My generals, your generals
Belongingness theory says readers might have entered parasocial relationships with these renowned figures.
Porter's battlefield gets a stay of execution
Any action on remaining unresolved issues surrounding a controversial plan to build more than 100 houses on 121 acres that some people contend are part of a Civil War battlefield will have to wait until Aug. 9, officials said Tuesday. [...]What, a battle after Antietam? You must be mistaken, everyone knows McClellan failed to act:
According to records on the National Park Service's Web site, the Battle of Shepherdstown took place Sept. 19 and 20, 1862, on acreage to the west side of what is now Trough Road, including Far Away Farm [the proposed building site], which is east of Shepherdstown.
After the Battle of Antietam, Gen. Robert E. Lee began to pull his Army of Northern Virginia back across the Potomac River, crossing at Pack Horse Ford. Union soldiers arrived on the Maryland side of the river the following morning and began to shoot at southern troops across the water. [Emphasis added.]Oh, I see. These preservation nuts are confusing potshots with an actual battle.
Send in the bulldozers; I've read my Centennial histories.
Especially given the casualties ennumerated in this story. (And in this one here.)
The Civil War's "Patrick O'Brien"
James Nelson was with the Golden Hinde for a year, sailing from Los Angeles through the Panama Canal to Texas, eventually leaving in Houston. After selling his boat and nearly all his possessions he moved to Washington State, where he went to work aboard the Lady Washington, a replica of an 18th Century brig, as a rigger and deckhand. After the Washington, beset with financial troubles, laid everyone off, Nelson joined "H.M.S." Rose, a replica of a Revolutionary War British frigate.
Another one of those bureaucracy stories
If the Museum and White House of the Confederacy in downtown Richmond is physically moved (relocated) a few blocks "it would lose its designation as a National Historic Landmark."
Now you know!
Truth in Civil War history
The crying need in the study of history to-day is humility.
... remember, in short, that for very, very much history there is more importance in the ancient error than in the new-found truth.
That will be our starting point.
Judge rules against Porter's battlefield
"All?" Lee said, starting bolt upright."McClellan's pursuit of Lee after Antietam," does not compute for the reader of Centennial histories; the drama of potentially losing all your army's reserve artillery to a general famous for not pursuing makes even less sense. The better reader takes the clue, tosses the Centennials and heads for the stacks.
"Yes, General, I fear all."
Other readers merely cope with the dissonance. Which may be why this article about Shepherdstown uses the wording "acres that some people contend are part of a Civil War battlefield."
That could refer to the siting of those acres or it could refer to the crazy idea that there was a Battle of Shepherdstown after Antietam.
In any case, this new battle has been lost by the preservationists. The judge has greenlighted housing.
Bad history can have bad consequences.
One of those government agency stories
A man named Gene Platt, acting on his own,
spent 3 1/2 years crawling around the tree-lined [Santa Ana, CA] graveyard, refurbishing about 180 Civil War veterans' headstones. Leaning on a sheepskin-covered footstool, he scraped off fungus and lichen, then brushed several layers of white-pigmented sealer onto the Georgia marble. With drills and grinding tools, he enhanced worn lettering, which he then painted gold.
After finishing, he said a prayer over each grave. Operating with permission from cemetery officials, he invested thousands of hours and dollars in the project, hoping his example would be copied nationwide.
The federal government disapproves and is sending in troops of boyscouts to undo his work, to strip markers "back to their earlier state," this story reports.
The Diary of a Public Man revisited
It seems to be the journal of a Buchanan official during the transition to Republican administration; the author met Lincoln and was regarded as a friend of William Seward's.
I was impressed with how close the tone of this is to the diaries of Welles and Chase - that the atmosphere captured here was not a temporary jostling of loose ends during incomings and outgoings but that we were dealing with a real taste of McClellan's "sink of iniquity."
I am occasionally cautioned (usually by Centennial readers) not to put my trust in diaries or newspapers. I trust them absolutely - to convey to me the "noise" and atmosphere in which decisions were made. In reading the material below, imagine yourself a general trying to formulate policy, plans or directions, or a Cabinet officer drafting goals. Here are some highlights from the articles that appeared in North American Review:
* Stephen Douglas tells the author that Abner Doubleday is Ben Wade's creature and that Doubleday (and Wade) incited Major Anderson's evacuation of Fort Moultrie in favor of Sumter. [Remember that Doubleday writes Lincoln questioning Anderson's loyalty later during the Sumter crisis.]That was Washington in early 1861, certainly Washington as I have come to know it in my McClellan researches. I recognize that this account bears no relation to our noiseless, clean and tidy Civil War histories, where rational actors make optimal decisions based on straightforward information and due consideration; where a wise president holds all decisions in his hands; where modern Civil Service norms somehow thrive in the throes of political chaos; that's not my Civil War and I would like to see it retired.
* Douglas explains that "Wade and that gang are infuriated with Seward's coming into the Cabinet, and their object is to make it impossible for Lincoln to bring him in." The move from Moultrie to Sumter – and its ratcheting up of Charleston's outrage – is seen as sabotaging moderation, hence Seward's usefulness.
* Douglas holds Buchanan to be duplicitous and cowardly: "He likes to have the people deceived in him – he enjoys treachery, sir, enjoys it as other men enjoy a good cigar…"
* Thurlow Weed, Seward's Richelieu, comments on a New York politician, "Do I know him personally? I should rather think I do. I invented him!"
