Pohanka's bequest

Mike Koepke has noticed something interesting about the settlement of the Brian Pohanka (right) estate.

You'll recall that Brian's widow Cricket asked mourners to make donations in Brian's name to the Civil War Preservation Trust in lieu of sending flowers. CWPT, is of course, the 800-pound gorilla among preservation groups and I have dealt harshly with them in these pages for quite some time.

It has been a very long quiet spell for CWPT: they partnered with National Geographic and Spotsylvania County earlier this year and then faded from the news, even as their membership skyrocketed from 50,000 to 70,000.

Now comes the news that Brian left $500,000 to his own Central Virginia Battlefields Trust ("Virtually every dollar you send CVBT goes towards purchasing and protecting America's heritage") and another $500,000 to the Richmond Battlefields Association ("The RBA board of directors are all volunteers and your donation will be devoted to buying the land that soldiers fought and died on").

The ethos of each organization decries paid staff and overhead. Neither expends funds for sites in Liverpool or Cherbourg.

CWPT got flower money. Brian seems to have made a statement.

(Update 3/14/06 - A bequest has come through - there was no statement.)

(Previous Pohanka posts
here and here.)

Grant books: Eureka! I have it

Doris Kearns Goodwin is casting about for a new project and may have settled on doing a Grant bio, according to the Atlantic. (Scroll down after clicking link.)

"What can this mean?" you ask. "The Grant market is glutted."

Think - who is her publisher? Simon & Schuster. Think - who is her editor? Grant author Michael Korda ... an executive who sponsored the publication of Jean Smith's failed book Grant before embarking on his own USG bio.

Simon & Schuster seems committed to the idea that Grant, the subject, is a million-selling blockbuster nonfiction project. They are struggling with the execution and have decided it's a matter of who not what. And so they will try again.

So it seems to me.

Civil War fitness

My recent Buskirk-based poke at the Army mocked the service's current physical standards with reference to this distinguished ACW combat veteran. I asked rhetorically, "How many sit-ups could he [Van Buskirk] do in a minute?" To which Chris Cross replied, rhetorically, at 6'8" and 380 pounds, as many as he felt like.

Chris posts that he is soon starting some kind of experimental Army officer training course - which reminds me of PT and MG David Grange (the elder, not the younger son who sometimes comments on news shows).

I was on the general staff of the Second Infantry Division in Korea winding down my active duty when Grange arrived to take over from his predecessor, a Machiavellian micromanager. That gentleman, on his way back to the Pentagon whence he came, a trend surfer par excellence, and had just promulgated the latest wisdom on running gear. I forget if it was the no running in sneakers rule or the no running in boots rule, as these might alternate according to the phase of the moon. They would be further modified by variations involving no running on hard surfaces and always run on hard surfaces. A further twist was provided by always take your salt tablets when exercising and avoid salt and drink lots of water when exercising.

Grange had parachuted into Normandy, arrived near Pyongyang as a replacement company commander during the UN retreat from the Yalu, and he had done seven consecutive tours with the infantry in Vietnam. Seven combat tours. He knew something about boots and hard surfaces and sweat. He was, in short, a creature of the pre-MacNamara army, the likes of which we will never see again. (MacNamara instituted rules to prevent another David Grange - or a Buskirk - from happening again.)

One project Grange had me do was to develop a walking tour of his Korean battlefield experiences - this was for VIPs and UN command colleagues - it also served a training purpose for TEWTS. We spent time flying his helicopter here and there and I got to drink up some excellent war stories. The stories told were never Grange-centered, they were entirely centered on an event pointing to some remarkable lesson.

Grange was probably about 6'5" though well under Buskirk's 380 pounds. He had a calm self-assurance, relaxed manner and good humor that I like to think came from being at the apex of combat veteranhood rather than from his Stewart Granger looks and his Philadelphia society background. He had a combat veteran's obsession: applying what he learned in his commands.

Grange felt that Army physical training was misdirected. He couldn't change the regulations but he could make men march. And march they did, at least once per month with their units and then again with the entire division en masse, with rifles and 50 pound backpacks, every soldier in his command walking 25 miles of mountain roads together, no exceptions for anyone, not cooks, not drivers, not one-star deputies.

Grange told me more than once that the thing that "got him" in the Korean War was that the army simply could not march, and it was a war where everything hinged on marching well. He used to tell his command bluntly that long-distance running develops nothing that an infantry soldier needs physically for combat.

Now, today's infantryman is laughing at my reference to 50-lb packs, being burdened with body armor and tons of other nonsense. I say to such, you have been saddled with that crap because your high command has abandoned any scenario in which you move 25 miles at a time using your legs only. You are taxicab infantry.

I hope Cross's experimental training does not have a "How much more can they carry?" component. I hope that those exercise fads du jour are history. When the brass can put on their own gear and march like David C. Van Buskirk - battlefield distances, campaign distances, in summer heat, in wool clothing, across Tennessee and Maryland hills, we'll be approaching a sane limit of mandated fitness and endurance.

Maybe some re-enactors can show the Army how.

Horace Porter

"Be moderate in everything, including moderation," Horace Porter once wrote.

Recently his fellow New Yorkers commissioned a mere footstone for his gravesite, then turned out a paltry 30 strong for the commemoration ceremony.

That is wildly excessive moderation considering the number of people who likely attended various nearby Manhattan book parties for the many Grant tomes released in the last 18 months. Porter himself organized the creation of tombs for his old boss Grant and for John Paul Jones.

Hats off to the locals for conceiving and organizing this. It's a an example and a start that needs to scale upwards, at least moderately.
NEWS | Georgia sets aside funds to stop development of battlefield * Author taps Civil War ancestry to write about N.Y. regiment * Quantrill unit uniform to be auctioned Monday


Prime cut of Foote

From Shelby Foote at his peak (1950, Follow Me Down). Just for the hell of it:
Granddaddy's other sleeve flapped loose. It had been that way since Shiloh, his first battle, when he was seventeen. I remember he used to tell about it, how the bonesaw sang when they took off his arm and how they put him in the bed of a springless wagon to ride from the battlefield back to Corinth, twenty miles, alongside a man that had his bottom jaw shot away so that his tongue lolled down on his throat like a bright red four-in-hand tie; hail came down the size of partridge eggs; the boneless stump swung from his shoulder, a little sack of bloody meat. He told me about it on winter evenings when he could feel snow in the air.

Do you promise to uphold our pact with hell?

The Senate will confirm a chief justice of the federal Supreme Court today; I was struck by how narrowly focused the questioning was and how trivial the traps appeared by Civil War era standards.

They didn’t hold confirmation hearings then, but can you imagine our modern political intelligentsia coping with figures from that time? Try this on for a "gotcha."

Senator: Mr. Chase, welcome to these hearings for chief justice of the Supreme Court. You are a friend of William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips.

Chase: That is correct, Senator.

Senator: Do you now or have you ever agreed with them that the Constitution of the United States is a "pact with hell?"

Chase: I don’t believe I have ever used the term "pact with hell" myself, although it did come up in meetings in which I was present.

Senator: Meetings with Mr. Lincoln?

