6/20/2017

Civil War beer for discerning Civil War readers (Centennialists, stick to your Kool-Aid)

Antietam Brewery knows what's what. Unfortunately, the website does not include the text on the beer label (right). It says something like
Little Mac was loved by his troops for his concern over their lives, a concern that caused Lincoln to fire him.
That's near-enough history for a beer label, I think. And Mac is the only general honored with a beer label here. (IPA is not my style, but I'll make an effort to hoist some of these.)

The brewery has a Clara Barton beer as well but no Dorothea Dix. Call that a wash.

Civil War history is about choices; beer is about choices. Until Joe J, TJ or REL get honored in this way, beer history now belongs to this outstanding Civil War commander. Satisfying beer, satisfying history and all is right with the world.

6/17/2017

The first Union mobilization

Every reader faces that early war event where Lincoln (spoiler alert: not just Lincoln) mobilizes 75,000 “militia” (spoiler alert: very little militia, per se) for 90 days or three months (spoiler alert: it’s not quite either).

We remember this milestone in part because it puzzles at first look: why that number of men and for that duration of service? This post looks at the Federal orders, the underlying law and then how some historians report on this mobilization.

Mobilization orders
The first striking thing about the mobilization order of April 15, 1861 is the signature section. It is signed by Lincoln and William H. Seward.

The second striking thing about it is how it copies the exact language of the 1795 militia act (“Militia Act”), a law that invests certain authority in the president with no reference to the secretary of state. Perhaps Lincoln wrote the order and Seward distributed it under his own name?

A third important thing about this order: it is only half an order. Although Lincoln and Seward refer to calling up 75,000 militia, the length of service is not given, even though the Militia Act specifies limits to that service. Lincoln and Seward refer to further “details” to be issued by the War Department.

A complete mobilization order would need the Lincoln/Seward order of April 15 (number of men) plus the Simon Cameron mobilization instruction dated April 15 (the “details” - duration and mustering information).

Duration of service
Cameron calls his message “the form of call on the respective state Governors for troops.” Thus Lincoln and Seward invoke the Militia Act and Cameron supplies the “how” whereby governors will comply. Cameron accidentally or intentionally crosses a statutory line by saying, “to serve as infantry or riflemen for three months, or sooner, if discharged.”

The Administration here reiterates the Act’s limits on individual service in a context where it really needed to specify the duration of its authority over the militia collectively. The executive branch has no authority over how long the militiaman serves: that is already specified in the law and can have no place in this order. The executive branch must specify the duration of the mobilization of units.

Note that the way the law is written, the emergency can outlive the availability of individuals. Units can be under federal control after their individuals have been released. This distinction is interesting and explains the strife over demobilization in the summer of '61. We have these scenes of officers appealing to their three-month men to volunteer to continue the war under a lawful federal direction that exceeds three months - past the period of statutory personal commitment.

The Act limits the president’s authority over the mobilized units providing a maximum duration of 30 days beyond the convening of the next Congressional session. This is a flexible deadline that could extend for the better part of a year or even several years (theoretically!).

Lincoln called for Congress to convene on July 4; thus his authority over the units could extend to August 3. Cameron, however, emphasizes to the governors the duration of mobilization as keyed to the individual’s three months. Depending on muster speed, Cameron’s units - governed by personal demobilization timetables - could end service as early as July 16. Mind the gap! If it takes three weeks to muster in, only then do Lincoln’s and Cameron’s timelines match up.

The Act says: “no officer, non-commissioned officer, or private, of the militia, shall be compelled to serve more than three months after his arrival at the place of rendezvous, in any one year...” Cameron uses “rendezvous” in his own communiqué to indicate the in-state mustering points. But could not the federal government have instead specified rendezvous points as federal camps in Washington, St. Louis, wherever? This seems another lost opportunity to conserve time.

In Lincoln, David Donald makes this accurate and insinuating comment: “the volunteer force would have to be disbanded earlier if the president called Congress into session earlier.” This implies Lincoln may have chosen his July 4 congressional summons to give him a full three months’ use of the force.

But Lincoln could just as well have convened Congress on September 4. The units would still have been under his authority by then though most of the men who made up the units would have exercised their rights to leave long before then.

Thus, the Administration seemed to view the practical matter of length of individual service as driving the entire mobilization. An interesting take on the law.

Now, once Congress convened it could have amended the Act to extend the individual's term of service and/or the period of mobilization. Why was this not done?

Lincoln and Seward: they specify how many but not for how long.

Cameron: he specifies for how long, shortening the statutory limit of presidential authority by tying it to the individual length of service.

