2010 Reading List

28 12 2009

I’m working out a big part of my 2010 reading list.  A while back I determined to work up a presentation on the members of the West Point classes of 1861 at Bull Run and, while I’ve had no takers, I’ve decided to move ahead with that.  So far, this is the list I have – if you have any other recommendations, let me know:

I’ve finished up Jim Schmidt’s Lincoln’s Labels, and will start Joan Waugh’s U. S. Grant, American Hero, American Myth tonight, and then dive into the above list.

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Christmas Jesus

24 12 2009

Merry Christmas to all my readers, even if you don’t celebrate it.  I don’t dole out the good wishes attendant to this day based on the beliefs of the recipient.  Enjoy your dinner with those you love, even if you’re not lucky enough to partake of the fruits of Domino’s, KFC, and the always delicious Taco Bell.





Update #3 on “Letters” Citation Flap

22 12 2009

[This update updated at 3:00 PM 12/23/2009] It ain’t over yet.  See here  and here for yet more updates on the series of posts most recently updated here.  I think it’s settled that the “letterbook”, while in McClellan’s hand and in the LOC, is anything but a collection of letters, and in the absence of those original letters all that can be said about it is that it is a collection of McClellan’s impressions of some of the content of letters we may assume were written.  While I realize that some folks have made up their minds (some of those minds doubtless made up as soon as it was learned who was involved, regardless of what any of them was actually saying), do read the blogger’s latest posts: it’s obvious quite a lot of work went into them, and their arguments appear valid – even if you don’t approve of the writer or question his motives.  As far as I’m concerned I’m not going to be able to reach a decision one way or another until I hear from someone else who has attempted to track down what Prof. McPherson is saying can be tracked down, using his instructions – the citation – and nothing else (the blogger explains why it can’t be done, while the author states that it can).  Who’s up for it?

Part I

Part II

Part III

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Update #2 on “Letters” Citation Flap

21 12 2009

I received some unexpected – and unsolicited - correspondence when I got home from the gym yesterday.  Here, and subsequently here, I linked to and discussed with my readers certain details of an article written by another blogger.  One of the authors involved in the issue took the time to send me an email clarifying his position.  I’ve reproduced the note and our subsequent exchanges below, but let me summarize the key point:

The author asserts that the specific LOC documents (microfilm images of what George B. McClellan described as “excerpts” of subsequently destroyed correspondence between himself and his wife) can in fact be located using the references cited by Prof. James McPherson in his notes to the essay in question.

[Please follow the links in this and the linked articles - you won't be able to follow along otherwise]

———-

Mr. Smeltzer,

While I don’t want to unduly prolong this tempest in a teapot, there is something you should know about Rotov’s latest assault on McPherson (and Rotov’s latest misinformation about my edition of McClellan’s papers).

Rotov got off on McPherson’s notes to his McClellan essay in Waugh’s & Gallagher’s Wars Within a War in which McP writes that his quotes from McClellan’s letters to his wife are taken from the McClellan Papers in the LC–which letters, he says, can be conveniently found in my “superbly edited” edition of McClellan correspondence (you see that I’m flattered by the plug from a Pulitzer Prize winner). What McP says here about his research is exactly correct.

McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom was published in 1988. In it he quotes from McClellan’s Letters to his wife (from the general’s letterbook in the LC Papers, not Prime’s bastardized versions in McClellan’s Own Story), including the very October 1861 letter Rotov is crowing about. My edition of McClellan’s Civil War correspondence was published in 1989–one year later. So McP’s “plagiarizing” from me is simply nonsense.

McP did his research (just as he says) in the McClellan manuscripts at the LC. If it was after 1973, he could have used the LC microfilm, where, as I have pointed out in my corrective to Rotov, the general’s lettebook (in his own handwriting) is easily found. Among Civil War scholars there is nothing secret about this letterbook; it has been known and used by every serious writer since its first published use in 1934.

