"New writing" from James McPherson (cont.)

Again, from his latest writing in the New York Review of Books. The man is psychic!

Although the Mexican Congress repudiated this treaty, the Texans managed to maintain their independence for almost a decade … - James M. McPherson, New York Review of Books, Feb. 7, 2013

Although the Mexican Congress repudiated the treaty, the Republic of Texas maintained its independence. – "A Concise History of the U.S. – Mexican War" (website), August 7, 2004

Silas Jerome Uhl

I had posted a lousy digital snap of a George Thomas painting taken in the Army & Navy Club, artist unknown. The Club has recently moved blocking objects away from the frame and I can now see the artist's mini-plaque. He was Silas Jerome Uhl (1842-1916).

Uhl is collected at a decent valuation. An indifferent still life (vase and flowers) recently sold for $2,000. His obit in the NYT says he was popular in the salons of Paris in the 1880s.

The A&N Club has a number of portraits of ACW personalities done in his style, probably by him. As with Thomas, they all appear late in their lives, which suggests to me a sitting. The portraits of interest I have seen on the walls at the Club include Thomas, Sherman, Meade, DD Porter, and perhaps another swabbie. (Assume they were ANC members.) They are very well done in terms of character and detail and I have never seen any in print.

The imagery available from Uhl on the Web is far inferior to the quality of these portraits. Thomas, Sherman and Porter are superb: Meade looks a little vacant and is for that reason a notch below. Will try snapping better cameraphone images and posting them here as opportunity permits.

College professors

Could it be that college professors are merely support systems for college administrators?


"New writing" from James McPherson (cont.)

The man has chops, you have to admit it.
... the new government offered American settlers large land grants to move into its sparsely populated northern province of Tejas. - James McPherson, New York Review of Books, February 7, 2013
"Mexico welcomed foreign settlers to sparsely populated Texas" - Source

"Tejas was sparsely populated" - Source

"Since the province of Texas was very sparsely populated..." - Source

"[Texas] was a sparsely populated area in northern Mexico..." - Source

"... note that the province of Tejas—Texas ... was a sparsely populated area in northern Mexico." - Source

"Mexico welcomed foreign settlers to sparsely populated Texas." - Source

"American settlers who had made their homes in this sparsely populated land..." - Source

And on it goes.

The inevitability of the war

The inevitability of the war portends the inevitability of select anecdotes, the inevitability of sophistry, and the inevitability of awards bestowed by your inevitable friends.


"New writing" from James McPherson

In the very latest New York Review of Books, James McPherson reviews A Wicked War by Amy Greenberg. As with all of his reviews, he spends 95% of his ink recounting events, in this case the Mexican War.

His historical insights and literary techniques seem as sharp as ever:
... the issue of slavery in this new American territory [Texas] set in motion a series of events ...
- James McPherson, NYRB, February 7, 2013
... but the annexation of Texas set in motion of series of events ...
- Michael Kazin, Rebecca Edwards, Adam Rothman, 2011, The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History- Page 490
... it resulted in the greatest land acquisitions in American history and set in motion the chain of events leading directly to the Civil War.
- Historian magazine, blurbed review of The Presidency of James K. Polk, 1987
... the process leading to the annexation of Texas and the state joining the Union set in motion a train of events causing the Civil War.
- Joseph G. Dawson in The Journal of Military History, 2007

Civil War movies

The appeal of movies like Lincoln to Civil War authors lies in that they are storytellers first and regard film as a higher form of storytelling than history books.


Battlefield monuments

Battlefields dense with monuments alter the tour into something entirely different.


Idea for a battlefield tour

Let every battlefield visitor load and fire a period weapon. Let them move under heavy loads and a hot sun. Let them stand opposite opposing tourists for long spells wearing woolen clothing. Let them elect their guides. Let them wait interminable periods for directions from their guides.


Walter Mitty fought the Civil War

Everyone is (at best) George Thomas in their daily lives while everyone imagines himself to be a mythical version of Stonewall Jackson.


Literary ideals

Because his book cites some scholarship, the storyteller claims scholarly validation for his literary ideals.

