To have a Civil War...

To have a Civil War requires deep, possibly irreconcilable political disagreements. To have such disagreements requires political principles and political philosophy; these, in turn, require a particular reading of civics.

The Civic Literacy Program has found that today's elected officials know much less of civics than the already civics-challenged man in the street. Are you smarter than an American Politician? Apparently so.

If politicians don't know enough civics to hold strong opinions, that puts us out of danger of a Civil War, which is good news:

Seventy-nine percent of those who have been elected to government office do not know the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits establishing an official religion for the U.S.

Thirty percent do not know that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence.

Twenty-seven percent cannot name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Forty-three percent do not know what the Electoral College does. One in five thinks it either “trains those aspiring for higher political office” or “was established to supervise the first televised presidential debates.”

Fifty-four percent do not know the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. Thirty-nine percent think that power belongs to the president, and 10% think it belongs to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Only 32% can properly define the free enterprise system, and only 41% can identify business profit as “revenue minus expenses.”
It would appear we are a long way from a Constitutional crisis of any kind going into the Sesquicentennial.


New York records online

" ... the New York State Military History Museum and Veterans Research Center is making capsule histories of 360,000 New York Civil War Soldiers available online." That is a lot of data to crunch.

Here are the links themselves:

Roster of New York Volunteers during the Civil War

Annual Reports of the Bureau of Military Statistics, 1864-1868

New York State Militia Officers Prior to 1858

Reconstruction dollars

The next round of presidential dollar coins to be issued might seem interesting to the Civil War collector.

The Sesquicentennial in Arkansas and New York

Arkansas formed an official Sesquicentennial board in 2007; I missed it.

Meanwhile, New York refuses to form one. This article cleverly links New York City's wartime ambiguity with the current ambiguity about any commemorations.

The public historian explains and explains

MG John Walker, CSA, to LTG John Pemberton, CSA, July 4, 1863: "You can expect no help from this side of the river."

Public historian to public, December 27, 2010: "He's saying 'I can't help you. I have no troops, I have no supplies, I have no way to get over there.' It was just another punctuation mark to just how desperate and dire everything was."

Question for public historian: might he have really been saying, "You can expect no help from this side of the river"?


SCV grabs another headline

This is going to be a long, painful commemoration if the SCV keeps cooking up provocations.

There are about 10,000 shallow, sanctimonious prigs in the media who are loaded for bear and are itching to be goaded into dishing out fifth grade civics lessons.

Outrage fatigue, unlike battle fatigue, is not going to set in with these people. Somebody organize a peace commission.

Crazy talk?

I think the fact that we were not Lincoln scholars proved to be an advantage. We rolled up our sleeves without any preconceptions and simply let the evidence take us wherever it led.
What an odd approach.


OT: Re-enactors I can relate to

This is a history post, though not an ACW post. Please think history and ponder deeply the following.

Forty-two years after the Civil War ended, the first Peking-to-Paris road rally was held. The winner was a car made by Itala. I wonder if any ACW veterans ran that race.

It's become an triannual event. I tend to peruse the the literature issued by the organizers each time beforehand. This year, they offered this suggestion to would-be entrants: your best bet for winning this race would be to buy and kit out an 1920s Rolls Royce. Think about that.

If you are driving a Land Rover, Jeep, Hummer, or some such "off road" vehicle, please read the preceding carefully and consider what it means to you, since anyone can enter this race in any car whatever. If you are in the services and drive military vehicles, give it some additional thought. In 2010, your best technology for winning this thing is a machine created in easy range of Civil War memory.

Nevertheless, this year's results showed 1920s Rollers to be inadequate.

David (picture above) and Karen Ayre came in fourth place with their 1907 Itala. They were beaten by Nicky Bailey and Janek Mamino in a 1918 Buick Roadster. Nick and Janek were beaten by a 1923 Vauxhall OD 23/60. Coming in first were Charles and Nellie Bishop in their 1925 Vauxhall 30/98.

