Savas Beatie Lolapalooza omnibus author tour

No cost tours "will be led by your favorite Savas Beatie authors, including: Tom Clemens, George Newton, J. David Petruzzi, Lance Herdegen, David Shultz, Eric Wittenberg, and Jim Morgan."
Sunday, July 28: Gettysburg (4 different tours)

Monday, July 29: Gettysburg (4 different tours)

Tuesday, July 30: South Mountain, Antietam, & Ball's Bluff
I may lurk.


Hood and history

My Amazon Review:  JOHN BELL HOOD: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General

This is a book that examines that series of claims made about Gen. Hood which define him in modern pop history. Author Hood's system is to lay out a representative assertion, examine its sources and then allow the reader to decide if the "common wisdom" has merit. The demolition of Wiley Sword and his ilk is awe-inspiring and I hope it puts the fear of God into that great careless pack of out-of-control nonfiction writers who dominate best-seller lists. They will be held to account somewhere, sometime.

Gen. Hood's haters might reasonably argue that author Sam Hood is weaker in dealing with interpretations than in outright claims. Since outright claims make the bulk of the brief against the general, rebutting interpretations is not a major part of the book. Author Hood also spends more time on Gen. Johnston's military record than is directly relevant to the project at hand. Fault noted, but some of his anti-Johnston material is quite interesting.

Despite these quibbles, this is a choice piece of historiography that applies a little shock to those who think they know John Bell Hood and his last campaigns. We need more of this across the board. No one who has read or collected Atlanta or Nashville campaign books should do without this.

Historiographic Notes and Asides

A book that begins with this quote from Cicero is one that you know is way out of step with Civil War history:
The first law of the historian is that he shall never dare to utter an untruth. The second is that he shall suppress nothing that is true. Moreover, there shall be no suspicion of partiality in his writing, or of malice.
Take away partiality, malice and suppression, and we don't have much ACW history left.

Speaking of which, I am partial to Sam Hood and this work for reasons obvious to those who have read me over time. In 1997, I began compiling and publishing examinations of the claims made against McClellan. My motivation was rage. Having binged on ACW pop history 1994-1997 after 30 years of reading good European history, I found ACW standards so primitive, so insulting, so outlandish as to require outrage.

Author Hood comes at this from a saner, gentler place. His interest in the ACW starts as a kinsman of the general, one with access to troves of family documents that historians have never seen. The emotion apparently came later, in encountering a uniform depiction of the general (in recent times) in a paint-by-the-numbers way in colors of spite, contempt, and ignorance.

In my readings, the treatments of McClellan (and other "unsuccessful" generals, including Fremont, Johnston, Hood, etc.) were a red flag signalling disaster within the whole genre. Revisionist authors did not get this. Steve Newton made a compelling case for the revaluation of Johnston's Richmond defense while resorting to every pop history cliche available to contextualize the rest of his story. The critical eye, his own and other revisionists', was reserved for a chosen subject and averted from the general malaise. By the same token, the many regimental and tactical level works that came out in the late '90s that overturned common knowledge were accompanied by authorial rationales and apologies where discoveries did not fit the master narrative. Let us also not forget all the authors who continue to choose to argue revision of a discrete point: that this one conclusion needs to be fixed in order for the glorious whole to be perfect. (Examples abound in previous posts - no need to recount them here.)

This is not what Sam Hood does. This is one of those rare revisions that clearly recognizes Civil War history itself is broken. At the same time (unlike this blog), author Hood does not use a particular element (Gen. Hood) to organize a lengthy general indictment of the field. The indictment is incidental to his main task, repudiation of bad work about the general. But the big picture is there and he does not skirt the issue. Witness:
Unfortunately, by the middle of the twentieth century, the second and third generation Civil War books came to rely more and more on the opinions and facts (often biased and erroneous) of earlier authors rather than simply the historical record written by the men and women who lived it.
This phenomenon is part of what I have called Centennialism and Thomas Rowland has called it Unionism.

