The Gettysburg Semester

A guest post by Zachary Fry, a graduate student in the Ohio State University history department.

“Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?” -Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Gettysburg Semester was the time of my life.  As a student of the Civil War, how could it not have been?  I might easily say that the allure of the place was enough to make it so – living a block or so from where Coster’s Eleventh Corps brigade tried to stem the tide of triumphant Rebels on the battle’s first day, walking the autumn fields of Plum Run on the weekends, or even studying the war’s Eastern Theater while sitting just an hour away from Antietam and Harpers Ferry.  But the Gettysburg Semester was much more than just four months living on a beautiful campus in the cockpit of Civil War history.  I learned more than I ever expected and forged unique friendships that have added immeasurably to my life for several years now.

I had just finished my third year at Kent State when I received a scholarship to attend the Semester, and I entered the program with seven other stalwarts from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, California, and Oregon.              Together, we lived in an 1870s house on campus solely devoted to Gettysburg students receiving their degrees in Civil War Era Studies, fine friends all.  My academic life consisted of a crash course in Civil War historiography (where I first read my future graduate adviser’s work), a course in Civil War tactics supplemented with a battlefield trip every Friday, and a readings course on John Brown and the abolitionists of the late 1850s.  For the first two courses I enjoyed the powerful lectures of Dr. Allen Guelzo, eloquent director of the Semester and the foremost academic historian of Abraham Lincoln.

In addition to my regular coursework, I procured an internship at the Adams County Historical Society, housed in historic Schmucker Hall on the Lutheran Theological Seminary campus.  My bosses at ACHS were Wayne Motts, an OSU alumnus who has since gone on to even greater glory at the National Civil War Museum, and Ben Neeley, a passionate public historian who drove to work every day from distant Lancaster.  During the internship, I processed hundreds of newspaper articles detailing individual experiences at the Battle of Gettysburg, the most difficult part of which was training myself not to read each one so that I could finish the day’s work efficiently.   Thursday nights at ACHS were traditionally attended by members of Gettysburg’s subculture of lifestyle researchers.  I was certainly among that group by the time I left in December.

The most rewarding part of the Gettysburg Semester was not the history, such as the fact that I worked at ACHS next to the door where soldiers of the 151st Pennsylvania dragged their wounded colonel to safety during the chaotic retreat on July 1, 1863.  Nor was it the resources available, such as the numerous side-trips to the National Archives to conduct research for my ongoing senior thesis project on the 59th New York Infantry.  It wasn’t even the unique culture of Gettysburg itself and the Remembrance Day ceremonies, which I enjoyed with a very close friend from Washington. The Gettysburg Semester was special because of the people who made it happen – Dr. Guelzo, Dr. Matthew Norman, Cathy Bain, and, most of all, the seven accomplished Semester alumni whom I am fortunate to call my friends.  Nowhere else, not even in graduate school, could a student have enjoyed the companionship of so many others who live, eat, and breathe the Civil War.  The coursework, the research, the culture, and the friendships, all provided me a formative experience, academically and personally.  The Gettysburg Semester was, in short, a dream come true.

HAIL!


Washington Times, 31 December 2012

Better Be Good for Goodness Sake

From yesterday’s Washington Times:

A Civil War Christmas: Santa Claus on the battlefield
Tuesday, December 18, 2012 – The Civil War by Martha M. Boltz

VIENNA, Va., December 18, 2012 — It’s difficult to write about the Civil War at Christmas time, since during that time of war, battles and skirmishes, most folks just did not sit down and commit their thoughts of Yuletide observances to paper and ink, that is if they had ink. But Christmas was celebrated to some extent both in the North and in the South.

However, you can never talk of the Civil War and Christmas without bringing up the name of Thomas Nast, who was a newspaper cartoonist and a rabid Northerner. It was Nast to whom we owe the word-picture and the actual drawing of Santa Claus, which flowed from his prolific pen.

He published his first Christmas-related cartoon in “Harper’s Weekly” during Christmas,1863, showing a bewhiskered gent passing out gifts to Union soldiers. A couple of fairly young looking boys are pictured on the floor, opening boxes.

The rest of the story is here.

