12/29/2012

Literary sense

To save themselves the trouble of applying military science to Civil War history, many authors resort to a substitute, what they think is "common sense." But it's not. It's "literary sense."

Literary sense has its own structure and logic. When applied to history, it clears the path for a literary climax by setting fire to the undergrowth of common sense, military science, military theory, and especially historical truth.

When you see an historical writer blurbed as a "master storyteller," it means this is one who applies literary sense relentlessly, to everything.

12/28/2012

Schwerpunkt und Schweinerei, Jomini und Clausewitz

For a rough idea of the hold Clausewitz has on the modern U.S. Army, look at this essay collection, Addressing the Fog of COG. "COG" refers to the theoretical concept "center of gravity" which is the misleading American rendition of Clausewitz's "Schwerpunkt."
[It] not only [has] become a constraint to the individual and collective thinking and acting of the United States military as an organization; but, because of slavish adherence to using it as a central construct in the theoretical approach to operational warfare, it also has become detrimental to the further development of innovative concepts.
On the spectrum of German "big picture" words, Schwerpunkt straddles both the specific types (e.g. Zeitgeist) and the general types (e.g. Gestalt). It means many different things in many different contexts and is flexible enough that Clausewitz could it assign it his own meaning - a very specific one.

Check out especially Christopher R. Paparone and William J. Davis, Jr. in the collection cited.
Based in his [Clausewitz's] obvious aversion to making war theory a Jominian mathematical science, his selection of the Center of Gravity metaphor seems not of isolatable value to the gestalt of his treatise.
Try saying that quickly 10 times. It points to Clausewitz choosing NOT to use "terminology to prescribe an 'objectively' definable phenomenon."

This is important in our ongoing review of Civil War Jominianism, making Jomini the "scientist" and Clausewitz the "philosopher." In this sense, one could say that Civil War officers started the war as scientists and ended as philosophers.

Paparone and Davis make a general critique of modern Army theorizing but the thrust of their piece deals with the migration (and corruption) of meaning from Schwerpunkt into the Army's "Center of Gravity." The late Jean Baudrillard would have been made very happy with this:
"...words can eventually become extended to the point the original meaning becomes removed from any connection to the now dead metaphor..."
Do look at their essay, "Exploring Outside the Tropics of Clausewitz:Our Slavish Anchoring to an Archaic Metaphor."

Meanwhile, considering the meandering course of the ACW, can we not say that the labyrinth is the more apt military metaphor rather than Schwerpunkt?

12/20/2012

Lincoln vs. Lincoln

Interesting!

Lincoln
Domestic Total as of Dec. 19, 2012: $110,253,963
Foreign Gross: N/A
Production Budget: $65 million

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Domestic Total Gross: $37,519,139
Foreign Gross: $78,489,268
Production Budget: $69 million

"Touristification"

Taleb...
... believes that universities propagate "touristification," another term he coined, a phenomenon that occurs when what should be an exciting exploration turns into a programmatic exercise. It's better to be an adventurer than a tourist.
I think this idea can apply to a certain kind of Civil War history writing. It hits the main points of interest in a certain order, recounts events rotely, and for a set price.*

When something big breaks, like Ken Burns's "Civil War," a flood of books comes out searching for those readers who are first-time ACW literary tourists.

The sad thing is when those kinds of books persist.

* No offense to those of our park ranger friends who are passionate and do so much more.

12/19/2012

The history taught in Britain

"Most members of the public are unaware of how debased the teaching of history has become."

Interesting.

12/12/2012

Academia discovers geospatial intelligence

You have to give them a couple of decades but eventually they'll catch up:
Looking at the Battle of Gettysburg Through Robert E. Lee’s Eyes.

This blog has gone through Quincy Gillmore's eyes, Gary Gilmore's eyes, and now Robert E. Lee's eyes, all in a week. But I ask the Gettysburg readers, did we need geospatial for this?
The sight lines show Lee couldn’t see what Longstreet was doing. Nor did he have a clear view of Union maneuvers. Longstreet, meanwhile, saw what Lee couldn’t: Union troops massed in clear sight of open terrain he’d been ordered to march across.

Rather than expose his men, Longstreet led them on a much longer but more shielded march before launching the planned assault. By the time he did, late on July 2, Union officers—who, as Knowles’ mapping shows, had a much better view of the field from elevated ground—had positioned their troops to fend off the Confederate advance.
One would think the authors had this "mapped out" long ago ...

Blog afterlife

It's odd to get a dozen hits in one day from a blog that ceased publication a year ago. Shilo Nick, however, left as his legacy a continually updating ACW blog news aggregator.

Wonder how he did that.

12/11/2012

Woodworth and Reed

Historian Steven Woodworth is into the late, great Rowena Reed. How totally impressive.

Scalable risk and culmination

We see so little military science in our Civil War battle books, I want to share with you a mil sci paper, The Civil War Experiences of General Quincy Adams Gillmore: The Challenges of Transitioning from the Tactical to the Operational Level of Command. Link here.

This paper is going to be a slog for the general ACW reader but hopefully not the reader of this blog.

An interesting idea: "He [Gillmore] did not grasp how risk varies in scale between the tactical and operational levels of command." This has been stated differently elsewhere but I like this formulation best.

McClellan understood this very well and that is why we hate his guts. Risk aversion! The captain who wouldn't dare! Hood understood it less well. And we get to mock him for losing an army. The armchair critic can't lose.

An entire book has been written on a subject very close to this: Newell's Lee vs. McClellan: The First Campiagn in which he argues that Lee, the tactician, was out of his depth trying to cope with McClellan the stateside inventor of the operational art. This is less about risk scaling than military management scaling to a level where Lee could no longer cope.

(Again, a book not at all suited for story lovers.)

Back to Gillmore: author Adam Lewis, in his paper, credits Gillmore's non-scalable risk with a decision that squandered just enough force such that his Charleston mission "culminated."

Lewis:
Current United States Military Doctrine defines [the] culminating point as “the point at which a force no longer has the capability to continue its form of operations, offense or defense.” It is the responsibility of the operational level commander to identify points in the campaign where his force could culminate.
What do you think about culmination? Is it a useful analytic in Civil War history? Where else would it apply?

Does any Grant campaign culminate? Any Lee campaign? Any McClellan campaign? Worth a thought.

And on a lighter note, how about Gillmore's eyes? Reminds me of a bad song.

12/08/2012

This is the hot search topic today

I don't know why.

One gets the oddest surges.

Just back from Vegas (company trip) - blogging to resume shortly.

12/03/2012

Flashman on the ACW

Not a fan of the Flashman novels, but always interested in novelists doing history. Here's a Flashman rant on the ACW.

Any Canadian should endorse the closing statement, I would think.

12/02/2012

Will Ferrell's "Lincoln"

With all the excitement about Spielberg's "Lincoln," we tend to forget about the Will Ferrell - Zooey Deschanel - Don Cheadle production.

If just one young fratboy becomes motivated to read books by Doris Kearns Goodwin as a result of this film, it will have been worth it.

12/01/2012

Bloggers on Spielberg's "Lincoln" with notes on DKG

Not a lot of blogosphere comment on "Lincoln," the movie, but Al Mackey has the best roundup of links to "scholarly" comment.

RC Ocean endured talk, talk. The Amendment's inevitability also struck him as working against the story arc and its pretend urgency.

Rea Andrew Redd points us towards an HNN essay testing the truthiness of Lincoln.

The author, David O. Stewart, is a pop historian and novelist who says things like "For a Hollywood production, the movie’s version is more true than not." Helpful.

He presents points of scholarship in an entertaining, non-threatening way so that the unstable, easily intimidated readers of HNN will not be overly stressed. (Nothing personal, Mr. Stewart, everyone factors in an aversion to scholarship when writing for HNN readers.)

