Woodworth, revisionist

Steven Woodworth's revisionist Decision in the Heartland appears today. The Civil War was won in the West.

The best kind of story

Ewing issues General Orders, No. 11. The eviction of Jackson County Missourians is accompanied by the burning of their homes. A widow watches the torching of her house and then orders her slave to rake the coals for surviving property. He finds the family Bible (right) intact.

A story like that could punch up some narrative history, I think.


Comparing rail power in war

Rene Tyree has been considering Civil War railroads (see here and here) which reminds me of the paradigm shift we so badly need to compare the war potential of the railroad systems, north and south

Analysis tends to address miles of track; condition of track and stock; compatibility of gauges; number and location of hubs and transfer points; inventories of cars and locomotives; engineering talent pools; railroad materiel on hand; and loss replacement capability. These are secondary matters, however.

The primary issue in rail-based warfare is entirely legal and managerial: what authority (or how much) does a commander have over the road? Everything else comes in a distant second. The warring sides of the ACW are not equals in this.

There are obviously ways to gain control over the road. (1) You can contract a certain amount of business (you become "the customer") (2) You can give local commanders exceptional powers and rules for applying power (3) You can expropriate the lines needed (4) You can set up a military railroad (5) You can negotiate railroad use case by case on an ad hoc basis.

H. David Stone's Vital Rails: The Charleston & Savannah Railroad and the Civil War in Coastal South Carolina comes out next month and it contains some passages certain to awaken us from our dreams of managerial equivalency. Rebeldom seems, in the early war at least, to have made exclusive use of (5) above. Item (5) seems to embody the total repertoire of military-railroad interaction.

Stone notes not only "the Confederate government's inability to harness the Southern railroads" but also a policy that seems to have been to try to maintain the fiscal health of the individual railroad companies - thus preserving a potential military capacity - by minimizing military disruption of commercial operations.

So, in Vital Rails, we find Lee - in his ill-starred contest with Union General Tim Sherman - tiptoeing around the "brash" demands for railroad services made by subordinates Maxcy Gregg and John Pemberton. To allow military riders on the Charleston & Savannah - the posting of sentries on the line being an issue - Gregg and Pemberton ask for authority over the conductors - in essence, they want the power to demand fare-free delivery of guards. To "defuse" this explosive request, Lee arranges for use of a handcar in lieu of a free ride for sentries.
General Lee knew that military interference with railroad operations had been a frequent complaint of numerous rail carriers, and he tried to avert the potentially inflammatory request.
Apparently matters were worse elsewhere:
Cooperation with the armed forces was not as much an issue with the Charleston & Savannah as it was with some others.
Mind you Pemberton and Gregg (and Lee) are trying to protect the railroad from Sherman, one of whose objectives is the destruction of the road. With Lee packed off to Virginia under a cloud, Pemberton assumes command and with it the responsibility for protection of the railroad. His "demands" for services are now unchecked by Lee's diplomacy:
Alarmed over the increased [enemy] activity in the region, [railroad] President Magrath asked General Pemberton how the railroad would be impacted by additional military traffic. Pemberton tried to reassure Magrath that he did not anticipate any interruption of the business of the railroad in the ensuing months. He did not foresee a great increase in military or other government transport that summer, but he did allow for the possibility of emergencies arising. Of course this would necessitate the forwarding of troops from either Charleston or Savannah to support points of attack along the [rail] line. Since he would need to travel to Savannah more frequently and might be needed at other intermediate points along the railroad, he thought he might need a special train for his use in those instances. Otherwise, he felt business should continue as usual.
Emphasis added. LOL, as they say.

Notice that the prospect of military or government business does not appear to Magrath as a money-making proposition! There is some sort of flawed contracting structure that creates a disincentive. Consider, in comparison, one of the early outrages associated with Penn Central's Simon Cameron was his use of the war portfolio to enrich his old firm (and deprive the competition of same). We get a taste of why Confederate business is distasteful in another Pemberton episode.

