9/28/2007

An exercise in relevance

Ah yes, the log cabin. How can we ever forget it? Somewhere an exile, an expatriate who has shaken the dust of America from his feet, who has hoped never to see that log cabin again, will empty his pockets for the laundry and there it will be again, the shining cabin on a hill. The cabin that remade America. And then it will fall and roll under the sofa.

And, there he is, the young Lincoln, looking in that book and writing that paper. Is he 14 here? 16? Already he has started work on what will become the Gettysburg address. Here he is writing version 1.0. It's a little verbose, a little childish. Each year he will improve it until The Moment arrives on that train when it is Perfection. On this I meditate each day upon gazing at the penny stuck to the well of the dashboard where I spilled my Coke.

Oh look, it's the young state legislator. Oh, how often we recall those maginficent Lincoln years in the Illinois state legislature, years that remade the state from top to bottom. Who does not know the story of "Abe Lincoln of the State Legislature"? Who does not yearn for a state legislator in any venue to scale the same heights Lincoln scaled in Illinois? I shall think of him each time I pass his state legislative image stuck in the asphalt near the sewer grating at the Seven Eleven.

(Earlier post here.)

Civil War Talk Radio reminder

Civil War Talk Radio will be on at 3:00 pm EST today - you can only listen to it live.

9/27/2007

"Students know less after college" (cont.)

An astute reader has taken me to task for not looking at the organization behind this survey ("Students know less after college"). It is ISI, an advocacy group, and any advocacy group can design surveys to produce the results it needs to secure support and highlight "needed change". ISI, in particular, is well stocked with political activists on its board of trustees.

Nevertheless, the proof is in the pudding and to anyone my age who has taken the ISI test, Harvard's D+ average is a shock.Yes, the ISI test was designed to generate stories that invite us oldsters to compare ourselves to today's students. Eric Foner can argue (speciously, I think) that Columbia's kids are better at analysis than facts but that's not the defense to be made of these college students.

The larger question is what has happened to the student body culturally and sociologically.

One kind of story that came out of the VT shooter coverage was the mental health crisis on campuses, the lack of capacity for all the students seeking or needing psychiatric help based on stress. I was captivated by this odd combination (college = stress) having myself graduated as a lazy dual major from a party school filled with devil-may-care heirs and heiresses. I needed to understand stressed students.

To summarize my reading, today's student body appears to be filled with children from:

* Broken homes (more progress reports, different expectations, less money)
* Foreign shores (less locally to relate to)
* Families where little English is spoken (comprehension and expression take effort)
* Families in which the kid is the first-ever college attendee (no one at home can help them).

Additionally, aggressive multi-cultural recruiting has inserted many kids into a society they find unfamiliar and disorienting.

Most interestingly, psychiatry's evolution into pharmacology has enabled a significant segment of the population (that would never have attended college in the past) to test their drug-enabled coping skills in a university setting.

"In the past with bipolar or severe depression, you were considered impaired enough not to be able to go (to school,)" said David McBride, director of student health services at Boston University. "With new medications and new treatment, they're well enough to be in school."
(And yet Mark Grimsley, who blogs about his polar disorder, has not only graduated from college but thrived as a professor.)

Psychology Today says that nine percent of enrolled students take their issues to a counselor and of these, "Directors find that 40 percent of their clients have severe psychological problems." Note that nine percent includes only the self-selected troubled youth. UCLA "found that more than 30 percent of students feel overwhelmed a great deal of time." The NASPA Journal had this eye-opener:
According to the National Survey of Counseling Center Directors at 274 institutions ... 85% of center directors reported an increase in “severe” psychological problems over the last 5 years, including learning disabilities (71%), self-injury incidents (51%), eating disorders (38%), alcohol problems (45%), other illicit drug use (49%), sexual assault concerns on campus (33%), and problems related to earlier sexual abuse 34%. They estimated that approximately 16% of counseling center clients had severe psychological problems ...
So, these, too are test takers.

The college students taking the ISI quiz perhaps represent a social mosaic many of us would not at all recognize as "collegiate." Many kids now major in "coping." They are not going to work to get the significance of the Missouri Compromise, they're going to work to get through their day instead. It's sad.

9/26/2007

A "Custer Week" organizer replies

From the mailbag:
This is a reply to your blog posting that insults the hard-work of the volunteers who have put together Custer Week 2007. Had you read the schedule of events at georgecuster.com you would have seen that there is much more than just this one event which you feel is only suitable for 10-year olds.

Through the week there will be talks by Civil War historians on Custer's service during that war. There are also going to be presentations about the fighting men of Michigan. Since the theme of Custer Week 2007 is a Civil War Celebration, the planned events are quite suitable.

As you probably know, our part of the country didn't see much action during the Civil War. We're more of a War of 1812 kind of town but the folks who have put this together have done a great job with what our area has to offer.

I feel that if you are a gentleman, you will remove or edit your blog posting that unfairly characterizes the Custer Celebration Committee and Monroe as shallow.

- Myranda Morgan
An event like this has to have family appeal. My core problem is that I don't know how one can make history into a family-friendly-festival without losing the history; adding in some talks just won't do it (witness the low quality of Civil War roundtable events).

Having organized a festival of my own for 11 years, apologies and regrets to your co-workers. The crack about 10-year-olds was uncalled for but neither will it discourage or encourage a single attendee. - DR

The Madness of Mary Lincoln

Jason Emerson, ex-park historian, has written a new Lincoln book with new content, new insights, and I believe new conclusions. It appears to be his first book and has been blurbed "brilliant." The Madness of Mary Lincoln looks very promising.