But oh look! There's a 2009 Ford Ranger that did magnificently in 163rd place! Oh, and there's a smashing result for a 1999 Toyota Landcruiser in 165th place! They finished the race. Hooray.

Think I'll go get some fat auto loans so I can buy a craptastic computer-controlled sporty 4WD mud runner to take me to the mall. Just don't ask me to go Peking to Paris.

In 1907 a model car of that year won the race. In 2010, no model car of the current year could dream of winning this race, while hundred-year-old stuff is totally competitive.

It takes a road race to show us how we and market tastes have reshaped technology.

Jonathan Letterman

Under the generally acknowledged great Civil War commanders there is a layer of great Civil War technocrats who tend to be almost as well known, e.g. Gorgas, Dahlgren, Meigs, Ellet, etc.

I don't think Jonathan Letterman, M.D., is well known in this class. I think of him as a gift to the Northern wounded, part of the immense circle of talent recognized and recruited by McClellan. The GBM-Letterman relationship should raise McClellan a notch in the most hostile quarters, I think.

Today's Army has the decency to recognize Letterman above and beyond what Centennial historiography allows, and I commend their material to you.

One fundemental difference between Meade and McClellan was thrown into stark relief by their management of Letterman. See here for material damning to Meade.

Meanwhile, I simply cannot imagine being Southern and wounded without a Letterman or a McClellan to look after me.


At the crossroads of history (cont.)

Carl Edwards is not the last NASCAR driver who will be recruited for the miniseries "Appomattox." "...according to the show’s website, certain NASCAR drivers will sign on to play certain roles." Another prong in this TV show marketing strategy has also been disclosed: "Among the country artists who will have roles are the members of Rascal Flatts, Dwight Yoakam, Kix Brooks (formerly of Brooks & Dunn), and Laura Bell Bundy..."

The website does us the favor of showing us actors cast against historical photos. Well done!

And is this the first talking film or TV show to portray McClellan? McClellan at Appomattox! Must be like McClellan at Gettysburg (if you remember that meme here) only in 1865. But McClellan is in Nice at that point, IIRC.

Certainly, this must be the first portrayal of Halleck on TV and I have to laugh at the casting of Kevin Farley here. I guess old fish eyes is going to be something of a comedian on the small screen.

The casting department somehow delivers Stonewall, Burnside, McPherson, and AS Johnston to Appomattox, as well as GBM, perhaps through flashbacks.

Most amusing: check it out.


At the crossroads of history

HBO has passed judgement on the Civil War buff by signing a NASCAR driver, Carl Edwards, to play a Civil War general in a made-for-TV ACW miniseries. I like this comment from their press release (emphasis added):
The connection between the Civil War and drivers who race NASCAR is simple: those values of the Civil War-the patriotism, the spirit of American competition, the regional and national pride that poured forth from and for its heroes-is best exemplified in the American Values and American Spirit embraced today by the NASCAR affiliated drivers and their fans.
That's worth a whole post but let us leave it with the question Grant vs. Lee = The Spirit of American Competition? Kevin Levin owns the meme ACW as entertainment - let him plow this rich quote.

For my part, as an old soldier, I can't help but observe that the daily killed and wounded in our ongoing wars take a back seat in this press release in exemplifying American Values and American Spirit.

If HBO has become a new custodian of American Values and American Spirit and if they get a few things wrong in the Values/Spirit department at first, well, let's stay positive.

Now, Carl Edwards may be a great guy, but he has been chosen to play Gen. John B. Gordon. Question for NASCAR fans: is Edwards the John B. Gordon of NASCAR racers?

I ask because my NASCAR IQ is low. I follow Formula One in a haphazard, desultory way because it is no longer the racing of my youth. The Robert E. Lee of F1 is dead. My cohort, those who went into racing, suffered combat infantry levels of attrition. Maybe higher. They did so knowingly. They are lucky to have a truly great readership to keep their memories alive, as well as a movie or two needing no historical analogies.

