Saturday, October 31, 2009

New York Civil War Site: Our Most Valuable Swede

During the Civil War, a Swedish inventor saved the Union from disaster. His name was John Ericsson and he designed the ironclad ship, the Monitor.

A statue of him lies in the midst of Battery Park in downtown Manhattan. You can see it on your way to visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Being the weaker side in raw power, the Confederacy more readily adopted technological advances in military weaponry to nullify the Union's clear strength in numbers and armaments. To counter the Federal Navy, the South developed the CSS Virginia, an ironclad naval vessel. The Confederates unleashed this new weapon and it soon sunk two wooden naval ships in the Federal blockading squadron off Hampton Roads, Virginia.

The Federals had received prior word of this threat and through Lincoln's intervention, the Ironclad Board in Washington gave John Ericsson a contract for $270,000. The Board provided it on a monthly basis and told him that he would have to return the money if he disliked the terms (imagine trying to set such a contract today). In addition, since it was during a war, time was of the essence.

Ericsson developed the ship in a record 100 days at the Continental Iron Works in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. He and other engineers placed two guns on a revolving turret. With the ship ready in such a short time, it sailed down to Virginia to join the beleaguered blockade squadron in southern Virginia.

On March 6, 1862, ironclad met ironclad. In a day-long battle, the ships fought to a draw. A round from the CSS Virginia hit the hull of the ship and blinded the Monitor's captain. A falling tide also compelled the Virginia to withdraw.

Without the Monitor, the Virginia might have sailed up to Washington and begun a bombardment. The Monitor saved the Union from military disaster. That is why John Ericsson was our most valuable Swede.

Friday, October 30, 2009

New York Civil War Site: Cooper Union

This past weekend, I visited the Cooper Union hall with a number of other Civil War buffs. It was here that Lincoln gave his famous speech that made him a candidate for President.

The tour guide related a number of interesting facts. First, the college had not invited Lincoln to speak there. He had originally been invited to speak at Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. Cooper Union is located across the East River in downtown Manhattan. Brooklyn was a separate city at that time. The Brooklyn Bridge had not yet been built. The organizers feared that it would snow, causing the river to freeze. At that time, the only means to Manhattan from Brooklyn were steamboat or foot. Contrary to most accounts, our guide pointed out that it did not snow. There was fear of snow.

Lincoln stood on the stage and delivered his speech with 1,500 people in attendance. The audience members paid a sizable sum, twenty-five cents, to attend. You know that the audience must have been composed primarily of middle class and well-off individuals.

Though he was a wealthy attorney at the time, Lincoln wore a rumpled suit. He had not given sufficient attention to his grooming.

He also thought little about the speech after delivering it. He wrote to his wife that he had no trouble delivering the speech. It reminds one about Lincoln's reaction after delivering the Gettysburg Address.

As a midwestern lawyer, he was little known in the East. After the Cooper Union speech, he acquired a national reputation.

The most famous phrase in the speech is "right makes might." However, Lincoln also made an interesting statement about the South's attitude prior to the war.

He said,"Your purpose, then plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events." (emphasis added)

Whether you agree with that view or not, that is what happened. The South ruled over itself and then suffered ruin. The Cooper Union speech not only created a presidential candidate. It was prophetic.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Civil War Joke-The Rooster on the Hill

As many of you may know, The South won most of the battles in the beginning and middle of the Civil War.

To use a sports analogy, the Southerners enjoyed a home field advantage. They fought for their own country and on their native soil.

Southerners described this situation by saying,"A rooster fights best on his own hill."
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Monday, October 26, 2009

Civil War Joke-Too Much To Do

I'm sure there are some of you who have had too many duties thrust on your shoulders.

Civil War officers faced the same problem.

When a commander gave an officer too many duties, the poor man would tell his friends,"I have too many buttons on my coat."

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Civil War Wit-Abraham Lincoln

And now, another zinger from the President.

Abraham Lincoln was generally a patient man. However, certain events, mostly the actions of his generals, caused his temper to flare.

General George McClellan seemed to specialize in irritating his President.

After the Battle of Antietam, McClellan concerned himself with the administrative details in his army. In one telegram to the War Department, he lamented that the horses in the Army of the Potomac suffered from fatigue and endured sore tongues.

