New Civil War blogs

More of 'em are a born-in' than a die-in' (said in a W.C. Fields accent).

Novelist Elisabeth Payne Rosen has launched Civil War Deacon; see also the book site for her forthcoming Hallam's War.
I was getting out of a red London Transport bus in front of the Duke of York’s Barracks in London, minding my business and trying to keep my groceries from spilling on the sidewalk, when out of the clear blue sky I was overcome by a single, overwhelming desire: I want to know everything there is to know about the American Civil War.
Excellent. I remember a day in the 1980s when I myself picked up a volume of Battle and Leaders in Princeton University Bookstore, opened randomly to an article by Don Carlos Buell and thought,
Don Carlos who? There's no way I can ever learn everything about the Civil War.
The Franklin Civil War Roundtable has started an active blog and it has an informational bent: "Studying, supporting and sharing information about the Civil War era and contemporary preservation efforts."

Blogging Union Blue is a companion blog to Robert Moore's Cenatua. It's newsy. (Hat tip to Brett.)

Arkansas in the Civil War is a companion to Dale Cox's Florida in the Civil War. Dale tends to present episodes of forgotten history. (Another ht to Brett.)

Civil War Gazette has been published by Kraig McNutt for a couple of years and its postings allow "first-hand participants - both common soldier and civilian - to tell the story of their experience of the Civil War from their perspective."

Rebel Jim's Rebel with a Clue came and went before I could mobilize my attention.

I must start paying closer attention.

Q&A with Russell Bonds, 1/2

Russell Bonds is a first-time book author whose Stealing the General attempts to provide the best narrative art in combination with the best historiography. In addressing the "Great Locomotive Chase," he has waded into a great swamp of folklore, TV, cinema, suspect newspaper stories, and lying autobiographers.

It's not just a great first effort, it's a great book period. It demonstrates that sophisticated historical sensibility so sorely needed in Civil War history. In this two-part interview, we start off on an historiographic note.

Q: So I'm sitting in front of three stacks of Andrews raid materials in my study. I have a pile of published primary materials (memoirs), a pile of unpublished primary sources (letters, manuscripts), and a pile of nonfiction secondary sources (storytelling). Somewhere handy I also have recordings of movies and TV episodes based on events. How do I define my task?

A: For starters, more research! Both deeper and at the margins of the story. Letters and memoirs and books are essential, but what about newspaper accounts, depositions, interviews, local histories, railroad annual reports, etc.? Research is driven partly by a desire for completeness, and partly by sheer curiosity: what was the strategic inspiration for the raid? How did Atlanta get its name? How about Gen. Mitchel’s prewar career (astronomy and railroading)? Some of these research efforts will lead nowhere; some will be demoted to the endnotes; but some will help to inform and illuminate the story.

Beyond that, for me, the definition of the task changed as I went. I think I started out with a fairly simplistic view--first-time author syndrome, perhaps? I thought I’d just be compiling my sources to understand and tell a story that hadn’t been told in awhile. Happily, as I researched, it became clear that the task wasn’t retelling, but reexamination—-not just of the Andrews Raid but how its history had been built.

Q: So we have a setting straight of the record. Which is better: to let the reader unconsciously imbibe the corrected material while he drinks down his story or to point out fixes along the way? (Perhaps the publisher has an overruling opinion about this as well.)

A: I suppose I used a mixture of both: correcting errors along the way by simply writing a carefully researched history, but calling out specifically those instances where particularly glaring distortions or apocryphal anecdotes had worked their way into what had become in many ways an adventure story. At one point, I note some enduring myths about the locomotive chase—burning bridges, locomotives jumping over gaps in the tracks, etc.—in order to knock them down in turn.

But in my view it’s important not to be on a crusade, engaging in revisionism for revisionism’s sake. Overzealous efforts to correct the record often merely create a new and differently distorted record.

Q: This is unfair to ask but if another book on the Andrews Raid appears in a few years, what would you expect the "value proposition" to be? I'm not trying to be disagreeable but am setting us up for some historiography.

A: I suppose a nonfiction work would try to highlight some new or different research, or perhaps focus on operations on the Western & Atlantic Railroad, 1862-1865. Beyond that, possible value propositions: children's book? Locomotive Chase route travel guide? Then there's always a return to fiction (in fact, a local author self-published in 2007 what he called a "well-researched historical fiction novel" about the raid).

Q: Imagine a new Andrews Raid nonfiction narrative history. The author makes several strategic decisions. First, he will cite no secondary works whatsoever and make no references to previous works in the text. Second, there will be no bibliographic essay. Third, endnotes will consist exclusively of well-known primary source citations without comment. Fourth, where cited sources conflict in content, a single citation only will be offered representing the account that the author believes closest to the truth.

