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This is the archive for February 2007

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Like Tom indicated in a post last Saturday, time has become very tight and there’s been little free time of late. I’ve worked 41 of the last 43 calendar days, the only breaks occurring on Super Bowl Sunday and President’s Day. I suppose there’s a connection there, both being national institutions. I’m not a martyr or looking for sympathy, but rather trying to make the point that one day bleeds into another, until Thursday feels like Tuesday, and Sunday like Wednesday, except there aren't people around and the phone's not ringing. There’s that much work waiting to be completed and, as my Granpappy used to say, “That grave don’t get dug by starin’ at the ground.” Saturday though, I snuck away from my cubicle for a couple of hours and that’ll be the topic of this post. But first, a word from our sponsor.

Lo and behold, guess what showed up in my mailbox on Wednesday, February 21st? A week shy of four months after signing up online for a one-year subscription to North & South magazine, I received my first issue. I had mixed feelings. My initial inclination was to mark it “refused, return to sender” but then I asked myself why I was being so petty. I’m actually glad to have finally received it and look forward to future issues. At $39 per year the magazine is a relative bargain and it makes me wonder how they’re surviving. I know people who are spending more than that in a month at Starbucks. At the same time I don’t want anyone to assume my experience with the magazine is typical of the way their business is conducted.

This is how it’s been going. Someone you barely know keeps extending an invitation for you to visit. The visit, if made, might prove interesting and you promise yourself one day you’ll pop in. Time goes by and there are occasional reminders that you need to make that visit. So finally, finally, you write yourself a note on a work calendar to visit on Saturday, February 24th at 1 p.m., and because you get absorbed in your work that particular day you almost forget and then have to rush like hell to make the visit. And, yes, it is true, when you’re in a hurry you’ll hit every red light, all twenty-seven of them.

“Donald, this is General Dan Sickles lower right leg bone.” “General Sickles’ lower right leg bone, this is Donald.” The General’s leg bone and I were finally introduced at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, located on the campus of Walter Reed Army Hospital. I have to confess that I was smiling when we were introduced. Not that I would wish ill fortune on anyone, but there was a certain sense of satisfaction in knowing this s.o.b. had somehow gotten his comeuppance. Yet, when I think about Sickles, who stole a life, stole money, made character assassination an art form and self promotion a religion, I see someone who always came up smelling roses.

Reader, meet Gen. Sickles' lower right leg bone.

In case you don’t know the story of the leg bone, Sickles, who commanded the Third Corps of the Army of the Potomac, was struck in the leg by a cannonball at Gettysburg, which resulted in amputation. It has become legend, real or imagined, that Sickles, who was very attached, or in this case, detached, to his leg, made an annual pilgrimage to Washington to gaze with fondness on his missing limb, which he had donated to the museum. What is not the stuff of imagination is that Sickles shipped the leg in a coffin-shaped box accompanied by a card that read “With the compliments of General D.E.S.”

There was another introduction waiting, this one more important to me personally than Sickles’ old shattered leg bone. About two feet to the left was the top portion of a skull that once belonged to, and I suppose in a way still does, Corporal George H. Swift, Co. C, 18th Massachusetts Infantry.

Swift was born in Middleboro, MA circa 1843, to Henry A. and Emily A. Swift. It’s possible he was in an apprenticeship, had a rift with his parents, or was simply making his own way in the world, because, according to the 1860 Census, he was a 17 year-old Shoemaker residing in the home of another family in Middleboro, while his five younger siblings were recorded as living at home. In that same census, his father, then 50 years of age, was also listed as a Shoemaker. In 1870 Henry Swift declared he made his bread by tilling the soil as a farmer, while his 47 year-old wife kept house.

George was either 17 or 18 when he enlisted at Carver, one town over from Middleboro, on September 19, 1861, joining Company C of the 18th Massachusetts as a Private, though he wasn’t mustered into the service until January 14th of the following year. He must have felt he was missing something, having seen 96 of his fellow townsmen enlist as members of Company D in the 18th Mass. and leave for the seat of war. Whatever his reasons, whether swept by patriotism or seizing an opportunity for adventure, he cast his lot with 21 others from Middleboro who were mustered the same day and comprised a fair percentage of Company C’s compliment of soldiers.

