John Wilkes Booth

"He was the DiCaprio of his day" - Harold Holzer, "The Real Abraham Lincoln," NTGEO


Books received

Some books bought or received. These have not been read yet and what follows are not reviews.

Robert E. Lee in War and Peace: The Photographic History of a Confederate and American Icon. Donald A. Hopkins presents a new study of Lee photographs in part to update and correct Roy Meredith's 1947 Robert E. Lee in Life and Legend. This is nice scholarship that presents, sources and discusses all surviving Lee imagery. At 216 pages, I have already spent at least two hours with it and have not started reading it yet. It's engrossing.

A Confederate Englishman: The Civil War Letters of Henry Wemyss Feilden. Early in his Confederate career (which starts in March, 1863), Henry Feilden notes that foreign volunteers like himself are often posted to staffs to see how they work out and if they are suited for more responsibility. He turns out to be condemned by his own insight, remaining in Charleston for the duration, left behind by Beauregard when the latter takes command at Petersburg. This is odd because Feilden is an experienced officer having served in the Black Watch during the Indian Mutiny and in an Indian regiment during the Second Opium War with China. His letters contain glimpses of Beauregard ("five minutes with him would make the crankiest person cheerful") and a long anecdote about Jackson but not much else that is military, not even sketches of HQ and the personalities passing through there. The abundance here is in descriptions of places (South Carolina, Georgia, Florida) and impressions of local people.

The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses. Petruzzi and Stanley have produced a beautiful book to linger over. This is not a compendium of tables such Fox or Livermore compiled, but rather a color-rich collection of fascinating maps and pictures. It contains a difficulty, however: the numbers are based on David Petruzzi's personal research. They are given without further annotation or description. If the reader is comfortable with that, he is free to enjoy a beautiful example of the bookmaker's art.

A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People. Hard to know which co-author is the brains of the operation, Carol Reardon or Army historian Col. Tom Vossler, but this guidebook has averaged five stars over 25 reviews on Amazon. The geography of the tour is organized chronologically (as the battle unfolds). That's not new but the material is posted under headings that repeat in each section: who fought here, who commanded here, who lived here, etc. The linchpin is the opening "what happened here" accompanied by a colored map. Perhaps the "what happened" element has to be very specific but I found these sections to be wanting in context (the context of the development of the battle and the engagement's tactical rationale). In other words, the "why happened" is missing. The other shortcoming, it seems to me, lies in the directions. One part of the self-tour starts at Gen. Wadsworth's statue. Why am I expected to know where that is? Why are all the maps battle maps rather than tour charts or walking maps? But I am probably the least equipped to review tour guides, taking so few tours, and the evidence is in the warmth with which this has been received on Amazon.

Divided Loyalties: Kentucky's Struggle for Armed Neutrality in the Civil War. This book is so obviously necessary that author James Finck gets five stars just for writing it and I very much look forward to studying it. Perhaps he has restricted the scope too much (to "one state, one issue, and one year"), in which case this becomes a single part of a three-layer cake comprised of Hesseltine's "governor's war," CSA-USA diplomacy, and the national-Kentucky maneuvering. We shall see.

William Gilmore Simms's Unfinished Civil War: Consequences for a Southern Man of Letters. This is a collection of essays about Simms's work which causes me to wish I was more familiar with it. This book is not the place to start, as it assumes a level of knowledge which in my case is absent. Intriguing but perhaps too specialized.

The Civil War Lover's Guide to New York City. This is the kind of book against which you match your personal experiences of place against their Civil War significance. Very interesting if you know NYC, especially downtown. Have you been to McSorley's Old Ale House - founded before the war, the owner enlisting in the 69th NYV? The houses of Scott, Sickles, Sherman, McClellan, et al - all here. Ft. Totten Officer's Club - designed by Robert E. Lee - yes, I had a drink there too. You get the idea; this, to me, is more an exercise in personal connections than a guidebook to uncover major ACW attractions. Enjoyable for ex- and current New Yorkers, well illustrated.

Lincoln's Political Generals by Work and Lincoln, the Cabinet, and the Generals by Hearn. I have long intended to carefully read these and review them in tandem but the level of effort does not seem equal to any reward. David Work proposes that Lincoln's political generals paid off overall, that they were worth the trouble. His unforgivable sin (you see this in specialist histories one after the other) is to accept the general pop history framework of the war as his foundational context. Thus, for instance, there is the usual ignorant moaning and groaning about a lack of junior ex-West Point officers to go around at a time when the New York state militia alone outnumbers the entire United States Army. Chester Hearn, for his part, has a negative take on political generals, as pop history understands them, and he does the low information reader the good deed of suggesting that key Northern generals had important Cabinet patrons who influenced their careers. Here Mr. Hearn has bit off more than he can chew, topically, and given Hearn's constricted and conventional views, the book spoils an important piece of ACW history.

Battle of Big Bethel: Crucial Clash in Civil War Virginia. This is a tidy little history and with three authors, they nearly outnumber the casualty list. The significance of Big Bethel, to me, was the validation of the division of authority between department commanders and military commanders of the department (recall that Butler's military commander at Bethel was tried for incompetence). Cobbs, Hicks and Holt don't deal in such conceptual matters but their material looks quite inviting.

The Verdict of Battle: The Law of Victory and the Making of Modern War. This is a big think piece arguing that battle was once a trial, the verdict of which was binding on both parties. At first glance, this appears an overreach but the volume promises many hours of reflection. There is going to be additional interest in comparing its ideas to Victor Davis Hanson's The Western Way of War, in which we find complementary themes, as well as Grenier's The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier, 1607-1814, which interests itself entirely in wars of annihilation.

Calamity at Chancellorsville: The Wounding and Death of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. Author Mathew Lively is an M.D. dealing with the last days of Jackson and if you read the Amazon reviews (five stars on average from 10 reviewers) this appears to be a rollicking narrative about the general's wounding and death. The extensive notes, on the other hand, tell us that there is historiography at work as well as dealings in the questions, Why do we think we know that? and How do we know that? I'm not conversant enough in this incident to tell if the material is given its due, but there is (at least) a complete appendix on the controversies surrounding Jackson's death.


Pope validating McClellan

We have all read of Pope's arrival in the east. The standout anecdote involves his message to the troops about "lines of retreat" and the "enemy's backs," etc. In some of the deeper histories, we encounter snippets of his July testimony to the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War (CCW), in parts of which he denigrated McClellan before Congress well in advance of their mandated cooperation.

But this same testimony (7/8/62) holds more interest than these two bits. In describing his initial plan of operations for the Army of Virginia (Pope was appointed June 26), Pope accidentally touches on the forces-defending-Washington controversy, the correct overland line of advance (McClellan's second Richmond campaign would take Pope's line), and the logic of interposing an army between the ANV and D.C. Have a look.

1. Pope's concept of McClellan's position
Pope tells the CCW (p. 106) that he initially intended to march the Army of Virginia (AOV) down the Valley and attack Richmond from the W/SW, cooperating with the Army of the Potomac (AOP) in the East. Given McClellan's recent change of position, Pope says, Lee could now "interpos[e] the whole body of the enemy between them [AOP] and Washington ... perhaps, endanger[ing] the safety of the capital..." This suggests that Pope perceived the defense of Washington to be the AOP's job while he would be free to move out of position (the front of Washington) in a strategic maneuver down the Valley. Events near Richmond, Pope seems to suggest, limit the AOP's defense-of-Washington capability. This causes Pope to revise his first plan of campaign.

