Saturday, January 31, 2009

Serena Wins The Australian Open

Serena Williams just completed her domination of the Australian Open this morning by taking the singles championship less than a day after winning the doubles with her sister Venus. She took the court against a game Dinara Safina, and in under an hour literally reduced her to tears in a 6-0, 6-3 shellacking.
Serena not only seized hold of the number one ranking in the world, but with the convincing nature of her run, and the fact that she has won the last two Grand Slams, has begun to bring some sort of order to the women's tennis world.
It works like this: Serena number one, everyone else chases her. No more of this ridiculous Who's On First routine at the top of the women's rankings. If Serena stays healthy, and more importantly focused, there's no woman out there that is even close. I'll give you a first hand, up close bulletin on how her game looks in March at the BNP Paribas Indian Wells tournament, so you've got that going for you (free home roasted coffee to whoever gets that movie reference first)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Rafa Wins A Classic And I Missed It

The toughest thing about the Australian Open is the time difference, no question about it. The men's semifinal match, not to mention the Williams sisters in the doubles final, started at 12:30 this AM. No way I can stay up for that, and unfortunately I forgot to set my DVR.
Turns out I missed, not only the Venus and Serena taking the doubles championship, but also one of the greatest singles matches in Australian Open history. Fernando Verdasco and Rafael Nadal slugged it out for nearly 5 hours and 30 minutes, with Rafa outlasting the reinvigorated and game Verdasco 6-4 in the 5th set.
I've got the replay on Tennis Channel as I write this and the level of play is really high, its just not the same when you know who won. Gonna miss tonight's women's final between Serena Williams and Dinara Safina as well, since we're celebrating The Jess' birthday party. Rafa and Roger Federer will square off Sunday starting at 12:30 AM, so the DVR will be set, and The Jess and I will have some breakfast and a pre-Super Bowl Grand Slam final with the renewal of one of sports' greatest rivalries.

The Confederate Battle Flag And Civil War Memory

The debate and emotion generated by the Confederate flag flying in Tampa not only captures what a hot-button topic this symbol still is, but how comprehensive our disconnect with the actual history of it. Example: while this flag is referred to as "the" Confederate flag, there actually was no national flag of the Confederacy until maybe 1863. This flag was also not the battle flag of the entire Confederacy, late in the war it was the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. From this it has metamorphosed into a political hot potato, a divisive insult, beach towel kitsch, and a NASCAR staple.
Okay, clearly this subject requires more study, and thankfully I think I found the resource at Point Loma books in San Diego (a smashing addition to the list of San Diego used/independent bookstores). John Coski, the director of the Museum of the Confederacy, wrote a book called "The Confederate Battle Flag" which provides a comprehensive discussion of the history of this flag's cultural evolution. Don't let preconceptions about the Museum of the Confederacy fool you, Mr. Coski is a scholar of a high order, and his interview on NPR in 2005 (which you can listen to by clicking here) gives evidence of that fact.
I'm going to try something a bit different with this book; instead of reviewing it en bloc when I'm done, we'll take it piece by piece as I move through it. Feel free to get a copy for yourself and join me.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Federer and Williams On Familiar Ground

The women's final at the Australian Open is going to be close to my prediction several days ago: Serena Williams vs Dinara Safina. Both women are playing a very high level of tennis as they pushed through some tough conditions and really tough opponents in the semis. No question they deserve to be there, no other women have been able to match their consistency and tenacity throughout the tournament. Wilting violets like Elena Dementieva and Svetlana Kuznetsova (who actually served for the match against Serena and folded) really had no business getting as far as they did, while upstarts like Vera Zvonareva and Jelena Dokic made inspired runs, but need to show they can do it again.
Roger Federer pressed forward into yet another Grand Slam final with his convincing 3-set victory over Andy Roddick. Federer is definitely back in his dominant form, cracking just silly forehands all over the court, while taking his opponent's strength, in this case Roddick's serve, and using it against him. Time and again, Fed hit chip returns of serving, which pulled Roddick into the net where he made easy pickings for passing shot upon passing shot.
His opponent has yet to be determined, but Federer clearly has Grand Slam title number 14 in his sights, which would tie the all-time record. Healthy, fit, and focused, he really is starting to look like the dominant player we missed in 2008

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

So Explain It Already!