At 5 ft. 10 inches he was taller than average, with a light complexion. Both his hair and eyes were recorded in Regimental records as dark. Like so many from the country or small towns he became a ready target for disease, contracting mumps three weeks after his arrival in camp at Hall’s Hill in Arlington, VA. A month later, he was one of nine men who escorted the body of 19 year-old Isaac Harlow back to Middleboro, after Harlow died of Typhoid Fever at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 1, 1862. Harlow had spiraled downward rapidly, succumbing just three days after becoming ill. In a letter written by a member of the Regiment, Harlow was remembered as “esteemed for his consistent Christian deportment… His loss is deeply felt by us all, and we unite in offering feelings of condolence to his parents and the friends in general. He was one of our attendants at the weekly meetings, and little did I think when I saw him last there that he would be so soon called to his Heavenly home.”

That Swift was a good soldier willing to obey orders is evident by the fact that he suffered a gunshot wound to a hand during the assault on Marye’s Heights on December 13, 1862, and his promotion to Corporal on January 4, 1863, per recommendation of his Captain. Aside from reading accounts of camp life written by others and tracing movements of the Regiment and the Army of the Potomac, there’s no information on the final four months of his life, until May 3, 1863. It’s likely he was lying on the ground or at least had his head down when a musket ball struck him on the top of his skull. Evacuated to a hospital in Washington, surgeons decided to operate, in an effort to relieve what they believed was pressure on the brain, caused either by bleeding or bone fragments. Drilling a hole into and using a saw to cut the skull, doctors soon realized there was no internal damage and put away their instruments. Of the 220 similar surgical procedures, there had been a fifty per cent survival rate. George Swift happened to fall into the wrong half of the equation and died of his wounds on May 17th. In keeping with existing traditions, he was buried before sunset at the Military Asylum Cemetery.

Corp. George H. Swift's partial skull

The grave of Corp. George H. Swift, Military Asylum Cemetery, Washington, DC

In addition to “To Bind Up the Nation’s Wounds: Medicine During the Civil War,” the museum, which is free and open everyday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m, with the exception of Christmas, offers other exhibits which tell the story of medical science, including the evolution of the microscope, treatment technology, and human growth. The museum also “displays a wide array of delightfully macabre medical wonders – deformed fetuses, a huge hairball taken from the stomach of a 12-year-old girl who liked to chew her hair, and an elephantiasis scrotum that looks like the world’s biggest Portobello mushroom.” I had never seen conjoined twins up close and personal, but there they were, floating in formaldehyde. I would have included a picture in this post, but, having neglected to check the batteries beforehand, my camera went dead while viewing the Civil War exhibit.

Dr. Burt, the docent who led our tour, agreed that many of today’s medical advances, treatments, and procedures, will probably be considered archaic and barbaric in the future and may someday find a home in the museum, just like the iron lung. He remarked that much of what he learned in medical school 50 years ago is now considered obsolete. Pausing to marvel at the C2 model of an artificial leg, which makes it possible for an amputee to walk within days of surgery, he lamented the same advances hadn’t yet been made with arms.

At the conclusion of the tour I prevailed upon the good doctor for an opinion. After providing background information to him, he debunked an oral tradition handed down in my family, that a minie ball had traveled from my great-great grandfather’s hand and upward through bone toward the elbow. It was more likely, Dr. Burt reasoned, that the ball struck the arm dead on, shattering the bones and necessitating amputation. Mulling over his response on the drive back to my office building, I came to the conclusion that I liked my family’s oral tradition better, plausibility and medical reality aside.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

One of the reasons I liked "The Wanderer, the Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy That Set its Sails" so much was how it showed the culture of the South that would help guide it to the war.

University of Georgia Press, has just released a book that goes a bit deeper into the culture and should help shed a bit more light on the years leading up to the war, Princes of Cotton: Four Diaries of Young Men in the South, 1848-1860 by Stephen Berry.

I’ll have more on the book in the upcoming weeks but at first glance, it does look good.

Monday, February 26, 2007

What does Hampton Sides, Al Gore and Erik Calonius all have in common? Their books were nominated for best nonfiction book of the year ( 2007) by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance.

We have been singing Erik’s praise for quite some time and this just helps confirm how great "The Wanderer, the Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy That Set its Sails." is. If you haven’t yet, take a look at our review and then pick up a copy of the book and enjoy it as much as we have.

We wish Erik the best of luck and hope he crushes the competition!

For more information on the books that have been nominated, take a look here.

Today we have the National Guard.

