Attention, prospective authors

This is verbatim from the local edition of Craig's List [my emphasis added]:

College professor wants to hire writers as gardeners

Literature professor and nationally-recognized book author and feature writer wants to hire writers to weed and plant in a big back yard garden. Your payment will be $10/hour, PLUS two hours of my consulting time (I typically bill $175/hour) for a private seminar on writing and publishing. You'll get a professional assessment of your credentials, learn how to approach national markets, and we'll brainstorm how to take your writing career to the next level.

You'll be in a group with five or six other writers. I'll provide water, shade, cold drinks, food, and encouragement. After three hours of gardening in the morning hours when it is still reasonably cool, we'll break for early lunch and the afternoon seminar. You go home $30 richer, and with a wealth of knowledge about publishing. Seminar includes handouts as well. DATE: Sunday, July 3

REQUIREMENTS: Competitive enrollment. I will look over your qualifications and give you a FIRM answer by close of business on Friday, July 1. Course is full at 7 people.

"Course" and "seminar" - lovely.

I know what a horse likes to eat, but what plants would a horse's ass need?

Foote appreciated some more

A few snippets referring to the themes developed in yesterday's posting:

From an editorial:

Foote's career was a wry commentary on fame. A promising young novelist in the early 1950s, he turned his back on it all for a lingering conversation with the past.


[He] combined the novelist's skills with the historian's keen observations to produce a landmark work.
Another editorial:
He was a unique figure because he contributed to both historical understanding and literary achievement in the South.

Seen on a discussion board:

Would you classify him as a "historian"? I don't know that I would. I think of him more as a novelist who happened to be very, very knowledgable on the period of the Civil War. His books read so much better than any other history books. I must have read the three-part series five or six times now. If was was a historian, he's the most talented writer of the bunch.

And some humor:
I bought his books for my ex and when we divorced, he took them! Funny, he never fought for custody of our son. I'm not sure if that says more about my ex or about Mr. Foote's books!
FOOTE DIES| Montgomery Advertiser * Sydney Morning Herald * Birmingham News * Washington Times * Reuters * The Herald (UK) * Clarion Ledger (MS) * Winston-Salem Journal * The Republican (MA) * Newsday


Appreciating Shelby Foote

The headline said, "Novelist and Miss. native Shelby Foote dies in Memphis" and the headline was right.

To people my age, Foote was a 1950s novelist endlessly (almost cruelly) labeled "a friend of Walker Percy." Later we knew him as someone who had given up fiction to write some sort of Civil War nonfiction. The latest pass of obit headline writing has made him an historian.

When fate dropped me on the banks of the Chattahoochie in the early 1970s with no better guide to the local culture than contemporary Southern novels, I learned of Percy and Foote through such work.

Walker Percy had then the odd reputation, promoted in National Review (and elsewhere), of being a "Catholic novelist." I read The Moviegoer and found no Catholic content; at most, the awful void consuming his characters issued whiffs of 1950s Christian existentialism.

Shelby Foote apparently agreed with me. Percy answered one of Foote's letters about a new novel this way:
What is it about? Screwing and God (which all Catholic novels since Augustine have been about) - to use 'Catholic' somewhat loosely since you were right the other day about me not being a Catholic writer as Flannery [O'Connnor] was...
Foote's novels I thought even bleaker than Percy's. In my bleak place and in that bleak time, my bleakness beakers already overflowing, I had no room for Love in a Dry Season.

Perhaps I'll return to it. It is vintage, it is classic, it is literature. Unlike any Civil War writer, Foote came to the work an accomplished belle lettrist. Critically acclaimed, his novels sold well. The South's literary men of that time would have graced an exceedingly handsome table: Fred Chappell, Alan Tate, Clyde Wilson, Marion Montgomery, Richard Weaver, and at their head, the novelist Shelby Foote.

But Foote was not social; he cleaved to his friend Percy and that was that.

At least he was on speaking terms with publishing powerhouse Bennet Cerf who asked him for a book about the Civil War in 1954. By the time the last volume was issued, in 1974, Cerf had been dead nearly three years and the phenomenon we know as Civil War publishing had passed through a complete life cycle. At its beginning, in 1954 when Cerf offered his suggestion, Bruce Catton won an award for A Stillness at Appomattox after being told that there is no future for ACW books; at the end in 1974, the entire parade of Centennial authors - Nevins, Williams, Williams, Catton, et al - has come to a soft landing in a saturated ACW market.

While he wrote, Foote must have witnessed the emerging ACW publishing phenomenon. What did he see?

He saw the absolute triumph of the narrative form over the analytic. (That is what we are recovering from today.) He saw a consensus effort to derive historic truth not from research and dialectic but from literary arts. And who was to attempt a marriage of literary excellence with historic sensibility? A shrill mathemetician named Kenneth P. Williams? Second-tier journalists like Freeman, Catton, and Nevins? An acerbic history teacher, T. Harry Williams?

What, in terms of art, were they producing? Kenneth Williams: a knock-off of the Carl Sandburg oeuvre; T. Harry Williams: Mencken-like screeds and lively polemic; Bruce Catton: reflective Sunday paper feature stories that read like fireside chats. All dressed up in the insecurity of footnotes and bibliographies and oddments from the rag bin of pop scholarship. Was this going to be the literature that arrives at truth?

Foote, an actual novelist, acclaimed, successfull, mature, who had at this point already bent story forms into the amazing shapes by which fiction can approach truth ... Foote must have laughed. He had built complexity into his writing while his contemporary nonfiction writers worked at reducing it. Foote agonized in novels over meaning and the human condition while his nonfiction contemporaries tinkered with "realistic" story elements and "character" motivations. Foote lived the legacy of the Civil War until it bled through his fiction; his competitors tried to imagine "what it would have been like."

There surely came a moment when Foote understood that they were unsuccessfully experimenting with nonfiction forms while he was producing historical literature.

How to make that distinction clear? Refer to the war as America's Iliad. Clearer still? Imitate Agammemnon and burn your ships on the beach, so that there can be no turning back and none can mistake your intentions. Announce that there will be no notes, no bibliography. Leave those to competing narrative historians who do not understand their own journey.

And so, Foote transcended the Centennial writers with his historical literature, thereby playing ace of trump on their best hands. The project of narrative history was dead; as a literary approach to truth in history, plodding narrative nonfiction with its pretend scholarship and straining technique must necessarily give way - in every case - to the practice of the highest possible artistry in historical literature.

He attempted to revive the genre of Gibbon while reaching for the laurels of Homer. And no one, except readers, followed him into the space he made.

To this day the oblivious can be counted on to point out the lack of bibliography and notes in The Civil War: A Narrative. "Intentional," Foote said, to no avail. McPherson later - in near self-parody - pointed to Foote's "regional bias."

The Iliad had a Greek bias and it lacked footnotes and bibliography. And for hundreds of years, people learned it by heart.

The obituaries are comparing the novelist Foote less with the novelist Percy and more with the narrative writer James McPherson. And that is a regression.

Some years after the publication of the third volume of The Civil War, it was the good luck of a race relations historian named James McPherson to land a work-for-hire commission through his mentor, the famous C. Vann Woodward. The job was to plug a gap in the Oxford University Press's American history series. McPherson, innocent of the Civil War, had to write a book about it; he would need to learn his subject quickly and write about it safely.

McPherson did a careful thing. He aggregated the most commercially successful nonfiction narratives produced in the great Civil War book boom, assimilated their conclusions, cobbled together a storyline for them writing in his dry, cumbersome style, and then he festooned this composite with notes and bibliography. It was perfect for what it was, an overview of the "current thinking." It reinforced what everyone had already learned through the bestseller lists. But Battle Cry of Freedom wasn't scholarship - it was a revival of failed literary experiments. Its success had the effect of prolonging this period of historical narrative, the very form that Foote had superseded with his revival of historical literature.

And there is where we are today. The distinction between talespinning and literature is lost. New waves of under-endowed storytellers struggle to make their narratives "true" and compelling and they fail for want of art and confusion of purpose. Their popular nonfiction is not literature but somehow passes for "scholarship."

Percy credited Foote with achieving his aim. Foote's Civil War is our Iliad, he said. The Modern Library ranked The Civil War 15th among the 100 greatest works of English.

