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.

Camelot, Harsh, Littlefield, Reardon, Paired Sales Analysis, Wills, and Henry Adams

11 12 2006

The title of this post is a mouthful, and makes sense to no one but me.  And I’m not really sure it makes sense to me yet, either.  All of the above have something to do with one of the first posts I wanted to make on this blog, and also with why I have yet to make it.  Basically I want to lay out what motivates me in my study of history in general and the American Civil War in particular, and what I see as problems with the approaches taken by some historians, authors, and students in analyzing actions taken and decisions made.  Keep in mind that I am not a trained historian: my undergraduate and post-graduate degrees are in business, and I earn my living as a real estate appraiser and teacher.  So this “philosophy”, as it were, is mine and mine alone.

wills.jpgBut I’m having a real problem putting these thoughts together in a way that will be accurate and meaningful.  And every couple of days something happens or I read or hear something that I think would be appropriate for inclusion.  Everything in the title of this post has caused me to pause, the most recent distraction being Garry Wills’ Henry Adams and the Making of America.  In this book, Wills reveals how the uncritical acceptance of prior historians’ evaluations and characterizations of Adams’ multi-volume history of early 19th Century America has resulted in a widespread misunderstanding and misrepresentation of that work.  I’ve only read about 100 pages (I’m a very slow reader), but so far I have to say this is one fine book, very well researched, written, and argued.

So the long and the short of it is that I have yet to finish the post in question, but I’m previewing it here to spur myself on.  I’m still influenced by traditional print in that I feel my post should be fully formed and self contained, and I think this wastes some of what makes this medium unique and valuable.  Bear with me.

Good News

8 12 2006

I heard today from the editor of America’s Civil War magazine that the March issue has gone to press and will include my short article on Civil War blogs.  The article is based in large part on email “interviews” with four familiar bloggers and two well known academic historians.  I’m pretty happy.


6 12 2006

I had a great time in Charleston.  It’s always fun to get together with my brothers (3), and sisters (2), and in-laws, nieces, nephews, and now great nephew and great niece (I am way too young to be a great anything, but facts is facts).  I had a little time on Saturday to stop in and see the Confederate Museum run by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. 


The museum is situated on the upper floor of the southernmost of the market buildings (no, these buildings were never slave markets), at the intersection of Market and Meeting Streets.  It was closed after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and only recently reopened.  They have some very cool stuff in there, including Barnard Bee’s sword and a slightly larger than life size full portrait statue of Governor Wade Hampton that really freaked out my son.  I asked the staff for some contact info to get some images for my future website, and was told that they “don’t do that”.  While I have seen photos in at least one magazine and one website credited to the museum, I didn’t want to make a federal case.  It could be they just weren’t happy with my John Brown Ale T-Shirt.  And no, I didn’t see any other Free State Brewing Co. apparel in the Holy City.

On Monday I spent a little time exploring the churchyard of the James Island Presbyterian Church at the corner of Folly and Ft. Johnson Roads.  I’m always on the lookout for the resting places of Civil War veterans.  I found a significant number of Bees, though the General is buried in the northern end of the city at Magnolia Cemetery – time would not permit a visit there (though born in Charleston, Bee is buried in St. Paul’s Episcopal Churchyard in Pendleton, SC).  The coolest find was the first marker I saw, that of Samuel “Goat” Smalls. 


Smalls was the inspiration for the novel “Porgy” and the opera “Porgy and Bess”.  I learned on a carriage ride later that day that DuBose Heyward, the author of the book and Gershwin’s collaborator on the opera, is interred in St. Philip’s Church cemetery in town.

With over 350 years of history spanning pirates, patriots, and rebels there is plenty to see in Charleston.  And it is very hard to find a bad meal there.  Put it on your list.  There are many threads between Bull Run and Charleston, and I’ll talk about some of them in the future.



Back from Secessia

5 12 2006

I’m sorry I haven’t posted in awhile.  I spent the four day weekend in Charleston, SC – a surprise birthday party for my brother who lives on James Island.  There really wasn’t much time for Civil War sightseeing, but I did manage to squeeze some in.  I’ll post a few thoughts later today.