And although some of the units in existence today can trace their history to the start of the country, they did not always fall under the purview of the government of the United States. At one point, the states and towns had their own militias, tasked with defending their area in time of need.

During the Civil War, many of these militias became regiments or the nucleus of other fighting units. Many of the former members would be promoted due to their military experience – Joseph Collingwood of the 18th is a great example. He was made captain of H Company due to his previous experience as a member of Plymouth’s militia.

Believe it or not, some of the militias still exist and not as part of the National Guard. It is state law in South Carolina that faculty of The Citadel are members of the Unorganized Militia of South Carolina. When I was a student it was changed, originally being titled the South Carolina Unorganized Militia – the professors did not like what the abbreviation stood for – even though some felt it fit them quite nicely. Apparently, if the Military reserves are called up, the National Guard is called up, is called up, the draft is exhausted, our last defense are the professors of The Citadel. Not sure if I like that but so it goes.

This weekend, the Washington Light Infantry celebrated its 200th Anniversary. Although today they have become a Service Organization – they are credited with deterring the British from entering Charleston during the war of 1812, participating in the Mexican-American War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I and II. They also helped establish The Citadel - which would later man the cannons that would fire upon "The Star of The West" as it tried to resupply Fort Sumter.

Here is a great article on the celebration while here is one on the current Commanding Officer of the unit. You will need to register but it’s free and worth the read.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Not sure if Donald has received any word or magazine from North and South yet – they have not contacted us through the website.

That being said, I thought I would share my experience with National Geographic as an example of how a subscription should be handled.

My wife recently purchased me a year subscription as a gift. Unfortunately it got all messed up and somehow we started receiving two copies of each issue and a bill for two subscriptions. My wife called them up and explained the situation and they offered two options, cancel the second one or extend the subscription to two years. Best part, the second year would still be at the very low introductory price of the first year. She took that option. As she was getting off the phone, they told her that we might still receive one or two more duplicate issues, take it with their compliments at no charge and maybe give them to a friend.

Perhaps N&S could take a page out of National Geographic’s great Customer Service….

Saturday, February 24, 2007

I’ve got to comment on all the people who are upset that the Museum of the Confederacy is a) thinking about moving out of Richmond and b) thinking of changing the name.

The first nail in the coffin was when American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar opened in 2006. I said in a previous post that I didn’t think two major Civil War Museums could survive in one city and all the press seems to be backing it up.

As I read most stories I thought of politics. Everyone seems to complain about the state of things but few rise to the challenge of doing something and making things better.

Every story this past week has had in its first three paragraphs that MOC has been struggling with attendance over the past few years. Instead of anyone of the “experts” - quoted for the stories – of suggesting buying a membership or even visiting it, they complain.

So as MOC struggles and tries to find new ways to survive – which I applaud – especially the thought of moving out of Richmond, the complainers sit on their hands and do nothing. So much can be done so easily, yet they run around yelling the sky is falling.

So if you have been complaining as of late, stop criticizing it and get off your butts and support MOC !

Whether you have been wondering what to do or have just been complaining - go here and join right now. Doesn’t matter where you live, the $30 odd dollars you will spend is well worth it and can help MOC live on.
It’s Saturday morning and I am up before most of the rest of the house.

It’s been close to two weeks since I’ve posted due to family, sickness, job stuff and just general too much to do and not enough time to do it in. To be quite honest, I am glad that Donald relieved some of the pressure by posting last week, otherwise the Blog would have been quite empty for too long. It is at times like this that I am glad this is a group blog – you get tired, someone else is there to pick up.

A friend of mine has started a neat little venture; he roasts his own coffee beans on a weekly basis and brings me in a pound each Monday. I have to say it is much better than any of the junk you can get at a grocery store or coffee store. I am now on the second to last pot and trying to decide if I want to have the last pot and experience my wife’s wrath or not by having the last pot. I think I’ll just make a different type and wish it was Monday and I had the next new batch. If you haven’t figured it out from previous posts, I write while listening to music and drinking coffee. Having this new service should help tremendously.