How viable would this work of history be in your opinion? Is it possible the publisher would dictate such a citational style? Currently, I'm reading two big-name authors who have started citing as per this "four point plan" above. (Your own way of citing is very different from what I described and I want to ask you about that next.)

A: Yikes, who are the big name authors? Maybe I've been going about this the wrong way!

To me, an Andrews Raid history presented under those constraints would be a missed opportunity.

Limitations like those you suggest may be plausible, even highly desirable, for certain studies where secondary sources and postwar remembrance would distract from the work: an investigation of morale in the ranks, for example, or a study of command decisionmaking where the writer wants to recreate the fog of war and eliminate postwar hindsight, hero- and villain-making, and self-justification. (In the former category, Tracy Power's Lee's Miserables comes to mind as an excellent book prepared under certain self-imposed primary source limitations.)

But with the "legendary" Andrews Raid--which was labeled "The Great Railroad Chase" within days by the Georgia newspapers--secondary characterizations of the story and conflicts in the accounts not only answer the important question of how the story was told, they also disclose certain truths about the episode and its participants.

Also: judgment calls are the privilege and province of the writer or historian, but having every conflict rely on an all-or-nothing winner-take-all decision by the author (who has insisted on keeping himself uninformed--I mean pure--of any influence by secondary sources), to me attempts to paint a color picture using black and white: even gray is not permitted.

My publisher wouldn't dictate such a style in citation, though I suppose he would be supportive if the approach were justified.

Q: I don't want to embroil you in anything, thanks for that answer - I hadn't thought of those possibilities. Your own endnotes are excellent. There's the citation, a comment where needed, and bits of historiographic analysis where needed. No sleight of hand here. Could you share your thoughts on notes and bibliography? And conflicting sources?

A: The bibliography is very important to any nonfiction work, of course; it's the foundation upon which the book rests. I also wrote a brief note on sources in order to (1) highlight what firsthand accounts were available, and discuss the disproportionate influence of one of those accounts on the historiography of the raid; and (2) to note the comparative lack of material on General Mitchel.

I footnoted carefully, in part because I was a new author and wanted to show that I had done my homework and how I went about doing it. In many instances, I included parenthetical information to complement the text and reward readers who choose to delve deeper--the director's cut, so to speak. Finally, I used the notes to record the many conflicts between sources as well as certain omissions (example: one raider records a final meeting the night before the raid; others either don't mention it or say it never happened). If I made an educated guess or judgment call, I tried to say so.

In general, my view is that more information is better, and I have a lawyer's disdain for "string cites"--a line of bare citation (e.g., 298 F.Supp. 1; 406 F.2d 830; 427 F.2d 1154) that takes up space in the brief but adds little to the argument. Happily, my publisher was very supportive of this approach and wanted no cuts in the endnotes, though they take up 45 pages.

Q: That example of different accounts disputing the meeting the night before the raid reminds me: there seems to be two schools of thought on a researcher staying neutral where the evidence is contradictory. One author I know got a review comment on a manuscript recently from a best-selling Civil War writer who told him to get off the fence and take a position. This suggests to me an ethos in which we assume the reader demands to be led. How much leading is legitimate?

A: I think the reader wants to be informed, which is not the same thing as being led. Judgment calls are important and are made by the author on almost every page, but contradictory evidence requires disclosure to the reader and careful handling. I'm all for taking a position so long as you disclose that which may argue against the position you've taken. (Example: I take the position that the mysterious James Andrews was born in Virginia in 1829; but I disclose in the endnotes the theory that he was born and raised in Eastern Europe, and explain why I disagree with that supposition.) Otherwise you end up with a work that "takes a position" on Lee's real plan or Hood's addiction with contrary evidence dismissed or ignored.

Rea Andrew Redd has some great pop culture imagery related to the Chase here. My own comments are here. Drew Wagenhoffer called this the best book of 2007. To be continued.


Abraham Lincoln, Tarheel bastard

Just in time for the Bicentennial:
Keith Price, president of Bostic Lincoln Center Inc., thinks Lincoln was born in rural North Carolina, where Nancy Hanks gave birth to him out of wedlock.


Roll Call for truants

In The Bloody Crucible of Courage, a frustrated military historian, Brent Nosworthy, unloaded 600+ pages of criticism on those lovable, irresponsible rascals known as Civil War historians. He believes that undertaking military history involves obligations greater than "telling a good story" or weaving together colorful anecdotes.

His method was constructive: he pointed out failure in an analysis that generally kept a neutral tone while making clear what had to be fixed and how. It was impossible to mistake his central concern, that Civil War history - as a branch of military history - has been broken for a long time.

His new book, Roll Call to Destiny, is a continuation of Crucible, Nosworthy says in the introduction. Within the page budget of Crucible, it was not possible to add hundreds more pages of how-to material, showing historians by example what he expected them to do. Here he has developed tutorials for them, presenting different accounts of unit actions over the course of the war, varied between north and south and among service branches.