For those who want a take on Old St. Nick/Father Christmas that is a bit more up to date:

150 years ago

The above video clip is, of course, the opening scene from Glory, which is a dramatized recreation of Robert Gould Shaw’s experience at Antietam with the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry. As part of Gordon’s brigade of Williams’s/Crawford’s Division of Mansfield/Williams’s XII Corps, the 2nd Massachusetts was involved in two significant actions on 17 September 1862, the fight with D.H. Hill’s forces in the Cornfield and an advance alongside the 13th New Jersey from the East Woods to the Hagerstown Pike in the aftermath of Sedgwick’s disaster in the West Woods.

Shaw later wrote:

Of course there are mistakes made in every battle; that day we were the victims of one; for Gordon’s Brigade was sent forward to support Sumner in [the West Woods] which he had already been driven out of. Instead of finding friends there, we were met by a volley of musketry; we didn’t return fire for some time, thinking there was some mistake, and when we did fire, we did very little execution, and had to retire. Colonel Andrews saved us there, fo rif we had gone as far as we were ordered, we should probably have been overwhelmed.

Also with the 2nd Massachusetts that morning was Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight.

Near Sharpsburg. Sept. 17th 1862.
On the field

Dear Mother,
It is a misty moisty morning. We are engaging the enemy and are drawn up in support of Hooker who is now banging away most briskly. I write in the saddle to send you my love and to say that I am very well so far –

Dearest mother,
I am wounded so as to be helpless. Good bye if so it must be I think I die in victory. God defend our country. I trust in God & love you all to the last. Dearest love to father & all my dear brothers.

Our troops have left the part of the field where I lay –

Mother, yrs
Wilder

All is well with those that have faith

Dwight died from his wounds two days later in Boonsboro.

Dwight’s story is prominently featured in the episode of the American Experience PBS is airing tomorrow night, Death in the Civil War. “Enjoyment” is probably not the right word to describe what the viewer will experience watching it, but they will find it a superbly done and sobering look at an important aspect of the Civil War.

“Chicken” Generalship

Needless to say, when one finds something with this headline, it does not inspire optimism that you will find something that is to be taken very seriously.

The Civil War’s Most Chicken General
A new history tells the story of George McClellan, the Union Army leader who almost undid Lincoln.
By John Swansburg
Posted Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, at 11:54 PM ET

Imagine, for a moment, that it is 1862 and you are Gen. George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, the Union’s premier fighting force. The Confederate Army, led by Robert E. Lee, has just invaded Maryland. As you’re preparing your strategy for checking Lee’s advance, a message arrives at headquarters: A corporal from Indiana has found an envelope lying in a field near enemy lines. Inside are three cigars. Oh, and a copy of Lee’s Special Order No. 191, detailing his invasion plan and revealing that the Confederate general has split his force in two, a daring move that has left his army dangerously exposed to attack. You’re George McClellan—beloved by your soldiers, tasked by your commander-in-chief with destroying Lee’s army. What do you do?

Smoke the cigars, obviously. But after that? If you answered, Attack with all possible speed, by god!, you have a lot to learn from Richard Slotkin’s The Long Road to Antietam: How the Civil War Became a Revolution. As its title suggests, the book sets out to show how the nature of the war changed during Lee’s Maryland campaign, which culminated in the famously bloody Battle of Antietam. Up until that point in the war, powerful men on both sides of the conflict believed that a negotiated peace might be hammered out. But after 3,600 Americans died fighting outside a farming village on the banks of Antietam Creek, Lincoln would issue the Emancipation Proclamation, a radical document that ended any hope of reconciliation. In the wake of Antietam, the Union would fight an all-out war of subjugation, with the goal of crushing the rebellion beneath its Yankee boot and ending the institution of slavery by force.

The full story is here.

There is much, of course, that I could say in response, but with the new academic year scheduled to begin next week, I have neither the time nor energy to do so right now. Nor do I think it would do much good.

So all I will do here is offer an excerpt from the chapter of Erich Ludendorff’s memoirs in which he discusses the August 1914 Battle of Tannenberg that, for some reason, came to my mind after reading the sort of commentary that the comments section at the bottom of Swansberg’s piece indicates the subjects of Civil War generalship in general and George McClellan in particular still attract like flies.


The civilian is too inclined to think that war is only like the working out of an arithmetical problem with given numbers. It is anything but that. On both sides it is a case of wrestling with powerful, unknown physical and psychological forces. . . . Only the head of the Government, or the statesman who decides on war, shoulders the same or a bigger burden or responsibility than that of the commander-in-chief. In his case it is a question of one great decision only, but the commander of an army is faced with decisions daily and hourly. He is continuously responsible for the welfare of many hundred thousands of persons, even of nations. For a soldier there is nothing greater, but at the same time more awesome and responsible, than to find himself at the head of an army or the entire armed forces of his country. . . .