So I am sitting listening to Brandi Carlile and typing up a few posts so that we have some fresh stuff up. If you haven’t heard of Brandi, go here and listen to a few of her songs. Her new album is coming out in April and I can’t wait. I’ve listened to her last more times than I care to admit. Her “Fall Apart Again” is a masterpiece of vocals and lyrics. The sad thing is that so many kids think Justin Timberlake is a great artist and wouldn’t even consider listening to Brandi - sad state of the music industry.
But as I was saying, I’ll have some fresh post up throughout the week. Hope you enjoy them and look forward to hearing from all of you in the comment sections.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Since 1950 there have been four landmark decisions rendered by the U.S. Supreme Court, three of which would readily come to the mind of most people, with little or no prompting required. The 1954 decision involving Brown versus the Topeka, Kansas Board of Education struck down provisions of a law that ordained separate but equal educational facilities for whites and minorities. In 1966 the Court ruled in Miranda versus Arizona people had the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present when questioned by police. Roe versus Wade, decided on in 1973, confirmed reproductive rights for women and the legality of abortion. The fourth case, the NAACP versus Button, heard before the Court in 1963, is less well known, but once against visited the right of free speech as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. With the exception of Roe v. Wade, which some are still trying to have reversed, most Americans would probably react with shock if the Brown, Miranda, or Button decisions were deemed null and void. With the separation of time, I think we could all agree the decisions in those cases were fair and just. Without trying to start a firestorm on Roe v. Wade, I’ll simply state that I support the Court’s decision. To head off a potential flood of Emails from abortion foes, let me say there is absolutely nothing you can say that will change my mind. At the same time I don’t believe anything I could say would change your mind. So, lets simply agree to disagree.

Call me an idealist, or naïve, but I have a certain concept about the laws of this land, including Federal and State. Above all, laws should be instituted and maintained if they are just and ensure equal protection and focus on serving the greater good of all who fall under their sway. Laws, and this is probably my naiveté coming to the fore, should not be self serving or derived to benefit certain small interest groups. Quite simply they should, for example, secure our persons against unreasonable search and seizure, ensure our right to stand in a public place and say what’s on our mind, and to allow for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” There are of course limits to certain rights, such free speech, which does not allow you to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, unless of course it were true and then you might want to warn people in a less panicked way, and you can’t advocate the violent overthrown of the government.

Call me an idealist, or naïve, but I have a certain concept about the justices who sit on the Supreme Court and that concept argues that the justices should not let their personal biases or political affiliations influence their votes on cases. We all realize that Presidents try to fill vacancies on the Court with people of similar conviction. Liberal Presidents nominate liberals, moderates nominate moderates, conservatives, what else but, fellow conservatives. We hope that the nominees who take their place on the bench are wise, above reproach, and above politics. Sad to say, one of the worst examples of Court conduct we’re had to witness was their ruling on the 2000 Presidential election, when their votes broke down along party lines. So much for the idea of the integrity of the Court.

That a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court can be influenced by his own personal biases, prejudices, social mores, and political ideology is no more apparent, however than with Roger B. Taney, who presided over the Nation’s highest court from 1836 to 1864 and will forever be linked to the 1857 Dred Scott decision. Taney’s reputation as an otherwise brilliant jurist was tarnished by this one decision, a decision that perplexes legal scholars even today, because Taney threw all legal precedent to the wind and, far from issuing a reasoned opinion in the case, allowed seemingly irrational thought processes to take hold. Philosophically in tune with Southerners, which he effectively was, having been born in Southern, Maryland to a slave holding family, he was, at the same time, a man of contradictions; taking steps to free his own slaves and was personally repulsed by the institution, while at the same believing blacks were effectively sub-human and supported the South’s right to secede from the Union.

That such a man would clash with Abraham Lincoln is the premise of James F. Simon’s book "Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney." Simon stresses the similarities of the two men as evidenced, for example, by their intellect, their strong belief in the sanctity of the Constitution, and support for a National Bank. Where they differed was their interpretation of Founding Father’s intent on the issue of slavery as a protected institution, and Presidential powers. Lincoln himself questioned the Constitutional legality of his Emancipation Proclamation, while his suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus and open defiance of Taney on this issue, left the latter outraged. When Lincoln called for troops to respond to the Nation’s defense, Taney clearly saw this as a violation of the Constitution. Lincoln argued that with Congress out of session he was compelled to act. No other President before or since, save James Polk during the Mexican-American War, dared commit troops to a declared hostile action without the consent of Congress. Had Lincoln not acted decisively in that instance, the consequences would have been catastrophic for the North, Constitutional arguments from Taney aside.


