Carman's manuscript, Pierro edition

Now that editor Joseph Pierro is on the verge of sharing an edited, public edition of the famous Carman manuscript (due out in December), we can reasonably wonder whether and how this will affect Maryland Campaign studies to come.

Revisionism to come?
Researchers have resorted to the manuscript extensively in the past but they faced a mass of unattributed information which they then had to decide whether to use and how to weigh. With this full editing/attribution completed, the business of weighing and using Carman's unique sources is clarified. I'll certainly be doing a close reading of this when it comes out and expect some surprises. My gut feeling is that the Centennialists who mined Carman-in-the-raw had a much easier time suppressing evidence they didn't like because it was unatrributed or only partially attributed. Let's see what emerges.

The publisher's strategy
Back in August, blogger Paul Taylor contacted Pierro's publisher who divulged some (for me) curious project facts about this forthcoming book. First, no maps. The atlas Carman developed will be available online only. Second, a resort to print-on-demand technology to produce a short, pricey run aimed at libraries. Part of the pricing could be attributed to length - nearly 1,000 pages. But this library-centric plan underestimates Carman's commerical potential.

Carman's Goodwinisms:
Joseph Pierro himself has said some interesting things about this effort in private correspondence which he has permitted me to share. I asked him if he noticed a lot of Goodwinisms in the text.
Yes, that's VERY much the case. I'd say he [Carman] gave attributions in perhaps 25-30% of the cases, and those in turn run from full author/title/page cites to cryptic things like "The historian of the 10th Massachusetts writes. . . ." And sometimes what he was quoting from wasn't a published source, but his private correspondence with veterans (which required me to go through all his papers and try to find a match). Or sometimes he'd just give a name, but you didn't know if it was a book, or an article, or a speech.

Had I realized how much was going to be involved at the start, I probably would have been scared away from undertaking the project. Ignorance is bliss. . . .

Trying to reverse engineer the entire ms. was what turned a relatively straightforward project into a two-year effort. It was worth it, though. I'd say I managed to find the source for all but maybe 15-20 quotations.
"Reverse engineering" a manuscript - sounds horrible. He explained in a follow-up:

I'll be honest. Ten years ago I don't think I could have begun to complete this project. Recent breakthroughs in massive digital library projects made all the difference. Thanks to things like "Google Books" and the University of Michigan and Cornell University's "Making of America" project, thousands of imprints from the nineteenth cuntry have been completely digitized in word-searchable formats. Sites like these proved invaluable in trying to identify the source of hundreds of excerpts that Carman placed within quotation marks, but for which he neglected to provide complete citations.

The recent explosion in bibliographies--both online and printed--also helped immesurably. When Carman says simply, "The historian of the 10th Maine writes," Dornbusch's 4-vol. Military Bibliography of the Civil War would give citations for all known histories for that unit. From the copyright dates it was easy to determine the ones to which Carman would have had access, and then it was simply a matter of flipping through the relevant works to find the sentences in question.

FORTUNATELY, most of the nineteenth century unit histories were all microfilmed commercially in a gigantic set, available at most large reserach libraries. For the really rare items, I am fortunate to live in the greater Richmond area. Between the rare book room of the Lib of Congress, the Va Historical Society, and the Library of Virginia, there wasn't any imprint I wasn't able to access eventually.
Looks like we have some serious editing to give us a foundation for (perhaps) some serious reconsideration of our "oft-told tale" of September, 1862.

Very exciting.

In time for the Sesquicentennial

Announced Thursday: "Edwin S. Grosvenor has purchased American Heritage from Forbes Inc. and will resume publication with the December issue."

Log rolling into Virginia's 150th

The entire cost of a Virginia Sesquicentennial movie will be underwritten by the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission.

The movie proposal was developed and presented by James Robertson, board member of the Virginia Sesquicentennial organization. The production money will go to his day-job organization, the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. The three-hour documentary...
will be filmed in high definition over the entirety of the Virginia commonwealth. It will also include aerial views provided by low flying helicopters. Different sections and events will be filmed in corresponding seasons in order to provide more accurate views of the past.


Publishing during the Sesquicentennial

Reader James McCorry asks what I think the Civil War book market will look like during the 150th celebrations, adding, "I feel there will not be a big spike commercialy."

I tend to agree. There's going to be some overlap with the Lincoln Bicentennial which could generate a bit of commercial symbiosis, but probably not. Lincoln's Bicentennial sets the table for the Sesquicentennial, nevertheless. Let's tackle the Lincoln effect on the Sesquicentennial first.

As you can tell from this blog, I feel that there will be a backlash against Lincoln scholarship nationwide on the theme "this is not scholarship." Certainly, college-based Lincoln scholars will need to hold tight onto their chairs once the general academic population gets a whiff of what has been passing for "contending schools of thought" and "rigorous discispline" in this little history niche. The backdrop for this specific negativity will be a more general, pop culture disgust with the endless and pointless "Lincoln facts" and other "bright spots" in "enlivening" the news day after day.

Remember 1976? The country got a little worn down by an empty, largely idiotic national Bicentennial celebration as translated into the minute-media culture, into newspaper columns, into worthless punditry, and into the mass marketing of gimcracks painted red, white, and blue. And that 1976 society was much more tolerant of banality than today's society. In today's world of niche marketing and acquired tastes, expect a disengagement and disgust to set in early.

Ergo, I'm expecting a content-free Lincoln Bicentennial to have a dampening effect on a potentially content-rich Sesquicentennial. One possible effect will be that a book market overloaded with worthless Lincoln titles drives down editors' appetites for worthwhile new Civil War titles. At least where they think Lincoln = Civil war.

So much for speculation. Now, analysis.

With the failure to start a national (federal) Sesquicentennial commission, we have a strong indicator that there will be no national events generating media coverage in the mass market. The trend is towards local only - strong state commissions with a lot of sites (hello, Virginia) will claim regional news coverage.

This anniversary is going to be about tourism to states with busy Sesquicentennial calendars. National news spots and magazine articles will feature tips and tricks for having the best tour experience. Book publishing will follow with the emphasis being on tour guides. I shudder to think how many.

Tour guides are different enough from the run of nonfiction that a glut of tour guides failing en mass on the sales front should not have a major impact on the number of Civil War histories being published. I hope.

There is also a risk that someone like Goodwin or McCullough will try to write a cash-cow general history of the war that becomes a big deal and generates some copycatting but I'm betting against their breaking through what are normal sales levels for them.

I feel there is some danger of a Ken Burns-like figure striking a deal with the author of a cash-cow junk history book to produce a movie or series to exploit that project across other media during the Sesquicentennial. Consider the deal Spielberg made with Goodwin to film a Lincoln movie based on a book Goodwin had not yet written. If the Goodwin/Spielberg Lincoln film dies at the box office next year, we will have dodged a bullet and be free of the threat of another such project appearing in the Sesquicentennial. If their movie succeeds, some bright guy will pitch Hollywood on a Civil War equivalent.

The success of a Sesquicentennial movie could pollute Civil War publishing with derivative work for some time, based on the degree of success of the movie.

Let's boil this down to a few propositions and calls.

Major publishing thrust of the Sesquicentennial?
Tour guides.

Effect on enrollment in relevant college courses:

Effect on ACW magazine circulation:
Slight bump.

Junk history gusher?
No, a sprinkle not a gusher.

Hit TV series or movie?
No, Spielberg/Goodwin will fizzle, demotivating producers.

