On Your Newsstand Now

30 12 2006

The March, 2007 issue of America’s Civil War hit the newsstands this past Thursday.  My article – in the Perspectives section and titled Civil War Blogs: The home of cutting edge research, acw2.jpgor simply blather writ online by frustrated armchair historians? – is on pages 17 & 18. 

The article was printed pretty much as I wrote it, with some minor exceptions.  The title of the article is not mine: I submitted it as Are Blogs the New Media of Civil War History?  Also, the tag line on the cover of the magazine, found at the very top, reads How to find the best and brightest Civil War Blogs, and I’m not sure that what I wrote really helps to do that.  However, the editor of the magazine indicated that they will be focusing more attention on the blogging phenomenon in the future, so maybe that had something to do with it.

The article was also spruced up with some screen shots of three of the blogs discussed.  I was surprised to see just how much space 1,734 words take up.

My thanks to Brian Dirck, Brian Downey, Chris Fonvielle, Mannie Gentile, Mark Grimsley, Gerry Prokopowicz, and Dmitri Rotov for taking the time to answer my questions.  Thanks to Dana Shoaf, editor of America’s Civil War, for his guidance and patience.  And thanks to my good friend Teej Smith for reading my drafts and making valuable suggestions.

Once you get a chance to read the article, please feel free to leave your comments here.  I have a couple more articles in the works, one on web resources and one on a Bull Run personality, so any suggestions are welcome.

The Civil War Enthusiast’s Pink Bunny Suit

27 12 2006


We’ve all experienced it – a gift from a well meaning spouse, relative or friend that is meant to appeal to our particular interest but falls short for whatever reason.  For most of us CW minded folks, it’s usually a book that we either already have or one which we would never buy for ourselves.  The fact is, if it was any good (in our opinion) we would already have it.

My wife got the hint long ago, at least as far as books are concerned.  It was awkward because it’s hard for a gift giver to separate appreciation for the thought and appreciation for the gift.  While I always appreciated her thought, I could never bring myself to appreciate Webb Garrison.

I have an eight-year-old son who, like most eight-year-old boys these days, loves PlayStation.  Santa always gets him a couple of games for Christmas.  This year, while looking for some version of football or hockey or basketball that my son didn’t already have (and you know, with each year last year’s game becomes “obsolete” somehow), my wife came across a Civil War PlayStation game and went out on a limb and bought it for me.  Honey, if you’re reading this understand that I appreciate your thoughtfulness!!!

Now, I’m no CW gamer; not computer, not miniature, not board.  I have nothing against war gaming and can even see how it can be a valuable tool, but as Austin Powers might say “That kind of thing’s not my bag, baby”.  The game in question here is Civil War – A Nation Divided.  It’s produced under the banner of The History Channel.  I have yet to insert the disk into the PS2, so I can’t tell you if it’s interesting or even fun to play.  But some things on the cover and in the manual have me wondering.

First there is the illustration on the cover showing Confederates armed with what look like Henry repeating carbines fighting off a Union attack.  Well, it is possible that this is late in the war and that these particular rebels have captured Henrys with which they were lucky enough to capture ammunition.

Then there are illustrations of “screen shots” from the game.  One of them shows the current status of armaments for the individual soldier playing the game.  These armaments of course include grenades.  Maybe this particular screen shot comes from the battle of Knoxville.  Yeah, that’s the ticket!  Later the manual lists available weapons including the Spencer carbine, which is described as having been “most notably used by the North in the Battle of Gettysburg”.  Maybe the action at East Cavalry Field has become notable to these folks, but I kinda doubt it…

There is also a listing of icons representing items to be found on a battlefield.  In addition to “Cannon”, these include “Gatling Gun” and “Powder Barrel (with fuse)”.  Maybe, umm…maybe…

My favorites though are the battle summaries.  I’ll let two speak for themselves, with my emphasis added:

Bull Run – July 21, 1861

The South attempted an attack on the North’s capital, but Northern forces decided to cut them off before they reached Washington D.C.

Antietam – September 17, 1862

After success at Second Bull Run, General Lee prepared to invade Maryland.  Forces that President Lincoln sent for defense were bested by the South, mainly due to poor communication and lack of leadership.

OK, so I’m a stickler.  I am going to try playing this game, though Galaga and Tapper are more my speed.  If any of you have already played this (not Galaga or Tapper, but Civil War – A Nation Divided), I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Merry Christmas!

23 12 2006


Merry Christmas (or Merry/Happy whatever you may or may not be celebrating this time of year) to all readers of Bull Runnings.  The above photo of Civil War Santa and fellow Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF) board member Kevin Rawlings is from Fredericksburg.com.  The Montgomery County Sentinel has another nice article on Kevin’s portrayal.

Much Ado About a Do

22 12 2006

The Jim Lane hat-hair posts have spawned at least three offspring in the blogosphere.

Dmitri Rotov has some thoughts.

So does Joshua Blair.

