Whatever we think about Civil War history, it provides a lot of material for ghost stories.

The level of historical detail varies a great deal in these Civil War ghost stories. For instance:

“She said she and five others watched the ghost of a Confederate soldier hide behind some nearby bushes for several minutes...”

You could be a high school dropout and file a report like that. “How was it dressed, ma’am?” “Uh, kind of a Civil War era uniform, I think.” “What color, ma’am?” “Mmmm, gray, I think.”

On the other hand, if you have read deeply in the Civil War, you can use that in the ghost witness department.

“Civil War general and senator John Logan is also said to return to the old Military Affairs Committee room, with the door to the room quietly opening and the general appearing, surrounded by a blue haze.”

“Who’s that ghost in the door, surrounded by the Union blue haze, sir?”

“Why, let’s see … handlebar mustache, dark hair, medium build … That would have to be Black Jack Logan!”

If you are a PhD or doctor of veterinary science, there’s even something for your level of analysis.

“In the 1930s workmen discovered a sealed-up room containing what many believed was Logan's stuffed horse.” Imagine the list of Civil War generals’ horses they would have had to go through before they reached L - Logan. ‘Here it is, at last!”

This would have been like Curse of the Mummy, except there was no curse. Just a horse mummy in a tomb in Congress positively linked to a ghost, still in Congress, still actively attending meetings.

Civil War history is a “living” tradition.
BEN STEIN ASKS | What would the South have been like if slavery had ended peacefully, as a result of moral awakening in the South, instead of through a bloody war? (From the American Spectator, 10/2003)
NEWS | Civil War historian Gienapp dies * Parking requirements will limit development of Civil War trails in NC * Harriet Tubman gets pension for wartime service * Civil War novel wins young writer award


Cold Mountain, the Civil War novel, was shot in Romania. Imagine that. Romanians got re-enactor lessons so they could function as Civil War infantry extras. Cheaper than taking American reenactors over.

But lest you think this the work of a cheapskate studio, let it be known that they hired authenticity experts Brian Pohanka and Don Troiani to advise on realistic touches. Have authenticity, will travel...

The studio's logic is very pretty. They think there is more danger in people noticing a wrong uniform or bridle than the Carpathian landscape which in no way matches the Appalachians.

I'll be waiting for the scene where the European magpie alights on the hand-carved windowsill of the Romanian peasant hut wherein the correctly dressed Civil War character drinks his coffee and plots his next very authentic move.
All is fair in heritage tourism:

"Look at your feet," he said, as lightning punctuated the darkened night sky behind him. "You are probably standing where some soldier died. But don't bother moving, because wherever you end up, odds are some soldier died there, too."

Odds are also that some history happened around here somewhere, too. But right now, focus on visualizing great piles of corpses at your feet.
BEN STEIN ASKS | How would America have been different if the South had won? (From the American Spectator, 10/2003)
NEWS | Monitor project gets $2 mln donation * Slave market plans take shape * Mississippi flag an election issue * Slave village excavated in Frederick, MD


Baltimore is poised to make a mistake.

It wants to move tourists out of the Inner Harbor and around town on a marked history trail of some sort. The planners, using Boston's Heritage Trail as a model, are stumped because the Heritage Trail has a single theme ... the Revolutionary War sites around Boston. Baltimore, well it just has too much history to limit one walk to one theme. So somebody in Baltimore has to write a unifying narrative to marry disparate historical periods into a single story associated with a single walk.

This is all wrong, of course. Multiple stories can be mapped to multiple walks (I would love to walk the route of the Massachussetts regiments mobbed en route to Baltimore's train station in 1861). Likewise, a walk with many points of interest and no unifying theme will also do very well, because tourists like variety and surprises. Drafting a single story covering multiple sites will produce a phony concept underpinning a politically acceptable civics lesson. It will be bad history and no fun.

Really, Baltimore and Boston both have too much history to limit one walk to one theme. The pity is that Boston has thrown away 350 years in favor of what it currently likes best about the itself, its revolution against the Crown of England.

You have to experience the political-historical culture of Massachusetts to understand life in a post-communist or post-fascist state. Its political concept of itself seems to be based on the good guys having overthrown the bad guys, except that now all the old history is unpalatable: Utah celebrates Thanksgiving with more zest that Massachusetts. One can imagine a Bay State politician referring publicly to the Founders of the Republic, but never, ever to the Puritan founders. Senator John Kerry once wittily compared the Commonwealth to Bosnia-Herzogovina. Yes. There are historical figures who no longer exist because the public cannot emphathize with them.

Georgia is currently trying to solve the same problem by deciding whether its state history should be taught from Reconstruction forward. We instinctively understand that the current population of Georgia can better identify with post-reconstruction society and politics than with the antebellum polity. We sympathize. And this resembles the situation in Boston that produced the travesty of an an "anti-Heritage Trail," the single theme suitable for public consumption.

There are places where the people are less alientated from their state's histories; the mid-Atlantic states, for example. Maryland should seek its own way and Baltimore should ground historical tourism in, yes, history.

Let all the history be seen, be taught, be visited. Let the city supply the trail, the markers, the police. Let the tourists supply their own information and opinions.
BEN STEIN ASKS | Why was it legal for the colonies to rebel against Britain but not for the South to rebel against the North? (From the American Spectator, 10/2003)
NEWS | "Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!" continues to roll up honors for author * UK re-enactors honor British ACW dead * Lawrence seen as center of Bleeding
Kansas heritage area
*California State to digitize Underground Railroad archives


Again it happens. The election of 1864 was invoked as a pop culture topic, this time by a caller to the Bob Grant radio talk show on WOR radio in New York City between 6:00 and 7:00 pm last night.

