List Like the Thunderbolt

Amazon compiled a top 10 history book list for the year and placed Russell S. Bonds' War Like Thunderbolt at number 5. Congratulations are in order!

p.s. Looking for patterns in the data, I notice Thunderbolt is one of two burning books; there are also two lost jungle city books, two majesty-of-science books; and two pop-classical histories. What to make of it?


Bloggers with books out in 2009

The number of ACW bloggers with books out this year is impressive. Setting aside authors who may have started blogs this year and last, we have a surprisingly robust list.

Michael Aubrecht - The Civil War in Spotsylvania County (VA): Confederate Campfires at the Crossroads

John Hoptak - Antietam Trivia and Our Boys Did Nobly

J. David Petruzzi and The Complete Gettysburg Guide we have spoken of earlier in the season

Scott Mingus - The Louisiana Tigers in the Gettysburg Campaign, June-July 1863

Ethan Rafuse - Robert E. Lee and the Fall of the Confederancy, 1863-1865

Jim Schmidt - Lincoln's Labels: America's Best Known Brands and the Civil War

Jim Schmidt (coeditor) - Years of Change and Suffering: Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine

Brooks Simpson - The Reconstruction Presidents and the forthcoming Civil War In The East 1861-1865: A Strategic Assessment

Eric Wittenberg - Like a Meteor Burning Brightly: The Short but Controversial Life of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren

Steven Woodworth - The Shiloh Campaign ... Note that Woodworth went nuts last year, squandering hours of potential blogging time preparing this, this, this, and this

Previous posts talked about the books of JD Petruzzi, Betsy Rosen, and Larry Tagg. Most of the books above have not yet been discussed.

I am likely to have missed a few entries, for which apologies in advance.


History done right?

Have taken away on vacation Peter Wilson's new The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy, all 997 pages of it. The first two pages are narrative, the next 145 are analysis. There will be lost more analysis, I've only gotten that far.

Now let me tell you something special: "Amazon.com Sales Rank: #905 in Books."

Compare and contrast with ACW histories.


ALPLM nostalgia

This piece is about art museums but may help explain why the Mysterioso's position has not/will not be filled. And yet, ALPLM has a director of oral history.

Speaking of ALPLM, I found a Lincoln blog that reminds me fondly of all the Richard Norton Smith bashing we used to do here. Oh, those were great times. This blogger refers (incessantly) to the gentleman in question as Richard Snortin' Myth.


Sins of the marketers

(1) The author "gives readers both a gripping narrative account of that portentous day and a nuanced historical analysis..." Sounds like some talespinner has a guilty conscience.

(2) "Move through time with the characters and events that shaped Washington,D.C., as we know it today. Visit the National Cemetery in Arlington," where all those characters are buried.


How they loved their dialect humor

One of the least attractive qualities of Lincoln, to many observers and commentators, was his love of dialect humor. One senses that the vast popularity of dialect literature during and after the war was offset by tastes that regarded it as uncouth.

It certainly is (or was) perishable, with the writer relying on readers awarding points for accuracy in accent engineering. Funny nuances in misspeaking get lost over time, so, too does the color fade from all those vibrant regionalisms.

A couple of weeks ago I met with a client who told me where she was from. Me: "I knew right away by your accent." She gave me a hurt look and said, "People tell me I speak the least accented American English they have ever heard." I speak with the same accent as she and could render our exchange in dialect for you, but you would have no idea how to read it: where the stresses go, how to make the sounds, and how to string it together into its local rhythm. I'm convinced that many today cannot hear or distinguish among even the strongest accents.

For instance, actor Richard Briers was in an online chat a few years ago. He had done three seasons as the laird emeritus in TV's Monarch of the Glen (a kind of minstrel show staged by BBC Scotland for export markets). His character and his TV kin spoke perfect Oxbridge English on the set to servants owning rich Scottish brogues, exactly as the Cabots and the Lodges today speak in neutral Mid-Atlantic tones to their servants, who then respond in barbaric Bostonspeak.

One of the online chatterers asked Briers (IIRC) How did you manage to perfect your Scottish accent? Was it hard to do? Did you take lessons? After an online stutter, the actor gently noted that the Scottish nobility is anglicized and so his character lacked a Scottish accent; despite the presence of Scots' English on the show, Briers' questioner could not hear the difference between Upstairs and Downstairs.