* Weed says of abolitionist Horace Greeley that he was a Northern secessionist who thought he could be elected president of a rump republic.
* Winfield Scott tells Lincoln, before the inauguration, that Italian assassins were after him.
* Douglas tells the author that Scott runs Seward and Scott himself is run by the Blairs, who were "moving heaven and earth to get control of Mr. Lincoln's Administration."
* Douglas says the Blairs are cooperating with the Radicals in Washington and New York, to remove Seward from consideration.
* Douglas says Lincoln "is eminently a man of the atmosphere which surrounds him."
* The author runs into Stanton on the street after Lincoln's arrival: "It is impossible to be more bitter or malignant than he [Stanton] is; every word was a suppressed and a very ill-suppressed sneer…" Stanton slimes Lincoln.
* The author thinks Lincoln "more tightly" held by Chase than by Seward.
* He writes on 2/28/61, "Half an hour with Mr. Lincoln today, which confirms all my worst fears. I should say he is at his wit's end."
* The Radicals already constitute a "rule or ruin" faction before the administration is formed.
* Sumner calls Cameron a "political Judas" before he is appointed. He has an obtuse interview with the author, trying to get him to talk with Lincoln against Cameron. Sumner warns that the combination of Seward and Cameron might produce a negotiated settlement instead of a complete separation from the South.
* The author is "mortified" by the heavy-handed security surrounding Lincoln's inauguration. He says the country has become a Latin American republic. He says Douglas held Lincoln's hat.
* He repeatedly returns to the Radicals' formula that labels the US Constitution "a covenant with death and an agreement with Hell." (Isaiah 28:18, "And your covenant with death shall be annulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand when the overflowing scourge shall pass through.")
I will expand on this tomorrow, marrying this post to the McClellan at Gettysburg motif in a piece about the damage we do to historic truth in Civil War history.
Meanwhile, the Public Man offers some strong medicine - drink it, please.
The phantom professor strikes again
I am not trying to put anyone down here, but you know, for your intelligence level (not just my opinion!!!) it seems like you're trying to sound smarter than you really are. ... frankly straight forward questions make the professor sound a lot more intelligent than the one with twised questions.Wonder if Prof. McPherson got email like that.
English interest rises in Civil War - their own
* Pipers need to know how to play laments.Kevin Phillips, you may recall, went to a great deal of trouble to show the connection between the English and American civil wars in his Cousins' Wars (right).
* Worcester is the "Gettysburg equivalent" but without the tourism.
* It's important to re-enact the hanging of traitors after re-enacting the battle itself.
Shelby Foote joins the Greek gods
On the southern slope of Mount Parnassus, in an olive grove surrounding a gurgling spring, they gathered. Clad in snowy white raiment with laurel wreaths on their heads, they looked as they had in their prime. Though they fairly glowed with well-being, their visages retained those lines of sadness and experience that had made them who they were.
Yes, friends, Shelby Foote has ascended. Hand him his lyre.
You have to believe, after reading this, that newspaper readers are a patient, forgiving lot.
A big-hearted act of preservation
Johnston's Army of the Potomac manned artillery pieces with infantry militia, took the occasional potshot at some passing steamer, and generally succeeded in irritating Washington Radicals. According to this story:
Richard and Barbara Tiplady bought 16 acres of woods along the Potomac River in Dumfries in 1987 because it reminded them of Flirtation Walk, a pedestrian path for cadets at West Point where they had gone on their first few dates.They paid $30,000 for it. They discovered it held the battery's old positions.
After negotiations and assurances that the fort would be preserved, the Tipladys sold the historical land in September for about $1.2 million to Vienna-based developer KSI ServicesForty times the original price ... goodbye Flirtation Walk.
"When you develop in a community, you look for things you can do," said Edward S. Byrne, senior vice president at KSI, which is building Harbor Station -- a luxury hotel and conference center with a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course -- at the site. "It's usually giving money for schools or transportation. When we looked around, people said, 'You know, there's this property with historical significance.' "So there's going to be this Civil War artillery position preserved among the fairways and sandtraps.
I don't think preservationists have an answer to this; we even see Civil War Preservation Trust actively courting developers to buy and build on Civil War sites, setting aside some remnant for historical use.
It's coming. "Harbor Station - harboring all your Civil War history needs."
If you get bored this weekend...
So with this site you can re-enact Civil War telegraph operations in the privacy of your own home. Uniform optional.
Have a good weekend. Don't forget to encrypt.
The CSA and "communities dedicated to war"
I think this paradigm is useful in explaining the how and why of the end of the Civil War (i.e. developments after Bentonville).
Two museums about the 19th Century
Liverpool's Civil War
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Towards a better plagiarism
Student plagiarists come up with some funny logic: "I'll submit a well-written and incredibly detailed discussion of an utterly esoteric subject." I suppose that bets on the play, "Your suspicions may be aroused, but if you can't prove I cheated, I win."
Guns for cotton?
