Looking for Lincoln

22 11 2008

looking-for-lincolnI was cruising Costco for free food the other day when I ran across a new photo-book, Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon, by brothers Philip and Peter Kunhardt and nephew/son Peter Kunhardt, Jr., the fourth and fifth generations of the famous Meserve-Kunhardt family of Lincoln scholars and collectors.  First, let me say that if you pay full list of $50 for this book there is something seriously wrong with you.  Not because it isn’t “worth it”, but because you can get it from lots of sources for a much lower price.  For example, at Costco I paid $30 (while this has been a year that has seen my Lincoln section balloon, I couldn’t resist).

The oversize, coffee-table style book is full of wonderful photos, paintings, drawings and etchings,  including a section at the end with all 114 known photos of Lincoln.  But what sets it apart from dozens of similar volumes is its chronology.  Looking for Lincoln starts with the President’s assassination and progresses to the death of his son Robert in 1925, showing how the Emancipator’s image developed over the years.  A cool concept and a cool book.  So while you’re munching on tilapia out of a paper cup, head on over to that huge table of books and check it out.

By the way, the book is meant as an accompaniment to a two-hour PBS special with the same title due to air in the winter of 2009.





The Figure a Poem Makes

20 11 2008

In this post, I tried to explain – ineloquently – my “vision” for this site (I’ll use the word “site” to include both the blog part and the digital history (DH) part, though some might argue that the blog is DH too, and I guess it is, but by “DH part” I mean the Bull Run Resources).  This time, instead of using philosophy as a way to differentiate between DH and what I’ll call TNH (Traditional Narrative History), let me try poetry.  Prose, poetry, neither better than the other, like oysters and clams (as Crassus explained to Antoninus in that scene deleted from Spartacus).  But just as I’m not a philosopher, neither am I a poet.  So I’ll let a poet do the talking.

Robert Frost wrote the following in 1939 as an introduction to a collection of his poems (see here):

robert-frostAbstraction is an old story with the philosophers, but it has been like a new toy in the hands of the artists of our day. Why can’t we have any one quality of poetry we choose by itself? We can have in thought. Then it will go hard if we can’t in practice. Our lives for it.

Granted no one but a humanist much cares how sound a poem is if it is only a sound. The sound is the gold in the ore. Then we will have the sound out alone and dispense with the inessential. We do till we make the discovery that the object in writing poetry is to make all poems sound as different as possible from each other, and the resources for that of vowels, consonants, punctuation, syntax, words, sentences, metre are not enough. We need the help of context – meaning – subject matter. That is the greatest help towards variety. All that can be done with words is soon told. So also with metres – particularly in our language where there are virtually but two, strict iambic and loose iambic. The ancients with many were still poor if they depended on metres for all tune. It is painful to watch our sprung-rhythmists straining at the point of omitting one short from a foot for relief from monotony. The possibilities for tune from the dramatic tones of meaning struck across the rigidity of a limited metre are endless. And we are back in poetry as merely one more art of having something to say, sound or unsound. Probably better if sound, because deeper and from wider experience.

Then there is this wildness whereof it is spoken. Granted again that it has an equal claim with sound to being a poem’s better half. If it is a wild tune, it is a Poem. Our problem then is, as modern abstractionists, to have the wildness pure; to be wild with nothing to be wild about. We bring up as aberrationists, giving way to undirected associations and kicking ourselves from one chance suggestion to another in all directions as of a hot afternoon in the life of a grasshopper. Theme alone can steady us down. Just as the first mystery was how a poem could have a tune in such a straightness as metre, so the second mystery is how a poem can have wildness and at the same time a subject that shall be fulfilled.

It should be of the pleasure of a poem itself to tell how it can. The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom. The figure is the same as for love. No one can really hold that the ecstasy should be static and stand still in one place. It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life – not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion. It has denouement. It has an outcome that though unforeseen was predestined from the first image of the original mood – and indeed from the very mood. It is but a trick poem and no poem at all if the best of it was thought of first and saved for the last. It finds its own name as it goes and discovers the best waiting for it in some final phrase at once wise and sad – the happy-sad blend of the drinking song.

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. For me the initial delight is in the surprise of remembering something I didn’t know I knew. I am in a place, in a situation, as if I had materialized from cloud or risen out of the ground. There is a glad recognition of the long lost and the rest follows. Step by step the wonder of unexpected supply keeps growing. The impressions most useful to my purpose seem always those I was unaware of and so made no note of at the time when taken, and the conclusion is come to that like giants we are always hurling experience ahead of us to pave the future with against the day when we may Want to strike a line of purpose across it for somewhere. The line will have the more charm for not being mechanically straight. We enjoy the straight crookedness of a good walking stick. Modern instruments of precision are being used to make things crooked as if by eye and hand in the old days.

