9/30/2012

Brands reviewed in WSJ

Russell Bonds reviews Brands' Grant bio in the Wall Street Journal with reference to Brooks Simpson and a decent amount of historiography for a piece in a generic venue like WSJ.

It has become exceedingly rare for a major newspaper to review a Civil War book. When a review is published, the editors seek out a kind of content recap leavened with a little oatmeal punditry, so we are lucky Bonds was able to do as much historiography as he did.

In the 1960s the influence of the New York Review of Books began to be felt in the big Sunday papers' book sections. This peaked in the 1970s and died out as papers shrunk in size and the book sections were abandoned.

The better editors tried to follow NYRB's methodology.

If the NYRB was going to review a book on Hottentot cooking, it would first try to get a reviewer who was expert in cooking or in books about cooking. He or she would be obliged to explain why the book was worth reviewing generally and where it fit into the history of cook book publishing. The reader would learn the why of Hottentot cooking, who were its critics, what were their positions, and the future held for this subject. There might be a little sidebar by a Hottentot who cooks. NYRB's readers would be "loaded for bear" at the next cocktail party, should someone serve a Hottentot appetizer. And in the weeks that followed, the letters column would be filled with back-and-forth on the subject.

(Oddly, the NYRB did not apply this approach to ACW books, which were the exclusive province of one James M. McPherson. McPherson's reviewing technique tends to be to recapitulate the historical event underlying the book - without reference to the book. He made an exception for Keegan, whom he attacked for errors, but generally, he does not do historiography or analysis.)

The newspaper format is large enough for this discursive, in-depth NYRB approach while magazines tend to be constrained and therefore run bland little informational notices.

So congratulations to Russell Bonds for giving a newspaper some taste of how it could be if done right.

Nevertheless, the constraints remain and the only place nowadays you can function as a Hottentot food critic (or critic of ACW histories) is on a blog.

9/27/2012

Smoking stats (OT)

Thanks for visiting. I should say that more often.

Sick of ...

Really, really sick of ACW writers skipping the historiography and backtracking to the OR, to a few letter collections, and to thoroughly mined manuscripts to produce "fresh" histories for general audiences.

But you knew that when you signed up for this blog.

It's lazy, dishonest, mean spirited, and ultimately ignorant, in all senses of that word.

Amazon reviews as entertainment (OT)

They may drive authors crazy but Amazon critics can do pack comedy. Scroll down. I'm moonstruck.

H/T Instapundit.

Don't skip the video ad.

9/26/2012

Dialog with a Civil War author

Imaginary, yet urgent.

DR: This history you're writing - you've got to use this opportunity to answer your critics!

Author: What critics? The book isn't out yet.

DR: The material you cover includes controversies. There are many authors with different positions than you on these controversies. You need to answer them wherever you take a position on a particular Civil War controversy.

Author: This is out of sync. They've already published their books, I'm just now publishing mine. How are they my critics?

DR: Their books are not going away. Even if they gather dust on a library shelf, they contradict your work with facts, logic, and argument. They can be picked up and read by the same person who buys your stuff next month.

Author: Maybe they need to address my book since mine is new.

DR: Maybe they already addressed your book because the content is old. What's in your book?

Author: Oh, I've gone back to the primary sources and worked exclusively from those.

DR: Newly discovered sources? Never before used sources?

Author: No, the gold standard. The OR, some correspondence, some key manuscripts.

DR: And you think this is the first time that's been done?

Author: I'm pulling more together to tell a richer story and paint a more complete picture in a compelling way.

DR: And what do you think about the work that has already been done on this?

Author: I'm not really that interested in it. I have my favorite authors but I'm trying to do this right, from scratch, with a clear mind and a minimum of influences.

DR: The people who came before you wasted their time, it seems.

Author: That's not my problem.

DR: So how are you resolving all these controversies you encounter?

Author: I'm not really seeing many controversies at all. I follow the sources, apply some logic, done.

DR: What do you do when sources contradict each other?

Author: I just go with the more credible source. This is not rocket science.

DR: Who is "more credible"?

Author: The person with the more durable historical reputation, usually. The more iconic, the more credible, to be blunt.

DR: There is a lot of new research, regimental histories, letters, and so on, that bears on these controversies and contradicts the iconic accounts. Then, there's context.

Author: That's getting into the weeds. That's not writing a general or campaign history, that's writing a specialized monograph for scholars.

DR: What if I told you that repeat Civil War readers were self-made scholars of different grades?

Author: I'm writing for a general audience, a mass audience. They want answers not puzzles.

DR: How do you know you've given them the right answers?

