Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Tipsy Historian 2008 Year In Review

The New Year is always a special time, and this time around, more than ever. A recurring personality in these posts is my wife, The Jess, and 2008 was a most challenging year for her, for me, and for us as a couple. If you look in the archives there is a writing vacuum from late January into April, and the astute observer will note in the sidebar "Why The Jess Is Cool" the one notation that's in all capital letters.
We pushed through a tough stretch together and I've never been more proud of anyone or anything in my life than I am of her. We've both worked hard to keep some balance and brightness in our lives as some dark energy pushed against us, and we've been pretty successful. I'm grateful and happy that this space was a large part of my cognitive recreation and creativity, which I'm sure is evinced by the nearly 200 posts I wrote in just over 8 months.
This blog has served as an effective relaxation and mental escape technique over the past year, and I'm sure it will remain so, but hopefully without a sense of urgency or anxiety driving the work. And what a lot of work we've done! When I started blogging, I wondered what themes would develop within the subjects that draw my interest, and over the course of 2008, there were some most engaging threads developed.
The American Civil War rose far to the front here, and I'm incredibly happy and proud of our ongoing study of The Lost Cause mythology and our collective memory of the ACW. There are some fantastic blogs out there that I discovered over the course of the year that share this focus (Cenantua's Blog being right at the top of the heap), which has made the journey that much richer.
There is no shortage of controversy and emotion in this subject matter, and we've tackled a quite a few provocative issues. When you begin challenging long-established perceptions and beloved folklore, you're gonna stir up some emotions. I believe that this is important work and I'm glad that a visceral chord is struck here from time to time.
Though my reading list is chock-a-block with Civil War material, and the majority of posts here do cover this topic, no small amount of attention has been paid to the importance of a tasty beverage. Between roasting my own coffee and inventing drinks filled with black apricot, basil, cantaloupe, and cachaca, The Jess and I have not gone thirsty this year.
We also haven't been short of drama on the tennis court, whether I'm out grinding with Simon the Great or watching and writing about the four Grand Slams. Nothing comes anywhere close to the fun that I had writing about the surging rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and no sporting event I've ever seen can even approach the sheer brilliance and stunning drama of their clash in the Wimbledon final this year.
So what's been my favorite post of the year? There are a few that I'm quite pleased with, several that have attracted some attention and comment, and a few that will quench a powerful thirst. None of them has the appeal that writing about my cousin Guy's journey to a world championship held for me. I was a sportswriter before I went to grad school, and it's a pursuit that I love and missed, up until this event happened. It was also an incredibly dramatic moment amidst a year that was well-drenched in sporting achievements.
The thrill of this occasion and the sheer joy we all felt seeing my cousin pull over this amazing feat will always be special to me for these reasons and one more. That moment helped break through a pall in my life and was the jump-off point for a tremendous source of recreation and fun for me. That April 21st post was my first in several months and stands up as a powerful symbol for me.
I look forward to moving into 2009 and anticipate another rich year of subject matter to write about. Before we make that transition, I would like to give a word of thanks to those who have spent a few moments reading my prose. This is a public place and I'm grateful to anyone who should happen by and spend some time here. I hope to see you again many times in a healthy and happy 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

An Unbelievable Turnaround!

For those of you who have seen my profile, you'll note that alongside studying the Civil War (and I'll write about the dearth of recent ACW writings here tomorrow), inventing cocktails, and roasting coffee, I am an ardent Miami Dolphins fan. It's a tough road, being a Fins fan in California; there just aren't that many of us, and the last few years have been pretty gruesome.
Until this season. Until Sparano, the Wildcat, the Brown-Williams freight train, and (gasp) Pennington under center. Until the Miami Dolphins executed the greatest turnaround in NFL history to snatch the division title and send the hated Jets spinning into a dark offseason.
I intentionally didn't blog about the Dolphins after a post about Jason Taylor in the preseason. I wanted to see what happened and just try to be above it all. Now, after going 11-5, winning the division, and seizing a playoff berth on the last day of the season, I can let out my breath and say simply...
I don't care what happens on Sunday against Baltimore, this is the most memorable Dolphins season for me since 1984, when I was eight years old and was a brand new football fan watching Dan The Man slinging passes all over the field and right into the Super Bowl (the result of which we won't cover here, suffice it to say it's the reason that I dislike the 49ers more than any other professional sports franchise).
This is a team playing sports the way we're taught when we're kids: selfless, focused, energetic, committed. When you can do any activity where those tenets are paramount, great things can happen. When your team applies them week in and week out, you get to watch them go from 1-15 to the playoffs.
Well done Miami! This season will join the pantheon of great Dolphins teams, and regardless of this postseason, there is great hope for the future!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Touching Base And Providing Refreshments

Hello friends, hope everyone is having a happy and fulfilling holiday season thus far! It's been an energetic one here with births, family, trips, birthdays, lots of work and Hanukah preparations (remember to buy your books from local/independent bookstores)! So it follows that my blogging frequency has dipped a bit from my usual 5-7 posts per week.
I've finished Piston's book on Gen Longstreet, entitled "Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant", and am working through the themes of my review. As a little teaser trailer, this is one of the best studies of the Lost Cause and it's effects that I've yet read. We have some powerful and challenging issues to explore together.
This book has reinvigorated my desire to explore the Lost Cause, so my study of the Western Theater will wait until I finish Steven Budiansky's "The Bloody Shirt". I'm not a multiple-book-reader-at-the-same-time like some, so I have to stay focused. We've covered some important ground on this subject matter this year, so I'd like to do a year-end wrap of this blog's content.
Just so you don't go away thirsty, here's a little concoction I put together the other night. It received high praise from The Jess, so you know you're in business. It's a playful little interpretation of the gin and tonic, helps make sure that you get all of your medicine in one dose, quinine, vitamin C, everything. I'm assuming that as historians, we're all aware of how gin and tonic came together in the first place. Something to do with malaria...

Your Daily Dose
1.5 oz Tanqueray Ten
3 oz Schweppes tonic water
0.5 oz fresh squeezed orange juice
one strip mandarin orange peel
thick slice of kiwi fruit

Add gin and tonic to a Collins glass filled with ice, pour orange juice in next. Give gentle stir with stirring rod, then twist mandarin peel over top to release oils. Don't add peel itself to drink. Float kiwi slice on top of ice and enjoy. At the end of the drink, be sure to fish out the kiwi , it'll taste incredible!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My Mom Wrote a Book!

I'm very proud to write this post, because my Mom has written and published a book! It's called "Hair Pieces" and it's a compilation of the creative writing done by my Mom and the members of her writing class called Sonoma County Writing Practice. It's on the shelves at Copperfield's Books in Santa Rosa, so you can get your hands on this gem right now!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Who Killed General John Reynolds?

When The Jess and I made our foray to Gettysburg several years ago, she was immediately drawn to the story of Gen. John Reynolds and his death on the first day of the battle. We spent the bulk of our morning wandering through Reynolds Woods, talking with our guide and taking pictures. My wife became something of a Reynolds expert along the way, which is another reason why she is cool (consider this an addition to the list in the right column).
The cause of his death remains one of the battle's many mysteries, despite movies like "Gettysburg" showing a sniper picking Reynolds off at a distance. Fred Ray at TOCWOC provides us with an article that delves into this mystery in some detail, you can access it here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Book Review: "The Darkest Days of the War"

I launched into this book by Peter Cozzens as a continuation of my exploration of the fighting in the Western Theater. The campaigns conducted west of the Appalachians were incredibly complex, and the appellation "Western Theater" is wholly inadequate. I have a theory about why this oversimplification exists, but that'll be covered in another post.
Mr. Cozzens opens up the battles of Iuka and Corinth, fought in September/October, 1862, to the rigors of current historical method, and a rich mine they are. Long forgotten, these battles were a tipping point in the fighting in Mississippi in 1862, and aside from launching and ruining more than a few careers, opened the path towards Vicksburg for the Union Army.
The battles themselves were brutal, clumsy affairs marked by terrifyingly inept decisions made by personalities like Van Dorn, Price, Bragg, Rosecrans, Ord, and Grant. The conditions were ghastly-hot, with water and rations at a premium on both sides. The casualties relative to numbers of men engaged were unreal, and Cozzens brings us right into the thick of the fighting with a tremendous array of primary citations from fighting men on both sides.
Cozzens does a most solid job meeting the various requirements of a good campaign history, but really sets himself apart by using contextual analysis exceptionally well. A primary theme of this book is the pivotal nature of these comparatively small-scale battles and the tremendous consequences of their outcomes; Cozzens illustrates this theme well by wrapping this story into the larger issues of the concomitant Confederate invasions of Kentucky and Maryland. This way, we can easily fit the battles of Corinth and Iuka into the larger strategic picture.
There are also no punches pulled when it came to describing the ineptitude of commmanders at the top of both armies. Cozzens seems to take particular interest in showing the bizarre and foolhardy behavior of Confederate Gen. Earl Van Dorn, as well as presenting the genesis of the schism between Union Gen. William Rosecrans and Gen. Ulysses Grant.
I would have liked to have seen some more discussion about how the Union and Confederacy responded to these battles at the political and social level. Were they lost in the shuffle of Lee's defeat at Antietam and Bragg's retreat from Kentucky? Did the population of Mississippi reply with anger, resignation, frustration? This perspective of the aftermath of these campaigns is only minimally explored.
The battles of Iuka and Corinth had been mostly forgotten until "The Darkest Days of the War". This text provides us with a rigorous accounting of these struggles and helps remind the student of the Civil War of the tremendous tactical and strategic import of these clashes. If you wish to engage this subject matter, look no further than this book

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

20th Annual Antietam Battlefield Memorial Illumination

The 20th annual Antietam Battlefield Memorial Illumination ceremony took place this past weekend, with 23,110 candles lit at the battlefield to commemorate those killed, wounded, and missing in this gruesome fight 146 years ago.
What a striking and poignant way to remember the men that fought at Antietam. The photos you can view here capture the scope and scale of the fight, but also recognize the energy and fire of the individual.
Be sure to check Antietam Park Ranger Mannie Gentile's blog for more images of this year's celebration. You can also click here and here for more images and video clips.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Civil War News Wire

Civil War Interactive, one of the premiere clearinghouse sites for all things related to the Civil War, has just added a great new functionality, a Civil War newswire. It's done in blog form, so you can add it to your reader list. Click here to check it out.