It seems, however, some do laugh at dialect humor nowadays, but not on the written page. Think low (Beverly Hillbillys), think high (Fargo). And here comes that problem again of hearing your own voice:
There is a distinctive Minnesota accent that the makers of this film [Drop Dead Gorgeous] nailed absolutely dead to rights, and the proof is that most native Minnesotans, when shown this film, respond by saying, "That's not funny. We don't really talk like that." And they will say it in the accent from the movie!
Fun with accents - we still have a little but it represents risky humor in a tone-deaf oral culture. To release a book of Civil War dialect humor in this time and place therefore seems odd.

Bill Arp's Peace Papers collects the humorous newspaper writings of Charles Henry Smith, which I assume are rendered in a North Georgia accent I shall never hear ... and therefore cannot translate from the written page. Reference is sometimes made to Arp in ACW writings (most recently in War Like The Thunderbolt), so I suppose having the whole collection helps future researchers. But as no one is releasing Artemus Ward nowadays, what commercial chance does Bill Arp stand if the king of dialect is neglected?

Dialect humor, in addition to being fragile and perishable, wears down a reader. Book-length Arp can be too much of a good thing, especially since Smith was an amateur writer building on the accidental success of his first article.

Mr. Linkhorn, sur, privately speakin, I'm afeerd I'll git in a tite place here among these bloods, and will have to slope out of it...

By the turn of the century, the better dialect humor had morphed into standard English, laced with slang, in which patterns and argot conveyed locale and humor. I'm thinking of George Ade. Here's a rare passage where Ade actually lapses into dialect writing per se, but it's handled with restraint:

"Don't you know me?" he asked.

"Rully, it seems to me I have seen you, somewhere," she replied, "but I cahn't place you. Are you the man who tunes the piano? ... I dare say you called to see Pu-pah; he will be here presently."

Then she gave him ... a few other Crisp Ones, hot from the finishing school, after which she asked him how the dear Villagers were coming on.
Well, one could write a lengthy treatise on this, so let's tally up the score for Bill Arp's Peace Papers.

- The introduction by David Parker is fine - biographical information reveals Smith's background as a refugee from Sherman's advance and much more.

- The (uncredited?) illustrations from an earlier edition are delightful Wilhelm Busch pastiches.

- The design perpetuates white space anomalies from the earlier edition. The book could have been typeset anew, adjusting an earlier layout that ill fits modern book dimensions.

- Smith, if you dare take all your medicine, has a few interesting pieces here, including one on the ravages of Confederate cavalry among a Confederate population.

Overall this book is a good thing and worth doing although not necessarily worth having in everyon'e collection. To quote Bill Arp,
But somehow I like the plagy things, and while I last on the top side of this sile, I want 'em a hangin around.
What he said.

MG Lew Wallace

He was an artist/novelist/inventor/violin maker who married a senator's daughter and amnestied Billy the Kid. A nice feature on Lew Wallace and Ben Hur.


Biker Joe

Cut my beard back into a Joe Johnston syle this week. The effect, however, is more biker than beau ideal.


More Keegan reviews

Telegraph: Instead of adding to the pile of chronicles of the American Civil War, he has written a critique of them, from the point of view of a deep-thinking, distinguished military historian.

Washington Times: ... a notably thoughtful, if occasionally controversial, discussion of how the North won.


How are those Grant papers doing?

There's been a lot going on since the Grant Society's papers moved to Mississippi State. We've got a lot of catching up to do on the news.

Fortunately, John Marszalek will be giving us the complete rundown between 8:55 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning at the The 14th Annual Lincoln Forum Symposium (agenda here).

ACW diorama is "corrected"

If a museum is going to display a diorama, it requires that the diorama be "accurate"
... The original diorama was installed at the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry in August 2007, but was dismantled in a dispute over alleged inaccuracies.

The updated diorama will be on display at the Texas Capitol through Nov. 29.
And you thought a diorama is a youthful fantasy expressed in toy soldiers and modeled landscape.

Keegan's reviews

Odd that Keegan has earned just a trickle of reviews.

Phila. Inquirer: ... assiduously researched and comprehensive... wonderfully concise, comprehensive and insightful work.