Now Foote is dead with no imitators, his work read by those who have hardly an inkling of what he was about. His attempt at culminating is terminated.

There is no one like him in Civil War publishing now, nor will there be until the next accomplished man of literature tries his hand at rendering this particular epic event "true" through the telling.

There is no guarantee of that happening again.
NEWS | Shelby Foote has died: Baltimore Sun * Washington Post * New York Times * Associated Press


Civil War numerology (shhh...)

This is but a small part of the strange and terrible story of the number 200,000 during the Civil War.

I must ask for complete silence. The medium is channeling ...

*On 10/21/61 AG Lorenzo Thomas notes to Sec War Cameron that Sherman wants 200,000 men to defend Kentucky.

* On 11/22/61 Buell writes to McClellan that "Sherman still insists that I require 200,000 men. I am quite content to try with a good many less..."

* On 3/25/62 Rebel general Floyd notes that Ft. Donelson was overcome by a force "amounting, in the aggregate, to 200,000 men..."

* On 3/26/62 a W. Stoddert reports to Joe Johnston that McClellan's reserves "along the railroad at Alexandria" number 200,000.

* On 4/5/62, Grant tells Halleck that rebels at Corinth number 80,000 and rebel forces west of Corinth number 200,000.

* On 4/24/62 DH Hill reports to CSA Sec War Randolph that McClellan has 200,000 men "most of whom are confident of victory."

* On 5/26/62 McClernand tells Grant that an escaped surgeon gives the rebel strength at Corinth as 200,000.

* On 6/10/62, Banks tells Stanton that a northern deserter from the rebel army puts CSA forces near Richmond at 200,000.

* On 9/5/62 Mansfield tells Halleck that Jackson is leading an army of 200,000 north.

* On 9/10/62, Pennsy Gov. Curtin warns McClellan that the rebels have put more than 200,000 men in Maryland.

... and that, my friends, does not even complete the numerology of 200,000 for 1861/1862 much less the entire war.

Seance over. You can awaken the sleeping historians now.

Who knew?

"North and South" ... a "chick flick".

Vicksburg revisions

I see (belatedly) a body of revision continues to be built up re the Vicksburg campaign.

A recent Usenet post marks out a line of thought represented by Ed Bearss, Terence Winschel, and now Timothy Smith that "believes that Grant put McClernand across the Mississippi River first and then used McClernand to screen ... because he knew that McClernand was his best fighter." [I have quoted the poster, not the authors.]

Grant scholar Brooks Simpson responds in the same thread, that on the contrary, "He wanted to keep an eye on McClernand," and "Grant liked McClernand's subordinates." He concludes offhandedly, "I think the dump on McPherson/praise McClernand stuff goes too far in presumably correcting a McClernand as idiot/McPherson as great fellow argument."

NEWS | Gettysburg monument plan moves forward * 'Friends' donate artifacts to park service * Location of NH Civil War memorial okayed * Author follows Lee's retreat in new book * POW's Andersonville flag discovered


Battlefields and the eminent domain ruling

I have been thinking about how the new Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain might affect battlefield preservation.

It's one of many left/right convergence issues.

My impression of city politics, as a lifelong urban resident, is that the principal contributors to urban politics are developers, demolition companies, and waste removal firms. Each party and each politician has a favorite set of backers in these categories and they switch off doing remunerative projects depending on who is in power and what kind of support is available in council.

The New London condemnation criteria, favoring any alternative use that can produce more revenue or generate more taxes, now clears the way for an endless redistribution of property on grounds of political affiliation and project funding. This is the "worst case" painted by the left and right, and I know from personal experience of at least three cities where "worst case" will be coming true soon. The ultimate "worst case" will be one where a viable new commercial development built by one set of connected developers is destroyed to make way for a "better" one (immediately after an election).

If the worst case does not come to pass everywhere, it will be because the voters of each state exact different levels of political retribution where eminent domain is exercised. So, in Maryland, it is unlikely that those "virtual battlefield parks" made of patchwork easements around the Maryland Campaign gaps will now be forged - through seizings - into "real" parks that people can visit. I have heard that Civil War Preservation Trust, for instance, dreads use of eminent domain. And one can see why: if they are viewed as forerunners of expropriation, no one will speak to them. And from Tim Reese, I have learned that the property holders on South Mountain tend to already be alert and highly mistrustful of any Civil War related offers.

Meanwhile, battlefield preservationists in the Shenandoah Valley, enjoying sympathy a few months ago, are now - after the ruling - facing what appears to be an aroused and suspicious populace, if the reaction of politicians in this article is any indication (subscription required).

Short-term, I believe the new Supreme Court ruling makes battlefield land acquisition much harder by creating an adversarial and defensive response wherever the "public good" expresses an interest in private property.

The intransigent mindset of South Mountain landowners is about to be exported nationally.

Other possible effects:

* Accelerated multipurposing. The seizing of private property will need as much political justification as possible and must show the broadest possible "good". Where new land is seized adjacent to an existing battlefield, expect the combined old and new historic property to sprout additional uses that have nothing to do with remembrance.

* Commercial development of existing battlefield sites. Private lands adjacent to battlefields offer units to be combined into battlefield expansion packets; the revenue and tax angle will be played by developers who assemble these packages on the Tricord (Chancellorsville) model. Thus, one can offer to build a commercial site on part of a property made up by multiple takings, turning some of the land over to battlefield park use. Free battlefield parks fold into commercial complexes and are thereby made to pay their way.

* A re-evaluation of the purchase of easements by preservation groups. These will be harder to justify to members and we can expect preservation groups to divide into hardline "takers" and consent seekers.

* Increased aversion to registering private property as "historic". This last bit may be as history destroying as turning developers loose in old neighborhoods.

The law of unintended consequences is not one that this Supreme Court can fix.

At last - another ACW blog...

... unfortunately, the postings are few and far between: The Battle of Gettysburg & The American Civil War.

The author rates Sears' Gettysburg at the top of his fave readings. Isn't that odd in a Gettysburg buff? (The Amazon reviews give that tome a rousing "ho-hum.")

It's chock full of views you'll never find here at Civil War Bookshelf.

Go for it.

(p.s. In a related development, you can now follow casino development in a new blog called GettysBLOG2.)

Time weighs in on Lincoln

I'll have some comments after I pick up a copy. Meanwhile, here's a link to Time's site.

More on Pohanka

His own website seems to have the most complete Brian Pohanka obituary.
NEWS | Civil War graves focus of ME event * North Carolina to have Civil War markers * Corinth remembers Civil War history


Weighing victories

Kevin Phillips makes the interesting observation in his bok Cousins' Wars that Bull Run is incorrectly valued as a Confederate victory:

These individual small battles and maneuvers were pivotal – General George McClellan’s victory Philippi in West[ern] Virginia on June 3; General Nathaniel Lyon’s crushing success in St. Louis, Jefferson City, and Boonville; and General Benjamin Butler’s effective use of water transport down Chesapeake Bay in late April to bypass Baltimore, reinforce embattled Washington, and establish federal control of secession-minded southern Maryland. Collectively, these were more important than the prominent Northern defeat at Bull Run. [Emphasis added.]
Phillips does not go into much depth as to why he sees them as more important, so I'll have a try.

The little victories comprised a pattern to be absorbed by the North's politically engaged but otherwise distracted, stay-at-home newspaper readers. The mass of literate Northern men could easily perceive Bull Run as one incident among many - as a big noise but noise all the same.

This was certainly my impression reading New England newspapers of that time. In contrast with the two to three news columns of war information published per issue, Bull Run got ink running up to the battle - kind of a preview - before the reports came in; it got a whole page once reporters filed stories; and then there was some follow-on bits for a third issue (or day of coverage) before the press fell back into its habitual low-level war coverage.

Compared to the constant, daily drumbeat of positive news from correspondents with Banks and Butler, Bull Run provides a short trumpet blast, at least in the NE region. The expectation of returning to normalcy (small Union victories being "normal") is palpable to the news reader of the time.

So what else is Phillips getting at? He's attacking the Centennial view of the early war head on. If Bull Run was not as galvanizing or electrifying or sobering as Williams, Nevins, Catton and their followers claim, the whole tale of the war changes.