The National Park Service, Slavery, And The Sesquicentennial

I mentioned the National Park Service in my post a few days ago about preparations by various organizations for the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. David Woodbury at "Of Battlefields and Bibliophiles" put up an article that illustrates how the NPS has been working on this issue since 1998, and how it started with a doozy; presenting slavery as a primary cause of the war at Civil War battlefield exhibits.
Mr. Woodbury has a very interesting statement in his post that has triggered some thoughts. He writes:
"I don’t get the controversy. It’s just history. The men who fought and died so bravely don’t need us to protect them from the politics of their day – they were unapologetic about it. And if not them, whom do we think we’re protecting? Confederate re-enactors?"
Let's unpack this paragraph together. I like the idea of history as something we can have some tranquility over, to come to the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in a place where all can learn, understand, and interpret an untrammeled accounting of this monumental event, good and bad. That's going to be quite a challenge, because a cornerstone of such a discourse is an agreement on the first principles of the history itself. That is something we don't have.
The next point he makes helps us remember why that schism exists. People were unapologetic about the politics of the era, yes, but the caveat is that as soon as that era ended, the apologias began, a phenomenon we have explored in our discussions of the origins of the Lost Cause mythology. When men like Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens surveyed the wreckage of the Confederacy they had helped build and lead, they systematically began to change their story to promote an alternative history, one where states rights supplanted slavery as a primary cause of secession and war, and one that took hold of the national consciousness and historiography for over 100 years.
The power that the Lost Cause mythology has on our memory of the Civil War, slavery, reconstruction, and race relations stretching up to the present is what, to help answer Mr. Woodbury's final question, is being protected. This is over a century of history-making and telling, of teaching and learning, that we're talking about here. The mythology of the Lost Cause, with its rationales, excuses, scapegoats, and heroes, is a much more palatable history for all of us to swallow when considering the debasement and savagery of the antebellum period, the war, and Reconstruction.
We have a responsibility; however, to study history honestly and objectively, regardless of whether the facts may be embarrasing, painful, even disgraceful to some. In order to do that with the Civil War, there are subjects that need to be revisited, difficult though it may be. With a fresh look at primary data, we can scrape away the obfuscation of the Lost Cause, and that's what the Civil War community has been seeing through successful works by McPherson, Gallagher, Foner, et al.
The community that sees and reads these works is small, but the sesquicentennial and the anticipated surge in public interest is going to explode the size of it. It will be an opportunity to undertake this reappraisal, not just in the halls of academia, but for the general public, for the neophyte, for the student who learned about the war decades ago and has their interest rekindled by this anniversary.
As they seek out information and education, it's good to know that things that are easily available and inexpensive, like battlefield tours and landmarks run by the NPS, will provide at least some measure of honesty and allow for more clear and integral understanding.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Coffee As Beverage, Gift, And Art

Sometimes I feel like coffee is the forgotten partner in this blog, given that I don't write about it as often as spirits and the Civil War. This paucity of narrative doesn't mean I don't love, drink, and roast it, and now I've got a few anecdotes to share.
I've had a few mishaps recently; the first was when working with a decaf bean that I badly over-roasted. First time that happened, and hopefully won't happen again. Blah, tasted like something from Starbucks: flabby, burnt, just nasty.
The next blunder was an experimentation with Qishr tea. This is a Yemeni invention, basically takes the coffee cherry husks, dries them, then you brew them in a French Press like a tea. How best to describe this brew?
When The Jess and I first tasted it she stated, quite deadpan, that it tasted "vegetably". I replied with "Bleegh" and, as my wife reminds me now, I let the beverage fall from my mouth into the sink.
This stuff sucked. Just because it grows in nature doesn't mean you have to drink it! I'm still irritated.
I cheered up when I roasted and tasted two of the beans that came in the same package as the Qishr debacle. I'm becoming a huge fan of peaberries, and the Guatemala Antigua Los Pastores Peaberry at a Full City roast was genius! Bright and sweet, almost refreshing. Very solid. The El Salvador Cup of Excellence Finca Malacara; however, stole the show by living up to its name and just blowing me away. At a City Plus roast, this was a full-bodied, rich and caramelly brew. One of the very best I've had.
I'm rolling along with this hobby, and have found many companions along the way. A fantastic coffee journey recently surfaced in the NY Times and features some brilliant coffee art; coffee impressions in napkins accented by some very clever narrative.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Two More Fantastic Civil War Blogs

I wonder if I'm the last guy to the party when I write about blogs I discover, but just in case you haven't read them yet:
First off is "Anti-Neo-Confederate", presented by Edward Sebesta. This blog joins nicely with the exploration of the Lost Cause mythology we've been working on here in that he sheds light on contemporary places and personalities that help foment this thinking. The University of Texas Press has published "Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction", to which Mr. Sebesta was a contributor. Yes, I'm buying it.
When you're done getting your blood pressure up, turn to Jim Schmidt's Civil War Medicine (and Writing) to mellow out. This blog has a great mix of themes as well as links to his various publications, including his book "Lincoln's Labels".

Happy Repeal Day!

Today being December 5th, we mark the 75th anniversary of the 21st Amendment, which marked the end of Prohibition and brought alcohol back onto our tables without risk of raid or crime, with Repeal Day. Dewar's is sponsoring celebrations all over the nation, so if you're in the mood, one of your local watering holes probably has 75 cent Dewar's specials on the menu. I'll be working, so my celebration will include no alcohol, but let me know what glass you raise to celebrate our right to enjoy the power of fermentation.
It's good when history, spirits, and the history of spirits comes together.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

San Diego Bar Review: Modus

So we're starting this new program of reviewing San Diego bars and those who make the drinks, and we're starting strong. Really strong. Modus strong. This fantastic establishment is run by mixologist Ariana Johnson and her husband and is built around bringing locally sourced, seasonal items to your plate and glass.
The Jess and I, along with Captain Sizzle and his new fiance The Amusing San Diegan, rolled into Modus with high hopes and I'm happy to say they were not only met, but exceeded. Ariana, who was recognized as one of the top 10 mixologists in America by Playboy magazine, rolled out the very best of the season, including "Winter Brew". This concoction presents whiskey, Licor 43 (a vanilla-flavored Spanish liquor), ginger ale, unfiltered apple juice, and some citrus, served tall.
The whiskey comes up front, with a hint of the vanilla, then your palate rolls through sweet ginger, and the apple juice hangs out at the finish. Even though it's ice-cold, this drink is a warming romp through the flavors of winter.
Check out this article in the San Diego Tribune which has a picture of this brilliant drink, ours came with a slice of fresh ginger as garnish, not lime, which was just perfect. If this wasn't enough, we got a complimentary round of her new invention, "Drunken Pumpkin". Fresh-roasted pumpkin, which is pureed, and that's all I'm going to say about that, though I'll add the glass is rimmed with a powdered sugar-nutmeg mixture.
There are several other drinks on the seasonal menu, which turns over every few months, but the standard menu hosts multiple other strokes of genius, including The Jess' favorite drink of all time, a cayenne-tinged tequila and passionfruit based elixir known as "Latina".
The bar area is perfect for a group of people to relax together (remember my birthday party?) and the full restaurant menu is available. They've got the music at just the right volume and the lighting at just the right brightness.
We're starting this new tradition of reviewing San Diego bars with a bang, because you will find the most creative, flavorful, enticing, and delicious drinks this city has to offer when you go to Modus

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Preparations For The Civil War Sesquicentennial

OK, so it's been a few days since I last posted here, let's see if I remember how to do this...
I'm still engrossed in Cozzens' "Darkest Days of the War" as part of my study of the Western Theatre, and the going is a bit slower than usual. Not to worry, because though I'm not ankle-deep in Lost Cause writings (good stuff coming up on that theme in the future), there is a new thread for us to pick up and see where it leads.
The Civil War sesquicentennial is just a few year years away, so today I decided to see where the preparations for this milestone stand. At both the Federal and state level, there seems to be some signs of life. There's a House Resolution to establish a commission to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. There's also the National Park Service's "Sesquicentennial Initiative", which looks to be staggering out of the gate.
It's not just some Federal bodies, either. A few states have launched their own committees and commissions, check here, here, and here for see for yourself. There are two striking items to note here: only three states seem to have enough of an act together to have an internet presence, and secondly, all are former Confederate states.
Do Northern states not care as much? Are all of the other states just biding their time? We'll have to see. It'll also be interesting to see where all of these resolutions, initiatives, and steering committees end up, not the least because of the crushing economic pressures all must be feeling, but also when faced with the myriad challenges of presenting and remembering the war in a sober, honest, and comprehensive fashion.

