Jomini's objectives

Speaking of Jomini, here is a passage from the US 1862 edition of his Art of War. I cite this in the hope we can be rid of the procrustean nostrum Make the enemy your objective:
There are two classes of objective points,—objective points of maneuver, and geographical objective points. A geographical objective point may be an important fortress, the line of a river, a front of operations which affords good lines of defense or good points of support for ulterior enterprises. Objective points of maneuver, in contradistinction to geographical objectives, derive their importance from, and their positions depend upon, the situation of the hostile masses.

In strategy, the object of the campaign determines the objective point. If this aim be offensive, the point will be the possession of the hostile capital, or that of a province whose loss would compel the enemy to make peace. In a war of invasion the capital is, ordinarily, the objective point.
More, with reference to risk:
As to the choice of objective points, every thing will generally depend upon the aim of the war and the character which political or other circumstances may give it, and, finally, upon the military facilities of the two parties.

In cases where there are powerful reasons for avoiding all risk, it may be prudent to aim only at the acquisition of partial advantages,—such as the capture of a few towns or the possession of adjacent territory. In other cases, where a party has the means of achieving a great success by incurring great dangers, he may attempt the destruction of the hostile army, as did Napoleon.
Did the Union ever have the political capacity to incur "great dangers"? Demanding great results without incurring great danger is exactly what we would expect of politicians.
There is another class of decisive points to be mentioned, which are determined more from political than from strategic considerations: they play a great part in most coalitions, and influence the operations and plans of cabinets. They may be called political objective points. [...] This subject is so extensive and so complicated that it would be absurd to attempt to reduce it to a few rules. The only one which can be given has just been alluded to, and is, that either the political objective points should be selected according to the principles of strategy, or their consideration should be postponed till after the decisive events of the campaign.
Emphasis added. Have a look.

Jomini 2009

A new article from the Small Wars Journal applies Jominian analysis to a critique of modern US counterinsurgency doctrine. The brief review of Jomini, by way of Maguire, will evoke many Civil War campaigns in the mind of the reader.

Interesting general note on theory vs practice from the piece:
What the US Army and Marine Corps seem to have done in their counterinsurgent doctrine is to turn despair of finding enemy’s lines of communication into a doctrinal escape from the [Jominian] principles that focus on those lines. The new doctrine displays a sort of psychological displacement behavior in the face of failure. For instance, because the lines are hard to find, descriptions of the type of combat begin to include the expression ‘non-linear.’ Once accepted that a war is non-linear by nature, any need to look for the lines collapses, and any principles constructed on the basis of their existence are rendered inapplicable.
By the way, the DEA (unlike the Army) views clandestine networks differently and attacks them through their lines of communication and support (as this article shows, starting on page 21).

Jomini and the Civil War remain with us.


Maryland's Sesquicentennial

Maryland takes its first step towards a Sesquicentennial program. I'm expecting a pure tourism play.


McPherson's "Abraham Lincoln" (part 2 of 2)

Totaling 65 tiny leaves of narrative, each larded generously with white space, we can easily see how reviewers might be stumped by McPherson's new book Abraham Lincoln. Was this a stillborn embryo of a biography? An example of failing faculties? Reviewers stayed away in droves.

In my view, Abraham Lincoln is intended as a powerful display of the author at the peak of his powers.

The whole issue comes down to, what are those powers. As I have said for more than a decade, McPherson is patently a synthesizer of secondary sources while his admirers imagine that he is an original researcher/scholar whose popular writings offer glimpses of original insights.

If you believe the latter, the book Abraham Lincoln can make no sense, for there is no McPherson reader so new to this corner of nonfiction that most of the content of Abraham Lincoln will not be familiar, warmed over, even tired. Put another way, no one's stock of Lincolniana is so low and so poor that McPherson's biography is going to surprise and delight them with fresh facts and observations. In that way his ardent admirers at last arrive at the place where the deep readers of Civil War source material have been all along – face to face with pedestrian recapitulations of well known secondary material.

