Historical Symbols, The Nature of Truth, and the Sides of History

14 07 2015

Thus far, apart from this post pointing out that the Confederate Battle Flag did not exist at the time of the First Battle of Bull Run, I’ve stayed out of the feeding frenzy that is the controversy regarding symbols of the Confederacy in our modern landscape. I’ve decided to dip my toe not as a prelude to diving in, but in deference to the rules of this site I think a mere dip is all I can take. Otherwise I – or you – may feel compelled to wade into modern political waters. And we can’t have that. However, I do feel there are issues of history involved which are altogether fitting and proper to discuss here.

It’s pretty clear to most that the Confederate States of America was founded to perpetuate the institution of slavery. It was the national cause. When it comes to what caused individuals to fight for or support that national cause – the personal causes, so to speak – I suspect there were as many causes as there were fighters and supporters, be they volunteer or conscripted soldiers, suppliers of their support in the field, manufacturers of the products necessary to wage war and support the government (and their employees), more-than-subsistence-farmers, planters, free- and not-free laborers, members of the media, elected and un-elected government officials, etc. We can’t of course assign to them the national cause as their personal cause. It doesn’t make sense. But we can’t exactly separate them. They existed hand in hand, effectively.

What we wind up with are symbols with multiple meanings: flags, monuments, place-names. And those meanings are as various as not only the individuals they commemorate, but as the individuals doing the commemorating. The simple fact that they are meaningful to a person tells me nothing – absolutely nothing – about that person.

I’m pointing this out simply to emphasize why I don’t have a problem with the existence and placement of these symbols in most – not all – cases. I recognize the schizophrenic and inconsistent nature of the symbols. In fact, I celebrate it. It’s fascinating.

So I don’t have a problem with Monument Row in Richmond, the same way I don’t have a problem with the biggest monuments to slavery on the planet:

13.-Pyramids-of-Giza-Egypt

Pyramids of Giza

or with this monument to a guy who was less than nice to Native Americans:

O. O. Howard

O. O. Howard

or with this monument to the man who ordered the mass imprisonment of US citizens of Asian descent:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt – In Washington, DC. I know, don’t get me started on that…

And before you say this is only because I’m not a Jew, or a Native American, or Japanese, I also don’t have a problem with the existence or placement of memorials to these guys, who were pretty brutal to my ancestors:

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

or of this flag:

1280px-Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg

Which brings us to Truth, and the Sides of History.

As a Catholic school kid back in the early-mid 1970s, I used to play the hell out of my LP and (later) cassette copy of the original recording (that is, 1970 with Ian Gillan) of the Weber/Rice musical Jesus Christ Superstar. At the same time, my interest in history was really taking off (it would be nipped in the bud by a high school guidance counselor soon enough – no future in it, he said.) One line in particular, from Trial Before Pilate really stood out to me then and has stayed with me over the years. Pontius Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king:

JC: It’s you who say I am. I look for truth, and find that I get damned.

PP: But what is truth? Is truth unchanging law? We both have truths. Aren’t mine the same as yours?

(As an aside, these lines were changed somewhat in both film adaptations of the play. I’m sure there’s a story in there.)

Some might see Pilate’s question as rhetorical. I never did. Of course Truth changes, because Truth is in the eye of the beholder. Not only are times, people, and opinions different at any one point, but times change, and with it, people and opinions. Truth has its basis in belief, some might argue.

Today, the Truth of slavery is that it is an absolute wrong, legally and morally. This Truth is generally, overwhelmingly (though in varying degrees not universally) recognized. But, like it or not, in 1860 it was not, or at the very least was less so. Arguments were made for and against it on the basis of law, property rights, religion, morality, and the definition of human life. And those arguments were on a sliding scale, with different shades. Eventually, the Truth of the issue was decided to a nearly absolute degree. But this Truth does not change the Truth of 1860. Can you think of any issues like this today, with similar arguments, and supporters on both ends of the scale? If you can, keep them to yourself. Please. But also keep in mind that those current issues will one day be decided as well. Truth will win out, whatever it may be.

