12/23/2008

McPherson on Lincoln and Obama

Someone was kind enough to send in this link. James "Concentration-in-Time" McPherson was asked to name similarities between Lincoln and the president elect. He names just one: cool disposition.

I don't understand how someone can see Lincoln this way. His verbal jabs come in an unending stream indicating a continuously poor temper. Centennialists try to make this a McClellan thing, but Lincoln snapped at everyone. When he fully unloads on somebody - say a Carl Schurz - the result is frightening and yet it brings him no lasting peace (he's soon jabbing again). He is often bored and expresses boredom in bad jokes and inappropriate behavior. In between his restlessness from boredom and his uncontrollable flashes of anger are troughs of depression marked by listlessness, inattention, and not-too-masterful inactivity.

At times, he publicly loses control of his impulses. He invites the officer in charge of his security detail to sleep in his bed. He has his cabinet sign a bizarre document signifying nothing but the imminent election of McClellan. He stages an amphibious assault consisting of himself and a few aides against Norfolk. He signs cotton trading permits like there's no tomorrow. He solicits Ben Butler to be his running mate in '64. He gazes over the parapet to watch early assault his position.

The list goes on: cool is Lincoln's missing ingredient.

12/22/2008

Look who's been reading pop history

Seen on today's Daily Reckoning:
Historians will try to make sense of it. But all historians lie. Not intentionally. It's a professional requirement. They look back and think they see a plot. From then on, every circumstance is bent, greased and wedged into the story line. The basic facts are the same any way you look at it; the dramatis personae don't change. But the historian can make readers laugh or cry. He can turn it into morality play or an amoral farce.

12/18/2008

Don't let them spoil your appreciation of history

The Good Fight that Didn't End is a new book collecting the journal entries, letters and newspaper articles of Henry Goddard, a Connecticut cavalry officer. He has a journal entry dated November 10th of a type seen often:
Maj. Gen. G.B. McClellan, having been relieved of the command of the Army of the Potomac, we had a grand review from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., the general riding past us and bowing to the cheering, he was accompanied by his successor, Maj. Gen. Burnside. It was a splendid sight, but a sad day for the Army. Curse the politicians who drove the general from his place just as his plans were developing.
At this point, the editor normally inserts an explanation on why the soldier holds foolish opinions not approved by best selling Civil War authors. This editor signally failed to do so.

The next part of the journal entry will look like indecipherable gibberish to the responsible editor and historian alike:
I never was a McClellanite till this last campaign, which has been managed splendidly. We have seized and held every gap in the Blue Ridge before him and got in the rebels rear here at Warrenton, and now he to whom we owe all this is removed.
The journal writer seems to be talking about some imaginary campaign that never happened. If the editor had replaced the passage entirely with elipses [...] he would have saved readers a lot of needless confusion.

Speaking of "gibberish" in another new book, One Continuous Fight, the authors write of Pennsylvania's Gen. Gregg capturing 2,000 Confederate stragglers and 3,000 Confederate wounded in a single incident after Gettysburg. I'm not sure how this could have happened in a pursuit not authorized by Civil War historians, but in round numbers, this looks like 7% of the total force brought by the South onto the battlefield taken in just one incident of the retreat.

If these numbers look "wild," Continuous Fight offers another tidbit a few pages later. Again, the speaker sets out to purposefully confuse the reader. Here is the colonel commanding the 4th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry:
I count up out of five hundred men of my regiment with whom I left Potomac creek, twenty-five with me mounted. The rest are, heaven only knows where, dismounted, killed, wounded, scattered, and not at hand.
His command has become entirely notional - to him. But to us, Civil War historians and readers, there are no notional Union commands, only excuse making and balking. I would have footnoted this passage with a comment about battle fatigue, things we say when stressed, etc.

Before you start wondering about all of this kind of crazy talk, be assured that the quotes listed here will only slip through those works not edited by knowledgeable and vigilant authorities. Stick with brand name authors and especially avoid diaries and letters if you want to maintain that clear-headed, hard-earned understanding you have held for so many years and worked so hard to attain.

Don't let improperly presented source material spoil your appreciation of history.

p.s. These are excellent books, all irony aside, and the point here is that if your author is not "spoiling your appreciation" of previous readings, shame on him.

12/17/2008

Tagg: Where's the team?

Larry Tagg has launched a blog and his first post attacks the Goodwin meme of Lincoln leading a team of rivals working in harness for cause and country. It's really all you could want or expect on the subject from a single blog entry. He sums it up:

"Lincoln’s 'team of rivals' was hardly a success—rather than act as a template for modern administrations, it should be a cautionary tale."
Again, one must ask where are the Lincoln scholars? What island are they vacationing on? Tagg is indeed the author of Lincoln: the Story of the Most Reviled President (as well as his better known Generals of Gettysburg) but his public persona is more that of singer-songwriter.

The heavy lifting is being left to others. Good heavens, I mean they're sending in graduate students to do the talking instead of the professors. Disgraceful.

Exception: Allan Guelzo weighs in with a a firm veto. "Nor did Lincoln encourage rivalry," he notes. Amen. James Oakes, a scholar who is just beginning to turn his attention to Lincoln, is also displeased. He notes, "there was nothing new in what Lincoln did," and "not much of what made him great can be discerned in his appointment of a contentious, envious and often dysfunctional collection of prima donnas to his cabinet."

Got another exception to the rule of AWOL Lincoln experts? Send it in.

Meanwhile, nearly all of the flak fired at Goodwin's Zeppelin is coming from mere political bloggers, left and right, who due to their interest in politics have bothered to look at the validity of the meme.

Below the Beltway: Not much of a team, but definitely rivals; Team of Rivals? More like a Dysfunctional Team of Enemies

Demockracy: Team of Dysfunctional Rivals

Open Left: bad analogies can be destructive

Truthdig (Joe Conason): Not a team of rivals at all. Get this:

When the journalistic pack bites into a tasty cliché, they often refuse to let go, lazily chewing and regurgitating a phrase like “team of rivals” long after the flavor is gone.
Hah. Finally, let me quote myself quoting Thomas and Hyman two years ago:

"The intra-cabinet feuding was beyond Lincoln's power to prevent, but he had let it go on much too long. Further, his willingness to let cabinet officers run their departments almost without supervision, except for the war office, had permitted vexatiously contradictory and independant policies to go on at the same time."
Lincoln scholars, your break's over. Get to work.

Hat tip on LT's new blog to Ted Savas.

p.s. An alert correspondent sent in this link about the time this was posted. Foner is quoted but not contra Goodwin; he makes a generic remark about hubris instead.

About all those critical thinkers

I think we all (advanced ACW readers) ask ourselves as we read, "Where did this come from?" and "Why do I believe it?" or "Why does the author believe it?"

We are by nature close readers which makes for critical thinking. At the same time we are confronted by an endless stream of naive, careless work from historians coming out of or going into academia. How can this be?

There is an interesting passage that helps explain the situation in a Defense Intelligence College publication, "Critical Thinking and Intelligence Analysis." It stunned me:
Despite its importance, critical thinking is not widely taught in schools and universities. A mid-1990s California study on the role of critical thinking in the curricula of 38 public and 28 private universities ... concluded that university faculty members 'feel obliged to both claim familiarity with it and commitment to it in their teaching, despie the fact that ... most have only a vague understanding of what it is and what is involved in brininging it successfully into instruction.' Indeed, the authors of the study found that while 89% of the faculty they interviewed 'claimed critical thinking was the primary objective of their instruction,' only 19% could define the term and only 9% were evidently using it on a daily basis in their instruction.
Emphasis added. You can look more deeply into the study and its sponsors here.