This 1864 election has the makings of a permanent political cliche, except that the central "lesson" or "meaning" of the event has not yet stabilized. And as for Lincoln's opponent McClellan, none of the talk show hosts has any idea he was a war Democrat or a conservative. Karl Marx and Friederich Engels backed Lincoln over McClellan, which should be all a talk show host needs to know.

There is an unusual poem that alludes to the Marx/Lincoln connection - and the election - written by the eccentric Mississippi personality and U.S. vice presidential aspirant Charles Granville Hamilton:

McClellan with the innocence of prewar
Democracy thought that he had a chance
And that votes would be counted as they were cast.

That is not the lesson of 1864 that is likely to gel in the current cycle of allusions.
BEN STEIN ASKS | Was the South basically outgeneralled despite Lee and Jackson and Forrest? (From the American Spectator, 10/2003)
NEWS | Kansas State Historical Society deals blow to Sons of Confederate Veterans * Replica of Civil War ironclad pulls into port * Confederate band books mined for ACW music CD * Home with view of Gettysburg battlefield listed for $3.2 million


I have been reading Robert Bruce Murray's Legal Cases of the Civil War, a new book from Stackpole.

The chapter on procurement cases, especially the parts on Fremont's contracts for river gunboats, left me with the impression that Fremont made decent bargains that were overturned in political witch hunts.

Murray's summary of the case of Clement Vallandigham is also interesting. Vallandigham was a prominent Democrat arrested by the military for giving peace speeches in Ohio, and the military proposed to dispose of him. An appellate court, considering the challenge of military jurisdiction, was loathe to interfere:

He [the presiding judge] began this analysis by pointing out that in time of war, the president derived his authority and power expressly from the Constitution's provisions that he should be the commander-in-chief of the army and navy. This, the judge added, invested the president with very high powers that were not defined in the Constitution or by any legislation.

This is a terrifying analysis, when you think of it.

The president must use his own judgement in the exercise of these powers. The only control was ... impeachment.

This is a concept currently beyong our sense of the possible: unlimited power that is constitutional. Unlimited power, exercised in an unprecedented way, and then held up by the courts as constitutional.
As mentioned last week, "Ben Stein's Diary" was full of rhetorical Civil War related questions. I thought I'd run these queries for a few months, starting with this one, which reminded me strongly of McClellan's wartime comment that he would like to hang the secessionists of South Carolina, followed by the abolitionists of Massachusetts. Generally, I'll run these without comment.
BEN STEIN ASKS: Does the ultimate responsibility [for 600,000 deaths] lie with the abolitionists, the secessionists or with both? And how could any of them live with themselves ever after, when they saw the rivers, oceans of blood? (From the American Spectator, 10/2003)
NEWS | Union trenches demolished for Georgia supermarket * Chickasaw Confederate gets Oklahoma monument * Rebel submarine prototype will be reassembled by year's end * Parkersburg to buy slum house of West Virginia founder


And now we have historical affairs with no historical content.

This event celebrates Edgar Allan Poe's last meal in a tavern he did not visit on the last night of his life, by serving food that might have been general tavern fare at the time. Hey, Baltimore, have you heard of research? Anybody can do it.

Oh, and I forgot. As a crowning touch of dissimilitude, this tavern has hired a John Wilkes Booth impersonator to play Poe.

The curse of heritage tourism ... not a story by Poe but scary nonetheless.
After a lot of head scratching, I think I have figured out what Civil War paintings are. They are souvenirs. If we criticize them as art or history, we err.

The contradictions that make them difficult to identify as souvenirs are: (1) they are recently made/manufactured, unlike battlefield artifacts; (2) the historical (factual) content is completely overshadowed by the fantasy arrangement of characters and situations; and (3) they are executed in a contemporary (ahistorical) style.

The painting makes tangible some episode from a familiar story. It affirms the interpretation of that event. It has very low historical content (correct uniforms, the right bridles) and very high historiographical content (interpreting the history of the event).

I remark on this to raise the question of whether Mike Lynaugh is trying to outmaneuver the entire Civil War prints and paintings business with a totally new kind of souvenir. Mixed historical contexts. Another conundrum.

President Richard Nixon's "Southern strategy" of broadening the Republican Party to accommodate Southern Democrats has frayed consensus within the Republican Party about its own history. Here is a vivid example from Tennessee.
NEWS | Kansas battlefield endangered by highway plans * Monument dedication to Mine Creek battle scheduled * Family claiming slavery reparations tax benefit sent to prison * Civil War statue restored in NH


The number of celebrity Civil War authors seems to be multiplying.

* Ex-congressman Newt Gingrich has been on a book tour for his novel Gettysburg.

* Ex-congressman Robert J. Mrazek, who scored a hit and a lit prize for his novel Stonewall's Gold in 1999 is back with another novel, Unholy Fire.

* Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist is being published in March: his nonfiction title will be The Disputed Election of 1876, which despite the date in the title is most assuredly about the Civil War.

And then there's Ben Stein, of Win Ben Stein's Money on TV.

I read my first copy of The Alternative in 1970 when it was a broadsheet. There was no "Ben Stein's Diary" column then, but there has apparently been one in nearly every issue since then. The Alternative some time ago changed its name to American Spectator (bad idea), got involved with George Gilder, and launched a website, not necessarily in that order. All that to say Stein's column does not run on the site. You have to buy a mag to read it.

In the paper edition of his column in the October issue, Stein reveals his upbringing near the Monacacy battlefield by Frederick, MD, and his deep love for battlefield preservation. He asks a series of questions and answers them: "Did the Civil War have to be fought? "Why is the Southern cause so compelling even now?" You get the idea.