The single interesting point, for me, is about Team of Rivals. This was the book, the rights of which were bought by Spielberg for a future film before Goodwin finished a first draft. After the first round of scriptwriters were fired, Tony Kushner took over on a tack that involved a lot of personal research and years of writing. When "Lincoln" came out, Spielberg said Goodwin's book had been too big for a movie script, a kindly rationale for what had happened to her and her text.

The HNN piece asks the question, how much of Team of Rivals was used? Certainly we have all noticed bookstores now pushing DKG's doorstop as a movie artifact.

From HNN:
... it’s a long book that devotes about nine pages to the episodes in the movie. That’s 9 out of 754 pages. Goodwin’s treatment does not include quite a lot covered in the movie (for example, Seward’s merry band of fixers), nor does it definitively link the House vote on the 13th Amendment to the peace negotiations.
In other words, it's hard to say what tiny particle of connection the book has with the movie.

For the earnest cultural middlebrows who have made her wealthy, Goodwin is a scholar, just as Spielberg is an artist, laugh as we might at that. Spielberg bought a book to serve as protection against scholars when his film came out, IMHO. Not knowing scholarship and being a middlebrow himself, he thought Goodwin an eminent enough historian for this purpose. In the bargain, he got a publicity hound with a wide following to act as his shill.

Goodwin's association with this project has now been revived and highlighted (and her content contribution grossly misrepresented). In the publicity tours she milks her "star power" to present a seal of scholarship approval for the film. She is introduced on shows as "presidential scholar" DKG.

However, as the Foner (et al) scholarly criticisms of "Lincoln" mount, the question is whether she will be rolled out to battle the film's history critics. It's about that time, isn't it? And won't that be amusing?

Stewart remarks on the film that "It presents a range of Conversations That Never Happened.."

Will a Goodwin-Foner conversation happen?

(Above, right, a DDL-DKG chat at the ALPML.)

11/30/2012

From my forthcoming book...

Suppressed Lincoln Photographs with Notes and Commentary.
You can see why this one was suppressed. The UFO-shaped lights are not imagery artifacts. See my other book, Lincoln and the UFOs.

Thanks, readers

And my dear Moldavians, what are you up to?

11/29/2012

Foner strikes again

Eric Foner returns to his criticism of Lincoln (the film) in a letter to the editor of the New York Times.

The letter below his, by a Williams College student is also worth a look.

Meanwhile, you'll be delighted to know Harold Holzer ("Lincoln scholar"!) is preparing a "companion book" to the film.

11/28/2012

Hey scholars! Get off Spielberg's back!

So says Kevin Levin in the Atlantic.

Nice to see a blogger make good but he must now use his superpowers to battle evil. That's the deal, IIRC.

If scholars are on Spielberg's back, it's to get a better bum kissing angle.

11/27/2012

Guelzo's "joy" over Spielberg's Lincoln

We have come to expect from Lincoln scholars a slobbering, insensate endorsement of every piece of craptastic pop culture touching upon AL.

As I have noted before, these people are trapped in a Gommorah Syndrome where they argue as if with God that the [whatever] be spared [our criticism] if even one little child is eventually led to a future enjoyment of [what they imagine to be] history.

Now, Allen Guelzo has written a movie review that is a study in equivocation that allows him to conclude his review with a reaction of [qualified] "joy."

Perhaps Lincoln scholars are so used to patting each other on the back that they lack the chops to lower the boom on bad product.

Take a look at this, by Guelzo, and again, compare it to Foner's succinct criticism of the project.

And while you're at it, amuse yourselves with this.

In publishing Guelzo's review, the Daily Beast only had to get two facts right: his name and his occupation. But somehow, they made him out to be a "Civil War historian."

Please don't compare Lincoln scholars to Civil War historians. They don't rate nearly that high. As blighted as our little corner of the nonfiction world may be...

p.s. After you tire of Guelzo's studied ambiguity, may I recommend a Nation of Islam review of the movie?
Spielberg is the master of American propaganda, and there is no one since the notorious director D.W. Griffith who has more successfully exported to the world a utopian vision of America as a Caucasian paradise.
The baristas call that "robusto."

11/26/2012

McClellan at Antietam - a vigorous defense

Gene Thorp, cartographer, defends McClellan on all points on an NPR talk show. The callers are what you would expect, however.

He was apparently invited on based on this WaPo piece.

11/22/2012

Huffpo can't find its quote marks

Lynn Parramore is a "cultural theorist" and writer for the Huffington Post. She recently wrote an article about Lincoln being a railroad lawyer.

The first red flag was highlighting as history a famously fakelore quote attributed to Lincoln and naively publicized by Al Gore (who had been taken in by the hoax). This is "I see in the near future a crisis approaching ..." - "a bold, unblushing forgery..."

The rest of the article contains the occasional quote mark, which is proof that Parramore is familiar with these exotic markings. It also includes the footnote, "For more on Lincoln’s railroad advocacy, see James W. Ely Jr.’s 'Abraham Lincoln as a Railroad Attorney.'" Ely is also mentioned in the body of the article.

To show what happens next, I will now link to Ely, which Huffpo neglected to do.

The Parramore text given below does not appear in quote marks, nor is it indented or boxed or otherwise set apart from her exposition.

Ely:
During the late 1850s Lincoln received more in fees from that carrier than from any other single client, and he was closely associated with the Illinois Central until his election to the presidency.
Parramore:
During the late 1850s, Lincoln collected more fees from Illinois Central Railroad than from any other single client, and he was closely associated with Illinois Central until his election to the presidency.
Ely:
Lincoln first appeared for the Illinois Central Railroad, probably the largest business corporation in the state in May 1853.
Parramore:
Lincoln first appeared for the Illinois Central Railroad, probably the largest business corporation in the state, in May 1853.
Ely:
In 1851, in his first major railroad case, Lincoln represented the Alton & Sangamon Railroad before the Illinois Supreme Court in a case against a defaulting stock subscriber.
Parramore:
In 1851, Lincoln tried his first major railroad case, representing the Alton & Sangamon Railroad before the Illinois Supreme Court.
Memo to HuffPo: if the author mentions a source, go look at it. Compare and contrast. Take an interest in whatever it is you're publishing. Some of your readers might and that could prove embarassing.

p.s. A real "cultural theorist" would over-use quote marks if anything, don't you think?

11/21/2012

After Foner, the usual suspects

Eric Foner used the 15-30 seconds given him by CNN to substantively criticize the basis of the film "Lincoln" and to identify its central historical error. He made a compelling and interesting point in under a minute.

Meanwhile, a blogger at WaPo has collected other comments from authors attending the Lincoln Forum.

Harold Holzer: "I loved it."
However, he said, the way the vote for the 13th Amendment was depicted in the House of Representatives was wrong. The roll call was, and is, always done alphabetically and not by state.
Catherine Clinton: "... completely mesmerized by the film’s ability to capture Mary’s complexity."
She pointed to one inaccuracy in the movie, the scene where Lincoln slapped his son Robert. It never happened, she said.
John Marszalek:
“[Grant] wasn’t that tall,” the forum speaker said. “His hair was too red and he wasn’t that aggressive. He was also too talkative. He would never have talked that much.” However, he still thought the movie excellent and said he planned to see it again.
Speaks volumes, doesn't it?

11/19/2012

Foner vs. Spielberg & Co.

I have to tip my hat to Eric Foner for again stepping up to shoot down pop culture Lincoln artifacts. (Guelzo has bestirred himself once or twice but the rest of the Lincoln authors seem utterly useless.)

In a short CNN segment, Foner forcefully lays out the central historical error that invalidates the story arc in Lincoln-the-movie by Kushner/Spielberg/Goodwin. Kushner's rebuttal is hollow (as he hides behind Goodwin's skirts).*

Have a look. Link fixed 11/20.

