Marszalek on Halleck

This article suggests that John F. Marszalek's new Halleck biography is working within the borders of our publicly shared (superficial) conclusions about the man:
Marszalek said no one studying the officer's early success could have predicted his later ineffectiveness. "As a commander, he had great difficulty making decisions. "He just refused to take responsibility," he said.

The biographer is faced here with a task: explain how Halleck could transition from a decision-making lawyer/businessman into a shirker. The idea that "no-one could have predicted" suggests a cop-out, an author's refusal to dig deeper. Might I suggest: "No one who understands the workings of the Lincoln Administration could fail to predict a general's reluctance to make decisions." Or more gently: "Halleck's failure as a decisionmaker fits a pattern established for all military men working closely with the Lincoln Administration. Let us look closely now at this phenomenon..."

I'm playing the fool here, drawing conclusions about a book merely from a reporter's few comments about the author, but there are additional warning flags:
The final product is a major exploration into such physical and psychological factors as Halleck's loss of a twin sister at birth, his alienation from his father and ailments that may have included hemochromatosis, which sometimes is called "genetic iron poisoning." "You can tell in photos of Halleck taken just months apart that there's a noticeable mental and physical strain," Marszalek said.

This points towards hypotheticals and rationalizations.

There was a kind of ACW history book published in the 1970s and 1980s the premise of which was this: Everything you, the casual reader, know about this general is fundamentally correct; I, the author, am now going to show you why he was this way.

Another type ran on this basis: Everything you, the casual reader, know about this general is not only correct; I, the author, am now going to show that he was even more like his stereotype than even you could imagine.

Both of these approaches are forms of pandering. Hoping for the best, I will seek out the Halleck book and pass on an infomed conclusion.
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The state of Grant historiography

Grant scholar Brooks Simpson was good enough to comment on my recent post on two new Grant books. His ideas on the state of Grant historiography are very interesting.

For new Grant studies to be looking to Allan Nevins' old work for guidance is a bad thing, I remarked last week, which is the starting point for these observations:

Nevins's pronouncements on Grant came from his biography of Hamilton Fish -- a large, partially-digested narrative built around Fish's self-serving diary, with a spin that embraced the anti-Grant perspectives of Jacob D. Cox and others. Nevins was so attached to this find that he would not share it with William B. Hesseltine, who was working on a biography of Grant that remains the fullest study of his presidency (McFeely offered a selective riff, Smith a dry synthesis of existing work; Perret doesn't even qualify as a real scholarly biography).

Anyone who actually reads the original diary, as I have, finds all sorts of things left out or distorted. If you read the Nevins spin, you wonder why Fish was such a Grant man; if you read the original, you see that Grant could play him like a violin at times, telling him what he needed to hear, coddling Fish's ego, and so on. Fish was a valuable advisor and sounding board, but guess who made the choices, even when he decided to follow Fish's advice.

The anti-president Grant synthesis is something to behold. It's so intense that the same historian could be found attacking Grant from being too radical in 1955 and too conservative in the 1980s (C. Vann Woodward is the historian in question). Korda's book is based on old scholarship, as a glance at the notes will reveal; Bunting's talked to various people and come up with a fairly good book. Unfortunately, the problem with some reviewers is that they know what they know, never question what they know, never admit that they might not know everything, and review books according to how closely they reaffirm what they already know.

Historians are reassessing Grant as president: any reviewer who claims otherwise is ignorant. Nor is Bunting the spearhead of this movement; he's an early synthesis, albeit an insightful one, of earlier revisionist work. My concern is that revisionism not become apologia; I believe a perspective on Grant that is honestly critical without simply depending on the writings of his foes and critics is quite possible, and that for such a perspective to be meaningful it must be set within historical context. That's the problem right now: Perret comes close to being an apologist, and Smith is much, much too easy, equating good intentions with performance. But such is what passes for a scholarship that's written in response to other scholarship and not through an examination of the record.

A Civil War themed vintner

The ACW is probably a better theme for brewers and distillers...
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Thankful, part one

Things to be grateful for in ACW publishing - it was a good topic for Thanksgiving that spiralled out of control and is now almost unmanageable in blog format. I'll try to summarize.

Decrees. The consensus on Civil War history that formed after WWII and that triumphed, not through give-and-take but through the editorial decrees of a group of like-minded pop authors, is now in decline. This group no longer has at its disposal a popular mass magazine with a single editorial line (American Heritage); it no longer has pride of place in reviewing ACW books for other publications; it no longer has sufficient numbers of teaching positions to dominate student interpretations of the war; and it no longer has a level of sales to allow it to credibly advise the editors of publishing houses about which new titles to bring out. The support system for the issuance of decrees has broken down.

Revivals. The media phenomena that freakishly prolonged this old consensus will never happen again. There will be no more Killer Angels novels, no more "Gettysburg" movies, no more Ken Burns' specials to drive millions of ignorant readers into the books of Nevins, Catton, Sears, McPherson, or suchlike. New cross media phenomena - when they happen - will deliver new readers to an ACW publishing arena that is more eclectic, more contentious, and generally sounder. Nor will any new producer be able to blueprint scripts based on a single (fake) "authoritative" voice.

Readers. The smaller, more informed ACW readership of today will no longer reward the conscious and deliberate exclusion historical evidence from its books, as has been the case since the Centennial. The line between pop historians and scholars will be redrawn. And the do-it-yourself research enabled by digital media and stoked by re-enactment, geneological, and local history interests will provide a check on the sweeping judgements issued by the next would-be King of Civil War Historians.

Sales. The powerful sales once achieved by authors operating on the American Heritage editorial line (Nevins, Catton, Sears, McPherson, et al) have faded at the front-, mid-, and backlist levels; no trade publisher can any longer identify automatic sales success with keeping to a specific editorial line. Trade publishers releasing Civil War titles are taking thematic risks, more often operating outside the old consensus than not.

