Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Spotsylvania Civil War Blog

by John F. Cummings is one of the better Civil War blogs going, in my estimation. It's fresh, cleanly designed, beautifully illustrated, and rewards the reader with keen observations in succinct nuggets. John lives on a portion of that enormous, but poorly preserved battlefield (1/2 mile from the fighting at Myer's Hill), and takes his inspiration from the landscape beneath his feet, and from the stories of people like John Myers, whose home was destroyed by Union troops on May 15 (Cummings tells us that Myersa conscript in the 40th Virginia Infantrywitnessed the destruction of his home from his position in the Confederate defenses). 
Cummings has a knack for ferreting out interesting stories, and I especially enjoy his astute observations on period photographs and drawings, and his skillful, Frassinito-esque 
camera work. lining up angles long disguised by modern sprawl.  Take a look at this nifty blog entry regarding a May 9, 1864 sketch by Alfred Waud.

I am glad to see Spotsylvania given such passionate attention, since it is one of my favorite periods to study in the Overland Campaign. I wrote my last major college paper on the battle, and I cringe to think that a copy of that paper may survive in a file drawer somewhere. It was for an independent study course, the last four credits needed to get my B.A. in History, and had I known then what I know now, I would not have attempted to write anything meaningful about such a large, long, and complicated affair.

Once I delved into it, I was quickly in over my head, but had invested too much time and trouble in the project to reverse course. In the end, I produced a reasonably sourced  semblance of a battle narrative, marred by occasional tangles of impenetrable confusion. Suffice it to say, Spotsylvania kicked my ass and left me bleeding, but I lived to fight another day, unlike so many thousands of poor souls who perished there. The eminent Professor Jaebker was generous, and gave me an A for effort, though his red-ink critiques filled the margins of every page.

Sometime later I learned that my mother's great-grandfather, Francis Marion Kirby of the 5th Wisconsin, was shot in the knee there. The 5th Wisconsin was selected for Emory Upton's bold and ill-fated assault on the salient on May 10, and it seems likely that he got his wound in that action. I wrote about one of my visits to Fredericksburg in this old post from 2006.

Jed Hotchkiss map of Spotsylvania, Library of Congress
It seems incredible to me that one of the most savagely-contested pieces of real estate in the entire war gets relatively short shrift in the literature. Accounts of the fighting at the Mule Shoe are as horrific, the struggle as desperate, as anything that occurred between 1861-65, but in the larger narratives, Spotsylvania is sometimes hurriedly dispatchedtucked between the Wilderness and Cold Harbora bloody wayside on the road to Richmond.

I'm still learning what happened at Spotsylvania, after all these years, because like the war itself, the story is just that big. Given my experience with Dr. Jaebker, I am greatly impressed by the work of historians like Gordon Rhea, and William D. Matter, and feel gratitude that they took the time to sort it all out in proper fashion.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

protophotoshopping: General Grant at City Point

General Grant at City Point. 1902. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction Nos.: LC-DIG-ppmsca-15886 (digital file from original photograph), LC-USZ62-21992 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: PRES FILE - Grant, U.S.--Civil War & with generals [item] [P&P]
Before there was Photoshop, there was the simple act of creating composite photographs from multiple images. This one in the Library of Congress purports to show Ulysses S. Grant astride a horse, in front of the troops at City Point, Virginia. In fact, it's complied from three separate images. The body and the horse belong to Major General Alexander M. McCook (see below). The head shot comes from the well-known photo of Grant at Cold Harbor. There are some other examples of early photo manipulation here.

Clams and Steam Beer Since 1861

In December of 1861, the Old Clam House (originally called the Oakdale Bar and Clam House) opened for business in San Francisco. One hundred and fifty years later, it's still serving up platters of clams, oysters, mussels, crab, shrimp, calamari, and other tasty items. Indeed, it's the oldest restaurant in San Francisco still operating out of its original location (the Tadich Grill predates it by 12 years or so, but it has relocated).

I scanned President Lincoln's December 1861 State of the Union address for mention of the state of fine dining on the Left Coast, but there was nothing.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dred Scott rocks

When I want some serious antebellum, prelude to the Civil War history, I turn to Don Fehrenbacher. When I want some serious, world class rock on the radio, I turn to KFOG (104.5 San Francisco, 97.7 San Jose). Curiously, Dred Scott satisfies both needs. 

