Monday, June 29, 2009

The Dying Reenactor

Bob Mergel will die for you. The man has already died at reenactments in Ohio, Kentucky and at Gettysburg. He writhes and cringes before the final moment. He even reenacts an amputation.

We are getting to reenactment season. There will be several of them here in New York and New Jersey. Perhaps he can come out East and die for us here. I would like to see a bit of method acting in my reenactment.

I hope for his sake that a Civil War is made soon. He would probably be a more believable Civil War soldier than some of the Hollywood actors. He will certainly be a better casualty.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Crossdressing in the Civil War

Today, George Hollins and his group of Confederate sympathizers commandered a steamship in Cheasapeake Bay. Hollins dressed as a woman and boarded the ship with his confederates. His costume, it was said, allowed him to masquerade as a rather unattractive woman.

The disguise worked because he and his friends boarded the ship and took it. With their new vessel, they attempted to find the warship USS Pawnee. When that effort failed, they attacked three commercial vessels and took them.

These men seemed to be among the first Confederate privateers. In his disguise, Hollins was a trailblazer.

Do any of you know any decent Civil War crossdressing stories? It's off the beaten path but that will make it fun.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch-Grand Army Plaza

Grand Army Plaza is a monument to victory. It is built on an arch that is reminiscent of Paris's L'Arc de Triomphe. It gives meaning to the phrase, "History is written by the victors." The South might as well not exist if we took this building at face value. The only thing that redeems it from jingoism is a lovely inscription on top, "To the Defenders of the Union-1861-1865." As it was designed, it is a monument to honor the Union Army.

The marble statues of the soldiers and sailors on both sides of the arch give it character. You see bold and brave men in action or contemplation.

William Tecumseh Sherman placed the cornerstone for the arch on October 10, 1889 and President Grover Cleveland appeared at its unveiling on October 21, 1892.

Inside the arch itself are the statues of Lincoln and Grant mounted on horses. William O'Donovan sculpted the two men and the artist Thomas Eakins did the horses.

For people visiting New York, it is a site to see. You can take the 2 or 3 trains and get a nice taste of Brooklyn. Get out of Manhattan and see a lovely monument commemorating the Civil War.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wilderness Vote Today

Today, the planning commission for Orange County, Virginia will vote on Wal Mart's application to set up a store beside the Wilderness battlefield. In the upcoming months, the county Board of Supervisors will make a final vote on the application.

It is vital that everyone emails the members of the Board. In an older post on my blog, I have written the names and email addresses of the supervisors. I urge everyone to write to them.

My friends, the Wilderness is in danger. This is your chance to save one of the key battlesites of the Civil War from overdevelopment. Please help out.
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lincoln Portraits

This post is inspired by an entry in the Lincoln Blog.

Years ago, I played saxophone in a middle school band and our band leader decided that we would play Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait. Mr. Higgins was an avid Civil war buff. In the middle of rehearsal, he would regal us with stories from Grant's Memoirs. He would vividly describe the horrors of the camp operating tents. This naturally made an impact on my young, impressionable mind.

Since the Lincoln Portrait is an orchestral piece, Mr. Higgins had to score it for us. Since I was one of his favorites, he gave me a solo. I got to play the main melody to the piece.

However, the most interesting part of our Lincoln Portrait was our narrator. Mr. Higgins picked one of our janitors to utter Lincoln's words. I forget his name but he was a black man of medium height. He had a deep, booming voice. I remember how moved I was when he uttered the words "...and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the Earth." I own a recording of the Portrait with Henry Fonda as narrator. Though I am naturally biased, I think our guy said it better.

But that was not my last Portrait. Several years later, my uncle, a conductor at Brookyn College, did his own version. He picked a diplomat from the Russian Embassy as his narrator. The man did well. His pronunciation was perfect. Nevertheless, it was interesting to hear the words of the Gettysburg Address uttered with a distinct Russian accent.

