College Football and the Civil War – Does It Get Any Better Than This?

27 11 2013





Justice Antonin Scalia at Gettysburg

20 11 2013

ScaliaYesterday, as I watched via live streaming video and the commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Gettysburg Address at Gettysburg National Cemetery drew to a close, it struck me that I was witnessing something special. No, not the roll of usual suspects who delivered speeches that were, well, nice. Not memorable, but nice. Everything rolled along. But then, the Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Alejandro Mayorkas, took the podium to recognize sixteen immigrants who would become citizens as part of the ceremony. Each candidate citizen rose by country, and then Mr. Mayorkas introduced the official who was to administer the oath, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. And I knew it as I heard it – Scalia’s apparently extemporaneous words were capturing the spirit of Abraham Lincoln’s famous little speech better than had anyone else that day. Here’s the text:

Before I administer the oath, I want to say a few words of welcome to the new citizens. What makes us Americans, what unites us, is quite different from that which unites other countries.

There’s a word, ‘unAmerican.’ We used to have a House unAmerican Activities Committee. There’s no equivalent word in foreign languages. It would mean nothing in French political discourse to refer to something as unFrench, or in German political discourse to refer to something as unGerman. It is only Americans, we Americans, who identify ourselves not by our blood or by our color, or by our race or by where we were born, but rather by our fidelity to certain political principles.

That’s very strange. It’s unique in human history, I believe.

We are, as you heard from the Director a nation of immigrants, who have come here mostly for two reasons. First, for freedom. From the pilgrims in the 17th century to the Cubans and the North Koreans in the 20th and 21st centuries.

And that freedom, of course, is not free, as the dead who rest buried here can demonstrate. The last line of our ‘Star Spangled Banner’ is, ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ The two go together. Freedom is for the brave.

The second reason they came, these immigrants, was for opportunity. My father, who was the most patriotic man I ever knew, used to say that in the old country, if your father was a shoemaker, you would be a shoemaker. And in America, you could be whatever you were willing to work hard enough to be and had the talent to be.

And his son ended up on the Supreme Court.

My Grandmother expected me to be President; I didn’t quite make that. But it was possible. It is possible in America.

So welcome, my soon-to-be fellow citizens, to the nation of Americans. May America bring you all that you expect from it. And may you give it all that it expects from you.

Thanks to Interpreting the Civil War for the transcript.





A Tip for Anyone Thinking of Writing About the Civil War…

12 11 2013

on-writing-stephen-king…and for just about everyone who has written about it and is thinking of writing more. If you read – or skim – many books or articles on our peculiar interest, it shouldn’t take very long before you realize most of it is crap. Not necessarily from a strict “history” sense, though there is a lot of that. But it seems to me that even really good history work is presented in a less than readable, not to mention entertaining, style. Come on. Admit it. You agree with me. Wholeheartedly. I know, you’re probably thinking that what I write here could be a whole lot better. You’re right.

OK, let’s cut to the chase. If you’re one of the folks to whom I’m referring in the lead-in, and haven’t done so already, get yourself a copy of Stephen King’s wonderful book, On Writing. Yeah, I know – he’s a novelist. It doesn’t matter. The lessons and tips in this book can’t help but positively affect what and how you write, regardless of genre. I won’t give examples because just about every page is gold, but you can go here to find some nuggets. And don’t think that because you’ve been published you don’t need any help – from what I’ve seen the odds against that are overwhelming. I beg this not as a writer, but as one of untold thousands of long suffering readers.





Preview: Gottfried, “The Maps of the Bristoe Station and Mine Run Campaigns”

10 11 2013

91Bka6INr4L._SL1500_I have a soft spot for the subject of this latest entry in Savas Beatie’s Atlas series. Long before I decided to focus my energies on First Bull Run I attempted to tackle the period in the history of the Army of the Potomac between the end of the Gettysburg Campaign and the arrival of U. S. Grant in the spring of 1864. I wrote a bit about that aborted project here. The whole series of events has received short shrift from most historians, and usually gets covered in a few pages (or even paragraphs) when it gets covered at all. Brad Gottfried helps shed some more light on this time with The Maps of the Bristoe Station and Mine Run Campaigns. The subtitle gives a little more detail on the details: An Atlas of the Battles and Movements in the Eastern Theater after Gettysburg, Including Rappahannock Station, Kelly’s Ford, and Morton’s Ford, July 1863-February 1864. You’re familiar with the format by now: individual time-coded maps (87 of ‘em) with their own facing narrative page. This really is a must-have, not just to keep your set intact, but to give some much needed perspective to this black hole in the history of the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.





Preview: Fitch & Fitch, “Postmarked: Bleeding Kansas”

9 11 2013

18437634Kansans (and Missourians, for that matter) are quick to point out that the Civil War started in that state, and there’s plenty of evidence to support the claim. The internecine character of the conflict out that way makes the history that much more gnarly to study and to follow. Chad Lawhorn, a writer with the Lawrence Journal-World, has gathered and published the letters of Edward and Sarah Fitch, abolitionist residents of Lawrence, in Postmarked: Bleeding Kansas, Letters from the Birthplace of the Civil War. This is a collection of more than 150 letters written from 1855 to 1863, which describe the bitter conflict as well as the day-to-day travails of pioneer life, and culminate with the August, 1863, raid on Lawrence by William Quantrill. All the terror of the raid seems captured in Sarah Fitch’s final letter, a fitting, if horrific, ending to the collection.

