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, 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 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 (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 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.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Why The Jess Is Cool

If you've noticed, many of my posts are accented with references to The Jess, who happens to be my beautiful wife, Jessica. I also have a running log of reasons why she is cool in the right sidebar of this blog. She has been keeping a blog of her own and she just put up a post that will show all of my readers exactly why she is so fantastic. Please click here and see for yourself. Also, please, please share her blog with anyone you like. There are so many people in our families, communities, and congregations who are affected, and she is a wonderful voice of strength and positivity for people to share with.
I do love that woman so!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Civil War Network, Episode Two

I spent some time with The Civil War Network when episode 2 became available, and just like with episode 1, I am thrilled with what Francis Rose has generated. Episode 2 hit my traveling jones right on the head, The Jess and I are looking forward to a robust battlefield sojourn sometime in the next year or two, and this episode certainly laid the foundation.
To start off, Childs Burton introduced yet another annual conference I would love to attend, the Conference on the Art of Command in the Civil War. The 11th meeting was this past weekend and focuses on the Battle of Antietam, check out the speakers! Talk about your who's who of Antietam experts.
The second segment went away from Civil War travel and into the role of religion in the Civil War. This was a brisk conversation with Father Bob Miller, the author of "Both Prayed to the Same God" and touched on, however briefly, some vital themes in the motivations of ACW soldiers.
Getting back on the theme of Civil War destinations, Susan Trail, the superintendant of Monocacy National Battlefield Park, spoke about the state of the park and how the battle is interpreted there. She was followed by Waite Rawls, president of the Museum of the Confederacy, who discussed the controversial decision to set up several satellite facilities to the primary museum in Richmond, VA (though he doesn't want them to be called "satellite").
The standout of this episode was the interview with Don Pierce, who runs a resource that is going to be an integral part of our trip east called Civil War Traveler. Maps, tours, podcasts, you name it, it's here and it's free.
In my previous post, I touched on having various resources made available in a standardized fashion at all battlefield parks, this is the sort of thing I was referring to.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Fascinating And Important Debate On The Role of Civil War Battlefield Visitor Centers

As I have written about, the new Gettysburg Visitor Center has recently opened, and not without some controversy. Along with the opening of this state of the art facility, a question about the role of this center and others in education and interpretation of their specific battle and the war in general has come to the fore.
I refer you please to two outstanding summaries on the issue. First is from Brett Schulte at TOCWOC, another is from Paul Taylor at With Sword and Pen. Briefly, the controversy swirls around whether a battlefield interpretation should be focused solely on the battle itself or include larger issues, such as slavery and emancipation, in the discussion. As you may imagine, there are strong opinions from very bright minds on both sides of the subject. (Note, the "emancipation cause" that Brett references comes from a fantastic recent book by Gary Gallagher called "Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten". I read it when it first came out and I highly recommend it.)
This is a complex question, and I do not fall on either the "only battle, all the time" or "the whole war at every site" sides, as they are too polarized and too many opportunities for learning and education would be missed. Brett's point of selecting certain sites to showcase pertinent issues beyond the battle itself, (causes of war at Ft. Sumter and Appomattox, slavery and emancipation at Antietam, etc) is well taken, but I would add further that we must address the issue of geography.
These visitor centers have many responsibilities, and a primary one is education. We have addressed the Lost Cause mythology and the pervasiveness of it's erroneous theories, and so when students of the war (at any age, any level of interest or expertise) come to a battlefield, there is an opportunity for education. Some of the people that visit, like myself, come from some great distance to get there and may not be able to see multiple locations in one visit. It would be a shame, therefore, to miss out on educational opportunities for those who are clearly interested.
A solution that could reconcile the two views in this argument, would be something like a standardized National Park Service reference list, with websites, books, and other parks listed under heading of various subjects pertinent to the war. That way, not only would each park maintain the integrity of the battle it is representing, but each one would be united and integrated into a larger whole.
The key point to buttress this suggestion is to remember that these battles didn't occur in a vacuum, so these parks shouldn't exist in one either.
This way, when someone visits for example, the Battle of the Wilderness Park (which is high on my list), they would not have the focus of their visit diluted with subjects not germane to the battle itself, but when in the visitor's center, could avail themselves of a host of resources for questions that may have come up on any number of issues.
The key point here is dissemination of information to as many people as possible, and battlefield and museum visitors are a huge part of this, as these folks are clearly interested. There is an implicit responsibility to promote learning, so I feel that the opportunity to educate should be seized.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

San Diego Civil War Roundtable Newsletter "Skirmish Line" Now Available

The October issue of "Skirmish Line", the newsletter for the San Diego Civil War Roundtable, is now available online. There's a brief piece about the 20th Massachusetts and my lecture next week. The way to access it is to click on the link above, then select "2008" under year, then "October" under month; it'll load as a pdf file. Take a look at the flag (which will reappear in my talk) and note just how many battle sites are embroidered!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Andre Agassi On Tennis

