Next of Kindle

28 02 2009


Check out Renee’s post on the new Kindle 2 over at Wig-Wags.  Be sure to read the comments.  I dismissed the Kindle out of hand when I learned – or at least thought I learned – that it could only be used to read e-books downloaded from Amazon.  I don’t think I would ever buy an e-book, except for the occasional novel (I read 3 or 4 a year).  But I thought the Kindle would be ideal for reading public domain books that can be found for free on sites like Google Books.  Well, as Renee points out, the Kindle 2 can be used for that.  Looks like I might need to do some reconsiderating.

America’s Civil War May 2009

27 02 2009

I received my complimentary copies today.  This is the first issue using new graphics with my Six-Pack column.   After reading my not-so-glowing revue of a book titled The Politically Incorrect Guide (PIG) to the Civil War, some folks may want my head on a platter.  I’m less than eager to comply with that, but here’s the next best thing:


OK, now, I know some of you are saying, “Hey Har, how do you expect anyone to take you seriously when you’ve got your mug plastered (or is that a plastered mug?) on what appears to be a beer can, and bunches of tiny beer cans too?”  All I can say is “Lighten up, Francis.”   And by the way, if you’re ticked off with the PIG review, I suggest you buy the book – it’s probably right up your alley.

Resources and Articles

27 02 2009

OK, I’ve been doing a little thinking this morning (not always a good thing).  If you haven’t caught on yet, this site consists oftwo types of posts: Resources (official reports, orders of battle, biographical sketches, all that stuff listed under “Pages” to the right); and articles, like this one.  So at this late stage, I am going to go back and add the tags and categories Article and Resource to my existing posts, and use them going forward.  That way you can use those filters to find the types of posts you’re most intersted in.  This will be a long-term project: I’ll get to it as time permits. 

#43 – Casualties, Heintzelman’s Division, July 21, 1861

26 02 2009

O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, p 405


Click for clearer image

McDougall on Wartime Production

25 02 2009

Let me preface this by pointing out that this blog does not discuss modern politics.  While some may see this as an opportunity to comment on current events, please don’t try it.

Last night, the President gave a televised speech that included the following:

For history tells a different story. History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry.

As you may have noticed, I love to match narrative with numbers.  How many of you have been left scratching your heads when you compare the tables I post to the narratives of the Official Reports?  How many times have we all read of a field covered with dead cavalrymen, only to find the action produced a casualty rate of 2%?  I got that same tingly feeling when I read the President’s words, because I recently read words to the contrary in Walter A. McDougall’s Throes of Democracy (a pretty good book, by the way, but he got some operational stuff about the Civil War flat out wrong).  Here’s what he has to say about the Civil War years and industrialization (pp. 494-495):

Did the Civil War at least stimulate industrialization?  Historians of both Marxist and liberal bents once took this for granted, and it must be said that progressive optimism is a wonderful asset for a people to have.  In retrospect, the Union’s national mobilization and distribution of resources doubtless taught American business powerful lessons in how to achieve economies of scale, a phenomenon to be discussed in due course.  But professionals in the dismal science of economics are not surprised when their numbers reveal civil war to be a very ill wind that blows good to some firms, industries, and regions, while it slams like a hurricane into everyone else.  Americans pioneered no major civilian technologies between 1861-1865 and ceased doing pure science.  They invented no new models of management and paid a huge cost in lost opportunities.  To be sure, hot-air balloons for artillery spotting, the Gatling gun, submarines, and ironclad warships debuted in the Civil War, but only the ironclad had a significant impact on combat.  Railroads and telegraphs, by contrast, made a huge impact, but they were mature technologies before the war.  So the Union’s impressive war effort really absorbed the energies of an industrial machine already in place.  Production of pig iron had grown by 17 percent between 1855 and 1860 and would grow 100 percent from 1865-1870.  During the war it grew 1 percent.  Railroads had spread 8,700 new miles in the five years before the war and would spread 16,200 miles in the five years after.  During the war just 4,000 miles of track were laid.  Data on river and harbor improvements, overall manufacturing, commodity production, and exports tell similar stories. 

While I’ve read about railway destruction and repair during the war, I can’t recall reading anyting about new rail lines appearing during the conflict, reaching previously remote areas and thus impacting operations.  What do you think about what McDougall says here?  Does it jive with your impression of wartime production and innovation?

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#32 – Casualties, Hunter’s Division, July 21, 1861

24 02 2009

O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, p 387


Click for larger image

Civil War Times April 2009

23 02 2009

There’s been a lot of talk lamenting the apparent (or maybe not so apparent) demise of North & South magazine.  I’m not one of those talking about it, because frankly I wrote that publication off a long time ago.  The simple fact that articles include footnotes does not make those articles compelling, convincing, or even good.  I used to subscribe to N&S, but have not for at least the past year.  The magazine fired its editor, the very capable Terry Johnston, lost control of its on-line discussion group by “firing” its unpaid and also very capable monitors, increasingly ran extracts of previously published works as articles, and resorted to endless and meaningless “top ten” round table discussions.  It just wasn’t for me anymore.

cwt409But for all you folks looking for stimulating discussion of Civil War topics, there is good news in the April 2009 issue of Civil War Times.  This magazine has really stepped things up.  In this issue you’ll find a great article by friend Tom Clemens on the “original” Iron Brigade (if you are a round table program director and want to book Tom for his wonderful program on this, let me know and I’ll get word to him); Gary Gallagher defends his approach to his studies in a column titled “Let the Chips Fall Where They Will“; Peter Carmichael interviews Prof. Lesley Gordon; and heavyweights Michael Fellman and Mark Neely face off over whether or not the Civil War was a “Total War”.

Editor Dana Shoaf spoke last summer to the Society of Civil War Historians in Philadelphia on the need for academic historians to use outlets like popular periodicals, even without footnotes, to deliver the fruits of their research to the starving masses (I wrote about it here).  It looks like his talk is paying off – all six of the historians mentioned above were at the conference in Philly.