Prestige. The prestige-building activity undertaken by Nevins' intellectual heirs is now defensive. Where, just 10 years ago, unfavorable reviews could be deployed to destroy the credibility of any new thinking, the diminishing energy of this group is now devoted to finding reviewers to praise their own stuff. Their prizes continue to be restricted to a predictable circle of friends (and disciples), but prize-giving is by definition defensive.

In the next few weeks I'll give sales figures to illustrate shifts in Civil War publishing.
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New Grant books

The Grant revival continues, however this review of two new Grant books gives out some strong warning signals.

The books: Ulysses S. Grant by Josiah Bunting III and Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Hero by Michael Korda.

The warning signals:
Michael Korda is not concerned with writing a revisionist history ... Korda evaluates Grant's presidency as a failure. He cites the historian Allan Nevins' notion that Grant considered "the presidency as a reward, not a responsibility."

Although Bunting is attempting to write a revisionist history of Grant's presidency ... Bunting's book will not cause scholars to change their evaluation of Grant as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history.

It's a commentary on the state of Civil War studies that biographers still rely on Nevins' polemical, six-decades-old work for insights about Grant. Sad also, that a revision falls flat because the writer chooses merely to issue pronoucements on historical issues instead of working through the contrary evidence. That was Nevins' way too and the point of revision is to be a better historian than Nevins, Catton, Sears, or McPherson by respecting all underlying material and allowing it to shape your opinions.

Jean Smith is among the Grant revisionists, rehabilitating his contributions to Reconstruction; he follows the crowd on matters of Grant's permissiveness, however. (Korda is Smith's editor at Simon and Schuster, by the way.)

On the corruption side, there does not seem to be an effective voice striking down the more extravagant nonsense or aggressively defending Grant's management of his Cabinet. Or do I need to broaden my reading?

Meanwhile, assumptions about the corruption of the Grant administration have so permeated the general culture as to supply a motif for comic operas.

Reaction to Maryland's battlefield sell-off

Maryland intends to divest itself of odd parcels of land, including scattered bits of South Mountain's virtual battlefield park.

Local governments say they can use some of those pieces, if the state cares to give them away. Attention history buffs: stand by for multi-use. (Link requires subscription.)

Friends of South Mountain State Battlefield promise a fight.

Worth watching.
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From adHACKS to acwHACKS

There's a new gag website called "adHACKS" based on the idea of "stock copy to go." It's supposed to be like the stock photography agencies that sell one-time use of a generic photo. In theory, adHACKS would sell one-time use of bromide text at a price cheaper than original ad copy. Example:
Acme Outfitters, Inc. provides well made, casually stylish clothing and outdoor products for men and women who seek versatile, classically styled, high-quality goods designed to meet the wide range of their changing lifestyle needs.

It occurred to me that a lot of money could be made selling straight, reusable hackwork to leading Civil War authors. By mixing and matching stock paragraphs and placing them on a timeline, your Pulitzer prizewinners could generate many more books per year while at the same time enriching all our lives. Meanwhile, the operators of acwHACKS could make a decent, if anonymous, living. For instance,
By the time he wrote these words, Lincoln had made up his mind that to save the Union he must destroy slavery. The means always remained subordinated to the end, but the means did become as essential to the northern war effort as the end itself. In that sense perhaps we could describe Lincoln as a pragmatic revolutionary, for as a pragmatist he adapted the means to the end.

Well, maybe that one needs some more work. How about,
Union volunteers invoked the legacy of the Founding Fathers. They had inherited a nation sanctified by the blood and sacrifice of that heroic generation of 1776. If disunion destroyed this nation, the generation of 1861 would prove unworthy of the heritage of republican liberty.

Got your heart pumping? Here's one more:
Things would get worse for the North before they got better. At the end of April, a new commander of the Army of the Potomac, Major General Joseph Hooker, launched an offensive at the crossroads hostelry of Chancellorsville, a few miles west of Fredericksburg. After getting in the enemy's rear and gaining a tactical advantage, however, Hooker lost his nerve and yielded the initiative to Lee.

Wow, that's good. Are you all tingly?

I think somebody's got a viable business model here.
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Lincoln and the political generals

In the ongoing Grant revival, it behooves us to search out the work of Brooks Simpson, one of two indispensable Grant scholars. (The other indispensable scholar compiles the papers of Grant; Simpson interprets the meaning of those papers.)

If I can be cartoonish about his work, I'd say that Simpson, recognizing the denseness of the political jungle around Civil War generals, demands full credit be given Grant for negotiating that jungle successfully to the benefit of the national cause.

The widespread view that Grant was working in a purely military capacity, in easy partnership with the President while enjoying his full confidence is ... well ... you already know what that is.

Usually, Simpson is dealing with incidents of Grant exercising his acute political sensibilities to avoid or mitigate political trouble. In this essay on political generals, we get recap of one sort of mischief wrought through politics. A few thoughts, excerpted:
One is hard pressed to conclude that Lincoln derived any benefit from his association with Frémont...

Nor can one find much that is worthy of praise in Lincoln's dealings with John A. McClernand.

The episodes involving Frémont and McClernand serve to call into question the willingness of many scholars to excuse or even defend Lincoln's employment of political generals in independent commands, for whatever initial benefit the president derived from these appointments was more than negated by what followed.

The incident revealed both the costs of appeasing a powerful political personage and its failure to secure loyalty. Butler's incompetence contributed to the collapse of Grant's 1864 spring offensive.

And this is quite strong medicine for the current consensus:
Perhaps Lincoln would have been wiser to dismiss these three men [Butler, Banks, Sigel] and risk whatever short-term damage his actions might have caused. Awarding their vacant commands to successful successors might well have led to a decisive victory achieved in timely fashion.

Try Simpson's questions on for size. They are worth pondering and no one else seems to be asking them.

Maryland to sell battlefield park bits

Much has been made here of Maryland's "virtual" battlefield park, South Mountain, a Civil War "destination" that - being primarily made up of easements - cannot be visited. However, there are exceptions to this rule, tiny islands of outright state ownership.

Seven of these are to be sold off by the state:
Shedding state land, [the governor] says, allows the state to raise money, eliminate maintenance costs and restore land to the tax rolls.