Once the Truth of slavery was established – or, at least, established as it stands today – believers and non-believers wound up on one of the two Sides of History: the Right Side, or what we call the Wrong Side. But these current sides do not change the fact that Truth was and is a moving target. Eventually, some current issue with multiple interpretations of Truth will be absolutely decided. And you and yours, dear reader, will wind up on the Right Side, or the Wrong Side. It will happen.

What do we do with the Wrong Side? Erase it? Write over it? Maybe it’s just too hard to interpret it. But isn’t that a historian’s job?

HD_mosbyJS2

John Singleton Mosby

Consider one John Singleton Mosby. Here was a man who fought for the Confederacy, took up arms to perpetuate slavery. There was no doubt in his mind why he did it. He admitted to it, to his credit, after the issue had been decided. He also accepted that the issue was decided. In a 1907 letter to a comrade, he lamented (at least, I think of it as a lament):

People must be judged by the people of their own age.

What did he mean by this? Well, I see him saying that his actions had to be viewed in the context of his times and their Truths, by people who understood those times and their Truths. And in 1907, many of those people were gone. So who takes their place? Isn’t that a historian’s job?

Before we celebrate or encourage the removal of Confederate symbols from the landscape, we would do well to consider the words of a wise Vulcan:

After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.





Interview: Hessler, Motts, & Stanley – “Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg”

10 07 2015

I previewed Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg: A Guide to the Most Famous Attack in American History earlier, and you can read all the book particulars and get ordering information here. Since its release, Pickett’s Charge has received some great reactions from the public, and signings have been well attended. The book’s authors and cartographer recently took the time to answer a few questions for Bull Runnings, and I’ve attempted to cobble together their responses to my questions below.

L-R, Wayne Motts, Steven Stanley, and James Hessler

L-R, Wayne Motts, Steven Stanley, and James Hessler

BR: Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

JH: I have been a Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide since 2003, although I work full-time in another industry. I am very proud of my prior book, Sickles at Gettysburg, which won the Bachelder Coddington and Gettysburg Civil War Round Table distinguished book awards. More recently, in 2012, I was one of the primary content designers for the Civil War Trust’s Gettysburg mobile application. That had an influence on my eventually working on this Pickett’s Charge book.

WM: I grew up in central Ohio. My parents currently operate the Motts Military Museum where my father is founding director. I went to school for military history at The Ohio State University where I graduated with a BA and then earned a master’s degree in American History from the Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. I have been a Licensed Battlefield Guide at the Gettysburg National Military Park for 27 years. I am currently the CEO of The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa. I published the only biography of Confederate General Lewis A. Armistead who fell mortally wounded in Pickett’s Charge.

SS: I was born in Maryland and spent the first 17 years of my life there. After high school, I went directly into the United State Air Force. During that time in the USAF, I spent 2 years working as Graphic Designer for Headquarters, Tactical Air Command in Langley, Virginia and the last two years of service, I was stationed in the Pentagon working in the graphics department of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After the Air Force, I started my own design/typesetting firm working for various clients from simple printing companies to McDonald’s Corporation. In 1996, my family and I moved to the Fredericksburg, VA area. I already had an interest in the Civil War so I joined the local preservation group, Central VA Battlefields Trust (CVBT), where I volunteered my Graphic Services to help promote their cause and spent several years on their Board of Directors. During that time, my work caught the attention of the National Park Service in Fredericksburg, especially Bob Krick, which led to my working on a project with Frank O’Reilly, to map the entire campaign and battle of Spotsylvania Court House. After the project was complete, in looking over those maps I realized that they weren’t as user-friendly as I’d like. I started to develop a style that I felt more comfortable with and it eventually evolved into the map style that I have today. During my time with the CVBT, I helped start another preservation group, the Richmond Battlefields Association of which I was a founding Board Member. I was president of the Friends of Fredericksburg Area Battlefields from 2001 to 2003 and through that relationship I met my wife, Kyrstie, at a movie shoot the Friends was funding for the NPS. I also helped establish and launch the Friends of Cedar Mountain, again as a founding member of the board. From 2001 to 2007, my work graced the pages of America’s Civil War magazine. In 2009, J.D. Petruzzi and I released our first book, The Complete Gettysburg Guide, 2009 winner of the U.S. Army Historical Foundation‘s Award for Excellence, Reference Category. Then in 2011, we released The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook and finally in 2013, the Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses was released in time for the 150th of the Battle of Gettysburg. 