In exasperation, Lincoln fired back,"General, what have the horses done since the Battle of Antietam to fatigue anything?"
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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Latschar To Go

I feel like playing that music from the tail end of the The Wizard of Oz, "Ding Dong, the Witch is dead." Except in this case, the Witch is going to be reassigned.

On Monday, John Latschar will be leaving his position as Superintendant of Gettysburg National Park. He will be given a desk job in the National Park Service. I guess this is what passes for accountability in the federal government. I wonder if his "desk job" will pay him his current $145,000 salary. If so, I want his new job. They could pay me $200 per sheet. I'll ask for $100 a page to print from the computer.

You get a sense of the vanity of politicians and federal officials from Latschar's departing statement. "Strangely enough, right now, in addition to the sorrow for the grief I've caused friends and family, I'm feeling almost a sense of relief. I've spent the last 21 years of my life in the public arena, where everything I say or do is considered fair game."

Oh please. Running Gettysburg National Park is important. Being the Gettysburg superintendant matters because that individual safeguards a vital part of our national heritage. However, it's not as if he's the president or an electoral officeholder. No one searched his trash for a piece of his private life. Pundits on cable TV did not scrutinize his every policy move. Comedians on late night TV did not write jokes about his sex life. It is because he imported his sex life, or the lack thereof, into his working hours that he is out of a job.

My advice to him is to confine his Internet porn search to his private hours.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why John Latschar Should Go

Yesterday, I posted, in my own sarcastic way, about why John Latschar should go. I've read the opinions of some who think he should stay and I simply don't agree.

His behavior is simply unacceptable in any job. If he surfed the Net for porn at a private sector job, he would have been axed. Some have mentioned that he's done a wonderful job at preserving Gettysburg National Park. That is true. However, if I were the top trial attorney at my firm and I was caught looking for porn or doing online trading, I would still be fired. It would be excusable if he made a nonprofessional Internet search like looking at the news or booking a hotel reservation once in a while. That would be understandable. He downloaded no less than 3400 images. That is a pattern of behavior and it should not be tolerated.

In addition, Latschar should face a higher standard because he is working at a government job. We are paying for his follies. The man is making $145,000 a year. We the taxpayers should be subsidizing his extracurricular activites during his working hours? I say no and I'm sure most people would agree with me.

John Latschar should resign or be dismissed. Even in the federal government, there should be some accountability for personal behavior.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

John Latschar-The Defenses

If John Latschar, the superintendent of Gettysburg National Park, needs a defense, it's right now. The man was just cited for downloading over 3,400 pornographic images on his work computer.

If this case went to trial, let's try to imagine what his defense lawyer would say. This is where creative lawyering comes into play.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, yes, my client downloaded Internet porn. However, it was Civil War Internet porn. That's right. He downloaded those images to help us understand a little-known aspect of the conflict. How can you fault my client for attempting to make the Gettysburg viewing experience even more meaningful?"

Then, we get to his attorney's second line of defense.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the prosecution has introduced evidence that my client actually downloaded contemporary porn. That is also true. Nevertheless, once again, his conduct goes back to the Civil War. He was doing a comparative study of contemporary and Civil War pornography."

Sounds a bit absurd, but sometimes a lawyer has to protect the guilty. Folks, I sincerely hope the recession will end at Gettysburg National Park and a superintendant's job will open up very soon.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Civil War Joke-Slippery Bacon

At times, rations for Civil War soldiers arrived in an inedible form. Bacon proved no exception to the problem. The troops coined the above-mentioned term for bacon that was so rotten, it could only be used to ignite a camp fire.
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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lynda Crist-Civil War Talk on Jefferson Davis

On Wednesday night, I heard an interesting talk about Jefferson Davis. Lynda Crist, the editor of the Jefferson Davis Association, delivered the short lecture to our weekly meeting at the New York Civil War Roundtable. Ms. Crist has spent much of her working life studying and editing the papers of the Confederate President.

Naturally, she delivered some interesting tidbits about him that I never knew. First, I was never aware of what she called "his ecumenical spirit." He counted two Jews, Alfred Mordechai and Judah Benjamin, among his closest friends. His religious tolerance also extended to Catholics and he even sent one of his daughters to a Catholic boarding school. He held these attitudes at a time when there was no requirement to be tolerant of anyone.