The fact of the matter is that Dimitri Rotov has an agenda, certainly when it comes to his hero George McClellan. That includes repeatedly implying that I have “cooked the books” when it comes to McClellan’s correspondence. On that score at least I intend continuing to correct him. I won’t comment on his McPherson agenda beyond what is noted here.

Any questions or puzzlements, let me know. I’m a great admirer of your blog.

Best regards, Stephen Sears

———-

Mr. Sears,
 
Thanks for the note and the compliment.  Would you object to my adding your note to the comments section of my blog post that links to the Civil War Bookshelf article, or to putting it up on Bull Runnings as a separate post updating my earlier one?
 
Harry

———-

Harry (if I may),

Sure, do as you like. I’m strictly a bystander when it comes to blogging; yet, like your correspondent Dave Powell, I’m happy to go on record–especially when it comes to accurately documenting all things McClellan.

Stephen

———-

Stephen,
 
Two quick questions before I post your note.  I have never seen the McClellan papers in the LOC, so I only have the words of others to go by.  Can the letters be found in the LOC as referred to by McPherson?  That is, if he says “see letter dated x from McClellan to wife”, can a person, with no other reference, find that letter in the LOC?  Can a person even find a transcription of a purported letter using that reference alone? 
 
I will say that experience has shown me that very, very few enthusiasts who have read McClellan’s letters to his wife in your edition of his correspondence are aware that the letters themselves have not existed for over 100 years, even though your notes are clear on this.  The overarching perception is that what appears in your book are simple transcriptions of existing, original documents.
 
Harry

———-

Harry,
   
Without making this a lengthy tutorial, the simple answer to your question about finding something in the McClellan Papers LC is yes, it can be done–and it’s no harder than finding something in any large ms. collection. Dimitri is just blowing smoke here.
   
The McClellan Papers comprise 33,000 items, on 82 reels of microfilm. It reached the LC in two donations (by the McClellans’ son), the first being essentially the general’s papers held in the US; the second, Mrs. McClellan’s holdings at the Villa Antietam (!) where she lived in the south of France, donated after her death in 1915. The two donations were not co-mingled, but are arranged in four series.

The Library has a finding aid, and at the beginning of each microfilm reel (what a researcher uses at the LC; I have my own set, of course) is a table of contents of the collection.

McClellan’s letters to his wife are actually the easiest to find of anything in the Papers, contrary to Dimitri’s ranting. In the table of contents, under Series C, you will find “Extracts of Letters to Wife, 1861-62,” Volume C-7 of reel 63. Scroll through 63 to C-7 and you find a letterbook bearing the heading, in McClellan’s handwriting, “Extracts from letters written to my wife during the War of the Rebellion, [signed] Geo B. McClellan.” The extracts (not notes, as Dimitri tries to call them) that follow, all in McClellan’s hand, are copied and sequenced by date. Before my 1989 publication of McClellan’s Civil War correspondence, anyone of any intelligence could locate these letters–and did, among them Allan Nevins, Bruce Catton–and James McPherson.

As I clearly state in the introduction to my McClellan Papers book, in the epilogue of my McClellan biography (1988), and in various articles (and in my exchanges with Dimitri), the general himself copied these extracts from his original wartime letters to Ellen into this letterbook as an aid to his memoir-writing in the mid 1870′s. From their contents, it is obvious he copied the meat of these letters, excluding personal matter. After McC’s death his literary executor William Prime found the letterbook, had the McClellan’s daughter May copy from the original letters more personal matter that “humanized” her father, and then published them in severely censored and cropped form in “McClellan’s Own Story.”

Mrs. McClellan, who had moved abroad after the general’s death, was surely appalled by this invasion of her privacy and (I believe, on good grounds) destroyed the original letters.
   