Editors call for commission

The Patriot News in Pennsylvania has called on the federal government to set up a Sesquicentennial commission.

9/25/2007

Why dote on a Civil War opera?

I owe regular readers an explanation. Why dote on a Civil War opera?

Because it elevates the ACW beyond McPherson's and Burns' kid stuff.

Because every Philip Glass interview promoting his opera is an argument made to cafe society that the Civil War is worth a grown man's time (to borrow a cliche from Shelby Foote). (Cafe society has been prepped for this by Doctorow's novelistic plunge into Shermanology.)

Because if the opera succeeds artistically, it will result in a much better influx of readers and book buyers than was generated by previous pop media events, which will result in better reading for all.

Because if the opera succeeds commercially, we may eventually see a production of Updike's play Buchanan Dying. "Let us force no event that gradual causes will in time render inevitable!" (Harrumph!)

Because the Civil War as a subject is made for opera; this may inspire better work. The foundation for a profound ACW opera has already been laid by an immortal Hindemith/Whitman "collaboration."

Because, like spinach, it is good for you...

(Cartoon by Tony Millionaire.)

Squabbling over pennies

Believe it or not, the Mint is at loggerheads over a Lincoln penny redesign.

There will be four new pennies. The Mint has picked out three designs for the first three "stages" of AL's life and agreed upon them. Each stage is depicted as a rank falsification, a Disneyfied fantasy scene. Having saved the last penny for the important part of his life, the Mint cannot decide on emancipator or commander.

Hint for the Mint: eliminate one of the earlier depictions and you can have both emancipator and commander.

9/24/2007

Appomattox imagery

The poster looks promising.

The set looks absurd.

The generals have deployed their beards.

Two for Kevin Levin

This survey is preposterous. This is a ranking of the most respectable blogs - the blogs you would be proud to take home to mother. Blogs you would marry. Respectability and popularity are two incongruent concepts that Technorati has not yet mastered, so don't take their word on popularity. Kevin is justly suspicious of his own place in the list.

***

Do you ever get the odd feeling that a movie has been made based on a book by Richard G. Williams without his knowledge (he would have blogged about it)? I get that feeling.

Students know less after college

I thought we saw this story already.
Students at many of the country's most prestigious colleges and universities are graduating with less knowledge of American history, government, and economics than they had as incoming freshmen, with Harvard University seniors scoring a "D+" average on a 60-question multiple-choice exam about civic literacy.
You can take the test yourself.

Eric Foner (right) blames the format of the test:
A professor of American history at Columbia University, Eric Foner, said that a multiple-choice exam testing factual knowledge of history could exaggerate student ignorance of American history.

"The study of history has changed enormously," Mr. Foner said. "It's become much more broad and diverse. The study of facts about particular battles has diminished, but maybe students are in a better position to answer questions about the abolition of slavery."
Oh dear. These battle questions are impossible:
5) Which battle brought the American Revolution to an end?

A. Saratoga
B. Gettysburg
C. The Alamo
D. Yorktown
E. New Orleans
I imagine Foner's students are in a better position to opine about slavery in all-night dorm room bull sessions. And that's hard to capture in a multiple choice exam.

Here's another question:
Which author's view of society is presented correctly?

A. Edmund Burke argued that society consists of a union of past, present, and future generations.
B. Adam Smith argued that the division of labor decreases the wealth of nations.
C. Alexis de Tocqueville argued that voluntary associations are usually dangerous to society.
D. Max Weber argued that the Jewish work ethic is central to American capitalism.
E. John Locke defended the divine right of kings.
Pity all those poor little noggins faced with challenges like that.

p.s. Chris Wehner noticed this story before I did.

p.p.s. Can you spot the Civil War historian?

Civil War Ironclads

This invaluable book is out today in a paperback edition.

The Civil War is a field abounding with the question, "What is success?" The pop histories keep it simple, stupid: success is accomplishing what Lincoln tells you to do, when he tells you to do it.

The more prestigious Centennial authors go just a little further, giving you "on the one hand this, on the other hand that" - that seems to push the limit of complexity.

The actual Civil War data is immensely more difficult. Taleb would say, fairly treated, its dimensionality is almost unmanageable. The whole problem of McClellan shows us, for instance, that you can do your uttermost for the cause, seem to succeed, seem to fail, and then be publicly reviled until the end of recorded history. That's "dimensionality" non-history readers rarely encounter except in their private lives.

In Civil War Ironclads, we find just such a problem on the institutional level: a successful shipbuilding program that wins control of the seas in such a way that no one wants anything to do with it ever again. Or as the publisher says, the U.S. Navy's shipbuilding programs were set back a generation by Union "successes" in the ACW - if they were in fact "successes."

p.s. I have arrived home this evening to find a copy of the paperback has been sent me by Johns Hopkins. If you'd like a copy of this book drop me a line - I have the hardback already.

"Appomattox" stirs media interest

As the premier of Philip Glass's opera "Appomattox" draws closer, culture reporters are filing more and longer stories.