I'd to hear your Lincoln Portrait stories, if you have any. I'm always in the market for a good yarn.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Vicksburg 1863 by Winston Groom-History as a Novel

If you like history written as a novel, then Vicksburg 1863 by Winston Groom is for you. I enjoy reading history that way so it worked for me.

Groom does excellent character portraits of the main players in the campaign. Grant, Pemberton & Johnston all come alive in this book. The author writes the history like the novelist that he is. He spends a great deal of time on these individuals and their motivations. You can see and feel their personalities.

The maps in the beginning of the book were excellent. I went back to the maps each time Groom mentioned a town or city in Mississippi. I could easily follow the battles.

He also did an fine job of describing the naval battles. He describes how the Confederates created their own improvised navy and how despite their disadvantages, gave the Federal navy a fierce fight for control of the Mississippi. For a landlubber like me, the naval battle section was educational.

Groom is quite effective at showing that the defeat of the Confederates in the Vicksburg campaign stemmed largely from bad leadership. Joseph Johnston seemed to do all he could to sabotage Pemberton by withholding troops and not coming to Pemberton's rescue when Grant closed the ring around the city. The man knew few other maneuvers but retreat. The author shows how Confederate numbers in the area were roughly equivalent to those of the Union yet incompetant generalship doomed them.

Groom's skills as a novelist shine when he describes the siege of Vicksburg. He evokes the conversations between the soldiers during the truces and their taunts when they stood on different sides of the lines. He also exhibits the Union shelling of the city and its effects on the civilians inside the city. His descriptions show how the shelling was a forerunner to the strategic bombing of Germany in World War II. Like the U.S. Army Air Force over Germany, Grant sought to break the citizens' morale and induce surrender. The Civil War was in many ways a 20th-century conflict.

The book of course has its share of flaws. Groom makes some dubious word choices. He writes on P.188, "That assumes that the enemy will let you bown over him like a dummy made of straw." That metaphor seemed a bit clumsy. He also makes the dubious assessment that Gettysburg was a mere bloody skirmish compared to Vicksburg. Gettysburg was significant because the Confederacy's losses condemned the South to remain on the strategic defensive for the rest of the war. The South would never have the ability to launch a knockout blow that could end the war. Vicksburg and Gettysburg held equal importance as turning points in the war.

He also engages in his epilogue in a dubious section about how the South should have made peace after Vicksburg. Too many men had died for that to be possible. The Southern leadership could not go back to its people after all that suffering and tell them that the war was lost. In addition, what political class votes itself out of power? That's what peace would have meant. These are politicians we're discussing.

However, these flaws are outweighed by the book's strengths. Groom makes the valid point that Vicksburg crippled the Confederacy since it was cut off from the Trans-Mississippi and its food shipments. Vicksburg made Grant's 1864 campaign of attrition possible. He also shows how Jefferson Davis's demonization of Lincoln made him irrational and prevented him from taking advantage of Lincoln's generous offers of peace. There is a pitfall to believing your own propaganda. It clouds your judgment to hate your enemies.

I'm an Eastern campaign man. Vicksburg was a good tuturial in the West for me. It is enjoyable and entertaining.

Has anyone had a chance to read it?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Civil War Monument in Greenwich Village?

Who would have thought it? We have a Civil War monument in Greenwich Village. I can't think of a more anti-military place than the Village. Well, it exists.

It is a plaque erected in honor of the 83rd New York Volunteer Regiment. The unit mustered into service on May 27, 1861 with 850 men. The regiment fought at 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. It returned to New York and demustered on June 11, 1864. Only seventeen officers and 78 enlisted men returned.

You look at these statistics and realize the tragedy of it all. I think the larger the numbers become, the more inured people become to the horror. Think of it. 755 men did not come back. Can you blame the survivors for leaving the war even before it ended?

Those who remained lived on after the war and erected this monument on May 30, 1908 on 13th Street and University Place. Their former headquarters is now an office building housing a labor union.