BR: What got you interested in the study of history in general and the Civil War in particular? Who/what were your early influences?

JH: For nearly as long as I can remember I was interested in the battle of Little Bighorn, or as a kid I more likely knew it as Custer’s Last Stand. Flamboyant general surrounded and killed to the last man fighting hostile Indians. But as my interest matured beyond just Custer, I became more interested in the Civil War careers of the participants. Plus, about 25 years ago or so, the novel The Killer Angels sparked my interest in Gettysburg specifically. Yes! I am probably in this position today due to The Killer Angels and THE MOVIE. Haters of “historical fiction” are probably cringing at this moment.

WM: My father was a great student of Civil War History. At age 14 he received a set of diaries that belonged to a Union soldier killed in the war. As a small boy he would read entries from the diaries to me. I became fascinated with Civil War History.

SS: I’m not sure when and how my love of history started. As far as I can remember, I’ve always had an interest in history from colonial times and the Revolution through the Civil War. Until recently, I haven’t given 20th century US history a lot of time but I’ve been more and more intrigued with the US involvement in World War One. As for my love of the Civil War, I can pin point what sparked my interest – in high school, I picked up (from the school library) Bruce Catton’s trilogy and was I ever hooked. 

BR: Why another book on Gettysburg, and Pickett’s Charge in particular? What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?

JH: I admit I get annoyed with Civil War scholars & buffs who question the need for another Gettysburg book. Yet those are usually the same people who buy another Gettysburg book, write another Gettysburg book, or are out on the Gettysburg battlefield giving tours. So I will never apologize for being interested in Gettysburg. And with all due respect to enthusiasts from other battles, when most of us think Civil War, we think Gettysburg. And when we think Gettysburg, we often think Pickett’s Charge. (See the massive turnout for the 150th Anniversary of Pickett’s Charge in case there is any doubt.) So the interest in this topic is still there among readers.

But what do we contribute to the literature? In a field of ever-increasing battlefield tour guides, do you realize that none had ever been produced for this most iconic of attacks? So we created a battlefield tour guide for the charge. Like the best tours, we mix the battle with personal stories, controversies, monuments, terrain analysis, reunions, color maps, and lots of photos. Trust me, you may have other Pickett’s Charge books but you do not have one that tells the story in this way.

WM: This is the first and only tour guide published of Pickett’s Charge, so for that reason this work is different from all others published on the subject.

BR: Steve, since Jim and Wayne are responsible for the narrative here, perhaps you can describe your role in the publication of “Pickett’s Charge?”

SS: For Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, I was brought on-board to create maps using my unique and user-friendly style. We went through the process of the tours and determined how many maps were needed to really tell the story and we came up with (at the time) about 35 maps. Since that was a large number of full color maps, it was much simpler to bring me in as a partner in this endeavor.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write Pickett’s Charge, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, what firmed up what you already knew?

JH: Officially, it took us slightly more than three years. But it was also based on stories, and tours, and research that Wayne and I had accumulated over our careers and that was a help in getting us moving. We got serious about this when we were asked by Garry Adelman in 2012 to write the third day’s content for the Civil War Trust’s Gettysburg app, in part because a mobile app could only hold a fraction of what we actually wrote.

The biggest stumbling blocks with two authors and a mapmaker/designer was getting three people together to work on it. We are all busy and have other things, so that was simply the hardest part. Not only getting everyone to work on it, but with multiple people you have to work really hard to maintain consistency and make it sound like you are speaking with one voice.

