Of Purchases Made and Not Made

30 10 2009

My job takes me all around the Pittsburgh area: Allegheny, Washington, Butler, Beaver and Westmoreland counties.  That means in my downtime between appointments I get to do things like visit out-of-the-way cemeteries and just about every bookstore in the area.  Today I had my Border’s Rewards 40% discount coupon with me, and stopped into the South Hills store.  As I’ve said before, I have more books than I could ever read in the time I have left, and as a book reviewer I have more coming in all the time, so I have cut way back on my purchases and never buy anything at full retail.  And with the outrageous pricing today, more often than not even 40% off is not good enough to justify buying a new book.  But I took the coupon with me just in case.

I narrowed my choice down to two new books: John Keegan’s The American Civil War: A Military History and Joan Waugh’s U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth.  These both seem like odd choices for me, because I really have little use anymore for comprehensive studies of the war, and good God, another Grant bio?  Who needs that, fer Chrissakes?

The Keegan book caught my interest because, believe it or not, very, very little American Civil War literature being churned out these days is written by true military historians, that is to say professionally trained and certified historians whose focus is military history.  And John Keegan is if nothing else a military historian, and one of considerable reputation.  But I haven’t been impressed with anything Keegan has written on our little war (and in the annals of military history, it was far smaller than other conflicts), because he tends not to limit himself to comparative analysis but rather delves into personality issues that I feel he examines with too little depth, and which are more old thesis than antithesis or even synthesis (see here for more on these three terms).  But what made my decision – and you need to have something to base purchasing decisions on, don’t you? – was this:  Keegan’s book is 350 pages.  For that 350 pages, he provides 3 pages of notes, and a three page bibliography.  For anyone other than Keegan, this would be viewed by just about everyone as unforgivable.  So, I passed.

Normally I wouldn’t even consider purchasing another single volume, comprehensive biography of Grant, but upon closer examination Waugh’s book is different.  In the weighting of Grant’s life alone: in the 308 pages (plus 50 pages of notes, but no bibliography at all), Grant’s military career is pretty much over by page 101, his political life over by page 153.  He’s dead by page 213.  Waugh has authored a memory study of Grant, one that promises on its jacket flap to reveal

how Grant became the embodiment of the American nation in the decades after the Civil War.  She does not paper over Grant’s image as a scandal-ridden contributor to the worst excesses of the Gilded Age.  Instead, she captures a sense of what led nineteenth-century Americans to overlook Grant’s obvious faults and hold him up as a critically important symbol of national reconciliation and unity.

I guess I’ll have to read the thing to find out if Waugh delivers.

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America’s Civil War: January 2010

29 10 2009

Jan 10 ACW cvr

Inside this issue of America’s Civil War:

  • in the news, somebody paid $39k for Confederate Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee’s gauntlets and sash, and the grave of Confederate financier Charles Kuhn Prioleau was “discovered” in England;
  • an interview with Ed Bearss;
  • Frank Van Der Linden on Confederate General Joe Johnston’s feud with President Jefferson Davis;
  • Robert Behre on Why Cotton got to be King;
  • Joan Waugh on Ulysses S. Grant, The Celebrity Soldier;
  • Three Kunhardts examine The Burden of War on Lincoln through photographs;
  • Blogger and author Michael Hardy on Irvin McDowell, The Most Unpopular Man in America (I’ll have a review of this here after I read it);
  • Jon Guttman on The Man Who Shot A. P. Hill;
  • my Six-Pack reviews pair up
    • No Peace for the Wicked: Northern Protestant Soldiers in the American Civil War (David Rolf) with The Harp and the Eagle: Irish-American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865 (Susannah Ural);
    • Lee in the Low Country: Defending Charleston and Savannah, 1861-1862 (Daniel J. Crooks, Jr) with Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston (Arthur Manigault);
    • The Ship Killers: The Definitive Illustrated History of the Torpedo Boat (Joe Hinds) with Ellet’s Brigade: The Strangest Outfit of All (Chester Hearn).