After one of Sherman's attacks on the railroad, Pemberton offers this radical idea to Magrath: (1) The company should keep available enough rolling stock on hand to move a regiment of infantry and some artillery (2) It should charge only "expenses" for this standby capability (3) If the regiment actually has to move on that stock to defeat an attack on the rail line, there should be no charge to the government. As they use to say in my own Army, Pemberton acts like he's spending his own money!
After careful thought, Magrath assented to the proposal. He had a railroad to run, but he also knew that the military was essential to the railroad's survival.
If the South was to use railroads to wage war, could it hope to do so with this mindset and these arrangements?

(More ACW railroading tomorrow.)

Dancing the McFarland jig

Blogger Chris Wehner's book The 11th Wisconsin in the Civil War: A Regimental History was carried as a Jan. 28 release on Amazon last month; Amazon has now moved the date out to Jan. 31; meanwhile publisher McFarland has posted a "Spring/Summer" pub date.

McFarland seems to me to have the most difficulty of all publishers in sticking to timetables.


Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day (cont.)

Re: Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day: illustrated version.

Mitch Hagmaier says not to overlook the adventures of the Historical Preenactment Society. Meanwhile, Tony Millionaire suggests some cool moves for military re-enactors.

More "Suffering"

The original reviews continue. The Times piece will be syndicated shortly I think; otherwise, no sign of the syndicates. Lots of deep thinkers out there in reviewerland. Enjoy:

New York Times - Simplistic recapitulation - no analysis. The critic insists on inserting family history into the review. Illustrated with Disneyish cartoons.

USA Today - "More than 600,000 soldiers died, nearly as many as the American fatalities in all other U.S. wars."

Rocky Mountain News - "The number of soldiers who died - estimated at 620,000 - was approximately equal to the total American dead..."

Los Angeles Times - "Some 620,000 soldiers died in the Civil War. In proportion to the nation's population, that's six times its death rate in World War II. A similar rate today -- in the Iraq war, for example -- would mean 6 million American deaths."



Celebrate time traveler day

We missed Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day (Dec. 8). Lumpenprof has a good summary of it including
- Walk up to random people and say "WHAT YEAR IS THIS?" and when they tell you, get quiet and then say "Then there's still time!" and run off.

- Stand in front of a statue (any statue, really), fall to your knees, and yell "NOOOOOOOOO"

- Stare at newspaper headlines and look astonished.
The Civil War reader has a lot to offer this new holiday.

The university system and its accomplices

This is how to do a book blog: How the University Works. Lots of posts, lots of substance.

Hat tip to Baudrillard's Bastard, who offers this quote:
Ph.D's are produced in large numbers, not because of a massive demand for new faculty but because of an institutional demand for cheap graduate student and part-time labor and because faculty desire to maintain the perks and pleasures of graduate education. It's basically a pyramid scheme...


New ACW blogs

Here they come. New ACW blogs. You thought we were done?

The strangest is Milk after Cereal which alternates a breakfast cereal perspective on the war with poems about specific breakfast cereals. These are not reenactor-approved meals, BTW. The nutritional content consists of empty Centennial calories, sorry to say.

The Blood of my Kindred appears to be a Northron project partly inspired by reading Kevin Levin. A gentle tone serves his polemic well.

Civil War Markers had fallen off my blogroll when my format was changed - now that it's back, Don Hogan seems to be highlighting Civil War quotes more than markers.

Civil War Notebook is rendered as a document medium in which Jim Miller has been presenting letters of late.

Civil War Buff 75, presents highly structured ACW book reports interleaved with journal entries (as such). Les's self interviewing I find as unsettling, ultimately, as poems about cereal.

Civil War Sources is a one document-per-post effort organized around specific topics. It is also an opinion-free zone.

Rene Tyree has moved the Civil War stuff to a new URL. "Wig Wags" features two topics I need to cover here: "Railroad Generalship" and "Were the North and South Evenly Matched on the Rails." Must post on this tomorrow if possible. Expect a new paradigm.

Ten Roads is nicely designed and holds promise. Topically frustrated blogger Sarah (age 16 and calls herself an anachronism) relies on documents to fill her journal entries. She writes well enough to venture beyond that, however.

Keep sending in those boxtops.

p.s. One more courtesy of Eric and Harry: Chris Army has just started Angel Share: Musings of a Bourbon Sipping ACW Student. This one's going to have a Gettysburg tilt.

By the way, I think Chris might agree we should do bourbon rather than milk after cereal. As Shelby Foote commented, bourbon is for daytime, scotch for the evening. Milk, well, he didn't say, but that's for a certain drink imbibed by a dude who abides.

