'Tis the season

On the Internet, and in pop culture generally, 'tis the season for listing. Kevin and Drew have their lists up and agree on Marc Egnal. Now is the time,I suppose, for their readers to chime in with, "Hey, you forgot..."

Me, I dislike lists, except maybe watchlists. This is not a rap on Drew and Kevin but on listing.

The late Jean Shepherd hated list-lovers and launched the greatest literary hoax in history to humiliate them. He succeeded spectacularly but they did not notice, they did not care, and the lists keep coming. "Top 10 humiliations inflicted on list-readers" - let somebody make that list. Shepherd's would stand at number one.


Amazon is now a vertically integrated publisher

What if Amazon became a vertically integrated publisher and no one even noticed? It happened in 2009. If you're an Amazon investor, maybe a shareholder report laid out some vision for you last year - if a business newsletter subscriber, maybe you paid for a special report. I have seen nothing and assembled the pieces from press releases (linked below).

First, background. A year or two ago, Amazon got kudos from bloggers who understood "long tail" publishing. The problem of the long tail (of the bell curve) is this: if anyone can make money selling 50,000 copies of one title (the bell top), how does one make money selling 50,000 copies each of 50,000 titles (the tail of the curve)? Amazon bought a print-on-demand business (POD) and allowed writers to supply content to Kindle. Long tail celebration stopped short of a deeper analysis.

When Amazon bought this POD, called BookSurge, the technology behind on-demand printing seemed poised to enable profit-per-single-unit under the right model. Although BookSurge and its competitiors seemed to be using POD in a long tail way, their actual revenue was based (in my opinion) primarily on fees charged the author. POD was used to generate a break-even product after the profitable author fee cycle ended.

In other words, the POD publishers were still playing at the top of the curve, looking for big numbers of authors in what was a cheaper (for authors) vanity press business model. Lower the production cost threshhold and attract more authors (customers) than brick-and-mortar old style vanities. After the fees were collected, the book part of the business could be supported logistically without losing money, thanks to POD. Sales would be through (usually) a single feeble website run by the POD and through the author ordering copies.

Recently, Amazon collapsed the Booksurge model. The acquisition had made crude sense originally. Here was CreateSpace, which was POD for films and music and owned by Amazon and here was BookSurge, an acquisition that added books to the mix. Problem: Createspace was a true (self) publishing model based on profit through sales. BookSurge was not. When Amazon decided that a long tail publishing model could work for POD books, as they worked for dilm and music, they added book publishing functionality to CreateSpace, a platform that better suited their needs.

Now they have collapsed BookSurge, a maneuver long overdue. BookSurge reminds us of Marshall McLuhan's observation that new technologies are initially put at the service of old content (and models).

The CreateSpace author - who paid no fees except optional ones - had instant access to parent company Amazon as a retail outlet after publishing his book. This should have concentrated the interest of any would-be self publisher. His only cost was proof copies and proof shipping and his shop window was a highly trafficked international site. He could now sell profitably on the old idiot's lottery basis. If you win the idiot's lottery, you collect a dollar a year for a million years. The CreateSpace author could conceivable sell a book a year and have a profitable year every time.

In several bold new moves late this year, Amazon went into the wholesale business. That is the business that puts physical books on physical shelves in brick and mortar stores. Its CreateSpace authors are permitted (without fee) to opt into three wholesale channels.

The first is a CreateSpace trade wholesaler. This is likeley to be either an alliance of independent wholesalers acting under the CreateSpace banner or CreateSpace launching an independent wholesaler on its own model, terms, and conditions.

The second channel offered authors is wholesale to libraries. This would be executed in one of two scenarios as above, I think.

The third channel is conventional trade wholesale through Ingram. I say conventional - Ingram is one of only two major book wholesalers in the USA - but the details reside in something called the Ingram Content Group which has POD capability.

My view is that Ingram is taking orders for CreateSpace titles and PODing them on its own presses for additional $ margins. In fact, CreateSpace authors who opt into the Ingram distribution are warned that the finished product will look different than the proofs they originally approved. I wonder if stores can return unsold POD books?

In addition to self-published content, CreateSpace is filling its wholesale channels with long-tail commercial product: MGM films and scientific publications from Springer Verlag. Long tail: everyone benefits.

So, Amazon, a retailer, owns two new wholesale channels (its own trade and library distributors), plus manufacturing plant (CreateSpace). The one thing it does not yet deal in is rights. However, it occupies a position in which it can calculate the sales and margin for any CreateSpace title. This means that when the time comes, it can make safe, sane, sensible and attractive offers to authors to buy the rights to titles it is interested in.

Topside: an irrelevant cover from an irrelevant publication.


Stephen Sears responds

Stephen Sears writes:
Dear Dimitri,
I would like, if I may, to clarify certain matters in your posting of today.
First, the McPherson matter. You have missed the essential point that McPherson published quotes from the McClellan letterbook (to be further defined below) in the LoC one year before the publication of my McClellan correspondence book. His Battle Cry of Freedom was published in 1988; my correspondence book in 1989. No such plagiarism of me that you claim was possible.
Dear Stephen, you do not understand my claim. In Battle Cry, McPherson identified notes taken from the LoC book by the date (if any) shown in the LoC book; and if there was no date, he used the letter without specific citation. I am not saying McPherson used your book for Battle Cry - he used it for his 2009 article. In his 2009 essay, he may have gone back to his Battle Cry notes but where a note had no date, he referred to your book to supply one, which he then used without attribution. The question of whether McP actually used the LoC for GBM "letters" in Battle Cry is a fascinating one, which I will return to in another post. For now, let's agree to credit Battle Cry with original LoC research.

No doubt he did his own research in the McClellan Papers LoC (just as I did). He applied his own informed judgment as to supplying dates, etc. (just as I did).
He supplied (in Battle Cry) the year but no more. I am not seeing dates in Battle Cry reconstructed by McPherson, just years added on to incomplete dates. More on this below. If your point, however, is that later, in 2008-9, McPherson arrived independently at the two dates you happened to supply through your own efforts in a book he mentioned (yours) but does not cite, I cannot give him the pass you seek. Remember: he is citing a source without dates in a way that sends researchers to the source looking for a date to verify. This is false citation. And the dates are yours.
No doubt he found the McClellan letterbook, with the guidance of the LoC's finding aid and/or microfilm content listing, as easily as I did. The letterbook has been well known to Civil War students since at least 1934, when Meyers quoted from it.
Of course Stephen. I have quoted from it often over the years. It was referred to much earlier than 1934 in McClellan's Own Story. Prime discovered it and characterized it. But here's the problem every reader of this post must understand. Your position is and has been that the extracts must be supplemented with May McClellan's notes to complete them. You combined LoC sources, then you added dates and contextual information per your research and judgement. This resulted in a book of "letters" that writers can cite by date. McPherson in 2008-9, citing a book of extracts, many of the entries without headings and in a different order than your final product, does not lead readers to the source of his citation.
And if the book of extracts What I term, for convenience, the McClellan letterbook is a bound standard letterbook of 224 pages, entirely in McClellan's handwriting.
I object to this term of convenience. A letterbook is a book used to capture copies of outgoing correspondence. A notebook is what would be used to take notes (extracts) from letters. Further, IIRC, this book is smaller than letter paper size.
On page one, in the general's hand: "Extracts from letters written to my wife during the War of the Rebellion, [signed] Geo B. McClellan." Thus General McClellan makes personal affidavit that 1) what follows are his copies in his handwriting of extracts of letters; 2)the letters are to his wife; 3) they were written during his wartime service.
This cannot be an affadavit unless we know that it was signed after the book was full and unless there are witnesses or corroboration of some sort. It is quite inadequate - a start without a finish.