Civil War Battlefield Preservation Versus Wal-Mart

Despite the size of the Wal-Mart juggernaut, the fight to preserve the Wilderness battlefield continues. Click here for the pertinent article and an odd movie pairing. It's pretty wonderful that there are people that remain so dedicated to this effort. I can imagine how daunting it must be taking on an unscrupulous behemoth like Wal-Mart, and yet this voice continues to be heard. I was unable to find specifics on how these efforts are going, so if anyone has more data, please share.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Touring Battlefields With Two Thousand Dollars Worth Of Booze!

If you enjoy reading James McPherson's books, touring battlefields, learning about the Battle of Shiloh and/or Abraham Lincoln, and doing all of this with $2,000 worth of wine, beer, and Scotch, then this might be the single-most enjoyable article the NY Times has ever published and you have ever read. Honestly, it's like the writer of this article thought "how can I write the perfect article for The Tipsy Historian?" and then went ahead and cranked it out. Fantastic!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

145 Years Ago, The Anniversary Of The Gettysburg Address

President Abraham Lincoln gave what is probably the most famous speech in American History 145 years ago at the dedication of the cemetery at the Gettysburg battlefield
Thanks to my Madre for finding this segment about these immortal 272 words on the Writer's Almanac. Just select "Wednesday, November 19th" for the entry.
Here's a link to the Library of Congress exhibition with all the stuff you need: full text of the speech, the only known photo of President Lincoln at Gettysburg, details on preservation techniques, and more.
Now that you don't have to memorize it or present it in front of the class, take a minute and read the speech on your own terms and derive your own meaning from this magnificent oration.

Current Events Reprised

In the midst of endless headlines about various economic bailout strategies, I happened upon some news of a different bailout. Turns out the records of one Colin McRae were recently unearthed and disgorged a wealth of imformation about the English and French bailout of the Confederacy in 1863.
Along with bailout headlines are the endless speculations about the personalities and motivations of various potential members of President-elect Obama's Cabinet. This narrative fits closely with the Obama-Lincoln parallels, and this LA Times editorial sounds a warning about packing too many rivals into one's cabinet, especially those who may have their own aspirations to the Oval Office.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Book Review: "Isn't This Glorious!"

When I was putting together my lecture to the San Diego Civil War Roundtable last month about the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, or Harvard Regiment, at Gettysburg, I happened upon a text I had not known existed. Prior to my discovery of "Isn't This Glorious!" by Edwin Root and Jeffrey Stocker, I thought my library had all of the pertinent materials I needed.
As soon as this book arrived in the mail from the publisher, I knew I had been mistaken, as this book had a treasure trove of new photos and personalities to examine. It was put to use as a resource, and after the lecture, I've gone back and read it as it is supposed to be; a treatment of the 15th, 19th, and 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiments at Gettysburg that will bring their memory up to an equal level with other, more celebrated forces that participated in the battle.
There is no shortage of books providing analysis of various regiments and their exploits at this most famous of American battles; "Isn't This Glorious!" is particularly unique because it's investigation does not end with the battle or even the war's conclusion.
The first part of the book introduces us to the men of the regiments, the bloody paths that brought them to Gettysburg, and focuses us in on the essential role they played in the battle: the sealing of the southern portion of the Confederate breathrough at the Copse of Trees. The detail is tremendous, as the fighting is told straight from the eyes and mouths of the men, and not just the officers, either. We learn about the brutal dealings from the rank and file, brought out in vivid and anxious detail. There is also no shortage of photos of the men from whom we are hearing, so we can almost see their faces through the battlesmoke.
The fighting in this small section of the battlefield was just as chaotic as it was pivotal, and the tension provided by the authors as the men surge towards the Confederates at the Copse of Trees is palpable. Bringing this home in a more tangible form are some of the best battle maps I've seen. These foldout pages do not present the battle as a whole, but the the small piece of the action these regiments took part in. The value and uniqueness of these maps comes in their kinetic ability to show the lines of the regiments move from a disciplined front on Cemetery Ridge to a mob charging north towards the Copse of Trees. The Confederate forces have no marking at all, they come forward in the maps as a ravening horde, an irresistable tide plunging toward the Union forces.
The actual detail of the battle I'll leave to you, but this little-discussed segment of the battle, fought just below the Copse of Trees by men with carbines, pistols, swords, and bare hands, will leave you quite shaken.
The second section of the book takes us on a journey quite unique in the regimental histories pertaining to Gettysburg. After we spend much time investing in the men and their sacrifices, the authors take us through the sometimes sordid history of the monuments placed on the field to commemorate these sturdy men. In this portion, we see how this story became almost lost in contemporary Gettysburg history and how the men of these regiments faded from memory.
The historiography of the Civil War is spoken of frequently in this space, and this section of the book is an example of historiography at the highest level. We are walked through events that occurred over decades and shown how decisions were made and how they have influenced our current conceptions of the battle. There was quite a struggle over these regiments, and I learned, quite to my dismay, that the marker of the Harvard Regiment on the field today is in the wrong place! This story is a perfect example of how the reality of the past is frequently altered subject to the exigencies of the present.
As the various markers and monuments are shuffled around, it can become difficult to follow. We are well-served by the map that shows the previous and current locations of the structures, as well as another collection of photos of the site as well as the monuments themselves.
The stroke of genius in this book is in its ability to remind us why we care about these monuments and showing how closely the men whom they represent were so closely tied to them after the war. It's clear why these monuments maintain a hold on our imagination and why the pictures in the book are so evocative.
At the book's end, the author's stated goal, to elevate the memory of these Massachusetts men back to a level field with the more celebrated units that fought at the Copse of Trees and repulsed Pickett's Charge, is fully realized. In closing, we are reminded by the authors just what these men dealt with not only to achieve victory, but also to survive the sometimes tragic lives that awaited them after the war. The diary entry of one James Tenney, an enlisted man in the 15th Mass. as pertaining to the battle, is a telling conclusion to this story.
You will undoubtedly close this book with saddened eyes and a newfound appreciation for these men who helped win the battle of Gettysburg. If you have any interest in this battle or in Massachusetts regiments, this book will be an asset to your learning. Best of all, you can acquire it and still remain faithful to our commitment to supporting independent booksellers. I refer you please to the book's website, where you can order directly from the publisher.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A New San Diego Cocktail Tradition

I was reading the NY Times recently (available for free online) when I happened upon a most interesting article about the surge in NYC bars that focus on the subtle and artistic approach to making truly fine and unique cocktails. An interesting article, to be sure, but not much help to me, living in San Diego.
Then came the epiphany! I'm going go out and write the same article, but focusing on San Diego establishments. I, with The Jess at my side, propose to hit up a selection of bars with a known amount of cocktail prowess as well as some that may until now, have flown under the radar.
This is definitely designed to be a community activity, so, friends of the Tipsy Historian, make yourselves heard! I need suggestions on bars and bartenders, and I'll post when we intrepid mixologists will make our way to any specific place.
I've even established a new post label: "San Diego bar reviews" and all further posts on this subject will have this designation. Just like I review books, it's time to start reviewing places where we can get a first class cocktail!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Ongoing Discussion About Civil War Combat Art

I really enjoy writing these posts and leaving comments on the writing of others, and the discourse about Civil War art on a few different blogs has certainly fed it. While it would be a blast to have these conversations in person over a cup of coffee or a cocktail, given that those two subjects are also a large part of what I write about, we will make do.
The range of opinions is clearly quite broad, but there is certainly no shortage of sentiment about the lack of violence in ACW combat art. Given some of the opinions I've read, especially in the comments on Cenantua's blog, I wish to further my discussion.
I am not calling for the work of Troiani, Kunstler et al to be censored or purged from the market. I am asking for a more honest acknowledgment of what they are putting on the market as to whether it is accurate and realistic or not. If it is felt not to be, we should not acknowledge it as such. The choice belongs to us as consumers.
This art has a profound effect on our memory and understanding of the Civil War, and there is enough work to be done clearing up what really happened in our country after the comprehensive obfuscation of the Lost Cause mythology. We do have the opportunity to control what is regarded as realistic and correct in what we buy and sell as pertaining to the war, and must be honest in that appraisal.
While the works of these artists are undoubtedly accurate when it comes to location, uniforms, etc, they are equally inaccurate when it comes to depicting the realities of combat. Of course no one wants to buy a picture that shows bleeding and shattered men all over the place, but we cannot have it both ways. I would be most interested to know how these artists reconcile this disconnect and am curious as to whether it has even occurred to them.
This is an issue of some import, as we will see a larger and wider interest in the Civil War over the next few years as we approach the sesquicentennial. We are, therefore, in a unique position to help present the war as accurately as possible, to turn away from the techniques employed by Jubal Early and those who crafted a more palatable mythology to the detriment of historical record.
Make no mistake, Civil War combat art that excludes the brutality of war places as opaque a lens over the eye of history that anything Early or Douglas Southall Freeman could have written. To help lift that lens, we must have a higher expectation of paintings that we describe as "realistic" and "accurate". If they are to represent reality, we must insist that they are exactly that, or else not apply that adjective to them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Excellent Discussions About Civil War Combat Art

