General News

The House Divided ProjectI am a proud member of the Dickinson College Class of 1983. My friend and mentor Brian Pohanka was also an alum of Dickinson (Class of 1977), and his family endowed a chair in his honor when it became obvious that his cancer was terminal. Prof. Matthew Pinsker, who is the chairman of the College’s history department, holds the Brian C. Pohanka Faculty Chair in American Civil War History, and for five years, he and Prof. John Osborn (who was actively teaching when I was a student at the College many moons ago) have been working out the details of a large project called the House Divided Project.

Having ironed out the bugs, the project–which seeks to provide a new approach to teaching school children about Eighteenth Century history by using the College as a window on events–is now being formally launched just in time for the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. I received the following press release from Matt earlier today, and I am proud to announce the launch of the project on his behalf here on the blog:


Matthew Pinsker

717-333-1515 or

Dickinson College Launches House Divided Project to Honor Civil War Anniversary

Dickinson College will host a series of events at the outset of the Civil War 150th anniversary (April 15 and 16) to formally launch the House Divided Project, an innovative effort to provide 21st century tools for teaching 19th-century topics in America’s K-12 classrooms. The free events begin with a documentary film festival at the Carlisle Theatre on Friday, April 15. On Saturday, April 16, there will be a teacher development workshop, the nation’s first “augmented reality” tour of Underground Railroad and Civil War sites from the newly opened Old Courthouse in Carlisle, and a keynote address on Civil War memory by noted historian David Blight in the evening. All events are free and most are open to the public; some require online registration.

Faculty, staff and undergraduate students at Dickinson have been building and testing the House Divided Project for the last five years, creating nearly two dozen Web sites offering public domain historical content and free digital tools on a variety of subjects from the period 1840 to 1880. House Divided uses Dickinson College as a window and a starting point for a unique focus on the Civil War Era. The college was one of the few institutions of higher education in the country with a student body that was half-northern and half-southern. Two of its graduates also were two of the most powerful men in the country – President James Buchanan, class of 1809 (1857-1861) and Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, class of 1795 (1835-1864).

At the center of the House Divided Project is a powerful database dubbed the “research engine,” which includes more than 10,000 historic images and hundreds of thousands of individual records connected together in an easy-to-use interface designed to help teach the difference between “search” and “research” ( for more details). America’s Civil War magazine dubbed the House Divided research engine, “one of the most compelling sesquicentennial online projects.”

· Friday, April 15, 7 p.m. Free. Documentary Film Festival features dramatic stories about Civil War Carlisle, including the tale of an entire regiment of local soldiers captured and imprisoned at the infamous Andersonville prison camp. The films will be shown in the Carlisle Theater at 44 W. High St. and will also feature a live musical performance of period songs by Dickinson students and faculty.

· Saturday, April 16, 9 a.m. Project Director Matthew Pinsker will lead a teacher workshop focusing on how to use the latest technology for K-12 lessons on the Civil War. Open to K-12 educators and home schooling parents. Advance registration required at: . Email or call 717-245-1525 with questions.

· Saturday, April 16, 1 p.m – 3 p.m. Faculty and students from House Divided will unveil the nation’s first “augmented reality” tour of Underground Railroad and Civil War sites using the latest tools in smart phone/computer tablet technology. The tours will begin from the newly opened Old Courthouse in downtown Carlisle, recently recognized by the National Park Service as one of the nation’s premier Underground Railroad sites in the National Network to Freedom. Online reservations encouraged at

· Saturday, April 16, 7 p.m., Anita Tuvin Schlecter (ATS) Auditorium, Yale University historian and author of “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory” (2001), David Blight will explore the meaning of the conflict at the beginning of its 150th anniversary in a keynote address entitled: “American Oracle: The Memory of the Civil War.” Book signing to follow. This event is co-sponsored by The Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues and the history department. For more information on the House Divided Project, please email or call 717-245-1525.

John Osborne and Matthew Pinsker are co-directors of the House Divided Project. Osborne is an emeritus professor of history from Dickinson College. Pinsker is an associate professor of history and holder of The Brian C. Pohanka ’77 Faculty Chair in American Civil War History at Dickinson and author of Lincoln’s Sanctuary (Oxford, 2003).

For more information on the House Divided Project and the launch weekend events, please call Matthew Pinsker at 717-333-1515 or email

This is a great thing for my alma mater, and will also hopefully provide good tools for teaching the Civil War to school children. Kudos to Matt and Professor Osborn for their work. Please check out The House Divided Project.

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My friend and co-author Michael Aubrecht is one of the producers of a well-regarded documentary film called The Angel of Marye’s Heights, about Sgt. Richard Kirkland of South Carolina. Michael asked me if I would mind passing along that the film is now available for home use on DVD, and can be purchased here. Please help support independent documentary film making.