The next logical step in the Centennial story involves McClellan being called East on a wave of popularity; as I've said before, this claim connects to no significant documentary evidence and I find that New England newsreaders - including those reading Democratic party papers - have to be cued as to who this fellow is once he takes command.

The fate of McDowell is not set when Mac arrives; Mac arrives over the objections of powerful politicians and with little public stature; the Northhern public enjoys a return to the news diet of small victories here and there.

Remember too that McClellan's Washington command is in crisis by the first week of November due to his "failure" to stage a Manassas-type advance. In other words, within 100 days of his assumption of command, patience with McClellan had come to an end, thus triggering the Scott resignation meeting.

The Centennial doctrine that Bull Run caused a big shift in policy towards preparation and training is nonsense. Policies and expectations remained what they were. The Centennial idea that McClellan then exhausted this readiness policy with additional preparations breaks down before he can reach the fourth month of his tenure.

Phillips, being a top tier political analyst by trade, is conditioned to make arresting observations from generally known information. Here has has pointed to the Centennial master narrative breaking down as early as in its descriptions of the effects of Bull Run.

Small victories counted then; so too do small revisions of the master narrative count now.

Lincoln Museum costs detailed

Springfield's local paper has run a piece on the payments received by BRC Imagination Arts for making the Lincoln Museum edutainable.

The president of BRC received a daily contracting rate ($3,600) apart from the overall project costs, which I find odd. The services of a president normally are packaged with the services of the company.
NEWS | Let's take a news break today.



John Y. Simon asks, "Can we really expect that any modern psychohistorian will get Lincoln right the first time out?"

Can we not apply that question to the generals subject to psychoanalytic history?

Casting Abe Lincoln for the Goodwin movie

A Chicago columnist is unhappy that a foreigner, Liam Neeson, is being cast to play Lincoln in Spielberg's adaptation of Doris Kearns Goodwin's forthcoming Lincoln biography. Considering alternatives, "I immediately thought of ... John Malkovich."

A second later, I realized Malkovich would probably play Lincoln as a man teetering on the edge of madness — tormented by the Civil War and his lunatic wife.

"War with the South," Malkovich would mutter. "Yes, I like the idea of going to war. We could kill lots of people." And then his lips would form an odd little smile.

I'd watch that.
NEWS | Lincoln Home chief named * Stonewall Brigade Band hosts annual Flag Day ceremony * Trail of Hunter opened in VA


Wittenberg on CW Talk Radio

Eric Wittenberg, Union cavalry researcher, is featured on the current (June 17) Civil War Talk Radio site. Although he's promoting his new book, Little Phil, the conversation covers Union cavalry commanders generally. Unfortunately, the host has framed the show around the question "What was wrong with Union cavalry?"

In this webcast, Eric also touches on the death of Brian Pohanka calling him a "mentor." He says he has heard from Brian's wife Cricket that mourners should send contributions to Civil War Preservation Trust in Brian's name in lieu of sending flowers or such.

The Civil War and American Society Seminar

The Civil War and American Society Seminar kicks off tomorrow and runs through June 26:

Lighting the Fuse: The Causes of the Civil War
and the Opening Battles

presented by

The George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War
Conrad Shindler House, Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, WV
NEWS | Dranesville church studies historic graveyard * Vandals blackface Confederate statues * Civil War collection goes on block
* NC unveils Civil War marker near state capitol *


Multipurpose comes to ground zero

The core problem with state and federal management of Civil War battlefields is embodied in the policy of multipurposing killing ground for recreation, sports, nature conservancy, public celebrations, you name it.

Civil War conservationists, having no idea that this might pose moral or ethical problems to remembrance, actually encourage public ownership of battlefield land.

This Civil War issue, studiously ignored by Civil War buffs, now comes to haunt U.S. society at large as the government prepares plans for the site of the old World Trade Center in New York City. In the irreduceable logic of public utility, more purposes are better than fewer, and the authorities are brimming with plans for the disaster area. "Nobody is coming to this place to learn about Ukranian democracy and be inspired by the courage of Tibetan monks," a survivor said.

But the public servant begs to differ. In fact, the site will apparently host displays of American atrocities through history:

"But when Cavuto asked, specifically, whether the museum would feature "atrocities Americans have committed," Tofel repeatedly refused a direct answer. "Atrocities is such a loaded word," he stammered. . .
The victims' families are stunned because they don't follow battlefield preservation and because discussion of the permissible uses of Civil War sites has been kept painfully simple: no houses or shops on the land; no casinos nearby. Apart from these three little rules, Civil War preservationists give a powerful impression of not caring how consecrated soil might stay consecrated.

I think the survivors will beat city hall on this and with some luck, shape the American view on what is permitted in all such cases.

ACW preservationists may then graduate to the next level of thinking about policy and hallowed ground.

(Hat tip to Spinning Clio.)

How to stop patting yourself on the back

I stumbled into another one of these dreadful reviews in which the writer breaks his arm patting himself on the back for reading a long work of fast-paced, novelistic nonfiction:

Author Stephen W. Sears delivers a truly remarkable piece of scholarship in "Gettysburg."
And you, my friend, must be a truly remarkable scholar yourself for noting the quality of scholarship in the truly remarkable studies of Stephen Sears!

I've got your scholarship right here, buddy and it's 15% off in aisle D.

I like the honesty and sincerity of this blogger:
Now history is my new comfort. Bad, popular history. Not some kinda super-intellectual stuff--but Time-Life Books-type history. I don't want to bother with complex analysis. I want maps, I want illustrations, I want travel photos of the charming ethnically-dressed peasants that now populate the places of history.
Thank you my dear. I wish the reviewers approving the super scholarship of such as Sears and McPherson would have the honesty to publish (as you did) the following about their own reading:
[Pop history gives me] [n]ot a good or useful perspective to understand current events but some imagined world to occupy from which to see this one. And it is fully imagined since I do not even begin to comprehend Alexander or his era or the things people thought were good ideas back then.
Perfect. Let's see that in an ACW book review: "Sears gives me a fully imagined world I cannot begin to comprehend since I don't read footnotes or do research myself." That beats crowing about all the "brilliant scholarship" packed into some beach reading.

Libraries and eBay

As libraries clear their shelves for new acquisitions they tend to throw away a lot of good stuff. I picked up my copy of the Surgeon General's history of the War of the Rebellion for free; my father picked up a 1670s medical text the same way.

According to this, some libraries are starting to use eBay to sell off "excess inventory," and one Missouri public library has realized $3,500 from online auctions in just one season of cleanup.

Hopefully that's not $3,500 for more copies of Ludlum novels.
NEWS | Civil War expert Brian Pohanka dies at 50 * Battlefield foundation starts to reshape Gettysburg's military park * Lincoln U. nears goal to honor soldiers * Camp Curtin Historical Society to dedicate two Civil War monuments on June 25


Brian Pohanka, RIP

Brian Pohanka has died.

My colleagues and I were enchanted when he joined the McClellan Society in its early days. It was a measure of his generosity that he scanned his entire McClellan CDV collection and posted it on our MacSoc discussion board.

I am now sorry to have ragged so much on the Romanian location of Cold Mountain in this blog, a production decision he was paid to publicly defend. And my digs at pop history sometimes caused me to twinge after the fact when it occurred to me that this good-hearted man might have read them and then taken my grousing personally.

Brian pioneered a "public intellectual" role for Civil War historians, especially in TV and new media. He did a remarkably good balancing act in that he was a well-informed reader with esoteric interests and a fine capacity for analysis who appeased the idle (almost worthless) curiosity of masses of ignorant viewers and readers.

As each new wave of Civil War first-timers was unleashed in the marketplace, whether by Ted Turner or Ken Burns, Brian was there with something - the History Channel, Time Life Books, C-Span - to try to edge them up a notch in understanding. He was a way station.

He did not generate those forces that so badly disfigured the market for Civil War scholarship for so many years; no, he tried to tame and civilize them. He was one of us, a serious reader and researcher but one operating in the mass media.

Where McPherson met his masses with flattery, endorsed their most primitive ideas, and generally passed them through his ACW information mill unchanged, Brian's work with the same level of audience was different. It often held out a "not so fast" aspect. He consistently seemed to press viewers and readers to "look deeper," in contrast to the Centennial team's message of "And that's the way it is."

Brian Pohanka winnowed mass audiences so that our field would have better readers. And thus, better books.