In the next days I'll examine some of these questions from the perspective of ACW history critcisism. The questions naturally reflect the answers already found in books, books that may be more than a little suspect..
Light posting today - will publish some lines about celebrity Civil War novelists tonight.
NEWS | Army Corps of Engineers quashes Chacellorsville battlefield appeal * Philly artifacts will not be sent to Virginia * Car totals Civil War cannon at Gettysburg * Alabamans accused of souvenir hunting


The Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation holds about 10% of the land comprising the 3,000-acre Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, with the National Park Service administering the rest.

The Foundation is financially troubled and struggling but won't give up: it understands that the NPS administration is the less desirable outcome: “To make it [this Civil War Battlefield] more accessible, we would want to maintain local control." Bravo.
NEWS | Civil War Library and Museum suit resolved in Philadelphia * Request removes Rebel flags from Minnesota medical center * Black Unionist gets marker in West Virginia * Saginaw found: defended West Coast from Rebel raiders


It is interesting how many casual (and even professional) historians confuse the issues of legal evidence and historical evidence.

I am reminded of this whenever I publish some primary source material that does not conform to prevailing storylines. There is a tendency to want to "quash" the evidence. The reactions tend to be inappropriately legalistic.

Last week's letter conveying Pinkerton's purported warning to the Democratic leadership in October 26, 1864 brought some interesting reactions. For instance,

State of mind arguments - statements from McClellan's circle can be discounted because of the group's prevailing "paranoia."

Credibility of the witness - very little of what Pinkerton ever said can be believed.

Corroboration - there were no witnesses to the meeting described and therefore the written statement of the meeting can be discounted.

Can you see the error in such reasoning? There is a distinction between discounting what is false, what is impossible, and what is unpalatable. One does not have the right to suppress what is suspect because it is distasteful. The historian's ethos demands that what is suspect be examined and discussed openly ... a major problem in most Civil War works published today. A point illustrated by the obscurity surrounding this purported Lincoln assasination plot alleged against the Democratic Party leadership.

Here is an interesting discussion on legal versus historical evidence.
NEWS | Georgia may teach U.S. history beginning at Reconstruction * Canadian Civil War dead honored * Maryland to extend its Civil War Trail to Baltimore


The point of this new feature will be to highlight new thinking (and new source material) in ACW publishing.

BOOK BIN | For those who have been following the news around raising the Civil War sub Hunley, there is an entire book on the subject in Raising the Hunley by Hicks and Kropf. It's part of the small genre of "marine salvage" and tends towards a "suspensful" journalistic syle. There does not seem to be any new ACW history content, however.

Otherwise, this has been a truly remarkable publishing season in ACW naval literature:

Civil War Ironclads - This study from Johns Hopkins Press examines the Union's shipbuilding programs as programs, focusing on men, designs, management choices, and politics. Any modern manager, from project level on up, will find this a terribly contemporary read. The conclusions are bold and revisionist: "... the ironclad program set navy shipbuilding back a generation."

Ironclads and Big Guns of the Confederacy - This is a volume of "the Journal and Letters of John M. Brooke," the architect of the CSS Virginia, and provides a wealth of unpublished new material. The workings of the Confederate naval ordnance bureau figure largely here. These are his original letters, sketches and diary entries, which makes this a vital source for future Confederate naval writing.

Lincoln's Spymaster - The fellow charged with monitoring Confederate shipbuilding programs in Britain was an obscure New Jersey lawyer acting as consul in Liverpool, Thomas Haines Dudley. His efforts were successful and this work is based on his unpublished papers. If the book has a drawback it is in trying to appeal to nonspecialists by recapitulating general history instead of fully developing new details from his archives.

Northern Naval Superiority and the Economics of the American Civil War - This exciting and adventurous work analyzes the indirect effects of Union blockade including lost revenue, ruined inter-regional trade, and overload on the road and rail infrastructure of the Rebellion. It will be an affront to all those historians who have measured the blockade by number of goods smuggled through. First class.
NEWS | NY Election Official Admits To Confederate Bumper Sticker * Artist wants Civil War memorial in Shenandoah Valley * DVA prohibits Confederate speech at ACW POW Camp * Vermont HS ponders meaning of its Rebel colonel mascot *


Sometimes, I think we are dealing with a more general problem than just the sheer awfulness of Civil War history.

In the May 2003 issue of the Atlantic magazine, there was a stunning piece on Hitler’s personal library, or at least that part of it housed in US archives. One substrand of the article was the lack of scholarly interest in the collection: “Why, with hundreds of Hitler biographies, had not more scholars visited the Third Reich Collection? It is referenced by none of the leading Hitler biographers – not Alan Bullock, not John Toland, not Joachim Fest.” Clue: these are pop historians. And if they are working within a very constrained story framework, new data is simply not going to matter at all.

The symptom that tells us we have a very sick discipline here is that in 2001 some scholars documenting Hitler's collection to publish a resource for other scholars failed to take any note at all of Hitler’s marginalia in various books. Hitler’s own comments in the books of his own library? Yawn.

The Atlantic was at it again in its July/August issue in its Travels column where we have a piece that unwinds like standup comedy.

There’s this guy, see, and he’s doing genealogy research at a courthouse in a little town in Louisiana. And on his way out of the courthouse, he happens to notice a prominent monument and goes to read the plaque. Confused by what he reads on the plaque, he starts asking locals what this is all about. It’s about the Colfax Riot, which the Louisiana State Museum calls “the bloodiest single instance of racial violence in the Reconstruction era…” Except no one who reads history has heard of it.

Here’s the punchline to this joke: the author “found nothing about the Colfax Riot in any number of encyclopedias, and at the time only one reference to the event on the entire Internet…”

The joke is on us, buyers and readers of Civil War and Reconstruction histories. Have a good reading weekend, but be awfully careful about that reading.
NEWS | South Mountain monument to be dedicated to NC dead * Judge to decide if Mary Boykin Chesnut home should be turned into apartment house * Gods and Generals controversy continues as museum plans killed in Mobile * Freedom Trail Storytellers are reenactors, too


Sometimes it's fun to get away from historiography in order to do a little history, per se.