This sale represents the possibility of starting a South Mountain battlefield collection, however futile that might be. Unfortunately, a lake is part of the sale, and the possibility of development around the lake will have great effects on Fox's or Turner's Gap.

Non-Marylanders take note: keep your battlefield land out of state hands.

(Hat tip to Tim Reese.)
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Peter Charles Hoffer, AHA renegade

We have been following Peter Charles Hoffer around the periphery of his new book, Past Imperfect.

He makes these interesting remarks on Stephen B. Oates, author of the pop culture Lincoln bio With Malice Toward None:
... the fact remained that , so long as it occurred in the context of popular history. ...consensus, wearing the garb of popular history, had proven itself to be armored against the integrity code and its would-be enforcers. Leap across the chasm from the academic to the popular and no committee of inquiry would dare follow. And a number of professional historians were making the leap.

He delineates those readymade anti-plagiarism arguments in his book, of course. As readers, the key thing is to know that the pop historian can, like Oates, consider himself plagiarism proof by dint of doing pop history.

Hoffer portrays the American Historical Association (AHA) as having experimented with standards enforcement for 15 years only to suffer embarassment in a public fight with Oates and his defenders, among them James McPherson and McPherson's patron, C. Vann Woodward. (McPherson's defense of plagiarists forms a pattern.) AHA's decision to get out of the ethics business was partly motivated by embarassment caused it by Oates' defenders.

In describing the Bellesiles affair, Hoffer has cooled a little on the idea of AHA as victim. AHA's defense of Bellesiles, which outraged me, he criticizes measuredly: "[when] the AHA rushed to his side and stated principled objections to the politicization of history, they hesitated to ask the equally important question of whether he had manipulated them and betrayed their trust."

But back to the ethical challenges in doing pop history. Hoffer gives this notable quote from the famous biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, from an interview given before her transgressions were uncovered:
I think my integrity depends on not stretching over that line that separates nonfiction from fiction, as too many nonfiction writers are doing nowadays.
[My emphasis - DR]

Anyone who doubts the central idea of this blog - that Civil War history as a discipline is broken - would do well to read her words again. If Goodwin herself is warning readers against the misdeeds of her historian colleagues ("too many" of them) there is an elephant in the room of trade nonfiction.

Someone recently pressed upon me his enduring good feelings toward Stephen Ambrose. I offer this bit of relevant analysis by Hoffer :
But Ambrose's technique was to remove a few terms, move around others, and copy the rest from Childers, then put quotation marks only around the primary source taken from Childers. The changed words and phrases are the telltale marks of an intent to borrow illicitly, proof of a pattern of unethical conduct.

Hoffer says he was spurred to write this book in response of the AHA's decision to stop hearing malpractice charges; he calls for professionals in history organizations to show some righteous indignation against misconduct.

He's looking at the problem through a rear-view mirror. The trick at this turn in the road is not about standards and enforcement; that was valid up until the day Woodward and McPherson turned against their own organization, the AHA, to defend Oates. Once McPherson then gained the presidency of the AHA, once he showed himself as ready to defend Goodwin and Bellesiles as he had been to defend Oates, the game changed. We are now at the point of having to stop organizations like the AHA from giving cover to the ethical violations of its members. That's a new itinerary.

Hoffer understood this early in his book in writing about Oates: "Oates's logic could shield any ethical misconduct..." But he forgot it by the time he reached the last page of the book. His analysis is interesting; his conclusion misses the point.

In the meanwhile, we can entertain ourselves watching historians smokescreen the miscreants with little PR projects:
It makes sense for the Organization of American Historians to ask the editorial board of the Journal of American History to commission an essay or a roundtable to address "the ethical issues of this and other recent cases and how much historians rely on trust in practicing their craft."

Wouldn't that be just terribly impressive?
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Museum of Confederacy ponders move

Nothing much seems to have been written on this outside of Richmond, but the Museum of the Confederacy is considering a move to a new location and pondering whether or not to take its historic structures with it, raising issues about location and historic meaning.

Over time, it has seen attendance decline as the medical campus around it expands. This new article even hints that in addition to moving, there is talk of disneyfication as a solution to its attendance problems:
And the Museum of the Confederacy leadership itself seems to be terribly off-track in thinking that this internationally significant landmark can be carted off to another location and given historic theme-park treatment.
I hope this becomes the editorial line in all the local papers. As we have seen with the Lincoln Museum, trustees need close watching.

Debunk target: history of Jack Daniels

Not even bourbon can escape the rising tide of historical revision.

It's history vs. marketing. Which side will you take?

Semmes in France

Oliver and Edmund Semmes have been touring Cherbourg where the CSS Alabama is well remembered. Have alook.
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Hood's drug use + historians on drugs = ???

This is a website skeptical of John Bell Hood's drugtaking. Its analysis of the historical method behind claims of his drug use is entertaining and compelling:

Even if untrained in medicine or unread in its literature, historians assume a learnedness in the etiology of pain...

[He runs through some examples of medical posturing.]
Worst, by far, is James Street, Jr.'s speculation in an article in "Civil War Times Illustrated, May 1988." Though he technically hedges on the General's opium use ... Street certainly feels Hood's wounds. "The pain from the stump of his right leg must have been horrendous when he rode strapped to his saddle. The bouncing and jolting, the abrasive rubbing of the stump against the rough cloth of a dressing or pad could not have been endured without some sort of pain-reliever. An opiate was the standard prescription. The drug would have made Hood sleep at Spring Hill while the Federals escaped his trap."

Street's surmise. My emphasis.

It does get piled on thick, doesn't it? Kepp on debunking, my friends.
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Making journals profitable and valuable

An ingenious grad student has come up with an idea to make journals more relevant to their field while making them financially viable.

The "problem" he is trying to fix is that of commercially successful scientific publishers who provide marginally useful content while charging hundreds and even thousands of dollars per year for subscriptions to their periodicals.

By suggesting that publishers pay authors who are cited in a work, this proposal envisions an ecology of relevance and financial stability. See the whole idea here.