Thank you, Brian, for being a friend to this great field of study in its darkest decades.

Snow clones and Civil War writing

The Language Log blog has a recurring meme called "snow clones." "Snow clones" are "some-assembly-required adaptable cliché frames for lazy journalists."
If Eskimos have N words for snow, X surely have Y words for Z.

In space, no one can hear you X.

X is the new Y.
I've been looking for the Civil War equivalent but have so far found only no-assembly-required cliche frames for lazy historians:

By the end of 1863 it was clear to Lincoln that in Grant he had found the aggressive commander he had been seeking since the beginning of the war.

Above all, he always sought a general, no matter what his politics, who would fight. He found such a general in Ulysses S. Grant, to whom he gave overall command in 1864.

Lincoln also struggled to find a commander who would attack the Confederates aggressively. In Ulysses S. Grant, the president found his man.

Abraham Lincoln had finally found the general he had been looking for.
Maybe I'm wrong about some assembly being required. For instance, the first quote, above, is followed by "From this point until the end of the war, the president would no longer actively manage military matters." That's definitely an articulated cliche that depends on the first cliche to perform "set up." The second quote in the list also triggers the same cliche: "Thereafter, Lincoln took a less direct role in military planning..." Lincoln taking his hands off the war, is as fanciful as the number of Eskimo words for snow, of course.

The other writers in this list fail to unpack their cliches after Lincoln Finds a General. They could be lazier even than pop journalists; or they could be in an awful hurry to tell the rest of the story.

Let's make a list. Send your discoveries to drotov@georgebmcclellan.org. Articulated cliche frames with some assembly required are preferred, but no cliche will go unremarked.

The tale of a thief

The story of Civil War papers stolen from the National Archives and sold on eBay has gotten a major feature story from the Washington Post. (Registration may be required.)
Harner[the thief], who hid the papers in his clothing while researching in the archives' downtown Washington headquarters, took letters signed by such figures as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Union generals Ulysses S. Grant and George A. Custer.

But authorities said he also stole documents bearing the less well-known but still highly marketable signatures of such people as Armistead and the Confederate generals George Pickett and Ambrose P. Hill.
This is heart-attack time, especially when you factor in the civil service reaction:
... the National Archives, which has since beefed up its security, does not keep an "item level" inventory of everything in its holdings. "It's not like a car dealership, where you arrive in the morning and you notice a car's missing from the lot," he said.
Cars are identical, replaceable commodities, so yes, it's not exactly a car dealership.
Brachfeld said that in several cases, Harner appears to have cut the signatures off the documents and sold the signatures by themselves to autograph collectors.
Pass the smelling salts. Because Harner, who has gotten a slap on the wrist for this, characterizes himself as "a history buff since the 1960s." That would be like a serial killer calling himself a "people person."
NEWS | Civil War fort found in Kentucky * New Gettysburg film gets to the heat of battle * Civil War soldier's wooden leg is prized possession at museum


Gallery says ACW art market is "saturated"

The Potomac Gallery is diversifying out of ACW art prints because the market is flooded and collectors are saturated.
The gallery opened in 1989, carrying works by one Civil War artist and then grew to carry art by many such artists. Doiron recalled that, "probably at the height of the Civil War art market, we carried work by 15 or 20 different artists. Most of those images would sell out if not on release, then closely thereafter."
It's an interesting article. Have a look.

Do you have Lincoln-McClellan Syndrome?

Frank Boyle, in his book, A Party of Mad Fellows, makes mention of something he calls the "Lincoln-McClellan syndrome" (sometimes just "the Lincoln syndrome").

Many have scoffed at George McClellan as a general partly because it confirms their devotion to Lincoln by this expected exercise.
(Emphasis added. )

That phrase defines the syndrome in a nutshell - as reflexive, emotional posturing.

Boyle sees a correlary to this, too:
Actually, [there] is a further development in the Lincoln-McClellan syndrome in which a school of historians is forever locked. The Lincoln-McClellan syndrome spreads into an East-West syndrome and in this exchange the Army of the Potomac is a bloody shuttlecock. The "Westerners" sneer that the army had never been fought all-out, that if a simple, direct, informal fighting general from the west was in command of the army, the war would have been over in a jiffy."
If it were me defining the Lincoln syndrome, I'd make a first try this way: You have to believe that battles win wars and that battles of annihilation are possible; that there is no regenerative power in the rebellion by 1862; that the destruction of Lee's army is the equivalent of the destruction of the Davis government; that the Union's forces represent well-disciplined and equipped forces sufficient to this job; and that failure to use the abundant resources provided by the Union to achieve a battle of annihilation that eradicates Lee (= the Rebellion) represents some kind of personality disorder.

Obviously, I need to boil that down a little. In the meantime, I suppose I can use Boyle's formula .
NEWS | Homes proposed for Antietam battlefield * NH group honors Civil War soldier * Reconstructed ACW quilt to be raffled off


More on Marszalek's Halleck

John F. Marszalek, as pointed out here previously, is a new wave Centennial historian who tries to fix the historiographic problems attending the old school doctrine by applying psychohistory to his narratives.

I had been agonizing over buying his book (Commander of All Lincoln's Armies: A Life of General Henry W. Halleck) and then suffering through bad doctrine and psychohistory in exchange for learning more about Halleck's California political operations and his prewar dealings with Hooker and Stanton. Friend Kevin Derby was good enough to share his impressions of the work on the McClellan Society discussion board and they are worth repeating here:

I just finished Commander of All Lincoln's Armies by John Marszalek, a good look at Halleck and better than the Ambrose and Anders books on the subject.

The problem is that Marszalek argues that Halleck's bad relations with his father ensured that he could never order Union generals around, from Mac to Burnside to Meade to Buell while acting like his tyranical father with Sherman, Hooker and Grant.

Even worse, Halleck apparently spent his entire life searching for substitute fathers and he should have found one with Lincoln but didn't. Sheesh. [...] I'm probably more of a fan of Halleck than most Civil War students (comes with being a college registrar, I appreciate the skill of pushing papers) but it is fair to say that Old Brains had little skills as a field commander or an executive (though he was a solid administrator). It's fair to say he was assigned the wrong role as opposed to blaming it on bad relations with his dad.

Your humble blogger is now sputtering furiously in a thick Viennese accent: "His Vater! His Vater! On ziss I am supposed to spend my Civil War buch stipend!?"

"Disturbing the ambience"

The Washington Post has noticed the Gettysburg casino controversy. This story includes a useful map showing the proposed location.
NEWS | Underground railroad organizer honored * Juneteenth festival to focus on history of fete * Historian: Slaves became soldiers


Escape from total war

I look through old issues of Harper's Weekly (1861-65) with a mixture of anger and sadness. It's not the war news that gets me down, it's the lack of war news. It's a lack that accumulates to prodigious dimensions. Read the accounts of summers past and trips abroad and any frivolous nonsense. Get away from that event destroying your country, its economy, its youth, and your sense of normalcy.

The Northerners took their Civil War in pill-size doses. Perhaps it was a matter more of personal stories and private letters - as public experience, it's nothing we can relate to as moderns, certainly not those of us even one generation removed from the Total War experience of WWII.

You have to go through loads of primary sources - not just Harper's - to get the full effect of Yankee war avoidance.

I remember the time I spent going through every New England newspaper the Boston Public Library could serve up, testing two ideas: (1) the Centennial doctrine that McClellan rode into Washington on a wave of popular acclaim in July 1861; and the alternative view, from Boston in the Civil War, that his appointment to replace McDowell was widely and vigorously opposed.

War news in the papers tended to be slight. In New England, the news was confined to what Banks and Butler did during a given week. Butler and Banks, week after week, column inch after inch. Hundreds of items about Butler and Banks. They were the whole war - all of it - but despite the space given them, that space never surpassed 5% of the ink spilled in any particular issue.

Among perhaps seven newspapers I found exactly two brief references to McClellan's Western Virginia campaign. The basis of Lincoln's appointment of McClellan in popular acclaim is the very keystone of the Centennial interpretation of the early war, as we know.

The laugh is not on the newspaper reader of that time, the laugh is on us. We're so disconnected from history, we think Banks and Butler were marginal figures instead of living founts of ACW experience for an entire region. Every new military history of the Civil War takes us farther away from understanding the civil part of this war and the immense chasm between the experiences clad in "shoddy" and mufti.

