New Civil War blogs

There have been more than a few Civil War blogs rolled out recently, so forgive the dreaded "roundup" approach as I try to clear some backlogged info.

Nick Kurtz has launched Battlefield Wanderings, a very active two-month old blog with near daily postings. The blog started off with a strong touring focus. It's hard to characterize the newer content exactly - maybe "analytic recapitulations" will do.

Rea Andrew Redd is picking up the posting pace at a blog started in 2005 called Civil War Librarian. This is ACW books and media oriented and a little bit confusing in the voice department. Some entries are in Rea's voice, some are cut and paste press releases or reviews. The site has gone from 12 posts in 2006 to 45 so far this year.

Curtis Allen in his Johnston's Army is laying up posts like fine wines: he's got two up this year and both feature data about Albert Sydney ... pure information ... no opinions. May not satisfy the bloggy appetite without some extra flavor, I fear.

Samuel P. Wheeler is studying for his doctorate at Southern Illinois University, a stronghold of Lincoln publishing. Is he a student of Burlingame, I wonder? His blog Lincoln Studies has postings going back to February and - this is different - the blog hosts a discussion board (see here).

Another blog with a forum is Maine Militia set up by Michael P. Johnson Jr. There was one post (a news comment) in July last year. Then, on Sunday May 27, 2007 another post appeared. And now another. Three in less than one year! This could be a clearinghouse for a group of re-enactors and not intended for the ACW public.

Understanding Army of the Potomac Volume 3

An Amazon reviewer named James Durney has a very interesting take on Russel Beatie's new Army of the Potomac, Vol. III. He notes that the book covers 92 days and then does some math:
Sears in To the Gates of Richmond covers this time in about 90 pages. Burton in Extraordinary Circumstances covers this time in one general chapter on the war to date. This book averages 9.4 pages per day. From the siege of Yorktown to the battle of Williamsburg is almost 200 pages of good writing that gives a systematic account of the action. This level of detail becomes critical to our understanding of what the army is experiencing and their understanding of events as they occur.
I think that's an interesting way to convey level of detail - "9.4 pages per day." It's certainly the way we feel the bones of the story as we troll through archives, isn't it?

p.s. (or FYI) I have a blurb on the same page linked above.

p.p.s See also Drew's post on Beatie's depth and complexity and Ted Savas's comment.


Benchmarking Meade's letters to his wife

Ethan Rafuse has been doing us all a big favor by posting unexpurgated letters from Meade to his missus (see here and here).

He is able to do this because we have a turn-of-the-last-century book of correspondence edited by the general's son and can compare that published work with the handwritten original letters. In his posts, Ethan restores redactions made in the published versions and these are quite interesting.

In 1989, Stephen Sears claimed to have done the same thing in his book The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan. Specifically, he amended some text found in McClellan's Own Story using material of unknown provenance about which he made unsubstantiatable claims. This material is what historians routinely refer to (most irritatingly) as "McClellan's letters to his wife."

Long-time readers hear the creaking of my hobby-horse and are backing slowly towards the exits. Do stay with me for a few more lines: Rafuse's efforts will help me illustrtate my point about the McClellan "letters."

Meade letters = physically exist, can be read.
McClellan "letters" = whereabouts unknown, no scholar has ever seen one (for 1861-1862).

Meade letters = edited versions were published by his son.
McClellan "letters" = edited versions of notes we think may have been taken from letters were published by his literary executor after daughter May McClellan privately amended them.

Meade letters = letters. They meet every definition of "letter."
McClellan "letters" = cryptic documents manufactured for publication under conditions unknown per agendas unknown. They meet not a single definition of "letter."

My most recent post on this McClellan "letters to his wife" swindle is here. Rafuse's work with Meade's correspondence simply cannot be performed on McClellan's so-called correspondence and I ask (beg?) that writers stop referring to these McClellan artifacts as "letters."

Just add money

The environs of Appomattox Station may become public property. A report is due this summer.

Instant battlefield parks - a good thing.

The real question

... is who reads more deeply, not who reads more titles.


Reassessing Lincoln as commander

Some interesting thoughts on Lincoln by Brooks Simpson:
Now, this is not the opening salvo in what will become a full-scale bombardment designed to bring down the Lincoln Memorial. But I think most historians have been too busily celebrating Lincoln as commander-in-chief to assess his performance dispassionately. There have been dissenting voices, but they tend to come from scholars who want to defend a particular general, and in many cases the voices have been drowned out in a chorus of mostly untempered praise. Sometimes the Lincoln myth actually does a disservice to Lincoln, as in the oft-told tale of his supposedly constant support of Ulysses S. Grant.
I would suggest what we all need is a good book about the management style and system of Abraham Lincoln. There really has never been one to my knowledge. What appears in that flavor tends to be highlight driven, focused on analyzing individual decisions and outcomes; or it tends to formulate bromides through selective presentation.

The reader needs a sense of how the man spent his days, day after day; the balance between impromptu and schedule; the choices made of people to interact with; the choices made of type of work to perform; his subordinates' comments on work habits; his method for reaching decisions; major decisions never taken; you get the idea.

I think Lincoln was a chaotic individual, difficult to be around, with a provisional approach to deciding small matters and large; in cases where his provisional choices became locked down by circumstance, we find writers celebrating these as the wise fruit of long-held beliefs and careful planning. I think working for him, you or I would find him maddeningly vague and unfocused, constantly preserving his prerogatives (wiggle room?) when decisions were needed. But I could be wrong. Write the book, somebody, and let's see.

p.s. Manny had something to say on this earlier this month. He notes Lincoln is a natural for "quipstorians." (BTW, man, I hate quipstorians.) [Hat tip to Harry Smeltzer]

Civil War Book News

I have two other ACW websites. One has not been updated in 10 years. Will get to updating in the near future.

