Preview: Cobb, Hicks, & Holt, “Battle of Big Bethel”

4 12 2013

Layout 1Brian Pohanka’s Vortex of Hell provides a pretty good account of the Battle of Big Bethel, in which the 5th New York Infantry played a prominent role. And typically those are the types of books you need to read to find out about the fight; Big Bethel, or Bethel Church, or Great Bethel, is a battle most often covered in works covering a wider time frame. Messrs. Cobb, Hicks, and Holt, with Battle of Big Bethel: Crucial Clash in Early Civil War Virginia, have turned a magnifying glass on this June, 1861 meeting of forces under Benjamin Butler and John Magruder. At 266 pages, it dwarfs any previous study of which I am aware (and if one exists out there, please let me know about it.) Cobb and Hicks are affiliated with the Hampton (Va) History Museum (the battle was fought near the York County town), while Holt is an attorney. The book includes numerous photographs and illustrations and clear Hal Jesperson maps describe the action. Footnotes – at the bottom of the page – have become a Savas Beatie staple. The bibliography lists a respectable number of unpublished primary sources and contemporary newspaper accounts, as well as the expected published primary and secondary sources (though not Vortex, which I imagine was published too late in the process.) I try not to give too much weight to blurbs (hell, even I wrote one, once), but endorsements from R. E. L. Krick and Edward L. Ayers bode well.





Snake’s Eye View of First Bull Run

30 11 2013

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Blogger Craig Swain brought this one to my attention. Go to the LOC for a high res TIFF image that is easier to read. Here’s the description:

Cartoon print shows Union troops after the Battle of Bull Run during the Civil War from the point of view of a copperhead, that is, a northern Democrat supporting Confederate troops. The image is keyed to eighteen points in the image: Beauregard’s headquarters, Jefferson Davis’ headquarters, Johnston’s headquarters, Elzy’s Maryland battery, General McDowell, General Tyler, The Bull’s Run, Fire Zouaves, New York 19th Regiment, Sherman’s battery, Ely member of Congress, barricade for member of Congress, Lovejoy & Company, Ladies as spectators, Riddle Brown & Company, Blenker’s Brigade, Senator Wilson, and the U.S. Dragoon. Includes numbered key.





College Football and the Civil War – Does It Get Any Better Than This?

27 11 2013





Justice Antonin Scalia at Gettysburg

20 11 2013

ScaliaYesterday, as I watched via live streaming video and the commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Gettysburg Address at Gettysburg National Cemetery drew to a close, it struck me that I was witnessing something special. No, not the roll of usual suspects who delivered speeches that were, well, nice. Not memorable, but nice. Everything rolled along. But then, the Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Alejandro Mayorkas, took the podium to recognize sixteen immigrants who would become citizens as part of the ceremony. Each candidate citizen rose by country, and then Mr. Mayorkas introduced the official who was to administer the oath, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. And I knew it as I heard it – Scalia’s apparently extemporaneous words were capturing the spirit of Abraham Lincoln’s famous little speech better than had anyone else that day. Here’s the text:

Before I administer the oath, I want to say a few words of welcome to the new citizens. What makes us Americans, what unites us, is quite different from that which unites other countries.

There’s a word, ‘unAmerican.’ We used to have a House unAmerican Activities Committee. There’s no equivalent word in foreign languages. It would mean nothing in French political discourse to refer to something as unFrench, or in German political discourse to refer to something as unGerman. It is only Americans, we Americans, who identify ourselves not by our blood or by our color, or by our race or by where we were born, but rather by our fidelity to certain political principles.

That’s very strange. It’s unique in human history, I believe.

We are, as you heard from the Director a nation of immigrants, who have come here mostly for two reasons. First, for freedom. From the pilgrims in the 17th century to the Cubans and the North Koreans in the 20th and 21st centuries.

And that freedom, of course, is not free, as the dead who rest buried here can demonstrate. The last line of our ‘Star Spangled Banner’ is, ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ The two go together. Freedom is for the brave.