GBM's inscription may just as likely have been made when the book was empty - at the time of inscription, it may have signalled his intention to include in it only letters to his wife. Since there is no addressee shown in the notes, he may have included extracts to persons not his wife, not caring about the title page inscription, himself knowing which entries were which. By the same token, he may have added material to the letters, and/or interposed memories as notes to enrich existing letters, interposed extracts of letters to whomever in his dated entries, or composed entire notes from memory based on recollections being jogged by whatever he was consulting. McClellan witheld this book from Prime and the project of his memoirs. The book was discovered and then enriched through the peculiar tactic of veiled note passing between May and Prime. Prime and May devised an obscure methodology that involved Prime prompting May for this or that and May delivering whatever without Prime ever seeing a letter, without Mrs. McClellan, the owner of the alleged letters, ever involving herself.
These are not notes; we have McClellan's word on that.
Extracts are notes. Unheaded, undated extracts are especially good candidates for the label "notes." Uncorroborated text in a discovered notebook are what I confidently call "notes."
Reading the letters demonstrates that they are extracts, not notes.
Extracts are notes. Besides which, again, McClellan was free to make whatever entries he liked from whatever source he was using with whatever fidelity suited his obscure purposes. And I am struck by certain un-letterlike entries which I will bring to the attention of this group, particularly crossouts, in future posts.
McClellan was working from the original letters, with the intent (I believe) to aid him in his memoir-writing.
I salute this conjecture without subscribing to it. We don't know what he was doing or why.
They form a virtual wartime diary, containing what is clearly the meat of each letter; reading them makes that clear.
Reading cannot make clear what has been omitted, or changed, or enhanced. Furthermore, the virtual wartime diary aspect depends on your (Stephen Sears') own datings and your own rearranging of the actual order of entries as they appear in the book. In other words, applying your judgements, you have changed the sequence of material based on dates you have assigned. This is not a problem but it is another major distinction between the LoC holdings and your book that writers (like McPherson) need to keep in mind if they are going to cut you out of their citations in favor of the LoC.
He deleted personal matter; the ellipses in my transcriptions are McClellan's.
You are characterizing deletions as "personal" that you cannot see or check on. Since May supplied military (non-personal) material not in the original notes, it is absurd to say "he deleted personal matter" as if that were all that was deleted.

Furthermore the sheer number of ellipses encountered by the reader are disturbing. I will put up a separate post with a notebook entry showing its elipses and we will insert placeholder of made-up personal information to see exactly how absurdly the "personal matter" explanation holds up.
May McClellan's copies, made c. 1886, are also from the original letters;
Again we have a provenance issue. From the original letters? Says Prime, sight unseen. Did she also sign an "affadavit"? No, we have hearsay from Prime and an approximate date.
her overlaps with her father's extracts indicate she was not consulting the letterbook.
Disagree. May was responding to Prime. Prime was interacting with May on the basis of the notebook. We don't know how Prime prompted May, nor do we have insight into their interactions. This statement is conjecture based on "indicates." Better to say what we know: the overlaps indicate a methodology we do not understand concerning letters Prime was not allowed to see.
There are no cross-outs or other emendations in the letterbook or in May's copies (where did that notion come from?).
It came from viewing the notes on microfilm. I will fetch some examples.
Examining the overlaps demonstrates that both were careful transcribers.
Not true: the overlaps are unknowns. My feeling, no better than yours, is that they could represent the written "prompts" Prime delivered to May that May included in the returned document to anchor her add-on material. Remember, Prime is asking May for material keyed to this or that notebook entry and the notebook is filled with entries lacking dates, times, places. The way Prime might talk about an entry with someone is to cite it like poetry, giving the first line of the note or those lines introducing material wanting further development.

Again, you have characterized GBM's lacunae in the notebook as pointing to personal information being omitted, and yet here is Prime extracting from May military additions to the "letters." As military memoirs, if we want to treat them that way, the contents of the LoC notebook are proven incomplete by the actions of Prime and May. Supplemental military material from May might still be incomplete. Or fabricated. Or sourced to a non-letters source. We have no way of knowing.
After May's copying, the original letters disappear from the record.
They were never in the record. The existence of original letters is hearsay. Mac's cryptic, secret notes are supplemented by material of unknown provenance from May under the direction of Prime using unknown methods.
You find five layers of distance between the now-lost originals and my correspondence book. I view the case differently. First, McClellan's extracts and May's are a single layer; both copied from the original letters; both were equally careful; neither had any motive to be less than honest in what they were doing.
They cannot be a single layer until put together by an editor; the sources are unknown; the degree of care is unknown; motives are unknown.
Most important, the candor of McClellan's extracts makes it obvious he had no intention of these letters being published, and no reason to pull his punches. History, at least, is very fortunate General McClellan did what he did.
The candor of his extracts, as you call them, present all sorts of problems that can be magically resolved by labelling them "candor" and assigning that "candor" to the original, unknown, unseen source. McClellan's intentions are baffling and any history worth an H would tread lightly among these notes.
Delete Prime from any credit in this.
That is impossible. Prime explains his role in McClellan's Own Story. It is the role of scholarship today to take the notebook, plus Prime's version of what he calls the letters, plus May's notes, and add in your own (Searsian) final version of each in order to compare them in a transparent manner that shows the judgement producing each item. You have combined the material in Wartime Correspondence and you have told us by footnote which elements were combined but the method not clear enough. A new reference is needed that gives us something like this:

To Mary Ellen McClellan [salutation added by Sears]

October 31, 1862 [only "October" in the original]

The troops went out trick or treating tonight and oh what costumes. [Source: LoC notebook]. How I wish I had a costume and could join them! [Source: May McC notes, LoC]. I would dress up as Stanton and scare someone to death. [Source: LoC notebook, deleted by Prime, restored by Sears] How I despise that man. [Source: LoC notebook, crossed out, omitted by Sears and Prime, replaced in GBM's hand by the following] How much travail that rogue has inflicted ... [Lacuna in LoC notebook, completed in May Mc's LoC notes with the following] Ah, but we must shoulder the burdens God has laid on us.
And so on.
He [Prime] was a hack, and the crimes he committed on McClellan's Own Story are reprehensible. He played no role in my work.
It is impossible that he played no role in your work. That is like saying McClellan's Own Story played no role, that May McClellan's notes, elicited by Prime and used by you played no role. The "letterbook" was not discovered by researchers in the LoC, it was discovered and used by Prime. Your work represents - as a minimum - what you perceive as a correction to Prime.
Finally, my bracketed work on dates or place of writing are no more than any responsible editor of any correspondence book would and should do.
Absolutely! And the editor who adds them must be identified as the owner and cited by users.
I maintain, then, that my transcriptions of General McClellan's letters to his wife are but one step from the lost originals, and since the letter writer himself (and his daughter) did the selecting and copying of the extracts, and neither had any motive whatever to be less than honest in what they were doing, that is a very, very small step indeed.
You ask so much of us. I am sorry to refuse agreement.

With regards,
Until next time,


Letters and citations: Sears revisits McPherson

Stephen Sears was not satisfied with the last word (twice) given him here on McPherson's plagiarism and McClellan's so-called letters: see Harry's blog.

Harry asks "Can the [so-called McClellan] letters be found in the LOC as referred to by McPherson? That is, if he says 'see letter dated x from McClellan to wife,' can a person, with no other reference, find that letter in the LOC?"