Optimizing the Ken Burns experience

Man converts defective digital copy of "The Civil War" for iPod listening and gets instant relief from overdetermined narrative:
The first and still one of the most striking juxtapositions came during the description of the cotton gin's process of extracting the seeds from the cotton boll which suddenly jumped to the doctors struggling and failing to remove the bullet from Lincoln's brain. Uh, whoa. [...] Anyway, it's entirely possible I have 8 more hours of this strange skipping through 1861-1865 and I am super excited to find out if Jefferson Davis' house full of concubines is able to successfully assassinate the vice president.
Contingent history will out eventually.

Suspect identified

I think we found the customer who is keeping the Civil War beer stein industry alive.

Love the comment: "I will feel like a horrible American if I play and once again Mr. Lincoln falls."

p.s Why is Mary Lincoln Jeff Davis's queen? And why are these queens men?

The new world of publishing

B&N discriminates against authors. Why is that a surprise?

Meanwhile, make way for the 70-word chapter. If cellphone fiction is here nonfiction's debut is only a matter of time.

And who are those "top" Amazon reviewers? Slate blows the whistle on them. Hmmm, to write 45 reviews in one week...


Joy in Suffering

The publication of Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering is having some interesting side effects.

For one thing, major papers are commissioning their own reviews of this Civil War title, not running the usual syndicated wire copy. (An aside: I don't see syndicated reviews out there yet - the Google search in News supplies only three pages of hits, all original pieces.)

Faust has another reason to smile: all the major reviews are friendly, with just a little stinging iodine being applied by Forbes. Mind you, these reviewers are shallow - recruited from the papers' culture beat it seems - and being on uncertain ground, they need to make nice. Nevertheless, goodwill sets the stage for more goodwill.

At the bottom of this Suffering trend is good news and bad news.

It is unusual to get this much attention focused on an ACW title - especially a deep one. It is amazing to have reached a place where masses of outsiders are engaging intellectually with challenging Civil War content instead of entertainment. Is it possible that publishers will seek more analytic Civil War nonfiction of this caliber? Yes, of course. This is the good news.

On the other hand, we have the beginnings of a template for Civil War publishing success that is social, not military. This could wind up being as warping in its effect on publishing as the success of Ken Burns, the movie "Gettysburg," or the pop-history compilation Battle Cry of Freedom was a generation ago. The maxim of doing what succeeds may grind us down again. But until the trend actually trends, let's be happy.

Here are the reviews so far:

Boston Globe - This is an omnibus review that also covers Neely's newest. The critic fails to connect Neely's debunking of "uniquely violent and bloody" with Faust's material.

Bloomberg - "This Republic of Suffering tells a story that most Civil War buffs, those who have read the standard works on the subject by Allan Nevins and James McPherson, among others, probably don't know, or don't appreciate."

Forbes - "Faust seems to get lost in the weeds at times..."

New York Sun - "Not until I read "This Republic of Suffering" ... did the full power of Whitman's poem become clear to me."

The Nation (Eric Foner) - "appalling harvest of death. In a nation of 31 million people, 620,000 died..."

Seattle Times - A non-judgemental, value-free recapitulation of what you'll need to say at the cocktail party.

Newsweek - Meandering, content-free and mercifully short..

SF Chronicle - A competent recapitualtion of the press release, done with an economy of effort.

Winchester Star - Interviews Faust's brother, a local, as much as talks about the book.

(First posting on Faust here.)


No stein unturned

Collectible Civil War beer steins are probably not dishwasher safe, but then, it seems they are not intended for drinking. Look, a new way to enjoy Mort Kunstler...

If just one beer drinker can be introduced to a love of history through Mort Kunstler steins it will have been worth it.

And as the Gettysburg Cyclorama undergoes restoration, refresh your spirits with a Battle of Gettysburg cyclorama of your own:

Perhaps you need a little cheat sheet to help figure out which re-enactor is fighting for which side. These two steins pack more historical information than a high school history text!

Blogging is hard work and by now I have something on my mind, but it's not porcelain or pewter.

Links here and here.

Search for Lincoln's cabin yields bounty

... if the searchers earned some overtime.