With all of these maps – if we said in our text that a regiment was ‘here’ then we needed to make sure the maps reflected that. With this many maps….boy, maintaining that consistency was a lot harder than we had ever envisioned when we started this. So many maps and so many regiments per map. But we think the final product paid off for the readers.

For me personally, I came to a new appreciation of how much blame Lee did lay on his artillery for this. I was also surprised at the number of personal stories that we used that I did not really know at first. We both like writing about the people who made the events happen, and we have some stories in here that I was blissfully unaware of previously.

WM: I believe the time-frame was about three total years. Much of the work was over the editing and format of the work, most especially with the detail we placed in the work. I was most surprised with the study of numbers showing that the in modern times the numbers involved in the attack, most especially for Pickett’s Division, were larger than most likely was the case on July 3.

BR: The mechanics of a tour guide-book are interesting – on what basis did you design the sequence of stops?

JH: Our book has four tours: 1) The Confederate line, 2) Walking the Pettigrew-Trimble Charge, 3) Walking Pickett’s Charge, 4) The Union line.

I think Wayne and I had an advantage on the mechanics because we have so much experience giving tours at Gettysburg. As Licensed Battlefield Guides, it was really a matter of taking what we already do and putting it on paper. But the National Park roads that we use in the tour are primarily one-way roads, which kind of dictates which direction to move, and unfortunately it becomes hard in a book-format to follow a complete chronology of events. So then we had to write, sometimes out of time sequence, in such a way that the less experienced readers are hopefully not completely lost. That was difficult on the Confederate side of the field especially, trying to maintain a relatively logical sequence of events.

WM: The stops are based on the best flow we think both driving and walking. This allowed for a complete treatment of the Confederate line and Union line as a whole plus walking both halves of the attack.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most? How is the co-author process coordinated? How was the work divided up? Who was responsible for what?

JH: My process is once I get interested in a project or idea, I think of it as I would a story or a movie. So I map out chapter outlines with a logical story flow (beginning, middle, and end) and then start filling in the gaps with quotes and research. I don’t think it’s a really efficient way to work, because I often end up doing lot of re-writing (the Sickles version that was published was my 9th draft) but I guess it’s the only way I know how to do it. Although once I get motivated on a topic, I usually keep going until it’s done. Some people like to be writing books forever. I like to finish.

As for how we divided this up, I wrote a first draft, a “shell” really. Wayne then went through it and suggested various stories to add here or there and we built it up from there. Then we would proof it (repeatedly) and make further suggestions about what to add or subtract. We did not always agree on each other’s conclusions so there would be debates about whether one was being too hard on someone or vice versa.

Wayne and I worked well together because we both like doing things that the other doesn’t. He likes the research and the fact-finding; I like putting it all together. So it was a great partnership in that perspective. We also learned that I like texting (I already knew that) and he prefers to talk on the phone.

As for resources – obviously Gettysburg National Military Park and the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guide Library access are huge assets to us. I should add that I ALWAYS start my writing with the Official Records if the Union and Confederate Armies (ORs). Wayne dipped into the archives at his own National Civil War Museum. The National Archives and pension records were used quite a bit by us. You will see many sources in our bibliography. Am I allowed to say that Google Books is an amazing resource? I think some folks look down their nose on it because it eliminates wading through dusty archives to hold real books, but that is complete rubbish.

WM: I cannot image a better partnership in working on this book. Jim did the writing for the work so it would look, appear, and flow seamlessly. This was by far the largest amount of labor. I was glad Jim completed this task for I really do not enjoy the writing part and I believe Jim does. I contributed to the research of course with a lot of material I have collected over the years. The park/guide library files were key sources for our work. I also compiled the orders of battle in the back of the book. These have been a work in progress for many years and I was assisted along the way by several of our guide colleagues. I also contributed the human interest stories included in the work. And the maps as created by our cartographer were essential to the book. After all this is a tour guide.