The other is also a ten year old site, Civil War Book News, and has migrated to its third URL and ended up as a blog. The blog format offers a number of opportunities I find irresistible: auto indexing, incremental updating instead of massive updating, and relief from the page composition/ftp chores that tax an old man's brains. Civil War Book News was intended to be a complete record of all ACW titles issued per year and I will attempt to keep it so.

Civil War Book News lives on in this new format. Thanks to old readers and welcome new ones. I have relaunched with May titles and will backfill (and forward fill) as we go along.


Publishing: a forward-looking industry

You can round off your plans for the year 2023 with a good read. The 1867 Harper's Brothers trilogy History of the American Civil War will be reissued that year and Amazon is taking orders for the set now.

Directtextbook.com is also taking orders for the 2023 reissue (scroll down).

Publishing is a strange business but an optimistic one.


Bad ACW history: an explanation

The magazine Nature has gone a long way toward explaining why Civil War history (and other pop history) is so awful:
Journals with high impact factors retract more papers, and low-impact journals are more likely not to retract ... the study finds. It also suggests that high and low-impact journals differ little in detecting flawed articles before they are published. ... Cokol argues that the larger number of retractions in high impact journals reflects the fact that they receive more scrutiny.
(Emphasis added.)

In Civil War history, "low impact" translates into yet another retelling, another synthesis of secondary sources, another infotainment project that cottons to what we already know. The low number of retractions made in ths field not only suggests the prevalence of low impact publishing but an absence of high-impact books and articles: in other words, an across-the-board quality problem.

(Hat tip to Overcoming Bias.)

Two takes on tonight's Sherman show

From the Hartford Courant:
In "Sherman's Total War Tactics: A Save Our History Special" (History, 8 p.m.) Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman is actually hailed by military men as a genius for introducing terror to American warfare. Those who have had their towns burned to the ground by American troops may have a different idea about the man who led the destructive march through Georgia and the Carolinas in 1864-65.
From the History Channel website:
In this Save Our History special, we travel the entire route of the march, investigating the innovative tactics and technologies used by 60,000 Union troops on the march from Atlanta to Savannah and up into North Carolina. From building a replica portable pontoon bridge to diving for an actual section of a submerged bridge, from a shooting contest between a Union repeating rifle and Confederate musket to twisting "Sherman's Neckties" around a burning tree, we explore what remains today of Sherman's March and discover how his sometimes brutal but always innovative strategies allowed his troops to move quickly and effectively.

Thompson to play Grant

Entertainment news:
Character actor and former Sen. Fred Dalton Thompson's next role is as president -- he's playing Ulysses S. Grant in the HBO film "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee."
These two men are merely mismatched by height, girth, hairline, and accent. So much for lookalike historical casting.


Civil War Talk Radio has moved

Dr. Gerald Prokopowicz's fine Civil War Talk Radio has moved to a new location. It looks to me as if they are still building it out. Here is a press release:

Civil War Talk Radio is alive and well. Its new address is:


The parent organization of CWTR, World Talk Radio, was recently sold to another company which implemented massive changes, including the removal of the websites for WTR and all of its shows. The Civil War Talk Radio website, among many others, disappeared without warning to anyone (including me). All old links to CWTR throughout the web are now obsolete.

The good news is that the show is still there, and once again has its own address. Go to:


Whatever is currently playing on World Talk Radio will automatically start, which is annoying, but you can of course turn it off (or leave it on to learn about paragliding or trading commodity futures). While you're there, you have the option of clicking the "Download to Desktop" button which will put a shortcut to the show page on your desktop.

From the show page, you can access the archived shows, at least back to Jan 2007. I am told the rest will be back up at some point.

Thanks to all who have inquired about the show, and to all past, present, and future listeners.

Army of the Potomac, Vol. III

(This post follows yesterday's preamble.)

Early in Russel Beatie's newly released third volume of the Army of the Potomac, we find the Comte de Paris advancing, with a small party, on the evacuated Rebel lines at Centreville.
Carrying the map, he had drawn at the end of February showing the location of Confederate units and their strengths, the Comte de Paris compared his findings of ninety five to one hundred and ten thousand men with the housing capacity shown by the remains on the ground.
An accompanying Swiss army engineer, Ferdinand Lecomte, commented that the count found his map "perfectly accurate."

To the repeat reader of conventional pop histories, this may be a difficult pill to swallow. Quaker cannons. Johnston's army ravaged by disease. Miserable collection of little huts. All that folderol represents invested time to some. To the deep reader, however, this is interesting stuff, made moreso by the obscurity of the sources.

Obscurity here is relative and based on our historians' lack of familiarity with an ancient, perhaps dead language once known as "French." The count kept a diary - Mark Grimsley has taken a stab at translating it in installments - that has not previously been fully translated or published.

Beatie makes extensive use of this document in his third volume. In the passage above, he also makes use of another French tract, Ferdinand Lecomte's Campagnes en Virginie.

As to the defenses at Centreville, there are surprises. Will make mention of these in my next post on Army of the Potomac. My point is not to pile on the spoilers but to convey that for the experienced, open-minded reader this book is a very special reading experience.

(Lecomte, by the way, had published his study of Jomini in 1861 and I am not sure if Campagnes is based on this report.)


Three lessons from Edwin Fishel

As a McClellan hater, the late Edwin Fishel had few equals; nevertheless his deeply flawed history of Union intelligence - published 11 years ago - had three irreplaceable findings that have been largely ignored by Civil War authors. These are:

(1) Pinkerton achieved a very high degree of accuracy (well over 90%) in identifying Rebel units opposite McClellan and in theatre.

(2) McClellan and Pinkerton supposedly went wrong by assigning 75% fill rates to identified Rebel units to come up with overall strength figures.

(3) McClellan assigned the d'Orleans brothers (from his staff) to act as intel analysts in evaluating the raw intel Pinkerton's and McClellan's sources were producing.

By adopting a loud tone hostile to McClellan, Fishel misled his conventional readers into thinking all was well with the master narrative - and yet these three points cause chaos in the master narrative. I have seen this again and again - indoctrinated researchers fighting against the implications of their own findings.