Cameron's modification of the law, Seward's signing the mobilization decree, these are symptoms of the informality and ad hockery that would characterize Lincoln's entire time in office. In his Diary, AG Edward Bates makes no mention of reviewing the language in either Lincoln's or Cameron's messages. He would have harmonized them had he been allowed to.

Mobilizing “the militia”
Gov. Morgan of New York found the form of the mobilization destructive to “the distinctive character of the militia of the states.” The mechanism of that destruction is in Cameron’s message.

The levy on states is given as a number of regiments and a regiment is given as exactly 780 men. So the levy on New Jersey, for instance, is not for men as such, rather it is for four regiments of 780 men each. This devastated some of the existing militia organizations in ways we’ll explore in a later post.

The men of the United States lived under a system of universal military conscription into state militias, per the two federal militia acts of 1792 and the superseding Act of 1795. Every man who ever drew breath in the Civil War was a militia man, whether in federal service or out of it. (The few exceptions are not worth recounting.)

But what was a militia in 1861? There was the compulsory militia and the volunteer militia. The compulsory militia (required by the Act) had deteriorated in many states from active units to a mere roster of eligible men subject to call up. It was a draft roll which maybe held an annual muster. The volunteer militia, on the other hand, was comprised of men who had been exempted from the compulsory militia to form standing, active military units under state charters.

The Cameron message views the militias not as units ready for combat (volunteer militia) but rather as random individuals to be formed into brand new regiments (volunteers from the compulsories). And this is overwhelmingly what the governors supplied.

These were not militia units in any meaningful sense; it’s as if men off the street had joined the U.S Volunteers directly. Cameron: “to cause to be immediately detached from the militia of your state, the quota designated in the table below...”

Although some militia units kept their pre-war character during the mobilization, the militia regiments generally were scratch forces of men mobilized for temporary federal service into new formations.

One imagines the War Department drafting Cameron’s message with an eye toward uniformity, ease of supply, efficiency. Efficiency is not effectiveness.

Who is the author of the number 75,000?
David Donald in Lincoln says Lincoln was acting on Scott’s advice in choosing 75,000 as his force ceiling, despite other advice (not saying from whom) of 200,000 men and 300,000 men.

Michael Burlingame, in Volume 2 of Lincoln: A Life, says “The Cabinet also considered the size of a militia force to call up. Some favored 50,000; Seward and others recommended double that number. Lincoln split the difference and decided to ask the states to provide 75,000 men for three months.”

Goodwin in Team of Rivals matches Burlingame’s explanation of the 75,000 but has nothing to say about the period of mobilization.

McPherson in Battle Cry of Freedom does not explain the 75,000 and cites the Militia Act as reason for the duration of mobilization.

So we have no good explanation of how this number was arrived at and no complete discussions of the mobilization itself. And "splitting the difference" is yet another disturbing thread of informality that runs through this entire episode.

In sum
The Union mobilization of the militia is one of many complex Civil War events glossed over by the storytellers, leaving readers satisfied that they understand an event when they actually misunderstand it. Its deep meanings on many levels should repay much more study.

---
Update: The figure 1,780 has been corrected to read 780.

5/26/2017

William Manchester exposed

Yet another lying historian... who had no need to lie.

5/22/2017

NYT: Best ACW books

Did not know that the New York Times extended its authority worship or influence peddling into ACW nonfiction, For the authority seekers who crave the Times, this is essential and non-negotiable. The history is settled. For the rest of us, read this for amusement. Let loose the wisecracks.

p.s. The people who think that these are good books are telling us what to think about contemporary issues.

Reading levels

The great thing about being 65 is you read at the 65-year-old level.

5/12/2017

Pop quiz

Hello, Civil War readers! Let's take a quiz.

Francis Preston Blair was the father of Frank and Montgomery Blair. We find him advising President Lincoln. The alert reader wonders why this fellow is advising Lincoln and looks to the historian for a clue. The writer feels the need to give a clue and offers one very brief biographical note.

The purpose of this quiz is to see if that note registered with you as with me.

Question for you: Relying only on your memory of past readings, Who was Francis Preston Blair? Aside from father of his sons, what one thing comes to mind?

Please take a moment to consider this before reading further.

If you had asked me any time in the past 30 years, I would have said (as so many historians have said) "an advisor to Andrew Jackson." The reason I remember this is from frustration: why is a Jackson man advising a super-Whig?