The famous paper that told us how incompetents imagine themselves to be competent ("Unskilled and Unaware of It") seems apt. It appears in the same way that uncritical thinkers imagine themselves to be paragons of critical thought, indeed teachers of critical thought.

And so this river of naive, polemical, nonfiction sludge pours forth. There is no reducing it, much less stopping the flow.

(Image from despair.com)

12/16/2008

Team of Rivals: publishing datapoints

Surprise: No one in the UK has bothered to put out Team of Rivals.

However next year, Viking will release it in UK on the slender hope of a presidential connection and a wash of Bicentennial publicity. (Any movie tie-in will not activate until 2010 at the earliest.)

The story reporting these things also says that "the book has sold more than 1.5 million copies" in the USA. (That would be 273,000 copies per year for the five-and-a-half years it's been out.) This bit is interesting as well:
The deal was done through Karolina Sutton at Curtis Brown for a "modest" sum.

12/11/2008

A new book from Ethan Rafuse

A Maryland campaign guidebook is out - one that probably lacks the requisite errors, invective, and ridicule. Nevertheless... see top of list.

A Wal-Mart for the Wilderness

"Historians fight proposed Wilderness Wal-Mart."

More detail is available from the local paper.

Funny, I had never before heard of the "National Coalition for History:"
NCH is a consortium of over 60 organizations that advocates on federal legislative and regulatory issues affecting historians, archivists, teachers, researchers, and other stakeholders.

12/09/2008

Glenn LaFantasie: McPherson critic

Civil War and diplomatic historian Glenn LaFantasie has been running quite a good ACW blog and recently posted a most thorough review of McPherson's Tried By War.

Glenn's review represents a superset of the Tried by War criticisms voiced on this blog. He is irked by McPherson's "relaxed and slatternly approach" in data handling and considers that this effort "seriously calls his exalted position into question."

He notes not only McPherson's borrowings from other writers but his underhanded way of repackaging those takings in a way that gives him credit for what he has appropriated.

I can write multiple posts just on this one review (maybe I will) but read it yourself. It represents the complete indictment of an utterly dishonest and slovenly effort.

Great stuff, don't miss it.

(Update, 12/11/08: Glenn informed me that he uses posting dates to order the content on the site and that the March 2007 date on the post is not the publishing date - the posting went up this month. My own post, above, has been modified to reflect that.)

More Gomorrah than the law allows

You've seen it on Drudge and elsewhere: the governor of Illinois has been arrested at long last.

The sudden resignation of Richard Norton Smith as head of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) some two years ago now looks slightly less mysterious. Blagojevich, flaboyantly and openly pay-to-play, must have scared Smith.

This has ramifications for the past and present staffing of the ALPLM. Even Newsweek understood this three weeks ago, with the arrest of the ALPLM's political rainmaker.

I say "even Newsweek" because the community of Lincoln authors and scholars has maintained an ironclad silence, refusing to issue any comment about the ALPLM, its fallen director, its compromised board, and the context of corruption in which it operated. Future directions, suggestions for new directors? Nothing.

This tells us that Lincoln writers and researchers view the ALPLM as something owned and operated by Illinois (or "others") rather than something of their own. It suggests that this tourism mecca was "disowned" without fanfare early on and intellectual interest in it remains as low as it has ever been. That's the charitable explanation.

There is a second possibility. Here in the realm of Civil War history, we have all types of historians: researchers, storytellers, analysts, genealogists, collectors, art experts, antiquers, etc. On the other hand, I notice that the Lincoln crowd is all too much of one thing only: public historians.

As previously noted here, public historians have a Gomorrah ethos. As Lot argued with God that He should spare the cities on the plain if one righteous resident could be found, the public historian argues that no expense is wasted, no narrative is too twisted, no presentation is too perverse if even one little child can eventually be brought to the altar of history thereby.

This Gomorrah ethos explains how the Lincoln crowd can be indifferent to a Goodwin book, an ALPLM crisis, the Bicentennial minstrel show, endless knick knackery, and various publicly staged imbecilities. As long as the "greatness" message comes though, a child may feel the magic, and then someday...

What? Design fantasy exhibits for a patronage sink?

12/08/2008

Draw


Speaking of Civil War poker, Harry Smeltzer reminds us that Union BG Robert Schenck actually "wrote the book on poker" - as seen above. (Note how he has morphed from "general" to "the honorable.")

Logrolling in our time (cont.)

Russell Bonds writes:

Have you seen the NY Times top 10 books for 2008? Two things of note:

1. Faust makes the list with Republic of Suffering - a "powerful book"

2. 9 of the 10 books were
published by Random House (7 of those under Knopf). Wow. Small and university presses need not apply?

At 15.9% of the market share, 90% of the list being Random House stuff is a red flag.

The byline on this piece belongs to the "editors of the Book Review" of the New York Times. Editors are those people who are supposed to notice things going wrong and right them. But if you work in a place where the editors write and no one edits, you might be working in a failing business dragged low by a collapsing ethos. Your tragic workplace then becomes a much bigger talking point around the water cooler than any lopsided book choices.

Let's look at the first book review in the omnibus.* Note that this first book is by one Millhauser who is also a reviewer for the NY Times. His book is a collection of short stories. A collection of short stories topped the list of great books in 2008. Remember all of those short story collections you read this year? This one was the best. And it just happened to be by a NYT contributor. Go team!

The third ranked book in the list is also by a NYT contributor, a fellow named O'Neill. It's a novel about New York written by a New York Times contributor. Yeah team! We're hittin' it out of the park here at the Times.

Let's see. Twenty percent rolling our own logs, 70% rolling logs for the editors at Knopf, with a 20% log rolling effort reserved for other pals at Random House. Let the other 84% of the market take care of itself.

* If, BTW, these editors think that Nabokov was a "fabulist" who "invents spookily plausible parallel universes" their employer will need to take out a second mortgage.

Publisher rankings from
here.

"Logrolling in Our Time" was a feature that tracked publishing corruption in in the defunct Spy magazine.

Here and there

Civil War invention: five card stud poker and the straight hand. (This drives up the number of active re-enactors by a lot.)

Judah Benjamin has a new website. The site makes him a cofounder of the Illinois Central, a nugget missing from Wiki. McClellan and Banks gain a connection if true.

Newest Lincoln re-enactor: Conan O'Brien March 2 at Ford's. Andy Richter as Mary Lincoln?

12/03/2008

Bantam and Doubleday may fold

Gawker is predicting the imminent demise of the Bantam and Doubleday divisions of Random House.

Civil War publishing will not be affected.

Bantam has been weak in ACW publishing although it used to publish military titles generally; Doubleday lacks an ACW publishing as well, although that marque has been running a book club with some ACW offerings.

Another McClellan-at-Gettysburg report

The excellent new Gettysburg Union pursuit study, One Continuous Fight, contains one new (to this blog) McClellan report from a Sergeant Charles T. Bowen of the 12th U.S. Infantry. Bowen hears that McClellan is advancing at the head of 40,000 Pennsylvania militia: "If this is true, I rather think the rebs will find a warm spot somewhere around here," he notes.

Bowen's writing, Dear Friends at Home, was published by Butternut & Blue seven years ago and adds to our GBM-at-Gettysburg stockpile (see here, here, here, and here).

The point of the blogging thread, McClellan-at-Gettysburg, was to emphasize the difference between history as received and history as experienced. For many veterans, McClellan was part of their Gettysburg experience. The "fact" of his presence being "false" makes their experience worthless to many historians who produce an account of the battle outside of the experience of its participants.

And we reward them for this.

One Continuous Fight by Wittenberg, Petruzzi, and Nugent, is very much about the same problem. It sets history experienced by the AoP after Gettysburg against the reader's naive beliefs about the battle's aftermath. The reader's views, based as they are on sanitized historical "truths" tend to show up as "false" in matters of experience, memory, and activity.