This is a very impressive artifact of military science and historiography which the publisher (with the author's collaboration) seems to be aiming at the most ignorant segment of the reading public. Hence the subtitle: The Soldier's Eye View of Civil War Battles. "Buttstrokes and Bayonet Charges" might have served even better in that respect and it would be just as misleading. Even if we dumbed down the content to its lowest level, stripped off the anlytic and normative elements, we would be left with "Units in Civil War Battles."

Imagine the level of military detail and insight of The Wilderness Campaign by Edward Steere with additional context layered on: contemporary European practice; early war vs. late war; soldierly tricks of the trade; analysis of the materiel at unit level; etc. Here's one of many a Steerian moment:
They noticed that the Union infantrymen were carrying their shoulder arms at the "right shoulder shift;" the color-bearers carried their standards "aslant" on their shoulders. This means they were probably advancing either at the double (140 paces per minute) or at the run (where they ran as fast as they could).
Here's another, explaining how batterymen could believe they were inflicting huge casualties where few were occurring:
... it is known that men at long, and even medium, ranges could see incoming projectiles, and frequently could move out of the way. From the [Washington Artillery] artillerists'point of view [on Marye's Heights], the effect was something like the "parting of the Red Sea" when the attacker advanced in a deep enough formation; to the gunners it looked as though swathes of men were being cut down, when in fact casualties might be fairly light.
There will be many surprises here for the experienced reader of bad battle books; I was especially taken at one point when Nosworthy parameterized a commander's intentions by looking at his selection of movement formation.

The most accurate blurb on the book comes from a fellow I have not laid eyes on in 36 years, fraternity brother LTC Roger Cirillo: "[Nosworthy understands] how doctrine, training, and weaponry affect the outcomes of fighting at the unit level." These are the missing ingredients that make so much Civil War history unreadable for so many of us. Roger sums up, "This work is must reading for anyone wanting to understand the technique of war."

The technique of war. Even better than what an earlier reviewer said about Crucible "watering a potential desert." But there's more. There's the rolling critique of Jominian military ideology and its exponent Henry Halleck; there's the thumbnail history of Civil War history since 1865; and mainly, there's an understanding that Civil War history has been so monumentally screwed up for so long that
The ease with which a patient researcher can come up with a new but justified interpretation of an already well-documented event, or be the first one to plot what is still uncharted territory, is truly counterintuitive.
As readers of this blog know.

In writing about ACW narratives, Nosworthy will resort to the term "folkloric." Here he proposes to show how to purge the folklore and end the truancy of the ACW author.

p.s. I make his tone sound strident but Nosworthy actually wonders in his introduction whether this book will be of use to anyone. I would be very interested to someday read the opinions of Harry Smeltzer on Nosworthy's Bull Run chapter and of Eric Wittenberg or J.D. Petruzzi on his cavalry chapter - whether Nosworthy has added enough in either area to claim "value added."


Historians as cheerleaders

Always, everywhere, super-annoying.

A favorable opinion

Paul Taylor liked Gallagher's new book.

Nothing more durable than a good archetype

Move over Freeman, it's time for Sterling Price's Lieutenants.

"The Shenandoah Spy" migrates to hardback

Francis Hamit's novel of Belle Boyd, The Shenandoah Spy, has migrated from the pioneering Amazon Shorts format to Kindle and is now on the verge (May 9) of appearing in hardcover. I'll post news of it on CWBN if not here by that time.


Civil War film books

The subgenre of Civil War film criticism is getting thick with titles; one might even be tempted at times to shout, "Stop the madness."

It seems to have started with Roy Kinnard's The Blue and the Gray on the Silver Screen: More Than Eighty Years of Civil War Movies, a kind of guide issued in 1996.

Things picked up in 2002 with Bruce Chadwick's The Reel Civil War, a critical work with a pop culture flavor very concerned about the effects of Southern romanticism on ACW war movies. This was also the year of Robert B. Toplin's analysis of the history bits in war movies, Reel History: In Defense of Hollywood.

That's where things lay until 2006, when we saw Gone with the Glory: The Civil War in Cinema by Brian S. Wills: this tome had an historiographic dimension.

In late 2007 we had two new additions to the subgenre. In July there was Memory and Myth: The Civil War in Fiction and Film from Uncle Tom's Cabin to Cold Mountain by Sachsman, Rushing, and Morris. Just before the new year Russell William published Civil War Films for Teachers and Historians. (This last seems more of a pedagogical exercise than historiography or filmography.)