Chase: Meetings in which Mr. Lincoln might have been present, although I don’t recall him using that phrase directly. You know how often he emphasized the supremacy of the Declaration over the Constitution and I tended to agreed with him.

Senator: Mr. Chase, will you be able to uphold this "pact with hell" if confirmed to the Court?

Talk about a broad spectrum of political philosopy in society today? I think not. There is no political party or mainstream movement that today considers the Constitution "a pact with hell."

(The possibility that our Constitution may still be such a thing remains a reasonable philosophical question, however, as you can read here.)

There is an odd thing about the ever-narrowing spectrum of opinion in this country. Socially and politically we have all become Abolitionists and Radicals, just as we have all become 1860 Democrats in our Constitutional and judicial outlooks.

There's an outcome for you.
NEWS | Let's take a news break.


The Civil War and West Virginia

Blogger Brett Schulte aks why I think the Charleston Gazette's list of "Top 10 West Virginia Civil War sites" is extravagantly incompetent. I suppose others are also wondering, too.

The paper headlined their list this way - "Top 10 West Virginia Civil War sites" - and I referred to it as such, but in fact it describes the setup thus: "Five Civil War historians from all over the state were asked what sites they thought were the most important to the state’s history."

That assignment could refer to the state's Civil War history or the history of its founding in the Civil War.

Either way, the list is ridiculous.

Let's allow for the possibility that five historians provided lists, each with its own internal logic, and that these were then cherry-picked by a journalist with no historical sense whatsoever - that a complete hash was made. No matter. There are many items that have no place here.

My favorites are those with tourism value but little historical significance. Hello Lewisburg" (no. 8) where "On May 23, 1862, a brief but fierce battle erupted that would eventually end up in the heart of downtown Lewisburg." Yes? And?

Here's a good one: Grafton National Cemetery (no. 7), with convenient access to Grafton shopping, of course. Very important to the state's history.

I like number 5, "Historic Shepherdstown," since it tactfully avoids mentioning a similarly named battlefield nearby that may get developed by the time you read this.

Harper's Ferry (no. 1) is/was not key to the formation of the state of West Virginia, the secession from Virginia, Virginia unionism, or anything else - it's a site of national significance in the war.

No. 2, the state's Independence Hall museum - okay. Now we are onto something.

That leaves us with this collection of battles leading to the independence of the state: Droop Mountain (1863), which just happens to have a battlefield park to elevate its significance; Carnifex Ferry (1861); and Rich Mountain (the Rich Mountain of 1863, not of 1861!)

Two listings are ambiguous: Camp Allegheny (no. 10), Cheat Summit Fort (no. 9) are described as encampment sites, not battlefields.

If George McClellan succeeded in rescuing the Unionists of Virginia in 1861, there's not much sign of it in this list.

Let's take a quick view of the origins of the state. There are the military events leading to the conquest of the western part of Virginia. These open the way for political organizing. There is a consolidation of the Union military victory as Virginia attempts to undo the earlier results. There is a political consolidation Finally, there are raid-like episodes later in the war that cannot undo what has been achieved earlier. Statehood is achieved.

Do you see the pattern? The framework for the political developments are the military campaigns.

Here's a little list of just seven battles from 1861. Add three political sites and you are done.

Here's a list of 15 battles. You'll have to trim five for your list, then you're done.

Here's a map with another 15 and links.

What do you know, a tourist map with 23 Civil War sites on it?

And what's this? A map of Civil War sites in just one county of the Great Valley?

The editorial challenge is to reduce the number of battles and political sites to a comprehensive, logical brief - to reach the journalist's arbitrary number of 10. The historians first enter into this fool's game, then supply the hack with mixed nuts and candy instead of historically defensible selections.

Or maybe I need to lighten up.

p.s 12:43 pm.

A further friendly exchange with Brett suggests to me I should clearly say how I would have built such a list myself.

My bottom line is that any list makers here needed to (1) Choose the decisive campaign that allowed WV to be organized politically. That would be McClellan's campaign. Reduce it to its essential victories. (2) Possibly choose one or more decisive points in the later Rosecrans vs Lee episodes during the Union consolidation - select that point one thinks Lee can no longer retrieve the West for Virginia. (3) Optionally, highlight the most dramtic reconquest incident(s) after Lee and Rosecrans depart the scene. (4) Mix in political sites as judgement dictates.

However colorful, you don't need Averell's raid or Lander's defeat of and pursuit of Stonewall Jackson in the mix - they don't connect to West Virginia's creation and maintenance. You don't need colorful towns and villages or gravesites either.

What this list did was mix national and local significance, this and that battle from this or that campaign spanning whatever years; it also sported a irrelevant sites (graveyards, towns) and then presented a handful of potsherds as a list of historic significance.

IMHO, as they say here on the Internet. And thanks to Brett for asking.

p.p.s. (5:00 pm) I got an angry email from a reader who thinks this was supposed to be a mere newspaper list of important historic sites in WV and therefore there is nothing amiss in having Harper's Ferry or Averell's raid commended. To repeat the key part of this post, "Five Civil War historians from all over the state were asked what sites they thought were the most important to the state’s history."
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Herbert Butterfield and ACW history (2)

I will let Butterfield speak for himself today, except in my excerpting him. From The Whig Interpretation of History:

Behind all the fallacies of the whig historian there lies the passionate desire to come to a judgement of values, to make history answer questions and decide issues and to give the historian the last word in a controversy. He imagines that he is inconclusive unless he can give a verdict ...

... unless he can attain to something like this he feels that he has been working at a sum which had no answer, he has been wasting himself upon mere processes, he has been watching complication and change for the mere sake of complication and change. Yet this, which he seems to disparage, is precisely the function of the historian.

The result of historical study is precisely the demonstration of the fallacy of our arm-chair logic – the proof of the poverty of all this kind of speculation when compared with the surprise of what actually did take place.

It is a study of the complexity that underlies any generalization that we can make.

[And yet] the art of the historian is precisely the art of abridgement; his problem is this problem.

It is perhaps a tragedy that the important work of abridging history is so often left to writers of text-books and professional manufacturers of commercial literature.

[A]gainst Acton’s view that history is the arbiter of controversy, the monarch of all she surveys, it may be suggested that she is the ... drudge of all the drudges. The historian ministers to the economist, the politician, the diplomat, the musician; he is equally at the service of the strategist and the ecclesiastic and the administrator. He must learn a great deal from all of these before he can begin even his own work of historical explanation; and he never has the right to dictate to any one of them. He is neither judge nor jury; he is in the position of a man called upon to give evidence; and even so he may abuse his office and he requires the closest cross-examination, for he is one of these "expert witnesses" who persist in offering opinions concealed within their evidence.

History is all things to all men. She is at the service of good causes and bad. In other words she is a harlot and a hireling, and for this reason she best serves those who suspect her most.

Civil War West Virginia

The Charleston Gazette asked five historians in West Virginia to name 10 Civil War sites of interest or importance. As an early war reader with an interest in Western Virginia, the list as published strikes me as extravagantly ignorant.

See what you think.
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Herbert Butterfield and ACW history

After years of unsatisfying readings in Reformation history, Herbert Butterfield was moved to write a book expressing his displeasure with certain tendencies among history writers. The Whig Interpretation of History was occasionally cited in my youth, but one rarely hears of it these days.

