McDowell’s Real Plan

1 05 2014

Sorry this has taken so long.

The good folks at the Central Ohio Civil War Round Table – they’re in the Columbus area – invited me out to speak to them on the topic of my choice this past March 12. They invited me, jeez, must have been at least 18 months ago. They get really good speakers out there so the schedule is set many months in advance. This is the second time I’ve spoken to the group. I really like being invited back to a group, as I rightly or wrongly interpret that to mean they like what I do. Regardless, I’m to the point now where I won’t speak to any group unless they say “Hey, you want to speak to our group?”

My wife actually accompanied me on this trip; she’s never seen me speak before, and only once did she even attend a class I taught – because our soon to be son was due any day and she hoped discomfort and boredom would help spur things along. So this was an unusual trip right from the start, and continued on the unusual path when we got a flat tire very near our hotel. I changed the tire and we made it over to the hotel where our host Mike Peters (the historian of the COCWRT and the talent-booker) was waiting to take us to dinner.

After a nice meal we headed over to the venue in Westerville – a cool room in an old building at Otterbein University where veterans held meetings post-war. I renewed a couple of old acquaintances and made some new ones, and finally got to meet Phil Spaugy, with whom I’ve been “friends” on Facebook for awhile, and his posse from Dayton. Check out Phil’s blog here.

Towers Hall, Otterbein University

Towers Hall, Otterbein University

Meeting Room, COCWRT, Towers Hall, Otterbein University

Meeting Room, COCWRT, Towers Hall, Otterbein University

I was told by Mike that I had about 30 to 45 minutes for my presentation. I went over by about half an hour, but only one of the 20 or so in attendance left before the end (he is a lawyer, and I heard a siren going off only minutes before he left – coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.)

The gist of the presentation in a nutshell – my opinion, which I hope I supported adequately:

McDowell’s plan for the First Bull Run campaign was not a quick, tactical flank attack meant to overwhelm his outnumbered opponent and defeat him in the field. It was a deliberate, strategic turning maneuver, meant to compel a superior opponent to abandon his carefully chosen position, allowing McDowell to cut his line of communications. It did not fail because of slow movement, a complex plan, or the arrival of last minute Confederate reinforcements. It failed because McDowell was unable to establish his own line across Bull Run and move on the rail line at Groveton, and was instead drawn into a series of frontal assaults against a larger force occupying a superior position.

Sacrilege, I know. Of course, I had more to say than these four sentences, and that’s the fun part. You can read a recap of my talk here. I can quibble with a few things, but I’m not sure if the misunderstanding was due to a failure on my part to be clear. For now let’s just say that not all the details jive with what I meant to say. I really like this bit, though:

[Harry Smeltzer] reacts to consensus like a bull to the matador’s cape. Charge! And he lays waste to conventional wisdom. He doesn’t trust accepted “facts” and easy generalizations about battles, strategies, troop movements, and other assumptions that have been passed down as gospel over generations.

Yep, that’s me. I’m a loner. A rebel.

Afterwards we took a chilly walk to a nearby college pub where a few of us quaffed ales and had a generally ribald time. The next day, Mike and I went on a little field trip to nearby Lancaster, OH, while the wife made some sales calls and got the flat fixed. But that’s another story…





The Long and the Short of My Columbus Presentation

14 03 2014

More to follow.





Presenting in Ohio Next Month

20 02 2014

Just a reminder that I’ll be making a presentation to the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable on March 12. Here’s a summary:

Irvin McDowell’s Plan and Other Bull Run Misconceptions. This program will explore what the presenter feels are popular misconceptions surrounding the First Bull Run campaign, with primary focus on the Union army commander’s intentions up to the early hours of July 21, 1861. We will discuss how we have come to know the story of Bull Run as we know it, various primary sources and secondary accounts of the campaign, treatments by historians and institutions, the general interest (or lack thereof) of Civil War enthusiasts in the details of the campaign, and other related – or even unrelated – topics. As always, the audience will likely play no small role in the content of the program as it progresses.

I’m looking forward to this. It will be the first time I talk about my thoughts on what McDowell really intended when he set out from Washington for Manassas. It’s not what you think. Just gotta figure out how to set it down on paper and slides. You see, this is a very complicated case. You know, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous. And, uh, a lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Oh man, my thinking about this case has become very uptight. Let’s just hope I can get things straight by then.

Check out the details at the COCWRT website.





Off the Record, On the QT, and Very Hush-Hush

1 08 2013

I’ve been waiting for a chance to use another James Elroy quote, and here it is! I just heard through the grapevine that a manuscript has been submitted to a university press – a First Bull Run campaign study that the editor indicates is “long, deeply researched, and extremely well written.” Can this be the type of study I called for in the roundtable article in Civil War History a while back?

It’s starting to sound like I’m advocating a big campaign study featuring coordinated coverage of the social, political, and military aspects of the campaign in context and detail, with an emphasis on how they all impacted what was to follow, and I guess I am.  I think it would make for a fascinating read.

Let’s hope this is it. Having some idea how the process works, I’m guessing it will be a couple of years before we see anything (as late as 2016, the 155th anniversary, perhaps.) But I could be way off on that. And no, I don’t know the writer’s identity. Refer again to the title of this post.

