Rafuse on Lee's end

A new book from Ethan Rafuse filled with new insights and analysis: what a good thing.

1066 and All That

One of the great jokes of my youth was a book written for history readers mocking what we would today call "public historians." It was called 1066 and All That and adopted the mission of conveying only memorable history to the broad public. I am looking at an Internet extract on the subject of barons and picturing a tour guide ladeling this out to a group of tourists. Spelling corrected:

Simon de Montfort, although only a Frenchman, was a Good Thing, and is very notable as being the only good baron in history. The other barons were, of course, all wicked barons. They had, however, many important duties under the baronial system. These were:

1. To be armed to the teeth.

2. To extract from the villein saccage and soccage, tollage and tallage, pillage and ullage, and, in extreme cases, all other baronial amenities such as umbrage and porridge.

3. To hasten the King's death, deposition, insanity, etc., and make quite sure that there were always at least three false claimants to the throne.

4. To resent the Attitude of the Church. (The barons were secretly jealous of the Church, which they accused of encroaching on their rights.)

5. To keep up the Middle Ages.
The points of similarity with pop ACW history might be called out in a list of its own:

1. Organizing historical phenomena into lists (or serials).

2. Carefully pointing out the Good Thing and the Bad Thing to the reader.

3. Synthesizing already wobbly generalities into even higher level generalities.

4. Striking a tone of false neutrality ("They had, however, many important duties...").

5. Edifying the public.


Another angry ACW historian

Interviewer: Does this history anger you?
Historian: I don’t think it would be unfair to say that.

See here.


What does it take to change a marker?

For Lois Helmers it was the last straw when she was notified last Saturday that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has apparently no intention of correcting Private Philip Findling’s name on his marker at the National Cemetery in Marietta.

Games: Ironclad demo released

A demo for "Ironclads: American Civil War" has been posted here. It appears to be a tactical game; historiographic content may be low.


Russell Bonds on Civil War Talk Radio

Russell Bonds will appear on Civil War Talk Radio on Friday at 12 noon PST/3:00 pm EST.

Gerry P and Russell B are funny, outgoing, smart ACW authors. This could be a lot of fun.

Bloggers and museums

The Museum of the Confederacy is asked to respond to comments by blogger Kevin Levin.


"Centennialism" as duplication and repitition

In this space I often use a neologism of my own coining, "Centennial," as a token for certain tendencies in Civil War history that culminated in the 1960s and which were revived by the work of James McPherson in our own times.

Betsy Rosen has sent me the following wonderful recent quote from Southern littérateur Louis D. Rubin, Jr. (pictured, right). You'll recognize what he's talking about, I think:
I just received a book by and from my Hollins professor and longtime mentor, Louis D. Rubin, Jr.-- THE SUMMER THE ARCHDUKE DIED: On Wars and Warriors, U. of Missouri Press, 2008.

It's mostly all about the Great War (with a brief memoir of the author's childhood in Charleston and early fascination with the ACW), but the following paragraphs on p. 13 made me think of you:

"Another and less ideological factor was impacting upon the reading and writing of Civil War military history in the 1950's and 1960's. As new book after book about the war was published, not only repetition but also outright duplication of topic and approach multiplied. More and more was being published about less and less. Some useful and informative books continued to be written, and certain facile assumptions and partisan interpretations received needed revision; but the ratio of heat to light grew ever more inefficient with each book-publishing season.

"Not a few good Civil War historians began to examine the doings of generals and politicians of other wars and crises for possible study. Others took to repeating themselves. By the time the centennial years drew to an end, books on the Civil War were becoming a glut on the history market...."
I like this phrase very much - "not only repetition but also outright duplication of topic and approach." The later success of Ken Burns and James McPherson in recycling the "greatest hits" of the '50s and '60s "inspired" regurgitation of the exhausted material for a new generation of readers.

We are just now coming into a new wave of original research, thought, and analysis. I try to be celebratory about it despite this blog starting out of deep anger with the commercial success of repitition and duplication. The question I force on myself nowadays, however, is whether I am celebrating new work on its own merits or for the relief it gives me from the intellectual poverty of a dying consensus.

(Blogger Betsy's ACW novel Hallam's War, meanwhile, is going paperback with a major trade house. I think ACW novels, on the whole, do better than ACW nonfiction titles.)


History beyond words

"Widow of Confederate soldier dies at 93." As I post this, her death was reported five hours ago.


Abe, the musical, moves forward

The producers are getting ink in Playbill.

Re-enactment turns ugly

Sioux activists "were taken into custody by law enforcement officers after they used a microphone and speaker to voice their objections to the re-enactment."