The possibility that Pinkerton did well remains unknown to the general reader. The idea that McClellan had a check on Pinkerton and himself (the brothers) remains likewise unknown. The idea that Virginia's governor Lechter staged total mobilization of military aged men and sent them to Johnston's army - maybe exceeding that 75% fill rate?! - is likewise a complete mystery to faithful readers of ye olde doctrine who imagine the Rebel army in front of Washington might have been in the mere 30,000+ range after disease and sickness.

So, McClellan and Pinkerton did not act as their own analysts and Fishel generously credits GBM with this United States military "first." You'll need to remember this when we see the brothers in action tomorrow in a sampling of Beatie's AOP Vol. III.

(Top right, those Orleans brothers.)

The Army of the Potomac

The third volume of Russel Beatie's series, The Army of the Potomac, is shipping now and I wanted to say so many things about these books. This being a blog, constricted by format, let me say just a few brief things at a time.

The structure in which Beatie delivers his research and rethinking is that of a narrative. That is no accident, as you can see from this interview. Nevertheless, this is not you father's ACW narrative. It is leavened with analysis - sometimes to an extent that some Civil War readers would object to - and it contains all those bits left out of the traditional Centennial storyline. This makes Beatie's books the equivalent of a "director's cut" of the story of the war in the east.

"Director's cut" is a funny film industry term that means the opposite of what it signifies. It suggests a version where the director has been uncut - his vision is freed from external constraint.

Beatie's Army of the Potomac restores all the really interesting bits that pop historians removed to keep your pretty little head from worrying about confusing details. You'll recoginize the story framework (e.g. timeline and personalities) but you'll not be prepared for what you encounter on the way. The war in the east will be a new reading experience for you.

If you are a reader of the type, "wow, look at that," you're in for an excellent time. If your reaction tends to be, "this is not important or I would know it already," then forget these volumes. And please forget this blog.

In the days ahead, I'll post a few examples of this wow factor (without spoiling too much of the fun this book affords deep readers).

A sentence you won't soon see again

"His filmmaking focused on Ohio and Civil War history, including several documentaries concerning Ohio's role in the Civil War."


Compensated Emancipation

Our enjoyment of a one-day tax filing extension this year was triggered by an obscure District holiday celebrating the Compensated Emancipation Act of April 1862.

This little event is one of those speed bumps that annoy popular storytellers racing down Talespinner Lane. It generally takes the form of this thread:

* Lincoln sends message to Congress urging compensated emancipation in border states.

* DC slaves are freed with compensation; nothing else gets done.

* Lincoln moves on to begin formulating the Emancipation Proclamation.

I abstracted this from Donald's Lincoln. It sets the stage for the bigger topic, the Proclamation.

But is the Proclamation the bigger topic? Is it the end point of great thought and planning? Or did compensated emancipation far outweigh it in Lincoln's calculations?

We see in William Hesseltine's Lincoln and the War Governors the outlines of a very large topic indeed. Hesseltine characterizes compensated emancipation as Lincoln's "program" "to counter the abolitionists." Look at Hesseltine's thread:

* In March of '62, Lincoln sends a message to Congress urging appropriations be made for to purchase slaves in border states. He also proposes freedmen colonize Latin America or the U.S. Southwest.

* Again, "the only result of the proposal was the bill for compensated emancipation for the District of Columbia."

* Lincoln then renewed his appeal before Congress adjourned. He tells people "The war would now be substantially ended" if Congress had supported compensated emancipation in March.

* Lincoln then sends "a bill to compensate any state that might abolish slavery, but neither Congress nor the border states" take action, Hesseltine writes.

* In Missouri, Lincoln's ally Gov. Gamble introduces a compensated emancipation bill that is "summarily rejected."

All this adds up to significant investment on Lincoln's part, to a vision of how the war will end and how the slavery question will be settled. The war would now be substantially ended is not a trivial remark and merits deep thought.

Compensated emancipation could be the larger, more substantive topic; the Emancipation Proclamation itself … is it an afterthought? A second best choice for Lincoln?

Perhaps there are book-long Emancipation tomes addressing these matters in just proportions but I haven't seen them.

Dogs in the manger

Simon & Schuster may let your book go out of print, but they'll be keeping the rights to it anyway.

Sorry authors, new rules.



The president has found his "war czar" and all sorts of interesting ACW associations are emerging. From the linked story, this is clearly a Halleck-like position: bureaucratic and devoted to on-demand political servicing. The associated punditry parodies itself:
While creating a manager for the war could be a good idea, the choice of Lute reinforces the notion that the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan need military solutions, says Kathleen Hicks, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "It's exactly the wrong message," she says.
Over at Opposed Systems Design, the question arises, "Tsar? How about a grand strategy?" They offer this quote from the WSJ:
“The war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq are adrift in the absence of a properly developed grand strategy to integrate military and nonmilitary elements of national power,” said Stephen Biddle, a Council on Foreign Relations scholar who just returned from a monthlong tour advising Gen. David Petraeus...
As I often say here, a grand strategy imposes immense political risks and costs on the political decisionmaker. Lincoln would have none of it - neither would Jeff Davis. It takes a politician with immense levels of self-confidence and public support, an FDR comes to mind, to commit to grand strategy and even then there tends to be pay-as-you go mini-strategy, with elements of a grand design approved in phases.

The thing that interests me in this appointment is that this man Lute, like Petraeus, was appointed to a four-star position with three-star rank, bypassing the four-star talent pool. Recall that Pershing was promoted from captain to brigadier general over the heads of (IIRC) 835 senior officers. Likewise, WWWII was fought, MacArthur excepted, by Pershing's young WWI staffers rather than by senior incumbents like Hugh Drum and suchlike.

