Literary sense

To save themselves the trouble of applying military science to Civil War history, many authors resort to a substitute, what they think is "common sense." But it's not. It's "literary sense."

Literary sense has its own structure and logic. When applied to history, it clears the path for a literary climax by setting fire to the undergrowth of common sense, military science, military theory, and especially historical truth.

When you see an historical writer blurbed as a "master storyteller," it means this is one who applies literary sense relentlessly, to everything.


Schwerpunkt und Schweinerei, Jomini und Clausewitz

For a rough idea of the hold Clausewitz has on the modern U.S. Army, look at this essay collection, Addressing the Fog of COG. "COG" refers to the theoretical concept "center of gravity" which is the misleading American rendition of Clausewitz's "Schwerpunkt."
[It] not only [has] become a constraint to the individual and collective thinking and acting of the United States military as an organization; but, because of slavish adherence to using it as a central construct in the theoretical approach to operational warfare, it also has become detrimental to the further development of innovative concepts.
On the spectrum of German "big picture" words, Schwerpunkt straddles both the specific types (e.g. Zeitgeist) and the general types (e.g. Gestalt). It means many different things in many different contexts and is flexible enough that Clausewitz could it assign it his own meaning - a very specific one.

Check out especially Christopher R. Paparone and William J. Davis, Jr. in the collection cited.
Based in his [Clausewitz's] obvious aversion to making war theory a Jominian mathematical science, his selection of the Center of Gravity metaphor seems not of isolatable value to the gestalt of his treatise.
Try saying that quickly 10 times. It points to Clausewitz choosing NOT to use "terminology to prescribe an 'objectively' definable phenomenon."

This is important in our ongoing review of Civil War Jominianism, making Jomini the "scientist" and Clausewitz the "philosopher." In this sense, one could say that Civil War officers started the war as scientists and ended as philosophers.

Paparone and Davis make a general critique of modern Army theorizing but the thrust of their piece deals with the migration (and corruption) of meaning from Schwerpunkt into the Army's "Center of Gravity." The late Jean Baudrillard would have been made very happy with this:
"...words can eventually become extended to the point the original meaning becomes removed from any connection to the now dead metaphor..."
Do look at their essay, "Exploring Outside the Tropics of Clausewitz:Our Slavish Anchoring to an Archaic Metaphor."

Meanwhile, considering the meandering course of the ACW, can we not say that the labyrinth is the more apt military metaphor rather than Schwerpunkt?


Lincoln vs. Lincoln


Domestic Total as of Dec. 19, 2012: $110,253,963
Foreign Gross: N/A
Production Budget: $65 million

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Domestic Total Gross: $37,519,139
Foreign Gross: $78,489,268
Production Budget: $69 million


... believes that universities propagate "touristification," another term he coined, a phenomenon that occurs when what should be an exciting exploration turns into a programmatic exercise. It's better to be an adventurer than a tourist.
I think this idea can apply to a certain kind of Civil War history writing. It hits the main points of interest in a certain order, recounts events rotely, and for a set price.*

When something big breaks, like Ken Burns's "Civil War," a flood of books comes out searching for those readers who are first-time ACW literary tourists.

The sad thing is when those kinds of books persist.

* No offense to those of our park ranger friends who are passionate and do so much more.


The history taught in Britain

"Most members of the public are unaware of how debased the teaching of history has become."



Academia discovers geospatial intelligence

You have to give them a couple of decades but eventually they'll catch up:
Looking at the Battle of Gettysburg Through Robert E. Lee’s Eyes.

This blog has gone through Quincy Gillmore's eyes, Gary Gilmore's eyes, and now Robert E. Lee's eyes, all in a week. But I ask the Gettysburg readers, did we need geospatial for this?
The sight lines show Lee couldn’t see what Longstreet was doing. Nor did he have a clear view of Union maneuvers. Longstreet, meanwhile, saw what Lee couldn’t: Union troops massed in clear sight of open terrain he’d been ordered to march across.

Rather than expose his men, Longstreet led them on a much longer but more shielded march before launching the planned assault. By the time he did, late on July 2, Union officers—who, as Knowles’ mapping shows, had a much better view of the field from elevated ground—had positioned their troops to fend off the Confederate advance.
One would think the authors had this "mapped out" long ago ...

Blog afterlife

It's odd to get a dozen hits in one day from a blog that ceased publication a year ago. Shilo Nick, however, left as his legacy a continually updating ACW blog news aggregator.

Wonder how he did that.


Woodworth and Reed

Historian Steven Woodworth is into the late, great Rowena Reed. How totally impressive.

Scalable risk and culmination

We see so little military science in our Civil War battle books, I want to share with you a mil sci paper, The Civil War Experiences of General Quincy Adams Gillmore: The Challenges of Transitioning from the Tactical to the Operational Level of Command. Link here.