I have posted my transcription of one Edward Wright's account of a sinister meeting he had with Detective Pinkerton on October 26, 1864 here.

Wright was a former aide to McClellan and Pinkerton conveyed to him that the election was fixed and that the Administration had an assasination conspiracy plot ready to hang around the necks of McClellan's friends if there was any commotion after the election results came in.

Stephen Sears seems to be the only historian aware of this document and mentions it briefly in his Young Napoleon bio of Mac.

Its chillingest sentence is,

"That Mr. Lincoln knew of this interview, and that it was with a desire to befriend McClellan and save him from possible trouble that he had employed him (Pinkerton) in the matter."
NEWS | Bleeding Kansas National Heritage Area sought by residents * Underground Railroad gets three new sites * Group seeks new location for marker of farthest Rebel advance * Wisconsin collector discovers MoH recipient’s sidearm * Confederate flag stolen from gravesite


I've decided to leave the topic of Civil war artists be. It has been a traffic killer.

Here's a new book-centric feature called RETHINK.

RETHINK the selection of Union commanders:

Raised in a political culture dominated by patronage, Lincoln simply made the best choices based on advice from patrons and supporters in his own cabinet, in Congress, and in the state capitals.

RETHINK Crampton's Gap:

The habitual desire to bask in Antietam's climactic, well-recorded saga has cast an indifferent shadow over South Mountain's unexplored secrets, inhibiting the legitimate assertion that Crampton's Gap, through pivotal significance, may very well strategically outweigh Antietam in comparison.

RETHINK the Maryland Campaign:

The decision Lee made on the 9th [of September, 1862] put at risk his campaign and possibly even the safety of his army. It did so at the time he wrote Special Orders, No. 191, and long before events prevented these orders from a timely execution - or before they fell into the hands of his enemies.

RETHINK McClellan:

The excessive hunts for drawbacks to attach to McClellan's personality and attempts to establish him as a person incapable of military command become trivial pursuits. Not only are his faults viewed out of context, they do not stand up to any measure of an objective standard.
NEWS | NPS awaits Chickamauga revamp plan from consultant * “Republic,” 1865 gold transport steamship found * President Jimmy Carter joins Georgia flag controversy * Confederate printing plant in SC to become a grocery store * Anti-slavery society minutes offered at estate sale * Amistad visits Boston * Deal to site CSS Neuse closed * Plaintiff attacks Mississippi flag as Christian * Rumors fly at NC HS after flag related suspensions * Tennessee group offers ACW cemetery event: “Dining with the Dead


Back to art matters tomorrow.

With respect to all this flag news (below), I'm thinking that to officialdom, the flag has a political and historic meaning; and to the students, it has idiosyncratic, highly personal meanings. The disconnect is in the students rejecting a single, standard interpretation of what the flag means. I like dissent very much. But I also respect the schools wanting absolute control over questions pertaining to good order. Knowing a little about the way of the world, at least this corner of the world, I wouldn't be surprised if Confederate flags are approved for display in a special, secured area 200 feet from the school house. This is how protestors are handled by the Secret Service on presidential trips.
Lots of flag news today.

NEWS | Defiant Chicago students wave Rebel flag, school vows “never again” * NC High School students ignore Rebel flag prohibition * Washington students back Rebel flags despite ban * Student suspended for distributing petition to allow Rebel flag on clothing * Sons of Confederate Veterans fight for Rebel Flag license plates in Florida * Mayor attacks Mobile museum chief for criticizing “Gods and Generals * Monitor’s propeller goes on display * Civil War flick Cold Mountain slated for Christmas release * Death camp Andersonville celebrates its heritage with fair * Wisconsin vandals target ACW headstones


To people educated in painting, and to people active in contemporary visual arts, Civil War art strikes one as shockingly bad. This is not the case with contemporary or period painting on Civil War themes (more on which later) only with the modern stuff. It drives the question, “Who buys this?” and “Why?” I thought I would take a few days this week to look into the business of Civil War painting.
In analyzing the thriving entertainment industry we optimistically call “Civil War history,” I’ve neglected the visual branch of the business, the painters.

Civil War painter Don Troiani once said, “If an historical painting is not accurate, then it is worthless as both art and investment.” He said, “I believe the more accurate the presentation is, the clearer our image will be of our heritage.”

“For longtime buffs and newcomers alike, art is a visceral boon to … understanding,” says Washington Times writer Mark Powell. Powell is an advocate of this kind of work. He seems to be saying that some people need color visuals to prime their reading imaginations.

Following Powell on this, I believe we have here illustrations that belong in certain books that were not commissioned … free-floating illustrations for narratives that have been internalized.

Powell’s take on actual, real Civil War artists, people who painted the war they saw, is revealing:

“Still, much Civil War art was stick-figure-ish and generally unrealistic, with rows of largely undifferentiated soldiers.”

Is he referring to Thomas Nast, Alfred Waud, or Winslow Homer? Perhaps, he is thinking of James Hope. Hope was generally conveying the truth of a human eye view of an entire battlefield in action. To his credit, this is not a truth that has ever been discovered or presented in that other visual medium, film. Look at this link and consider the meaning of truth.

Powell notes that “A small group of contemporary artists has raised the genre.”

But their idea of “raising the genre” is to contrive arrangements of historical personages in scenes imperfectly imagined with accuracy merely concerning bridles, uniforms, and weapons. The haircuts are guesswork, the complexions all speculation, the emotions are all leveled off. Almost everything about a modern Civil war painting strikes one as false. Except, perhaps, the details of physical equipment.