(H/T to Simpson)

* Now that it's promo time, the utility of Goodwin in advancing this film seems worth the money Spielberg paid for the rights. She's everywhere.

11/18/2012

Petraeus called "phony hero" (O/T)

Truscott IV is lashing out blindly, I think, but I like this part very much:
I spent part of the fall of 2003 with General Petraeus and the 101st Airborne Division in and around Mosul, Iraq. One of the first questions I asked him was what his orders had been. Was he ordered to “take Mosul,” I asked. No answer. How about “Find Mosul and report back”? No answer. Finally I asked him if his orders were something along the lines of “Go to Mosul!” He gave me an almost imperceptible nod. It must have been the first time an American combat infantry division had been ordered into battle so casually.
IIRC Petraeus himself noted he had no orders whatsoever. But that is modern generalship, of which Petraeus is but a small part.

One does get the distinct impression from Tell Me How This Ends that Petraeus was overwhelmed and unequal to the tasks he set himself in Iraq.

Rebuttal here.

More interesting is two seniormost officers going to a Tampa socialite for help suppressing free speech on a shock jock's radio show. Time weighs heavily on the hands of any four star, for sure.

Those colonels McClellan purged from the Army with special boards? They're running the show nowadays. In fact, they're running riot with stars on their shoulders.

11/16/2012

Lincoln reviews

Reviews are in.

Montreal Gazette: Six score and 12 minutes ago, we went into the movie theatre to see Lincoln, a biography of the 16th president of the United States that was conceived in reverence and dedicated to the proposition that Steven Spielberg should get another Oscar, and Daniel Day-Lewis along with him.

NY1: It's a bit long, close to two-and-a-half-hours, there's a hokey contrived scene early on, and if you don't like history, you might find it a bit tedious.

St. Louis Today: While some people might find 1800s legislative sausage-making to be drier than a C-SPAN marathon, for me it only grounds Lincoln firmer in reality.

Las Vegas CityLife: The early excessive exposition is necessary to set up the rest of the film, as well as for Spielberg to fully impart his appreciation for Lincoln’s dilemma.

Box Office Prophets: This take on Lincoln is undoubtedly an entertainment, rather than a history; while that will not impress those in search of the facts, it is ultimately to the film’s credit.

East Valley (AZ) Tribune: If you have no interest in how our laws were created or the people who made them, then you will probably be bored silly by this movie, because the bulk of this dialogue heavy picture is spent on the strategery ... behind getting the 13th amendment passed.

Salt Lake Tribune: The legislative thriller is a genre that’s seldom seen in the age of C-Span, but Spielberg creates one as riveting as the classic of the form, Otto Preminger’s "Advise and Consent."

WorthPlaying: If you've been turned off by the trailer, please ignore it and watch "Lincoln" anyway.

Lincoln's filmmakers speak

Spielberg says,
We didn't want it to be a movie of Abraham Lincoln's greatest hits ... what Lincoln and the lobbyists did to get this passed was not illegal. It was murky. To make a movie about a squeaky clean person whose moral principles hold them beyond mortal man or woman would not be interesting to me.
I wonder how the legion of Lincoln authors will respond to that.

Meanwhile, I speculated a break between filmmakers and the infamous Doris Kearns Goodwin and I was wrong. Screewriter Kushner consulted her much:
I had known Doris' work. I'd read everything else she'd written and I've always thought she's an extraordinary writer and shaper of narrative...
"Shaper of narrative!" I'll be using that.
“Doris' sense of who Lincoln was and how he did what he did became really the guiding spirit for the film,” the screenwriter said. I think it's the Kearns Goodwinian Lincoln that we follow. I talked to Doris two or three times a month, the whole time I was working on the script, and with great joy.
The many Lincolns of Abraham Lincoln seems to work against the whole point of history, doesn't it? BTW, is this kiss kiss makeup w/DKG? FYI.

The cost of a modern major general (O/T)

... appears to be $400,000 apiece.
But Mr. Coburn said the problems went beyond bad program funding choices.

He said the military now has more generals and admirals per troop than it did at the height of the Cold War. He recommended cutting 200 generals and admirals, which he said would also cut 800 support personnel, for a savings of $800 million over the next decade.
We seem to have 698 of these types knocking around, doing a little physical training, giving each other briefings, signing new orders. When not sending voluminous emails to female admirers, some of them clearly do not have enough to do:
On Jan. 16, two days after a killer earthquake hit Haiti, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue.
[...]
The January Mullen briefing was unprecedented. No previous CENTCOM commander had ever expressed himself on what is essentially a political issue; which is why the briefers were careful to tell Mullen that their conclusions followed from a December 2009 tour of the region where, on Petraeus's instructions, they spoke to senior Arab leaders. "Everywhere they went, the message was pretty humbling," a Pentagon officer familiar with the briefing says. "America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding." But Petraeus wasn't finished: two days after the Mullen briefing, Petraeus sent a paper to the White House requesting that the West Bank and Gaza (which, with Israel, is a part of the European Command -- or EUCOM), be made a part of his area of operations.
Good to see elements of Congress interested in oversight. If you haven't served, you haven't experienced the depth of this problem and will tend to give the benefit of the doubt. Feel free to doubt and doubt big.

11/14/2012

Listen to Drew

On Beatie's Army of the Potomac, Drew says it well. I too am eager for the next volume. It's been way too long.

As for the glut of Gettysburg books in preparation, I'd save two fingers, not one. Simpson's volume will be interesting and Petruzzi's authoritative.

11/13/2012

Memorable history

ABC News reminds its audience about the days when Herbert Hoover ran the FBI. See line 3, paragraph 2.

Meanwhile, IIRC, wasn't J. Edgar Hoover president when the stock market crashed in '29? Or was that FDR?

You make mistakes like this when history is not memorable. The authors of 1066 And All That well understood this principle:
During the Wars of the Roses the Kings became less and less memorable (sometimes even getting in the wrong order) until at last one of them was nothing but some little princes smothered in the Tower, and another, finding that his name was Clarence, had himself drowned in a spot of Malmsey wine; while the last of all even attempted to give his Kingdom to a horse. It was therefore decided, since the Stuarts were not ready yet, to have some Welsh Kings called Tudors ... who, it was hoped, would be more memorable.
Now, that's memorable history.

11/12/2012

The ACW wants you!

The president has a process for handling future secessions. Bet you didn't know that.
“If a [secession] petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response,” explains the [White House] website.
Big priority! And then some genius put the petition signature requirement at 25,000.

If you want to get a trash collection measure on your state ballot, do you think the threshold will be set at a mere 25,000 signatures? Is this Buchanansism or Machiavellianism? Perhaps the "policy experts" receiving the petitions work at DHS and the FBI?

White House website + do-it-yourself secession instructions = here we are in 2012. Modern nullifiers might be pleased.

The ACW remains pervasive. Let's modify Trotsky's famous saying. Tell your friends: You may not be interest in the American Civil War, but the American Civil War is very interested in you.

---

Update: petitions from 47 states have been filed at this point.

Seward by Stahr - quick notes

Stopped at Bridge Street Books in Georgetown at lunch. Found newly translated novels by Celine and Cendrars there, which made me very happy, magnifying the effect of our Indian summer warmth and sunshine.

There was also present a large new biography of Seward, something I’ve been waiting for over a long time. I picked it up and noticed the dust jacket blurbed by all the wrong people: two plagiarists (Goodwin and McPherson) and a dialectical materialist (Foner). As if further red flags were needed, the praise was about readability – as if the previous works on Seward are unusable because they are unreadable. (The dust jacket could not hold all the praise craptastic authors had for this book, so check out Amazon if you want to see storytellers and recapitulators lavishly praise one of their own.)