The notion that Chase was "lax" is wonderfully sweet and typical of the naiveté you find among Unionists in our field. In fact, he had his protege, Irvin McDowell (cousin to Ohio's ex-governor Dennison) running the Army's cotton inspectorate in 1863 while McDowell's brother Malcom traded cotton on his own account while working as paymaster of the Army of the Tennessee. Chase's son-in-law, William Sprague, provided a major buying market (= beneficiary) for cotton brought across the lines.
When Salmon P Chase was Secretary of the Treasury he had been accused of being lax in the way he handled the cotton permits which allowed some trading with the south to keep the cotton mills in the north active.
The capture of a Confederate blockade runner in 1864 threatened to discredit Chase who had just been appointed Chief Justice and Lincoln would have suffered from the scandal; Chase’s son-in-law Senator William Sprague of Rhode Island was implicated in a scheme of running guns through though Texas were they were exchanged for cotton for Sprague’s cotton mill back in Cranston, Rhode Island. The act if true would have been treason. Stanton for the sake of his party, Lincoln and his friend Chase, hushed the matter and the damning evidence disappeared from the War Department.
McClellan in a July, 1862 letter to S.L.M. Barlow strikes a phrase that resonates across the war "They are aware that I have seen through their villainous schemes..." Villainous schemes ... more fun than warfighting and, in fact, what some rascals do best.
Canby was scathing on the cotton trade: officers involved in the business "barter the cause ... with all the basenesosf Judas Iscariot, but without his remorse."
Guns for cotton. I'll put this research behind McClellan at Gettysburg on my to-do list.
p.s. You may enjoy this H-Net review of Kate Chase and William Sprague: Politics and Gender in a Civil War Marriage. The book's author suggests that Miss Chase "imbibed the Republican ideology that emphasized free labor and personal autonomy. This set of beliefs explained Kate's commitment to, and influence in, the Party throughout the 1860s and 1870s." I expect her role in the Sprague cotton operations may be understated, this being a gender study with an object lesson in feminine heroism. The belle ended her life impoverished, selling eggs and milk door-to-door, an interesting end for a Washington power broker married to the onetime richest man in America.
Shelby Foote: SOB
“That means that no matter which way you turned him, he was still a son of a bitch.”Warning: even stronger language here.
My slow march through McClellan's War
Sad to say, I am a slow reader and in the case of any McClellan book, I crawl. Not only do I have to read every note and ponder every point, I have to collate it with a fairly large set of mental and sometimes paper files. Summer guests and chores don't help. So I have made it but half through this tome to say that I like it very much.
It is dry for you seekers of storytelling art; it is comfortably linear for you, however; and there are few digressions. Too few, for my taste , and I find myself providing my own digressions on the fly as I go along. (See below.)
Allow me my usual ration of quibbles before I return to praising McClellan's War.
* Notes. Endnotes are a sorry substitute for footnotes; I think the commercial houses came up with this as a cost saving measure; Indiana University Press, as an academic house, should know how inconvenient endnotes are. Further, the notational style of Sephen W. Sears is to be avoided at all costs, not emulated. At least here Rafuse allows one note per paragraph versus Sears' one every two or three paras. Best: one note per reference.That out of the way, you can safely consider the book indispensible.
* Digressions. The McClellan context is so rich as to be overwhelming; perhaps Rafuse has done a good job of sparing the casual reader. However, I found myself asking here and there, "Does Rafuse know..."
* Theme. McClellan's War is a book that integrates McClellan's personal politics into the story of his military career. It explains his motivations and thinking from this internal point of view. I think that this results - intentionally - in a less rounded picture of the man and events. It also simplifies the political discussion to almost a single point of reference. Rafuse's assessment will certainly shape my picture of GBM, but it is not the whole picture of the man or the time. The notion of a single key explaining the best part of the McClellan controversies makes me uncomfortable, no matter how well it is handled here.
Now, some random points as they occur to me.
Rafuse's take on hard war/soft war has some contiguity with Mark Grimsley's Hard Hand of War. I need to revisit Grimsley (whom Rafuse mentions more than once) to delineate some differences for my own peace of mind. (This is one reason why my reading takes so long.)
Rafuse's work gives some idea of McClellan's and Lincoln's closeness as collaborators - a collaboration I have never seen adequately covered anywhere. We have much farther to go here, but Rafuse sets his readers down the right path.
Rafuse accurately summarizes McClellan's reaction to Lincoln's estrangement from him as Lincoln experiencing a failure of political will. This matches the storyline of T. Harry Williams' Lincoln and the Radicals, a book which paints the slow and steady wresting of the war from Lincoln's hands. (Historian Hans Trefousse, on the other hand, sees Lincoln as a political artist stringing McClellan along while hiding his Inner Radical from view.)
Rafuse deals with certain McClellan controversies in "reasonable man" terms rather than by exploring them monographically. Others he understands but must summarize to avoid losing his larger points.
One of his more interesting insights he gives little space: the idea that Stanton took office as a friend to both the Radicals and McClellan, butquickly threw McClellan overboard. (The Centennial doctrine is that GBM wore his patience down over time; the McClellanist view, elaborated by Baldy Smith after Mac's death, was that Stanton signalled enmity as soon as he won the office.)
Rafuse seems to miss the breadth and depth of Halleck's intrigue against McClellan in the matter of a unified Western Department although he accurately blames Halleck for a persistent lack of cooperation with Mac and Buell. Like everyone else, he gets the story of McClellan's commission wrong, basing it on the misleadingly stripped down precis in McClellan's Own Story.