A most provocative post comes from the writer of Cromwell’s Warts.   “Fortyrounder” gives some insight into why bad or careless hair styling is so prevalent in photographs of the era:

“…here is a passage from The Habits of Good Society, 1859:

It was at one time the fashion to affect a certain negligence, which was called poetic, and supposed to be the result of genius.  An ill-tied, if not positively untied cravat was a sure sign of an unbridled imagination; and a waistcoat was held together by one button only, as if the swelling soul in the wearer’s bosom had burst all the rest.  If in addition to this the hair was unbrushed and curly, you were certain of passing for a ‘man of soul’.  I should not recommend any young gentleman to adopt this style, unless he can mouth a great deal, and has a good stock of quotations of the poets.  It is of no use to show me the clouds, unless I can see you in them, and no amount of negligence in your dress and person will convince me you are a genius, unless you can produce an octavo of poems published by yourself.”

Food for thought.


And now that I DO think of it…


What’s the verdict?  Carelessly unkempt, or masterfully manipulative?

A Civil War Manifesto?

21 12 2006

Yesterday I picked up a second hand copy of David Williams’ A People’s History of the Civil War.  (I buy most of my books second hand or otherwise deeply discounted.  Given the price of books these days, I don’t see any peoples-history2.jpgother way to build or maintain a decently sized personal library.)  For some reason Amazon lists this book as co-authored by Howard Zinn, vocal contemporary critic of the civil rights policies of the Kennedy Administration and author of A People’s History of the United States, a book mentioned in passing by Matt Damon’s title character in the film Good Will Hunting.  Zinn does provide a cover blurb for the book – “Williams perfectly captures what we mean by ‘peoples history.’  His book is a startling contrast to the other literature of the Civil War.”  Whatever any of that means.  Also, Zinn is listed first and foremost by Williams as the inspiration and encouragement for this book.

The chapter titles in this book read like a set list from a Pete Seeger concert:

Introduction: “The People at War”

1                    “All for the Benefit of the Wealthy”

2                    “The Brunt is Thrown upon the Working Class”

3                    “The Women Rising”

4                    “We Poor Soldiers”

5                    “Come In Out of the Draft”

6                    “My God!  Are We Free?”

7                    “Indians Here Have No Fight with the Whites”

8                    “Was the War in Vain?”

I welcome any comments or reviews from you readers.  I have no idea when I’ll get around to reading this one.

More on Pinckney

19 12 2006

I found more in Lonnie Speer’s Portals to Hell, though it’s tough to figure out where he gets some of his information – the loose standards of footnoting these days!  Anyway, it appears that Castle Pinckney was captured by South Carolina forces under Col. James J. Pettigrew (better known as Reverence N. Awe at Chapel Hill) on December 27, 1860.  The first Union prisoners held there made up a small work detail that was quickly permitted to retire to Ft. Sumter.

The first batch of prisoners arrived at Castle Pinckney from Richmond on September 13, 1861 (after first spending a disturbing night in the city jail), and consisted of 154 men primarily from the 11th, 79th, and 69th NY regiments.  Speer says there were also some men from the 8th MI, but since this regiment did not leave Michigan until September 29, I think he got the regiment number wrong.  These were men of the 1st MI of Willcox’s Brigade, per Willcox’s diary and memoir; meaning the whole kit and caboodle were taken at Bull Run.  Willcox also reports that Chaplain Eddy of the 2nd CT and Maj. J. D. Potter of the 38th NY – both BR1 regiments – were also at Castle Pinckney, so it would appear that a hodgepodge of prisoners taken at the battle were held there.

Probably due in part to the less crowded condition and the fair treatment of their guards – about 40 young men of the Charleston Zouave Cadets – conditions were pretty good at Castle Pinckney.  Willcox said that only one man died while he was there – Porter, Co. D., 1st MI, of typhoid – and that there was little sickness.

By the end of October, the Castle had become so crowded that the men were once again sent to the city jail.  Eventually, that building became so crowded that the enlisted men were sent to the Charleston Race Course.  I believe it was the cemetery of this same race course, in which at least 257 Union soldiers (known as The Martyrs of the Race Course) were buried, that became the scene of the nation’s first Decoration Day, conducted by thousands of the city’s black residents on May 1, 1865.  This is vividly described in David Blight’s Race and Reunion.

On December 11, 1861, the city was engulfed in flames.  The guards at the city jail and the Guard House, which was also being used to house POW’s, rushed to assist in putting out the flames as the fire grew.  The prisoners, trapped in the path of the fire, were left to fend for themselves.  The men in the city jail managed to escape the burning building, and kept together throughout the night.  The next day, they were not too gently herded back into captivity and over 300 men from the various facilities were sent to a now very crowded Castle Pinckney.  After being held in exposed conditions for over a week, the prisoners were transferred out to various locales.  By the beginning of 1862, Castle Pinckney had been converted back to a defensive work.

During the early days of the Castle’s use as a prison, the commandant, Captain C. E. Chichester, brought in a professional photographer to record the images of the prisoners and their guards.  I’ve seen a few of these, which show the guards on a parapet above the prisoners and their makeshift camp signs.  I haven’t been able to locate any online yet, but when I do I’ll post them here.  Here’s one:


Castle Pinckney

18 12 2006

Tom over at Touch the Elbow has a writeup on Castle Pinckney, which sits in Charleston Harbor and was one of the places Union soldiers taken prisoner at First Bull Run were sent, including Orlando Willcox.  Here’s a photo I took of the remnants of the castle while in Charleston earlier this month: 


 And here is one of the interior of the Castle from 1865:


The next time I’m down there I’m going to have to see if my brother can arrange for me to get on the island.