Sears says "yes, it can be done–and it’s no harder than finding something in any large ms. collection. Dimitri is just blowing smoke here."

Sears says in proof: "McClellan’s letters to his wife are actually the easiest to find of anything in the Papers, contrary to Dimitri’s ranting. In the table of contents, under Series C, you will find “Extracts of Letters to Wife, 1861-62,” Volume C-7 of reel 63."

If I understand this correctly, Sears has been asked about the papers in the LoC which McP cites, but is looking at the microfilm index for an answer. McPherson did not cite the document labeled “Extracts of Letters to Wife, 1861-62,” Volume C-7 of reel 63." Harry gives McPherson's citational form when he says 'see letter dated x from McClellan to wife."

Harry's researcher is still left with the problems (a) where are these letters in the LoC (b) is the book marked "Extracts" the only LoC source for such "letters" and (c) do they show the dates McP gives? The McP citation as given is false.

If one is looking up "McClellan to Ellen, October 11, 1861, McClellan Papers, LC," one's in trouble because "Extracts of Letters to Wife, 1861-62" - should one know this to be what McP is actually citing - does not contain an "extract" dated October 11, 1861. This date was supplied by Sears in his book and its use by McPherson tells us McPherson sat outside the Library of Congress, flipping through Sears' book for this reference. He has to cite Sears. There's no escape from this point. No number of anguished letters can change the false form of a citation, the form Princeton University calls "plagiarism."

Again, some of the notes ("extracts") in the LoC and on microfilm have dates but some do not. Would it be helpful of me to go through McPherson's list and flag all the citations that he gives dates that do not appear in the LoC with dates and therefore cannot be found via the citation given? See below.

In the example I gave, 10/11/61, the date comes from Sears, not the LoC book. This is a "tell" on McPherson since it does not appear in the LoC or microfilm. He could not have seen it during his time among the collection, whether physical or virtual (microfilm).

Sears is invested deeply in the LoC notes being letters and makes his case as forcefully as possible. Of course, I view his case as wildly overstated. He may be missing the point of my McPherson accusation out of concern with tangential matters relating to my criticism of the notes.

Let me make a few irreduceable observations about what we call "McClellan's letters to his wife." Sears' presents these in his collection of GBM's wartime correspondence; each and every one offers variation from the text found in the LoC (or on microfilm).

(1) No scholar has ever seen an original on which these are "extracts" are said to be based.

(2) The notes in the LoC constitute a first level of information; notes supplied by May McClellan provide a second layer; William Prime tampered with May's notes to provide a third set of artifacts for McClellan's Own Story; Sears reworked Prime's material to restore cuts and add bits from May's notes, which offers us a fourth level artifact; Sears then rolled in missing letterlike data (addressee, dates, places, as needed) to produce a fifth level of information. This fifth level artifact is what Sears refers to as McClellan's letters to his wife, which I have asked scholars to stop doing without first revisiting the definition of "letters."

(4) The "letters" Sears presents and that scholars cite are composites with McP's LoC-cited material offering a foundation or starting point.

(5) Sears has made no sleight of hand in rendering these artifacts. His additions are annotated.

Let us return to what Sears first said about the "letters" in Young Napoleon (Da Capo edition). My remarks are in-between.
McClellan's wartime letters to his wife, which constitute an invaluable guide to his thinking, survive in the Papers in the form of extensive excerpts he himself copied, probably in the mid-1870s, when he was working on his memoirs, and in additional copies made by his daughter, May, after his death.
(1) Notes made possibly ten years after the war (date unknown) in McClellan's own hand are what we have in a small book in the LoC. If these be "wartime letters," then we need better provenance. We especially need to know why we see much material of no use to a memoir writer; why some passages are crossed out as if composed on the fly; why data important to memoirs is missing - dates, places, times, and how many are to wife and how many to others.

(2) These cannot be "extensive excerpts" because it was necessary for May to provide additional notes when Prime proposed to publish them in McClellan's Own Story. Nor did the notes May gave necessarily complete any alleged letter.

(3) With McClellan dead, May's material supplements the notes - Prime wanted more meat - and he gave her the notes he wanted her to supplement. We cannot know if May made mistakes or if she made anything up, or if she even ever handled originals that no one else has ever seen.

(4) We do not know if the notes in the book in McClellan's hand represent a complete or accurate transcription of corresponding letter text or if notes contains deviations not corrected by May.

Although the original letters have not been found, I am satisfied that these copies contain their substantive content, complete and uncensored, with only personal matter deleted.
Substantive? A letter is a letter, it's not substantively a letter. Complete and uncensored? How on earth can such a claim be made?

You see the whole foundation of Sears' position here: "I am satisfied." Are you satisfied? If so, at least now you know the situation. My position: I am not satisfied.


p.s. A postscript on McPherson's use of the LoC in citations. Stephen Sears assures Harry that
McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom was published in 1988. In it he quotes from
McClellan’s Letters to his wife (from the general’s letterbook in the LC Papers, not Prime’s bastardized versions in McClellan’s Own Story), including the very October 1861 letter Rotov is crowing about. My edition of McClellan’s Civil War correspondence was published in 1989–one year later. So McP’s “plagiarizing” from me is simply nonsense.
Quite a "gotcha" there - Sears is really getting the hang of this Internet thing. Problem is, Internet people look stuff up, so you'll want to give references so people can see the difference between crowing and research.

Since the specific Battle Cry reference that would make me the fool is missing from his message, I'll give it. In my 1988 Ballantine paperback edition of Battle Cry, McP refers to the text of the in question on page 364 in the chapter "Farewell to the Ninety Days' War." See his note 45.

"I can't tell you how disgusted I am becoming with these wretched politicians," the note starts.

Funny thing about that note; there's nothing showing Oct. 11, 1861. There cannot be: it is Sears' date and does not appear in the LoC material. The text of the note is quoted but no citation is given. If he had given 10/11, Sears' point would be made. He doesn't. He can't. It's not in the LoC.

McP's citational style for the "letters" is the same now as it was then -- Sears is right about this. McP cites LoC and date. But that's beside the point.

Look more closely to see McPherson at work. He places the bit ("I can't tell you") in a short paragraph of quotes. Here is his note, complete: "McClellan to Ellen Marcy McClellan, Oct. 2, 7, 10, Nov. 2, 17, 1861, McClellan Papers."

The note for October 2 tracks with McP's use of it; October 7 is fictitious, there is no note so dated in the LoC; October 10 tracks with his use of it; Nov. 2 has nothing to do with the cited passage; Nov. 17 tracks but is out of quoted sequence. There is no citation for the letter containing I can't tell you. He skipped it. It didn't fit his style because it had no date affixed to it. "The very October 1861 letter Rotov is crowing about," is present, yes, but not showing Sears' date or any other date. In 2009, as we have seen, it will appear in a new work and be cited, using Sears' dating but without citing Sears.

Now, to give you an idea of the peril McPherson put himself in by committing to this style of citation (whether he is actually citing the LoC or not), let me run you a tally for citations between McPherson's Oct. 2 and his Nov. 17, 1861 "letters." I don't have microfilm handy, but I have Sears' Wartime Correspondence which shows alterations made to the underlying text. Out of 17 "letters" to Nellie "extracted" and present in the Sears' book, four have complete dates (d/m/y), nine have partial dates (no year), and four have no dates whatsoever, with dates assigned by Sears. (BTW, Sears' reconstruction of Oct. 11, 1861, is based on the original notation "Friday," which I count as undated.)