The core problem here is that it requires successful publishers to trade in their working business model for an experimental one.

In Civil War history, we have an entirely different problem: there is one journal, and no successful business model for academic publishing.

How would you copy the commercial science journal model over in our world?

Perhaps by publishing a low-tech black-and-white "digest" at a high subscription rate, charging as much as the library market can bear. You would list all the ACW articles and their subjects appearing in the last month (in the glossies and in general trade magazines); you'd list reviews of ACW books published anywhere; you'd list new book titles, subjects, authors, and publishers; and you would run at least a few important scholarly articles per issue.

The way to safely start this off is for a reasonably solvent publisher to launch such a periodical as a house organ, a promotion of the larger enterprise, as was done by Savas just a few years ago with its "Civil War Regiments" periodical. (Am not sure if those articles were peer reviewed.)

I notice that LSU's Civil War Center has been running a book review magazine, something LSU Press seems not to be involved in. A university-sponsored scholarly journal or digest would do us infinitely more good than a book review magazine.

(Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.)

Franklin battlefield dispute continues

Franklin newspaper reporters are running some interference for a plan that converts a city golf course to battlefield land:
Franklin Mayor Tom Miller said battlefield preservation and keeping the city from looking like ''Generica'' would be top city priorities. This shift towards preservation politics is being applauded by residents and elected officials in other parts of the county, but most say their cities can't afford to do what Franklin is doing.

Occasionally, a positive letter to the editor also turns up:
I must say I am staggeringly baffled by the continuing debate over the proposed reclamation and historic significance — indeed existence — of the eastern flank of the Franklin battlefield. If logic, sensibility and fact hold any sway in the decision over the future of this land there can be only one rational choice. The land is, beyond the shadow of doubt, battleground. The only clear choice for the future of Franklin is the reclamation and preservation of that land as such.

The Donizetti revival

Donizetti is staging a comeback, it seems. His operas not only dominated antebellum American musical theatres, some of his pieces were converted to Civil War marching fare (see here, here, and especially here).

Here's a nice site, gateway to re-experiencing Civil War era opera experience.
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Chickamauga vandalized

They have struck again. Hat tip to Red Georgia Clay.

Peter Charles Hoffer: AHA rebel, part 2

We were considering the case of Peter Charles Hoffer recently, particularly his new plagiarism book and wondering how he got mixed up with an organization as morally deficient as the American Historical Association.

Actually, his handling of the topic "plagiarism" for the AHA was quite good during his tenure as ethics watchdog, as can be read here and here. Hoffer left the AHA some time after it decided it would no longer investigate ethics charges against its members. (I assume his leaving was connected to that.)

I wonder how many members of the AHA have now or ever complied with this old Hoffer guideline (my emphasis added):
In print, all paraphrases, no matter how long or how many works are paraphrased, must be followed by citations to the sources that are as clear and precise as those provided for a direct quotation. The citation should refer to the exact page(s) from which the material was taken, rather than a block of pages or a list of pages containing the material somewhere.

We saw in our review of Stephen Sears' citational habits that he is a major offender on this point. Here's an additional rule that Sears needs to read twice:
All works an author consults should be either cited in the reference apparatus or in the bibliography. If particular pages were consulted, these should appear in references. By contrast, works not consulted by the author, even though they may be relevant to the topic, should not be cited. Such a citation would give the false impression that the author had used the work.

I'm thinking in particular of his Young Napoleon which had a "works consulted" list filled with uncited books arguing directly against Sears' surmises and conclusions - without mention of their content in his text.

Unfortunately, pop historians are given much looser rein in this obsolete AHA rulebook:
What is generally termed popular history ... rarely conforms to the same standards of citation as scholarly monographs and interpretive essays. Many popular histories, for example, have only a short list of works consulted. But wholesale borrowing from another work, even with attribution, is unacceptable. Ideas themselves cannot be plagiarized, but authors may not claim as their own the full-dress presentation, according to the AHA Statement on Standards, of "another person's distinctive and significant research findings, hypotheses, theories, rhetorical strategies, or interpretations."

As you make your way through whatever bestselling historical blockbuster, remember that these authors are accountable to you, the reader, for evidence handling and any lapses in integrity. If we, the public, demand higher ethical behavior from bestselling nonfiction authors, we will eventually get it.

(Postscript 1:23 pm: I should point out that the Hoffer material appeared as an opinion piece in AHA's periodical and that the AHA strongly disclaimed any connection with or endorsement of Hoffer's views on ethics or plagiarism. AHA says they publish such articles to promote "wide-ranging conversation." The full AHA disclaimer can be read at the top of each linked article.)

Civil War Book News

Content on our sister site, Civil War Book News, has been refreshed. There is still much listing to do this publishing season, however.
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Patterson reconsidered

Robert Patterson is the goat in the story of Bull Run. Pop history doctrine states:
Beauregard led an army against Union commander Irvin McDowell and received reinforcements from Joseph Johnston's troops (whom Union General Robert Patterson failed to detain).

Anyone who has ever imagined this to be the answer to "what happened" should read the contemporary communications between Patterson and Scott in the Official Records. There is also, somewhere on the Web, an article authored by Patterson in his own defense, although Russel Beatie has pointed out that there are misleading elements in the chronologies within that article. For those who want additional insight into this, there is Patterson's testimony to the Committee on the Conduct of the War, last published in 1868 but still available through Interlibrary Loan.

In his new work, Donnybrook, David Detzer builds a Patterson defense the way I would have done it. He reviews Scott's orders ("guidance" would be a better word), looks at Patterson's disintegrating command of 90-day men, recreates a little fog-of-war, looks at statements defending Patterson's conduct (from Patterson, Pap Thomas, and even Beauregard), and declares the charge of "failing to detain" as bogus. (Pardon my violence against Detzer's clearer, more detailed argument.)

In volume one of his Army of the Potomac, Russel Beatie devoted a couple of chapters to Patterson's management of the Shenandoah side of Bull Run and worked through unique, additional sources, including private correspondence and Fitz John Porter's later defense of Patterson (Porter was adjutant to the Shenandoah army).

