Booth bobbleheads

They were a "top seller." They were the John Wilkes Booth bobbleheads sold by the Abraham Lincoln Museum and Presidential Library.

They've been pulled because a blogger squawked. A blogger. No more, no less.

Word to the wise: never locate a museum in Chicago.

Gallagher's "Lost Cause"

There is the "Lost Cause" per what I would consider failed historiography and then there is the "Lost Cause" as a punching bag for historiographic dunces.

A propos of Gallagher's "Lost Cause," readers remind me of this post.


Transvestite chic

This was an ACW museum display - before sensitivities were bruised.
(Via the Washington Times)


Publishing - some simple observations

Was looking for a book in B&N at the Reston "Town Center" last week and noticed the Civil War shelves had reduced from three to one.

This is good news and bad news, I suppose. The bad news is less choice but the good news is that quality has been way up ever since the Michael Shaara-Ken Burns fans began drifting away. Whatever their merits, Burns and Shaara were a disaster for Civil War publishing, flooding the market with the lowest quality readership imaginable.

Now, it's as if two thirds of the rot has been cleared away to leave some air and light for the better publishing. "Better publishing" means books for deep readers instead of what dominated - entertainment for transients.

Quality in Civil War publishing now is so encouraging compared to when this blog started that I am afraid of drifting into embarassing superlatives.

We still have a residue of book buyers who gravitate to the themes and messages of sixty years ago and they remain a problem for us in that publishers will still seek out this market and consume scarcer shelf space with books that regurgitate the nonsense of long-dead authors locked into a dying dogma.

Even here, however, there are rays of sunshine breaking through the gloom.

For instance, I recently received a deeply offensive newsletter from Gateway Press. It contained an article that lacked notes, bibliography, or in-line references. It made no textual reference to sources (primary or secondary) and it read as if it had been cribbed from a 1959 issue of American Heritage.

I thought no one in 2012 can be this ignorant, or blind, or innocent of the scholarship of the last decades. So I read the offensive piece again slowly and noticed two points buried in the piece that would gag a Centennialist.

It occurred to me then that this article was not written for me or for any modern Civil War reader. This was an author trying to "move the ball forward" five yards against a powerful, entrenched defense that does not read or understand modern Civil War histories.

I had another taste of this in reading Chester Hearn's Lincoln, the Cabinet, and the Generals. Considering the scope of the work, the gaps, the enormous analytical shortcomings, the extensive and irrelevant recounting of the war in narrative form as if for a first-time ACW book-buyer and the meager sum of insights, I was not surprised to find a bibliography replete with secondary sources from the 1950s and 1960s.

My better self eventually suggested that this book was not written for me, my friends, the readers of this blog, nor for anyone we know or will ever know. It was written for an audience of limited understanding trapped in time, locked into a narrative superstructure. The book served the very admirable purpose of (again) moving that ball a possible five yards towards the goalposts against the home team in Centennial stadium.

In that B&N store, BTW, I picked up an ACW railroad/strategy history (quite the thing just now) and noticed the author making inventive points based on new research. He hurt himself badly, however, by borrowing framework elements from the King James Authorized narrative as approved by the Centennial's leading ecclesiastics. For example, the succession of prophets was as depicted by Fathers Williams & Williams, Fuller, Catton, et al. McClellan, a false prophet, arose in the land; Sherman succeeded him as one greater; and Grant followed as the culmination of all prophesy. In railroad terms, this became McClellan as he-with-the-rough-idea-of-utility; Sherman as a more advanced McClellan; Grant as the super-McClellan. In the great Rowena Reed's calculation, the order is inverted but Reed did not make it into this fellow's bibliography.

And again, through my irritation, it occurred to me that this book is not for me. This book is intended for them.

And who are they? They are the remnant searching for the lost shelves of Barnes & Noble.

We'll look at some books in detail soon, with fewer mixed metaphors in play.


How it was done (cont.)

To the continuous outrage of the nation's financial sector, Salmon Chase, Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury, granted to Jay Cooke & Co. the exclusive right to sell all Treasury paper during Chase's tenure. Cooke was given "points" (a percentage) of every sale made.

From the book Jay Cooke: Financier of the Civil War Volume I by Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer:

Banking services. P. 210: On 2/7/62, Chase asks Cooke for a personal loan of $2,000 for "a store I am rebuilding" in Cincinnati.

Wealth management. Throughout 1862, Jay Cooke was investing Chase's personal funds for him and advising him on finances. In a couple of letters (at least), Chase admonishes him for mixing personal business into official communications, since his official correspondence had to be archived. They met privately on a continuous basis about Chase's finances.

Free stock and a plush job. P. 188: Chase "again had a vision of resigning from the Treasury Department to take [the] presidency" of the Washington and Georgetown Street Railroad Company, a Cooke & Co. concern, in which Chase was given free stock. On 5/31/62, he dropped the hint in a letter ("I was strongly inclined..."). He was needed where he was, however, and Cooke did not act on Chase's employment hints.

