"The general was ill-prepared to run the country"

I once seriously annoyed my mother-in-law by arguing Americans are all monarchists, without exception, judging by their national political rhetoric.

Here's a columnist who wants Grant taken off the $50 bill and replaced with Frederick Douglass. "The general was ill-prepared to run the country" you see. Presumably Douglass would have made a more effective Gilded Age imperator. This guy is a history reader, BTW.

Perhaps this is pop culture interpreting, in its own light, the Lincoln Administration and then using it as a standard...

(Hat tip to Russell Bonds who says he hasn't seen a fifty lately.)


Johnston's surrender site: big yawn

The local press dug into Jay Winik's 1865 to try to figure out how there could be surrendering in North Carolina after Appomattox.

They did a decent job of half-understanding what they tried to read. The reference to Winik as an historian, e.g., is cute (a civil servant, he wrote 1865 only, and that is merely an historical essay) but Johnston's surrender did not remove the spectre of continued war, as implied here. Nor can that conclusion be drawn from Winik. The Confederate government, led by Breckinridge, continued moving south and west after Davis's capture.

Lack of interest in Johnston's surrender site is not just about Appomattox blindness among ACW readers, it's also about the ambiguous end-of-war date. It's a discussion that needs to be aired.

Journalism's cannonball crisis continues

Flash from the professional wordsmiths among us: "Civil War-era 'cannonball' may be just a ball."

How do you mock a headline that stupid? Answer: you read down into the story where it begins to mock itself:
An iron ball that a gardener dug up from his yard is apparently just a solid-iron ball, perhaps intended to ornament the top of a wrought-iron fence post, and not a Civil War-era cannonball, a bomb-squad official says.
There's just no way a Civil War cannonball would be solid! Thank goodness for the bomb squad.


The return of an ACW meme

A proposal is made to close service academies (he forgot the Coast Guard, though). The only thing missing is the obligatory reference to "native American genius."

On a more serious note, the locus of the modern military's "professionalism" is indeed not the service academy; professionalism would not take a hit in that decision. The author's second point, about the deficiencies of advanced military education, were already explored by Martin Van Creveld at length.

The "professionalism" imbuing the services today is a business-influenced pop culture credo that the West Pointer of 1861 would never recognize.

The next wave in re-enactment

(p.s. Wonder if that's Uncle Mordecai's Restaurant?)

Clash of Extremes

Have begun Clash of Extremes and am quite impressed. The book opens with a broad rejection of James M. McPherson's work in the inevitability-of-war school. At the same time, it does not take an exclusively economic view of events nor does it take any heed of the world made by Lew Rockwell and Thomas DiLorenzo.

Tom Rowland referred to McPherson and Co. as "Unionists," representatives of (I would say ardent partisans for) a particular historiography. This grouping of like-minded friends into a school was a signal contribution of George B. McClellan and Civil War History. My own "Centennialist" is a little more specific in referring to Unionists united by connection to American Heritage and closely associated with the commercial success of Centennial-era historiography (which McPherson repackaged in Battle Cry).

In Clash of Extremes, Marc Egnal refers to McPherson and ilk as "idealists" representing an idealist school of history. This is broader than "Unionist" but still very useful in accurately depicting the kind of historian that takes a normative interest in past events.

I might argue that idealists can't do history at all, but that's for a future post. Back to Egnal for now.

Informed minds want to know

Has anyone ever heard of a museum display exploding? Anywhere? Anybody ever heard of routine police checks made on weapons displayed in a museum? This Chicago is a remarkable place. Some say "shakedowns" are conducted there.

At least the cops know shot from bomb although they call bombs "grenades" for some reason.


Maryland's Sesquicentennial

Maryland is considering whether to think about a Sesquicentennial commission maybe sometime uh in the future perhaps.

Just in time for the Sesquicentennial

Philadelphia's mothballed ACW museum loses funding for relocation.

Baltimore's President Street Station ACW museum was abandoned in 2007 and now the building itself (not an historical structure!) needs saving.

Meanwhile, get ready for another Lincoln museum.


The fuse went out

I searched for "bicentennial" news today and received one hit for a Lincoln's birthday event on the first page. That item was outnumbered three-to-one by 1812 bicentennial preparation stories.



We hold these truths to be entertaining

Nothing speaks to the significance of Abraham Lincoln more than a dozen stovepipe hats: "cartoonish," "whimsically decorated," "fun," "really fun," "really colorful and fun," and did we mention "fun"?

Nothing speaks to the significance of Abraham Lincoln more than fun.

Or to take a meme from Kevin Levin, Nothing speaks to the significance of Abraham Lincoln more than entertainment.

Plus a dozen 300-pound blocks of concrete.

Tennessee's slavery apology

No state re-integrated into the Union on the basis of Reconstruction needs to own any pre-war history. There is no political continuity - the link is broken.

To see states like Tennessee prepare apologies for slavery is to see a modern polity voluntarily associate itself with an historical curiosity - as if Sarkozy were to apologize for the actions of Petain.