2. Pope's concept of the operation
Pope says,
I am, therefore, now assembling them [his units] at points on the east side of the Blue Ridge, and at the outlets of the passes into the Shenandoah valley, and at points on the east side of the Blne Ridge, some twenty-five or thirty miles south of Front Royal, and immediately in front of the passes leading through the Blue Ridge into the Shenandoah valley, occupying Culpeper Courthouse with cavalry, and at a point 20 miles in front, in the direction of Richmond, so that, in case any of the enemy's troops succeed in penetrating into the valley of the Shenandoah I occupy such a position that, by marching upon Gordonsville, I have a shorter distance to march than they will have in turning back, and shall be able to cut them off completely.
Pope envisions sealing the Rebels out of the Valley in the same way McClellan sealed Jackson in during his second attempt on Richmond. But isn't a march along the Blue Ridge leaving D.C. open to attack? Emphasis added:
I shall be in such position that in case the enemy advance in any considerable force towards Washington, I shall be able to concentrate all my forces for the defence of this place, which I propose to defend, not by standing on the defensive at all, or confronting the enemy and intrenching myself, but I propose to do it by laying off on his flanks and attacking him from the moment that he crosses the Rappahannock, day and night, until his forces are destroyed, or mine. I have no apprehension, with my troops stationed in that position, although I have but forty-three thousand men, that even eighty thousand of the enemy would be able to get to Washington at all.
Notice that the Rappahannock is made a test of intentions for an attack on Washington, oddly enough; that he mentions the possibility of the destruction of his army; and he proposes that in the worst case, Rebels would get through him to attack the capital if they number over 80,000. He is telling this to the people outraged by McClellan's plan for the defense of Washington and it is a wonder that hearing this they did not recall McClellan from the Peninsula immediately. He continues:
...my whole command is being now concentrated, and is now in the immediate neighborhood of the points I have designated. They have all been marching for the last four or five days, and some of them are now encamped where I intend to place them, and the bulk of them will be in the places assigned by them to-morrow.
The CCW asks how far he will be from Richmond when done moving. The answer is 90 miles away.
Question. The position you are now taking is the one which you deem the best to occupy for the time being, for the defence of Washington and the whole valley of the Shenandoah?
Pope answers yes. He views it as too risky to approach Richmond any closer.

3. The defense of D.C.
The CCW gets to a favorite topic:
Question. What will be the number of troops left in the intrenchments about Washington?

Answer. In numbers they will be about twelve thousand; in condition they are very poor, indeed. They consist of new regiments, perfectly raw, and broken fragments of old regiments sent here to recruit. The force is not an effective one by any means.
Breathtaking honesty. Pope will march along the Blue Ridge with an "ineffective" garrison in Washington and a guarantee that it will take more than 80,000 Rebels to get past him to attack the ineffectives. Recall that McClellan left Banks in the Valley with a Washington defense mission in addition to 20,500 troops in the capital (Wadsworth complained that he could only find 19,000 present for duty).

Pope's testimony suggests that the defense of Washington lies outside Washington.
... if they should come this way with a very large force, it seems to me that the only sort of defence of Washington I can afford, with the force I have, is to lie off upon the flanks of their army and attack them day and night at unexpected times and places, so as to prevent them from advancing. It will be· hard work, but I do not see anything else so likely to prevail against them.
The committee responds,
Question. Would you not in all these movements feel embarrassed with the knowledge that while you are moving forward on the enemy you are looked upon as the protector of the capital here?

Answer. No, sir; for I am fully convinced I am doing the best I know to effect that object. It is not necessary, in my opinion, in order to protect the capital, that I should interpose myself between the enemy and the place itself; in fact, it would be the very worst policy to do so now, for wherever I could put myself, they could place themselves between me and the capital by attacking my flanks. By laying off on their flanks, if they should have only forty thousand or fifty thousand men, I could whip them. If they should have seventy thousand or eighty thousand men, I would attack their flanks and force them, in order to get rid of me, to follow me out into the mountains, which would be what you would want, I should suppose. They could not march on Washington with me lying with such a force as that on their flanks. I should feel perfectly satisfied that I was doing the best I could with my force, to dispose of them in that way. There is a sufficient force in the intrenchments here to protect the city against any sudden dash upon it, even of a considerable force.
Interesting that Pope thinks he could bottle up Confederates in the mountains but it does not occur to him they could to do the same to him. He does well, however, in the prophecy that "for wherever [before D.C.] I could put myself, they could place themselves between me and the capital by attacking my flanks."

Where pop history is concerned, "the science is settled" and Lincoln is right where Pope and Mac are wrong; and yet, with regard to the defense of Washington, both generals were free to act on their conviction, Pope being even freer than McClellan in this...


ACW history and culture

The deep reader in Civil War history is on a cultural journey. His "cultural IQ" will be defined by reactions to subjects met on the way: 19th Century law and politics, military science, biography, religion, literature, society, music. The ACW signals an intellectual curiosity that is not limited to an interest in the ACW.

On the other hand, attendees at the go-getter vocational schools tend to focus, focus, focus and the focus is culturally fatal producing an outcome the Russians call "NYE KULTURNYE". These highly credentialed nye kulturny types have loads of degrees, contacts, and publications, but they completely lack in cultural curiosity or a general cultural development after college.

They are not people you would spend any time with. How well I recall my mother's contempt for the society of medical doctors (for instance) into which she had been condemned for life.

Ordinary Americans generally confuse credentials, branding, presentation, and prestige for what they call "smarts." The word "smart" here (stateside) covers everything from intelligence to learning to cleverness. The thing it does not cover is something Civil War readers immerse themselves in: culture.

If the MD and JD tend to be philistines, imagine what you have when you travel down the professional credential chain to the world of hotshot MBA candidates and wannabe investment bankers.

Here is what you have. Harvard students responding to "What [city] is the capital of Canada?" Gasp away.

More in a similar vein, on Lincoln.

The hits keep coming. The interviewer himself substitutes "gave to us" for "brought forth on this continent." We grammar schools students, living in the impoverished desert of the pine barrens, had to learn it by heart.

As this seems to be a dog-bites-man story, I'll desist from further updates.


Recycling the Grant craze of 2004

When Michael Korda's Grant biography popped out of the Grant publishing geyser of 2004, chances seemed remote that it would ever make it to paperback.

Sales were lackluster. Reviews were crippling. Mistakes abounded. It was derived entirely from two previous pop histories. Even the title was lifted.

It seemed a Christmas stocking stuffer cranked out by a Simon & Schuster lifer in the context of corporate  revenue targets.

Not paying much heed, the paperback edition slipped by me in 2009. S&S had unloaded the rights to Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins where it became a "bargain book" under the Perennial marque as part of a bio series. If you look at the positive reviews on Amazon, they are quite naive, smacking of the innocent and ignorant. Veteran readers are more inclined to comment, "the book reads, as another reviewer said, like a high school term paper."

Author Russel Bonds was recently browsing a B&N when he encountered this display of a new edition of Korda's Unlikely Hero. This is an illustrated edition, again put out by HarperCollins. As with the first edition, this is just in time for Christmas.

The venue for the display piqued my interest because the book you see displayed here is not for sale on Amazon, nearly as I can tell (Amazon carries only the old bargain book and that is only offered through third parties). Amazon tends not to carry the books of the publisher known as Barnes & Noble (search for them - I find only third parties selling B&N titles on Amazon). A little rivalry, etc., etc. But this embargo is not applied across the board to HarperCollins.