We should be mindful that the Gilded Age started with Lincoln.


The OR as a template

In the library at the Army and Navy Club a week ago, I was surprised to encounter two series of volumes organized very much like our beloved Official Records but postdating them by many decades. Both were prepared by the US Navy.

The first was

Naval Documents Related to the Quasi-War between the United States and France: Naval Operations from February 1797 to December 1801. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1935-38. 7 vols.

These were seven very thick volumes, by the way. The second surprise was

Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers, Washington, U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1939-44

Here again, a thick set of seven volumes spanning 1785 to 1807.

If you could find sets to buy, you could lose yourself in the history of these wars for a long time. Whatever feeling immersion in the OR delivers, here is more.

Brian Lamb, slightly off topic

As Drew notes, Brian Lamb is a major media figure and I want to follow Drew in congratulating him on his retirement, albeit for different reasons.

Drew and others appreciate the book segments on C-Span. I found them to be the weakest link, driven by narrative-based pop history and queries from that same pop-history standpoint. The recurring problem with C-Span interviews of authors is that each author was enshrined as an expert. This is opposite to Feynman's formula that the esence of science is to treat expertise as ignorance.

In one of his Jazz Casual TV shows, ETV's Ralph Gleason queried Count Basie on the lines of, Do you think jazz will ever lose its blues basis? The possibility worried Gleason to death and is indicative of that cultural ultraconservatism that attracts people to ETV (in that day), PBS (nowadays), and NPR. It's the same cultural rigidity that reduces classical radio stations to what Zappa called "top 40 hits" and other safe bets.

The common theme here is deference to authority. The good part of C-Span showed us the face of authority as it is. The worst part of it deferred to this or that jackass author-authority. Brian Lamb had this blind spot.

In the end though, the best part of one C-Span channel was worth more than all the ETVs, PBSs, and NPRs put together over the last 50 years. In that I thank Drew for reminding me to tip my hat to Brian Lamb.


Simpson has a blog

It was a pleasant slumber, and upon waking I found Brooks Simpson blogging on his own site.

Better than a pleasant dream!

In my "special" view of ACW historiography, Brooks was a beacon of sanity in the sewage tsunami that represented ACW publishing in the 1990s. You could count on one hand the original writers willing to put everything on the table (subject to sources, rigor, and insight).

He remains interesting, independent, and important, not on the basis of his connections but on the basis of his methods and conclusions.

Your encouragement is deserved and even required. The best readers deserve the best authors and the best authors need to know how much we appreciate them. This is a contender for the heavyweight championship. Don't waste time on palookas.


Gallagher and ACW history

An author friend tipped me that Gary "Stop the Madness" Gallagher has published thoughts on blogging in one of the glossies.

In the true spirit of blogging, I thought it best to immediately launch harsh ad hominem attacks without even reading the underlying piece.

Just kidding. Up to a point, anyway.

Kevin Levin has written nicely about GG's position and Harry Smeltzer has a very good comments section on it. Makes me reconsider opening up comments.

Just kidding again.

Seriously, though, I had been thinking about Gallagher lately because UNC Press keeps sending me review copies of very interesting books. This has been going on for years (and if GG reads this blog, this is his chance to tell marketing to cut me off.)

I would say Ted Savas and Gary Gallgher are the very best acquistion editors in Civil War history publishing today. UNC simply could not do better than Gallagher (since Savas is unavailable), and that's worth a few postings. I owe the Press a few lines anyway based on this backlog of titles weighing down my shelves.

I hold GG in low esteem as an historian, as you know. He reminds me of certain political commentators who strain for some sparkling but non-controversial insight while burrowing through piles of common knowledge and acceptable truths. I also find his writing as wickedly polemical as any blogger's.

Note to self: A blogger complains about polemics. Oh, the irony.

When the history of Civil War history is written, Gallagher will be that bright young hope of the dying vestiges of Centennial dogma, the man who carries the shopworn and dusty insights of an ancient era into the harsh light of the 21st Century. I speak of him this way in his form as an author and anthologist.

As an author, he's a lost battalion, trapped behind the lines of historiography, out of touch with his headquarters (destroyed by the creeping barrage of time), searching for a way to rejoin the fight against revisionists, struggling for relevancy on a battlefield for which he has no maps. He's low on ammunition (fresh insights). He's also low on water, in terms of a stream of supporting research and ideas.

And yet, Gallagher does not use his editorial position at UNC Press to pound us with tome after tome reiterating the golden verities of 60 years ago. Lost behind the lines as author Gallagher is, editor Gallagher sends these daring little patrols in different directions to find some way out of no-man's-land. This is what makes his editorship so different from Ted Savas's and so interesting in a completely different way. Being utterly lost, Gallagher is forced to experiment in ways Savas, knowing the terrain, is not.