All those who criticize the dispositions of a general ought first to study military history, unless they have themselves taken part in a war in a position of command.

I should like to see such people compelled to conduct a battle themselves. They would be overwhelmed by the greatness of their task, and when they realized the obscurity of the situation, and the exacting nature of the enormous demands made up on them, they would doubtless be more modest.

Erich Ludendorff, Ludendorff’s Own Story, August 1914-November 1918: The Great War from the Siege of Liege to the Signing of the Armistice as viewed from the Grand Headquarters of the German Army, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1920), vol. 1: 63.

Tweeting Gettysburg

What would George Meade, Robert E. Lee, Henry Burgwyn, Alonzo Cushing, Joshua Chamberlain, and the other heroes of Gettysburg have done with Twitter accounts?

At Gettysburg, tweeting the news and battle data
By Amy Worden
The Philadelphia Inquirer
July 7, 2012

Deliver the breaking news of the Battle of Gettysburg to the world in 140 characters or fewer.

That’s the goal of the first live team-tweeting effort by journalists covering this weekend’s annual reenactment of the epic Civil War battle – or at least one pivotal skirmish.

Four tweeters, armed with smartphones and recruited from two area newspapers, will deliver minute-by-minute coverage of the reenactment Saturday of the fighting at Devil’s Den as part of the battle’s 149th-anniversary event.

One reporter will file from the Confederate side and another from the Union perspective, said organizer Marc Charisse, editor of the Hanover Evening Sun.

“We thought it would enhance people’s understanding of what happened there,” said Charisse, also a Civil War historian, who will be providing color commentary @esmcharisse.

York Daily Record editor James McClure will tweet the “big picture,” Charisse said, an overview of the battle as the reenacted violence at Devil’s Den unfolds.

There’s no question that a few liberties are taken with the battle during the annual reenactment, which has attracted thousands of people to Gettysburg for decades. It is not fought on the actual battlefield (it’s staged on a farm about seven miles away); it is often, as this year, not held on the battle’s actual dates (July 1 to 3); and visitors pay $54 to watch the action over three days as an announcer provides the play-by-play.

Twitter, however, adds a new dimension of social media and instant communication for about 2,000 reenactors, who go to great lengths to replicate 19th-century warfare.

Full story can be found here.

(Hat tip to Chris Stowe.)

Don’t know if it has anything to do with this, but Tweety’s pose here looks awful familiar . . .

Malvern Hill, 1 July

The Richmond Howitzers, firing from one of the Confederate artillery positions on Malvern Hill, on a VERY hot 150th anniversary of the battle. (Click on image to watch the video.)

BIG thank you to Petersburg park historian James Blankenship and the rest of his gun crew, not least for the bottle of water they kindly provided the lone spectator who was brave/foolish enough to venture out to their position in the middle of the afternoon heat.

Happy Oak Grove Day!

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Oak Grove (or King’s School House), the opening engagement of the Seven Days Battles, which was fought on what is today the grounds of Richmond International Airport.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, Redoubt Numbers 3, June 25, 1862–5 p.m.

Honorable E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War:

The affair is over, and we have gained our point fully and with but little loss, notwithstanding strong opposition. Our men have done all that could be desired. The affair was probably decided by two guns that Captain De Russy brought gallantly into action under very difficult circumstances. The enemy driven from his camps in front of this and all now quiet.

GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Major-General

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, Camp Lincoln, June 25, 1862–6.15 p. m.

Honorable E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War:

I have just returned from the field, and find your dispatch in regard to Jackson.

Several contrabands just in give information confirming the supposition that Jackson’s advance is at or near Hanover Court-House, and that Beauregard arrived, with strong re-enforcements, in Richmond yesterday.

I incline to think that Jackson will attack my right and rear. The rebel force is stated at 200,000, including Jackson and Beauregard. I shall have to contend against vastly superior odds if these reports be true; but this army will do all in the power of men to hold their position and repulse any attack.

I regret my great inferiority in numbers, but feel that I am in no way responsible for it, as I have not failed to represent repeatedly the necessity of re-enforcements; that this was the decisive point, and that all the available means of the Government should be concentrated here. I will do all that a general can do with the splendid army I have the honor to command, and if it is destroyed by overwhelming numbers, can at least die with it and share its fate. But if the result of the action, which will probably occur to-morrow, or within a short time, is a disaster, the responsibility cannot be thrown on my shoulders; it must rest where it belongs.