BR: Steve, can you describe your map production process? How do you work with the authors when producing a map? What resources do you use (programs, etc…)?

SS: Wow, my map production process, how much space am I allotted? Just Kidding!! Obviously the process starts with the request for the creation of a map, either the Civil War Trust sends it or it is coming from an author for their book. I have a whole Power Point presentation on this but hey, here it is in a nutshell. As I tell people, the first thing I do is actually locate and define the battlefield. Yes, everyone knows where Gettysburg is or Antietam is, but how many know where the battlefield for the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida is? So yes, defining the battlefield is key to where I start. I start to gather all my source material together then locate the oldest topographic map of the battlefield I can find. As an example, for my Gettysburg maps I used Bachelder’s base-map as my template. Now the actual work can begin. Using CorelDraw as my primary graphics program, I create the layers for each element, i.e. topographical lines, roads, water, etc. being their own layer. I will then draw in the topographic lines using the previously found base-map as a guide. Then water features are added, as well as modern roads, historic roads, structures and finally historic trees. Depending on where the battlefield is located, this process can take anywhere from several man-hours to tens of man-hours. Now I add in the troops and the final step is adding in the drop shadow behind the troops themselves. After getting a map ready using what resources/materials I have, I will send out the map to historians for proofing. Then when they send back their recommendations, I take care of those changes right away. As for how I work with the authors, some do send me hand drawn maps, but most send me the request for specific maps covering specific time-frames that relate their manuscript. There are even occasions when the author or authors have asked me to look through their manuscripts and make recommendations to what maps they will need. Case in point – for both of the latest Army War College Guides, one a revised Gettysburg edition and the other a guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, the authors asked me what maps I felt could tell the story best for their guides. For the Gettysburg edition, I came up with 38 maps and for the Richmond-Petersburg edition, I came up with 42 maps.

BR: The book’s layout/design is bold. Can you describe how that was conceived and evolved?

WM: This was all left up to our cartographer Steve Stanley who did a great job in creating the overall presentation of the work.

JH: From day one, we had a collective vision that we wanted this book to “look great.” Color, maps, photos, etc. We also had a concept in mind that included lots of sidebars – topics of discussion that might not fit into a specific tour. I love sidebars – they have no pressure! You like the topic, you read it. You don’t? Then you move onto the next one! So we have lots of sidebars.

Steve and Savas Beatie obviously have a lot of experience putting great visual books like this together and Steve had the skills to make it happen. As an example, one of the coolest photos in the book was an aerial photo taken by our friend Mike Waricher from Gettysburg’s notorious and short-lived hot air balloon. (Or was it helium? I forget already.) So Mike takes these great shots but the gondola and strings are in there. Steve cleaned the images up with photoshop or whatever and the result is pretty cool. You do not have pictures from the balloon in any other Pickett books!

SS: During our meetings/conference calls, both Jim Hessler and Ted Savas, of Savas Beatie, wanted a book that had the feel of the Complete Gettysburg Guide. I think Jim’s words were, “I want to do the Complete Gettysburg Guide but for just Pickett’s Charge.” The format for the Guide was so well received that everyone wanted this to draw the same following. In creating the look and feel for the both the Guide and Pickett’s Charge, I did not want a guide book that was just tons of text, some photos and a few maps. Actually, during the process of designing the maps and gathering the photos for the Guide, I kept throwing ideas out about how would this look and that look – eventually Ted Savas (I think I wore him down with my emails) asked if I just wanted to design the entire book. I found out later that he had never at that time let authors design their own books so that meant a lot coming from him. One thing I wanted to establish in both designs was a fun, colorful, almost magazine feel to both books. My graphic background was with smaller publications and magazine formats so that was the direction I wanted to take. Now that I was designing the book, I was able to take care of one thing that has always bugged me about most books – maps. They never are in the place where you need them. You are reading about an action or movement and you go to consult the map. You have to flip through the pages to find the map that relates to what you are reading. I made sure that my maps were in the place you needed them to be, readily available on the facing page or just a page or so away. With Pickett’s Charge we wanted the maps oriented in the direction the reader needed them to be. Maps for the most part in print are oriented to the north, but some of ours are oriented to either the east or west. It was determined by which way the reader should be walking and viewing the action. All of the maps for the North Carolinians and the Virginians walking tours are oriented to the east, while the Union maps along the area around the Copse of Trees are oriented west. We felt it would make it easier for the reader to follow the fighting and the tours.