Beatie presents a Patterson who sensed correctly what was needed, regardless of orders and guidance; he shows that more than once Patterson publicly committed to carrying out the correct decision that he reached himself; and that more than once, Patterson revised his decision from action to inaction. Beatie's final judgement on Patterson is not whether he was right or wrong in the interpretation of his telegraphic communications, but rather that Patterson missed an opportunity to make a profound impact simply by following his own instincts.

Detzer is correct. Patterson in no way "screwed up" and it is overreaching to blame him for McDowell's defeat. Beatie is also correct, because Patterson definitely recognized an opportunity that would have advanced the cause and himself, and he shrank from that opportunity. (I think for many good reasons.)

Detzer and Beatie can both be right because Detzer is concerned with the legal/military framework for responsibility and blame, and Beatie interprets an event (and its meaning in historical time) to the nation and to the man.

"Union General Robert Patterson failed to detain" - easy to say, difficult to interpret legally, militarily, or historically.
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Send in the clowns

David Detzer, in his new study Donnybrook, has a little fun with the absurd echo chamber we call Civil War pop history. Permit me to bullet his free-flowing text:

* "Civil war historians have agreed with the [Radical Congressional] Joint Committee [on the Conduct of the War], and many have postulated the reason for General Patterson's 'failure': he was too old.:"

* "Bruce Catton ... was 62 when he characterized Patterson as 'sixty-nine, a veteran of the War of 1812 ... handicapped ... by old age."

* "Shelby Foote ... calls Patterson 'a sixty-nine-year-old veteran of the War of 1812' - which, though true, is all Foote really says about that officer."

* "James McPherson ... describes Patterson as 'a sixty-nine-year-old veteran of the War of 1812.'"

* ... Allan Nevins was himself sixty-nine when he wrote: 'And who faced Johnston? A soldier near seventy.'"

I picture a child at the circus:
Q: Mommy, what kind of clowns are those, happy or sad?
A: Those are thoughtful clowns, dear.
Q: Why do they keep making the same mistakes, bumping into each other and running in circles?
A: They're trying to entertain us, darling.

Stand by for revision

I see that the second volume of Beatie's Army of the Potomac, released this week, will attempt a full-scale revision of the prevalent McClellan myth. So states the author in some prefatory remarks.

Whether he succeeds or fails (and he promises overwhelming detail from primary sources in the attempt), this signals huge trouble for the glossy magazine editors, the Gary Gallaghers, and, needless to say, the sunset years of Allan Nevins' various proteges. To refute Beatie, they are going to have to roll up their sleeves. And popsters don't do much primary research, except to mine colorful anecdotes.

Since 1998, there have been nibbles at the corners of the Civil War Master Narrative put in place 50 years ago and ruthlessly enforced by various self-awarding prizewinners and literary hangers-on. Tom Rowland ventured a defense of McClellan that argued not for the general's virtues but rather against critical excesses. Stephen Sears went beserk. James McPherson praises new regiment-level campaign studies in recent works, not realizing their underlying data makes hash of his timelines, conclusions, and life's work. Tim Reese suggests that a battle was fought at Crampton's Gap and the Civil War establishment convinces Maryland that it is better to forego tourism dollars than to admit such a thing.

If Joe Harsh delivers on his plan to write a Maryland Campaign history from McClellan's perspective, the lid will finally be on the coffin of Civil War entertainments, and Civil War history, as a discipline, may at last get its day.

31412 days since November 11 1918


I had a walk round and eventually sat on a seat on the Embankment. I must have dozed off because it was dark as I woke up, so I decided to stay put till morning. I woke as the dawn was breaking and what a sight it was. All the seats were full of old soldiers in all sorts of dress - mostly khaki - and a lot more were lying on the steps, some wrapped up in old newspapers. Men who had fought in the trenches, now unwanted and left to starve were all huddled together. I was on the end of a seat so I eased my fingers into my pocket to get a cigarette.

"That smells good," said the voice of the man next to me.

I recognised him at once, and handed him a cigarette. "Would you like a light, Major?"

"Good lord, Corporal..."

We stood up and looked at each other. "What about a spot of tea?" I asked.

He spread his hands and said "I'm flat broke."

So I took him to a coffee stall and we had a mug of tea and two slices of bread and dripping each. The Major told me he had been caught out by one of the many crooks who were battening onto old soldiers.

These offered shares in a business, producing false books, and when the money had been paid over they just disappeared.

Later I met a man crying in a doorway. He had on an army greatcoat and a turban and a tray round his neck with lucky charms on it. Another, unwanted after 3 years in the trenches. He and his wife were penniless when some crook offered a chance to earn easy money for five shillings He pawned his wife's wedding ring to get it, and in return he got a tray, a turban and a dozen or so lucky charms to sell at 6d each. Now after a day without anything to eat or drink he was broken-hearted at the thought of going home to his wife without a penny. He was an ex-CSM [company sergeant major].
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Beatie's Army of the Potomac Vol. 2

Russel Beatie's Army of the Potomac was in a Barnes & Noble today; there were two copies shelved, I bought one and an armchair browswer was studying the other.

If you search for this on Amazon, you'll notice that it is unclear as to whether you have looked up volumes one or two, however this link will definitely take you to the new book.

The publisher's description of volume one is worth noting. I have emphasized the points that excite me:
This new survey of the war's first six months of fighting places the command decisions of the army's senior officers in the social, political, military, and economic context of their day. Thought-provoking and original (the book is based entirely on manuscript sources, many of which have never before been examined), Beatie's account and his conclusions about the actions of the Union's high command differ-often significantly-from traditional historical thinking. What emerges is a fresh understanding ... "

Now, let's put some flesh on those bones of "fresh understanding". This is merely a blog, so we cannot go too deep, but here, in full, is Beatie's introduction of George McClellan in the Dramatis Personae section of the new book:
Called from a tiny success to assume command of his country's largest and most important army, a noteworthy position, McClellan moved higher yet. Accummulating widespread support and diverse friends, he built a great base for his growing power; and he would need them for the struggle with his strongest enemy, the general in chief Winfield Scott.

