Sunday, October 22, 2006
Not that we necessarily valued our cards as kids. The value lay more in how large a stack of cards you accumulated. We didn’t take care of them either. We wrapped rubber bands around the stacks, put them inside our baseball hats, and the spokes of our bicycle tires, attaching them with clothespins. The loud vroom sound they made while you were riding was like nirvana and when you had a pack of kids riding together mothers were absolutely terrified into thinking a motorcycle gang had invaded the neighborhood.
I don’t have a single baseball card from my childhood and even if I did they wouldn’t be worth anything because of the abuse they took. Don’t let any adult male who grew up in the 1950’s or 1960’s try to fool you into believing they’d be wealthy today if they still had their card collections.
Maybe it was an effort to somehow return to the innocence of childhood that led me to start buying baseball cards again in my early twenties. A couple of years later it seemed like everybody was into collecting. Then along came people who saw the hobby as an investment opportunity and who drove the price of cards skyward and out of the reach of the average kid or adult. The hobby was transformed from pure fun to something that resembled the stock market. The number of card shops that sprung up boggled the mind. A card that only a few months before had been selling for $20 or $25 was suddenly going for hundreds.
Fast forward to 2006. You have to look long and hard to find a card shop. The Wall Street crowds have faded away and the hobby has been returned to the faithful few. I stopped buying cards fifteen years ago when prices outdistanced my ability to pay, but unlike my childhood collection, I still have the cards. I recently thought about selling them and consulted a price guide to assess their current worth. What I saw surprised me a little, but shouldn’t have. The cards carry less value today than they did ten years ago and in most cases are worth less than what I paid for them.
Which brings us to the current state of all things Civil War, i.e. memorabilia, including equipment, books, letters, buttons, CDVs, etc., being sold at shows, in antique stores, and on eBay. One of the principles of economics states “whatever the market will bear.” And right now the market will bear an awful lot. eBay is an excellent barometer by which to measure the direction in which things are going. The concept of eBay is pure genius, a cyber flea market where you can find anything and everything your imagination could possibly wish for and even things you never dreamt of buying. Carte de Vistas of Civil War soldiers provide the best single example of where the market is headed. Five years ago an unidentified soldier would fetch a relatively low dollar value. Now it’s not unusual to see a dealer fetching $80 or even up to $175. If a dealer is able to identify the individual, winning bids can vary from a couple of hundred to more than a thousand, depending on the fame of that individual. A CDV of an identified private in the 6th Massachusetts Infantry recently sold for $625. One of Robert Gould Shaw fetched in the neighborhood of $1500. But it’s not limited to CDVs. A first edition set of Grant’s Memoirs, in very good condition, recently went to a first time bidder for more than $600. And we’re not talking about the “Shoulder Strap” edition. Contrast this to the $125 I paid for a set in similar condition at a bookstore in New Hampshire. There’s a feeding frenzy afoot with no end in sight, at least not for the foreseeable future.
So, where is all this leading us. In my humble opinion, in the same direction as baseball cards. Sooner or later prices are going to start eliminating the average buyer and the field will become the exclusive province of those who have the financial wherewithal and who view their collections as they do any other investment. If we fast forward twenty or even thirty years from now, what are we going to find? Will that $175 CDV of an unidentified Confederate soldier have increased in value, to say double, or will it be worth a tenth of what the buyer originally paid?
One of the saddest experiences Tom went through, and I certainly felt his pain on this one, was seeing a collection of letters, war time souvenirs, and equipment once belonging to his great-great grandfather Edmund Churchill go on the auction block. The letters formed a fairly large collection and we naively asked the dealer if he would allow us the opportunity to copy them. We were turned down flat, as the dealer informed us we would decrease their value by copying them. We accepted the fact the dealer had paid a small fortune to acquire the collection and was trying to make a profit on his investment. Yet, we were cut off completely from reading letters that would have helped us to round out the story of the 18th Massachusetts we are currently in the process of writing. I can’t believe the collector who purchased the letters had any emotional attachment to them when he wrote his check, at least not in the same way that Tom, Steve, or I would have.
