Saturday, November 13, 2010

Now that's authentic!

Arkansas celebrates the Civil War sesquicentenary
by electing an actual Confederate. 

League of the South member, Loy Mauchwho said that the Confederate battle flag is "a symbol of Jesus Christ above all else. It's a symbol of Biblical government"has been elected to the Arkansas statehouse from district 26. My little brother, longtime resident of Arkansas, says Mauch is famous for his letters to the editor bemoaning the war crimes of Abraham Lincoln (I'll bet there was nary a squawk about water-boarding, though).
The Arkansas Times reports that Mauch's local Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp "hosted a conference in Hot Springs called 'Seminar on Abraham LincolnTruth vs. Myth,' with a keynote address called 'Homage to John Wilkes Booth.'" 

Mauch apparently has a sharp eye for important municipal improvements. In a letter to the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record, Mr. Mauch promoted a project to enlarge the Confederate monument in Hot Springs, a flag and statute at the fork of Central and 
Ouachita Avenues (from the same Arkansas Times article). 

Biblical government indeed! Slaves and all.

Oh Alabama Arkansas
Can I see you
and shake your hand.
Make friends down in Alabama Arkansas
I'm from a new land
I come to you
and see all this ruin
What are you doing Alabama Arkansas?
You got the rest of the union
to help you along
What's going wrong?
(with apologies to Neil Young)

When DuPont became Grant

How many times has a street named for one prominent military figure been renamed in favor of another who fought for the same cause? Probably not too many.

Grant Street in San Francisco, the main street through Chinatown, started off in the Spanish period as Calle de la Fundacion ("street of the founding"), back when San Francisco was still called Yerba Buena, or "good herb" (a remarkably apt name for the town even today). 
Samuel F. DuPont

Grant Street, circa 1920
In 1846 the street was renamed DuPont, in honor of naval officer Samuel F. DuPont, who commanded Commodore Stockton's flagship, the USS Congress, at the outbreak of the Mexican War. DuPont's exploits in that conflict included the capture of San Diego, and operations to seize or destroy all enemy ships in the Gulf of California.

DuPont's Civil War service started off with great success against Confederate forts on the Eastern Seaboard, gaining him promotion to Rear Admiral, but after a failed attempt to capture Charleston, SC in April of 1863, his fortunes began to wain.

DuPont Street, meanwhile, became the center of the largest community of Chinese in America, many of whom refer to the street as Du Pon Gai even today. San Francisco's Chinatown was largely destroyed in the fire following the 1906 earthquake, but soon rebuilt. Rising from the ashes, the thoroughfare was christened anew as Grant Street in honor of the 18th president. Neither Grant or DuPont lived long enough to enjoy, or rue the changeover. 

Grant Street starts at Market and one block later crosses Geary Boulevard, the only time the street intersects with another named for a Civil War general. John Geary was an alcalde before statehood, and San Francisco's first mayor afterwards (at 31, he remains the city's youngest mayor, beating out Gavin Newsom by about five years or so).

From Geary, a block below the high-end shopping at Union Square, Grant Street moves through the Financial District and passes into Chinatown at the Bush Street archway. It traverses Chinatown before crossing into North Beach, finally ending at The Embarcadero at Pier 39. Every block of Grant is steeped in history, from the early Spanish settlement, through the American conquest, the Gold Rush, and beyond.

I've encountered a number of Grant streets throughout the Bay Area (and cross the great triumvirate of Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan nearly every day in Palo Alto), but none of the Grants are so grand as the old Du Pon Gai in San Francisco—a worthy tribute to the great general.

DuPont, robbed of his street in the Wild West, is memorialized today by DuPont Circle in the neighborhood or district of the same name, in Washington DC (formerly Pacific Circle). A statue of the Admiral first graced the traffic circle, but was moved to Wilmington, Delaware by relatives who subsequently hired Daniel French and Henry Baconwhose portfolio included the Lincoln Memorialto build a fountain in the statue's place (see a photo of the statue here and more photos at the bottom of this page).

The Dupont Circle fountain is a stunning work, and incorporates three figures representing Sea, Wind, and Sky. See some beautiful close-ups here and here.