It must be embarassing to the many dead on both sides to have been killed in the midst of a pursuit that never took place.

More on Continuous in a future post. Meanwhile, keep searching for anomalies.

12/01/2008

Debunking "Team of Rivals"

Matthew Pinsker, someone I would characterize more as a political historian of the Civil War than a Lincoln historian, has stepped up to the plate to knock down Goodwin's meme of there being a "team" of rivals in Lincoln's cabinet.

Not to diminish Pinsker's editorial, but anyone who has access to cabinet diaries can do the same.

The special value added here is his pointing out the considerable political cost Lincoln paid by putting defeated competitors in his government - a cost that hurt Lincoln's effectiveness and thus - inevitably, one may conclude - the war effort.

The behavior of Lincoln scholars in this matter has continued to be utterly contemptible.

11/25/2008

OT: Military reform for the holidays

If you have time to catch-up with the doings of our broken (modern) military, here are two articles and two free books to help pass an hour or two.

A new CBSA report, "An Army at the Crossroads," notices that the Pentagon, forced by war to commit to light forces, forced by threat analysis to commit to heavy forces, has decided to split the difference.

Meanwhile, David Betz, of the Kings of War blog, notes that the U.S. Army has designed a force structure without any significant light infantry. Forces you would need in Aghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Kossovo, etc...

Col. John Boyd's still-living students have assembled between book covers to offer fresh advice to the new president in an anthology called America's Defense Meltdown. The title suggests an emphasis on the Pentagon's famous procurement spiral of death (where more money buys less and less), however there is plenty of doctrinal stuff here to amuse those not interested in "The Acquistion Train Wreck."

For a really fun historical analytic, foreign area specialist Maj. Patrick Kelley offers Imperial Secrets: Remapping the Mind of Empire. Kelley provides an amusing tour through imperial informatics with special note taken of types of information that empires cannot collect or process and how it affects their functioning. Thought provoking and cross-disciplinary, this is reader-friendly enough for even the laziest non-fiction browser.

Let me note also that Savas Beatie is having a success with Once A Marine and that this memoir enables the reader to experience military casualty care vicariously. Not the happiest of holiday topics but an indispensible artifact of our general military deshabille.

Quiet days in publishing

If you set aside the reprints and commemorative Lincoln stuff, November has been surprisingly weak in the number of ACW titles released, following a piddling October. The month is not over yet and there are in fact 10 books coming out on the same day - November 30 - but nevertheless...

One bright spot has been the issuance of a set of South Carolina military studies: South Carolina's Military Organizations in the War Between the States (Vol. 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, Vol 4). Each volume save the last runs over 400 pages. That's epic! I am especially interested in the last volume, Statewide Units, Militia, and Reserves since these were part of enemy force calculations made by Union generals (and have long been intentionally ignored by historians).

Another bright spot this month is that Lee's unhappy struggle against General Tim Sherman has finally got its own study: Lee in the Lowcountry. This project teamed Lee with Pemberton and Maxcy Gregg following Lee's defeat first at the hands of McClellan, then Rosecrans; it helps define the early war in the East, a war utterly unknown to the Centennial-minded.

Quality over quantity? I shouldn't complain.

11/20/2008

Branded history

The great missed opportunity in UFO-ology, as Jacques Vallée noted (IIRC), was anthropological: our failure to document scientifically the emergence of a myth in our own time, during our lives. (Or was that Carl Jung who lodged the same complaint?)

In any case, we are seeing another such myth take root - a phenomenon independent of any underlying reality and not susceptiple to refutation in the public sphere. I'm referring to the "Team of Rivals" as a generic meme and the association of that meme with Lincoln.

The notion of a leader harnessing the energy and ambitions of his enemies to his own cause or for his own use is archtypical in its appeal and has certainly been around in human history at least as long as false flag recruiting.

Doris Kearns Goodwin's genius for publicity rests in part in an appreciation of the tastes and minds of the vast middlebrow audience that listens to NPR, watches PBS, and buys her books. The time has long been ripe for someone to propose a single explanation of Lincoln's specialness, to that audience justifying pop culture's enduring interest in the man.

In brief, Goodwin's natural audience has long been waiting for an "elevator story," a 10-second pitch that helps them "get" Lincoln. Grant and McClellan have had their memes set since the war. They can be spoken in a single breath, understood by a child, repeated half asleep, and grasped as easy as the simplest lie. What has been strange is that these second tier personalities were typified in popular taste long ago while Lincoln's image remained inchoate.

As a branding expert specializing in herself, Goodwin understood this matter and moved to remedy the situation, for which the market has amply rewarded her.

The astonishing thing this week is that Newsweek has run a story suggesting that the president-elect of the United States is consciously modeling behavior falsely ascribed to Lincoln in Goodwin's nonsensical book. In other words, Goodwin's meme, which is pure literature with no basis in any cabinet officer's diary, has taken on a life of its own and disguised as historical truth captivated the imagination of a leader who is acting out a false construct.

This casts a very odd light on "learning from history." As I write this, Google has indexed 340 stories as related to "Obama's talks with rivals precede cabinet picks"; 239 relate to "Obama's presidential role model," and another 294 are connected to "The difference between Honest Abe and The One." That's a striking display of falsehood rounding the world before truth can get its pants on.

The starting point for this gusher of Lincoln-Obama journalism is the assumption that "historian" Goodwin's meme - Lincoln built a team out of rivals - is fact. That "reality" is embedded in each report as basic. Very soon it will be something "everybody knows." In 2009 the Lincoln scholar "not on board" with this view will be a "revisionist" if not a crank.

One could hope that Lincoln scholars would rise up against this but they have been so supine since Goodwin's book was released, so deathly still over the two-year ALPLM crisis, so absolutely get-along-go-along with the excesses of the Bicentennial that we would be fools to expect them to do their duty now or ever.

And so a new myth is born of a plagiarist, sanctified by a president-elect, advocated and promoted by pop journalism, and endorsed passively by those who make a living studying Lincoln.

Have some hors d'oeuvres:

The Washington Post, which owns Newsweek, says,
Obama is contemplating Lincoln's particular model of presidential leadership as he moves toward assembling his own team of advisers and Cabinet officials. His overtures to his former foes have suggested he may be mulling his own team of rivals...
One Newsweek editor is a Lincoln author and was on Fox News: "Doris has made Team of Rivals into a brand that makes Coca-Cola look like a small piker."

The San Jose Mercury highlights the crux of Obama's personal misconception:
"Lincoln basically pulled in all the people who had been running against him into his Cabinet," is the way Obama has summarized Goodwin's thesis, adding, "Whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was how can we get this country through this time of crisis."
This formulation overstates Goodwin's already untenable meme, taking it to a new Level. The Mercury then adds, "That's true enough..."

The National Review, which is always game for any Lincoln loving you want to lay on them, has uncharacteristically published a skeptical letter taking apart the "rivals" meme on its face; not that they were not a "team" (as the diaries show) but that they were not all or even mostly rivals and that their appointments were political team building not managerial team building. This letter seems to react to the Obama quote given above.

CNN runs wild, listing so many Lincoln/Obama comparisons that Goodwin's meme nearly gets lost in the shuffle. But they do roll out Eric Foner to take a shot at the meme as it reflects in journalism: "... as a historian, people ought to calm down a little about these comparisons..." (A hat tip to Foner.)

The DC Examiner, taking the meme as a given, bucks the typology on other grounds: "Elected by a clear majority and with strong support from a unified party, Obama is not in Lincoln's position of having to hold a coalition together in the midst of a house dividing itself."

