting?

Civil War Preservation Trust is circulating a letter via email calling for a protest at Harpers Ferry next week:
On the evening of Friday, August 17, 2007, CWPT, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the National Trust for Historic Preservation will host a candlelight vigil on the site of the unauthorized digging of hallowed battlefield land. We will be joined by several local preservation groups who have been fighting the good but often lonely fight against development at Harpers Ferry.
You can read the full text of the letter here at Hardtack and Hard Times.

Just a question, if I may. If we want to deter this sort of thing in the future, why not sue the developer in question? That's a nice, clear signal anyone can understand. If we want to make a people-power statement against development at HF in general, what developer is going to think this vigil has anything to do with him and why? And if this vigil is directed at the National Park Service (who presumably let this happen), why not spell that out?

Anybody got a clue as to what this is all about?

More bad news for heritage tourism

When does this kind of data become actionable?
Annual visitation to the Museum of the Confederacy has dropped from 92,000 to 51,500 since the early 1990s.

And American Civil War Center [in Richmond] isn’t close to their projected 60,000 annual visitors nine months into their opening, and officials would not say how many visitors had come so far.
Remember just a few weeks ago when West Virginians were expecting "millions" of visitors to visit a Civil War monument they sought funding for? Needless to say, a monument can hardly compete with ACW museums in Richmond (no less).

There's going to be a funding backlash against the persistently irresponsible tourism projections of state officials that could eventually hurt Civil War sites. The reaction will probably set in early during the Sesquicentennial, when the projected visitor streams bump against reality.

Local history goes wrong

I venerate local historians. They collect every scrap of information they can about a subject before applying one of two methodologies to telling the story.

The first method weaves a narrative from all that was learned while entering into a casual discussion with the reader about what sources said what and how trustworthy they might be. This is the good stuff.

The second type weaves the narrative without giving the reader any transparency into the author's use of and judgements about sources. This is the bad stuff.

Robert Collins is a local (Kansas) historian and his General James G. Blunt: Tarnished Glory embodies the weakest side of local history. There's a biblio and no notes. The biblio is scary, as it includes newspapers, pamphlets, speeches, and other partisan ephemera.

You have no way of knowing what the hell the author is doing or why. I'm not going to finish the book and I'd be a fool to quote from it. Drew Wagenhoffer tells me Collins repeated the mistake in his new Jim Lane biography. All that work to produce two curiosities.

Local historians, when you publish for an national readership let the reader peek behind the curtain. It's as much for your good as for ours.

ACW primary documents you'll never read

Eyewitness battle accounts. Ten thousand pages worth. Written in Welsh.


Blog mortality (cont.)

For the first time ever, some blogs have made CWi's "Top 20 Civil War Websites."

At the same time, Valleywag informs us, "There are already 200 million ex-bloggers."

Cosmically aynchronous I think. Meanhwhile, it appears the following ACW blogs are signing off in the middle of what Gartner Group estimates will be blogging's peak year:

* Ron Coddington
* Southern Heritage News & Views
* Third Michigan Infantry Research Project
* My Civil War Notes
* Sam Hood

Cossacks in Blue (again)

Long post on the big Turchin book of 2006 from Drew here, and more on same from Chris here. Drew writes "...Turchin’s men were allowed to commit depredations in Missouri and Kentucky without repercussion. According to Bradley and Dahlen, these volunteers had little reason to think Athens would be different."

If I count correctly, there were five competing, incompatible civil policies applied by military occupiers simultaneously in Virginia when McClellan wrote the Harrison Bar letter - you know, the great affront, the outrage, the impudent talking of politics to politicians. That letter has always struck me as an obvious let's "get on the same page" plea from a man asked to implement the government's (non-existent) policies in competition with his fellow military policymakers. And so, I could never be outraged by his goading Lincoln into responsibility ... or at least trying to.

Turchin was caught in the webs of multiple DIY policies.