Lately I've been reading Frank Blair, Lincoln's Conservative, where the Preston information startled me. Looking into other sources, I see that old man Blair was

* Founder and co-organizer of the national Republican Party
* Chairman of the 1856 Republican Party Convention
* Co-organizer of the Maryland and Missouri Republican Parties
* Sponsor/patron of Gov./AG Edward Bates and Charles Fremont
* Foe and counterweight within the Party to the Seward/Weed faction.

This is my list - I built it from multiple sources. Historians being very stingy with facts and information, I had to gather these crumbs over the period of a week.

Now I ask you, if an historian was going to say just one thing about old Preston Blair, it seems that ANY of my points would take precedence over "an advisor to Andrew Jackson." Advisor to Old Hickory would appear near the bottom of the list. Not relevant but more colorful than party founder and leader.

Is it my bad memory, is it a handful of bad reading experiences, or could this be a more general problem? Perhaps the secret identity of Francis Preston Blair is another indicator that we are ill served by ACW historians.

It's good to mock Civil War pop history

... as Althouse does here:

Wait. I thought the Civil War was inevitable and no President could have averted it.

Is inevitable history even history?

I like the way that here Pierce's debility becomes a cause of the war (an interesting contributing cause?). And I was shocked that no one in the press had enough history to understand Trump's recent Jackson reference. Teach the children:
“I expect soon to hear that a civil war of extermination has commenced,” Jackson said, musing about arresting the Southern leaders and then hanging them....

5/08/2017

Sears' "Generals"

The esteemed Russell Bonds finds a few good things in Stephen Sears' latest.

Whenever I feel so inclined myself, I go back and read this post.

5/07/2017

Get Nelly

I bought Lincoln's Generals' Wives by Candice S. Hooper to read more about Mary Ellen McClellan. Something on the Internet led me to believe that here were letters and diaries from the Library of Congress used to compile the Nelly chapters. Indeed there were: five letters and a few short, tiny diaries; I did not find these referenced in the notes. It seems likely that Sears used them and Ms. Hooper cited the relevant Sears material.

For indeed Sears is all over this Mary Ellen McClellan account and the recapitulation of Centennial military history makes up the bulk of Nelly's chapters, perhaps 75% or more (citations too to Catton, Williams, even the plagiarist Nevins). Think of this as a meditation on how a very bad man can feed the worst instincts in his wife and you get the sense of it -- except for a plot twist in Nelly's alleged bad attributes also feeding George's.

Like many innocent readers, Ms. Hooper is shocked by McClellan's view of Lincoln and his cabinet, thinking it singular. This is because she has not digested the diaries of Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, Attorney General Edward Bates, the correspondence of Postmaster Montgomery Blair or many of the politicians and generals dealing with the Lincoln Administration. Of course a sensible writer has to explain to readers how anyone and his wife could hold such views.

You know the usual answers: psychological pathologies and character failings.

Depending on secondary sources and pre-packaged primary sources, Hooper misses the fine print in her derivative readings; she does not know that these are the Marcys of the Albany Regency; she has no idea that Lincoln worked for McClellan at the Illinois Central, referring to Civil War "first impressions" that never were. There are no descriptions of McClellan family life here, for she has not touched Max McClellan's papers at Princeton. In her 1864 survey she is oblivious to the project of the McClellan-Fremont fusion ticket and Jesse Fremont's possible role in that.

We don't know what music Mary Ellen liked, what instruments she played, what things she read, what plays she favored, what child rearing she did or even what she thought of McClellan's friends. If she had a social circle, it is not found here.

Child rearing, no; battlefield narrative, yes. Establishing households in Trenton, New York, Orange, no. Psychological speculations, yes. Empathy and interest, no. Elaborations on culpability, very much.

The deficiencies stack higher than at a CCW hearing.

When the Centennialists have so worn down their readers that the fresh material nowadays consists of attacks on the wives of men on the wrong side of Lincoln, we can say a publishing trend has run its course.

---

For a good summary of Nevins' crime, see here and scroll down in this link. Such are the critics of Civil War generals. Hooper quotes Nevins' Pathmaker in her Fremont chapters without commenting on its poisoned content.

3/30/2017

Civil War operas

Civil War operas are proliferating. A few I missed:

Freedom and Fire!

Cold Mountain

The Dream of a Good Death: A Civil War Folk-Rock Opera


Rappahannock County

My Civil War

What's interesting here is the idea, among producers, that the Civil War history crowd might be as arcane and fringe-y as American opera goers.

Or maybe they think that ACW readers will buy tickets to anything ACW-ish.


3/29/2017

The ghost of Civil War past

The Confederacy’s 9th Kentucky Infantry had a drama club.

Among prisoners of war, and "Chess was the principal game, and the demand for chessmen created quite a business for a former prisoner who had erected a turning lathe."