I notice the reference to the base Mac built - it was not just a power base, it was everything in government he would need to create an army. There was nothing like it afterwards. Notice also the reference to Scott which goes against the grain of pop history (which has Scott removed after petty ambition has its way). Scott was McClellan's enemy and worked against him both personally and doctrinally. I will be interested to see if Beatie hits all the points on my list of Scott's double-dealings. Continuing,
McClellan worked with his political friends in the cabinet and other supporters in the government to rid himself of interference by his direct superior. Over his aged and infirm but experienced and successful superior officer he prevailed! But did he? The stakes and the consequences, he would learn to his surprise, involved far more than military rank and assignment.

I am not sure what is referred to here other than that Scott was survived by the political network that had previously sustained him.
The major general's personality would also develop in an unusual way, giving overt primacy to characteristics that would ordinarily have lain well below the surface and out of sight. These features of his personality would suffer a near mortal attack from an unseen, and for McClellan absolutely unexpected foe. At the same time a trusted friend would mount an unplanned coup to seize his position.

I think, based on my own research, I understand what is referred to here but will forego offering a spoiler.
Ignorant of all military doctrine and without knowledge born of experience, the president would transform his management style, a change that would have a profound effect on the major general. Surviving the assault on his life and his position, McClellan would attempt a change in character that few men would have found possible.

He rose, or tried to rise, to an impossible situation. We don't understand that situation because we routinely trivialize his problems and psychologize his setbacks.
The changes in both the president and the major general would coincide, but the result? A collision? A smooth partnership? Controversy? McClellan's plan for an offensive against the Confederates would run through all these explosive factors.

I've given my reasons to love Beatie in this public posting. As I said in the first listed point, I would pay 10 times the book's price just for Beatie's notes and sources.

Will pick up a log for the fire tonight; have already squirreled away a large pack of colored stickies to mark and comment on book passages. Let the winter readings begin.

Don't mess with Ben Butler

Having read Baldy Smith's Autobiography on Saturday, I tapped into Butler's Book last night to give "Spoons" equal time on the Petersburg controversies.

Butler must have been a hell of a lawyer. He really lays cases out simply and economically based on a few documents and not much emotion.

I felt sorry for Smith after reading the relevant passages in Butler. Expert attorney that he was, Butler also made me feel contempt for Smith. I wasn't prepared for that.

This was not a buffoon, this was an unholy terror.

Spotsylvania board okays rezoning

The last official approval has been given to rezone Chancellorsville battlefield land for high-density residences. The rezoning will allow Virginia developer Tricord to buy the land from owner John Mullins and to develop senior residences there.

There is now a 30 day period in which the approval can be contested or appealed. If that hurtle is passed, Tricord will have between Dec. 9 and Dec. 31 to exercise its purchase offer and close this land transaction.

News reports are quoting Civil War Preservation Trust as saying that Tricord will sell it 140 acres of land not wanted for senior housing. CWPT has not, however, issued a new press release or any statement on its website.
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Lambdin's Civil War paintings

After rooting around the Internet looking for the ACW paintings of George Cochran Lambdin (1830-1896), I think I have found the perfect waste of time.

The closest I can come to even his most famous painting, "The Consecration," is a book cover.

I learn that "At the Front" (1866) toured a few years ago and shows "a soldier deep in thought, sitting in front of his tent, his cleaned rifle at the ready just a few feet away. There's a mist in the background, and there seems to be a "calm before the storm" sense to the painting, completed a year after the war ended." No picture though.

I learn that six years ago, Christie's auctioned "a small, interior scene of a pensive Civil War soldier by George Cochran Lambdin that was estimated for $25,000 to $35,000 and sold for $189,500."

Can't even find a list of his war paintings. But ask me about the ladies. And the roses.

When you look at this U.S. Grant portrait you get a taste of what we are missing.

What this field needs is a nice, fat, comprehensive collection of contemporary ACW oil paintings, with biographies and color plates and wooden stand to hold it, like the big dictionaries have. A book like that would cast a spell deeper and longer than any re-enactment.

Fresh Lee revisionism from LSU

There appears to be an interesting new collection of revisionist essays on Lee: Audacity Personified: The Generalship of Robert E. Lee edited by Peter S. Carmichael. LSU Press gives us a little taste of what's inside. Some notes and comment:

Carmichael’s opening contribution confronts Lee’s supposed drive for a victory of annihilation and takes issue with claims that he was too aggressive.

The aggressive bit is debatable but I have a small collection of annihilation quotes by Lee; am most interested in how Carmichael will extricate the general from the charge of attempted annihilations.

One possibility: boasting. It is possible that his remarks about possible annihilations and regrets over failed annihilations were simply "big talk." This is worth a post here in the future. Meanwhile, check out Archer Jones' comments on annihilation fantasies among Civil War historians recapped here a few days ago.
William J. Miller’s novel analysis of Lee’s leadership during the pivotal Seven Days battles reconstructs his strategic thinking and corrects old assumptions.

I'm interested in anything William J. Miller has to say and doubly interested in anything tagged "novel analysis," given the 50-year stagnation in ACW history. Miller tends to write fascinating articles here and there; I have felt a powerful interest in him since he pre-empted my project of writing a day-by-day account of the weather during the Peninsula campaign. Somebody get a book out of this man.
Gordon C. Rhea overturns the common notion that Lee anticipated his adversaries with uncanny precision in the Overland campaign of 1864.

This is one fish in the barrel that keeps swimming no matter how many times you shoot it. Regardless of credibility problems with Lee's prescience, intuition, and mastery of psychology, the chorus of pop historians sings about these endlessly. They have been made indispensable story elements in too many narratives. The Rebellion's "master of psychology" anticipates every enemy move - except those made in his theatre against his own forces again and again. There are points in his career where the man is surprised by Pope and Butler! So fire away, Gordon. Choose a large caliber and aim for the historians.
Robert E. L. Krick takes aim at the oft-repeated criticism that Lee was not attuned to the demands of modern warfare because he failed to surround himself with enough subordinates to ensure the smooth operation of the army; in fact, Krick argues, Lee continually fine-tuned the performance of his support staff, striving to eliminate deficiencies.