This paper is going to be a slog for the general ACW reader but hopefully not the reader of this blog.

An interesting idea: "He [Gillmore] did not grasp how risk varies in scale between the tactical and operational levels of command." This has been stated differently elsewhere but I like this formulation best.

McClellan understood this very well and that is why we hate his guts. Risk aversion! The captain who wouldn't dare! Hood understood it less well. And we get to mock him for losing an army. The armchair critic can't lose.

An entire book has been written on a subject very close to this: Newell's Lee vs. McClellan: The First Campiagn in which he argues that Lee, the tactician, was out of his depth trying to cope with McClellan the stateside inventor of the operational art. This is less about risk scaling than military management scaling to a level where Lee could no longer cope.

(Again, a book not at all suited for story lovers.)

Back to Gillmore: author Adam Lewis, in his paper, credits Gillmore's non-scalable risk with a decision that squandered just enough force such that his Charleston mission "culminated."

Current United States Military Doctrine defines [the] culminating point as “the point at which a force no longer has the capability to continue its form of operations, offense or defense.” It is the responsibility of the operational level commander to identify points in the campaign where his force could culminate.
What do you think about culmination? Is it a useful analytic in Civil War history? Where else would it apply?

Does any Grant campaign culminate? Any Lee campaign? Any McClellan campaign? Worth a thought.

And on a lighter note, how about Gillmore's eyes? Reminds me of a bad song.


This is the hot search topic today

I don't know why.

One gets the oddest surges.

Just back from Vegas (company trip) - blogging to resume shortly.


Flashman on the ACW

Not a fan of the Flashman novels, but always interested in novelists doing history. Here's a Flashman rant on the ACW.

Any Canadian should endorse the closing statement, I would think.


Will Ferrell's "Lincoln"

With all the excitement about Spielberg's "Lincoln," we tend to forget about the Will Ferrell - Zooey Deschanel - Don Cheadle production.

If just one young fratboy becomes motivated to read books by Doris Kearns Goodwin as a result of this film, it will have been worth it.


Bloggers on Spielberg's "Lincoln" with notes on DKG

Not a lot of blogosphere comment on "Lincoln," the movie, but Al Mackey has the best roundup of links to "scholarly" comment.

RC Ocean endured talk, talk. The Amendment's inevitability also struck him as working against the story arc and its pretend urgency.

Rea Andrew Redd points us towards an HNN essay testing the truthiness of Lincoln.

The author, David O. Stewart, is a pop historian and novelist who says things like "For a Hollywood production, the movie’s version is more true than not." Helpful.

He presents points of scholarship in an entertaining, non-threatening way so that the unstable, easily intimidated readers of HNN will not be overly stressed. (Nothing personal, Mr. Stewart, everyone factors in an aversion to scholarship when writing for HNN readers.)

The single interesting point, for me, is about Team of Rivals. This was the book, the rights of which were bought by Spielberg for a future film before Goodwin finished a first draft. After the first round of scriptwriters were fired, Tony Kushner took over on a tack that involved a lot of personal research and years of writing. When "Lincoln" came out, Spielberg said Goodwin's book had been too big for a movie script, a kindly rationale for what had happened to her and her text.

The HNN piece asks the question, how much of Team of Rivals was used? Certainly we have all noticed bookstores now pushing DKG's doorstop as a movie artifact.

From HNN:
... it’s a long book that devotes about nine pages to the episodes in the movie. That’s 9 out of 754 pages. Goodwin’s treatment does not include quite a lot covered in the movie (for example, Seward’s merry band of fixers), nor does it definitively link the House vote on the 13th Amendment to the peace negotiations.
In other words, it's hard to say what tiny particle of connection the book has with the movie.

For the earnest cultural middlebrows who have made her wealthy, Goodwin is a scholar, just as Spielberg is an artist, laugh as we might at that. Spielberg bought a book to serve as protection against scholars when his film came out, IMHO. Not knowing scholarship and being a middlebrow himself, he thought Goodwin an eminent enough historian for this purpose. In the bargain, he got a publicity hound with a wide following to act as his shill.

Goodwin's association with this project has now been revived and highlighted (and her content contribution grossly misrepresented). In the publicity tours she milks her "star power" to present a seal of scholarship approval for the film. She is introduced on shows as "presidential scholar" DKG.

However, as the Foner (et al) scholarly criticisms of "Lincoln" mount, the question is whether she will be rolled out to battle the film's history critics. It's about that time, isn't it? And won't that be amusing?

Stewart remarks on the film that "It presents a range of Conversations That Never Happened.."

Will a Goodwin-Foner conversation happen?

(Above, right, a DDL-DKG chat at the ALPML.)