The Bonfire

13 10 2009

Bonfire, theI finished up Mark Wortman’s The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta.  Let me start off with a warning – this is possibly the most inappropriately titled book I’ve ever read.  Unlike Russell Bonds’s War Like the Thunderbolt, and despite the claims of its title, Wortman’s book is most definitely not primarily concerned with the siege and burning of Atlanta.  It’s more accurately described as a history of the city of Atlanta, from its wilderness days up through the climactic events of 1864.

Look at it this way: Wortman’s story takes up 361 pages.  John Bell Hood doesn’t take over command of the Army of  Tennessee until page 259, and William T. Sherman marches out of the burning city on page 336.  But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Bonfire is a social history first and foremost.  And it compliments rather than competes with Thunderbolt.  You’ll get more back story on the people and places in Bonfire, and more focus on a narrower timeframe in Thunderbolt.

I’m not a fan of Wortman’s writing style: as I’ve said before, I dig Hemingway, not Steinbeck, and so prefer fewer words to more.  Wortman is heavy on the adjectives and uses so many compound sentences I found myself having to read a lot of them more than once.  He’s at his weakest when he’s discussing military matters: Abraham Lincoln changed commanders of the Army of the Potomac two times in the first two years of the war, not five (from McClellan to Burnside and from Burnside to Hooker – that’s two.  Neither McDowell nor Pope ever commanded the AotP, and McClellan organized it);  the Army of the Cumberland was commanded by William Rosecrans, not William Rosencrans, and his army was attacked by that of Braxton Bragg at Chickamauga, not the other way around; Jefferson Davis placed Robert E. Lee in command of the army outside Richmond in 1862 because Joe Johnston was wounded, not because Lee was more aggressive.  But the correction of these problems would not significantly alter the product, which again is not a military history.  Of course, it does bring into question the accuracy of the non-military aspects of the book.  But I’m having trouble getting fired up about that – I guess I’m mellowing in my old age.

Bonds’s writing style is more appealing to me, but that’s a matter of personal taste.  The contents are so dissimilar that comparisons would be apples to oranges.  I think the way to approach these books would be to start reading Wortman, then read the two in tandem when they synch up time-wise.

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Coming Up…Springfield, IL

12 10 2009

I just got back from a long weekend in Springfield, IL.  My family was (were, if you’re British) nice enough to treat me to the trip for my upcoming birthday.  We saw a lot of stuff and, believe it or not, two days was just not enough time to see everything we wanted.  I took about 250 pictures, and while I don’t intend on subjecting you to all of them, I plan to write a series of posts over the next week or two that will be illustrated to an altogether fitting and proper extent.





SCWH Newsletter

9 10 2009

I received the Fall 2009 Society of Civil War Historians newsletter today.  Mostly it lists the Civil War related sessions at the upcoming Southern Historical Association‘s conference in Louisville, KY in November.

By far the best thing in this issue of the newsletter is Mark Grimsley’s review of Battle: the Nature and Consequences of Civil War Combat, a collection of essays edited by Kent Gramm.  I reviewed the collection in brief for America’s Civil War last year, and there’s only so much one can do with the “in brief” format.  Prof. Grimsley gave the essays by GNMP historian Scott Hartwig and Dr. Bruce Evans high marks, but skewered the remaining four with considerable flair.  Check it out – it should be in your mailbox today, unless you’re not a member.  You can fix that by going here.





New Blog – “Blog Divided”

7 10 2009

I just ran across a new blog (hat tip to Jim Beeghley) run by Dickinson College called Blog Divided, which says it is for anyone teaching or studying the house divided era, 1840-1880.  I’ll add it to my blogroll on the next update, but until then check it out.

I should add that this blog is new to me.  I don’t know how long it’s been around.





Review Policy

7 10 2009

In light of the recent FTC ruling concerning requirements for product reviews, I’ve posted a Review Policy.  I realize that perhaps this ruling doesn’t apply to book reviews, but I’d rather not take the chance.  Check it out and let me know what you think.  Any suggestions are appreciated.





Breaking News – FTC Ruling Affects Bloggers

5 10 2009

OK, have to break a rule here: I don’t typically regurgitate a news item here that originates elsewhere on the web – I just provide a link.  But this is pretty big news for us Civil War bloggers, many of who review books regularly.

FTC: Bloggers must disclose payments for reviews

PHILADELPHIA — The Federal Trade Commission will require bloggers to clearly disclose any freebies or payments they get from companies for reviewing their products.

It is the first time since 1980 that the commission has revised its guidelines on endorsements and testimonials, and the first time the rules have covered bloggers.

But the commission stopped short Monday of specifying how bloggers must disclose any conflicts of interest.

The FTC said its commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the final guidelines, which had been expected. Penalties include up to $11,000 in fines per violation.

The rules take effect Dec. 1.

See here.

Up until recently, most of my reviews have concerned books that I’ve purchased.  Lately I’ve been receiving more unsolicited, free books for review.  I’m not sure that I’ve been clear when those are reviews of books I’ve received in this manner.  When I say I received a book for review, that means I didn’t buy it.  But I guess I need to come up with some sort of stock comment that states the case more clearly – I don’t want a “free” book to end up costing me $11,000.

See NYT article here.





Books, Trips, Letters, Apologies

5 10 2009

I’ve updated a number of links on my Books and Articles On-Line page that were rendered useless by the demise of Microsoft’s book digitization project.  If you run across any digitized versions of Bull Run related books or articles not on my list, please let me know and I’ll get them posted.