For the purveyors of the myth "Greatest Living Civil War Historian," the game is up. In fact, McPherson has given them up himself. He never bought into the image that was foisted on him. Abraham Lincoln would not be possible if he had.

As much misguided praise as McPherson drinks up, he still knows much better than his adoring public who he really is and what he really does. And so the author (I contend) intended here a virtuoso performance of summation – a real knuckle buster (to borrow pianist slang) – within his beloved "public history" sphere.

To make this very public demonstration, the artist has to make choices on the lines of What is virtuosity in synthesis?

Go back to Battle Cry of Freedom where we have a comparatively long book. Take a complex issue, such as the commander's intent in Lee's Maryland Campaign; McPherson's treatment of it is to select one single secondary source that he regards as the best for this issue (D.S. Freeman) – without making a case for its excellence, BTW - then to summarize a substantive evaluation made by Freeman in a single paragraph.

So, we can derive a value system at work here. Go through Battle Cry and you'll see it continuously. McPherson's art in those early days was to choose (to his own personal satisfaction) the best secondary explanation of means, motive, and action on a single matter and then "boil it down" to essentials that could be expressed in a few sentences or less. His attributions were reasonably transparent as he saw no shame then in crediting the sources of his recapped insights.

If you view the Civil War as a series of decisions and incidents, each one of which has some controversy attached to it, each analysis of which requires a discussion of evidence, McPherson was never for you. He did not even recap his secondary sources' own travels through primary sources. For instance, Freeman might have quite a substantial review of the sources to justify his views, but these would not make it to Battle Cry's front- or back-matter. Only Freeman's conclusions would survive in truncated form.

But we don't want to get too deep in the technique here, just far enough to identify the secret sauce this artist is serving. It is the most concise single account of what McPherson deems the best thinking on an issue. He connects the issues by stringing the accounts together in a narrative. One issue or incident demands just one interpretation, one explanation. The weakness in historical method and technique are offset by a confidence in tone and faster narrative pacing.

If we compare Battle Cry with Lincoln, we are first struck by scaling issues. Battle Cry, so much bigger, can be viewed in terms of the art of compression not being perfected, as being clumsier.
The individual summaries within Lincoln are briefer than in Battle Cry. In Lincoln, paragraphs have given way to sentences.

This is not the only change in technique. Like Goodwin in Team of Rivals, McPherson wipes the slate clean of secondary sources in his new writing. He seems embarrassed to have ever been associated with secondary sources.

He has 67 footnotes for his 65 pages, only three of which contain secondary sources cited for their own value (a few more are cited specifically to extract a particular Lincoln quote only). McPherson now uses citations exclusively to document quotes. He has jettisoned the Battle Cry system of making his influences transparent, no doubt deciding that this is a luxury his readers don't need. In the case of his fanbase, I would say it is a luxury they never made use of anyway.
Needless to say, this shortens the book considerably.

Finally, McPherson includes a bibliography in which he delivers one-liners (more compression!) about this or that source or secondary study. He never divulges which author influenced him or which set the course of a particular school of thought. Imagine just four tiny pages of annotated bibliography of all the Lincoln literature, manuscript and published. This is not happenstance, this is showing off.

The question is, do we get it? Some of us have gotten it from Battle Cry onward.

Now it's time for the rest of his readership. Let them pick Abraham Lincoln up and read it in the way he intended them to. Take McPherson at his own measure for once.

He's been putting on a show - and you've completely missed the show with your scholar nonsense - now go and enjoy the show.


The Sesquicentennial in New England

This fellow says won't be any. I agree.

Tea for Varina Davis

By the time she gets her tea party for the Sesquicentennial there will have been time enough to learn how to spell her name.

Sometimes I think the persons, places, and things of history are mere placeholders for the heritage tourism industry.


CWPT Battlefield Report

The Civil War Preservation Trust has released its annual endangered battlefield report. Press release here and report here.