One wonders if the Korda reissue is hampered from being on Amazon by some sort of tie-in with B&N. Perhaps S&S sold the rights to HC with a B&N distribution caveat based on who knows what corporate machinations. In any case, the brief book is expensive ($35 list) and Korda's author page on S&S makes no mention of it, so it's not a joint publishing deal.*

The B&N reviewers seem of the same mix as Amazonians, with kudos coming from naifs ("It was interesting to learn about the essence of US Grant in a mere 176 pages rather than having to wade through a much larger book") and brickbats coming from veteran readers ("I would recommend this as an introductory biography of GEN Grant for middle school readers").

Before taking our leave of Unlikely, let's check in on the in-print/out-of-print status of the rest of the Grant books circulating in 2004.

Bonekemper, A Victor, Not a Butcher (Regnery, 4/04)
HB out of print (no reissue after 2004). PB issued 2010, out of print.

Bunting, Ulysses S. Grant (Times/Henry Holt, 8/04)
HB still in print, still 2004 edition. No pb.

Smith, Grant (S&S PB 4/02)
HB out of print. PB issued in 2002 still in print.

Perry, Grant and Twain (Random House, 5/04)
HB out of print. PB issued in 2005, still in print.

McFeely, U.S. Grant: An Album (Norton 11/03)
HB out of print. No PB.

McFeely, Grant (revised PB, Norton, 8/02)
Out of print.

Note: The out-of-prints are available from third party sellers, of course.

Afterthought: You look at this list and you wonder how the similar Chamberlain craze played out.

* This author page is remarkable. Consider that this man worked for decades at S&S and this is what they gave him.


The Whig Party returns

... to Pennsylvania, at least.

That would make three modern parties trying to out-Whig each other in every election: the Democrats, the Republicans and the Whigs (per se). Infrastructure! Education! Public works! Not to mention Banking! Banking! and more Banking!

p.s. Speaking of Pennsy revivals, as late as the 1970s, Henry George's political party lived on in PA. Used to see their bumper stickers in the middle and western sections.


Called forth

The image above shows engineers of the 8th New York State Militia in 1861 in federal service sometime after April 25th, when they mustered in. They were discharged August 2nd of that year, their national service finished. Here, they look fabulous for brand spanking new recruits, which, of course, they are not, despite their April enrollment.

Some other things they are not:
  • They are not random strangers thrown together in a hastily organized regiment
  • They are not equipped with strange or shoddy gear
  • They are not unfamiliar with the requirements of camp life, hygiene, organization, or drill. 
They are an abandoned resource of war.

 The North's tragic misuse and abuse of its militia hinged on three external (or structural) constraints.

The first was legal. The calling forth of the militia in 1861 was bound by rules set in the Militia Act of 1795. The militia could be called up for only three months and the states fulfilled the first call for federal volunteers by offering militia units. Their war was over in 90 days. In 1862, a new law allowed for nine-month militia call-ups, meat for a separate post.

The second constraint was precedent. The Mexican War had established a 1-1 parity ratio of federal volunteers to federal regulars in service for army efficiency. Winfield Scott in 1861 asked for an amount of volunteers equal to the expansion of Regular Army rolls he had planned. Lincoln gave this to him (and I think this was one of several Scott suggestions that cost him Lincoln's support). Instead of mobilizing the entire militia strength of the North, states were allocated slivers of the 75,000 quota.

A third constraint was in the strength levels of the militias. States had the tendency to liquidate companies of fewer than X strength but at irregular intervals. This irregularity resulted in many seriously understrength units being overwhelmed by new men rushing to enlist at the outbreak of war and diluting the experience, competency levels and professionalism of the units they joined. Add to this the problem of entirely new militia units with no experienced men formed out of the "thin air" of war fever for the sole purpose of being mustered into federal service as part of a Volunteer regiment.

Minnesota's federal quota was 780 men.At the time of Lincoln's call, "Minnesota could count on the services of one hundred and forty-seven officers, and about two hundred men" in various militia units. This is a small nucleus but entirely sufficient to create an efficient regiment. Instead of a consolidation around this core, the state saw a flurry of new companies of utterly green men formed and put into service. The state's adjutant general picked "ten lucky [new] companies ... to form the First Minnesota [Volunteers]," a military tragedy that would repeat itself throughout the North.

However the rush to the colors did not overwhelm all militia units or result inevitably in scratch (phony) militia organizations. In New York, the active militia outnumbered the Regular Army of the United States, totalling 19,189, including 36 general officers. New York's quota was for 17 regiments; on April 16, the state mobilized 11 of its regiments with an aggregate manpower of 7,334 officers and men. If we take a regimental strength standard of around 800-900, this is not at all bad for a peacetime organization. These units had insufficient billets for the many volunteers who wanted to join up in the first flush of war but they also had shortages in equipment that delayed their deployments. The thought of the entire "New York Army" being equipped, mobilized and deployed gives pause. Likewise, the effect of 19,189 experienced instructors being distributed across a large national army is worth a ponder.

It's astonishing to think of these regiments returning to New York to muster out after Bull Run. Some re-enlisted into the new federal structure, but the militia, as a system, as an organized military force, even as a reservoir of potential, seems to have been frittered away.


p.s. Speaking of reservoirs of potential, consider the enrolled militia. The enrolled were men required by federal law to enlist in the state militia - their counterparts were men who actually drilled, marched, etc., known as the "active militia." The 1853 ratio of enrolled/active in Massachusetts, for instance, is 116,546 / 5,809. The enrolled militia appears to have been a manpower pool neglected by Washington and by the states.


Competence and culture

My brigade commander had gotten into a rumination and had a hard time getting out again.

I was sitting in front of the colonel's desk staring at this framed photo of himself inside a body bag, soldiers standing around the bag crying as they waited for his corpse to be airlifted from some Vietnamese field. Through some great blessing he did not remain a corpse for  long. No doubt, mementos like these will drive you to reflection.

This colonel was old for that day with white hair and a long memory. The topic of the moment was lost competence. In Korea, i.e. the world outside our brigade HQ, the Communists had known how to use heavy machineguns while the U.S. Army in that day had less than a sliver of its WWI expertise still on the books. The colonel described Chinese ingenuity in using their Maxims. He rattled off one U.S. WWI heavy machinegun concept after another, wistful that we had lost them all and challenging me to imagine how useful they could be to my weapons platoon stationed near the DMZ all these years after the Korean War and the Great War itself.

But the culture had moved on. And though each of my mortar carriers had a heavy machinegun mounted on top,  the shooters would have been mortarmen, indifferent to the charms of direct fire and schooled under current doctrine (with minimal training) to do just four simple things, at most. The same condition afflicted our mechanized rifle platoons, oddly enough, who were more invested in training  with light weapons than with the powerful heavy weapons assigned to them.

How could this be? The WWI knowledge was still available to the Korean War generation, with veterans then in their 50s within easy reach. Even to us, in later days, we could access much through old manuals, memoirs, articles and such.

The culture, however, prohibited a resurrection of the old expertise. Our time and money were restricted, our doctrine did not permit what WWI crews were wont to do, and no one was going to watch, grade or praise us for doing what they could not understand and did not ask for.

This brings us back to the Civil War of course. The war starts with a major militia establishment on both sides. In the South, militia units are mobilized into the national army where they are ensnared by Davis's extension of every volunteer's term of service. (This may have more to do with CSA effectiveness than the proportion of West Point officers who went south.)

In the North, two things happened to the militia.