My family is taking me on a trip to Springfield, IL for my birthday coming up in November (the birthday is in November, the trip is not that far away).  We’ll be gone a few days, and I don’t anticipate making any posts during that period (blogging on a sight-seeing trip doesn’t appeal to me; blogging on a sit-on-your-butt trip is a different story).  I should have plenty of photos to post when I get back, and Mike over at the The Abraham Lincoln Observer (my favorite among a sea of Lincoln blogs) has been kind enough to send me some tips for the trip.  In the main, I plan to visit the ALPMuseum (the library will be closed), his home, the tomb, and drive to New Salem.  There are also some other oddball sights I’d like to hit, like the funeral museum Andrew Ferguson visited in Land of Lincoln (oops, reading Mike’s tips I see that museum has folded).  If you haven’t read that book yet, you should: it’s a hoot.

If work permits, this week I hope to post the letter from the member of Company D, 5th AL I talked about here, along with some related material.  The generous reader who shared the letter has been unable to look again at the original to get two missing lines, and has given me the go-ahead to post the letters without them.  When he does get the missing lines, I’ll amend the letter at that time.

I’ve also got a number of other letters to post, and need to apologize to many folks who have been kind enough to take the time to pass them on.  Friend Mike Peters has sent me a number of New York soldiers letters published in various newspapers, friend Terry Johnston has sent me some good stuff on the 79th NY Highlanders, friend Eric Wittenberg sent me a letter concerning Hampton’s Legion, and of course I have all that Brent Nosworthy material to wade through.  I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I have planned for the resources section.  Let’s hope I live long enough to make a dent.

Also keep an eye on what Jonathan Soffe is doing over at First Bull Run.com.  Cool stuff that he has graciously allowed me to use when I get around to writing my unit biographies.





Antietam’s Bloody Lane Trail

4 10 2009

On September 18, 2009, I found myself at Antietam National Battlefield with time on my hands, and decided to fill it by walking the park’s new Bloody Lane Trail.  The 1.5 mile loop begins and ends at the park visitor center, and covers the attack and defense of the Sunken Road.  It was just about a perfect day, weather-wise, though it wound up being warmer than I at first thought.  So, I stopped into the VC bookstore and bought one of the NPS Bloody Lane Trail pamphlets for $0.99 (you can get a trail pamphlet for free at the front desk, but it’s bare bones).  Setting out about 4:00 PM, I snapped some photos along the way.  Click on the thumbs for larger images.

From the VC, I walked north to the New York monument.  From there I looked southwest towards the Sunken Road (the end of which is plainly marked by the red roof of the observation tower) and northeast toward the Mumma (m-you-ma) Farm.

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Here at the monument the pamphlet gives a quick overview of the battle’s morning phase, and an only slightly less general description of Sumner’s 2nd Corps and what transpired through the end of the fighting in the Sunken Road.

I decided to follow the instructions dutifully; though I had walked the grounds before, the official NPS trail is a little shorter than the tours I had been on.  So I walked from the NY monument generally east to the Mumma Farm lane, and then made a left toward the picturesque farm, stop #1.  The farm buildings were burned during the battle, and only the stone spring house (and spring) are wartime structures.  Right about where the spring house sits on the gravel lane, I followed the trail right (southeast).

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At the head of this path is an NPS wayside marker.  The trail took me towards the even more picturesque Roulette Farm.  Along the way I saw one of the many outcroppings that litter the field, all oriented about 23 degrees east of north – I guess glaciers don’t zig or zag much.

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The trail brought me to the bucolic Roulette Farm’s (stop #2) outbuildings, and inside one was a surprise – a limber (or was it a caisson missing a chest?) in disrepair.  I don’t think this is an original.  Regardless of budget constraints, I can’t imagine the NPS storing a 145-plus-year-old item like that in a shed.  I got a couple of nice shots of the house and a fuzzy one of the barn – it’s a new camera and this is the first time I used it.  It has about a dozen pixies flying around inside, and I think they make the camera shake when they get rambunctious.

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The trail snakes around the barn and continues straight while the Roulette Lane makes a right and continues southwest to the sunken lane.  The Three Farms Trail shoots off to the northeast, and then the ground gets really interesting. 

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As I walked towards the line on which the Irish Brigade (among others) advanced on the Sunken Road, I was confronted with this hill and the sudden disappearance of the top of the observation tower.  It comes back into view at the top of this hill (stop #3).

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The ground still rises from this point, and I made a right turn southwest toward the Sunken Road.  Using the Irish Brigade as an example, they were deployed from left to right across this scene.  The ground leveled off as I approached the #4 tour stop, but still the lane is not visible in front (though it is to the left, toward the tower).  However, unfurled colors and bayonets would have been plainly visible to the men in the lane.

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Continuing  on I descended into the lane (stop #5), where I could view the Confederate positions left (southeast) and right (northwest).

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At this point I took a detour from the tour, which leads northwest toward the Roulette Farm lane, to take a walk up the tower.  Unfortunately I’ve been having knee problems more severe than usual, and only made it up 21 steps.  So deciding discretion was the better part of valor, I descended (not as easy as it sounds) and proceeded back to where the trail joined the lane.  Here you get a good idea of the terrain, not just in front of the lane…

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…but behind it…

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…and in it.  Note that the Sunken Lane descends toward the Roulette Farm Lane, then ascends sharply towards where the trail turns right (north) off the Sunken Lane.

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It was in this area (stop #6), left and right of the Roulette Farm lane, that French’s division – the brigades of Weber, Morris, and Kimball – took their heavy casualties before Richardson’s division and the Irish Brigade even reached the field.  It’s true: you can look it up.

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From there it was a nice walk back up and across the Mumma Lane to Tompkins’s Battery and the visitor center.

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You can check out the experiences of other bloggers with the Bloody Lane trail, from around the same time,  here and here.

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