A discovered McClellan painting

Meandering through Ellicott City (MD) this afternoon, I popped into Joe Parr's Historic Framing and Collectibles shop, where in the back he had a magnificent McClellan painting encased in a wide gilded frame. Most but not all of the picture is in this detail. Click to enlarge.

You see here the result of a $100 flatbed reading a photo printed from a slide, so the colors are washed out - especially the tents in the background.

Joe spent $2,500 restoring the piece with an expert who dated it 1860-1880. My quick and dirty reading of the piece puts it early on that scale. It has many naive touches where the artist ran out of technique. Perspective in particular is charming, with the tents looming like mountains.

For instance, look at this circa 1841 mother and child (right). There's a genius at work here (click to enlarge), but it's not technical. Compare it to this sophisticated 1888 McClellan by Julian Scott, now in the National Portrait Gallery.

Not all the earlier portraiture is naive - Christian Schussele's famous 1862 equestrian portrait is brimming with European mastery. But a great deal of the idiosyncratic art dates earlier.

Here's a famous image - also 1862 - from our late friend Brian Pohanka's collection of mcClellan images. Again, the depth is delightfully two-dimensional.

And here's one more from '62 (right). What it adds on the technique side of the ledger, it subtracts on the idiosyncratic . What gang signal is GBM making with his hand? Who is the rotund planter? Why is there a prominent heavy chap in the background?

But back to Joe's painting. It's large, at least 5' x 4' and some inches. It engages us at 3/4 scale.

The horse, Joe says, is Arabian. It does not resemble Dan Webster, so I wonder if this is Kentuck or some fantasy beast.

The painter took some care with GBM's hair color. Note, however, he's been given a third star. Now, the third star can mystically represent Mac's standing in for Scott. However, that would be asynchronous if this is a Maryland Campaign setting at which time Halleck is standing in for Scott.

Joe thinks the picture depicts September 13, 1862. GBM may be holding the Lost Order in his left hand, scribbling orders with his right, his eyes envisioning Lee's dispositions . I agree with this analysis.

The painting was rescued from an above-the-fireplace location in what appears to have been a private New York veteran's club. This location argues for a postwar commissioning.

If you have any insights on this piece you can write Joe an email - Histfram at aol.com. If you are in the neighborhood, he is at 8344 Main Street conveniently located between two bars and a wine shop.

And if you buy the thing, drop me a line so I can buy it from you when you tire of it.

A legacy of "professionalism"

Updated from 1861-65:

Lieutenant Sam Nuxoll, a platoon leader posted in Iraq, told military website Company Command how he spent most of his time making PowerPoint presentations. 'I have to make a storyboard complete with digital pictures, diagrams and text summaries on just about anything that happens,' he added.

I worked on a project last year with a retired USMC colonel who had served closely with the current Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Casey, when Casey commanded in Iraq. His comment on Casey was

He would spend hours personally fiddling with a single PowerPoint slide.

My impression of American civilians is that they have a fantasy picture of contemporary military forces "informed" by the history they read, including ACW history. The only correction comes if they or a family member joins the services.

They're not entirely at fault in this. At the dawn of VOLAR when the last tranches of WWII and Korea vets were retiring, I got sick of them telling me, "Don't worry, all this BS goes away the moment the balloon goes up." They were probably envisioning a draft, a massive influx of civilian sanity to put checks on the out-of-control "professionals." Doesn't look like that's ever going to happen.

General Lee, I hope you enjoy this PowerPoint presentation General Longstreet and I have prepared for you.

This is the fruit of the "professionalism" Grant, Sherman, Schofield and others struggled for postwar and it anticipates the criticism of "professionalism" made by the radical Republicans, by Butler, Sickles, Logan, and many others.


"Rethink the role that slavery plays in historical tourism"

Two professors agree, "While slavery has been a vital topic for scholars for decades, it remains the third rail of the historical tourism industry. "

They then urge, " As the commemorations get underway, slavery must not be pushed to the 'margins of our public explorations of the Civil War. In short, it should not be just 'okay' to talk about slavery—it should be essential."

Do they think that if enough venues touch the third rail, the electricity goes away?