The quote from the member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans justifying the enormous Confederate flag flying in Tampa, "we fly it so we can explain it" prompted me to do a bit of research to explore how serious the SCV was about educating the curious about their motivations.
I looked at both the main SCV website and the site for the Florida chapter, the main site makes absolutely no mention of it, the Florida site has a picture of the flag, but no essays, comments, editorials, or illustrative links.
Basically, there is absolutely no thought, content, consideration, or insight behind what they are doing with this ridiculous flag. The SCV Florida chapter is behaving like a screaming child looking for attention by pressing the buttons it knows will get a response. Moreover, the glaring lack of discussion on these sites makes this organization look absolutely foolish.
There's no accurate representation of history anywhere near the SCV, this is just a bunch of chest thumping, a gasp for acknowledgement while society, philosophy, morality, and the world pass them by. Maybe it's not an accident this flag is near an interstate highway, people will just glance at it in their rearview mirror.

Look Away

The Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter that hoisted that gigantic Confederate flag in Tampa, Florida is about to get its 15 minutes of fame extended. That 60x90 foot symbol of repression and slavery is going to be flying during the Super Bowl week.
"We fly it so we can explain it" said one SCV member when asked by the press what the motives are in this endeavor. Does that explanation include a discussion of slavery in the United States and its primary role in Southern secession and Civil War?
There is no small amount of irony that this flag was made in China. Whenever the relationship of forced labor and this flag is presented, the SCV tries to separate the two as much as possible. Given that denial, you would think they might want to demonstrate how this flag was made by well-paid, fairly-treated workers, perhaps from the region it represented.
There's just so much wrong about this flag and its display in this manner. The one thing that is not wrong is the group's right to fly it. They have the same freedom to fly it as I have to rip them for being disingenuous in their motives and ignorant of the fact that this flag has many meanings to many people. It may represent some Lost Cause apologia to some, but that doesn't give them the monopoly on symbolism. To millions of others this flag, and other flags of the Confederacy, represent a society built upon the enslavement of others and a rebellion fomented to protect that institution.
We've come so far as a country and the last few months have brought such a sense of pride and energy despite the challenges we face. This flag display could be a detractor, but I say we just leave these agitators in the dust behind us as we move forward. "What they are talking about does not represent the values of Hillsborough County," said Curtis Stokes, the president of the Hillsborough County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "All they want is publicity."
He's right, just absolutely right. While we can't take the flag down and most of the people who helped raise this one are unlikely to extend their worldview, we can turn away, drive away, walk away back to our communities where the values behind this flag have no foothold.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Roddick Looks To The Semifinals, Djokovic Looks For a Popsicle

Andy Roddick has done it! He has just beaten the defending champion Novak Djokovic and advanced to the semifinals of the Australian Open. Roddick was up 2 sets to one and a service break when Djokovic broke and retired. This is a huge moment for Roddick, who has dropped off most tennis radars, and he did it under some pretty extreme conditions.
The needle on the thermometer was off the edge, the temperature on court was 142 degrees, and Roddick was scrambling around like there was nothing to worry about. Hard to believe what he was able to do under such appalling conditions, which makes it so amazing. Not an ounce of sympathy for Djokovic either, who retired in the fourth set but was clearly out of gas in the second set.
Roddick came into this tournament as something of an afterthought, but after a winter spent putting in roadwork and losing 15 pounds, he's clearly brought his fitness, confidence, and aggressiveness to a new level. He's also still got one of the greatest serves the men's game has ever seen. Now that he's got his fitness up to a world class level, and Djokovic has let his drop to where he can't finish matches, it's gonna be fun to see how this season goes.
As these two slugged it out in the heat, ESPN's crew of Patrick McEnroe and Dick Enberg in the booth, with Cliff Drysdale at courtside provided a fabulous telecast. There was a great sense of the ebb and flow of the match as Djokovic came out strong, then Roddick upped his game along with the temperature. Lots of fun to watch a match like this with such solid commentary.
No way I can stay up to watch the next quarterfinal, but Roddick will face the winner of the Juan Martin Del Potro-Roger Federer match on Wednesday.

