Morris Island: Joe Riley bestirs himself

Marx envisioned a period after socialism when all needs would be met and the state would wither away. He called it post-scarcity anarchism.

The political psychosis that fogs the mind of your run-of-the mill newsroom and editorial board is something very like a psychology of post scarcity anarchism; local problems are trivial, technical matters; local corruption is a small bother the feds can take care of when they get around to it; vote rigging is something that happens in Central America; the really "important" stuff is chiliastic and national: global warming (whatever happened to acid rain?), international debt forgiveness, presidential elections, and massive financing for paradigmatically skewed pork barrel medical research.

The post-scarcity Carolinian anarchist will wrack his brain over an editorial about perfecting Egypt's political system while bulldozers are ferried to Morris Island. Gaze on this and despair.

My fellow Trentonians who were critics of Trenton's late Mayor Art Holland - cautious in development, respectful of historical treasures - viewed him as an obstructionist. His successor is an enabler. Give me the obstructionist.

Charleston's Mayor Joe Riley delivered a stirring eulogy for Holland in Trenton on the old mayor's death; among other stories, he told of their tug-of-war over posession of the Swamp Angel in Trenton's Cadwallader Park. Riley marched with us in the long procession to the Broad Street Cathedral where the memorial service was held. With Holland dead, he's one of a kind.

Riley has finally weighed in with an editorial against Morris Island development in Charleston Harbor. (I cannot access the editorial.) I don't know why he has to resort to an editorial - maybe it is preparatory to action. Maybe there are jurisdictional issues that prevent his intervention.

Thank heaven the Egyptian political experts let him have a forum on their pages.

Now, responding to Riley's call, the Trust for Public Land has stepped forward to offer its leadership in organizing resistance to the develpoment of Morris Island.

Now, this is a Civil War site. TPL should be on the sidelines and, if I can indulge my own post-scarcity fantasy, Civil War buffs would be working hard to exclude any naturalist participation in this preservation effort.

The gentleman making the offer on behalf of the TPL is (incidentally) a developer himself. Is that sweet?

Of course, given a Civil War preservation leadership scarcity, you thank heaven for the kindness of strangers, be they in sheep's clothing or not. Since we have an abundance of leadership scarcity we have an abundance of developmental anarchism, too.

Coming to a drain near you

Civil War cannon shell tops Roto-Rooter list of weirdest finds in America's drains.

(p.s. Is there an academy journalists could attend to learn the difference between shot and shell?)


Not ostensible

"I am afraid you will think me ostensible," Emily Dickinson wrote to a gentleman friend,

(Was it Col. Shaw?)

I am not ostensible myself, not yet, and will be back tomorrow.


Poisoned fruit

Mike Stevens, of the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust, has done Christmas proud in the pages of Fredericksburg's Free-Lance Star.

He has written a generous, humble, praiseful letter thanking certain parties for coming together to save Chancellorsville battlefield:
Anticipation arises out of seeing, once again, a coming together of developers, politicians, and preservationists, willing to balance self-interest with common purpose, willing to listen and learn from one another, willing to share a commitment to get the deal done. The folks of Toll Brothers, of the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors, and of the Civil War Preservation Trust are meeting in a spirit of comity and compromise, and all of us who understand what this land means to our community and to our country can be hopeful that their efforts will bear fruit.
The lion lying down with the lamb is something that happens after the second coming of Christ, I think. Right now, we are in the period after the first coming of Christ and we need to note the lion's claws and mark our distance from the carnivore. What is happening between Toll Brothers, the county and CWPT can better be summarized in a news snippet:
Toll Brothers Inc. of Horsham, Pa., is poised to sell 75 acres of battleground on State Route 3 to the Civil War Preservation Trust. The sale hinges on the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors increasing the number of homes the company can build on about 500 adjacent acres.
Is this "a spirit of comity and compromise?" Or is this a rank business deal with a serious preservation downside?

One could reasonably say that there are no preservationists whatsoever involved in these discussions.

Avoid the Christmas punch, ladies and gents, and remember the true meaning of preservation this year.

Book review riots - let's stage one

There is a new book out on the NYC draft riots which, if I read the review correctly, aims to be definitive.