Author: I have my primary sources and credible testimony to settle controversies.

DR: So, you won't answer your critics?

Author: My critics are the future buyers of my book. They'll judge me on flow, human interest, and a satisfying reading experience. If I score high in those areas, I may have no critics at all.

DR: Except at CWBN.

9/25/2012

Publisher's advances

Via Drudge: Penguin is suing celebrity authors for non-delivery of "product." One-time celebrity blogger "Wonkette" is on the list.

Get a load of those advances: and Penguin is charging credit card level interest rates. Interesting!

Plagiarism, cont.

C-SPAN saw fit to give Jean Smith major airtime this weekend. (Click the link and then scroll down to the bottom of the post for links to the entire series on Smith's plagiarism.)

At the same time, Bob Dylan lashed out at "wussies and pussies" who attack plagiarism. Any number of ACW authors should thank him.

H/T to friendly reader.

9/20/2012

Plagiarism

Nice to have a plagiarism blog out there, even if it's a company storefront.

Likewise, good to have whitepapers on self-plagiarism and the snowballing effects of research misconduct.

9/18/2012

September 17-19, 1862

Savas-Beatie has brought out two very useful books to commemorate this time 150 years after the fact.

Bradley Gottfried's The Maps of Antietam, like his Gettysburg book before it, is a volume you can get lost in for many hours. Let's see, 124 color maps at 10 minutes minimum per map, there goes 20 hours right there. I expect to see this in many tourists' hands on my next visit to the battlefield. (I wouldn't be surprised, either, if his mapped vegetation plots put some pressure on park plantings.)

Tom Clemens' second volume of annotated Ezra Carman is out, The Maryland Campaign of 1862, and it weighs in at 668 pages, for a total of 1189 pages including Volume 1.

The first volume covered the campaign up to the battle and this volume addresses the battle itself.here, moreso than in Volume 1, Clemens' discursive footnoting really comes into its own.

For example, I compared the same subsections of a chapter from Joseph Pierro's one-volume edition (516 pages total) of Carman's work with Tom's Volume II. The chapter is "The Burnside Bridge" which Joe changed (for some reason) to "The Rohrbach (Burnside) Bridge."

In this matched comparison of passages of the same length, the Pierro book shows four footnotes, all of the type
McClellan to Thomas, Oct. 15, 1861, 31
Pierro's sparse notes are intended to correlate some of Carman's material to outside sources such as the OR. A discursive note from Pierro's book might spend a sentence or two on the implications of misspelling Duryee as Duryea.

Clemens also has four footnotes, two of them short and two longer. Here is his version of Pierro's note (shown above):
McClellan's October 15 report, ibid., p. 31. This language is notably absent from his August 1863 report.
You see the value, immediately, even in Clemens' shortest notes.

In the matched passages, Carman describes the terrain around the bridge calling out a spot where four Union batteries were located. Clemens' footnote says how Carman likely developed the distance data. He also records, with interesting citations, that Carman is the only source for putting Roemer's battery at the bridge site on this day. Very nice points and not mirrored in Pierro's book, where notes have been pressed into a different kind of service.

In the passage addressing McClellan's order to attack over the bridge, Clemens gives an elegantly compact, masterfully edited note that embraces where Carman got his language for the narrative describing this incident; highlights of the controversy regarding the timing of the order; and he mentions a major contribution to the study of this controversy in 2007 by our friend Moe D'Aoust.

Pierro did us good service bringing a Carman edition public when there was none but the best is the enemy of the good. You have to buy Clemens' Carman for the notes. They are superb.

Meanwhile, here are Tom Clemens and Brian Pohanka in a two-hour CSPAN conversation about the campaign and battle.

9/17/2012

Ten Things Antietam taught me

(1) You can win every battle in a campaign and still be portrayed as a loser.

(2) You can lose every battle in a campaign and be portrayed as a genius.

(3) Horrendous levels of straggling on both sides will NEVER be reported in history books, unless it is on one side to make the GENIUS look good.

(4) You can be in continuous contact with your president about the horrendous levels of straggling and he will still pretend you missed a fabulous opportunity, even while privately acknowledging unbelievable levels of straggling.

(5) You can lead an army to victory in offensive operations 20 days after their defeat and still be considered a complete loser, if not a traitor.

(6) If your defeated army that won a victory on America's bloodiest day does not resume the offensive immediately after the battle, you will be branded a certified failure if not a traitor.

(7) If you order your fresh, reserve corps in pursuit of the defeated enemy two days after the bloodiest day in history, it will not be reported as a pursuit by historians.