The New York Times: We find, in this piece, the hook that has snared modern reporters, Appomattox as a symbolic starting point for modern race relations history:
The time-tripping second act includes an account of an 1873 massacre of a black militia unit by white supremacists in Louisiana; an original folk ballad about Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young black civil rights marcher killed by an Alabama state trooper in 1965; and a soliloquy by the aged Edgar Ray Killen, a Ku Klux Klan member convicted in 2005 of manslaughter for organizing the murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi.
The San Francisco Chronicle: We learn that Grant and Lee are to be "battling baritones." And Glass recalls his youth as a child in WWII:
My memory of the war is the women, the sorrow of women, the anxiety of women.
He seems to appreciate the principals as people:
"Grant was a man of tremendous intellectual scope," he says. "It occurred to me that there are no people in public life of his and Lee's stature. I don't mean just in America, where we always have to beat up on ourselves, I mean globally. We don't have statesmen anymore, we have politicians."
The San Jose Mercury News: This is a fairly perfunctory interview per the standard rock-and-roll formula; it has no musical content and is focused on career developments and the subject's likes and dislikes.

Contra Costa Times: We receive assurance here that this is is Civil War opera.
The meeting of Grant (sung by Andrew Shore) and Lee (sung by Dwayne Croft) is at the core of the opera, and Glass says that everything in “Appomattox” is drawn from history.
This piece also contains a wonderful observation:
“For any composer, all we can do is visualize and imagine a piece. We need musicians and singers and performers to bring it to life, and that transaction, going from the imagination of the composer to the stage, is an extremely interesting time. We talk about a piece being realized—made real—and it can only happen once like that. There will be other productions, other performances, but it’s that first time that is always so exciting. It’s like watching an infant stand up and walk.”

A carnival of comments

Brian Downey writes, "Email is no way to respond to a blog post. Please enable comments."

Well then, here we are. A post that contains within itself a comments feature. A virtual comments feature inside the post itself. A win-win for all.

Brian points out that a certain history carnival mentioned here does indeed have exactly one link to an ACW blog, Civil War Women. Sorry, Maggie.

He further notes that carnival listings are a function of reader participation:
Carnivals are accumulated from posts submitted by excited readers or (more frequently) the bloggers themselves promoting their own work. Although the host of the Carnival may seek other recent MilHist posts on his/her own, most only use the ones submitted. That may well be the case in the latest instance on Armchair General.

The answer to the lack of CW representation--if that is a problem--is for more CW bloggers and readers to nominate posts to the Carnival host.
I think we Civil War blogreaders and writers are an insular bunch. It's hardly surprising that a carnival would pass us by.

The deeper matter is whether the "carnival" is a failed, boring blog activity held over from the old days (like tagging other bloggers) out of some misguided sentimentality. This may be a good way to find blogs you are interested at the first visit. After that? It becomes a writing exercise in which the host has to connect disparate nominations in a single thread of narrative and the reader must be satisfied with the entertainment value of the host's tying together of odds and ends.

Perhaps I'm too jaded, but hold your carnival once per year. That should be enough.

***

Richard Williams writes, about Stanford's John Hennessy associating D.K. Goodwin with risk taking,
I'd like to ask Mr. Hennessy if he considers plagiarism an "intellectual risk"?
The cute aspect to this story is that with Doris's agency booking over $40,000 per speech, Hennessy must have felt he could save Stanford some bucks by delivering her standard Lincoln talk himself (paraphrased, and with attribution).

***

Well there we go, two comments, anyway. Not much of a carnival of comments but it should hold us for awhile.

9/22/2007

Author: Maryland was not ready for secession

I have been quoting Maryland Voices in the Civil War and the Baltimore Sun has just run an article on its author/editor Charles Mitchell.

As you have seen from the Dix material that Mitchell included in his book he has a revisionist sensibility:
Mitchell has helped to dispel the notion that Maryland was ready to secede from the Union and join the Confederate cause, which would have had major economic consequences for Baltimore."I hope this book punctures the myth that Maryland was ready for secession. Baltimore's businessmen were against it," he said.
That may be getting ahead of the influence of Maryland Voices. And we all understand that one can dispel anything with selective quotes and that a title like Maryland Voices does not provide readers with insight into what sources were excluded.

But I do have a weakness for re-looks, anytime and anywhere. I and do think it is legitimate to compile material excluded (or underweighted) into its own volume specifically to challenge the status quo - especially if it is identified as such a challenge.

p.s. It seems from this piece that we worked for the same publisher in the same office in Baltimore 2003, though I don't remember Mitchell.

p.p.s. Shown top right, the flag of the 6th Maryland Infantry.

9/20/2007

John Dix, a man of our time (3/3)

Imagine if today's presidents followed Lincoln's lead and let each military commander set his own personal civil policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kossovo, Haiti, etc.

Or, in a more positive vein, imagine a Civil War in which Lincoln actually shouldered his responsibilities and issued civil guidelines to commanders of military districts. As long as we're fantasizing, we may as well imagine such civil guidance spelled out in Lincolnian prose:
Show the people of ... all classes that their rights of person and property are not only to be scrupulously respected but protected instead of being invaded by the military forces we have sent among them.
That's a pretty good start, but we can do better:
Our mission is not to invade or annoy any personal rights but to correct misapprehension in regard to the intentions of the Government. And while all open acts of hostility are to be punished we should labor to win back those who have separated themselves from us through a misunderstanding in regard to our motives by kindness and conciliation, and above all by rigid abstinence from all invasion of their constitutional and legal rights.
Well, you've caught on by now - I'm quoting John Dix in a letter he wrote to his field commander, the Delawarean Henry Lockwood, in November of 1861.