The careless reader - or writer - might imagine a WWII level of intensity and unity in Northern Civil War society. That would be a good joke indeed.

Look at Harper's. Read the papers.

History blog carnival

Marc at Spinning Clio has posted a nice history blog roundup. Have a look.

There was a draft riot on that manhole cover...

New York City's Civil War era manhole covers are being discarded or destroyed.

Historian Diana Stuart has been trying to stop this for 10 years without success.
NEWS | Civil War era flag found in storage * Mill that supplied ACW soldiers is closing soon * Custer featured in art installation


The search for Lincoln's "public man"

The Felt/Nixon revelations, currently in the news, have stimulated discussion about Lincoln's anonymous "public man" (as in "Diary of a Public Man"). "Stylometric analysis" seems to have failed - though you can download your own free stylometer here.

And here is the mysterious diary itself, awaiting your scrutiny. (Scroll down and note that there are four links.)

Have at it.

Fourth wave in Lincoln studies?

I get a little nervous when the marketing department of a trade house tells me I am holding in my hands "the most comprehensive study ever written of the thought of America’s most revered president" - What Lincoln BelievedThe Values and Convictions of America's Greatest President.

My friends, you must have written that for people who have never before read a comprehensive study.

Newsday points out that
Michael Lind, author of What Lincoln Believed: The Values and Convictions of America's Greatest President ... proposes a fourth Lincoln, who might be called the Great Federalist-Whig. The great what? The Federalists and Whigs were the political parties of Lind's real heroes, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay ... Clay(1777- 1852), who was speaker of the House and secretary of state, is the most obscure today. But to Lincoln he was the most important. As he said during the first year of his presidency, "I have always been an old-line Henry Clay Whig."
Uh oh. Trouble from James McPherson:
The title of this book is incomplete. It should be What Michael Lind Believes Abraham Lincoln Believed.
And Lind has other detractors, too, quite animated ones.

Art scene sustains tintyper

He began as a phorographer-reenactor, shooting ACW events on tintype. He has regressed to a Mennonite lifestyle.

But he does have a web page.

And an art show in New York City.

Here's the story.
NEWS | Grand Army focus of Civil War exhibit * Marker, memorial service set for VA Civil War veteran * Ghost hunter of Gettysburg promotes new way to experience battlefield


Ethan Rafuse's McClellan's War, part two

Civil War historian can generally be counted on to deliver wrong party affiliation information for generals who figure in any narrative.

How many times have I seen Nathaniel Banks identified as a Democrat in 1861? Butler as a Democrat in 1864? How often have the party affiliations of Scott, Wool, Sumner, Keyes, McDowell, and Heintzelmann been carefully eradicated for the higher purpose of a "purer" military history?

Alongside these errors of commission and omission lies a family of half-truths; for instance, Burnside's affiliation with the Democratic Party of Rhode Island (without the necessary codicil that this was the party of Lincoln, the RI Republicans being anti-Lincoln).

In McClellan's War, Rafuse uncovers what might be considered one such half-truth, the idea of McClellan as Democrat.

In McClellan's War, Rafuse traces the McClellan family's politics across several generations culminating in the rupture of the entire family with the Whig Party in 1852. This examination of the family culture is convincing and useful.

The break seems to hinge on Pennsylvania's "free-soil Whigs" (anti-Masonic, populist, Evangelicals, dealing harsh, no-compromise rhetoric) taking over the local party from the old-line Whigs. This is the Wade, Seward, Sumner, and (locally) Stevens crowd. The event is not placed exactly but it seems to happen in 1851; by 1852, McClellan is reconsidering his break when friend-of-the-family Winfield Scott runs for president. Mac opts for Pierce, after a little reflection, and that seems to be that.

The Pennsylvania Democracy provided a safe haven for former Whigs, especially after Free-Soil Democrats left the party following the Kansas-Nebraska act. The effect is something like a revolving door, with populism migrating to Whiggery and later Republicanism.

"After 1851, neither George nor the McClellan family ever returned to the Whig Party," Rafuse says. If McClellan ever considered Lincoln a mitigating influence on the Republican Party (succeeding the Whigs), Rafuse says he was antagonized by AL's Senate campaign and its "no compromise" rhetoric on the expansion of slavery; Lincoln's attachment of moral arguments to political issues would have been particularly offensive to many old-line Whigs, the author notes.

The play between Lincoln and McClellan personally in this period is unfortunately absent from McClellan's War. I have seen an amusing anecdote from the time, invented perhaps by Lincoln men.; it appeared in the journal of the Illinois Historical Society in the 1930s.

According to the story, McClellan, as vice president of the Illinois Central, intentionally gave priority to the Douglas trains traveling en route to the Lincoln-Douglas debates; the result was supposedly that on some stretches, Lincoln would be on a train pulled over on the siding to let Douglas pass.

The truth appears to be that Douglas had personal use of an express train, courtesy of McClellan, while Lincoln had a pass to travel on scheduled (non-priority) trains. That could have produced this storied result – the sidelining of a regular train by an express. On the other hand, the tale feels suspiciously like another "arrogance" anecdote used in the ongoing effort to warn readers against the failings of GBM.

Of McClellan's common culture with those old-time Democrats the Marcys, Rafuse notes that both families shared values rooted in the Scottish Enlightment's "Common Sense Philosophy." This is – in my view – a very telling detail.

Character. Self-improvement. Progress. Realism. Compromise. The common weal. The march of history.

This is the Whig belief system simplified and it shows something like the colors under which McClellan went to war.

More to come...

Feds create a plaque for a Rebel

The Federal government executes its public business from day to day with a certain amount of friction and delay.

It is therefore quite a spectacle to see the Department of Veteran Affairs (had any experience with them, dear reader?) commission a plaque no one asked for, pay for it with money gotten from who-knows-where, and then request a Liverpool's permission to site it in their [foreign] cemetery!

The US government has asked for a plaque to be placed at the cemetery, next to the Anglican cathedral, to honour Confederate seaman George Horwood who is buried at St James's.
The matter of our national government honoring its enemies is an interesting issue. But setting that aside, has all the work been done at home such that this is the next logical step for the DVA?

The plaque seems to make this some kind of stop on a Civil War trail concocted by Civil War Preservation Trust. Hmmmm.

Read it here.

"When Is A Battlefield Not A Battlefield?"

When it's at Crampton's Gap, of course.

Check out this essay by Norm Winne for the Bivouac Banner.

The place is so managed* that the Banner accidentally refers to it as "Garthland" ... an entirely appropriate slip.

(*Some of the gory details are on Tim Reese's site. Tim comments on the "Garthland" slip: Party on, Garth. Party on, Wayne. It's "Wayne's World." Excellent. )
NEWS | Juneteenth turns 140 * Battle lines drawn over Gettysburg casino plan * Museum hopes to preserve flag


More on Ethan Rafuse Monday

Thanks for visiting.

The Gettysburg effect on ACW filmmaking

Have you seen any good Civil War films lately?

A couple of Australians are currently promoting their new, four-hour study of the philosophy of Martin Heidegger - "The Ister" - and getting rave reviews:

"It is absolutely correct and proper to say that, 'You can't do anything with philosophy'." - Heidegger
Apparently you can do something with philosophy - make successful films - that you cannot do with Civil War history.

Why would that be?

It seems that the drive and energy that produces Civil War films nowadays comes from the same place that informs the most boyish appreciation of the war; the uniforms, the explosions, the masses of men, the flags, the pageantry and the pain. This is what you get from Turner and Maxwell who failed to learn from "Gone with the Wind."

You can make successful war epics using a War and Peace structure, where the war is backdrop to a compelling personal or family story. This is what the producers of "Cold Mountain" were reaching for. The failures of Turner and Maxwell were prefigured in the 1960s in a big international film flop, "Waterloo," which went down after extracting the purely military component of Napoleon's Europe (discarding the War and Peace formula) and showcasing that - Turner and Maxwell style - in its own epic.

There are commercially and artistically successful Civil War films with stronger military elements than might be found in a War and Peace treatment. John Wayne's "Horse Soldiers" is about the difficult comradeship of two men, commander and surgeon. The remarkable thing about this movie is how it takes the childlike Turner/Maxwell element, wraps it up into a glorious scene with a dressed ranks charge - the attack of the cadets - and then has the adult characters denigrate that scene as not representing war. "Let's get back to the war," they imply and then they do, a very different war from that found in a Troiani painting.