All three of us have acquired items relating to the 18th Massachusetts. I can’t speak for Tom or Steve, but I wouldn’t consider selling any of my items even if offered twenty times the amount I paid for them. Ok, maybe I’d weaken a little if someone told me they’d give me thirty times their value.
All of this, in turn, led me to consider what my future obligation and responsibility is toward these items. I recently purchased 11 letters written by Pvt. Edward Loker, Co. H, 18th Massachusetts. I know I paid more than they were worth, but I was not going to risk letting them slip from our grasp. The word “our” meaning Steve, Tom, and me. There have been far too many items relating to the 18th that have eluded us and disappeared into other collectors’ hands. The Loker letters will be shared with the reading public through their inclusion in our history of the 18th Mass. and I’m taking steps to ensure they’ll be properly preserved, owing to their current fragile state.
I’ve made a verbal promise to will my collection to someone, not if, but when I leave this life. That promise in some ways presents a personal quandary and begs the question as to what is ultimately best for these items. Individually most of the items I have would not necessarily be considered valuable, but collectively as a grouping the value is probably fairly substantial. Should they remain in private hands, where they’ll certainly be treasured by those they’re bequeathed to, or do they belong in a museum or historical society where they can be accessed by many? I don’t know the answer. It’s a tough one to decide, whether individual emotional attachment and meaning outweigh the benefits of leaving them to the world. And it also poses a moral dilemma about keeping my word and not breaking a promise. Yet, I think that person would understand whatever the decision because they would know it would be one made from the heart.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Sometimes I get cool stuff, sometimes I get spam, sometimes I am told about a neat little publishing house out of New Jersey. Today, it was the last one.
Kathryn over at Astragal Press sent me an email letting me know about her outfit. Althougth not completely tied into the Civil War community, she did a good enough job peaking my interest, I decided to let her speak about it and maybe peak your interest too.
So here is Kathryn >>>
Our company, the Astragal Press, is an independent publishing company based in Mendham, NJ. We publish unique books devoted to the subjects of metalworking trades (such as copper and blacksmithing), antique tools and early sciences.
Many of our books are historically based - good for students, collectors, historians, curators, academics or just plain lovers of history. Our books have been carried by such institutions as The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Mystic Seaport, The National Ornamental Metal Museum, The United States Post Office Store, Winterthur Museum, among others.
We have many books that address time periods ranging from about 1740 to early 20th century and our titles on metalworking, blacksmithing and antique tools come immediately to mind. Although at first glance somewhat tangential to the Civil War, some of these items or methods may have been used during the 1861-1865 timeframe and may be useful in camp re-enactment or in the study of this historical period.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
I’m going to begin by taking a look at the members of Congress representing Southern States just prior to secession, as well as other political arenas. However, I have finished a review of the Congressional delegation from Alabama.
Both Senators, Clement Claiborne Clay, Jr. and Benjamin Fitzpatrick, were slave owners. Of the seven members of the House of Representatives, three owned slaves, Williamson R.W. Cobb, George S. Houston, and James A. Stallworth. Four others, all lawyers, David Clopton, Jabez L.M. Curry, Sydenham Moore, and James A. Stallworth did not.
The score: Yes: 5 No: 4
Which brings us to questions to mull over during the course of a weekend, or between snaps of a college or pro football game.
The question isn’t why these men marched into and sometimes through the gates of hell, but why Union and Confederate commanders failed to alter or refine their Napoleonic like tactics when technological advances in weaponry made those tactics obsolete almost from the beginning of the war.
Is there reason to doubt both sides inflated the number of troops involved in a major battle in order to lower casualty rates and make them more “palatable” to those at home?
Sunday, October 08, 2006
The museum opened on October 7th with a 10,000-square-foot exhibition titled “In the Cause of Liberty,” and tries to tell the story of the Civil War from three different perspectives, the North, the South, and African-Americans. The privately operated museum has already drawn fire from some African-Americans, while others are more tempered in their assessment. Raymond Boone, a former editor of the Richmond Afro-American newspaper, falls into the former category and blasts the exhibit. “This is ridiculous. Number one, it puts villains on the same plane as American heroes, Lincoln and Douglass. When you start celebrating the Confederacy, you are talking about terrorists. It is normal to celebrate a just cause. It is abnormal to celebrate a losing and unjust cause.”