Sam Hood lists the symptoms of the Civil War history illness: opinions are given as facts; retellers fail to research sources of claims; "factual errors" are passed on; "innacurate and misleading paraphrasing" of material is used to make points; and there is the "concealment of historical facts." At one point he formulates five points of malpractice dogging presentations of the general:
1. Making factual statements without providing a source;

2. Making a factual statement and providing a source that has no relationship whatsoever to the "factual" statement;

3. Offering long complete verbatim quotes from sources that support the author's viewpoint or argument, but abbreviating quotes from witnesses whose testimony weakens the author's viewpoint or argument;

4. Inaccurately paraphrasing or distorting the context of a primary source;

5. Inserting an unsourced assertion of fact into a paragraph containing multiple factual statements supported by correct sourcing.
We can add to that list selective sourcing, overweighting sources, discounting sources, ignoring sources, and most toxic, failing to engage critics of your interpretations.

I have been dwelling on the broader points here without adequately conveying how much excitement there is in
author Hood's specific takedowns of weak claims and garbage citations. I don't know how Hood authors will be able to appear in public after this (but perhaps I underestimate the shamelessness of Civil War authors). If you enjoy the pointed historiographic criticism appearing occasionally in this blog, this book is for you. Here General Hood has been done a service as has ACW history.

In his review of the pathology of Civil War history, Sam Hood coined a neologism: malportrayal. He intended it as an antonym to hagiography. Civil War history suffers from both but of the two, malportrayal is epidemic.


p.s. Anticipating that critics might call his book "unbalanced," the author suggests that the entire field has tilted one way and that this book is the balance.

Those who wish to post their own pop history opinions on my blog likewise suggest this blog is unbalanced. They need to understand Hood's point: this is the balance.


Maxwell's "Copperhead"

Ron Maxwell's new movie Copperhead is based on the esteemed Harold Frederic novel of the same name. Hollywood Reporter says, "...examines the price of dissent amid the hysteria of war..."

This synopsis dates from a year ago. Releases in four days - still looking for venues.


Seen in the papers (cont.)

Early last year, the University of Illinois Press issued David Work's Lincoln's Political Generals. Work sees his book as a corrective to Thomas Goss's The War Within the Union High Command (see this blog, 5/07/2004). Work sees Goss as missing the larger picture of Lincoln's policy by focusing on a small set of "political generals." He also notes that Goss's focus on issues surrounding West Point professionalism make this earlier work something other than a study of Lincoln's appointment policy. In his introduction, Work singles out Brooks Simpson's views on political generals in a way that merits further comment here, in some future post.

And speaking of Brooks Simpson, he was part of a very odd project launched by the Library of America in 2011(The First Year, The Second Year, The Third Year). Simpson and Stephen Sears divided up the compilation work to produce some big books. Given the flood of regimental histories and diaries since the 1990s, it makes sense to collect from these the most interesting bits. My fear is (without having seen these works) that the editors might have been tempted to dip into their existing stock of material, previously used to write books decades ago. My additional fear is that Sears, a very active polemicist, would not miss this opportunity to advance his unbalanced views of the first two years of the war. I don't associate LOA with textbooks: this appears to be a project aimed at the leisure reader.

Since part 1 of this topic was published a new Claremont Review arrived with the Simpson/Sears series advertised again. Good for LOA. This issue also advertised:

Claiming Lincoln: Progressivism, Equality, and the Battle for Lincoln's Legacy in Presidential Rhetoric by Jason Jividen
There seems little to add to such a descriptive title except that the point of the book seems to be about contextualizing what is often quoted out of context. From the blurbs, Jividen seems to split the difference between making AL a Straussian vs. a Lockean. If true, that won't fly here.

The Maltby Brothers Civil War by Norman Delaney
Three Texan brothers, one Unionist, two Confederates. You might bring your cliche radar for this tome from Texas A&M Press.

This post would have been longer if I read the Civil War Times, I suppose. Ads aside, we'll soon get to to writing about the backlog of good books published and received here.