I've been off the court for several weeks after my injury and am not quite ready to get back out there. In addition, the tennis season is definitely in the post-US Open doldrums, so I have decided that we need a tennis boost, a quick pick-me-up, as it were. I have turned to my favorite player of all time, and one of my three favorite athletes (the others are Dan Marino and Magic Johnson, if you're wondering) to remind us why tennis is such a wonderful game. Let's all take a moment and enjoy some thoughts from Andre Agassi.
If you want more, here's a one hour interview he did with Charlie Rose in May, 2001

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Time To Focus On The 20th Massachusetts Infantry AKA The Harvard Regiment

Ever since my senior year at UCLA, when I had the opportunity to take a class with Dr. Joan Waugh wherein each student selected a Civil War regiment as the subject of a rigorous study and paper, I have had a strong bond with the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment; more famously known as The Harvard Regiment. This moniker was assigned because 31 of the officers and men of the regiment were either active students or recent graduates when they joined the regiment to fight.
This was by far my favorite undergrad class, and that affinity has persisted. I've been able to collect some of the seminal texts regarding the 20th over the years, and was thrilled when Richard Miller published "Harvard's Civil War", which is the best regimental history I've ever read. This interest has reached new levels over the past few months because of three wonderful happenings.
First, I was invited to join a community on Yahoo focusing on the 20th. Every Tuesday we have an online chat, there's a daily digest that comes out, and an active homepage on Yahoo for people to share photos, blogs, etc.
The man who runs this community is behind the second part of this renaissance, as he got the good people at Civil War Interactive to select "Harvard's Civil War" as the next subject of the website's book chat. Here is the schedule if you would like to participate.
The last part of this focus is actually a two-parter. I am in the midst of preparation for my lecture on October 15th for the San Diego Civil War Roundtable where I will be discussing the 20th at the Battle of Gettysburg. This is an absolute blast, as I feel like I'm getting back to my Civil War roots, and have nearly every book I need already in my collection. It's also my love of books that is the second part of this new focus. The one book I wanted to use, entitled "Isn't It Glorious", is coming in the mail this week. I got to speak with the publisher at Moon Trail Books over the phone and I was stoked when she asked me to please review the book and that she would send me a review copy along with my purchase. What an honor and what a thrill!

What A Weekend!

I can't remember the last time I've had such an exciting 48 hours as a sports fan! It started yesterday when my UCLA Bruins put a 28-3 beating on Washington State, which was promptly followed by my long-beleaguered Dodgers (yes, I've been living on Hershiser, Gibson, Guerrero, and Valenzuela memories for quite some time) steamroll the Cubs to advance to the NLCS. If that wasn't enough, this morning my resurgent Dolphins played a near-perfect game, including a 4th-and-goal-from-the-one-yard-line-stand to beat the San Diego Chargers. Viva the Tony Sparano era!
Now imagine all that, AND having The Jess sitting next to me, smiling and holding my hand, with my folks in town as well. I am one happy and lucky man! Oh, and the sports stuff was cool, too.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Quick Vice-Presidential Debate Thought Pertaining To The Civil War

While speaking about Gen David McKiernan, the new commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, Governor Palin accidentally called him General McClellan.
Just imagine Little Mac riding into the desert astride his horse "Daniel Webster" to take command of an American army again! Perish the thought!

Gettysburg Gems Online

First off, huge thanks and gratitude to the many friends of the Tipsy Historian for all of the good wishes and positive energy over the past few days! Nothing beats having The Jess at home and smiling. Like I wrote the other day, all good things start at home. Now that we're home and resting, here's a post I actually wrote several days ago...
So after joining the Civil War Website Ring, I took my first pass at the other members. Some blogs I'd seen, some were entirely new to me. One is so cool, it needs its own post. I've spent a goodly amount of space discussing why the Gettysburg battlefield is special for me, so it should come as no surprise that a website chock-full of images of the battlefield would immediately grab my interest. That said, behold Gettysburg365. Compiled by a gentleman named William Bretzger, this website, which is updated almost daily, has a spectacular picture of a different part of the field with a brief descriptor beneath. When I say "spectacular", I really mean it, these are professional-grade shots, filled with color, action, pathos, all the features that make a premiere composition. Just in case you missed it:
Another treat comes from the ongoing coverage of the Gettysburg cyclorama, now open to the public. The local NBC affiliate aired this video report with some footage of the painting along with the audio and visual effects in the exhibit. Good clip and all was well right until the end when the onsite reporter lived up to the standard of most local news stations. Buddy, the battle was in July, the Gettysburg Address was in November. Ugh. Anyway, goodnight, and stay classy San Diego!