General musings

Susan and I visited some friends in Springfield, Illinois this weekend. We just got home. They only moved there a few months ago, so this was our first time out to visit them. It was also my first visit to Springfield, which means it’s the first time I’ve seen any of the Lincoln sites there.

Springfield, of course, was Abraham Lincoln’s home for something like 17 years before his election as President of the United States, and his body was returned there for entombment after his assassination. He lived there, practiced law there, and raised his family there. Even though Springfield is the capital of Illinois to this day, Abraham Lincoln’s presence is everywhere there. It’s unavoidable.

In downtown Springfield, you will find the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, the Abraham Lincoln home and preserved neighborhood, the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, the Old State Capitol Building (where the Lincoln/Douglas debates occurred), and, of course, the magnificent Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery. There are multiple statues of him throughout the downtown. Not far away–just a few miles–is Lincoln’s New Salem, where he operated a general store for several years before beginning his legal career in Springfield.

We had limited time, so we didn’t get to see everything. We decided to reserve a visit to the Lincoln home and preserved neighborhood, New Salem, and the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office for our next visit. We began our visit to the Lincoln Tomb, which is our second presidential tomb in three weeks (we visited Grant’s Tomb in New York City last month). The Lincoln Tomb is very beautiful, and a very appropriate tribute to the greatest American President. President Lincoln, his wife Mary, and their two younger sons, Willie and Tad, are entombed there. The monument features a standing figure of Lincoln, surrounded by the soldiers who preserved the Union. The temporary crypt where he was buried–and his body was nearly stolen from–also still exists. It’s on the hillside behind the main tomb. I left there with a real sense of awe. I’ve visited a number of presidential graves before, but I have never come away with the feeling that I left Lincoln’s Tomb carrying. On one hand, it was deep sadness, knowing that our greatest President was assassinated at his greatest moment of triumph, but with a deep respect for the fact that I had just visited the final resting place of a truly great man.

When we left there, we then drove by the site of the Lincoln Home and neighborhood (and the Herndon-Lincoln Law Office), just to get a look, and then we went to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. For those unfamiliar with it, the Museum opened in 2005, and it’s quite a facility. It’s enormous, and someone spent a vast amount of money building it. It’s filled with very accurate reproductions of various important scenes from Lincoln’s life, from the cabin where he spent his boyhood, to his law office, to the White House, to Ford’s Theater, and finally, to his catafalque at the Illinois State House. It thoroughly documents his life, and is very informative, especially for those not familiar with his life. As far as that goes, it kind of sets the gold standard for this sort of interactive museum. At the same time, I was somewhat disappointed with how few actual artifacts pertaining to the 16th President are there. There’s a small room, called The Treasures Gallery, that has some tremendous items, such as one of the five handwritten drafts of the Gettysburg Address, written out by Lincoln himself for Edward Everett. This small collection also includes the kid gloves that Lincoln had in his pocket when he was shot, and the feathered fan that Mrs. Lincoln was carrying that night. The few real artifacts are remarkable, but there are very few of them. I frankly expected more of them and was surprised with how few there were.

There is also a very impressive gift shop in the museum. When I got there, I realized that it’s been many years since I purchased or even read a Lincoln biography, so I purchased Ronald C. White’s well-received 2009 Lincoln bio, which I will read shortly. Susan, who can’t resist this sort of thing, purchased the very silly Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

On another note, I have long maintained a fascination with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, the great architect. The Dana-Thomas House, which was one of Wright’s last prairie houses, and the largest and best preserved example of the prairie houses, can also be found in downtown Springfield. We made a quick visit to the site, long enough to spend some money in the gift shop, but didn’t have time to take a tour of the house. I definitely want to go back and take the full tour of the house, as it’s really spectacular.

As I said, Abraham Lincoln’s presence in Springfield is palpable, and it’s everywhere. There’s so much of it to see that it’s actually a little overwhelming. I will have to see the rest of it on our next visit. I left Springfield with an even greater appreciation of our greatest President, and for his towering presence that still lingers over the city 145 years after his tragic death at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. It’s almost as if he’s still there.

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With many thanks to Jim Schmidt for bringing this little gem to my attention, I give you more dumbass re-enactors…

From the July 6, 2010 issue of the Morris County [NJ] Daily Record comes these candidates for dumbass re-enactors of the year:

Hanover cops: 2 injured when mistaken Civil War gun powder tube explodes


HANOVER — A 66-year-old Livingston man was burned when a man asked him for a light and, instead of lighting a cigarette as he thought, he lit a paper cartridge filled with gun powder.

Police said Joseph Princiotta, 42, of Jersey City, obtained the cartridge from his friend, a Civil War re-enactor, who had the tube of gun powder with some of his re-enactment gear.

The incident occurred last Wednesday around midnight.