Seen in the papers

Lots of ACW titles are appearing in display ads. Everything below has appeared in the two issues of the Claremont Review of Books closest at hand (Harry Jaffa is an editor).

These have piqued my interest for better or worse.

Praeger released these a year ago and I missed them.

Antietam 1862: Gateway to Emancipation by T. Stephen Whitman
The high price, the blurb from James Marten, the lack of reviews on Amazon tell me this is assigned reading for resentful students who must learn to connect two dots.

The Seven Days' Battles: The War Begins Anew by Judkin Browning
"The work contains sufficient depth of information to serve as a resource for undergraduate American history students while providing enjoyable reading for Civil War enthusiasts..." I like this part, "...both sides committed many errors that could have affected the outcome..." The errors recounted look like an executive summary of Cliff Dowdey's book.

Civil War Journalism (Reflections on the Civil War Era) by Ford Risley
Promises an "introductory view" of Northern and Southern journalism in just 154 pages priced at $35.15.

It's interesting that a publisher could commit financially to three ACW titles and come up with this set.

SIU Press, a great source of Lincolniana, issued these titles at the end of last year.

Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln by Jason Emerson
Bob Lincoln's conduct of his affairs at the tactical level I find very impressive. On the strategic level, I find him blundering abetted by his father's friends and their shallow judgments. (His mother's involuntary commitment was a great mistake). This book might clarify my thinking, given its four-and-a-half star Amazon rating and its publisher's ad copy promising new discoveries, but at 640 pages, the author asks for a commitment I may not be able to give.

Lincoln's Ladder to the Presidency: The Eight Judicial Circuit by Guy C. Fraker
You might think that here's a book written by a lawyer (Fraker) for lawyers. However, this book covers the important and unknown period of Lincoln's casework for Illinois Central and for his boss George B. McClellan. A peek at the index disappoints, however. There are only 15 references to the Illinois Central and only eight to GBM, two of those being contextually asynchronous. Recall that McClellan built the first U.S. ro-ro network and Lincoln played a role in helping win relevant land rights.(I will run a post or two on Lincoln's period as McClellan's employee: shame on historians for their neglect of this.)

Lincoln and the Constitution by Brian Dirck
Longtime readers will recognize the author as a former blogger who has made good, or at least "pretty good." This book was consigned to the purgatory of a series ("The Concise Lincoln Library")and (given its academic mission) has scored no reviews at all on Amazon, due perhaps, to the recalcitrant nature of students everywhere. To add injury to insult, Amazon displays it with full-blooded works on the same topic: Lincoln's Constitution by Daniel A. Farber (four stars); and Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation: Constitutional Conflict in the American Civil War by Mark E. Neely (no reviews but blurbs out the wazoo).

The Concise Lincoln Library contains other titles that have been advertised.

Lincoln as Hero by Frank J. Williams looks (from its dust jacket copy) like grammar school stuff. "Lincoln extolled the foundational virtues of American society" blah, blah, blah. Williams is not happy with the old grammar school indoctrination (Lincoln was great because he freed the slaves). Instead, he argues that Lincoln displayed heroism at every stage of his life. Readers will recall Frank Williams "Admits Copying Inadvertently." See also Ferguson's sketch of the man in Land of Lincoln.

Lincoln and Medicine by Glenna Schroeder-Lein
I was expecting, from the title, a volume explaining how AL had cured all diseases and saved millions of lives but this is a book compiling all his maladies. The author promises to review (pro and con) the case made for each malady ever proposed.

Lincoln and Race by Richard Striner
"Did Lincoln fight a long-term struggle to overcome his personal racism? Or were his racist comments a calculated act of political deception?" Did I mention that Lincoln freed the slaves? Will pass on this one.

To be continued ...

The Unpopular and the Embattled

Savas Beatie has reissued The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln as a paperback titled The Battles that Made Abraham Lincoln: How Lincoln Mastered his Enemies to Win the Civil War, Free the Slaves, and Preserve the Union. This republication deserves praise. Behold: a good publisher backs a good book with a softcover edition.