Further, it puts the government in the position of making a claim against the lives of Tennessee residents, the majority of whom are transients or descendants of non-Tennessee ancestors. It takes the fallacious idea of universal blood guilt and twists the principle around to produce an even more absurd "geographic guilt".

If some legislators seek to own the actions of a discredited and violently deposed slave government, surely there must be some punishment we can mete out to them without embroiling the entire population in political fantasy.

Meanwhile, as the apology law moves through state deliberations, the Republicans are opposing it on the basis that it might cost money down the road. Incredible.


Testing Lincoln's "Shroud of Turin"

The museum holding the pillowcase with Lincoln's blood and brains on it faces a request for DNA material.
Was the 16th president dying of cancer at the time of the assassination?

John Sotos, a cardiologist, an author, and a consultant for the television series House, wants to test the artifact to confirm what eyewitness accounts and 130 period images already tell him: Lincoln had a rare genetic cancer syndrome called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2B (MEN2B).
Apparently cancer detection by photograph has not of itself progressed enough.

No more Battle of Selma?

Just in time for the Sesquicentennial: re-enactment cancellations.

More Confederate money than...

South Carolina is auctioning off "40 cubic feet of banknotes issued by the Bank of South Carolina during the Civil War ... on eBay." They should auction it off in bales not in onesies and twosies.


Kindling my interest (cont.)

Harry Smeltzer had been mulling over Kindle issues in late February, it turns out, and he pointed out to me that Renee's Civil War blog went into Kindle deeply the same week. Harry comments on my post: "I think the real attraction of the device to CW bibliophiles is for the downloading of free, public domain pdf books." Renee is also enchanted by free ACW books.

But here are my reservations as a potential buyer.

(1) In the file types supported that Renee lists, pdf is not there.

(2) There does not seem to be a print-out capability.

(3) I would need inherent Zotero capability in a device and high levels of interoperability with Wintel computers for the cutting and pasting of passages I need in my writing.

(4) I read in the bathtub where electronics dare not go.

(5) I read on the patio where computer screens are unreadable.

(6) I read at lunch every day in restaurants where I may leave the table for the buffet or restroom.

I think one of Ted's examples paints a picture of perfect use: a frequent traveler reads her favorite periodicals indoors in waiting rooms and on planes. I think Renee and Harry have hit on another strength - reading for pleasure.

Consider me "still thinking."


Kindling my interest

Publisher Theodore Savas and his son Demetrius were in Arlington yesterday and we met for dinner, some trade talk and a few laughs. Ted is as wise as he is genial and I would urge authors to jump on the chance of working with him.

He caught me offguard with his interest in the Kindle reading machine promoted by Amazon. When you say "Kindle" I picture a curly wire sticking out of a taped-together shipping box stuck at the bottom of a closet - a closet filled with early adopter toys that never worked out.

I had seen the competitors' stuff and was not impressed. In fact earlier in the day, I had looked at an 8" USB-enabled $49 digital picture frame that could serve as a computer monitor in a pinch. I thought, "If the book pages were image files, this could also be a reading device." Then I thought, "This is stupid, I'm re-inventing the tablet computer."

Ted has seen people with Kindles in public places. He has talked to them about the thing and is impressed by its potential and the way people use it. He met a woman who gets her newspapers and magazines delivered to the system; he has seen travelers in airports and trains reading it; he remarked on its lightness and legibility.

He also mentioned an Amazon feature I had not noticed in my browsing. While looking at book information, Amazon enables the sending of a pestering email to the publisher asking for a Kindle edition of the work. What startled me is that as a publisher Ted gets such emails.

It seems Kindle has an active fan base. I am wiping off my Kindle spectacles for a fresh look.


Monocacy battlefield - your input needed

The NPS is seeking your input on the future of Monocacy National Battlefield. Story here, government website here.

Bull Run in the repertoire

Opera's sweetheart Renee Fleming has been scoring her biggest emotional gains in programs featuring John Kander's "A Letter from Sullivan Ballou," a Union officer killed at Bull Run.

There is a fine YouTube presentation of same by Fleming available here (marred by some slapstick coughing). The letter itself is transcribed incompletely in some places on the web, however this version seems full.

(Note: Although Kander is a Broadway composer, the music will strike listeners ill disposed to opera as uncomfortably operatic. But if you like what you hear, listen to Paul Hindemith's and Walt Whitman's When Lilacs last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, music that should actually be the theme for the Bicentennial.)

Shot, shell, whatever

There is work called "journalism" which was a trade when I learned it but which has become a "profession." The journalist now "professes" his desire to improve the world; this places reporting tradecraft at the bottom of a long list of more urgent priorities.

For us, this means reading endless stories that refer to Civil War shells or bombs as "cannonballs" and vice versa. Here, have another: "Civil War-era cannonball safely detonated." Note that "It turns out the cannonball was filled with gunpowder." Full of tricks, those cannonballs.

In a different kind of balls, Private Eye collects this kind of nonsense in a weekly column called "Colemanballs," named after an incompetent sports broadcaster. We need columns like that in this country, if shaming can still do any good.