More on this tomorrow.
NEWS | Pearce Collection of ACW papers opened to public * Civil War quilt found in Vermont * Facial reconstruction of Hunley crew “80% complete” * Castle Williams, Rebel POW camp in NYC, opens for visitors * CSA Navy raid on Portland, Maine, subject of talk * Group calls attention to crumbling CSA monument in Jackson, MS


Outside of Hollywood, is there anywhere, anyone more interested in entertaining the public than Civil War historians? Well, break out the rhinestones for this newly-minted Lincoln scholar whose high concepts will soon relegate our Civil War showmen to the "B-list." Richard Norton Smith shares his vision for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum:

"We are going to use 21st-century technology to put you inside the 19th century. You're not going to look at documents on a wall or artifacts in a case. You're going to become immersed in the life and times of Abraham Lincoln. And the rest of the world will come to Springfield to experience that story and to see how it's done."

Two suggestions (1) an Abraham Lincoln ferris wheel to help riders experience the emotional highs and lows this president felt in office (2) Abraham Lincoln whirly cups that spin around at high speed, enabling riders to feel the centrifugal forces that tore this nation apart. Using carnival rides per se would be old technology, so perhaps these could be translated into an IMAX theatre experience.

Possibilities for the facility are endless, Smith said. One of his ideas is to develop a series of televised "great debates," bringing together nationally prominent advocates. Smith also proposed a series of programs called "evenings to remember" that would spotlight players on the political scene such as former Gov. James Thompson, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Fund my project, baby, and you can star in it. Have your people take a meeting with my people.

But let's get down to business.

"We've got a very big building to complete." (Lot's of contracts for somebody.)

"We've got a staff to hire." (If the governor and his party don't hire them for you.)

And lest we forget those who sacrificed so much, "There's a gift shop and a restaurant that have to spring into action."

Read the whole thing here.
NEWS | North Carolina acts to protect Sherman battlefield from developers * NYC to open Civil War monument to public for first time * Black ACW Medal of Honor winners to be celebrated * Tennessee battlefield park to be named after local politician * Lincoln impersonator marks 21st year in look-alike contest


Indulge me, please, in my fascination with The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. There are shades of Lincoln in this unfolding story so deep as to block out the very sun itself.

Here is Gov. Rod Blagojevich: "I'm going to ask him [the new director] to take this presidential library that has, very frankly, failed every expectation and turn it into the most exciting, the most dynamic and the most successful presidential library in the nation."

Memories of unsuccessful generals crowd in. Is the governor channelling Bruce Catton here? Apparently so: "I'm going to ask Richard Norton Smith to move mountains over the next several years," the governor said during a midday ceremony at the downtown library..." The governor finds a general!

There is more: according to this newspaper, the facility "isn't expected to open to the public until next spring, nearly a year and a half after its November 2002 'grand opening.'" So, we are replacing some cautious overpreparing parade ground type with the new Grant model. His mandate will be action. Yes, Catton's fingerprints are all over this story.

Remember in your Cattonized histories how there is this moment when Grant assumes command and Lincoln tells Stanton that they "have bossed this job" long enough and the time has come to give the new chief general full sway? Try this on:

"Our job has to be to give him and others who are experts free rein to do it right and keep the politics out of it," the governor said.

John Y. Simon, the editor of Grant's papers, has shown what nonsense this Lincoln comment was and exactly how Grant continued to be bossed. What makes the governor's comment funny is that he has already decided by what device he will boss this job politically. It is a Lincolnian device:

The governor noted that Susan Mogerman, the former Illinois Historic Preservation Agency director who now heads Downtown Springfield Inc., "is going to play a big role" in the project. Two weeks ago, Deputy Gov. Bradley Tusk said she is the only person being considered for the presidential library's No. 2 post.

This was Lincoln's preferred way of monitoring and influencing his generals: Scott is assigned McDowell as number two; Fremont gets a Hunter as number two; McClellan gets no less than four Republican corps commanders; Rosecrans gets Garfield; Grant gets a special commissioner from the War Department (Dana); all oblige the president, who encourages frequent reports. It starts as early as Fort Sumter with Abner Doubleday denouncing his boss, Major Robert Anderson, to the president.

Ms. Mogerman will be the Illinois governor's eyes, ears, voice, and occasionally hands within the library. If Smith makes a false move, a political mistake, or if he suddenly decides that history is not entertainment or tourism, the governor will know immediately and have the means to counteract.

And why not? Lincoln managed the war this way. Does Smith know that? Doesn't matter because he will now live it.
NEWS | Illinois tries to save ACW battle flags * Kentucky government keeps Davis statue in place * Brazilians celebrate their Confederate heritage in annual festival * Restorer asks PA city to lend him two ACW Napoleons * B&B scares up business with reenactments * 19th Century army medicine “was state of the art” * Norwegian immigrant ACW veteran honored


Independent scholar Thomas P. Lowry has written a nice piece on a major Civil War research scandal, while absolving errant historians from any blame in the matter. The scandal he describes is recounted at length in a Mark Neely book, Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism.

After the war, examination of Southern prison records showed almost no civilian or political prisoners. Thus, the matter stood for 140 years. The evidence seemed to be with Jefferson Davis: the North arrested and held political prisoners, the South did not ...

Here is his absolution of the guilty: "There was, indeed, a problem. But it lay in the Confederate filing system, not in a lack of diligence on the part of historians."

What if the historians did indeed lack diligence?

Over 4,000 Confederate civilians were arrested, examined and held by a system entirely separate from both the Confederate military and the Confederate judicial system. The records of these Star Chamber proceedings were filed under "Letters Received by the Confederate Secretary of War."