When activists take an interest in history

Got to shed light on slaveholder insurance policies. The need is urgent. Must compile report and send to governor immediately. I repeat, the need is urgent. Pass a law to force disclosures. Hurry. This is a priority. What are we waiting for? Pass the law now.

The hearty handshake school of heritage tourism

Brunswick, MD, wants to leverage its Civil War history (it was "Berlin" then) to qualify for inclusion in the Preserve America program. The program, if you haven't heard of it, is comical in a W.C. Fields sort of way:
"The benefits are not monetary," Jones said. But participating communities get a certificate of recognition, a Preserve America welcome sign, and inclusion in press releases about the historical value of the region.
"Allow me to give you another hearty handshake" says the bank president after the bank dick foils a robbery.


An affront to Old Baldy

Philadelphia is down to its last Civil War museum (due to budget issues) and would you believe they are not displaying Meade's horse's head!
Mr. Waskie would like to see the head of Old Baldy taken out of storage and reunited with the reins on Gen. Meade’s horse, currently on display.

“The head of Old Baldy was obtained by two members of the Grand Army. They had it preserved and then put the skin over a plaster mold and framed on a wooden fence,” Mr. Waskie said.
Let their labors not be in vain.

Why they fought the Civil War: for peace

The Union fought for peace. Peace was Lincoln's objective. To be specific: "a just and lasting peace." The kind that takes four years and a mountain of dead to achieve. That kind of peace.

Peace is good and Lincoln is good. Connect the dots.


The Mystery of Oktibbeha County (cont.)

How did the Grant Society's Grant Papers end up at Mississippi State? We have a new clue: Mrs. Marszalek is a political powerhouse in the state. If her husband, an emeritus, wanted the archive nearer home, she had tremendous wherewithal to prepare a warm reception for them:
She has played a major role in Mississippi politics. She began her career as secretary of the Oktibbeha County Democratic Executive Committee from 1989-1992, also becoming a member of the Mississippi State Democratic Executive Committee (1989-2000). She was the founder and first president of the Oktibbeha County Federation of Democratic Women (1990-1992) and has held a variety of offices in the Mississippi State Federation of Democratic Women (1990- ). In 1992 and 1996, she was elected a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions and subsequently played leadership roles in the two local Bill Clinton presidential campaigns. From 1994 to 2002, she wrote a regular column in the quarterly newsletter, the Oktibbeha Democrat. From 1993-1996, she was co-chair of the Starkville Race Relations Team. She was awarded the Unity in the Community Award from the Oktibbeha County NAACP (1996) and the Democrat of the Year Award from the Oktibbeha County Democratic Executive Committee (1998). In 2003, the Mississippi State University College Democrats named her "Honorary Life Member."
Mrs. Marszalek rates her own page on the MSU website without having been employed by the school or published by its press. Her relationship with MSU is strictly that of patron:
She and her husband have established endowed library funds at Mississippi State University and Canisius College. Her papers, gathered in the course of her political career, are deposited in the Mitchell Memorial Library, Mississippi State University.
Her own papers! So students can study her life and career!

Sorry, I'm getting distracted. The bullseye is that "She and her husband have established endowed library funds" at MSU.

The closely guarded secrets surrounding this transfer are starting to come unraveled. We'll get to the bottom of this. Keep watching and if you have a clue, send it in.

p.s. I have stopped referring to this archive in shorthand as THE Grant papers in deference to the important point made by Brooks Simpson that they are not THE Grant papers, but rather the papers of the Grant Society. "... just as so much of this story has been confusing." Amen

Grant Papers: SIU feels the sting

SIU has weighed in on the Grant Papers removal with a resounding "no comment."

This story, however, puts the Simon controversy in a larger context, a year in which "a couple of administrators have left under bizarre or suspicious circumstances." It reports also that one administrator was busted for false military service claims. The funniest SIU scandal of 2008 had to have been when the college's new plagiarism policy was discovered to have been plagiarized.