(8) If the enemy organizes his army to repulse the corps-level pursuit, it will be reported as yet another pathetic failure by the loser.

(9) If you try to reorganize or refit after the bloodiest battle in American history, you will be labeled a shirker, a loser, a time-waster, a cry-baby.

(10) If you read histories of the Maryland campaign, you really have a whole lot of digging to do. A whole lot. And you will gain insight into the corrupt state of Civil War history, because these problems are not local to the East, nor to the AoP, nor to McClellan.

9/14/2012

In the Lincoln movie trailer...

... the Mary character says to the Abe character, "No one is more loved by the American people than you."

Of course Mary Lincoln was committed to a mental institution, but one doubts she was crazy enough to utter those words. Ask Larry Tagg.

The overall feel of the trailer was hinting at DeMille or DW Griffith, IMHO, with all the visionary or masterpiece elements removed. Lots of night scenes and really loud musical strokes to underline the Seriously Dramatic snippets of dialog.

Some insight into the Goodwin element here:
According to Spielberg, Goodwin's entire book about Lincoln's presidency is "much too big" for a film, but the director said that the film will focus in on the last few months of Lincoln's life, the ending of slavery, and the Union victory in the Civil War. "What permanently ended slavery was the very close vote in the House of Representatives over the Thirteenth Amendment - that story I'm excited to tell," said Spielberg. [...]

Screenwriter Kushner reportedly spent six years writing the screenplay, saying he was very interested in "the relationship of Lincoln to the abolitionist left."
Goodwin's meme and content seem to have been sidelined.


9/11/2012

Icons will be icons

Thought for today from Tom Clemens (h/t to a correspondent):
"When we impart history for the masses, we tend to generalize,” Clemens said. We tend to create heroes and villains and things become more black and white, good and bad, right and wrong.

We know that two of the great icons of American history are Abraham Lincoln, the martyred president, and Robert E. Lee, the noble soldier. So when George McClellan argues with one and defeats the other, it doesn’t fit into the mold,” he continued. “We have to somehow reduce McClellan and minimalize his achievements so that the icons remain icons."

9/10/2012

John Pope's Maryland Campaign (cont.)

So how did John Pope come to lead, ever so briefly, Union forces in the Maryland campaign of 1862?

Ask you favorite historian and you'll get one of two irrelevant explanations:

(1) Lincoln appointed McClellan to command the armies against Lee after Second Manassas.

(2) Halleck appointed McClellan to command the armies against Lee after Second Manassas.

I have seen a third very rare explanation, cunning in the way it hides critical information:

(3) Lincoln appointed McClellan commander of the Washington defenses and acquiesced in McClellan's taking a force against Lee.

This (3) is so infrequent, we need not consider it at length.

The idea that Lincoln appointed McClellan to lead the armies has as its basis Halleck's testimony to the CCW. They asked him how in blazes McClellan ended up in command of the field force and that was Halleck's reply. There is no document or other evidence to substantiate Halleck's claim. The whole "Lincoln ordered McClellan" rests on one assertion made after the fact by a man expert at evading responsibility.

The idea that Halleck appointed McClellan rests on what Lincoln privately told a couple of political visitors who were giving him grief. A second-hand report of that conversation is the whole case (lock, stock, barrel) for Halleck appointing McClellan.

Lincoln initially told his Cabinet that McClellan's command was restricted to the Washington defenses. Halleck reinforced this in replying to a query from GBM as to the limits of his authority. In his response and in following communications, Halleck explained to GBM that McClellan was to prepare a force for the field, that McClellan would not lead that force, and that the naming of that commander would be GBM's prerogative.

The OR then contains some messages on the lines of, "and have you chosen the field commander yet?"

McClellan breaks the ice by appointing Pope on September 5. As I wrote here:
McClellan’s orders to Pope are clear and unambiguous – read them yourself - Pope commands in the field. And the orders to Pope have a context – McClellan was directed to name a commander of the field army. More generally, McClellan had also earlier been assured by Halleck that when the forces were united, Mac would command Pope. On September 5, the armies are together and Mac commands Pope.

The McClellan/Pope team emerges. But it lasts only a short time.
I also wrote, long ago, a compressed timeline of the command crisis that excludes Pope's command of the combined armies but which is otherwise useful. It also contains some technical notes on the idea of GBM being "restored" to command of the AoP, as if it were the AoP which had sallied against Lee!

Many of you could do better than I have with the underlying material; have at it.

Meanwhile, if a book tells you that Pope was relieved after Second Manassas or McClellan restored to command the AoP against Lee's invasion, put that book away, far away.