How do we compare the race car driver of today with one of 40-50 years ago? Jean Shepherd made an inadvertant comaprison with the John Gordons during one of his radio monologues in 1960: he said that the young blades who had been part of the horsey crowd previously were now all into racing. Gordon may not have been a cavalryman but he exuded a cavalier ethos.

Imagine: a Confederate cavalry that immolates itself for its own (and our) entertainment; or a Pickett's charge around the track; or a life-threatening attempt to excel under peacetime conditions.

Imagine an audience that is not immune from the danger they observe.

How far away from that are we - and Carl Edwards - now? TV distance with accident-proof races and a sanitized ACW history to match.

Pictured right: F1 winner (1955) Juan-Manuel Fangio. He lived by virtue of quitting. See also Jackie Stewart and Sterling Moss. John Gordon did not quit but lived nonetheless.

Secession Ball

That Secession Ball to be held tonight has triggered gushers of printer's ink. The results are not worth reading.

The real meat of the anniversary of South Carolina's secession is not something newspaper hackery is going to be able to serve its readers. We can however list the uneaten courses here:

(1) What are the distinctions among celebration, commemoration, and observance?

(2) Are there such things as intergenerational guilt and virtue?

(3) Do state names themselves confer political or historical continuity?

(4) What connection does a modern succesor state have with its annihilated predecessor?

(5) If Reconstruction is long over, can you be "unreconstructed"?

If the standard of discourse is higher than portrayed here, send me the links and I will post them.


Euclid and the geometry of Lincoln studies

Look upon yon works of Foner, ye Lincolnians, and despair!

If I had a Lincoln blog, that would be my motto. And yet, every so often a work comes out that tells the cynic, "There may be something to this Lincoln stuff." Something beyond Fonerfare, Holzergrams, and the "comprehensive review of mostly familiar material."

As a D-level geometry student, I saw enough light in this subject to appreciate that it developed through an orderly system of argumentation; it was an extension of the rhetoric courses we took; it stood at the seam of math and language and reason. It set my future taste in maths, steering me towards such as George Spencer-Brown, matrices and vectors, and other practical and sensible verbal-numerical explorations.

David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften, an attorney and mathemetician respectively, propose with force and conviction that Euclid provided a rhetorical framework in which Lincoln operated. The analysis is concrete and impressive and the authors present diagrammatic (and tabular) evidence of the origins of Lincoln's powers of discourse.

Their book, Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason, thus adds something new to Lincoln studies. The broader question is whether Lincolnians, numbed by Foner, Holzer, McPherson, Goodwin, etc., give a damn about the origins of Lincoln's argumentation or any other particular. To many of them, Lincoln appears of whole cloth: indivisible, totemic, sui generis.

Any project breaking Lincoln into bits and pieces for analysis is therefore going to run into a wall of silence, I think. Frank Williams, an establishment figure, wrote the introduction to this work, but he's a bit idiosyncratic, surely an exception.

Lincoln = self-made genius or recycler of influences? This is not a question for 2010 and thus this beautifully written, elegant work by Hirsch and Van Haften is something like a 1940s Borzoi book, not only in quality and treatment but in terms of the point at which it stands historiographically.

Parallel texts, Euclid's and Lincoln's, present powerful evidence of derivation. This entire book is an argument about derivation. Can the guardians of Lincoln's pop imagery welcome extensive, decades long evidence of close derivation? Or is not Lincoln pop culture's man-who-invented-himself-at-each-stage-of-life?

If Lincoln showed that anyone can become president, there is no room in our culture for a codicil that he must first master Euclid.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a critic at New Art Examiner, the air was rife (in that context) with questions of "To what extent does this work [abstract painting] using geometric form retain its importance in light of the ideology-sensitive work being done today ..." The ideologically sensitive work surrounding Lincoln today has the power to bend light into shapes Euclid could hardly describe.

This is an excellent book with great notes, full biography and a fine style. Given the time, I'll post a review of it on its own terms and in its own context. It deserves no less (but it will likely get much less).

Potential post overload

Oddly enough for a quiescent blog, I have accumulated more ideas for posts than can be executed in short order. Please stand by and I hope to reward your interest.