One of interesting things about Rumsfeld was that he took over the promotion of generals above the rank of major general where previously the generals' club had selected its own. Here, we have two Rumsfeld-selected three-stars receiving appointment - from politicians - to war-fighting positions ... a major throwback to the ACW.

We all hope the results will justify this historic return to the historic.

Teaching the Civil War to kids

This is a pretty good idea:
Karen Boucher's language arts class are examining the letters and trying to research who the letter writers were and whether they have modern-day descendants. "It's kind of like decoding the past," Boucher said. The letters come from Boucher's great-great-grandfather ... [and] were discovered four years ago ... More than 30 letters were found in a small pouch, along with other artifacts.
This is absolute bosh:
On June 1 students will wear period uniforms of their own making, visit a makeshift battlefield medical tent and re-enact Pickett's Charge, which took place on the third day of the battle of Gettysburg.
Oddly enough both are part of the same school project.


ACW novelist on the lam

He lives abroad "after having moved to Europe from Virginia to escape ... legal actions" from a richer and more successful author. Teasing her mercilessly on the Internet, our Civil War author now faces lawsuits for defamation.

Don't look at me that way. Put down that writ, please. Do read this, though, it's funny.


From the Ohio to the Tigris

General David Petraeus has issued a letter to the troops in Iraq. If it strikes you as something from the pen of McClellan, read his message and then compare it to the real deal, below. Think clarity, actionability, simplicity. Think Iraq in place of Virginia. Over to Mac:

You are ordered to cross the frontier and enter the soil of Virginia.

Your mission is to restore peace and confidence, to protect the majesty of the law, and to rescue our brethren from the grasp of armed traitors. You are to act in concert with Virginia troops and to support their advance. I place under the safeguard of your honor the persons and property of the Virginians. I know that you will respect their feelings and rights.

Preserve the strictest discipline; remember that each one of you holds in his keeping the honor of Ohio and the Union. If you are called upon to overcome armed opposition I know that your courage is equal to the task; but remember that your only foes are the armed traitors, and show mercy even to them when they are in your power, for many of them are misguided. When, under your protection, the loyal men of Western Virginia have been enabled to organize and arm, they can protect themselves, and you can then return to your homes with the proud satisfaction of having saved a gallant people from destruction.

Geo. B. McClellan, May 26, 1861
From the Ohio to the Tigris - clear, concise, self explanatory. Empowering. Petraeus could have used it to much better effect than his own letter.

(Photo: The Petraeus confirmation hearings.)

Artifact hunting: the digger as hacker

You think may think they are digging for knick knacks to sell, but
"... in a lot of cases, it may be just because they can do it and like the challenge," Halchin said. "I've started comparing it to hacking on Web sites just because it's there and because they can do it."

A modern case for militia

Stumbled across this article recently, a modern case for the revival of militia. For the deep Civil War reader, it's very interesting despite the author's terminal confusion over USV-type arrangements versus true militia structures.

The defining characteristic of militia is that it is local and of the USV that it is federal. The author seems to be probing an area Civil War readers would recognize: the revival of militia and the subsequent drafting of individual militiamen into federal or National Guard service during emergencies.

A unique Civil War book

Can you think of another collaboration like this one?

The book is Never for Want of Powder: The Confederate Powder Works in Augusta, Georgia and it has five authors, including Ted Savas.

The usual sort of project is to have multiple authors contribute an essay each on some much broader (easier, gassier) topic. Or to have one author bind up his easy-reading book reviews. On the table of historical elements, a collaborative monograph on a specialist subject represents the heaviest metal of all. And that's as good as it gets for deep readers.
I'll report back on this after looking over the galleys.

Making McClellan noises

Savas-Beatie is shipping Army of the Potomac Vol. III to stores; it seems like a good occasion therefore to talk about McClellan again.

We have from the commander in Iraq what appears to be a proclamation rather like something from McClellan himself during the West Virginia campaign.

General David Petraeus says,
Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen serving in Multi-National Force Iraq: Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right. Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy. This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we - not the enemy - occupy the moral high ground.
These are McClellan-like noises ... but without substance. Recall McClellan once told his command, "We are fighting in a holy cause, and should endeavor to deserve the benign favor of the Creator." Note we are not fighting to make people understand who holds the high ground - we do not fight and die for public opinion. Petraeus's argument that "our values" (whence?) and "the laws" (whence?) "teach us" something is not of the same order.

Further, note that Petraeus falsely places the values of his soldiers and those of the enemy on the same plane by making adherence to values - consistency in behavior - the distinguishing moral feature. "Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy," who does not adhere to his own values, one supposes. This being from a Princeton PhD, it is not a slip of the pen.

The paragraph excerpted above, ending in the phrase "the moral high ground" then passes immediately into pragmatism: "This strategy has shown results in recent months."

Your moral position is a strategy? This PhD cannot tell means from ends. Try this on instead, from McClellan again:
The General Government can not close its ears to the demand you have made for assistance. I have ordered troops to cross the river. They come as your friends and brothers, as enemies only to armed rebels who are preying upon you. Your homes, your families, and your property are safe under our protection. All your rights shall be religiously respected.
That's a clear statement of action with the principles guiding them. GBM addresses the population in the path of his army, but his logic and motivations are as clear in the messages given to his troops.

I urge you to read the full text of the Petraeus letter. It is filled with appeals to practicality and usefulness. It urges troops to talk to their chaplain or "medical expert" about stress if they cannot see things his way. It touches on values without defining them and it prods soldiers to discuss the ideas in the letter. Hey, let's have a rap session that can change nothing...

Can you not tell that the army is being run by a 1970s crowd? Is Tom Wolfe writing this stuff?

A closing thought on the effects of McClellan's clear and forthright policies: this comes from the Southern memoir, A Virginia Girl in the Civil War: "Civilians, women, children, and slaves feared Pope; soldiers feared McClellan - that is, as much as Lee's soldiers could fear anybody."