I put the index through my McClellan test. There were a grand total of 13 references to GBM in 717 pages. They were appallingly ignorant. In addition to relying on the usual, imaginary “letters to his wife,” author Walter Stahr showed no inkling that Lincoln had been McClellan’s employee pre-war. In discussing the Scott-McClellan relationship, he shows no awareness of the McClellan-Scott family connections described by Rafuse, nor does he have any inkling of the Scott-Seward-McClellan patronage ecology, described in part by Gideon Welles in his diary. Stahr paints McClellan and Scott one-dimensionally as enemies. He does the same with McClellan-Seward, relying on a few snippets from Sears. Seward’s early patronage takeover (from Chase) of GBM is missing, as much as it annoyed Chase, and Seward’s other military clients are also missing from this book, if my quick skim can be relied on.

It’s likely I could find a few interesting points of departure for further research in these pages, but a biographer this tone-deaf and blinkered appears more of a menace than a help to readers.

You could hitch up your pants, grit your teeth, clothespin your nose shut and start reading, but what kind of fun would that be?

11/11/2012

"A lack of critical analysis"

A friend writes about Brands' Grant book:
Don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I’m sensing a theme.

Bonds, WSJ: “. . . the book provides little analysis of Grant’s generalship. Battles are described but not dissected, and Mr. Brands presents no new sources or revelations.”

Foner, WaPo: “What Brands does not do, however, is present new interpretive insights on questions that have engaged generations of historians. . . .”

Sears(!), MHQ: “There is . . . a lack of critical analysis, especially in Grant's often complex relationship with the Lincoln administration, and little explication of just what Grant possessed that was so lacking in other Civil War generals.”
Civil War book reviews are rare - it's unusual to get three high profile such. When they do appear, as in this case, they can end up addressing a book of no merit.

BTW, Sears needs new authors to stress that special something that validates Grant and invalidates his predecessors or his storylines fall apart. The complexity-relationship comment, meanwhile, is a nod to Brooks Simpson.

A lack of critical analysis? Hallmark of pop history.

Web weirdness (O/T)

In one day (Friday), 1300 hits from Googlers searching for Petraeus. Is the web so lacking in Petraeus data that searchers have to come here?

Dear searchers: refine your searches.

Thank you!

11/10/2012

Generals who faint (cont.)

We don't do political news except as it harkens back to ACW controversies, nevertheless, the scalps were called in this blog 15 days ago, although Ham's was already taken. Let us now mark them all for the Smithsonian:

* Rear Adm. Charles M. Gaouette ("inappropriate leadership judgment") mid-east carrier strike force.

* Carter Ham, commander AFRICOM, who proposed to defy SecDef (10/18/12?).

* The general who faints, David Petraeus. Rumors are flying. Was he pro-intervention? (11/09/12)

The first two seem to be victims of Panetta's growing Stantonism.

It amazes me that Panetta could hold a press conference after Benghazi, tell everyone publicly that he ordered the military not to respond to the attack and there still is confusion over what happened.

(1) Attack is underway, DoD tells soldiers no go.

(2) Attack is underway, CIA mounts confused, delayed, inadequate response.

The Civil War reader revels in civilian control of the military and hisses theatrically, like a vaudeville theatre-goer, at the mere hint of a Harrison Bar letter. And here we are.

Civil War controversies keep repeating. It will continue so until we stop shrouding the controversies in narrative and engage them as living issues of principle.

p.s. CIA chiefs with undeclared girlfriends - as big deals go, they don't get any bigger.

11/07/2012

The Civil War wines of James River Cellars

See here.

Promotional text says: "Our graphic artist, Adam Rodriguez, has depicted 'Lee’s Last Stand' with Lee mounted on Traveller defending his case of wine."

Don't recall if Lee drank wine. But shouldn't this label be showing a victorious FJ Porter?

11/05/2012

Book blurt (cont.)

The last post listed new books. This post plays “catch up” with older titles that were comp’d or bought.

The Civil War in the East: Struggle, Stalemate, and Victory
Brooks D. Simpson

... fills a gap in Civil War literature on the strategies employed by the Union and Confederacy in the East, offering a more integrated interpretation of military operations that shows how politics, public perception, geography, and logistics shaped the course of military operations in the East.

Comment: At about 176 pages, this is what a short history is meant to be: erudite, pungent, interesting, integrative, analytical, and engaging for deep readers already familiar with the material. I cannot think of another short history that lives up this purpose, although publishers keep issuing them. A great many controversies and issues are compressed throughout and that requires reader trust. It’s a lot to ask for from strangers. Myself, having seen Simpson handle evidence on a great many issues on USENET years ago, I’ll vouch for him, if that nudges you towards a good read. His justice to the record tends towards exceptional, although it is not transparent in this brief format. Some of his characterizations may irritate, but consider that the tax you pay for a top notch essay written for sophisticates like yourselves. It's a nice concentrate of the whole Simpsonian gestalt. This is a major author in a field generally bereft of major authors and Simpson is always worth your time.

The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom
Glenn David Brasher

... the campaign saw something new in the war - the participation of African Americans in ways that were critical to the Union offensive. Ultimately that participation influenced Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation proclamation...

Comment: This book is more about black participation than Lincoln’s cogitations. It contains lots of new research and the perspective is fresh and multidimensional, putting the military and political in tandem in a way few Civil War tomes do. I felt sorry for Brasher being directed by his park superiors to make social history for his battlefield interpretations but he has done a really fine piece of history, despite its luridly multicult overtones. It’s a delight to read a substantial ACW account where almost everything is new. The political analysis is deeper than the promotional copy implies and if the book suffers a fault it may be the narrowness of the focus here. But that is also a strength and will make this a source for future writing. This is an interesting young historian.

Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America
James Marten

... explains how the 19th Century’s “Greatest Generation” attempted to blend back into society and how their experiences were treated by non-veterans.

Comment: Marten is a prolific Civil War author you may have missed - he concentrates on social history and his books have the flavor of collections of anecdotes with fairly dry, short, spare bridges of his own text between Dickensian primary material. His taste is for the darker stuff - especially the grotesque inadequacies of 19th Century social services - and so despite the upbeat title here, when I saw “by James Marten” I knew my buzz would be harshed. Further, Marten’s technique is to transition between anecdotes by forcing a synthesis on literary terms, not analytically or conceptually. “Like many men, George Crosby had come to ...” “Despite loved ones’ resistance, veterans usually ...” “Dunn exemplifies the veteran who ...” These transitions build discontent in the reader as they seem expedients to tie the material together without leading to a general insight or argument. This all spells more ennui as readers plod through one misery after another expecting Marten to unveil a moral, an agenda, a cause. You think, “I feel I’m reading an IWW account of U.S. history but the author won’t own up.” It all just hangs there in a dark cloud. And Marten’s has been the strangest career in Civil War nonfiction.

A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War
Daniel E. Sutherland

A Savage Conflict is the first work to treat guerrilla warfare as critical to understanding the course and outcome of the Civil War. Daniel Sutherland argues that irregular warfare took a large toll on the Confederate war effort by weakening support for state and national governments and diminishing the trust citizens had in their officials to protect them.

Comment: This is a hard argument to prove and I am not sure the author succeeds. The shine in this book lies in its research. I feel that Sutherland trusts the immense weight of anecdotes to close the deal for him in lieu of deep analysis. However, the many primary sources are fresh, making the stories especially compelling and with 74 pages of discursive end notes and a 63 page bibliography, what’s not to like? Amazonians give it 4.5 stars.

Masters and Savages (Novel)
James Dawsey

A saint who despises slavery yet traffics in people. A Southern hero, but also a coward. A runaway aching for home. Civil War survivor Witfield Stone totters on the brink of insanity. Entrusted with transporting contract laborers from Africa to Brazil where his father and members of the Southern Land and Immigration Society plan to reconstruct their lost fortunes, Witfield takes special interest in the fate of eleven-year-old Fatima.