Civil War bands "provided [soldiers] a daily acquaintance with opera melodies..."

During the Great Revival of '63-64, "Night after night troops participated in prayer meetings, worshipped, and listened to ministers proclaim the good news."

These people were nothing like us.

3/27/2017

Light my cannon ball

Another one of those stories where the reporters and city officials are too ignorant and illiterate to explain what the problem might be:
Museum calls in bomb squad fearing possible Civil War cannon ball explosion.

Hat tip to a dear reader. Best line in the story, "...the cannon balls and artillery rounds did not have fuses and would not have exploded without having been lit, according to the Associated Press."

Let's have no smoking signs around those cannon ball stacks near the historic cannon displays.

3/25/2017

Ramblin Spokes, ACW author: Best ways to blurb

Hello again, readers and aspiring authors!

Many a time has Ramblin been asked to blurb a book he hasn't read. As you become successful, this will happen to you. Let me help.

I  read a lot of blurbs on Civil War book jackets. It's a quick, fast, fun way to save time and energy. The material I find there, I add to my stockpile.

This guy decided to pen a navy book and asked for my opinion. I wasn't going to spend a lot of time plowing through somebody's rehash, so I said
Successfully demonstrates the navy's importance to the Union victory in 1865.
Quick and easy. He was not entirely satisfied, so I added
Places this naval scholarship in the larger context of the war.
I gave him a quick and easy context win. But I didn't want him bothering me again, so I added
A welcome addition to the literature.
Of course, every addition to the literature is welcome.

Different example: somewhere, some fool is writing yet another book about Chamberlain. You would waste time reading it. How do you blurb it? Here are some ideas:
Anyone with an interest in Chamberlain, the Civil War, Bowdoin College, postwar Maine, or any combination thereof, will enjoy it.
Sounds good but is noncommittal. Sort of like "Anybody with an interest in anything will enjoy this."

In the same vein:
His words serve as a reminder that the experience of war remained with the veterans long after the guns fell silent.
I don't even understand that sentence and I wrote it.

Of course, you always need a plan B. If the book is a total stinker and you would be humiliated to endorse it, you can still praise the intro, foreword or both:
His introduction and the foreword supplied ... are the best summary of Chamberlain's life and legend I have read.

Give every book it's due using Ramblin's simple rules of blurbing.

3/24/2017

1856

Are there any good books on the election of '56? It seems as interesting, at least, as that of 1860.

We have all of these ACW figures in play (except Lincoln): Seward, Chase and Sumner withdraw from the Republican contest to favor Fremont.

The North American Party features a Fremont vs. Banks effort, with an agreement in which Banks is to throw the nomination to Fremont.

Somehow, our shiftless historians are loath to make connections among these personalities and  events four years later.

Is it not "natural politics" that Lincoln's hand would be forced to find a place for Fremont, the bigger and better Republican star? That he would try to capture the support of Fremont's backers for his own administration?

Is it not natural that Fremont's star backers would support him in the early war?

Is it not natural that Lincoln would try to hamper Fremont politically? That his wrongdoing would backfire into a Fremont reinstatement? That after the reinstatement he would continue to undermine Fremont?

What seems logical and natural to us seems fantasy and science fiction to the consensus historians.

3/22/2017

Amazon book sales: protected data?

The activity of Amazon vending is a counterpart to and competition for Ebay selling. Both activities have lots of third party tools on the market to help sellers in either venue.

Recently, I have been looking at one product that provides useful sales-related data on any item you want to look up on Amazon. My feeling is that some of the data is extrapolated from sales rankings and other data is based on ratio algos keyed to the software designer's personal sales experience.

These tools sell well and are not bogus, although the black box element is troubling.



Here is a screen shot of the output from one such tool. The analytics are in the box on the right (click to enlarge). This is generated for anything you look up -- with one product exception.

When you use the tool to look up a book, no such information displays.

Makes you wonder.

3/14/2017

Wartime state militias

Churchill said (I think) that the Balkans have so much history, they need to export much of it. In the same sense, Georgia's Civil War militias have so much history, it will take a series of books to survey it all.

Appendix 1 of Joe Brown's Pets, The Georgia Militia, 1861-1865, gives a nice enumeration of all the militias of the war. The title of this work, however, is misleading: it concerns mainly the First Division, Georgia Militia, formed in 1863 and recounts its adventures in and after the Atlanta campaign.

At 385 pages (richly illustrated, many nice appendices), the reader gains a sense how how large the subject of Georgia militias might be.