The Sun's book blog

For those of you who love top ten (or top top five) lists (me, I hate them) The Baltimore Sun's book blog has a few posts on which you can add some personal choices: Defining Southern Literature, Southern Writings, and Check It Out - CW Books. On the latter a few ACW bloggers have weighed in already. All are found at this link. Scroll down as needed.



James McPherson, as on all issues and topics, perfectly represents the Centennialist doctrine on rifle muskets:
Time and again generals on both sides ordered close-order assaults in the traditional formation. With an effective range of three or four hundred yards, defenders firing rifles decimated these attacks. - James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom
Brent Nosworthy has worked hard to upgrade our understanding from the level of these 1950s-era nostroms. Thus,
[CSA] Major E. P. Alexander, an expert shot, decided to take a crack at the Pennsylvania Bucktails, who were running toward his position [on Sept. 17, 1862]. Positioning eight men behind a rock to load for him, he started to unleash about eight shots a minute, starting when the Union infantry was still about 600 yards distant. Alexander would later recall "I don't think I hit many, for distances varied rapidly & all had to be guessed, but I did distinctly see one fellow drop at my shot." - Brent Nosworthy, Bloody Crucible of Courage
And again:
A soldier, firing [a rifle musket] at a target 540 yards away who overjudged the distance by 33 yards would completely miss a 10-foot high target. - Brent Nosworthy, Bloody Crucible of Courage
And once more with feeling:
Lieutenant Colonel Dixon of the Royal Artillery ... pointed out that given the relatively low initial muzzle velocity of the new style rifle muskets, it was critical to estimate the range of each shot accurately, something that required concentration and sangfroid. This was rare among troops in massed formations under fire. Surrounded by smoke and the whistle of shells and bullets flying nearby, most soldiers would become distracted. Some would even shake and wobble on their legs. Their ability to compute ranges, adjust the back sight, and aim accurately would be greatly diminished. - Brent Nosworthy, Roll Call to Destiny
Now comes Earl Hess with a new book, The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth. The promotional literature tells us
Hess presents a completely new assessment of the rifle musket, contending that its impact was much more limited than previously supposed and was confined primarily to marginal operations such as skirmishing and sniping. He argues further that its potential to alter battle line operations was virtually nullified by inadequate training, soldiers' preference for short-range firing, and the difficulty of seeing the enemy at a distance.
This is an exciting time in Civil War publishing. We are moving from single works that upend this or that Centennial certainty to a collective building on complex corrections.

(Hess's book is blurbed by fellow blogger Mark Grimsley.)


Conspiracy theory 5: analyzing the letter

Previously: LTC Edward Wright, friend and aide to McClellan, had traveled to D.C. to receive a message from Allan Pinkerton: Wright and McClellan's small circle of friends were under observation for plotting the assasination of Abraham Lincoln, Pinkerton said. Their arrests would would be triggered by any move to execute their plot. It would also follow any protest or commotion made by McClellan in reference to the upcoming election, the results which were already rigged. If GBM kept quiet, he and his friends would be spared arrest (and presumably execution). The threat came in the midst of military trials of the Sons of Liberty and foreshadowed those executions.

"Mr. Lincoln knew of this interview" has a certain resonance. McClellan contracted for Pinkerton's and Lincoln's services at the Illinois Central, GBM personally directing their activities. Pinkerton's involvement with Lincoln's security appears to flow from this comity.

The Civil War reader has no idea of how "thick" Pinkerton, Lincoln, and McClellan were; a small digression may help with this. On April 15, 1861, Baldy Smith wrote GBM to tell him the rumor that Lincoln was going to make the civilian Mac a brigadier in the Regular Army. He advised his friend to get the highest volunteer commission first to leverage himself up in any federal negotiations. By April 18 (see his letter to Robert Patterson) McClellan had accepted a state level engineering staff position under Patterson. The same day he told Fitz John Porter of a feeler put out inviting his command of the Pennsylvania Reserves. On April 19, Baltimore rioted. Pinkerton's trusted agent, Timothy Webster, was by Lincoln's side. In his biography of Webster Pinkerton wrote that immediately after the riots Lincoln told Webster, "take these telegrams, and when you have reached a point where communication is possible, send them to General [sic] McClellan at Columbus, Ohio; they are important and must be sent without delay. Also telegraph to Mr. Pinkerton at once; his services are, I think, greatly needed by the government at this time." As Washington is cut off, Lincoln has Pinkerton and GBM in his thoughts at the same time. Moreover, by April 23, we see offers of major generalcies gushing in all at once from Republican governors: from Morgan (NY), from Curtin (PA), From Dennison (OH).

There is another phrase that resonates in Wright's recounting of the Pinkerton interview: "it was with a desire to befriend McClellan and save him from possible trouble that he [Lincoln] had employed him [Pinkerton] in the matter."