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This is one of those cases that ties up both my interest in Civil War history as well as my day job. Hat tip to Charlie Knight for bringing this to my attention.

This article appeared in the February 11, 2011 edition of The Virginian-Pilot newspaper:

Williamsburg collector will fight for Civil War sword
Posted to: Military News Williamsburg – James City

By Tim McGlone
The Virginian-Pilot
© February 11, 2011


Civil War artifacts collector Donald Tharpe paid $35,000 for a one-of-a-kind, Tiffany-made sword, and he’s not about to give it up easily.

Brown University in Providence, R.I., is suing Tharpe in federal court, seeking the return of the Col. Rush C. Hawkins sword. The university considers the 1863 silver-and-steel saber priceless.

At a hearing Thursday, U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar set a Sept. 7 trial date to settle the matter but ordered both sides to try to work it out before then. He noted that “possession is 90 percent of good title.”

“I think we’re going to be able to resolve it,” said Brown attorney Robert McFarland.

Doumar previously issued an injunction preventing any transfer of the sword. Tharpe, who lives in Williamsburg, had loaned the sword to a Newport News museum but retrieved it in December and had it placed in a secure art storage facility in Manhattan.

Tharpe’s attorney, Alan Silber of New Jersey, told the judge that Tharpe is the rightful owner because officials at Brown previously relinquished its rights and the statute of limitations has since expired. Brown, he said, found the sword with a Midwest dealer around 1991 but failed to sue for ownership then.

Tharpe bought the sword from an Illinois antiques dealer in 1992 for $35,000, Silber said.

Tracing the sword back to Brown would be difficult, Silber said. The Illinois dealer bought it from a dealer in Pennsylvania, who bought it from another dealer in Massachusetts, who has since died.

Plus, there may not be enough evidence to prove that the sword is the actual 1863 Hawkins sword, he said. There may be multiple Hawkins swords.

Silber and a Brown representative took the sword’s case to the storage center in New York on Feb. 8 to see whether it would fit. The two sides dispute whether it did.

“They believe it did, we believe it did not,” Silber said.

Tharpe and his wife were in court Thursday morning but declined to comment.

Brown has said the sword was stolen from its collection in the mid-1970s and that it maintains ownership despite several transfers since then.

The sword was a gift to Union Col. Rush C. Hawkins for his battlefield successes during the Civil War.

Hawkins, who became a general, later donated the sword and most of his art, mementos and books to Brown and housed them in the Annmary Brown Memorial at the university, which he had built in honor of his wife, the daughter of one of Brown’s founders.

Tim McGlone, (757) 446-2343,

Rush Hawkins commanded the 9th New York Infantry, also known as Hawkins’ Zouaves. The 9th New York was part of the Ninth Corps, and fought during Burnside’s North Carolina Expedition and then in the 1862 Maryland Campaign. The 9th New York made the farthest advance into the town of Sharpsburg during the September 17, 1862 Battle of Antietam, and their monument is one of my favorite monuments to grace the Antietam battlefield. He was badly wounded in North Carolina in 1862, and mustered out of service in 1863 when the regiment’s two-year term of enlistment expired. He was brevetted to brigadier general of volunteers, and was a prominent attorney in New York City. The irony of this situation would not be lost on him.

The Civil War historian and preservationist in me screams that the sword is the property of Brown University and that it needs to be returned immediately. However, the lawyer in me realizes that it’s not that simple. The sword was stolen, and then changed hands several times before Mr. Tharpe ended up with it.

Longstanding Virginia law provides that one who does not have title to goods cannot transfer title to a buyer, even a bona fide purchaser for value without notice. Thus, a thief cannot pass title to stolen goods even to an innocent purchaser who pays for the stolen goods. However, Virginia law has also recognized that a person who purchases goods from one possessing only voidable title can nevertheless receive good title to the goods purchased.

These principles have been implicitly recognized in Virginia Code § 8.2-403(1), which states, in pertinent part:

A purchaser of goods acquires all title which his transferor had or had the power to transfer…. A person with voidable title has power to transfer a good title to a good faith purchaser for value. When goods have been delivered under a transaction of purchase the purchaser has such power even though

(d) the delivery was procured through fraud punishable as larcenous under the criminal law.

So, there are a couple of critical questions that must be answered in this lawsuit: Was Tharpe a bona fide purchaser for value without notice? Should he have known that the sword was stolen? And was the seller’s title to the sword voidable? Or was it void from the beginning?