First, much militia got drawn into the early short term enlistments and then went home to sit out the war. The calling up and discharge of the rank-and-file volunteers was an artifact of the political culture, one that lost many experienced militiamen. Those militiamen arrived for duty capable of drilling, taking commands, organizing camps, managing bivouac life, taking orders, caring for equipment, and performing as soldiers. They represented a wasted training cadre, or even an NCO pool.

Second, experienced militia officers were left on the shelf. This is material for a very long post that boils down to a bottom line. Officers who could train, lead, organize, and drill were largely neglected. We all know the great scramble to resurrect the careers of junior federal officers, of Scott's refusal to spare Regular Army officers, and the desperate pleas of political generals for experienced soldiers and advisers.

One must add to this the situation of Mexican War officers who had served in U.S. Volunteer formations. As many of these, such as Robert Patterson, wound up in militia organizations, their fates were sealed by the fates of their various state militias. I do not know of any effort to recruit such men. The most prominent of them, Gideon Pillow, served in the South along with some contemporaries: was there a Northern equivalent to Pillow?

The Mexican War veterans were men who knew how to do. They had at least some grasp of the right maneuver for the right situation; the correct march formation for expected contact with the enemy; the disposition of the trains on the march and in camp; reconnoitering, picketing, etc.

They had the "technology" on hand that thousands would have to intuit, guess, or learn by doing. They were like the WWI machinegunners forgotten by the Army in Korea but with broader competencies that could have affected so much more. I saw this blog post published last week:
Competence is the real modernity and it has very little to do with the empty trappings of design that surround it. In some ways the America of a few generations ago was a far more modern place because it was a more competent place. For all our nice toys, we look like primitive savages compared to men who could build skyscrapers and fleets within a year... and build them well.

Those aren't things we can do anymore. Not because the knowledge and skills don't exist, but because the culture no longer allows it. We can't do them for the same reason that Third World countries can't do what we do. It's not that the knowledge is inaccessible, but that the culture gets in the way.
In that sense, the end of the Mexican War could be considered more modern that the beginning of the North's Civil War.
(Shown above, Joseph Johnson in 1852. He was company commander in the 55th N.Y. State Militia Regiment. The 55th! What if there were 54 more New York militia regiments at the outbreak of the war? Imagine the wasted knowledge and skills.)


Civil War postmodernism

For at least a decade, regimental histories, diaries, memoirs, and letter collections have dominated the titles published in Civil War history, joined lately by "memory" books. These were originally sold on their own merits - the light they shed on events.

Someone got the idea that in their specificity these kinds of books cannot appeal to the general audience. They need a broader, new "angle." This someone tends to work in marketing departments.

Now there is a framing of works in pomo terms of market: race, class, gender, etc. When you pick up one of these titles, heavily promoted for contemporary relevance, you are always surprised (possibly disappointed) to see that the book is the same thing it would have been if no marketers had ever existed and no postmodernism had ever been evoked.

It is as if the authors wrote the books they wanted to and the marketers dressed them up as something else.

Postmodernism is entirely analytic. The amount of analysis in these Civil War works hovers just above zero. But a pomo work takes the record as a starting point and then elaborates interpretations. Those elaborations are the gist of the book. But in our Civil War diaries, letters and memoirs, the diaries, letters and memoirs tend to be the whole story and are left to interpret themselves.

Get past the dust jackets and Civil War readers are in comfortable, familiar territory. It appears that the authors write the books they want to write in the way they want to write them with the publisher layering on some spin after the fact.

I have at hand two randomly chosen examples, both from university presses.

The first is A New Southern Woman: The Correspondence of Eliza Lucy Irion Neilson 1871-1883. This is edited Giselle Roberts and her being credited as an editor is a tipoff that she subordinates herself to the underlying material. We have a second clue as to the editor's historical (not pomo) intentions in the title A New Southern Woman as it alludes to the New South, a named historical period. Here, it seems, we will meet a woman representing her era. Standard stuff.

Now let's look at the dust cover, back blurb: "... it provides new insights into the effects of the Civil War on the lives of elite white southern women..." From the inside jacket: "... by celebrating both the traditional and nondependent ideals of womanhood, they [the Irion women] made a dynamic contribution to the creation of a New South." From the Introduction:
With their exclusive claims to political power in tatters, defeated Confederate soldiers redefined their masculinity and racial supremacy around domestic virtue and governance. Without slavery, marriage became the legal crucible of the postwar household and the lifeline available to white men in their struggle to regain their independence and public prowess. [...] To rebuild demoralized soldiers ... southern women subordinated themselves within the domestic sphere to become the last legitimate terrain of domination for their men.
Whatever you think of the foregoing, it disappears into the smoke of Mrs. Neilson's long, frivolous, personal, chatty letters without so much as a pomo footnote or analytic editorial aside to disturb any experience of a conventional collection of letters. Here's a random example (emphasis in the original):
Are you alarmed at this mammoth sheet of paper?; & do your eyes hurt in anticipation of the task of perusing its many lines? Well! I don't wonder if neither of the two feelings should fill your breast - but this I will promise, - not to write any more than I can possibly help, & to write it "werry loud," so that your poor eyes won't suffer any more than absolutely necessary! - I could find no other paper about the house, & so was obliged to content myself with some of Mr. Neilson's account-book; for I could not postpone answering that precious letter of yours, so much wished for, & so eagerly devoured!
And so on for another three pages. The notes to this chapter give "werry loud" as a Dickensian allusion. There is no pomo content in the letter of the dozen or so endnotes. The whole book is a mass of nerve-wracking prattle. And yet this is womens' studies somehow.

A second example comes through the mail as Nature's Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia. This is an interesting short work, perhaps the length of a long New Yorker article, and part of the interest is in its peculiar organization.

Young author Kathryn Shively Meier wrote it as a contribution to "environmental history" - she calls this the lens through which she viewed her historical work. She credits teacher Gary Gallagher for getting her original manuscript and ideas into this final form.

This lens of environmental history blocks out essential light. Meier addresses soldier health and how the environment affected that health with an entirely self-conscious purpose of excluding all medical history from her writing (although she does resort to medical data here and there). This is a contortion that keeps you reading. You expect she will have to acknowledge some standard works here or there but it never happens, generating quite some suspense.

In considering the effects of nature and the shaping of nature in camp life, if you wanted to limit yourself to that, there would be much to say nevertheless. But here we have just five short chapters, some topically peripheral: "Health and the American Population before 1862," "At War with Nature," Soldiers and Official Military Health Care," "Becoming a Seasoned Soldier," "Straggling and the Limits of Self-Care," and a conclusion.

The contents of these chapters is light, very much easy reading, and the effect on the reader is one of having a read a sort-of-interesting magazine article.

Ms. Meier wrote the book she wanted to write and then she and Gallagher formed its pieces into "environmental history." Which is not history at all but historicism, just as womens' studies is historicism.

But then neither is it "environmental history." It is an idiosyncratic book that has its own merits and demerits but one which has been dressed up as something it's not.

If you promise pomo, give me my pomo.

Consider the contrast drawn by Marx between "naive socialists" and "scientific socialists." There seem to be rigorous pomo writers and then a great flock of vague, loosey-goosey types. Our Civil War contingent seems to fall between the loosey-gooseys and the outright fakes.


Shepherdstown battlefield and Gettysburg Magazine updates

A nice local piece summarizes progress in collecting bits of Shepherdstown land. Scroll down for the significance of the battle (cute).

In other news, Gateway Press announced via email today that University of Nebraska Press is picking up Gettysburg Magazine. Check out their want ad for an editor-in-chief.


