One of the strangest sensations you or I will ever have as Civil War history readers involves detecting a certain scholarship practice that is so weird - and so immoral - that it has no name.

I call it "reversing a citation" or "flipping a citation." This reversing or flipping involves an author linking a statement to a source whose meaning is the mirror image of what the author is asserting. For example, imagine I say:

General Franklin arrived at the Antietam battlefield with 10,900 combat-ready men (Note 1).

You flip to Note 1 and read: "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, page X."

You pick up Battles and Leaders, find page X, and find nothing that attaches to the number 10,900. Instead, you find a narrative by Franklin about arriving on the battlefield at Antietam with 6,000 exhausted men.

Your author has flipped or reversed the citation. The source makes the point that Franklin arrived with fewer, more tired men than the author wishes to allow. Your author wishes Franklin to arrive with many men, full of fight. He has compelled Franklin to testify against himself and to lie in court doing so!

I'll give an ACW example or two of this in the next few days. in general, the more thesis-driven an historian is, the more of this you find.

For a nice warm-up drill showing a shockingly huge number of reversals, astound yourself with this posting by Prof. Clayton Cramer on Prof. Michael Bellesisle's use of sources. The number of flips exceeds anything I've seen in a pop history, ACW or otherwise. For other sins Cramer finds in Bellesiles (that we will examine in the ACW corner) see this piece, too.
My biggest historiographic shock of 2002/2003 was discovering that in Frederick, MD, there are lots of things named after the late Chief Justice Roger Taney, including public assistance housing.

And so, as you drive through town, you see black Americans coming and going from houses prominently marked "TANEY." For me, it is still a show stopper, and I can't help but gawk.

I associate Taney completely with the adverse Dred Scott decision as well as (is this folklore?) a legal decision that no ex-slave could ever become an American citizen.

The Washington Times has noticed the world capital of Taneymania and has written a nice little article about political and historiographic issues surrounding his house in Frederick.

NEWS | Gettysburg preservationists take the offensive * Civil War penal colony reopens to public * Ancient scabs may yield insight into ACW-era vaccines


The reissue of Arming America in a less than fully revised edition has reignited the Bellesiles history and integrity issue ... and there is a lot in this of great import for Civil War readers.

The very first thing a reader should understand is that a good read is not good history. Yes, pop history has something to do with history just as the World Wrestling Federation has something to do with the sport of wrestling.

Here is public discussion of "good" Civil War historians in which no distinction is made between entertainment and the underlying discipline.

I imagine some TV wrestling fans riding a college wrestling team tour bus to a college contest surrounded by honest athletes and trying to discuss which World Wrestling Federation personality is the greatest wrestler of this generation. An athlete's objection to this obvious absurdity could be met by reference to all the prizes and awards won by the "professional wrestlers." The trophies. The big belts. The acclaim. Given, of course, by industry organizations and an adoring but ignorant public.

We are lucky that standards for historians are still published and that we readers can hold our authors to a professional code. Here's a handbook to keep near the bedside and refer to when reading your next ACW tome.

Bellesiles' individual specific failures in Arming America were publicly highlighted in a way that forced his publisher, his university, and the Bancroft prize board to consider his sins. We may have some wait before this same scenario plays out among the worst ACW historians - the ones who leap from the ropes and break chairs over facts.

For as his new publisher has correctly pointed out, few pop historians (and Bellesiles is such) could withstand the scrutiny he endured. In the next few days I will map specific failures in MB's work against certain beloved, prize-winning Civil war histories.

What happened to Bellesiles is a reality, and we are going to bring that reality home to the Civil War History Writing Federation through the week.
NEWS | Kentucky cannon company to refurbish Rebel artillery for Kansas * "Confederate Widow" flops spectacularly on Broadway * Morgan marker moved again


Brendan Kane, a Union Army deserter, returns North after the Civil War and signs onto a two-year stint as a ship's mate on the Narthex, bound for the Arctic. The crew, a cadre of second-rate sailors, paroled prisoners and other misfits, does not initially know its destination. Far from civilization, they are informed that the trip, led by the enigmatic Mr. West and scientist-in-residence Dr. Architeuthis, seeks to search out a tropical paradise in the heart of the Arctic ice.

Coming to a screen near you (eventually)?
If you plan on hiking Cold Mountain in honor of book or film, here's a helpful article.
NEWS | Confederate museum to keep its home of 112 years * Vicksburg park director hopes monument will spark black tourism * Brooklyn cemetery historian recalls the Prentiss brothers, who fought in blue and gray


I don't pretend to have read Cold Mountain, and it seems unlikely I'll view the movie. Kudos, nevertheless to publisher and producer for conveying to a mass audience the themes of Civil War desertion.

The best-known non-fiction work on this subject is probably The Free State of Jones. Jones County, Mississippi, attracted Rebel and Confederate deserters as well as runaway slaves who waged war on the local Home Guards and Confederate notables. Whether these counterrevolutionaries seized control of their county government and whether they actually seceded from Mississippi seems to be a controversy lasting to the present time.

The essential book on Civil War desertion was published in 1928 and is still available in a more recent paperback edition: Desertion During the Civil War is a short read, dense with numbers, anecdotes and implications.

A more recent work (A Higher Duty: Desertion among Georgia Troops during the Civil War) studies the circumstances of desertion and relates them to family straits. This author suggests that Sherman's march had a far greater effect on Georgian desertions than Grant's offensives.

There is, inevitably, the larger question of loyalty. Disloyalty in the Confederacy tours the peace socities, the unionist groups, as well as the levels of desertion from the Rebel cause.

The business of Civil War desertion is so vast and the readings available are so meager that one hopes Cold Mountain attains enough success to spark some new non-fiction pulishing on the subject.
NEWS | Couple refurbishes farmhouse where Union soldiers took rest * Jefferson Davis Middle School mulls name change * Gone with the Wind still rated most popular epic in UK


Christmas on Cold Mountain:

The Christmas offering Cold Mountain defines the 10-pound holiday fruitcake movie: nutty, fruity morsels of acting are enveloped in a dry, chewy mass. - Metroactive

Half of me worshipfully intoned: "This is wondrous to the eye, I shall follow Minghella wherever he leads me." The other half thought, "Here is a cracked and cuckoo piece of storytelling." - Financial Times
COLD MOUNTAIN ROUNDUP | Cold Mountain's casting logic criticized: North Carolina film board opens up * Director defends casting: "All British actors get trained ... You have to be able to do more with your voice, with your body.”
NEWS | Confederate statue vandalized in Wilmington * New movie will feature Cuban woman fighting as Southern soldier * Penna. firm weaves Civil war era fabrics


Ahhhh. The Chicago Tribune "gets it."

Here's an English filmmaker (Minghella) directing an Australian (Kidman) and an Englishman (Law) in the leads, with an Irishman (Gleeson) and another Englishman (Winstone) in major supporting roles in an American Civil War tale filmed in Romania. Perhaps none of that should matter -- and some of these elements work just fine -- but the result is something that just doesn't feel authentic.

Historian Brian Pohanka comments on his role in the authenticity mission. (Skip to page two of this link to read his remarks - note that this link repeated below as "Gary Gallagher.")
COLD MOUNTAIN ROUNDUP | ... a production gone almost as horribly awry as Gettysburg * At two-and-a-half hours, should it feel like four? * Sacred harp singers pin hopes on Cold Mountain * Gary Gallagher judges film's accuracy
NEWS | W.Va. man is ordered to pay $10,312 for crashing into cannon at Antietam * Tribe underlines its Grant connection with hotel buy * MSU specialists act to save ironclad USS Cairo


Here is an interesting essay tying the now-revived Michael Bellesiles historical research scandal to that famous plagiarism committed by Civil War historian Allan Nevins at Columbia. (I like the panache of Nevins' suppressing the study after lifting its best bits.)