The second reason they came, these immigrants, was for opportunity. My father, who was the most patriotic man I ever knew, used to say that in the old country, if your father was a shoemaker, you would be a shoemaker. And in America, you could be whatever you were willing to work hard enough to be and had the talent to be.

And his son ended up on the Supreme Court.

My Grandmother expected me to be President; I didn’t quite make that. But it was possible. It is possible in America.

So welcome, my soon-to-be fellow citizens, to the nation of Americans. May America bring you all that you expect from it. And may you give it all that it expects from you.

Thanks to Interpreting the Civil War for the transcript.





A Tip for Anyone Thinking of Writing About the Civil War…

12 11 2013

on-writing-stephen-king…and for just about everyone who has written about it and is thinking of writing more. If you read – or skim – many books or articles on our peculiar interest, it shouldn’t take very long before you realize most of it is crap. Not necessarily from a strict “history” sense, though there is a lot of that. But it seems to me that even really good history work is presented in a less than readable, not to mention entertaining, style. Come on. Admit it. You agree with me. Wholeheartedly. I know, you’re probably thinking that what I write here could be a whole lot better. You’re right.

OK, let’s cut to the chase. If you’re one of the folks to whom I’m referring in the lead-in, and haven’t done so already, get yourself a copy of Stephen King’s wonderful book, On Writing. Yeah, I know – he’s a novelist. It doesn’t matter. The lessons and tips in this book can’t help but positively affect what and how you write, regardless of genre. I won’t give examples because just about every page is gold, but you can go here to find some nuggets. And don’t think that because you’ve been published you don’t need any help – from what I’ve seen the odds against that are overwhelming. I beg this not as a writer, but as one of untold thousands of long suffering readers.





Preview: Gottfried, “The Maps of the Bristoe Station and Mine Run Campaigns”

10 11 2013

91Bka6INr4L._SL1500_I have a soft spot for the subject of this latest entry in Savas Beatie’s Atlas series. Long before I decided to focus my energies on First Bull Run I attempted to tackle the period in the history of the Army of the Potomac between the end of the Gettysburg Campaign and the arrival of U. S. Grant in the spring of 1864. I wrote a bit about that aborted project here. The whole series of events has received short shrift from most historians, and usually gets covered in a few pages (or even paragraphs) when it gets covered at all. Brad Gottfried helps shed some more light on this time with The Maps of the Bristoe Station and Mine Run Campaigns. The subtitle gives a little more detail on the details: An Atlas of the Battles and Movements in the Eastern Theater after Gettysburg, Including Rappahannock Station, Kelly’s Ford, and Morton’s Ford, July 1863-February 1864. You’re familiar with the format by now: individual time-coded maps (87 of ‘em) with their own facing narrative page. This really is a must-have, not just to keep your set intact, but to give some much needed perspective to this black hole in the history of the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.





Preview: Fitch & Fitch, “Postmarked: Bleeding Kansas”

9 11 2013

18437634Kansans (and Missourians, for that matter) are quick to point out that the Civil War started in that state, and there’s plenty of evidence to support the claim. The internecine character of the conflict out that way makes the history that much more gnarly to study and to follow. Chad Lawhorn, a writer with the Lawrence Journal-World, has gathered and published the letters of Edward and Sarah Fitch, abolitionist residents of Lawrence, in Postmarked: Bleeding Kansas, Letters from the Birthplace of the Civil War. This is a collection of more than 150 letters written from 1855 to 1863, which describe the bitter conflict as well as the day-to-day travails of pioneer life, and culminate with the August, 1863, raid on Lawrence by William Quantrill. All the terror of the raid seems captured in Sarah Fitch’s final letter, a fitting, if horrific, ending to the collection.

Note – This book is essentially a reprint of Yours for Freedom in Kansas, published by the Douglas County Historical Society in 1997.








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