The Tennis Equivalent Of Ultimate Fighting (And Breaking News)

First, a bit of breaking news: Andy Murray just got knocked out of the Australian Open by Fernando Verdasco in a brilliant 5 setter. Murray was a popular pick to win the whole event, but Verdasco was fitter, tougher, and your winner. Now back to the post I wrote a couple hours ago.
Monday night we get to check out tennis' version of Yankees-Red Sox, Browns-Bengals, or USC-UCLA when Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic square off in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
Why is this going to be gripping competition? Because these two just plain don't like each other.
It started at last year's US Open, at least in public, when Roddick called Djokovic onto the carpet over his continous and variegated ailments. (funny clip here) Djokovic, who is rapidly accumulating the world's largest collection of irritating habits (read: ball bouncing before serves, awkward hugs after wins, and hypochondriasis) took a trip to crazytown after beating Roddick in the US Open quarters. He decided the right way to respond was to rip both Roddick and the New York crowd while standing on the court surrounded by drunk and disappointed Bronx-dwellers.
These two sluggers get to start this year off with an early airing-of-grievances, and we get to watch. Probably somewhere around 7 PM PST on ESPN2.
No fun watching Victoria Azarenka walk off the court in tears twice, then having to default her match against Serena Williams despite having won the first set. Not a great way to go out, and if you've ever had food poisoning, you know how she feels.
Very fun watching Jelena Dokic storm back into the tennis consciousness, not only with her courageous 4th round victory on a bad ankle or her ranking of 187 in the world, but with her honesty about how hard the last few years have been for her.
Between severing ties with her overbearing father, battling depression and financial problems, it's a wonder she's still playing, let alone winning. Could Dokic be the shot in the arm the women's game needs? If she wins tomorrow, she'll be well on the way.
Real quick, before we go today, here's my cousin Guy doing color commentary on Sky Sports. So cool!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Jankovic Yanked Out Of The Australian Open

I give you two tennis players.
One looks like she was carved out of wax by a sculptor looking to create the ultimate physique for tennis excellence.
The other doesn't.
One is touted as the best player in the world.
The other isn't.
One has a classic collection of strokes, right out of a how-to book.
The other swings like she's wearing chain mail.
In the topsy-turvy world of women's tennis, who do you think won the match when these two played today?
Number one in the world Jelena Jankovic took the court today looking to continue her dual quest of winning her first Grand Slam and resolving the question of who will be the best women's tennis player this year. Her fourth round match should have been an easy thing. But nooo, she decided to show the mental toughness of a soft-boiled egg and lose in two sets to 16th seed Marion Bartoli.
Bartoli came out with her quirky double-fisted strokes and continued women's tennis baffling trip into egalitarian hell. First Ivanovic loses, now Jankovic gets ousted. To be fair, Bartoli has a serviceable game, and did reach the Wimbledon final a few years ago, but she should be easy pickings for the number one player at a Grand Slam.
In contrast, Rafa Nadal, who is going to be in a for an all-year brawl for his number one ranking, demolished Tommy Haas in 3 easy sets. The point being, if you're number one, you've gotta play like it. When women's tennis finds the personality that can live up to that credo, the game will be in better shape.
On the current events front, can't stay awake, but it looks like Roger Federer may just rally from 2 sets down to beat Tomas Berdych, but we'll see in the morning

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Australian Open Needs To Get Its Act Together!