Some of my earlier thoughts on John Turchin appeared here.

Weider update

J. David Petruzzi reports that Dana Shoaf is taking over CWTI.

Smacks of "interim"?


The Weider strategy - consider the owners

This post has been rescinded because it was written on the assumption that Weider's publishing group is owned by the company that owns the National Enquirer. Dana Shoaf corrected this error (through Harry Smeltzer's blog):
Primedia sold the current magazine group to Weider History Group, a subsidiary of the magazine conglomerate that owned Muscle & Fitness and other fitness magazines. Those fitness magazines were sold to the media group which owns National Enquirer. The group that owns National Enquirer does not own or otherwise influence Weider History Group.
Ergo - Weider owns his own group. See the link for Shoaf's insights into the changes that are taking place.

How to celebrate Lincoln

In Ashland, Kentucky, they celebrated Lincoln's birth by reading aloud the speeches of Henry Clay. That is terribly impressive for a "public history" event.


The Weider situation

Eric has some thoughts on the Weider situation and my magazine suggestions.

On a personal note, certainly he and JD have been "name" authors who give their best in articles, unlike many others. And I do not oppose freelancers; as a magazine editor, I have myself used freelancers in tandem with staff writers but kept their leashes short, very short. A mag at the very bottom of the entropy slope will use freelancers to fill pages and give them wide scope. Editorial direction defaults to the mailman who delivers this day's story proposals.

Eric notes the neagtivity about Military History magazine as well.

J.D. Makes the following comment on the Weider magaine situation among the comments in the post linked above:
IIRC, Chris told me that the fellow who managed Discover magazine was hired as the new manager of the history magazines. This new manager wanted to turn CWTI, ACW, etc, into more generalized, slick productions. He was looking for less specific history and more appeal to the “mass” population.
Ethan Rafuse added,
Dana Shoaf gave a talk on his experiences as editor of America’s Civil War with the Weiders last week at the Chambersburg seminar and seemed much more optimistic about the prospects for the magazines. If they lose him, then I think it will be time to really become concerned.

Thought for today

... you might wonder, "Why live like a Civil War soldier these days if you don't have to?"

"Because they can't," says [re-enactor] Ray Wetzel... He's referring to the hundreds of thousands who served and died during the Civil War.

General Montgomery Meigs is quitting

And you thought he was dead.


An open letter to Eric Weider, CEO Weider History Group

Dear Mr. Weider:

If you have had time to read the Letters section of the current issue of Military History magazine, you'll have had a preview of what this letter is about.

Your key editorial team, Stephen Petranek, David Grogan, and Roger Vance, have set a diretion that is bearing its first fruits in Military History. The readers are not happy. Complaints spoken about your magazines have been filling my ears for months and these match closely the comments in the letters section.

Now we have the resignation of Chris Lewis from Civil War Times Illustrated explicitly on grounds of differences with new editorial directions (presumably set by your team of Petranek, Grogan, and Vance).

Military history and Civil War history offer a limited potential audience of different views and backgrounds. You cannot adopt a polemical tone in your articles - Democrat versus Republican, Congress versus the Presidency - without reducing that audience. The tone your men have set for Military History will collapse the circulation and ad rolls of CWTI and America's Civil War in no time if adopted there.

I don't write you out of concern for your company's profitability, obviously, but because there is a great need for good military and Civil War history periodicals and you are in a position to deliver on that. The direction to follow should be towards a more concentrated editorial focus on military history and articles researched and written really well.

Relying on freelancers for articles has long put your magazines at a quality disadvantage; it is better to hire a small but reliable staff who can produce to a standard you set and deliver that consistently. Booking articles from name authors to supplement freelance work is also very dangerous, for unless those authors are closely supervised, they will hand you their bottom drawer leftovers (see especially Geoff Norman's piece on "surrender monkeys" in the current Military History and William Marvel's article on "McClellan apologists" in the current America's Civil War).