Yesterday, Gary "Stop the Madness" Gallagher himself chipped in with Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know about the Civil War. The publisher's promotion begins,
"More than 60,000 books have been published on the Civil War. Most Americans, though, get their ideas about the war—why it was fought, what was won, what was lost—not from books but from movies, television, and other popular media."
Here is the opening paragraph from the publisher's promotion for Chadwick's book in 2002:
"More movies have been produced about the Civil War than about any other aspect of American history. From 1903 (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) to the present, film studios have released more than eight hundred silent and sound pictures about the nation’s most cataclysmic event. In this wonderfully comprehensive study, Bruce Chadwick first shows us how historians, journalists, playwrights, poets and novelists of the late nineteenth century—partly as an effort to reconcile former antagonists—rewrote the war’s history to create enduring legends, most of which had no basis in reality."
My my. And reconcile antagonists? Here's Gallagher's publisher again (emphasis added):
Gallagher argues that popular understandings of the war have been shaped by four traditions that arose in the nineteenth century and continue to the present: the Lost Cause, in which Confederates are seen as having waged an admirable struggle against hopeless odds; the Union Cause, which frames the war as an effort to maintain a viable republic in the face of secessionist actions; the Emancipation Cause, in which the war is viewed as a struggle to liberate 4 million slaves and eliminate a cancerous influence on American society; and the Reconciliation Cause, which represents attempts by northern and southern whites to extol "American" virtues and mute the role of African Americans.
A cause for everyone.

As I have said here before, the "Lost Cause" as handled by Gallagher and Nolan is an underdeveloped historiographic schema more closely resembling a Usenet meme suitable for trolling newsgroups. Having failed to make an adequate case for the strawman he calls "Lost Cause" history, Gallagher expands the franchise to include three new products.

Now I haven't read the book. If he treats, for instance, "the Reconciliation Cause" as a notion and not as a "tradition" he will be on sounder ground than he was with his "Lost Cause" stuff. But if he ranks the three new "causes" as bona fide "traditions" this will be madness indeed.


The Disagreement - A Novel

The Disagreement is a novel in which the reader of military histories will find no combat, only the aftermath of combat. The setting is Virginia in the Civil War; the principal and his friends avoid military service; the narrator is impressed into medical duty in service to the war wounded at university; he befriends a wounded Union physician; he marries a displaced specimen of Texas gentry; he dreams of Princeton, Philadelphia, and access denied him by war.

For the reader with no interest in literature generally, The Disagreement can still serve as beach reading, as a handy pop culture substitute that demands little while managing to entertain. It is ingenious without being overbearing; the plot moves along nicely, the characters are interesting, and the resolution of the story is satisfying if a little oblique.

Author Nick Taylor, however, is apparently a deep reader of Virginia novelists James Branch Cabell and Ellen Glasgow and if you know your Cabell and Glasgow this is a treat - an homage done not in either of their voices but in Taylor's own.

There are some stylistic overtones in Taylor, however. Starting The Disagreement, I felt the presence of Charles Brockden Brown. There is the Brownian voice of a strange, uptight narrator sharing with his anemic sister eight rooms on the third floor of an immense house. There is the mystery of his reclusive father and a fateful choice that blesses and curses the family in turns. We meet a maimed slave whose fate is negotiated daily and a cousin whose secret affair foretells an altogether different social and political disaster. This Brockdenia sets the mood for the first third of the book and enables the author to reprise the mood twice: once in midstream with a profoundly Brownian scene of confrontation between the sane narrator and his cousin (who has yielded to political dementia); again, at the climax in a second brief "Gothic mood of emotional and psychological extremity."

(Speaking of Gothic, why does Taylor have to look like Brown?)

I am a little rusty in my James Branch Cabell (it's been almost 40 years since the boomlet that revived him) but it would be hard to miss the narrator's instructor, a physician named Cabell, (James Branch's father was one) who mouths a quote about Cabell rhyming with rabble - something Cabell the novelist used to say. (You might think Taylor was beating readers over the head with the obvious but a quick glance at the obtuseness of his reviewers tells us he needs a bigger stick.)

There is also the figure of the narrator's roommate "B.B." - a fellow who actually organizes a jousting tournament among unenlisted students as a morale builder in support of the war effort. The humor in that is immensely Cabellian - shades of Poictesme! B.B. is the idealist who can't pull it off, a superb homage to Cabell's many characters who "must be appreciated incident-by-incident." The narrator, being quite the stiff and the dominant voice, tends to muffle this flavor of irony ... but old Cabell fans will see the fun crackling through.

The Glaswegian element in Disagreement is not stylistsic (I think her style oafish) but rather thematic. To quote the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Glasgow built up, novel-by-novel "a social history of her native Virginia. The great organizing ideas of her fiction are the conflicts between tradition and change, matter and spirit, the individual and society." This reads banally but contains the essence of Disagreement: intergenerational strife, a longing to abandon Virginia, to affirm Virginia, to search abroad for a mythical fulfillment (here we converge again with Cabell). Ellen Glasgow was anti-sentimental - as Taylor is here.

The epilogue features a surprise appearance by the Schuylkill River, thus offering a final nod to Charles Brockden Brown in an anticlimax that is utterly Glaswegian.