Can't be sure because the review wastes itself entirely by retelling the underlying events rather than conveying the worth of the tome.

What is wrong with this country's book review editors that they should allow retelling to pass as analysis week after week?
NEWS | Congressman discusses timber sales at Pea Ridge military park * Morris Island finds a buyer - a high-end developer * Davis friend's mansion is reinvented for lodging, dining


Enough to make a grown man blog

I was reading a nature book and came across a quote by spy novelist John le Carré.

Wait, it gets more convoluted.

On reading it, I immediately thought, “This is about Civil War history.”
There was the boring similarity of technique; the grain of truth carefully reconstructed culled from newspaper reports and bazaar gossip; the follow-up, less carefully done, betraying the deceiver’s contempt for the deceived; and finally, the flight of fancy, the stroke of artistic impertinence which wantonly terminated a relationship already under sentence.
In the original context, le Carré (right) was talking about stories spread by the enemy in war. If we break it down, the tiny engine of pop history appears in all its parts.

There was the boring similarity of technique

… lineal storytelling on a strict timeline in a flat narrative style dolled up with a few old fashioned literary tricks from Jules Verne or Edgar Rice Burroughs.

the grain of truth carefully reconstructed, culled from newspaper reports and bazaar gossip

… some bit from the odd OR report and an anecdote or two that can advance the book's high concept.

the follow-up, less carefully done, betraying the deceiver’s contempt for the deceived

… the next instance of a trend, development, or characterization presented with even less evidence than the previous one.

and finally, the flight of fancy, the stroke of artistic impertinence which wantonly terminated a relationship already under sentence

… the resort to hyperbole in stretching an incompetent generalization beyond error to make it an outrage. Not even Napoleon himself … Never in military history unprecedented error … unique opportunity ….

The “deceiver’s contempt for the deceived” shuts me down early in most readings. I have to want to suffer to get to that flight of fancy that must terminate my relationship with a book.

What is comical is encountering so many people mouthing flights of fancy as though they were precious insights harvested from some “scholar’s” deepest wisdom.

I have felt the sting of the author's contempt for me, as a reader, so harshly as to want to start three websites in retaliation. And I have. But the sting remains.


Bringing Civil War history up to date

I used to attend readings of Voegelin Society papers at the American Political Science Association's annual conventions whenever they were held in Washington D.C. In those days, the APSA was in the iron grip of a very grim outfit called The Society for Political Methodology. If not that exact society, its imitators and competitors.

(By the way, attendees would ask me, "What institution do you represent?" and I would answer, "The reading public." The looks were priceless.)

This sort of research flooded the halls of whatever hotel was hosting APSA:

* Practical Issues in Implementing and Understanding Bayesian Ideal Point Estimation *

A quote from that paper: "Item-response and ideal-point models are inherently applied to multilevel structures, with data nested within persons and test items, or judges and decisions, or legislators votes."

Should be "legislators' votes" but these are not wordsmiths, needless to say. And there aren't that many words in these papers anyway. APSA and friends have turned to formulae:

That was an expression of political analysis from a poli-sci paper.

Tim Reese has generously agreed to help our dowdy field catch up with the poli-sci trailblazers. Here is his offering, which I trust you can decode without my help:

We're on our way to methodological excellence!

Well, there you have it

The entire preservation story of the Maryland Campaign's gaps is here told in one graphic. Click to enlarge.

If you don't want to click, then peer. Red indicates "core combat areas" and green shows land the state owns.

Thanks to Tim Reese for this.

p.s. The League - on which I posted yesterday - is broadening its focus beyond the Civil War and a number of ACW preservationists have left the group ... which adds a wrinkle to their battlefield land sale.


The computer is a marvelous thing

I was looking at log files and saw that some searcher way out on the Internet had entered the keyword string "civil war major flaws" and Google brought him to this posting.
This might have done as well, or this series ( 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
You came to the right place. Thank your computer.

Pieces removed from Frankenstein park

The Frankentein-shaped hallucination that passes for South Mountain state battlefield park - a park no one can visit because it is patched together from easements and the odd, isolated fee simple holding - is shifting shape a little, according to a newsletter issued by the Central Maryland Heritage League.