Current administrators have assured the reporter it's all no big deal.

(Hey, good college press, though.)

Lincoln's watch

You leave it for repair and they're messing with your watch. Is this like cooks spitting in your soup?

BTW, why would the Smithsonian only occasionally put this item in their Lincoln display if it is the one item he carried with him night and day? Now that its secret is exposed will it get more exhibition time?

(Thanks to Ted Savas for the pointer.)


New Lincoln pic

Can we call it marginally interesting at best?

The ALPLM in the Bicentennial

I think that I shall never see...

It's been over 20 days since the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum appeared in any news item in this Bicentennial year.

We go to the ALPLM website and click on EVENTS for a surprise. The big February to May event is an art show featuring Don Pollack (whose painting is featured topside). Don's exhibition is offering "a conversation with painting, photography, history, and art history and includes painted landscapes, portraits, maps, and documents." Not very Lincoln-sounding.

Concurrently, a master of sticky pads will work his magic putting the Emancipator at the center of his efforts: "Using thousands of colored Post it notes, Mr. Killham will work with local volunteers to build larger than life portraits of Mr. Lincoln: one in each side of windows on the bridge that spans Jefferson Street."

Am I sensing trivialization here? Or just disorder, exhaustion, and ingnorance?

The ALPLM calendar then descends from these two artistic high points into a sparse listing of laughable trivia (tea ladies?).

For relief, you could try looking at Bicentennial Commission events. These include events such as performances of Shakespeare's Macbeth.

If these folks are not going to celebrate Lincoln, we can all safely take a pass.

Lincoln authors and scholars: you missed a great opportunity. The Bicentennial is over. Kudos, though, on maintaining excellent collegiality throughout.


Using the ACW to corrupt Boy Scouts

These Boy Scouts have a pretty neat agenda for their "Boy Scout Day At Mayfield Earthwork Fort." This is all stuff I would want to do if I were a child: "Participants will learn to drill and fire wooden muskets, fire artillery and learn how to send messages using signal flags."

The part that made me laugh was "Scouts will also learn how to prepare camp food and formulate military strategy." You see, boys, military strategy is a lot like beans and franks...

Actually this is like an old comedy bit mocking children's shows: "And tune in next week when we'll show you how to cure diseases and end world hunger!"

After their half-hour strategy session, these kids will be fully equipped to denigrate any Civil War general they may read about.

Confederate money

No longer worthless.

Is this the stupidest Bicentennial event?

How childish would you have to be to ask serious questions of a Lincoln actor and a Darwin actor? What sense of history imagines them sharing tea on the same stage and chatting about this and that? And how low will we have to go before the year ends to find the stupidest-ever Bicentennial event?

"Our ancestors, the Gauls"

A bill supporting Sesquicentennial activity in Kentucky has made it out of committee and now lumbers on to the next milestone.

These sorts of stories are interesting places to gather clues about who is driving these bills and why. As a general (maybe shaky) observation, it seems to me that Civil War readers are absent and that in our circles there has been no discussion about what a Sesquicentennial is for and what it should do.

A state senator promoting the Sesquicentennial had this to say:
It is important that we educate those who do not realize our state’s significance in this historic era and recognize our ancestors for their roles in the war and its aftermath.
The question, "Why is it important" is left on the table.

His remark seems to divide Kentucky into two classes of inhabitant: "our ancestors" and "those who do not realize," i.e. the transients who make up the majority of the population of any state nowadays. The motivation, then, seems to be one of integration.

I don't think it will work. That part of the transient national labor pool that finds itself in Kentucky is amply served by all sorts of non-local culture. It also imagines itself "national" in character - witness the abysmal turnouts in local elections.

If the sesquicentennial is a cultural rearguard action designed to drag "those who do not realize" along the path of state history I think it will fail.

In fact a specific image of futility comes to mind: those thousands of colonial African schoolrooms where the children began their very first French lesson with the words, "Our ancestors, the Gauls..."


The Mystery of Oktibbeha County (cont.)