I'm going to do some violence to his material by juxtaposing his Whig Theory observations against our ACW problems and issues. Emphasis is mine.

Butterfield: … it appears that the historian tends in the first place to adopt the whig or Protestant view of the subject, and very quickly busies himself with dividing the world into the friends and enemies of progress.

Comment: The way this appears in ACW history is not in the historian assigning "progress" to North or South and then identifying with one side or the other. Instead, the historian creates parallel tensions on each side around the presumed "progress" in prosecuting the war. Efficiency is his criteria for progress and virtue and he laments inefficiency on either side at any point - a very strange basis for the moral outrage doled out to laggards in these works.

Butterfield: [After commenting on American pop histories of the 1920s] ... perhaps it is from these that our [British] textbook historians have inherited the top hat and the pontifical manner.

Comment: This American top hat never went into storage; even today, Civil War authors feel strangely invulnerable to evidence and seem to manage challenges by awarding themselves prizes and issuing edicts to readers (see, for instance, Sears' article "Last Words on the Lost Order"). Neither McPherson, nor Sears, nor the editors of the late Nevins and Catton ever issue editorial revisions to simple errors in fact in new editions - much less do they revisit old conclusions in light of new evicence with footnotes or appendices.

Butterfield: The volume and complexity of historical research are at the same time the result and the demonstration of the fact that the more we examine the way in which things happen, the more we are driven from the simple to the complex.

Comment: All of us, once we read past the pop histories, become intrigued by the complexity of the underlying information. A single episode in the war - say the Battle of Gettysburg - can be composed of hundreds of controversies, each one of which demands analysis and judgement.

Butterfield: The fallacy of the whig historian lies in the way in which he takes his short cut through this complexity.

Comment: In Civil War history, the writer is constructing a story line over hundreds of these difficult issues and a break in the line makes the story into nonsense.

Butterfield: The difficulty of the general historian is that he has to abridge and that he must do it without altering the meaning and the peculiar message of history.

Comment: I think Douglas S. Freeman not only tried to do this honestly, but through footnotes and comment made his decisions as transparent to the reader as possible. Harsh is like this, too. In revising Lee's Lieutenants, editor Stephen Sears took these bona fides out of the work and threw them away, an act of high self-definition.

Butterfield: Whig history in other words is not a genuine abridgement, for it is really based upon what is an implicit principle of selection. The adoption of this principle and this method commits us to a certain organization of the whole historical story.

Comment: In other words, in our case the ACW historian has not abridged the whole business, but has abridged by selection, taking materials that would advance a predetermined storyline.

Butterfield: The whig historian has the easier path before him and his is the quicker way to heavy and masterly historical judgements; for he is in possession of a principle of exclusion which enables him to leave out the most troublesome element in the complexity.

Comment: These masterly judgements, issued in top hat, make many Civil War histories painful and embarassing to read. On the other hand, excluding evidence to streamline (abridge) history creates a colorful show for the astute reader. It can start with a bold statement hazarded for dramatic effect by one author. Sears, for instance, when younger would strike a pose then carefully, with subtle rhetorical skill, spend many pages qualifying his extreme conclusions. Someone relying on his "expertise," usually with a tin ear, would (after scuttling the qualifications) ratchet the overextended claim to the next level - the effect is like the classroom exercise of pupils whispering a statement to each other and seeing how it comes out when the last student speaks it.

Butterfield: The whig method of approach is bound to lead to an over-dramatization of the historical story ...

Comment: Everything is subordinate to the story.

Butterfield: ... by its over-dramatization of the story it tends to divert our attention from what is the real historical process.

Comment: One could say in Civil War history that agency is everything and process is nothing.

Butterfield: The whig historian too easily refers changes and achievements to this party or that personage, reading the issue as a purpose that has been attained, when very often it is a purpose that has been marred. He gives an over-simplification of the historical process.

Comment: There is a shortage of process all through military history. In the military itself the commander is responsible for all in his purview. Historians have somehow adopted this as a principle of their art (!) and use it as a license to escape the study of complex decisionmaking, the roles of staff and subordinates, etc.

Butterfield: ... whig fallacies become our particular snare, for they might have been invented to facilitate generalization.

Comment: Our problems are also the fallacies derived from storytelling.

Butterfield: The complexity of interactions can be telescoped till a movement comes to appear as a simple progression. It is all the more easy to impute historical change to some palpable and direct agency. What we call "causes" are made to operate with astonishing immediacy.

Comment: Thus astonishing the general reader with the skill of the storyteller who presents a "clear" and "simple" rendering of complex truth. One often finds admirers of McPherson and company making the point that something difficult was made marvelously plain - with reference only to the writing of it, never to the treatment of underlying sources.

Butterfield: If we look for things in the course of history only because we have found them already in the world of today, if we seize upon those things in sixteenth century which are most analogous to what we know in the twentieth, the upshot of all our history is only to send us back finally to the place where we began, and to ratify whatever conceptions we originally had in regard to our own times.

Comment: Every general Civil War reader seeks a retelling of a story well known - at least, that is what the trade houses believe.

Butterfield: History has been taken out of the hands of the strolling minstrels and the pedlars of stories and has been accepted as a means by which we can gain more understanding of ourselves and our place in the sun – a more clear consciousness of what we are tending to and what we are trying to do.

Comment: History will never be taken out of the hands of the strolling minstrels and the pedlars of stories - and so we need to label these people as entertainers. The author Graham Greene used to take pains to distinguish some of his works labeling them "entertainments" - not novels. There is nothing wrong with making historical entertainment - but it is awfully confusing to call it "history" and its authors "scholars."

(Yale University Press has recent brought out an appreciation of Butterfield. It seems to be the first biography of this historiographer.)

A new Civil War blog

ACW cavalry author Eric Wittenberg launched a blog on Saturday.

Have a look. Add him to your bookmarks.

I'll talk about his study Little Phil later this week.

Monday morning reading

This is a long article on a Richmond military bookstore, Owens & Ramsey Historical Booksellers. The punchline - whether or not this sort of business pays - has been left out of the story.

The Stockton/Ericsson "Princeton" catastrophe of 1844 is recalled in a new piece. "Although Capt. Stockton had made every effort to obscure John Ericsson's contribution to the Princeton's design when it was a success, he was now quite willing to share the blame for the disaster." Ah, humanity.

James I. Robertson, Jr., former executive director of the Centennial celebrations, is interviewed at length and proposes that pop history make a little space for actual research and study: "You know, you have to have scholars in ivory towers, that's what academia is all about, but I’d much prefer the honor of being called the 'people’s historian.'"