The monster has a notional existence because locals drank the potion offered by some mad scientists who run a famous national preservation trust; they promise eternal life to land placed under easement.

You can reduce the cost of an easement - which already costs less than land - by applying for state highway funds (believe it or not) and/or teaming up with the local birdwatchers or farm conservationists to split the bill ... not the sort of partners you want to have, truth be told, but available and willing.

So, you swing the shiny watch and mutter, "stretch battlefield land budgets, buy several easements instead," and they drink the potion.

I think this is what's happening at the Central Maryland Heritage League:

We are negotiating with State and Federal agencies to see if it is feasible to sell parcels of land on or near South Mountain State Battlefield. Both are protected and their sale would again help us to acquire and protect more land.

This year we have seen battlefield land being "preserved" through sale to developers. We have seen developers called preservationists in the press. Now we have a preservation society selling battlefield land it owns in order to "acquire and protect more land". Will it sell to developers if they are called "preservationists"?

Strike "acquire" from their comments. They want to swap real ownership to buy some hallucinogenic easements. They drank the potion, I think.

However, Tim Reese wonders if the League may be getting off the mountain entirely. Certainly, it may be possible that this sale fixes a financial problem, and that "acquire and protect more land" is a fig leaf.

I wonder, also, if they have put easements on the property they own and want to sell. Since - hypnotized - they may believe easement equals protection, there may be no reason - in their befuddlement - why they should continue to own "protected land" and pay taxes on it. Yes, it is land no one can visit. Yes, it is land that may come under generations of "no trespassing signs" once relinquished.

But by Jove, it is "protected"!

If you think that way, if you believe the nonsense that swirls around Civil War preservation societies today, a perfectly reasonable game plan would be to buy land, put an easement on it, sell the land with the easement in place, buy another piece of land and continue indefinitely. Maybe the League is doing this.It takes a PhD in Kremlinology to understand what our battlefield protectors are saying and doing.

Preserving is developing, buying is paying owners not to sell, and saving something means getting rid of it.

Enjoy your "no trespassing" virtual battlefield, friends. And give generously to save our hallowed ground.


Even more hats

I hope the code holding this post together does not blow up. I dread to think of how this will compile in your browser. Nevertheless, do send me your favorite hat pictures.

Here we have Scott in a chapeau most of us have seen him wear. He's got some spectacular attachments where Blunt's (see previous posts) is plainer. What do you call this thing?

Check out this variant on General Benham: pure Hornblower. "Hard a'starboard, you laggards!" Banks looks like cover art from a Hawthorne novel - there must be a cape to go with that outfit - and Ward is modeling a Trilby, no less. The locks underneath look fairly lustrous for extended field duty.

That helmet on Jackson's head has to be asynchronous (although we did run a picture in this blog of the Delafield Commission with a spiked helmet on the table nearby).

It's important to be able to spot your general on the field. Very important apparently.

General Mansfield ...

... I like your style.

Everybody in the army puts some spin on regulation headgear.

This interpretive statement takes the prize.

Fussy, continued

A reader writes to say that authors referring to Johnston's Army of the Potomac as the Army of Northern Virginia get his goat.
Drew Wagenhoffer also writes to say that "McClellan restored to command" does it for him, McClellan not having been removed from command. Sears, for one, takes a little care here, offering the formula, "McClellan's command was restored to him."
I have a different view of this. McClellan was assigned an entirely new command, the defenses of Washington. His adjunct mission, while commander of the defenses of Washington, was to organize a (**A**) field army to intercept Lee. The fact that a field army was organized and later received the old name "Army of the Potomac" is an accident of history ... especially given that it was John Pope who was named commander of this field army (by city defenses commander George McClellan) on September 5, 1862.
This is going to be surprising if you have digested the formula "Pope was removed from command and McClellan was restored." That statement is as (un)true for 1862 as is "McDowell was removed from command to be replaced by McClellan" for 1861.
You can reach a level of generalization in writing history, where it becomes sludgy.


How fussy is fussy?

Is it terribly wrong to be irritated when an author refers to McDowell's forces at Bull Run as the Army of the Potomac? Repeatedly in one work?