It was quite serendipitious that my post of yesterday discussing Civil War combat art came right near the same time as some other posts came online. There was also some good conversation last night at military-discussion.com/The debate has been quite lively, please avail yourself of posts at Cenantua's Blog and Civil War Memory. The richness of the conversation can be found in the comments section of each post. Please chime in here or at any of the other posts if you have thoughts.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembering Our Veterans With Accuracy And Respect: Why It's Time For A Moratorium On Civil War Combat Art

Today is the day that we remember our Veterans, and take a moment to give respect to their commitment and sacrifice. In this space, we consider how we have and continue to remember the American Civil War. Which brings us to the substance of this post, wherein I wish to again posit a criticism of the use of Civil War combat as a form of consumer art, especially when that work is given credit for "realism". I refer you please to my previous post on the subject where the work of Don Troiani, one of the most prolific ACW artists, was discussed.
The utter lack of reality within this medium resurfaced during the recent book chat on "Harvard's Civil War" a text with Troiani's "Fire on Caroline Street" on the cover. I brought this issue up in the chat given we were discussing the 20th Massachusetts Regiment's experience at the Battle of Fredericksburg. I presented my take on the complete absence of trauma or blood and mentioned this glaring lack of accuracy and candor in Troiani's work. Several of the people in the chat mentioned how they'd never noticed that before.
Somehow in the 147 years since the Civil War, amidst the mythologizing and glorifying, we've forgotten what a brutal and gruesome experience this was for the men who fought it. At some point, the reality of Civil War combat has given way to something that is acceptable to hang on the wall of someone's home. We've neglected, or perhaps chosen to consciously ignore or subconsciously block out, the grim realities that faced soldiers and civilians on Civil War battlefields.
This type of treatment is not so widely seen with other American wars. For example, The Jess and I did a Google and EBay search for artwork about the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944. There is a minute commercial market for such work, which demonstrates that it isn't, and by extension shouldn't, be roundly accepted. Too many people remember exactly what happened that day, and our memories of it are too stark and raw to be dumbed down like that.
So how come this sort of art is acceptable with regards to the Civil War? These paintings, and many others, are praised for their accuracy and bought and sold as commodities. They depict famous battle moments, to be sure, but the most salient point is that men, in the moments that are so memorable, also bled, suffered, and died on those spots. I do not believe the best way to remember what happened there is through this type of sanitized glorification of something truly awful.
The citizenry during the war, especially after the Battle of Shiloh, knew exactly what was happening. They were the first citizens to see the brutal reality of war through the camera lens, and communities were flooded with the wounded, and cemeteries filled with the dead. There were of course contemporary artist renderings of Civil War fighting, most from journalists and troops who witnessed fighting. This art, while certainly not as refined as Mr. Troiani's, pulled no punches when it came to showing destruction and death. You may be sure these depictions weren't getting slapped up on the walls of private homes.
There was no hiding from the realities of war in 1861-1865, and the Civil War should have been a seminal event in the way we think about war, one that would hopefully discourage us from ever wanting to see another. Somehow, this didn't happen. There is indeed a disconnect between the way we choose to think about Civil War combat and what actually transpired, and it is fed by this sort of pulp art that is only selectively correct and maximally palatable, but certainly not reality.
We have a responsibility to remember what soldiers in our wars have done, and we must emphasize the requirement that we do this honestly. It is not only inaccurate, but dishonest to continue to present Civil War combat in the way that we have become used to. To help cement my point, I give you some words from Mr. Troiani himself, quoted from www.historicalartprints.com:
"If an historical painting is not reasonably accurate, then it's worthless both as art and as a historical document," Troiani declares. "If you are going to become involved in this field then there is little excuse for a pattern of inaccuracies."
Couldn't have said it better myself.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What Can Barack Obama Learn From Abraham Lincoln About Being President-Elect

After hearing James McPherson lecture about his new book, I found this article from the Chicago Tribune from November 9th. Dr. McPherson and Harold Holzer, another Lincoln scholar answered a few questions about lessons that can be derived from Abraham Lincoln about how to use the time as President-elect to your benefit. It's quite good, could have been a bit longer, but still interesting.

James McPherson On Virtual Book Signing

I just finished watching the anticipated (at least by me) interview of Dr. James McPherson on virtualbooksigning.net. He was discussing his new book "Tried by War". What a blast it was, listening in and taking notes along the way to set up this post and also to help cement some of the salient points for my upcoming period of study of President Lincoln. I figure I'll start sometime late next year and into the next in anticipation of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's election.
So whither McPherson and his new book? The impetus behind this book was the idea that little attention has been paid to Lincoln as commander-in-chief. He spoke about how Lincoln spent inordinate amounts of time studying, evaluating, and prosecuting the war, and how his process as commander in chief mirrored the way he both became and worked as an attorney.
Lincoln was not a great natural strategist, he had to work hard at it, just like he was a self-taught attorney. He spent time reading and cross-examining those around him who were knowledgeable, he could probe to depths of an issue and get to its essence, then utilize probably his greatest strength, his ability to communicate these complex ideas to any person at any level, from his own cabinet to far-flung regions of the Union.
In this effort, Lincoln not only satisfied his stated war aims, but extended the powers of the Executive branch and helped define the idea of war powers. In fact, he was the first president to ever use that term.
It's pretty amazing listening to Dr. McPherson discuss Lincoln and the Civil War. He clearly has an unparalleled command of the subject and also happens to have a great speaking voice. It is little wonder he is such a highly sought-after speaker and professor.
Virtual Book Signing and the Abraham Lincoln Bookstore did a fantastic job presenting this lecture, and of course my signed copy is in the mail. I also think I saw Mr. Triathlon's name in the list of patrons who bought a signed copy of the book. I ordered mine yesterday, so my order fell in the "many others" category. Anyway, if you missed it, it should be archived soon and available for free.

More Analysis Of "The Peculiar Institution"

I reviewed Kenneth Stampp's seminal treatment of slavery, titled "The Peculiar Institution" here several months ago. I'm pleased to see Rene Tyree, who runs Wigs-Wags, one of the best ACW blogs out there, reading and considering this book. Please take a look at his new post about it, the comment that I entered is below. I'm keen to see his response and please chime in on this issue whether you've read the book or not.
"I was struck, when I read the book, how Stampp used the work “positive” to describe those incentives. I don’t think it was for lack of a better term, I think he used it in a tongue-in-cheek manner. He knew full well how disgraceful it was to treat another human being like this, but managed to keep such editorial comment out of his book, which is one of it’s strengths. In using the word “positive”, I think he’s venting a little bit to show how there’s nothing at all positive about slavery"

Friday, November 7, 2008

Book Review: "Shiloh: Bloody April"

In writing a campaign history about the Battle of Shiloh, author Wiley Sword, in "Shiloh: Bloody April" has tackled an incredibly complex battle that took place on a massive scale with far-reaching repercussions. The primary one being the fact, because of the nearly 24,000 casualties and savage nature of the fighting, forever changed the way this nation looked at war.
Sword has done an excellent, though not flawless job of presenting this campaign to the reader. We get a solid introduction to the events preceding the battle and the how and why the opposing forces came together as they did. Each of the primary officers involved; Johnson, Bragg, Beauregard, Grant, Sherman, Buell, get an adequate treatment that is clearly foreshortened for the sake of brevity. The text is well-balanced and liberally sprinkled with references from both sides of the battle lines. There is a wonderful grasp of the themes surrounding the campaign, and they are laid out in a clear and concise fashion.
The book ended with a series of individual questions that address all of the important issues: Beauregard's withdrawal order the night of April 6th, the death of General Albert Johnson, who was the commanding officer for the South at Shiloh, with both the short and long-term consequences addressed, the fighting at the Hornet's Nest and the possibility of a Confederate breakthrough, Grant's attack order of April 7th, and, interestingly, a section entitled "Tactical Lessons of the Battlefield." This last one was truly unique, and left me wanting a much longer treatment of this issue.
The strength of the book, and the reason it is regarded as a classic treatment of the Battle of Shiloh, is Sword's ability to put the reader right in the midst of the battle amidst the noise, chaos, and violence. We vividly see how the troops were by-in-large inexperienced, the terrain was by turns rocky, swampy, flat, forest, shrub-covered, all the while split by ravines, the weather was marked by torrential rain, and the fighting was up close, personal, and particularly savage. Sword does not sanitize the battle and does not shy away from the blood and death, with the effect of reminding us, over and over again, that there is no glory in such destruction and that what the troops had to go through is just unforgettably horrible.
Shiloh was a hellish place, and the battlefield was unbelievably confused. In order to follow such a battle, the text is not enough. All of the names, terrain points, regiments, etc get jumbled together without a frame of reference. The solution is to have accurate, consistent, and plentiful maps. The maps in this book, however, are its biggest weakness. First, there is no single battlefield reference map with all of the locations and initial troop dispositions available to look back at. There is a map at the beginning, but it's totally incomplete. The maps are inconsistent, ie, the notations change from division to brigade to regimental level. Also, when looking at different parts of the lines on a map, everything else is excluded, so it looks like the action is happening in a vacuum.It takes a bit of flipping back and forth, which is at times frustrating, but the ebb and flow of the battle can be followed.
This battle was a national catastrophe that shocked the people of both North and South, both in its scale and its brutality. After Shiloh, there was no argument that this was going to be a long and difficult war. Sword's effort does a fantastic job of capturing the broad scale of the campaign, as well as the horror of the fighting at its most basic level. This is not a flawless regimental history, but "Shiloh: Bloody April" gets a strong recommendation. You will come away not only with a greatly enhanced fund of knowledge about this campaign, but also with a heavy heart.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What Makes A Good Campaign History Book?