You wouldn't expect Civil War historians to plunge willy nilly through all sort of records ...what kind of history would that be? And if some biographer of the secretary of war happened upon records of over 4,000 detainees, how on earth could he possibly know the significance of it?

To further confuse any researcher, the letters are filed alphabetically, not by the name of the political prisoner, but by the name of the "Habeas Corpus Commissioner" who had handled the case. Since the very existence of such commissioners was virtually unknown, it followed that little research had been done on their functioning. Since the likelihood of anyone browsing, purely for recreation, the 150 reels of National Archives microfilm filed in Record Group 109, section M437, approaches zero, the habeas corpus commissioners remained lost to sight until just four years ago.

On the contrary: someone photographed 150 reels of microfilm. Someone selected the material to be photographed because it was significant. Someone indexed the microfilm and made its abstracted content accessible to scholars. Sales staff sold the microfilm itself or the microfilming project to the archives based on their understanding of the historical significance of the material.

So we have the usual suspects on the loose, writing their usual "histories" in the shadow of this mountain of indexed, classified, publicly accessible, but ignored information.

Here is the upshot:

The records show that Jefferson Davis was fully aware of this system of control and endorsed it without reserve, even though in his speeches and postwar memoirs he not only omitted any references to it, but flatly denied that the South had ever failed to uphold its own constitutional guarantees. Davis' biographers have taken him at his word and were either ignorant of the habeas commissioner system or chose to overlook it.

Lowry says, "The painstaking excavation of the evidence in those 150 reels of microfilm has unleashed a torrent of fresh information that further shows the vast complexity of the Civil War."

As I have mentioned before, independent scholar Russel Beatie is rewriting the history of the Army of the Potomac based on mounds of publicly accessble primary material that has not been used before. Nor was this material even "misfiled."

To the Civil War soldier, the expression, "seeing the elephant," meant seeing combat. To the reader of Civil War histories, "seeing the elephant" means noting through personal observation the jumbo sized stack of primary material omitted from the current read.

Have you seen the elephant yet?

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The concept of a Civil War “park historian” seems straightforward. Here is someone who might recite the history of the reclamation of a battlefield from individual realty transactions. Here is someone who might tell the history of the surrounding farms and villages. Here is someone who should know the significance of the topography comprising the field. And, perhaps, here is someone who is familiar with the scholarly controversies surrounding a battle, especially with regard to terrain.

Well, we can dream, can’t we? Because what we often get at the micro level of the battlefield tour are some glittering generalities and sweeping movements of the arm to show how some ill-defined horde approached an ill-defined line situated on undelimited countryside: nothing like the crisp red and blue lines in your battle-centric history, dear reader. No pacing off of positions. No reference to precise battle formations. Vague or fragmentary reference to times of day. Imagine whatever you want because the “historian” is merely your daydream facilitator.

If the National Park Service implementation of the idea “park historian” is poor, can you believe that they also have positions such as “chief of interpretation?” The best face to put on this, and I am reaching to the stars here, would be that in the early days of the NPS, the “chief of interpretation” might be concerned with interpreting terrain vis a vis the battle.

Nowadays, this is another history position, actually a higher history position. Interpretation demands what pop history cannot provide: throrough analysis. No place for talespinning and theatrics here. However misguided, however Stalinist the concept of “chief of interpretation” may be, it at least hearkens to a kind of scholarly activity.

It is a measure of breakage within the National Park Service history function that the new “chief of interpretation for the Northeast Region of the Park Service” sees his job as one of delivering excitement and entertainment.

... when he arrives here at the end of August to take over as superintendent of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, he'll balance the requisite pencil-pushing with his true passion: storytelling.

Mr. Russ Smith says, "There's more drama in history than in fiction."

What analysis? What controversies?

Mr. Smith’s interpretation duties appear to be limited to selecting among the most thrilling presentations of the same underlying story structure, one unbothered by the passage of time, of scholarship, of analysis.

There is no business like show business, baby. Fifty years of pop history “drama” and “stagecraft” claim another unwitting victim.
Speaking of author Timothy Reese (see yesterday’s blog, below), I have long meant to say a word about his publishers. Butternut & Blue is an antiquarian Civil War book dealership in Baltimore that occasionally publishes original Civil War titles in addition to reprints. Their books have no publicity machine behind them, and if you do not receive their catalogs or see them at a show, you will miss them entirely. Like the Morningside press, this is one of those good things in life that does not come to those who wait. You can call for a catalog (410-256-9220) or email them at butternutandblue@hotmail.com. (The website they once had does not seem to work anymore.)
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You may have wondered, as I did last week, why war correspondents covering Iraq had to be memorialized in a Civil War park. Well, so does author Timothy Reese, probably the greatest living expert on Crampton's Gap:

"The plaque, simply stated, has no bearing on the War Correspondents Arch ... which was erected specifically for Civil War correspondents," Mr. Reese said. "Virtually everyone who has contacted me by phone had the identical question: 'Why here, at a park in Western Maryland?' I would think they would want it closer to Washington, where people could see it."

This local story relays Reese's well-conceived critcisim of the state officials who allowed this to happen. (Website may require registration.)

The issue is not just about putting an Iraq plaque on a Civil War arch.

The problem began when a Civil War journalist named Townsend bought up land around the Crampton's Gap battlefield, then erected an arch to memorialize ACW newswriters killed in the line of duty. The state inherited the land and made it a dual-purpose park (honoring the writers and preserving the battlefield).

Reese objects to Crampton's Gap battlefield being remembered for anything but that. The battle for Crampton's Gap "embodied Union Gen. George B. McClellan's direct strategic response to the finding of the legendary 'Lost Order,' the misplaced copy of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's campaign plans," Mr. Reese said. In Sealed with Their Lives, Reese showed how Crampton's Gap was paramount in the Maryland campaign. (I cannot recommend this study too highly.)