In the great body of Lincoln literature, the main gap is in contemporary criticism. Here author Larry Tagg gathers up a broad sampling of Lincoln criticism in which the reader can experience something like total immersion. What we normally get from our Lincoln authors is some tiny snippet of disgruntlement badly summarized and knocked down like any good little strawman. What Tagg has done in his book is to better to round out the reader's sense of Lincoln's burden by enumerating the attacks against him. Lincoln fans need not feel threatened; this author appreciates Lincoln deeply.

Tagg has done a greater service to historiography, however, in preparing the ground for some future (deep) analysis of Lincoln criticism that sorts the merited complaints from the unmerited, charge-by-charge in extended discussion. This would exceed the limits of a popular work and make for a really big book that few readers are ready for. Lincoln studies will not mature without such analysis and it will be impossible to begin it until readers (and authors) come to grips with what Larry Tagg has prepared as a first step: surveying Lincoln's unpopularity in the press and speech of the time.

This is a very important book. Once again, bravo.

(Harry interviewed Larry in 2010: "The most serious challenge in writing The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln was not to find material. That abounded — I ended up including in the book only the '10s' on a 1-to-10 scale of slurs I found on Lincoln.")


Spielberg and Lucas comment on "Lincoln"

From The Hollywood Reporter:
[P]rice variances at movie theaters [are coming Spielberg said], where "you're gonna have to pay $25 for the next Iron Man, you're probably only going to have to pay $7 to see Lincoln."

"I think eventually the Lincolns will go away and they're going to be on television," Lucas said.

"As mine almost was," Spielberg interjected. "This close -- ask HBO -- this close."

Spielberg added that he had to co-own his own studio in order to get Lincoln into theaters.


Mary Lincoln's mental health

Mary Lincoln's Insanity Case: A Documentary History does well to offer a superset of what was previously available in contemporary documentation. But author Jason Emerson does no favors to Mark Neely and R. Gerald McMurtry. He mentions their 1993 work The Insanity File: The Case of Mary Todd Lincoln (still available) as representing a subset of his own document collection.

This is typical. There's not much more of a literature review here than the occasional mention of previous works.

But Emerson also does well to drain the partisanship out of his editing and lay his material out for readers to decide. The Neely/McMurty book was painted by marketing with an anti-Robert Lincoln brush. It took the serendipity of document discovery into the dark alleys of advocacy.

Emerson's was a surprisingly good read. I came to it with the thought that there was controversy around Mary's insanity. The early parts of the book (and its repetitive news articles) presented a slam dunk for "crazy." Where's the controversy, I wanted to ask. But this changed with reading.

Not to recount the whole case, here are a few ideas of my own gleaned from reading Emerson.

(1) Robert Lincoln had lower tolerance for his mother's eccentricities than did others.
(2) Robert mixed up defense of his mother's reputation with defense of his own.
(3) Robert made a bad decision when he allowed the court to appoint him his mother's (financial) conservator. A third party would have kept him clear of his mother's wrath.
(4) Mary's deep suspicions of Robert's financial motivations are well worth examining and here are given very short shrift.
(5) Mary was odd enough to convince clinicians of her madness yet functional enough to get along in the world for decades after her release from Batavia.
(6) None of the predictions about her self-destructiveness or future embarrassment came true after her release.
(7) Mary's involuntary commitment was an overreaction that humiliated her and the Lincoln name.
(8) Mary's involuntary commitment, and the related sensation, smoothed her way in the world after release. It reduced the novelty of her eccentricities.
(9) Mary medicated herself in ad hoc ways with stuff including narcotics.
(10) Mary's dress-buying habit would compare favorably to my book-buying habit.

Mary's early discharge from commitment and her high functioning in the real world to the end of her life remind me of the de-institutionalization movement in mental health in the 1970s. Released to the care of her family, she represents the success the psychiatrists of that era strove for.

The books are piling up

Better start reviewing.