There is another fascinating piece to the Lost Cause mythology that we will soon be examining, and that is the emphasis that was and still is placed on the war in the Eastern Theater with the primary combatants being the Union Army of the Potomac vs the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. To the detriment of this bias has been attention to the fighting and events that took place in the Western Theater, which encompasses the Trans-Mississippi and Tennessee Departments (among others) of both North and South. I have a solid background in the battles in the West, but not on par with my knowledge of the fighting in the East. To remedy this, I have lined up a nice array of campaign histories which I will review as I work through them, the first of which is Wiley Sword's "Shiloh, Bloody April" which I recently finished and will review soon. To follow are works by Peter Cozzens and Noah Alan Trudeau, among others. There are multiple requirements to satisfy in crafting a complete and accurate campaign history. Here are a few which we'll be using in our analysis of these books.
1. establishing a good context for how the battle came upon the opposing forces, and what the goals of each army where for the campaign.
2. providing a succinct introduction into the personalities leading each force, their idiosyncracies, motivations, foibles, etc.
3. having plenty of accurate, detailed, and readable battle maps to follow the flow of the action, otherwise the regiments, brigades, landmarks, rivers, etc become one big jumble in the text.
4. presenting a complete order of battle as an appendix, to figure out which element was under who, and what the chain of command looked like.
5. giving a view into the common soldier's view of the fighting, ie, put the reader on the ground with the men in the smoke and fire. It's one thing to read a general's after-action report, but the real emotion and power comes in learning about how young men bore up under such extreme and terrifying circumstances.
6. balance, balance, balance. There must be equal attention paid to both sides. A good campaign history should be neither trumpeting the victors nor an apologia for the losers. These battles are so complex, it's importance that the errors and bravery on both sides have a moment of clarity.
7. having a clear presentation of the aftermath of the campaign; were aims met, was anything in particular precipitated by the action, where would the armies go from there.
Keeping these properties in mind will help give a foundation for analysis in moving forward with these texts; I know there are probably other thoughts, please add them by putting in a comment.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Post-Election Refreshments Courtesy of Imbibe Magazine

Leave it to the bright and creative minds at Imbibe Magazine to give us some brilliant refreshment choices to help us celebrate the election of President-elect Obama, or at the very least, the end of this grueling campaign season. If you taste them, pass on your thoughts, and I'll have some new recipes of my own to pass along soonest.

A Good Day Yesterday

Yesterday's events were marvelously special, and President-elect Obama's speech was something to see indeed! Given that the study of the Civil War is an engrossing interest of mine, I've been drawn to seeking parallels between this election season and those from 1860. They're not hard to find, as I along with many other authors and bloggers have opined.
I have also long-enjoyed referencing the erudite writings of Tom Friedman from the NY Times, and in a fascinating sychronicity, Mr. Friedman and the links between this election and the Civil War merged last night. Please spend some time here reflecting on the idea that the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States marks an endpoint of the Civil War.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Lost Cause Mythology: Evaluating The Stonewall Jackson Orthodoxy

We spent a few lines last week meeting the General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson of myth and lore, and he is a powerful figure in American memory to say the least. Redressing these ideas is a bit of a challenge, not because of a paucity of data, but because of the strong feelings that are evoked when men like Jackson, Gen. Robert E Lee, et al get a proper historical treatment. Nevertheless, we shall go forward undaunted. There are themes we will discuss that deserve, and have received, book-length treatments; I include them here briefly to add depth to our discussion, if you want more info on any particular point, I would be happy to direct you to any number of resources.
First, a few bits of background. Jackson was born in Virginia and lived there until he went to West Point. He grew up with slaves and later became a slaveowner himself. Per author James Robertson, Jackson believed in the divine assignment of negroes to servitude as his rationalization for keeping humans in bondage. He fought for the United States in the Mexican-American War and was an instructor at VMI when the Civil War broke out. In that moment, he turned his back on the nation he had previously fought and killed for and joined the Confederate Army, where he would become the Stonewall Jackson we read about today.
On his effectiveness as a soldier in the Eastern Theater, there is no dispute that he was bold, aggressive, and sometimes brilliant. He led his troops into the Union rear to capture the Army of Virginia's supply depot before the Battle of Second Bull Run in August, 1862. His flank attack at Chancellorsville still remains his most famous maneuver, and is held in wide esteem.
He could also be neglectful, tardy, and foolish, and his abuses of his men are well-documented. His inability to effectively fight along with his near catastrophic tardiness during the Seven Days Campaign also cannot be disputed. On balance, Jackson was a very effective battlefield commander, but was by no means perfect.
Jackson the man was also an incredibly bizarre and not uncommonly cruel man. It is hard to believe he didn't have Body Dysmorphic Disorder, as he was convinced one leg was shorter than the other, he insisted on only sitting in straight-backed chairs to keep his organs aligned, and he rode with one arm in the air so the blood would drain out of it.
His own troops were subjected to his more brutal idiosyncracies; men who fell out on marches were arrested and often punished, frequently by flogging, sometimes by execution, but Jackson himself was not held to this standard as he rode a horse next to his hard-marching troops, and when he fell asleep and failed to follow orders during the Seven Days Battle, received no censure.
So with this decidedly mixed service history, why was Jackson, among so many other Confederate officers, singled out for legend status. Let us turn to the nickname "Stonewall" as a guide. At the Battle of First Bull Run, Jackson was a brigadier general under Gen Barnard Bee, and during the fighting around Henry House Hill and Matthews Hill, brought his troops up near the front. When Bee saw this brigade, which he had just ordered to move up into the fight, he reportedly said "There stands Jackson and his men, like a stone wall."
There is no way to know exactly what Bee meant when he said this, as he was shot and killed later that day, but at least one witness to the conversation and Bee's statement later said "I'm not the least sure Gen. Bee's remark was meant as a compliment." Questions remain today about Jackson's conduct that earned this sobriquet, and whether it was to be derisive or complimentary. As David Detzer writes in his book "Donnybrook", Jackson's "performance at Bull Run was actually no more courageous or resolute or dogged or unyielding than that of dozens of other officers on both sides." (pg 339)
Regardless, Jackson had a catchy new name, and with it, he went forth into the Shenandoah Valley in the spring of 1862 and proceeded to, in a series of small battles and brutal forced marches, muddle up and defeat three different larger Union forces. (Keep in mind, please, about the admitted bias of the previous treatment of this battle by Tanner). Through these efforts, he garnished headlines and newspapers seized on the memorable nickname he carried, regardless of its origin.
This period of time was a difficult one for the Confederacy on all fronts. At sea, the Union blockade was beginning to strangle Southern shipping and, in the first battle of ironclad warships, the Monitor had been thwarted by the U.S.S. Merrimac. In the Eastern Theater, the Army of the Potomac was launching the Peninsula Campaign, and in the West, the Confederacy was being rapidly overrun with the advance of Grant's army and the Union's chain of victories culminating at Shiloh on April 6th, 1862. The commercial centers of Nashville and New Orleans, as well as large stretches of the Mississippi River were under Union control.
The Confederacy needed a boost and the beleaguered state of Virginia needed someone to rally behind (keeping in mind that Jackson was the highest ranking Virginian in the field as Lee was still behind a desk in Richmond), and in a strike of serendipity, Jackson was leading his men into the Valley and winning battle after battle.
Any potential pejorative connotation from Bee's appellation was forgotten, and this nickname "Stonewall" was thrust into the headlines. As Detzer wrote, "The Confederacy needed heroes. There was also the subtle matter of state pride...Virginians wanted a favorite son of their own." (pg 339) The nickname took hold over the next months, and Jackson rapidly became a favorite son of the Confederacy.
His star was at its apex when he was accidentally shot by his own men during the Battle of Chancellorsville, just hours after his famed flank attack, and died 8 days later. From there the idealization reached higher and higher, and after the war, was used at the expense of fellow Confederate officers who suffered reverses. One of the most prominent of these is General Robert Ewell at Cemetery Hill at the 1st day of Gettysburg, and the controversy over whether Jackson would have charged the Union emplacement and thus won the day for the Confederacy.
Another is the treatment that befell General James Longstreet after the war, which will be covered in a future post.
On one hand in this mythology is the brilliance of the dead Jackson, on the other hand is the besmirching and discrediting of Longstreet (just look at his bizarre monument at Gettysburg to see the culmination of this) The irony is that Longstreet was also shot by his own men at the Battle of the Wilderness. The difference is, he survived his wound, which begs the question if whether in death Jackson escaped the sort of scrutiny that Longstreet received. The post-war treatment of Longstreet is a long and baffling story, please see Piston's "Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant" for more.
Because of his successful campaigns and untimely death, Jackson was not only made into a figurehead for the army and an idealized soldier but also as the paragon representative of Virginia and the Southern cause. Attention was not paid to the way he treated his own men or his near-disastrous failings at the Seven Days Battle, nor to his bizarre personality. The South needed heroes and men to rally behind; Jackson became that man.
This idealization has only been amplified over the past decades, especially through the writings of Freeman, Tanner, and more recently, Robertson, who wrote in 1997 that Jackson's efforts should "remain treasured legacies of the American people just as they are inspirations to people everywhere." It also continues in popular culture, most vividly in the depiction of Jackson in the movie "Gods and Generals" If you haven't seen it yourself, believe me when I say all that was missing was a halo around his head. It is also this idealized Jackson that is painted onto canvas, plates, t-shirts, etc. and enthusiastically purchased by fans.
It is clear; however, that when the whole man is examined, that the time for this era has passed, Jackson was a man who owned slaves and used religion as an excuse for it, turned against the uniform he had once worn proudly, and, though a oft-successful battlefield commander, frequently treated the men who made his reputation like dogs.
We should not continue to subscribe to the hero-worship borne of the Lost Cause mythology. We must treat Confederate officers like Jackson and Lee, (as well as their Union counterparts) with respect, and part of that is to be honest about who they were and what they did; acknowledging their strengths, but also to their flaws. In that spirit, we can appreciate Stonewall Jackson's frequent, but not constant, tactical success, but we must free ourselves of the ideas of him as a paragon of virtue, an icon of devotion, and as any sort of hero, for they are neither earned nor deserved.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Housekeeping And Some Great Blogs