Lacking the microfilm, let's use Sears' mark-ups as proxies for the LoC text and go through McPherson's citations again. The sources are Sears, McPherson's Battle Cry and Prime's book, McClellan's Own Story.

Oct 2. Shows as incomplete date in Sears; McPherson adds 1861; Sears does likewise; Prime leaves off 1861 and adds (?) after Oct. 2.

Oct 7. No such dated note in Sears. Prime places an undated entry ("No date") after his entry for Oct. 6, "I must ride much every day..." which could be mistaken for Oct 7 if you were taking liberties. It is not what is quoted in McP, however (and "I must ride" is not text I could find in Sears.)

Oct 10. Incomplete date in Sears; McPherson adds 1861; Sears does likewise. Prime shows the date as uncertain, simply as Oct. with a (10)? suggesting the notation "Oct" is all that we have.

Nov 2. Two dates in Sears: one is complete (original to the book), one is revised. The note with the complete date, which is what McPherson would have encountered in the LoC, is not quoted in the text nor does it make sense in his context. McPherson has made a spurious citation. The second date is one that Sears has revised downward. McClellan wrote "Nov 3," and Sears changed it. Prime gives it as in the original, "Nov 3." It also has nothing to do with McPherson's passage.

Nov 17. Shows as incomplete date in Sears; McPherson adds 1861; Sears does likewise; Prime leaves off 1861.

Sears is correct to point out that McPherson began this date/LoC citational style for the "letters" back in the days of Battle Cry. It was bad then. It doesn't work.

Now that you see my methods, let's return to McPherson's new work and flag the material that is uniquely Searsian without having been credited to Sears. We are in the book Wars within a War, in the chapter "My Enemies are Crushed." Where there was no year in the note book, we give McPherson credit for assigning it himself, since he has set the precedent in Battle Cry. McPherson's presumed additions are in blue, Sears' unique additions are in red.

Note 1, Sep 7 1862, Feb 26 1863
Note 4, Aug 8 1861, Oct 11 1861, Nov 17 1861
Note 5, Oct 11, 1861
Note 6, July 13 1862, July 22 1862
Note 10, July 27 1861, July 30 1861, Aug 9 1861, Oct 31 1861
Note 12, Aug 8 1861
Note 14, Aug 8 1861, Aug 9 1861, Aug 14 1861, Aug 16 1861, Aug 19 1861
Note 17, Oct 26 1861
Note 18, Oct 19 1861
Note 22, Oct 31 1861
Note 38, Apr 8 1862
Note 41, Aug 10 1862

The only references that would check out in the LoC need to be all black (assuming the researcher knew McP's citations refer to the book "Extracts"). Black is what you see in "Extracts."

Couple of observations: Notes 10 and 14 count in McPherson's favor where he cites 8/9/61 because 8/9 is a date showing in the LoC book (minus year) but it is a date Sears rejects, giving it as 8/10 instead in his Correspondence. McP here went back to sources and missed Sears' correction.

The wind changes for Note 5 and any other references to 10/11/61; Sears had to build this out of scratch using the entry "Friday" as a starting point. Here, McPherson has copped Sears' work to the LoC.

A strange date is 10/31/61 (see notes 10 and 22 above). Sears puts brackets around it showing it to be absent in the original. Looking at Prime, however, we see Prime found a note dated 10/31 in the LoC book. The text in Prime's 10/31 is not repeated in Sears' 10/31.

Additionally, Sears inserted a separate LoC note at the bottom of his 10/31 "letter" as if it were a p.s. and added the date [Nov. 1] to introduce the merger. Most confusing! The Sears letter provides the quotes McP uses in the cited passage, but we might need to see the microfilm before deciding the issue.

Let us close with McPherson's comments on his McClellan "letters" as rendered in Battle Cry. Heed these words:
These letters to his wife consist of extracts from the originals, copied by McClellan himself some time after the war. There is no way of knowing whether he edited these copies in any substantive way, for the originals no longer exist.
There's no way of knowing a damn thing about any of this, truth be told.


Civil War armies lacked...

Civil War armies were rife with newly appointed generals who did not know their jobs. What Civil War armies needed was a mentor program for new generals. But then, Civil War armies probably didn't have up to $282,000 per year to pay each such mentor.

Civil War armies were rife with rank disputes among generals. What Civil War armies needed was more and higher general rank to break out of the two-star pack. For instance, the Air Force has created a three-star billet for Assistant Surgeon General for Nursing Services and Force Development.

Civil War armies were rife with personality disputes. These could have been better managed with today's psychological and personality testing. Need more Stonewalls?
The military should incorporate personality test results into military personnel
files, and promotion boards should be required to select higher percentages of
those who fall into the intuitive-thinking group

Kirkus is kaput

They were valued because their opinions were real, "unlike the bedlam of ... customer opinions." No kidding.


ALPLM - Harry reports

Don't miss Harry's report on his visit to the ALPLM.

The McClellan element is interesting: I wonder if anyone visiting the museum would get the idea that GBM and Lincoln had the most extensive personal relationship of any president and general during that period (perhaps during any period) and that to Lincoln this man was "our George" (other generals staying on a last name basis).

Harry says the rubber dummies looked like rubber dummies; from the photos supplied, they do not appear good likenesses (I thought the golden-haired Grant was Custer - and what is educational about displaying a fictional meeting between Grant and McClellan at the White House?).

p.s. Perhaps ALPLM's are bargain dummies. The premium dummies are here.


Lee as fox, fox as Lee

From my favorite local paper, In and Around Horse Country (Dec/Jan 2010), we get respite from the meme Lee-as-fox to see the fox-as-Lee (with a guest appearance by Traveller).
The fox was heading west now. He crossed Sam Fred Road toward historic Sunnybank, past the barn where General Lee's Traveller stayed briefly during the early part of The War. In typical wily fashion, he then doubled back and recrossed the road, taking hounds to a spot in the fence line where only one could pass at a time.
The fox has set up a Burnside's Bridge scenario. Huntsman Todd Kern takes up the role of McClellan's ADC Hammerstein at Burnside's bridge:
Todd came on to safeguard the road and encourage the pack to get through and stay with the quarry.
Burnside's eventual afternoon level-of-effort is called for:
With the pack now strung out but still hard on the line, Todd brought on the tail hounds while whipper-in John Anderson ran with the leaders. Whipper-in Linden Ryan was briefly delayed by a lost shoe but another whipper-in who was riding with the field that day ... traded horses with her.
The anti-fox leaders are taking casualties!
Heading west they crossed the road again, running full hard at full cry in plain view of the first field.
Rally round the flag, hounds!
Suddenly, hounds went silent, as if the quarry had gone to ground.
The fox has gone to Shepherdstown, as it were.

(We like to keep tabs on the actual, non-metaphorical fox in these parts; to subscribe to this paper, click the link.)


The proper use of prize money

Reading this Bryan Appleyard essay in the Times, it occurred to me how confining history prizes are. Where science researchers are rewarded for finding, discovering, or making specific things, history prizes come after the fact of a book ... with a selection committee patting its grantee on the back for thinking and saying all the right things about a well-known subject.

For a starter, why not identify all the known gaps and offer prizes to those who fill them, e.g. first-ever biography of Irvin McDowell (you may have heard of him; they say he fought in the Civil War at some point).

The now vigorous, ongoing revision of Centennial verities can continue prizeless, in parallel, while great gaping holes in Civil War history are plugged with cash offers.

History boffins - they are needed...

Abbeville scholars

Fascinating: "Scholars Nostalgic for the Old South Study the Virtues of Secession, Quietly."