This was absolutely not what tennis needs to start 2009. No, no, no. Not at the first Grand Slam, not ever! We should be reading and writing about the incredible tennis being played, not the ridiculous spectacles (plural intentional) on the tournament grounds.
First was the riot between Bosnian fans of Amer Delic and Croatian fans of Novak Djokovic. In broad daylight, with the world's cameras rolling, the chairs and fists started flying. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries, but 30 people were thrown out and two arrested.
As the cameras showed the fracas grind on for minutes on live TV, one wondered where the security was. This was the second such rumble in 3 years at the Australian Open, they knew that the fans of these two players don't like each other, how are you not ready for this?!
Absolute idiocy!
To make it worse, some joker ran onto the court during the Williams sisters' doubles match with nothing but a shirt on. He danced around with his junk hanging out for nearly a full minute before being escorted off the court. Why he wasn't immediately stopped by security is beyond comprehension, especially when one recalls that Monica Seles was stabbed by a man who made his way on court during a match. The look on both Serena and Venus' faces showed that they both sure remembered.
Yesterday was just a total disaster for tennis and for the administrators of the Aussie Open and there needs to be much better security planning for both players and fans, or else there's going to be a real disaster to deal with.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Civil War Sesquicentennial News

Updates on preparations for the Civil War Sesquicentennial from around the country...

From Virginia: click here and here

From Mississippi: here you go

South Carolina: here and here (this one will definitely make your eyes roll)

And for a great clearinghouse for Sesquicentennial news, check out this link

Monday, January 19, 2009

5 Hours, 36 Minutes in 96 Degree Heat

Aside from sleeping, when was the last time you did one single activity for 5 hours, 36 minutes? It's tough to think of one thing that could hold any level of focus and intensity for nearly a quarter of a day.
Now fold into this recipe a 96 degree oven in which this endeavor takes place. I would venture to say there are precious few of us that would even have the audacity to think they might have, once in their life, by choice done such a thing.
Last night in the first round of the Australian Open, Gilles Muller and Feliciano Lopez brawled in the summer heat for 5 hours, 36 minutes until Muller came out on top 16-14 in the 5th set. No quarter, no complaining, no respite.
And don't be fooled by this 96 degree business. That's what the grounds thermometer showed, but a tennis court is like a cast-iron griddle; it retains and emanates a stunning amount of heat. It's that rugged, dry, enveloping heat that makes your feet burn and your eyes dry up. I've played in those conditions for a few hours, but wouldn't even consider trying to play for that long.
This first round match will likely disappear from our memory as the tournament goes on, but attention must be paid to such an incredible effort. The focus, fitness, and heart these two showed in a first round match is something to marvel at.
Oh, and Wayne Odesnik lost in 4 sets (along with just about every other American male in the draw save Andy Roddick)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

New Additions, Blogs, and Opportunities

To get us started for the week, I present you with three new entries to my blogroll for you to enjoy. Credit to Robert at Cenantua's Blog for bringing the first two to my attention.
First is Faces of War, put together by Rob Coddington. His site specializes in cartes de visite and boasts a tremendous collection to look at and study. Associated with this work and the books he's published showcasing this material is his blog, found here.
Wanna deconstruct the war? Well then, the microhistorical approach being taken at Weirding the War may be for you. This sounds like a fascinating attempt at "constellating the weirdness, multiplying the fragmentation, and aggregating the anarchic disaggregations, we may strip the war of the master narratives we have perhaps loved too well."
This unique approach taken by young scholars may well provide a shot in the arm to some long-studied dogmas of the Civil War. Certainly it will bring fresh insights and energy to our field of study.
Lastly is a link that came to me via email from the publicity crew at 21st Century Abe, an exhibition and blog site put together in conjunction with the Rosenbach Library in Philly in celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birthday. I got a long letter from them, it's in the comments section of this post.
All good stuff, hope you enjoy!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Australian Open 2009 Preview: The Ladies Draw

This is pretty easy, and thus going to be pretty short. I have no idea what's going to happen in the women's draw at the Australian Open. Moreover, I would posit that anyone who says they do is certifiable. Women's professional tennis has been on its ear since the retirement of Justine Henin and the persisting shoulder issues of Maria Sharapova (she withdrew from the Aussie Open) to the point where no consistent champion-level tennis has emerged.
Jelena Jankovic? Dinara Safina? Ana Ivanovic? Put your money on any one of them and be prepared to lose it. We're at the point now where Sports Illustrated is picking the weak-kneed queen of the choke herself, Elena Dementieva as their champ. I guess she did knuckle up and win Olympic gold, but we'll see.
Just like last year, this is a golden opportunity for a new name to step forward and be heard, but it remains to be seen whether any of these ladies have the stuff. If none of them do, then perhaps its the enigmatic Williams sister's tournament to win.
In the first round, I would stop what I'm doing to watch Israel's Shahar Pe'er take on 11th seed Caroline Wozniacki. Pe'er needs to do something, anything to get her game back on track, and bumping Wozniacki from the tournament would be a huge boost to her career.
The Tipsy Historian's Picks