So we have, then, General McClellan’s own copies, in his handwriting, of his wartime letters to his wife, supplemented by additional copies from the originals by his daughter (in her handwriting). In pre-copying machine days, what could possibly be more authentic? My contribution was to locate May McClellan’s copies (reel 72), carefully transcribe and combine the two sets of copies, and where necessary supply date and place of writing. What any editor would do.
   
It is important to remember that General McClellan included in these extracts what he considered the most important content of the original letters (just read them; it’s obvious). That should be worthy of our respect.
   
Well, this turned out to be a tutorial after all; sorry for that.

Stephen

———-

Stephen,
 
Thanks.  The answer to my question then is, yes, the microfilm copies of extracts or notes (it seems to me in a pure sense we can’t be sure what they are, since we have no originals for comparison – but you’ve made an educated or informed conclusion) can be found using the citations made by McPherson in the essay in question.
 
Thanks for the clarification.
 
Harry

———-

Harry,
   
This, I swear, will be my last. But I want to stress that these are not notes, but excerpts, just as McClellan termed them. It is a major distinction. His are copies of narrative letters, some of them two printed pages long. I don’t think there are any less than half a printed page long. McClellan himself assigned these full historical value, and we should respect that.

Enough said.

Stephen

———-

Stephen,
 
I agree, we should respect that.  As concerns the correspondence in question, what we have are what McClellan claimed were excerpts, in his hand.  In the absence of original documents, whether or not they actually are excerpts is subject to interpretation, not something that can be stated with certainty.  This is no reflection on the quality of your interpretation, but simply a statement of fact.
 
I do appreciate your taking the time to clarify your position here.  I’ll either post your original note, my questions, and your follow-ups as comments to the original article on Bull Runnings, or write a new update incorporating all of them.
 
Thanks for your time and interest, and thanks for reading Bull Runnings.
 
Enjoy the holidays,
 
Harry

Part I

Part II

Part IV

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Getting Them to Get It

17 12 2009

See this story of Columbus Bluejackets coach – and Civil War enthusiast - Ken Hitchcock’s difficulties in communicating with his young hockey team.  Seems like his problem is not unlike that of getting young folks interested in history.

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Springfield, IL: Part V – The Abraham Lincoln Presidential (Library and) Museum

15 12 2009

On Sunday, Oct. 11 this year my family and I visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, IL (see overview of the trip here).  The ALPLM complex is located only a few blocks from our hotel, and comes under the purview of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.  Due to budget restrictions, the Library is not open on weekends: that’s why “Library and” is parenthetical in the title of this post.  Here are shots of the complex (buff buildings) from our hotel room, my son and me outside the museum, and the then closed library across the street (click on the thumbs for a larger image):

  

Inside the museum we paid our fees ($22 for two adults and one 11 year-old) and, with recommendations from Mike Kienzler in hand, started on our journey.

Basically, the museum consists of an open receiving area, a theater, two “journeys” which center on the two phases of Lincoln’s life, an artifact display (Treasures Gallery), a play area for kids (Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic), and the Ghosts of the Library program. Photos are permitted only in the receiving area (Plaza) and Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic.  Museum security is very strict with photo limitations – don’t press your luck.  There’s also a museum store, a cafeteria, and an Illinois Gallery.

This museum is not what comes to mind when old fogies like me think of museums.  The trend today is away from stuff – artifacts - and towards multi-media experiences, lots of 3-D models, recreations, etc; more or less the telling of a story with fewer limitations on how it’s told.  It will work for some folks, and won’t work for others.  It is what it is.  Frankly, I didn’t mind; my kid loved it, and there were some very cool artifacts in the Treasures Gallery and sprinkled along the Journeys for the over 40 crowd.  To me, the rubber dummies looked like rubber dummies.  But maybe my mind’s eye isn’t what it used to be.  Younger folks, the ones who will be taking their kids to this museum some day, are a lot better at believing, and so are maybe more receptive to the influence of this kind of approach.