In the bustle of downtown Manhattan, a tiny monument to our past can be found.

Do any of you have a Civil War monument(s) near you?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Gettysburg Rate Hike

So the Gettysburg National Park has raised its fee. It has gone up from $7.50 to $10.50 and they didn't even announce the rate hike. Does the word "government" mean anything to you?

This step by the Park Service reminds me of what the Mets and the Yankees are doing to the season ticket holders (I know, but this is my frame of reference). Here in New York, the two teams are charging their fans thousands of dollars for the season tickets. Like the Mets and Yankee fans, the Park Service are taking advantage of us Civil War buffs. They know that we are going to visit no matter what happens. I have been to the park twice. There is one blogger I know of who visits four times a year. Yes, we are a captive audience. We are all going to bring our kids to Gettysburg in the hope that they'll catch the Civil War bug like us. We are ready to indoctrinate.

Though the Park Service was high-handed, perhaps it was a necessary evil. The economic times affect even the history buffs. People have less money to travel. In addition, with the government swimming in a sea of red ink, I'm sure funding the National Park Service is not a high priority in Washington right now. That leaves the fee hike as their remaining option.

However, if the Service continues with it, the number of visitors will diminish. We the faithful will keep coming. It's the incidental or one-time people who might be driven away. That is the true risk here.

What is your view? Do you think this is an exercise in high-handed government?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The CWPT Preserves Another Battlefield

The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) has done it again.

The CWPT announced its plans last Wednesday to buy 643 acres of the Davis Bridge battlefield in Tennessee. In a partnership with the Tennessee Heritage Conservation Trust fund and a parallel organization in the federal government, the organization will purchase the land.

The Davis Bridge battle occurred on October 5, 1862, when forces under General Edward Ord, sent by U.S. Grant, pursued a force under Confederate General Earl Van Dorn. The Confederates had just left Corinth, Mississippi. Though Ord managed to throw Van Dorn's force across the Hatchie River, Confederate defenses stopped his advance and prevented him from pursuing any further. Van Dorn and his force managed to escape.

These national and state parks are wonderful not only for their historical value. They are also beautiful nature preserves. I remember seeing deer wandering the trails when I visited Shiloh. These are one of the few places where people and animals can co-exist.

When the purchase is finished, the land will be donated to the state of Tennessee. It will be an asset and a destination for us Civil War buffs for a very long time.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Reconstruction-The War-Article in the Civil War Times

Reconstruction was a war. The name "reconstruction" has an innocuous air about it. However, people were right to call it a continuation of the Civil War. It was also a largely unsuccessful effort at counterinsurgency.

As the Civil War Times article discusses, the Seventh Cavalry could not dislodge the Klan. Though the article gave the example of Major Lewis Merrill, his success seemed isolated. Those who came after him did not want to fight a counterinsurgency.

Militaries generally do not want to wage these kinds of war. They generally fight the wars that they want to engage in, not the ones they are fighting. This happened to us in Vietnam. We used tactics that were suitable for continental Europe and World War II. It's clear that our military learned from Reconstruction the same lesson it learned after Vietnam: it did not want to wage a counterinsurgency.

Militaries clearly do not want to engage in what they consider to be "constabulary work." The truth is that it is glorified police work. You have to gather informers, win over at least a segment of the local population and protect your people. The use of force has to be kept to a minimum. Militaries are not trained for this kind of work. They are meant to fight conventional wars with other armies.

There is also a danger when armies engage in counterinsurgency. They lose their ability to fight conventional wars. This happened to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in their war with Hizbullah in 2006. The IDF had fought the PLO and Hamas for years during the second intifada. The men in the ranks learned counterinsurgency tactics useful in the West Bank and Gaza but not in Lebanon. Many Israeli soldiers died when they used the tactics they had learned in the territories. As one Israeli said,"When you fight the weak, you become weak."