On this day in 1862, Unconditional Surrender . . .

                         Hdqtrs, Army in the field
                         Camp near Donelson, Feby 16, 1862
Gen. S.B. Buckner, 
Confed. Army:
Sir: Yours of this date proposing Armistice, and appointment of Commissioners, to settle terms of Capitulation is just received. No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.
     I propose to move immediately upon your works. I am Sir: very respectfully
                          Your obt. sevt.
                          U.S. Grant
                          Brig. Gen.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mrs. Lincoln, I Presume? Well, as It Turns Out ...

Left, the altered portrait depicting Mrs. Lincoln; right, the restored image, an unknown woman without a Lincoln brooch. Photographs from Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
For 32 years, a portrait of a serene Mary Todd Lincoln hung in the governor’s mansion in Springfield, Ill., signed by Francis Bicknell Carpenter, a celebrated painter who lived at the White House for six months in 1864.

As the conservator Barry Bauman removed paint added to the portrait advertised as being that of Mary Todd Lincoln, a brooch depicting Abraham Lincoln disappeared.

The story behind the picture was compelling: Mrs. Lincoln had Mr. Carpenter secretly paint her portrait as a surprise for the president, but he was assassinated before she had a chance to present it to him.

Now it turns out that both the portrait and the touching tale accompanying it are false.
Read the full New York Times article here.
Published: February 11, 2012

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Atlantic's 150th anniversary Civil War issue is now online, with expanded content

Click on image for Table of Contents

The Union Veteran's Son Who Fixed Lucille Ball's Appliances

Hilbert J. Gramelspacher
And not just Lucille Ball's. This son of a Hoosier infantryman also fixed appliances for Jerry Lewis and Joan Crawford. I saw mention of this article (referenced in an online post by Robert Moore of Cenantua's Blog), and wanted to highlight it here.  A couple days ago I posted a link to a story on the death of a man reported to be the last actual son of a Confederate veteran. Turns out there may be as many as 13 sons of Union veterans still alive, including one man in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. I passed through Poplar Bluff -- the "Gateway to the Ozarks" -- many times in the late 70s and early 80s, going back and forth from Evansville, Indiana to my parents new home on Greers Feery Lake, Arkansas. But alas, Gramelspacher did not live there at the time.  
The family did not know much about Joseph's military service until Hilbert's 68-year-old son, Wayne, who lives near Vaughn, Miss., began "looking up family history" and contacted Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
"My father never talked about the Civil War," Hilbert said. He was 11 when his dad died in 1931 at the age of 83.
"He did show me his rifle," Hilbert said. "He gave it to my sister, and her children have it now.".
Full article is here.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

How Egypt Won the American Civil War

by  Matthew Osborn
February 2, 2012
Al Arabiya News
read the full article here

Egypt, which previously accounted for only 3 percent of cotton exports to Europe, saw its profits boom from $7 million to $77 million in just four years. With Egyptian cotton flooding the European market, the demand for Southern cotton disappeared, as did European support for the Confederacy that was based, in part, on a need for the South’s cotton.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The last actual son of a Confederate veteran?

Dinwiddie County native Lucas L. Meredith Jr. poses in 2008
with a portrait of his father, who fought for the South.
"A former business owner and one of the last links to the American Civil War died Jan. 28. Lucas L. Meredith Jr.—a native of Dinwiddie County—was the son of a flag bearer during Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. He died Saturday at age 87." Read all about it in the Petersburg Progress-Index .
Work in the Cameron Art Museum's exhibit “Civil War Drawings from the Becker Collection” depicts scenes from the South during the war. Image courtesy of the Cameron Art Museum

Civil War Era Drawings from the Becker Collection
Thursday, February 2
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
CAM Members: Free, Non-Members: $10.00
(On View Feb. 3 – May 6, 2012)
Civil War Era Drawings from the Becker Collection features 127 “first hand” drawings depicting colorful aspects of life and action during the Civil War era. These original drawings by artist-reporters for the "Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper", were used to inform a reading public consumed by the need to know what was happening throughout America as it struggled to establish its national identity.

Louise Wells Cameron Art Museum
3201 South 17th Street  Map
Wilmington, North Carolina 28412
(910) 395.5999