Venus Williams vs Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic vs Dinara Safina

Finals: Serena Williams vs Jelena Jankovic

Champion: Serena Williams

Australian Open 2009 Preview: Wayne Odesnik Watch Resumes

It's time to turn our focus down under and get ready for the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open. The theme for this two weeks is quite the same for both the men and women's draw: who wants to stamp the season with their name and make a claim to the world number one ranking.
Make no mistake, world supremacy is most assuredly up for grabs. On the men's side, Rafael Nadal has nothing close to a strong grip on the number one spot, and Roger Federer must deal with the ignominy of being a number two seed for the first time in years. Andy Murray is surging forward and is a sexy pick to break through, but has to play under this mounting pressure and expectation.
The early rounds, which start tomorrow (with TV coverage starting on ESPN2 tomorrow night, have a handful of choice matches, particularly American Sam Querrey vs Philip Kohlschreiber, and Australia's golden boy Lleyton Hewitt taking on the much-disliked Fernando Gonzalez. I'm not watching this because of sentimentality for Hewitt on his home court; these dudes are both obnoxious and loud-mouthed, so the on-court antics should be quite festive.
Best of all, though, is that Wayne Odesnik is back in the main draw after winning three qualifying matches. He takes on Mario Ancic in the first round, and I refuse to pick against him in this clash.
The Tipsy Historian's Picks

Andy Murray vs Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer vs Andy Roddick (look for Roddick's quarterfinal match against Novak Djokovic to be an all-out brawl)

Finals: Murray vs Federer

Champion: Federer reminds Murray just how hard it is to take that final step and win a Grand Slam by taking the Australian Open 2009 away from him

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Massacre In Hamburg, South Carolina

Let's pick up where my post about Stephen Budiansky's book "The Bloody Shirt", left off and begin an exploration of a shocking and little-known moment in our nation's history.
It was July 4, 1876, in a no-longer extant South Carolina town called Hamburg that this episode begins. Two white farmers were driving a buggy into the center of town when they found the roads occupied by African-American soldiers who made up Company A of the Eighteenth Regiment of the South Carolina National Guard. These troops, who were on parade in celebration of Independence Day, were requested to move by the two farmers, and after the farmers demanded they step aside, opened a path for the two carts.
The next day, the two farmers went to court, presided over by an African-American judge, to swear a complaint against the commanding officer of the regiment. The judge, Prince Rivers, ordered an adjournment until July 8th, on which day roughly one hundred armed white men, mostly members of the notorious "rifle clubs" appeared at the courthouse. The officer and his men did not come to the courthouse.
The gang of men found the militiamen in a nearly structure called the Sibley Building and demanded that they relinquish their arms, that blacks had no right to carry arms. When the militiamen and their officer refused, they, as Budiansky put it "knew they had a war on their hands".
For hours the building was pounded by small arms and artillery fire as the militiamen tried to hold their position on the second floor. Their return fire, though limited, struck a 25 year old rifle club member named McKie Meriwether, killing him instantly. Eventually, the rifle club men stormed the building and took the bulk of the miltiamen prisoner.
These men were marched to an patch of ground, now lost to history, but known as "The Dead Ring" after the circle formed by the captors around their prey. In the end, four of the African-American prisoners were executed, and at least two others were killed trying to escape.
I provide you with a link to the official report from the South Carolina Attorney General, as well as a letter to now-President Ulysses Grant from the South Carolina governor. The endgame of this affair (without getting into the wholesale slaughter that took place in Ellentown, SC in September, 1876) was that seven men were indicted for murder, but after the election of Democrat and famous Confederate general Wade Hampton, all charges were dropped. The massacre galvanized both North and South, and was a pivot point in marking the end of Reconstruction and formation of the Compromise of 1877.
There are, of course, many more sordid and far-reaching components to the Hamburg Massacre, but for the sake of brevity and with confidence that you will search out the information for yourselves. One particularly frightening figure worth reading about is Ben Tillman.
Let's move to the point of how well this part of our past is remembered (or not). Please recall the name of the white man killed at the beginning of the battle, McKie Meriwether. In 1916, a monument was built to commemorate a man who "perished for the cause of liberty" in "The Battle of Hamburg". The town of Hamburg subsequently has disappeared from the maps after a series of floods, the building of a dam, and the construction of a golf course in 1998.
The monument, erected in a town called North Augusta, still stands today, and when the town celebrated its centennial in 2006, it was recognized as a monument "to the only resident of Hamburg to be killed in the Hamburg riot of 1876."
To reinforce, this was two years ago.
The obelisk itself, which can be viewed here, has inscriptions on its four sides, which I encourage you to read, especially the east face.
Having read that, keep in mind that no monument, tablet, marker, or memorial exists for the 6 African-American men murdered that day.
Now that you've read this missive, take a moment and reflect on what we know, understand, learn, and teach about the period of our nation's history called Reconstruction.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Book Review: "The Bloody Shirt"