James McPherson, a noted and award winning Civil War historian, who serves as an advisor to the museum, noted “the black community is traditionally suspicious about the way Civil War history has been presented in the South. It’s so often romanticized with Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. This is a bold departure, and I felt most strongly about being open, not using any coded language to talk about slavery and the war aims.”
The museum is housed in the former Tredegar Iron Work’s Foundry, which produced more than 1100 cannons for the Confederacy, with half of its 2500 man workforce reported to be slaves.There are a number of film exhibits, including one on 1863 events that occurred on both sides of the Mason Dixon line, i.e. bread riots in Richmond and draft riots in New York City. The first floor space is taken up by a timeline, which traces events from 1775 to 1865. There are also giant maps which interpret events from a Union, Confederate, and African-American perspective and the same approach is taken with regard to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Museum Executive Director S. Waite Rawls states “One of the most important and under-told stories is that of African-Americans during the war. The basic mission at Tredegar is extraordinary in what they are trying to do.”
John H. Motley, a Connecticut native and chairman of the museum’s board, recalled that he began collecting slave memorabilia after watching the television series “Roots.” He’s contributed a number of items from his personal collection, as has the Museum of the Confederacy. “I had goose bumps when I heard about this idea. This is exactly what needs to happen.”
Along with a set of shackles donated by Motley, there are 150 items to view, including a pair of boots worn by Robert E. Lee, a copy of the New Testament owned by John Russell, who was killed at Shiloh, and a Massachusetts draft cylinder.
Whether this turns out to be another lightning rod for the city of Richmond will be measured by the number of visitors it draws and the personal experience those visting take away with them. After all it wasn’t that long ago, 1993 to be exact, that forces in support of and opposed to placing a memorial to tennis great and Richmond native Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue clashed.
Friday, October 06, 2006
I’m not a historian and I don’t even pretend to be an expert on the Civil War. But regardless of whether Burns glossed over or misrepresented facts, or failed to tell the whole story, his film struck a chord with the American public and probably did more to stir interest in the Civil War than the entire inventory of books that’s been published on the subject. I can understand the frustration and horror some might feel because a lot of people have accepted Burns’ series as gospel. But that leaves me wondering about this. Why did historians leave it to an “amateur” to come up with the idea and commit that idea to film? Why have there been only 17 big screen films made on the Civil War and most of those based on works of fiction? Am I wrong in suggesting a possible bias within the academic community toward television and film, or yet, are historians simply writing for other historians? Why is it when I scan the index of a book I find the same small number of Massachusetts infantry regiments cited over and over again? Why it is when I read a biography of General James Barnes by different authors it smacks of plagiarism? If we’re not academically trained as historians, does it mean we forgo the right and privilege of pursuing something we’re deeply interested in and passionate about? Should we be smacked on the hand if we try to commit our research to paper or post it and our thoughts on the Internet? Or do we leave it to the experts to give us the facts ma’am just the facts?
Trust me, I'm not out to knock anyone for their opinion, but you know what? Now that I’m at this point in my writing, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m really not interested in reading anyone’s explanation as to why Ken Burns is more hated and despised than John Wilkes-Booth.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
For the baseball fans out there I’m going to provide you with your first glimpse of the new ballpark being built in Washington, which the Nationals will occupy in 2008. I’ll update the photos on a periodic basis so you can measure the progress.
Some ugly rumors have been floating around for a long time that Abner Doubleday didn’t invent baseball. To quote Will Rogers, “I never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” I say, so what! So what if Doubleday was sedentary during his West Point days, and a little overweight at Ft. Sumter. And big deal if he wasn’t the brightest bulb on the planet and probably couldn’t have laid out a pitcher’s mound so it was exactly sixty and one half feet from home plate. I dare you to go to the idyllic little town of Cooperstown, New York, visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, walk on the grass of Doubleday Field, and tell me you don’t believe. I double dare you to say it to Doubleday’s grave at Arlington!