I have noticed this tendency to find fault with Lee's use of staff; am very interested in Krick's counterpoints here.
Mark L. Bradley’s portrait of Lee’s relationships with Jefferson Davis and Joseph E. Johnston, offer contrasting views of the soldier as both politically assertive and reticent, respectively.

This also holds promise.

Lee politically assertive with Davis? Let's see.

Reticent with Johnston? Would that be before or after Lee contrived to obtain Johnston's command? See Cliff Dowdey and Steve Newton for the unpalatable details.

So do we have an unconventional offering under this super-conventional title? I hope so. We need such; the field needs it too.
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Saturday with Baldy

Received – and read – William F. (Baldy) Smith's Autobiography on Saturday.

This is a brilliantly edited piece of work – truly helpful with substantive (not summary) footnotes, its light touch calibrated to the well-informed ACW reader. The edition is a superb throwback to the bookmaking of 50 years ago and the material was very spicy with lots of fascinating gossip and interesting speculation.

Baldy rewarded my reading with two solid pointers for my reconstruction of McClellan's Secret History. He also helped me decode Burnside and Franklin a little, an ongoing project.

Good material this, a primary source way out of the mainstream, and what a setting for reading. My veranda was warm; yellow tree leaves filtered my light; a slight breeze carried off the smoke of my Balkan pipe filler; there was a sweet stout handy; and the radio was broadcasting some Wagner by the Washington National Opera Company.

Sorry: what were you saying just then, Baldy?
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A few reminders from Archer Jones

Archer Jones once wrote a book to deal with the nonsense emanating from the pens of Civil War historians: Civil War Command and Strategy. I recommend it highly.

Here are a few ideas to sample:
By the 19th Century, soldiers had come to take pursuit for granted and many subscribed to what was almost a myth: A destructive pursuit was the natural concomitant of victory in battle. This seems to have resulted from generalizing a few instances into the usual and proper norm, then treating the majority of cases as aberrations from the normal, and attributing the lack of pursuit to lethargic commanders, a faulty theory of military operations, or even sympathy for the enemy.

A destructive analysis of commanders who fail to pursue is now the natural concomitant to military histories of the Civil War.
Some scholars have believed that the civilians properly understood war as attacking and destroying the enemy army and viewed Union generals as obtusely failing to comprehend this obvious truth.

I would say some scholars maintain no distance whatever between themselves and certain Republican viewpoints expressed in the war.
By generalizing from Lincoln's instructions to Burnside, Hooker, and Meade to aim at Lee's army rather Richmond, they [historians] had placed him [Lincoln] on the side of the civilians rather than the soldiers.

Nor are those the only generalizations they derive from specific Lincoln decisions or comments.
But this thesis about Lincoln fails on the ground that he never gave such instruction to commanders in other theaters, and because those to the Virginia generals clearly related to his and Halleck's desire to avoid a siege, to their aim to keep Lee away from Washington and the Potomac, and to their hope to hurt him if he made a mistake.

But, sir, you speak of mere context!
Thus Lincoln sided with his soldiers against the sometimes vociferous criticism of belligerent, almost blood-thirsty civilians and supported them [generals] in acting according to what history, their war experience, and their respect for the adversary taught them was a realistic strategy.

And who have you read lately who can stomach that conclusion? Or this one:
... attempts to destroy armies in battle were as unlikely to succeed in the Civil War as in wars in the preceding centuries, something Lincoln came to know almost as well as his generals.
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The books listed below were indeed published last month and should have been listed then.
OCTOBER BOOKS | Jacksonian Antislavery and the Politics of Free Soil, 1824-1854 by
Jonathan Earle * Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust * Robert E. Lee in Texas by Carl Coke Rister * What Lincoln Believed: The Values and Convictions of America's Greatest President by Michael Lind * Custer and His Wolverines by Edward G. Longacre * Wade Hampton by Walter Brian Cisco * Lincoln's Constitution by Daniel Farber * The Atlas of the Civil War


Iraq wounds = ACW wounds

Curiously, the pattern of wounds in the Iraq war -- 58 percent to the arms and legs -- resembles the pattern seen in the Civil War, but for radically different reasons. Medical records of the Union Army show that 71 percent of the wounds in soldiers who survived to get medical treatment were to the limbs. Confederate records estimate the percentage as 65 percent. Nearly a half-million men were permanently disabled by wounds in that war, which led to great advances in orthopedic surgery and the design of prosthetic limbs. In the Civil War, however, the chief reason was that almost nobody survived a wound to the torso. About 94 percent of Union soldiers killed in action died of head, neck, chest or abdominal wounds. Most wounded survivors had injuries to the limbs.

Preservationist turns developer

A fellow trying to preserve the Yingling Farm part of Gettysburg battlefield has decided he can afford to buy the land in question if he develops and then sells a few low-imact homes on this property.

An interesting approach to this problem. Scroll way down on this page until you read the headline, Gettysburg’s Yingling Farm Is Being Sold.

Hat tip to Tim Reese and Civil War News.

A very good reason not to mark ACW graves

Earlier this year, they tried for four months to persuade Spring Grove [Cemetery] to mark the five Civil War veterans' plots. Cemetery employees declined. They cited Spring Grove's ban on more than one marker per grave.

People are remarkable creatures.
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The last McClellan election analogy of 2004

We were awash with McClellan/Lincoln analogies during the primary season especially when a certain Democratic Party general joined the race.

Wretchard, over at the Belmont Club has run what has to be the last McClellan/Lincoln analogy of this election cycle. He is careful with his conclusions but wanders into the predictable pop history territory. The comments section under his posting was crawling with the usual anti-McClellan nonsense, so I had to weigh in. Let me quote myself trying to have the final say:
Don't suspend your usual standards of analysis for a casual retelling of the 1864 election from a single source. Not even if you are ill.