Any number of authors do this and it freaks me out every time. I stop for awhile. Can't go on. It casts a shadow on all that follows.

Some of you are thinking, "There were no army designations apart from the department then." Partially right. Scott was against divisions and armies. And what was McDowell's department called? The Department of Northeast Virginia.

I see from Eicher and Eicher that McD is department commander from 27 May and that he picks up a title from July 8 on, commander of the Army of Northeast Virginia. I want to know more about that, not less, and calling the Army of Northeast Virginia by another name is giving me less.

Here's another eye-opener that may indicate all is not well in Civil War history. McDowell co-exists as army commander with McClellan when McClellan is called east. McDowell does not relinquish his army command until 15 August; Mansfield does not relinquish his department until August 18. There's a major essay lurking in that.

I know this sort of arcana (names of armies, limits of command) places a terrible burden on history writers but we readers like to know true from false. Humor us.

You don't have to call it "The Army of Northeast Virginia" if that's going to confuse your editors. But don't call it the Army of the Potomac. Please.

Civil War Book News has been updated

Hoping to get the rest of the year finished by January 1.
That would be cosmic.

"Corrupt Conqueror"

Stamp collectors love those upside-down images and I wonder if this is the ACW reader's equivalent.

The Blunt book I wrote about yesterday is titled General James G. Blunt: Tarnished Glory. I am looking at the cover as I write.

The photo of the cover run in yesterday's post shows a book titled General James G. Blunt: Corrupt Conqueror. Click on the image for a close-up. I got it from the publisher's own website.

Last minute title change or passive resistance from a Missourian in the art department?


Western publishing

What's with the hat, commodore?

Is there a picture of any other ACW general, aside from Scott and Wool, wearing this headcover?

I picked this book up early in December, pleased to see a Blunt bio and happy that the small publisher, Pelican, had won major chain distribution of the title (I have seen it in three chain outlets so far this year).

This cute and curious passage is from the introduction. It is the very picture of Republican generalhood, I think:
As impressive as these achievements are, they can be overshadowed by Blunt's spectacular failures as a military administrator. He carried on a yearlong feud with one of his superiors. His relations with the first two governors of Kansas were notoriously poor. He did nothing to stem the rampant corruption in the military supply system. Indeed, Blunt took part in some of that corruption. And in one incident ... he bears some of the blame for allowing the massacre to occur.
Ah, Baxter Springs. Rode off leaving his command not just to be massacred but tortured then massacred or tortured while enduring massacre. Something more serious than failed to advance quickly or wrote his wife complaining about Stanton.

Pelican seems to specialize in Western titles; have a look. So does the Camp Pope bookshop, which like Morningside, is both a bookstore and a publisher.

They deserve our patronage.


Surprises in libraries

There was a talk to be attended in a county branch library new to me today and after the event, I browsed the Civil War book section.

This is always a discouraging prospect and the trash here was heaped deeply on the shelves - I despaired of finding a single useful book when I noticed Richard F. Miller's new Harvard's Civil War mixed in with the dross.

A good sign, one that encouraged me to keep searching. I found a couple of diaries to check out in addition to the Miller book. Gregory Acken, connected with Philadelphia's Civil War Library and Museum, assembled some letters among the holdings in his care into a big tome, Inside the Army of the Potomac, the Civil War Experiences of Capt. Francis Adams Donaldson (of the 118th Penna. USV). McClellan commanding at Gettysburg (again) caught my eye. I also checked out Sears' On Campaign with the Army of the Potoma, the war diaries of LTC Theodore A. Dodge, whom I knew for his Chancellorsville history. Dodge had no McClellan at Gettysburg info.

Dodge and Donaldson were McClellan men through and through. As I started through Donaldson's letters copying out the McClellan material it became overwhelming, there was just so much of it. And it was so emotional.

The general literary and social style of the Civil War involves restraint and distance and understatement and irony. For grown men to wax emotional and poetic about their leader is outside the bounds of accepted personal style. When it happens army-wide, something astonishing is going on. Not astonishing enough to have ever merited a study, however.