This letter was prompted by the military arrest of a lawyer on Delmarva. Said lawyer, a Mr. E.K. Wilson, had written a letter or memo badmouthing Lincoln. Dix gave some specific instruction to Lockwood as well as the general guidance quoted above:
No [civilian] arrest is to be made without your special order in each case and then only for overt acts and giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
Note that "aid and comfort" is constitutional language and that Dix does not classify speech as aid and comfort. I like this part very much:
I am well aware that such an order has not had your approval and I should direct the officer who issued it to be arrested if I were not sure it originated in mistaken zeal.
Emphasis added. Next time, we can infer, you will indeed arrest officers squelching speech.
... do all in your power to repair the wrong done under it [the arrest order]. And I request your especial and prompt attention to Mr. Wilson's case, leaving it to your discretion and good judgement to do what is right.
To the reader of Maryland Voices in the Civil War, General John Dix seems like an ambassador from modern times sent back to restrain the excesses of the Lincoln Administration and the barbarism of local ultras.

Risk or rubber stamp?

The National Park Service has been invited to "determine the national significance of the Shepherdstown battlefield."

What if they decide, "not significant"? Is this a gamble?

The Civil War Sites Advisory Commission previously rated the battle a preservation priority "C". Here's their system:
Class A and B battlefields represent the principal strategic operations of the war. Class C and D battlefields usually represent operations with limited tactical objectives of enforcement and occupation.

• 45 sites (12%) were ranked “A” (having a decisive influence on a campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war);

• 104 sites (27%) were ranked “B” (having a direct and decisive influence on their campaign);

• 128 sites (33%) were ranked “C” (having observable influence on the outcome of a campaign);

• 107 sites (28%) were ranked “D” (having a limited influence on the outcome of their campaign or operation but achieving or affecting important local objectives).
The Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association lays out a gameplan:
Byrd’s legislation would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a “special resource study”, and to determine the suitability and feasibility of including the battlefield and related sites as part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park or Antietam National Battlefield.
This program has been afoot since 2006. But what does it mean? How can the NPS physically adopt a patchwork of easements and scattered parcels, "Including 25 acres donated to a conservation easement, there are now 84 acres on the site of the Battle of Shepherdstown that are safe from future development. SBPA continues its effort to save the remaining 216 acres."

More important, imagine the effect on developers and courts if the verdict is returned that this is not a significant site. What then?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Dinner with Eric

Hat tip to Eric for the kind words on his blog. He was passing through yesterday and we had dinner in Leesburg.

We agreed on how much better Civil War publishing is now compared to 10 years ago, how the model is has moved from commercial appeal to value added. Publishers seem to be asking, "What's different about this manuscript," rather than "Does it tell a great story even better?"

He has been part of that shift, as has Ted Savas and so many others. That's something to celebrate anytime.

9/19/2007

Goodwin launches Bicentennial

Noted Lincoln scholar Doris Kearns Goodwin launched the Bicentennial speakers series at Illinois State University last night with observations from her monograph, Team of Rivals. Referring to the reason for writing the book, she said, "I knew I wanted to go back to the 19th century and learn about the Civil War."

She gave roughtly the same speech at Illinois Wesleyan earlier in the day, offering students the critical insight, "He never lost touch with regular Americans."

Meanwhile, Stanford University President John Hennesy welcomed students back to college yesterday in a speech built around Goodwin's Team of Rivals. Inspired by Goodwin , he urged students to "take intellectual risks." "[A]s Doris Kearns Goodwin describes so well, Lincoln was a master of personal interaction and grew from the experiences available to him."

Every student a Lincoln. Every student a risk taker. Every student in touch with regular Americans.

Why not?

p.s. If you would like to book Doris Kearns Goodwin for your next event, you can do so here. Be advised, however, that insights such as "He never lost touch with regular Americans" will cost you "$40,000 and up" per talk.

You'll never work in this carnival again

How do you convene a "carnival" of military history blogs and achieve 100% exclusion of all Civil War blogs? Behold.

9/18/2007

John Dix, a man of our time (2/3)

To the reader of Maryland Voices in the Civil War, General John Dix seems like an ambassador from modern times sent back to restrain the excesses of the Lincoln Administration and the barbarism of local ultras.

Shortly before the Maryland elections of '61, we find him responding to two men seeking his authorization "to administer to all persons of doubtful loyalty who offer their votes" an oath of allegiance to the Constitution. Dix replies,
The [state] constitution and laws of Maryland provide for the exercise of the elective franchise by regulations with which I have no right to interfere.
This is an absolute "no." He could leave it at that but he offers the writers a bone: he has just issued an order that if combatants against the U.S. are found trying to vote, they should be arrested by state authorities until they can be taken into federal custody - the same for anyone aiding or abetting them. He then ties the two matters together, the oath and the enemy sneaking in votes:
I consider it of the utmost importance that the election should be a fair one and that there should be no obstruction to the free and full expression of the people of the State...
Two kinds of "obstruction," you see. To ensure the readers of this letter understand that the oath is one of the obstructions referred to he adds,
But it is in the power of the judges of election under the authority given to them to satisfy themselves as to the qualifications of the voters - to put to those who offer to poll such searching questions in regard to residence and citizenship as to detect traitors and without any violation of the [state] constitution or laws of Maryland to prevent the pollution of the ballot boxes by their votes.
On the face of it, this seems a safe and sane response: the laws are on the books, my jurisdiction is elsewhere, I will endeavor to keep my jurisdiction (Rebel soldiers) from interfering in yours (citizens voting).

However Dix is making some interesting statements of principle here: (1) the voter cannot be disqualified based on what is in his heart (2) the army will not monitor polling places, rather "the [civil] judges of election" will do so as locally prescribed and (3)the loyalty oath administered in a state not seceded is as much an interference in elections as Rebels crossing the lines to vote in a loyal state's poll.

Dix is taking us into the realm of political philosophy here.