Later this week, we'll go deeper into lessons learned from Bellesiles and their meaning for Nevins' intellectual heirs in ACW history.
Jingle Bells ... an antebellum composition of old Savannah?
NEWS | Republic yields ACW numismatics bonanza * Park Service negotiates with Chaney to buy land at Antietam * Town sues Civil War Artillery Museum over cannon ownership


I see columnist/professor Walter Williams has issued a "Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon Granted to All Persons of European Descent." Suitable for framing, but no overt mention of reparations exemption. (Go to this link and click on GIFT.)
NEWS | Philippoteaux's Gettysburg cylorama to be restored * Sides prepare for desperate historiographic fight in Natchez * Tennessee firm enters 50th year as ACW musketmaker


Here's a special Sunday roundup of Cold Mountain reviews.

Note these bits, which rock my hobbyhorse:

"The movie was shot largely in the Transylvanian Alps of Romania, where the rural landscape matches what North Carolina would have looked like in the 19th century..." (Thank you, reviewer, but how can you be so sure?)

"It was shot mostly in Romania, because the director didn't think that North Carolina (the actual setting) was photogenic enough." (This sounds a little more truthful.)

And now, for some speed reading film criticisms. Apologies for the excessivly harsh tone to follow.

The bad news is that by trying way too hard to deliver the goods, it winds up being trapped by its own pretentious ambitions. Source

This Civil War romance and anti-war drama is a snoozer that is long, literary and lifeless. Source

Worse than Minghella’s labored romanticism is his own disbelief in the very harlequin conundrum he orchestrates. Profanity alert.

Cold Mountain is so full of hot air, any emotion is blown away - gone, with the wind. Source

Cold Mountain may be marketed as a literary adaptation, but in reality it's an artfully presented chick flick. Source.

… cruel poignancy wins out over satisfaction and fulfillment, leaving us as cold as the wintry ice ... Source

And finally, drumroll please (are you ready, ladies and gentlemen) ...

A solid cast plays the backwoods Southerners extremely well. - Hollywood Reporter
NEWS | Emancipation proclamation draws record crowds * Fort Union now a ruined national monument in NM * Raglan remembers first Union sub


It was quite the shock to be strolling through Barnes & Noble yesterday, stopped in my tracks by the big blue book with the giant letters that shouted Arming America.

What? Back in print after Knopf recalled and destroyed all copies?

It was indeed Michael Bellesiles' notorious historical monograph on the origins of the popular gun culture in America in a "corrected" edition with an answer to his critics. Kudos to publishers Soft Skull Press for following the controversy and giving Bellesiles a platform from which to talk back at critics.

But his answer to critics was weak, I thought, as weak as his previous answer to the findings that ousted him at Emory. (Scroll way down the linked page to Bellesiles's response to the report. Here are some responses to his new comments.

I was intrigued, however, by the new publisher's assertion that no pop historians have had to endure the scrutiny this work has endured. Precisely. That is the problem, but not the problem the publisher has framed. I want this kind of scrutiny applied to Civil War historians and I want the successful pretenders at the head of the Civil War publishing industry given the Bellesiles treatment.

What this means for Civil War history (and its writers) will be worth a few posts next week.

NOTE: After Knopf pulled away, it seems a company called Diane issued Arming America as it was, and that is the edition currently on sale through Amazon. Note the 1.5 star rating. This is not the corrected edition, nor have I seen it in stores.
A very odd business, indeed:

Organizers of the National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg held a "ceremonial groundbreaking" this month -- a year before construction is to begin, and not at the actual site -- in an effort to show that the project is on track.

I wonder if a history project should begin with a lie.
NEWS | Gettysburg recreated in paintball complex * Civil War author named professor of the year * Burnett, Costello, Sting reap Cold Mountain soundtrack acclaim * Richmond's "starvation balls" of Christmas, 1864 recalled


Well, what do you know?

"Majestic Cold Mountain has changed little since the Civil War" - Boston Globe

You don't think the movie's director was merely voicing the company line, do you?

"When you see the film, you see the landscapes look like the 19th century in a way that nowhere in America looks like the 19th century now," he said.

(See entries, Dec. 17, below)
It appears from this article that the Minnesota Historical Society recently took on the job of managing the content of the state school system's Minnesota history textbooks. I wonder who thought that was a good idea. Well, the Society is doing a great job of producing socially acceptable history - even if that means leaving out historical figures!

Perhaps they were trained in this discipline by some heritage tourism experience.
The new head of the Lincoln Library and Museum has not yet left his post as head of the Dole center. Nevertheless, Mr. Richard Norton Smith (for it is he) is staging a week of Lincoln lectures at his Dole center. Which makes one wonder if he is not using Dole facility resources to advance his interests at the Lincoln center. Does it even matter?
NEWS | Lincoln assasination re-enacted in west Virginia * Cold Mountain movie may break Miramax chief * Lincoln land grant discovered by couple


Well you know, the movie Cold Mountain could not possibly have been filmed in North Carolina:

Minghella said the film could not have been made in North Carolina, where it was set, because the landscape had changed so much since the 1800s. Instead much of the film was shot in Romania.

"When you see the film, you see the landscapes look like the 19th century in a way that nowhere in America looks like the 19th century now," he said.

And yet these pictures of the North Carolina terrain we call "Cold Mountain" tell a different story. Look here and here. This one is a painting but a recent one.

Notice that in this story the director was challenged for not using the Appalachian countryside by Australian journalists. Is there any chance American media reporters will challenge the studio, director, or stars about this?

How about the decision to use a single, solitary American actor (actress really, and that in a supporting role)? How about the decision to use Romanian extras instead of re-enactors?

Thanks Australia. We'll now wait patiently for American media reporters to follow up. Patiently, yes.
The best known of all park historians has finally got a biography. It's called Edwin Cole Bearss: History's Pied Piper. Here's a nice profile.
NEWS | Search for Union sub Alligator is planned * Smithsonian pays for Bull Run restoration * Re-enactor preserves Bowling Green's ACW history


So we have Jude Law reviewing Cold Mountain for us:

"For seven months, I was with 200-odd people in the mountains of Romania, in North Carolina, all with different gifts to share. I had this amazing experience," he offers buoyantly, "so if you don’t like it, screw you. I think it’s great."

I'm sure he and Nicole made great Southerners (will try not to pay attention to the accents) and we'll all enjoy looking at Romania, North Carolina.
It's a wonderful thing to see a bad historian, heavily laden with prizes and reputation, take some hard kicks in public - even if it is 33 years after the fact.

I was revisiting my 1970 copy of David Hackett Fischer's Historians' Fallacies, noting the number of Civil War chroniclers cited for incompetence, when it ocurred to me that David Donald was getting quite a lot of attention.

Fischer cited him for the fallacy of statistical special pleading, the fallacy of statistical nonsense, the fallacy of the appeal to authority (in its "most crude and ugly form"), and threw in a little extra charge of ignoratii.

At one point, he borrows a passage from Lewis Carroll to mimic a nonsense passage from Donald. Go Fischer!

Given the armor of awards, publishing contracts, and prestige that Donald now enjoys, who can imagine such criticism being leveled nowadays? Even at a book as patently awful as Lincoln?

