Sesquicentennial: let the mockery begin!

A comment on preparations and the officials supposed to make them: "Civil War Sesquicentennial? Thanks, but I Think I Have to Wash My Hair that Year."

Meanwhile, you can use preservation grants to reclaim battlefield land or to conduct "hospitality training." The choice should be obvious.

Mom, can I go out and dig for human limbs?

(Halloween must be coming .)

"Death by Re-enactment"

An exciting new who-done-it coming to a newspaper rack near you.

Chapter 1, "A Victim Survives."


Goodwin's new honesty

The semi-retired Brian Dirck has been playing peek-a-boo with his readers. Nonetheless, Harry Smeltzer noticed an interesting post on Goodwin in what is supposed to be an inactive blog.

Of more urgency to me is not that Goodwin borrowed her various interpretations of issues from various AL historians (Brian's point), but how she (or her predecessors) could square the cabinet diaries against her core message of cabinet teamwork.

In history it's all about evidence handling, always. You have sins of omission (missed evidence that you didn't know about), sins of commission (suppressed evidence that would injure your meme), and outright atrocities (reversing the evidence - making it say the opposite of what it says).

Team of Rivals is an atrocity. Goodwin knows of the cabinet diaries and portrays a teamwork construct at odds with the diaries (which show isolation, bitterness, frustration towards Lincoln, and sustained contempt towards other cabinet members). The diaries stand in the vital center of the body of primary sources and must be dealt with on their own terms.

Here we meet Brian's observation again and his concern about the lack of acknowledgement of her tutors. Let me add this. Her book not only shows a rich borrowing of others' themes and ideas, look at the end notes - find a secondary source therein. They're damn scarce. The providers of themes and interpretations not only lack mention in the body: you'd be hard pressed to find their books cited at all.

Fingerprints have been removed from the scene. Claims of originality have been staked. Yet, Lincoln authors applaud.

It is possible that in her ten years of writing Goodwin used nothing but primary sources but is it possible that she would arrive at so many well-established opinions without recourse to the works of major scholars? The problem is now exacerbated in her lecturing, where she delivers other people's insights about Lincoln as her if they were her own.

In circumstances like these, one does not look for an "on the other hand" comment - one does not rustle up a few good things to say about Team of Rivals.

Pandering to the ignorant and indifferent

Barnes & Noble has asked me to direct your attention at their page called "Review" and in particular at the "fivebooks" section which in this edition features links to catalog entries for five (essential?) Civil War titles.

Like the late Jean Shepherd, I hate lists and I long to punish listmakers the way he did, so let us not go down the road of making the list "better" by choosing alternate titles.

Let us instead ask, why would a publisher/bookseller with deep inventory use his "fivebooks" space this way? Why would "fivebooks" be themed ACW and then pitched at the non-ACW reader as a starter kit?

Why would you pander to the ignoramus when you could pander to the proven book-buyer, the devotee? You know, there might even be a business model in that...

Most publishers approach this field backwards; witness the success of publisher Savas Beatie (publishing for appreciators) versus competitors who are forever blowing budgets chasing a readership uninterested in the ACW.

We see the same attitude in Gettysburg's park administration: to hell with the buff, our budget is devoted to the utterly disinterested random stopover.

What on earth can be driving the sale of an unending series of starter kits to a public that does not care?


Schlock effects

What is it about Lincoln that generates so much bad vaudeville?

Sesquicentennial fits and starts

Missouri has joined the very short roster of Sesquicentannial states with a $200k funding order. Meanwhile, in Virginia statements about the meaning of the commemoration have already started on contradictory paths:

"This is not about getting into that debate of whether the war was about slavery or about states’ rights," said state Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, who sits on the commission.
John Quarstein, historian for the city of Hampton and a consultant to Newport News, said: “It’s going to be marketed differently. It’s the story of a war about freedom."
Freedom for whom from whom?

This Quarstein is not one to commemorate a war when he can celebrate it:
"Every year, I celebrate the Battle of the Ironclads and the Battle of Big Bethel, but now the glare of the spotlight will be on us. It gives us a chance to do more."
Celebration - a natural byproduct of heritage tourism.


Bulletin from the Naval War College

From the WSJ:

... not since Gen. McClellan attempted to sabotage Lincoln's war policy in 1862... - Mackubin Owens, professor at the Naval War College and editor of Orbis, the journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute

What ever would we do without our popular concept of McClellan?


Straighten me out, navy buffs

Are we entitled to become irked when reporters and "experts" refer to Civil War "battleships"? I find it profoundly ignorant - but perhaps it's me that's ignorant.

In fact, I would call all the news coverage I've seen surrounding the Monticello vs. Rachel controversy ill-informed.

If you've been following the "Monticello" stories, here we have an archeologist commenting on the wreck uncovered by Gustav: "Shea McLean also agreed that it was most likely the Monticello, a Confederate battle ship en route from Havana that ran aground while trying to outrun the U.S. Navy into Mobile Bay."