BR: What’s next for you all?

JH: I have three ideas I’d like to work on but it’s probably safe to say that you won’t see another one from me in print for 3-5 years. It’s a lot of work to do these right and then take some time to recharge before doing it again. But I do think I shall return. It’s an enormous relief to have the Sickles follow-up done!

WM: Wow, that’s a good question. It should be to finish my full length work on Lewis Armistead but I have many interests.

SS: What’s next? J.D. Petruzzi and I are working on our next trilogy of books, like we did for the Gettysburg Campaign, for the Maryland Campaign of 1862. We hope to have the Complete Maryland Campaign Guide (working title) out by late spring of 2016, followed by the Maryland Campaign in Numbers and Losses and the New Maryland Campaign Handbook. Also, Kyrstie and I are working on a book that will be a study in maps and photographs of America in World War One. I am still working on how the entire concept will be handled but this book will be ready by Spring of 2018, just in time for the 100th Anniversary of America’s involvement in the Great War. More on that as I get a more clear picture on the final concept.





No More, No Less

6 07 2015

1434533581_the-civil-war-monitor-vol.5-no.2If you’ve received your new copy of Civil War Monitor (Summer edition, I think it is), you may notice that I have a little sidebar in it, listing my three recommended First Bull Run books. Now, I’ve already received this question a couple of times, and expect there are more of the same to come, or at least a few folks wondering the same thing, even if you have no intention of asking me.

“Why wasn’t fillintheblank on your list?”

The answer to that is pretty simple: I was asked for three. In the counting of the books, “Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three” were, I think, publisher Terry Johnston’s instructions.

Here they are:

Hennessy, John, The First Battle of Manassas: An End To Innocence July 18-21, 1861

Gaff, Alan, If This Is War: A History of the Campaign of Bull Run by the Wisconsin Regiment Thereafter Known as the Ragged Ass Second

Longacre, Edward, The Early Morning of War: Bull Run, 1861

You can read the whys and wherefores when you buy the magazine.





Preview – Mackowski, “Strike Them a Blow”

30 06 2015

51wGX8oFV3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Recently received: Chris Mackowski has written Strike Them a Blow: Battle along the North Ann River, May 21-25, 1864, part of the Emerging Civil War series from Savas Beatie. This covers that (at one time) mysterious few days in the history of the Overland Campaign between Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor.  Generously illustrated and including eleven maps, the narrative is a concise 123 pages. There are also six appendices, describing the battles of Wilson’s Wharf and Milford Station, a sketch of R. E. Lee’s engineer M. L. Smith, and also a look at preservation efforts. A full Order of Battle is also included.





The Confederate Battle Flag

27 06 2015
Safe - For Now

THIS is the “Stars and Bars,” and It’s Safe – For Now

Amidst all the controversy surrounding the Confederate battle flag and its “banning” at expected and intended, and unexpected but maybe intended, and even unexpected and unintended places, I thought I’d weigh in, if just to rustle up some page views (it’s a proven formula.)

Here’s the deal: the Confederate battle flag (not to be confused with the Stars and Bars or First National flag of the Confederacy, pictured above) did not exist at the time of the First Battle of Bull Run.

There you go. That’s it.

So, re-enactors at First Bull Run events should not expect admonishment by authorities to keep their colors cased. Authors of First Bull Run books should not expect their removal from online trade sites because of offensive if historically accurate dust jacket illustrations. Vendors of First Bull Run battlefield applications and war games should not expect suspension of the ability of customers to purchase or download their product.