Someone needs to collect such primary material - these manliness-be-damned outcries - into a big concentrated sheep dip that we can run historians through before they begin their carping, niggling little AoP annals.

Donaldson: I can say in conclusion that I never saw the army so full of enthusiasm as it now is, everyone anxious to meet the enemy and terminate the war by one grand battle. McClellan seems to have the final termination of the issue well in hand, and when we again meet Gen. Lee's army, they will suffer a defeat that will end their existence. We all feel confident of this, and should I be correct in this forecast of the future, McClellan will be, as he really is today, the greatest military chieftain of the age. (11/5/62)

Dodge: By the way, I may as well tell you how the Army feels about the conduct of this war. Everyone is longing for McClellan [emphasis in original]. "Let us go into action and a few get killed and then the rest retreat." This is just the feeling they have about Burnside, no confidence in his ability at all. But every heart is so turned toward McClellan that his being put in command of the U.S. Army would this moment more than double the force of the troops. They will go anywhere under him, but with reluctance under any other leader; and any day I believe McClellan could lead us up & take those Frederickburg batteries, considered now impregnable.(1/1/63)

And so it goes.

David Woodbury

Hat tip to Eric Wittenberg for pointing to David Woodbury's new Civil War blog. It's quite a feast: start with this post.

Woodbury is a writer who has paid his Civil War dues in a major way - as an editorial collaborator with Ted Savas bringing out innumerable specialist studies and as the patron saint of certain indispensable books, one of which I have failed to say enough about - Eicher and Eicher's Civil War High Commands.

Civil War High Commands originated in John Eicher's dissatisfaction with Civil War historians being unable to master even the most basic units of fact - e.g. who was promoted when and commanded what. As an ACW reader, he found himself keeping notes he could refer to and rely on in lieu of whatever book he might be reading at the time. (Sounds like my gateway into McClellanology.) The result is 1,040 pages of useful almanac-style data (and indirectly, 1,040 pages of commentary on the wretched state of previous ACW research). Shepherding this book through the publishing wilds must have been epic.

My admiration for Woodbury does not stop there. Civil War Regiments, which he co-edited, was an oasis of freethinking during one of the worst periods of consensus we have seen in Civil War publishing, the mid- to late1990s. His reasons for blogging resonate with me: "Let's be frank -- some of those authors didn't work as hard on their books as you did earning the money to buy them. And for that, they must be called out."

But I disagree - I think we're moving past the point where hack authors can still flood the market each publishing season with work struggling to retell the Catton story. New thinking has dominated each new release list for the last four or five seasons. My blog, with its cathartic vitriol, could better serve its readers turning attention to our dramatically new situation. I keep reminding myself, we've turned a corner. There's a new story to tell.

Then McPherson gives an interview and I'm called back to the hunt...

But we need expert readers like David Woodbury to help sort out the new scene. Crappy books will always be with us - it's the publishers' commitment to crap that is crumbling. It is a very talented cohort of writers that is taking advantage of the end of the Centennial ice ages.

Since his is a book blog, I hope Mr. Woodbury notices and takes the same pleasure I do in this new beginning for Civil War history.


Rawley dies, Lincoln consensus hardens

Lincoln specialist James A. Rawley has died.

Rawley (to the left in photo at right) admired J.G. Randall, and like Randall upheld a view of the president as a conservative - in Rawley's case, an "organic nationalist" - who fought for Union straight through to 1865. This contrasts with Trefousse's view of Lincoln as a dissimulating Radical with emancipation in mind from day one (I may have gone too far with that characterization, but not by much); and with the prevailing Centennial idea that AL was a pragmatist who reached a point where he could no longer disentangle war aims - slavery from Union.

This article states his case nicely and awards Mark Neely and Gabor Boritt a few slaps to the sides of their heads. I find especially interesting his suggestion that writers have mixed up Lincoln the Whig with Lincoln the Republican.

It is also worth noting that a term count done by Rawley produces no Lincolnian references to the Declaration after 1862. There is Lincoln's ever-burgeoning rhetoric of Declaration that approaches crescendo and then is suddenly turned off in the second year of the war. Quite a bit to chew on there.