In the Plaza, we were first greeted by lifelike rubber models of the Lincoln family as they may have appeared prior to leaving Springfield for the White House.  This is a very popular photo stop, as everyone wants to get their picture with the Lincolns.  While the museum has staff there who are happy to take pictures on your camera, it’s hit or miss on whether or not they know how to use it.  All of the first set of us with the “dummies” came out blurry, but we had another staff member take the pictures later and they turned out OK.

  

Taking Mike’s advice we started with the film Lincoln’s Eyes.  This, like the rest of the museum, is not a traditional approach, but a multimedia enhanced film guided by an artist commissioned to paint the portrait of Lincoln that is posted outside the theater.  Whether this is the real artist, or an actor portraying a real or fictional artist isn’t quite clear to me.  I got that kind of feeling more than once in the museum.  Below are images of the portrait and of the film’s poster.

 

Next we took the first of the two Journeys, Pre-Presidential Years.  The tour starts off in a recreation of what a teenaged Abe’s log cabin may have resembled.  We proceeded past a lifelike depiction of a slave auction, which Abe may or may not have seen in New Orleans and through the New Salem store.  One of my wife’s favorites was the models of Lincoln, Willie and Tad in his law office where mayhem ruled.  My son loved the TV production panel, with Tim Russert commenting on the candidates of 1860 with modern graphics, and paid political announcements – we sat through it twice.  Below are photos of the lifelike young Lincoln and his cabin, which is accessed off the plaza.

 

Then it was on to Journey Two, The White House Years.  This tour is accessed off the plaza via the south portico of the White House, where we were greeted by Mary Lincoln and a display of dresses – reproductions - of prominent ladies of the era.  Then we walked through the Whispering Gallery, with asymmetrical framings of many of the anti-Lincoln cartoons produced during his presidency, accompanied by whispered criticisms of him over the sound system, which moved through the years as we walked.  Then came a touching tableau of the Lincoln’s vigil over the dying Willie on February 5, 1862.  While muffled sounds of revelers and music can be heard from downstairs, Lincoln stands in the doorway of his son’s room, one of Willie’s dolls dangling forlornly from his father’s hand, while Mary hovers over the bedridden boy.  Two weeks later Willie was dead, and we find Mary in mourning, sitting in a White House alcove in the dark, rain pelting on the windows.

On a stroll through the White House kitchen we heard the staff scuttlebutt, including speculation about Mary’s sanity.  Lincoln’s office is arranged as it may have appeared when Lincoln revealed plans for an Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet, with attendant rubber sculptures of each member.  The wall and floor coverings are brightly colored and ornate, as were those in the Lincoln Home we visited the day before – I think we imagine Victorian furnishings less vibrantly, but I’ll accept that the museum did its homework.  On exiting the room we could hear criticisms of the EP, this time with accompanying holographic, hectoring images, then we were led into a Hall of Shadows where AL ultimately signs the document.

The next few presentations depict the progress of the war, including an expansive Gettysburg mural.  My son’s favorite was a time-lapse map of The Civil War in Four Minutes.  As various battles are highlighted, the casualties mount in the lower right corner.  He watched it twice.  Nearby is a wall of dozens of photos, with touchscreens to access background on each one.

A tableau of Ford’s Theater frames the assassination, and another shows Lincoln lying in state in Springfield in the Capitol’s Hall of Representatives.  Lincoln’s casket was open for viewing in “real life” – the catafalque in the tableau is so high, and the casket inclined to such an extent that I couldn’t see if this detail was recreated.  The final exhibit explores efforts of American’s to “Hold On” to Lincoln by collecting items he may have owned or touched.

Here are a few images of the entry to Journey Two.  A few figures are hanging out near the entry: John Wilkes Booth, George McClellan, U. S. Grant, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass.  Check out the juxtaposition of McClellan and Grant: Mac imperious, properly holding cup and saucer, little finger extended, looking down on HUG; Grant gripping his cup ham-handedly, bothersome and useless saucer at his side, looking like he’s set to kick Mac’s ass.  I felt compelled to step between them.  (Funny – at 5’11″ I’m taller than both these guys, but it doesn’t appear that way in the photo.  Am I shrinking?)

