William Manchester exposed

Yet another lying historian... who had no need to lie.



NYT: Best ACW books

Did not know that the New York Times extended its authority worship or influence peddling into ACW nonfiction, For the authority seekers who crave the Times, this is essential and non-negotiable. The history is settled. For the rest of us, read this for amusement. Let loose the wisecracks.

p.s. The people who think that these are good books are telling us what to think about contemporary issues.

Reading levels

The great thing about being 65 is you read at the 65-year-old level.


Pop quiz

Hello, Civil War readers! Let's take a quiz.

Francis Preston Blair was the father of Frank and Montgomery Blair. We find him advising President Lincoln. The alert reader wonders why this fellow is advising Lincoln and looks to the historian for a clue. The writer feels the need to give a clue and offers one very brief biographical note.

The purpose of this quiz is to see if that note registered with you as with me.

Question for you: Relying only on your memory of past readings, Who was Francis Preston Blair? Aside from father of his sons, what one thing comes to mind?

Please take a moment to consider this before reading further.

If you had asked me any time in the past 30 years, I would have said (as so many historians have said) "an advisor to Andrew Jackson." The reason I remember this is from frustration: why is a Jackson man advising a super-Whig?

Lately I've been reading Frank Blair, Lincoln's Conservative, where the Preston information startled me. Looking into other sources, I see that old man Blair was

* Founder and co-organizer of the national Republican Party
* Chairman of the 1856 Republican Party Convention
* Co-organizer of the Maryland and Missouri Republican Parties
* Sponsor/patron of Gov./AG Edward Bates and Charles Fremont
* Foe and counterweight within the Party to the Seward/Weed faction.

This is my list - I built it from multiple sources. Historians being very stingy with facts and information, I had to gather these crumbs over the period of a week.

Now I ask you, if an historian was going to say just one thing about old Preston Blair, it seems that ANY of my points would take precedence over "an advisor to Andrew Jackson." Advisor to Old Hickory would appear near the bottom of the list. Not relevant but more colorful than party founder and leader.

Is it my bad memory, is it a handful of bad reading experiences, or could this be a more general problem? Perhaps the secret identity of Francis Preston Blair is another indicator that we are ill served by ACW historians.

It's good to mock Civil War pop history

... as Althouse does here:

Wait. I thought the Civil War was inevitable and no President could have averted it.

Is inevitable history even history?

I like the way that here Pierce's debility becomes a cause of the war (an interesting contributing cause?). And I was shocked that no one in the press had enough history to understand Trump's recent Jackson reference. Teach the children:
“I expect soon to hear that a civil war of extermination has commenced,” Jackson said, musing about arresting the Southern leaders and then hanging them....


Sears' "Generals"

The esteemed Russell Bonds finds a few good things in Stephen Sears' latest.

Whenever I feel so inclined myself, I go back and read this post.


Get Nelly

I bought Lincoln's Generals' Wives by Candice S. Hooper to read more about Mary Ellen McClellan. Something on the Internet led me to believe that here were letters and diaries from the Library of Congress used to compile the Nelly chapters. Indeed there were: five letters and a few short, tiny diaries; I did not find these referenced in the notes. It seems likely that Sears used them and Ms. Hooper cited the relevant Sears material.

For indeed Sears is all over this Mary Ellen McClellan account and the recapitulation of Centennial military history makes up the bulk of Nelly's chapters, perhaps 75% or more (citations too to Catton, Williams, even the plagiarist Nevins). Think of this as a meditation on how a very bad man can feed the worst instincts in his wife and you get the sense of it -- except for a plot twist in Nelly's alleged bad attributes also feeding George's.

Like many innocent readers, Ms. Hooper is shocked by McClellan's view of Lincoln and his cabinet, thinking it singular. This is because she has not digested the diaries of Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, Attorney General Edward Bates, the correspondence of Postmaster Montgomery Blair or many of the politicians and generals dealing with the Lincoln Administration. Of course a sensible writer has to explain to readers how anyone and his wife could hold such views.

You know the usual answers: psychological pathologies and character failings.

Depending on secondary sources and pre-packaged primary sources, Hooper misses the fine print in her derivative readings; she does not know that these are the Marcys of the Albany Regency; she has no idea that Lincoln worked for McClellan at the Illinois Central, referring to Civil War "first impressions" that never were. There are no descriptions of McClellan family life here, for she has not touched Max McClellan's papers at Princeton. In her 1864 survey she is oblivious to the project of the McClellan-Fremont fusion ticket and Jesse Fremont's possible role in that.

We don't know what music Mary Ellen liked, what instruments she played, what things she read, what plays she favored, what child rearing she did or even what she thought of McClellan's friends. If she had a social circle, it is not found here.

Child rearing, no; battlefield narrative, yes. Establishing households in Trenton, New York, Orange, no. Psychological speculations, yes. Empathy and interest, no. Elaborations on culpability, very much.

The deficiencies stack higher than at a CCW hearing.

When the Centennialists have so worn down their readers that the fresh material nowadays consists of attacks on the wives of men on the wrong side of Lincoln, we can say a publishing trend has run its course.


For a good summary of Nevins' crime, see here and scroll down in this link. Such are the critics of Civil War generals. Hooper quotes Nevins' Pathmaker in her Fremont chapters without commenting on its poisoned content.