A shorter but similarly thorough book, issued in 1987, is Joe Brown's Army, The Georgia State Line, 1862-1865. The State Line might be considered railroad defenders and some of the interest here is how Brown fended off attempts to conscript these men into CSA service.

These being rich militia histories, they raise some interesting points.

The first is from a general theme from William B. Hesseltine's important work, Lincoln and the War Governors. Hesseltine showed us a power struggle between the states and Lincoln for control of the early war (and as I have mentioned here before, bringing McClellan east was Lincoln's way of capturing the governors' chief war strategist and planner).

To generalize from Hesseltine's concepts, a federalized war places the states at the mercy of national defense forces, concentrating power in the executive. This was more the case with the CSA because it implemented a draft early and conscripted whatever militiamen could not be protected by Joe Brown's out of state counterparts. Meanwhile, with conscription coming later in the North, the Union militia retained a complementary purpose in the war effort.

It seems that Davis intended to have militarily weak states dependent on a strong, national military force. Perhaps a state-by-state militia survey will prove this view wrong. For the moment, Georgia appears an exception.

The second issue that strikes one in reading these Georgia militia books is how politicians misunderstood military effectiveness. To an outsider, it appears that they thought organization equals effectiveness after a dash of experience was added. This is also true of the North where in my research I see one long-standing, mature military unit after another cannibalized into total rubbish during the mobilization.

Which leads to my final point. We look at these wartime militias, Pennsylvania's, Georgia's and others, and we tend to retrofit what we see onto the pre-war militias ... a terrible mistake.

Often, the wartime militias were scratch forces with no cohesion, little or no training, a jumble of strangers.

In a separate post, I'll recount the destruction politicians inflicted on the mature, experienced prewar militias, North and South.

3/09/2017

Ramblin Spokes, Civil War author: Beware the archive!

Hello again, would-be readers and writers! Let Ramblin Spokes, seasoned seller, help you with that book or article that you've worked so hard on.

I am always surprised when some author mentions visits to "the archive," as if this is going to help research in some way. Your reader has an archive, don't you know? And if you pop a weird fact on him, he will go to his own archive, a shelf full of best-selling books, to check you out.

And you will FAIL every such fact check every time.

Research all you want, any way you want, but at the end of your writing, you must check your manuscript against a stack of best sellers to VALIDATE your work. That is the only way to avoid serious embarrassment.

Someone may object, "Well what if best sellers don't agree on some point." I have never seen that happen, have you? Let us, for the sake of argument, say they did. How would you resolve that? You would run with the author who had sold more than the other author!

Pretty simple, right?

Well what if some mass medium puts out Fact A and some best seller puts out Fact B? How can you determine the truth?

Here is an example of one such dilemma. National Public Radio says "When a group of 11 Southern states tried to secede from the union in 1860, Abraham Lincoln said, you can't do that." I am checking Team of Rivals and it says James Buchanan was president in 1860. Problem! I am checking Battle Cry of Freedom and it tells me only one state had seceded in 1860. Another problem!

This NPR show probably had hundreds of thousands of listeners. But Team of Rivals and Battle Cry of Freedom had more readers combined than the NPR show has listeners. That is how we get at the truth.

It's not brain surgery, my friends, so do your research right.

3/08/2017

Curious booklists

A reader writes:
I was looking at Amazon’s “Civil War” bestsellers:

1. Lincoln (O’Reilly)
2. Lincoln (Team of Rivals
3. Grant
4. Lincoln
5. Harriet Tubman children’s book
6. Darwin (?)
7. Slavery
8. Thomas Meagher
9. Battle Cry of Freedom
10. Lincoln
11. Lincoln’s White House . . . .

Doesn’t anybody write about Confederates anymore?
Or want to read about them?

3/07/2017

Premature planning for the postwar (cont.)

Recently wrote about the business of planning for your spoils of victory while wallowing in the depths of defeat.

Ran into this passage in Miles Copeland's autobiography. He was surprised by "the long-range thinking" he saw at ETOUSA HQ. There was "a dinner conversation .. with one of the British civil servants..." who said:
Here we are, about to do battle with the most highly trained, disciplined and well-equipped army the world has ever known, matching our Eisenhower, Montgomery, Patton and the other second-raters against real honest-to-God generals, yet we can safely assume we are bound to win. You know all we've got going for us?
The answer was ambiguous and convoluted so we'll need one of our own.

Curious how the post victory planning starts on day one of the war and never seems to let up, regardless of events on the battlefield.

3/06/2017

Effects based operations

The starting point for any analysis of the Civil War must begin with two facts sometimes mentioned, never much developed: The South could not destroy the North's material ability to generate armies. The North could not destroy the South's will to survive.