He misses Stanton's intrigue with Seward under Buchanan, Seward's role in the SecWar appointment, Stanton continuing as Seward's protege in early 1862, and the repeated efforts to replace McClellan between January and March 1862. Not that these are germane to his story.
At the same time, he surprises us with things we forget or never knew: Mac's rejection of Frank Blair in Randolph Marcy's place; his explicit rejection of the idea (from friend George Gibbs) that he needed some kind of Halleck to manage matters in the "sink of iniquity." But Rafuse only half understands that the corps commanders assigned the AoP were personal friends of Lincoln and Republicans every one.
And on a personal note, I find obnoxious the adjective "magnificent" repeatedly joined to the AoP, not only because it is a cliched reminder of Catton's worthless literary device of mass-man-as-hero, but because of the army's rate of absenteeism from the beginning. The absurdly high levels of shirking and cowardice were a constant concern and an unspoken national embarassment. The commanders knew. Lincoln knew. We can't "unknow" this by reverting to Catton-style fanfares to the common man.
Rafuse's basic position of sympathy for and understanding of his principal subject takes him a long way and is worth much to the reader, especially given his starting point (mentioned in the introduction) of being hostile to McClellan and friendly to the Radicals. We all start that way; it takes effort to see the man behind the comic book constructs. Rafuse has a firm grasp on the real McClellan and his milieu. This book is essential reading.
I'll write more as I read more.
A tale of slobs and prigs
The slovenly administration of Gettysburg has led, believe it or not, to a fund raising drive in Williamsburg, that's how "caught up" Williamsburg is on maintenance and budget matters.
However, I can't stand this guy any more than I can Longfellow, and it has little to do with his Rebel politics. Yes he was a product of the tastes of his day, but Melville and Whitman bucked convention hard.
Say "no" to forced rhymes and line padding to make meter. If you are going to resort to the confection of rhyme, make it natural; when you pick your meter, play that meter naturally or choose another. So much 19th Century poetry is a disaster area and Timrod does not help.
THE TWO ARMIES
by Henry Timrod
Two armies stand enrolled beneath
The banner with the starry wreath;
One, facing battle, blight and blast,
Through twice a hundred fields has passed;
Its deeds against a ruffian foe,
Stream, valley, hill, and mountain know,
Till every wind that sweeps the land
Goes, glory laden, from the strand.
The other, with a narrower scope,
Yet led by not less grand a hope,
Hath won, perhaps, as proud a place,
And wears its fame with meeker grace.
Wives march beneath its glittering sign,
Fond mothers swell the lovely line,
And many a sweetheart hides her blush
In the young patriot's generous flush.
I'm flushing and blushing for the Timrod fans, including Clyde Wilson.
Location, location, location
Philadelphia and Boston will provide zero backdrop according to this story.
I'll bet that the producers judged Williamsburg a "truer" location than Boston because it offers a stronger undiluted "Colonial" impression than modern Boston or Philly. In other words, the false but rich visual has more chance of connecting with the viewer than the true: the rooms Adams wrote in or debated across are of less interest than something chosen or built for movie purposes.
You know, Adams himself holds little visual interest. Why not have Stonewall Jackson or Calamity Jane working the Constitutional Convention instead? That has "hit" written all over it.
Foote fan speaks: "trust him"
Foote drank bourbon whiskey in the daylight hours and scotch at night. I'd trust him with my life.See if you'd trust him with your life.
A new ACW game
The campaign is non-linear, with both offensive and defensive operational options available to each side.A non-linear Civil War story structure. Imagine that.
Bad Grant books: Korda's contribution
In a new review over at the Claremont Institute, S. K. Tootle says some interesting things about Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Hero by Michael Korda (right).
Please note that Korda is no less than the editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster, which published Jean Smith's Grant, and which is struggling to get Doris Kearns Goodwin to deliver her Lincoln manuscript in time for an October book release. (An aside: Goodwin and Smith both have major plagiarism issues, of course, and that one little matter piques my interest in a close reading of Korda's stuff.)
The endnotes include only eighteen citations for ten chapters. Most of Korda's account is based on two books: Grant by William S. McFeely (1997) and W.E. Woodward Meet General Grant (1928). He relies on "the Ulysses S. Grant homepage" for most of his information on the Grant presidency, except for the account of "the Santo Domingo fiasco," which comes from McFeeley. He makes no mention of prominent recent scholars of the Grant Administration such as Brooks Simpson, Jean Edward Smith, or Frank Scatturo, and there is no evidence in his book that Korda consulted their work.[Emphasis added.]
This is the kind of depth we would expect from a student report on Grant. The editor responsible for Smith did not even consult Smith's book. And once again a would-be "master storyteller" is going to try to use literary skill (such as can be mustered) to write his way through historical problems to arrive at historical truth.
More from Tootle:
[H]e does not even begin to address several important issues during Grant's presidency, and some of the errors in his biography are laughable. [...] Korda is also a master of distracting or pretentious analogies and foreign references. [...] In two remarkable sentences, Korda describes Grant using the words of Homer, Shakespeare, and Twain. [...] [I]t should be possible to write a book about Grant without mentioning The Horse Whisperer, Tennessee Williams, marriage customs in the British army, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, or Kevin Costner in "Dances with Wolves."Perhaps this book was inspired by an exciting series of cocktail parties.