I tell how there may be a better wildness of logic than of inconsequence. But the logic is backward, in retrospect, after the act. It must be more felt than seen ahead like prophecy. It must be a revelation, or a series of revelations, as much for the poet as for the reader. For it to be that there must have been the greatest freedom of the material to move about in it and to establish relations in it regardless of time and space, previous relation, and everything but affinity. We prate of freedom. We call our schools free because we are not free to stay away from them till we are sixteen years of age. I have given up my democratic prejudices and now willingly set the lower classes free to be completely taken care of by the upper classes. Political freedom is nothing to me. I bestow it right and left. All I would keep for myself is the freedom of my material – the condition of body and mind now and then to summons aptly from the vast chaos of all I have lived through.

Scholars and artists thrown together are often annoyed at the puzzle of where they differ. Both work from knowledge; but I suspect they differ most importantly in the way their knowledge is come by. Scholars get theirs with conscientious thoroughness along projected lines of logic; poets theirs cavalierly and as it happens in and out of books. They stick to nothing deliberately, but let what will stick to them like burrs where they walk in the fields. No acquirement is on assignment, or even self-assignment. Knowledge of the second kind is much more available in the wild free ways of wit and art. A schoolboy may be defined as one who can tell you what he knows in the order in which he learned it. The artist must value himself as he snatches a thing from some previous order in time and space into a new order with not so much as a ligature clinging to it of the old place where it was organic. More than once I should have lost my soul to radicalism if it had been the originality it was mistaken for by its young converts. Originality and initiative are what I ask for my country. For myself the originality need be no more than the freshness of a poem run in the way I have described: from delight to wisdom. The figure is the same as for love. Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting. A poem may be worked over once it is in being, but may not be worried into being. Its most precious quality will remain its having run itself and carried away the poet with it. Read it a hundred times: it will forever keep its freshness as a metal keeps its fragrance. It can never lose its sense of a meaning that once unfolded by surprise as it went.

Yeah – for me history, like life, is more like poetry than prose.  More like art than science.  I guess that’s why I bridle at anything more than very general boundaries for it.  And why I’m so excited about the possibilities for the presentation of history on the web.

Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout a new way of walkin’.  Do ya wanna lose your mind? Walk right in, sit right down.  Daddy let your mind roll on.

What do you think?

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Battlefield Preservation: Ox Hill/Chantilly

19 11 2008

chantilly

Here’s a link to an article in the current America’s Civil War magazine by Chris Howland, Ox Hill: Honoring 2nd Bull Run’s Bloody Postscript.  Check it out…good work being done by good people.





The Blog Lebowski

16 11 2008

I’ve been thinking about some recent discussions bouncing around on several blogs regarding the form “information compilation” blogs should take.  Whenever we start speaking in terms of should instead of could I get a little nervous.  Now, I believe that certain basic tenets need to be followed when dealing with history, including digital history – proper citation and attribution especially.  But when I hear some suggest that there necessarily be interpretation and analysis, I have to wonder.  Of course, narrative form history requires an interpretive framework that is the product of the author’s analysis (see here).  But do we want to constrain ourselves with the narrative format when we don’t have to?

im-a-lebowskiIn a comment I made to this post, I mentioned that I think of the digital history portion of this blog, the Bull Run Resources, as being like the Buddha: not the moon, but the finger pointing at the moon.  Now, I didn’t come up with that on my own – I don’t know much about philosophy (about all I learned from the one philosophy course I took in college was the very valuable lesson that it’s less important to provide a correct answer than it is to provide the answer the instructor wants).  No, I got the Buddha thing from none other than The Dude, or His Dudeness, or The Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.  That is, the actor who made The Dude famous, Jeff Bridges.  In the foreword to the book I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski: Life,The Big Lebowski, and What-Have-You, the actor wrote [emphasis and brackets mine]:

“I often take these little walks in the evening at sunset and listen to different things.  Recently I played some Alan Watts [a British philosopher], and it reminded me of my conversation with Bernie [Glassman, founder of Zen Peacemakers] and how Zen relates to Lebowski.  Watts says, ‘The whole art of poetry is to say what can’t be said.’  I suppose that’s true for any art, including filmmaking.  He goes on to say that ‘Every poet, every artist feels when he gets to the end of his work, that there is something absolutely essential that was left out, so Zen has always described itself as a finger pointing at the moon.’  The Big Lebowski is a lot like that.

“The guys who wrote this book say the Coens [the writers, director and producer of The Big Lebowski] have kept clear of them entirely, and that tickles me.  Like all of you reading this, I’d be interested to know what the Coen brothers think, but it’s kind of beautiful that they don’t want to say anything definitive.  Let ‘em be the pointing finger.”

So that’s kind of how I view Bull Runnings.  I’ll give my opinion and analysis on the blog part of this site.  But for now let the Bull Run Resources section serve as a pointing finger.  Depending on who explores the data, why, how, and in what order, the story will be different.  To me, that’s what really distinguishes digital history from traditional narrative.  And perhaps what makes it more like real life.

More on poetry and digital history later.

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Old Bull Run Report of Fourteenth Found

15 11 2008

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 17, 1901, Page 6 (see here)

Old Bull Run Report of Fourteenth Found.