The Harrison's Bar Letter of Stanley McChrystal

This letter under the circumstances is one of the most extraordinary productions on record. When McClellan wrote it he was not General in Chief. His only functions were those of the commander of the Army of the Potomac... [H]e addressed a carefully prepared letter to the President, laying down a civil and military policy for the United States... Engaged in actual war, with the cause he was fighting for at stake upon the use of his sword, he proceeded to "save the country" with his pen." - MG James B. Fry, "McClellan and His Mission," Century Illustrated, Vol. 48, 1894

General Fry's view carries on in the Centennial doctrines of today which are still taught to all cadets and which I also imbibed through both military and civil sources in the heyday of the Centennial itself.

There is no doubt in my mind the Afghanistan commander learned Fry's lessons that (1) Below the top of the military hierarchy, political questions may not be raised (2) A field commander's job is to fight regardless of the political circustances his government has imposed on him. Reading a lot of ACW, one suspects nothing could be more heinous than for a field commander to address political questions germane to his success.

And yet, this is what McChrystal did in spades - with impunity - in his now famous Initial Assessment. The reader, searching for a military plan that justifies a troop increase, will not find it. I have worked at battalion, brigade, division and army headquarters and know what a military plan looks like. I also know what an assessment looks like: it tends to address predictable topics like state of supply, state of maintenance, force levels, absenteeism, the enemy situation, etc., and none of that is here in conventional reporting shape.

Instead, what we have is about sixty pages explaining what must change politically in order for the field force to be able to win. Read it yourself. McClellan covered he same ground in two pages, but then he was a genius.

Some of this reads like Stanton's house metaphysician, MG E. A. Hitchcock, wrote it: "The key to changing perceptions lies in changing the underlying truths" and "the system must be understood holistically."

The reader cannot be expected to share my shock at McChrystal's assessment unless he has served in the old Army himself; however, the reading of garden variety Civil War history offers some preparation. What was McChrystal thinking? "We must assist at improving governance at all levels," "the objective is the will of the people," "we require more civilian and military resources," "economic opportunity, especially job creation, is a critical part of reinegrating the foot-solier into normal life."

He was taught of the great wickedness of McClellan at Harrison's Bar and yet here he is Harrison Barring it to the nth power.

Part of the answer, I see, lies in the new strategic thinking being taught in the advanced service schools. This too was drilled into McChrystal, albeit more recently.

Let us skim the texts of the prolific strategy author Colin S. Gray (right), who is published by the Army War College and its Air Force counterpart. I'm not being arch when I warn that the following material is going to upset a great many Civil War readers.

From The Airpower Advantage in Future Warfare:
Since war is always about politics, the political context must always be the source for all future warfare of every character.
From Schools for Strategy:
... strategists should not shrink from their professional duty to study the politically purposeful use of force.

...the awesome challenges of the strategist's role in the no man's land where politics/policy and military power meet ...

... the strategist has to attempt to orchestrate military and other behavior for desired political consequences.
From Irregular Enemies and the Essence of Strategy:
While all warfare is political, irregular warfare is the most political of all...

I cannot state often enough or clearly enough that victory or defeat in irregular warfare is all about the beliefs, attitudes, and consequent behavior of the public.

The traditional separation of the political and the conduct of war is a lethal weakness...

The United States often has difficulty with strategy because, unsurprisingly, the "normal" theory of American civil-military relations does its best to close down the strategy bridge that should unite politicians and soldiers in an unequal but never-ending dialog over means and ends.

When Americans wage war as a largely autonomous activity ... the strategy bridge has broken down ...
You might reread McChrystal's Assessment in light of Colin Gray's writings (which are also accessible free in PDF). There is quite a correlation at work.

If there is enough of this taught at the colonel and general level, Centennialism may lose its grip on cadets ... at which point, at the academies at least, Harrison's Bar will take on a new look indeed.

From the archives: McClellan letters links

Those recalling previous exchanges on the McClellan letters may have a hard time locating them with the internal search function of this blog, which is breaking down under the weight of posts.

Stephen Sears' comment posted yesterday pertains to these recent posts (see here and here). A 2006 posting on the subject is also relevant, and comes with a 2007 response by Stephen Sears here. This is followed by brief remarks here.

Putting a war on PowerPoint slides

Could you put the Civil War on a single PowerPoint slide? I'll bet some of you lecturing authors have come close. Come to think of it, I did so myself using a national railways map in a lecture I used to give on McClellan's phased plan for winning the war.

Now, here's the Pentagon putting the Afghanistan war into a single graphic. It's all interconnected, you see.

I love the node "Relative message quality." Hey, Jeff Davis, you've got message quality issues!

Read it and weep. (HT to John Robb)


A note from Stephen Sears

To: Dimitri Rotov

From: Stephen Sears

Re: General McClellan’s letters to his wife

Mention of the McClellan Papers, Library of Congress, and of my book The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan, and, generally, of McClellan’s letters to his wife in your posts of 12/5/09 and 12/7/09 require certain corrections and clarifications.

Your statement “There is no body of work in the Library of Congress’s McClellan Papers corresponding to McClellan’s letters to his wife so marked and labeled” is incorrect. The LC’s Photoduplication Service microfilm edition of the McClellan Papers includes a table of contents for the Papers at the beginning of each reel. Under the heading: Series C Letterbooks and Telegram Books, 1861-62, is the entry for Volume C-7, reel 63, reading: “Extracts of Letters to Wife, 1861-62.” From that reference the letters are easily found. Volume C-7, reel 63, is a bound letterbook bearing the heading, in General McClellan’s handwriting, “Extracts from letters written to my wife during the War of the Rebellion, [signed] Geo B. McClellan.”

You state, “Again, no one has ever seen an actual letter from McClellan to his wife during this period of his command. No one has ever seen an authenticated copy.” This too is incorrect. McClellan’s letterbook (Vol. C-7) contains the general’s own extracts (not notes, as you call them) of his letters to Ellen, made in the mid-1870’s as an aid to his memoir-writing. Nothing could be more authentic. After McClellan’s death, his daughter did additional copying of the general’s letters at the request of McClellan’s literary executor William C. Prime. May McClellan’s copies are in Vol. D-10, reel 72 of the McClellan Papers; these too are authentic. After the publication of McClellan’s Own Story, which included Prime’s expurgated and wholly unreliable versions of the general’s letters to Ellen, the original letters drop from sight. In my considered opinion, Mrs. McClellan, appalled by Prime’s work, destroyed them.

The particular letter you challenge, printed on pages 106-7 of my Civil War Papers of McClellan and sourced C-7, reel 63, McClellan Papers, is dated by me, c. October 11, 1861. It appears on page 20 of the McClellan letterbook with a headnote in McClellan’s hand, “October 1861 (Friday, but no other date).” From its contents and other sources, I selected Friday the 11th as the likeliest date, and inserted its place of writing as Washington.

To sum up: This is an authentic copy by McClellan himself of a letter he states in his own hand was written to his wife in October 1861. The “Searsian imbeds” (as you put it) are nothing more than standard procedure in any printing of documents, and hold true for all the McClellan letters included in Civil War Papers. The general’s own copies of his letters to Ellen are right there in the McClellan letterbook, easily found, in the McClellan Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, and in the LC-supplied microfilm.

I hope this clears up an misunderstandings about my work with McClellan’s papers.

Let's not pretend...

Speaking of citation, another historian, Brooks Simpson, shared with me this principle of practice.
... historians should cite the text they are using, and not invent virtual archives that lead one to believe that they are using the manuscript text in an archives, and not the text presented in a documentary edition.