Old fashioned stuff, a practical effect from a moral policy.


p.s. To give a fuller taste of the moral and intellectual confusion of our Army command in these days, here is an anecdote from the current troubles (emphasis added).

In 2004, when McFate had a fellowship at the Office of Naval Research, she got a call from a science adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He had been contacted by battalion commanders with the 4th Infantry Division in a violent sector of the Sunni Triangle, in Iraq.

“We’re having a really hard time out here—we have no idea how this society works,” the commanders said. “Could you help us?”

The science adviser replied that he was a mathematical physicist, and turned for help to one of the few anthropologists he could find in the Defense Department.

- “Knowing the Enemy”, George Packer, The New Yorker, December 12, 2006

Note that the battalion commanders annoying the Pentagon's scientific staff are one step above company commanders, i.e. low-level combat leaders equivalent to the colonels running Civil War regiments. It's as if Chamberlain were telegraphing Stanton for anthropological support.

Given a clear-cut (McClellan type) statement of moral policy with supporting, actionable principles, commanders would know how to execute their orders under any circumstances and in any society.

(Top right: the Petraeus family)

Novelist Shelby Foote has died

After Civil War author Shelby Foote died in 2005, the Gothic Southern novelist Shelby Foote was reborn and began to be seen in the literature sections of the chain bookstores.

Shortly after the ACW personality passsed away I had my pick of three or four Foote novels on any given visit to Borders or B&N. Now I cannot find a single Foote title anymore. Shame.

Foote predates Flannery O'Connor and his work is deeper, darker and richer than Walker Percy's. He was a big talent contemporary with giants. Pity the Foote revival fizzled.


Virtual battlefield tours for children

What possible good can that do?

There is at least one thing virtual can do - cut down on the noise and pollution of re-enactment: "...concerns have arisen within Kansas City’s Parks and Recreation Department about the effect of such a large event on native plants in the park and on other wildlife there, such as ground-nesting birds."

Ahhhhh, multipurposing.

Relic hunters

The local paper will often run a Civil War piece not realizing they have entered into a world of controversy, e.g.: "We relic hunters are preserving history; it’s a joy and privilege."

This is not my idea of the "Holy Grail," either.

Where pop history takes you

You can read "350-400" books on the Civil War and end up evangelizing for the reputations of Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jeb Stuart, Joshua L. Chamberlain, James Longstreet and George Pickett.

You can read that many books and decide, in addition, that these were "ordinary men."

After almost 400 books, you can conclude that storytelling is the key to understanding history and that better storytelling is in order.

In such a case, obviously you are reading pop literature, and just as obviously, it has taken you nowhere. This is a human tragedy. Let it be a lesson to all those people who say, "Thank heaven these kids are getting some kind of history - any kind!"


It is illegal to own an Union battle flag

Now you know, courtesy of the Maine Antique Digest.

Forrest flap

A Congressman quotes Forrest's famous get there first with the most and is censured for quoting a racist.

Multipurpose memorials

When it was proposed that the ACW monument in Otsego, NY, needed clean-up, the spirit of the age asserted itself immediately: "Part of the proposal included making it a memorial to the veterans of all wars."

Be careful that this crowd doesn't charge into your cemetery and swap out family headstones for markers representing all the dead everywhere.


The evolution of fear

Before I "got into" Civil War reading in 1997 - four hours per day on trainrides through Y2K - I had perused the occasional pop lit (the big name Centennial writers) and gained a rough idea of the sequence of events in the Washington-to-Richmond corridor.

It was not a subject that interested me in 1992 or '93 when I encountered a Battles and Leaders of the Civil War set. Browsing the set, which was on sale, I was struck with how well the articles were written, what a fine job the editors had done, how the unified style of illustration brought the whole "package" together. I was also struck with absolute dread as to my level of ignorance about the war.

A general named Buell? And he seems to be in some sort of controversy with Grant? What is a Halleck? Who are these people?

The kaleidascope of generals commanding, the far-flung theaters, the meticulously recounted (and rebutted) accounts of battles I had never heard of made me think, "I could never even become reasonably familiar with this subject." There was a pang of fear and despondency I can still feel today. I bought the series anyway, thinking, "I will enjoy reading this for the next 20 years, 10 pages at a time, by the fire in my easy chair." It would be literature. It would be time travel. The arguments would be quaint. And obviously the writing (and thinking) is at a level we will never see again from American generals.

The easychair regimen never took hold, but years later, Battles and Leaders was read one article at a time per whatever controversy I was trying to untangle. Taken that way, one controversy at a time, the whole war took form and the collection passed from "overwhelming" to "inadequate." Not that I became comfortable with everything in those books.

That flavor of fear remains - I feel it when I get a review copy on a topic outside of my interest - and it then takes the shape of avoidance. I have a Jefferson Davis biography. I can't get into it - I can't open that door to an immense universe of information and controversy because I just don't have time.

And yet I would devour a book on Jeff Davis, Secretary of War, where I have already spent time and effort on understanding his role in this or that administrative matter.

Do aspects of the Civil War topicon scare you too?
[Image by Ralph Steadman]

OT, Military Reform: Robb's new book

Chet Richards reviews John Robb's new book over at DNI.


Gingrich and Forstchen have moved on

They're done with the ACW. It's on to WWII now.

Don't let the door hit you on the way out, boys.

Mother's day thoughts

No "hail the conquering hero" for Julia Ward Howe: "Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience."

Interesting sentiments for 1870.

Previously, her husband was apparently a member of the Secret Six - not a peaceful group in the least. She herself was a member of the Sanitary Commission, an adjunct of the U.S. war effort.

"As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free" - her famous 1862 cry to arms is now mysteriously superseded by an unequivocal Mother's Day proclamation, "Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage..."

Pacifism is a selective doctrine, even in a single heart.

A question for the Master

Ethan Rafuse almost played an excellent joke on James McPherson. Myself, sitting next to him as ER did, I would have asked (on behalf of ER and others), "Do you still think there is no new talent in Civil War history?"