Book trailers

One of the odd things about talk and news radio in the NYC market is (was?) the frequency of ads pushing new book releases, usually blockbuster novels. The announcer acts out a passage or reads the dust jacket copy in a dramatic voice. Can a radio buy pay for itself in book sales? I found this media mix baffling.

When I moved to DC, by contrast, the talk and news radio ads were easily understood. There seemed to be just three at the time, in endless rotation: Viagra, Mervis Diamonds, and Hummers. Sounds like a blue joke on the governing class, but it persisted from 2002-2004 and never a book ad have I heard on these airwaves. I don't miss being puzzled.

Savas Beatie is doing book trailers. The idea confuses me as much as radio ads for books. Do they work for you? How? Let me know.

Update, 4/29: Ted Savas explained them as high quality, low cost persistent advertising that provides much more value than a comparable print media ad buy in periodicals.

A Sesquicentennial prediction

The believers continue to believe:

"What I'm seeing is there's an effort to organize and get ready for what's predicted to be a tsunami of tourism."

Heritage tourism is a cult.

It's a Sesquicentennial perk

You head the commission, you get the speaking engagements.


The soldier's level of culture

Modern reality can be found here. This is an echo of what was, 1861-1865.

The sick fantasy we adore is here. When will we stop this desecration?


What's on the shelves

Encountered Bobrick's George Thomas tome in a Virginia supermarket last week and from the shape of the stack, it had been selling.

Encountered Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter in a major display in Borders and from the shape of the stack, none had sold.

Napoleon's marshals, a point of comparison

Is it me, or does the Napoleonic literature treat Napoleon's marshals as bundles of individual attributes, excellent at this or that, not suited for that or this; while the Civil War literature is "judgmental," demanding of every general the same all-around excellence under all circumstances?

In other words, is the Napoleonic literature mature in comparison to Civil War nonfiction? Certainly, it has had longer to mature, but I see this in even its earliest histories.


Ft. Monroe's heritage tourism fantasy

Ft. Monroe is already open to tourists, but someone is cooking up one of those grandiose Civil War heritage tourism plans for the place:
[it could become a] "learning laboratory" with a teacher institute that would draw on the post's Civil War heritage and its role in the demise of slavery to draw in visitors.
Emphasis added. Could slavery have been ended without the good fortress? And I, for one, never book a vacation before checking my extensive nationwide list of learning laboratories.

Now picture busloads flocking to learn the etymology of "contraband of war," to lay wreaths at the bust of Butler, to ponder the contributions of Dix and Wool, to trace the steps of the Big Bethel campaign.

Is this a heritage tourism goldmine?

Mosquitos as decisive

Every blind man seems to want his piece of the elephant to be the determinant component. One gets worn down reading that the [fill in the blank] was the decision point for the war. Now, make way for the lowly mosquito:
Bell argues, convincingly, that the spread of malaria and yellow fever throughout the South affected the choices military leaders made and the outcome of battles.
A good thing can be ruined by hype.

Good morning, Boston

This week the bankrupt Boston Globe used some of the money infused by its owners, the New York Times (borrowed from Carlos Slim), to hire a freelancer to review John Keegan's The American Civil War. Timely bunch.

Don't think they got value for money.

Ironclad rescues drowners

The case for naval re-enactors in one headline.

Maine's Sesquicentennial

If nothing else, Maine will come out of the Sesquicentennial with an ACW website. Don't expect much more than that - they've appointed the state historian to head the Sesquicentennial commission.

From the department of yawns

Hey, how about that Confederate History Month Proclamation controversy. Got your much-rehearsed, cliche-ridden arguments ready? Well then, have at it!


OT: April Fool's Day

Best literary prank of the day.

Meanwhile, an April 1 meditation from Harper's in 1861.

Heritage tourism - still making them crazy

Pennsy officials have come up with the idea of your touring their Civil War trails via Google Earth. Seems self-defeating to me, but let them speak for the plan:
"... with the global reach and interactive capabilities of Google Earth we will inspire the masses to say, 'I would love to go there' as they experience our Civil War trails," added Mickey Rowley, deputy secretary for tourism. "The panoramas featured are so detailed and vast that viewers will feel like they are one with the image and mere footsteps away from these historic sites."
The masses are easily led, it seems. York, here I come.