However, Reconstruction was a true forerunner of a 21st-century war. Like Israel's two wars against guerrila forces, the aftermath mattered as much as the fighting itself. The results of Reconstruction had as much impact as the result of the Civil War. The country was reunited but the blacks remained second-class citizens. As the narrator said in the documentary "The Civil War", "The South won that battle of attrition."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pages of Lincoln State of Union Address Sold

Yesterday, Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas sold handwritten pages of President Lincoln's December 4, 1864 State of the Union address. These were pages that he wrote and then submitted to the printer. The pre-sale estimate was $90,000-$120,000.

When you read the address, you feel sorry for the President. The State of the Union address was a true report to Congress. It was not the campaign speech that it is today. Lincoln truly had to tell Congress about practically everything that happened in the Executive Branch.

An amusing portion of the speech comes when he writes, "The new liberal constitution of Venezuala having gone into effect..." I thought of Hugo Chavez and began to chuckle.

He does not even mention the war until three-fourths of the way into the speech.

At the end, the Lincolnian prose begins to appear. He says, "...[T]he war will cease on the part of the Government whenever it shall have ceased on the part of those who began it."

I would have started the bidding at $130,000.

I think it is always better for these documents to go into public hands. However, if it should go to a private collector, all efforts should be made to encourage collectors to loan the documents to museums. Perhaps Congress should pass a tax deduction encouraging such lending.

What does everyone think on this issue? Should it be in public or private hands?

As for me, I would love to own the Gettysburg address or the Second Inaugural Address. What would be your favorite?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More Black Confederates?-Article in North & South

The article in North & South sheds further light on the issue of black Confederates. It showed that only a tiny number of blacks served in the Southern army.

The Confederate policy of exclusion was reflected not only in the rejection of Pat Cleburne's monograph on emancipation but in the reaction to Judah Benjamin's speech on the subject.

In January 1865, Secretary of State Benjamin spoke in Richmond's African Church and urged the Confederate Congress to accept freedom for black slaves in exchange for army service.

The negative reaction came swiftly. Senator Robert M.T. Hunter said,"If we are right in passing this measure, we were wrong in denying the old government the right to interfere with the institution of slavery and to emancipate the slaves." Four days after Benjamin's speech, the Confederate Senate drafted a resolution stating,"Judah P. Benjamin is not a wise and prudent Secretary of State and lacks the confidence of the country."

A week after his speech, Benjamin sent a resignation letter to Jefferson Davis.

These are not the sentiments or actions of a public or a ruling elite ready to accept blacks into their army.

These reactions bely any notion that large numbers of blacks fought for the Confederacy.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What the Civil War Can Do For You

The culture critic Robert Hughes once said,"Culture creates experience." In my case, the Civil War created an experience.
Back in 2000, I made a court appearance in Staten Island (I am an attorney by day.) For those of you who are not familiar, the East River separates Staten Island from the rest of New York City. To cross the river, you have to drive over the Verrazano Bridge or take the Staten Island Ferry.

I took the boat. On my way back, I sat on the sea deck and read Shelby Foote's The Civil War Volume 2 (one of the benefits of legal practice is the abundance of reading time.)

The boat passed an island with a large red brick building. A group of tourists who later told me they were from Louisiana approached me. They asked me the name of the monument in front of us.

I told them it was Ellis Island.

After several moments I asked them,"How did you know to ask me?"

They said,"You're reading about the Civil War. We figured you would know."

You see what the Civil War can do. You too can serve as an amateur guide for bewildered tourists.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Lincoln-The Gold Standard

Lincoln has become the hallmark of a great President in our minds. The reasons are obvious but there are certain facts that we shouldn't forget.

First, the US News and World Report article talks about his darkest hour. The truth is that Lincoln faced many dark hours. There was the crisis before Fort Sumter, the defeats at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville and the hard summer of 1864 when Union armies were stuck before Petersburg and Atlanta.