WaPo discovers our level

It didn't take long - just a few weeks - for the WaPo's fresh new Sesquicentennial section to descend to the lowest common denominator of Usenet level ACW discourse. Enjoy the comments!

Meanwhile, dig this WaPo review of Eric Foner's latest. The self-parody leaves me with nothing to mock:
The value of Eric Foner's "The Fiery Trial" lies in its comprehensive review of mostly familiar material; in its sensible evaluation of the full range of information already available about Abraham Lincoln and slavery; and in the deft thoroughness of its scholarship. "The Fiery Trial" does well what has already been done before "but ne'er so well expressed."
This review could represent a fair summary of what the legion of regurgitators thinks of itself.

One outlier issue here is "deft thoroughness of its scholarship." These summarizers of secondary sources and purveyors of well-worn analysis are engaged in literary work ("ne'er so well expressed") while modeling some sort of imaginary scholarship mantle for their ignorant but adoring public. Take on the writer label, dear scribblers! Wear it proudly! It's no disgrace.

I think many believe that rewriting historical stuff becomes "history" by virtue of the subject matter handled, and their handling makes them "scholars."

Imagine a scholar who has never had an original thought or insight, never pieced together primary sources to uncover new patterns, or repudiated widely-held but erroneous views. Were the monks who copied manuscripts scholars? Scholars of chirography perhaps.

On the other hand, in the context of a discourse so low as that of WaPo's battle flags, Foner and company might scale up to the level of "scholar" by comparison.


Scott's Operational Art (link list)

These are the posts referring to Winfield Scott's operational art as demonstrated in his two coordinated offensives of 1861:

"Concentration in time" and the ACW (9/28/2010): How ACW writers and others misunderstand and misapply Clausewitz's concept; a suggestion that Scott be studied as a corrective.

"Concentration in time" and the ACW (9/29/2010): Shows that the mutated Clausewitzian construct "concentration in time" has been further bastardized by adding the Jominian idea of interior/exterior lines and proposes Scott's first coordinated offensive as a way to recast the analysis into something internally consistent and useful.

"Concentration in time" and the ACW (9/30/2010): A recap of Scott's first offensive with emphasis on how much better it was served by coordination than by simultaneity.

"Concentration in time" and the ACW (10/01/2010): Chronology (in context) of Scott's first coordinated offensive; demonstrates coordination as a superior principle to simultaneity.

Scott's operational art (10/05/2010) - Review of the complexity and dynamics at work in Scott's first coordinated offensive.

Scott's operational art (10/06/2010) - Describes the fruits of Scott's victorious first coordinated offensive in terms of benefits and how these influenced the second offensive.

Scott's operational art (10/08/2010) - Sketches stark differences between Scott's second coordinated offensive and his first.

Scott's operational art (10/21/2010) - Analyzes the fundamentally mistaken concepts Scott tried to implement in his second offensive and by which his subordinates were judged.

Scott's operational art (12/01/2010) - Reviews failures of Scott and Patterson in the Valley during Scott's second offensive with an emphasis on military management.

Scott's bad example to Lincoln - lists hypothetical lessons learned from Scott's 1861 campaigns that seem to inform Lincoln's subsequent military thinking and behavior.

Scott's bad example to Lincoln

Having traveled this far in the analysis of Scott's late-career, early-ACW operational art, we would be remiss if we did not consider the effects on Lincoln of this primary schooling in war.

It is in no way fair to hold Winfield Scott responsible for lessons mislearned by Lincoln, nevertheless I have long felt that Lincoln's bizarre military management owed much to misapplying what he thought he saw during Scott's two offensives, the first of the war that he could observe from headquarters.

Like one of Konrad Lorenz's newborn ducklings, Lincoln was (I think) "impressed" at the right moment in his learning curve with a lot of "wrong" data.

This is obviously speculative but I have found it convincing and useful over the last 15 years. We all agree that Lincoln was a learner and we should agree that Scott's example offered lessons. This is a list of things Lincoln (I believe) might have surmised as reflected in presidential decisions taken later in '61 and '62:

(1) Campaigns can be run from an office in Washington using telegraph, mail, and couriers.