This new book attacks "Northern" complicity in slave trading, as if the North were an abolitionist bloc. What seems patently foolish on its face may make sense on a deeper level. If the work is aimed at pop history audiences and if those readers have absorbed emotional lessons of identifications based on streamlined and compressed materials, then maybe this enterprise makes sense. The linked review opens with "Here is a book you may not want to pick up..." That only makes sense if the prospective reader personally identifies with the make-pretend world of a robustly antislavery North...
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Hamilton and the militia

I am surprised to find the USV experience - and the modern "Total Army" concept - foreshadowed in a few lines written by Alexander Hamilton in Fedealist 29 (1788):
This desirable uniformity can only be accomplished by confiding the regulation of the militia to the direction of the national authority. It is, therefore, with the most evident propriety, that the plan of the convention proposes to empower the Union "to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, RESERVING TO THE STATES RESPECTIVELY THE APPOINTMENT OF THE OFFICERS, AND THE AUTHORITY OF TRAINING THE MILITIA ACCORDING TO THE DISCIPLINE PRESCRIBED BY CONGRESS.'' [Emphasis in original.]
That seems to be one of the more Hamiltonian of Hamilton's ideas and I'm sorry to have seen it woven into present practice.

Regulars = kaput

Tim Reese has taken down his site on the Regulars in the ACW. Sorry to say.

The Dynamite Fiend

I missed it, but Ann Larabee had created a book blog in Spring in connection with the release of her story of a one-time Rebel spy, The Dynamite Fiend. The blog records some of her Canadian travels on the fiend's trail. It has gone quiet but she still offers a free cypher font download: "Download this font and instantly code messages using the same cypher J.H. Cammack and crew used to organize their nefarious plots."

What a belle lettristic freebie.

Friday Housekeeping

Some points of interest.

(1) You used to be able to search within this site by using the little search box in the upper left hand corner. Currently, however, this action returns web-wide results, not site-specific lists. Until Google fixes the bug, go to the search engine of your choice, type in cwbn.blogspot.com and a keyword, search, and you'll get results from within this blog.

(2) You can link to any post directly by clicking on its datestamp (at the bottom). That causes the post to come up in its own window with its own unique URL.

(3) This is a consumer site concerned with "product" quality. This is not an academic site and I am not a teacher, writer, or publisher.

(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 quality of correspondence has been incredible. Makes me sometimes wonder if I should turn the comments feature on.

(5) I have been asked why I don't activate the comments function on the blog. First, a large proportion of visitors to this blog are accidental and do not understand the editorial line here - they will be offended by what they see and turn the comments section into a place for endlessly restating their already well-known and thoroughly disseminated Centennial views. Second, this blog is for my observations, not for observations about my observations. Start your own blog and I'll even help you, whatever your opinion of this effort.

(6) If my criticism is sometimes overdone, take it with a grain of salt. I regret any unnecessary harshness. A lot of bad history is produced by good people.

Thanks for visiting.
NEWS | We'll take a news break today.


This week's obligatory McPherson post

I think I'm getting a fix on exactly who reads (and loves) McPherson's Civil War stuff.

Specimen # 1. He started his first job, at Target, a year ago. Knows the lyrics to songs by Widespread Panic, the Grateful Dead, Tool, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd. Enjoys Dukes of Hazzard reruns on TV. Drinks milk out of the carton. Fave movies include Goodfellas and The Blues Brothers.

Specimen #2. He is a 19-year-old geology major, compelled to read McPherson's Ordeal By Fire, which he finds "amazing." He likes scif novels, TV and movies. He listens to the John Butler Trio, Allison Krauss, Fleetwood Mac, and Chicago. The Star Wars series contains his favorite movies.

Specimen #3. He is is a 28-year-old tech worker into astrology and cryptozoology.

Still room in the specimen case; if you find any, send them along.

Meanwhile, "The Dustbowl Blues" gives an extensive discussion of Ayers versus McPherson, noting that McPherson's output is part and parcel of the fallacious Whig theory of history (more on which here):

James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, Ayers argues, is an example of "these works of national affirmation," which "dramatize how things worked out for the best" and embody "an understandable and useful desire to see American history as a path, albeit strewn with challenges, to the realization of our best selves." Although he does not say so explicitly, Ayers implies that these works reflect a belief that victory in the Civil War endowed the North with a "treasury of virtue," as Robert Penn Warren put it. And while he understands that "nations need, and crave, such encouraging histories," Ayers leaves little doubt that he believes "other kinds of stories," such as his own, more accurately reflect the profound ambiguities of Civil War history.
As the indigenous people of the actual Dust Bowl might themselves put it, "Damn, that is some fine blogging!"

(p.s. Dust Bowl's writer rises to McP's defense - more power to him.
p.p.s. Regrets at not having spent more time with the Whig Theory of History here: Civil War history as written today is often extremely Whiggish.)

Update, 9/23/05. A reader generously offered himself up for the specimen case: "40+ academic, lawyer with an interest in history and Ancient Near East Languages." "I do like the work of McPherson," he says.

Let me note that my specimens were random bloggers who liked McPherson, presented in the order I discovered them.

Pop psychology: ACW history on the couch

I'm still wondering about "today's dominant consensus about the war."

"Cognitive egocentrism, as I have tried to make clear, stems from a lack of differentiation between one’s own point of view and the other possible ones..." Jean Piaget, 1962

"... a large number of them have what Kroll (1978) calls a ‘cognitive egocentrism’. That is, they find it difficult to entertain points of view other than the ones they themselves embrace." Alexandros Paraskevas and Eugenia Wickens 2003
Centennial historians and cognitive egocentrism. Hmmm, the path to "dominant consensus" may be paved with innocent intentions after all.

But I hear my grandfather's voice: "Are they innocent or ignorant?" Well, one could be both, I suppose.

Maybe this all starts with Lincoln. Passing from egocentrism to hedonism, "Feinberg quotes a story in which Abraham Lincoln espouses psychological hedonism, then stops his car to rescue some drowning pigs."

Psychological hedonism? Stops his car?

"Lincoln is asked, the story goes, 'where does selfishness come in on this little episode?,' and he responds, 'that was the very essence of selfishness. I should have had no peace of mind all day had I gone on and left that suffering old sow worrying over those pigs. I did it to get peace of mind, don't you see?'"

A method of history writing suggests itself - eliminate the contradictions, the irritations. Get peace of mind. Move "the car" down the road. Practice "psychological hedonism" and get the job done comfortably.

Then, when the corrections roll in, put on your cognitive egocentrism, stop up your ears, and arrange some Pulitzer prizes for yourself and your friends.

Laugh, but we're living a 50-year-old shrink joke.

(Hat tip to The 2nd Draft.)

History and whistleblowers

Generally, a local newspaper will promote any fiction that enhances the welfare of its domicile.

However, here's a Nevada paper accusing a local business of promoting fake history for tourism purposes - whistleblowing, as it were. (The history involves claims of a visit by U.S. Grant).

It's a startling thing to see - the civic version of antigravity.

We see mythologizing systematized in the program Pennsylvania is using to build its "Pennsylvania Civil War Trails: Prelude to Gettysburg," for 2006 [emphasis added]:
At each gateway, the local chamber of commerce and historians were charged by the state with identifying two Civil War stories each for four categories: battlegrounds and troop movements, daily life, experiences of women and children and African American contributions to Pennsylvania's defense.
This is like an instant history kit - just add tourists. There is no historic sensibility at work here, nor are the people much focused on what story would bring the eternally self-guided ACW tourist to any destination.

"Get me eight stories, on the double."

This is a recipe for fakelore, the stench of which hangs heavy over children's literature.