It should also be remembered that he did not start out as a great President. The handling of the Sumter crisis showed his inexperience. He found himself caught between his Navy and Secretaries of State. His Cabinet suffered from an initial phase of disarray. However, Lincoln eventually learned from his mistakes before the firing on Fort Sumter and eventually gained contol over his Cabinet. Experience allowed him to forge his political talent into mastery.

Another important reality should also be remembered. The Northern public largely stood behind him. Men left Harvard University to join the Union Army. The North endured horrendous casualties before reaching final victory. Great leaders require good followers. Northerners were willing to follow and sacrifice.

None of this is to detract from his achievements but to recall that it did not come easily or cheaply.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ulysses S. Grant-The Limited Talent?

Was Ulysses S. Grant an idiot savant? I'm being facetious here but he was one of the most interesting figures in the Civil War. I've been reading about him in Winston Groom's Vicksburg 1863. I think it's interesting to understand our historical figures as human beings. As a novelist, that interests me.

Prior and after the war, he failed at so many jobs. He was a country store clerk, farmer, real estate salesman and wood peddler. After the war, he served as President and a failed businessman.

The man could not succeed at nothing but soldiering and horse riding. He had only two talents in life.

The Civil War clearly threw him a lifeline. If peace had remained, he would have died a miserable failure as a country store clerk. The war gave him scope for one of his two talents. There are people like that. Winston Churchill was another. If not for the Second World War, Churchill would have languished during his remaining days as a failed politician on the fringes of Britain's Conservative Party. I also think of Oskar Schindler. He was another man who failed at everything he did in peacetime.

Indeed, there are some people who are made for war. The chaos and irregularity call for their talents. They become needed.

These wars turn into tragedies for many but opportunities for a few.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Good Children's Book on the Civil War

Last night, I looked for a good introductory history book for my nieces. Like many Civil War buffs, I'm trying to seduce the younger generation.

If the picture did not come out as good as I had hoped, the title is "If You Lived During the Civil War." It dispenses with the dates of battles or names of personalities and discusses daily life during the 1860's.

It does not shrink from the controversial topics. It discusses why the South seceded and why the North fought. Interestingly, it compares the life of Southerners versus Northerners. For instance, it talks about the greater likelihood of a Southerner witnessing a battle as opposed to a Northerner. It also gives the valuable information about which states left the Union and which stayed.

It's a very good book for young beginners. Scholastic publishes it. In fact, the publishing house has a whole series of books about various points in our history like the Revolutionary War, colonial times and other periods.

If you have young ones or nieces like myself that you want to indoctrinate, this is a good place to start.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Save the Wilderness-Part III

Friends, I have written this letter to Congressman Robert Wittman, the House Member who represents the Wilderness area:

Dear Congressman,

I am writing to ask you to tackle an issue of historic significance. You represent a unique district. Your constituency holds many of the great Civil War battlefields in Virginia. Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and the Wilderness are in your area. Unlike much of America, history resides in your district.

As you're probably aware, the Wilderness is in danger. Wal Mart is planning to build a store on the road beside the battle site. It should be noted that Wal Mart already has three stores within a twenty mile radius of the area. There are hundreds of Wal Marts in America but only one Wilderness. We are a commercial country and that is a strength. However, I believe this bit of history is sacred.

Sir, I ask you to help prevent the construction of the store on the site. Wal Mart is a good and fine organization but its plan is misguided. Please take the lead in preserving not only a valuable bit of our history but a valuable tourist attraction in your district.

Congressman, I know that history has no constituency. Nevertheless, history is our identity. It is what makes us American. The Wilderness battlefield is a unique part of us all.

Please help, sir. Thank you.

Very truly yours,
Naim Peress

Use this letter if you like. Adapt it a bit. Above all, email him. This is how we can make a difference.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Save the Wilderness-Part II

It is very important that we engage the politicians in this struggle. Wal Mart is a very powerful and effective corporation. As we all know, money is power in our society. Only the government can match that kind of strength.

So I ask you all to email these representatives.