Lincoln publicly accused Taney of being in league with Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, and Senator Stephen Douglas, to legalize slavery throughout the United States, while a Senatorial candidate in 1858. While he had no proof such a conspiracy existed, Lincoln surmised there was no other explanation for the confluence of events that led to the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, release of the Dred Scott decision, and Buchanan’s residence in the White House. Pierce fit into Lincoln’s conspiracy theory, because he preceded Buchanan and was an apologist for the South, even though born in New Hampshire. Such accusations were fighting words in Taney’s mind, sullying the reputation of the Chief Justice, and only fanned the flames of conflict higher. I can imagine Taney saying to himself “That little punk,” and Lincoln viewing Taney as a senile old geezer who needed to be retired from the bench. Any Republican who sought the White House would have been in immediate disfavor with Taney. When Seward had the early lead in the Republican race, Taney vowed he would refuse to swear him in. He made the same pledge when Lincoln emerged victorious and won national election. Whether he was pressured, or able to put his personal issues aside, Taney relented and did administer the oath of office to Lincoln.

Two thirds of the book is taken up by Simon tracing Taney’s and Lincoln’s paths before they finally cross. We get much more biographical information on Lincoln than Taney, and in this respect Simon doesn’t break any new ground. Simon repeatedly declares Taney’s legal genius, but I found myself saying, Ok, if you say so, because there’s little substance in the book beyond that statement to support this contention. I found a 1971 survey of lawyers, law school deans, judges, and legal scholars who ranked Taney the 11th greatest Supreme Court justice, and number five among Chief Justices. The top five justices, in order, were John Marshall, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louis Brandeis, Earl Warren, and Hugo Black. Taney was sandwiched between John Harlan and Joseph Story, who interestingly resigned from Taney’s Court, reportedly due to poor health, but, in part, due to his own clashes with Taney over the issue of slavery and, in particular, the Dred Scott decision.

What Lincoln and Taney have further in common is that both met miserable ends. Lincoln by assignation, Taney bereft of family, teetering on the brink of poverty, and in extremely poor health at the time of his death. Where they differ, too, is that one rose above death to become one of our most revered and loved public figures, while the other’s loss was barely noticed by the nation. Lincoln paid brief respect at Taney’s wake, but did not attend the funeral. Neither did the Nation weep as a whole.

One of the final sagas to be attached to Taney’s legacy is one filled with irony. In the early 1990’s a Middle School in Ft. Washington, a part of Prince George’s County, Maryland, where Taney was born, changed its name from Roger B. Taney to that of Thurgood Marshall, the same Thurgood Marshall who served on the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice and, who successfully argued the Brown case before the United States Supreme Court 97 years after Taney ruled in the Dred Scott decision. In predominately African-American Prince George’s County, Taney remains a discredited and reviled figure. The State of Maryland, however, continues to honor Taney with a statue that adorns the State House lawn.

Still Simon’s book is a fascinating look at the struggle that ensued between the Judicial and Executive branches of government during Lincoln’s first term. Where the book is strongest is Simon’s ability to define the arguments between the two and for the reader to draw their own conclusions as to who, ultimately, was right. In some cases the reader may agree with Taney, in others with Lincoln. I suppose that would depend on the reader’s own personal biases, prejudices, social mores, and political ideology.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Anedra Bourne, Director of Marketing and Public Relations, at the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, in Richmond , Virginia, who, I just realized to my great embarrassment, I’ve been referring to as Andrea (I’ll have to send an Email to apologize, but it probably happens to her a lot), contacted me regarding a March conference the museum is sponsoring.

The conference, titled "In the Cause of Liberty, How the Civil War Redefined American Ideals," will be held over two days, Friday, March 23rd and Saturday, March 24th at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond. Not to be redundant, because you’ll see conference information on the museum’s Web site, but Friday morning’s Keynote Speaker will be James H. McPherson. Rise and shine early, because after 8 a.m. coffee and opening remarks, McPherson will step to the podium, followed by lecturers and discussions on Antellum America, with presentations on the [Founding] "Fathers, Slavery, and Race," "The Idea of Union," and "State’s Rights and Secession." Whew! And that’s only the morning program! The afternoon session will include lectures on “Lincoln, the Republican Party, and Union,” George C. Rable speaking on "Confederates as Patriots and Rebels,” and concludes with Chandra Manning presenting on “Wartime Nationalism and Race, USA and CSA," at which point the discussion will be thrown open to the audience. Whew!, again, because there's much, much more to come on day two. Are you beginning to see the "kid in a candy story" connection?