Having confused its historical significance by dual purposing, the state of Maryland has now turned the battlefield toward even more general service. If this is a precedent, and it looks like one, we can expect more plaques in future wars and the complete crowding out of the original meaning of this place. Thanks are due Reese in pointing out that the state is compounding its errors.
Well, well, well ... "A nationally known historian who promises to mix scholarship with showmanship has been named head of Illinois' $115 million Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum." (link here)

I'm drawing a blank recalling respected scholars who are also showmen, so there may be an opportunity for this genleman to break new ground. A little background from the same article:

A search committee's choice for director, historian Harold Holzer, withdrew from consideration amid confusion about how much authority the director would have. Smith also withdrew from the search at one point, saying he feared that former Gov. George Ryan, who praised his chief of staff as a possible director, was politicizing the position. [Current Illinois governor] Blagojevich said he was able to reassure Smith that the library would be insulated from politics.

A $115 million state instituion free of politics? Could any genuine Lincoln scholar believe such a thing could exist?

NEWS | Senate to hold hearing on Fort Donelson expansion * Site where Union force surrendered to Stonewall opens to hikers * Hunley excavation starts today * Group travels to Chickamauga to honor Gen. Helm * Grand Rapids rededicates Union monument * Macon high school students seek ban on Rebel t-shirts


Weekend approaching, leisure looming. Going to finish that old read, or start a new one?

Before diving into those histories, please take a moment to reflect on two passages (below). Print them out. Use them as bookmarks as you go through your Civil War history texts.

Excerpt one
Scholars must be not only competent in research and analysis but also cognizant of issues of professional conduct. Integrity is one of these issues. It requires an awareness of one's own bias and a readiness to follow sound method and analysis wherever they may lead. It demands disclosure of all significant qualifications of one's arguments. Historians should carefully document their findings and thereafter be prepared to make available to others their sources, evidence, and data, including the documentation they develop through interviews. Historians must not misrepresent evidence or the sources of evidence, must be free of the offense of plagiarism, and must not be indifferent to error or efforts to ignore or conceal it. - American Historical Association, Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct

Please highlight this part especially: "It demands disclosure of all significant qualifications of one's arguments."

Excerpt two
Emory University faculty are dealt with under the University’s official Policies and Procedures for Investigation of Misconduct in Research. Under these “Policies and Procedures,” “misconduct” includes “unethical behavior.” “The commitment of fraud” in research is defined as follows: This includes: the intentional fabrication or falsification of research data; the omission in publications of conflicting and/or non-conforming observations of data; the theft of research methods or data from others; the plagiarizing of research ideas, research results or research publication(s); or other serious deviations “from accepted practices in carrying out or reporting results from research.” - REPORT of the Investigative Committee in the matter of Professor Michael Bellesiles

Please especially highlight the word "fraud" and then " the omission in publications of conflicting and/or non-conforming observations of data".

Could your favorite ACW author withstand an Emory ethics investigation? Does that author have the "integrity" defined by the AHA?

Some of my readers will quibble that Allan Nevins broke with the AHA organization specifically to form the Society of American Historians, that he should be allowed his own rules; so too his colleagues (Bruce Catton, the American History staff) and his students (Stephen Sears and James McPherson), and even their disciples and imitators.

Personally, I think not. The Emory rule of fraud being "the omission in publications of conflicting and/or non-conforming observations of data," is good for all, whether they view themselves as storytellers or historians. "Disclosure of all significant qualifications of one's arguments," is not just an ethical imperative, it is courtesy to a reader.

Please use these two passages to measure the honesty of the writers you patronize this weekend. Make these your own standards, then hold authors to them. It's either that or another 50 years of blight in Civil War history.
Welcome to those folks looking for the General Clark - George McClellan piece. It appeared yesterday, so please scroll down.

The Civil War military analogies continue to pepper op-ed columns. Here's a Left polemic arguing for a "Halleck Award" and an "Bragg Award," neither being for merit. The really interesting thing is that the Halleck and Bragg context is not given; the reader is expected to know enough about these generals to understand that this is no compliment being paid.

Hey Civil War reenactors: before you drink all that booze and then open fire on your neighbor's house, could you please at least take off the general's uniform? What do we need, a code of conduct or something?
NEWS | ACW vet's daughter still collects Civil War pension ** Debate on future of Civil War-era Fort Totten begins ** Businessmen study Gettysburg for personal and corporate gain ** Virginia battlefield closed by storm damage ** Carlisle man sets record for ancestor bricks at National Civil War Museum ** Illinois school board bans Rebel flags ** Irish Civil War band in "urban Legend" controversy **


One would expect George McClellan to be an obscure historical footnote in mass culture. Recent comparisons to Wesley Clark in the pop media show this is not so.

For example, one of Boston's free sheets, the Daily Dig, notes that "Clark is about the least appealing military man to run for president since cashiered Union Gen. George McClellan took on his former boss, Abraham Lincoln, in 1864." No details are given on what makes McClellan unappealing: the reader is expected to have all the McClellan background needed. I like that. A dig at Mac, but an interesting complement to the reader, certainly.

A newspaper columnist tagged Clark and Mac "brilliant and intense," seeing this as their point of comparison. He gave his readers a little more background than the Daily Dig, however.

This brilliancy idea was echoed on a chat show where one caller commented: "Finally, as an added aside, it is fascinating that the Democrats' current favorite candidate is a brilliant general. McClellan 2004?" The historian, to whom this was directed, let the point pass.

McClellan, of course, invented a saddle that has been called "immortal," as well as service branches (signals, aviation, intelligence), staff functions (chief of staff), ambulance corps, and all manner of good things that outlived him ... this when he was not learning new languages, touring foreign battlefields, or adapting the best of foreign military doctrine.