From the archives:
McPherson: Most of the people I know in the field right now are in their 40s or older. I can’t think of anybody younger coming along. So frankly, I don’t know. Maybe quite a few people are out there in their 30s or late 20s who just haven’t made a big impact yet and will do so in the next few years. If so, I’m not aware of them.


"Millions of tourism dollars!"

Georgia again:
The Civil War brought hard times to Georgia, with Union troops torching Atlanta and cutting a swath of destruction through the state before delivering Savannah to President Abraham Lincoln as an early Christmas gift on Dec. 22, 1864. Nearly a century and a half later, state leaders are hoping Georgia's role in the epic conflict will have a much different impact -- drawing in millions of tourism dollars by promoting its Civil War-era sites.
You see, it's not about them, those local Georgian civilians of yore, nor Georgian soldiers, nor occupying "foreign troops." Nor is it about today's Georgians relating their own history. No, it's about you, big spender. Come on and spend a little time (and money) down here while you get your weirdo kicks tromping around pre-development land parcels.

I like this part:
... so-called heritage tourists "spend an average of 30 percent more per trip than average travelers, and we want them to come to Georgia."
On the other hand,
"Part of what we need to do is reach beyond just the Civil War buffs -- to be able to tell the story in a compelling way to a much broader audience and get them interested," he said
So, getting them interested will cause them to spend 30% more than uninterested tourists?

This Georgia "Civil War" effort is going to be multipurposed into utter meaninglessness while the state government insults its one true market for heritage tourism.

(You've seen it before, I know but the papers keep picking up this old AP wire story and I keep on reading it and being offended.)

Three things we didn't know

(1) Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain has had his own brand of beer since 1995.

(2) You can buy a book of 3-D Civil War photos.

(3) "Easily two-thirds of the surviving Civil War images are twin images for stereo use."

The possibilities are limitless: drink a Chamberlain beer, then look at the stereograms. Repeat as necessary.

History Book Club

Received an offer from History Book Club this week: four books for a dollar plus a bag to tote them around in.

The choices offered included a Norman Mailer novel, a road atlas, Sudoko puzzle books, DIY home improvement, a book by comedian George Carlin, and Kama Sutra for 21st Century Lovers.


Roundup! Roundup! (Shame! Shame!)

One should be horsewhipped for writing something as lame as a roundup. Remind me to criticize others for such a breach of good taste and lively blogging in the future. Now, standby while I clear my conscience. Ready! Indulge me, please.

Nick Kurtz has started a Civil War blog themed to battlefield wanderings. I promise to interact with his Ball's Bluff post especially. I have "issues" with that battlefield as laid out. Hope to work them out with A Little Short of Boats, a book published by Eric Wittenberg's Ironclad Publishing.

Kevin Levin trusted his instincts
on Edward Bonekemper. Salut! Please see this review of mine of his first book. His errors then inspired little confidence.

Thanks to Mark Grimsley for a kudo that seems to imply some sort of ball is in my court (e.g., to name thinking bloggers of my own?). Anyway you can't go wrong thanking Mark G. on whatever excuse.

Joshua Blair: may I suggest you commit to blogging? April 15 is long past and does not cut it here in the hyper-active world of Civil War posting.

Jenny Goellnitz continues what I hope is a McClellanist effort (i.e., an inexorable, brilliant, inspired effort) against Hodgkin's Disease. She has an AP Hill site, too, because she likes nebulous, as do we all.

Jim Beeghley is using blogs to teach the ACW! He's got an inclination towards Clara Barton. I'm a Dorothea Dix fan myself.

I have watched Brooks Simpson grapple with the issue of Grant's drinking for about 10 years. As an historian, his attitude is perfect.

On a personal note: the email system I used to use has been "upgraded" with no prior emails carried forward. I have lost contact with almost everyone. Write to me at delta romeo oscar tango oscar victor at gmail dot com.

The Democrats of 1864 - some complaints

One war-long Republican information project was to create a single view of the Democratic opposition: to eliminate distictions so that the worst element, the Copperheads, might characterize the entire party. It seems many Civil War readers have fallen into this view. On the flip side, Civil War authors have taken little trouble to explain the richness of Democratic opposition.

It is therefore irritating to see a book title like, Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln's Opponents in the North. This title conflates opposition to Lincoln with Copperheads.

Q: Who in the Union opposed Lincoln's in war matters my children?

A: Traitors! (Hiss.)

To help this process along, the Republicans of that era took a page out of future East European history: they created a "united front" party, the Unionists, which further fragmented the Democratic opposition into what they could portray as war (Unionist) and antiwar (Democrat).

But it was not so simple in fact. The Democratic Party's war supporters split in two. A minority joined Lincoln in his sham/front party; other war supporters decried Lincoln's gross mismanagement of the war and called for efficiency in its prosecution.

I believe that the three overtures made to McClellan by Lincoln in the spring of 1864 - just as Grant was about to start his campaign (historians have discovered only three approaches thus far) - were about offering a "return to his place" in exchange for Unionist political affiliation. This is a supposition. The only record we have is of Lincoln intermediaries offering McClellan a return to his former "place" - the incentive - and not the price McClellan was to pay for returning to Lincoln's high favor.

The core, mainstream Democratic complaint was that the Republicans mishandled the war, extended it by design, created a runaway "culture of corruption", and relied on lawbreaking to pave the way for the total suppression of the Democratic Party. I believe that McClellan internalized this critique in toto.

The central problem of the election of '64 - apart from allegations of vote suppression and vote rigging - was that of the war Democrats outside the Unionist tent being unable to separate themselves from the accusation they sought peace.

Could McClellan have possibly have exchanged the peace vote for the soldier vote to gain electoral victory? It seems likely he had no peace vote anyway much less Copperhead support. After the war, Pinkerton told McClellan that the election had been settled beforehand. Whether or not that is true, the soldier vote was controlled enough that the candidate could not have taken it out of Stanton's grasp.