You can register for the full conference or for single days. I was very surprised at how reasonable the cost of attending was, particularly because of the individuals on the schedule. As they say, the stars are coming out to shine in Richmond.

For those unable to attend, count on me to give you a first hand account on our Blog. As I remarked to Anedra (got it right again) in my reply to her, I’m really looking forward to the conference, because this is the “big picture” being presented here, with a whole slew of topics that I’m personally interested in. I’m even open to having some existing opinions altered. If you are able to attend, and, before I forget, there’s even a Friday reception at Tredegar, I’ll be interested in knowing what you've learned also.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Case in point, this site is number two if you search for the following on Google:
“Is the owner of Timberland boot company connected to the KKK”

This is not the first time I have seen this particular hit, as a matter of fact, it is probably well in the 20 or 30s. So I finally decided to take a look into it.

I did a search on Google, didn’t find much.

I then looked at Snopes, a great Urban Legend debunking site, which found the following site in seconds.

So, the next time someone comes here for that information, let me save them some time. No, they are not. Please, stop being so silly and read the article at Snopes for more information on the truth of the matter.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Google has a wonderful way of setting a personal homepage up with different parts and pieces.

On mine, I have a few favorites including the "Oddly Enough" (think strange stories from around the world), "How to of the day" (showing How to do just about everything) and "Quote of the Day" parts. Yesterday the Quote of the Day included quotes from two presidents, John Adams and Abraham Lincoln.

I thought I would share Lincoln's

Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.

- Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Often times one thing leads to another. I’ve posed these questions to people a number of times, asking their opinion as to which contemporary writers will still be read, which songwriters will be in the public consciousness, and which songs will still be sung a hundred to a hundred and fifty years from now. If you consider some of the most popular fiction writers of our times, such as John Grisham, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, or J.K. Rowling, will any of their works survive to become classics? Will King, for example, be mentioned in the same breath as Poe? In the same vein will the Beatles, R.E.M., the Dixie Chicks, or Tupac Shakur be remembered? Is anyone still singing Usher’s "U Got It Bad," or Nickleback’s "How You Remind Me," which, to jog your memory, were Number One and Two on the Billboard charts five years ago today.

All this brings me to Stephen Foster, the man responsible for songs such as "My Old Kentucky Home," "Oh! Susanna," and "Beautiful Dreamer." Foster has quite simply stood the test of time, but even our familiarity with someone who penned most of his songs in the 1840’s and ‘50’s leads us to forget how wildly popular he was as a songwriter and that he tragically died in poverty at a relatively young age. I had somehow, for example, always associated "Hard Times, Come Again No More" with the Depression and didn’t make the connection to Foster until very recently. In the same sense that "My Old Kentucky Home" is both tragic and haunting, "Hard Times" is a plaintive yearning for something better to come into our lives, while realizing there may not be anything better in the future. Foster even took a turn at writing songs for the Union war effort. An avowed abolitionist, his most famous song during that time was "We Are Coming Father Abraam, 300,000 More." That Foster is still very much a presence in the American music scene can be measured by the fact that Rhapsody lists 45 different recorded versions of "Hard Times," while "Old Kentucky Home" can be found on 86 CD's.

If you’re into music from the Civil War era, let me put in a plug for a 1991 release titled, appropriately enough, "Songs of the Civil War." It features songs from both the North and South performed by some very talented musicians, including Kathy Mattea, John Hartford, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Hoyt Axton, and two of my personal favorites, Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Foster’s "Better Times Are Coming" is one of the selections, along with "The Yellow Rose of Texas (a real, thank goodness, authenic version), "Southern Soldier Boy," "The Vacant Chair," "Aura Lee," and a rendition of "Dixie," which in case you didn’t know, Lincoln requested to be played when he visited Richmond following Lee’s surrender, remarking that song no longer belonged to the South, but to the whole Nation.

And since I’m plugging things today, let me put in a word for Timothy Egan’s "The Worst Hard Time." The best Non-fiction book I read in 2006, it’s the story of the wind storms that swept through the Great Plains in the 1930’s and created what came to be known as the Dust Bowl. It’s compelling, heartrending, and an extraordinary saga of man’s fight against the forces of nature. Moral of this story, nature will triumph over men’s souls and wear down even the strongest of us.

Unfortunately for my eldest son, his eyesight does not take after mine. So this weekend, we went to Sam’s to get him his first pair of eyeglasses. Actually, his mom went to the eye doctor with him, while I took our other two kids and roamed the aisles of the warehouse of goodies.