Grant street, incidentally, is not the only tribute to Grant in San Francisco. There's this handsome memorial in Golden Gate Park.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Interesting article: The Civil War at 150

Certainly, Lincoln's election in 1860 precipitated secession, which resulted in war, and the sesquicentennial of that event, on November 6, truly marks the beginning of the forthcoming cycle of commemoration. Douglas R. Egerton's Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election That Brought on the Civil War (Bloomsbury Press, out this month) offers a thorough analysis. The contest featured four candidates: John C. Breckinridge, of Kentucky, nominee of the Southern Democrats; Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois, candidate of the Northern Democrats; John Bell, of Tennessee, representing the Constitutional Union Party; and, of course, Abraham Lincoln, of the Republican Party, whose very nomination entices us into playing the counterfactual game: What if the Republican convention had not been held in Lincoln's home state, in Chicago, a site chosen over St. Louis by one vote? Egerton does not speculate about what might have occurred had the convention been held in Missouri, but it certainly would have boosted the chances of Edward Bates, who had lived there since before the territory became a state.
 From The Civil War at 150
Louis P. Masur is chair of American studies at Trinity College in Connecticut and author of The Civil War: A Concise History, forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

World's worst sculptor dies at age 96

Controversial jack-of-all-trades, slavery apologist and lousy sculptor, Jack Kershaw, passed away on September 7. He was best known as a defense attorney for James Earl Ray, and author of a conspiracy theory regarding the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. According to Jack Kershaw, Ray was working for a shadowy figure name Raul, the mastermind behind the murder. Kershaw's theory pretty much dissipated after he arranged for Ray to do an interview for Playboy magazine, in preparation for which Ray agreed to a lie detector test [Kershaw's unpublished manuscript on the matter reportedly remains in a "secure location"].

The test indicated Ray was lying when he claimed not to have murdered King. It also indicated he was telling the truth when he denied taking part in a conspiracy. Ray dismissed Kershaw as his attorney after he discovered Kershaw was paid for facilitating the interview. 

Investigator Gary Revel (from left), James Earl Ray, Jack Kershaw, and Ray’s brother Jerry met in 1977. (Associated Press)
Kershaw, a member of the so-called Fugitive Poets of Vanderbilt in the 1920s, later in life became a co-founder of the ridiculous, neo-Confederate "League of the South," a thinly-veiled white-supremacist group dedicated to achieving that which the original Confederate states failed to do in four years of bloody warfare: create an independent nation from states that made up the old southern slavocracy.

Between James Earl Ray and the League of the South, Mr. Kershaw seems to have had a difficult time choosing a good cause to get behind. 

Curiously, everything I could find on-line about Kershaw refers to him as the heir of an Admiral Kershaw, CSA, of South Carolina, but I know of no other high-ranking Kershaw than the famous major general in the Army of Northern Virginia (James). Maybe "Admiral" was a first name, like Senator K. Torvaldson of Lake Wobegon.

Endearing himself to fellow citizens, Kershaw was once quoted by the Times Picayune as saying "Somebody needs to say a good word for slavery. Where in the world are the Negroes better off today than in America?” 

Endearing himself to commuters on I-65 south of Nashville, Kershaw is best known for erecting a nightmarish statue of former Confederate general and KKK Grand Wizard, Nathan Bedford Forrest on a private swath of land along the interstate. I made passing reference to the Forrest statue in an early blog entry about Civil War-related roadside attractions. The always entertaining website Roadside America calls the statue "ugly," and "like a cartoon statue." But the best critique I've come across was by one Patrick R. in this entry, May 5, 2008:
"The Nathan Bedford Forrest Memorial, which is beside I-65 South in Brentwood, is probably Nashville's most appalling landmark.  And I'm not only saying that because of the historical and racial implications—it's also aesthetically atrocious. . ." Forrest "is depicted in this statue as a ghastly, screaming dwarf. The horse on which Forrest rides makes the general look like a nine-year-old with a radically contorted face wearing a false beard and a skirt."

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

There's an App for that. . .

This looks pretty cool. Certainly the price is right (.99 cents). Civil War Preservation Trust has released its first virtual battlefield guide, with ready access to "orders of battle, battle facts, historical photos, troop positions, chronologies," battle maps, and video clips of historians holding forth. Not to mention GPS to tell you exactly where you are on the battlefield.

The potential for this kind of App is really exciting. Imagine pulling up one of CWPT's beautiful maps, locating yourself on that map, and then reading some after-action reports referring to the spot where you're standing. At present, only part of the Gettysburg battlefield is covered, and the App only works on the iPhone and iPad, but it will soon expand to more fields and other platforms.

Nicely done! Read all about it here.