Which is what made last night's read such a treat.
NEWS | National Archives to display Gettysburg Address and Emancipation Proclamation * Cold and snow fail to stop candle ceremony at Antietam * Reenactors put on streetfighting show in Fredericksburg


What a fine try at an online Civil War magazine: visit the Bivouac soon.

By the same token, Civil War Book News, which was updated on the 7th, will be updated again later tonight.
I guess it's routine to send actors with small parts in movies to their local premiers to boost publicity. This fellow, while on the hustings, says he and the cast visited Dracula's castle while on location for Cold Mountain. That would explain the origins of the mysterious little snapshot linked at the bottom of my most recent Cold Mountain rant. I thought someone used software to composite the stars in front of Drac's fortress. Maybe not. You would think the film's publicists might be a little embarassed.
NEWS | Grant gets White House Christmas ornament * Rustic singers meet Hollywood elite at Cold Mountain premier * Ohio erects sign to mark Tod Barracks * Bleeding Kansas heritage area inches forward


Charity Navigator seems to have only two Civil War organizations rated. The Civil War Preservation Trust comes off pretty well and the Robert E. Lee Memorial Association less so. Have a look.
The Heritage Foundation's occasional pork awards have targeted the federal appropriation of $225,000 for Kentucky's Blue-Gray Civil War Theme Park ... and the columnists are running with it as you can see here.
NEWS | "Harriet Tubman Memorial Highway" successfully opposed in New York * Vicksburg police detonate Civil War shell * Re-enactor chooses to be Civil War Santa


Let’s tour Cold Mountain this morning.

Over here, we have the script review:

Cold Mountain is like its anteceding novel by Charles Frazier in at least one respect. It too drags you for miles through excessive blood and gore for the sake of a mildly satisfactory ending … don't watch the movie expecting a blow-by-blow rendition of the National Book Award winning novel. Characters are modified, characters are taken out, scenes are modified, and scenes are taken out. […] Honestly, this script frustrated me beyond belief. I seriously pondered whether I should stop reading it all together. Basically, I threw my hands in the air and just had to ask, ‘what in the hell is going to happen here... damn it?!?

Over here, we see the Cold Mountain movie discussion board, with an actual review of the preview:

I got to go the premiere last night. I was charmed and enthralled (after literally holding my breath for the first couple of minutes) and thought it was the best investment of movie time I'd made in a while. It was beautiful on every front. And Nicole is just as lovely in person as she is on screen.

Here’s the official site, should you care to visit.

And here’s an official still from this American Civil War movie. It shows the Australian lead actress with the English lead actor in front of a Romanian mountain. The English director is not shown, nor are any of the thousands of Romanian extras.

“Characters are modified, characters are taken out, scenes are modified, and scenes are taken out.” Actually, since the script was written, whole continents have been modified and whole nationalities have been taken out.

p.s. Having reached the bottom of this blog, here's a little prize. It's an unofficial photo of the cast on location.
The Jefferson Davis Singers? How do you market that?
NEWS | Shiloh National Military Park superintendent pledges visit to every national park * Foundation gets extension for Gettysburg land development plans * Rebel license plate faces delays in Tennessee


Is it me or has there been relatively little stir about Sears' Gettysburg? The book is probably a career capper, given Sears' age and the level of effort it required, and it was well positioned to raise old controversies of Meade's battle management and general competence. But all has seemed quiet.

I have had to make some effort to find reviews.

In the reviews I did find, some passages leaped out at me. Here's one:

Readers interested in learning more about Sears’s sources must delve through the endnotes to locate manuscripts and the more specialized works he consulted during the writing of Gettysburg. The endnotes may cause many readers more problems because not every paragraph is footnoted, an aggravating publishing trend that groups footnotes every third paragraph or so that makes it difficult to decipher specific sources on occasion.

What the reviewer is referring to is attaching a single endnote number to one or more paragraphs of information, and then piling on multiple references in the endnote referenced by that number. The procedure is not unique to Sears but Sears uses it no matter who is publishing him, so it is Sears we must blame, not his editors.

The procedure is so confusing and annoying I once asked a fellow with an Oxford University Press contract if he could get away with a citational style like that and he said absolutely not - it was irregular. Is Sears getting publishers' dispensation to torture end note readers?

Here is more from the same source:

It appears to this reviewer that Sears has used the “usual” Gettysburg sources in compiling this history of the battle.

That would be fine in an historical essay, but not an opus. The reviewer also notes "Sears’s research is adequate" (back of the hand, slapping sound) and in another place, and "there are a number of factual errors that mar Gettysburg." He refers to at least one "absurdity" and concludes "Sears’s study is an OK book about Gettysburg, neither outstanding nor bad."

As hostile as I am to Sears, as sloppy as I think his research is, as bad as I consider his sensibilities and management of sources, I did not pick that review out from among positive notices. Here are some raves, such as they are. If you ignore the star ratings, the texts seem equivocal.

I do love this bit:

I found this telling to have a more matter-of-fact style than Sears "Landscape Turned Red". I remember that chronicling of Antietam to [have] read more like a novel than "Gettysburg".

Damning with faint praise. Amen?
NEWS | Gingrich and co-author work on second ACW novel * Union veteran battled for Japanese emperor * Newspaperman donates 100 Lincoln books to school system


I knew, from reading the La Rouche campaign materials of years gone by that Lincoln was protectionist. But it never occurred to me that Jeff Davis was a free trader and the Civil War was actually about free trade. Hmmm...
In the news section of this blog we observed (some weeks ago) the IRS sending a couple to jail for claiming and receiving reparations for slavery. The problem is fairly huge, it turns out:

As recently as 2001, the book reports, the IRS received more than 77,000 tax returns claiming a slavery reparation refund or credit. The previous year, there had been only 13,000 such returns.

Does that surprise you? Well, how about the fact that the IRS paid 200 of these claims? For a total of $30 million?

Here are some details.
It seems to me that if knowledge of Lincoln is the bedrock of popular historical knowledge, as a teacher you can build outward from that central piece of terra firma:

At the start of this fall semester I gave my 160 introductory students a 100-point pretest of what I like to call "walking around" knowledge of American history. I guesstimated that the average score would be somewhere in the low 70s. Instead a lone 74 turned out to be the top score. The average score was 27. Here are a few troubling examples of the results. Not a single student could identify Nathan Hale as having regretted he had only one life to give to his country. Given critics' concerns about the non-mention of the Great Society in an early draft, it might be noteworthy that four students thought Lincoln was its architect, while all of two mentioned Lyndon Johnson.

A whopping (?) 95 did name Lincoln as our Civil War president, while only 52 could pinpoint the 1860s as the decade when the war was fought. Forty-four recognized that Theodore Roosevelt was the "Rough Rider," while 13 knew that Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980. Sixty-eight linked the Brown vs. Board of Education decision with school desegregation, and 60 could identify Germany as the primary foe during World War I.

NEWS | Leavenworth pols seek slice of Bleeding Kansas tourism * Custer Association stages birthday dinner * Iowa native shocked into action by by neglect of ACW graves


Cold Mountain, the film, is beginning to generate preview information, as you can see here and here.

It's interesting to glean hints from the industry sheets as to why there are so few Civil War movies. (For example, zero appeal in overseas markets is one of the issues mentioned in the linked items above.) Interesting also to see that N. Kidman is viewed as a "non-commercial" actress representing high box-office risk.

