Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Southern Comfort -- McPherson in NYRB (2001)

Revisiting a New York Review of Books essay from the April 12, 2001 issue. . .

Friday, August 11, 2017

"Amiable Scoundrel" -- author interview (PhillyVoice)

Simon Cameron, who served as secretary of war from March 1861 to January 1862.
He was well-known as a party-machine Democrat in Pennsylvania. (Handout Art/Paul Kahan)

What sparked your interest in Simon Cameron? There are lots of people you could study in politics, after all.
Well, I have always been interested in Pennsylvania’s history — it is a thread that runs through all of my books — but it was Doris Kearns Goodwin’s magisterial Team of Rivals that wanted to make me find out more about Cameron. The traditional depiction of Cameron is of a Machiavellian and corrupt politico who, as Secretary of War, proved himself totally inept. I was curious how and why such a clearly gifted politician was unable to translate those skills into success as Secretary of War. What I discovered was that there were only two biographies of Cameron: the standard one (Edwin S. Bradley’s, Simon Cameron, Lincoln’s Secretary of War: A Political Biography) and the first of what was supposed to be a two-volume bio (Lee Forbes Crippen’s, Simon Cameron: Antebellum Years).  Both were incredibly dated and incomplete and, with the 150th anniversary of the war looming, it seemed like a good time to reinterpret Cameron’s life and legacy.
Read the full interview at PhillyVoice

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Retouching History: The Modern Falsification of a Civil War Photograph [fake news, Civil War style]

Figure 1. Studio photograph taken in Philadelphia, probably in early 1864. The handwritten numbers, “1895 x 1895” in reverse in the upper right-hand corner appear to have been hand-scratched on the emulsion side of the original glass plate negative; these numbers may represent a catalog reference used by the photographer. Photograph, courtesy, James Spina (see note 6 in the linked article).

Retouching History:
The Modern Falsification of a Civil War Photograph

by Jerome S. Handler and Michael L. Tuite, Jr.


“In the past decade,” the Yale historian David Blight has recently written, “the neo-Confederate fringe of Civil War enthusiasm . . . has contended that thousands of African Americans, slave and free, willingly joined the Confederate war effort as soldiers and fought for their ‘homeland’ . . . . Slaves’ fidelity to their masters’ cause - - a falsehood constructed to support claims that the war was not about slavery - - has long formed one of the staple arguments in Lost Cause ideology.” 

In this paper we discuss a graphic example of Blight’s contention by examining a Civil War-era posed studio photograph of black Union soldiers with a white officer. We maintain that this photograph has been deliberately falsified in recent years by an unknown person/s sympathetic to the Confederacy. This falsified or fabricated photo, purporting to be of the 1st Louisiana Native Guards (Confederate), has been taken to promote Neo-Confederate views, to accuse Union propagandists of duplicity, and to show that black soldiers were involved in the armed defense of the Confederacy. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fort Sumter, South Carolina (watercolor)

Fort Sumter, South Carolina
by Thomas Kennet-Were, 1869
[University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center]

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Watercolors of Civil War ironclads by Ens. D. M. N. Stouffer, ca. 1864-65. (David Dixon Porter Papers)

The vessels shown here were all part of the Mississippi Squadron under the command of Adm. David Dixon Porter (1813-1891). The squadron was created on 1 October 1862, by the transfer of command of the Western Flotilla from the army to the navy. Its purpose was to cooperate with Union land forces in combating guerrillas operating along the western rivers, to punish Confederate sympathizers, to protect transport and supply ships, and to prevent the movement of Confederate troops and supplies.

The Essex was an ironclad gunboat built in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1856. Originally commissioned the New Era, she served as a ferry until 1861, when she was purchased by the War Department and renamed. The Essex played an important part in the Vicksburg and Port Hutson campaigns.