Shaara and history writing

This blog generally does not spend much time on Jeff Shaara, given that he inhabits pop fiction, a preoccupation that reduces his menace to Civil War nonfiction, our central concern here.

If he were to venture into nonfiction with the same success his fiction enjoys, we might have a problem, more of that effect where an avalanche of craptastic titles washes into our market seeking dollars from an ignorant but enthusiastic new audience (one hostile to historical method and nonfiction conventions). Shaara's nonfiction need not be craptastic itself, but success spawns (bad) imitators and we are just coming out of an ice age brought on by publishers seeking the audiences of the movie Gettysburg, The Civil War on PBS and associated phenomena.

Shaara published a guidebook last year. The WaPo has just gotten around to reviewing it and the reviewer's reaction portrays in cameo our danger. This WaPo review adresses Civil War Preservation Trust's new guidebook in tandem with Shaara's Civil War Battlefields: Discovering America's Hallowed Ground. Let me hit those of the writer's points that scare me.

You need both books ("a terrific package to read or take along on a trip"). CWPT's attempt at a comprehensive summary cannot stand alone because...

Color rates higher than data ("Shaara's guide is as detailed as the trust guide is brief.") Mind you, the Trust covers 600 sites, Shaara does 10.

Tell me what is important! ("Each [Shaara site] has a lengthy explanation, followed by a helpful discussion of why the battle is important and a section on what visitors should see.") The Trust envisions self-directed tourists using their guide; Shaara generates enthusiasm for preselected itineraries among readers who need a lot of help.

Put it in a story format, regardless of the nature of the information ("Shaara has done here what he has done so well in his novels. He tells a story.") The tour, as it unfolds, is supposed to be the reader's story not the author's, and it is normally assembled from raw, barely-connected data (place, time, opening hours, route). The "story" for the tourist should be the discoveries on site and the adventures en route.

Whatever your goal, entertain me ("Visitors won't have to go to the battlefields to feel as though they have been there.") This is the ultimate statement of (f)utility. The consumer of this guidebook is blowing off the tour; the aim of a guidebook has been completely subordinated to amusement.

This is the crux of all pop culture threats to Civil War nonfiction, the repurposing of history. In summarizing, the reviewer says,
Maybe Shaara has written an excellent Civil War history rather than a good guidebook.
Substitute the word "entertainment" for "history." Note that he is lauded for it, for selling a guidebook that is not "a good guidebook."

Shaara himself is quoted as saying, his work is intended for "those who might have time to stop along the road and visit a battlefield they otherwise might have passed by."

The danger we face is that a master of pop culture like Shaara will someday send stubbornly ignorant masses of people like this reviewer into the Civil War nonfiction marketplace, which "they might otherwise have passed by."


Pierro's Carman

Joseph Pierro's Carman manuscript is appearing on Amazon as released today but the editor tells me it will actually appear in February (as far as he knows).

Somebody slap Routledge.


The whole story ...

... on the craze that's weeping the nation, Civil War Naval Landing Party re-enactors.


Enter the park at your own risk

Breathtaking and real:
By entering ... you are agreeing that we owe you no duty of care or any other duty. We promise you nothing. We do not and will not even try to keep the premises safe for any purpose. The premises are not safe for any purpose. This is no joke. We won't even try to warn you about any dangerous or hazardous condition, whether we know about it or not. If we do decide to warn you about something, that doesn't mean we will try to warn you about anything else. If we do make an effort to fix an unsafe condition, we may not try to correct any others, and we may make matters worse! We and our employees or agents may do things that are unwise and dangerous. Sorry, we're not responsible. We may give you bad advice. Don't listen to us.
Read the whole thing.

(Hat tip to John Adams.)

"Strong legislatures prevent civil wars"

File under huh?

The New Yorker considers Faust

The New Yorker has published a rambling, nearly incoherent polemic against Faust's new book. In a brief episode of clarity, the author brings in Mark Neely, as I did, to discount the incomparable-bloodiness-hype (see p. 4).

I think the reviewer is recapping Faust here:

[The ACW was] a bloody war of attrition, where defensive firepower so overwhelmed the offense that—at Antietam and Fredericksburg and the Wilderness—the soldiers mostly just stood there and watched each other die.
Or brewed coffee in the rear areas. Or read about the battle from the easy chair of their overstayed leave. Or talked about it in the tavern while on a pass issued by their duly elected officers against the regulations of the army commander. We're talking about that Civil War, right?