Yet.

Bull Runnings

Bull Runnings





Preview: Ryan, “Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign”

25 06 2015

51BWOF0G-OL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve corresponded with Thomas J. Ryan a few times over the years, enough to know he’s been working on Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign: How the Critical Role of Intelligence Impacted the Outcome of Lee’s Invasion of the North, June-July 1863 (Savas Beatie) for a long, long time. Tom is well suited to the topic, having worked for the Department of Defense in intelligence related areas for many years.

In this new study, Ryan looks at how the opponents in the campaign used various sources (cavalry, newspapers, civilians, and spies for Lee, and cavalry, signal corps, and Bureau of Military Intelligence for Hooker/Meade) to guide them in the theater of operations. After laying out the assets and structures of the armies, the narrative follows a chronological path, from mid-May 1863 through Lee’s “escape” July 14, and concludes with the author’s assessment.

Spies, Scouts, and Secrets… consists of 448 pages of text, a 15 page bibliography, full index, and footnotes on the text pages. There are plenty of illustrations, including 23 (!) Phil Laino maps. I’m looking forward to digging in. Check out Tom Ryan’s website here.





The Boundaries of Your American Civil War

21 06 2015

380593

As what appears to the general public to be the end of the American Civil War Sesquicentennial has drawn, or draws, to a close, discussion (chiding? lecturing?) abounds on just what areas of history fall under that heading, American Civil War. Most prominent among those areas is Reconstruction. Arguments are made that the Civil War did not end with the cessation of armed and organized military rebellion, and that Reconstruction was the continuation of War in a number of senses. Even within that framework, disagreements have arisen regarding military and non-military activities in the period. I’m not going to advocate for any position, because I have a problem with the word should when it comes to studying history. But I’m rather curious to hear what you think.

Is history a river which feeds streams of micro-histories, or is it a river that is fed and created by those sub-histories? Is it OK for a student to focus on a time frame or events, and not give equal attention to events that may have affected or been affected by those times and events? If a student is not as interested in what he or she may consider ancillary events as they are in what they consider the “main events”, should they feel guilty or inferior, or made to feel so? I recall one blog post – sorry, where and who escapes me – in which the author reacted to a lack of response to a Reconstruction focused post by declaring “I guess it’s just too hard to think about Reconstruction.”

I mean, think about it. A recent blog post claims that one cannot understand the Battle of Gettysburg without a good understanding of the Battle of Chancellorsville. The argument is not without merit. But what is meant by the word “understand?” Can one understand command decisions of professional soldiers in almost any battle of the Civil War without having a firm understanding of the education and experience of those making the decision? Wouldn’t one need a firm understanding of, say, the development of the U. S. Military Academy and the content and goals of its curricula, or of the duties of antebellum officers, or of the U. S. war with Mexico, or of the Crimea, or of Napoleonic wars, or of the development of military theory through the years, Machiavelli, Vauban, yadda yadda yadda? Might a lack of understanding of these things lead one to less than sound conclusions regarding those decisions?

To understand Reconstruction, do we need an understanding of the history of slavery and emancipation from ancient times? Or of the events following other civil wars, revolutions, insurrections in other countries throughout history, and of the re-absorption of affected areas into the body politic? And why stop at 1876? As you expand it, the focus on any limited period can be made to sound a trivial exercise.

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Or maybe, realizing we only have so much time on this rock, do we just study what interests us most – what floats our boats, or blows our hair back? Do we even want to think of it as “study” at all? There have been times I’ve wondered about folks who beat the bejeezus out of Gettysburg. Some showed little interest in the rest of the war. I’d ask myself, “Don’t you care? Aren’t you curious?” But I think I always asked those questions rhetorically, and assumed that they should care, that they should be curious. But guess what? Many don’t and aren’t.  I’ve learned to appreciate that, and also that should is my limitation, not theirs.

Just tossin’ stuff out, seein’ what sticks. What do you think? What are the boundaries of your American Civil War?








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