There are a couple of baseball stories associated with the 18th Massachusetts, one of which is that two games were played between our beloved Regiment and the 22nd Massachusetts. The 18th soundly defeated the 22nd the first time they played and the 22nd being sore losers challenged them to a rematch. They had their butts kicked again, this time by a score of 50-46. The officers of the 18th had a great time spending their winnings and it’s often said that more than a few shouts of “Suckers!” were directed at their counterparts from the 22nd.
The 18th had the good fortune in September 1863 to add a certain draftee to its roster. Long before there was Kid Nichols and Cy Young, Carl Hubbell and Dizzy Dean, Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson, Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez, there was George Mahr of Medway, MA. Corporal Thomas Mann, Co. I, probably dreaming of another championship in the spring, wrote to his parents about the draftees and substitutes who had arrived in camp, adding “one of them the celebrated baseball thrower of the Medway club Mahan.”
I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this story, but there are rumors that buried deep within the bowels of the National Archives in Washington is correspondence from Dan Sickles, commanding General of the Third Corps to his good friend James Barnes, commander of the First Division of the Fifth Corps, offering to trade the entire First Brigade of the Third Division for Mahr. Barnes, being no dummy and a good judge of talent to boot, turned down the trade. Sickles, always a sneaky sort of guy, next sidled up to his best friend George Meade and upped the ante, dangling his entire Third Division as bait. Meade was no fool. He knew good front line starting pitching was at a premium and told Sickles to get lost. Seething at the twin rejections, Sickles sought his revenge and took it by mailing his infamous “Historicus” letter to the New York Herald. The rest, as they say, is history.
Late breaking news: I’m sorry to report the Yankees and Tigers game was postponed.
I just really wanted the 100th post to be about nothing.
Thanks to everyone for reading and coming by all the time, it has been a blast!
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Timrod, from what I’ve learned, was the quisessential long suffering poet, plagued as he was by poor health, bad luck, and the lack of an appreciative audience during his lifetime. His reputation as an eloquent voice for the Confederate cause was spawned by poems such as "A Cry to Arms," "The Unknown Dead," "The Two Armies," and "Graves of the Confederate Dead," all of which I took the time to read.
Timrod also penned Carolina, whose words were adapted to music and designated as the official State song of South Carolina. As with any poem, it’s best read aloud.
The despot treads thy sacred sands,
Thy pines give shelter to his bands,
Thy sons stand by with idle hands,
What struck me as I read the poem was the similarity of theme echoed by Maryland, My Maryland.
The despot's heel is on thy shore,
His torch is at thy temple door,
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!
No, I am not suggesting Henry Timrod plagiarized the words of James Ryder Randall, who penned Maryland’s State Song. My point is both were written to inspire the citizens of South Carolina and Maryland to rise in open rebellion against the United States and stand arm in arm with the Confederacy.
The “despot” mentioned in both poems was quite simply the government seated at Washington and, in particular, a shot at the newly elected Abraham Lincoln. In the Maryland song the patriotic gore is a direct reference to the attack on the 6th Massachusetts Infantry by a Baltimore mob while that regiment was on its way to Washington, two days after the surrender of Ft. Sumter.
It you’ve ever watched the Preakness, the second leg of horse racing’s triple crown, then you’ve heard Maryland, My Maryland. It’s sung, often times by the United States Naval Academy chorus, as the horses are paraded to the starting gate. But you won’t hear the first verse cited above. Instead you get the toned down and more acceptable third verse.
Thou will not cower in the dust,
Thy beaming sword shall never rust,
Remember Carroll’s sacred trust,
Remember Howard’s warlike thrust,
And all thy slumbers with the just,
Maryland! My Maryland.
And lest there’s any confusion over the song’s intent, you only have to read verse nine.
I hear the distant thunder hum,
The Old Line’s bugle, fife, and drum,
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb –
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breaths! she burns! she’ll come! she’ll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!