As usual, my first stop was the book aisle, followed by the DVD aisle. After not finding anything in either, I just roamed around hoping to find something cool. Luckily for me, I found a pile of books tucked far away from the other books – all priced at $4.88. Right there in the middle was “Grant Comes East” in hardcover.

I picked it up under what I refer to as Tom’s Book Buying Law – “ You can’t go wrong buying a hardcover book for under $5”. This is the law that guides me to Dollar Tree and Goodwill stores on a very frequent basis. It is also the law that drives my wife mad as I bring more and more books into the house.

Yesterday, I was home sick (joined by my middle child) and finished the book off. I’m glad I did because it is a real good book.

No, it is not a true historical book – but even so – it is great. It is the second book in a series that answers the question, “What if the Union had not won Gettysburg?” I must admit that I have not read the first book but I will be buying it and the third book very soon. And yes it has been out a few years but one can't buy every Civil War book that comes out, at least I can't.


It is a rather even paced book that gives one the sense that the events told, could have actually happened. The characters are fleshed out and the environment surrounding the soldiers, citizens and cities are amazing to say the least.

I was disappointed that General Sickles is such a main character in the book but was happy to see that he cannot escape his destiny. Besides that, I don’t have anything really bad to say about the book. I do have to say that I was happy to see that the Fifth Corps survived Gettysburg, where others did not. I have hope that we may see the 18th Mass in a future book.

Harry Turtledove has made a career out of alternate histories; it is good to see two other authors also dive into it – while keeping it very close to what actually could have happened. No time machines in this book.

So, follow Tom’s Book Buying Law, go out and get yourself a copy.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I read Donald’s post on not getting his magazine subscription from North and South Magazine and felt a bit sad about it.

I don’t want to rub salt into his wound but my wife just recently ordered me a subscription to National Geographic, something I had growing up but haven’t had in quite some time, and I got two issues in less than three weeks.

It is a shame though, because I quite like this magazine over the others. And that has nothing to do with the blog being highlighted with them and not the other ones. I have been contemplating getting a subscription – although it is quite high compared to other non-CW rates and have held off for one reason or another. Looks like I will be holding off a bit more until Donald gets his settled.

One thing to note is that Terry Johnston recently announced on North and South’s Civil War Society Yahoo Discussion Group that he had been laid off as the editor. Magazine founder, Keith Poulter has taken over his duties. I wonder if this has anything to do with the problems Donald has been facing?

If a representative from North and South would like to clarify what has been happening, I would be glad to put it up here on the blog

Either way, I look forward to hearing an update from Donald – so I can eventually get that subscription.
Some people like to trick out their cars or trucks with special tires, wheel covers, soup up engines, tint windows, etc. Me, I decided to do something different completely different, like change three outside door locks. It’s not something I normally would have considered, but the idea came to me recently after someone, under cover of darkness, took a screwdriver and punched out the locks on my car. At least the person or persons were kind enough to leave one door untouched, which allowed me access through the right rear passenger’s door. This is not the first time I’ve had a car vandalized and I realize in the scheme of things it’s small potatoes. Taking into account that the Washington area is rife with murders, rapes, carjackings, home invasions, assaults, etc, I consider myself fortunate to have gotten off with an insurance deductible and car rental charge. The police certainly took that attitude. While the officer was polite and thorough in taking my report, and maybe it was my imagination, I could have sworn she was trying to stifle a yawn. The new car locks? They didn’t do anything to improve the appearance of my car. In fact they look just like the old ones, which leaves me to believe I have absolutely no imagination when it comes to upping the head turning quotient of my ride.

Which brings me to what would appear to be another case of larceny and an event, which, perhaps surprisingly, caused more upset than the damage to my car. I tried to be fair and demonstrate patience, but both have worn thin. So the gloves are off!

I was impressed enough by North and South Magazine, which I had been buying off the shelf, to sign up on their Web site for a one year subscription. That transaction was completed and charged to a credit card on October 29, 2006. When I hadn’t received any issue(s) in the mail by the middle of December, I began sending Emails requesting advice on what had happened to my subscription. The fourth Email finally drew a response accompanied by an apology regarding the “holiday” rush and an assurance my first issue would go out in the mail around January 9th. It’s close to a month later and still no magazine. I was in a bookstore the other night and held the latest issue of North and South in my hand. I was tempted to buy it, because I really do like the magazine, but….Just consider me a customer lost.