The monumental philosophical challenge facing McClellan (as well as Buell, Schofield, and Halleck in the early war) was how to put down a revolution without launching a counterrevolution. McClellan knew he was fighting to restore a certain political order and not to create a new (counter)revolutionary alternative to the Confederacy or to the old order.

Dix's problem was similar but not the same: unlike McClellan, et al, he was not an occupier but a district commander. He had the supremely conservative task of preserving the existing order in the midst of revolutionary regional upheaval in a state not seceded. And he had no practical military or civil policy guidance from Lincoln - no one ever had, every commander was always completely on his own until he made a significant political mistake.

It's possible, looking at Dix's lack of mistakes, to say he was brilliantly successful in his role. He was also successful philosophically, preserving the existing order following his own principles ... which might said to resemble the principles we prefer today.

Books and newspapers

What's the least-read section of your local newspaper? Apparently, the book review section. As newspaper circulation (and revenue) falls it appears a lot of book review sections are being cut.

Agent Kassia Krozser is glad to see them go: you won't read a longer more impassioned post on her blog.
At first I was amused. Now I read articles decrying the cutting of newspaper book reviews with barely-contained impatience. I am tired of the hand-wringing, the bemoaning of “loss of culture”, the sense of entitlement many of these articles present. Rather than leading the way to the solution, the writers behind these pieces show, sometimes too clearly, why they were the problem.
The quality has fallen starkly since I began reviewing in 1974 and is now guaranteed to drive readers away. Consider reviewers at the Boston Globe and Washington Post, no less. In considering This Mighty Scourge, they simply could not distinguish between the anthologized James McPherson, in his role as a book reviewer, and the authors whose works he was reviewing in the anthology (have a laugh reading point two here). It was beyond them.

Given the cut back in their own reporting staffs and the increased dependence on wire copy, many local papers have for some time carried only canned reviews offered by their syndicates. Not only have these represented an offhand, dismal kind of hackwork, but many reviews are not even by critics but by the syndicate's own news reporters earning a few extra bucks on their day off (for a high school level article).

A final word on the book page editors. Is there a more hidebound class of laborer? They seem bereft of ideas: every book page everywhere looks exactly the same. They may work on recruiting good writers for their pages, budget permitting, but they will not tamper with a formula that may produce (worst case) a grand total of two or three articles on an entire broadsheet.

The book page can be lively: a single broadsheet page can carry many short reviews and perhaps scores of capsule listings. There are author interviews to publish, there's book news to recap.

You may think I'm harsh but Kassia has a message for book page editors and reviewers:
You never ask yourself how your opinion came to be so valued. You never ask yourself how new generations of thinkers displace the old. You never once consider that you sound like a petulant child. Worst of all, you never consider the role you played in your own demise.

Just in time for the Bicentennial

"Lincoln: The Untold Story" is a stage show with 80 characters. It includes music and "The national Bicentennial Commission has endorsed the production."

This is sounding like Waiting for Guffman:
The 60-foot set, which includes a fa├žade of the Lincoln birthplace cabin, will be staged in the LaRue County courthouse parking lot.
The playwright's previous credit was a play called "The Severns Valley Baptist Church’s Living Christmas Tree."

Good grief Charlie Brown. How will we ever make it through the Bicentennial?

Note: The photo shows Guffman not Untold Story.

Custer Week in Michigan

If you are going to stage a Custer Week in Michigan, you have the choice of going deep with Custer material, deep with related Michigan history, or you can just skim the tippy-top of tangentially related topics.

Skimming might involve having Lincoln read the Gettysburg address and sending loads of re-enactors out into the crowd: Grant, Custer, Sherman, Sheridan, Reynolds, Sturgis, Farragut, Lee, Longstreet, Gordon, Armistead, Pickett, Marshall, and Alexander.

Looks like a fine festival for 10-year-olds.

p.s. An organizer takes exception to this post here.

Antietam weekend (cont.)

More blogging on the 145th anniversary from Harry Smeltzer, John Hoptak, and Scott Mingus.

9/17/2007

John Dix, a man of our time (1/3)

To the reader of Maryland Voices in the Civil War, General John Dix seems like an ambassador from modern times sent back to restrain the excesses of the Lincoln Administration and the barbarism of local ultras.

In the summer of 1861, the postmaster of Baltimore asked Dix to shut down three newspapers in the city in a letter endorsed by Postmaster Montgomery Blair. Mind you, Blair and his Baltimore postmaster were already actively denying the mails to papers they disapproved of - this was an additional step beyond denying postal service.

Elsewhere in the North, the "summer of rage" was dealing harshly with opposition papers, with mobs wrecking presses; perhaps a loyal mob could not be raised in Baltimore at this time. Note that Blair had been Butler's mentor. Butler is now gone. Dix's reply, directed to Blair and setting the new tone, is wonderful.
I presume you are not aware that an order for the suppression of these presses was made out in one of the Departments at Washington and in consequence of strong remonstrances from Union men in Baltimore was not issued.
Translation: I assume you are not trying to circumvent a decision already taken. Nice jab. (Notice the implicit federal "license to publish," by the way.) Dix continues,
"Under these circumstances, it would not be proper for me to act without the authority of the government.
And Montgomery, my dear, you are not the government.
Any action by me without such authority would be improper for another reason that probably does not occur to you. The command of General McClellan has been extended over the state of Maryland. I am his subordinate and have corresponded with him on the subject. I cannot therefore act without his direction.
Great bureaucratic politics. You, Montgomery, must not only enlist the government, but you must then have the government bring McClellan into your scheme. Now, a deft touch, the definition of "government":
But independently of this consideration I think a measure of so much gravity as the suppression of a newspaper by military force should carry with it the whole weight of the influence and authority of the Government...
The "government" shall equal the "whole government" and not a couple of departments. This guy is good.