Comment: Dawsey was co-author of the nonfiction Civil War publishing sensation Confederados and here tries fiction writing. This book begins as a kind of psychological study with exotic overtones and becomes a sea dog action tale as disease, a misfit sea captain, and anti-slaver patrols put the ocean-going Confederados in grave peril. I should add that it helps to think of this in terms of 1950s Catholic novels, if you were ever into that scene. Also rated at 4.5 stars by Amazon reviewers.

Lincoln and McClellan at War
Chester Hearn
Lincoln, the Cabinet, and the Generals
Chester Hearn

Comment: I’ll review these two together in a posting of their own in the near future.

The soldier vote crisis of 1864 rolls on

Republican senators write, “We are perplexed as to why DoD did not do everything in its power to modernize the system" for soldier voting.

Politics is perplexing. So is Civil War history.

11/04/2012

Brian Jordan's "Unholy Sabbath"

Unholy Sabbath is a book by a young author with a theme interesting enough to intrigue an adventurous publisher: that the Maryland battles preceding Antietam were decisive victories.

Many, perhaps most, deep readers would shrug at this.

It is the 21st Century now; this would have been hot stuff in the Centennial-dominated eighties or nineties. But the problem is that in large swaths of Civil War readership, it is still the "golden age" of ancient interpretation, and a backward readership needs to be tempted out of its caves and into the sunlight of new research and new thinking by shiny trifles that do not completely threaten all of the bad reading they have ever done.

I see this effect again and again. An author offers a breakthrough concept to a hidebound audience taking immense care not to upset them with too much novelty. There would be an insight in the center of the work and it would be surrounded by mounds of the same old same old. Newton's Joseph E. Johnston and the Defense of Richmond comes to mind. Massively revisionist in terms of Johnston, the author kowtows to every single cliche about every other general and incident. Revisionism was reserved for Johnston only.

Unholy Sabbath is exactly that kind of book. It reinforces everything that the low-information reader already "knows" while proposing a tweak to just one part of the consensus history. And maybe, politically, that's how you do it, without goring too many oxen and overturning too many apple carts.

But we're doing history here and history is our best attempt at the truth.

Here the malignant bungler McClellan accidentally achieves an outcome of import, through no virtue of his own. That is the sugar coating on the bitter pill of worthy victories.

RC Ocean gives books the "Young Napoleon" test. The higher the count of this usage in an ACW work, the less chance he will buy it. This book would fail his test.

Consider also these gems:
[1] Beyond a gross overestimation of enemy strength around Manassas, incessant carping, and criticism of the Administration, however, most of what McClellan offered was more bragadoccio.[13]

[2] With his right turned, McClellan ordered a retreat to the James River... [15]

[3] McClellan conveyed the news to his wife Ellen in his usual vainglorious style... [30]

[4} ... McClellan's caustic and predictable personality. [74]

[5] ... McClellan quickly began another round of of grousing ... [75]

[6] The general's acidic comments about McDowell and Pope continued, only inflating his already bloated ego. [75]

[7] ... Franklin proved to be as indolent and slothful as his sponsor George McClellan. [78]

[8]... McClellan refused to recognize the extent to which Lee and his men were at *his* mercy. The Army of Northern Virginia fielded at most forty thousand men [upon crossing into Maryland]. [88]
The Ocean test is fundamentally about polemics. Is the author a polemicist caught up in an emotional relationship with his material? If so, this is not history.

Brian Matthew Jordan, in my view, set out to write a battle book. This is a narrative that seeks to fill a gap in publishing rolls where there should be a South Mountain campaign. Instead of being devoted to scholarly argument around the meaning and import of those battles, this is a story about marching and shooting. In Reese's Sealed with their Lives and in Harsh's books, the shooting and marching were constantly brought back to the commander's intent. The commander's intent is missing throughout here, the commander being an vainglorious imbecile. And so, "Stamp's conspicuous death sent a shiver of panic rippling through the men of the 76th New York..." Spare me.

In the parts where people are not shooting or marching, there is page upon page of generals' bios.

Jordan did not consult Beatie, Rafuse, or Harsh's Taken at the Flood (which last is unforgivable in a volume like this). He mentions Sounding the Shallows without resorting to its data tables. He gives lip service to Clemens' Carman without referring to Carman (did I miss a reference here?), and although a citation shows he has read everything Tim Reese published on Crampton's Gap, he completely fails to understand Reese's analysis of GBM's order to Franklin, Reese's analysis of the commander's intent for all the battles along the mountain, and Reese's case for the separation of Crampton's Gap from the South Mountain action.

Not that citations here are thin. There are a lot of them but they don't advance the cause. The working sources provide quotes and anecdotes; the rest seem to be window dressing.

Ultimately, the entire case for the unique value of the battles is made in one chapter running 18 pages filled with quotes and excerpts. It's as if the publisher asked for this addition. There is almost no analysis in that chapter; the "evidence" for the importance of these battles comes from the mouths of participants and contemporaries.

Jordan has virtues as a storyteller and will do well with his next book if he can limit the snide remarks, the emotional outbursts, and the big-picture stuff. He needs to really engage with the secondary sources, the controversies, and the implications of higher analysis.

On some level, this is an okay shoot-em-up, but who among advanced readers needs that?

---
Notes on the excerpts quoted above:

[1] I know of no first hand accounts of McClellan's carping, criticism, or bragadoccio. None. There should be some somewhere, but everyone who dealt with him found him to be kindly, courteous, attentive, and I would add concise, energetic, and at times, fun. Carping, etc. may be the author's readings of some notes found in the McClellan papers as rendered by Sears. They do not correlate to any wartime remembrances. Regarding strength around Manassas, McClellan passed through raw intelligence which he labeled as pass-through information. The Civil War author generally does not know the difference between intelligence and analysis, analysis being what produces an estimate.

[2] The sequence is wrong. It would have been a retreat if this sequence was correct. A change of base started before the battle began.

[3],[4],[5],[6] This stream of vituperation seems to be based on Sears' renderings of notes found in the archives and do not correspond to any observed behavior of McClellan during the war.

[7] Franklin's sponsors were many starting with Salmon Chase, then Irvin McDowell, then McClellan, Banks, ultimately even Grant who tried to get him a command after the Red River campaign.

[8] That Lee crossed into Maryland with 40,000 men is not sourced. It is a remarkable contention worth its own book. The author has taken pains to avoid Fox, Livermore, Longstreet's writing on the subject, and Harsh's tabulations. He likewise avoids the testimony on enemy strength given Lincoln by the US corps commanders after the battle.

10/27/2012

Book blurt (Aug-Nov 2012)

Have been meaning to present the old Civil War Book News information in a new way on this blog without duplicating what Drew is doing on one of his subsites. This first experiment does as the old site does: it lists all the hardcopies out on a date but excludes e-editions. I have gone a step further here and excluded simple reprints of known works, reprints of new titles recently released, kids books, and patently ridiculous self-published work. Where the old site compiled its list from multiple sources, this listing is strictly from Amazon, a time saver. As a result, Amazon's often erroneous release dates were used to save myself the labor I used to do cross-checking stated dates with the publisher's own data.

Compared to 1997, when Civil War Book News launched, the number of titles published per month is noticeably smaller. What follows is NOT me being picky. The spring and fall lists are shrinking.

If you find this useful, it might be worth doing quarterly. I want to comment on some books received from publishers in my next post. Meanwhile...

A U G U S T

Terrible Swift Sword: The Life of General Philip H. Sheridan
Joseph Wheelan

A sympathetic portrait of “Grant’s most dependable troubleshooter.”

