Civil War operas

Civil War operas are proliferating. A few I missed:

Freedom and Fire!

Cold Mountain

The Dream of a Good Death: A Civil War Folk-Rock Opera

Rappahannock County

My Civil War

What's interesting here is the idea, among producers, that the Civil War history crowd might be as arcane and fringe-y as American opera goers.

Or maybe they think that ACW readers will buy tickets to anything ACW-ish.


The ghost of Civil War past

The Confederacy’s 9th Kentucky Infantry had a drama club.

Among prisoners of war, and "Chess was the principal game, and the demand for chessmen created quite a business for a former prisoner who had erected a turning lathe."

Civil War bands "provided [soldiers] a daily acquaintance with opera melodies..."

During the Great Revival of '63-64, "Night after night troops participated in prayer meetings, worshipped, and listened to ministers proclaim the good news."

These people were nothing like us.


Light my cannon ball

Another one of those stories where the reporters and city officials are too ignorant and illiterate to explain what the problem might be:
Museum calls in bomb squad fearing possible Civil War cannon ball explosion.

Hat tip to a dear reader. Best line in the story, "...the cannon balls and artillery rounds did not have fuses and would not have exploded without having been lit, according to the Associated Press."

Let's have no smoking signs around those cannon ball stacks near the historic cannon displays.


Ramblin Spokes, ACW author: Best ways to blurb

Hello again, readers and aspiring authors!

Many a time has Ramblin been asked to blurb a book he hasn't read. As you become successful, this will happen to you. Let me help.

I  read a lot of blurbs on Civil War book jackets. It's a quick, fast, fun way to save time and energy. The material I find there, I add to my stockpile.

This guy decided to pen a navy book and asked for my opinion. I wasn't going to spend a lot of time plowing through somebody's rehash, so I said
Successfully demonstrates the navy's importance to the Union victory in 1865.
Quick and easy. He was not entirely satisfied, so I added
Places this naval scholarship in the larger context of the war.
I gave him a quick and easy context win. But I didn't want him bothering me again, so I added
A welcome addition to the literature.
Of course, every addition to the literature is welcome.

Different example: somewhere, some fool is writing yet another book about Chamberlain. You would waste time reading it. How do you blurb it? Here are some ideas:
Anyone with an interest in Chamberlain, the Civil War, Bowdoin College, postwar Maine, or any combination thereof, will enjoy it.
Sounds good but is noncommittal. Sort of like "Anybody with an interest in anything will enjoy this."

In the same vein:
His words serve as a reminder that the experience of war remained with the veterans long after the guns fell silent.
I don't even understand that sentence and I wrote it.

Of course, you always need a plan B. If the book is a total stinker and you would be humiliated to endorse it, you can still praise the intro, foreword or both:
His introduction and the foreword supplied ... are the best summary of Chamberlain's life and legend I have read.

Give every book it's due using Ramblin's simple rules of blurbing.



Are there any good books on the election of '56? It seems as interesting, at least, as that of 1860.

We have all of these ACW figures in play (except Lincoln): Seward, Chase and Sumner withdraw from the Republican contest to favor Fremont.

The North American Party features a Fremont vs. Banks effort, with an agreement in which Banks is to throw the nomination to Fremont.

Somehow, our shiftless historians are loath to make connections among these personalities and  events four years later.

Is it not "natural politics" that Lincoln's hand would be forced to find a place for Fremont, the bigger and better Republican star? That he would try to capture the support of Fremont's backers for his own administration?

Is it not natural that Fremont's star backers would support him in the early war?

Is it not natural that Lincoln would try to hamper Fremont politically? That his wrongdoing would backfire into a Fremont reinstatement? That after the reinstatement he would continue to undermine Fremont?

What seems logical and natural to us seems fantasy and science fiction to the consensus historians.


Amazon book sales: protected data?

The activity of Amazon vending is a counterpart to and competition for Ebay selling. Both activities have lots of third party tools on the market to help sellers in either venue.