Seattle Times: ... Knopf's editors must have been taking a long lunch when this manuscript passed through their shop.


Episcopalians at war

This book looks like a guide for re-enactors, one that doubles as a prop: The Confederate Soldier's Pocket Manual of Devotions Including Balm for the Weary and Wounded. There are a couple of ahistoric elements here that could spoil the fun for sticklers, though. As the title says, it combines two original publications into one; there's also the matter of a modern foreword and introduction.

As to the content, to the casual reader, it will seem to present more of that generic army chaplaincy untold millions have endured during national service.

This Pocket Manual is interesting, however, for all sorts of reasons.

First of all, this book was printed and presumably carried by many tens thousands of soldiers. (The press release gave an astonishing press run, and I lost it.)

Second, it was compiled by the famous Charles Todd Quintard (pictured), a Connecticut physician who adopted ministry, Georgia, and the Rebel army, in that order. He was ridiculously well connected as an army chaplain, an intimate of Loring's during the so-called Romney campaign; acquaintance of the war's most famous Episcopalians, Lee and Jackson; close to both Joe Johnston and Hood; and need we mention Leonidas Polk? Polk was killed with four copies of Pocket Manual on him, three undelivered inscribed for Hardee, Johnston, and Hood. Quintard's conversion of a weeping Braxton Bragg at Perryville must be one of the most dramatic pieces of psychology witnessed in the Civil War.

(BTW, Quintard's relations with Patrick Cleburne raise an interesting question; in fact, the Irishman was raised in the Episcopal Church and entered the war as such.)

The introduction is superb and the foreword, though written by a Presbyterian (!), informs us that Quintard was a member of the Oxford (Tractarianist) Movement, a fascinating thing. The Oxfordians believed, among other things, that the Anglican Church comprised one branch of a tradition comprised also of the Roman and Orthodox Catholic Churches.* Quintard: "The Catholic Church loses not her members who depart hence in the Lord. This truth we confess in the Creed, and All Saints' Day confirms and preserves it."**

I personally saw the fruit of this movement ripen in London in the late 1970s when an accord was reached between London's (Russian) Orthodox Bishop Anthony Bloom (like Quintard, a man who worked as chaplain and physician, in his case for the French Resistance) and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Communicants could attend each other's masses (though without receiving the Eucharist).The most recent accommodations made from Rome reminds us of the underlying unities Tractarianism celebrated.

All this is said to put the reader on notice that Manual and Balm are to be read for Oxfordian content, which infuses the book with new interest.

The Foreword says Manual borrows heavily from the Book of Common Prayer of that time. It also says Quintard modified the prayers. What else did he modify? We could use some footnotes and elaboration here. Was the motive to move closer to Orthodox and Roman Catholics or to accommodate the sensibility of the many "low church" Protestants in the Confederate armies?

For instance, there is an anomalous version of the Creed in Pocket Manual. It does not match the contemporary Orthodox, Roman, or Anglican recitation. Digging around a little, I discovered it matched the Creed as per the 1789/1790 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer - which varies from the Anglican original.

So I had an Episcopal moment. Have you had an Episcopal moment lately?

You see that this could be a much more interesting book than it is. It is much more than a prop for re-enactors. Publishers should do more Quintard and they should go deep - as deep as the material deserves.

* The mid-19th Century saw the publication in America by the Oxford movement of wonderful translations of Orthodox classics such as the sermons and commentaries of John Chrysostom. Many of these are now accessible online. When you find them, they are still in their original Tractarian translation.

** My characterization may not sit well with some Episcopalians,
e.g. "... the American part of the Tractarian controvery should be principally understood as a manifestation of a much deeper and distinctly native catholic development and its struggle to reach catholic clarity in an environment dominated by a dissenting Protestant ethos."

p.s. Shoutout to Episcopal Deacon Betsy Rosen and her Civil War blog.



For Armistice Day reading on a Civil War theme, Chapter 1 in The Summer the Archduke Died by Louis D. Rubin, Jr., is as good as it gets. It's an essay on how the Rubins, 19th Century Jewish immigrants to Charleston, assimilated into Southern culture and came to identify with the late Confederacy and its exploits. It's an essay on the southernness of the author and his connection to WWI through an upbringing drenched in Civil War memory.