Gettysburg remains open for hide and seek

Tourists are playing "catch us if you can" as Gettysburg park rangers are out in force to prevent park visits. A poster to a discussion board says, They
are rousting people and if they catch them more than once, they are citing them. Like it or not, it's trespassing.
Sounds like more work than leading a leisurely tour.

The official blog of the Gettysburg National Military Park has officially stopped posting as that could also be considered labor.

At Kennesaw,
Chief Park Ranger Anthony Winegar stood guard at the entrance of the parking lot all day Tuesday, trying to keep park attendees from driving into the parking lot.
He was being paid that day to be an anti-park ranger. One imagines they'll send in the drones next.

In Mississippi,
It’s the one hundred and fifty-first anniversary of the Battle of Corinth and National Park Service employees were supposed to hold educational programs for visitors at The Crossroads Museum ... But we don’t have that right now...
Meanwhile, Manny offers compensatory photos for would-be Antietam visitors while Kevin feels for the NPS employees.

Folks, we have to get all hallowed ground out of the hands of the federal government. That's a no-brainer.


Unusual gallery of historical photos

No previous photograph of Lincoln with a cat has been found.

The drama of Yalta apparently had many lighter moments.

Patton was rarely photographed with whiskers.

These unusual artifacts were curated here.


Don't fake your Amazon reviews

The New York Attorney General's office has made it their business to prosecute people who post fake reviews. And this is no chickenfeed operation: investigators "snag[ged] 19 companies writing phony reviews on Yelp and other websites ... a year-long sting operation ... fined each [perp] between $2,500 and $100,000 ..."



OT: AJP Taylor remembered

For those of us studying central European history in the '60s and '70s, AJP Taylor and Hugh Trevor-Roper were inescapable in exactly the same way that McPherson would be inescapable to a Civil War student today.

This piece is an overlong but occasionally interesting appreciation of Taylor. Both Taylor and Trevor-Roper became media stars, opining on certain topics and they were used in electronic media in the same historical-color way as Doris Kearns Goodwin is used on the Imus show and similar god-awful venues.

In my sixteen years of annual summering in Scotland, they became familiar faces to me, very much corrupted by punditry. Taylor had a tendency to cut to the quick, which TV liked, and which showed him well against more reflective counterparts.

Taylor's quippery reminds our author of a very fine Evelyn Waugh observation:
We remember the false judgments of Voltaire and Gibbon and Lytton Strachey long after they have been corrected, because of their sharp, polished form and because of the sensual pleasure of dwelling on them.
That covers a lot of ACW pop history as well.

"... even at his worst he warranted public attention ..."

That is the epitaph of a public intellectual, not of an historian.


Civil War 150, a going concern

The Washington Post's Sunday supplement "Civil War 150" continues, with "Chapter VII" appearing Sunday. The "chapters" label suggests odd time intervals, but the advertising is robust. Let me therefore be the first to predict that this supplement will continue after the Sesquicentennial (Bezos permitting).

It's not just the WaPo's advertising that makes my case: ACW books are well advertised elsewhere, even in such incongruous places as the NYRB and the Claremont Review.

One problem with publishing history in a newspaper, however, is that the material is corrupted by newspaper values. One article this weekend had a sidebar with pictures of real human beings, who had suffered and endured, headlined "Cast of Supporting Characters." Characters!

In the same way, other headlines were overly dramatic; stories were heavy laden with human interest and cute little bits; emphasis was skewed for story payoffs; the whole sickening panoply of infotainment is here regularly applied to what deserves more respect. Emphasis has to be on what is most interesting or amusing.

Why be surprised though? American Heritage magazine, journalism to its innermost core, pioneered this way of dispensing history and was rewarded for it over several decades.

American Heritage was everywhere. This, at least, is contained.


Creative anachronisms

In 2008, an airline executive named John Adams published a book, If Mahan Ran the Geat Pacific War, Alfred Thayer Mahan being the great naval strategist (and son of the teacher of Civil War generals, Dennis Hart Mahan). In this thought experiment, Adams applied extracts from Alfred Thayer Mahan's work to the decisions and ad hockery of the U.S. war against Japan. He proposed Mahan's doctrines as substitutes to the then current doctrines of naval warfare.

There is merit in this kind of anachronism.

Previously in this blog, we have asked readers to consider the modern (but now superseded) doctrine of "effects based operations" as a rationale for Jefferson Davis's strategy. We have mentioned Rowena Reed's wonderful Combined Operations in the Civil War, which borrows implicitly from the WWII era doctrine of the same name and which the reading public in her day was generally familiar with.

Often the Civil War reader is exposed to the 20th Century doctrine of "total war" (although ACW authors give this lip service rather than the full treatment). Personally, I have toyed with ideas for a number of posts addressing the relevance of several interesting modern doctrines, especially the interwar "industrial web" theory and the "double effect" doctrine, among others.

The problem may be one of interest. Over the last 60 years, at least, military science has been the missing ingredient in military history. Readers are not used to it and it can be jarring where the bookbuyer expects a low-intensity cozy.

The point in Civil War publishing often seems to be to write a book that will read as easy as a detective novel. The narrative is paramount. There is a story arc and loads of human interest. Villains and heroes contend. No matter what the struggle, micro or macro, the outcome advances us to a dramatic resolution.

Of course, there are those few books that are dense with military science and resemble publisher excretions of completely indigestible matter. Or maybe they are atonements for all the talespinning pushed out into the marketspace, rather like the odd "highbrow novel" published by a trade house.

Brent Nosworthy authored two works specifically to address the military science deficit. Archer Jones tried to tackle the strategic level issues. Clayton Newell, like Adams another moonlighter, wrote about the evolution of operational theory in the early western Virginia offensive. There are some more examples of course.

Some readers, way into battle data, may protest that they are neck deep in military content. But this is not theory or doctrine. Battle books may have a reference to contemporary tactical doctrine, esp. regulations, but mainly address who stood where and in what formation and maybe, in a really good book (rare), what some movement formation might have been, who ordered it, and by what reason (in this, see especially Edward Steere on Longstreet in the Wilderness for a model exposition).

Adams did not write his Mahan book to punish naval history readers and he did not enroll them in an tough military science course. He attempted to enrich them by opening vistas of thought, analysis, and imagination. He tried to provide a deeper reading experience. Certainly, Civil War history needs the same.


A case study in Lincolnology

I had a chance to work through all of the McClellan references in Abraham Lincoln, Esq.: The Legal Career of America's Greatest President by Roger Billings and Frank Williams. The volume presents 12 chapters on different topics by different authors.

No one chapter deals with his railroad career. Four mention his railroad lawyering in passing, typically referring to the Illinois Central case of 1852 as an example of his billing ethos. And that's it - Lincoln the railroad lawyer is nearly expunged from a book about Lincoln the lawyer.

Needless to say, none of these authors seems to have the slightest idea that Lincoln worked for McClellan. That tells us about the low standards in Lincolnology.

There is a little good news, however, in that the authors avoided retelling or even paraphrasing Herndon's account of the imaginary billing showdown between GBM and AL. From Herndon's biography:
Probably the most important lawsuit Lincoln and I conducted was one in which we defended the Illinois Central Railroad in an action brought by McLean County, Illinois, in August, 1853, to recover taxes alleged to be due the county from the road. The road sent a retainer fee of $250. In the lower court the case was decided in favor of the railroad. An appeal to the Supreme Court followed, and there it was argued twice and finally decided in our favor. This last decision was rendered some time in 1855. Mr. Lincoln soon went to Chicago and presented our bill for legal services. We only asked for $2,000 more. The official to whom he was referred was supposed to have been the Superintendent, George B. McClellan, who afterwards became the eminent General. Looking at the bill he expressed great surprise. "Why, sir," he exclaimed, "this is as much as Daniel Webster himself would have charged. We cannot allow such a claim." Stung by the rebuff, Lincoln withdrew his bill, and started for home.
That's not the end of the story but enough.