In other news, the program I will present to the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable (and talked about here) continues to evolve and I’ve decided to actually write this one up. I’ll share some bullet-points with you all later, but won’t make the big reveal until that evening, of course. Again, the program will focus on McDowell’s plans: what he expected, what he intended, and how and why we seem to miss the mark today when it comes to evaluating them and him.





Making Progress

12 07 2013

I am making progress on a program I will present to the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable next spring. Yes, you heard that right, next spring. One of the luxuries of not doing a lot of these presentations is I have plenty of time to prepare. I’m taking a different tack with this one. For the most part my narratives have been mostly extemporaneous based on fairly rough outlines and PowerPoint slides. In fact, the last one I gave had no slides at all, just some notes but also a few pretty long passages from books and some articles I wrote previously (that one was interesting and I had really very little idea where the road would lead, though I was pleasantly surprised.) I decided quite a few months ago, when I got the invite from COCWRT, to open a Word document on my desktop and put down thoughts on the presentation as they entered my head, and so far I’m pretty pleased with what’s taking shape. Now the question is: do I want to write this up in the form of a “paper” and build a slide presentation around it? This is a different approach in a couple of ways. First, when I’ve done PowerPoint presentations in the past, they’ve typically driven the narrative. In this case, the slides will serve more as support. Second, I’ve never before had a “script” for my programs. I’ve never really read a “paper”, though I think my program on Patrick O’Rorke for the Gettysburg Foundation back in 2011 came pretty close, but the bulk of that program consisted of his letter home on the Battle of Bull Run. “Paper Reading” is something I find not so appealing as a consumer, and as a presenter I really prefer give and take during the program as opposed to a structured talk with questions afterwards. For this program, which contrasts a well established, familiar story line of First Bull Run with what really happened (or, at least, what I think really happened and why I think it), I think I’ll write the “paper” and look at my options afterwards. One thing for sure is I won’t be using the future tense when speaking of past events – I promise. Irvin McDowell intended to do some things, he did other things, but he will not BE doing anything ever again.





Rufus Barringer Civil War Roundtable, Pinehurst, NC, 4/18/2013

29 04 2013

About 45 people showed up for my presentation to the Rufus Barringer Civil War Roundtable in Southern Pines, NC (the area is generally Pinehurst.) This presentation was a first for me, though I have spoken to the group on two other occasions. Program director and friend Tonia (Teej) Smith asked me to speak to the membership on blogging. That’s a pretty general topic, but also one which I wasn’t sure I could speak about for an hour without repeated use of “I” and “me.” As I developed the program it turned into a look at what I call The Future of Civil War History From a Slightly Different Point of View. I really had only a very general idea of the outline of the program, and hoped it would foster a give-and-take with the audience, since they are the very sorts of folks I feel will be playing a big role in that future. OK, I did have to use “I” and “me” a good bit.

Drawing on some writing by Garry Wills in Henry Adams and the Making of America, Ken Noe, James Ellroy, John Huston, the Coen Brothers, and some of the pieces I’ve written here over the years, we examined the changing landscape of “history” in the digital age. I compared our recent and future times with that of the “gentleman historians” of the 19th century, and we discussed how digital archives and the web in general have lessened to some extent the barriers to research. And we talked a bit about how those in the room could get started in participating in the process. There were plenty of questions and lots of enthusiasm, and an encouraging line of folks who wanted to carry on the discussion after my time was up.

On Friday Teej and I made a trip west to Salisbury, NC, site of a wartime Confederate prison and the grave of Col. Charles Fisher of the 6th NC, who was killed in action at First Bull Run. Here are a few photos of his grave in the Old Lutheran Cemetery.

IMG_20130419_131207_304 IMG_20130419_131213_414 IMG_20130419_131223_284 IMG_20130419_131237_602

You can see more photos of the trip to Salisbury on Bull Runnings’s Facebook Page. The image of the group at the top of the page is “flipped”, but you can see it in its proper orientation on Facebook.

As always, Teej and RBCWRT president “Harry” Hilgrove treated me top rate. If you’re in the area on the third Thursday of the month, check them out in Southern Pines.





Updates

15 07 2012

Once again real life has infringed upon my hobby, and I haven’t been able to come up with any posts lately. If you’re not already doing so, please be sure to follow me on Twitter and Facebook, as I frequently put stuff up on those outlets (look in the right hand margin of this page and make the appropriate clicks to follow.)

I’ve been notified that my regular reviews in brief column (it’s been known by several names over the years) in Weider History Group’s America’s Civil War magazine has run its course. These things happen, in fact have happened before, and will continue to happen in the magazine business as formats change. I’m thankful for the opportunities editor Dana Shoaf has provided. On a happier note, I have been asked to write reviews on single titles, and my first one will appear in the issue of Civil War Times that will be in process in August.

I also mentioned earlier that I’ll be speaking to the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable in 2014. I’ve been putting together a few notes for that presentation and am really pleased with how things are going. We’ll be covering a lot of assumptions that are generally accepted as fact concerning the campaign that may not be quite accurate. OK, make that flat out wrong. It should be fun, and if your group is interested you can contact me at my email address to the right or send me a message on the Book Me, Danno! page.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 850 other followers