A Couple of Things…

18 12 2006

WordPress provides statistical information about how my site is accessed.  For instance, if someone has a link to my blog on their website, if a reader navigates to here from that link I get a count on how many readers did that each day, for each site that has a link which was used that day.  I also get a list of the search engine keywords used to navigate to my site.  Lately I’ve noticed a few hits coming from the term “striated glutes”, which was used to describe the statue of Little Sorrel in the Body by Balco post.  I’m not too sure how I should feel about that.

Also there have been a few hits from the phrase “senator captured at Bull Run”.  I suspect this resulted in a link to my site based on the last three words.  Whoever is looking for that info, you won’t find it.  There were no senators captured at Bull Run.  There was a congressman captured – Alfred Ely of New York.  That may be what you’re looking for.

‘Splain it to me, Lucy!

18 12 2006

I’m mortified to find that I have not made a new posting here in nearly a week, and can only fall back on the upcoming Christmas holiday as a partial excuse.  And I realize that the last couple of posts may have been a little confusing, particularly the title of one of them.  The best way to handle this may be to make a few posts on the cryptic topic that began with Monster in a Box.  Now, I’m painfully aware of the fact that I’m just some guy – I hold no degree in history, I’m not an “expert” on the Civil War in general or on one battle or personality in particular, and my published (print) work consists of one long letter to the editor of North & South magazine and an article of similar length in an upcoming issue of America’s Civil War magazine.  But I do have some thoughts on how historians and authors have presented the “stories” of the Civil War, and this is my blog and nobody can stop me from writing about them. 

The “distraction” I experienced as a result of reading Gary Wills’ Henry Adams and the Making of America had nothing to do with the fact that the book covers events not directly associated with the campaign and battle of First Bull Run but rather with a part of the book’s thesis, that historians have misinterpreted and misrepresented Adams’ work.  In this respect, Wills’ book is directly associated not only with the study of First Bull Run but with the study of any subject of history.

So here’s how these next few posts will go.  In short, I’ll explain the title to the post Camelot, Harsh, Littlefield, Reardon, Paired Sales Analysis, Wills, and Henry Adams. All of those people and things help in describing these disorganized thoughts on how history is sometimes presented.  Hopefully through this process I’ll be able to straighten all this out in my head.  For now, and in no particular order, the points I hope to cover are:

1.                  Evaluating decisions based on available data as opposed to results.

2.                  The importance of chronology.

3.                  The problems with biography – the failure of biographers to front load.

4.                  The effects of memory, and what is meant by memory.

5.                  Evaluating sources.

6.                  Uncritical acceptance.

7.                  Working backwards from a diagnosis.

Check back in later – I hope to put this behind me soon!

More on Wills

12 12 2006

Reader Will Keene does not buy what he sees as Garry Wills’ thesis that Adams’ History was “secretly” written to praise Jefferson.

My reading so far of Wills (I have not read the 9 volumes of Adams in question) says nothing of any “secret” writing, rather it states that the character of the histories is plain. In addition, Wills does not say that Adams is uncritical of Jefferson so much as he was very critical of the Federalists and judged the Jeffersonians a success, and his other writings seem to support this. Wills argues that what he sees as a misrepresentation of the histories is due to three factors:

Historian Richard Hofstadter, the most influential of the interpreters of the History, had only read the first six chapters of Volume I of the History and “accepted that as a description of the whole work”, and this interpetation is refuted by the final four chapters of the last volume;

Historians have accepted Hofstadter’s thesis that Adams was a defender of the legacy of his great grandfather John, while Adams’ writings in general do not defend the Federalists, nor the Adams family – “It is true that he criticizes some of Jefferson’s acts in the History; but he is never as scathing on them as he is on the Federalists, including his forbears. He thought the Jeffersonians’ presidencies highly successful (though in an unintended way) and the Adams presidencies a failure. Yet it is an article of faith in most who read the History that it is an expression of family animus”;

The pessimism of The Education of Henry Adams is thought to be characteristic of his whole life, while his earlier writings are clear that it is not. “Scholars have such a heavy investment in the pessimism of Henry Adams that, for them, an optimistic Adams cannot be the ‘real’ Adams”. “The theme of failure that runs through the Education bolsters an assumption that Adams is telling the story of a failure when he writes of the Jeffersonians. If the work itself says something else, people are unprepared to hear it. They know what Adams ought to be saying, and they make him say it.” But this is the quote that hit me hardest: “The principal work on Adams was written by…Ernest Samuels, whose three-volume biography traces a rising arc to the summit of a “Major Phase” in the final volume. All else is preparatory to that. All else is read backward from that [emphasis added]”.

Will has presented a divergent, if brief, view of the History. Not having read it myself, I’ll have to rely on the arguments of those who have. I invite anyone to comment.  Again, that’s what the comments feature is for.