In this way, the two sides were mismatched. The North was condemned to fight military campaigns for military outcomes and the South to wage political campaigns for political effects.

For the South, an offensive aimed to score points against the North's political resolve. A defense aimed to preserve Southern instruments of power.

For the North, an offensive aimed to destroy Southern instruments of power. A defense was to deny the South political advantage.

We should look at the CSA crossings into Northern states in this light. We should also use it to recalibrate our understanding of outcomes.

The Western Virginia campaign, for instance, represented no military intention and its victories were not military victories. They improved Northern political resolve, handing Davis a setback on his own terms. In the same sense McClellan's change of base denied Davis the kind of victory he needed - one with ill political effects.

Lincoln was trapped throughout the war by the need to deny Davis effects-based victories while pursuing the purely military end of destroying war-making power. Davis had to avoid destruction of military capability while trying to inflict fatal political effects on the Republican government.

Two of the starkest examples of "effects" that come to mind (though they were transitory) involve the tenor of the council (Davis, Johnston, Smith, Longstreet and Lee) after Fair Oaks and the signing of Lincoln's envelope by his Cabinet in 1864.

Sherman's march through Georgia failed, if seen as an attempt to turn tables on Davis by making "Georgia howl" and embarrass a hapless government. In terms of a Norther offensive "effects based operation," it was a failure, although it worked as a defensive effects based operation in helping re-elect Lincoln.

I touched on effects based operations in an old post. As a doctrine, it was formulated in recent times, This definition is useful and clear.

Military intellectuals picked up this ball and made an insanely complicated game around it. It was my personal experience that the military will pervert any fairly simple idea into a Mao Zedong Little Red Book guideline for living, thinking, being, breathing.

This well-earned backlash from Mad Dog Mattis (see especially the first few pages) attempted to rein in the crazies. No one below the strategy level need ever bother about effects based operations. I would argue that no soldier below four stars should ever even give it a thought.

My impression during the US war against Serbia was that "effects based operations" were a military rationalization, a strategy substitute where there was no strategy. This cannot be correct. Once the force authorizations were delimited to prevent total victory, military on military, both Clinton and the Serbs assumed the mantle of Jefferson Davis. Force was applied to try to reap political advantage. The staccato application of force seems random but tries for a cumulative effect.

In its simpler form, I think the idea of "effects based operations" is due for a comeback. I think it can be applied to Civil War history without being anachronistic.

2/28/2017

The current health effects of the Civil War

This astonishing article, seems to me to rely on a kind of inverted Lamarckism. (Not surprising given that all American pop culture evolutionism is rock solid Larmarckian).

2/27/2017

No Civil War for you!

The Library of Congress offers "teacher-created, classroom-tested lesson plans using primary sources." Here's its Civil War offering. But where's the war?

2/24/2017

ALPLM, the continued adventures of...

The Governor of Illinois has proposed that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum become a "standalone agency" and that Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which controls it, be sent off to become a part of the state's Department of Natural Resources.
The proposal, which would eliminate IHPA, apparently took the agency by surprise. “I haven’t seen anything,” said James Bruner, chairman of the IHPA board of trustees. “It just came out yesterday. The governor and I have not talked about this.”
The hapless press is also baffled:
The governor’s budget does not say why ALPLM should become an independent agency, but the proposed budget states that putting DNR in charge of historic sites would save $3.2 million.
Here's a clue: the change will put museum patronage directly in the hands of the governor himself, and wouldn't you know it:
staffing at the ALPLM would increase from 47 in fiscal year 2016 to a target of 80 in the upcoming fiscal year.
What had been a less efficient patronage sink will now be a more efficient one.

2/23/2017

Ramblin Spokes, Civil War author, says "Your battle was important!"

Hello again, readers, or should I say writers, for so many of you have book ideas, if not book projects underway.

I recently heard from a fellow writing about a certain battle. I had not heard of it before, and he was trying to sell a publisher on taking on his book. I asked, "How did you pitch it?"

He answered like this:
It was a battle leading up to this other major engagement that eventually produced significant changes in the command structure of an army.
Whoa there, pal! Publishers are not that smart. You have to lay it out nice and simple. Use Ramblin's tried and true battle ranking system:

1) This was the battle that won (or lost) the war. You will not need to prove this if you make one simple statement: "Someone, somewhere would never again be able to do something." (You supply the some stuff.)

2) This was the battle that was the turning point of the war. Here, all the publisher needs to know is that "There would be no turning back after this." You don't even need to customize that one.