Ms. Crist characterized Davis as a "micromanager." She explained his diversion into the minutiaie of government as one of his few means of affecting the course of affairs.

Ms. Crist constantly used the phrase "He knew" when she talked about his relationships with the key military figures in the Confederacy. Due to his period in the US Army and in politics, he had formed relationships with almost all of the subsequent Confederate military leaders. I asked her if that familiarity was a detriment to his leadership. She made the interesting point that Davis had no choice but to draw on that familiarity because he had to form a new government and army in a matter of months.

She also described Davis as a dazzling story teller in private. Until now, I had a hard time imagining him as a dazzling anything. However, she has read his papers. I'll take her word on it.

In addition, her lecture provided an interesting revelation into Davis's attitude toward public service. She mentioned that he was not happy as a politician yet he persevered in public life for years. Obviously, he was from the planter class in his state and felt a duty to serve, even if he didn't enjoy it. This is in stark contrast to people today. If we don't like our work or career, we change jobs or vocations.

Overall, Ms. Crist gave myself and the members of the Roundtable some new insight into the man. As a person who grew up learning that Davis was the Antichrist serving the Devil, it was interesting to see him as a decent man whose cause you or may not agree with.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Deal for the Battle of Franklin land

The prospective deal to buy the Dominoes Pizza and the Four Star Market on land where the Battle of Franklin was fought presents the way forward for historical preservation.

The days when the federal government will cordon off huge tracts of land (ex. Gettysburg) for eternity are long gone. Now, governments are hungry for the jobs and tax money coming from development. That is why the potential deal by the Franklin's Charge organization in Tennessee and similar work done by the CWPT are very important. Further historical preservation will henceforward be the preserve of private groups. Organizations like the CWPT will always be in a race with or against developers. Governments will either be neutral powers or antagonists (ex. the Wilderness Wal Mart).

When government does get involved, economic arguments will have to predominate. The Franklin's Charge people have it right. They are presenting their purchase as a means of promoting "heritage tourism." That is the argument we will have to use in all future preservation battles. Pleas to preserve our history will simply be swamped by the forces of development and consumption. The vast majority of people live in the very present and you can't eat or purchase history. We have to use monetary arguments to defeat the power of money.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Curse of the General

I have begun reading Robert Hicks's A Separate Country.

I could not help but notice that like many of other Civil War generals, the main character, General John Bell Hood, failed in his postwar business. Hood had his money stolen by his business partners. The same fate befell Ulysses S. Grant. Nathan Bedford Forrest failed in his railway venture. General Pemberton, who commanded the Confederate defenses at Vicksburg, could not run his farm successfully. The one exception to this failure at entrepreneurship was P.T. Beauregard.

I once heard a line about cops that could possibly be applied to generals. I once heard it said,"When you've been a cop for this long, you're not fit to do anything else." It is very hard to make the adjustment from being an individual whose words are immediately obeyed to being person who has to attract the obeisance of others. I think what is true for many cops is also true for most generals. Going into business for yourself is often too great a stretch.

Hood should have done what Lee and Joseph Johnston did: work for someone else. Poor Hood suffered the curse of the general.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Greenback Raid

If I had lived on this day in 1864, I would have joined Mosby's Rangers. People had creative ways of making money during the Civil War. Merchants traded with the enemy, Union soldiers and officers plundered cotton plantations and Northern factory owners sold shoddy goods. However, Mosby and his men carried out their Greenback Raid.
On this day, Mosby's Rangers tore out the tracks to a railway at a site between northwestern and West Virginia. The next train to arrive derailed. The Confederates were overjoyed when they realized that they had struck the train carrying the wages of Sheridan's Army of the Shenandoah. They absconded with $173,000 and burned the train.
I am going by the date listed in the Civil War Interactive. Some list October 14th as the date of the raid, but I'll go by the Interactive date. I stand corrected if mistaken.
If only my ancestors had come to America during the Civil War. They could have joined the Rangers and we would have been Old Money by now.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Civil War Joke-Password

During the Civil War, failure to utter the required password could prove to be a menace to man or beast.

Hungry soldiers often pillaged outlying farms during times of shortage. An officer entered camp and smelled a roasted pig over a fire. When he asked which soldiers had stolen it, a corporal snapped to attention.

He said,"Sir, I was on picket duty when I heard a sound. I demanded the password and when I only got an oink in return, I shot him. I planned to bring him to your quarters for a court martial.".