As I have received some much-appreciated attention from a few esteemed fellow bloggers, I am excited to return the favor in kind. I thoroughly enjoy being a part of this community, and take great pride in being able to recognize stellar work as I come across it.
I direct you first, please, to a blog called Wig-Wags. This work is presented by Rene Tyree, a grad student at American Military University who is focusing on the Civil War. I love what I do for a living and loved my graduate education, but that does sound like fun. Anyway, if you want a comprehensive walk through the causes of the war among a host of other choices, not the least of which are the stellar book reviews, then you must turn here.
For a plentitude of book reviews (he's reading Glatthaar's "Everyman's War"), and news stories, get to Civil War Librarian.
Jim Beeghley (now Dr. Jim Beeghley, well done) runs a blog called Teaching The Civil War With Technology. This sort of effort is going to be a cornerstone in helping focus people's interests in learning about the war, disseminating information, and furthering research. Spend some time looking at the picture in the title bar, I love it! The Google Time Line Feature is pretty sweet, too.
Other bits and pieces...
-I may be able to deliver my lecture on the 20th Massachusetts Regiment at Gettysburg two more time next year; to the Orange County Roundtable and the Inland Empire Roundtable. I'm very excited about these opportunities, just need to get the dates to jibe.
-The Civil War Network is unfortunately down due to equipment issues, but fortunately not out. Can't wait for it to get back online
-This Sunday is chapters 7-8 of Miller's "Harvard's Civil War" at Civil War Interactive's book chat. It's an amazing book, and a cornerstone of research for my aforementioned lecture, and the conversation has been quite lively. It's free to participate.
-I've read and posted all of the comments that have been coming in, thanks and keep 'em coming!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

We Live In Interesting Times!

Image sourced from Andrew Sullivan's site, The Daily Dish. Referral from Civil War Memory

Studying The Lost Cause Mythology Is Getting Popular!

I'm thrilled with the response that my posts about the Lost Cause mythology are starting to get, and the comments are fantastic. I've decided to provide a series of links to previous posts for easy use for people to start at the beginning of this program. You can, of course, also click on the "Lost Cause" link in the right sidebar.
For sake of ease, I'm only going to list the primary posts in this discussion, but I encourage everyone to scroll through the Lost Cause catalog, I'm sure some of the other musings will grab your interest, and don't forget the book reviews.
Please enjoy, and comments are welcome and encouraged. I'll get them posted with a response as soon as possible!

-this post has links to three previous posts and a summary of what we're going to work through
-the mythology surrounding Robert E Lee is covered here
-you may have noticed that I like to encourage readers to think about how they were taught about various events and personalities in the war, so we can compare what we learned and how we remember with what really happened. This post examines a video clip where I examine how this occurs.
-there are many reasons why the Lost Cause mythology emerged, not the least of which was that rigorous historical method and modern research techniques were either not available or not brought to bear. In this post, all of that begins to change, thanks to the work of Dr. Joseph Glattaar.
-here we begin our discussion of Stonewall Jackson

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Best Voting Experience Ever!

I'm on call on Election Day this year, so no going to the polling place for me. I got my absentee ballot in the mail and sat down a few nights ago to fill it out. I have an election ritual where I sit down with mailed resources and the computer for online info to work through various local, state, and federal voting items that I'm not yet familiar with/decided upon.
This is one of my favorite parts of voting; taking my time, being deliberate, and ensuring that my choices are accurate. Trouble was, this year I forgot to do it.
I was so excited to get into my ballot and start filling in bubbles, I made the expected and obvious mistake on one of the state propositions, thus spoiling my ballot and my night. I couldn't feel good about sending in a flawed ballot. My vote counts, and I have a responsibility to make it right. Oh, my frustration boiled out!
Until The Jess stepped in.
As I sat grousing over my mistake I was reminded by my wife not to worry about it. "Why?" I asked, and she again reminded me that, in our democratic system, you can take a mulligan. Well, that made me take a moment to reflect! What a wonderfully flexible and forgiving voting method I was participating in. What a brilliant way to keep people involved and make them feel empowered. This decision-making process is for us, and we get to complete it, come hell or high water.
I slept easy that night knowing that I had could just cruise down to the Registrar of Voters and exchange my spoiled ballot for a new one. No sweat.
But this story, already empowering and wonderful, is not over, because I went to the Registrar yesterday morning and came face to face with something truly special.
The parking lot: chock full. The line: out the door. The patrons: both genders, all different ages, races, accents. The attitude: excited and kinetic. The workers behind the counter: busy but pleasant, helpful, and accommodating to a person. Unreal!
This place was literally chock-a-block with voters waiting to cast their ballot, get absentee ballots, or like me, exchange a spoiled ballot. I overheard one staff member say they had stayed open until midnight on the day voter registration closed, another staff member say they were going to be open all this week and next until everyone had been served, including the weekend.
I did not hear a single voter request turned down, every need was filled either right then and there, or the patron was told exactly what they needed to do to vote on time.
I'm a pretty pragmatic, level-headed cat who doesn't get too sucked into hype and hoopla. I can say; however, that what I saw and participated in this morning is why our country is such a remarkable place. Empowered people participating in a system that is clearly there to facilitate their action. This dynamic is why we can all be confident in our nation's ability to deal with issues; an activated and engaged populace with a government there to help is an irresistible force, and it was truly amazing to see it in action today!
Now, my replacement ballot is correctly filled out and in the mail, my "I Voted" sticker is on, and my voice will be heard on November 4th!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Another Strong Gettysburg Blog With Tons Of Pictures

Like Gettysburg365.com, which I found a few weeks ago, Gettysburg Daily puts up a near-daily image set from Gettysburg. I was instantly hooked when I found the Little Round Top during the change of seasons. It's a fun project working through their archives, that's for sure. They even have a series of pictures of Gettysburg witness trees, click here to see for yourself.
Also, I have a few words of wisdom and insight from Tom Friedman from Sunday's NY Times

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Lost Cause Mythology: Challenging The Stonewall Jackson Orthodoxy