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Lincoln’s Books

28 10 2009

As far as I know, he didn’t write any.  I’m pretty sure he wrote a third person biography for a pamphlet as part of the 1860 presidential campaign.   A poem or two.  Lots of letters.  Speeches.  Bills.  Briefs.  At least one proclamation.

But no books. 

Correct me if I’m wrong.

See here.  Wow.

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Springfield, IL: Part II – Lincoln Home

26 10 2009

On Saturday, Oct. 10 this year my family and I visited the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, IL (see overview of the trip here).  We started at the visitor center (VC), which has a scale model of Springfield as Lincoln knew it (click on the thumbnails for larger images):


We got our tickets for the tour of Lincoln’s home, situated around the corner from the VC on 8th St., and had enough time before the tour to see a fine film in the VC auditorium.  Journey to Greatness tells the story of Lincoln from the time he arrived there from New Salem to the time he left it as president-elect.  I thought the filmmakers did a nice job with AL’s appearance and especially his voice, which by most accounts was strong and high-pitched.  After the film, we took the short walk to the home down the street.   Below are front, side and rear images of Lincoln’s home:

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Four blocks, one in each direction from Lincoln’s home at 8th St. & Jackson Ave., have been closed off and historic buildings on them have been restored.  The effect is quite impressive.  The last image below is a recreation of a log cabin float used in parades and rallies during Lincoln’s presidential campaign:

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The NPS moves groups through the home in an efficient but quick manner.  At any one time, there are three groups in the  house (except for the 1st and 2nd groups of the day, and the next to the last and last groups).  The tour goes right in the front door (the original nameplate is in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum), through the parlor, and through the dining room (at least, I think it was the dining room).  Then it’s up the stairs past the guest room, into AL’s room and Mary’s connecting room (not uncommon for the time), past the boys’ room and the servant’s room, back downstairs to the kitchen, and out the back door to the yard.  When you enter the home, there’s a nook behind the stairs in which hangs a stove-pipe hat, shawl, and a few walking sticks (none of these are actual artifacts as far as I know, but I liked the look):

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The black horsehair (I think) furniture in the parlor are original pieces, owned by the Lincolns, and our guide told me he thought the hinge on the parlor door was one of the few remaining pieces of original hardware.

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The dining room was notable for its colorful floor coverings (not original or from a fragment, but rather the result of research into the fashion of the times) and the stereo viewer AL bought for the boys for the princely sum of $25.  The guide referred to it as a 19th century X-Box – my son got a kick out of that.

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I was looking forward to using the stairs to the second floor, as I was aware that this was one of the few chances I would ever get to actually touch one of Lincoln’s possessions, something he used every day.  This is the original handrail, and we were encouraged to use it.

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Once upstairs, we proceeded past the guest room (probably Robert’s room until he left for Harvard) and entered Lincoln’s bedroom (the desk is original and the one he used); that’s Henry Clay and Daniel Webster over AL’s mantel, and that’s our guide in the doorway from Lincoln’s room to Mary’s. 

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Next we passed through Mary’s bedroom.  I’m not sure if that was her potty, and I didn’t think to ask. 

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In the back hallway, we went past the bedroom of Willie and Tad, complete with children’s toys and boots, then past the servant’s room, downstairs through the kitchen and out the back door to the yard.

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A reconstructed privy sits in the back yard.

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On Sunday evening, we returned to the Lincoln Home for some night-time shots.

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The Lincoln Home is a wonderful stop, alone worth the trip to Springfield.

Part I

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

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Springfield, IL: Part I – Overview

21 10 2009

On Friday, Oct. 9 my wife, son, and I flew into St. Louis and drove the 105 miles or so to Springfield, Il.  They treated me to the trip for my birthday coming up at the end of November.  It’s one of those milestone birthdays – we usually celebrate on a much smaller scale.  We got in kind of late, and stayed Friday night out by the power plant, but not so bright and early Saturday morning we hit the road for downtown Springfield.  We had a room at the Hilton, just a couple of blocks from, well, just about everything as far as Lincoln is concerned.  You can’t miss the Hilton, which is by far the tallest building in town (we stayed on the 27th floor).  Click on the thumbs for larger images.