Total number of craptastic general war histories from bestselling authors:
I'll guess five: Goodwin's threatened us with a Grant biography. That's one for sure.

Long-term market effect after the Sesquicentennial:
A drop in the future number of guidebook titles.

Got a prediction? Join the fun.

"History as Narrative" (cont.)

It looks like an author has brought the structure and dynamic of Percy Foote's novel Shiloh to nonfiction: "Robert E. Bonner has movingly reconstructed the experiences of sixteen Civil War soldiers, using their own accounts to knit together a ground-level view of the entire conflict."

Another departure from single-viewpoint, timelined narratives, theatrical ruses, and archtypes beloved of authors. Another departure from the stock ACW narrative. Good.

Drummer boy makes good/bad

Out today: the true story of a drummer boy who "was recognized for the capture of two guns, several hundred prisoners, and the saving of Fortress Rosecrans in Murfreesboro from the famed Nathan Bedford Forrest." Also for "fame, lies, alcohol, bigamy, and murder." Looks irresistible.


Nicodemus Farm version 3.0

The news reports hereabouts have been confusing me with controversies surrounding Nicodemus Farm in Walkersville, MD (vice Sharpsburg, MD) .

It seems the famous Mr. Nicodemus relocated to Walkersville, starting a second farm (version 2.0). It is now slated to become a 40,000-sq-ft mosque and convention center (version 3.0), hence the strife.
The local media portray this strictly as a matter of zoning.
(Figure top right is from plans.)

CWPT on the Sesquicentennial

When he's not staging fashion shows, Rick Beard is head of the national "Civil War 150: The Sesquicentennial Initiative." The group doesn't have a website yet, hasn't issued a press release, and is keeping well out of the way of any planning, organizing, or fund raising.

I asked Civil War Preservation Trust if they've had any dealings with this cryptic mysterioso, whether they sensed drift nationally, and whether they would be willing to play a leading role in coordinating the Sesquicentennial. Spokesman Jim Campi answered:
In regard to the federal Sesquicentennial legislation, CWPT is certainly concerned about the progress of federal legislation. We are hoping to be able to put some resources behind it in the next few months. Our reluctance to do so up to now is because the current legislation, despite its other merits, does not have a land preservation component. So our involvement would mean scarce money and resources being diverted from efforts that much more directly aid in the acquisition of historic properties. Of course, a federal commission could and likely would indirectly aid in preservation, by generating public awareness and interest in the Civil War.

I believe we did meet with Rick Beard back in 2006, but I was out of town and unable to participate in the meeting. Most of our focus has been on the state commissions. As you know, Virginia's Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission is one of the best organized and prepared -- if not the best. What we have been trying to do is connect other state officials with the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission, to help them get up and running more quickly. Fortunately, the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission has been very cooperative and willing to help other states. Further, the Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission has repeatedly expressed an interest in battlefield preservation as one of the commission's most enduring legacies -- justifying our involvement.

There are likely other ways we can help promote the Civil War Sesquicentennial as well -- and are certainly open to suggestions.
I'm sensing ever more momentum for localized anniversary events; ever less interest in a national program. At what point can we declare the national effort beached and abandoned?

"Setting the bar"

Look what we missed: fashion night ("Fashion Knight" at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in June. Going to have to keep up with the Lincoln news in the Style section of the newspaper from now on. This is a portent:
"This event is unlike anything the museum has done before, and because of that we are extremely excited to offer it to the public," said Rick Beard, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. "By hosting 'Fashion Knight at the Museum,' we are once again setting the bar for other presidential library-museums..."

Making it real for today's reader

A double latte for General Grant, please:

"...at night, Union campsites were dotted with tiny fires, each boiling a pot of coffee like a million miniature Starbucks."

Ezra Carman - not so fast

Joseph Pierro wrote to say that his Ezra Carman book is suffering delays that will push the publication date into December. (The publication date on Amazon has been overtaken by events.)


"History as Narrative"

Harry put a piece up, "History as Narrative," about the time I got writer's block on a post exploring Shelby Foote's novel Shiloh. The point of Harry's piece is how to convey truth in narrative and this is the problem Foote tried to solve in Shiloh.

It's long past time for the Shiloh post.

We should start with a quote from Foote that appears in many interviews and letters: “The point I would make is this – and I would have you bear in mind that I am speaking of the honest novelist along with the honest historian. Both are seeking the same thing: the truth – not a different truth: the same truth–only they reach it, or try to reach it by different routes.”

The rub here, BTW, is "honest historian." More on that another time.

Foote tested his truth idea in his second novel, Follow Me Down. The historical event, fictionalized, was a murder. His way of deriving truth was through story fragments unfolding in multiple perspectives. The murderer's jailer has his story and tells it in his voice in his own chapter. Ditto a key witness. There is the reporter covering the story. The killer's wife has a say; so, too his lawyer. At the core of the book, the murderer speaks and his victim remembers events leading to her death. There is no narrator presenting these separate pieces to the reader on a platter of introductions and surmises.

One of the fine artistic touches in Follow Me Down is that these stories do not follow an event driven sequence or a timeline. A hack might have strung the stories on a temporal string like this: prisoner received at jail (jailer's story); lawyer interviews his client (attorney's story); murderer testifies in court (killer's story); etc. Instead the most significant narratives (the killer's and the victim's) lie in the center of the book, with peripheral characters surrounding them, graded by in intensity with the least intense going into the novel and coming out of it. In later interviews, Foote would explain that this is a compositional or structural bias he has in reading and writing.

An additional feature, very sophisticated, is that the many narrators could care less about the reader or the structure of a "crime story." They are telling a personal story from their own perspective and concerned with topics or elements that interest only themselves, told in a sequence natural to themselves, leading to a point that is personal to themselves, not leading to the "climax" of some external, objectified "story."

In Shiloh, Foote's fourth novel (and the one that did best commercially), Foote revives the truth experiment in the form first deployed in Follow Me Down. The battle is seen from multiple perspectives, on different sides, different times of day, on different days, on different points of the battlefield by observers of widely varying circumstance. You could call the effect "pointillist" in building up a composite image except that the points are rather few (seven short narratives in total). On a superficial level, you might think he is reprising Tolstoy's memes of war-as-chaos and generals-as-actors-pretending-to-control-chaos. Such a generalization would be less interesting to Foote than the real work of conveying novelistic + historic truth in one package, to convey the day as history experienced.

This speaks straight to Kenneth Noe's musings, in Harry's post:

(1) "Does the omniscient narrative voice actually obscure the reality of the battle experience?"

Foote says, Try this instead. He has eliminated that voice.

(2) "In short, can we ever grasp, much less communicate, the truth of what it was like to be there?"

Foote says, I am trying here.

Did he succeed? The critics thought so. Why didn't he try it again?

One of the disturbing things about Shiloh is that Foote did set the personal narratives on a timeline. This is a regression, a backsliding from Follow Me Down. Battle can be experienced as disorienting and discontinuous, veterans have difficulty establishing time sequences for the happenings they remember. By using the "Day One," "Day Two" canned history framework on which to hang his stories, Foote generates a counter-noise to that generated by his characters, who each experience an entirley different start and finish to the battle.

There is a larger point here as well. On the personal level, recollections will include incidents at odds with "approved and certified events"; also apparent event sequence errors; also rumors that make no sense; and finally any number of observations that are impossible, improbable, or inconvenient to the master narrative. We have explored some in this very blog, McClellan "commanding" at Gettysburg, for instance. This kind of reality through falsity is missing from Shiloh.