Given the financial disaster Turner's Gettysburg represented, it's a wonder they make ACW films at all. In this case, much rides on the underlying best-seller of a novel ... but is the popularity of that novel strong enough to carry a $90 million production budget? Or is Hollywood setting itself up for yet another failed Civil War movie?

(By the way, have a look at this old discussion of the novel and its portrayal of the Home Guard units in the Confederate backcountry. Good movie background, courtesy Google Groups.)
Tom Desjardin has a fine piece on Civil War historiography at the Globe. (Tom has written extensively on Gettysburg and he was, for a long time, a major force in Thomas Publications, especially their Civil War Reader website.) Tom asks, "What is truth in history?"
The fall list of ACW books is up at Civil War Book News.
NEWS | Leading preservationist dies * SVC honors slain CSA soldier * Representative will seek another $30 million from feds for Lincoln Library


It's Friday. Break out the popcorn and let's watch the first Civil Warlike film of the Christmas season:

Hokey and predictable, The Last Samurai is unlikely to garner the ringing endorsements accorded a more novel exercise in martial derring-do, Master and Commander. The least one can say for this costume action flick is that it hits bottom immediately. - Village Voice

Despite its aura of sensitivity and intelligence, why does The Last Samurai feel so fake? - NY Press

Those are the kind of jaded comments we'd expect from seen-it-all New York critics. Let's go to the Midwest and eavesdrop on some fun-loving college students:

Tom Cruise plays a Civil War veteran who decides for some reason to go to Japan and show their army how to use guns, or something like that. And as such, expect to see lots of montages of Cruise showing ninjas how to aim a musket juxtaposed with footage of the star of “Days of Thunder” slowly wielding a sword in front of a sunset as Japanese-sounding music plays.

If you find Cruise to not be a believable Civil War veteran, let alone a Civil War veteran turned ninja, there’s still a way for you to enjoy this movie: don’t ever see it or think about it.

Rating: I’d rather be escorted to the Tunnel of Love by Michael Jackson with a bottle of chloroform than watch this movie.

Thanks, Chris Becker. I'll make other plans.
Charleston's tale of two museums echoes yesterday's theme that public expressions of Confederate history will henceforward be associated with slavery.
NEWS | Saturday is battlefield illumination night at Antietam * Critics halt plans for bike trail from Shiloh * General Cobb’s house may return home


Now, the sea changes.

Whatever the merits of the argument, this is the beginning of that period in which the Civil War and slavery become entwined in every public space and every public discourse. We saw it in the recent decision by the Park Service to make mention of slavery as part of their battlefield tours; in the decision to create a Civil War museum in Richmond with Blue, Gray and Black perspectives; in the content of the new movie, CSA, that drives home the idea that a victory for the South would have meant the extension of slavery into the modern era.

The current controversy in Georgia, to prohibit the public display of Rebel uniforms by reenactors in a Christmas parade, will soon affect reenactors everywhere.

The controversy generated by Howard Dean's comment that he wanted to appeal to Southern whites with Rebel flag decals in their pickup trucks attracted so much opposition for this reason: a large part of the public sentiment has already been conditioned to accept that arguments of "Southern Heritage" may not be applied to the symbols of a "pro-slavery" government. That has been the point of the sustained attack on Confederate flags. People must find another way to express "Southern pride" and no political party is now going to allow one of its leaders or spokesmen to endorse use of Confederate emblems to express heritage.

Those people who have worked so hard for so long to keep the South's Civil War heritage separate from slavery in the public mind and in public spaces will be systematically undone. The state flags battle is lost - the flags have a bureaucratic entropy to defend them, nothing more. There will be no exceptions. Rebel monuments, narratives, and public remembrances will soon pass into memory. Attacks on flags and mascots by political groups are now park and museum doctrine. Regional schools will soon follow Georgia in teaching state history from Reconstruction forward. Even the pop historians, who dominate Civil War publishing with their lavish praise of Rebel generals, will be forced into using caveats and hedges with an eye to the larger picture.

I have no sympathy for the symbols of the Rebellion and every sympathy for its victims, and yet the mechanics of this change seem remorseless. The injustice the display of these symbols inflicted on a black population is now visited on the white descendants of Rebel soldiers -- they are now in the position of the modern German. Forced to issue disclaimers about forefathers. Compelled to make ritual denouncements of a previous regime. Discouraged from public expressions of pride in a disgraced cause.

They were not - historiographically - ready for the change. There were no compromise formulas ready, there was no compensating story they could tell themselves or us.

This is historiography, alive, operating on the grandest scale.
NEWS | Vandals attack Civil War headstones in Ohio * Installation of Indiana Civil War monument halted by discovery *
Police arrest Vicksburg battlefield grafitti vandal * Christmas parade organizers try to mediate between reenactors and marching band


There's a Civil War mockumentary coming to an art house new you: "CSA: Confederate States of America" was written and directed by Kevin Willmott, and "looks at an America in which the South won the Civil War -- or rather, the War of Northern Aggression."

It has just played Sundance.

The film includes "a Home Shopping Network-type program that specializes in marketing slaves. It's hosted by two chipper white women trying to peddle a black couple and their cute 'litter of pickaninnies.' And there's a painfully funny commercial for The Shackle -- a device similar to the vehicular LoJack but used for tracking slaves. ('Made of a lightweight aluminum alloy so it won't weigh your Tom down. Perfect for children!')"

Wilmott, a black university professor as well as director, says "There are a lot of people right now who want to hold onto their Confederate heritage, but that heritage is somehow divorced from slavery. The movie puts slavery as the centerpiece. Finally we're going to discuss the Civil War as if slavery mattered. So those people are going to probably feel a little uncomfortable."

There's more on CSA here.

Meanwhile the Tredegar National Civil War Museum will put slavery at the center of its new ACW museum in Richmond (see News, below).
NEWS | Tredegar National Civil War Foundation to found Richmond museum * Port Deposit plans a Civil War Christmas * Civil War Preservation Trust announces campaign to rescue Corricks Ford Battlefield


The underwater "looting" of the CSS Chattahoochee has prompted Georgia to organize a "neighborhood watch" of skin divers near the craft. And now the state has appointed its first "underwater archaeologist."
NEWS | Restorers struggle to understand Monitor turret * Steamboat park planned for Georgia * Lee council suffers name change while Jackson scouts soldier on


I see that there is some blog appreciation activity going on here ... in case anyone wants to mention Civil War Bookshelf. (Shameless hinting department.)
One of the 19th Century's best-selling Civil War novelists, Southerner Ellen Glasgow, has a biography at last.

Sorry, being ironic.

Books about Glasgow piled on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln would sink the aircraft carrier in a moment. See for yourself.

And yet, no one has really ever heard of her, except the few specialists who read these works and understand that Glasgow made Gone with the Wind possible, not just "artistically" but commercially by developing a huge market for Civil War literature.

Maybe the new work is an attempt to bring Glasgow back to the mass audiences she once commanded.
NEWS | Expert says Republic holds up to 30,000 gold coins * Kansas will develop John Brown battlefield * Rebel reenactors barred from Georgia Christmas parade


If you are going to be a big-picture historian, if you are going to draw sweeping conclusions about great questions, why, oh why get mixed up in a lot of gritty details? To show that you've mastered the materials? But then you have to get the details right, or you look like a fraud.

Look at these errors committed by John Keegan. It's kind to call them "sloppy," because they are career, status, and credibility killers. Note his answer to the challenge on dates of the American Revolution; it shows the kind of hateur pop historians may indulge in - a pride that is the opposite of historic sensibility.