I picture the local tour guides saying, "And now, I'd like to tell you a precious local story that has been handed down from one generation of chamber of commerce members to the next."

It's like this line from a Woody Allen movie; he owns a cookie bakery and is giving a tour. He stops in front of tubes and sprayers and says, "You know that wonderful smell you get from the oven when you bake fresh cookies? Here's where we apply the chemicals to create that smell for our product."

My advice to Pennsylvania: build a Paul Bunyan village instead. Or strew airplane parts around and claim a crash happened - you can then move the crash from town to town, as economic necessity dictates.

Leave the Civil War alone.
NEWS | Collection of 14 Union and Confederate flags on display in Columbus * Ex-slave’s legacy lives on in fifth generation * Skirmish erupts over Civil War site at Lovejoy's Station


Doctorow marches to acclaim

We all thrilled to the news of pop novelist E.L. Doctorow becoming a Civil War novelist with the issue of his new book The March. The reviews are now rolling in, hurrah, hurrah:

USA Today: "In his brilliant new novel, The March, E.L. Doctorow reworks the Mitchell myth."

Time: "The March is a more straightforward book than Ragtime."

Christian Science Monitor: "...although I do not pretend to be a Civil War scholar - the errors I noticed were really minor, and didn't distract from the narrative."

LA Times: "... filled with scenes that seem to have jumped out of a Mathew Brady photo album yet have the richness of finely wrought literature. Still, it's this pictorial quality, the cinematic nature of the work, that seems to stand out."

Interview: "I don't think I write historical novels," Doctorow says. "The March is a reality novel."

Pop literature, written for pop press reviewers - it's a recipe for success!

(Absence duly noted: the Civil War reader or writer as reviewer.)

Assasination film "Manhunt" gets "Go"

The search for Lincoln's assassins is coming to the big screen and will star Harrison Ford as "Col. Everton Conger, leader of the search..." The script has not been written - it can't be written - because "Pic will be based on James L. Swanson's upcoming book, an hour-by-hour account of the search for Booth, to be published by William Morrow in February."

Swanson (right) is -- guess -- an attorney. In getting a movie deal into preproduction before your book is published, it may help to be an attorney. A well-connected one.

Now, who will play Stanton? Dr. Mudd? John Wilkes Booth? And Booth's double?

You know, the one killed in the barn so Booth could escape...

Annoying quotes - a series

"Thomas Buell, author of The Warrior Generals: Combat Leadership in the Civil War, considers [George] Thomas the only Civil War general with the organizational skills to have fought in World War II."

NEWS | Civil War brig dug up at base * Civil War vet receives overdue tribute * Ceremony held at the grave of nearly-forgotten Civil War hero


Fitness, then and now

There is no way he would be allowed to serve in today's Army, not at his height (6' 10.5") nor weight (380 lbs.).

Capt. David C. Van Buskirk served with the 27th Indiana from the start of the war until April 1864 - prolonging a national fitness scandal year after year. Every minute he remained in uniform, he disgraced it - by today's standards.

This affront against health and military decency somehow managed to give good service in a company with 35 men over six feet tall. Call it an accident.

What was his two-mile run time? How many sit-ups could he do in a minute?

Those were the dark ages for fitness standards.

William Wing Loring

I keep searching for an excuse to run this picture of General Loring. Having found none after two years, I'm running it anyway.

It's taken from a very fine website with details of his Egyptian service:
In 1875, King John of Ethiopia wiped out an Egyptian expeditionary force that had entered his country. Egypt half-heartedly decided to strike back. An army was raised, and Loring, originally slated to command the force, was instead made chief of staff to Ratib Pasha, commander in chief of the Egyptian army. Miscommunication and confusion would mark the entire campaign, and Ratib rarely listened to Loring’s advice.
That sounds oddly familiar. Go see.

Lo! and behold

It exists. Or persists.

The magazine that gave us the Civil War historiography of today has an up-to-date web presence, with new articles even. American Heritage.

And they have a little feature allowing me to sign up for notification whenever a new article about George B. McClellan is put up.

The standard of contributors is not what it was during the Centennial, however: "Alexander Burns, an undergraduate at Harvard College, is a frequent contributor to AmericanHeritage.com." Not that an undergrad with historic sensibility couldn't do better than the old crew trying to write its way through complex problems.

But do I wonder if any contributor has permission to buck 50 years of editorial policy.
NEWS | Vienna, IL, gets ACW marker * Trevilian group answers questions at hearing * York markets role in Civil War


Lawyers and historians

Game designer Drew Wagenhoffer was musing recently on why Civil War history attracts so many attorneys and Eric Wittneberg has taken up this subject, addressing his own situation, in a very revealing piece on Brett Schulte's ACW blog. Eric says,
As law students, we’re taught that you can never, ever assert that something is a proposition of law or statement of fact without having either specific pieces of evidence or legal authority to support that. I’ve always adhered to that important piece of instruction...it’s always been how I attack the writing of history. It’s why I’ve always tried to be exhaustive in my research, and it’s also the specific reason why my work tends to have so many footnotes—I feel compelled to exhaustively document the things that I say whenever possible to do so.
Also, trying cases is a form of story telling. I’ve probably done 60 trials of different varieties in my career. You pick a theme, you build your story around that theme, and then you tell your story piece by piece. Each piece of evidence is intended to build on the last one until the pile of evidence, if you will, meets the burden of proof and the picture is complete. I write history the same way…carefully and piece by piece. In that sense, what I do is exactly the same irrespective of whether I’m doing legal work or writing history….I’m still interpreting and presenting evidence in a fashion that enables me to weave a complete story.
There is much more and it is worthwhile. Have a look.

Blog roundup

Anthony, over at Irregular Analyses is losing it because some character has strung together an article out of the most banal Iraq War observations possible and everyone is falling down over the brilliance of it. Oh Anthony, if you only knew our Civil War historians ...

Andrew Wagenhoffer has put together a bookmark worthy collection of Western Virginia war links (here and here) and is now beginning a Red River publishing roundup.

Brett Schulte has been working through chapter and verse of Secessionville: Assault on Charleston.

Randy encounters memories of Whitman (and of Union) on a tour at Fredericksburg.

Author Tom Desjardin, associated with Gettysburg study and a former honcho at the Thomas publishing concern, will appear on Civil War Talk Radio this week.

And here is a little something to gladden the heart of edutainers. It's our ACW quote of the week: "During the Civil War... the CSA was another country! (I know this because I've been to Six Flag over Texas many times...)."
NEWS | Lecompton events to revisit Civil War history * CWPT applauds governor's anti-casino position * Church honoring Civil War veterans buried nearby


A house divides

The two best-known students of the late C. Vann Woodward (right) are now officially at odds.

A review in the Washington Post makes clear Edward L. Ayers' new book, What Caused the Civil War, self consciously tries to resurrect the thesis of J.G. Randall (Lincoln) that "the Civil War was not the result of conflict over such fundamental issues as slavery but rooted in the fury born of overwrought party politics and an irresponsible, partisan press."