Bad Grant books are going to turn (other) publishers (and their sales forces) against issuing the occassionally good or interesting Grant study. If such a large part of the war - Grant's part - is commercially blacklisted, the whole field of Civil War studies is going to suffer.
Simon on those rubber Lincolns
Simon spoke to host Gerald Prokopowicz and his insights struck me as important. Direct quotes are marked in quotations; headings are mine; emphasis is mine; and the points appear in broadcast order. Except where noted, paraphrases and quotes are Simon's, not Prokopowicz's.
Visitors and museum builders
People visiting Springfield now want to see the places Lincoln lived and the objects he touched. What they are getting is a museum "designed by people of the Disney culture." "They won't leave him alone." Instead of arranging Lincoln objects and papers, we are given "the life of Lincoln as told in rubber."
An outworn museum concept
The new museum is obsolete. "It's like the old wax museum that thrived in Lincoln's day, a substitute for more modern museums or more authentic museums, except that in our day it's done with rubber instead of wax."
"When it comes to vulgarity, I say let's drop it."
"It's not unlike the vision that's created Las Vegas, with its theme hotels..." Unlike Vegas, "in Springfield all you get is historical vulgarity..." "The only way to redeem the Lincoln Museum, I think, is to install slot machines."
This is "really a preposterous expenditure of more than $50 million of taxpayer money."
[Simon notes that in an Indiana Lincoln site, with which Prokopowicz was once affiliated, there were vulgar touches.] [However] "In Springfield vulgarity reigns. It's the starting point. It's the absolute essence of that institution."
Lincoln is not for children
[Simon rejects] "the idea that people are hungry for the story of Lincoln told in rubber..." The kids who might be impressed by this would be those who have not yet seen movies, TV or computers.
"The wax museum is not a new concept and I don't see it offering this novelty that Springfield needs. Furthermore, somewhere along the line, they decided that this museum is for children. Well, no it isn't. Lincoln is not for children."
A museum "is directed towards adults [and contains] things that children can appreciate." Great museums "begin with the education of adults..."
[Prokopowicz comments that children can tell when they are being patronized. Simon answers:] "I don't know what kind of backwoods idiots are expected in that Lincoln museum."
I do love that kind of talk.
[On a personal note, Gerald Prokopowicz has invited me to be on his program on October 21. We'll discuss McClellan, ACW publishing, and the effects of the Internet on history writing.]
Grimsley on the ACW
Private trove of Upton's letters go public
Bob Reid of Wausau, Wis., said the stationery box full of letters had been handed down to his father, the general's great-nephew. Following his father's death, Reid received the box from his sister, whose husband had suggested they were boring and not worth keeping. The letters spent years in Reid's former home until surfacing as he packed to move.These letters have never been seen by historians.
I pray that this little reminder gives pause to those blowhard writers dealing out finalities, absolutes, and dead certainties in the pages of their narrative nonfiction.
Still missing: the correspondence of Irvin McDowell, Henry Halleck, and Joe Hooker.
Thorton and Ekelund
Economic theory, rather than historical analysis, provides the key to understanding the Civil War era, according the Thornton and Ekelund.This is a problem in any conversation with Libertarians. Reviewer Jane Flaherty notes,
Throughout the book, the authors prate about their theories, but one is hard pressed to characterize their work as innovative. Charles A. Beard offered the same economic determinism eighty years ago. They present a few interesting ideas, but these are overwhelmed by the authors' regrettable habit of making uninformed, flippant comments.She observes that
Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation lacks historical perspective. However, I do not believe this comment will offend the authors. They show repeated contempt for historians and the process of historical research, an unfortunate trend amongst economists who write about the past.Flaherty manages to recommend the book by the end of her review, nonetheless. A long, enjoyable must-read review.
Foote's death propels sales of Civil War
At Amazon, the three volume paperback set ranked #343 as I post this, a phenomenal place for a boxed set and the highest place I have ever seen a Civil War tome attain. (By comparison, the steady-selling paperback edition of Battle Cry of Freedom is currently at #4,794.)
Barnes & Noble have moved Foote to the top of their results for "Civil War" searching, but the paperback set there ranks at 17 when ACW titles are sorted by bestseller status. It is in third place if you sort out noise like Huckleberry Finn, being outranked only by Gingrich's and Shaara's novels.
End of a (Republican) era
We Civil War readers tend to look at the Republicans as a one-issue organization - the issue, slavery - whereas it amalgamated the temperance movement, the suffragettes, anti-Masons, and nativists as well.
The present day "rock-ribbed Republicans" who run that town have now let go of that - and a piece of their history.
Goodwin's "Master Among Men"
Believe it or not, as recently as April both the publisher and Amazon had been advance-selling something called "The Uniter: The Genius of Abraham Lincoln." That title has given way to "Master Among Men: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln." Director Steven Spielberg, making his movie based on a book that has not yet been published (with a release date in October) appears to have learned of the title change in May, judging by the news on this fansite.
As of late January, Goodwin admitted that she had not yet written the last chapter of her Uniter/Master/Genius tome. I now wonder if she was exaggerating - that in fact she had not written several chapters. To deliver a book in February for October release to bookstores is more than a mild inconvenience to the publisher. Assuming something was delivered that soon after her january comment.