Russell Bonds writes to say, if you want to understand why the Grant papers were moved to Mississippi State University, look to the bulldog motif:

My 2¢: Could it be the mascot?


and (Currier & Ives):

See also Lincoln to Grant, Aug. 17, 1864 ("Hold on with a bulldog grip, and chew and choke as much as possible"), OR Vol. 42 pt. 2 p. 243; F.B. Carpenter, Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln (New York: Hurd & Houghton, 1867), p. 283 ("I asked the President, during the progress of the battles of the Wilderness, how General Grant personally impressed him as compared with other officers of the army, and especially those who had been in command. . . 'The great thing about Grant,' said he, 'I take it, is his perfect coolness and persistency of purpose. I judge he is not easily excited, — which is a great element in an officer, — and he has the grit of a bull-dog! Once let him get his 'teeth' in, and nothing can shake him off.'").

And (bonus!!) see also Harold Holzer, "The Return of the Peacemakers," American Heritage (Feb./March 1996) (describing "Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, famed for bulldog ruthlessness in battle...").

Behold the power of Internet Archive and Google Book Search. : )

Got a theory? Pass it along.


The Mystery of Oktibbeha County

If you are joining us late, we are working on the Mystery of Oktibbeha County. It's like a Lovejoy mystery involving valuable artifacts, shady doings, an academic setting, and skullduggery behind a facade of propriety. In this whodunnit, a collection of historic papers mysteriously appears at a Mississippi college where no one can explain how it got there.

How did the Grant papers end up at Mississippi State? The collection, assembled and owned by the shadowy Ulysses S. Grant Association, was recently in the care of the deceased John Y. Simon (a bona fide Grant scholar). The Association's new director, Sherman buff and psycho-history pop author John Marszalek, moved them out of Southern Illinois University after difficulties with the current administration. So we do have motive for relocation.

Reporters, however, failed to report how MSU came to be selected as a new home. Whenever asked directly, Marszalek, as we have seen in previous posts here, diverted the question or made useless noises. As the director of the nonprofit that owns the papers, Marszalek could have said anything: "I am professor emeritus and like the place"; or, "They're giving us a nice building"; or, "The truck took a wrong turn and delivered its load here by mistake and we figured, what the hell."

One interview with local press is typical. Marszalek was asked flat out, "Why was Mississippi State's Mitchell Memorial Library chosen as the repository of President Grant's papers?" He answers with irrelevant general background data culminating in
Through the hard work of Mississippi State University Library Dean Frances Coleman, interim MSU presidents Vance Watson and Roy Ruby and the enthusiastic support of MSU President Mark Keenum, we were able to convince the [Grant] Association board of directors that the Mitchell Memorial Library at MSU was the appropriate place to house these significant materials.
In other words he answers the "why" question, "because we were able to convince our board." Was the board faced with one lousy offer?

Marszalek could say anything but he assiduously says nothing.

Hat tip to the gentleman who pointed out today's new clue. It is a university press release which hints as to the membership of the cabal behind the move.
Rhode Island Chief Justice Frank J. Williams, winner of MSU's 2006 MSU Distinguished Jurist Award, is [Grant] association president. A former commissioner of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and a New York Metropolitan Museum of Art vice president, as well as two direct Grant descendants, are other officers."
(More on this momentarily.)

Williams, calling in to MSU for the dedication ceremony, laid more fog over the question of MSU's selection. Get this:
The transfer of Grant’s papers to MSU, Williams said, will enhance efforts to understand his legacy as president and as commanding general of the Union forces during the Civil War.
We would have had no chance of understanding Grant's legacy if these papers had gone anywhere else...

The same report covering the dedication contained an inadvertent disclosure by Marszalek:
When Chief Justice Williams, Dean Coleman and I [were] readying for the papers’ arrival, I told them that once the papers were inside the doors of the library, I was going to let out the loudest scream ever heard in Oktibbeha County.
Marszalek is alluding here to difficult negotiations, not difficult logistics. The dean would not be involved in bills of lading, delivery, and unpacking issues.