In the advance reader's copy I received there are two military mistakes. Ignore them. They may have been caught before publication anyway.

We have here a novel of great literary merit and it appears in a Civil War setting. Take a chance on it. A truly great reader has become a great writer with this his first novel.

Top down: Taylor, Brown, Cabell, Glasgow.


Blunt in Missouri

For a moment, I thought there were Blunt re-enactors touring Missouri: "Governor Blunt and Congressman Blunt Welcome Civil War Preservation Trust to Historic Springfield." Actually,
Missouri Governor Matt Blunt and U.S. Representative Roy Blunt will be guests of the Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Foundation Friday evening...


Music for the Bicentennial

Indiana won't begin observing the Lincoln Bicentennial until May 10, which means there will be no celebratory events on the Emancipator's birthday - a remarkable piece of scheduling (see here).

I notice the organizers have some Stephen Foster on tap; let me raise an objection. They should play the music current in 1809 instead, say selections from "A Collection of the Most Celebrated Country Dances and Cotillions (published in 1809)," or "A Collection of Country Dances and Cotillions" (1808).

They could be daring and play some Felix Mendelssohn (born nine days before Lincoln); or some Haydn (he died just over 100 days after Lincoln's birth in May, 1809). Foster would not be born until Lincoln was 17. His heyday began ten years before the secession which is why he is so stubbornly associated with that era.

His association with the immediate antebellum should not carry over into an association with Lincoln. Foster is today a cultural token in the hands of the "gathering storm" historiographers. By constructing a "gathering storm" these writers have appropriated bright little cultural counterpoints, like Foster's success, to (tragically, ironically) lighten their narratives' aura impending doom.

Those of us, like Ayers, who reject the inevitability powering the "gathering storm" master narrative, have a right to view Foster as having been polluted or tainted by association with this particular meme.

If you are writing in terms of a blundering generation, in terms of missed opportunities and political mistakes, you don't have a lot of ink to divert from analysis to entertain completely irrelevant cultural history. If you're selling the inevitability of war, however, it's the color, nothing but the color, so help you God.

The Indiana organizers, wading in the shallow end of the culture pool, are not even aware that it was their readings in "inevitability" that suggested a (false) Foster connection to Lincoln. They made a list, approved it in haste, and are off to the (Camptown) races.


Truman and MacArthur: fans of Freeman

Truman was trying to model Freeman's depiction of the Davis/Lee relationship. Later, he adopted the pop-culture image of McClellan when acting against his most illustrious general.

See here.


Virginia budgets $5 mln for battlefields

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine's new budget includes $5 million for battlefield preservation. As explained here, the funding is to offer matching donations ($1 state for every $2 private).

This suggests to me the money is a mechanism to help others acquire battlefield land rather than to acquire it for the state parks entity.


Team of Rivals - my own notes 1/2

Delving into Goodwin's Team of Rivals, one makes a number of unsettling discoveries. The main thing is that there is a huge discrepancy between the marketing memes and what the book actually is and tries to do.

The main marketing gloss appears in a blurb from James McPherson: "Goodwin has brilliantly described how Lincoln forged a team that preserved a nation..." In her book tours, this was a talking point. I believe it was an easy way for people to understand why this new biography was worth reading.

I don't find this claim in the introduction to her book nor in the text. She sets for herself the task of writing a comparative biography in which Lincoln is at the center; her method is to use neglected primary sources; her vehicle is narrative with almost no analysis. The closest she comes to the generally known marketing claim is to say that Lincoln made himself captain of a pack of rivals; I see no evidence of a claim for teamwork or functionality. Garry Wills summed up this way: "[Lincoln's] political shrewdness ends up being indistinguishable from wisdom."

It is a credit to the marketers and Goodwin herself that among the enormous number of blurbs selected to pepper the paperback edition, none except McPherson's, plays into the notion of a functioning, working team forged by Lincoln. Here we would do well to recall the earlier title of the book, Master of Men.

This is a tale of manipulation for the higher good: that kind of mastery. Men who detested each other could not be made to function as a "team" but could be conned into serving Lincoln's ends. Or to put it in Lincoln-friendly terms, "A portrait of Lincoln as a virtuosic politician and managerial genius" (N.Y. Times). The "managerial genius" BTW refers to the management of his own agenda, not to management of a body of advisors.

And so, it seems like missing the mark for me to launch a series of posts ridiculing a meme that portrays a team forged by managerial genius. But few people realize how enormously bad Lincoln's cabinets were, tempermentally and functionally; nor do they understand how badly managed his cabinets were. In this culture, where hype can become reality , there is a danger that the notion of a "Team of Rivals" will take root. The series will continue.