McClellan ran to the right of Lincoln as the candidate for efficiently prosecuted war; he represented a constituency that felt the Republicans had prolonged the war through both incompetence and design. McClellan lost because war voters had a choice and peace voters could not stomach their choice.

Lincoln took McClellan at his correct value, a strong war candidate. (He knew McClellan well, both before and during the war.) Lincoln, however, did not believe the Democratic Party would allow a victorious McClellan the war policies he espoused.

That is the parallel with 2004. There are two war candidates. One is less credible because of his party's peace wing. And the peace wing of his party has no strong reason to trouble itself with voting.

Goodbye meme. We'll miss you.

Chancellorsville land sale - fifth in a series

We've been following the fate of 140 acres earmarked for preservation as part of the Mullins Farm Chancellorsville land sale: will it be Tricord-owned with an easement held by Civil War Battlefield Trust? Will it be land sold fee simple by Tricord to CWPT? And what is signified by the involvement of Central Virginia Battlefield Trust, which has pledged $250,000 to CWPT for the Tricord transaction?

The story so far:

* The Spotsylvania County planning commission chief, Bob Hagan, told this blogger that part of the 140 acres will be bought by CWPT.

* A Tricord spokesman told this blogger that Tricord will sell all of the 140 acres.

* Final approvals for rezoning have not been given but are expected this week or next. If rezoning happens, the ruling is subject to 30 days of appeals and comments. If 30 days pass without complications, the land sale between Mullins and Tricord has to happen in December; Tricrod's purchase option expires in December and will not be renewed.

Remember that Mullins will not sell directly to the preservationists for reasons explored here in earlier posts on the topic. Tricord, the developer will buy battlefield land from Mullins, use part of it for nursing homes, then deal away the rest to CWPT.

The last open question concerning this deal is why Central Virginia Battlefield Trust was raising money for a transaction in which it had no part. Or does it have a part? I asked the question and received this answer yesterday from board member Erik Nelson:
As you apparently already know, the CVBT has worked with several property owners as well as the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) to acquire 140 acres along State Route 3 of the Chancellorsville battlefield. The cost is $3 million, which is actually a good price. The CWPT will actually hold title to this property and will provide the bulk of the purchase price. The CVBT will not be a co-owner, but will certainly be a major fundraiser.

Interesting. I had also asked what happens to our donations if the deal between Mullins, Tricord, and CWPT falls through:
Any donation made to the CVBT or to the CWPT will be directed to the acquisition of this property. Donations will not be lost because a contract is already in place. If you prefer, you could wait until the CWPT closes on the property before making a donation.

I believe he is saying that the contribution is protected on the Tricord/CWPT end. I don't believe it can be protected on the Mullins/Tricord side, especially if the option expires.

CWPT recently said it is borrowing the $3 million it needs to pay Tricord. Borrowing the full amount, or the amount less one $250,000 CVBT pledge?

This is another loose end in the deal, and one very hard to track because CWPT has made no official mention of the CVBT effort. None that I can find. If CVBT is going to make this effort, CWPT needs to acknowledge it publicly. It can reduce confusion without endangering a deal.
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Amazon vs B&N - a bookbuyer's view

Over the past six years, I have occasionally reassessed my affiliation with Amazon, especially vis a vis Barnes & Noble (one cannot be affiliated with both).

My key criteria are (1) which carries more Civil War titles; (2) which has the higher hit per search ratio and (3) which is more likely to have a publisher's book description posted.

As late as 2000, Amazon won each test. As of today, I would say (1) Not sure, leaning towards B&N; (2) B&N hands down (3) Slight edge to Amazon.

To do my book searches, that is to hunt down info on new titles that I know exist, I generally have to have two browsers open, with one set to each book site. Amazon often does not find the book by title or author (or it chokes its returns with irrelevant titles) - even if the book is in its database. So my workflow looks something like this:

* Search B&N for title or author. Too often, there is a quick hit but the page lacks a book description. I take the ISBN (book number) and

* Search Amazon by ISBN. This produces the search result that a mere title/author search cannot or will not. Usually there is some descriptive text.

Five years ago, it was rare to find an Amazon book page lacking descriptive text; now, I find myself turning to B&N for this almost as often as to Amazon.

Is the Amazon database clogged with non-book items? Is it tied up in third-party-seller inventory and sales info? My instinct tells me this is going to get worse, not better.

And if you think we bookbuyers are the only ones affected, have a look at what independent sellers are exeperiencing.

Franklin Battlefield - interesting gossip

On Friday, there was a corker of a letter to the editor of Franklin's paper about the conversion of the city golf course to battlefield. Among the points made:
...the mayor and the preservationists have the right idea, they just have it in the wrong place and even though that has been pointed out to them, they seem to turn a deaf ear. The way to reclaim the Battlefield of Franklin is the same today as it was 140 years ago. It will never change. Buy the property next to the Carter House, Move the ironic library (you can actually read in this library about how awful it is to build buildings on the blood stained, hallowed ground where men fought and died, like, say, for example, this LIBRARY), rebuild the Cotton Gin, and tear down that Pizza Hut — that's the start. To build a "pretend battlefield" on this golf course is nothing short of absurd.

I like this:
There is no doubt that the citizens of Franklin will one day reclaim their heritage, it has never been a question of ''if'', but has always been a question of ''when''. And when they do and all those visitors go to the REAL battlefield what in the world will the city then do with the ''pretend battlefield'' — turn it into a golf course?

This background info suggests some very dirty dealing:
An "investor", the Chairman Emeritus of the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT), appeared suddenly one night and bought their [Franklin golf] club giving the members 10 days, (including mail time) to come up with $5 million or watch their Country Club get bulldozed into infinity. The members didn't have enough time to even call a preliminary meeting on the subject let alone negotiate a bank loan-but of course, this new "investor" knew THAT all along, so he told them he wouldn't bulldoze the place if someone else would pay him his $5 million. In the meantime the members can't say a lot about it or the "investor" might get mad and burn their club to the ground, and throw them out on their collective ear, which he has every right to do.

See the whole letter here.
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