We have spent some time here addressing the hagiography surrounding Robert E Lee and attempting to critically analyze some of it, but he is most certainly not the only revered and celebrated Confederate officer in the Lost Cause pantheon. There is also one Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, a man remembered in large parts of the country as a warrior-hero, brilliant leader, and stalwartly devout man who, before his death in May, 1863, was a primary cause for Confederate success. At least, that's what I was taught in school (and I bet you were too), as well as being what was and still is preached throughout many parts of the Civil War community. From the nascency of Jubal Early's efforts to inscribe the Lost Cause mythology into the national consciousness, Jackson was at the forefront of his writings as the essential leader behind Lee, a man who as Early wrote, "always appreciated, and sympathized with the bold conceptions of the commanding General, and entered upon their execution with the most cheerful alacrity and zeal." From the start, the Jackson mythology moved in lockstep with that of Lee, as the growing movement to rationalize and explain the crushing defeat suffered by the Confederacy ensconced both men as scions of Southern glory and righteousness. Early again: "be thankful that our cause had two such champions, and that, in their characters, we can furnish the world at large with the best assurances of the rightfulness of the principles for which they and we fought. When asked for our vindication, we can triumphantly point to the graves of Lee and Jackson and look the world square in the face."
This reverential treatment of Jackson was immediately echoed by early Lost Cause writers who, as Alan Nolan put it "presented him as a deeply religious, mystical, eccentric, and brilliant military leader of Olympian proportions." This treatment continued through Douglas Southall Freeman's "Lee's Lieutenants" and the worshipful discussions of Jackson and his campaigns therein, which cemented the concept of Jackson's untrammeled leadership acumen and the myth that had Jackson still been alive at Gettysburg, the Confederacy would have won the battle. This biased and clumsy writing has continued over the years, pushing the Jackson component of the Lost Cause mythology deeper into our collective memory.
This is especially true of the Shenandoah Campaign of 1862, which brought Jackson fully into the consciousness of both North and South. Robert Tanner's "Stonewall in the Valley", published in 1976, was for more than three decades regarded as the premier accounting of the conduct and campaigning that made Jackson's reputation. (A new and more balanced treatment by Peter Cozzens, just hit the shelves. My signed copy just arrived courtesy of virtualbooksigning.net). It helped to amplify this mythology by sticking to the tenets of the Southern Historical Society Papers and writers like Southall Freeman; writing, as Tanner himself stated, "from the Confederate viewpoint." This unapologetic bias is illustrated by the fact that every single manuscript and all but three printed primary sources are from a Confederate perspective.
Even recent treatments of Jackson, the most popular of which is James Robertson's "Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend", focus more on hagiography than accurate historiography, with Jackson being described as a "spiritual prince, standing alone on a high pedestal" and that Jackson's devotion to God and the Confederacy "remain treasured legacies of the American people just as they are inspirations to people everywhere." The religious imagery of the deeply Calvinist Jackson, just like the oft-discussed piety of Robert E Lee, remains a cornerstone of how this man is remembered, as shown above and illustrated here (Jackson is the man on bended knee at Lee's feet). This image and the hundreds of others like it, are an amazing display of the power and endurance of Early's message and mission for the South "to remain true to the memory of your venerated leaders...Let the holy memories connected with our glorious struggle afford stronger incentives to renewed efforts to do our duty." While this is the way that Jackson is idealized and conceptualized, we must, as responsible historians, ask whether it is indeed accurate. This question, dear reader, is one we shall explore soon.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Camp Reynolds Spared By Angel Island Fire

I had quite a reaction last week upon seeing the fires burning on Angel Island near San Francisco. We're pretty touchy about fire in SoCal to begin with, and I spent several really fun days on Angel Island when I was a kid in NorCal, not to mention it's just incredible to look at. Also, in reading about the fire, I learned something about the island that was quite a surprise.
Turns out, in September of 1863, there were concerns about the Confederate Navy making a sortie to the West Coast, ostensibly in an attempt to seize the California gold fields with the aid of local Confederate sympathizers. In reaction, Angel Island became a fortress designed to fend off enemy ships. The first of these installations was named Camp Reynolds, in memory of General John Reynolds, killed on the first day's fighting at Gettysburg just a few months before.
Now Reynolds is a most interesting officer to study, and certainly one of the bravest and most aggressive in the Army of the Potomac. He also holds a special place, because he became the subject of greatest interest for The Jess when she traveled with me to Gettysburg at the beginning of our relationship.
Thus, it was with no small amount of relief that I found out that not only was the fire quenched last week, but that Camp Reynolds was spared, even though the fire got to within several hundred feet of the parade ground. Camp McDowell, named after Gen. Irwin McDowell, who after starting the war as the Union commanding officer at First Bull Run, became head of the Department of Pacific, was likewise unharmed.
I sometimes lament that residing in California leaves me a bit detached from being able to visit Civil War battlefields and monuments; now the next time I go home, this will be a special place to visit indeed

Monday, October 20, 2008

From Screen To Glass

As part of my aforementioned book collecting habit, I have also amassed a reasonable stash of classic cocktail books to sit next to the Civil War stuff. They've all got that musty paper smell, hard-to-find ingredients, and a dearth of fruit. Basically think whiskies, gins, rums, egg whites, soda water, tonic, maraschino.
One of them is a diatribe about how drinking anything but whiskey at happy hour is un-American; a really funny essay, especially because the writer is dead-serious. There's also more contemporary titles that bring the bountiful harvest of both summer and winter into the glass to hang out with avant spirits like infused vodkas and lychee liquor. These texts are a blast to both collect and mine for ideas, but that's not the only place to find inspiration.
I've found a few resources with cocktail experts walking you through making any number of classic and unique recipes, so now, if you learn better by watching and listening instead of reading, you're all set. First off is "The Cocktail Spirit" from the Small Screen Network, hosted by Robert Hess. Mr. Hess is a bartender of great reputation and distinction within the cocktail community, as his various publications and references in books by others will attest. These short segments, each of which address a single drink in wondrous detail, will show you why his reputation is well-earned. Not only will you learn about the various ingredients for the drinks presented, but also about technique and equipment. I'm a huge fan of the Old Fashioned and of the Sidecar; the only versions I make now are the ones described by Mr. Hess, with his technique followed to the last detail. Believe me, the results are absolutely transcendent. The second viewing option is from hulu.com (which is incredible and free! Movies, sitcoms, whatever) and is a show called "Great Cocktails" hosted by a bartender named Steven Phillips. Each episode is longer and more playful, but he covers each drink in far less detail and much, much faster. If you do want a text version and don't want to buy a cocktail book, may I refer you please to Webtender. This fantastic online resource is both comprehensive and versatile; I especially like the "In My Bar" feature, which allows you to dig up whatever's left on your shelf and still deliver a first-rate drink.

Friday, October 17, 2008

"Paperback Dreams" And The Need To Support Independent Bookstores

As followers of this blog know, I am an avid book collector and the entirety of my browsing and shopping takes place at used and/or independent bookstores, be they in San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Rosa, or Portland.
Given this hobby and the joy I derive from it, I, of course, have a strong allegiance to these stores and do my best to support them. In that vein, The Jess and I watched an amazing and unsettling program on PBS this morning entitled "Paperback Dreams." This program focused on two important and vibrant stores in the Bay Area: Cody's Books in Berkeley and Kepler's Books in Menlo Park.
The journey of these stores, the influence they and other similar stores have in our communities, and the significant chance (or reality) of them failing were explored in a fascinating and telling fashion. You can buy the DVD or click here to find out when it's on your local PBS network.
I've written about this subject before, but was spurred to bring it up again by the facts brought up in this program. These stores are a vital part of our communities, and when they're gone, they stay gone. They face tremendous pressure from many sides, but mostly from the sterile and soulless chain bookstores (Barnes and Noble, Borders) as well as big-box stores (Target, Costco, Walmart) that carry new releases right next to the lawn furniture.
Now more than ever these independent bookstores need our support. In tough economic times, we all need to make careful and considered decisions on where our money goes. So what's the difference when you shop at an independent store? The wonderful website indiebound.org spells it out, as well as allowing you to find local stores in your community.
"When you shop at an independently-owned business, your entire community benefits:
The Economy
  • Spend $100 at a local and $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain, and your community only sees $43.
  • Local businesses create higher-paying jobs for our neighbors.
  • More of your taxes are reinvested in your community--where they belong
The Environment
  • Buying local means less packaging, less transportation, and a smaller carbon footprint.
  • Shopping in a local business district means less infrastructure, less maintenance, and more money to beautify your community.
The Community
  • Local retailers are your friends and neighbors—support them and they’ll support you.
  • Local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains.
  • More independents means more choice, more diversity, and a truly unique community"
I simply ask that when you and your friends are going book shopping, make the choice to shop at your local independent store. Chances are, they'll have or be able to order what you're looking for, and when you're there, you will be helped by any number of really bright and engaging people who share your interests and can make great recommendations.
If you want to shop online, don't just leap to Amazon, as most independent stores have their entire stock easily searchable and available. The best example is the wondrous Powell's Books in Portland, which has everything and will deliver virtually anywhere. You can even use Amazon and still support independent bookstores. Simply select your book and click on the "used and new" link in the center of the page. This gives you access to a host of private sellers that you can support with your purchase.
Spending money is a conscious act, so we have a responsibility to be conscious of where our money is going when we spend it. That said, here are some links to independent stores throughout California. Please feel free to send me other stores via comment and forward this post to anyone you think may be interested.
San Diego
Adams Avenue Bookstore
Wahrenbrocks Book House
Santa Rosa
Copperfields Books
Treehorn Books
San Francisco
Green Apple Books
Cody's Books. I include this link to remind us how much of a loss it is when one of these stores closes. Cody's fed minds for 52 years and now it's gone for good.
Menlo Park (near Stanford University)
Kepler's Books
Los Angeles
Angel City Books

An Amazing New Exhibit: "Grant And Lee In War And Peace"

The New York Historical Society is launching an exhibit entitled "Grant and Lee in War and Peace" this weekend, and it promises to be an amazing exhibit of art, artifacts, and memorabilia relating to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Gen. Robert E. Lee. From their artwork as students at West Point to their uniforms and equipment worn during the Civil War, there is a stunning array of material on display.
There is an article by Charles McGrath in today's NY Times about the exhibit, and in just a few pages, he is able to touch on so many of the hotbutton topics that mark the interrelatedness of the two men. Starting from which man's name goes first (a similar exhibit in Virginia was "Lee and Grant") to the way they have been perceived in popular thought vs how they were in real life (he evens calls out the Lost Cause mythology) and perceived during their lives, it's an excellent piece.
If you need more to get you interested, there's a slide show accompanying the piece. Also, the New York Historical Society has another slideshow and film clip at its site. The exhibit runs through March, I've got to try and see this one.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lecture on the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment A Great Success!