Since I commenced this I have received additional intelligence confirming the supposition in regard to Jackson’s movements and Beauregard’s arrival. I shall probably be attacked to-morrow, and now go to the other side of the Chickahominy to arrange for the defense on that side. I feel that there is no use in again asking for re-enforcements.

GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Major-General.

U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (70 vols. in 128 parts; Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), ser. 1, vol. 11, pt. 1: 51, pt. 3: 251-52.

Later this week, I will be busing and walking the battlefields of the Virginia peninsula in the company of my good friends from the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War. From the looks of the weather report, it is going to be hot, hot, hot in more than one sense of the word!

Corinth

A guest post by LTC Charles R. Bowery Jr., Chief, Doctrine Division, U.S. Army Aviation Center.

During a recent visit to Shiloh National Military Park, I had the opportunity to visit the park’s Corinth Interpretive Center. This beautiful facility is located near the site of Battery Robinett, one of the primary Federal defensive positions around the key railroad junction of Corinth and scene of bloody fighting during the October 1862 battle there.

The award-winning Interpretive Center is an exceptional combination of history, memory, and education about the causes and consequences of the wider Civil War, the war in the Western Theater, and the impact of the fighting on the population of this northern Mississippi community. It uses art, multimedia, and artifacts to tell these stories in an engaging and informative way. The building itself and the reconstructed artillery position call to mind the fortifications that both sides constructed in and around Corinth.

The walkway leading to the main entrance features an outdoor installation entitled “Detritus of Battle,” with bronze replicas of soldier equipment scattered on the pavement, walls, and surrounding grass.

This display culminates in a wall-size depiction of soldiers moving to battle on the double-quick.

The museum tells the story of Corinth as a growing railroad town, and then as a strategic crossroads. The carved adjutant’s field desk of the 76th Ohio Infantry and the distinctive battle flag of the 6th Missouri Infantry (C.S.) are among the artifacts on display. A reconstructed army supply boxcar also highlights why Corinth was so hotly contested in 1862.

Corinth was also the site of one of the largest Contraband Camps in the South. The Interpretive Center highlights the town’s place in African-American emancipation and examines the war’s outcome and legacy from various viewpoints.

A water feature in the building’s courtyard, entitled “The Stream of American History 1770-1870,” symbolically depicts the birth and expansion of the United States, the rise of sectional tension over slavery, the Civil War, and reconstruction. The water’s flow originates from the Preamble to the Constitution, flows over the states of the Union and the Confederacy and over blocks inscribed with the names of 117 prominent battles and campaigns, and ends with the three Civil War-era amendments to the Constitution.

Just outside the courtyard, numerous graves of known and unknown Union and Confederate soldiers remind the visitor of he human toll of this turbulent century.

Downtown Corinth contains numerous sites of significance to the war in the West. A small park stands on the site of the wartime Tishomingo Hotel, next to the vital railroad crossing, and contains period photographs.

The Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center should be on any Civil War traveler’s “must-see” list, especially as we approach the 150th anniversary of the battles in and around the city.

LTC Bowery is a former military history instructor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and has served multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as an Apache pilot, including a tour in Afghanistan in 2010-11 as commander of Task Force Dragon, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade. He has led numerous staff rides of battlefields in Europe and North America and is author of Lee and Grant: Profiles in Leadership from the Battlefields of Virginia. His forthcoming works include a CMH Commemorative Monograph on the War in the West, 1862-1863 and The Army War College Guide to the Richmond and Petersburg Campaigns of 1864-65.

The Whipping Man

Last week, I was asked through my department chair here at the staff college if I would be interested and available to participate in a Scholar’s Forum at the Kansas City Repertory Theater. It was to follow a performance of a three-man play called The Whipping Man on Saturday, 31 March.

Here is a description of the play:

The play opens in April 1865 just as Passover begins the day after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders at Appomattox. Caleb, a Jewish Confederate soldier, returns to his war-ravaged family home in Richmond, Virginia, from which his parents have fled. Simon and John, his former slaves, are now living in the house. All three men now face the devastation that the war has brought to their lives as well as the challenges and possibilities of their new relationship to each other. Each man must come to a new understanding of their faith and of what freedom means to an individual and a society.