Woodward's other student, James McPherson, has spent his life combatting Randall's ideas.
[Ayers'] essays take on what Ayers sees as the new consensus view of the war, exemplified in the grand narrative history of James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom and Ken Burns' nine-part PBS documentary film on the war. According to the McPherson-Burns thesis, the Civil War was the inevitable consequence of slavery, fought nobly on both sides and a necessary, if bloody, crucible in which the American nation became "greater through suffering."
We are seeing the Civil War consensus strained at every level.


Update, 4:15 p.m. Brooks Simpson was good enough to point out to me some "family matters" associated with the split in the house of Woodward. My summary of his observations:

* Ayers' book, opposing McPherson's interpretation of the causes of the war, was brought out by the publisher Norton. Norton is run by the son of Grant author William McFeely; McFeely and McPherson have not previously been friendly.

* Some of Ayers' arguments have previously been voiced by colleague Michel F. Holt. "Holt knew Woodward, but worked under David Donald, who was the student of ... you guessed it ... James G. Randall." [Ayers has taken up Randall's interpretation of origins to overturn McPhersons'.]

* Simpson writes, "Blight [Ayers'reviewer] and I went to school together, and I went to UVa and [...] worked with Holt; when my undergrad adviser (another Donald
student) failed to win tenure, he was replaced - by Ed Ayers. Small world."

Interesting world, too.

Release date set for "CSA"

Has it been two years already since film professor Kevin Willmott showed his mocumentary "CSA" at Sundance?

According to this piece, which mispells his name throughout, Willmott has got a national release date for the film on Oct. 7. Along the way, he has picked up an "executive producer," Spike Lee.
The film is a PBS-style satire and is told from the point of view of confederate television commercials and all. There's even a slave trading home shopping network.
A "PBS-style satire..." Hmmm. (Sound of head scratching.)

Friday housekeeping

Some points of interest.

(1) You used to be able to search within this site by using the little search box in the upper left hand corner. Currently, however, this action returns web-wide results, not site-specific lists. Until Google fixes the bug, go to the search engine of your choice, type in cwbn.blogspot.com and a keyword, search, and you'll get results from within this blog.

(2) You can link to any post directly by clicking on its datestamp (at the bottom). That causes the post to come up in its own window with its own unique URL.

(3) This is a consumer site concerned with "product" quality. This is not an academic site and I am not a teacher, writer, or publisher.

(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.

(5) If my criticism is sometimes overdone, take it with a grain of salt. I regret any unnecessary harshness. A lot of bad history is produced by good people.

Thanks for visiting.
NEWS | Officials who sold Civil War cannon get shelled * Civil War vows are traded * * Chantilly to celebrate historic Civil War battle * Records show South Asians fought in Civil War


Whither pop history?

The next logical step in the compression of history is to reduce major events or episodes to a few PowerPoint bullets.

Mark Rayner tries his hand at this in his "The Lost Power Point Slides (William Wallace Edition)" ...

Trial of Wallace in London (Slide 1)
* Can’t be tried for treason
* Never subject of Edward
* Didn’t knock up your future Queen either.

(Via Orac.)


Brooks Simpson has been guesting over at Mark Grimsley's blog.

Let's hope this feet-getting-wet leads to something. Start with this post and read through all the parts to learn how history gets made on TV.

This week's obligatory McPherson post

Perhaps my compulsion to post on the Voice of Consensus should be regularly scheduled. It could be a step towards self control.

This week - the two harshest things ever written about the former AHA president:

* "The guy's everywhere, like Viagra spam."

* "I hope that drunk bloke doesn't go mental... "

(Followup on an earlier post: It turns out that McPherson did in fact teach graduate students and he has produced at least one PhD with a Civil War focus, a Princeton lecturer named Jennifer Weber. If anyone else has ever spotted a McPherson student in Civil War publishing or teaching, please let me know.)

(p.s. 3:45 pm. A correspondent writes to say that Tom Carhart may be a former McPherson student - the bio in this item confirms a PhD from Princeton in McP's department.)

Speaking of the Atlantic....

From the same issue, by the visiting Berhard-Henri Levy ("In the Footsteps of Tocqueville"):
And it's here [in Savannah] I came to realize that the memory of their wars posess for the men and women of the American South - not so much the world wars but the other wars. Wars that we Europeans barely think about, but that Southerners, in one way or another, in shame or glory, bitterness or exaltation, never seem to tire of commemorating.

The Indian wars, obviously. The Civil War, which they call the War of Secession, and which I begin to realize, remains an open wound in the side of this refined Savannah, infused with aristocratic values, where one is convinced, this very aristocracy, this art of living and this taste for art in life, even moreso than slavery itself, inspired Northern resentment.

Lincoln in the Atlantic

The current Atlantic magazine has quite an interesting little essay arguing that Lincoln's depressions made him a better president; that in struggling with his condition he reached a point of self-understanding and self-mastery that enabled him to well cope with the pressures of office during Civil War.

The article is too short for what it tries to do but points towards some interesting territory. It is also very attuned to Lincoln revisionism and hostile towards those scholars Gore Vidal calls members of the Lincoln priesthood.

The Atlantic's website can only be browsed by subscriber - you'll need hardcopy to study the author's points.
NEWS | We'll take a news break today.


Ultraprofessionalism - and the ACW

I feel a wave of irritation towards Grant, Sherman, and Schofield whenever I encounter "professionalism" run amok. I know I'm not being fair to their memories as post-ACW Army chiefs.

They purged civilian officers and inaugurated a top-heavy command structure long on form and short on innovation - but they couldn't have willed or foreseen the extreme outcome bedevilling us today. Professionalism is a paradigm, however, and paradigms tend towards extreme manifestations.

And surely, we have now reached the outer limits of a marginally useful idea. I say that having watched the news and recently reading two stomach-turning exposes of Army professionalism in Afghanistan: Not a Good Day to Die and Hunting Al Qaeda.

Hunting Al Qaeda is a little bit upbeat. It shows National Guard soldiers - something like USVs - consistently defying and outsmarting their professional higher-ups in order to kill and capture enemies. Not a Good Day has no silver lining.

Amidst all the professional shooing away of volunteers in Louisiana last week, there was a vignette on NPR that brought back the anti-West Point Civil War motif of "native genius" reacting to crisis. An organized group of informals encountered the Coast Guard boating down a street: they railed at them. Are you following a grid pattern, sailor? What's your system? No system? Then you don't know where you've been searching and you are going to lose lives through lack of method. Get organized, sailor, or get out of here. It was emotional. The professionals were momentarily humbled. That night, the police chased the volunteers away, leaving the system-free professionals in charge.

On Saturday, Pacifica Radio presented another professionalism incident. Its crew stopped an Army patrol in New Orleans in front of a dead body: Hey soldier, this body has been here a week - time to pick it up, don't you think? Sorry, ma'am but we're professionals who observe a strict division of labor and this happens to be a police matter.

And so it goes.

The Armchair Generalist reports that the Joint Forces Command has now released an important document painstakingly differentiating "Weapons of Mass Destruction" from a new coinage of their own making, "Weapons of Mass Effects." Thank you, gentlemen, thank you for your professionalism.

Blogger Kingdaddy observes that in the present flood crisis, "I'm bit worried that Americans see the military as omnicapable (it's not)."

Omincapable? The paradigm set in motion through Union victory has rendered it barely capable of mixed success in its core missions against tribal militias and student radicals.