(2) To be more effective than Scott's conditional orders, movements need a time peg: synchronization.

(3) The relief of high commanders deserves no contingent preparation and no coordination.

(4) A single failure offers sufficient grounds for summary dismissal of high commanders.

(5) The state of a force can be adequately surmised from reports and letters.

(6) The state of ground can adequately be surmised from maps.

(7) Subordinates can appreciate the commander's intent at great distances with minimal input.

(8) Logistics is not much of a factor in campaigning.

(9) There is no military reason for one force to get away from another without harm.

(10) Harm inflicted offers more political benefit than the bloodless taking of strategic points.

Scott did not mean to set a military example in his first offensives - that's not my charge - he made accommodations given his condition, lack of staff, and a few personal (non-military) predilictions. They represented expedients that inadvertently set a horrible example for the new president. Scott compensated for his own accommodations and expediencies with a store of military knowledge the president did not have.

I wonder if each point here speaks for itself or if illustrations of Lincoln's decisions need to be recapitulated.


Scott's operational art (cont.)

Scott's second coordinated offensive was launched without regard to regimental-level expirations of enlistment terms.

The force structure provided to Patterson to wage his part in two offensives was allocated from War Department resources by Scott himself. He knew what he was doling out and his principal staff officer, Townsend - as an assistant adjutant - should have been especially concerned with personnel matters. The idea that the make-up of Patterson's command could have surprised Scott or Townsend boggles the modern mind.

Regiments of variable shelf-life, having been assigned to Patterson's command by Scott, Patterson himself seems to have lost track of his own enlistment expirations. I find no mention of this issue by him in his correspondence until he is well into the second offensive. He discovers his problem in mid-operation and raises the alarm in shocked tones after unsatisfactory exchanges with Scott over his (Patterson's) aims and orders.

Patterson thus conveys a sudden ignorance of his assets in the midst of an already equivocal performance. His apparent surprise is as stunning as Scott's own primitive error, and making it weirder (as with Scott), Patterson's principal staff officer is an assistant adjutant (Fitz John Porter) whose main concern as a staff officer is men, pay and enlistments.

Patterson's operational lead, MG George Cadwalader (right), had a unique state/federal commission, the federal part of which was due to expire immanently. Again, there is no correspondence showing Patterson aware of the fact or seeking clarification of his subordinate's status.

Cadwalader's federal commission expired before the end of operations. After some days operating as a federal commander without legal authority, he and Patterson learned second hand that Cadwalader's commission had been allowed to lapse. With no provision made for a replacement and with Cadwalader's boss unable to plan for a rational reassignment of duties (out of ignorance, personal and induced), Scott himself incurred this serious risk ... needlessly.

The same news regarding Cadwalader - not orders, not a letter - informed Patterson that he himself had some days previously been relieved in favor of Nathaniel Banks. The news seems to have come with Banks' arrival at Harpers Ferry. This is a remarkable turn of management that is never commented on in discussing what has devolved historiographically into a shriveled prune misnamed The Bull Run Campaign.

Scott's first offensive against Harpers Ferry flourished under complexity and attention to many moving parts. It was executed by Patterson and Cadwalader, with support from Stone, and cinched by McClellan's threat to Johnston, an event outside the scope of Scott's original conception.

Scott's second offensive collapsed under the combined weight of plodding simplicity and terrible staff work. Had McDowell won his battle, it would not have erased the stain from Scott's management of the Valley force.

It may be worth picking through the relevant chronology and correspondence in a wrap-up post.

We should also follow up with a brief recitation of all the bad - tragic actually - lessons Lincoln appears to have learned watching Scott at work.

Perhaps, continuing analysis of Scott's military art, we can also amuse ourselves in the course of a few posts looking at the myth of that much-ballyhood Anaconda Plan (a choice piece of vaporware ardently promoted by clueless pop historians).

More to come, then.