Playwright Matthew Lopez links the historical enslavement of the Jews with the enslavement of African-Americans in the United States in a compelling drama blended with surprising moments of humor as secrets and truths propel these three fascinating protagonists into a new day.

Fresh from its New York debut where the show was so well received it was extended three times, comes a new work rooted in the largely unknown but true history of Jewish slaveholders in the South. This extraordinary new play is a powerful exploration of lives that come unraveled as the ravages of slavery are revealed at the close of the Civil War. The Whipping Man is one of the most original and thrilling new plays on the history of race, religious identity, and what it means to be free. “Emotionally potent” – The New York Times

I accepted the invitation and brought my daughter Corinne with me. First half of the play was a bit intense for an eight-year old. So she spent most of the first act playing in the lobby and conversing with the member of the theater’s staff, Melinda McCrary, who had invited me to see the play and moderated the forum afterward. Corinne was, though, able to handle the second half and ended up enjoying it a lot more than I (and she) thought she would. She especially enjoyed getting to go up on the stage and look around backstage after the forum, see how they did all of the special effects, and afterward remarked she could not wait to tell her friends about it.

The forum was also excellent. About 50-60 members of what was about a 300-500 person audience remained afterward for the panel, which consisted of myself, Ms. McCrary, and a local rabbi. The discussion hit on a wide range of topics, driven mostly by questions from the audience. (As I have documented earlier, the Q & A is always my favorite part of any speaking engagement.) Among the subjects that we discussed were trench warfare in 1864-65, the African-American experience in Reconstruction, and Jewish traditions in the context of 19th-century American religious history.

The play was absolutely fantastic too. If you get an opportunity to see it, I highly recommend taking advantage of it. I have never been what might be considered an “enthusiast of the lively arts”, but this is the sort of thing that could make me one!

THE Turning Point of the Civil War!!

Today is the 150th anniversary of one of the truly important events in the military history of the Civil War.

While others might answer Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Antietam, or perhaps Fort Donelson when asked what they think the military engagement that had the greatest impact on the outcome of the Civil War was, I am not among them. First, I do not agree with the contingency theory for explaining the outcome of the war (in sum, the notion that had a particular engagement gone the other way, the outcome of the war would have been different). There is no question, though, that some engagements did have a much greater impact on its course than others. When asked what I think was the most important battle of the war, my unhesitating (and only slightly irreverent) response is this: First Kernstown, 23 March 1862.

In that battle, of course, Stonewall Jackson impetuously decided to set aside his reservations about initiating an engagement on a Sunday and attacked what he thought was only a small Union force posted just south of Winchester. It was a horrible blunder–at least tactically; strategically it turned out to be an inadvertent stroke of genius. In a bitter engagement fought around Pritchard’s Hill and on Sandy Ridge (the first picture below looks north toward Pritchard’s Hill; the second looks west over toward Sandy Ridge from Pritchard’s Hill), the Federals won a crushing tactical victory and drove off Jackson’s command. As the battered Confederates made their retreat, one perceptive—and brave–soldier summed up what had happened when he encountered Jackson afterward, “looks like you cut off more tobacco today than you could chew.” “General Jackson,” another man complained afterward, “was completely taken in. The wonder is why the Yankees didn’t capture our whole army.”

What made this engagement so important in the war was not so much what happened on the battlefield (or that Gary Ecelbarger wrote such a fine book on the battle, though he did), but the impact that it had in Washington. Despite the fact that Jackson’s forces had been crushed and effectively neutralized, the fact that he attacked at all spooked Washington badly. Most important, it reinforced Lincoln’s grossly exaggerated anxieties over the security of the Shenandoah Valley, which would lead him in the months that followed to undermine McClellan’s operations on the Peninsula through gross mismanagement of McDowell’s command. The failure to capture Richmond, of course, was the catalyst for a month of recalibration of the Union war effort, which ultimately led: 1) to the evacuation from the James and two years of frustration for the Army of the Potomac until Grant got it back to the James; and, 2) the shift to hard war, manifest in passage of the Second Confiscation Act, Lincoln’s decision to issue an Emancipation Proclamation, and the tone with which John Pope assumed command of the Army of Virginia. Indeed, it is not too much of an exaggeration to say the road to emancipation passed through Kernstown.