So the silence of Marszalek punctuated by screams of joy points to haggling over terms and conditions for the housing of the papers. Is the Association going to pay rent? Is it going to get grants? The deal is so secret, even the existence of a deal must be concealed.

Before we leave the dedication reporting, we should note this ominous, mystery-novel element. Marszalek appears to be the only officer present. Williams phones it in. The recalcitrant board members are not mentioned nor are any other officers. The whole point of the Grant Association is the papers and nobody shows up for the momentous event of relocating them.

Cue the dramatic music.

Now what is this Ulysses S. Grant Association? It was formed in 1962 by the Centennial's brain trust as we see in this contemporary snippet from volume 72 of Ohio History:
ONE OF THE BETTER results of the effort to recognize the centennial of the Civil War has been the establishment of a project to collect and publish the correspondence and other papers of Ulysses S. Grant, supreme commander of theUnion armies and eighteenth president of the United States. To accomplish this end the Ulysses S. Grant Association was created through the efforts of the Civil War centennial commissions of Ohio (where Grant was born and lived his early years), Illinois (which gave him his first command in the war), and New York (where he spent his last years). The association has been chartered as a non-profit corporation by the state of Illinois. Its offices are located in the Ohio State Museum, Columbus, the headquarters of the Ohio Historical Society. Officers of the association are: Ralph G. Newman, Chicago, president; Bruce Catton of the American Heritage, David C. Mearns of the Library of Congress, and T. Harry Williams of Louisiana State University, vice presidents; Erwin C. Zepp of the Ohio Historical Society, secretary; Clyde C. Walton of the Illinois State Historical Society, treasurer; and Allan Nevins of the Huntington Library, chairman of the editorial board. Dr. John Y. Simon of the department of history of Ohio State University is executive director and managing editor.
Note the Illinois charter. Info about the Association, which lacks a website or any other public-facing organ, can be found in the Illinois Secretary of State's portfolio. Its 2008 address was given as the library at SIU which housed the collection: "605 Agriculture Dr, Carbondale, IL 62901-4310." It had "Estimated annual sales" of $138,536.

Now, from our informant's link, we see what may be a board of six people. The identities "exposed" thus far:

** Marszalek, director
** Williams, president
** Grant relative #1, "officer"
** Grant relative #2, "officer"
** "A former commissioner of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service," "officer"
** "and a New York Metropolitan Museum of Art vice president," "officer."

I split the last clause into two because the story is written in AP style. AP's treatment of commas tells us this is written about two people not one ex-IRS art guy.

The Museum VP is Harold Holzer.

The former commissioner of the IRS is harder to figure but must certainly be Sheldon Cohen, "current Abraham Lincoln Association Board Member."*

So the leadership consists of Williams, who won an award from MSU and may have connections there; Marszalek, professor emeritus of MSU; Holzer; Sheldon Cohen; and two Grant relatives. Notice there are no Grant authors or scholars whatever in this organization.

If we were investigating a drug cartel, we would now begin mapping our network. Let's see what we can do on the QT:

Lincoln Bicentennial Commission: Holzer, Williams.

Lincoln Bicentennial Advisory Committee: Marszalek, Cohen.

Lincoln Forum: Holzer, Williams, John Y. Simon.

So, the Grant papers are firmly in the hands of the mobbed-up branch office of a shadowy offshore enterprise we can call "Amalgamated Lincoln Enterprises Inc."

We have our suspects and a trail of dissimulation but the mystery remains. Why MSU?

(Got clues? Send them in.)

* Despite this "credential" Cohen does not actually appear on the ALS website list as a board member. In fact, the board roster excludes all members of the rival Amalgamated Lincoln Enterprises cartel. See here.


Quite an anachronism

Montgomery Meigs quotes Brooks Simpson.

(Well, not that Meigs, but nevertheless. Scroll to end notes.)