Under the voidable-title doctrine, an individual who procures goods by larcenous conduct acquires a voidable title to the goods and therefore may pass valid title to those goods in a “transaction of purchase” to a bona fide purchaser for value without notice. Title in the thief is voidable “because the true owner is entitled to rescind the transaction and recover the goods from that individual. The right of rescission is cut off, however, by a transaction to a good faith purchaser.” Thus, once title to the goods has passed to the good-faith purchaser by a transaction of purchase, the original owner has no recourse to recover said goods.

Therefore, under the “voidable title” doctrine, it appears that Mr. Tharpe may have acquired good title to the sword, even though it was stolen–assuming he had no notice that it was stolen and acted in good faith in purchasing it. The question of what he knew and when he knew it will be absolutely critical to the outcome of this case, which may well conflict with my instincts as a preservationist and will undoubtedly cause a loud and unhappy reaction from a lot of people.

This will be an interesting case to monitor, and I will post updates as they become available.

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Today saw the occurrence of an event that I’ve been waiting for since 1974. Today, I signed the publishing contract for You Stink! Baseball’s Terrible Teams and Pathetic Players, which I’ve written with my friend Michael Aubrecht. I first came up with this idea as a thirteen year old in 1974, and I can’t really describe how excited I am to finally see that dream come to fruition.

The book will be published by The Kent State University Press, and will be out in time for the 2012 baseball season.

More as things move toward publication.

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Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s faithful and famous war horse, Old Baldy came home yesterday. It’s about time.

From today’s issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Old Baldy returns to Grand Army of the Republic Museum

By Michael Vitez

Inquirer Staff Writer

Old Baldy came home Sunday.

And it was a fine new home, and homecoming, for the preserved head of one of the most famous horses in the land, at the Grand Army of the Republic Museum in the city’s Frankford section.

Old Baldy was no thoroughbred, just a handsome, brown horse with four white feet and a white blaze on his face. But he survived a Triple Crown of his own – shrapnel to the nose and flank at the First Battle of Bull Run, a shot through the neck at Antietam, and a musket ball to the belly at Gettysburg that finally ended his combat service.

“He was always able to come forward, despite wounds, despite illness, despite exhaustion. He was always ready to go,” said Anthony Waskie, a Civil War historian, author, and Temple University professor who serves on the museum board.

“The men saw something in the horse, something we admire in people that face adversity and prevail. He became an icon.”

Old Baldy was ridden by Gen. David Hunter at the first Bull Run, and sent to the Cavalry Depot in Washington to recuperate. There, Gen. George C. Meade bought him for $150, and Meade rode him faithfully through battle after battle.

“At Antietam,” Waskie said, “he was shot, and seemed to be dead on the ground, flat . . . and the next day Meade sent his valet to go and get his saddle. And when the valet went into the field, the horse was up and grazing.”

On July 2, 1863, the second day at Gettysburg, Meade, by then commander of all Union troops, was rallying his men on Cemetery Ridge when Old Baldy was shot out from under him.

On July 5, two days after the famous battle had ended, leaving 50,000 casualties, Meade included in a letter home, “Baldy was shot again, and I fear will not get over it.”

Three days later he wrote: “I did not think he could live, but the old fellow has such a wonderful tenacity of life that I am in hopes he will.”

Baldy survived the war, but saw no more combat.

After the war, Meade returned home to Philadelphia, where, among other duties, he became commissioner of Fairmount Park, and he often rode Old Baldy on the newly constructed trails that the general, trained as an engineer, helped design.

When Meade died on Nov. 11, 1872, Old Baldy marched in his funeral procession to Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Meade was not flashy, Waskie said, but he had earned the respect and affection of his men. “He wouldn’t waste their lives unnecessarily, paid them on time, and fed them well,” he said. “The horse became associated with the man, and it took on even more importance after Meade died.”

Old Baldy lived another decade, to age 30, cared for by a friend of Meade’s near Jenkintown.

When the horse could no longer stand, a veterinarian put him down with poison, as Meade had wished. The Public Spirit of Jenkintown reported on Dec. 23, 1882:

“Baldy in life was as trustful as brave, and he swallowed with all confidence the two ounces of cyanide of potash that was poured down his throat . . .. A few more struggles and the old warhorse stentorously breathed his gallant life away.”

Two men who served with Meade read the news report and went on Christmas Eve to Jenkintown, where they received permission to take the horse’s head and have it stuffed and mounted on an ebony shield, inscribed with a record of his service. The men presented it to Post No. 1 of the Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans organization of its time.

That post evolved into the museum in Frankford, but it fell into such disrepair in the 1970s that it closed temporarily, and Old Baldy was transferred to the Civil War Museum on Pine Street in Center City.

When that museum closed in 2008, a legal struggle ensued, and Sunday, to the great joy of members of the Frankford museum, Old Baldy returned to what they consider his rightful home. The museum, at 4278 Griscom St. (, is open Tuesdays from noon to 4 p.m. and the first Sunday of every month from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

The museum prepared a special room just for Old Baldy. After a ribbon cutting, about 50 people walked through, admiringly.