Springfield is pretty much like just about every state capital I’ve ever been in.  Other than Lincoln, not much going on in town on the weekend.  We parked in a garage and set off exploring (with The Abraham Lincoln Observer Mike Keinzler’s notes in hand), walking about two blocks to the site of the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices which, we were to learn, were not exactly…well, more on that later.  We took a few photos there of the sculpture of the Lincoln family…

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…and of the Old Capitol that sits right across the street (Adams Ave., which has been closed off into a sort of mall).


At this point we decided to walk another couple of blocks to the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and a tour of, well, Lincoln’s home.


Then it was back to the law offices, after a quick stop in the Tinsley Dry Goods store to enquire about the evening’s ghost tour.  It was already unseasonably cold and was only going to get colder, so we adopted a wait and see attitude.  Tinsley Dry Goods is one of those artsy/crafty type places, which means the wife browsed a little longer than was expected.

Right next to Tinsley’s are the Law Offices, and we entered just in time for the tour.  Afterwards, we strolled through the Capitol, a beautifully preserved building.

These stops pretty much made up the whole day.  We went back and checked into the hotel, deciding to just get dinner at Bennigan’s there in the hotel.  On the way, we stopped into a shop and saw this guy:


We ate, watched some football, and around 6:30, while we were still in the restaurant, all the power within about a 2 mile radius of the capitol building went out.  Remember, all our stuff is on the 27th floor.  There were also two wedding receptions under way in the hotel.  After about half an hour of this chaos, we jumped in the car and headed for Hooters to watch more football, opting not to freeze to death on a ghost tour.

Well, eventually the power came back on in town, so we came back to the hotel and turned in.  Sunday morning after breakfast, we walked another few blocks to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.  Well, the Museum anyway – due to state budget constraints, the Library is closed on weekends.  We spent about 4 hours in the Museum, including of course the gift shop.  Here’s the library and museum – the buff colored buildings running diagonally lower left (library) to mid-right center (museum) – from our room:


After the museum, we walked through the Springfield Visitor Center, housed in an old,though not Lincoln old, train station (see it in the image above, the reddish building in the mid-upper left).  Then it was a quick walk back to the car and a pretty short drive to Oak Hill Cemetery where the Lincoln Tomb was…closed due to state budget constraints.  Then we spent some time in the little gift shop that’s been sitting at the entrance to the cemetery for about 70 years, and afterwards went to a seafood house for dinner.


On Monday morning before driving back to St. Louis for our 3:00 PM flight home, I dropped the wife off at the ALPLM gift shop and the boy and I drove over to the current capitol building to check out the statuary there. 


Then we picked up the wife, drove back to St. Louis, made a quick (very quick) stop at the arch – for some odd reason the NPS is under the impression that the Lewis & Clark expedition began in St. Louis, when we all know it started in Pittsburgh – and arrived at the airport with about 15 minutes to spare.


OK, don’t worry (or do worry, depending on what you think of my writing and photography).  I have a lot of pictures and comments on the sites we visited and the sights we saw, and will post them here as I get to them.  Stay tuned.

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

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Haunted Ben Lomond

21 10 2009

Do Abraham Lincoln, black Confederates, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Michael Jackson, Zombies, Bigfoot, Chupacabra, all the Gettysburg Ghosts, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison, John Lennon and George Harrison haunt historic Ben Lomond?  Will Balloon Boy join them 80 or so years from now?