Recently, I have been looking at one product that provides useful sales-related data on any item you want to look up on Amazon. My feeling is that some of the data is extrapolated from sales rankings and other data is based on ratio algos keyed to the software designer's personal sales experience.

These tools sell well and are not bogus, although the black box element is troubling.

Here is a screen shot of the output from one such tool. The analytics are in the box on the right (click to enlarge). This is generated for anything you look up -- with one product exception.

When you use the tool to look up a book, no such information displays.

Makes you wonder.


Wartime state militias

Churchill said (I think) that the Balkans have so much history, they need to export much of it. In the same sense, Georgia's Civil War militias have so much history, it will take a series of books to survey it all.

Appendix 1 of Joe Brown's Pets, The Georgia Militia, 1861-1865, gives a nice enumeration of all the militias of the war. The title of this work, however, is misleading: it concerns mainly the First Division, Georgia Militia, formed in 1863 and recounts its adventures in and after the Atlanta campaign.

At 385 pages (richly illustrated, many nice appendices), the reader gains a sense how how large the subject of Georgia militias might be.

A shorter but similarly thorough book, issued in 1987, is Joe Brown's Army, The Georgia State Line, 1862-1865. The State Line might be considered railroad defenders and some of the interest here is how Brown fended off attempts to conscript these men into CSA service.

These being rich militia histories, they raise some interesting points.

The first is from a general theme from William B. Hesseltine's important work, Lincoln and the War Governors. Hesseltine showed us a power struggle between the states and Lincoln for control of the early war (and as I have mentioned here before, bringing McClellan east was Lincoln's way of capturing the governors' chief war strategist and planner).

To generalize from Hesseltine's concepts, a federalized war places the states at the mercy of national defense forces, concentrating power in the executive. This was more the case with the CSA because it implemented a draft early and conscripted whatever militiamen could not be protected by Joe Brown's out of state counterparts. Meanwhile, with conscription coming later in the North, the Union militia retained a complementary purpose in the war effort.

It seems that Davis intended to have militarily weak states dependent on a strong, national military force. Perhaps a state-by-state militia survey will prove this view wrong. For the moment, Georgia appears an exception.

The second issue that strikes one in reading these Georgia militia books is how politicians misunderstood military effectiveness. To an outsider, it appears that they thought organization equals effectiveness after a dash of experience was added. This is also true of the North where in my research I see one long-standing, mature military unit after another cannibalized into total rubbish during the mobilization.

Which leads to my final point. We look at these wartime militias, Pennsylvania's, Georgia's and others, and we tend to retrofit what we see onto the pre-war militias ... a terrible mistake.

Often, the wartime militias were scratch forces with no cohesion, little or no training, a jumble of strangers.

In a separate post, I'll recount the destruction politicians inflicted on the mature, experienced prewar militias, North and South.


Ramblin Spokes, Civil War author: Beware the archive!

Hello again, would-be readers and writers! Let Ramblin Spokes, seasoned seller, help you with that book or article that you've worked so hard on.

I am always surprised when some author mentions visits to "the archive," as if this is going to help research in some way. Your reader has an archive, don't you know? And if you pop a weird fact on him, he will go to his own archive, a shelf full of best-selling books, to check you out.

And you will FAIL every such fact check every time.

Research all you want, any way you want, but at the end of your writing, you must check your manuscript against a stack of best sellers to VALIDATE your work. That is the only way to avoid serious embarrassment.

Someone may object, "Well what if best sellers don't agree on some point." I have never seen that happen, have you? Let us, for the sake of argument, say they did. How would you resolve that? You would run with the author who had sold more than the other author!

Pretty simple, right?

Well what if some mass medium puts out Fact A and some best seller puts out Fact B? How can you determine the truth?

Here is an example of one such dilemma. National Public Radio says "When a group of 11 Southern states tried to secede from the union in 1860, Abraham Lincoln said, you can't do that." I am checking Team of Rivals and it says James Buchanan was president in 1860. Problem! I am checking Battle Cry of Freedom and it tells me only one state had seceded in 1860. Another problem!