“Wow, what a history!” said Jim Souder of South Jersey. “What a horse!”

Eric Schmincke, museum president, invited everyone up to the second floor for a champagne toast. Meade’s favorite drink was champagne, and the general was known to drink it in the saddle.

“To Old Baldy,” Schmincke said, “and all who protected the Union.”

For years, Old Baldy resided in the old Civil War Museum and Library in Philadelphia, but when the organization ran into serious financial woes after the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania welshed on a commitment to fund a new building, the collection of artifacts, including Old Baldy, was the subject of a drawn-out legal battle. I’m glad that it finally got resolved and that Old Baldy has an appropriate home. Kudos to the G.A.R. Museum and its dedicated cadre of volunteers for making this happen.

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23 Sep 2010, by

A worthy cause

In 1882, General William T. Sherman donated a twelve-pound Parrott gun to his home town of Lancaster, Ohio. That gun is still there to this day, situated in a small city park next to a monument to Cump Sherman. Unfortunately, the ravages of time and weather haven’t been kind to the gun’s carriage, which is rapidly deteriorating. The local SCV camp has taken on a campaign to Save the Cannon, by raising funds to replace the carriage. On October 23, the campaign is hosting an evening with General Sherman to raise funds for the purchase of a new carriage, and I’ve donated some books for the fundraising auction and also just purchased a brick in honor of all the brave men who followed the guidon. If you have a couple of spare dollars and want to help a worthy cause, I hope you will consider this one.

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I’ve got a couple of events coming up in the next few weeks, and I thought I would post some details in case anyone is interested in checking them out.

Next Wednesday, August 18, I will be speaking to the Civil War Forum of Metropolitan New York, which meets at the Roger Smith Hotel, located at Lexington Avenue and 47th Street. The cost is $35.00 for members and $45.00 for guests. An RSVP is required. Details may be found on the Forum’s web site. I will speaking on Jeb Stuart’s controversial ride to Gettysburg.

On Tuesday, September 14, I will be giving the same talk to the First Defenders Civil War Roundtable, which is located in my hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania. The meeting will be held at Golden Oaks Golf Club in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania. The meeting begins at 6:30, and reservations are required.

I hope to see some of you there.

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Spotted in the gift shop of the new Visitor Center in Gettysburg…..

This is just wrong!!!

This is wrong in more ways than I can count…..

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I am a charter member of the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable. I attended the first meeting in 1988, and I was its second president and second program chair. I have been involved with the organization from the very beginning. The organization has grown and evolved over the years, and it has now launched its own website, which I invite you to check out. I have added a link under the Civil War Sites of Interest section. Kudos to CWRT president Tim Maurice for getting this site launched.

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And for the winner of this month’s Dumb-Ass Reenactor of the Month Award, I give you this brilliant Montana school superintendent. From the March 8 edition of the Billings Gazette:

Superintendent accidentally discharges muzzleloader in class

ROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Monday, March 8, 2010 10:19 pm | (60) Comments

Dwain Haggard’s high school history lesson on Friday backfired.

Haggard, who used to be a Civil War reenactor, was showing the five students in Reed Point High’s American history class his replica antique black powder muzzleloader when the gun fired and lodged a ball in the front wall of the classroom.

“I can’t explain how it was loaded,” Haggard said.

Haggard has been district superintendent since 2007, and each year he’s visited the high school’s American history class to show off his Civil War-era equipment. When he shows the muzzleloader, he finishes the demonstration by firing a cap, which makes a small “pop” when he pulls the trigger, he said.

But this time, “when I dropped the hammer on it, to all of our surprise, it went off,” he said.

Jake Bare, a junior at Reed Point High, was in the class when the gun fired. He said it caught everybody off guard.

When Haggard pulled the trigger, there was a loud bang,and the room filled with smoke, Bare said.

“Holy criminy, you just shot the map,” he said.

Indeed, the ball shot through the “o” in the word “North” at the top of the map and lodged in the wall, Haggard said.

The gun was never pointed at the students once Haggard inserted the cap. He was facing away from the students, pointing the gun toward the ceiling when he pulled the trigger.

The students were “never really in danger,” he said.

After settling down the students and dismissing class, Haggard said, he called the school board to explain what happened and then called the parents of the five students.

“None of them were upset with me,” he said.

One father, he said, laughed until he cried.

The board and his staff have been supportive, he said.

He described the incident as “bitter irony.” As superintendent, Haggard has worked with the school to increase safety at the school, updating its drills and the training staff receives.

Hat tip to John Maass for bringing this priceless little gem to my attention.

Can you say “dumb-ass,” boys and girls?

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