In his book Civil War Justice, Union Army Executions under Lincoln, Robert Alotta, documented 14 men who were executed for various crimes in 1862. They included seven convicted murders, two deserters, one rapist, one mutineer, one who struck a superior officer, one whose offense was not listed, and Frank Newton, who, after being discharged from the 13th Connecticut Infantry, was hung as a civilian for stealing.

In light of Newton’s execution, Private James Bennett of Co. C of the 18th Massachusetts should have considered himself fortunate that he didn’t meet the same fate. Charged with stealing $1.73 from a tent mate, Bennett was court martialed on December 2, 1862 and sentenced to forfeit a month’s pay and “to be paraded eight consecutive days (hours) each day for one week before the Guard Station with the placard marked ‘Thief’ attached to his person.” Had it been left to the sole discretion of Lt. Col. Joseph Hayes, Bennett might have received much more severe punishment. In an order read to the entire Regiment, Hayes made clear his disapproval of Bennett’s actions.

The crime of stealing which in civil life is among the most serious known to the Civil Court becomes among soldiers especially abominable. A man that will steal from his comrad [sic] and tent mate is deserving of a fate hardly less than “Death.”
To steal from anyone is a great crime but to steal from a trusting and unsuspecting friend shows in him that commits the crime a shocking depravity and manner.
It is earnestly hoped that no more of this nature will stain the records of this Regiment.

Four days after his completing his sentence Bennett was wounded in the leg at the battle of Fredericksburg. Whether he interpreted this as a sign of further retribution is unknown, but it's at least open to speculation. There’s no information as to how members of the Regiment treated Bennett following his conviction, but one can imagine that elements of trust were, at the least, slow in being restored, if ever. That mistrust and suspicion continued unabated lends credence to my theory that Bennett transferred to the U.S. Navy on April 22, 1864 for those reasons.
I was perusing the history section of a local bookstore and came across a book by James W. Loewen titled Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. Loewen’s basic premise is that the history we’re fed in elementary, junior and high school is a hodge podge of misrepresented facts and he seeks to set the record straight on subjects such as Columbus’ discovery of America, Thanksgiving, Woodrow Wilson, and the number of bombs dropped on Viet Nam. Yes, we did try to bomb that country back to the stone age. Loewen faults the textbooks currently in use for helping to create the restless boredom students associate with history. While I didn’t buy the book I have one more example that Mr. Loewen could have included in his book. If you follow this link you’ll realize all those Matthew Brady photos were fakes. Shame on all us who have swallowed the myth that a large number of Civil War combatants wore blue, grey, green, and butternut uniforms.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sometimes, words just don’t come out.

I was sitting here these evening and I couldn’t think of anything to say. It happens and a lot of times I have backup posts to put up.

But not today, today, just a bunch of random pieces, hopefully something will come out of it.

If you have not watched HBO’s original series, Rome, I beg of thee to do so now. An amazing piece of Television work that does a great job of making the Roman period of Caesar – and shortly after - interesting. Yes, I know it is mostly made up but still it is awesome.

Erik Calonius author "The Wanderer, the Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy That Set its Sails" sent me two emails recently. One tells of getting a few good meals out of the book and the other points to some of the good reviews he has received on Amazon, including one from a Top 50 reviewer. Currently he has a 5 Star Average (out of 5 stars) and I would certainly agree with it. I hope the "Wanderer Walk" in Savannah is still a go for April, I am looking forward to it.

I have two half written reviews that I can’t seem to get myself to finish. Wish I could as both books were fantastic.

I am currently reading three Civil War books and one GMAT (don’t ask) book at once. The Civil War ones include Fire on the River by George Sheldon, No Prouder Fate – The story of the 11th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry by Neil Baxley and Grant comes East by Newt Gingrich and William R Forstchen. All have their pluses and minuses but overall keeping my attention and that is saying a lot right now.

There was an interesting story in the Post and Courier today about moving the S.C. legislature out of the capital for one day. I would link to it but P&C requires you to sign up and it is a pain in the butt. On the 225th Anniversary of the State Legislature meeting in Jacksonboro, SC due to the fact that the British controlled the then capital of Charleston, the SC legislature will move out of Columbia for a day. It will conduct its daily business in the ruins of a church, right where it did back then. It is good to see the state remember that it has a lot more history than just the Civil War.