Kernstown was significant in another respect. In his search for scapegoats after the battle, Jackson fastened on Richard Garnett, commander of the Stonewall Brigade, placed him under arrest, and removed him from command. Garnett rightfully resented what was a manifest injustice—as did the men of the Stonewall Brigade—and demanded a court of inquiry. The court finally began meeting in early August 1862 at Liberty Mills near Gordonsville, with the first few rounds of testimony being quite damning for Jackson. Then, fortuitously for him, elements from Pope’s army began stirring around Culpeper, giving Jackson what must have been a very welcome excuse to suspend the proceedings and put his command in motion. The Battle of Cedar Mountain followed shortly thereafter. One can’t help but wonder how much of the aggressiveness and eagerness to maintain a high optempo that distinguished Jackson’s generalship over the next few months was motivated by a desire to keep that court-martial suspended and Kernstown out of people’s minds!

In sum, it is hard to think of many, if any, battles that had such significant consequences for the course of the American Civil War. Happily, it is a pretty cool battlefield also. If you ever get a chance when you are in the Winchester area, it is well worth your time to check it out.

Patriotic Gore

Interesting take on Wilson’s book by David Blight:

“Patriotic Gore is Not Really Much Like Any Other Book by Anyone”: Revisiting one of the most important and confounding books ever written about the Civil War.
By David Blight
Posted Thursday, March 22, 2012, at 7:02 AM ET

Fifty years ago this spring, the great literary critic Edmund Wilson, author of classic intellectual histories of Marxism, French symbolism, English literature of all kinds, and many other subjects, published one of the most important and confounding books ever written on the American Civil War. Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War both offended and inspired its many reviewers and readers in 1962, when America was celebrating the Civil War Centennial, and it is still likely to dismay as well as enlighten the serious-minded student of the central event of American history. A mythic and sentimental Civil War is still abroad in our culture; reading Wilson anew during these sesquicentennial years will puncture those myths as it explains why they persist. Before or after 1962, no one ever wrote a book quite like Patriotic Gore and it deserves a rereading in our own wartime.

Wilson was an intimidating, irresistible writer. Experts in English departments can argue the point, but he was the preeminent American literary critic/historian of the 20th century. Born in Red Bank, N.J. in 1895, the son of a stalwart Republican father who was a successful lawyer and an occasionally institutionalized depressive, and a deeply caring mother who wished he would be more athletic, Wilson went to boarding school, where he cultivated a love of literature, and then to Princeton, where he graduated in 1916. When the United States entered the Great War, he enlisted in the Army’s ambulance corps, spending much of 1918 working in a hospital complex in Northeastern France. That experience behind the lines of the Western Front, but immersed in its horrible results—his jobs were burying the dead, attending to gas victims, and preventing suicides on the mental ward—shaped Wilson’s moral view of war for the rest of his life. He openly opposed World War II, and by 1960 had become so fiercely pacifist and so discouraged with the Cold War and its proliferation of nuclear weapons that he refused to pay his taxes.

From the 1920s through the 1940s, Wilson wrote prolifically in nearly every genre, including fiction, social criticism and the nonfiction essay, autobiography, and especially literary history. Almost no part of world literature remained beyond his interest. Wilson would chart a plan of superhuman reading and research, spend years in the literary mines of his own imagination, and then produce classics such as Axel’s Castle (1931), a study of French symbolism and modernism, and To the Finland Station (1940), his massive intellectual history of ideas of social justice from the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution of 1917, as well as a brilliant series of portraits of writers and suffering artists (especially Karl Marx) trying to change the world with their pens. To grasp the structure and purpose of Patriotic Gore, one should first read Wilson’s Finland Station. There we see him endlessly pursuing the meaning of the actor in history, and above all, the question the nature, trajectory, and meaning of History itself.

The rest of the article can be found here.

2012 Society for Military History Program and Awards

The program for the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History, which is being held on 9-13 May 2012, in Arlington, VA, (Crystal City, to be exact) and sponsored by the Army Historical Foundation, has recently been posted. As always, there will be a number of sessions and papers that address topics of interest to students of American Civil War military history. Moreover, there will once again be a pretty decent contingent of Civil War historians in attendance, including Mark, Brian Holden Reid, Susannah Ural, and Carol Reardon. I will be presenting a paper in a session on “Union Generalship and the Politics of War: Three Case Studies” (the other participants are Brooks Simpson, Christopher Stowe, Terry Beckenbaugh, and George Rable).