———————

Turned Over to War Veterans’ Association After Nearly Forty Years.

———————

Written By Colonel Fowler

Describes Part the Regiment Took in the First Great Battle of the Civil War.

———————

Colonel Fowler’s report to Colonel Porter of the part taken by the Fourteenth Regiment in the first battle of Bull Run, which has been lost for nearly forty years, has been found and turned over to the Wasr Veterans’ Association.  Several weeks ago it was learned that this report and a number of other papers were in a packet which had been picked up near Arlington, Va., in 1861, and could be had for the asking.  The finder, it was said, had put them away with other souvenirs of the war and only lately had learned that the survivors of the Red Legged Devils would like to have them.

The writing is as clear and distinct as though done yesterday.  Colonel Wood was wounded and captured in the battle and Lieutenant Colonel Fowler took command.  Colonel Porter was the regular Army officer in command of the brigade to which the Fourteenth was assigned.  The report reads as follows:

Report Text

The other papers were a consolidated report of the morning of July 19, ahile the regiment was on its way to the battlefield, and showing that its strength was 843 officers and men; an order from General McClellan, dated August 4, and assigning the Fourteenth, with the Twenty-second and Thirtieth New York Volunteers, to Colonel Keyes’ brigade; an order from McClellan constituting Keyes’ and Wadsworth’s brigades a division to be commanded by Brigadier General Irwin McDowell, United States Army; an order from McDowell assigning the four regiments Keyes’, which was known as the Iron Brigade, to positions.  The Fourteenth and Twenty-second were left where they were.

The other two were ordered to take position on the line with the Twenty-second.  The morning report referred to above is signed by Colonel Wood and L. L. Laidlaw, a lieutenant in G. who was acting adjutant.  In the battle of Bull Run Wadsworth was an aid on McDowell’s staff, ranking as a major.  After Woods’ injury he stuck by the Fourteenth and was breveted a colonel on the field.  He was soon made a general and he always, so the vets say, took great interest in the Fourteenth.





Fowler’s Report

14 11 2008

The after action report of E. B. Fowler of the 14th Brooklyn was printed in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on March 17th, 1901.  I was alerted to this by reader Linda Mott in a comment to this post.  For now, you can find the article here, but I will be posting the text separately since it’s an interesting story.





#33a – Lieut. Col. E. B. Fowler

14 11 2008

Report of Lieut. Col. E. B. Fowler

Brooklyn Eagle, March 17, 1901, p. 6

Arlington Heights

July 23, 1861

In accordance with regulations I submit the following of the action of the regiment in the late battle before Manassas, July 21, 1861.  We entered the field through the opening made for railroad and advanced on the field in line of battle to the road leading through the enemy’s lines, up which road we advanced by the right flank, and halted with our right resting near a brick house to the corner of a road leading to our left.  The enemy then placed a battery at the top of the hill commanding the road and poured upon us a terrible fire of shot and shell.  We then, by order of Colonel Porter, advanced up the road leading to our left.

When we arrived opposite the woods on the right of the road we received a severe and continued fore of musketry from a force in ambush in the woods, whom we could not see.  Our men returned partially the fire and retired behind the fence and reformed.  A mounted officer from Griffin’s battery then appealed to us to protect that battery, saying that if we did not give them our aid the battery would be lost.  We then formed in rear of the battery and it was withdrawn.  We then being under a heavy fire from the enemy and our men being exhausted, retired from the field for about ten minutes.  We then advanced in line and flanked the road leading into the enemy’s lines.  We then, by order of Colonel Porter, took position in front and below Griffin’s battery.  After remaining here some time under fire from the enemy’s battery, we then, by order of General McDowell, advanced in line up the hill on the right of the road leading through the enemy’s lines and met the Zouaves retreating in disorder.  We continued our advance within forty yards of the enemy’s infantry, who were then advancing up the ravine in column of division.  the fire of the battalion was directed on their leading division with terrible effect, the entire division being cut down.  They then deployed and delivered their fire on us, which, together with a cross fire from the bushes and the shot and shell from their battery, were so severe that we were compelled to retire.  We reformed near the road and advanced again to the top of the hill and were again compelled to retire, firing as we retreated.  On crossing the road a battery opened on us from the right, compelling us (with the example of others retreating) to retire from the field in disorder, the greater portion of the Army then being in rout.  About 300 men formed on the road, but in the panic again became separated and came straggling into camp.

I regret to say that in the last charge Colonel Wood was severely wounded.  He was carried several miles by the men and afterward placed in an ambulance.  The last account we had of him was in the ambulance near the Bull’s Run bridge when the retreating column was fired into.  Major Jourdan deserves especial praise for the bravery he displayed on the occasion and the officers and men generally displayed great courage and enthusiasm.  Our loss appears to be very severe, but will be probably by stragglers coming in.

Respectfully submitted,

Lieutenant Colonel E. B. Fowler

Commanding Fourteenth Regiment, N. Y. S. M.

Colonel Porter

Commanding First Brigade, Second Division, Army of Virginia








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