So, if a historian is citing a letter of William T. Sherman to someone that appears in Sherman's Civil War, and that's the text they are using (and not, say, the Sherman Library of Congress collection, whether it be the microfilm edition or the actual document), they should cite my text, and make it clear that such is the text they are using.

If I was citing a letter that appeared in John Y. Simon's documentary edition of Grant's papers, and it was that text (and not something I found elsewhere) I was citing, I'd cite Simon. When I don't cite Simon, you can rest assured I've dealt with the original document. (You can also rest assured that I have dealt with it, because I don't use research assistants.)


Acknowledging Sears' work

Stephen Sears responds to this recent post.
I would simply like your acknowledgment that 1) the LC letterbook copies, in the handwriting of General McClellan or his daughter, of the general's now-missing letters to his wife, are legitimate; and 2) that my volume of McClellan correspondence, as complete and accurate as I could make it, is worthy of acceptance in the scholarly community.

As to my "unique intellectual property," it is merely inserting a date and place of writing or an informed surmise when they are lacking. That's standard procedure in any compilation of documents. No one is ripping me off, any more than I am ripping off Nevin's Chase Papers or Basler's Lincoln Papers or Beale's Welles diary when I cite them.

Thus when you say, in your 12/5/09 post, "The very notion that this is a letter and that it was sent to someone belongs to Sears and is not supported by material in the LC," you are wrong on every count. In McClellan's hand, we know it is a letter, that it was written to his wife, and that it was written in October 1861. Accept that the McClellan Correspondence book is legit; I ask nothing more.

Regards, Stephen Sears
I accept points 1) and 2) and have from the outset. I honor the research and value added but disagree with the way the book is viewed and cited by others. You are very clear on what these documents are and how they came to be but those citing you seem confused.

I have to disagree with the unique intellectual property view here stated; if I assign a date, it is my assigned date and McPherson needs to cite me, not the LC.

I say "is not supported by material in the LC" because although the book itself is in the LC, non-LC inputs have transformed these from mere notes in a book in the LC's holdings.

The "McClellan Correspondence book" is an ambiguous, incomplete document that has been enhanced by hard editorial work. I accept that the notes are real, in Mac's hand, and in the LC. What the notes in the book represent and how they relate to a potential superset of documents, under the tight control of the late Mrs. McClellan, has to remain an open question, despite the best editorial and research effort that can be applied.

Please, you deserve much more credit in this than you are willing to take.

Thank you for sending your response,
Dimitri Rotov

Meditation upon a peach orchard

If nowadays it takes 11 levels of authority and about 96 hours for review and approval to attack the Taliban, Sickles might have bothered to ask permission to move his line, eh?

Would the Civil War generation even recognize this as an Army?


Whitelaw Reid and Ohio in the Civil War

Deep readers will recognize the citation Ohio in the Civil War by Whitelaw Reid. One comes across it in so many books; so many authors will resort to it for an anecdote or unique piece of information.

Some people cite Reid out of laziness where there are better sources (see for instance note 14 in this Wiki entry). Forget that: I'm referring here to what appears in Ohio and nowhere else.

The desire to read and have this volume after years of hearing about it led me to order a facsimile edition in summer. What arrived was sad. Ohio in the Civil War is at core a voluminous newspaper feature with only the occasional datapoint sourced. You can take Reid's word for something or you can try to corroborate it yourself, but the information that is unique here and that gets cited in better studies generally stands or falls entirley as his say-so.

When you see Ohio among the end notes of your next read, remember this.

p.s. Ohio in the Civil War is also a web site.

After 3,551 posts...

... Blogger is breaking down. The internal search function no longer renders complete results and the compose mode goes haywire, adding extra spaces and other artifacts.

Maybe the TypePad people have an advantage. Let me hear from the TypePad users.


McPherson's newest plagiarism

[Amended 12/6/09 to neutralize any implied aspersions on Sears' editing of the GBM papers]

America's Greatest Living Civil War Historian has contributed an essay to the Waugh/Gallagher collection Wars within a War: Controversy and Conflict over the American Civil War. He claims there may have been contention between Lincoln and McClellan. If true, this will overturn decades of consensus.

Well done, McPherson.

Actually, what makes this essay interesting ("My Enemies are Crushed") is that yet again McPherson meanders over the edge of Princeton University's plagiarism guidelines. Princeton was his employer and its policies applied to his students.

A brief recap. In Tried by War (as well as subsequent works to date), McPherson passed himself off as the inventor of Clausewitz's concept "concentration in time." He also lifted text from work by Archer Jones and presented Jones's work as his own writing. (See here and follow the links for more.)

In Lincoln, McPherson played a game with sources. His text presented analysis, summation, and interpretation cited exclusively to primary sources. In other words, after decades of Linconology by various prizewinners, he presented the conclusions and judgements of giants as if they were his own - as if his own reading of primary material (overwhelmingly, Lincoln's correspondence) produced these already well-known, even shopworn judgements. By omitting secondary source references or appropriate bibliographical notes, Lincoln represented a claim to have depended on no one to resolve historical conflicts, problems, and controversies and further that such resolution was reached by the author through reference to Lincoln's correspondence.

BTW, Princeton:
... you may footnote a paper diligently only to discover that you can hardly find an original idea or sentence of your own. Then you’ll know you have more work to do in order to develop a substantial original idea or thesis...
Or you could take the hit for unoriginality and just synthesize with proper attribution.

Now, in "My Enemies are Crushed," McPherson makes what appears to be a false claim of personal research.

Wars within a War captures proceedings from a conference at which McPherson spoke. One of the editors says, "We are most indebted to our ten colleagues, who took time from hectic schedules to prepare excellent lectures and then cheerfully turn them into essays..." This "turning into" process is visible at the head of McPherson's end notes where he writes
All citations of McClellan's letters and reports will be to the original sources. These documents are also published in a superbly edited collection, George B. McClellan, The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan, ed. Stephen W. Sears (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1989) and can be found there by the appropriate date.
Why cite to the original source if one did not consult the original source? A claim is implied: here are my sources, and for you, to make it easy to check up, I recommend this book...

Now, a typical McPherson citation in this essay is "McClellan to Ellen, October 11, 1861, McClellan Papers, LC." I chose this at random. The reader can use October 11, 1861 (or any McP-cited date) to try to find a corresponding document in Sears' compilation but he cannot use this citation to find a message from McClellan to Ellen in the McClellan Papers, LC. It's not a date-specific problem, either.

There is no body of work in the Library of Congress's McClellan Papers corresponding to McClellan's letters to his wife so marked and labeled. Not in the index, not in boxes, nowhere among the papers. Not dated, not named, not filed.

Here's how Sears locates this item: B-8;47. Allow me to translate.

From microfilm reel number 47 - made by a commercial corporation photographing material found in the LC's McClellan bin B-8 - among the hundreds of documents located there and on the reel, you will find the undated, unaddressed source, which is a book of notes. This ambiguity is as much specificity as the microfilm allows, for the book has no title. When you do find it among thousands of pages, you will not locate it by the date McPherson gives: the only way you will be able to find it is by matching texts against Sears' work because the notes in the book for this item are undated. Sears has added a date that represents his best judgement of when it might have been written - carefully bracketing it to show readers interpolation. This is an editorial bonus, not an intrinsic part of the underlying document.

The document contains another editorial addition. At the head of it, in his book, Sears has inserted "To Mary Ellen McClellan." He added this himself and italicizes it, so that the reader will not think it part of the original document.