And so it goes. Grab a browser and have a gander at a new historical "fact."

(Photo via Getty)

Faust bested

Drew Gilpin Faust's Republic of Suffering has lost to another title in this year's National Book Awards. It was far from prize material in any case.

11/18/2008

Cedar Creek land to be bought

1,571 acres down, 1,829 to go.

Stupid museum tricks

We have found yet another museum in desperate need of a consultant. I'm still agog at the last incident.

The day the curators interested themselves in their own holdings, they discovered a Lincoln letter. I guess heritage tourism is taking up most of their time.

11/13/2008

Diogenes lights his lamp

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency's chairwoman, lobbyist Julie Cellini, has tragically lost her husband (also a lobbyist) to a federal jury's corruption indictment. Bill Cellini stands accused of steering pension funds into Governor Rod Blagojevich's pockets.

This could affect the tempo of her search for a new head of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library (ALPLM). Illinois state historian Thomas Schwartz, who has not yet been arrested, indicted, or imprisoned is mooted as one possible choice.

Readers of this blog will recall that Schwartz (shown above) has physically occupied the office reserved for the ALPLM's top dog for over two years. He will not need to move in if he gets the appointment, though he will have to move out if someone else is named.

11/12/2008

Educators prepare for Lincoln Sesquicentennial

A professor writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Less than a month after Obama becomes president, the United States will mark the sesquicentennial birthday of that other Illinois president, Abraham Lincon.
Is that like preparing for the last war?

11/11/2008

Armistice Day

An American study of WWI on Western Front, using French sources and placing the French Army in the center of the narrative, appeared in 2005: Pyrrhic Victory by BG Robert A. Doughty. For 20 years, Doughty was the head of West Point's history department and it's a loss for us that he did not study and publish ACW work (although he does appear in a compilation with Mark Grimsley). This marvelously analytical weaving together of doctrine, strategy, and operations is a page-turner that brings clarity to the chaotic disorder we associate with the war in France.

It followed by four years the adventurously revisionist John Mosier's Myth of the Great War, which colored its arguments in gaudy polemic. Mosier viewed the British and French as tactical imbeciles outclassed by their German counterparts, who consistently used less to accomplish more. This part of his treatise causes the most offense, as you'd expect, and is less interesting than his deep analysis showing the overwhelming quantitative and qualitative superiority of the Central Powers' artillery on the Western Front. For Mosier, America's arrival on the field is absolutely decisive, as was Pershing's obstinate commitment to his doctrine of "Open Warfare."

In The AEF Way of War, Mark Ethan Grotelueschen takes Pershing's "Open Warfare" doctrine as his starting point, then charts how division commanders either followed Pershing to ruin or creatively made their own private doctrines to cope with war fighting in France. Very analytical, very simple, consistently interesting. The same author also has published a revisionist artillery study of the AEF. Grotelueschen teaches history at the USAF Academy.

Collapse at the Meuse Argonne traces "The Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division" (as the subtitle says) in 1918. It's an extensive treatment of a signal American failure on the Western Front that steers clear of doctrine or strategy but focuses on lack of training, lack of leadership, lack of organization, and supply shortages that will surprise readers new to AEF history. Pershing comes off poorly here.

If we broaden the day's readings beyond WWI, let me recommend the arresting works of Jonathan Shay, one of those many literary M.D.s. He wrote two books that present - this sounds far fetched - Homer's epic poems as explorations of PTSD. Moving and convincing, this is the best introduction to "shell shock" I know of and it helped me understand a few odd quirks of my own post-military behavior.

For physical shock - what it means to be wounded and to recover - Nick Popaditch's Once a Marine (written with Mike Steere) has garnered 13 five-star reviews out of 14 votes cast at Amazon.

For a completely unexpected and unpredictable reading experience, I suggest a free electronic government publication called The Gulag Study, a compilation of sightings of U.S. servicemen in Soviet concentration camps. The cumulative effect on the reader of each fragment presented builds slowly and is hard to describe.

By the same token, if you want to know what all those black MIA flags represent to the flags' fliers, have at An Enormous Crime: The Definitive Account of American POWs Abandoned in Southeast Asia by Hendon and Stewart. It runs to 487 pages of text with 74 pages of notes.

A final recommendation: should you want to explore the rhetoric that leads men to risk all, see Richard F. Miller's new In Word and Deeds: Battle Speeches in History. He presents a systematic approach to classifying and analyzing this form of speech that establishes a new paradigm. You'll note the many Civil War speeches here but will see few from WWI.

11/10/2008

One continuous sensation

I have immersed myself in One Continuous Fight by Wittenberg, Petruzzi, and Nugent and will report back on this late in the week. It holds great promise in terms of fresh looks at old assumptions. It's also a beautifully produced book, not just in terms of maps, images, and design but physically.

May not get any reading done if I can't stop running my hands across the pages. What nice paper.

11/07/2008

Are you "living the legacy"?

Our national embarassment kicks off in February. Arf arf.

It's all about emotion

Professor James Robertson reminds us that Civil War history is all about the emotions:
"I'm interested in the common soldiers," Robertson said. "The journals with personalities, the problems on the home front such as what the women were facing, sickness and religion. -- things of that sort appeal to me and they appeal to students. I guess my great hallmark for teaching is you can never understand and appreciate history until you understand the emotions in it and this is certainly true for the Civil War, it's a very emotional war."
If you are committed to understanding and teaching history in two-syllable words, "emotions," with its three syllables, is actually a daring breakthrough concept. Bravo, Robertson, you are exceeding the low standards you have set for yourself and your charges.

BTW, can you think of a better definition of the Centennialist's practice of history than emotionalism? They are such haters and lovers that their books are like mood rings or carnival rides.

Note that Robertson touches on that other staple of Centennial dogma that it was a "soldier's war." Napoleon had a different idea about war. From Fuller's Generalship:
'The personality of the general is indispensable,’ said Napoleon; ‘he is the head, he is the all, of an army. The Gauls were not conquered by the Roman legions, but by Caesar. It was not before the Carthaginian soldiers that Rome was made to tremble, but before Hannibal. It was not the Macedonian phalanx which penetrated to India, but Alexander. It was not the French Army which reached the Weser and the Inn, it was Turenne. Prussia was not defended for seven years against the three most formidable European Powers by the Prussian soldiers, but by Frederick the Great.
Of course, the Centennialist will tell you the Army of the Potomac succeeded in spite of its generals on the one hand while indulging personalities to their fullest on the Southern side.

Suppressing sources, footnoting badly or not at all, saddling a master narrative on unwilling material - these too represent emotional choices.

11/05/2008

An amazing discovery

The economic history of the Confederacy will have to be rewritten.

Commemoration per se

Arlington County Virginia is moving on a Sesquicentennial commemoration and the organizers are saying some deeply impressive things.

Item: "County government officials hope to use the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Civil War as a learning tool for members of the community who may have only a vague understanding of the causes, and repercussions, of the nation’s most searing event."

Item: “This is not a celebration, it is a commemoration,” County Board Chairman Walter Tejada said. “This is an opportunity to learn more.”

Item: Not a single mention of the economy. No sign of the word "tourist."

We'll quarrel over the educational content of this event but for now it appears to be pure history - and a sharp poke in the eye to "heritage tourism."

11/03/2008

McPherson declares Lincoln "Clausewitzian"

In recent posts, we began to explore James McPherson's expropriation of the idea "concentration in time"; the phrase appears in his new book Tried by War (see here and here) exactly as rendered both by Clausewitz and by Archer Jones (recapitulating Clausewitz) in the 1990s. Unattributed, "concentration in time" appears in his new book to be McPherson's idea.