Publishing: the digital editions pricing scandal

Authors are upset with publishers who are pricing digitial (e.g. Kindle) editions of their work near hardcopy levels.

It gets worse: Amazon users, availing themselves of that website's "tagging" feature tag overpriced digital editions with the word "BOYCOTT."

And so, some blameless authors (using Amazon's tag search feature) find their work at the top of Amazon's boycott list.

Have a look at this post, including the comments.

Hoofbeats in the distance

J.D. Petruzzi has moved his url to Blogger and posts a debut piece featuring meet-ups with Ted Savas and Duane Siskey, among others.


Bob Dylan: "Elvis must have felt it too"

From the Times:
Q: When you think back to the Civil War, one thing you forget is that no battles, except Gettysburg, were fought in the North.

Bob Dylan: Yeah. That’s what probably makes the Southern part of the country so different.

Q: There is a certain sensibility, but I’m not sure how that connects?

BD: It must be the Southern air. It’s filled with rambling ghosts and disturbed spirits. They’re all screaming and forlorning. It’s like they are caught in some weird web - some purgatory between heaven and hell and they can’t rest. They can’t live, and they can’t die. It’s like they were cut off in their prime, wanting to tell somebody something. It’s all over the place. There are war fields everywhere … a lot of times even in people’s backyards.

Q: Have you felt them?

BD: Oh sure. You’d be surprised. I was in Elvis’s hometown – Tupelo. And I was trying to feel what Elvis would have felt back when he was growing up.

Q: Did you feel all the music Elvis must have heard?

BD: No, but I’ll tell you what I did feel. I felt the ghosts from the bloody battle that Sherman fought against Forrest and drove him out. There’s an eeriness to the town. A sadness that lingers. Elvis must have felt it too.


A Bicentennial essay worth reading

It takes an Air Force captain to look at the Lincoln loving and ask What exactly is going on here?
...the inevitable corollary to this Lincoln love-fest in the capital is a good bit of self-aggrandizement served up by those who see themselves as the rightful political heirs to his legacy. Praising oneself while appearing to praise someone else, especially someone beloved and dead, is an invaluable political skill...

...a slew of recent Lincoln “scholarship” seems less concerned with historical study than with self-justification. A clinically depressed biographer concluded that Lincoln was clinically depressed; a gay rights proponent discovered that Lincoln was gay; former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo ... assert[ed] that Lincoln was at heart a Northeastern Democrat in the late 20th/early 21st century mold. In 1992, former President Ronald Reagan misquoted Lincoln to show that he was a staunch fiscal conservative. In 2007, former Vice President Al Gore misquoted Lincoln to show that he was a staunch fiscal progressive.

... Given Lincoln’s postmortem celebrity, understanding the extent of his unpopularity while governing and breathing is all the more important, and can’t help in the end but deepen our appreciation for him.

... Memorializing Lincoln, and especially rededicating a monument that has served as a backdrop for so many different political movements, requires us to walk a fine line. We pay tribute to him by distilling the lessons of his life, but risk being manipulative if we claim his legacy for ourselves.
Take care that your Lincoln love does not become a public display of self love.


New books

Some notes.

While batting around emails with Drew Wagenhoffer on Jomini editions, I happened to notice the same translation is being endlessly repackaged with a floor price of about $15 and up.
Then, looking up Halleck's Art of War (based on Jomini), I see pricing of reprints starts at $76, steps up to $103 and rises from there. What recession?

Meanwhile, Halleck's translation of Jomini's Napoleon remains out of print and deserves a reprise (priced right).

The big news however, seems to me to be something like a collapse in Civil War publishing. In 12 years of compiling Civil War Book News, I have never seen a weaker month of releases than February 2009
- and that includes the bump provided by Lincoln Bicentennial releases. March has been better but so far publishers seem to have decided to downplay the ACW list.

Clash of Extremes
There is a new, scholarly study (Clash of Extremes) about what might be called the economic origins of the ACW from Marc Egnal. It seems, from reading the release information, that the author develops a picture of a changing national economy that lowers the cost of political extremism.
Drawing on a wealth of primary and secondary sources, Egnal shows that between 1820 and 1850, patterns of trade and production drew the North and South together and allowed sectional leaders to broker a series of compromises. After midcentury, however, all that changed as the rise of the Great Lakes economy reoriented Northern trade along east-west lines.

Meanwhile, in the South, soil exhaustion, concerns about the country’s westward expansion, and growing ties between the Upper South and the free states led many cotton planters to contemplate secession.
Note that it seems some of these themes might play on either side of the historiographic fence, blundering generation or inevitability-of-war. Will have to read to find out.

Jack Hinson
On a visceral level, another new book of interest is Jack Hinson's One-Man War. Hinson was a prosperous Kentucky planter who became a bushwacker after finding his sons heads placed on stakes by Union forces.

The author makes Hinson a former friend of Grant who ambushes and kills over 100 men; he credits Hinson also with the destruction of an entire Union supply train as well. Reading the description, one gets the psycho-killer vibe that pervades ACW non-fiction treatments of irregular warfare.

The number of titles issued may be down but material of interest is still coming out.