Sears, as editor, added a further piece of deduction: he inserts in brackets, "Washington," thus giving us his best thinking on where the "letter" he believes was sent to "Mary Ellen McClellan" was written from on the possible or likely date of October 11, 1861 (which date represents his judgement).

To recap: Sears' editing work began with (worst case) many notes undated in a book that may or may not contain drafts of letters that were sent or not sent, revised or left as-is, at a time occasionally specified in the text, from places intermittently identified in the header, to persons rarely specified. Sears may have been spot on - he certainly undertook the reconstruction such a project called for. The point is, however excellent you rate Sears' editing and judgement, what is presented as a letter in his book cannot be found in the LC as such as cited by McPherson. James McPherson's "McClellan to Ellen, October 11, 1861, McClellan Papers, LC" makes no sense unless rendered with credit to Sears' volume.

Sears' editing of the LC material is not at issue. He will vigorously defend his calls. Assume he did a brilliant job. Sears' research and deductions produced a class of artifacts called "McClellan's letters to his wife" that contain embedded Searsian material. You cannot cite LC material by reference to Searsian embeds. Better to cite Sears.

Searsian artifacts vary from the artifacts W.C. Prime presented as "McClellan's letters to his wife" in McClellan's Own Story, and both of those vary from the material found in a book in the LC cited by McPherson. Additionally, Prime's claimed interactions with May McClellan point to the possibility of a fourth set of artifacts, a letter collection held by Mary Ellen that no researcher has ever seen. Each of these unique instances require separate citation; none are one-to-one correlations.

Let me put this in stark, even exaggerated terms: the McPherson citation McClellan to Ellen, October 11, 1861, cannot exist outside of the pages of The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan. Sears assigned the dating. It's his best judgement. The addressee (Mary Ellen or Ellen) also belongs to Sears, who had to read the note and decide if it was a letter and to whom it might have been sent. McPherson cannot slight Sears' research and decisions by pretending these additions are present in the LC document. They are the intellectual property of Stephen Sears, not the world at large, not the LC, and they cannot be found in the LC in raw data. They represent an editorial correlation of multiple sources with judgement applied to ambiguity.

And so, if you are the Greatest Living Civil War Historian, you cannot pretend that "by the way, Sears has got this stuff too," when in fact, Sears is the source of all missing dates, all missing locations, and all the addressing to Mary Ellen, none of which are present at source; and when the source does not index this as a letter.

Again, no one has ever seen an actual letter from McClellan to his wife during this period of his command. No one has even seen an authenticated copy. Letters existed only on the word of GBM's literary executor, W.C. Prime, who after years of collaboration with GBM never saw one, believed any that existed destroyed, and only gives us after-GBM-death hearsay about their existence from daughter May McClellan, who would not allow him to look at one. No Library of Congress collection holds letters falsely cited as such by McPherson as from McClellan to his wife.

Princeton says you cite "to permit your reader to check on your use of source material." McPherson clearly understood this when he wrote citations will be made to sources - he seems to set himself up as a researcher among the Papers with a friendly tip for those who cannot get to that still-warm McPherson bench in the Library of Congress.

It is impossible that McPherson is not sourcing Sears' collection -because if he was not, his citation would make no sense. Look, also, at McPherson's several citations to the Barlow Papers. These too are taken from Sears's Civil War Papers but cited to the Barlow collection. The McClellan Papers, LC, could have been cited by McP, but he would have had to either develop a citational scheme of his own (to the book in question) or at least used microfilm citation. By truncating Sears's citations, a trail of dissimulation results.

A few words from Princeton University (emphasis in the original):
The most important thing to know is this: if you fail to cite your sources, whether deliberately or inadvertently, you will still be found responsible for the act of plagiarism.
Failing to acknowledge one’s sources isn’t the only form of academic dishonesty. Citing a source when the material wasn’t obtained from that source also constitutes a violation of University regulations. Students commit false citation when they cite sources they didn’t directly consult; such a violation is subject to the same penalties as plagiarism.
Did McPherson properly cite Sears as his original source with his also/BTW clause? If not (and I think the answer obvious) he is a plagiarist under Princeton's rules.

This is his third strike. Let him be out.

UPDATE: Stephen Sears comments.

Proceedings within proceedings

Wars within a War is subtitled Controversy and Conflict over the American Civil War. Here at this blog we love historiography and the back and forth of revisionism, so it was a downer to find the title holds a typo: OVER should read IN or WITHIN.

Maybe two pieces in this anthology are in any sense remotely concerned with conflict OVER the ACW, i.e. history and schools of thought. I don't find a whiff of controversy here, either.

On the other hand, anything you want to say or write about the Civil War contains conflict. The North and South are fighting. People are competing for resources. There are all kinds of stress affecting everything. Even if you were to describe Civil War antique collecting, the story arc would show conflict:

Desire for antiques > lack of antiques > urgent search > mixed success > competition for antiques > outcome

I gave this example the Demetri Martin treatment, but the serious point is that conflict is easy. Its not a bona fide unifying theme and the pieces collected here are as topically scattered as can be. The insulting thing is a tortured introduction by Gary Gallagher selling us so hard on the idea that the pieces fall into exactly four categories and everything ties together and that we'll experience a wonderful thematic unity. We're looking at a random collection of standard, readymade speeches big shots felt like giving and Gallagher channels Richard Pryor for us: "Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?"

After being given as speeches at a conference, the pieces were reworked as essays. They express exactly those viewpoints you would expect from each author with no reference to competing views. At best, this is a chocolate sampler; if you like the coated caramels, you can buy a whole box of it in its own wrapper at the same store.

Scratch that - candy implies fun. These are the proceedings of a conference. Logs are indeed being rolled and backs scratched. This has nothing to do with us, and we'll be on our way.

p.s. We will briefly return to this title to consider McPherson's contribution.


John C. Waugh

Amazon shows a new John Waugh book coming out in May: Lincoln and McClellan: The Troubled Partnership between a President and His General. Marketing copy tells us, "Lincoln and McClellan is a tale of the hubris, paranoia, and eventual failure of George McClellan, and the benign but troubled patience of Abraham Lincoln..."

Should I take the time to read Lincoln and McClellan?

The book has to tell me more than I know. I could take the "paranoia" and other cliches if Waugh tallies and describes the Illinois railroad cases that brought Lincoln (hireling) and GBM (employer) into the same courthouses across the state. I want to know more about Lincoln's role in securing the properties that helped McClellan create the nation's first (north-to-south) transcontinental railroad system (its first RO-RO system, in fact). I want to know the names of the inns in which, per Mac, they shared a bed. I want to know Lincoln's role in McClellan's Ohio commissioning, only a little of which is out there now. I want to understand more of how McClellan functioned as a Dennison protege and why Lincoln could still view him as such as late as spring, 1862. (A discussion of the whole political protege system for generals is in order, for there is no understanding GBM's ACW service outside of this system). As tallies go, I would like to see an attempt made to total personal visits between Lincoln and GBM while in Washington in 1861 - surely a record for all presidents and generals for all time.

The list goes on. I expect very little new, however.

Despite books authored pre-2001, John Waugh could fairly be described as a working journalist up to the point that Re-electing Lincoln came out. Rather than the old school reporter "with a nose for news," Waugh represents the new style, fed on a diet of press releases and eager to tell you "what everyone already knows" in a bright and interesting way.

Waugh's Re-electing Lincoln had potential. He abstained from cheap swipes at GBM. He paid just enough attention to Republican fraud to whet the reader's appetite. He made a reasonable case for the election being important by being close. On the other hand, he nowhere risked another new insight or conclusion and much colorful, relevant, and interesting material was omitted.