I think Foote went wrong trying to build a "true" mosaic of personal experience inside a "false" structure of artificial periodization painting a picture of the battle that would fit in nicely with any number of "approved" (streamlined and sanitized) histories.

Years later, by the time he was deep into his conventional nonfiction, Foote gave interviews in which he said narrative is the only way to convey history. Did he mean the big, ethically compromised narratives of Civil War history or did he mean the small narratives of personal experience?

Why did he never try a nonfiction experiment in truth? Why did his novel projects collapse after September, September once he emerged from his journey through historical nonfiction?

Who knows. Foote appeared to have bagged it. The point now is to take up new experiments.

From Civil War Preservation Trust

Donors have received this email; I did not find the text up on their website yet.

We at the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) are frequently asked, “What can I do to help?” The most obvious answer is by becoming a member and donating to our fundraising campaigns. Many of you have done just that – and your enthusiasm and generosity have helped us save nearly 25,000 acres nationwide.

But you can help in other ways as well – by donating a few moments of your time!

This past summer, a bipartisan group of preservation leaders in the U.S. House and Senate introduced the “Civil War Battlefield Preservation Act of 2007.” This landmark legislation reauthorizes the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program, the primary tool that CWPT and other battlefield preservation groups use to acquire historically significant battlefield land.

The program provides federal matching grants that have helped protect more than 14,000 acres of hallowed ground throughout the nation – historic shrines such as Antietam, Champion Hill, Chancellorsville, Franklin, Manassas, Perryville and Prairie Grove. Without this program, many lands associated with these famous battlefields would have fallen to the backhoe and bulldozer in the past decade.

As is the case with many federal programs, the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program needs to be reauthorized every few years. Passage of the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Act (H.R. 2933 in the House and S. 1921 in the Senate) will guarantee that this extremely valuable preservation tool will continue to be available to protect endangered battlefield land through 2013.


Get involved in the effort to pass the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Act. Take a few moments to contact your U.S. Senators and Representatives and ask them to cosponsor the bill. You can call, write or email them – whichever you prefer (although calls and letters are always the most effective). If you are a member of a Civil War roundtable or battlefield friends group, consider setting up a meeting with your local congressional office.

To make your involvement as quick and easy as possible, CWPT has set up a special website about the program at www.battlefieldactivist.com. This website has everything you need – sample phone scripts, sample letters, and information on contacting your elected officials in Washington. It also contains a list of 22 Senators and 61 Representatives who have already embraced this important legislation.

Find your Legislator:

==> http://www.congress.org/congressorg/directory/congdir.tt

Sample Letters:

==> http://www.battlefieldactivist.com/TakeAction/SampleLetters.html

Sample Phone Script:

==> http://www.battlefieldactivist.com/TakeAction/TelephoneScripts.html

List of Supporters:

==> http://www.battlefieldactivist.com/Support.html

If it turns out your Senators or Representative have already agreed to cosponsor the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Act, please send them a quick thank you (we provide sample text for that as well). All too often, our elected officials only hear from the public when they do something wrong – please thank them for doing something so right.

If you have any questions, please reply to this email or call CWPT at 1-800-298-7878 ext. 220. In many cases, legislators won’t cosponsor bills unless they hear from their constituents – so make sure your voice is heard!

Thank you for your continued enthusiasm and support!


Jim Campi

p.s. Jim wrote later to add "The bill reauthorizes the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program for another 5 years (FY2008 - FY2013). This program is the most often used federal program for battlefield preservation available today. Because of the importance of the program, we created a special website to get people more involved, www.battlefieldactivist.com."


Route 15 preservation - some thoughts

"Journey Through Hallowed Ground," the nonprofit seeking planning control over historic interstate Route 15 corridor, has won House backing, and a bill is now going to the Senate for approval.

The [House] vote was 291-122. Stretching from the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa., to Monticello, the home built by Thomas Jefferson outside Charlottesville, Va., the corridor includes eight presidential homes, 13 National Park Service properties and battlefields from the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
Note the significant numbers in opposition to the bill. Lest you think "developers opposing preservationists," note that the most quotable opponent of the House bill, Roscoe Bartlett, is part of the Frederick (MD) Republican establishment, which in in those (these) parts is the main anti-development party (the Democrats there being aligned with developers).

The bill was sponsored by Northern Virginia's Rep. Frank Wolf; Virginia Republicans are split into pro- and anti-development factions by region (east and west, respectively). Wolf hails from the pro-development east.

Now, ponder. You have the anti-development fellow opposing heritage designation for Rt. 15 and the pro-development fellow backing it. Which side of the issue do you think the developers themselves might be on? This is a significant clue to what's happening.

Naysayer Bartlett has developed a property rights meme, not an anti-development meme:
"All of our nation's founders knew of the intimate connection between personal liberty and property rights," Bartlett said in a statement. "The National Heritage Areas bill, H.R. 1483, and in particular, the bill's exclusive version of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, tramples over rather than honors these hallowed principles."
I don't know why he talks up property rights - the issue fails upon first reading of the House bill. Section 5f:

Prohibition on the Acquisition of Real Property - The management entity may not use Federal funds received under this Act to acquire real property or any interest in real property. No State or local subdivision of a State shall use any Federal funds received pursuant to this Act to acquire any interest in real property by condemnation or otherwise.
Not that property buying is off the table:
Cate Magennis Wyatt [photo, right], a former Virginia secretary of commerce and trade who heads the partnership ... spoke of creating a trust to purchase land from willing sellers at fair market value. That money would have to come from funds raised privately by the partnership because the legislation prohibits the use of the federal money to buy property.
But that is not about property rights. Or is it? What Bartlett was getting at is that his neighbor might sell land to Wyatt's trust, the trust might deed the property to the NPS or a state park, and suddenly Bartlett's proximity causes restrictions to be imposed on the enjoyment of his own house and lawns. He may have lived through this actual scenario: his neighbor is Monocacy Battlefield.

Bartlett's enjoyment aside, however, this is mainly about regional tourism development, with some emphasis on development (amenities, construction, concessions). Note Wyatt's identity: former Virginia secretary of commerce and trade. What kind of background is that for an interstate-preservation board? It's 180 degrees off the mark.

With regional development planning and approval in the hands of a so-called heritage organization, it becomes possible, under political cover, to widen roads for heritage tourism; to build shopping areas for heritage tourists; it becomes possible to override the real, local heritage organizations with a development-friendly superauthority.

It also places Virginia commercial interests on the commanding heights of review and approval. Journey will not have statutory authority in and of itself, but rest assured a mechanism will be found where local plans need the requisite seal of approval. In other words, Journey will wield real power .

As non-profit machinations go - and I have endured many as a non-profit founder myself - the control of regional planning is a major coup. Will the NPS need permission to build on Gettysburg field? Perhaps not: but the planning for and placement of eyesores in and around the site may end up in Journey's hands.

Note: Cate Magennis Wyatt made her fortune as a Route 15 Leesburg developer. She and her husband own (or owned) an oil service business in the mafia-run ex-Soviet middle east. She justifies placing a developer in charge of heritage with, "You can stand outside with a picket sign, or you can be inside making decisions that respect history and balance growth with preservation." (Emphasis added.) Read more here.

New reporting from the Sun here.

Older, deeper story from WaPo here.

A Heritage Foundation report may be behind Bartlett's comments.

A rebuttal to Heritage is here. I personally am intrigued by the charge that Journey will "set up a politically connected real estate investment fund that could reap a 'financial windfall' based on quasi-monopoly profits for 'a select group of land-owners.'"