"Team" of rivals: comments from Edward Bates

"Goodwin has brilliantly described how Lincoln forged a team that preserved a nation..." - James M. McPherson

From Beale's transcription of Edward Bates's diary. Future installments from Welles and Chase. Emphasis in the original:


In fact the whole administration is lamentably deficient in the lack of unity and co-action. There is no quarrel among us but an absolute want of community of intelligence, purpose and action. In truth, it is not an administration but the separate and disjointed action of seven independent officers, each one ignorant of what his colleagues are doing. Today, in council, Mr. Chase stated the condition of things in sorrowful plainness; and then, as usual, we had a “bald, disjointed chat” about it, coming to no conclusion. […] The Prest. Is an excellent man, and in the main wise; but he lacks will and purpose, and I greatly fear he has not the power to command.


Almost every day there are new instances of the hasty and blundering manner in which the Secy of State carries out his supposed powers about prisoners and legal proceedings.


… Mr. [Congressman] Julian told him the night before that C.B. Smith (Secy. Interior) was in danger of being indicted for bribery – i.e. taking money for appointment to offices in his Dept: and that he will be indicted unless he speedily makes arrangements with the parties who think themselves aggrieved.


It pains me to observe of late that Mr. Blair, P.M.G., concurs with me in nothing. With or without a reason, he takes the other side.


I do not doubt the P[resident]’s personal confidence but he is under constant pressure of extreme factions and bold and importunate men, who taking advantage of his amiable weakness, commit him beforehand to their ends, so as to bar all future deliberation.


When I entered, the Prest. rose, and with a bland countenance, advanced and shook hands. The Secy. [Stanton] and the Genl. [Halleck] kept their seats, and I thought looked disturbed and sulky. The Genl. I know “has no love for me,” and the Secy. I fear, would break with me outright, if he thought it was quite safe.


I have observed lately that whatever opinion Mr. B. [Blair] starts with, he yields a ready assent to the final conclusion of the Prest., whether brought about by the influence of Chase, Seward, or Stanton. Mr. B. takes special cae of himself, his family and special friends, determined not to differ much with the appointing power.


He then detailed a long conversation that the P.M. Genl. had sought and had with him. It disclosed no less than a plan to revolutionize and remodel the entire Cabinet… Mr. B spoke in the bitterest of terms of the Secs of State and War – that the former was an unprincipled liar – the truth not in him: and the latter a great scoundrel – making all sorts of fraudulent contracts to put money into his own pocket – that in that way “Cameron was a fool to him.”


Each one, statesman or general, is secretly working, either to advance his ambition, or to secure something to retire upon. […] There is no no mutual confidence among members of the Govt. – and really no such thing as a C.C. [Cabinet Council]. The more ambitious members , who seek to control – Seward – Chase – Stanton – never start their projects in C.C. but try first to commit the Prest., and then, if possible, secure the apparent consent of the members. Often, the doubtful measure is put into operation before the majority of us know that it is proposed.


There is, in fact, no Cabinet, and the show of Cabinet-councils is getting more and more a mere show – Little matters or isolated propositions are sometimes talked over, but the great business of the country – questions of leading policy – are not mentioned in C.C. – unless indeed, after the fact, and when some difficulty has arisen out of a blunder.


I’m afraid Mr. Chase’s head is turned by his eagerness in pursuit of the presidency. For a long time back he has been filling all the offices in his own vast patronage with extreme partisans, and contrives to fill many vacancies properly belonging to other departments.


Today about noon, I was surprised to hear that Mr. Chase, Secy of the Treasury, had resigned…

1.(1) His social and political relations do not seem to be cordial with the other ministers, except perhaps Stanton

2.(2) His scheme of finance is pretty well played out – and seems now to be generally considered a puffing machine that must soon burst by inflation…

I should not be a bit surprised if Stanton soon followed Chase. In that I see no misfortune, for I think it hardly possible that the War Office could be worse administered. […] Mr. Lincoln, I hope, will find out in time the danger of leaning upon that broken reed.


Mr. Seward, Sec of State, (who always shuffles around a knotty point, by some trick)…

I expressed to Mr. Seward my desire to have a conversation with him, about political affairs, saying that neither he nor I had time that day, and requested him to name a day soon, when I could have the conversation. More than three weeks have passed and I have not heard from him. I asked for that meeting chiefly because Mr. S. as it seemed to me carefully concealed his views of the gravest public questions from me. I noticed that even in C.C. when I was present, he never declared his principles and measures in a straightforward manly way, but dealt in hints and suggestions only, as if to keep open all available subterfuges for future use. And now he declines the direct request of a conversation.


The President knows as well as I do that Genl. Butler’s proceedings to overthrow the Civil Law at Norfolk, and establish his own despotism in its stead, is unlawful and wrong, and without even a pretence of military necessity, and yet he will not revoke the usurping orders, for fear Genl Butler will “raise a hubbub about it.” Alas that I should live to see such abject fear –such stolid indifference to duty – such open contempt of constitution and law – and such profound ignorance of policy and prudence!