9/09/2012

John Pope's Maryland Campaign

September 5th passed and I missed commemorating the 150th anniversary of John Pope being appointed commander of the Union armies to oppose Lee's invasion of Maryland.

Oh, you haven't heard of it? Could it be that you read the swill that we call Civil War history? Could it be that you believe Pope was relieved after Second Manassas?

Shame on you. Here I go starting a blog to keep you out of the sewer of pop history and you continue to wallow. Sears writes so well! Catton is so inspiring!

Wake up, reader. (I'm trying to be positive here.)

On September 5th, 1862, George McClellan, charged by Halleck with designating a commander of the field army that would oppose Lee, ordered John Pope to the field. Lincoln wanted Halleck to take charge. We know how that worked out. Lincoln and Halleck then tried to get Burnside to take the job but Burnside demurred. GBM learned of the demurral and appointed Pope.

Please look it up in the OR. Please. That act will make you smarter than 99.5% of all ACW historians who ever wrote about this period. Rafuse excepted.

Notice, in the OR, the flurry of messages from John Pope indicating a tantrum after McClellan's appointment of him. He is beside himself at being ordered to take his army against Lee. This is what gets him relieved - not the defeat at Second Manassas - the tantrum he threw at being appointed commander of Union forces to lead what we call the Maryland Campaign.

I'm sorry our favorite pop historians know nothing of this but you can fix that by reading the OR.

With the consecutive refusals of Halleck, Burnside, and Pope to take to the field, McClellan himself takes field command contrary to Halleck's orders that he stay commander of the DC area only. This is how the Maryland Campaign began.

This campaign teaches us many things among which is the quality of Civil War history.

9/06/2012

I had the Civil War for lunch today

Click on the ridiculously blurry snapshot and see the fourth item. They served SO 191 in the form of chicken and dumplings. I ate it with oysters and champagne on the Potomac, Fredrick being close enough to the Potomac for luncheon purposes and cask-conditioned stout being close enough to champagne.

I'm not much of a re-enactor. Stanton was rolling in his grave, nevertheless.

Mary Lincoln, carnival attraction

"... the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission and the Lincoln Museum are set to give Mary Todd Lincoln a new [insanity] trial, starting in October."

They'll dress in period costumes while arguing 2012 involuntary commitment law.

And who's insane here?

What is it about Lincoln that turns people into jackasses?

On Garnett being killed at Gettysburg

Was amazed to receive a post pointing to an article about Gen. Garnett being killed at Gettysburg. Everyone knows that Robert S. Garnett was the first CSA general killed in the ACW.

Except that this was Richard B.

9/05/2012

Arguing with press releases

Brooks Simpson is arguing with press releases. This is an idea whose time has come.

Amazon drives authors crazy

Once upon a time, the Princeton Internet Society (if that was its name - I was a member and don't remember) hosted an author talk, very well attended, on the obscure subject (then) of buying Web development services. As someone who transacted most of his Internet business on USENET in TIN with occasional recourse to GOPHER, I was interested.

But the author was obsessed, not with his topic, but in the negative reviews he had been collecting on this WWW site called Amazon. I might have been accessing Amazon with a MOSAIC browser at that point. Don't remember. Do remember how this author tried to finagle us into getting on Amazon to polish his apple.

The issue was that his publisher paid close attention to Amazon reviews. The publisher had this author on the run.

Couldn't help myself, had to look. Despite the complaints, the negative reviews were impeccable. Not enough substance. Too many generalities. Not enough how-to. Out-of-date.

Today, the "problem" of Amazon reviews persists but I don't know if it's a matter of publisher interest or author egos.

Those of us who sat in the boiling oil of USENET for however many years developed an insensitivity that is very useful in the realm of comments, reviews, hate mail, crank communications and all manner of vituperation.* I seriously doubt that today's authors could stand up to serious trolling (possible exception: USENET survivor Brooks Simpson).

You've been good enough to read this far and let me thank you with a couple of amazing links. The first was sent by a friend (h/t) and is (o/t) ACW-free. A certain lady novelist uses her husband to pounce on negative reviews that are not really too negative. The resulting drama suggests ego rather than publisher jitters.

The second link involves British novelists behaving badly by sock puppeting comments on Amazon. Hello USENET! It is difficult to say if this is a publisher appeasement program, a nasty trick on perceived rivals, or just another strain of I AM THE ARTIST foolishness.

Click the links and feast on authorial folly.

p.s. Would it kill you to go on Amazon and write a few lines about your favorite or most hated ACW book?


* So why don't I allow comments? Because I have seen wheels spin, heat without light, strife without resolution, and foolishness without end.