Rob Wittman-Congressman, Virginia, 1st District

US Senator Jim Webb

US Senator Mark Warner

Please email these men. Wittman is the congressman whose district includes the battle site. Senators Webb and Warner represent Virginia.

Like our ancestors of old, let us take action. In our democracy, mass action can make a difference.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Save the Wilderness from Wal Mart

My friends, Wal Mart is planning to set up a store on the road next to the Wilderness battlefield. The chain already has three stores within twenty miles of the site. Imagine driving to the Wilderness National Park and on your left side, you see a Wal Mart.

In addition, it is not just Wal Mart itself. Once that store comes in, others will spring up. Wal Mart will only be the beginning. This store will be the Trojan Horse.

We should remember that only twenty percent of Civil War battle sites have been federalized. The rest of it is private land.

That is where we, the Civil War enthusiasts, come in.

I know what you might be thinking. "Wal Mart is a big chain. What can we do against them?"

There is much we can do. The first step is to write to the local politicians.

The Wilderness battlefield is within the boundaries of Orange County, Virginia. That county is run by a County Board of Supervisors.

I urge you to write to them. The Board consists of five supervisors. Here are their email addresses: –R. Mark Johnson - Zack Burkett –Teel Goodwin –Teri L. Pace –Lee Frame

We can now take an important step to save this sacred site. Remember that history is who we are. It is our identity. The Wilderness battlefield is a part of us.

Please help out. Thanks.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sickles the Bastard-Article in America's Civil War

I think the whole debate about whether Dan Sickles chomped a cigar at Gettysburg is academic.
The man had a talent for bringing disaster on himself on everyone around him. Due to his failure to follow orders and to place his troops in a secure position on the field, his II Corps suffered a terrible pummeling at Gettysburg. As the America's Civil War article pointed out, the II Corps had to be disbanded in 1864.

The man was also a menace to himself. He only murdered a man before the war. It took the Johnny Cochran of the era, Edwin Stanton, to get him off. He later marched up to the thick of the fighting at Gettysburg, over the advice of his staff. He lost his leg as a result.

The only good thing Dan Sickles ever did in his life was to preserve Gettysburg as federal land. He was little more than a egocentric, grandstanding politician.
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Monday, June 8, 2009

McClellan, His Personal Side-Article in the Civil War Times

"It would have been better for me personally if I had not been given chief command so early."

Those were the words of George McClellan many years after the Civil War.

I just read an article about Little Mac's influences and experiences from before the war.

I think those clearly played an important role.

However, I believe that McClellan was a man who had enjoyed success too early in life. His rise had been meteoric and nothing had stood in his way. He had not commanded a brigade or a division prior to assuming supreme command.

McClellan could not face obstacles to his success because previously, there hadn't been any.

That charmed life led to his failure when he commanded the Army of the Potomac.
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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Another Thing to Do at Gettysburg-Article in the Civil War Times

Gettysburg, the great winter battle? No, that is a picture of the Picketts Charge battlefield I took during my novel research in Gettysburg several years ago. I visited in January. It's from the Union side of the field.

The Civil War Times listed ten great activities in Gettysburg. I can think of an eleventh. Walking Picketts Charge. That is what I did. I started from the staging area for Picketts Division in Spanglers Wood and walked to the Copse of Trees and Armistead's high water mark.

It's a wonderful little trek. You get a sense of the terrain. As you walk it, you can get a feeling for what the Confederate infantrymen endured. Imagine having to traipse that terrain under long-range cannon fire. If you survive that, you have to cross the Emmitsburg Road. After you get past the road, canister fire is added to the cannon. Once you pass those obstacles, you are subject to Union rifle fire. Most did not make it. However, if you can imagine it in your head, it is a wonderful and intense experience.

I highly recommend it. For those who love Day 3 of Gettysburg, that is the thing to do.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Technorati Profile

D-Day: A Personal Recollection

My friends, this is where the Et. Al. (among others) comes into this blog.

Since it's hard to say something truly original about D-Day, I can tell you the story of a family friend. No, I'm a little too young to have stormed the beach on D-Day.