I think this poster is onto something:

"It makes me wonder whether or not he wrote the book himself. I've read Keegan before and he never made such glaring errors. Also, I don't think I've heard of such errors written on anything pertaining the civil war. It's almost comical."

Successful pop historians do not seem to research their own books or write them, as we learned in the Goodwin and Ambrose scandals. They bless the content, then learn just enough about their "own" writings to travel the interview and commentary circuit, and that's that.

This explains the anomalies in McPherson's Antietam book last year. McPherson's interviews and endnotes credit works containing new information and new thinking, but none of the newer stuff makes it into his prose.

For instance, he praises John Hennessy's, Return to Bull Run without noticing four incidents in which generals capture each others' orders before McClellan finds Lee's orders in the Maryland Campaign. McClellan's find remains unique, in McPherson's narrative.

He cites John Michael Priest's Before Antietam: The Battle for South Mountain, without noticing all the movements and orders McClellan issued after finding the Lost Order: in McPherson's new book, McClellan still waits six hours before issuing his first command.

In an interview, he praises Harsh's Taken at the Flood, without actually adopting any of the book's views or conclusions. For example, one of its central ideas is that McClellan seized the intitiative from Lee before finding Lee's orders.

Search McPherson in vain for this or other new insights. And yet these citations serve him as bona fides.

The solution, of course, is to write your own books. If you are Keegan, and you insist the Revolution was fought from 1776 on, give the ghostwriter a little break and tell us why that is so. If you are McPherson and you cite new studies whose findings and content contradict your earlier conclusions, don't restate those conclusions with a smile and a nod to the new material ... send the ghostwriter on coffeebreak and tell us why you reject the new material.

McPherson: "I owe much to existing scholarship. What is different about my book is the compression of these complex events into a brief compass."

No sir. What is different in your work are citations that spite your conclusions. Again and again.

You have read the good stuff, use it.
NEWS | Civil War graffitti discovered in Bagdad, Florida * Cache of Lincoln photos found in Illinois school * Vanished island, site of Battery Wagner, to be restored


A few thoughts on remembering by Paul A. Shackel in Memory in Black and White:

Public memory is more a reflection of present political and social relations than a true reconstruction of the past.

Therefore, public memory does not rely solely on professional historical scholarship, but it takes into account the various individuals and institutions that affect and influence the versions of histories that have become part of the collective memory.

Public memory can be viewed as tactical power that controls social settings. Competing groups battle ceaselessly to create and control the collective national memory of revered sacred sites and objects.

The tensions between and within groups who struggle for control over the collective public memory is ongoing since the political stakes are high.

The meaning of sacred sites on the American landscape is continually being negotiated and reconstructed.
This columnist wonders how long observance of a federal religious holiday will last. She also outlines the three-step program that created Thanksgiving.
Starting in the 1940s, people began donating books to the Alabama State Archives. They were not thrown away, but neither were they cataloged. A part-timer is now going through boxes and finding collectibles like an 1862 Richmond edition of the federal standard, Instruction for Heavy Artillery. "It is a treasure that was neglected. It's not anybody's fault. It's just that they (archives officials) never had money to have the staff to do it," the part-timer said.

I'm not sure that's true. In another part of the same article, we read that "Archives staff members in the last two decades have spent more time repairing portraits and Civil War flags and organizing the archives' collections of photos, maps, newspapers, manuscripts and government records."

In other words, the Archive neglected its books to fuss with knick-knacks.
NEWS | Battle of Chattanooga marked with songfest * Woman veteran of Civil War featured in TV program * Gettysburg painting restoration attracts Dutch experts * Knoxville ponders the disappearance of Ft. Sanders * Gettysburg General Gregg's effects sold for $400


It would seem that Richard Norton Smith, who will oversee the conversion of the Lincoln Library and Museum into a tourist mecca, may have enough self-discernment to understand the role he is playing. In a recent speech he notes,

"By his reckless embrace of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Franklin Pierce helped touch off a civil war, even if he did wonders for the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau."

I hope we need never say, "By his reckless embrace of heritage tourism, Smith triggered a nationwide replacement of scholars with celebrities - doing wonders for visitor bureaus everywhere."

Smith's writing is highly entertaining. It should be: he collects the best bon mots for any given president and packs them around fairly ordinary historical insights. But the history behind the writing rarely rises above the level of cafe (or dorm lounge) chatter.

See for yourself here and here.

Thanks for the laughs, but is this an Algonquin Roundtable approach to history? Are we sufficiently amused yet?

This talk was part of his leave taking from the Dole Library. Have Dole studies been advanced? Are there Dole studies?

A better use for such going-away speeches is this. Describe scholarship you admire. Tell us how you will advance Lincoln scholarship. Amuse us last of all.
NEWS | Winchester development plan takes note of Civil War camp, earthworks * Shirtmaker with Rebel flag logo banned in Florida school * New minstrels leave off the blackface


You could easily overlook the little firehouse where John Brown's rebellion ended in Harper's Ferry. It's small and it sits in a little park like some utility building. I had been to HF many times before I noticed it and realized what it was.

The signage is discreet, to say the least, and the location is new, for the "John Brown Fort" has travelled a bit. It was moved to Chicago for the World's Colombian Exhibition of 1893 where it attracted 11 paid admissions. It was supposed to go to New York, too, and at one point was marked for stable duty.

Paul Shackel has an intriguing chapter on the fort in his thoughtful new essay collection, Memory in Black and White. He talks about the different meanings it has, the people of Harper's Ferry not wanting it there, and the changing Brown historiography in which Brown's transformation from Abolitionist hero to sadistic murderer affected this particular artifact.

Underneath this is the question of how historical objects connect to historical understanding. If you think this is banal, think of all those historical institutions believing that objects convey history, or even that objects embody history.

John Brown's daughter refused to attend the Chicago fair or be associated with the firehouse. "I may be a relic of John Brown's raid of Harper's Ferry, but I do not want to be placed on exhibition with other relics and curios and such," she said.

So the human and historical essence of the raid escaped the artifact's fate. By choice. Historical institutions should take note. Especially those managing bric-a-brac.
Shelby Foote on replacing Confederate state flags: “I think the people who want a new flag are worried about tourists. I never cared much for tourists myself.”
NEWS | High schoolers try to save ACW field hospital * Philly museum loses ACW pistol to thieves * Northrup staff x-rays Monitor materials


Is it me or have you noticed reenactors being identified as such in crime stories? In this example, the fellow was returning from a reenactment, so it was part of the story. In another link I posted previously, the reenactor committed his objectionable acts in the uniform of a Rebel general.

The "new" or "revived" Civil War units should be careful of whom they recruit.
This nice lady has just unearthed a number of Civil War veteran headstones: they are now piled up in a corner of her yard awaiting disposal. She says her Massachussetts property was never a burial ground. The names are legible, regiments too.

Her hypothesis about their purpose made me think "Contractor shennanigans" and "double billing."

She has no idea of what to do with them.

I would hope a roundtable or historical society would take posession until the descendants can be contacted.

p.s. Wouldn't you have to be living in a civic and cultural vacuum to have this problem?
If you were going to study three Civil War governors, they would have to be Dennison, Morton, and Yates. Their impact on the war was boderline Cabinet level, with Dennison eventually joining the Cabinet. They were exceptional men and loyal Lincoln political operators whose common denominator was personal (career) indebtedness to the President.