But perhaps nothing better ought to be hoped from the improvidence (not to say imbecility) of such men as Stanton and Halleck.


In C.C. today Mr. Fessenden produced his plan for getting out cotton, under the late act of Congress. … he embarrassed himself by trying also to regulate the method of getting the cotton in, ready to be bought – That is outside his province and can only be controlled by the President as commander in chief. […] This discussion (if an informal, disjointed conversation can be called discussion) convinced me, more than ever, of the evil tendency of times like these, in removing the landmarks of power, and breaking down barriers which ought to [stand] between the different authorities.


It gives me pain to see so many instances of Mr. Seward’s extreme looseness in practical politics, and his utter disregard of the forms and the plain requirements of law. He is constantly getting the President into trouble, and unsettling the best established policies of the Government.


This proclamation [allowing traffic in certain ports] is another striking instance of Mr. Seward’s vague, indistinct style of composition. He hates a positive committal and is studiously dark. It is hard to tell, by this proclamation, whether the intention is to raise the blockade or open the ports – two very different things.


I have just read a speech of Montgomery Blair – delivered lately at Clarksville Md in which he makes heavy charges against Seward and Stanton and Holt – and in a bold, direct manner, as if conscious of his ability to make his charges good, denounces them as the real authors of the war.


Genres and Civil War readers

Ted Savas's recent poll asking what types of books ACW readers prefer reminded me of a post I have long been meaning to write: top selling books from Civil War Bookshelf.

The roadblock has been in needing to do 11 years of analysis that would produce accurate data - so let's do something quick and easy instead. The shock value should be worth it.

The absolute best seller for the first six or seven years was Hidden in Plain View, which is about slave quilts and the underground railroad. Sales have dropped off to nothing in recent years but even now no Civil War title comes close to that in sales. The runner up in setting a high water mark is/was Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil.

By now you are mulling over military vs. social history and the book market. I have nothing to say on this, I just find it interesting.

More weirdness: If we look at third place, for the first four years of Bookshelf it was back and forth between Bloody Bill Anderson: The Short, Savage Life of a Civil War Guerrilla and The Devil Knows How to Ride: The True Story of William Clarke Quantrill and His Confederate Raiders. Pretty big gap until the next tier of sales.

In sum: there is a gap between Ted's voters and the Bookshelf's sales that is very odd indeed.

A few more oddities for your enjoyment. A quick look at the Amazon reports, which only go back five years, tells me that in that period

* No Battle Cry of Freedom has ever been ordered
* Hidden in Plain View continued to outsell the next title by a factor of three to one based on a five-year view
* The leading sales titles were social, cultural, or artistic.

Keep in mind that Civil War Bookshelf is/was reasonably opinion free unlike this site, so people could not imbibe a social bias if I had one. Just for fun, here are the leaders over five years (Jan 2003- Mar 2008) in sales rank order:

(1) Hidden in Plain View
(2) Cathy Williams: From Slave to Female Buffalo Soldier
(3) AOP (all volumes)
(4) Civil War Acoustic Shadows
(5) The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War
(6) The Sigel Regiment: A History of the Twenty-Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry
(7) Testament to Union: Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.
(8) The Little Jeff: The Jeff Davis Legion, Cavalry Army of Northern Virginia
(9) The Cleveland Grays: An Urban Military Company, 1837-1919
(10) And Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, May-June 1864

BTW, number 3 was published by Da Capo and Savas-Beatie; number 6 was published by Savas; number 10 is Mark Grimsley's title (often seen under his blog heading "And Keep Marketing On").

But notice, setting aside the special case of Army of the Potomac: no battle books. No campaigns except Beatie's and Grimsley's. No Lincoln. No generals' or politicians' bios. No re-enactor stuff, no gunsmithing, no novels. Think of all the titles released and posted to the CW Bookshelf website from November 1997 until now when reading the list.

What does it mean?

Lincoln as Frankenstein

The Bicentennial is picking up steam.

Tampa rejects Civil War $$ claim

Ah, for the good old days, when city governments went into debt to buy guns and ammo.


Lincoln Bicentennial: ambivalence allowed

What a striking news story.

As discussions of Lincoln enter the classroom in tandem with Bicentennial programs, Lincoln criticism is not only allowed but encouraged. That has to be a wholly unintended outcome for the organizers of this observance.

Moreover, it looks like we have the beginnings of an institutionalized skepticism toward Lincoln (a school authorized viewpoint) that will be nurtured and encouraged in classrooms throughout the country.

Remarkable, remarkable.

Meanwhile, your Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum chief is hard at work preparing for the Bicentennial, now just 10 months away:



Thanks to an informer:
On Monday April 7 at 7PM, the Capitol Hill Civil War Round Table will present Edward H. Bonekemper III speaking on "McClellan and Failure: A Study of Civil War Fear, Incompetence and Worse".
Good to see a medium channelling John E. Wool.