The Jackson alternative

Where is the historian who presents Jackson as slow, unresponsive, unpopular, harsh, double-dealing, generally confused, and usually unprepared?


What if ...

What if the Civil War was not a modern war?


Battlefield guides

Battlefield guides ask us to visualize too much.


What if ...

The ACW was not inevitable?


I was a teenaged Civil War soldier

Ran into a fraternity brother last week - hadn't seen him in 39 years. I went Infantry and he went Armor. He told me some things about the Army I left that blew my mind. The key thing - and this is current doctrine that I read up on afterward - is that everything must go through the network and reside on the network.

Thou shalt have no knowledge except that it reside on network.

When he and I were young, we moved companies, battalions and brigades using innacurate maps, compasses, ridiculously crappy radios, code books, and verbose orders. I was proud of my map reading and marksmanship. I was lousy at radio and encryption/decryption. I could give a good order. I enjoyed entrenching and laying down fields of fire. Looking back, I recall we avoided radio communication as inherently insecure. Take away the radios and we infantry were a Civil War army in terms of skills. We had to know stuff. Couldn't outsource that to machines.

In Korea, the mortar section of my weapons platoon resorted to an archaic artifact printed in a thick book - firing tables. Firing tables told us how much charge (gunpowder) we needed to put the round a certain distance downrange. Robust and yet delightfully primitive, I'm sure our ACW predecessors had the same for direct fire cannons.

My predecessor in C-1/17 did not read his firing tables correctly and put rounds on Republic of Korea troops at one point. But his boss, an accomplished schmoozer (and another fraternity brother of mine) got himself awarded a Korean medal after the fact anyway. No network could have produced that outcome.

The point is all that info needed for warfighting now resides on the blessed network. If the network is down, then...

- No maneuver. Online maps not available; GPS kaput
- No coordinated fires on enemy targets
- No lateral communication - lost the IM and email
- No upward communication - lost PowerPoint
- No downward commo - email and IM out
- No resupply - online forms not accessible.

I have a sense that the radio persists in some form or other. So let me be wrong about the network, spectacularly wrong. Write me and cuss me out. But if this is true, then my fraternity brother and I are in a continuum with the armies of the ACW. The modern soldier is something else altogether.

My fraternity brother says that today's junior officer is helpless in calling on indirect fires without a GPS or a laser. That would be amazing except for the story from Benghazi, where an ex-Seal was killed painting a mortar crew with laser (at immense risk to himself) instead of radioing in their coordinates (at no risk to himself).

Whoever gave primacy to the network, lasers, GPS, databased firing tables and other shortcuts has and will have an immense amount of blood on his hands. One wonders how today's army could survive in a non-networked war.


Finishing a degree

Regular posting to resume soon. Meanwhile, don't burn your books.


Costumes and storylines

Too many writers see the Civil War as a costume drama.


History hoax on Wikipedia

Some of the ACW material on Wikipedia is not much better than this.

Historical truth

Historical truth is the best substitute for absolute truth that we can manage.


New book blogs

Our friends at Savas Beatie advised us of three new book blogs:

James A. Morgan III offers A Little Short of Boats. Morgan wrote this very good book of the same name about Balls Bluff for Eric Wittenberg's press way back. This is a revised edition which suggests new and improved. Not sure what could have been improved other than the author's attitude towards GBM. Oh wait - maybe the author's attitude toward "Cap" Beatie! (But that's not in the book.) A good author meets up with a good publisher - what's not to like? Morgan has opinions and I hope he airs them. that's what blogs are for.

Bill Morgan blogs on ACW sites in NYC. The random stroller with Gotham experience will attest that the number of NYC ACW sites and monuments are such that it is inevitable that the low-information walker will eventually be confronted by a monument that evokes a loud "huh"?

Lance Herdegen has cranked up an Iron Brigade blog, which topic has the makings of "forever."

I think the risk in author blogs is that by the time they take up their HTML toolkits, they are exhausted (topic-wise) and in poor condition to pursue the book's subject.

That's not a fact, just a concern.