Ted has a firm grip on Civil War historiography as it is developing now and as it has been evolving for the last decade, partly because he is a committed neutral with a taste for good research and writing. Gallagher, however, is a committed partisan who cannot, therefore, admit of new work that contradicts "the canon" and therefore he cannot discern the shapes emerging from the smoke of battle. It would have required shell shock for him to have published Rowland, Reese, Harsh, Beatie, Rafuse or others as an editor at UNC Press. And yet, in his own reconnaisance of the battlefield, editor Gallagher's thoughtful desperation yields novelty again and again. Now, that novelty is generally within the framework of the canon and it never explicitly contradicts "the masters" on any point of importance, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Editor Gallagher's new works are not concerned with the central truths that have been handed to us by the Centennial generation. It may be that Gallagher's misplaced conceit spares us endless recastings of Catton, Williams, et al. He seems to believe that the literary nonfiction of the 1950s and 1960s era delivered us "settled science" in Civil War history and therefore does not need repeating. Who but a blogger would contend with these greats?

Author Gallagher's flirtation with topics like the "Lost Cause" and "black Confederates" show a man bereft of basic historiographic instincts and insights. In a way, this is the last man you want in charge of selecting new ACW titles. Gallagher's new writing shows a man fighting for the orthodoxies of the past. And yet, editor Gallagher's commissioning of new books, shows all the verve, spunk, intelligence, and insight we have come to expect from ... bloggers.

Think of editor Gallagher as a blogger and new UNC books as his (extended) posts. If you do, you'll find him really interesting.


Again in the true spirit of blogging, here are some of the more hurtful things I have written about author Gallagher in the past. I hope you find them interesting.

Stop the Madness -- Wittenberg, Petruzzi and I pile on while Kevin Levin plays defense for GG.

When You Can tell a Book by Its Title - Beating an historiographical blunder by GG into the ground.

Foner Criticizes Gallagher - nuff said.

McClellan Bad, Very Bad Man - A sampler of stale Centennial punditry from a Gallagher book. If you don't laugh out loud (i.e., LOL!) at some of his quotes, you're not paying attention.

Let that be enough. Even blog readers have limits.

Browse UNC Press here.

Update, 3/24: the ever-estimable Manny has read GG's article and is okay with it.


How it was done

In case the name does not ring a bell, Justus McKinstry took care of John Fremont's supplies. His private papers contain this letter:
Washington, September 10, 1861

J. McKINSTRY, Brigadier General and Quartermaster, St. Louis:

Permit me to introduce James L. Lamb, Esq.[headed large firm for merchandising and pork-packing] of Springfield Illinois. I have known Mr. Lamb for a great many years. His reputation for integrity and ability to carry out his engagements are both unquestioned, and I shall be pleased, if consistent with the public good, that you will make purchases of him of any army supplies needed in your Department.

Your obedient servant,
You look at Lincoln's involvement with cotton trading permits and wonder how many more "pork" and privilege letters are in private collections.


A trope becomes common knowledge

Last week (behind this paywall), the following Lincoln reference appeared among the op-eds of the Wall Street Journal. I give the Lincoln extract complete, with no cutting:
Abraham Lincoln is considered to be one of our most effective presidents. He managed to win the Civil War and keep a divided country together, no small feat. He was able to do this in part because he had an amazing team, one of the strongest cabinets in history. Ironically, most of the people on his team didn't really like each other—or him. In fact, when he formed his cabinet, he surprised many people, appointing his four fiercest rivals for the presidency. These were people who not only didn't like Lincoln, they basically thought he was an idiot, that he was seriously under-qualified for the job. But in appointing them to the highest positions in his cabinet, he was able to bring together the men who represented the different factions that threatened to further divide the United States, and unite all of them around one vision: "a new birth of freedom." He ensured that everyone on his team followed his rules — most importantly, to rise above petty rivalries and disagreements — and in the end, they achieved the "impossible" and won the war.
Isn't that amazing?

This trope is specific to Doris Goodwin; it "brands" her view of the AL presidency. To roll it out in an essay on management (or whatnot) without crediting her suggests her "team" thoughts have become common knowledge. Everybody "knows" that Lincoln forged a brilliant team! By now, perhaps every schoolchild in America learns it. When the Lincoln movie comes out, we may get more of the same.

The behavior of Lincoln scholars on the release of Team of Rivals was utterly disgraceful. They silently rolled over and now we have this nonsense handed to us in the popular culture.

Matthew Pinsker summed things up when he wrote:
Lincoln's Cabinet was no team. His rivals proved to be uneven as subordinates. Some were capable despite their personal disloyalty, yet others were simply disastrous.
Here are some posts you may enjoy reading: Bates / Chase / Welles / Stanton.