Police said Princiotta thought it was a firecracker and asked the alleged victim to light it as he was walking through the parking lot of the Brookside Diner, Hanover Detective Earle Seely said. The gun powder ignited, flared up and burned the man’s arm. He was taken to St. Baranabas hospital and released. Princiotta had slight burns on his hand as well.

Princiotta was charged with simple assault.

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

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I wanted to take a moment to wish all of my readers a happy and safe Independence Day, and to take a moment to thank all of our veterans, past, present, and future, for the sacrifices that they have made to give us a country where we can celebrate our independence not through martial displays, but through family gatherings and happy times spent with family and friends.

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For about fifteen years now, I have made a point of going to the annual Civil War show in Mansfield, Ohio, which is always held the first weekend in May. It’s been a place to catch up with friends, to perhaps buy something, and to work my network. I usually run into at least one regular reader of this blog there. However, last year’s show introduced World War I and World War II relics, and that stuff took up about half of the show. A lot of the vendors that I’ve visited over the years were not there last year and I don’t expect to see them this year either. It’s just not worth the time or money to attend under these circumstances.

Since a big chunk of the show is going to be taken up by irrelevant stuff, which will keep many of my regular vendors from attending, for the first time in something like fifteen years, I will not be attending the show in Mansfield this year. As long as it’s not exclusively a Civil War show, I very seriously doubt that I will ever go again. So, for those of you who were hoping to see me there this weekend, I regret that I won’t be there. I regret that, but it’s not worth the time or effort to go to a show that’s becoming more and more irrelevant each year.

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With special thanks to reader Chris Evans for providing this link, I give you some more moronic re-enactors, written be a re-enactor of the 4th Virginia Cavalry:

About six years back, my pard and I decided to see how many events we could do in one year. [Obviously single or well on the way to a divorce.] We do not venture north of Gettysburg much, as we are spoiled on all the wonderful events on the actual battlefields here in Maryland and in Virginia. I was however intrigued by an ad in the Camp Chase Gazette, for an Analomink, NY event. Soon after arriving at this event, we forever after called it “Analmink”. The ad stated, “Indiscriminate firing of weapons in camp is encouraged!”

I’m convinced that surveyors within 70 miles of this place would have been put out of business, for lack of yellow survey tape, as it had all been bought up and sewn to the uniforms of these guys. 99% of the people there were dismounted cavalry.

The weapon of choice was the chromed Remington revolver, with at least two extra cylinders. The “battlefield” was a baseball field next to a bar (yes a saloon, tavern). When any of the combatants needed to reload, they entered the bar, ordered a beer and sat on the bar stool to reload. [An amenity.] Our mouths were agape by time the “battle scene” was ready to start, as there’d been continuous firing going on all day. The small valley, where the camp was situated, was covered by a thick cloud of burnt powder smoke.

Suddenly from out of nowhere, a dilapidated pick-up truck hove into view with fenders flapping and dragging what was supposed to pass as a horse trailer. The engine gave off a cacophony of grinding noises and smoke. Various and sundry engine parts and tools were in the bed, along with a rebuilt “big horn” saddle with the horn cut off. The doors were emblazoned with a crude, handwritten legend: “Rebel Construction Co.” Out jumps a young man, somewhat lost in the cloud of dust, exhaust fumes and the accumulated pall from the morning’s unbridled skirmishing. He stood akimbo, hands on hips and announced for all to hear: “I’m Lt. (name deleted). I’ve just completed officer’s school, so I’ll take charge of all “Rebel” cavalry.” [Assertiveness training obviously formed a part of officer school.] We looked at each other with mild amusement and continued to stir the beans we were preparing for lunch. Somehow the Lt. had enough native savvy to realize that he was not going to be carried into battle on our shoulders and he went about his business, tacking up his horse.

He was the only other local reenactor who was mounted, except for Rush’s Lancers. This group contained 19 troopers, all of which had deadly-looking lances to go with their chromed Remingtons, but only one horse among them. Their cavalry boots were home-altered Dingos that had extra leather sewn on the tops. They all wore scarlet hankies about their necks and appeared very serious about their impression. [Well, at least they were all attired the same. You have got to give them that.] However, we did have to stifle laughter when their bugler called them “to horse.” They all lined up with their lances, dismounted, except for the one guy whose turn it was to use the horse. Once the battle was joined, it overflowed the ball field and continued up the mountainside. At one point we spotted a Louisiana flag and rode over to warn, what we mistook to be a true southern unit, of a Yankee flanking move. The “Col.”, covered in yellow survey tape and with an obvious NJ accent rallied his men with the cry: “Git youse guns goys, we gotta killed some Yankees heah!” It was not hard for the spectators to know where the combatants were, for the cloud of gun smoke that continually shifted back and forth across the face of the mountain.