A commercial Civil War film that was abandoned after production is "Ride with the Devil." It features kids waging a dirty war in Missouri and its central trick is to draw the audience - it seems to aim for a teen non-ACW viewership - into sympathy for and admiration of the brutal, marauding Confederate partisans. Whether the film would have succeeded commercially with normal studio support is unknown.

So one can deviate from the War and Peace formula inclining towards higher levels of military content without sacrificing too much complexity while assuming more commercial risk.

But there is this Gettysburg theory of war that creates problems for ACW buffs who want to make movies. The Gettysburg "ideology" (if you will) is a trap because its subscribers imagine a compact, universally shared view of the war (of all war, really) embodied in these highly problematic assumptions:

* That battles produce victory or defeat in war
* That bigger battles produce bigger results
* That battles are decided overwhelmingly by actions taken on the field
* That the principals on the battlefield have sufficient personal relations with their subordinates and peers to impart an epic quality to decisions and events.

And so, the battle is the thing. And in its most extreme form, this view holds that Gettysburg must be the key to the whole war. Why, then, not focus on the battle?

The vast moviegoing public does not accept this. Not because of any historiographic wisdom but because it simply does not know. The Gettysburg or Waterloo style film palpably tastes to them of particular historical opinions and theories; they may or may not share these; they certainly don't want the Gettysburg ideology jammed at them for several hours.

And this is why a film about Martin Heidegger(!) that respectfully and honestly turns over the material and its underlying issues and problems, has a better chance of critical and commercial success than an epic movie filled with the "decisive combat" of "heroic figures".

Bad news for time travellers

For those of you who were hoping to eventually watch the Battle of Gettysburg unfold on the world-famous Chronovisor time machine, the Guardian is reporting that this renowned and thoroughly documented device may have been a hoax. The Guardian's flimsy hoax "evidence," given at the bottom of this report is so slight that we can all reasonably hope that the machine will be found again and become available to the Civil War community for research and education.

Friday housekeeping

Some points of administrative interest.

(1) You can link to any post directly by clicking on its datestamp (at the bottom). Click on that and the post comes up in its own window with its own unique URL, which can be cut from the address line and pasted anywhere.

(2) This blog runs Mon - Fri. If nothing has been posted on a weekday, check into http://cwbn.blogthing.com. That's our emergency broadcast system.

(3) I'm a reader, you're a reader. Think of this as a consumer site concerned with "product" quality. It's also concerned with the product quality of "public history" in its various forms.

(4) There are plenty of clues around as to how to reach me if you wish to and I thank those who have taken that trouble. The mailboxes from my other Civil War sites already overflow with genealogical queries and requests for homework support; I want to reduce the number of spurious contacts.

(5) Being free of restricting associations and social calculations, my criticism can be overdone. I regret any unnecessary harshness. Bad history is not necessarily produced by bad people.

Thanks for visiting.
NEWS | Brandy Station land acquisition is funded * Historians confident of discovering Sabine Pass gunboat * Book gives fresh view of Antietam battlefield * CT researcher seeks playwright to co-author post-war play


Ethan Rafuse's McClellan's War, part one

McClellan's War is a book written to a specific purpose. Rafuse wants to deliver to us the inner politics of the man and his application of political principles to war making. He is conservative in his scholarship, sticking to his purpose, avoiding digressions and keeping conclusions within easy reach of the facts. The exuberant endnotes and lovely digressions of Russel Beatie here give way to dry (but abundant) recitations of source material. This makes for an interesting book but also a very determined and serious one.

Now, there are probably about three levels of politics to plumb within a political mandate.

At the highest level, we have the politics of personal meaning arising from social and national crisis, the profound existential pain surrounding the question, asked while directing a civil war, "Why am I doing this?" Here, we are in a Voegelinian world where historical consciousness is produced in the social trauma of mass violence and unfathomable chaos. Rafuse frames McClellan's issues almost on this scale – his conversion from Whig to Democrat is described especially well - but the matter is managed on the whole as the study of a civil servant operating according to a particular theory of public administration. Note the subtitle: The Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union. Don't think angst, think policy. It is safer and saner and takes us down from the dizzying heights where the Civil War's carrion eaters fly.

So, the existential crisis is one level on which to address civil war politics. At the lowest level, below sea level as it were, is the murky world of "office politics," which is always with us whether in war or peace. In Civil War terms, this level of politics involves (as a minimum) untangling which officer is patronized by which political figure and for what purpose. One then maps the rise and fall of rank and fortune on the vicissitudes of the patron's interests and career. Rafuse is aware enough, to give one example, to notice those points at which Seward interests use McClellan against Blair in Missouri (Mac must get a grip on Blair protégé Lyons); and Rafuse notices that Blair is key in using McClellan (and Ben Wade) to put away Seward's creature Winfield Scott once and for all. How or why McClellan might be used by opposed interests in the Administration fascinates me. But these are not the politics Mr. Rafuse came to discuss or develop. His field is the general intersection of politics and policy.

At the level he has chosen for his study, Rafuse does excellent work; this should inform every McClellan book to come. And we have no right to hold him either to a comprehensive political study nor to the standard of a comprehensive McClellan biography, because that is not what is intended here, nor could either even be attempted in the 544 pages allocated by this publisher.

So much for my carping.

McClellan's War divides roughly into the antebellum phase, which is more or less concerned with the development of McClellan's internalized political values; following this comes the war phase, ending in late 1862, which is concerned with the elements at play around McClellan that produce that "Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union."

I'll give an account of the pre-war material tomorrow.

Please ignore this off-topic post

I've been book-tagged at Blogfonte and now need to be a be a good sport. So, move along now, nothing much of ACW interest here, folks.

Number of Books I Own - About a thousand, excluding review copies.

Last Book I Bought - The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering by Brooks. This classic has just been reissued.

Last Book I Read - Let's say "completed." Fooled by Randomness, The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Taleb. A witty, cultured attack on modern portfolio theory.

Five Books that mean a lot to me:

The Homilies of Saint John Chrysostom (multivolume). This is comprehensive exegesis. Miraculously valuable - a lot of the volumes are downloadable online.

The Chronicles of Henry of Livonia. A favorite of my late mother. A crusader's diary well connected to the foundation myths of both parents' family histories.

Order and History (multivolume) by Eric Voegelin. The problems of historic existence, meaning, and self-representation "in a nutshell." Shortly after I read Volume I in Riyadh, Israel and Revelation, a wise old sheikh regaled me (and my Riyadhi co-workers) with an impromptu talk on order in history and the meaning of personhood in the duration of the historic cycle. Volume II, The World of the Polis, I read under a lemon tree on Cyprus. So many immense ideas cascading so quickly ...

Sherman's Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865 by Sherman, Berlin and Simpson. I made the mistake of starting to read this 1,000-page opus in the conventional way, then put it down in shock when I realized that this was my gateway to personally experiencing the Civil War - at epic length - entirely through Sherman. When I can have a week with no interruptions or distractions whatsoever, I will subsume my consciousness in Sherman's.

Some of my father's verse was collected by admirers and published in St. Petersburg last year; it sits unread on my shelf. His poetry is bootlegged, photocopied, and anthologized - he's enjoying quite a boom - but I can't read Russian.

Now it's my turn to tag Chris Cross, Dave at Red Georgia Clay, Temperance Blalock, Jenny Goellnitz, and Mrs. Stone, if she's still rolling.

Pennsylvania tourism bloggers

Pennsylvania has convinced some folks to blog their experiences touring the Keystone state in exchange for travel money.

Here's one result with a Gettysburg flavor.
NEWS | Tennessee seeks solution for handling Civil War past * Author finds local link to Civil War infantry * Civil War history on display in Philippi


Requirements far beyond the state of the art

You may think they're talking about now:
They said the military conjures up dream weapons ... It sets immensely expensive technological requirements that are far beyond the state of the art of war, weapons executives say. Officials at the handful of major military contractors cross their fingers and promise to fulfill those visions.
They're also talking about then:
By the most salient measure, the rapid construction of ironclad warships, the program was a colossal failure: "When the war ended, twenty-seven of the thirty-nine monitors ordered after mid 1862 were still under construction."
This was the result then:
... failure discredited the project-office approach to managing the design and construction of warships and swung the pendulum back in the direction of the traditional naval bureaus, with the net result that "postwar Navy shipbuilding technology regressed, returning primarily to wooden ships built in Navy yards."
What will be the result now?