One obvious, fun comparison between Mac and Clark that no one noticed is that both generals speak (spoke) fluent Russian. How often do Russian-speaking generals run for president? This may not rises to historical insight, but it is certainly the stuff of political journalism.

Some of the press comment on McClellan was generated by a Rush Limbaugh op/ed piece in the Wall Street Journal called Wesley McClellan?

The subhead on the piece, likely written by a history-shy copy editor, notes that "Democrats consider an antiwar general--just like in 1864." McClellan was, of course, a war Democrat who renounced the peace planks of his party platform.

In his piece, Limbaugh makes little allowance for the reader's McClellan expertise and by going into details he has not mastered, commits a number of errors. He says, for example, "McClellan's big ego won him the nickname 'The Young Napoleon.'" This is an inference drawn from the name itself and McClellan's perceived egoism; some historians use it tauntingly; some politicians and press used it ironically, but no historian would say the name was bestowed due to a perception of egoism. Everyone who met him was struck by his humility, his friendliness, his accessibility, and some, by his physical resemblance to the emperor of France, Napoleon III, whom Americans referred to simply as Napoleon.

(There is an apocryphal story of some ladies commenting that "he looks like a young Napoleon" and this sticking to McClellan. Indeed, his facial hair was in a style called "The Napoleon" and anyone seeing a photo would have been struck by the resemblance.)

Another Limbaugh comment exemplifies the common error commentators make of stretching a single incident into a trend, then using the imagined trend to make a personal observation (or imputation). Thus, "There was also a peculiar side to McClellan. Without provocation, from time to time he would announce that he had no intention of becoming a dictator."

McClellan was publicly sought as a dictator early in the war - by elected representatives, newspaper writers, and military men - but discouraged public discussion of such a course by pledging his commitment privately and publicly to republicanism. Quite a different thing, and not a point that can have a bearing on General Clark or other modern politicians, anyway.

Limbaugh returned to his Clark/Mac comparisons after the article appeared: "This is great, folks. The Democrats thought Wesley Clark would be their Colin Powell, but he turned out to be their second George B. McClellan."

He might consider that his notion of McClellan is wrong and that Colin Powell more closely resembles the popular stereotype surrounding McClellan than he does McClellan's historical personage. He might also consider that McClellan embodies his own politics better than Lincoln does.

The deeper the political commentators go into backgrounding McClellan, the more awful the errors, not only of fact but of inference and speculation.
MSNBC's Michael Moran starts:

"McClellan found himself, like Clark may in 2004, running against a wartime president during a conflict that began with predictions of swift victory but which turned out to be far bloodier than expected."

This does not match my memory of the predictions made for the Iraq war, but the value here, which should have been developed, is the idea of a general running against the president in wartime.

Moran then embarks on a series of errors, first characterizing McClellan as "embittered." McClellan was philosophical, not bitter, and had to be coaxed into running.

"While many Democrats favored suing for peace with the Confederacy, McClellan did not and he campaigned hard arguing that Lincoln had wasted thousands of lives by appointing inept commanders and allowing corrupt arms merchants to run amok behind the lines." McClellan hardly campaigned at all. He certainly did not make these charges against Lincoln: these were made by the Democratic Party press.

I am grateful to see them in print again, after so many years.

This is not the place for McClellan advocacy; such advocacy has its own website. What is striking about the comments about George B. is that they run the gamut, positive to negative, and that the negative comments are not entirely tied to the lockstep Nevins/Catton/Sears/McPherson consensus, the formulaic "Lincoln Finds a General" motif that dominates academic interpretations of the Civil War.

That good news makes the maligning of McClellan almost tolerable.
NEWS | The United Daughters of the Confederacy fail to stop Vanderbilt name change ** Hunley crew will not lie in state ** Gingrich on Gettysburg book tour ** Fewer accept "Southerner" as label study says ** Ground broken on Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park in Baltimore **


Kinston, NC, has discovered heritage tourism. Here's a well thought out article that cuts to the chase:

Few tools exist to measure the impact of heritage tourism - that is, the money spent by out-of-towners who visit a city for a certain historical attraction. But that's not stopping small towns across Eastern North Carolina from trying. There's gold in them battlefields, supporters say.

Try this, too:

"Just walking the streets of Fredericksburg (Va.) a couple of weeks ago, it was wall-to-wall people," Sampley said. "They have a theme. Theirs even goes back to the Revolutionary War. I watched them. People were actually going in all the shops and buying things." Field of green?

Now, the thing that strikes one about Antietam field, as an area resident, is the abundance of private land around the site and the total lack of interest on the part of locals in erecting shops or services on that land. I don't think this is a mistake; nor is it likely good taste that keeps merchants away. The absence of commerce is telling us something. And consider the draw potential of Antietam versus Kinston, my dear city fathers, before erecting that 20,000 sq. ft museum to house the CSS Neuse.

Tourism based on the wending byways of General Ambrose Burnside ... hmmm. Is "Ambrose Burnside and Modern Economic Renewal" a thesis awaiting its author?

(p.s. On a related note, the latest on the CSS Ram Neuse Gunboat Association in Kinston appears here.)
A St. Louis columnist sees presidential candidate Clark slammed as a “McClellan” and turns it around. “Brilliant and intense.” And it seems Smith will today be named head of the Lincoln center (see yesterday's blog for comment on this).

NEWS ** Crampton’s Gap battlefield hosts memorial to slain Iraq war journalists ** ** Great Dismal Swamp has been added to NPS Underground Railroad Network ** Michigan ACW monument vandalized while restorers watch ** Allstate bows out of Hunley controversy ** Civil War era time capsule opened in Detroit **