Wednesday, January 23, 2008

This and That

I’m guessing 17 days was long enough for regular visitors to grok my last entry, the cartoon I posted in the first week of this month? I’m back in the saddle now, and bursting at the seams with fresh, 2008ish content for the blog. Thanks for your patience.

The year is off to a fine and proper start. Last Thursday my 13-year-old son and I took the train to San Francisco for the annual pilgrimage to MacWorld Expo. I was pleased to discover a souped up Notepad utility that may help mitigate a little problem I have with making lists—to-do lists, book lists, bills to pay, letters to write. I make lots of lists, until I end of with thick wads of them in various pockets, and digital ones scattered across multiple computers. I know I could just consolidate my lists in any old word processor, but I will buy a specific software application for every little quirk and habit if it promises a new, transcendent level of organization. And if it’s OSX native.

After a day with the Cult of Mac acolytes, we hiked over near Portsmouth Square for some lumberjack-sized medium rare cuts at Alfred’s Steakhouse. Nothing tops off a day of uber geekdom like a tender filet mignon and a martini. Sure, we revel in our elegant technology, and the trappings of civilization, but we will jettison it all at sundown to eat a juicy cow, if it's cooked right.

The Civil War connection? I thought you’d never ask.
Hampton's Beefsteak Raid? You might think so. No, I was recalling that this is the part of San Francisco that William T. Sherman describes so colorfully in his Memoirs—the area around Portsmouth Square (what he calls the Plaza), which is today several blocks inland from the Bay, on the edge of Chinatown. Sherman wrote:

At that time (July, 1847), what is now called San Francisco was called Yerba Buena. A naval officer, Lieutenant Washington A. Bartlett, its first alcalde, had caused it to be surveyed and laid out into blocks and lots, which were being sold at sixteen dollars a lot of fifty varas square; the understanding being that no single person could purchase of the alcalde more than one in-lot of fifty varas, and one out-lot of a hundred varas. Folsom, however, had got his clerks, orderlies, etc., to buy lots, and they, for a small consideration, conveyed them to him, so that he was nominally the owner of a good many lots. Lieutenant Halleck had bought one of each kind, and so had Warner. Many naval officers had also invested, and Captain Folsom advised me to buy some, but I felt actually insulted that he should think me such a fool as to pay money for property in such a horrid place as Yerba Buena, especially ridiculing his quarter of the city, then called Happy Valley. At that day Montgomery Street was, as now, the business street, extending from Jackson to Sacramento, the water of the bay leaving barely room for a few houses on its east side, and the public warehouses were on a sandy beach about where the Bank of California now stands, viz., near the intersection of Sansome and California, Streets. Along Montgomery Street were the stores of Howard & Mellus, Frank Ward, Sherman & Ruckel, Ross & Co., and it may be one or two others. Around the Plaza were a few houses, among them the City Hotel and the Custom-House, single-story adobes with tiled roofs, and they were by far the most substantial and best houses in the place. The population was estimated at about four hundred, of whom Kanakas (natives of the Sandwich Islands) formed the bulk.
As Homer Simpson would say, "Mmmm, sandwich islands." One wonders what culinary specialties these majority Hawaiians had established by the time of Sherman's visit. Note that Sherman’s scoffing refusal to invest in San Francisco real estate came one year before the discovery of gold on the American River. "Old Brains" Halleck got in on the action—I wonder if there's a record of when he sold his piece. Sherman's caution was fully justified, no doubt. Still, it's fair to say he had a higher aptitude for real estate seizure and destruction than for real estate speculation (whatever you think of his tactical shortcomings).

Speaking of Seizure and Destruction, I couldn’t be more excited by the upcoming (12th) Civil War Forum Battlefield Conference, March 27-30, as we tackle Sherman’s Campaign for Atlanta (4-day abbreviated version). There are approximately 8-10 seats left on the bus, open to anyone interested. When those are full we’ll cut off registration, because anything more than a busload of 50 people gets unwieldy. The program is coming together nicely, and I’ll announce our headquarters hotel this week (in Marietta). If interested, send me an email at, or post a message here and I’ll give you registration information. Or you can go to the Civil War Forum start page and click on the photo of Sherman on his horse for more details.

The Campaign for Atlanta (last best chance to reserve your seat):
We’ll take in Resaca to Kennesaw on the first day (concentrating most on Pickett’s Mill and Kennesaw), and take in some Peachtree Creek and Battle for Atlanta sites on the second full day of tours. We’ll also get a private presentation by Gordon Jones at the Atlanta History Center of the most important and impressive Civil War collections outside of the Museum of the Confederacy. Additionally, we’ll work in sidetrips to some of Francis Shoup’s few remaining Shoupades on Johnston’s Chattahoochee River Line, and visits to “The General” at Big Shanty, and the Atlanta Cyclorama.

I have enlisted three after dinner speakers (Thurs., Fri., Sat.): Dr. Steven Woodworth of TCU, Dr. John Fowler of Kennesaw State, and Atlanta historian Steve Davis. All of that—3 dinner talks, 2 full days of touring (lunch included), and two half-days of touring runs $250 a person. It’s cheap because we aim to get as close to break-even as possible, with anything left over donated to The Civil War Trust, or a local group. Every year about 2/3rds of the attendees are people who have attended all or several of the 12 meetings, and the rest are first-timers and veterans of the last few outings. We come from all over the country, and some from other countries (Canada and the U.K. regularly represented). Besides this notice, I’ll make an announcement in some other online venues until the bus fills up. Alert and faithful readers of this blog will have the first shot at those 8 seats.

Speaking of letters to the editor (see comic in last blog entry), this presidential election cycle—specifically the Republican South Carolina Primary—has seen another flurry of interest in the Confederate battleflag. Mr. Huckabee’s recent comments prompted an incisive essay by favorite intellectual atheist cocktail enthusiast Christopher Hitchens, who takes Huckabee and Ron Paul to task for Civil War related comments. For example,
And not merely racist incitement. So slack is our grasp of history and principle that we seem unable to think of the Confederacy as other than "offensive" to blacks. But there are two Republican candidates in this election—the absurd and sinister Ron Paul being the other—who choose this crucial moment in our time to exalt those who attempted to destroy the Union by force, and those who solicited the help of foreign powers in order to do so, and whose treason led to the violent deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Should their patriotism be questioned? I would say most definitely yes, and questioned repeatedly, at that, perhaps especially if they are seeking the nomination of the party of Lincoln.
Hitchens’s essay, in turn, generated the kind of responses that are usually restricted to Civil War discussion groups and publications. As one would expect, these discussions quickly devolved into angry flame wars. Check out Moira Redmond’s “Fraywatch,” a column that monitors the goings-on in various discussion areas.

For example:

There were two key, tightly-connected, questions: is that flag racist? Readers went for it here. And, was the Civil War was actually about slavery or not? Battle lines drawn here. Nobody seemed to change anyone else's mind, and it wasn't all that civil. Richmond says "We're beyond the point of asking 'What would Gen. Lee do?' partly because we know the answer ('Surrender and tell the troops to go home.') and partly because he's dead."

1 comment:

Elisabeth115 said...

I, unfortunately, remember very well the memorial to the Colfax Riot, as my family drove by it more than once on our way from Shreveport to points south. I was only a child in the back of my parents' 1952 black Chevrolet. I remember my mother saying, "Why do you think they would make a memorial to such a terrible thing?" In my (to my memory) totally apolitical family, that remark stood out--and sank in.

I am enjoying reading your blog.

Elisabeth 115