Republican General McDowell (of Bull Run) was Dennison's cousin; Dennison seems to have appointed McClellan at Lincoln's behest (the evidence is circumstantial); and Lincoln had him convey to McClellan his relief from the position of general-in-chief (Mac was loading troops, missed his appointment, and read of the relief in the newspaper).

Dennison, Yates, and Morton were part of Lincoln's war management system, his regional (midwest) high command, and military patronage apparatus.

You can make a small start on Dennison here. Battle-centric publishing seem to preclude these men from getting any attention in the near future.

p.s. This is from the same Cincinnati Enquirer that drove U.S. Grant crazy during the Rebellion.
NEWS | Ohio town to honor Gen. McPherson * Lehman Brothers admits role in slavery * Citizen pushes against Lee and Davis names for county schools


I had forgotten all the uproar surrounding the Civil War Centennial, but author Paul Shackel brought it back for me in his thoughtful new book, Memory in Black and White.

It was fairly awful from start to finish, beginning with a small scandal, i.e. the Centennial Commission's scheduling an event that black members could not attend (in a white's only hotel).

This caused publicity that led to leadership resignations, including that of Ulysses S. Grant III. History writers Allan Nevins and James Robertson stepped up to run the show, though Grant came back for ceremonial purposes.

Some genius actually had Grant, the grandson of "Unconditional Surrender" shake hands with the great grandson of Robert E. Lee. Whose sense of history informed this little "drama"?

I had also forgotten how large the reenactments were, how many people they attracted, and how controversial they were.

After seeing the first Battle of Bull Run reenacted, Nevins withdrew the Commission's support for any further such events. He called it "trashily theatrical." The Atlanta Constitution referred to "sleazy imitations of Confederate uniforms" and made other complaints, and a Virginia paper pointed out that reenactments were "carnivals" that dishonored the dead.

The National Park Service's director asked the Commission to halt reenactments with the conclusion, "This soldier playing mocks the dead."

The grandstanding in these comments is remarkable. A quiet, comment-free "We do not approve," would have got the job done without insulting or angering large numbers of participants.

But everyone running a Centennial is going to be, by dint of the event, an amateur. And these were the mistakes of amateurs.

More good stuff from Memory in Black and White next week.
NEWS | Missouri Civil War Museum seeks to restore building to house collections * Kentucky golf course may yield battlefield park * Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation seeks funds to acquire field of the Third Battle of Winchester * School paper changes its name to Rebel, incites uproar * Civil War cannon finds new home


Author and professor Gary Gallagher thinks reenactors embody a specific theory of history, if this news story is to be believed.

Although he is part and parcel of the sad legacy of Nevins, Catton, McPherson, and Sears (for a time he was publishing two or more books per year in that tradition), Gallagher deserves credit for having enough perceptiveness to understand that there are schools of thought and that he belongs to one of them. This at least distinguishes him from the "my way or the highway" crowd dominating Civil War literature since the Centennial.

His Lost Cause researches seem to have led him to metahistory. Good.
Here's a report about a Florida town resisting reenactors. And it's not just about pragmatic stuff like noise and commotion. At least one resident opposes reenactment on principle:

"This is personal to me," said resident Arthur Benton, who is black. "Why would you want to live in the past? We need to go forward."
NEWS | Georgia labor commissioner decries Dixie’s failure to recruit black soldiers Officials worry that ancient cannons may accidentally fire * Monument to black soldiers taking shape in Vicksburg military park


Surprised to see that the state of Georgia's tourism division has a Civil War marketing department. A casual search suggests that they are pathfinders in this regard, at least stateside.

Meanwhile, Rwanda is marketing it's own civil war too. Tours are not family friendly.

And yet, which of these efforts will produce more actual historical content?
Sometimes, a parody can go too far.
NEWS | Planners consider Vicksburg for more casino development * Abner Doubleday club set to disband * Minstrel reenactors follow ACW shows


Pres. Bush is in London in his time, and here is a fine quote about London's view of Lincoln in olden times. From The Education of Henry Adams.
A new feature has premiered on Amazon, one so potentially useful to researchers, I'm not sure they'll leave any bandwidth available for bookbuying.

When you type in an author's name as a search term in the books section, Amazon returns a list of wherever it found that name internally referenced within a book (e.g. in footnotes).


I mentioned William Marvel, Burnside's biographer in the post below below. Try typing in William Marvel's name. This is what you'll get.
Thinking of yesterday's post, all of the skulking and AWOLs of the Civil War: imagine being an ACW veteran lucky enough to have gotten through a few battles and then having to swallow the pill of having the shirkers surround you in the veteran's organizations; having them win public offices; having them buried next to you with honors.

To give a sense of the dimensions of this problem, consider this:

Historian William Marvel has written that every one of the last dozen recognized living Confederate veterans was bogus. Marvel found that the last one, Walter Williams of Texas, would have been 5 in 1860 and 10 when the war ended. Williams didn't begin identifying himself as a Civil War veteran until 1932, when he applied for a Confederate pension.

The Civil War, and all of its associated phenomena, are something we do not yet even remotely understand .
NEWS | Model soldiers show held at Antietam * Chancellorsville preservers are on the move * SCV offers reward for info on cross thief * Chestnut diary is one-woman play


Our brave AWOLs

Our final Ben Stein question asked "How could all the men and women who participated in the war have been so amazingly brave?"

I would have less complaint with the question, "How could all the men and women who lasted out a battle have been so amazingly brave?"

The formula, "all the men and women who participated in the war" being "so amazingly brave" does not come close to the reality. Not even a little bit. It's a product of our social promotion mindset, its a little certificate of achievement we want to award everyone for showing up for work, shaved and sober.

In these armies, few actually showed up for work; often more people called in sick than clocked in for their daily ration of menace and mayhem.

The reality was overwhelmingly one of desertion, malingering, illegal leave-taking (furloughs authorized by officers not empowered to grant them), and on the battlefield itself, there was a great deal of dropping out through shirking.

There is a tendency among Civil War historians to take the Official Record's monthly muster roll for pay as something approaching battlefield strength. This would be the most inflated number available, since it represents the elected officers of the company taking care of their people in the most important matter of pay.

A better number, and it is still inflated, is that given for the various armies in The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (1861-1865), GPO 1875. This is not a primary source you have ever seen cited outside of this blog. And that's a direct reflection on Civil War historians.

The medical department did not want their death, disease, injury, and recovery statistics corrupted by the nonsense found in monthly payroll counts, so they took the trouble to add "together the mean strengths given in the individual [daily morning] reports consolidated for the month." The morning reports were the basis for the day's details and included everyone accounted for as "present for duty." The result was a better number that was also a smaller number than our imaginations, fueled by pop history, will allow.

For example, notice the medical department's view of the manpower pool of the Army of the Potomac as it marches towards Richmond:

4/62 - 71,250
5/62 - 72,536
6/62 - 78,733

This is the total count of men available to McClellan to capture Richmond; this is before illness, wounds, malingering, battlefield desertion, and shirking. Doesn't match the pop history version of things, does it?

McClellan and Lincoln had an ongoing dialog about the ghostly contingent that existed on paper but not in the field; Lincoln's quip about shoveling fleas across a barnyard was in the context of their ongoing discussion about this.

In speaking to some ladies after Antietam, Lincoln told them that McClellan lost 30,000 men to straggling within two hours of the start of the battle.