Feel free to use Lincoln for anything

The governor of Missouri (named "Blunt"!) sent forth his press secretary (named "Jackson"!) to declare that Abraham Lincoln would have favored the raising of a Confederate flag at a Missouri cemetery.

“The furthest thing from Abraham Lincoln’s mind,” Spence Jackson reportedly said, “would have been to interfere with the honoring of fallen Confederate soldiers by families, comrades or their ancestors.”

They could not be honored under the current city, state, or federal flags. That is an impossibility that Lincoln would immediately have recognized. Ask any flack.

Too much ACW schooling in Britain

Simon Thurly, chief executive of the group English Heritage, is disappointed with how little children in northeast England know about their own history. "The reason is that history in schools has concentrated exclusively on Hitler and Stalin and a bit of the American Civil War."

"Anna Fordham, 12, of Ryton, says: 'We've done a lot of American history and things like the Great Plague.'" Wonder if we can have some English pedagogues show us how to teach the ACW in American schools?

Thurly says, "... people do not have the basic information they need to enjoy their visit to heritage sites." We've noticed that too, and it has zero impact on site visits. You need to multipurpose. For instance:
And when we asked our [English] students whether they would prefer to go a historical site in the region or the theme park, three out of seven said they'd rather go for a ride on the teacups."
Three out of seven! That's low. Well, never mind that, though, just combine your amusement parks with your heritage sites and everyone is taken care of. We can help you with that (we have experts) if you'll just help us teach a little American history.

A leading ACW attraction - Alcatraz

Didn't know Alcatraz started as a Civil War fort. With tourist ferries going there every half hour, could this be our biggest national ACW heritage site?

Except that no one is interested in the ACW aspects of Alcatraz...
NEWS | Michigan restores 1866 monument * Cannon-noise lawsuit dismissed * Confederate ceremony in Missouri draws hundreds


Numbers, losses, surgeons

The pop ACW historian has less interest in numbers than in any other part of the work. Where used, numbers tend to be wonderfully round, with loads of zeroes, usually adjusted from pay (muster) rolls with a dash of whimsy added to make them "better."

Good history depends not at all on numbers - not even military history needs them - history is about people, events, decisions, betrayal, hope, triumph, faith, disaster, and all those things that make life itself interesting.

The peculiar thing about Civil War history is that numbers are made absolutely central to every story - the same numbers that the pop writer has no time to analyze dominate the material. In these best-sellers, numbers test character, numbers mark chances, numbers chart progress, numbers tell "the tale of the tape." Usually the number is ennumerated, in all its roundness; sometimes it is just implied with vague terms like "overwhelming superiority." However vague or ill-gotten, numbers form the basis for sweeping judgements about the men of those times.

The numbers on which so much in pop history depends are wrong, even by the very low standards many Civil War authors set for themselves.

If, for instance, you were to seriously decide that the payroll musters were the rational basis for estimating the size of a command, you would at least owe it to yourself and your readers to present the very best payroll-based estimates available - not some raw numbers plucked from the Official Records (OR) but those refined by Thomas Livermore in Numbers and Losses a century ago. Livermore corrected errors found in the OR, calculated which units were present for battle, how casualties affected the moving trendline of relative strength on the field, how to deduct for details and absentees, and a few more things besides.

The problem with Livermore versus raw OR data is that his thought-out numbers screw up a predetermined storyline. If you reach into the raw OR figures, for instance, you can present McClellan outnumbering Johnston at Fair Oaks; Livermore won't allow that (see p 81). In the Seven Days, leading up to Malvern Hill, McClellan fights outnumbered, 83,345 total engaged vs. Lee's 86,748 (see pp 84 – 85). He fights outnumbered throughout the Seven Days. There's not much our military historians can do with that without refresher courses in dramaturgy.

So today's historian stays with some flavor of raw OR data, without repudiating Livermore in a monograph; without acknowledging him; it is as if Livermore never wrote a word.

And yet even Livermore is very wrong, because any payroll-based headcounting is always very wrong.

As I mentioned yesterday, the medical staff of the Army of the Potomac was not allowed to use our historians' beloved muster rolls to count noses. Regimental surgeons were instructed to take the daily regimental present-for-duty tallies and average them to come up with a monthly regimental present-for-duty figure. This would serve as the statistical basis from which to figure illness and recovery.

Those who have served since the ACW immediately see the "honesty" in this approach. How hard we, as commanders, have fought administrative battles to remove dead weight from our own rolls; how bitter we have been at having so many "slots" filled by no-shows while work went undone. And this in a "professional" (not militia) army! Muster rolls are simply lists of people collecting pay through an affiliation with some unit. Men present for duty is an entirely different matter.

We get a view of the surgeon's numbers, aggregated at army level, through the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, Appendix to Part I. What follows is from the 1875 edition, Second Issue.

J.J. Woodward, Assistant Surgeon, U.S. Army writes in the introduction, "This figure [the surgeons' strength figures] was invariably obtained by adding together the mean strengths given in the individual reports consolidated for the month." For those baffled by the difference between the Surgeon General's strength figures and the Adjutant General's muster rolls, he says: "... the returns of the Adjutant General represent the strengths on the day of their [submitted] date." That is, they represent a notional count for pay purposes of people assigned the unit on that one day (only) during the month. It's the paymaster's snapshot of one day.

Looking at this volume's Table VI for the Army of the Potomac, we revisit Livermore's well-thought-out battle tally for the Seven Days: McClellan fought outnumbered, 83,345 total engaged vs. Lee's 86,748, says Livermore.

But the surgeons tell us a different story. In the month of June, 1862, the mean effective strength of the AoP (pre-sickness, pre-death) was 78,733. McClellan cannot have had 83,345 men on the field. Furthermore, that 78,733 suffered 24,690 medical cases of treated illness during the month (this does not include combat wounds or deaths; it may include multiple illnesses in one person); additionally 705 non-combat deaths were suffered.

The difference between the surgeons' view of events and even the most careful reconstruction from pay records is striking. It is not clear how we might fairly deduct the numbered medical cases from McClellan's maximum number of boots on the ground (78,733), however if we do that, we are then ready to make further deductions, as Livermore did, for details, detachments, shirking, picket duty, the base at White House, etc.

In July, McClellan is reinforced, bringing the surgeons' mean to 106,069 men available for operations against Richmond. However, these men reported 42,811 cases of sickness, 371 of them dying.

Drew Wagenhoffer mentioned to me that AoP illness on the peninsula gets mere "lip service" from authors eager to move their stories forward. I agree. The root of that comment speaks to Civil War historians not wanting to do their research while still committing to numeric interpretations of virtue. The treatment of numbers and the dedication to story structure are the two most obvious indications we have that Civil War history as a field is broken.

For even the most casual ACW reader, neither the name Livermore nor The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion should be a discovery on some fool's blog.
NEWS | Malvern Hill adds historic tract * Edgecombe (NC) seeks Civil War listings * Historian: Port Royal was turning point in Civil War



Will post some (rare, actual) data on Peninsula strengths tomorrow and give some impressions of the pre-war part of Rafuse's new book, McClellan's War.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in military reform, you may enjoy this Boydian thesis on swarming attacks (hat tip to John Robb).

The thesis has no positive Civil War examples. None. No surprise, as it aims to reform our army which is a Civil War army.

Second thoughts on coyness and Halleck

The nicstorian says my comment set light bulbs off in his head. Me:

I expect a reasonably full accounting of Halleck's California law wranglings with Edwin Stanton and his dealings with a certain West Coast politician named Joe Hooker, two topics far oustside the scope of any Centennial history.
James Buchanan said, after his term as president, that he had invited Stanton into the cabinet mainly on the strength of Stanton's legal background in California land cases; he thought Stanton could help with the large number of such cases awaiting action in the attorney general's office. Halleck, of course, was Mr. California Landlaw and what we need from a Stanton or Halleck biography is the mapping of interactions here. Not that anyone reads McClellan's stitched-together posthumous memoirs, but one of the finer comic bits had Stanton and Halleck each separately sharing their (Califoria-based) hatred for each other with Mac. We need sincere, honest biographers to try to get to the bottom of that. I'm hoping Marszalek went into that matter.