Unlike the past five years, though, I will not be participating in activities associated with service on the SMH Awards Committee, as I my term of service ended last year. This year, for the Distinguished Book Awards, the committee selected:

John Sloan Brown, Kevlar Legions: The Transformation of the U.S. Army, 1989-2005 (U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2011).

Mark Peattie, Edward Drea and Hans van de Ven, editors, The Battle for China: Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945 (Stanford University Press, 2011).

Biography/Memoir: Mungo Melvin, Manstein: Hitler’s Greatest General (Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, 2011).

Reference: Steven E. Clay, ed. U.S. Army Order of Battle 1919-1941 (4 vols.) (Combat Studies Institute Press, 2010, 2011).

Ronald H. Spector of George Washington University is this year’s recipient of The Samuel Eliot Morison Prize, which recognizes not any one specific achievement, but a body of contributions in the field of military history, extending over time and reflecting a spectrum of scholarly activity contributing significantly to the field.

Brian M. Linn of Texas A&M University will receive the Edwin H. Simmons Award (formerly the Victor Gondos Award), which recognizes long, distinguished or particularly outstanding service to the SMH.

Further information about the SMH program and logistics for the meeting can be found here.

Reconstruction as an Insurgency

Cross posted from Blog Them Out of the Stone Age

Mike Few, the editor of Small Wars Journal, recently interviewed me about Reconstruction as an insurgency. Here’s his first question and my response:

Mike Few: Traditionally, social scientists, viewing conflict through the lens of the state, prefer to quantify wars as resulting in a win, loss, or tie; however, history shows that the construction, reconstruction, or deconstruction of the state following a conflict is often a long process with mixed results. Why did the Civil War not end after Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to Union Gen. William T. Sherman at Bennett Place, Durham, NC and General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, at the home of Wilmer and Virginia McLean in the rural town of Appomattox Court House, Virginia?

Mark Grimsley: It’s important to acknowledge that in an important sense, the war did end in 1865, because the federal government’s two goals—the restoration of the Union and the destruction of slavery—had both been achieved. White southerners gave up the idea of an independent Confederacy, and they showed every sign of accepting the lenient terms for return to the Union offered by the administration of Andrew Johnson. The Republican-controlled Congress, however, believed that more stringent terms were necessary to achieve the fruits of victory. In the words of Richard Henry Dana, a prominent Republican, they insisted on holding the former Confederate states in “the grasp of war” until the political dominance of the Southern elite was eliminated. A key component of their plan to accomplish this involved the imposition of universal male suffrage for African Americans. Essentially, the Reconstruction insurgency was a successful effort to break the grasp of war and restore what Southern conservatives termed “Home Rule.”

A more clunky response, since you mention social scientists, would be to point to the Correlates of War Study, which defines a war as any event that results in a thousand or more battlefield deaths each year. If you substitute “deaths from political violence” for “battlefield deaths,” then several years during Reconstruction would come close to meeting this standard. In Louisiana alone, for example, an estimated 2,500 people perished between 1865 and 1876.

Full interview

There’s a *blurb* about me! A blurb!

As part of their commemoration of the 150th, the Kansas City Star recently ran a series of articles on the Civil War, focusing naturally on its impact on the Kansas-Missouri border region. In July, they ran the following story on the war’s lessons for the modern military, drawing on interviews with myself and my colleague Terry Beckenbaugh.

TODAY’S MILITARY IS STILL LEARNING FROM CIVIL WAR
BY BRIAN BURNES
July 24

LEAVENWORTH | A more fitting place for Army officers to come and study insurgencies and counterguerrilla tactics would be hard to find in the United States.

For it was from right here that Union soldiers ventured out to butt heads with the bushwhackers who ruled the nearby Missouri countryside.

Proud of its part in taming the West, Fort Leavenworth offers little evidence, beyond some old graves in the cemetery, of its history in the bloody suppression of revolt next door. No displays about “jayhawkers” or “Red Legs” are in the post museum; no statues of their commanders are to be found.

But in the classrooms at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, chapters of the Civil War are remembered, 150-year-old lessons even taught. Not so much Gettysburg or Chancellorville, either, but of places mostly unheard of back east — bloody places, such as Grinter’s farm, Baxter Springs, Centralia, Lawrence.

In an era of prowling Predator drones, it may seem strange that anything would carry over from the days of black powder, but the past has a way of circling around to surprise us on many fronts, cultural as well as military.

Full story is here.