Rawley's reasonable, mainstream, scholarly view of Lincoln has been marginalized and he will soon have his name on some dirty doghouse as does Randall.

We seem to have a public that wants one single interpretation for anything; we have Lincoln salons competing to deliver these monochrome images; and we have publishers committed to flattening the landscape for the historically challenged. Poor Rawley and poor us.

Morbidly yours, (signed) The Editor

This fellow in Illinois decided to collect and publish a collection of "last letters" sent by ACW servicemen.

Some snap judgements: (1) This is entertainment - "rubber Lincoln" stuff. (2) The editor lacks any historical sensibility:

After getting 75 letters, along with permission to use them, he narrowed them down to 21. Why 21? "I just thought that a 21-gun salute is the highest honor you can give a military man," he said.

If emotional manipulation and sentimentality are pathways to historical understanding, the Pulitzer may not be enough of a prize for this guy.

C&E ACW buffs

A reader writes to tell me that James McPherson does not speak for free to civil war roundtables as suggested here, that he charges $1,000 (which is donated to Civil War Preservation Trust or another cause). He says, "The Chicago Civil War Round Table has been foolish enough to pony up," by which I assume he means they did not get $1,000 worth of value.
I believe he spoke for free to the Camp Olden Civil War Roundtable in 1999 or 2000. In any case, even if he charged $1,000 then, they raised $5,000 from the affair.
Which leads me to ask, in slangy terms, is there such a thing as a "Christmas and Easter" Civil War reader? Certain churchgoers are labeled "C&E" and I wonder if there is an ACW equivalent (one that would generate a $5,000 gate at a McPherson talk, for instance, then disappear).
NEWS | Man wants to sell Civil War style cannon he had made * Fort Wright museum to feature Civil War Christmas celebration * Police detonate Civil War-era cannonball * No cemetery under Texas school site


Richard Norton Smith uncensored

Bureau reporters at the Chicago Tribune are sharing city memories and one, Ellen Warren, recalls the grand opening of the Lincoln Library in April, 2005 :
Museum executive director Richard Norton Smith clearly does NOT appreciate critics who have carped about the Museum's lifelike Lincoln statues. It's a "manufactured non-existent controversy," he told me.

"Real people don't talk about 'rubber Lincolns.' No one on the street talks about 'rubber Lincolns.' No one gives a shit  about 'rubber Lincolns.'"
The controversy was about the tax-supported stewardship of public memory being placed in the hands of people who offer us fabricated 3-D Lincoln images in lieu of history - not about mannekins per se.
The idea that what the public wants equals history renders history nothing but putty in the hands of museum directors, governors, battlefield guides, filmmakers, market researchers, and nonfiction storytellers.
The reporter "gets" the Smith dynamic dispite his disclaimers:
... Norton was channeling his inner Brad Pitt, working the crowds like a movie star.

Citizens without tickets were lined up a dozen deep in some places and those near the front were asking Smith to sign their dedication programs. It's got to be one of the rare times in history when a scholar gets to play like it's Hollywood. Or Disneyland.
The scholar. What a scholar.

Clausewitz again

For those supposing, judging his actions, that Lincoln knew Clausewitz, a few points Lincoln may have overlooked:
[War] does not consist of a single instantaneous blow.
... much more strength of will is required to make an important decision in strategy than in tactics.
The defensive, according to our conception, is nothing but the stronger form of combat.
Every assailant in advancing diminishes his military strength by the advance ... This loss in the advance is increased if the enemy has not been beaten, but withdraws of his own accord with his forces intact...

The army in retreat has the means of collecting provisions everywhere, and he marches towards them, whilst the pursuer must have everything brought after him, which, as long as he is in motion, even with the shortest lines of communication, is difficult, and on that account begets scarcity from the very first.

