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.