You see, our list is going from higher impact to lower impact.

3) This was the most important battle ever fought in region x during timeframe y. Now this is getting a little bit in the weeds and should not be used unless the publisher is pushing back hard on numbers 1 and 2, above. You top it off with "That world would be a (better/worse) place from that day forward."

If you think about it, you have already seen these claims in your reading. I have often used them myself. I have even come up with a striking new claim and none of you better steal it!

(*) "This was the battle that defined an age." Big claim. How so you ask? It was that bloody!

Keep writin' - your readers will thank you.

2/22/2017

Towards a new kind of review

My neighbor is a history reader and we had a dialogue like this one yesterday:

Me: Believe me, the more famous the author, the more awful the author.
Response: How can you know they are awful?
Me: I read the notes.
Response: I never read the notes.
Me: I start with the notes.

With that in mind, let me propose a new kind of book review. Think about what this might tell you.

***

The Right Hand of Command: Use & Disuse of Personal Staffs in the Civil War by R. Steven Jones. Stackpole Books, 2000, 256pp.

Preface
Notes: 19. Of those, primary sources: 0.

Chapter 1
Notes: 30. Primary sources: 3.

Chapter 2
Notes: 51. Primary sources: 20.

Chapter 3
Notes: 88. Primary sources: 44.

Chapter 4
Notes: 57. Primary sources: 24.

Chapter 5
Notes: 89. Primary sources: 61.

Chapter 6
Notes: 147. Primary sources: 119.

Chapter 7
Notes: 99. Primary sources: 60.

Chapter 8
Notes: 20. Primary sources: 10.

***

Well, that's the whole review. I find this format rich and engaging.

2/21/2017

Civil War Newspapers

Have been caught by surprise by the number of ACW newspapers coming online since last I was active. Will have to make time to go through these.

You see, there is the ACW as conveyed by popular history; there is what popular history says about the newspapers of the time; and then there are the newspapers themselves.

I have read thousands of Civil War period papers and consider it time well spent. Try it!

2/20/2017

The phony reviews keep coming

This is a must-read from Ted Savas.

If we are here talking about ginning up Amazon reviews, the spamming author is putting the publisher wrong vis a vis the Amazon terms of service. Amazon may ban the publisher forever once they detect the violation.

The author is either writing the reviews and posting under masked ID or is hiring a review company to generate the reviews.

Two bad outcomes await: pulled reviews (easy); termination of agreement (catastrophic).


2/18/2017

Data deprived reader speaks up

I was looking forward to reading Gold and Freedom: The Political Economy of Reconstruction but the hinge in this book seems to be a data-driven construction of "regionalism." Well and good except that we cannot look at the data below the the top level, essentially the summary level. In other words, like global warming, the core data is off limits to the curious public.

I do hate black-box statistics.

2/17/2017

Premature planning for the postwar

You may have noticed in your readings that the Radical Republicans began quarreling over the postwar disposition of the defeated South from the very start of the Civil War. The very start.

Chalk it up to overconfidence.

But then, in WWII readings, one notices FDR and Churchill dividing up the post war world in 1942. More overconfidence?

Recently reading Notes of a Plenipotentiary, here come Russia's Prince Trubetskoi and the Allies dividing up the Hapsburg empire in late 1914 and early 1915.

This starts to look like an historical tendency. How to describe it? How to classify it?

One side is getting the stuffing kicked out of it; victory demands immense thought, planning and coordination plus time-time-time. Instead of buckling down, the losing side spends uncounted hours gaming the post war settlement.

I call that an historical problem of the first rank. Worth a study, certainly.

2/16/2017

These generals


"You see, Stanton, the problem is that many of our generals are bobbleheads."

2/15/2017

Introducing Ramblin Spokes, Civil War author


Well, hello, everybody! My name is Ramblin Spokes and I am a seasoned Civil War author. I will be dropping in here occasionally to pull back the curtain on how we Civil War authors make our magic.

In a forum like this, I can also test my out my new writing on Civil War book buyers like yourselves.

You know, every Civil War book needs some powerful theme to put across that this whole thing is a lot more than who-shot-john and here we go with yet another darn battle.

To that end, I have crafted a phrase that I think captures the deeper meaning of the war. Notice how I use it in these different passages:

(a) "Frederick Douglass saw the Civil War as the inevitable consequence of man's inhumanity to man."

(b) "It’s man’s inhumanity to man, and to a race, that makes Black History Month so important, so necessary."

Have you spotted my turn of phrase yet? Here's another clue or two:

(c) "Sadly, the war produced any number of examples of man's inhumanity to fellowman."