Here "befriend" refers to an estrangement. I don't know if Lincoln considered McClellan, his employer, a friend after sharing rooms (and beds) with him in country inns throughout Illinois as they plied railroad cases in county seats but by 1861, Lincoln habitually and publicly referred to McClellan as "George" and even "our George." I don't know of any cabinet officer or politician outside Lincoln's small circle of pre-election friends referred to by their first names; certainly no general ever after received this treatment. In the same vein, I once tried to tally the number of visits (drop-ins) Lincoln made on McClellan at home and gave up in discouragement. There were so many.

And so this "befriending" has meaning. It also has context.

There were several presidential-tinged overtures to bring McClellan back into active duty that occured on May 1, 1864 (Montgomery Blair to SLM Barlow); July 21 (Francis Blair Sr. to GBM); July 31 (Lincoln and Grant, confirmed by Cameron). IIRC Cameron also approached McClellan about his restoration before the spring 1864 campaign even started.

If we interleave these McClellan-related dates with the government's progress in its Sons of Liberty investigation, we get some interesting results. Perhaps I'll table these incidents at the end of this series. There are two more remarkable dates we should consider.

The first is well known: it is the confrontation after Lincoln levels treason accusations against McClellan on the morning of March 8, 1862. (McClellan: "It is difficult to understand that a man of Mr. Lincoln's intelligence could give ear to such abominable nonsense.") The second date occurs on September 23, 1864. McClellan's political manager wrote to him:

"Lincoln pretends to have a letter of yours to himself, written in 1861, I believe, in which you advised him to assume dictatorial powers, arrest members of Congress &c &c. This story is likely to hurt us very much in certain quarters. Have you a copy of any such letter and if, not can you give me the substance."
McClellan answered,

"I have carefully thought over the matter & cannot think of anything I ever wrote or said that could be tortured into giving Lincoln the advice in question. You may be sure that it is a lie out of the whole cloth."
And so, we see Lincoln on this emotional see-saw. He recruits McClellan, he confronts McClellan; he credits treason, he cultivates friendship. On the verge of arresting him, if we credit Pinkerton, he sends an olive branch.

Two days after the election, Simon Cameron feels compelled to send Lincoln the strongest letter possible to prevent the restoration of McClellan to command.

So questions arise.

(1) Did the McClellan Minute Men or Sons of Liberty, in arrest, confinement and under interrogation, fabricate implications? Even if they did, it seems impossible that they would come up with precise circle of men surrounding candidate McClellan (Wright, Curtis, Belmont, etc.).

(2) Was this intimidation a Stanton scheme? Sears in his GBM biography says McClellan thought so but gives no evidence. Actually, McClellan is on the record before the election as saying that Stanton had lost all discretion and was being directed by Lincoln from day to day; furthermore, Pinkerton did not have a Stanton connection and if he worked for Stanton at all during the war it was temporarily.

The Wright letter describing the Pinkerton meeting has an internal coherence that invites credibilty among those familiar with the Lincoln-McClellan-Pinkerton relationship.

It seems to me - I'm speculating - that the Sons of Liberty cases opened the door to a general crackdown on the political opposition and this Wright incident was part of that. We'll see more of this next with the arrest of a lieutenant governor.

"Mr. Lincoln knew of this interview"
"The McClellan interest"

Rosecrans discovers a plot
Conspiracy theory
General Wool writes a letter

p.s. My reference to LTC Wright as the son of the General appears to be erroneous. Bill Bergen writes:
In yesterday's post, Conspiracy theory 4, you state that Edward H. Wright was Horatio Wright's son. As the reigning expert on Horatio Wright, I can tell you that Horatio had only two daughters and no sons (though one might have died in infancy). If you have info to the contrary, I'd love to see it.

It appears true, though I have never been able to confirm it, that the two Wrights were related. There is a single reference in one article I found that mentioned Horatio and a William Wright, a Senator from NJ, were cousins. Here is his info:


I gathered from some context or another that the senator was Edward's father or uncle. That this letter is written from NJ, and not CT or DC, the two places Horatio called home, lends some credence to that theory.

One of the few of Horatio Wright's non-military letters that is in the public domain is to Edward Wright. Here is a synopsis of that:


Having read the whole letter, the reference to McClellan is to Arthur McClellan, G.B.'s younger brother, who was a long-time VI corps staff officer and a source of some controversy. In Sears' book of McClellan letters, there is a early fall 1864 missive from GB to Arthur saying that if he were to be restored to command of the army he would take the VI Corps' staff as his own. He tells Arthur to give his regards to Wright and Getty.

I have a few other pieces of evidence that hint at a Horatio-GB close relationship, but nothing definitive.
Top: McClellan and Pinkerton from The Spy of the Rebellion.