My point is that given the way your military magazines have been organized and run up until now, they start with a bias against success in lacking sufficient controls over quality and tone. This is not your problem especially, it's endemic. But this is the point at which any reforms should start. Let quality be the differentiator. Instead, your editorial board is tampering with the one factor for success that has remained under control - focus.

You current issue of Military History is a case study in loss of focus: six feature articles, two of them entirely political or legal, one of them pictorial with no military content. These are supplemented with shorter pieces, one of them a Q&A with the incoming director of a presidential library. Curiously there were two news items about a politician and a celebrity retracting statements made about Nazis, as if Nazis = military history. Yet, the number of true military history related news items coming over the wires in a month would easily swamp your news section.

In addition to the loss of focus, there is throughout the current issue of Military History a leavening of cheap shots and political posturing within articles and shorter items, as if it were important that we readers understand exactly where and how passionately your authors stand on contemporary events. There is no way such comments could survive editing without approval. The reader is entitled to wonder therefore where the editors' real interests lie; whether they are using this audience as a steppingstone; whether the editors here are generic magazine professionals passing through.

If the editors are not "one of us" then we readers will be on our way. In other words, we want magazines to love and you are giving us magazines that make us wonder if the editors share our interests at all.

If you absolutely must test the appeal of social history, economic history, and political punditry among a military history readership, first solicit really good articles then run them in an annual supplement or special issue the way the Atlantic runs fiction. You'll get immediate, actionable data, Mr. Weider, hard sales data, with no harm done to the subscriber base.

On this current course, you're killing your magazines incrementally.

With every best wish for the future,
Dimitri Rotov


Chris Lewis resigns from CWTI

Very sorry to see Chris Lewis resign from Civil War Times Illustrated, with the October issue representing the last touch of his hand. The recent Gallagher interview was smart stuff and a fine display of editorial judgement. He writes:
Naturally this is not an easy decision for me to make. As many of you know, I am a lifelong reader and care a great deal about this publication—which is why I cannot be a part of the “new direction” that the magazines in thisgroup are either already going in, or will be going in soon. There is no respect here anymore for history, historians or the core audience. I want to thank all of you for your support ofthe magazine over the last couple years.
Chris gave me hope for the glossies (as did Eric Wittenberg's involvement in North & South). Good luck to him - may he earn a good living in his next position and may the marketplace continue to deliver him (and us) the books an experienced reader would enjoy.

(You can keep an eye on CWTI's forum here.)

Our Civil War Army in Iraq (cont.)

Political flexibility is ever optimized by the absence of timetables, milestones, success criteria ... in other words strategy. Lincoln lived it; Davis too.

This value system has filtered down into the modern general officer corps within which non-plans can be formulated to support non-strategy. Have a look at this.

Given that the author of the summary could not himself recognize a military plan or its elements if he saw them, the material worries nonetheless: "bring stability and security," "set conditions ... to negotiate a power-sharing agreement," "convince them [the enemy] to stop fighting on a more-or-less permanent basis." You wonder if the pointy-haired manager from Dilbert is writing "campaign plans" for our Civil War Army in Iraq.

The hopeful part of this is that the very Boydian critique that places our military culture the Civil War era is becoming widespread enough to gain a hearing in mainstream trade organs like the Government Executive website: the author of "Adapt or Die" understands "The Army remains focused on making brigades stronger and empowering generals. The Army must change. Its focus must shift to platoons and empowering junior officers..." That simply will not happen without such massive purges as Teddy Roosevelt and FDR (via George Marshall) instituted. Some are beginning to notice such shake-ups were a given in the early stages of wars before Vietnam.

The present culture of hyper-professionalism distributes the greatest number of decisions upward, to the highest-ranking/best-trained/most-experienced officer who also has the largest career stake in the outcome. If "Adapt or Die" strikes you as sensible, that's your "native genius" at work (a Civil War idea) - working, in fact, against the legacy of Grant-Sherman-Schofield professionalism (and their Civil War ideas).