On the other hand, "the Army Corps of Engineers argued that the wreck was actually the schooner Rachel, which sank in 1933."

The reporter owes the reader an explanation of how the remains of a CSS "battleship" could be confused with the remains of a schooner.

The reporter also owes us an explanation of how it is that the Union had a combat vessel named Monticello (pictured right) but there is no record of a CSA ship of that name (see here and here).
This already inadequate print reporting is then muddied up by ABC News which informs us that this is "a ragged shipwreck that archeologists say could be a two-masted Civil War schooner that ran aground in 1862 or another ship from some 70 years later." The (armed?) schooner is this "battleship" they refer to? Hmm.

More from ABC: "... a battleship that partially burned when it crashed trying to get past the U.S. Navy and into Mobile Bay during the Civil War."

Crashed and burned. Sounds more like "Smokey and the Bear," less like a naval action.

WaPo does the Cyclorama

One more link for the roundup of Cyclorama stories:
Even more famous than the Battle of Gettysburg was the "Battle of Sedan," a wildly popular bit of Prussian agitprop that helped channel the jingoistic fervor inspired by the Franco-Prussian War into feelings of broader German nationalism.

If you want the truth, ask a novelist

A good novelist has a better grasp of the truth than the general run of historians.

Here, a novelist takes apart a new work of Civil War history.

Shiloh gets a million

Projects at the Shiloh battlefield will get a $1 million infusion: "The grant is made possible through a federally funded program administered by the Tennessee Department of Transportation."

(I love battlefield preservation but these federal and state DOTs are looking much like giant cookie jars.)


Cyclorama spins news extravaganza

Loads of Gettysburg Cyclorama stories this weekend:

- Philly Inquirer, yesterday
- Los Angeles Times with photo gallery
- Baltimore Sun, heavy on the reminiscing
- York Daily Record - interesting pix and bits
- The Patriot News does its duty and no more
- Pittsburgh Tribune-Review does a wee bit better


A new ACW site

Hat tip to Sue for directing me to the American Civil War Forum.

They're looking for bloggers, BTW.

And they're repurposing content. The taste in content is a little odd. Five year old posts from Usenet such as this one are reposted under the names of current forum members (scroll down to the middle of this page and look for member MatiCambsb); then they are aggregated topically under labels like "Brooks" (for Usenet repostings originally involving Brooks Simpson) or "Epperson" (for old Usenet threads involving Jim Epperson).

Not sure what to make of it but have a look.

WWI revisionism

The revisionism in WWI studies is quite impressive. Will save up some notes for an OT post on the subject on Armistice Day.


Civil War memes in the daily press

At the risk of inflicting on the reader painful political spasms, I want to draw your attention to three pieces that appeared in the Washington Post last week. They're interesting in being heavily laden with Civil War memes and terminology.

These linked pieces below are all of the type "inside analysis" in which a researcher with limited access to a small set of decisionmakers attempts to tell "what it all means" and "how it all came about." In other words, the writer plays the part of the drunk who looks for his keys under the lamp post because the light is best there.

The Anaconda strategy
The first piece is by a lady who bases her insights on a 10-month stay in Iraq. Her editorial is disjointed and slightly incoherent - it is clear she lacks a military framework to help her process the information she has collected - and consequently, she deals out some tantalizing meat in a context-free soup.

The juiciest morsel contains this reference:

Petraeus convened a study group that shrewdly analyzed the raging sectarian conflict, then came up with what he called "the Anaconda strategy" to address the underlying dynamic.

It is not clear that the writer understands this is an ACW reference, nor does she develop it to give us insight into what Petraeus thinks it might mean. After introducing the term, she abandons it to stress Petraeus's immersion in Iraqi domestic politics.

What might it mean? To the lay ACW reader, Anaconda probably means a less violent war strategy, one that puts the squeeze on an enemy economy to bring that enemy to the negotiating table. Although TV pundit Bill O'Reilly has repeatedly called Petraeus the U.S. Grant of this war does he see himself as Winfield Scott instead?

Lincoln's backchannels
As the excerpts from Bob Woodward's new book began appearing last week, I was pretty excited to find aspects of Lincoln's management of the war cropping up in the installments.

In this September 8 piece, we find the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a state of distress at being routinely bypassed on military decision making - shades of McClellan and Halleck!

In this September 9 installment, we find the brass in an uproar over the president using a retired general as his personal liaison to the general commanding (Hello, Ethan A. Hitchcock! And for that matter, Charles Dana!).

It seems that in the Civil War Lincoln could not stop taking advice, or soliciting advice. After he stopped listening to Halleck, he stopped listening to Stanton, who learned of some military decisions second hand (or so Stanton's biographers tell me). He constantly changed his sources and inputs. His taste for backchannels was so voracious, he encouraged Abner Doubleday's missives from Ft. Sumter during the crisis (see Detzer's Allegiance for the harm done Major Anderson, commanding).