Give us back our native genius.

Grant book reviews

With the 120th anniversary of the publication of Grant's autobiography, some reviews are accompanying the reissue, as reported here last month.

This particular report is written by an enthusiast who begins his piece by saying "Mark Twain called it a masterpiece..." Well, indeed, Twain might do that if he were publishing the book and if it were the flagship release of his new trade press and if he personally edited the tome. Not to be cynical about a good read, but please find an endorsement not connected with the project.

There's more of the same wide-eyed stuff where that came from.

Elsewhere, the Civil War author Michael Aubrecht reviews the new Grant book by Michael Ballard and spoils his piece with little disclosures like "One revelation I found startling was the constant back-stabbing that occurred among generals of the same army..." Good grief, Aubrecht.

His other disclosures stir up the legend a little bit [emphasis added]:
Grant was unfairly held responsible for multiple stalemates and defeats that left his service record tarnished in the eyes of the War Department. [...] Only through his own tenacity and perseverance was Grant able to escape retribution from the leaders in Washington.
Oh my, where did "Lincoln finds a general" go?

The excesses of Centennial Doctrine have left many readers vulnerable to that kind of information. And what can they make of the reviewer's remarks when he writes, "Despite having a reputation for indecisiveness and erratic decision-making ..."

Grant, indecisive and erratic. Persecuted by Washington bigs. These are sidelines in a meandering piece, which suggests that Aubrecht's review may have missed the central points of interest offered in Ballard's new book.
NEWS | Gibson, Neeson to shoot ACW movie next month * Beauvoir deemed structually sound * Descendants struggle to develop freeman's land


Olmsted memories

There are sighs aplenty when dealing with local government.

Years ago, some friends and I were deeply involved in arts projects in Trenton, NJ, an activity which jaded us a little in matters of public administration. Word reached us, one day, that a certain civil servant had discovered some precious papers. This never got out of the whispering stage and I doubt the locals at large have any inkling of the discovery even now.

This city worker had found a full set of park plans developed for Trenton by Frederick Law Olmsted, America's most famous park designer. The plan actually linked a chain of parks still extant. In a normal world, an alarm would have been raised and funds sought to execute this vision. The project would have generated international interest for years.

But this being Trenton, the plans were quietly returned to their drawer, with only a few friends of the civil servant getting wind of the find.

I remembered that incident in connection with the recent death of Olmsted's great biographer, Charles Capen McLaughlin. I wonder if he discovered Olmsted's Trenton project.

Standing behind McLaughlin is Johns Hopkins University Press majestically shouldering the full responsibility of an academic house:
Johns Hopkins University Press has already published five of nine planned volumes of the documents, with the sixth to come out next year. It also plans three volumes of supplementary material, like photographs and actual plans; the first has already been printed.
Aside from the business of the Grant papers and the Jefferson Davis papers, is there a similar effort anywhere in Civil War publishing? Is Olmsted the only other Civil War figure - and a Sanitary Commission member at that - to get "the full treatment"? What a shadow Hopkins is casting on our pathetic little corner of the nonfiction market.

We don't seem to need any more archival material in Civil War history; the story outlines have been set and the OR meets all our needs. Done.

And if Trentonians ever need to see Olmsted's work, they can go to Central Park in New York City to do so.

A convenient silence in Baton Rouge

A letter to the Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge notes that:

(1) The "Arc En Ciel" ("Rainbow") Saloon is to be razed. It was a Union hospital in the ACW.

(2) The razing benefits the owners of the Advocate.

(3) The Advocate has run no articles on the preservationists' efforts to save the structure.

(At least they ran the letter.)

Genesis of the Sharaa phenomenon

Assumption: Killer Angels was a best seller. Assumption: Ted Turner exploited the popularity of the book to make a Gettysburg movie with Ron Maxwell.

"Assume makes an ass of you and me," as they say. Well, maybe me more than you. According to this newspaper item, the genesis of this bestseller is entirely different: "The elder Shaara, who died in 1988, wrote The Killer Angels (1974), which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The movie based on that book, Gettysburg, was released in 1993, five years after his death — making his book a best-seller."

I would never have suspected that a junky film, a critically panned commercial flop (a film that represents monumental commercial failure), could make the underlying novel a best seller. Never would have occurred to me.

The Patrick O'Brien of the ACW, cont.

There's a new book review of a David Poyer novel.
With Amazon.com currently listing better than 45 works of fiction and nonfiction on the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack, one can be forgiven for questioning the need for yet another novel about the engagement between the world's first ironclad warships.

The obvious answer is if David Poyer has embarked a series of novels encompassing the Civil War at sea, you can't skip one of the most important battles in nautical history. And not surprisingly, this veteran novelist of sea stories once again brings new perspectives and insight to the nonscholar in "That Anvil of Our Souls." Poyer doesn't just make history painless - he makes it exciting.
NEWS | Lehman Brothers makes slavery admission * Corinth revisits bloodiest battles in 1862 re-enactments * Science turns fun in hunt for sub


Politicians and authors

I stumbled across quite an odd site, one that let's you know whom your fave pop historian (or other celeb) has been contributing to.

Doris Kearns Goodwin gives her money to Teddy Kennedy - as if his campaigns have ever needed her $200.

David McCullough, also of Massachusetts, seems to have been interested only in the presidential campaign of Phil Gramm.

Russel Beatie once tried to help Bob Dole.

William S. McFeely seems to be a big fan of MoveOn.org. A big fan.

Gary Gallagher pays out to the Wyeth Good Government Fund, which seems embroiled in scandal.

David H. Donald showered thousands on Dean and Kerry during the last election.

McPherson, Sears, the late Shelby Foote, and the Sharaas keep their coins at home, as do Civil War authors Gingrich and Winik, both recently connected with government careers.

(Apologies for this brief spell of political psychosis.)

My Pulitzer dreams

If I were wealthy, I'd offer an annual prize to the finder of the most factual errors in each year's Pulitzer Prize winner for history.

"Highest number of plagiarisms in a Pulitzer work" can be a program for someone else to start. Some law office might want to sponsor that one.

Give me all your money and let's get this thing going.

Celebrity parade

David McCullough. A mere copy editor at the Staten Island Advance dares to criticize Pulitzer magnet David McCullough.

It's a good piece, very readerly - that is, focused on the effects repeated factual errors have on the enjoyment of the bookbuyer. McCullough's mistakes are typically those of a hack in a hurry who is not properly supervised by his publishers, a familiar story. "Does McCullough step off the merry-go-round of mistakes here ...? Actually, he does not," our reviewer says, bravely putting his needs as reader ahead those of a feted royalty-collector.

David Donald. David Donald has garnered a puff piece in his local Boston paper in which it is revealed that Doris Kearns Goodwin and Gore Vidal like him. Vidal, author of Lincoln, noted that Lincoln scholars were a priesthood dedicated to sanctifying the president's image, Donald not being like that (if you please). There may be one of those Lincoln priests working at the Modesto Bee, where the Donald piece was reprinted with Vidal's dig at Lincoln scholars excised.