At the end of the battle on the Antietam, Mac had George Meade, then commanding Hooker's Corps, prepare a secret memo for Lincoln's visit telling how many men Hooker had brought into battle versus what the returns said he brought to bear. Here is Meade:

I prepared a statement showing that Hooker's corps on paper was thirty-one thousand five hundred strong; that of this number there were present for duty only twelve thousand, and of these, a numerical list, made on the day of battle after we came out of action, showed only seven thousand. Hence, while the United States were *paying* and the authorities at Washington were *relying* and basing their orders and plans on the belief that we had thirty-one thousand five hundred men, facts showed that we had in reality, on the field fighting, only nine thousand. As to the seven thousand that came out of the fight, we should add some two thousand killed and wounded in it. (Geo Meade, letter to his wife, 10/5/62)

Here is an artillery colonel on the same unit:

This corps has been filling up by the incoming of stragglers, and arrival of some recruits, so that we now have twice as many men present as we had a week ago. Still not half those borne on the company rolls are present. (Charles Wainwright, Diary of Battle, 9/26/62)

By 1863, the situation was barely manageable. The same colonel, Charles Wainwright, observed during the Mine Run campaign:

Never have I seen so many stragglers from the Army. [...] But when about halfway to the ford, in a place where the wood was somewhat more open, I
saw thousands, literally acres of them, cooking their coffee or sleeping around their fires.

In one horrifying episode very early in the Peninsula campaign, chief surgeon Charles Tripler tried to get 260 sick soldiers off on a boat, the Daniel Webster No. 1, bound for Boston. Stragglers had rushed on board and taken posession. They set off without the 260. Tripler then counted 1,020 more skulkers in hospital tents who had failed to make their getaway on the Daniel Webster No. 1.

The rate of AWOL experienced by both sides was staggering. In making the Army of the Potomac and its soldiers the collective hero of their books, Nevins, Catton, McPherson, Sears, and their followers could never face this dark side of historical truth, so necessary to forming any idea of the real burden shouldered by those few willing to fight. And in the process, they misled poor Ben Stein, along with a lot of other people.
ON TOPIC| Desertion During the Civil War * A Higher Duty: Desertion Among Georgia Troops During the Civil War * Disloyalty in the Confederacy * The Free State of Jones * A Diary of Battle * The Life and Letters of General George Gordon Meade
NEWS | First battlefield-related easement in MO protects Wilson's Creek * Chicago debates slavery reparations * Drunken Grant featured in Thurber Carnival * Civil War Cross of Honor stolen from gravesite


If I had spent my life maintaining the 1962 editorial line of American Heritage magazine, if I had spent it writing blurbs for other people's dust jackets, if I had spent it educating class after class of Princeton history grads, if I had spent it drawing crowds to indifferent Civil War symposia, then I would be James McPherson and I would expect I could end my life in some dignity.

Perhaps my students would hail my contributions to history in book after book, article after article; perhaps colleagues I had helped would be compiling annotated editions of my works; perhaps readings would be organized of my articles; perhaps analyses would be published listing my breakthrough discoveries and insights; perhaps things would be named after me.

Instead, as James McPherson, I am left at the end of my life to myself compile a picture edition of my best selling work (not even a disciple around to do this and spare me the shame). As my colleagues dive into new research, I sign the imitation leather-bound deluxe picture books, hoping they earn back my advance.

Does McPherson deserve such a fate?

Sorry to say, I caught a review of his picture book yesterday and from the snippets served up there, it's hard to work up sympathy for the man. Here, the reviewer begins:

Side-by-side pictures ... reveal an important Civil War subplot simply because they're placed next to each other: "The tired, lugubrious countenance of Simon Cameron and the determined, confident mien of Edwin M. Stanton speak volumes about their respective performances as secretary of war. Lincoln replaced Cameron with Stanton in January 1862 because in ten months on the job Cameron had made a mess of things; in cleaning up the mess Stanton did not make himself popular with war contractors, but he got the job done."

The reviewer notes that "it's not just that the pictures are well chosen; they're also well captioned."

I would not say this picture is well captioned at all. First, McPherson is reviewing his own caption: the miens "speak volumes," he says. The reviewer, having been told how to interpret the photos parrots McPherson, telling us the photos "reveal an important Civil War subplot simply because they're placed next to each other."

McPherson's career has been based on telling us how to interpret everything connected with the Civil War. And he has not done that in an open way, by reviewing the controversy surrounding 10,000 individual matters; he simply issues his fiat. If you ever read Catton or Nevins, you have a sense of which way his fiats will run.

So in the simple matter of Cameron and Stanton, it's not just that Cameron made a mess (is his suit rumpled to signify this?) and Stanton cleaned it up. No, it's not this impossibly basic conclusion: the analysis is ascribed to Lincoln. McPherson has the self-confidence to tell us authoritatively why Lincoln removed Cameron and replaced him with Stanton. He conveys a conclusion as a fact without actually conveying any information, historical or otherwise. And that is his way.

Here is some information any of which clould have been crafted into a single caption for two photos of these secretaries of war:

* Simon Cameron assumed his position having lost his Pennsylvania power base in the 1860 elections, but continued to appoint his own men to federal positions to the outrage of the faction that beat him at the polls.

* Edwin Stanton worked for Cameron in the war department while working with Congressional Republicans to have Cameron removed. He succeeded.

* Cameron's proudest boast was that he raised, outfitted, equipped, and deployed more soldiers than Napoleon Bonaparte; the effort exhausted him.

* Cameron surrendered his post after publicly opposing the President's policy on arming slaves.

* Cameron and Lincoln remained friends and Cameron performed many useful services for the Union during the war.

* Cameron's failure to control military contracts would be followed by Stanton's failure to control cotton speculation behind military lines.

This is just top-of-the-head stuff, folks, but the raw material for a decent caption is widely known and available.

For more bathos, we return to the review:

Here's nifty piece of descriptive writing that accompanies an image of Abraham Lincoln: "This photograph was taken in Macomb, Illinois, a day before Lincoln's second debate with Douglas in Freeport. Lincoln could scarcely be considered handsome; he joked that he was the ugliest man he had ever known. The beard that he decided two years later to grow filled out his face but could not conceal his large ears."

If you don't want to end up writing "nifty" captions about Lincoln's ears sticking out, practice real history and really practice it.
We'll take our leave of Ben Stein next week, sending him off with an analysis of today's question (below) the gist of which you have never seen before, I promise.
BEN STEIN ASKS | How could all the men and women who participated in the war have been so amazingly brave? (from The American Spectator, 10/03)
NEWS | Car crash totals Civil War monument at Gettysburg * Mass Society returns Confederate flag * HIPAA rules may block Civil War research * Foundation sues to remove Lee statue from Antietam


Here is a mission statement that should be nailed to the door of the Baltimore Historical Society:

The Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) is a major research library and manuscript repository.

You can read that here. Even their so-called "objects" are documents with intellectual content.

Scroll down for more.
"We deserve to have this kind of facility," society director Dennis Fiori said at a news conference. You certainly do; and nothing more.

Read on (below).
There is a “mega trend” in which history projects of various sorts get special funding far beyond their natural (mission-determined) levels of support in exchange for adopting a public, tourism orientation. This redo is often permanent and, I think, fatal to the missions of these compromised organizations.

If this seems like an abstract point, let’s say that history as a discipline is being corrupted, one institution at a time, by popular storytelling, political expediency, and heritage tourism. Collaborators in historians’ garb, are so glad to be bought, they view each sellout as a triumph for their imagined calling. Richard Norton Smith, publicly labeled a “showman” by the press, is placed at the fore of a Lincoln scholarship complex repurposed for Illinois tourism. James McPherson, a popular storyteller who aggregates the work of scholars, is tenured in the history department of an Ivy League university.