Last month, Eric Foner's essay collection came out (Our Lincoln) with a piece on Lincoln-as-war-leader contributed by McPherson. McPherson again reiterated this paradigm, again without attribution.

McPherson admits having read Clausewitz in Tried by War; there are in fact two references here to the Prussian thinker. The first appears on page 6 and is worth quoting as an example of the typical amateur's mistakes of presentism and burdening a single point of information with unmanageable generalities.

Although Lincoln never read Carl [sic] von Clausewitz's famous treatise On War (Vom Kriege), his actions were a consumate expression of Clausewitz's central argument: "The political objective is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose..."
Typically, he cut this passage out of his Tried by War and pasted it, word for word, into Foner's book. In Foner's book, it is this "central argument" - alone and undeveloped - that makes Lincoln Clausewitzian.

In Tried by War, McPherson seems to have a new idea by page 142. There, he says, again with striking single mindedness,

In his conception of military strategy, Lincoln was Clausewitzian. The Prussian theorist of war had written that "the destruction of the enemy's force is the leading principle of war," and it "is principally effected only by means of the engagement" - that is by "hard, tough fighting."
So here, Lincoln is Clausewitzian because of hard fighting. He has forgotten the earlier claim. The two observations are offered independently. No discussion, just fiat.

Bush league stuff.

It is worth a small digression into McPherson-as-synthesizer here. The quote from page 142 is not from Clausewitz, it is cited as from J.C. Wylie's book Military Strategy. For some reason, McPherson could not bring himself to retrieve the thought directly from On War. He felt he had to serve the hard fighting idea to his readers with attribution to Clausewitz via Wylie. What a curious reliance on secondary sources. What a curious fastidiousness toward Wylie vice a pernicious claim staked against Clausewitz and Jones in the matter of concentration in time.

Note that in neither offering (Foner's nor his own book) does McPherson expand beyond what I have given to explain Clausewitz vis a vis Lincoln. Nowhere does he give mention to Jomini, whom Lincoln not only read but as Hattaway and Jones have shown employed to argue plans with his generals.

A final oddity in comparing the essay in Foner with Tried by War. We had some fun with McPherson's statement in Tried by War that "Lincoln was not a quick study" in matters military. In Our Lincoln, McPherson states flat out, "Lincoln was a quick study."

You reach a point in the public estimation where such issues become mere quibbles I suppose.

von Moltke's "armed mobs"

Richard F. Miller and I let slip a misattribution: Bismarck was given credit for the supposed von Moltke chestnut about armed mobs. Brooks Simpson pointed out the error.

I had originally seen this in American Heritage 40 or so years ago and it was (to complete the thought) more along the lines of armed mobs chasing each other through the forest (which sounds rather like the premise of an exciting Tarzan movie).

Note that this quote is of a piece with "masterly inactivity." It is an endlessly repeated bit of color that can liven the dullest passage. A search on Google for armed mobs moltke "civil war" yields 1,640 hits, many of which use quote marks to render the insight:

"And he replied, with an icy stare "I have no time to waste in studying the struggles of two armed mobs."
But is it a quote? Whence the icy stare?

The more cautious user will show this as a paraphrase if he uses it at all. BFC Fuller offers it in paraphrase in two books, The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant and War and Western Civilization 1832-1932 without attribution. That's probably where the American Heritage gang got if from. Bruce Catton, a leading light behind AH, borrowed liberally from Fuller and we find him opening a talk with the quote, so fond of it was he:

As devotees and self-appointed analysts of the Civil War, I suppose all of us have heard of von Moltke, who is supposed to have said that he didn't find our Civil War worth study because it was simply a contest of armed mobs.
The quote is not sourced and Catton wisely remarks "supposed to have said." However, as so many Centennialist doubletalkers have done ever since, he proceeds from the uncertain attribution to the ironclad conclusion:

What I would like to suggest is that this Prussian general was more nearly correct than most of us are willing to admit.
Von Moltke was correct about something he may not have said, you see. And it behooves us to be willing to admit he may have been right about this something he may never said.

Welcome to the Civil War history that inspired this blog.

James M. McPherson, who synthesized Catton, Williams, Nevins, and others, offered the mob quote in Battle Cry followed by the curious caveat that Moltke "denied having said" it. Again, this is not sourced, leaving open the possibility that McPherson, in recapitulating the work of others, distorted "may not have said" into "denied having said."

This armed mob seems to come out of the life and legends of W. Tecumseh Sherman. Glatthaar, a slob in the citations department, tantalizes us with

After the war, word circulated that the great Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke had said of Sherman's army that there was nothing one could learn from 'an armed mob.'
That was from his The American Civil War and again source is not noted, despite the quote marks.

I have seen somewhere and lost track of the second half of that vignette which appears elsewhere, in which Sherman, hearing the criticism, issues a rejoinder. In other words, there seems to be a Sherman anecdote abroad in which the von Moltke quote is brought to his attention and Sherman responds. It does not appear in the wartime correspondence edited by Simpson and Berliner.

If you take Catton's screwy logic to the next level, you can base an entire academic paper on an event rooted in maybe. Hence this gem:
Helmuth von Moltke's alleged statement the U.S. Civil War was an affair in which two armed mobs chased each other around the country and from which no lessons could be learned underlines a grave misjudgment of this war in contemporary Germany.
Emphasis added. If it didn't happen, can it underline a grave misjudgement? Yes says German Observations and Evaluations of the U.S. Civil War: A Study in Lessons Not Learned.

Lessons learned from things that might not have been said. Chapter the First: Our Missing Attributions.

In any case, the mobs and von Moltke the Elder were so established in the American imagination early on that the U.S. journalist Poultney Bigelow confronted Kaiser Wilhelm II on the question, filing a story the day after von Moltke's death (datelined 4/25/1891 and accessible via the NYT archives).

I asked the Emperor about von Moltke's reported reference to the American Civil War, the general having been quoted as calling our armies armed mobs, from which nothing of the science of war could be learned.

"Gen. von Moltke never said any such thing, nor had he any such opinion," said the Emperor. "On the contrary, he had the highest respect for your generals, as every one acquainted with his administration of the general staff must know. Even to this day, every German officer is obliged to study carefully the history and tactics of your war. We Germans are thoroughly acquainted with the campaigns of Grant, Sheridan, Sherman, and Lee, and your other generals. Gen. von Moltke has repeatedly expressed his admiration of them to me. You taught us the art of intrenchments, transportation, military telegraphing, and forced marches; in fact, the whole science of military warfare was illustrated in your war. Gen. von Moltke always recognized this and that we had much to learn from your generals. Nothing could be further from the truth than that silly story."

Note that this is from a latecomer - Kaiser Bill had been on the throne under three years at the time - and it comes through a news report. Yet, I have some reason to put confidence in this second or third hand report.

McClellan met von Moltke in Europe and von Moltke was both complimentary of his generalship and familiar enough with the war to comment on the combined army/naval operations against Richmond. McClellan reported that von Moltke said GBM's approach was the correct one and would have won the war, given proper support. See Sears's Young Napoleon; here's an unsourced account as well.

This resonates with von Moltke's concerns in 1864, combined operations against the Danish islands in the Baltic. It also resonates with what Justus Scheibert presented to the Prussian General Staff upon his return from observing McClellan and the Rebels in the mid 1860s (see A Prussian Observes the Civil War). Von Moltke was head of that staff and must have been familiar with Scheibert's insights, which are in no way "armed mobs" characterizations. One of the more interesting "lessons" Scheibert drove home to the GS was that Grant's campaign represented a fulfillment of McClellan's 1862 plans.

Thus, the Prussian GS was discussing American strategy, plans, combined operations, and personalities. Von Moltke, whatever he may have said about McClellan's first Richmond campaign, was conversant enough with the war to discuss it with McClellan at the strategic level.