Stephen W. Sears got to therapeutically act out his feelings towards George B. McClellan in an odd little event (top right) staged so that the author could confront someone portraying his personal bete noir:
"I CAN'T WAIT to see you fired!" the renowned Civil War author said to the general. Or, rather, to the actor portraying the general.
Feel better now? Gonna write better history? (Photo from the Free-Lance Star.)

A county ACW website

I think Lancaster County, PA, may have scored a first: its own Civil War website.

Here's a little tidbit for the County's site: The Amish of Lancaster petitioned the federal government for exemption from military service during the ACW. It appears from this information that such exemption was not granted and the farmers had to avoid the draft for the going buyout rate of $300.

(Drop a line if I have garbled my Amish ACW history.)
NEWS | NPS obtains museum at Wilson's Creek * Corinth re-enactors struggle for authenticity * Re-enactors appear at casino hearing


Friday blog roundup

Drew Wagenhoffer wonders - as do I - how two specific studies of the same subject (the Fort Pillow massacre) can be released at the same time by two publishers.

Mike notices that Civil War Preservation Trust has now enrolled over 70,000 members. I think that's a boost from the National Geographic spread. And I think that partnership has gone awfully quiet.

Brett Schulte has been reading up on and wargaming coastal operations. (I'll play only if I can be Tim Sherman - pictured right).

Randy answers his daughter's question as to who that Gettysburg statue is for ("Strong Vincent!").

Mark Grimsley discovers, while appearing on a Grant special, that one's contribution has been foreordained, regardless of how spontaneous one thinks one's answers. He notes:

The people who make these documentaries are so ingenious in other ways that I am sure they could find ways to integrate fresh viewpoints if they wished. In my (admittedly limited) experience, they don’t wish. And the result is often just a contemporary re-packaging of an already familiar story.

Battle of Shepherdstown, cont.

The Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association seems to be gaining ground on the developers who want to put 100 houses on the site of the battle in which Lee defeated McClellan's pursuit, post-Antietam.

(Whispered in the peanut gallery: "McClellan's pursuit? What on earth is this blogger talking about?")

I'm a little giddy. If the public recognizes that there once was a battle at Shepherdstown, despite pop history's best effort to pass over it, what's next? Admission that a battle occurred at Crampton's Gap?

Are we now uncompressing that consensus history that has been pounded down into diamond hardness over 50 years? I shudder for the royalty checks of scores of authors.

(Shown: one view of the battle from Harper's Weekly.)
NEWS | Confederate war banners make return to South * NY town replaces ACW statue * Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association scores narrow win


Baudrillard, hurricanes, and history

Jean Baudrillard wrote years before Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf coast, “We have within in us an immense desire for events.”

Immunity, impunity, corruption, speculation and laundering – come what may, we are moving towards a limit state of zero responsibility …. Automatically, we want to see an event of maximum consequence, a fateful event, to repair this scandalous non-equivalence with a sudden, exceptional responsibility. ("Real Event, Failed Event: Singularity of the Event")
To reflect on current affairs: When that fateful event arrives and fails to repair the "limit state of zero responsibility," it is in part because we have a continuity bias. "Immunity, impunity, corruption" being the meme, these are heightened and developed in the course of telling the hurricane story.

It is also undeniable that "zero responsibility" is a highly sought-after real world condition, and so it works in tandem with our ideas and expectations.

The medium through which the event passes, as Baudrillard notes, is news and information, and that is in itself, he says, a tragedy. Converting discontinuous incidents into storylines produces narrative patterning: "[A] story has meaning only when it fits into some unfolding of events, some rational purpose.” ("The Impossible Exchange")

The information production associated with Katrina teaches us about our Civil War reading: "Only the consideration of an end allows us to conceive a continuity, and our sciences and technologies have accustomed us to see everything in terms of a continuous evolution…" says Baudrillard. As a Civil War narrative moves towards its foregone conclusion, so Katrina will "end" happily in the overturning of the scandalous "limit state of zero responsibility." That seems to be the intended payoff for news readers who are following the disaster vicariously.

In the course of the catastrophic Civil War, some radicals sought to repair the scandalous non-equivalence of prosperity based on slavery; and some authors now craft books based on the reader's presumed sense of justice in repairing whole streams of non-equivalencies such as McClellan's undeserved high office, Pope's bragging, the North's "unfair" advantages in materiel, etc.

History writing, like newspaper writing, can become a matter of staging and resolving scandalous non-equivalencies. The history writer has the power to set up and resolve these to the reader's satisfaction. The newspaper writer hopes real world agencies will resolve the scandal story he has developed for an ending readers can enjoy. And where unresolvable for any reason, non-equivalence provides tension for the next edition of the paper.

This is not to say scandals are literary figments but to argue for the totality and discontinuity of the event.

Baudrillard: “If we see history as a film (which it has become, whether we like it or not), then the ‘truth’ of information consists in the post-synchronization, the dubbing and subtitling of the film of history.”

Which is why it is unfortunate that events remote in time or place must pass through "information" for us to experience them.

(Previous Baudrillard comments here and here.)

Damage assessment

A reporter from the New York Times rides through landmark areas in Mississippi with heritage staffers:
Cruising slowly along Beach Boulevard, where some of Biloxi's finest homes had stood, Ms. Baughn and Mr. Preziosi were ashen. "Ohh ... " was all Mr. Preziosi could say.
Pictured: the Davis mansion (photo via NYT)
NEWS | Katrina takes cultural toll * History is a salvage job in MS * NO Curators assess damage to historical sites, icons


Yes, another ACW blog

Andrew Wagenhoffer, a Civil War game designer has just launched his blog "Civil War Books and Authors." Andrew is a deep reader, averse to the cliches that dominate ACW history.

For instance, he notices the revision in Robert Patterson's reputation underway in this new post.

Two great new blogs in two days (Brett Schulte's journal I learned of yesterday). We're on our way, my friends.

Jeff Davis mansion "gutted"

The Davis mansion is said to be "gutted" by Katrina but rebuildable.

Enjoy your battlefield

There is a big stir about proposed changes to National Park rules that would emphasize public use (enjoyment) over preservation.

See what you can make of this polemic.
NEWS | New Antietam trail opens * Man struggles to save Gettysburg barn * Civil War tourism down 40 percent this summer


A new Civil War blog

Brett Schulte has launched a Civil War blog and has enlisted some good help to co-blog with him, including author Eric Wittenberg and game designer Andrew Wagenhoffer.

It's a book-centric site; see in particular Wittenberg's extensive comments on Carharts Lost Triumph (he regards the core thesis of Stuart being synchronized with Pickett as bogus and he suggests the Custer material in the book may be dishonest, considering all sources).

And did you know that Eric Wittenberg is a Civil War publiher as well? Some great primary sources on his site.

Bookmark "Civil War Gaming and Reading." Hat tip to Brett Schulte for getting this together.

A little bandwidth...

... Is what I have at last. It is one thing to answer emails or post comments online; you can do it with a 28k modem. However blogging is a bandwidth hog - all those windows open at once for cross-referencing, all that hunting up of references on the fly.

Now if I can remember how to spell "ACW".
NEWS | Homestead near pre-Civil War battlefield added to historic list * Penn State’s Civil War Era Center receives challenge grant * Forgotten Civil War hero's deeds, valor to get their due