And yet, there were stirrings against Lincoln but they failed to benefit McClellan. Take as your guide Meade's quiet boast to his wife that he and Grant had abstained from voting altogether in the 1864 race. Army-wide, how many times was that little drama of defiance re-enacted?

We will know this corner of history has grown up when Lincoln's opponents can be honored, when their motives, concerns, and criticisms gain fair hearing. In the meantime, we remain free to hiss at the Copperheads.

Fremont's site

Look what I found: an unbelievably extensive Fremont site. And it's had over a million visitors. Where have I been?

If you've ever wondered, "How bad does a starved mule taste without salt?" wonder no more.

Cemeteries lost and found

This tour guide has found 14 ACW veterans in the city cemeteries of Hamilton, Ontario, "including two African-American soldiers in unmarked graves."

Meanwhile, roadworkers in West Virginia have discovered a family cemetery with Civil War interred, and notified the family in question.

The family member they contacted is a genealogist.

How does a family lose track of its cemetery?


We have a trend here

Drew is reviewing Kentucky's Civil War.

Johns Hopkins has sent me Maryland Voices of the Civil War.

And I got briefly excited when I noticed the new title Ohio's War: the Civil War in Documents.

So we have a trend. But it is not a good trend. These are feelgood books.

In the case of Ohio, I want to see the threads of local politics traced back to Salmon Chase's hands; give me the interplay that brings Governors Chase, Dennison, and Tod to the Lincoln cabinet; I want to see Dennison running the war in the west through his man McClellan; I want details of the Dennison/Yates/Morton military strategy conference of 1861; I want exploration of the McDowell - Dennison cousinship; I want gazette content too, including men raised, desertions, census data, and more. But here's what is actually on offer: "Ohio’s War uses documents from that vibrant and tumultuous time to reveal how Ohio’s soldiers and civilians experienced the Civil War."

How they felt. Damn it.

Maryland Voices offers us the same deal but with a mix of Confederate and Union materials. It contains little analysis. Entertaining? Yes. Mindless? Completely.

Of the bunch, Drew's decription makes Kentucky's Civil War look more palatable than the other two books. It contains essays (analysis, arguments) and there are so many essays included, the reader must eventually find something interesting.

Perhaps this stuff is aimed at state-level student markets.

Black Swans and the Civil War

Nicholas Taleb has a new book out to follow-up his earlier, intriguing Fooled by Randomness.

The Black Swan is must reading for anyone who dabbles in military history, trading, or complexity. One Amazon reviewer does okay summarizing its content:
The themes include: winner-take-all phenonomen, numerous effects of randomness on the world, the invalidity of the Gaussian Bell Curve to most things in world, concepts of scalablity, [structural] instabilities in the world ... people's inability to predict the future.
No author speaks more aptly to the fallacies promoted to and by Civil War readers, e.g., "inevitability of the war," inevitability of outcomes, reproduceability of military results, the blessings of risk-taking, and all those statements including the fragment "would have to."

One for the authors out there

Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown is such a responsive literary agent, that some people think he's automated his query correspondence. Quite a compliment.


Army bloggers

The Army now says it will not review individual soldier emails and blog postings, but will trust soldiers to apply OPSEC as needed.

The personality of a general

... the Air Force administers the Myer-Briggs Personality Inventory test at both the Air Force Academy and the War College levels. At the Academy, the bureaucratic personality type (ISTJ) is just one among many. But by the War College, ISTJs are completely dominant.
By recalling junior officers and advancing them to high rank in the Civil War, the Union probably obtained a rich mix of personality types.

... an ISTJ may show some or all of the following weaknesses in varying degrees:

* Excessive love of food and drink

* Lack of interest in other people, or in relating to them

* Occasional inappropriate emotional displays

* General selfish "look after oneself" tendencies

* Uses judgement to dismiss other's opinions and perspectives, before really understanding them

* May judge others rather than themselves

* May look at external ideas and people with the primary purpose of finding fault

* May become slave to their routine and "by the book" ways of doing things, to the point that any deviation is completely unacceptable

* May have difficulty communicating their thoughts and feelings to anyone

Frank Varney

He has not published a book yet, but Cornell professor Francis Phillip Varney is rocking the Civil War boat.

His students give him the highest rating of "hotness," whatever that signifies, and post rave comments about him on RateMyProfessors.

Tonight, he delivers
his lecture, "Lies, Damned Lies, and the Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant: How One Man Wrote the History of the Civil War." Frank Varney of Cornell University will investigate Grant's attempt to manipulate the historical record. [...] The lecture is free and will be held from 7 to 8 p.m. at the museum, 415 E. Water St. in Elmira [NY].

Two years ago, he delivered a talk, "The Lies of Iuka: the Origin of the Grant-Rosecrans Feud."

Truly, to see Grant at his personal worst, one needs to delve deeply into his relations with Rosecrans. (Try this to start.) Outside of the Southrons and a few students of Rosecrans, I don't know of many Grant critics. Certainly, one is needed.

Varney's interests range beyond the Civil War. He will speak on "The Death of a City: The Athenian Destruction of Melos in 416 B.C." on May 18. Good choice: the tragedy of the Melian dialog should always be before us and resonates deeply with current foreign affairs.

(Odd, though, that parents would name their child after a famous vampire, isn't it?)


Notes on the "Lost Cause"

I appreciate Kevin Levin's thoughtful post on my issues with "Lost Cause" historiography and should clarify a few points.

Boiling things down to essentials:

(1) My gripes are with published authors, not bloggers.

(2) The offense taken is in the representation of disparate views as a school of thought or school of history.

(3) I would prefer if the many, disparate arguments addressed under so-called "Lost Cause" history were lumped together under a generic rhetorical term like "Confederate Apologetics."

(4) I have no issues with anyone attacking, examining, arguing any of the individual points of heterogenous "Confederate Apologetics." That would be a rhetorical exercise with history overtones.