Strange, though, that the New Yorker couldn't roll out one of the usual mealy-mouthed ACW celebs to heap platitudes on This Republic of Suffering. Maybe Faust is non-establishment.



HNN has posted reporting by its editor, Rick Shenkman, from the recent AHA convention in D.C.

One of the speakers, a government functionary named Philip Zelikow, gave a talk on contingency in history that Shenkman labels "extraordinary" and "stunningly sophisticated." Discount that somewhat: an AHA attendee is, after all, normally fed milk and cookies.

Despite the hype, it's worth watching the two 10-minute videos provided by HNN. As an observer of decisions in government, Zelikow notes "... the outcomes are often highly discontinuous, unexpected, and non-linear." Zelikow says that historians look at crises from 10,000 feet up and cannot thereby account accurately for contingency.

In the first video, you'll see Zelikow reading from Edward Ayers - an especially rich Blundering Generation passage that argues the Civil War came as an earthquake with nothing inevitable about it. This is his starting point for contingency discussion. In the second video, Zelikow addresses how badly wrong top-down histories of the Cuban Missile Crisis got it, how the tiny telling details recently discovered turned conventional histories around.

Go to the link above and scroll way down to the YouTube controls and see for yourself. Then, if you'd like to know how governments and their advisors currently plot alternative futures, go here and have a good long read. (I think some of the methodologies you'll find can map backwards into historical contingency analysis.)


A war museum

I have seen a museum that would make Civil War visitors uneasy, so different is it from what we are used to and what we have been taught a museum must be.

An ethos opposed to the prevailing tourism wisdom was present in every display. It had a singleness of purpose that is hard to imagine in a public facility. It offered zero entertainment, no social history, no multipurposing, and its tone was confrontational, even slightly antagonistic toward visitors. It wrapped day-trippers in a shroud of death and dared them to compare their trivial preoccupations with what they were seeing before them.

Vacationing in Kansas City, I had put down my copy of Land of Lincoln last week to take a trip to the National World War I Museum. In that book, author Andrew Ferguson offers snapshot of the Lincoln scene, including an anecdote about how the design for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) narrowed to a Disney-steeped imagineering outfit on the one hand and the museum design firm of Ralph Appelbaum Associates on the other. Applebaum was just a name to me when I put the book down. Appelbaum lost ALPLM but it did design this World War I museum during the same period. The Kansas City facility presents a vision of the seriousness of public history and in that hints of a vastly different ALPLM that might have been.

You enter this museum by passing through bronze doors under a WWI memorial - there is a masoleum effect. The first thing then facing the attendee is a field of poppies; the guides tell all, willing to hear or not, that each flower represents 100,000 military deaths. The tourists must walk over the dead to get to the exhibition. So, before being allowed into the exhibits, a memorial is viewed and meditation on death is forced upon the tourist, however young, however frivolous, however callow. A tone is set. The museum staff says, as it were, We have expectations of you.

Inside, the visitor enters a black and white world livened only occasionally by olive drab or mud brown. After a 12-minute introductory movie (in b&w), the path takes the attendee past inummerable military displays in cases. Someone is trying to kill you with this object. There are peeks into trenches (more life-sized diorama than Disney) and there is one totally immersive experience of entering a shell-hole from the bottom looking up. This is your home; you live here now.

The designers seem to have been taking the re-enactor's sense of history and fitting the visitor into that.

Moving along the floor plan, taking reasonable time to look and think there came a point with me and my party when we asked each other, where is the American element? There had been no hint of U.S. participation in the tour after an hour-and-a-half of wandering. This was because as late as it entered the war, the U.S. enters the displays - a remarkable touch.

Despite "national" in its name, the money for this museum was raised locally; although it operates under the auspices of a local parks commission, it is privately managed. It's hard to imagine any other institutional arrangement that would have allowed for this design and this presentation. The overlaying monument site was long ago erected by veterans under their own impetus to convey their message. This museum is, uncompromisingly, a continuation of their message.

My party, made up of locals, was impressed at the end of their first visit and asked my thoughts. I said, "Come here often. This cannot last."