Since then, everything Waugh has done that has come to my attention has smacked of exploitation. I marked Re-electing as his high point while shunning Class of 1846, 20 Good Reasons for Studying the Civil War, and One Man Great Enough (hello, Bicentennial). The cake is taken by Edwin Cole Bearss: History's Pied Piper, a Concise Illustrated Biography of the Life and Times of America's Impresario of Public History.

The journalist who goes freelance, and I have employed many, becomes a slightly crazed writing machine whose job one is to get the next check rolling in. My feeling is that Waugh, who has talent and some discernment, is in that space now in the role of full-time history author. His mode is to reprise commercially successful topics on the same lines they were originally presented. He's taking other authors' encores.

For the advanced reader, what good can come of this?

Hat tip for the heads up to Andrew Wagenhoffer.

A newspaper and some magazines

A hot Internet topic today is the decision at the Dallas Morning News to have editors report directly to sales managers. This is roughly analagous to the long-standing situation in Civil War magazine publishing, with a circulation twist.

The ACW glossies see circulation boosts when certain marquee value pop history writers pen pieces for them. Those "names" set the editorial policies by their treatments of certain topics and issues. Keith Poulter, for instance, editor of North & South, once returned a friend's manuscript with a letter that began, "I will never..." (contradict a certain best-selling author).

This sets up a captive relationship, even if publishers never advertise in the glossies. Publishers in fact advertise sparingly in the glossies - much publicity can be had for free - though the "blockbusters" will get full page ads.

Those mags that do stir up a little controversy are playing short-term circulation games. Pay attention to these ripples - they tend to flow away from major reputations and large investments to eddy around rocks of specificity: facts, dates, minutia.

Can we imagine ACW magazine publishing as intrepid, investigative, fresh? No, it will remain conformist, networked, and pandering following in the wake of book sales for a few crumbs of commerce.

The twin paradoxes of ACW magazine publishing are advertiser control, sans advertising, and a circulation sustained by deep readers imbibing what is intended for more general audiences.


The NYT top 10 for '09

The New York Times has released its top 10 books of 2009 ("The Ten Best Books of 2009") and we can excuse the larger publishing world for hanging on the results – millions of $$ are at stake – but here in our little nook, it's an annual opportunity to laugh. Spy used to bust the NYT every month for its trademark corruption and incompetence but alas, Spy is no more. Please accept this poor substitute.

The Times roster is divided into five fiction and five nonfiction selections. (Book Ninja says these restrictive categories are used because they are the most advertiser friendly.) No independently published titles made the list (none) and the ten titles fall out among these corporations: Simon & Schuster, three; Random House, three; Penguin (Pearson), two; HarperCollins (NewsCorp), one; and Farrar, Straus & Giroux (MacMillan), one.

Fiction is given pride of place topside and consists of one short-story collection and four novels.

The single short story collection is given top (number one) position and I don't have to tell you how crazy readers are for short story collections. Booksellers can't keep them in stock. This one is written by "a frequent contributor to the New York Times," Maile Meloy. She's just lucky that her colleagues at the paper appreciate her as much as they do. Last year we had to reach way down to the number two position on the list to find a book by a staffer or "frequent contributor."

In second place, we have Brooklyn's Jonathan Lethem. Like many a man of letters, he is a "cartoonish" painter who dabbles in animated movies and saw Star Wars 21 times during its original run. My unkind feeling is that he is the book editor's boyfriend. On the other hand, his novel is entirely about Manhattan, always a pleasing subject with this selection committee.

A certain Lorrie Moore occupies third place. She is a Manhattanite (Hooray for the home team!), now teaching English in exile as a professor in Wisconsin. She was educated in creative writing at Cornell shortly after my own time at Syracuse (please note that the two universities shared a "sister" relationship at that time, affecting credits, courses, and various exchanges; more on that in a moment).

In fourth place, we have Ms Jeanette Walls whose novel takes her out of her usual domain as guest on TV's Colbert Report and her career as MSNBC's gossip columnist (MSNBC = Time Warner). This is his first work of fiction, so it is not surprising it should make the NYT top 10 list. Many first novels do. You probably know her for her book, Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip.

In fifth place, we have Kate Walbert and her tale of an English suffragette. She teaches English at Yale. Another English professorI like my fiction heavily credentialed! "The theme is feminism," the reviewer says, which sounds less like fiction, more like polemic. Ms. Walbert lives in New York where she occasionally publishes pieces in the New York Times, so she is no stranger to this selection committee. With nice symmetry, the judges have bracketed the fiction list with two NYT contributors.

On to the nonfiction. Here we have a best-selling pop science tome, an Iraq documentary, a best-selling financial history, and two literary biographies. Two, because (I suppose) there really were not enough non-lit biographies issued in 2009.

Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life is 10th on the NYT list and provides us with a little insight into the minds and mores of these compilers. Mr. Carver was a short story writer who ran the Syracuse University creative writing program when Lorrie Moore (third place, fiction) was learning writing nearby at Cornell. (I believe he started teaching after I graduated from SU.) His biographer is a lady professor of English in Michigan. BTW, eighth on the list is the memoir Lit: A Life, by Mary Karr, an English professor at Syracuse University. I suspect there are even more Syracuse/Cornell nodes but don't have time to find them all.

BTW, speaking of Karr, a professor's memoir - as you will readily agree - is always a sure-fire hit and likely to land on anybody's top 10 list, so no surprises here.

David Finkel has written a book about a unit in Iraq. He is a long-time Washington Post employee and prolific reporter. You can't just have just NY Times contributors as winners on a list like this. A broadening of the field is needed.

The last two items to discuss on the list are outliers. Liaquat Ahamed's well publicized profile of four interwar central bankers resonated with the times, the Times and with Ahamed's financial background. In terms of publishing incest, this New Yorker merely sits on Forbes' magazine's board. Author Richard Holmes, meanwhile, a self-styled "Romantic biographer," is also editor of Harper Perennial series Classic Biographies, a bit of incest that goes down well in New York. A publisher's editor makes the list? Well, look at previous years!

Let's compile one of those numerical lists Harpers used to delight in.

Zero – number of independent publishers on the list
Two – number of known NYT contributors making the list (update - six!)
Three – number of Syracuse/Cornell writing connections among winners
Four – number of selectees employed by publishers other than NYT
Four – number of female English professors on the list
Five – number of New Yorkers on the list

You can do your own further digging. I leave to you the NYT 100 Notable Books of 2009.

** UPDATE **
A reader of the above kindly corrected some errors of omission:
Mary Karr is also a NYT contributor.


(p.s. Apparently this is her third memoir. Who writes three memoirs? Overheard at Thanksgiving: "So, Mary dear, what's your new book about." "Me." "Again?")

As is Lorrie Moore;


And Jonathan Lethem:


And Liaquat Ahamed.

BTW, I was thinking about Mary Karr this afternoon. Asked myself, "When is the last time you read a good autobiography by an English professor?" Usually, English professors write novels about English professors. Well, she gives us three memoirs to choose from. One of them has got to be good. And as top ten listings go, for Mary (pardon the cliche) "third time's a charm."


The ALPLM goes marching on

As the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial winds down, the ALPLM drives on with its groundbreaking (sorry) project collecting oral histories of farming in Illinois.
“No subject is more central to Illinois’ history or identity,” said Mark DePue, director of oral history for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
Someone tell the governor that once he finally appoints an overall museum director, that damps down all of the out-of-control mini-directors and he gets to keep focused on Lincoln.

Assuming that this patronage sink is about focus.