(Image, top right: FOB means "Forward Operating Base." CAT5 wire is a grade of voice-data cabling used to support telephone and computer communications. Click to enlarge.)

Quote of the day

"When we made the first movie, most people told us it would suck because people don't care about history."

As if this were history.


Gettysburg mug makes waves

The Rebels are shown retreating under their own flag, depicted on a mug. They have, in this illustration, been beaten at Gettysburg.

People, seing the flag but not making a contextual distinction, are upset. Is it a Southron statement? The mug owner has other problems but the mug has become a flashpoint.

The story here. (The comments under Eugene Volokh's posts are hopeless.)


Towards a new Civil War history (cont.)

To continue this list but with a list of underdeveloped ideas of my own leavened with attributions where needed:

(51) Abraham Lincoln adapted the Mexican War playbook of James Polk:

(51a) Create a USV force structure at the service of party-building and patronage

(51b) Appoint a general-in-chief to direct field forces, one answerable to the president (neutralize seniority)

(51c) Insert own party generals under other party's generals

(51d) Communicate with own party generals under other party's generals

(51e) Adjust strategy, operations, and tempo to serve political agenda

(51f) Appoint the head of the most powerful political machine in the country to be Secretary of State

(52) Lincoln never adopted a strategy to win the war.

(53) Strategy is anathema to politicians.

(54) The fortunes of any general correlate to his standing with a patron, the relative standing of the patron, and events on the field, never simply to events on the field.

(55) A few generals had military patrons only; these were as weak as generals who fell from their patron's favor.

(56) The effects of any victory can be undone by spin.

(57) Battles, as understood by politicians, could win the war: a series of victories forming a pattern strong enough to collapse the political support of the enemy.

(58) Battles, as understood by McClellan, could win the war: a series of victories leading to occupation and control of key points making government of the South geographically impossible.

(59) Battles, as understood by Lincoln, could win the war: as a series of losses, mutually inflicted, to exhaust the reserves of the frailer party ("terrible arithmetic").

(60) Lincoln did not understand until 1864 that the Union was the frailer party.

(61) The war was not won simply by capturing Richmond, Davis, Lee's army, or Johnson's Army; the rump Rebel government had to quit as well. (Winik)

(62) Davis's rump government succumbed to (57).

(63) The surrender of armies could not prevent new armies from being raised or improvised.

(64) Much current analysis is a rehashing of partisan editorials 1861-1864.

(65) Literate ACW people operated deep inside of theatrical and literary conventions; they recast events of their lives in theatrical or novelistic terms.

(66) Modern historians adopt those antiquated theatrical and literary forms for color and interest, polluting their own narratives and history in general.

(67) What we know is shaped by what the publisher can sell.

(68) The publisher can sell what we think we know and what we suspect we want to know.

I'll add links to posts on these themes when I can take more time.

Barnum & Bailey & Lincoln

Sideshow sensibility:
A high-tech Ohio firm is about to make up for the understandable fact that apparently no painter had the foresight to record Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood portrait on canvas. Using a digital age-regression technique and an older image, LifeFormations will create a statue of young Abe for the Hardin County History Museum.
Statue or imaginative sculpture? This carney barker doesn't know the difference:
Museum promoter Susan McCrobie thinks the work will inspire school children. “They can look eye-to-eye with Lincoln,” she said. “They will meet another school person from Hardin County.”
(Eye-to-eye with a sculpture made from a computer drawing. Which reminds me. Baudrillard died in March and I owe you all a simulacra post in his honor.)
The project will draw funds from a flood of grants pouring into the area in preparation for the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birthday, a two-year party which kicks off in Hodgenville in February.
Money is chasing projects. Go to west, young grant seeker.

Shown top right: the rubbery ALPLM vision of Boy Lincoln.