Meanwhile, Jim Miller gives Russel Beatie's Army of the Potomac Vol. I a standing ovation.

I am about to review Glatthaar's new book, which as a project seems to owe much to Beatie, and will make some comparisons.


A Sesquicentennial for 3 + 2

Missouri has just decided to to form a Sesquicentennial commission. As nearly as I can tell that brings the national total to three, with Virginia and Arkansas having already established theirs.

Have I missed one? We could count Kansas perhaps but their Sesquicentennial commission deals with the founding of the territory, bound up in Civil War history as that may be.

Update, 4/6/08. Jack Dempsey writes to answer my question as to if I missed any:

The answer is two, Michigan and North Carolina.

Michigan's is referenced here...

You'll note that the Governor assigned the responsibility to the Michigan Historical Comm'n rather than create a new one. I happen to have the honor of being a member of the MHC, so I'm thrilled to be involved...

Here's a link to North Carolina's.

As far as I'm aware, that's it.

Ten percent! Anybody got more?


These guys don't read ACW history...

... but they probably know how to land a research grant.
"The primary goal of the analysis was to test the hypotheses that having a disproportionately high number of GSWs [gunshot wounds] or having GSWs in a disproportionately high number of anatomic regions is associated with negative health outcomes."
Irony fails me.
Hat tip to Dave Barry


North & South's Black Confederate problem

A couple of folks have asked for details on the North & South editorial mentioned yesterday. I see it posted online here.

An earlier article opposing the idea of black Confederates is not online, nor are this month's letters reacting to the article. One of them is referenced by editor Keith Poulter in his editorial, however:
One of our correspondents in this issue’s Crossfire column expresses the view that for any historian to claim that an issue is definitively settled is a mark of arrogance. And he explicitly points the finger at Bruce Levine’s conclusions regarding “black Confederates” as an instance of this.
Poulter then explains why that arrogance rule does not apply to him and concludes "I find myself regarding Sasquatch and black Confederates in much the same light."

Poulter's discussion of evidence confuses me: "...there are instances where the evidence is so overwhelming that, after careful consideration, only those with a perverse axe to grind will fail to acknowledge it. Such a case, I believe, is the one concerning black Confederates."

He has confused arguments with evidence and might better say "...there are instances where the argument is so overwhelming ..."

Evidence is what it is; you evaluate it on its own terms. This evidence does not negate that evidence (except in rare cases of forensics) but this evidence can weigh more heavily than that evidence. Or there can be more of it. The major part of the discourse is arguing how and why you weigh the evidence that you do the way you do. To take a short cut through that tangle by resorting to polemic is not history but pure Usenet horrorshow.

Poulter refers readers to a retort from his author, Bruce Levine, responding to correspondence criticizing his debunking of black Confederates. Poulter says, "don’t take my word for it [on the subject]. Simply read Bruce’s letter in this issue, with an open mind, and draw your own conclusions."

That letter is a polemic. It compares Levine's critics to "phony seers, psychics, levitators, spoon-benders" but that's not the main reason it cannot help Poulter. Instead of addressing the strongest evidence there might be for black Confederates, Levine (appropriately) answers pell mell whatever points writers to the letters column chose to make in their attacks on his work. Levine's hodgepodge is a rant keyed to whatever the letter writers imagined to be evidence and argument.

An editor has to understand the difference between evidence and argument and, if he wants to close the door on a subject, as he does here, he has to first analyze the evidence with us, his customers, and then make his case to us, the customers.

I am not interested in the subject of black Rebels, I'm interested in evidence handling and the behaviour of an editor of a popular Civil War magazine. This is not Kevin Levin or myself sounding off in a blog about how we feel about a body of nonfiction; N&S is a forum that aspires to the production of useful history.

As editor of CWBN, I am aware of the relevant titles: Black Southerners in Confederate Armies; Black Southerners in Gray; Black Confederates; Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia. These are "sitting ducks," all lined up for serious analysts. They marshal evidence - whatever it is - and make their case - as best they can. Address that case. Analyze that evidence. Stop flaming your own readers.

You don't get to sit on the sidelines and jeer, Poulter. That's my job. Your part is the hard work.


The very definition of a "bad sport"

If you pick up the current issue of North & South magazine, you'll notice the unseemly spectacle of the editor, Keith Poulter, mocking his readers (see the editorial featuring Bigfoot). "Mocking" is too sedate a word - he's in a Usenet-style flame war with the people who pay his bills.

Those who believe in "black Confederates" have made a case. Their evidence is either adequate or not. If not, it is enough to say why.

The very definition of a "good sport"

After seeing my review of their new Guelzo title, the good folks at Simon & Schuster were moved to ask if I would like also to review Glatthaar's forthcoming book. I tip my hat to them.