Comment: Not sure I understand the value in this book but it has a solid five-star rating from seven reviewers on Amazon. One of the reviewers headlines his comment "Unsung Hero," referring to Sheridan. This suggests a naive readership. Surprised Da Capo is still active in Civil War publishing - they've had good acquisition editors in the past, so this may be worth a look.

One Drop in a Sea of Blue: The Liberators of the Ninth Minnesota
John B. Lundstrom

In November 1863, thirty-eight men of the Minnesota Ninth Regiment responded to a fugitive slave’s desperate plea by holding a train at gunpoint and liberating his wife, five children, and three other family members who were being shipped off to be sold. But this rescue happened in Missouri, where Union soldiers had firm orders not to interfere with loyal slaveholders.

Comment: From the Minnesota Historical Society Press weighing in at 512 pages, this is probably not a quick buck, feelgood pop history.

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War
Tony Horwitz

Tony Horwitz's Midnight Rising brings Brown and his uprising vividly to life and charts America’s descent into explosive conflict.

Comment: Horwitz fans might like his writing - I'm not sure what else would recommend this. Clearly a play for the mass market. It has slightly better than a four-star rating and the kudos are naive and about Horwitz's virtues as a journalist. Beware of journalists doing history!

The Chattanooga Campaign
Steven E. Woodworth, Charles D Grear

Ten insightful essays that provide new analysis of this crucial campaign.

Comment: Woodworth is a serious author but such essay collections strike me generally as back-scratching drills. They're also a road to irrelevance.

Lincoln and Leadership: Military, Political, and Religious Decision Making
Allen C. Guelzo (Author), Randall M. Miller (Editor)

This book offers fresh perspectives on the 16th president, making novel contributions to the scholarship of one of the more studied figures of American history.

Comment: The marketing text shows a certain neglect, a certain lack of interest by the publisher in his own project. My hunch is that book buyers are gambling the price of a whole book on getting a single interesting essay out of the deal.

An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C.
Kate Masur

Kate Masur offers the first major study of Washington during Reconstruction in over fifty years. Masur's panoramic account considers grassroots struggles, city politics, Congress, and the presidency, revealing the District of Columbia as a unique battleground in the American struggle over equality.

Comment: This represents local interest for me. Seven Amazonians have rated it a solid five stars.

Army at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Home Front
Judith Giesberg

Introducing readers to women whose Civil War experiences have long been ignored, Judith Giesberg examines the lives of working-class women in the North, for whom the home front was a battlefield of its own.

Comment: Matthew Gallman says this is a "highly original" work that applies "theoretical insights" (of some kind) to the ACW. The Amazon text gives no hint as to what he might be talking about. The promotional text fails to distinguish this from the many home front works that have preceded it.

Conflicting Memories on the "River of Death": The Chickamauga Battlefield and the Spanish-American War, 1863-1933
Bradley S. Keefer

Examines how the veterans of both sides constructed memories of this battle during the three decades leading to the creation of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. At the core is a conflict between Spanish-American and Civil War veterans over the battle site.

Comment: This new book seems to be out of print already with no marketplace sales of used editions to fill the gap. These are rich pickings for "memory" writers and readers, with ACW vets triumphing in civil struggle over their Spanish-American War counterparts.

S E P T E M B E R

THE IRON BRIGADE IN CIVIL WAR AND MEMORY: The Black Hats from Bull Run to Appomattox and Thereafter
Lance Herdegen

More than a standard military account, Herdegen's latest puts flesh and faces on the men who sat around the campfires, marched through mud and snow and dust, fought to put down the rebellion, and recorded much of what they did and witnessed for posterity.

Comment: At a hefty 696 pages with 124 photos and 15 maps, the "why" of this book is to reorient on the human element. The author has spent decades collecting personal data on the men in the unit, including hundreds of letters recently discovered and not previously mined. Hertegen actually contributed some research to Alan Nolan's 1961 The Iron Brigade. There are two appendices and a 13 page bibliography (non-discursive).

War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865

James M. McPherson

James M. McPherson has crafted an enlightening, at times harrowing, and ultimately thrilling account of the war's naval campaigns and their military leaders.

Comment: Everything you already knew about the naval war retold in language borrowed from previous histories. Be sure to wash hands after reading.

To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862
David S. Hartwig

For the sesquicentennial of Antietam and the Maryland Campaign, D. Scott Hartwig delivers a riveting first installment of a two-volume study of the campaign and climactic battle.

Comment: A well-written book drained of controversy and filled with research short-cuts. Considered as entertainment, probably worth the price, pound for pound.

THE MARYLAND CAMPAIGN OF SEPTEMBER 1862: Volume II, Antietam

Ezra Carman (Author), Thomas Clemens

Carman's invaluable prose is augmented by his detailed maps of the dawn to nearly dusk fighting on September 17, which have never appeared in their original form in any book on the battle. Even more exciting are the newly discovered 19th century photographs authorized by Carman to document his work laying out the battlefield, a haunting visual record of how the battlefield appeared to Carman as he tried to unravel its mysteries.

Comment: Superbly noted and illustrated, this is an essential component to a Civil War library - as well as good reading. Clemens has hid his light under a bushel for decades, at least publishing-wise. Go and sample the editing goodness here.

Lincoln's Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union

Louis P. Masur

This is the first book to tell the full story of the critical period between September 22, 1862, when Lincoln issued his preliminary Proclamation, and January 1, 1863, when he signed the final, significantly altered, decree. With his deadline looming, Lincoln hesitated and calculated, frustrating friends and foes alike, as he reckoned with the anxieties and expectations of millions.

Comment: It's hard not to think of Masur as a one-man Springsteen fanzine (see here and here). Mazur does write ACW history, however, and the great gleaner himself, James McPherson, was moved to snatch one of Mazur's ACW book covers for a tome of his own. I like the claims the publisher makes for this volume but I am skeptical of the enjoyment pop historians like Mazur can deliver to deep readers.

The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses: Synopses, Orders of Battle, Strengths, Casualties, and Maps, June 9 - July 14, 1863

J. David Petruzzi, Steven Stanley

This is a full-color, master work decades in the making. Presented for the first time in print are comprehensive orders of battle for more than three dozen engagements both large and small waged during the five weeks of the Gettysburg Campaign (June 9 - July 14, 1863).

Comment: Petruzzi is reliable and Savas-Beatie will go all-out on this volume. Publication has been rescheduled to February 2013, however.

We Have the War Upon Us: The Onset of the Civil War, November 1860-April 1861
William J. Cooper

We Have the War Upon Us helps us understand what the major actors said and did: the Republican party, the Democratic party, southern secessionists, southern Unionists; why the pro-compromise forces lost; and why the American tradition of sectional compromise failed.

Comment: This is an attempt to revive the old "Blundering Generation" school of history against the near total control held by today's "Inevitability of War" historians. The major problem with this kind of book is that it attempts to do historiography by retelling the history instead of by critical analysis of the opponent's arguments. Because the Blundering Generation narrative feels so natural to readers, the net feeling can be "tell me what I don't know." I cannot say it strongly enough: you do not win historiographical arguments by writing best sellers. Get to the disagreement and make your case.

The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway and the Slaves' Civil War
David S. Cecelski

Abraham H. Galloway (1837-70) was a fiery young slave rebel, radical abolitionist, and Union spy who rose out of bondage to become one of the most significant and stirring black leaders in the South during the Civil War. He risked his life behind enemy lines, recruited black soldiers for the North, and fought racism in the Union army's ranks. He also stood at the forefront of an African American political movement that flourished in the Union-occupied parts of North Carolina...

Comment: From the dependable UNC Press, this looks like a solid work of regional interest, with the possibility of broader appeal.