I delivered my lecture last night to the members of the San Diego Civil War Roundtable entitled "Revenge and Redemption: The 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment at Gettysburg" and am very proud to say it was a big success!
The talk came in at just about 45 minutes and, based upon feedback I got during the Q and A as well as afterwards, was very well received. We spent a few minutes discussing the origins of the regiment and some of the personalities in it, before moving onto the 20th in the war in the East. We hit Ball's Bluff, Yorktown, the Seven Days, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Second Fredericksburg. In proceeding this way, we were able to lay a good foundation for the regiment's trials and tribulations before Gettysburg.
The bulk of the talk was on the regiment at Gettysburg, and I found some wonderful quotes and personalities to discuss that really brought the experience to life, both for me and my audience. I could hear groans, signs, and the occasional "Wow" as we moved through the subject matter. We finished by traveling with the 20th through the rest of the war, then visited the regimental memorial on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg.
One of the best parts of the talk happened quite serendipitously, but I will use again the next time I give it. I had 42 slides, a mixture of photographs, book covers, and maps, as part of a Powerpoint show to be used as an adjunct to my ever-melodious and commanding basso profundo voice. Turned out that our projector would not be available, so I converted the slides into a syllabus and made 10 copies.
There was one syllabus, unbound, for everyone 2-3 people to share, and I would mention when they should turn the page. This was a wonderful way for the presentation to move on. People didn't look ahead, so there was always a measure of suspense, the picture quality was excellent, so the images really had an impact, and the lights stayed on, so no one got drowsy.
The best part was, it gave the room a very special kinetic energy, an interactive dynamism as people could really sink into the subject matter. I saw people pointing and discussing, as well as just staring at some of the faces and images before them. Definitely a fantastic way to have the talk go forward.
Up at the dias, I had an absolute ball, and loved speaking before a group of friends, peers, and The Jess about a subject I'm quite passionate about. I'm glad it showed through and was truly flattered by the compliments I received.
I cannot wait to give the lecture again and would be more than happy to go to other roundtables, classrooms, book clubs, etc. If you'd be interested in hearing the talk, please let me know in a comment.
Speaking of book clubs, the book chat at Civil War Interactive is doing "Harvard's Civil War" by Richard Miller. This is the best regimental history I've ever read and gives an amazing discussion of the 20th before, during, and after the war. It's free to participate, so please sign up!

George Will on Gettysburg And More ACW Stuff From The Washington Post

The impact of the new Visitor's Center at Gettysburg continues to grow, this time with nationally syndicated and award-winning columnist George Will weighing in on the subject. Please click here for the full article. There are several sentences in this piece that I found quite striking, but I won't bias you up front. Please read it and think about which bits strike home for you, and we'll revisit the piece next week.
Also from the Post comes a new blog from Linda Wheeler, who was previously the paper's Civil War columnist. Her blog, entitled "A House Divided" looks to be particularly interesting, especially from the perspective of trying to grow our Civil War community. It's maintained by Linda Wheeler and is entitled "A House Divided." From her first post: "She will report on conferences and seminars, find little-known battlefields and sites to explore, check on the latest books and advice on upcoming events, and more"
Please click on the above link or access it via my blogroll on the right. Definitely a welcome addition!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A New Friedman Column

Please enjoy Thomas Friedman's column today in the NY Times entitled "Why How Matters". I tell you what, he is one insightful and erudite writer!

My Lecture On The 20th Massachusetts Infantry At Gettysburg Tonight!

Just a quick post today as I need to finish preparing to deliver my lecture tonight to the San Diego Civil War Roundtable. I've given it the title of "Revenge and Redemption: The 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment at Gettysburg." It's been an absolute blast reconnecting with the themes, people, and events that I last studied in detail a decade ago as a UCLA undergrad, and I hope that my interest and enthusiasm is reflected tonight.
It should be around 45 minutes and, though I'd hoped to have a projector available for images, I'm going to be using a handout instead. I actually think this may work better, as long as people don't skip ahead in the syllabus. There's some great carte de visite's, maps, and art that we'll be looking at, and the content, well, you've gotta hear it to believe what the men of the Harvard Regiment actually went through during their term of service and especially at Gettysburg.
I'm really excited to be speaking in public again, it's been awhile and it's something that I really enjoy doing. The meeting is open to the public and free, so if you're in San Diego and looking for something to do, feel free to join us. I provide here a link to the San Diego Civil War Roundtable website that has the address of our meeting place.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Seminal Moment In Civil War Research

I recently became a member of a fantastic organization known as The Society of Civil War Historians, and what a good move it was. Aside from filling up on the free quarterly newsletters (may I refer you to the summer 2008 newsletter where there is an article on how the Internet has influenced Civil War learning and teaching), I received three issues of the society's journal entitled "Civil War History."
You may recall in my review of "Bitterly Divided", I referenced an article by Joseph Glatthaar entitled "Everyman's War: A Rich and Poor Man's Fight in Lee's Army" from the September, 2008 issue of this outstanding publication as an example of the difference between using anecdotal evidence and some amount of statistical rigor to prove a hypothesis. Let's take a more thorough look at what could well be a seminal study that changes the way we look at a key component of Civil War history.
This article is the equivalent of what is known in the medical literature as a retrospective study, wherein the records of groups of individuals who are alike in many ways, but differ by a certain characteristic, are compared to look for a specific variable. In a well-designed study, the numbers can be a very powerful and convincing tool, far more so than any collection of anecdotes.
Dr. Glatthaar's study evaluates the question of whether the wealthy and slaveholding component of the Confederacy, after building the secession crisis and launching the war, stood by while the poorer strata of Southern society bore a disproportionate share of the warfighting. Thus, it compares a group of individuals (soldiers and officers in Gen. Lee's army) who are alike in many ways, but differ by a certain characteristic (wealth and/or slaveholding status) to look for a certain variable (did a disproportionate number of poor men serve in the army as opposed to wealthy men and/or slaveholders, remembering the key is proportionality, not absolute numbers, as the poor vastly outnumbered the wealthy).
The study is built around a stratified cluster sample of Lee's army, basically a data mining of a cross section of the service records and census data for troops in the various branches of the army, ie infantry, cavalry, artillery. This sample technique is extremely accurate based upon using 95% confidence intervals, and you can review the raw data if you wish to double check.
Without getting into too much detail (though I encourage anyone interested to read the study), Dr. Glatthaar successfully demonstrates that this was "a rich and a poor man's fight. Rich people were, in fact, greatly overrepresented in Lee's army, and not just at the officer level." He goes on to demonstrate with solid statistical accuracy that "troops in that army possessed powerful ties to slavery, and they came out in force to defend their precious institution. Slaveholders served in all ranks, deserted less frequently, suffered more injuries - in short, they risked it all for Confederate independence."
Please take a moment to let these two quotes sink in, because this is important, even groundbreaking stuff. Think of the number of places you've read, heard, or been taught that this war was started by the Southern rich, fought by the Southern poor, and slavery and slaveholding had nothing to do with it. This study debunks that theory, pervasive though it may be.
As we try to undo damage wreaked by decades of unchallenged assertions and reams of anecdotal or secondary evidence backing up the common understanding of the Civil War (again, the Lost Cause mythology being the primary example), we must bring modern investigative tools to bear. Dr. Glatthaar uses cutting edge research technology and advanced statistical methods to demonstrate how, as the author puts it "together, the rich, middle, and poor in Lee's army embraced the institution of slavery, and their tenacity in war indicates the broad strength of commitment to Confederate independence."
I know that for this to happen, this article and its findings need to reach a wider audience, as well as be disseminated as a reference in future investigations. One can only hope that in the same way Douglas Southall Freeman mined the perversely biased and inaccurate "Southern Historical Society Papers" in his research for what have been some of the primary texts on the war, this study and similar ones to come will form the backbone of a new and more accurate understanding of the Civil War.