(5) I have huge problems with people who should know better erecting a school of history where the real job is to point out rhetorical affinities and tendencies in argumentation.

The so-called "history" that has been labeled "Lost Cause" is overwhelmingly concerned with rhetorical work, not historical tasks: assigning blame and praise, adducing cause and effect, separating sheep from goats. Because pop historians are so deeply committed to delivering goods like these, they imagine themselves busy with historiography when they engage rhetorically. They imagine that the repudiation of non-history on the terms of non-history is an historiographic activity.

This was not history. This is not history. This cannot be history.

(As always, I have exaggerated somewhat to make a point or two and am subject to refutation and rebuke as needed.)

A new Civil War blog

This one is dedicated to the navies.

(Hat tip to Eric Wittenberg.)

Cyclorama painting sold to investors

Investors have bought the Gettysburg Cyclorama painting and have lined up buyers to whom they can resell the work (presumably without restoration). All coverage is local: see the News Record, the News & Observer, and the Winston-Salem Journal.

"The price exceeded $5.5 million." A record for an ACW painting?

Gag orders old and new

In the Civil War, when restrictions were placed on reporters, newspapers ran letters from soldiers. Today's Army has just now "ordered soldiers to stop posting to blogs or sending personal e-mail messages, without first clearing the content with a superior officer [...] The new rules (.pdf) obtained by Wired News require a commander be consulted before every blog update."


Topics for a Lincoln Symposium - Trading with the Enemy

With the Lincoln Bicentennial almost upon us, we're all going to have to pull together to keep this from becoming a mind-numbing fifth grade civics lesson. This is one of a series of posts proposing seminar topics to keep things lively and honest. These are obviously panels I would pay to hear.

Lincoln's Trade with the Confederacy - Its Scope and Effects

Congress passed legislation allowing Lincoln to establish a CSA trade policy on July 13, 1861 and to manage trade with the Confederacy through his Treasury officers. A vigorous promoter of such trade, Lincoln once answered critics, "Better give him [the Rebel] guns for it [cotton] than let him, as now, get both guns and ammunition for it..." Was the war prolonged by this trade? Did it undermine the blockade? Who benefitted most from the permit system?

Our panelists:

David G. Surdam, author of "Traders or Traitors: Northern Cotton Trading During the Civil War," and Northern Naval Superiority and the Economics of the American Civil War. Mr. Surdam will address Lincoln's arguments favoring this trade; also the president's issue of permit endorsements to better facilitate movement across enemy lines. He will offer an evaluation of which side benefitted most from this activity.

Ludwell H. Johnson, author of "Contraband Trade during the Last Year of the Civil War" and Red River Campaign: Politics and Cotton in the Civil War. Mr. Johnson will suggest that Lincoln moved beyond the bounds of Congressional authorization towards ever less restraint in commercial dealings with partners behind enemy lines. He will sketch out how enemy trading policies in some cases drove Union strategy.

Jack Levy (shown above) and Catherine Barbieri, authors of "Trading with the Enemy in Wartime: Theoretical Explanations and Historical Evidence." They will present a number of historical examples of the U.S. trading with the enemy in wartime and explore alternative theories explaining the phenomenon.


(For an excellent legal recap of the law surrounding trade with the Confederacy, read this case in Findlaw.)

The SCV's anti-debunking efforts (a lost cause)

The SCV held a symposium to counter "revisionism" in Lee's reputation. Robert K. Krick spoke.

Now let us digress for a moment.

I myself am a "Lost Cause" skeptic being underwhelmed by the quality of historians trying to play at historiography here. The idea that there is an identifiable "Lost Cause" school of thought among post-war history writers is a proposition that needs arguments and proofs, not a grab bag of self-serving snippets from selected writings.

Through a careful editing of materials we can as easily construct a "Lost Cause" mythology as we can a "Lincoln's Virtues" mythology in which a school of history is assembled from Unionist writings that argue Lincoln's virtues were decisive in winning the war for the North.

There is no "Lincoln's Virtues" school of history any more than there is a "Lost Cause" school, but imagine that I write a book about how "Lincoln's virtues" provided a consistent theme in Northern post-war victory analysis. I "prove" with my scissors and paste pot that there is this "mythology" afoot.

To make this analogy complete, I then, in my book, attack Lincoln's supposed war-winning virtues. I create the "Lincoln's Virtues" school and then I debunk it. I travel the country decrying "these people" who continue to perpetrate "virtue myths."

I would be quite the fool.

How would you deal with my foolishness? Would you (a) attack criticism of Lincoln's virtues, arguing he was actually virtuous, or (b) do you attack me and the idea that there ever was such a school of thought?

If you answered (a) you are arguing with effects and not with the cause. So it is with the SCV in this story.
The profession of history needs a serious, historiographically sophisticated examination of the claim that there was such a thing as a "Lost Cause" school of history.

Nomenclature gets tricky here . The people who have posited a "Lost Cause"mythology should be called "Lost Cause" advocates: they promote the existence of something and they do that in the marketplace. Oddly, however, they imagine themselves to be discoverers rather than creators. And so, they are not Lost Causers in their own minds - they are Lost Cause debunkers. They debunk their own construct.

In the course of debunking the ideas they assembled and constructed, writers concerned with the "Lost Cause" naturally make claims or draw conclusions regarding reputations. And here we arrive at the news item that started this piece, for the SCV wants to fix a reputation affected by the debunking of a manufactured school of thought.

(You really do need to read a lot of Baudrillard to get through your Civil War day, my friends.)

So do we call the SCV "Lost Cause" debunkers, when the inventors and promoters of "Lost Cause" mythology are themselves its debunkers? Or can they be anti-debunkers without being pro "Lost Cause"?

Hello, I'm an anti-Lost Cause debunker. Hello, I'm in favor Lost Cause debunking. What a mess.

Send for the professionals. Get these pop-historians-cum-historiographers and their SCV playmates off our playground.