Wary of Lincoln legacy tributes

Looks like Lincoln authors are already bracing themselves for the stigma of critical backlash:
"Readers who may be wary of books about Lincoln's 'legacy,' which often feature an overdose of apologetics and adulation, will be agreeably surprised and much enlightened by these authoritative and highly readable essays."--Douglas L. Wilson

Matamoros in the Civil War

Corpus Christi columnist Murphy Givens has published a short piece on the colorful Florida-born Edmund Jackson Davis, organizer of the First Texas Cavalry (U.S.). I am bedeviled, however, by his Matamoros references.

Givens flatly states that Davis "went to Matamoros to organize the First Texas Cavalry, U.S.A., made up of Unionists like himself." Later, Jackson and others are captured by the Rebels in a cross-border raid into Matamoros.

It is hard to come by references to organizing in or operating out of Matamoros in other sources. A website dedicated to Texas politics has Davis receiving his colonel's commission from Lincoln in Washington May '62; the next geographic reference is Galveston.

The Civil War Archive website gives what appears to be a summary "official" history of the regiment citing an organization date in November of '62 in New Orleans. The Handbook of Texas online follows this convention but tantalizingly adds a quote, "the strength of the Texas Federal Regiments consisted primarily of Mexicans, Germans, and Irishmen."

Mexicans. Hmmm.

The blogger Screwtape has some rich tidbits about Davis's late war career but nothing on Matamoros adventures.

Was Matamoros a base of operations for Unionists?

Update. Will Keene writes
There are multiple references to this in the ORs. As an example, look in Series I volume 15, page 1016 at correspondence dated March 15, 1863 from H.P. Bee, the confederate commander on the Texas side of the Rio Grande. Also see letter from Magruder to Cooper on page 1030.
Excellent. I'll do a little legwork and report back.
(Show above, Davis and Matamoros in 1864).


Play something melancholy for me

The square grand piano - a great platform for amputations:
"... sturdy and just the right height."


"Republic of Suffering" - a French view

Drew Gilpin Faust's Republic of Suffering is coming out tomorrow and one of the attention-getting devices employed by the book's marketers is to do the very thing Mark Neely so vigorously objected to in his latest work: hype the Civil War's death figures. I quoted him recently deconstructing the entire edifice of the 620,000 deaths. Meanwhile, here's Faust's publisher's copy:
During the war, approximately 620,000 soldiers lost their lives. An equivalent proportion of today’s population would be six million. This Republic of Suffering explores the impact of this enormous death toll from every angle: material, political, intellectual, and spiritual.
The first reviews have already latched on to the number. I think this is long overdue as a topic but the suffering is not intensified by manipulating the number 620,000. It hearkens to a point Neely made in his own book:
Repeated assertion of the destructive nature of the Civil War may, in fact, only serve to remind readers of the provincial nature of American history-writing.
Previously, when encountering claims of the uniqueness of ACW destructiveness, I have been pleased to refer people to the contemporary War of the Triple Alliance, which liquidated 3/5 of the entire population of Paraguay. However, on my vacation (just returned, thank you) I read Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War where I encountered this quote from André Tardieu. It is directed at Americans. Perhaps Tardieu was answering the challenge of the 620,000 in his own way:
To measure what we have undergone [in WWI], suppose that the war had taken place in America, and that you had suffered proportionately. You would have had 4,000,000 of your men killed and 10,000,000 wounded [out of a population of 110,000,000 in 1922]. All your industries from Washington to Pittsburgh would have ceased to exist. All your coal mines would have been ruined. That is what the war would have meant to you. That is what it has meant to us.
The population of France at the start of the world war in 1914 was about 39,600,000 just about a quarter more than that of the United States in 1860 with 31,443,321. On a comparable population base, the French suffered 1,697,800 dead and 4,266,000 wounded. In other words, they suffered 2.73 times the dead that the North and South experienced on a comparable timescale with a comparable population.

There is no times table for suffering, however. The standard of comparison for grief is grief. Let narrative plumb its depths. Let numbers tell another story. Be circumspect when brandishing 620,000.


Title this PowerPoint slide

Rendered from PowerPoint skeptic Andrew Ferguson's Land of Lincoln

Some bonus PPT mischief from Edward Tufte here.