The next sentence I like very much, for Dix acknowledges the feeling of the Unionist majority and states a reason for going against that majority that Blair can understand:
There is no doubt that a majority of Union men in Baltimore desire suppression of all the opposition presses in the city but there are many - and among them some of the most discreet - who think differently.
In other words, if we placate the majority we lose support for the cause as the "discreet" Unionists fall away.

Now the triumphant conclusion of his letter. Can you spot the threat?
The city is now very quiet and under control though my force is smaller than I asked..."
Bravo, John Dix.

Antietam weekend

If you missed the 145th anniversary of the battle this weekend, see Harry's post; note Manny has loads of pictures; and Brian Downey has pix and info as well. John Hoptak was present but has not yet blogged on the day's doings.

Brett Schulte returns

Brett Schulte has returned to blogging and has assembled a group to help him.

My own Civil War Bookshelf was the first Civil War blog to appear on a regular basis. His was the second (Drew Wagenhoffer and Eric Wittenberg followed making ours collectively the four longest-running).

Welcome back, Brett, and welcome to your co-bloggers some of whom are new to this medium.

9/14/2007

McClellan at Antietam

The Battle of Antietam is observed at the battlefield this weekend and Harry Smeltzer has graciously agreed to report in his blog on Ethan Rafuse's Saturday night talk on McClellan at Antietam.

Confederate constitution

Out tomorrow ... Redeeming American Democracy: Lessons from the Confederate Constitution by Marshall Derosa.

9/13/2007

Harold Holzer, the brand

The man Gore Vidal refers to simply as "the caption writer" and "the publicist" has constructed what has to be a model for authors' websites. Good for him - go and do likewise, my writer friends.

(I can't help but noticing a gallery section - tons of Holzer pics! - and that each picture in the gallery does indeed sport a caption.)

Holzer is co-editor of a new Lincoln volume this month. The scope of the book is simply insane, much too broad - Lincoln and Freedom: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Thirteenth Amendment. It's covered by 15 authors in 280 pages and the publisher calls it "comprehensive." In fact "This comprehensive volume" - among other things - covers "slavery from its roots in 1619 Jamestown, through the adoption of the Constitution, to Abraham Lincoln’s presidency."

Please.

With the advent of the Bicentennial of Lincoln's birth, we are racing towards a huge substance deficit, one which this book appears to be feeding. How many more clapped-together essay collections are going to be branded by such as Holzer to then die an unlamented, humiliating sales death, in fact, to poison booksellers against the very topic of Lincoln, before the Bicentennial even arrives?

Furthermore, if I were teaching Lincoln courses at the college level, I would be worried sick. In the not too distant future, the people who fund my teaching post, approve my courses, and give me raises and recognition will be bombarded by an inescapable series of Bicentennial news spots, specials, etc., which reduce my scholarship to pap, assuming I "do" scholarship. My colleagues, steeped in complex, intercine struggles among contending schools of thought in their own specialties, are going to be confronted by wall-to-wall happy faces, gleefully nodding in agreement as each new burble of Lincolnian babytalk is served up as wisdom.

Eventually, they are going to get angry. As with the great masses of TV viewers who will be force-fed fifth grade civics lessons until this is over, the professariat and university administrators will not be able to escape the Holzers and the quality of their insights.

I would urge those in the academy teaching Lincoln with access to the Bicentennial machinery to get a grip on their Holzers now, before Lincoln positions are defunded and Lincoln studies banished to community college not-for-credit night school.

The joy of history

In a survey of student contentment with their majors, classics scored highest (93%) followed by history (91%).

These are not American students, however, but British undergrads.

9/12/2007

"King Cotton"

They have turned the cotton famine into a musical. They'll turn anything into a musical. See here and here.

9/11/2007

Gingrich as Civil War reader

In the course of daily life, not in some special seminar or publishing setting, I have run into many would-be novelists who are working on or have finished a book. If I had to name one common trait among them it is that they are never fiction readers themselves.

I currently work with a fellow who has published a series of international bestselling novels through a major trade house and who does not himsef read much, least of all novels.

All of this came to mind in connection with Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen who achieved stunning sales success with their Civil War fiction trilogy.

Newt Gingrich is an avid reader and reviews for Amazon. He has 145 reviews up at present. Only one review addresses a Civil War title - Winik's 1865.

Only one. Gingrich writes Civil War fiction but does not read Civil War fiction or nonfiction.

Phenomenon noted ... but still not understood.

Winik returns

The Civil War publishing phenomenon of 2001/2002, Jay Winik, has returned with a turn-of-the-18th-century nonfiction narrative.

From this review in the LA Times, it seems Winik is carving out a space for himself as Mr. Contingent History. The Times was not impressed however:
Grandiose writing and sloppy thinking are rife in "The Great Upheaval," an ambitious, maddening book whose pretensions undermine enjoyment of its considerable merits as a vigorous work of popular history.
If you like, you can read an essay Winik wrote for the WAPO last week. Note that he comes across as a naive, breathlessly enthusiastic undergraduate distilling many nights of dorm room bull sessions into an essay full of potential that never comes together. People love what-if. It's what they imagine the F*U*N of history reading to be about. It's Harry Turtledove's meal ticket. It's Winik's secret sauce. He's not done yet.

9/10/2007

"Was Grant a drunk?"

Edward Longacre spends 1,500 words on the subject, "Was Grant a drunk?" on HNN today.