Note – This book is essentially a reprint of Yours for Freedom in Kansas, published by the Douglas County Historical Society in 1997.





Seven Years Blogging

4 11 2013

I missed the actual anniversary a couple days ago. So, I’m taking this opportunity to make my first ever post via mobile device (umm, phone.)

As I’ve said before, Bull Runnings has provided and continues to provide me with opportunities the like I never imagined: writing jobs, speaking gigs, and interactions with beaucoup interesting and generous folks.

Readership has levelled off since the heady days of 2011, in part due to my decision to move some types of posts over to social media, but also I think as part of a drop off in more casual interest in the Civil War in general. But that’s OK with me.

I thank all of you for your interest and participation now, then, and in the future. Good stuff still to come!





Preview: Leigh (ed), “Co. Aytch”

29 10 2013

9781594161797_p0_v1_s260x420Philip Leigh’s edition of Sam Watkins’s Co. Aytch, Or, A Side Show to the Big Show is the fourth version of the book I have owned. The first, a small paperback which I read cover to cover, is gone. The second is a nice Morningside edition, and the third is a version revised and expanded by Watkins and edited by his great-granddaughter in 2007. Of course, the first exposure many had to Watkins’s memoir was via Ken Burns’s documentary The Civil War, in which, with Elijah Hunt Rhodes, Watkins supplied the perspective of the common soldier.

Leigh, a contributor to the New York Times Opinionator blog-like project (it’s not a blog really, but rather a series of print articles available online), has “fleshed out” Watkins’s recollections with 240 or so sometimes lengthy annotations. In addition to the color and detail it provides, Watkins’s book has long been noted for some pretty significant mis-rememberings, and some of the annotations help to identify and explain them. They also provide background on military situations, personalities, and terminology. A nice feature are numerous clear, Hal Jesperson maps which along with the annotations help put Sam’s travels in perspective, and give a clearer picture of the bigger show. Do you need this to replace whatever other edition of Co. Aytch you may own? Probably not, but if someone is considering taking a first dip into soldiers’ memoirs this may be a nice place to start.





Preview: Hopkins, “Robert E. Lee in War and Peace”

28 10 2013

Robert_LeeStaying with the picture-book theme started with the Smithsonian Collection book we have Robert E. Lee in War and Peace: The Photographic History of a Confederate and American Icon, by Donald A. Hopkins. In one volume (slim, but oversize and on good quality, glossy paper) Hopkins brings together all of the known photographs of the Marble Man. This book is cool in a Garry Adelman/Bill Frassanito photo geek way. By that I mean the very interesting, how did the images come about, how were they used, re-used, and abused kind of way, as opposed to the “Hey, I found a 100 ton rock that is AMAZINGLY still sitting in the same spot it was in 150 years ago in this Gardner photo” kind of way. You’ll likely learn more about the photographic process than you intended while grazing (yes, grazing) over these photos, and also a good bit about Lee and how he’s remembered. An endorsement from Center for Civil War Photography co-founder Bob Zeller lends instant gravitas.





Preview: “The Civil War Lover’s Guide to New York City”

18 10 2013

NYCCWLoverI attended college back in the day when the mere thought of being forced into taking a job in New York City made a business major’s skin crawl (unless of course you were from there, then you thought it was great.) And as an ACW enthusiast later, I thought that there couldn’t possibly be much to see there outside of Grant’s Tomb. In Bill Morgan’s new The Civil War Lover’s Guide to New York City, I find there is far, far more to see in the city relating to the Civil War than I had imagined, though some of the links are tenuous at best. The book is laid out geographically by borough and neighborhood, and includes many period and modern photographs. The illustrations vary in quality and descriptiveness, and sometimes the narrative is vague as to whether or not the building in question still stands. I suppose I would have preferred more of a template layout by site. But the color photos of statues and monuments are at times stunning. As with most good guidebooks, this sturdy Savas Beatie paperback is ideal for packing along as you walk the city. Just be careful that you’re not “marked” as a tourist. I’ve seen enough episodes of Barney Miller to know how that will end (I’m still living in 1978 I guess.)





Preview: “Smithsonian Civil War”

17 10 2013


Smithsonian-Civil-War-Inside-the-National-Collection-Hardcover-L9781588343895
Smithsonian Books sent me a copy of this beautiful, coffee table (without legs) book, Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection. This is an old fashioned “picture book,” the kind that has hooked thousands of kids on the Civil War (or baseball, or whatever) over the years. Mine was The American Heritage Golden Book of the Civil War. As the title implies, the eye candy inside is from the Smithsonian’s Civil War collection, which has been acquired primarily via donation over the years. Photographs are grouped thematically and are accompanied with descriptive narrative often including the artifact’s journey to the collection. My copy has a slightly oily fragrance, likely a result of the process used to produce the full color images, but I imagine that will dissipate over time. I have a soft spot for books like this, as I can think back on long hours spent in libraries and on living room floors staring at those pictures. Do kids still do that? I like to think so.








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