The Choctaw, a side-wheel steamer built in 1853, was purchased by the government in 1862 and converted to an ironclad ram. The vessel spent the entire war patrolling the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

[quoted from Library of Congress, American Memory] Read about other vessels in the Mississippi Squadron by clicking on the link below:

John R. Sellers, Manuscript Division

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Book Review: A More Civil War, How the Union Waged a Just War, by D. H. Dilbeck

[first published in The Civil War News, June 2017]

A More Civil War: How the Union Waged a Just War. 
By D.H. Dilbeck. Notes, bibliography, index, 224 pp., 2016. University of North Carolina Press. $34.95. 

Many texts have focused on the unspeakable violence and destruction of the Civil War as evidence that it ushered in a new era of “total war,” particularly in the way it expanded to target civilians and private property. Other essential studies, most notably Mark Grimsley’s, The Hard Hand of War (Cambridge University Press, 1995), and Mark E. Neely’s The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction (Harvard University Press, 2007), have tempered that assessment by highlighting, among other things, the significant restraint shown by and limits imposed upon Federal forces in enemy territory.

D.H. Dilbeck, in A More Civil War, aims to bring another dimension to our understanding of how the war was fought, and to offer a better understanding of how Federals reconciled support for such savage destruction with their notion of conducting a “just war.” While Grimsley and Neely thoroughly chronicle Union military restraint, Dilbeck maintains that their volumes fall short of explaining exactly why that restraint was manifested.

It is the philosophical, spiritual, and legal underpinnings of that restraint, codified in April of 1863 with the Lieber Code, that the author especially endeavors to illuminate. The Lieber Code outlined the limits to conduct in war, as befits a civilized Christian society, and yet a just war demanded severe prosecution to ensure an expeditious resolution. The idea is expressed in simplest terms in article 29 of the Code itself: “The more vigorously wars are pursued, the better it is for humanity. Sharp wars are brief.”

Of particular interest here is the profile of Francis Lieber, and the evolution of his thinking on the
rules of war. The Code, issued with Lincoln’s signature as General Orders 100 and entitled, “Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field,” was authored by a man who felt keenly the horrors of war, having three sons in uniform. One of his boys was killed fighting for the Confederacy, and another was maimed in the service of an Illinois regiment.

As I read this book, it occurred to me that I had never seen a photo of Francis Lieber, who plays such a monumental role in the “civil” part of the title. I was surprised the publisher did not include one (for interested readers, you can quickly find a portrait of Lieber online at the Library of Congress site, from their Brady- Handy Collection).

A More Civil War is well organized and deeply researched, with ample notes and an impressive bibliography. It breaks new ground to the extent that it adds fresh furrows to the field plowed by Grimsley and Neely, and that’s a meaningful contribution.

David Woodbury was a contributing author and cartographer for The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference, and is the editor of Talking About History: Historians Discuss the Civil War. 

[Civil War News is a current events monthly newspaper (12 times a year) published by Jack W. Melton Jr. of Historical Publications LLC.]

Professor Francis Lieber (Library of Congress)

Blue & Gray Magazine Ceases Publication

Sad news today from Dave Roth in Columbus, Ohio. Many or most Civil War enthusiasts who came of age in the post-Centennial years cut their teeth on Blue & Gray magazine. The hallmark "General's Tour," for many years, was the place to go for a modern, driving-tour map of certain battles and campaigns. For certain actions, back issues of B&G probably still remain the only resource for such things. 

I still feel a tinge of excitement just to see the familiar cover. While I regret not always keeping my subscription current every single year -- contributing to the problem Mr. Roth highlights in his farewell address -- my home is nevertheless littered with dozens of issues on every subject, going back to the mid-80's or so. Rarely did I visit a battlefield visitor center without picking up some back issues, quite a few of which I read cover-to-cover in hotel rooms and on long flights home from battlefield tours. 

Thank you to Dave, and Jason and Robin, for so many years of an outstanding publication. 

Thursday, May 04, 2017

History revealed: Sgt. Harvey Tucker's Fredericksburg grave

An utterly fascinating blog post from John Banks' Civil War Blog . . . 

The scene at the top of this post, photographed by Mathew Brady's operators in Fredericksburg, Va., on May 19 or 20, 1864, probably was repeated hundreds, if not thousands, of times in the town and the surrounding, war-ravaged countryside during the Civil War. 
 Read the full essay here