     

[Every narrative of a good guy needs a bad guy.  I don't need to go into the problems I have with narrative history and its limitations, because I already talked about them here.  So let's accept the validity of a narrative format and go from there.  It's obvious who the good guy is going to be at the ALPLM.  And there's certainly no shortage of bad guys in AL's story.  Stephen Douglas, arguably.  The Radical Republicans.  Rabid Yankee abolitionists.  Fire-eating southern separatists.  Newspaper editors nationwide.  Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Braxton Bragg, Nathan B. Forrest et al.  The Confederate Congress.  John Wilkes Booth.  A nut-job wife.  All are likely candidates.  But all, if they are even mentioned in the displays or over the sound system of the museum, fade to static background noise behind the overarching presence of the great evil of AL's life: you guessed it, George B. McClellan.  In Lincoln's Eyes, he even appears as one of the divisive panels pulling the quilt of the nation apart.  What are the servants in the recreated kitchen of the White House overheard complaining about?  The limited reach of the Emancipation Proclamation?  The slaughter of U. S. Colored Troops?  No, of course not.  It's that traitor McClellan.  All of this is set up by the depiction of Mac outside the entrance to the White House.  Ah well, what are you gonna do?  Gotta roll with it.]

After Journey Two we took in Ghosts of the Library.  Don’t miss this.  It’s a special effects wonder.  I think I figured out how they did it at the end, but still I’m not positive and nobody’s talking.  An actor (or is it?) describes to the audience the importance of documents and artifacts in learning about the past.  Are the items we can see during the program actual artifacts and documents?  Probably not, but it really doesn’t matter.  It’s the message that counts.  But damn, this is one cool show.  I didn’t see a single fidgety kid in the audience.

The Treasures Gallery will appeal to traditionalists.  There are a number of swell items in here, none sweller than one of Lincoln’s stovepipe hats, complete with worn fingerprints on the right side outer and inner brim, where he would grip it to tip the hat to passers by.

The last stops on our tour were Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic and the Museum Store.  The Attic is really a glorified play area, though I was glad to see that my son – who will never get a job cleaning giraffe ears - is at least taller than Willie at the same age.  It also has a doll house version of the Lincoln Home my wife really liked. 

  

The gift shop I thought had a particularly poor selection of caps and shirts.  In fact, the tee shirts we did end up buying were clearance items we found the next day on a quick return trip – after all the discounts were taken, they were $4 each!

All-in-all, the ALPLM is a must see.  If you’re old (like me), it may not be what you’re used to, and folks do hate change sometimes.  But I watched the younger patrons, and they seemed pretty immersed in the whole experience.  Take an open mind with you.  I give it two thumbs up, and hope to get a chance to see the library at some point.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part VI

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Prince William County Sesquicentennial Plans

12 12 2009

Here’s more info on the planning going on in PWC. 

[Update: I've been informed that the blog to which this link leads is one of a modern political bent.  I apologize for that, but it's really the links in the post I wanted to point out.  If anyone is offended with the nature of the blog, please know that it was not my intent to endorse or otherwise comment on it.]





Brands and Bandages

11 12 2009

Author and blogger Jim Schmidt sent me nicely inscribed copies of  his book Lincoln’s Labels: America’s Best Known Brands and the Civil War, and a collection of essays he co-edited with Guy Hasegawa, Years of Change and Suffering; Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine.  I long ago realized I’ll never be able to read all the books I have cover to cover, let alone all the new ones I get.  But Labels looks right up my alley, current day connections to the Civil War, so I’m going to read this one as soon as I finish my current read, a biography of Israel B. Richardson.  I’ll read at least a few of the essays in Years of Change since I read Doctors in Blue last year.  But for now here’s a brief preview:

Years consists of eight essays: four by MD’s, one by a PharmD, one by a PhD, one by a bioanalytical chemist, and one by an MA in history who specializes in medical history.  No dummies here.  Topics are a Virginia medical school; Scientific American Magazine; Amputations; a biography of a Confederate medical innovator; urological wounds (ouch!); Southern Resources, Southern Medicines;  neurology; and the effects of “Combat Exposure”.  Most of the essays run about 20 pages, so this looks like a quick read.