Another Civil War musical

You could gather them all together and have a week-long festival. Here's one more.


The joke is on Glass

The intriguing question of "What was Civil War music?" occurred to me yet again, this time while reading the Baltimore Sun's amusing review of Glass's opera Appomattox.

The reviewer, bless his heart, cashed out some bonus airmiles to go to San Francisco at his own expense. He considered himself paid back by Glass (right) with "a preachy civics lesson" and "a detail-laden libretto that would work fine on the History Channel." He also mentioned "several unexpected harmonic turns and bursts of folk or camp songs that richly conjure up the 1860s."

Holy cow - I forgot to notice. The deeply flawed, totally misleading doo-dah theory of Civil War music has reared its ugly head once again and Glass appears to be a doo-dah-ologist, plunking hokum into his score. It just hadn't registered with me in press reports.

This is a rich joke and the joke is on Glass. The Civil War public was mad for good music, especially opera, and it would seem to the casual reader that they loved Donizetti (lower right) especially well. A period musical interlude in Appomattox would therefore have evoked strains of Donizetti's most popular airs (in the midst of Glass's minimalism). That would have been a nice challenge for the composer and provided the audience with a little tension-relief.

Given the Donizetti revival, Glass could have done Appomattox entirely as Donizetti pastiche and scored a popular hit.

Per that revival, I expect to find our reviewer at Donizetti's Maria Stuarda when it opens in Baltimore in two weeks (no frequent flier miles needed there). But of the 12 Donizettis staged in New Orleans before the war, Mary Stuart was not one of them, which leads to the question which Donizetti operas should Glass have pillaged for his "evocative" interlude?

Hmmm. I was browsing this Civil War CD on Amazon when it struck me that in the dance music category, Civil War audiences sure loved their polkas. Looks like much of this list is polkas and waltzes with Verdi and Mozart thrown in for good measure.

So our answer is (I think) Glass should have dredged up some dancy Donizetti bits. Then he could try scoring them minimally. (Bel canto minimalism - that would be one for the music history books.)

So when will we see the next National Conferences on Music of the Civil War Era? I can hardly wait.

(Past opera on this blog: Lincoln at Magic Flute; Faust in Sykes'division; Escape from Goober Peas; Wagner meets Sheridan's horse; Gottschalk in and out of New Orleans; Rant against doo-dah)

Lincoln Bicentennial sneak preview

This is what it's going to be endlessly, endlessly: "Lincoln fans, scholars gather for shrine's 75th anniversary." Let's all gather 'round the shrine. See if you can tell the fans from the scholars.



Debatepedia has been launched. Only seven historical entries have been published so far and one of them is about the Confederate flag.

Rebel rumors

If author Jason Phillips wants to make a particular case that the Rebels were rumor-prone and especially subject to morale-building misinformation, he needs to first describe the prevalence of rumors in both armies and also in other wars to establish a basis of comparison.

The Confederate Culture of Invincibility looks like a case made that the normal is abnormal.

Rebranding a galvanized Yankee

Heritage extremism:

Hill, apparently a sixth-generation descendant, "tore down and removed a [Union] tombstone on the grave" of Stephen S. Shook [...] "then replaced the stone with a Confederate stone."

Madison County descendants of Shook say their ancestor served both as a Confederate and a Union soldier, but they say the Union headstone that has marked Shook's grave since 1920 is the one that should remain, because Shook ended the war as a Union sergeant.

South Carolina's Sesquicentennial

"Yeah, it's kind of out there. At this point, that's not something I want to deal with." - Rodger Stroup, director of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History


Test the spirits

Abraham Lincoln, The Christian: "The author shows Lincoln to have been a profoundly religious man."

The Psychic Life of Abraham Lincoln: "... a preponderance of evidence suggesting he was indeed guided by ... spirits in his most crucial decisions."

Lincoln's Melancholy: "... depression was actually a source of Lincoln's greatness."

The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln: "... the author gives us an aggregate picture of a troubled man."

All rise for the fifth grade Supreme Court


Unison and history

NPS historian David Lowe is using a GPS system to help him map eight miles of running battles between McClellan and Lee in Loudon County, VA, with the intent of protecting 4,000 acres of battleground; this land covers the opening stages of McClellan's second Richmond campaign.

(Other battlefields and marching sites in this campaign lie farther west, where McClellan successfully sealed up the surprised Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley parallel to his advance through Loudon).

The centerpiece of this new preservation effort involves the battlefield at Unison, then called Union (a defiant bit of naming by local Unionist Virginians).

The people wishing to preserve the site are trapped between the facts of McClellan's advance and a Centennial doctrine that states nothing happened after Antietam.

As the preservationists themselves belong to the broader Centennial culture they face the thorny issue of advancing ideas that undermine their favorite authors, their own understanding of the war, and the matter of confronting a doctrine that overrules historical evidence of any magnitude that fails to comply with storylines and typecasting.

Thus we see (in Wikipedia) that the battle at Union/Unison "refers to a series of American Civil War cavalry skirmishes," not battles, much less a campaign, and that "Although driven from the field in individual engagements, Stuart accomplished his mission to delay the enemy and screen the movements of the retreating Army..."

To translate that from Centennial-speak, McClellan drove Longstreet south and east away from the sealed-up Jackson separating them further each day of advance thus precluding one wing from helping the other, without being seriously hindered by Stuart.

(By the way, Stuart's correct position in this campaign would have been between Longstreet and Jackson, opening some sort of communications, testing the passes McClellan had sealed, doing anything to permit a Stonewall march to Longstreet's aid before McClellan pounced on Longstreet. Stuart failed and McClellan succeeded. GBM's battle to smash Longstreet opened the evening of GBM's relief. Longstreet was saved by Burnside, not Stuart.)

I mention the Wikipedia piece because this is the false world our preservationists live in and have to deal with. The article reporting Lowe's efforts, for instance, has to address the strange matter of a McClellan advance, an affront to typecasting, and handles it cleverly:

The battle started in Philomont, continued through the heart of Unison and ended in Upperville. It occurred when Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, on the direct order of President Abraham Lincoln, pursued Gen. Robert E. Lee's forces after the bloody Battle of Antietam.
So you have Lincoln credited with ordering an advance; McClellan advancing mindlessly into a "series of skirmishes" or a "running battle," and it's all just a footnote to Antietam, nothing more than a belated pursuit straight down the road where Lee lies.

Notice here that skirmishes have been promoted to battles. If you cannot change the approved storyline, you won't get preservation status from context but rather from matters of degree. Expect skirmish inflation to be the first tactic deployed to ensure significance and recognition. These will be rendered battles in the belated pursuit after Antietam. This narrative strategy can conform to the Centennial meme of "too late, too little."

Lincoln showed, with his arc and chord messages, that he wanted McClellan to interpose between Richmond and Longstreet, i.e. with his back towards Richmond, his face towards the Shenandoah Valley, his supply line in unprotected north-to-south free fall. McClellan confronted Longstreet on a north versus south axis instead, with the possibility of interposing himself between Richmond and Longstreet after the heavily-outnumbered Longstreet's defeat. Hattaway and Jones have dissected the correspondence and understand the discussion. The garden variety Centennialist never moved past Lincoln's urgings to pursue after Antietam and envision the arc/chord correspondence as some sort of pursuit discussion.

Lincoln entered these discussions embracing a pursuit fallacy but he finished arguing campaign strategy. Most Civil War historians cannot see the difference.