The best hope we have had against this rot has been the local historical society. In our imaginations, these are stuffy organizations filled with determined old-timers who keep an eagle eye on local heritage, the sites, the memories, the archives. The Civil War Roundtable movement is somewhat in this mode, though more open. It has actually revived a central feature of the old-time historical society, the writing and reading of papers by non-specialist members.

The local society is going the way of all history, however. No longer publishing and collecting local history, the new model society is about educating the public in the current fads of pop history. Here is a story on Baltimore’s society. Notice how their chief has redefined its mission to be a local knick-knack center:

"The society never found its voice," the director said, recalling the cramped, badly lighted facility that used to house its collection. Pieces were displayed haphazardly, while exhibits were short on both explanation and context. The museum seemed more an afterthought than a destination or potential tourist attraction.

Of course any museum will be the afterthought of an historical society. Historians running museums is as natural an idea as writers running libraries or printing presses. Historians have history to do; they are not to be used for the dusting off of memorabilia, for the painting of a new Men’s Room sign; for brochure copywriting.

“The museum seemed more an afterthought than a destination or potential tourist attraction.” This is the perspective of a city planner, not of an historian.

Look at this kitsch. The society now has three buildings and on one, “Nipper, the RCA dog, currently sits on its roof.”

Let Nipper, the RCA dog, represent the Baltimore Historical Society. Let it represent the historians of heritage tourism everywhere. His Master's Voice emanates from the state house and city hall.
BEN STEIN ASKS | Why do we find the South so haunting and sympathetic? (from The American Spectator, 10/03).
NEWS | Civil War tombstones get a bargain update * Discovered records give a Civil War history lesson * Monument will honor black Connecticut soldiers * Cavalryman gets gravestone at last


The Day Dixie Died is a powerful reading experience. It conveys the feeling of occupation by the North more vividly than most battle books convey their battles, and its effects are cumulative, a chapter-by-chapter buildup of gloom and horror. I have put it down more than once thinking, "This is the darkest thing I have ever read."

Not a direct polemic against the occupation, it registers its points one awful anecdote at a time. A chapter title could have served as a better book title: Death by Peace.
BEN STEIN ASKS | Was there a way of buying up the slaves? (From The American Spectator, 10/03)
NEWS | Syracusans restore and display NY battleflags * Lee supported Jewish holidays in the Rebel army * Fundraisers Gathering Money To Remember 'Connecticut 29th' * Foundation seeks funds to improve Confederate cemetery


This morning was a perfect November 11: overcast, cold, threatening rain or sleet.

Awoke thinking about that great link between the Civil War and the Great War, the deployment controversy.

I recall how McClellan and Grant (and a few in-between) decried forming new men into new units; it was a waste of human life, it was a waste of depleted veteran units, it was a waste of combat efficiency and effectiveness. But it was not something under any general’s control.

On the other side of this were the arguments that enlistments would be reduced if men could not be formed into new units made up of friends and neighbors, commanded by men of their own election; that they would be reduced if the governors’ patronage was reduced (a natural outcome of feeding men into the line as replacements). If enlistments fell the outcome of the war would be in doubt.

And so, from McClellan to Grant, the federal generals never had their chance. But the next best step was available to them; they could mix units, seasoned and green to the best of their abilities, to reduce the exposure of green regiments, and they need never after McClellan’s time, form green regiments into green brigades or divisions, except under the direst circumstances.

The argument repeated itself in the Great War. Americans would not be fed into Allied units as individual replacements; their green regiments would not be patched into veteran Allied divisions; their green divisions might in very limited numbers, be attached to Allied Corps, but generally, the green men would fight as a green army; men of 1861 level experience would be deployed en masse next to men of 1865 experience.

This time, the outcome of the war was not at issue; there was simply the issue of pride and political calculation. Were the casualties worth it? A question for Armistice Day.
Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918

"By the time you read this letter, I will no longer be alive. I will have died on enemy soil. [...] I died voluntarily for a cause I loved; I sacrificed myself; this is the most beautiful death."

- Historian Marc Bloch, June 1, 1915
BEN STEIN ASKS | How could they have carried such heavy loads, under such grueling conditions, slept in the rain, slept in the snow, marched right into massed rifle fire and certain death? (from The American Spectator, 10/03)
NEWS | Colfax statue dedicated in California * Rock Island prison dead commemorated * Living children of Civil War veterans number "hundreds"


If you're looking for historical Civil War content in the forthcoming movie The Last Samurai, I'm not sure you'll find any. If this is the shooting script, the Civil War dies out after page 11.

There is actually a book called The Last Samurai about the fellow who would have been the boss of Tom Cruise's character. It has nothing to do with the film and I myself don't know of any ex-ACW veterans who went to Japan to become "the last samurai" or to work for the "last samurai."

The best known expatriate of that era was, of course, the tempermental Rebel general William Wing Loring who was employed by the Khedive of Egypt. He has a website devoted to his Egyptian generalcy. His memoirs of that service are public domain - Hollywood would suffer no cost in optioning them.

An unreconstructed Confederate, he fought a black Christian Empire for his white Muslim overlords.

Fresh as today's headlines? A contemporary theme in historical spectacle? Yes. And nothing to prevent Hollywood from having Gatling guns chop down loads of miltary extras in the last scene.

We would get a Loring pic and Hollywood would get the umpteenth Gatling gun ending, in slow motion ... can we shake on that?
BEN STEIN ASKS | Why was war the response to popular sovereignty? (from the American Spectator, 10/03)
NEWS | Monument to Rebel general and his former slave unveiled * Brooke/Porter controversy over ironclad idea continues * Indiana city plans new Civil War monolith * Antietam group fights to tear down privately owned Lee statue


This matter of vandals attacking Civil War headstones (see yesterday's news section) is not one I can shake off. It reminded me of these words of a French war widow written in 1919 about the unburied fallen, her husband among them:

He will lie for days and days, forgotten, on the bare earth, with a smashed skull or chest, and German crows will steal away his dearest memories. Nothing! He will have nothing! Not even a pauper's grave, not even a stone, not even a cross. ... Christ could be resurrected from the tomb, for he had a tomb. As for him, he will have the earth, like the animals.

Vandalization reduces the war dead to nothing, to having earth "like the animals." And the cemetery vandals in yesterday's story were repeaters.

There is some little comfort in this report about the painstaking work of a man who repairs headstones, Civil War headstones, and old funerary monuments generally.

Thank you, sir. Unfortunately for the Civil War dead and for ourselves, this is the society we live in.
BEN STEIN ASKS | Of all the amazing, breathtaking truths and myths about the Civil War, why is this one almost always omitted from mention: that men of one race fought and died in the hundreds of thousands to free from bondage men and women of another race? (from the American Spectator, 10/11)
NEWS | Tom Ridge to speak at Gettysburg Address anniversary * NPS made lowball offer on $3.2 million battlefield house * Wisconsin "roots" of Jefferson Davis recalled


The article listing the many desecrations of Lincoln's corpse and grave (below) appeared at a time when Lincoln's cousin's grave barely escaped vandalism. Oddly enough.
This had never occurred to me before, what a wrong thing it is, what bad judgement it reflects:

Nearly 35 years after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, a tomb holding the "Great Emancipator" had to be rebuilt and his body was held in a temporary grave until reburied in 1901.

The second part of this is grotesque and should be learned by every schoolchild in America, as part of Lincoln's biography:

Lincoln's coffin has been moved 17 times and opened five times because of vandalism and reconstruction of his tomb.