Right up front, I'll make something plain; Stephen Budiansky's book "The Bloody Shirt" does not attempt to break new ground about the Reconstruction era. Instead, this book is designed to revive and retell the stories of a few individuals to illustrate the experiences of many. To his credit, Budiansky does not claim to be writing an authoritative study of Reconstruction, his intention is to show the impact that terrorism had in a few places and on a few persons in the South after the war as part of a larger reflection of the post-Civil War South.
He does a good job of not trying to pretend the book is more than it is, and should be regarded as such. Some criticisms of the book I've seen harp on various perceived shortcomings, but this is not Foner, Stampp, or Fitzgerald writing a definitive history of Reconstruction. "The Bloody Shirt" is a storyteller bringing nonfiction to life in the words of those who lived it, with the footnotes and bibliography to prove it.
To that end, the book is roundly successful; the personalities are well-described and evocative, the references utilize primary sources like letters and newspaper clippings, and the stories themselves are emotive, powerful, and sometimes unbelievable.
Where the book is most successful; however, is in throwing water on the idea that Reconstruction is universally understood today as a time of domestic terrorism, subversion, and racism. In his critique of this book, Professor Blum of San Diego State implies that the subject matter of Reconstruction is already well-traveled and universally accepted. Would that this were true!
Budiansky helps us see just how far we still have to go (and how wrong the idea that Reconstruction is well-understood) in the final vignette of the book where he explores an event called "The Massacre at Hamburg". This subject deserves and will receive its own post, but just by bringing it to life in the words of the victims and witnesses, then showing the recurring responses over the decades, including a striking one in 2006, Budiansky has written an important book.
His narrative technique is sometimes a bit jumpy and fragmented, and the chronology gets muddled up, but this does not detract from the larger issues at hand. Budiansky's book is a reminder of the spasms that wracked the post-war South and the racism, violence, and depredations that plagued African-Americans and Republican whites. More importantly, he illustrates how this painful history, despite a recent surge in Reconstruction scholarship, continues to elude common sensibilities. A primary example will be presented in a few days, so stay tuned!