Numberless historians have since erroneously applied Lincoln's intent after Antietam (not updating it with Lincoln's campaign intent) and substituted that for the commander's intent in opening operations against Lee. This is a primitive, doubly erroneous analytic error and therefore unforgiveable.

McClellan had conceived and implemented a classic campaign for the defeat of the ANV overland and in the field. But the preservation effort around Unison must conform to misconceptions, enshrined in endless Centennial reiterations, to the detriment of historical truth and preservation both. I wonder if the context of these battles will ever be "interpreted" according to McClellan's campaign plan by an NPS tour guide in my lifetime. Battles (or skirmishes) as part of an Antietam pursuit will be the party line that nourishes tourists.

How I wish these lands could be saved on the basis of true history, not elaborate falsehoods.

Photo: Re-enactors on Unison Rd.

Allen Guelzo's top 5 ACW books

These are fascinating choices.


Vallandigham anniversary

The Politico takes a continuous interest in Civil War political history, marking today with an article about Clement Vallandigham's defeat in the 1863 elections.

Interesting that his policy of national suicide played out in his own death: he was demonstrating that a murder victim was actually a suicide when he killed himself accidentally.


Our vice, their versa

Well, well:
Some people believe if they defend Mary Todd Lincoln, they have to revile Robert Todd Lincoln and vice-versa, Emerson said. “It’s disappointing that it’s dissolved into this ‘he said, she said’ thing. If you look at them both honestly and objectively, you don’t have to judge them against each other,” he said.
This either/or partisan reflex covers many more personalities beyond the Lincolns.

Oh look!


Satisficing the Civil War reader 2/2

Satisficing is a simple thing. Before writing his Wilson biography, Longacre bought into the meme of a selfish McClellan and so rendered an event in that light: "This evidence of McClellan's unwillingness to subordinate personal considerations to the greater concept of the nation's well-being ..."

He offered (gratuitous) analysis of why McClellan declined to resign his AoP command in a display of satisficing. Longacre deems "McClellan as selfish" as a hardy and reliable fact that can be made to explain many things. It's the handy, best, most fitting explanation. There is no weighing of alternatives; in fact, in his narrative, such a weighing would sidetrack his readers. Like so much Civil War nonfiction, the author tosses out satisfycing judgements gratis: they are not needed, they are not earned, but they reinforce underlying literary themes and types to become self-fulfilling.

That is a fairly "normal" satisficing example. I want to share two extreme examples, however, to give a taste of what this tendency looks like when given full rein. They come from Robert Collins' book General James G. Blunt. Emphases added; parenthetical comments are mine.

First example:
Previously, the assumption about this period in Blunt's life was that he had enlisted as a private before rising in rank to an officer. But the major role he played at the [political] convention may turn that assumption on its head. The active part he played in those debates could have made him the most important man in Anderson County. Certainly it would have made him the most famous. Anderson County was a frontier County when Kansas became a state. This would make it hard for any well-known county figure to expect a commission to the rank of captain or higher. Certainly, the county would not be expected to provide a full company this early in the war. But it does seem likely that a man with Blunt's high local profile might have expected to be commissioned a lieutenant... [But] If [Gov.] Robinson thought Blunt was a "Lane man," he wouldn't have given him a commission. In this light it's logical to see Blunt, not getting what he thought he deserved from Robinson, going to Lane's camp in search of that commission to an officer's rank.
Whew. I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did, though given the state of ACW history, many may have noticed nothing amiss. This stuff is like fine scotch. Let's do away with italics for the next round.

Have another:
In 1917 the Ellsworth newspaper ran an article about early schools in the area. One of these was a military school, which the article claimed was attended by ... James G. Blunt. The Ellsworth Military Academy appears to have been something of a high school for boys. The superintendent of the school from 1839 to 1845 was Charles Jarvis Whiting ... a West Point graduate ... So why are there so few references to Blunt's education? Blunt must have kept this part of his past a secret. The reason for this secrecy could be that Whiting was a West Pointer. Early in the Civil War, Union graduates of the United States Military Academy were not successful in the field. Blunt might have feared that such an association would hurt his chances for promotion and prime assignments. Blunt also had a running feud with another West Pointer, John Schofield, and this too might have figured into Blunt's silence. Another reason, although it's questionable, is that Whiting or his family might have had political views that could have disgraced Blunt.

Whether you've got a craving to satisfice or be satisficed, Civil War history is the thing for you.

Losing your monuments

My wife's college-student nephews are part-time security guards at a major museum. There was a room-sized sculpture installation there that included a generous scattering of rabbit feces. Every night, these lads had to count the pellets - they are part of the exhibit.

Are park rangers inspecting the Civil War monuments in their parks daily?

Are they taking as much care of the memorials as the museum's guards are taking with scat?


Satisficing the Civil War reader 1/2

The regular reader of this blog has encountered a number of curious posts: McClellan at Gettysburg, McClellan for Vicksburg, and Viva Rafuse. In each of these was what might be called disproving evidence (in the Popperian sense) or what Richards J. Heuer, Jr. calls data with high diagnostic value. In each case, the target was some Centennial truth or other.

Heuer wrote an interesting book that has a lot to do with writing history. Psychology of Intelligence Analysis was designed to help intel analysts to "heal themselves" - to put down bad analysis. Since we have a lot of bad analysis in history, I thought I would share a couple of Heuer's observations with you.

Let me say up front that intelligence analysis is produced on deadline under intense time pressure and historical analysis is produced, if not at leisure, under circumstances that demand full justice to the record. The application of analysis, intel-style, to history is obviously wrong. That is our starting point. Heuer:
A systematic analytical process requires selection among alternative hypotheses, and it is here that analytical practice often diverges significantly from the ideal and from the canons of scientific method. The ideal is to generate a full set of hypotheses, systematically evaluate each, and then identify the hypothesis that provides the best fit to the data. Scientific method, for its part, requires that one seek to disprove hypotheses rather than confirm them. [Emphasis added.]
The garden variety Civil War historian develops his storyline based on employing proving strategies, not disproving strategies, and the result has been 50 years of disaster.

Brooks Simpson was recently kind enough to comment on my Vicksburg series: we are both well aware of the three restoration feelers put out to McClellan in early 1864; Brooks also mentioned Lincoln's deliberations on replacing Grant with Butler. These incidents are disproving elements vis a vis narrative strategies such as Grant-the-inevitable and Grant/Lincoln, the partnership-forged-by-war, both staples of the Centennial school of history. Grant's position appears to have been in play in 1864. How do we get onto a false story track? Heuer has two interesting explanations.

First, he notices the tendency among analysts to resort to "satisficing." I once thought I knew the meaning of this term but I knew only the economics definition; in command theory, it means something else entirely. Heuer:
"Satisficing" - selecting the first identified alternative that appears "good enough" rather than examining all alternatives to determine which is "best."
In the next post, I'll give some examples of ACW satisficing that is utterly out of control. But how do the smaller errors, the reasonable failures due to satisficing occur?

One way, says Heuer, is by failing to properly weigh data with high diagnostic value. If the doctor is diagnosing your illness and you show a fever, the fever has low informational value since it pertains to so many conditions. At the same time it is a real datapoint that can support a false diagnosis, say of flu. As your physician, I could select fever and a number of other low-value but real indications to deliver a false diagnosis. Or to craft a false storyline to drive my ACW narrative.

Satisficing has at least three shortcomings, Heuer notes. The researcher is focused on a single hypothesis; he has failed to generate (or entertain) competing hypotheses; and he is focused on evidence that confirms rather than disproves his central hypothesis.