This NPR show probably had hundreds of thousands of listeners. But Team of Rivals and Battle Cry of Freedom had more readers combined than the NPR show has listeners. That is how we get at the truth.

It's not brain surgery, my friends, so do your research right.


Curious booklists

A reader writes:
I was looking at Amazon’s “Civil War” bestsellers:

1. Lincoln (O’Reilly)
2. Lincoln (Team of Rivals
3. Grant
4. Lincoln
5. Harriet Tubman children’s book
6. Darwin (?)
7. Slavery
8. Thomas Meagher
9. Battle Cry of Freedom
10. Lincoln
11. Lincoln’s White House . . . .

Doesn’t anybody write about Confederates anymore?
Or want to read about them?


Premature planning for the postwar (cont.)

Recently wrote about the business of planning for your spoils of victory while wallowing in the depths of defeat.

Ran into this passage in Miles Copeland's autobiography. He was surprised by "the long-range thinking" he saw at ETOUSA HQ. There was "a dinner conversation .. with one of the British civil servants..." who said:
Here we are, about to do battle with the most highly trained, disciplined and well-equipped army the world has ever known, matching our Eisenhower, Montgomery, Patton and the other second-raters against real honest-to-God generals, yet we can safely assume we are bound to win. You know all we've got going for us?
The answer was ambiguous and convoluted so we'll need one of our own.

Curious how the post victory planning starts on day one of the war and never seems to let up, regardless of events on the battlefield.


Effects based operations

The starting point for any analysis of the Civil War must begin with two facts sometimes mentioned, never much developed: The South could not destroy the North's material ability to generate armies. The North could not destroy the South's will to survive.

In this way, the two sides were mismatched. The North was condemned to fight military campaigns for military outcomes and the South to wage political campaigns for political effects.

For the South, an offensive aimed to score points against the North's political resolve. A defense aimed to preserve Southern instruments of power.

For the North, an offensive aimed to destroy Southern instruments of power. A defense was to deny the South political advantage.

We should look at the CSA crossings into Northern states in this light. We should also use it to recalibrate our understanding of outcomes.

The Western Virginia campaign, for instance, represented no military intention and its victories were not military victories. They improved Northern political resolve, handing Davis a setback on his own terms. In the same sense McClellan's change of base denied Davis the kind of victory he needed - one with ill political effects.

Lincoln was trapped throughout the war by the need to deny Davis effects-based victories while pursuing the purely military end of destroying war-making power. Davis had to avoid destruction of military capability while trying to inflict fatal political effects on the Republican government.

Two of the starkest examples of "effects" that come to mind (though they were transitory) involve the tenor of the council (Davis, Johnston, Smith, Longstreet and Lee) after Fair Oaks and the signing of Lincoln's envelope by his Cabinet in 1864.

Sherman's march through Georgia failed, if seen as an attempt to turn tables on Davis by making "Georgia howl" and embarrass a hapless government. In terms of a Norther offensive "effects based operation," it was a failure, although it worked as a defensive effects based operation in helping re-elect Lincoln.

I touched on effects based operations in an old post. As a doctrine, it was formulated in recent times, This definition is useful and clear.

Military intellectuals picked up this ball and made an insanely complicated game around it. It was my personal experience that the military will pervert any fairly simple idea into a Mao Zedong Little Red Book guideline for living, thinking, being, breathing.

This well-earned backlash from Mad Dog Mattis (see especially the first few pages) attempted to rein in the crazies. No one below the strategy level need ever bother about effects based operations. I would argue that no soldier below four stars should ever even give it a thought.

My impression during the US war against Serbia was that "effects based operations" were a military rationalization, a strategy substitute where there was no strategy. This cannot be correct. Once the force authorizations were delimited to prevent total victory, military on military, both Clinton and the Serbs assumed the mantle of Jefferson Davis. Force was applied to try to reap political advantage. The staccato application of force seems random but tries for a cumulative effect.

In its simpler form, I think the idea of "effects based operations" is due for a comeback. I think it can be applied to Civil War history without being anachronistic.