Now Lincolnology is "sophisticated" enough not to mix McClellan up the matter because he was not at the railroad in the relevant timeframe and Herndon told variants of the story without McClellan. (See here, p7-8 for more.) Herndon got the story second hand from AL and recounted it later in life, so this anecdote is not one to take to the bank. He has this colorful quote embedded in a second-hand story which he misremembers.

And yet the story survives intact with McClellan excised in favor of "an official." Being wrong on the detail of McClellan rejecting the bill, the Dan Webster quote was too cute to let go. Look for it in your favorite pop history Lincoln biographies.


General Grant and the Rewriting of History

General Grant and the Rewriting of History is the first of a series of books by Frank P. Varney. This one deals with Grant vs. Rosecrans, the next one with Grant vs. Warren. Author Varney builds solid cases, controversy by controversy, for a "pattern of deceit" in Grant's records of events. He examines primary sources to show how deeply committed modern historians are to Grant's late-life memoirs for their "authoritative" accounts of events.

The work is analytical but uses an episodic narrative structure to anchor the reader in events and timelines. Each chapter addresses a discrete military episode. This allows readers to dip into topical chapters in the order of what interests them most.

A typical chapter divides into sections: (1) the context, (2) the controversies, (3) what the historians say, (4) charges, (5) evaluation, (6) historiography.

(1) “The context” is a brief overview of events, including a high level timeline.

(2) “The controversies” lays out the Grant position.

(3) “What the historians say” is a smattering of statements representing the common wisdom. These tend to mirror the Grant position, often to the embarrassment of quoted historians.

(4) “The charges” takes the assertions of Grant and the historians, frames them as charges against Rosecrans, and then examines them against the evidence. This is the exciting part.

(5) “The evaluation” is the author’s summary of the examination of the charges.

(6) “Historiography” recapitulates selected primary source quotes. This section is fun to read but intrinsically weak. It needed to be a listing of all known sources touching on a given controversy and where the support of such sources fell.

The episodes covered are Iuka, Corinth, Stones River, Tullahoma, Chickamauga, and Missouri.

Additionally, Varney covers the relief of Rosecrans after Chickamauga and he has a chapter on Shiloh which absents Rosecrans but represents a paradigm for Grant’s “pattern of deceit” in dealing with matters of record. His first and last chapters are bookends: “What We Think We Know” and “What We Know.” If you are like me, when challenged you ask yourself, "Why do I think that? What's my source?"

Mr. Varney makes hay with a problem we have bemoaned in this blog from day one. Historians, mainly pop historians, summarize historical problems in a single statement attached to a single source. (For this sin against history, see especially anything by McPherson or Goodwin). Not to flog a dead horse, but an event shrouded in controversy is resolved by “that’s the way it is” and a note citing a single source that summarizes the author’s position. This is terribly offensive to the deep reader and what Varney has found is that Grant’s memoirs are single sourced repeatedly to put paid to messy history.

In this work Brooks Simpson comes out well (chided for judgments, not evidence handling) and Steve Woodworth quite poorly (chided for sole sourcing his controversies). Our friend Wiley Sword is up to his Hood-y tricks and Perret, Catton, Fuller and many others provide cannon fodder for Varney’s analysis. I think Varney cheapened his arguments by wasting time on plagiarist Jean Smith and polemicist Edward Bonekemper as if they were worth correcting.

I am all for historiography and this is that good thing. My weakness is a limited familiarity with the primary sources in these matters and I am forced to yield to the strength of Varney’s presentation and (provisionally) trust him in his evidence handling. If this seems extravagant, consider that Varney has written a book about evidence handling (this one) and seems unlikely to commit the sins of Grant authors as he castigates them for their bad behavior.

Those of you who read Lamers’ biography were certainly struck, as I was, by the case for Rosecrans and especially Grant’s “participation” in the battles of Iuka and Corinth.* We Lamers readers have been puzzled by Civil War history for some time and Varney helps us directly with our confusion.

General Grant and the Rewriting of History is dual purposed. It presents a critical review of the Grant literature, much needed, much desired; and it presents a rehabilitation of Rosecrans, who is denigrated in the ubiquitous Grant literature. I believe that this is too much for one book. It undermines the literature review by allowing the unhappy targets of Varney’s analysis to claim he is a Rosecrans partisan, not an honest broker, etc.

In Civil War game design, if one can use that as a proxy for pop culture, one constant seems to be the high quality ratings assigned to the General Rosecrans tokens. I think the bad opinion of Rosecrans is limited to the ranks of Grant authors rather than the reading public. In other words, Varney may have compromised an important lit crit with a defense that needn’t be made. But the author gets to pick his fights, whether or not the reader approves.

Now to quote extensively from this work would explode the length of this post. Let me ration myself to one issue. I would have liked to post Varney’s debunking of the myth of the “cracker line,” but he has at it from so many directions using so many sources that it would take many posts to cover the ground he does. More manageable is the report that Rosecrans broke down and wept at Chickamauga.

Most historians simply report Rosecrans as a weeping wreck and cite [Captain Alfred] Hough [of Negley’s command]. [Author] Glenn Tucker, however, says that Hough cited an unnamed eyewitness, which would greatly lessen the reliability of the story. However, it is even worse than that. Hough’s letters make no mention whatsoever of the supposed episode of Rosecrans sobbing to his confessor. That entire account owes its existence to a margin note in the manuscript of Hough’s autobiography - a margin note written by his son. It was he [the son] who gave the undignified scene to us, that Rosecrans was so distraught that he was unable to even give orders to Hough - which directly contradicts the eyewitness account of his father. Alfred Hough made no mention - in his letters or autobiography - of the episode. The only reason we have it is because [of] his son - who said that he heard it “only once” from his father ... [In] the written accounts Hough did leave us ... Hough said that Rosecrans gave him orders for Negley and Thomas.
[Emphasis in original]

I may have overstated my reservations in the sense that I recommend this book without reservation. Varney’s is the kind of work we need: deliberate, analytic, corrective. Anyone with Grant books on the shelf needs to go through this in order to get the full sense of a critical alternative view, not just of Grant but of the entire war in the west.

I look forward to the response of Grant authors and to the volume on Warren.

*In 2001, there was a book published on acoustical shadows which devoted a chapter to explain Grant’s failure to assist Rosecrans at Iuka as due to this phenomenon. Another chapter explained McClellan’s failure to assist Rosey at Rich Mountain due to the same effect. An interesting book with Rosey twice victimized by nature, as it were.


How I spent my summer vacation

Well, it hasn't been a vacation really: a half day here and there. But I am awaiting a book delivery that will enable me to conclude my McClellan-Lincoln Illinois Central RR research/writing and I am terribly pleased at what I have found so far. I'm not stopping for nothing ... I think I have run out of material.

When you put the scraps together, the dots produce wonderful surprises. Stay tuned.

Author Conclave July 28-30

The Savas-Beatie author conclave convenes shortly. It's free and these are wonderful authors.


Some Sam Hood interviews

My intention was to dissect some of the Wiley Sword assertions about Gen. John B. Hood using author Sam Hood's new book and the OR references Sword used. But there is a lazy way out: link to some good Hood interviews given in 2012.

Here is Eric Wittenberg's with its overview of the content of the discovered Hood family papers.