Chaos in Celebrityville
The people at Bookbuffet attended Book Expo America on June 24, where Goodwin appeared at an author luncheon. She gave a little performance. Bookbuffet reports:
She is a popular political speaker for radio and television. However in this instance, she needed to redline (edit) her talk, which lasted an incredible 40 minutes, and summarized each chapter and gave every punchline in her [forthcoming] biography of Abraham Lincoln... [Emphasis added.]On a bill with three additional writers, she hogged 40 minutes of luncheon presentation time to demonstrate that there is a book and it has chapters. But has it been delivered to Simon & Schuster yet? And what's in it besides "punchlines"?
The Internet yields no clues. Nor does Spielberg. And booksellers Amazon and S&S have failed to provide even one single line of description to advance buyers as of this writing. Which suggests they don't know what's in it either.
Up until now, the advance sale of her book has been based exclusively on the celebrity of one Doris Kearns Goodwin.
As we await the arrival of the Uniter/Master/Genius, let us remind ourselves of historian Philip Nobile's comment that "Plagiarists, like gamblers, tend to be recidivist." His discovery of her copying from David McCullough's Truman is related here and well worth revisiting.
Come along now Doris, the Lincoln scholars await your insights.
A passable Irish Lincoln?
A friend comments, "Once Liam has the beard grown, slims down and wears a long coat and top hat you will think Lincoln has been re-born."
And that Goodwin writes great history.
Rebel yell recorded
She didn't think at the time that her painting, called "Rebel Yell" and showing screaming Confederate soldiers charging toward the viewer, would be the subject of controversy.Here is what I think is the "wire story" referred to (a press release).
And she never dreamed it would one day be used to illustrate a national wire story about the discovery of an actual recording of the rebel yell. How that came to pass is interesting in its own right.
Kent Masterson Brown and Gettysburg
David Perry, editor at the University of North Carolina Press, said "a surprising number of really good books on the Civil War have been written by attorneys." "I don't know if it's because they were history buffs before they went to law school and it's something they needed to get out of their systems," Perry said. Perhaps, "it's the thoroughness of their research, but they're also used to storytelling and they narrate really well. And they also argue really well."So says this article profiling Brown.
Brown has published a strong and unusual argument in Retreat From Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics and the Pennsylvania Campaign.
The usual post-battle discussion centers around whether or not Meade's follow-up was adequate. Brown seems to give Meade his due while spotlighting Lee's retreat as of such quality as to have delivered a major strategic victory.
Point one: "Too many Civil War writers talk only in terms of battlefields, as though this is checkers on a checkerboard and you can move them any way you want." Amen.
Point two: "And while many have called Gettysburg the 'turning point of the war,' Brown disputes that assertion. 'It was a big, bloody battle which Lee lost, but it didn't turn anything,' Brown said."
Point three: "In Retreat, Brown argues that Robert E. Lee secured strategic victory from a tactical defeat at Gettysburg ... By amassing cattle, sheep, hogs, coal, forges and other supplies from the Pennsylvania countryside, Lee was able to replenish his army, restore the balance of power, and continue the war for another two years." That's where the backbone of the case is going to be made.
Gary Gallagher, a writer who has done much to uphold 50 years of conventional wisdom in Civil War history, seems swayed by Brown's study: "He's managed to go into an extremely crowded field and find a topic that hasn't been treated adequately, and then do a first-rate job on it."
This is hugely important:
Published in the spring, Retreat has sold 5,000 copies in three months, making it the top seller of the 80 books that University of North Carolina Press printed in its just-completed fiscal year.Broadcast that message - revisionism pays - and this broken field of study may yet be mended.
McClellan's War deferred
Says the Journal:
While not a complete biography, it offers the most comprehensive account of McClellan's prewar life and military career available, buttressed with a convincing analysis, and is sure to alter current perceptions and future assessments of the general's role in Civil War history.I agree.
Link here: onerous registration required.
Haiku Civil War
that old green rise still
at the high point of this road?
to defend this city
I drive into
She (Anita Virgil) has posted this extend Civil War piece on a haiku website, of all things. Go to this page and click on Haibun ~ Anita Virgil.
Reliving history's decisions
Very interesting piece with loads of local opinion.
What the Union lost in 1865
These older and wiser combat veterans - corporals - steady the jangled nerves of the "lifers," now facing Soviet combat for the first time in the Continuation War. They take the unit's bad luck and make it good. In one crunch after another they save the regulars with a Ulysses-like mix of wisdom, skill, cunning, and courage. They hold themselves apart – inevitably – because they come from a world apart. Oblivious to honors or advancement, contemptuous of authority, businesslike when the chips are down, they also radiate depth, humor, and humanity. They are the natural leaders of the company. As the war drags on into its third and fourth years, the gap never closes. The pre-war careerists get better but never "catch up."
I read this book on the eve of embarking on my active duty service and immediately understood that it was conveying an alternate vision of the civilian in uniform.
The victory of the Union's Civil War professionals over the political generals in 1865 has left us with a depleted and feeble militia ethos. The temporary status of Volunteer regiments, pre-empting state militias, didn't help. The states consistently imitated federal force structures, training and doctrine until finally, the Regular establishment gobbled up the states' National Guards.