The greater the masses are, the more severe are the exertions demanded from each individual for the daily duties required strategically and tactically. A hundred thousand men who have to march to and from the point of assembly every day, halted at one time, and then set in movement again, now called to arms, then cooking or receiving their rations—a hundred thousand who must not go into their bivouac until the necessary reports are delivered in from all quarters—these men, as a rule, require for all these exertions connected with the actual march, twice as much time as 50,000 would require, but there are only twenty-four hours in the day for both


Clausewitz in the Civil War

A reader was good enough to send me a link to this essay, which concludes:
Nonetheless, Halleck's references, Schurz's knowledge, Jomini's comments on Clausewitz (especially as reported in the 1854 translation), the 1843 translation of Clausewitz's study of the Russian campaign, Wellington's "famous" response to Clausewitz's Campaign of 1815, the French translations and commentary, Mitchell's work in England, and the appearance of the 1835 article on Clausewitz in Britain and in the Military and Naval Magazine of the United States make untenable the assumption that Clausewitz's name and important aspects of his theories were inaccessible to American political and military figures in the Civil War era. Thus a Clausewitzian influence on Lincoln or on others in his circle remains a real possibility. In the absence of conclusive evidence one way or the other, the question must remain open. 
Good points.
My problem with the Clausewitz-in-America crowd is that they (a) do not understand Clausewitz deeply on his own terms and (b) do not understand the Civil War in its fundamental political aspects.
They operate in an abnormal milieu without recognizing it as such; it is the Centennial milieu in which military history completely dominates and is separated from political history. Lincoln is the apolitical, pragmatic leader, not a party-builder. The few bones of political consideration sprinklled in to your average ACW history, the few times that Centennialists allow that Lincoln may have made a political calculation are met by this species of Clausewitzian with delight - you see Lincoln understands that war is policy (or politics) carried on by other means! Breakthrough! Why else would he inject political considerations into military affairs, knowing how we readers feel about such stuff?
Clausewitz, in our day, has been boiled down to one formula a five-year-old can grasp = politics by other means. ACW history, meanwhile, has been had the political stuff boiled out of it such that the sight of superpolitician Abe Lincoln injecting politics (horrors) into a war decision is so disconcerting we need Clausewitz to explain it.
For if Clausewitz is a military thinker, then Lincoln's political intervention is informed by the highest military science available in that day; then he has made a military decision after all (and our ACW history remains uninfected by politics).
Bad Clausewitz meets bad Civil War for a perfect Union.

This week's obligatory McPherson post

A reader asked "Why the McPherson posts?" One may as well ask why celebrity journalism. Celebs are entertaining.

To the broad public, McPherson's work represents "our" highest aspiration as ACW readers and writers. He speaks on preservation issues, giving "our" consolidated opinion on saving battlefield land. To publishers, the success of Battle Cry represents "our" sales standard, the one we must meet to be successful as writers. When the Civil War leaks into current events, the press seeks McPherson for "our" aggregate opinion on this or that controversy.

McPherson has been made into "our" spokesman, representing the entire Civil War subculture - publishing, film, scholarship, re-enacting, television.

This is not just a political spokesman type of gig, however, it actually crosses into Hollywood's deepest colors of bathos.

Think of the juiciest Hollywood gossip story.

A diva who doesn't read music or sing well or act competently who was "made" by a hit single has not had a hit in a long while, but her entourage has never been bigger; the press cannot get enough of her; and she is on the cover of everything everywhere all the time giving all sorts of advice and comment. Sought for TV spots, her banal views are met with rapture. She is now branching out into Naval history - er, sorry, cosmetics and fashions.

The Hollywood gossip monger, understanding Greek dramatic form, awaits the correction to set in. The numbers from her next movie or record will tell part of the story; the insane levels of media saturation must cause a backlash some day. The hype surrounding each failed project must eventually scale back the outsized reputation. New actors will eventually stop fearing her and honestly comment on her achievments, what it's like to work with her, and what kind of person she seems to be.

The audience for this life drama expects the diva's downfall to be triggered by mistakes stemming from specific character flaws - flaws she was warned about, problems her hangers on kept her from confronting.

The gossip rags report these flaws - whatever they are - manifested however (tantrums, divorces, etc.) - and the subject denies them, creating a dissonance that begs resolution. That's entertainment.

The protagonist then heightens this dramatic tension by projecting her known but denied faults and errors into new shapes, larger forms, assuming ever greater risks, and meanwhile withholding signs of humility, shame, or fear.

And so we come to James McPherson.