In a fascinating little exercise, Heuer shows that most of the data collected in connection with a problem will support most of the hypotheses in play. The differentiator will be disproving data.

In Civil War history, over the last 50 years, disproving data is what causes us to pause in our reading and say, "How can that be if..." Unfortunately, there is an authorial tendency to "streamline" the narrative, tossing disproving data aside.

And so we get the dominant hypotheses that we as readers deserve.


McClellan for Vicksburg 3/3

From Battles & Leaders, "Sumner's 'Right Grand Division,'" by Darius Couch. Placenames rendered as in the original; my emphasis and paragaraph breaks added:
On the evening of October 15th, 1862, a few days after McClellan had placed me in command of the Second Corps, then at Harper's Ferry, the commanding general sent an order for Hancock to take his division the next morning on a reconnaissance toward Charlestown about 10 miles distant.

About 10 in the morning General McClellan reined up at my headquarters and asked me to go out with him to see what the troops were doing. Our people had met the enemy's outpost five miles from the Ferry, and while artillery shots were being exchanged, both of us dismounted, walked away by ourselves, and took seats on a ledge of rocks.

After a little while, McClellan sent to an aide for a map of Virginia. Spreading it before us, he pointed to the strategic features of the valley of the Shenandoah, and indicated the movements he intended to make, which would have the effect of compelling Lee to concentrate in the vicinity, I think, of Gordonsville or Charlottesville, where a great battle would be fought.

Continuing the conversation, he said, "But I may not have command of the army much longer. Lincoln is down on me," and taking a paper from his pocket, he gave me my first intimation of the President's famous letter. [The editors of the Century make this out to be Lincoln's letter of October 13 to GBM.]

He read it aloud very carefully, and when it was finished I told him I thought there was no ill feeling in the tone of it. He thought there was, and quickly added, "Yes Couch, I expect to be relieved from the Army of the Potomac, and to have a command in the West; and I am going to take three or four with me," calling off by their names four prominent officers. I queried if "so and so" would be taken along, naming one who was generally thought to be a great favorite with McClellan. His curt reply was "No, I sha'n't have him."

This brief conversation opened a new world for me. I had never before been to any extent his confidant, and I pondered whether on a change of the commanders of the Army of the Potomac the War Department would allow him to choose the generals whose names had been mentioned. I wondered what would be the future of himself and those who followed his fortune in that untried field.

These and a crowd of other kindred thoughts quite oppressed me for several days. But as time wore on, and preparations for the invasion of Virginia were allowed to go on without hindrance from Washington, I naturally and gladly inferred that McClellan's fears of hostile working against him were groundless. However, the blow came soon enough. [It came immediately after mid-term elections.]
Some petty speculation: I believe, based on a break in their correspondence, that the officer he wouldn't have at Vicksburg was Franklin.

How do we interpret Couch's comment about those officers "the War Department would allow"? There seem to be three possibilities: (1) the officers McClellan wanted for the Mississippi were all candidates to replace him in the east (2) They were all officers his replacement would want to keep (3) They were beyond his reach politically, that is in his Eastern relief he would have no Western choices.

Now on to the major speculation. What might we think McClellan's evaluation of the situation was based on his interactions with Wilson and Couch?

(1) He felt he received a "solid" offer of command in the west from an Administration go-between. He knew that Lincoln does nothing without cut-outs and deniability.

(2)He felt he did not refuse the offer. He told Wilson/McClernand that he would not willingly give up the AOP but that he would "think about" serving in the west.

(3) He told both Wilson and Couch that he would be relieved. He believed that he would be relieved.

(4) His subtle, conditional accpetance after Wilson's speech he erroneously believed to have registered. Instead, Wilson registered it as an unequivocal "no."

(5) There is nothing to suggest in his correspondence during his long stand-by in Trenton that McClellan was seeking to return to duty on his own terms. Quite the contrary.

McClellan was prepared to command the Vicksburg campaign. Wilson misread McClellan and killed that possibility. McClellan was for Vicksburg.


McClellan for Vicksburg 2/3

The following is from Edward Longacre's book Grant's Cavalryman: The Life and Wars of General James H. Wilson. Longacre's note-free text was sourced to a brief free-form notes section at the end of the book in which each chapter is roughly correlated to a few items of source material (say, four notes per chapter). If I read this ambiguous and inadequate section correctly, the following information originated in Wilson's diary. Parentheticals are my own:
... he agreed to deliver a message from him [John A. McClernand] to General McClellan, whom rumor had on the verge of again being relieved...

Soon afterward, Wilson returned to Maryland, testified at the court martial, and then encountered Little Mac and secured an audience with him. Seated inside McClellan's headquarters tent, he relayed General McClernand's suggestion that Little Mac seek the united command in the Mississippi Valley.

Wilson understood McClernand's reasoning, and believed that his host did also. As a figure of national prominence, McClellan stood a chance of winning such a promotion [sic] more easily than McClernand could. If the Illinois politician offered him help in attaining that goal, McClellan might be so gratefulas to tender him a command higher than any he could secure on his own.

When Wilson finished speaking, General McClellan candidly admitted the probability of his impending relief. But he dismissed McClernand's suggestion with a wave of his hand. He was so attached to "his" Army of the Potomac, that if denied authority over them he could not even consider accepting another command.

This evidence of McClellan's unwillingness to subordinate personal considerations to the greater concept of the nation's well-being [i.e., McClernand's well-being] dismayed Wilson. Of course, Wilson had himself displayed the same tendency...In any case, he took it upon himself to deliver a fervent little lecture... "Pardon me general, if I add - if they don't give you an army, you should take an army corps or even a division. If they will not give you a division, were I in your place, I should ask for a brigade. If they deny that, I should resign and go back to my state and raise a regiment. If I couldn't get a colonelcy, I should take on any position open to me, and failing a commission, I should take my musket and go out as a private soldier!"

Strange advice for a junior lieutenant to give a major general and army commander. But it was a right-minded suggestion. McClellan apparently took no offense at the outburst. He remarked, however, that no one had ever spoken to him in such a manner. Yet when he said he would think over Wilson's advice, he smiled meaninglessly. Seeing that his words had not produced the desired effect, Wilson sadly left the tent, remounted, and started back to Washington.

In the capital, he gave John McClernand the gloomy news.
Next: McClellan acquiesces.

Gore me up, publisher

There is a copywriter on the staff of Mercer University Press whose handiwork is instantly recognizable:
The words of soldiers express the sights, sounds, screams, and odors of the battlefield. The agony of festering wounds, and the misery of typhoid fever and pneumonia grab the reader as does the loneliness and yearning for contact with loved ones.

An advance against a revision

Maybe this is why James McPherson can't be bothered to revise or update his work.


McClellan for Vicksburg 1/3

Cutting through the IIRCs in yesterday's post, we find Wilson (via Longacre) assigned to McClellan's staff on September 8, 1862 after a spell on the coast with Hunter and Gillmore. Ten days after Antietam, Wilson received a new assignment, and travelling to Washington, he met McClernand. Recalled to McClellan's camp for court martial duty, he bore a message from McClernand to McClellan (says Longacre).

At this point, McClernand had already pitched his new troop-raising plan to Lincoln, proposing his western men be formed into new regiments and assigned to him for the capture of Vicksburg.

McClernand, in Washington, was about to embark on a visit to the battlefield and McClellan. Wilson was to pave the way with a Western offer McClellan could not refuse. (This, again, via Longacre.)