The militia idea in force since 1865 is that it is but a second-rate regular army and will ever be so. America's militia tradition has been in ruins for so long as to damage the more general concept of the special usefulness of citizen soldiers.
Now comes Boydian reformer Bill Lind with a tale straight out of Väinö Linna's Unknown Soldier.
What has enabled Lt. Waters and his unit of California National Guardsmen to get it right? Lt. Waters is a cop. Specifically, he is a sheriff from Sacramento. He is dealing with the people of Baghdad the same way he deals with the people back home, politely and with a genuine desire to help. His unit has not killed anyone because Lt. Waters knows cops succeed by de-escalating, not by escalating violence. Cops try very hard not to kill people. In fact, cops don’t want to fight at all.Instead of developing the theme of a Guard unit getting it right, or a civilian using his "specialness" to help the cause, Lind wastes the story on a digression, explaining the idea of "tactical de-escalation."
Our friends at Irregular Analyses take issue with Lind's suggestion that "Army regulars can't get it too. Of course they can - and they do. In the US Army although grasp of the issues is very uneven there are plenty of junior officers who understand the concepts …"
The larger point is not about some young "lifers" getting it - it is that the fruitful deployment of this reservist in this unit and in this role was an accident. It remains an accident. Nothing can be learned from it institutionally; the judgements of Grant and Sherman in 1865 live on. To the Regular Army, this NG cop will ever be a sunshine soldier struggling to overcome his inadequate training and "lack of professional experience."
Until we rethink the citizen soldier, until we go back to 1865, that will be the fate of all genius under the care of Regulars.
Cliopatra and company
I'm sorry to see the Carnival of Bad History seems to be having trouble organizing its sideshows. In the meantime, we'll soldier on with our own carnival of bad Civil War history right here.
Cliopatra, the group blog, is also worth a visit: its link to the Apocalyptic Historian (and her recollections of Shelby Foote) is especially rewarding.
ACW newspapers online
North American Review
New York Times
I made use of the Brooklyn Eagle link and was again struck by the North's lack of war coverage.
p.s. (12:48 p.m.) I am remiss in not also linking to Vicki Betts' monster list of newspapers, text searchable by keyword.
John Hennessy on Ferry Farm
Happy endings and history
As essayist James Woods points out, the ending has a distorting effect on the whole of any piece of fiction or music. " You could say, as a rule, that the novel, for instance, is a form that doesn't want to end, and that generally contorts itself into unnatural closure."
If that is true for novels, it is doubly true for narrative history. The meme "Lincoln finds a general" is actually an ending in search of a story structure. The more literary minded history writers will trim away the material less relevant to Lincoln finding a general, thus enhancing the ending's effect. They are like novelists in search of the perfect ending.
The less literary followers of this meme - I'm thinking of historians who buy into Lincoln finding a general but will not wrap the whole story in that cloth – those fellows wind up with "one of those endings that reformulates everything that has gone before, giving it a final power it had not possessed before its ending" (Woods). They invite us to re-imagine the madness that has preceded in order to detect the thread of method that they disclose at the end.
The perfect ending is more common in Civil War history than in art." This [perfect ending] is rare in art, surely; unsuccessful endings are the norm." In Unionist histories, Lincoln finds a general, the general perfectly executes Lincoln's wishes, and Lincoln dies a martyr's death at the apex of his satisfaction and fulfillment. In Southern histories, the noble lion lays down his arms after an impossible struggle and is granted honor and a gentleman's ending to his life.
One of the advantages to writing happy endings to a Civil War history is that it produces an improvement in whatever narrative preceded it. Woods describes the effect: "it was a film improved by a beautiful ending, so that as soon as it was over it began to seem a better film than it had seemed while it was running." [Emphasis added.]
If "unsuccessful endings are the norm" let us have the artful form of a Wagnerian opera ("Wagner built massive structures on suspended chords, on the deferral of resolution"), that tries to be true to the material. Let us have unsuccessful endings to our histories.
Woods concludes that "Perfect endings, whether of the open Chekhovian kind, or of the positive and closed kind, are rare and to be cherished."
But not in our histories, Mr. Woods.
Online Lincoln museum preview
Hat tip to Abraham Lincoln online.
(The material is not streaming in my current environment and I'm blaming the environment. Hope you have better luck.)
Civil War urology cocktail hour
Green with envy
Man, do we need that in Civil War history.
Here's the story.
Patrick O'Brien equivalents and such
Don't know much about him. I see he has a lot of non-ACW work out.
Here are all of his ACW titles that I could locate: Thieves of Mercy, A Novel of the Civil War at Sea; Glory in the Name, A Novel of the Confederate Navy; and the nonfiction Reign of Iron: The Story of the First Battling Ironclads, the Monitor and the Merrimack.
On a related book note, I was reading this review of a new book, The Last Shot: The Incredible Story of the CSS Shenandoah and the True Conclusion of the American Civil War. Found myself disagreeing with so much, I started writing down all of the critic's objectionable comments:
Recent headlines have proved a vindication of sorts for frustrated historians who cringe at the question, "Why should I care about something that happened ages ago?" Suddenly, "Deep Throat" is on the nation's lips almost as breathlessly as it was 35 years ago.I love the news-centric world-view of this character, who edits the letters page on the Seattle daily. Current events do not "vindicate historians." Neither the news business nor "relevance" have anything to do with reading history.