I believe tradition has and should maintain its place in our society. But just as the Confederate battle flag is a lightening rod for controversy, it has good company in "Carolina" and "Maryland, My Maryland." I’m not a native of Maryland and even though I’ve lived within its boundaries for the past twelve years, I don’t consider it home. I suppose that would give some life long residents the right to argue that I shouldn’t call for the State of Maryland to dump the song. But I am calling for the State of Maryland to come up with a new song. My argument is this: "Maryland, My Maryland" is a song that harkens back to a time, just like the Confederate battle flag, when men, women, and children were held in bondage and other people fought for the right to keep them there.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
First my condolences to Tom and family on the loss of their dog Chewie. Anyone who has lost a pet, who really does become a family member, can relate to what the Churchill’s felt and are still feeling. Just a piece of advice to Tom. Don’t rush out to replace Chewie.
The night before leaving for New Hampshire I finally had a chance to see Ang Lee’s 1999 Civil War film, "Ride With the Devil." I was so impressed with the film that I shot Tom and Steve an Email, urging them to see it. In fact, I put it in my personal list of top three Civil War films of all time. If you haven’t seen it, and, in fact, very few people in this world have, get ahold of a copy, or scan your local television listings, and watch it. Be prepared for something that’s not slick and doesn’t have one box office draw in the cast, unless you consider Tobey Maguire of Spiderman fame a big Hollywood name.
This is a very understated film and in case you don’t recognize Ang Lee’s name, think Oscar winner for Best Director for his film "Brokeback Mountain." Not only is "Ride With the Devil" understated and superbly acted (although a lot of critics have panned Jewel’s performance), it’s probably one of the most realistic films you’ll ever see in terms of period dialogue. Ted Turner’s "Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals" were lauded for their use of Re-enactors and the authenticity they brought to those films, but neither has anything on this film. The clothing and sets are authentic. What’s particularly striking is the genuine bashfulness and awkwardness of the main characters when in the presence of a woman.
If you haven’t seen the film you’re in good company. It was widely distributed in England, but shown in only 60 theaters in the U.S. before it was pulled from distribution. My understanding is that it was totally panned by the critics. Now they’re reassessing the film and it’s gaining positive momentum. Reminds me of the story behind "Casablanca," "Citizen Kane" and "The African Queen," all now widely hailed as classics.
The story line stupid! What’s the story line? Civil War Missouri. Bushwhackers versus Jayhawkers. Quantrell’s raid on Lawrence, Kansas. The film delves into more issues related to the Civil War than even Glory does. But you have to pay close attention or you’ll miss the references.
In my Email I told Tom and Steve that coming up with a list of the Top Ten Civil War films could be a topic for a future Blog. Then I did some research. For all its significance to our history as Americans and how that war came to define who we are as a nation, Hollywood has never been in love with the Civil War. You’d be hard pressed to come up with a Top Ten list, particularly when considering that only 18 films deal exclusively with the Civil War. 18? Eighteen. Compare that to the 11 made about Korea and 28 that focus on World War I. There have been more than 175 films on Viet Nam, which pales in comparison to the 612 World War II films that were made between 1940 and 2000.
And finally a plug for Wikipedia,"The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit," (http://en.wipkipedia.org). Using their search engine I was able to come up with the numbers in the preceding paragraph, with the exception of films on Viet Nam.
Monday, October 02, 2006
Unfortunately Saturday was very unlike the days of the past seven years – she went to the Vet but did not return. And her family misses her greatly.
My wife tells me that she always knows when I am home - Chewie has a different bark between me and the rest of the world. And although the barking in general would drive us nuts as she would bark at anything including the wind blowing - it is in one of the many things that we will miss without her.
She was part Australian Sheppard and loved to herd my children – they already miss that. We all miss her wagging of her butt – she had a stump tail and when she would wag it, her whole body would wag with it.
I would never let her in the computer room when I was writing – she was a jealous dog and would nuzzle my hand away from the keyboard so that I would pet her instead. I would give almost anything to let her in right now so that she could.
She was a good dog, a good protector, a great friend and to put it bluntly, we all miss her terrible – even the cat. My middle child came up to me on Sunday and told me that he still misses her – I explained he always would, just that one day he would miss her and think of the happy times instead of the hole he has in his soul right now.
This weekend certainly put life into perspective.
Take care girl, enjoy barking at the wind up in Heaven – we will see you again someday.