If all this is news to you, take pleasure in Civil War history, where a long tradition of authorial negligence and irresponsibilty breeds innumerable surprises for the reader.

(Top right, McClernand and Lincoln at Antietam - ever wonder what they were doing there?)


More Wilsons than you can shake a stick at

Brian Downey did some interesting Wilsonology recently which raised the matter of James H. Wilson knocking about Antietam battlefield after the battle. I thought I had written about this at length here but I have not. Just posted a reference in this snippet.

Brian had to deduce which aide named Wilson should be attributed to a quote printed by Sears and I think he has hit on the right one. H.

Back to confusion, however. Brian also had to decide which general JHW was assigned to in the post-Antietam anecdote. In an end-of-life memoir, Wilson said he was on Mac's staff and Brian goes with that.

However, IIRC, in Grant's Cavalryman: The Life and Wars of General James H. Wilson, author Longacre has Wilson accompanying John A. McClernand around Antietam as McClernand's current aide and as a McClellan former aide.

Wilson's self-appointed task on tour with McClernand was to effect a switch; he played the middleman role trying to convince GBM to follow McClernand out West as the commander of the combined forces against Vicksburg. He says he told McClellan that Sherman and Grant would never agree to serve under McClernand but all three would willingly follow McClellan.

This story is obliquely confirmed in an article by Darius Couch published in Battles and Leaders.

I'll dig out some books and make a proper posting on McClellan for Vicksburg and J.H. Wilson's role in that scheme.

Of the various James Wilsons serving as aides, BTW, James H. Wilson could be called "the gay one." As Grant historian Brooks Simpson has pointed out (scroll down link to comments), Wilson and Grant aide Adam Badeau were lovers. Brooks mentions their sexy correspondence in Princeton's Firestone Library; part of it was published in 1966 (see card 211). Longacre actually calls Badeau "prissy."

Wilson's gayness has not made it into Wikipedia yet. His wife's death is also not entirely without interest.

There is more Wilsonia available (it seems) than historians care to bother with.

"Appomattox" reviews

Reviews have appeared.

From the Contra Costa Times:
Music: "Characteristically spare and rhythmic, it moves forward unrelentingly."
Libretto: "Exquisitely crafted."
Staging: "Bold," surreal."
Cast: "Tremendous vigor," "well cast."
Overall: "Stark, haunting and darkly elegiac."

From the Bloomberg wire:
Music: "A significant work, to my mind one of the best new operas in many years."
Libretto: "Sweeping."
Staging: "A stunning visual coup," "powerful."
Cast: "Outstanding."
Overall: "An unforgettable evening," "a night for the history books."

From the San Jose Mercury News:
Music: "Unremitting ... minor chord progressions," "a lean and dark harmonic language."
Libretto: "Seems to have been stitched together on deadline," "ham-fisted."
Staging: "Spectacular."
Cast: "Generally strong," "overall lack of animation."
Overall: "A match from hell: never-ending Glass and never-ending war."

From the New York Times:
Music: "Weak," "strangely tepid," "[Glass] simply did not work hard enough."
Libretto: "Preachy,"
Staging: "Lean and effective."
Cast: "Intelligently restrained," "admirable."
Overall: "This earnest, sometimes alluring, frustratingly ineffective opera seems a missed opportunity."

From the San Francisco Chronicle:
Music: "Sinewy vigor," "rhythmic vitality," "not particularly well suited to dramatic action."
Libretto: "Dramatically flaccid," "runs aground,"
Staging: "Austere, beautiful," "Too insistently symbolic."
Cast: "Powerful," "exciting," "robust."
Overall: "Ambitious and maddeningly inconsistent."

From the Examiner wire:
Music: "Dirgelike variations of the same repeated chords, rising and falling arpeggios and simple drones."
Libretto: "Kudos."
Staging: "Unflinchingly captures war’s brutality."
Cast: "Gratifying," "bravo."
Overall: "Invoke[s] thoughts of masterpiece."

Bonekemper's sales figures

Author Edward Bonekemper disclosed sales figures for his two best-known books recently in a conversation with the Lancaster (PA) press.

He said that How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War sold 7,500 copies and A Victor, Not a Butcher came behind with 7,000 in sales. The interesting thing about these figures is that Lee was brought out by the miniscule Sergeant Kirkland's Press and Victor was brought out by powerhouse trade shop Regnery. My assumption is that Kirkland figures gave him entree to Regnery. Even at 7,000 in hardback sales, I'd be surprised if Regnery does not eventually issue Victor in paper.

Bonekemper writes advocacy history, as the titles of his books suggest. He is supremely lazy as a researcher, rarely citing anything published since the Centennial, larding his bibliographies overwhelmingly with secondary sources. He is careful not to weigh evidence or contrary opinion in books that read like extended newspaper editorials. He will cherry pick themes and memes from his secondary sources in order to give them the newspaper treatment in his own work and in this his appetite far outstrips his ability to manage the material. His first book (Lee) was his best book, on a relative scale.

Bonekemper's success should be an encouragement to every bad historian with an awful mauscript to sell.


Appomattox tonight


The likely high point of the celebrations of Philip Glass's 70th birthday year arrives this evening at War Memorial Opera House, as San Francisco Opera presents the world premiere of Appomattox, the composer's 12th full-scale opera.
Lots more photos at the link.

All aboard for Bicentennial grant money

The Lincoln Bicentennial gravy train has officially left the station.

Fort Monroe, CSA

To locate the Museum of the Confederacy in a Union bastion seems very odd somehow.

Faust and Fogg

A special Kara Walker Civil War exhibition will be mounted at Harvard's Fogg gallery to coincide with the swearing in of Civil War historian Drew Gilpin Faust as president of Harvard. An intelligent press release would note the overlap in interests and viewpoints in the two women. Such a release has not been issued.

There is a news story, however, from which one gets the impression that the Fogg curators misunderstand Faust's public persona as a Civil War historian, not realizing that her interests flow from the same race-and-gender matrix as Walker's.

Instead, one gets the sense that the curators are saying, "So there's your Civil War, President Faust!" "We'll give you Civil War history!" "Take that!" (I have known many gallery owners and curators in my time. They are not what you would call broadly cultured people, nor does their work - a branch of show business - allow them to be "nice.")

There is an emphasis in the reporting here on shock. If the organizers expect shock content to "stimulate discussion" (code word for "offend patrons") why stage it at Harvard? Who there will be shocked (offended)? And who there, shocked or not, is capable of mustering even a short conversation about the Civil War and what it means, whether that conversation be Faust-flavored or regular formula?

(Top: A Kara Walker poster for one of her earlier shows.)


Military history podcasts

Download and enjoy.

Hat tip to Kent's Imperative.

Living in Ohio's world

The baiting style of the Usenet troll has leaked into Civil War literature with this month's release of Blood, Tears & Glory: How Ohioans Won the Civil War. Looks like 604 pages (!) of mischief.

Define "buff"

If someone refers to you as a "Civil War buff," calmly look them in the eye and reply, "Ray Hasbrouck has built a working model of the Monitor's steam engine from scratch. That would be a 'Civil War buff.' "


Shiloh's fortunes

Hot on the heels of sellout Maps of Gettysburg, Savas-Beatie appear to have another best seller in their revisionist discovery Shiloh (Cunningham-Joiner-Smith). Look at these Amazon rankings:

#1 in
Books > History > United States > Civil War > Naval Operations

#3 in
Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Leaders & Notable People > Military > United States Civil War

#4 in
Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical > United States > Civil War

(Note: These rankings may change by the time you click the link.)