Likewise, we want to know the specifics of the Hooker-Halleck vendetta, also dating to California. Responding to some comments of mine about political patronage of military careers, a friend sent this note in 2003:

I came across something that may interest you. During his time out west in the late 1850s, Joe Hooker was involved heavilly in California and Orgeon politics, serving in a minor county office and running for state assembly (and losing) out in California. During his time in Oregon, Hooker became close to Colonel J.W. Nesmith who led Douglas Democrats against Joe Lane and the dough faces in Oregon. Lane crushes this faction so the Douglas Dems go over to the Republicans who of course [are] led by....Edward Baker, who AL names his second son [...] and [who] later blunders and dies at Ball's Bluff. Nesmith and Hooker are crucial to electing Baker to the Senate in 1860. And you wonder why AL always had such faith in Fighting Joe...
And wasn't it sweet, by the way, how Abraham Lincoln turned over all California patronage to Edward Baker after the latter was elected senator from Oregon? The political currents of California and Oregon must be explored to understand Halleck, Hooker, Stanton, and Baker.

That's what I pay a biographer for when I buy a book, by the way, but when I look for the goods, I find the books are filled with other stuff: broken story parts, mismatched "characters," psychodrama, neat military judgements, plot devices, and sweeping conclusions. Junk.

And at the head of the historic Stanton-Halleck-Hooker complex, there stands "the military genius of Abraham Lincoln" appointing Halleck to be general-in-chief under Stanton, after each has smeared the other; then similarly appointing Hooker to be AoP chief under his foe Halleck after Hooker declines to report to "Old Brains."

Grist for the historian's mill. Now, if we can only find an historian.

Lee's Cadets

The Sons of Confederate Veterans have organized a body known as Lee's Cadets.
"We're a historical group, non-political, non-sectional," said Keith Taylor, the cadets' adult leader.
But hear one cadet:
"It's fun and you learn the real cause for the Civil War," Mason said. "It was over the Constitution and money issues. Slavery was the last thing on the Confederates' minds."
Okay, make that "historical, political, and sectional."

Sheridan reconsidered

Just noticed this review of Wittenberg's Little Phil: A Reassessment of the Civil War Leadership of General Philip H. Sheridan.
In a short work, written, as the author concedes, as a lawyer's brief, Wittenberg sets out to demonstrate that Sheridan does not deserve the praise that history has bestowed upon him.
Sounds like analysis - a break from storytelling.
The book is organized topically.
This is a highly controversial and provocative work that seeks to demolish one of the Civil War's great icons; a fact the author is well aware of. Nevertheless, it is a rewarding book for it is well researched, written, organized, and argued.
The revolution continues.
NEWS | ACW sub found off Panama * Sherman celebration planned in Ohio * Period band serenades Longstreet Society


The Halleck "conundrum"

Halleck is a "conundrum" if you have twisted the early war historical record into a storybook shape and dipped it in honey.

If you've done that, then you have the problem - conundrum - of a decisive and active combat commander transformed into a shirker, starting with his promotion to general-in-chief.

But if you follow Halleck's career carefully, it ends as it begins with hardly a bump in between. There is as much shirking in St. Louis as in Washington.

Remember who and what Halleck was.

He began as a political tool used by Lincoln against Fremont; once Fremont was out of Missouri, Halleck did excellent service blackening his reputation for honesty and competence and dramatizing his own herculean efforts in cleaning up after the Pathfinder.

During McClellan's tour as general-in-chief, Halleck represented the McClellan alternative. He was the g-in-c Scott wanted; the military genius who would do political dirty work; the steward of Western victories; and the man who would secretly meet with Stanton and Lincoln behind McClellan's back to give them advice.

After selling the idea of a consolidated Western command (Mac had nixed it), Welles says Halleck was brought East through the intrigues and patronage of John Pope working with cabinet powerhouses Chase and Stanton.

Halleck, as new g-in-c, well understood himself to be between a rock and a hard place, between a subordinate patron (Pope) who needed a lot of help and a politically formidable former boss (McClellan) who had wide newspaper backing and who talked a lot of sense. If he dithered in Missouri, he would certainly dither in these circumstances.

But all this ignores the matter of Lincoln; he had tried several ways of working and found what he wanted to do. Halleck's activity embraced Lincoln's preferred way of operating; it was not a letdown, it was a fulfillment, which is why HH lasted so long.

People fail to observe how Lincoln managed and how he arrived at difficult decisions. Lincoln spoke to people who in his mind represented entire constituencies - he leveraged a belief in political personification to get work done. This was a tool in his "master politician" kit.

In that highly personalized representational system, Halleck represented The Army. The Whole Army. All the time. And that's all he needed to do or be in order to be invaluable to Lincoln. Lincoln could circulate through offices all day long collecting opinions on any and all matters, and there would always be a Halleck within reach to supply answers for an entire, vast constituency: "the Army's opinion."

You won't see this in military histories, but one often encounters Halleck attending to non-military matters - here, he's with Seward discussing something, there he's with Chase - suddenly Lincoln finds him and they all together take up the matter of Navy construction, or taxation, or the appointment of a civilian somewhere. Halleck is not hard at work doing staff work, as would some "first-rate clerk," he's wandering around smoking cigars and scratching his elbows - making himself fully available to "browsing presidents" (in Mac's terms) and to kibbitzing cabinet officers.

If historians had studied the best part of the McClellan-Lincoln relationship, if anyone besides myself ever bothered to count their daily visits and messengered interactions between 8/61 and 3/62, they would understand the extremely painful void in Lincoln's life that Halleck filled when he arrived to take up the job of g-in-c.

The functions McClellan assumed from Cameron's War Department had returned to the Stanton's War Department with interest. What was left was the part of the job Lincoln valued the most.

Halleck was a tremendous success. And that had nothing to do with staffwork.

Games can be subversive

Designer Drew Wagenhoffer, a friend of this blog, has a new game out, "Civil War Battles: Campaign Peninsula," comments about which appear at Blogfonte. Denying any reliance on Sears' To the Gates, he wrote to say that "use of that book was cursory at best."

Cursory for us all. It's a read for the beach.

Meanwhile, there is extensive information on his game here containing some of Drew's designer notes:
Until relatively recent times, it was conventional wisdom that Lee was significantly outnumbered during the Seven Days Campaign. This notion is no longer generally accepted as truth. Whichever of the multitude of counting measures has been used, modern research has demonstrated that the effective strengths of both armies were actually very close. When one includes reinforcing troops from the Valley and the Eastern seaboard, Lee actually slightly outnumbered McClellan during the Seven Days when one takes into account the deductions to overall Federal strength for required garrison duties. Notably large numbers of Union troops were stationed at White House and Fort Monroe. Of course, Lincoln’s withholding of most of McDowell’s powerful I Corps didn’t help either.

On the other side, thousands more troops were theoretically available to Lee, though the vast majority were "static" garrison troops—including untrained and raw state militia, local defense forces, organizing artillery companies and battalions, and independent cavalry companies. When these units are included, the number of Confederate soldiers in the Richmond area had a peak strength of well over 100,000 soldiers.
One should not submit that in an exam paper to Professors Gallagher or Davis and expect a good grade - they have not yet reached the level of analysis of Livermore's standard, century-old study Numbers and Losses.

And yet we have miles to go before we sleep, for even Livermore has it wrong; if you look at the surgeon general's summaries of morning reports of units on the Peninsula you can reasonably conclude that McClellan's boots on the ground rarely exceeded 50,000.

Morning reports always, always trump pay records. I'll share the surgeons' numbers soon. Find your own copy of the surgeon general's report of the war, and you can write yourself up a very fine PhD thesis. But not for Gallagher or Davis.

From descriptions I see that "Campaign Peninsula" lacks either a Warwick Line and Williamsburg scenario; perhaps I can amuse myself by building them with the accompanying editor. I look forward to that.

Meanwhile, let me close with the thought that over the last 50 years, historical simulation through games has provided a wonderful refuge from the otherwise inescapable consensus ACW history, more on which next week.