My father had a family friend who was originally his patient. As a lifelong bachelor, he liked to take me out to lunch.

During one of our outings, he told that he had been a part of D-Day. My face turned animated and I asked him where he had been. He told me he had been on Omaha Beach.

He added, "I was young. I didn't know what was going on. I did everything I could to avoid the service."

This kid from Brooklyn and attempted malingerer ended up spending fifty years in the Army. He later fought in Korea and Vietnam. I believe he retired with the rank of colonel. Even in retirement, he worked as a consultant on one of the bases here in New York.

It's interesting how circumstance can induce service and even heroism.
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Friday, June 5, 2009

Abe Lincoln's Humor-Article in Civil War Times

Despite the tragedy of the Civil War and the prose of his speeches, Lincoln had a wonderful sense of humor.

I always loved his comment about the criticism of his Administration. He grabbed a batch of Southern newspapers, held them up and told an aide,"If you think I'm doing badly, look at what they're saying about Jeff Davis."

The article in the Civil War Times talks about the value of his humor in weathering his tough times. It had enormous political benefits.

Politics in every era has been about showmanship and the art of talking without saying anything. Even the Romans felt a need for bread and circuses. Wit and humor are a part of that entertaining function. Lincoln had that talent in abundance.

He needed it. He headed a coalition made up of border-state slaveowners and New England abolitionists. The President had to keep such a diverse group together while fighting a terrible war. His sense of humor was much required.

We should also not be surprised about his humor give the dour prose of his speech. Aristotle once said that a tragic genius also had to be a comic genius.

Lincoln seemed to master both sides of that equation.
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Thursday, June 4, 2009

"Clueless" Joe Hooker

God bless General Hooker. I always found him interesting because he was so devoted to ladies of the night that he gave them his last name. It always amused me that this was his one lasting contribution to the world.

Besides making "hookers" out of harlots, he was also a bad commander. A successful military leader must have the ability to read the mind of his adversary. Unfortunately for the North, Lee had this ability in spades. After his disaster at Chancellorsville, two Confederate army corps left their positions on the Rappahannock River and headed north for Lee's second invasion of the Union. Hooker found himself confused. In his brief time in command, he did not live up to his "Fighting" nickname. Against Lee, he found himself utterly clueless.
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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cold Harbor: The Awe-Inspiring and Terrible Battle

Today in 1864, the Union Army launched its doomed assault on Cold Harbor, Va. It failed miserably.

I recall my visit to the site. The battle occurred along a seven-mile front. That is a huge distance. Imagine 50,000 soldiers attacking a series of positions all at once. It is amazing when you think about it. When I saw the preserved portion of the battlefield, barely a mile or two remained. I'd call it the remains of the Cold Harbor battlefield.

To General Grant's credit, he did express regret in his memoirs for ordering the assault. It is a rare general who admits error.

The defenses that the Confederates erected in 1864 were quite impressive. When I went to Spotsylvania, I saw trenches that still exist today. Outmanned and outgunned, tje Confederates held out for over a year. They truly pioneered trench warfare, which the Germans and Allies would later use in the First World War. The South put an end to the Napoleonic charge.

Unfortunately, the generals would not realize this lesson until the end of World War I. Burnside, Lee and Grant all made the same mistakes. The military fraternity is often too conservative in its thinking.
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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Welcome to Civil War et. al.!!!

As you can probably tell, I am a Civil War buff. I love its history, its personalities and the places. I've visited Gettysburg and battlesites in Virginia. I even dragged a friend to Tennessee to see Shiloh, Chickamauga and Lookout Mountain (I don't know how I convinced him to do that one.)

As a lawyer, I couldn't resist using the Latin term et. al. It means "among others." In this context, I want to write primarily about the Civil War but when another interesting event in Jewish or military history occurs, I'd like to blog about it.

This blog will be all history all the time with my personal take on it. Enjoy!
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