Secession again

What passes for news:
Separated by hundreds of miles and divergent political philosophies, the Middlebury Institute and the League of the South are hosting a two-day Secessionist Convention starting Wednesday in Chattanooga.
The joke in this is not that history repeats itself, the joke is in the reporting. Get this bit of helpfulness:
The U.S. Constitution does not explicitly prohibit secession, but few people think it is politically viable.
Lacking an ounce of historical insight, the story quickly devolves into the staple newspaper memes of racism, southern heritage, and left/right folderol.


"The Down Slope" (cont.)

From Conversations with Shelby Foote:
A few years ago when Stanley Kubrick asked me to come out to Hollywood and write a script about James Mosby, I asked Faulkner's advice. He said, and I remember his exact words: "Go if you want to. But let me give you a piece of advice. If you go, never take the work seriously, but always take the people seriously. Hollywood is the only place where you can get stabbed in the back while you're climbing a ladder."

I didn't go because I knew I'd do just the opposite. I would have taken the work seriously and not the people. I told Kubrick I'd do the script if I could do it in Memphis. That was all right with him and I did it, but nothing ever came of it because he got mixed up with Lolita about that time.
(Faulkner shown, top right, in a Hollywood moment.)

Some toy

Some toys are less fun than others.


Shelby Foote's Civil War film "The Down Slope"

David Woodbury's mini-series on Walker Percy (right) reminded me that Foote always credited the Percys with keeping the Klan out of their (mutual) hometown of Greenville, MS.

David's riff on Hollywood's failure to execute Percy film options also reminded me of the Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy, published back in 1997, wherein we find this memo:
30 June 56

Dear Walker:

Finished the filmscript this week and am going down home [Greenville] tomorrow for a visit. It has the makings of a great movie, but what they do with it is their affair. There's no nonsense to it, a true picture of the war in its last stages, off in the Valley as it turned bitter - hanging and retaliation, and the effect this sort of thing had on the men engaged: hangers and hangees. I like it. Of course I hope they do a good job. But after all it's not my craft or even concern. Stanley Kubrick is the director; the only authentic genius to hit Hollywood since Orson Welles, they say. I believe it. He'll do a good job if anyone will.
In later interviews, Foote (photo, mid-right) referred to the unmade movie by title, "The Down Slope."

In the brief period between the appearance of Correspondence (1997) and Kubrick's death (1999), no one seems to have bothered to track this valuable property down, or rather no one admitted it was lost.

In a bizarre article syndicated worldwide 11 months ago, the script reappeared:
... three manuscripts, all written in the late 1950s, were found after Kubrick’s death in 1999 in one of the many trunks where the director hoarded valued possessions at his home near St Albans.

Two of them were almost full scripts, according to Philip Hobbs, his son-in law, who worked with him for 12 years. "One is called The Down Slope and was written with the American Civil War historian Shelby Foote. It’s a strong anti-war film set against the backdrop of that conflict."
We know from the Correspondence, quoted here, that Foote thought the script completed and good rather than "almost full." Nor is it surprising that Foote's powerful psychological studies (see Follow Me Down), here applied to "hangers and hangees," would be simplistically labeled "anti-war" in Hollywood production pitches.

What was in that script? There is an interesting clue in this PhD dissertation on Kubrick:
1958-1959 “Mosby’s Rangers”

This unfinished screenplay about a Southern guerrilla force in the American Civil War was based on research by Shelby Foote.
This reference is not cited, but it may have borrowed from this film website.

Foote wrote only one screenplay for Kubrick (photo, bottom right) , and as we saw, he mailed it at the end of June, 1956. He considered it complete and ready to film. The way he washed his hands of it suggests it was commissioned and the commission fulfilled.

This dissertation was submitted in August of 2006, at least 60 days before the "find" of "Down Slope" was announced to the world. By itself, does the dissertation imply Kubrick may have subjected the script to rewrites in the period 1958-1959, laying it aside as "unfinished?" Is this the origin of the title, "Mosby's Rangers?" Or is this all the fog of memory trying to recover facts about a lost manuscript?

In the New York Times online bio of Kubrick, we find this entry: "... an untitled film about Mosby's Rangers, a southern guerilla force active during the U.S. Civil War..." Very foggy indeed. It's as if Mosby's Rangers became a project title by default.

Are these two different screenplays: one complete but unsatisfactory to Kubrick (Down Slope), the other incomplete and unsatisfactory (Mosby's Rangers)? Note that the son-in-law refers to a script written with Kubrick where Foote's correspondence makes no reference to collaboration.

We learned last November that
Kubrick’s widow, Christiane, said last night: “Stanley threw a lot of things away. These [original rediscovered scripts] weren’t among them, so he really liked these three projects.
With the discovery of the scripts, "Mosby's Rangers" disappears (though not from the NYT bio page) and the name "Down Slope" emerges and synchs up with Foote's own references to the screenplay. The son-in-law declares it written with Foote rather than by Foote.

So what do we have here?

Whatever it is, given the fate of Walker Percy's adaptations, I don't think we'll see "The Down Slope" anytime soon.

Civil War Talk Radio - public history?

Brett was troubled by Gerry Prokopowicz's line of questioning with guest Scott Patchan on Civil War Talk Radio. There are two possible explanations for the "inquisition" ...

(1) Dr. P was trying to elicit from Scott why his work is important to a broader audience; that is to say, he may have been serving the interest of his general radio audience by drawing Scott out.

(2) Scott is a specialist, the obverse of a "public historian" and GP is self-consciously a "public historian." Ergo, why, why, why.

For some reason, GP really takes that public history stuff seriously despite his own righteous instincts and better nature. Public history is like a last mad youthful adventure. He'll come home eventually.

In any case, everyone should be ready to explain the broader meaning of their work, though nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

New Lee book

If you are going to offer readers "an authoritative and balanced assessment," why is your book called Robert E. Lee: Icon for a Nation?

(Talking to myself department: maybe "nation" refers to the CSA?)

How do you price a letter from Lee?

I see no pattern in these sales, unless price correlates to buyer familiarity with the surrounding history.

Since no one has the least inkling about the Sherman (right) vs. Lee campaign of late 1861, Lee letters from this period will fetch lower prices (and prompt much head scratching).

The feebleness of ACW history over the last 50 years is thereby felt in the antiquities market...

History for fairgoers

I'm still in the doghouse with Michigan readers.

Perhaps this will explain my outburst.

(1) There is experiential history. You held the sword. You stood on the ground.

(2) There is re-enactment in an attempt to create experiential history. "This must have been what it was like." Is it history if it delivers the right feeling?

(3) There is show-and-tell. "This is a period cannon." Is it history?

(4) There is chit-chat containing history content. "They came around Longstreet's left flank." Maybe that is history, though I think it one level removed.

(5) There is simulated re-enactment out of context: costumed characters wander the fairgrounds charming kids with an experience that is ahistorical. A plastic log cabin is available for play. Children duel with plastic swords wearing blue and gray kepis.

This is the stuff of fairgrounds and festivals. It's just play.

(6) There is history contemplated. The "doer" tries to comprehend the totality of a particular historical moment allowing for as much dimensionality as possible.

For deep readers, (6) is history, much of the rest is just "history-oriented."

Adding some panels and roundtable-type events does not significantly upgrade the history content, given the orientation on "current wisdom" and the state of our current ACW "wisdom."

Maybe I'm just being too restrictive and too grumpy.