The origins of the "armed mobs" story remains obscure. Got a line on it? Drop a line.

10/31/2008

Turn on the Blurb Machine!!!

Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861 by Harold Holzer, released 21 October. "This detailed and gripping narrative..." etc. - James M. McPherson

Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief by James M. McPherson, released 7 October. "McPherson provides a definitive exploration " etc. - Harold Holzer * "McPherson brilliantly portrays Lincoln’s evolution" - Frank J. Williams

Lincoln and His Admirals by Craig L. Symonds, released 17 October. "With a compelling portrait of personalities" etc. - James M. McPherson * "This is an epic story" etc. - Harold Holzer * "Craig L. Symonds has filled a gap" etc. - Frank J. Williams

Google "symonds holzer mcpherson williams" - you'll get 76,000 hits.

10/30/2008

ALPLM: the Rick Beard years, a retrospective

News Update

The elusive one, the cryptic mysterion - none other for it is he - has been released from his duties at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) pending a legal tussle over shoplifting charges. He was let go this week after they inventoried the museum.

Previously, the mysterion and his predecessor were used by the various governors of Illinois as window dressing for that sink of political patronage, the ALPLM. With the firing of this man of mystery, the previous precedent is reversed as a certified politcal hack now takes charge of the facilities to be assisted by a less visible technocrat.

With Janet Grimes front and center, you have an appointee who has been managing the state’s Capital Development Board for the last three years - the years that got Gov. Rod Blagojevich in such trouble - and can you imagine a richer patronage plum than manager of all Illinois capital expenditures? She now runs the Illinois Historical Preservation Agency, overseeing the ALPLM, and displaces its head, Robert Coomer. Coomer becomes a consultant assisting her as head of the library's foundation; he spent the first two years of his incumbency in her current job racking up violations of the Illinois Historic Preservation Act and breaking state directives on emergency purchases.

Needless to say, we wish them both well.

The Rick Beard Years: A Legacy

Blog coverage of the Beard years begins with the departure of Richard Norton Smith. The linked post fails to note the vital fact that Smith was leaving his job to take a part time position in Washington. The politicians had either tired of him or he of they.

The first post on Beard appeared on this day two years ago: Rick Beard, Man of Mystery. It offered the most extensive background information collected in one place. It set the tone for the cruel mockery to follow.

Sesquicentennial Mysteries noted the formation of the now defunct Kevin Levin website Blogging the Sesquicentennial and pointed out to Mr. Levin the need to focus on the self-appointed organizer of the Sesquicentennial, one Rick Beard. It notes that 27 days after his appointment, the ALPLM website carried no mention of the mysterion's name.

Rick Beard: the Mystery Continues puzzled over the interim appointment of Thomas Schwartz to the position to which the cypher had been named.

In Rick Beard Emerges, we discovered the elusive one had taken permanent occupation of a small office behind doors marked "Emergency Exit Only," leaving a subordinate in permanent charge of his own large director's office.

Rick Beard Makes a Move observed that Beard allowed someone else to lead the Illinois Lincoln Bicentennial.

Five months after his appointment, we noted that Beard had not merited a single newspaper article. It's Abe-a-Licious does find an ALPLM article that mentions Beard but it focuses entirely on the janitor in the museum cafeteria instead of the new director.

Google Scorecard for "Rick Beard" ran a search for articles on the mysterion and struck bedrock.

Rick Beard Sightings Increase noted that six months after his accession, the mysterious one had scored mention in three press releases.

Rick Beard Dons His Other Hat caught us up with the mysterion's zen-like stillness as self-designated leader of the Sesquicentennial.

"Setting the Bar" covered a fashion night at the ALPLM which Beard said set the bar for future museum and library activities.

CWPT and the Sesquicentennial explored Civil War Preservation Trust's interactions with the extremely secretive Sesquicentennial chief.

Rick Beard Plans a Lincoln Exhibit commented on the ALPLM's puzzling intentions to mount a major 20th Century race riot show in lieu of some Lincoln exhibitions.

From Multipurpose to Any Purpose visited the ALPLM gift shop with comments from Schwartz and Beard.

A Floating Signifier reported on Rick Beard's greatest legacy as ALPLM director, a traveling container.

Beard Spotting uncovered the first-ever-seen photos of Rick Beard 18 months after his appointment.

And the dénouement wraps up coverage, October 2006 - October 2008.

Thanks Rick. It's been even more fun than all those Richard Norton Smith posts.

Exit, Dr. Strange.

10/29/2008

Rick Beard gets a headline

After years of avoiding the limelight, dodging reporters, evading photographers, and publishing nothing, the mysterion who replaced publicity hog Richard Norton Smith as head of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) - Rick Beard (for it is he) - has finally earned some news ink:
Lincoln library chief charged with shoplifting
Has record: Stole ties from Macy's
Richard E. Beard ... faces charges of taking a boxed DVD set of the Fox TV show "House" from a Target store in Springfield in August.

That follows a previous shoplifting conviction for stealing seven ties from a Macy's department store in Springfield and scuffling with security personnel in February 2007, public records show.

A third possible shoplifting case involving Beard, 61, is under investigation by the Sangamon County state's attorney's office.
Uh oh:
"There very well could be additional charges," said John Milhiser, first assistant state's attorney in the Sangamon County prosecutor's office.
Rick Beard is actually going to beat Rod Blagojevich to prison. And he was just starting to turn his life around.

The comments section under the story is especially cruel, as more experienced thieves weigh in on Beard's technique:
Poster: Richard Beard makes 150,000 a year and he doesn't realize that there are security camera's at all angles of Macy's and Target stores. This guy must have an intellectual IQ approaching 43.

Second poster: Clearly the guy is some kind of mental defective.
Hat tip (with flourishes) to the gentleman who pointed me to this story.

Can an author plagiarize himself?

As an author cuts and pastes his old work into a manuscript for a new book, can he be said to be plagiarizing himself? Or is he merely testing the limits of our familiarity with his previous work?

James McPherson wants to know! Here is a mere taste of what's simmering in his newest book, Tried by War:

* Here was a stunning reversal of the fortunes of war. Tried By War p 225
** This seemed a stunning reversal of the fortunes of war. Battle Cry of Freedom p 225

* As before, he advanced quickly and cleverly once he got started. TBW 193
** Meanwhile Rosecrans again demonstrated his ability to move a large army quickly and cleverly once he got started. Ordeal By Fire 335

* A soldier from Maine wrote to his sister that "the great cause of liberty has been managed by Knaves and fools the whole show has been corruption…" TBW 161
** A soldier from Maine wrote that "the great cause of liberty has been managed by Knaves and fools the whole show has been corruption…" OBF 317

* Lincoln overrated Banks's abilities, as future events would show. TBW 151
** Lincoln overrated Banks's command capacity, as future events would show. This Mighty Scourge 135

* But Emperor Napoleon III imposed impossible demands on the weak Mexican government. He sent additional French troops…TBW 188
** But Napoleon III imposed impossible demands on the weak Mexican government and sent additional troopsOBF 344

* McClellan remained their hero. For them as for him, it was an article of faith that they had not been outfought or outgeneraled, but beaten by superior numbersTBW 102
** McClellan remained their hero. For them as for him, it was an article of faith that they had not been outfought or outgeneraled, but beaten by superior numbersCrossroads of Freedom: Antietam 50

* Demoralization on the home front was bad enough. TBW 120
** Demoralization on the Northern home front was bad enough. CFA 86

* Grant's intervention was decisive. On the spur of the moment Lincoln decided to go to Virginia personally to join Seward for a personal meeting with the Confederate Commissioners. TBW 258
** Grant's intervention was decisive. On the spur of the moment Lincoln decided to go to Virginia to join Seward for a personal meeting with the Confederate Commissioners. TMS 181

* These were dark, dismal days in the North. "For the first time," wrote the Washington bureau chief of the New York Tribune... TBW 119
** These were dark, dismal days in the North — perhaps the darkest of many such days during the war. "For the first time," wrote the Washington bureau chief of the New York Tribune... CFA 85

(Ransom note courtesy this generator.)