The officer made a sly grin and told the corporal,"Bring a part of him and I'll pronounce a partial sentence."
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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Off Topic: Rare Foray into Politics, I Swear

In response to the President's new policy of targeting Al Qaeda alone in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden has issued his official response.

"Cave#462, drone missile-free zone, Pakistan. Brothers, I am sick of people usurping our brand. Now everyone thinks they're from Al Qaeda. I mean, we have franchisees and all, but this is ridiculous. When you go to your sales territories in Afghanistan, I want you wearing your Al Qaeda T-shirts, effective immediately. Everyone, including the Americans, should know who we are. Shirts will be issued at the corporate retreat in Cave#321. We must resist the new threat to the global jihad: brand dilution. This is one of those rare moments when I agree with those infidel Americans. When we set up our global caliphate, we're going to have good intellectual property protection."
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Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Definition for the Fog of War

Civil War soldiers had a new definition for the term "fog of war."

They defined as the state of confusion that overcomes an officer at the beginning of a battle.
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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Wonder of Diaries

I am reading an excellent Civil War journal as part of the research for my third novel. The title is A Yankee Spy in Richmond: The Civil War Diary of "Crazy Bet" Van Lew.

I've expounded before on the joy of primary sources and this book proves my theory. As you may know, Elizabeth Van Lew was a native-born Richmonder who was a very effective spy for the Union. Her diary does a great job of describing the state of mind and conditions in wartime Richmond. The descriptions of the mood of Richmonders, especially the women, at the time of secession, are excellent. She also recounts the starvation and shortages that grip the city as the war progresses.

For those who want to understand the thoughts and emotions of the people in wartime Richmond, this book is an excellent place to start.
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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Joke-Rutherford Hayes

Though this joke was not told during the Civil War, it was made about a veteran of the Civil War: President Rutherford B. Hayes.

The President was a temperance man and would not allow alcohol to be served in the White House. At his first reception, the staff did not serve intoxicating beveridges. A Washington wit said,"The water flowed like wine."
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Monday, October 5, 2009

Lincoln-A Poetic Opera-A Review

This weekend, my wife and I headed to the Upper West Side in Manhattan to see Lincoln-A Poetic Opera. It was a world premiere and we and the rest of the audience were the first to see it. (Please excuse the blurriness of the pictures. We weren't allowed and my wife had to take this picture on the sly.)

The name of the piece is a misnomer. An opera is a series of musical pieces linked by a loose (often very loose) story line. There is no such common thread here. A more accurate name for this piece should have been Lincoln-The Choral Work. As the composer George Andoniadis stated in his notes, it was a true meditation on our President.

The soloists Timothy Bentch and Elizabeth Racheva gave good performances as the First Couple. They delivered their vocal parts with grace and skill like the experienced opera singers that they are. Ms. Racheva also acted well as the concerned Mary Todd Lincoln when her husband recounts the dream of his assassination. The Manhattan Choral Ensemble also did a fine job as the chorus in the work. The organizers picked the concern venue very well. The Holy Trinity Church was an excellent concern setting. The acoustics were fantastic as we heard the soloists' voices reverberated through the building's dome.

The music was strong. The piece started with an excellent violin solo. Lincoln's recounting of his dream is haunting and dramatic. The best portion of the piece is the Praying, set to the words of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. There is also a lovely duet at the end between the character Eternity and Lincoln.

Despite the strength of the music, my chief criticism is the content of the piece. There is absolutely no sense of Lincoln the individual. The man of vision, determination and wit is lost in this piece. The composer focuses excessively on his martyrdom. The words of the libretto reinforce this sense of doom. In one portion, Lincoln sings, "I think we are near the end at last." The music and the choral works make it sound as if the President's death was preordained. We all know that it wasn't. Given the relentless melancholy of the work, it should have been called a Requiem for Lincoln.

Though the music is well-done, Lincoln-A Poetic Opera does not do true justice to Lincoln the man.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Civil War Joke-Zinger from Old Abe

This one is from President Lincoln himself. When he heard about the capture of General Stoughton by the Confederate cavalry leader John Mosby, the President took note of the fact that the other side had also commandeered almost sixty well-bred steeds. He remarked,"I'm sorry for that. I can make generals. I can't make horses."
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