On the face of it, this might be historical nostalgia. Look deeper and it's a virtuoso historiographic meditation based on family and personal material. The chapter might appear out of place to the casual reader but to the deep reader of histories it establishes charmingly and dramatically the author's history sensibility.

And so, for instance, the second chapter, the eponymous title essay, is concerned with the notion of shared responsibility for the start of WWI and it is a wonder to behold: the economy, the clarity, the choice of examples, the gentle contrariness that upends what you think you know and leaves you mildly astonished and grateful for correction. (I say this as a deep reader of modern European history of 40+ years.)

Summer is an essay collection. The hurried and the lazy reader can take bites. These will be enough, for the bites are extremely rich.

There is beach reading; this is fireplace reading with the best historical insights dressed in fine English prose.

Top right: The author in younger days.


Nov. 10, 1862

Excerpts from the letters of 2nd Lt. Henry P. Goddard:
Nov. 5, 1862

Heavy picket firing this morning. Burnside is in advance of our regiment. Blenker and his Dutchmen on our left. Our Army is on the south side of the Blue Ridge, Lee's on the north. We are securing gap after gap to prevent their getting on our flank. Our plan of campaign appears excellent and the "Johnies" will have to fight or fall back on Richmond. Gen. Couch now commands our corps. You can find Upperville on any map of Virginia. If they won't fight us here it would look as if we must catch and fight them at Port Royal on the Manassas RR, but it looks as if there muct be a fight for this gap variously known as Paris, Upperville or Ashby's Gap.

Nov. 7

We are pushing towards the Manassas Gap RR only three-fifths of a mile away.

Nov. 8

… marched through Rectortown, Va., crossing the Manassas Gap RR and through Salem, Va., (looks much like Salem, Conn.).

Nov 9

… marched 10 miles to Warrenton Junction, the most of a town I have seen in Virginia, and a place of great strategic importance as it is the junction of the roads from Washington and Richmond.

Nov. 10

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. 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 us and got in the rebels rear here at Warrenton, and now he to whom we owe all this is removed.


Travails of a museum entrepreneur

From today's papers:
Terry Thomann, director of the Civil War Life museum, said yesterday that he plans to close the attraction in the Southpoint I center [Spotsylvania] and in two weeks open a store at 829 Caroline St., in Fredericksburg to sell Civil War-related books, souvenirs, T-shirts and gifts.
Let me break the tale down by excerpts:
The Civil War Life Museum's move comes almost two years after Thomann created a nonprofit foundation in hopes of raising $12 million for a new museum at the W.J. Vakos Courthouse Village development. Thomann said the foundation will continue to raise money for the museum in the city.
The plot thickens:
Supervisor Hap Connors was surprised that Thomann had already made a decision. He said the county for eight years paid the rent for Thomann's museum at the Visitors Center, including $61,995 this fiscal year. "We've invested close to $600,000 in his museum with free rent and we're on track to work with him and the Vakos company to build a museum at Courthouse [Village]," Connors said. "The next thing I know he bails out."
They say the key to starting a successful business is OPM. They say, setbacks do not deter the entrepreneur:
The first phase of his city plan is opening a store there [in town]. The second phase will be finding a location for a full-scale museum that will include exhibits, a Civil War Life 3-D theater and a working tintype studio with wet-plate photographs.

The third phase will be a research center.

Thomann said he will establish a Capital Committee to provide funding for the project, which recently received a $150,000 planning grant from the federal government.
They say you need an "elevator story" for investors.

This story has just two words: "heritage tourism."


McPherson on Keegan

The New York Times, having issued a friendly but critical review of Keegan's new Civil War history returns to the book with an unfriendly review two weeks later. The new reviewer, McPherson, writes:
The analytical value of Keegan’s geostrategic framework is marred by numerous errors that will leave readers confused and misinformed.
The tone is friendly up until that point and the whole piece could still be considered cordial if he gave a couple of examples of error and then signed off. Instead, McPherson compiles error after error after error. This is at the level of a Usenet flaming (coarser than my roastings of McP in this blog).

If you would do me the favor of reading his review of Keegan, that will set you up for my own review of transgressions McPherson commits in a new Gary Gallgher compilation.

Hat tip to Mr. Bonds for noticing this piece.