(d) "The memories of man's inhumanity to man are imbedded in its soil."

Haven't got it yet? You're not tryin'!

(e) "No one could have predicted that it would become the Civil War’s greatest example of man’s inhumanity to man."

(f) "Colonel Virgil S. Murphy would write in his diary: '...an unholy ground that exemplified man's inhumanity to man.' "

There is no harm in repeating your core theme. In fact you must do so, lest the reader put the book down.

You see, man's inhumanity to man is what will make my book worth buying and reading. It captures the total war experience in a nutshell. It's almost a kind of branding, it's just that powerful.

So go forth and find you own inhumanity as you write your own Civil War history.

2/14/2017

Newspaper reviews

One thing about any of James McPherson's reviews for the New York Review of Books has been his spending at least two-thirds of a piece relating those events covered by the book itself. Every one of his reviews becomes a little history survey.

The experienced reader or even the literate generalist can get very frustrated very fast under this treatment.

But there can be worse. Make the whole review a recap of events, just a recap, as with this New York Times piece by Thomas Ricks, for instance, and it will tell nil about the book reviewed.

Who was this man Sherman? Why was he famous? What is this "Civil War" of which you speak? Well, thanks to this "book review" I now know! Have heard the name but was never sure when he lived or why he mattered.

And so you wonder who the hell reads the New York Times. Back in 1959, Harper's had an answer:
There come to mind all those high-school English teachers, those faithful librarians and booksellers, those trusting suburbanites, those bright young men and women in the provinces, all those who believe in the judgment of the Times and who need its direction.
So little change since then! Likewise,
The flat praise and the faint dissension, the minimal style and the light little article, the absence of involvement, passion, character, eccentricity — the lack, at last, of the literary tone itself — have made the New York Times into a provincial literary journal, longer and thicker, but not much different in the end from all those small-town Sunday “Book Pages.”
In the period in which this complaint was being registered, there were still some good reviews being written for a general audience. Here's a snippet from a New York Review of Books piece, April, 1964: it addresses three books about the conquest of Mexico.

It does not bother to explain where Mexico is located, nor does it enumerate the conquerors, nor does it provide historical dating, nor does it relate those past events to events of today and burnish their importance. The reader is expected to be at home in foundational Mexican history.

The review begins with a single paragraph of literature survey then plunges into a brief historiographic essay preliminary to analyzing the individual books. This is a book review for adults.

If Civil War book reviews continue on their trajectory, and as they get shorter, they will soon read like TV program listings.

2/13/2017

Republican armies

This looks like an interesting book reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer. The First Republican Army: The Army of Virginia and the Radicalization of the Civil War - the sooner we get rid of the ideas of an apolitical Union army and meritocratic Union promotions, the sooner we can get the real Civil War story told.

Seen at a Virginia gun show

Sometimes you wonder just what an artist is trying to say...

2/12/2017

Civil War plagiarists, an endless supply

An alert friend of this blog noticed that newer book reviews like this one were failing to make mention of the plagiarism committed by James Lee McDonough earlier in his career.

The problem is even worse than that - trying searching for "James Lee McDonough" and "scandal" and you will not easily or quickly find traces of this professor's crime.

The victim was Richard McMurry and if you like dark humor, search for both names. You'll find them sometimes named together, named in tandem, as equivalent experts on certain topics.

Here is a taste of what caused McDonough's book to be recalled and destroyed (click to enlarge). This clip is from a college anti-plagiarism guide, no less:


McMurry, reviewing McDonough's book, encountered his own work and complained. That seems to have been the beginning and end of it.

Former cat burglars are not employed in jewelry stores. Ex-bank robbers find no work in banks. How then is it that so many Civil War plagiarists find continuous employment?

My sense is that Civil War authors are taken no more seriously than entertainers. Our favorite actor is out of rehab - can't wait for his or her next starring role. Hey, the star linebacker served his 60 days in jail - can't wait to see him play in the next game.

Plagiarists benefit greatly from the lighthearted way the public views historians. Historians, meanwhile, don't stick together and they don't much care about plagiarism, either. The field gets the respect it deserves.

2/11/2017

What happened?

A number of kind souls have checked in to see if I am okay and I am. Much of my absence came of reading less ACW history.

In the last year my Civil War projects (if they rise to that level) have included:

  • Collecting material on McClellan's employment of Lincoln on railroad business
  • Reevaluating the potential of the militia in the Civil War
  • Pondering the 1990s doctrine of effects based operations and its applicability to the ACW.

There will be some intermittent catch-up in 2017. Thanks for your continued interest.