I suppose this is intended as a poke in the eye to those holding that Grant suffered migraines which were mischaracterized as inebriation, or to those more recently proposing that Grant suffered exaggerated effects from occasional small amounts of drink - a kind of allergy. That leaves the school of thought that "Grant did drink, but there is no evidence that it ever affected the performance of his duties. Also, he drank only when he was lonely," as one reviewer has said. The reviewer was recapping Geoffrey Perrett's position, a position elevated to holy writ in (typically unattributed) restatements by the Greatest Living Civil War Historian himself.

There is a clue to Longacre's motivation in the beginning of the essay: "Given the importance of the subject, Grant’s drinking habits should be recognized and examined, not ignored or downplayed as they have been by overzealous defenders of his good name during his lifetime and ever since." Later on he says, "More difficult to gauge is whether this habit hampered his ability to command or (as some observers contend) propelled him toward military success even as it marked him as a failure in civilian life."

Longacre, then, appears to reject the "case closed" declaration by Perrett (and others). He is reopening the question of drink and performance.

Nevertheless, he arrives at a similar place by the end of the essay, which makes this whole exercise so curious. Perhaps he thinks his own position is more nuanced (emphasis added):
Given the high visibility his position attracted after 1861, Grant’s dependence on alcohol might well have threatened his continuance in command. Instead, through a combination of factors -- his determination to abstain when military operations were in progress; a moral strength based on religious values that has escaped the notice of many historians; and the support of relatives, subordinates, and political backers, chief among them Abraham Lincoln -- Grant persevered to play a critical role in ending America’s costliest war and restoring the Republic.
So Grant gets the credit for persevering. His reputation is enhanced.

Unless the door to examining the performance/drink nexus is reopened with this essay (which seems a bit much to ask) this looks to be merely an exercise in authorial self-gratification. Welcome to Civil War history.

***

Not because I believe he was incapable or a drunk but because it seems opportune, I'd like to share a Grant anecdote with you in my posession transcribed from a letter written by William Franklin to George McClellan. Haven't seen this in print, which is why I offer it excerpted from the longer text. It also gives a sense of Grant's reputation among peers and a taste of Franklin's charming way with gossip.

February 4, 1864
Franklin, Louisiana

My Dear Mac,

Your letter of the 19th ult. reached here this morning, and I was delighted to see a specimen of your chiriography once more. I was afraid you had entirely scratched me from your books.

[snip]
Let me give you an instance of Grant's luck. He came to New Orleans last August with Old Thomas. He at once got onto the most tremendous frolic, was drunk and all over the city for forty-eight hours. Then reviewed the troops of the 13th Corps, took lunch and afterwards galloped over an exceedingly dusty road full of splits, tumbled head over heels and was badly hurt - the getting badly hurt was the luck. Had he not been hurt he would have frolicked for a fortnight, the whole country would have believed he sometimes takes a drink, and I doubt whether he would have outlived the frolic. At Vicksburg just before this frolic, he told me that he had drunk nothing since the war began, but Mrs. Grant was about there.
[snip]

W.B. Franklin

Virginia forms a commission

This story from Richmond claims that Virginia is now the first state to have formed a Sesquicentennial commission. James I. Robertson Jr., of all people, has been named to the state body and $2.1 million allotted for commemoration.

It all seems very low-key so far, the biggest part "a major statewide traveling exhibition." I assume that means a bookmobile with plaques and mannekins.

A new theory of entrenchments

Author Earl Hess argues in a new book that "the heavy reliance on earthworks by both armies in the Overland campaign was driven by Grant's relentless attacks against Lee, not by the widespread use of rifle muskets, as historians have previously argued." (This quote is the publisher's paraphrase of Hess's point.)

Whatever the merits of the first part of this hypothesis, I am very persuaded by Nosworthy that the Civil War was the last great musket war.

(More Nosworthy here.)

9/07/2007

Lincoln stays buried

In the early eighties, New Musical Express ran a cartoon by Lowry showing clothes on stage in a packed nightclub. One scene person says to a puzzled audience member, The band stayed home: now, they just send their clothes on tour.

This is life imitating cartoons.

Civil War Talk Radio is on

The newly tenured Gerald P. is back from vacation and talking to Scott Patchan.

The Gomorrah test for history museums

From the International Herald Tribune:
U.S. museum directors and curators increasingly sense opportunity - and profitability - in the low test scores that characterize Americans' familiarity with their country's history.
From the man who designed the ALPLM (same source): "There is nothing we wouldn't do to get people in."

From James McPherson (same source): "... but if 3,000 people a day are going to the Lincoln Museum, and if even 1 percent are inspired by Lincoln, it may be having a positive impact."

This last sounds like Lot arguing with God. "If even one little child is turned toward the veneration of your servant Lincoln, will you spare this wretched place?"

McPherson has invented the Gomorrah Test for History Museums.

It's Friday...

I'm going to give Civil War Talk Radio a whirl to day at 3:00 pm EST to see how it's going, now that these are live-only broadcasts.

9/06/2007

Wilson's dispatch

Civil War Times Illustrated, in what must be the final issue edited by Chris Lewis, has an article by my friend Moe D'Aoust, "Unravelling the Myths of Burnside Bridge."

McClellan claimed he sent an 8:00 am order to AB to attack; historians hostile to McClellan claim GBM lied about this time in order to make Burnside look even more unresponsive than he actually was.