Ben Lomond

Ben Lomond

Taken from this site:

Haunted Ben Lomond Tours, Saturday, Oct. 24, tours at 7, 8, 9 and 10 p.m. Ben Lomond Historic Site, at 10321 Sudley Manor Drive, Manassas is opening its doors for tours of the house that serves as a Confederate hospital after the battle of First Manassas in 1981 [ooops!]. Come hear about ghosts that some believe haunt the house, outbuildings and garden. The cost is $5 a person and reservations are recommended. Call 703-367-7872. Tours may not be suitable for children under 12.

And from this site:

Visit a haunted Civil War hospital and learn about ghosts that may still wander the ca.1830 Ben Lomond farm house. Tours offered every half hour. Call 703-367-7872 for information.

Sorry for the intro – I’m just testing a theory based on some stuff my friend Craig Swain told me about attracting visitors.  Shameless but fun nonetheless.  (UPDATE: I got it all wrong, and what Craig told me had nothing to do with what I was doing here.  Figures I’d screw that up).

Find some real history on Ben Lomond here.  Photo from this site.

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Harper’s Ferry Events Kick Off Civil War Sesquicentennial

18 10 2009

It seems that this past weekend’s events at Harper’s Ferry in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s raid are being recognized as the kickoff for the Civil War sesquicentennial.  This may come as a surprise to some folks in Kansas.  A few bloggers were in attendance for at least some of the festivities, and as they post their thoughts and pictures, I’ll link to them here.

Jared Frederick (History Matters) here.

Craig Swain (To the Sound of the Guns) here.

Donald Thompson (Touch the Elbow) here.

John Brown’s March

16 10 2009

capitol_muralWe’ve had this up on the SHAF website for a while, but I was a little taken aback to see this article featured on Comcast’s homepage as one of the day’s top news items.  Last month I spoke with Dennis Frye about the anniversary events planned for the next few days, and I’ll just say if you’re lucky enough to be in the Harper’s Ferry area over the next few days, you’re in for some treats.  The sold-out march from the Kennedy Farm to HF tonight has got to be one of the coolest events I’ve ever heard of, and I was truly bummed to find out that the wife would be travelling for work this whole upcoming week, starting tomorrow.  If any of you attend any of the events (learn more about them here and here), please feel free to send me a report!

Undaunted Heart

15 10 2009

Undaunted-HeartI received a copy of  Undaunted Heart from Eno Publishing in Hillsborough, NC a few weeks ago, and finished it up last week.  I don’t read every book publishers send me cover to cover – I’m a slow reader and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.  But I had read snippets of the story of the courtship and marriage of Union general Smith Atkins and southern belle Ella Swain before and figured the book, written by Swain descendant and Raleigh area writer Suzy Barile, was enough of a departure to be worthwhile.  I do that a lot lately, read books that fall outside what I typically read.  I guess by definition if I keep doing that then I’m not doing that.  Dang, lost my train of thought…where was I…oh yeah, Undaunted Heart.

Twenty-two year old Ella was the daughter of University of North Carolina president and former North Carolina governor David Swain.  Atkins had been colonel of the 92nd IL Mounted Infantry (which Barile for some odd reason referred to as Mounted Cavalry), which was part of Wilder’s Lightning Brigade, and on Aril 17, 1865 was in command of a brigade that was the first to occupy the college town of Chapel Hill.  While visiting with Gov. Swain in his home, he met Ella and it was love at first sight.

Predictably, the romance was a scandal, particularly among the women of Chapel Hill.  Ella’s mother, despite, over many years, forming a close bond with Atkins, still never took a meal with him.  Through family letters discovered in an attic by the author, the courtship, marriage, and many trials and tribulations of the Swains’ and Atkins’s are recreated in an engaging, easy to read style.  While the military aspects contain some inaccuracies and will appear muddled to folks used to more precision, they’re really ancillary to the personal story and as such don’t detract from it.  In many ways it’s a sad tale: early and sudden death stalked Ella’s family, and did not spare even her in the end.  Undaunted Heart gives us a glimpse of life in 19th century America in ways military history can’t.

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McDowell Day

14 10 2009

Irvin McDowell gets his own day!  Check it out.