Kraig McNutt, part 1, is not an interview with Hood but a collection of reactions from authors with "skin in the game" to the discovery of the papers. Sword has two responses, well worth reading, and the authors in general are very protective of the established work. Hood responds to them in the comments section.

Kraig McNutt, part 2, offers a single question and answer with the author and presents comments with responses from Hood.

(Here's a link to all of the relevant McNutt postings.)

I am impressed by Hood's criticism of Sword's handling of sources in John Bell Hood, but I say that as one without familiarity with the relevant material. I should also confess that how deeply I hate pop culture outbursts like these Swordisms collected by Hood for what might be called the Beauregard edition. Page numbers are in parentheses:

"Beauregard was thoroughly shocked" (107); "exasperated" (107); "very much disturbed" (107); "fuming about the callous treatment by Hood" (107); PGTB was "determined to retaliate" (110); "callous treatment by Hood [caused] smoldering resentment until finally another heated confrontation occurred" (110); Beauregard was "livid" (111); "frustrated" (110); "exasperated" (110).

The best parts of this new book is watching author Hood disassemble each emotional assertion using Sword's own sources. And Sword is not the only one getting this treatment. Our problem in Civil War history is much bigger than Wiley Sword.


Wiley Sword - an interesting historian

From Sam Hood's John Bell Hood. The author is quoting from Sword's book The Confederacy's Last Hurrah and has added the emphasis:
"Already when en route to South Carolina, he [Gen. Hood] had passed through Augusta and probably met with a distant relative, Gustavus Woodson Smith, the crusty old army engineer who was Hood's good friend. Hood apparently poured out his bitterness to Smith, who then may have published the long, rambling article that appeared in the Augusta, Georgia, Daily Constitutionalist on February 5, 1865."
Now that's history made interesting!

Cannonballs are terrifying...

... if you don't know shot from shell.

You wonder how artillerymen mustered the courage to handle these mysterious, unstable and unpredictable items of "ordinance."

(H/T R. Bonds.)


Fuller and Hawthorne on older generals

From JFC Fuller's Generalship: Its Diseases and Their Cure:
In my book – The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant – I pointed out that, in 1861, the average age of twenty Federal and Confederate officers who, as generals, played leading parts in the war, was thirty-eight and a half years. [...] In war it is almost impossible to exaggerate the evil effects of age upon generalship, and through generalship on the spirit of an army. In peace time it may be otherwise, but in war time the physical, intellectual and moral stresses and strains which are at once set up immediately discover the weak links in a general’s harness. First, war is obviously a young man’s occupation; secondly, the older a man grows the more cautious he becomes, and thirdly, the more fixed become his ideas. Nothing is more dangerous in war than to rely upon peace training: for in modern times, when war is declared, training has always been proved out of date. Consequently, the more elastic a man’s mind is, the more it is able to receive and digest new impressions and experiences, the more commonsense will be the actions resulting. Youth, in every way, is not only more elastic than old age, but less cautious and far more energetic.
From Nathaniel Hawthorne's article "Chiefly About War Matters":
... we were received by the commander of the fortress [John Wool] with a kind of acid good-nature, or mild cynicism, that indicated him to be a humorist, characterized by certain rather pungent peculiarities, yet of no unamiable cast. He is a small, thin old gentleman, set off by a large pair of brilliant epaulets,—the only pair, so far as my observation went, that adorn the shoulders of any officer in the Union army. [...] There can be no question of the General's military qualities; he must have been especially useful in converting raw recruits into trained and efficient soldiers. But valor and martial skill are of so evanescent a character, (hardly less fleeting than a woman's beauty,) that Government has perhaps taken the safer course in assigning to this gallant officer, though distinguished in former wars, no more active duty than the guardianship of an apparently impregnable fortress. The ideas of military men solidify and fossilize so fast, while military science makes such rapid advances, that even here there might be a difficulty. An active, diversified, and therefore a youthful, ingenuity is required by the quick exigencies of this singular war.[...] It is a pity that old men grow unfit for war, not only by their incapacity for new ideas, but by the peaceful and unadventurous tendencies that gradually possess themselves of the once turbulent disposition, which used to snuff the battle-smoke as its congenial atmosphere.
(Wool would have been 78 during Hawthorne's visit.)
p.s. Of related interest...
General Wool writes a letter
Generals who faint
"Why senior military leaders fail"

And for a blow-by-blow account of Wool's machinations against McClellan during the first Richmond campaign, see the most recent volume by the late, great Cap Beatie.


Trenton Iron Works - some notes and conjecture

It was something like a couple of decades ago that Trenton historian Charles Webster and I were sitting in that city's library speculating about the oddities of G.B. McClellan being posted to Trenton and then being buried there (along with his wife and father-in-law Randolph B. Marcy, sans Mrs. Marcy).

Charlie proposed that the outcome was tied to Trenton Iron Works, where Marcy had served as an Army inspector and where the owners had been influential Democrats. He didn't have anything specific but was working on it. We filed what "explanation" we had under "ties to the city."

I am not sure Charlie called it Trenton Iron Works. We locals called the site "Cooper Iron Works" and the business went through name changes. At one time there was a 19th Century companion firm, same owners, called Trenton Steel and Iron Works. For purposes of this post, I'm going to refer to the complex as Trenton Iron Works.

To get where we are going, we'll need a timeline.

1838 - New York's illustrious Albany Regency ends with the defeat of William Marcy (D) at the hands of William Seward and Thurlow Weed (W) in the NY governor's election.

1847 - Trenton Iron Works is incorporated by Peter Cooper (photo, right), Abram Hewitt, Edward Cooper (son) and James Hall, strong, moneyed New York Democrats.

1848 - The barnburners split the Regency, burying this Democrat faction. Peter Cooper is a barnburner.

1849 - Capt. Randolph Marcy, of the Regency Marcys, blazes the Marcy Trail, from Fort Smith to Santa Fe.

1851 - Marcy is on the Belknap expedition in Texas.

1852 - Marcy and McClellan are on the Red River expedition.

1855-1859 - Maj. Robert Anderson is "... assigned to the light duty of inspecting the iron beams produced in a mill in Trenton, New Jersey for Federal construction projects."

1856 - Gustavus Woodson Smith (a civilian) becomes chief engineer of the Trenton Iron Works (Odyssey of a Southerner). Marcy is on a Texas survey. G.W. Smith introduces McClellan to Abram Hewitt, co-owner of Trenton Iron Works and director of the Illinois Central Railroad (McClellan's War, Odyssey of a Southerner).

1857 - Marcy wars on the Seminoles and then "received national fame for a winter march of over a thousand miles" during the Mormon war. McClellan resigns from the army for a position with the Illinois Central (McClellan's War). G.W. Smith becomes a director of the Illinois Central (Odyssey of a Southerner). McClellan begins his supervision of a contract railroad attorney named Abraham Lincoln.

1858 - Marcy prepares his book The Prairie Traveler. G.W. Smith goes to work for Peter Cooper, co-owner of Trenton Iron Works, as the deputy NYC Streets Commissioner. Cooper resigns after six months and Smith steps up to the full title(Odyssey of a Southerner).

1859 - Marcy becomes a regimental paymaster. Peter Cooper founds Cooper Union.

1860 - Peter Cooper sells out his stake in Trenton Iron Works to the other owners. McClellan takes up the presidency of the Ohio & Mississippi RR Eastern Division through the good offices of S.L.M. Barlow, Democratic activist.(McClellan's War). Barlow is a member of New York's Union Club as is Edward Cooper, co-owner of Trenton Iron Works. Abraham Lincoln is offered position as staff legal counsel to the New York Central Railroad based on his work for McClellan and the Illinois Central (Abraham Lincoln as a Railroad Attorney and, better, Ellis and Ellis in Billings).