10/28/2008

Clausewitz: how unknown was he?

Harry Smeltzer has found me tangled in the net of a sweeping generalization. I had said, with respect to 1854, Clausewitz was unknown here. He counters:
Do you really think Clausewitz was “unknown” here in the US in 1854? Take a look at note #2 in the first chapter of Halleck’s “Elements of Military Art and Science”, written in 1846. The reader is advised to read “Bynkershock; Vantel; Puffendorf; Clausewitz; and most other writers on international laws and the laws of war.”
Perhaps I should have said, "largely unread" instead of "unknown." Harry adds:
I think people often forget that West Point cadets learned a good deal of French at the academy. The fact that a book had not been translated into English did not mean it was unknown to Americans.
I want to explore this point.

The earliest French edition of any of Clausewitz's writings in book form that I have been able to locate seems to have appeared in 1886. The compilers of the linked bibliography have included periodical references in other parts of the list, so we may tentatively generalize that they found no French serials with Clausewitz content that could have fallen into American hands.

I wonder how many U.S. officers prewar, including Germans, read Clausewitz in German? There are publications of his works in German from the turn of the century onwards; the first edition of On War in German appeared in 1832. It went into a second printing in 1853 which would have made it fairly fresh at the time of the Delafield Commission's visit to Germany. I looked for Clausewitz in the haul of books brought back by the Delafield Commission that was donated to the War Department and have not found him (I am unsure about the completeness of the list I saw). Going through McClellan's writing, published and unpublished, I have not yet found him there either. He gets no mention in correspondence among other figures of the war that I've encountered and he seems to have been absent from Mahan's Napoleon Club at West Point.

There are, however, traces of him in the English literature prewar. From our bibliographic resource:
Clausewitz, Carl von. "On War." Trans./ed. unknown. The Military and Naval Magazine of the United States, v.V and VI (August and September issues, 1835). Originally appeared in The Metropolitan Magazine (London), v.13, May and June 1835, 64-71, 166-176.
Harry's argument is looking pretty good here. There's a little more in a minor vein:
Clausewitz, Carl von. The Campaign of 1812 in Russia. Trans. anonymous [Francis Egerton, Lord Ellesmere]. London: J. Murray, 1843
And here's a bit of a reach:
J.E. Marston, The Life and Campaigns of Field Marshal Prince Blucher (London: Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, 1815). (Marston's book contains what Peter Paret [Clausewitz and the State, p.240, n.46] has described as a "free rendering" of Clausewitz's study of the campaign of 1813 [Der Feldzug von 1813 bis zum Waffenstillstand. Glatz, 1813.])
Clausewitz: seen but not heard. Referred to but little read.

A closing note on Halleck and Clausewitz. Christopher Bassford, in his book Clausewitz in America, says:
Halleck's work on the law of war shows no sign of either Clausewitz's name or influence, despite many areas to which his arguments are relevant. On the other hand, Clausewitz's works are listed three times in the chapter bibliographies in Halleck's 1846 Elements of Military Art and Science, which repeat none of Jomini's negative remarks.
He seems to be a figure to be mentioned only in passing.

Jomini vs. Clausewitz in New York, 1854

The military theorist-in-chief of the American Civil War, Antoine-Henri Baron Jomini, had a number of unkind remarks to make on Clausewitz and On War. He wrote these in an open letter to the Russian Czar introducing the Russian edition of his own works in 1837.

I say "Russian edition" but it was in French, as French was spoken by the Russian nobility and the officer corps was entirely noble until WWI. This Francophone volume was brought out in English by Putnam in New York in 1854 with the letter to the Czar included.

This is the Jomini book most read by Civil War officers. Its comments on Clausewitz must have been baffling as Clausewitz was unknown here.
...the Prussian General Clausewitz died, leaving to his widow the care of publishing posthumous works which were presented as unfinished sketches. This work made a great sensation in Germany, and for my part I regret that it was written before the author was acquainted with my summary of the Art of War, persuaded that he would have rendered to it some justice.

One cannot deny to General Clausewitz great learning and a facile pen; but this pen, at times a little vagrant, is above all too pretentious for a didactic discussion, the simplicity and clearness of which ought to be its first merit. Besides that, the author shows himself by far too skeptical in point of military science; his first volume is but a declamation against all theory of war, whilst the two succeeding volumes, full of theoretic maxims, proves that the author believes in the efficacy of his own doctrines, if he does not believe in those of others.

As for myself, I own that I have been able to find in this learned labyrinth but a small number of luminous ideas and remarkable articles; and far from having shared the skepticism of the author, no work would have contributed more than his to make me feel the necessity and utility of good theories, if I had ever been able to call them in question; it is important simply to agree well as to the limits which ought to be assigned them in order not to fall into a pedantry worse than ignorance; it is necessary above all to distinguish the difference which exists between a theory of principles and a theory of systems.

It will be objected perhaps that, in the greater part of the articles of this summary, I myself acknowledge that there are few absolute rules to give on the divers subjects of which they treat; I agree in good faith to this truth, but is that saying there is no theory? If, out of forty-five articles, some have ten positive maxims, others one or two only, are not a 150 or 200 rules sufficient to form a respectable body of strategic or tactical doctrines? And if to those you add the multitude of precepts which suffer more or less exceptions, will you not have more dogmas than necessary for fixing your opinions upon all the operations of war?

At the same epoch when Clausewitz seemed thus to apply himself to sapping the basis of the science, a work of a totally opposite nature appeared in France, that of the Marquis de Ternay, a French emigre in the service of England. This book is without contradiction, the most complete that exists on the tactics of battles, and if it falls sometimes into an excess contrary to that of the Prussian general, by prescribing, in doctrines details of execution often impracticable in war, he cannot be denied a truly remarkable merit, and one of the first grades among tacticians.
Ternay who?

More on Clausewitz vs Jomini can be found here.

Portrait: Jomini, in Russian uniform, by George Dawe.

10/27/2008

Spielberg, Goodwin and "Lincoln" - splitsville in Lalaland?

In dealing with Hollywood projects more than a little Kremlinology is needed. Please standby for some outsized analysis of undersized data morsels:

The recent breakup and reorganization of Dreamworks Studio seems to have put paid to a 2009 Bicentennial release of the much anticipated Lincoln film for which Spielberg had bought the rights from Doris Kearns Goodwin. Remember, he bought those rights as soon as he heard she was working on a Lincoln bio. (More on this later.)

Variety reported on the 9th that filming is "slated for a spring start." It refers to this movie as "Lincoln." A day earlier, the Hollywood Reporter wrote that "DW aims to produce about six films per year starting in 2010" and "It's believed that DW will produce an untitled Lincoln biopic..."

I believe Variety was reporting the pre-breakup spring start date for filming Lincoln (I had seen it before) and that the Hollywood Reporter has the better information. As of October 8/9, the projects may not have been entirely divided between surviving entities, much less funded and scheduled.

That was the situation then and it was ambiguous. A week later, on the 16th, Hollywood Reporter told of the naming of two new co-presidents to run Dreamworks. We all know what happens when new studio chiefs arrive: projects get killed, new projects get started. It's another layer of fog on the Spielberg-Goodwin film.