Burnside, for his part, claimed the attack began at 10:00 am. The ardent Republican General Jacob Cox, in charge of the push, later revised his opinion to support Burnside's 10 am timeline. Oddly enough, most evidence shows the attack starting at about 9:00. D'Aoust reviews the OR and sees no report (Rebel or Union) supporting a 10:00 am attack.

Furthermore, he finds in John Ropes' writings reference to a statement by GBM's ADC John Moulder Wilson: "In my diary now before me, written at the time, I find as follows: 'At 8 o'clock a.m. I carried an order from Genl. McClellan to Genl. Burnside to charge and take the bridge in front of him and the heights beyond...' "

Very interesting stuff - on sale at a newsstand near you.

(Top right, Wilson in June of 1862, days away from winning the Medal of Honor.)

Our Civil War Army (cont.)

Reader Bob Fugate sent in an interesting link to a WSJ story (not firewalled yet) that traces the unsatisfactory condition of today's Army back to Emory Upton (right):
Upon his return to the U.S., Upton proposed a number of radical reforms, including abandoning the citizen-soldier model and relying on professional soldiers, reducing civilian interference in military affairs, and abandoning the emphasis on the constabulary operations in favor of preparing for a conflict with a potential foreign enemy.
There's much more here.

I view Upton's thinking as the next logical stage in the Grant-Sherman-Schofield professionalization paradigm and the current culture of the officer corps as embodying its ultimate, corrupted, hyperreal expression.

Will there be a Sesquicentennial?

Will there be a Sesquicentennial? Should there be one? The question is now being asked.
Because of the ongoing debate over the causes and conduct of the conflict — not to mention the war's aftermath and legacy — any effort to organize some sort of national commemoration will be a political hot potato that few politicians will want to pick up. Where [federal] lawmakers usually flock to sponsor anniversary bills, only 10 representatives have signed on to sponsor a proposal to create a Civil War sesquicentennial commission.
Only 10.

And while Sesquicentennial planning lies becalmed by lack of federal interest, the mysterious (who appointed him?) head of the Sesquicentennial dithers. Have you ever seen a picture of Rick Beard? Have you ever visited his Sesquicentennial website? Received a funding solicitation from his group? And yet "Beard is President of Civil War 150: The Sesquicentennial Initiative." Why would anyone count on someone no one has ever heard of?

If you are an author or reader who believes this anniversary should be celebrated, now is the time for organizing a body for funding, coordination, and info sharing.

The kind of sense this makes (cont.)

Understanding the logic behind dividing the Museum of the Confederacy into three and separating the locations:
"We are focused on taking our collection to the visitor, rather than trying to get the visitor to come to us," said Waite Rawls, the museum’s president and chief executive officer.
Excellent. Case solved.

9/05/2007

Bloggish convergence

Shelby Foote tells us (from his perspective in 1952) that narrative is done wrong in military history. N. Taleb is touring the country denouncing "the Narrative Fallacy." Harry Smeltzer notices a new paper by Kenneth Noe on the problems narrative form causes to history. Mark Grimsley notices the Web availability of a paper he likes, Clausewitz, Nonlinearity and the Unpredictability of War by Alan Beyerchen. (Narratives = linear. War = nonlinear.)

Convergence. Not like lines on the horizon, more like swarming.

As you contemplate your own anti-narrative strategies, enjoy some red meat from Beyerchen's essay (emphasis added):
The overall pattern is clear: war seen as a nonlinear phenomenon - as Clausewitz sees it - is inherently unpredictable by analytical means. Chance and complexity dominate simplicity in the real world. Thus no two wars are ever the same. No war is guaranteed to remain structurally stable. No theory can provide the analytical short-cuts necessary to allow us to skip ahead of the "running" of the actual war. No realistic assumptions offer a way to bypass these uncomfortable truths. Yet these truths have the virtue that they help us identify the blinders we impose on our thinking when we attempt to linearize.

Taney defended

Very interesting:
Taney left the judges with this, first on slaveholders: "those reptiles who live by trading in human flesh and enrich themselves by tearing the husband from the wife and the infant from the mother's bosom." [...] Taney was not "pro-slavery," he manumitted his slaves, joined his brother-in-law Francis Scott Key as a member of the American colonization society colonizing Liberia.

The kind of sense this makes

The decision to divide up Richmond's Museum of the Confederacy and distribute it among three locations smacks of heritage tourism, where nothing adds up. More moving costs; three times the promotional costs; no geographical continuity. Do they think they'll get three times the turnout?

p.s. (9/6/07): There is method to the madness. Case solved here.

9/04/2007

Rick Beard dons his other hat

The Atlanta Journal tracked down Rick Beard for a few ominous quotes about how poorly the Sesquicentennial is coming along:
Congress has yet to create a federal commission to coordinate a national [Civil War] commemoration. By contrast, a federal commission to commemorate last May's 400th anniversary of the settlement at Jamestown, Va., was up and running four and a half years before the anniversary.
Beard is holding out for a federal commission. I wonder if that means he's holding up work until he gets one.

Who made this guy head of the Sesquicentennial in the meantime? Would it kill him to put up a website?

p.s. I noticed after this went up that Kevin Levin got to the story first.

9/03/2007

Why there is so little "fog of war" in ACW writing

Shelby Foote, from Shiloh - A Novel (1952):
He said books about war were written to be read by God Amighty because no one but God ever saw it that way. A book about war, to be read by men, ought to tell what each of the twelve of us saw in out little corner. Then it would be the way it was - not to God but to us.

I saw what he meant but it was useless talking. Nobody would do it that way. It would be too jumbled. People when they read, and people when they write, want to be looking out of that big Eye in the sky, playing God.