The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee
Earl J. Hess

This important campaign has never received a full scholarly treatment. In this landmark book, award-winning historian Earl J. Hess fills a gap in Civil War scholarship.

Comment: The one Amazon comment posted notes that Hess is kind to Longstreet and Burnside both. As sideshows go, Knoxville was probably one fraught with major potential.

The Last Battle of Winchester: Phil Sheridan, Jubal Early, and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, August 7 - September 19, 1864
Scott Patchan

The first serious study to chronicle the Third Battle of Winchester. Rich in analysis and character development, The Last Battle of Winchester is certain to become a classic Civil War battle study.

Comment: "Character development"?

The Real History of the Civil War: A New Look at the Past

Alan Axelrod

Axelrod addresses a range of less-discussed subjects such as the efforts made to avert war (including Lincoln's initial hesitant response), the fragmentation of popular opinion in both the North and the South' and the institutional problems that afflicted the Union and Confederate Armies.

Comment: The author is a great simplifier with a ton of pop history and pop biz books in his portfolio.

America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation

David Goldfield

The first major new interpretation of the Civil War era ... Where past scholars have limned the war as a triumph of freedom, Goldfield sees it as America's greatest failure: the result of a breakdown caused by the infusion of evangelical religion into the public sphere. As the Second Great Awakening surged through America, political questions became matters of good and evil to be fought to the death.

Comment: From the (fuller) description (not shown here), what we have is an effort to recast the ACW in the framework offered by the Agrarians or Fugitives. I like that framework but (again) you don't do historiography by telling stories; you do it by engaging the competing interpretations analytically. Anyway, this book has four stars from 17 Amazon commenters, so there is a market for this viewpoint, and that's a healthy thing. (For more on the inhuman fanaticism of the Civil War and other modern conflicts, see the new book The Verdict of Battle.)

The Union War

Gary W. Gallagher

Today, many believe that the war was fought over slavery. This answer satisfies our contemporary sense of justice, but as Gary Gallagher shows in this brilliant revisionist history, it is an anachronistic judgment.

Comment: This is the paperback release of an earlier hardback issue and I was not going to list these. However, this is an opportunity to address the apparently crazy idea that Gallagher could write a "revisionist history." No one has been more steadfast in defending the interpretations of 1945-1965 than Gallagher. In his treatment of the "Lost Cause" issue, I pronounced Gallagher incompetent to handle historiography (as opposed to storytelling). But Gallagher has been coming along over time to the point where he might be considered as a junior/journeyman historiographer. He still tends to absolutism, my way or the highway; he still lacks a constructive faculty for engaging opposing views; but he has reached the point where he can at least recognize opposing views and discuss them without personal attacks or gross mischaracterizations. This critical NYT review of the book by Eric Foner highlights some of the points that would allow a publisher to claim Gallagher as a "revisionist." I don't endorse the claim, but have a look.

Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors

Mark Elson

Mark Elson’s expressive images, themselves evoking the look and style of nineteenth-century photographs, capture the painstaking attention to detail that goes into such reenactments.

Comment: There used to be more books aimed at the re-enactor market. You would think the hobby should be surging right now, but publishing points to a decline in interest.

African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album

Ronald S. Coddington

A renowned collector of Civil War photographs and a prodigious researcher, Ronald S. Coddington combines compelling archival images with biographical stories that reveal the human side of the war.

Comment: This is a beautifully designed book printed on superb glossy paper with crisp photographs and concise stories of each man pictured. The prose is restrained and dignified. The clarity of the images transcends the "old-timey" effect of so much ACW photography. This is not an album but a casebook and the overall feeling is one of presence.

Reconstructing the Campus: Higher Education and the American Civil War
Michael David Cohen

Then moving beyond 1865, the book explores the war’s long-term effects on colleges. Michael David Cohen argues that the Civil War ... prompted major reforms, including the establishment of a new federal role in education.

Comment: The question would be general tendencies vs. war impetus. I would need grounding in the history of American education to benefit from this.

In the Very Thickest of the Fight: The Civil War Service of the 78th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Steve Raymond

Its story is told here mostly in the words of its soldiers through letters, diaries and other sources, many never before accessed by historians. This book sheds new light on many important incidents and battles in the Civil War’s Western Theater.

Comment: At 392 pages, this represents no trivial reading commitment. One would hope for payoff in insights on the Western campaigns.

The Untried Life: The Story of the Twenty-Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War

James T. Fritsch

Told in unflinching detail, this is the story of the Twenty-Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry, also known as the Giddings Regiment or the Abolition Regiment, after its founder, radical abolitionist Congressman J. R. Giddings. The men who enlisted were, according to its lore, handpicked to ensure each was as pure in his antislavery beliefs as its founder.

Comment: "Unflinching detail" is the very best kind. It is the enemy of "extensive detail" and "adequate detail." Another labor of love at 512 pages and years in the making. The Giddings angle and hand-picking soldiers by means of ideological testing is interesting. We need readers to understand that the North fought the war with a Republican army. This book might help in that.

Two Captains from Carolina: Moses Grandy, John Newland Maffitt, and the Coming of the Civil War
Bland Simpson

The author twines together the lives of two accomplished nineteenth-century mariners from North Carolina--one African American, one Irish American. Though Moses Grandy and John Newland Maffitt Jr. (1819-1886) never met, their stories bring to vivid life the saga of race and maritime culture in the antebellum and Civil War-era South.

Comment: It seems an expedient for the author or publisher to combine two biographies into one and then fabricate links and parallels using false historical reasoning to glue the thing together. I'm not saying that such was done here but that this would be the temptation. A buddy story where the principals are not actually buddies. (Would Bland Simpson be related to Brooks "Spicy" Simpson?)

O C T O B E R

The Petersburg Campaign, Vol. 1: The Eastern Front Battles, June - August 1864

Edwin Bearss, Bryce Suderow

This is the first in a ground-breaking two-volume compendium. Although commonly referred to as the "Siege of Petersburg," much of the wide-ranging fighting involved large-scale Union offensives. Included are original maps by Civil War cartographer George Skoch, together with photos and illustrations. The result is a richer and deeper presentation of the major military episodes comprising the Petersburg Campaign.

Comment: The basis of this book is an extensive series of National Park Service reports prepared by Bearss "back in the day" with editing done by Bryce Suderow. One chapter on the Crater was contributed by Patrick Brennan to fix a gap in the material and complete the campaign's timeline. Bearss's introduction clearly lays out the genesis of the content (while taking time to complement Beatie's majestic three volumes of McClellan history). There are 23 very clean maps by my count and a five-page (non-discursive) bibliography.

The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace

HW Brands

In Brands's sweeping, majestic full biography, Grant emerges as a heroic figure who was fearlessly on the side of right.

Comment: In Dimitri's sweeping, majestic blog, he emerges as an heroic figure who is fearlessly on the side of right. (Not too sure about this book, though.)

Clash at Kennesaw: June and July 1864
Russell Blount Jr.

This dramatic recounting covers one of the Civil War's most gruesome battles ... No misery endured by troops is withheld. Along with details of the grisly battle, author Russell W. Blount, Jr. provides insight into the character of commanders William T. Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston.

Comment: Gorefest! Yum!

Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year

David Von Drehle

Here, acclaimed author David Von Drehle has created both a deeply human portrait of America’s greatest president and a rich, dramatic narrative about our most fateful year.

Comment: Focuses on 1862 as the year of personal development. This reader has experienced way too much greatness from Lincoln authors to sit through another 480 pages of panegyric.

THE BATTLES THAT MADE ABRAHAM LINCOLN: How Lincoln Mastered his Enemies to Win the Civil War, Free the Slaves, and Preserve the Union
Larry Tagg

The first study of its kind to concentrate on what Lincoln's contemporaries thought of him during his lifetime, and the obstacles they set before him.