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Vandalism At Gettysburg

I was, like many others, stunned and horrified to read about the vandalism perpetrated at Gettysburg this past week. The Jess and I have visited the Eternal Peace Light Memorial; it is a truly beautiful spot and to see it desecrated is most upsetting. It stands on the field where we beheld man at his worst, killing his fellow man, as a reminder that we must stand up to our most base instincts and avoid the ultimate confrontation of war.
I would also like to join the many voices that have spoken up in hopes that the perpetrators are caught and brought forward to face the full extent of the law. I am frankly not that optimistic that they will be found, but we will have to see.
I also hope that if and when they are caught, some of the ghoulish threats directed at them on various blogs are not carried out. It stands in contravention of everything that the Eternal Peace Light Memorial stands for to wish for what Eric Wittenberg at "Rantings of a Civil War Historian" and Brooks Simpson at "Civil Warriors" (along with some of the comments) want to see happen.
Let's not give in to our lowest instincts, like those who would spray graffiti on a war memorial. We only denigrate ourselves to blather about torturing and murdering these people, and in stooping so low, we give the vandals exactly the perverse satisfaction they're looking for.
We are better than than this saber-rattling, vigilante response. As a community, we are better. As historians, we are better. As people who know what happened on that field, we are better.
So let's act like it.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Few Resources

Two sites have recently either come to my attention or come online. In the former category is Civil War Animated, a fantastic repository of maps with animations depicting troop movements, outcomes, etc. Not drenched in detail, but good for a quick question or brush-up.
In the latter category, Civil War Interactive has launched its new Newswire. Definitely add it to your blogroll if you haven't already.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Book Review: "Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant"

The journey of General James Longstreet through history is a remarkable insight into the fickle response of history to those who help make it. Few officers were more important to the Confederate war effort, arguably no officer was more beloved by General Robert E Lee (who called him his "war horse" and camped next to him every night), perhaps no commander had a better grasp of defensive and counter-offensive warfare.
More important than all of these plaudits is the fact that, despite this incredible war record, no single Confederate general has been more smeared and defamed by the Lost Cause mythology than General Longstreet. It is this evolution that William Piston takes on in his book "Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant".
Piston does a strong job working through Longstreet's war record and his incredibly close relationship with Lee during the war. He also captures an interesting point; despite his successes and leadership, his popularity paled in comparison to Virginians like Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, and Stonewall Jackson. The point is made, successfully for that matter, that because Longstreet was not from the state of Virginia, he never captured the heart of the Old Dominion and would be plagued by this separation long after the war was over.
Despite this, when the war was over, the initial writings about Longstreet were filled with praise and respect for his efforts. A few years later, Piston shows us an intersection of events that brought Longstreet to the forefront of the battle over the war's memory and the rise of the Lost Cause;
#1: the death of General Lee in 1870.
#2: Longstreet's becoming a Republican and publicly voicing support of the Reconstruction government.
#3: General Jubal Early, William Nelson Pendleton, and Reverend John Jones launching a public relations campaign, starting with Early's speech to Washington College on January 19, 1872, that would become "one of the cleverest orchestrations of innuendo and unsubstantiated accusations in American historiography."
With Lee's death in 1870 before he'd written even a manuscript of his memoirs about the war , there was a surge of interest in capturing and celebrating his memory. Piston carefully introduces us to the characters that took in upon themselves to elevate Lee to the beatific status he enjoyed for over one hundred years, as well as the techniques they used to do it.
Simply put, just like Newton's Third Law tells us, the action to elevate Lee required the opposite action of defaming Longstreet. Piston (and many authors who have tackled this subject matter described the development of Longstreet as Judas Iscariot to Lee's Christ-like status.
This is best illustrated by the "Longstreet Lost the War at Gettysburg" myth, all based on a lie perpetrated by William Pendleton (stay tuned, a post on this phenomenon will be forthcoming.) Longstreet made an easy target, not just because he wasn't a Virginian, but because he openly supported the Republican government, was thought to be betraying the tenets of the Confederacy he had fought for. Longstreet's clumsy and arrogant responses to these men did little to help his cause.
This book is less an apologia for General Longstreet as it is a scathing indictment of the personalities and agendas that set about smearing him as a part of the larger construction of the Lost Cause mythology. Piston is sometimes quite unsympathetic towards Longstreet, especially regarding his responses to those who would defame him; but this does not subtract from his pointed study of the manipulation and dishonesty perpetrated by men like Early et al, as well as influential historians that followed in the decades after the war, first among them Douglas Southall Freeman.
This all starts with the title of the book. By calling his work "Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant", Piston is clearly co-opting the title of Freeman's "Lee Lieutenants", a work which went a long way towards cementing the fables created around the Confederacy after the war. Piston carries us through not only the nitty-gritty of how a Confederate war hero became defamed and despised, but also how that myth perpetuated itself through the near 150 years since. From the United Daughters of the Confederacy applying pressure on schools regarding textbook content to Freeman's lavish use of hearsay and editorial comment, Longstreet's reputation never had a chance.
General Longstreet is as good a general as the Confederacy had; a fact recognized during and immediately after the war. In the years that followed, he would fall under the heels of the Lost Cause and its veneration of Lee to the point where he bore the blame for Gettysburg and bore yoke of Confederate defeat. Piston's text does a wonderful job of detailing and describing this evolution, leaving the reader to shake their head in disbelief at just how powerful a force the Lost Cause mythology was and still remains.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Moving Into 2009