So why should we care about "The Last Shot," Lynn Schooler's entry into the Civil War canon?Perhaps because it approaches truth, addresses our interests, and is a good read? No:
"Substitute "red state" or "blue state" for South and North and you can hear that shot resonate today.You need to get out of the newspaper offices my friend. At least once per week.
This is a seafaring tale and as such, Schooler remarks only briefly on the immorality of the Southern cause. That men of no small virtue nonetheless prosecuted that cause is demonstrated throughout the tale.We're talking here about the Shenandoah, a warship that preyed on unarmed whalers and sank them with their crews in Arctic waters. No small virtue among murdering war criminals.
It did, however, herald the Confederacy's one enduring triumph, the extinction of the whaling industry.Er, maybe - possibly - you mean the extinction of bowhead whaling in Siberian waters. The Confederacy eventually sank about 50 Yankee whalers; almost as many again went down in storms in 1871 and 1876.
Whaling was done in by Edison's electric lamp.
But why should we care? Wait, I've got it: Deep Throat occasionally used an electric lamp.
Wonder if I can make a lamp out of Sickle's leg, like the one in "Christmas Story."
Maybe someone took a leaf from Civil War Preservation Trust's book: CWPT no longer enters a preservation dispute without poll results in hand. The results consistently say people like open space.
There's is a gentle and effective debunking of this poll in the Faquier Democrat today:
"Voters give overwhelming support to Journey Through Hallowed Ground Initiative," reads the headline of a June 2 press release from the JTHG Web site. But such claims may be overstated in terms of what the poll actually measured, and what margin of error accompanied those measurements.Why do people whose self-image is that of doing public good consciously cut corners, misrepresent data, and shade the truth?
You can point to the human condition, but there are public service organizations that do not embarass their causes this way.
Moreover, what is being preserved by these coalitions? Read this statement carefully:
"The overwhelming majority of people like looking at farms ... more than strip malls," said Larry Harris, a principal with the Mason-Dixon Polling and Research firm that conducted the 2005 voter survey. "Is this any surprise or shock to anybody?"Looks like the survey posited a false choice - starting off on the wrong foot.
If an historic property on Rt. 15 is to be preserved, buy the land and preserve it. Stop fooling with the broad anti-development coalitions, crooked surveys, and multipurposed battlefields.
Fabricating and planting evidence
The introduction into the record of forged material.
Given the scope of evidence abuse prevalent in the writing of Civil War history, that seems like a frighteningly real threat to me.
As I've said before, Tom Rowland discovered during his research that the McClellan Papers have been ruined as an archive. So much is missing, so much is misplaced that it now pays only to use the Microfilm of the papers made in the 1970s.
The possibility that lax staff will allow "hand-made" documents to join the historic ones - to then await "discovery" - is not one that we can ignore.
Times of the Civil War
I do salute author Don Bracken for hiring a PR firm to give a little stage two rocket thrust to sales; however in his choice of two representative newspapers through wich to tell the ACW story, North and South, I find fault.
The two highest circulation papers should have been given pride of place on each side in a work like this. Neither the Charleston Mercury nor the New York Times came as close to national demand as certain of their competitors did.
End of guest blogging
Happy Fourth and see you on Tuesday.
p.s. Tim Reese passed along this Army flash presentation on Gettysburg. For your holiday pleasure - enjoy.
My competition in the National Park Service
His motives seem similar to mine. He says, "[For ACW historians] It’s safe to avoid asking tough questions." Safe, lazy, dumb, and sometimes enriching, I would add.
Harman points listeners to new books and articles that challenge the current wisdom. He has some "buyer beware" advice for tour trippers, too.
"We [tour guides] try to make the interpretation fit where the monument is," he said, adding many presenters and listeners do not ask why it is where it is.Needless to say, a number of monuments are not at the site of the action, which results in some imaginative fiction being dispensed as fact.
I like this very much:
Harman’s presentation seemed well received by the audience, including Civil War Institute participants."He makes us critical thinkers," said Hal Ardell, of Chicago. "He’s saying, don’t accept the status quo without thinking about it."I do wonder how long a federal historian will be allowed to embarass published professors, prizewinners, and other park staff...
Editorial writers remember Shelby Foote
Today, the 142nd anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Gettysburg, would be an apt occasion to find it in a library and let yourself get drawn in by Foote's narrative magic. It would be a fitting celebration of his life.
The Washington Post:
His eyes always looked real tired, like they had seen too many problems and not enough solutions. Or maybe too much Proust.
The Philadelphia Inquirer:
The great-grandson of a Confederate calvary officer who fought at Shiloh, Foote brought a white Southerner's perspective to a chapter of history most often told by the Northern victors.
The Salt Lake Tribune:
Pick up one of the three volumes of The Civil War: A Narrative, open to any page and begin reading. Before long, you will run across sentences, paragraphs, whole chapters that read like an epic novel of the first rank.
Los Angeles Times:
Despite his contributions to American literature, Foote never won the Pulitzer Prize or the National Book Award, although he was inducted into the Academy of Arts and Letters in 1994 when he was 78. Friends such as Carter suggested that the literary community didn't know what to think of Foote, who eluded easy categorization as either a historian or fiction writer.