Comment: The "battles" referred to are personal and political. Tagg is developing material he introduced previously on the theme of Lincoln's unpopularity. He is a reliable author with an eye for the interesting.

Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs
Guy R. Hasegawa

The first volume to explore the wartime provisions made for amputees in need of artificial limbs—programs that, while they revealed stark differences between the resources and capabilities of the North and the South, were the forebears of modern government efforts to assist in the rehabilitation of wounded service members.

Comment: When I was young, Civil War psychiatry was important in the general literature of psychiatry, especially in terms of understanding what we now call PTSD. That has slipped away. I would like to see Civil War medicine generally take its place in an historic continuum. This book will help.

THE BATTLE OF BIG BETHEL: Crucial Clash in Early Civil War Virginia

J. Michael Cobb, Edward Hicks, Wythe Holt Wythe

The first full-length treatment of the small but consequential June 1861 battle that reshaped both Northern and Southern perceptions about what lay in store for the divided nation.

Comment: The extended description on Amazon is not very interesting but for we early war people, the purchase and reading of this book will be mandatory.

Suppliers to the Confederacy: English Arms and Accoutrements
Craig L. Barry, David C. Burt

New research includes the discovery of lost information on many of the commercial gun makers. The book also looks at all the implements and accoutrements issued with the Enfield rifle musket... Each piece of equipment is examined in great detail and is accompanied by detailed photographs...

Comment: A specialist offering with re-enactor and collector overtones.

This Wicked Rebellion: Wisconsin Civil War Soldiers Write Home

John Zimm

Engaging, unique, moving, and humorous accounts from the letters of Wisconsin Civil War soldiers.

Comment: A Wisconsin Historical Society Press offering and I would say at first glance, of regional interest.

N O V E M B E R

Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict Between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland

Larry J. Daniel

Using previously neglected sources, Larry J. Daniel rescues this important campaign from obscurity. Three days of savage and bloody fighting between Confederate and Union troops at Stones River in Middle Tennessee ended with nearly 25,000 casualties ... The staggering number of killed or wounded equaled the losses suffered in the well-known Battle of Shiloh.

Comment: Daniels has an interesting resume. Readers generally will recognize him as a repeat visitor to the Army of the Cumberland and its variants.

Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864
Hampton Newsome

In Richmond Must Fall, Hampton Newsome examines these October battles in unprecedented scope and detail. Drawing on an array of original sources, Newsome focuses on the October battles themselves, examining the plans for the operations, the decisions made by commanders on the battlefield, and the soldiers' view from the ground. At the same time, he places these military actions in the larger political context of the fall of 1864.

Comment: I wonder if he makes the connection between failed battles motivated by political desires and the November ballot?

Lincoln as Hero
Frank J. Williams

Lincoln as Hero shows how—whether it was as president, lawyer, or schoolboy—Lincoln extolled the foundational virtues of American society.

Comment: The choice is between "no comment" and "beneath comment."

Lincoln's Forgotten Friend, Leonard Swett
Robert S. Eckley

Robert S. Eckley provides the first biography of Swett, crafting an intimate portrait of his experiences as a loyal member of Lincoln’s inner circle.

Comment: "Companions of the prophet" is a genre of hagiography. The only justification for a Swett biography on historical grounds would be to map his views and their influence on Lincoln's important decisions. Is that what we have here? What is the point of being in Lincoln's inner circle given the methods by which Lincoln took advice and then action?

The Civil War and American Art
Eleanor Jones Harvey

Artists and writers wrestled with the ambiguity and anxiety of the Civil War and used landscape imagery to give voice to their misgivings as well as their hopes for themselves and the nation. Its grim reality, captured through the new medium of photography, was laid bare. American artists could not approach the conflict with the conventions of European history painting, which glamorized the hero on the battlefield.

Comment: A Smithsonian release through Yale University Press, this is one I'll be pre-ordering. Harvey's tastes in art are very conservative and I'll be reading her analysis skeptically, but this is one I can't pass up.

"A Punishment on the Nation" - An Iowa Soldier Endures the Civil War
Brian Craig Miller

Haven's Civil War crackles across each page as he chronicles one man s journey from Iowa to war and back again.

Comment: The marketers who write this copy need to spend more time figuring out what the specific historical value of a title might be. This is very hard, but they need to do it. "Crackling pages" sounds like an entertainment proposition.

Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Alabama in the Civil War
Ben H. Severance

The tenth volume in this acclaimed series showing the human side of the country's great national conflict.

Comment: If you're an Alabaman, go for it. Otherwise, this is like keeping a family album of someone else's family.

GENERAL GRANT AND THE REWRITING OF HISTORY: How a Great General (and Others) Helped Destroy General William S. Rosecrans and Influence our Understanding of the Civil War
Frank Varney

Juxtaposing primary source documents (some of them published here for the first time) against Grant's own pen and other sources, Professor Varney sheds new light on what really happened on some of the Civil War's most important battlefields.

Comment: This is the 2012 book I've been waiting for: in-your-face historiography. If you've read Lamers, you have had a foretaste of this.

10/26/2012

Generals who faint (cont.)

The general who faints is now going to lose his scalp, along with the AFRICOM commander, both of them having watched a seven-hour attack on security cam feeds, drone television, cell phone and radio audio and who knows what else. The public will not understand their deep political motivations for non-action and judge them simply as soldiers who failed to do the right thing.

Over a week ago, I heard Col. David Hunt tick off which feeds were going to which operational headquarters and which commanders and politicos were watching the carnage in real-time. Today he was on New England radio again and he said (paraphrasing):
If the State Department tells you, a general, no go, you call the New York Times immediately. But we don't have that kind of officer anymore.
A young USAF intel analyst called a morning talk show in D.C. to explain the FLASH messaging system triggers and the protocols that would move message traffic up to the president in cases where an ambassador was missing or under attack. The host wanted to argue with him on the subject of Why didn't the generals act and the young analyst took great pains to explain to him what a U.S. general is, in fact, and that it would be very foolish to expect such action. The host could not absorb the information.

The difference between a Civil War general and a 2012 general is that a Civil War general needed significant political sponsorship to gain his rank (even at one star) and he needed sustained sponsorship to remain in command. A modern general needs political approval to serve at the three and four star level - the one and two star guys are selected by other generals, including the political powerhouse three and four star men.

We confuse ourselves as a culture by perpetuating the nonsense that the Civil War sidelined political generals in favor of technocrats who could perform. Generals are highly political, highly sensitive to politics, and could not achieve rank or function bureaucratically without all of the dark arts associated with politics.

Wesley Clark, to take an example, is not a "Clinton general" because he speaks out in favor of Clinton causes. He is a "Clinton general" because Clinton made him. Every four star combatant commander is a man made by the White House and/or Congress. Every modern general praises Robert E. Lee and Ulysses Grant (both were highly political generals, BTW) with his mouth while acting the Benjamin Butler with his other parts.

If we could fix Civil War history on this score, it would advance the general understanding of what a general is and does.

p.s. See this report on a CIA press release as well. The headline and analysis have reversed the meaning of the release.

Update, 10/27: Scalp number one.

10/23/2012

Unknown portrait of George Thomas

Have not seen this portrait of George Thomas in the literature before. It seems based on a photograph. The picture hangs in the Army & Navy Club in DC and no date is given, no artist is credited. Have seen it often but decided to snap it at lunch yesterday using my crappy phonecam.

If you are planning on writing a George Thomas bio (possible theme: America's unknown hero), go get a better photo for your cover art.

10/22/2012

The Mysterioso returns

Rick Beard is back in the public eye, his background totally erased by the New York Times. (They're really good at removing and revising information, I think.)

Scroll down to the bottom to read his spiffy new legend.

(H/T to RC)