It's now nighttime on the first day of 2009, and The Jess and I have rung in the New Year right! An excellent New Year's Eve dinner, some games, a big breakfast and a bunch of football. She's having a nap before dinner, and I want to share some thoughts I have for the direction of this space for the year.
So a few aesthetics first. The sidebar has been cleaned up for the New Year; I've taken the Reading List for 2008 and put it into a post with an archive link in the section, same with the Reasons Why The Jess Is Cool. Both will, I assure you, rapidly fill up over the course of '09. Also, I've removed the Recent Refreshment section, but any new drinks and roasts will most assuredly be written about.
This year, I plan to pick up a new thread of study by bringing together our work on the Lost Cause with extended readings on Reconstruction and its attendant difficulties and tragedies. This was spurred by some reading just before the end of the year when I completed Stephen Budiansky's "The Bloody Shirt". This book, along with Piston's "Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant", will be reviewed shortly, but the lid has been blown off of subject matter I haven't explored since my senior year at UCLA in 1998. I'm champing at the bit to get into this, we're in for some challenging and emotional work.
Texts by Blight, Foner, and Fitzgerald are going to be the cornerstones initially; these books are chosen because of their status as pillars of Reconstruction scholarship. I need to get back to fundamentals on this subject because Budiansky's book opened my eyes to just how deep our common misperceptions of Reconstruction run (and it wasn't even that great a book!)
As we move forward, I am prompted by a recent post at "Past in the Present" about citations of sources in blog posts. There is no industry standard, but as I have done in the past, please be assured that if you ever have a question about my source material, I will gladly provide any references I have used.

On The Reading Stand: 2008

  • The Bloody Shirt - Budiansky 12/18-12/31/08
  • Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant - Piston 12/6-12/17/08
  • The Darkest Days of the War - Cozzens 11/15-12/6/08
  • "Isn't This Glorious!" - Root/Stocker 10/6-11/13/08
  • Shiloh: Bloody April - Sword 10/17-11/1/08
  • Bitterly Divided - Williams 9/11-9/27/08
  • Lee Considered - Nolan 9/3-9/10/08
  • The Impending Crisis - Potter 7/11-9/2/08
  • Ghosts of the Confederacy - Foster 6/28-7/8/08
  • The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History - Gallagher 5/18/08-7/2/08
  • The Peculiar Institution - Stampp 6/25-6/29/08
  • Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten - Gallagher 6/4-6/20/08
  • Jubal Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History: A Persistent Legacy - Gallagher 5/17- 5/18/08
  • Red Badge of Courage - Crane 5/12-5/13/08
  • Allegiance - Detzer 3/5-5/18/08

Reasons Why The Jess Is Cool: 2008

  • recipe protocol
  • golden banana
  • SlowHome: her incredible blog
  • morning t-shirts
  • mattress switcharoo
  • nametags for plant friends
  • couch rehab
  • Macgyver coffee cup sleeve
  • tomatoes, superstrawbs, herbs
  • bison stampede
  • Superman theme song before work
  • tea service
  • matzo ball soup, hamentaschen, and black-white cookie from Milton's when I'm sick
  • Red Velvet birthday cake with strawberry glaze, creamcheese icing
  • Jane Austen readings
  • she's home from Michigan!
  • pear tart tatin
  • because she's my wife!