1860 - (Worth its own entry and emphasis) G.W. Smith becomes Chairman of the National Democratic Committee for the City and County of New York. (He backs the Breckinridge ticket.)

Perhaps this is too nebulous for many readers, but I find it interesting. One missing piece here is Randolph Marcy. His whereabouts are given to show what few opportunities he would have had to be posted to the Trenton Iron Works, as Charlie believed he had been. The Marcy-Trenton connection remains mysterious.

Anderson's place here might also confuse but there is a familial McClellan connection that appears in Whitelaw Reid's history of Ohio in the ACW. Robert Anderson, worked with Smith, the Coopers, Hewitt, and Hall for years. As McClellan settled into Cincinnati society in 1860 (his entrée into the principal literary club having been managed by John Pope), his military future is taken up by the city's business roundtable headed by one Larz Anderson II, nephew of the major. Larz and company petitioned both Gov. Dennison and Ohio's politicians in Washington for McClellan's leadership of Ohio troops. Perhaps there was an Ironworks connection at work.

Lincoln's possible connection to the Trenton Iron Works is a notion "under development," if it ever gets developed. The offer of a job with the NY Central would have come from the company of a powerful New York Democrat, Erastus Corning, who knew the Regency, likely had dealings with some combination of Barlow, Cooper and Hewett and who certainly had many dealings with Lincoln backer Thurlow Weed. Interlocking boards? Word of mouth? And from where? More work to do.

Democrats Edward Cooper (Peter's son) and Hewitt would both eventually serve as mayors of New York, Hewitt gaining fame as the man who planned for a city subway system. The New York mayor who opened the subway system for business was Max McClellan, the general's son. Will the circle be unbroken? Not in 1904, anyway.

Meanwhile, here's Marcy's obit. The Trenton burial is not explained although we know GBM has predeceased him and we guess his daughter has committed to be buried in some future time next to her husband. Could this be the motivation for siting Marcy's gravesite?

We have not solved the mystery of McClellan's (or Marcy's) posting to Trenton but have some meat for informed speculation - the best kind.

The Ironworks were a political mill where power, money and Democratic politics mixed with military celebrity.


Ethan Rafuse

Ethan Rafuse has opted "to spend my time in other ways than blogging." This is a good thing since he is one of a small number of Civil War authors doing new and interesting books. We need the books more than the posting, so I have wished him a good riddance from Civil Warriors.

Earlier this year, Brooks Simpson linked to an interesting paper by Rafuse that I intend to write about here. I have also sketched notes for a long post collecting what we know about McClellan's supervision of Lincoln before the war -- relying much on Ethan's research and the work of another, more obscure author.

So, one can still be in the blogosphere without having to be of the blogophere.

Hood on Hood

Sam Hood weighs in at Kevin Levin's blog on the subject of my book review of a few days ago.

p.s. I have a medium length post in preparation illustrating the sins of Wiley Sword ennumerated by author Hood.

Comic book heroes

I thought this painting by Ann Null was over-the-top.
But then I looked at the source/inspiration. Super Stonewall comes to you courtesy of Manassas National Battlefield Park.


Guelzo's immense power to disappoint

Anytime you think Allen Guelzo cannot disappoint more (and more and more), he's back with another surprise. Mitch Hagmaier writes from Pennsylvania,
I noticed this book in the "books others bought" list on the page with your review of that Hood book. The more historically-minded inhabitants of Chambersburg would be astonished to be so informed that the 1863 Gettysburg campaign was "the last invasion", presumably by a Confederate army of a northern state.

(And now that I google a bit, I see I'm not the first one to make that joke... sigh.)

And it looks like Guelzo was fool enough to respond that the two Early incursions were exempt because they were "raids" and not an invasion. As if Lee's 1863 campaign was anything other than a raid of monumental proportions. I suppose it's more respectable to kidnap people and seize vast amounts of goods under color of foraging than to straight-up ransom towns against the threat of arson.
I myself also notice on Amazon one reviewer complained that
Allen C. Guelzo accepts the Sickles, Butterfield account as gospel. This book is an account of the Gettysburg Campaign that the anti-Meade faction would love. Every discredited story from Mine Run to the Staff Meeting is here. The idea that Meade was dragged kicking and screaming into battle is the heart of the book.
Treating controversy as settled history is "fresh," "exciting," "new" (taken from Amazon quotes).

Harry Smeltzer recently interviewed Guelzo who appears to have taken a strong dislike to Meade based on the man's correspondence and politics. However, the intriguing part of the interview has Guelzo complementing himself for adding what could be an interesting twist:
I think Gettysburg (and the Civil War in general) could benefit hugely from being understood in a larger international context, especially when it comes to military thinking and tactical doctrine (which is, after all, a species of intellectual history). The Civil War did not occur in a vacuum; the experiences of the Crimean War (1854-56), the Sepoy Mutiny (1857-58), the North Italian War (1859) all offer important illumination for why Civil War generals thought as they did. That’s why Gettysburg: The Last Invasion is constantly invoking comparisons to the Alma, Solferino, and Koniggratz. In that sense, I’m trying to claw away from the blinkered view imposed on the Civil War by American exceptionalism.
One of the charming stories about McClellan's railroad period is that he had maps of the Franco-Austrian Italian war spread out all over his office and well marked. His marks were based on the newspaper stories that may have been followed by any number of other officers and ex-officers. To make the connection between those newspaper stories and the military punditry flowing therefrom would make for ... uh... scholarship. But I see from a review of this book, that is not what is going on here. In John Derbyshire's book report, he notes, for instance, that Lee (according to Guelzo) had good reason for Pickett's charge:
The assault failed, as military actions often will, but Guelzo denies it was the egregious folly it has sometimes been portrayed. He raises encouraging precedents surely known to Lee: Lord Raglan’s successful assault on even more formidable Russian lines in the Crimea, for instance, during which:

...the Russians were not only driven back, but driven away in “such a confusion as no person ever saw.” The same tactics had won the day for the French at Magenta and Solferino in 1859…. If Lee needed a rationale for the attack on July 3rd, he did not have far to look for it, [Confederate corps commander James] Longstreet’s objections notwithstanding.
Wouldn't Lee's personal experiences outweigh the recollection of some distant newspaper reports? He wouldn't even have to go back to his Mexican War time for frontal assault memories. Anyway, wouldn't we want to see references to foreign triumphs in his correspondence if there's a connection? Isn't this attribution by implication an astonishingly fatuous and lazy use of contemporary history?

Meanwhile, the many blurbs and reviews on Amazon fail to impress. I want to see the Gettysburg buffs weigh in. Guelzo has done very well to reap so many reviews in a downtrend for ACW reviews but look at the quality:
As for Gettysburg I have (sadly) only four books on my shelf, Stephen W. Sears excellent study and Harry W. Pfanz’s trilogy; and on top of that, I have never read any of the four from cover to cover. I skim and pick and choose based on my interest or research specific needs.

So with this in mind I cracked open Guelzo’s book and prepared myself for a good hour or so of reading before I tossed it onto my stack of stuff and maybe got to a review a month or so from now… but then it happened! I encountered a master storyteller who captured my imagination.
Good grief. The wise author would ditch this audience.

This posting is not a review of the book but a reaction to its public effects. If I have to eat crow, let me know.