I am reminded of an interview with Carl Sandburg or Robert Frost I read in the mid-sixties. The interviewer casually referred to his subject as a "poet," and the subject (Frost or Sandburg) stopped the interview immediately. The dialog went something like this:

Subject: Don't call me a poet, I am a writer.
Interviewer: Don't you write poetry?
Subject: "Poet" is a gift word bestowed by others - it is not for me to call myself a "poet" or to hear you or others call me that. Let "poet" be said outside my hearing.

And so "poet" was out of the record.

Now this may have been stagey buncombe but I think of that whenever Dr. McPherson presents his rear-end for lavish kissing by intervierwers who ask him what it's like to be the "greatest historian of his generation," or "the greatest Civil War scholar," or gush some other nonsense. He answers them without pause and without shame. So it seems.

His humility comes into question not only from a failure to correct the interviewer in such matters, but in his willingness to be used in the way a Hollywood celebrity is used. There are the celebrity endorsements (blurbs) that say essentially nothing but associate the McPherson "brand" with printed "product"; there are the tours, documented by the Washington Post, in which he takes groups of fans out to Gettysburg, then runs ahead of them - literally keeping his distance - barking comments over his shoulder. There are the assiduous public defenses made of fellow celebrities who get into ethical trouble with the law - think Goodwin. There is the rock-star hoopla associated with his public appearances.

Even the generous things he does, such as appear for free at roundtables to help raise money for them, have this component of egocentric self-indulgence, like a Hollywood benefit for (insert cause here).

Not that I'm not indulging myself here. But it's a private self-indulgence in front of fewer than 200 friends, like a drunk putting on a lampshade.

The press that interacts with McPherson are very like entertainment reporters. I have never read an interview with him in which the fawning questioner was anything more than the most casual ACW reader. In his routine attacks on academic history, I have never seen an interviewer challenge that; nor have I seen a writer who read McPherson and understood his historiographic context; nor gave I seen one who could do something as basic as discuss new trends in Civil War publishing with him.

McPherson wrote a a single-volume compendium of Civil War narrative recapitulated from popular secondary sources; that was his hit single. He has a virtual entourage of "hopefuls" - historians who know who and what he is but keep quiet imagining his good will can help them or his ill will may hurt. The ignorant interviewers keep coming. Local roundtables, benefitting from his appearances, promote his reputation to the skies. He deigns to speak by conference call nowadays.

McPherson imposed upon Gary Gallgher recently to give him license to write the history of the Civil War navies for the University of North Carolina Press because he thought he would like to do that. There was no major trade house asking for a project - he hunted this up. He's going to do it the way he does everything, by aggregating secondary sources. Watch.

McPherson's newest book, published this spring, was brought out by Kluwer, a Netherlands medical publisher, which has been building trade business stateside by buying specialist imprints like Da Capo. Kluwer issued his book through an obscure U.S. imprint.

This is not a hitmeister cranking it out. This is fadeout per "A Star is Born."

Speaking of which plotline, the only two McPherson students actively writing that we have been able to identify, Carhart and Clinton, each have books out this year issued by a major trade house. Clinton's was well received but is doing poorly; Carhart's has been poorly received but is selling decently. No stars here.

Meanwhile, "the greatest living Civil War historian of his generation" is reading royalty statements written in Dutch.

You wonder how this docudrama is going to end ... which is why the coverage will continue.


Hand me that cliche, will you?

"On Dec. 7, from 6:30 to 9 p.m., the Pierce House in Lincoln will welcome the humble, slightly disheveled, yet ever so determined character of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant as he was in 1864..."
It would be nauseatingly sweet if he could meet "Honest Abe" and "Never Told A Lie" George Washington on the way.

Franklin Battlefield reclaimed

Franklin city has bought Pizza Hut as well as the golf course next door. Big ceremony to destroy the fast food structure.
God forbid they should now get state or federal park services to manage this land.
Find a private owner and keep it private if you want to avoid further desecration.

Re-enactors murdered

Here's a new mystery novel featuring dead re-enactors.
NEWS | Work continues at Black Jack park * Kenosha plans $15 mln ACW museum * Gen. Grant to visit Lincoln