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Update on “Letters” Citation Flap

8 12 2009

Go here for an update to this post

[UPDATE 12/9/2009: See also here.  It seems the editor still doesn't "get it" regarding the blogger's point about the citation in the essay, or the fact that transcriptions - or "extracts", as he calls them - while perhaps more reliable, are just that, transcriptions and not original correspondence, even if they are written by the original letter writer.  It would appear that some few of the "extracts" in question do include indication of to whom the destroyed letter was addressed.  Here, another historian weighs in.]

Some may argue that the blogger is making a fine point (though I’m sure there are some diehards who will say he’s making no point at all).  Fine or not, it’s a valid point and one with which I think one would be hard pressed to objectively argue against.  Since the blogger in question doesn’t allow comments for his own reasons – no less valid than the reasons I have for allowing them here – feel free to discuss this issue in the comments section to this post.  I received a few emails regarding this kerfuffle, but no comments, which I view as evidence of unwillingness (understandable, I think) of the writers to go “on record”.

Part I

Part III

Part IV





Springfield, IL: Part IV – Old State Capitol

6 12 2009

On Saturday, Oct. 10 this year my family and I visited the Old State Capitol  in Springfield, IL (see overview of the trip here).  After our tour of the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, we walked across Adams Street to the state house, where Lincoln served in the state legislature.  This building served as the fifth seat of Illinois state government from 1839 to 1876 (the preceding four were not in Springfield), and is now maintained by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

Here are a few shots of a descriptive marker on the grounds, the building, and detail of the front columns (click the thumbs for larger images):

    

Upon entering the state house, the central hall is dominated by the staircases to the second floor, from the landing of which can be seen the interior of the dome:

 

The first floor of the Capitol houses the offices of the auditor, secretary of state, and treasurer, as well as the state library, law library, and supreme court.  Here are photos of each in order:

     

The second floor is where the senate and hall of representatives are located.  There are a few interesting items outside these large rooms, including a statue of Stephen Douglas, a banner from Lincoln’s 1860 campaign, an old-timey mouse trap (death by drowning, I think), and the Adjutant General’s office (occupied 1869-1873 by old leather breeches Hubert Dilger):

   

Here’s the Senate Chamber:

Lincoln delivered his House Divided” speech in the Hall of Representatives, where he had served, upon his being put forth as a candidate for the U. S. Senate in 1858.  A little under 7 years later, his body would lie in state in the same room:

    

The coolest thing I picked up on my trip was a free handout at the Old Capitol.  It’s Lincoln’s last paycheck from the legislature.  It contains three very interesting signatures: Lincoln’s; Auditor James Shields; and Treasurer John Whiteside.  This is cool because, as you most likely know, future Civil War general Shields once challenged Lincoln to a duel over some critical letters that appeared in the Sangamo Journal known as the Rebecca Letters, the second of which was almost certainly written by Lincoln.  As the challenged party, Lincoln chose broadswords for weapons, and put some other creative limitations on the contest such that neither man could possibly strike the other, or that the much taller Lincoln only could reach his shorter opponent.  Shields’s second in all of this was Whiteside.  You can find all the correspondence on page 291 of volume I of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.  Or you can go here and advance through the sections to see all the correspondence and notes.

I forgot to ask where Lincoln had his office during the presidential campaign (or was it after the election and prior to the inauguration?) - if any of you readers know, clue me in.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part V

Part VI

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