Now it gets even fuzzier. In the same story, on the day of the naming of the two presidents, the Reporter tells us
"Lincoln," which had been widely reported as moving over to DW, will remain at Par[amount] as one of the group of projects that DW retains an option to co-finance and co-distribute.
Emphasis added. So, the day before the new bosses arrived, ownership had been settled but not financing and distribution. That puts things in 2010 territory, to say the least, without factoring in project reviews by the new chiefs. Goodbye, Bicentennial tie-in.

Are we also looking at goodbye Goodwin? Notice references to "Lincoln" - I understand that this could be project title shorthand but it severs the obvious marketing tie-in to Team of Rivals which would make just as good a working title. And how about that reference to "an untitled Lincoln biopic"?

Spielberg bought this book before it was even written. Goodwin seemed to be rewriting it endlessly, even recasting the material. Was she making it more movie-script friendly? Was Spielberg a collaborator?

Would that even be ethical in the history discipline? (Sound of derisive snorting off stage.)

If Goodwin conformed her history book to Hollywood ends and Hollywood is now casting about for a different sort of "story" than "Team," that in itself is the stuff of screenplays.

Goodwin's name was last spotted in a May story where Director Spielberg noted his script would merely be "informed" by Team of Rivals.

Expect it to include Lincoln and some sort of team.

(Goodwin pic via Pritzker.)

10/24/2008

Presentism accounted for

In exploring James McPherson's expropriation of the "concentration in time" concept (and phrase), I let Jones and Hattaway's original repurposing of this Clausewitzian idea pass without censure.

Richard F. Miller is one of those rare authors interested in both rhetoric and military history and when he told me his feelings about what Jones and Hattaway had done, I had to agree completely:
What's involved here is the age-old vice of presentism. In this case, the exportation backwards of modern vocabulary (or even historical vocabulary if there's no evidence that the historical actor had any acquaintance with the historic vocabulary, as in your example of Clausewitz.) When historians do export a present term backwards, it is usually introduced by such phrases as, "or, as we say today..." or "as is now termed...."

Should this be an issue? Yes. For example, the problem with using Clausewitzian metaphors is that they imply a level of doctrinal abstraction that was missing from the Civil War mind set thus conveying a false impression of how the war, its tactics and strategy were conceived. The absence of abstraction is not necessarily a criticism--one can arrive at the same result by different mental processes. Jomini was ever-present of course; leading figures had translated his work for West Pointers and an argument could be made that a fair amount of Jomini's language and concepts do appear in Civil War thinking. But Jomini was not the genius Clausewitz was and in my opinion, few if any Civil War generals abstracted war in the great Prussian's sense. Instead, American generals proved the great pragmatists of logistics, (Grant at Vicksburg, Sherman to the sea), anti-paradigms (Lee and Jackson at Chancellorsville, and fortified defense, (the eastern war, 1864-1865.) Indeed, it was the lack of abstraction that may have prompted Bismark's sneer(attributed) that the American Civil War was conflict between "armed mobs."

This last point--America's great contribution to Western war being pragmatic rather than theory driven--is obscured by rewriting say, how Halleck, Lee or Jeff. Davis understood the war that they fought. (That theory-driven thinking has its limits would be better understood by Prussians after the failure of the Schlieffen Plan.)

In any case, it seems to me that historians have an obligation to notify readers when they are exporting presentisms backwards. I would never want to imagine my beloved, cranky, profane and eccentric Civil War generals sporting monocles, wire mustaches, or impossibly high, starched collars!
(Note to readers: J&H as a team do attribute "concentration in time" to Clausewitz where McPherson does not. However Jones, in Civil War Command and Strategy, commits Richard's presentism by elevating the idea to a self-contained paradigm actively informing Lincoln's military thinking. McPherson then revives Jones' mistake in his own new book.)

Inactive or not, here they come

Speaking of Lincoln not being a quick study, Drew Wagenhoffer pointed out to me the ever-popular "Lincoln's masterly inactivity." Enter this into Google and get 1,090 hits:

Lincoln "masterly inactivity"
Drew says:

"Masterly inactivity" seems to be a much overused phrase in the Lincoln literature. I thought it originated with Russel McClintock's recent book but a google books search finds it used in the same context in McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" and MANY earlier books, and within an emancipationist context in Quarles's "Lincoln and the Negro".

I'm sure there are some fairly sober, almost respectable writers who have lapsed into this kind of cliche-driven treatment of their subject (Lincoln) without realizing it. Lincoln, the subject, has this effect on people.

The ridicule and scorn Lincoln endured in life is now endlessly reprised - triggered if you will - by the provocative behavior of his admirers. One is struck how Lincoln attracts "masterly" triteness, vaudevillian re-enactment, and all variety of flamboyant, baroquely craptastic phenomena.

There's no comparable figure in kitsch historiography.

10/22/2008

"Lincoln was not a quick study"

The New York Times hired none other than Jean Smith to review Tried by War. Is that not hilarious?

Meanwhile, I've been kind of wondering if Lincoln was a quick study.

New York Times (Smith): "As McPherson points out, Lincoln 'was not a quick study but a thorough one'."

History Wire (Steve Goddard): "'He was not a quick study,' McPherson argues, 'but a thorough one.'"

Newsweek (anticipating McPherson): "Like Darwin, Lincoln was not a quick study."

Darwin's Blog: "He [Lincoln] was not a quick study." (Wonder where he got that from.)

Uh oh. This one didn't get the memo...

Charlotte News-Observer: "Though a quick study, Lincoln faced a steep learning curve..."

You have to laugh.

McPherson's "concentration in time" (cont.)

Yesterday's post was about James McPherson's unattributed use of the ideas of Clausewitz, Jones, and Hattaway in his new book. This post is about a more conventional type of plagiarism.

Take another look at the phrasing below:

** To oppose the enemy's ability to concentrate in space, Lincoln early prescribed the concentration in time of simultaneous advances. - Archer Jones: Civil War Command and Strategy, 1992, p 100

** This concentration in space could be overcome only if the Union employed … concentration in time. - James M. McPherson: Tried by War, p 70

** Another hallmark of Lincoln's conception of military strategy and operations… concentration in time by simultaneous advances… - James M. McPherson: Tried by War, p 269

For decades, McPherson was compelled to enforce Princeton University's plagiarism rules. Here are three examples of plagairism his students would have had to be familiar with. Example one speaks for itself: direct quotation without citation, reference, or quote marks.

Example 2: “Inserting even short phrases from the source into a new sentence still requires placing quotations around the borrowed words and citing the author.”

Example 3: “Almost nothing of [the] original language remains in this rewritten paragraph. However the key idea, the choice and order of the examples, and even the basic structure of the original sentences are all taken from the source.”

McPherson appears to be in violation of Princeton's definition of plagiarism.

McPherson's record on plagiarism is interesting. He defended Stephen Oates against Michael Burlingame's demonstration of Princeton's Example 1 type in a letter to the press. The letter said, "We find no evidence of the appropriation of either the ideas or the language of other scholars without attribution -- the only legitimate test of plagiarism." This link shows Burlingame's extensive, shocking side-by-side evidence against Oates (to which McPherson was reacting).

In a more recent embarassment, McPherson bestowed the praise of uniqueness on the central idea of the book of one of his students, Tom Carhart. Eric Wittenberg posted on this (see the comments especially). So did Scott Hartwig and a New Jersey intellectual property lawyer (here and here).

Was McPherson - a high-end Gettysburg tour guide - unfamiliar with the literature of Gettysburg? That should not surprise.

In the case of Oates, McPherson's endorsement of plagiarism was perverse. In the case of Carhart, it was probably ignorant. In his own relationship with the material of Clausewitz, Jones, and Hattaway, his takings appear willful.