One of the provisions of the Goldwater-Nichols Act (that reorganized the military) stipulated that the chiefs of staff would always have access to the president. I thought this proviso redundant until Secretary Rumsfeld - an interesting, Stanton-like figure if ever there was one - approached the chiefs and asked them to write memos renouncing this right.

The consolidation of war powers in the War Department that Stanton sought would come to fruition in our own time.

Hattaway and Jones have spent some ink on the history and operation of the Union War Deaprtment's War Board, headed by Hitchcock (picture, top). It reached a point where it withered away from disuse. The chiefs are not going to wither away. Neither are the eternal questions of organization and accountability that Lincoln failed to resolve.

(Links require registration.)

The writer behind the Anaconda reference is Linda Robinson, author of Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq. In her 2008 book, the Anaconda reference is rendered thus:

The United States also sought to attack Al-Qaeda's appeal with the "anaconda strategy," which aimed to go after the terrorists from every angle. "You can't do in Al-Qaeda with just counterterrorist forces," Petraeus said. "You've got to reduce any threat that gives a reason for Sunni Arab communities to want to support Al-Qaeda as a bulwark against them. You've got to get services, education, jobs. The religious side is important ... You've got to get out there in cyberspace ... and you have to get with all the source countries."
This appears to have no connection to the "Anaconda Plan" attributed to Scott. BTW, an aide gave him a copy of Catton's Grant Takes Command upon his departure to take command in Iraq and the book tells of him being inspired by that.


Taking it to the Supreme Court

The Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association has taken its case to the Supreme Court; meanwhile, a bill to put Porter's endangered battlefield under the Harpers Ferry federal park has cleared U.S. Senate committee.

Also in west Virginia, it's interesting to note that the Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation has since 1991 secured 435 acres - almost the entire battlefield.

Both stories are here.


The power of partnership

It's a marketer's dream team, a publicity combination that comes around just once per lifetime: the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and the Illinois Soybean Association.

The ALPLM's underappreciated chief has gotten accolades in the Southeast Farm Press, AgriMarketing, Prarie Farmer, and Indiana Ag Connection.

Pure. Marketing. Genius.

We will remember this as the soybean Bicentennial.

Renovating with Imboden

"Live Civil War Shell Found in Wall."


The Simon affair

Some highly reliable notes have been received on the Simon affair, paraphrased with as much accuracy as I can muster:

Simon, I am told, had a harsh style, an unpleasant way that was accommodated (institutionally) for a long time; a new administration at SIU was less accommodating, however.

Where Simon perceived rivalry, he tried to quash reputations. He made enemies. Some of his workers felt abused. He had a rough way and lapses in self-control.

In this firing case, the aggrieved combined with the new university leadership (open to making changes).

(To get a sense of the political background preceding the new regime at SIU is, see here.)

His friends made his recent situation worse than it needed to be.

If his friends continue to bear down too hard on his enemies it could trigger an outpouring that hurts Simon’s reputation further. Examples include this and this.

Chief Justice Williams of the RISC, as head of the Ulysses S. Grant Association, has been hitting the university hard but is himself under attack for the conduct of his judicial duties (see here and here).

John Marszalek will finish the Grant Papers - essentially publishing the last volume of already collected material.

In sum: This is fairly “typical academic politics, spiced with a vengeful overreaction and punishment” of obnoxious behavior.


The absentee blogger: John Y. Simon

Having been offline since April, I compounded the error of missing stories on the firing of John Y. Simon in January by letting his death last month pass by unremarked.

Brooks Simpson was on patrol however, and even caught a couple of howlers spoken by Harold Holzer and duly printed as gospel in the New York Times (which followed with a correction).

(The eminently correctable New York Times goes to a pop culture Lincoln writer for a quote on a Grant scholar instead or checking with the community of Grant scholars!)

The divorce of Southern Illinois University from the Ulysses S. Grant Association in winter leaves the status of some Grant papers the subject of legal wrangling. Here are the latest links from less recent to more recent:

Backgrounder: History of the U.S. Grant Association

Backgrounder: About John Y. Simon

Widow: Simon never saw full report of sexual harassment allegations
(Includes account of how, on the day of his firing, Simon was escorted off campus and warned security would prevent his return.)

Association sues university, makes accusation of forgery
("...someone at SIUC forged payment documents.")

Historical group files restraining order on SIUC
("The Grant Association 'has established a prima facie case to a superior right to possession of the disputed property...'")

Looks like a vendetta from up here in the peanut gallery.

The absentee blogger: Continuous Fight

I have been almost completely offline since April and have therefore missed a number of events worth comment. One of these is the release of One Continuous Fight by Wittenberg, Petruzzi and Nugent. Supplies ran out almost immediately and it is currently in its second printing, according to publisher Ted Savas. Will post more on this soon.

Incidentally, Eric recently linked to this post by Manny, and I must say it is a super-extravagnza, sui generis, and represents a new use of the medium.