Later, when we figured all black powder had to have been expended, the weary fighters came off the mountain and entered the bar to reload and refresh, immediately after which, the combat was renewed. Nobody was safe, even in the portajohns (doors were kicked in, in order to fire upon the hapless occupants). [!] As we continued to observe this spectacle, an officer entered our camp to assign picket duty for the night. We allowed as how we did not mind standing guard, but what in God’s name were we to guard against, as every “no-no” of reenacting was already being carried on in the open during daylight? The officer told us that we needed to guard against “civilians” participating in the skirmishes. “Well, golly Sir, look at this herd. Most of these guys are wearing Levi’s and white shirts. Who can tell who’s a civilian?” He blew off our concerns and assigned us an hour to “stand watch.”

At 2330 hrs., we were sitting in the bleachers with a cold beer watching in amazement as the lines formed for yet another charge. These guys never tired of burning powder. When we loaded our mounts for the trip back to Maryland, one of the “organizers” came over to shake our hands and express his hope that we had enjoyed the “premiere Civil War event in NY!” Our stomachs hurt and tears ran down our cheeks from the laughter that was generated on the ride back home. [Sounds like a successful weekend, then. Laughter will add years to one’s life, authentic reenacting won’t.] We relived what we’d seen, but we still did not believe it. I’ve related this story several times and even carried the ad for awhile. The ad said it all:”indiscriminate firing in camp is encouraged!”

Steven in Maryland, 4th Virginia Cavalry

As Bugs Bunny would say, “what a bunch of maroons!” Thanks, Chris. I needed the laugh.

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Today, I received the following from Brenda McKean, who is the secretary of the Friends of the Bennett Place State Historic Site. Ms. McKean left a comment on a very old post on this blog (from December 2005). Since the original post is so old, and I thought her message was so important, I have decided to feature it here.

Hello, I am the secretary for “Friends of the Bennett Place” State Historic Site.. For years I have wanted to have the descendants of those men present at the surrender to come to the yearly April re-enactment event and tell their side of the story. This is done in Plymouth, NC and the people are called the “Plymouth Pilgrims”. The names of teh fallen on both sides are read, then both sides throw a wreath in the river. While we can’t do the exact same thing here, it would be poignant to have the northern side represented.

I would like to invite the descendants to the 145th anniversary event April 17th-18th, 2010

Here is a link to the Bennett Place official website. Thanks for writing, Ms. McKean, and I hope that this brings some of the descendants to your event in April.

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31 Dec 2009, by

Happy New Year!

I wish each and every one of you a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year. 2009 was a pretty crappy year no matter how you slice it, so here’s hoping that 2010 is a substantial improvement for all of us. I know 2009 won’t be missed around our household.

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24 Dec 2009, by

Happy Holidays

I wanted to take a moment to thank each and every one of you who visits this site and supports my efforts. This year was a rough year for me, with needing to take a break and all. Thank you.

I wish each and every one of you a merry Christmas, happy Festivus (for the rest of us), Kwanzaa, and a belated happy Chanukah. For those of you who celebrate Christmas, I sincerely hope that you find no lumps of coal in your stockings tomorrow.

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Earlier today, I had a note on Facebook from someone who asked me if the rumors that I was going to be named the next superintendent of the National Military Park at Gettysburg were true. After I stopped laughing hysterically and got over being flattered that someone would even consider me qualified for such a position, I assured the person who asked that they were nothing but rumors, that the next superintendent would come from the ranks of the National Park Service, and that there was precisely a zero percent chance of that person being me.

That was a good laugh, and one I desperately needed after a weekend of misery with an ugly, ugly stomach virus. I even called J.D. and shared the good laugh with him.

Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that I could somehow be eligible for the position, there’s no way. I have way too little patience for, or tolerance for, political game playing. As a general rule, I won’t play political games, and nobody would ever call me politically correct, and those are traits that are absolutely necessary for the superintendent at Gettysburg. I wouldn’t last long in that particular fishbowl, and I couldn’t imagine wanting to do so.

So, fear not. Those rumors are most assuredly not true. Thanks for the flattery and for the good laugh, though.

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30 Nov 2009, by

From Mike Phipps

Mike PhippsBack in May 2007, I posted a report that my friend Staff Sergeant Mike Phipps had been wounded in Iraq. Lots of visitors to the site left notes, and Mike’s ex-wife Kelly provided some updates as to Mike’s status and condition. Apparently, Mike didn’t learn of this post until today. He’s back in Iraq, finishing up his third tour of duty there. He asked me to post this for him:

My friend and fellow John Buford fan Eric Wittenberg posted a very touching message to me in May 2007 concerning my wounding in Iraq on his website. Unfortuneatly, I did not see this posting or the numerous nice comments that followed it from people I know and some who I don’t know. I apologize: but to say I am not a “computer guy” would be the understatement of the year. Also at that time I was on some very nice medications which I highly recommend. On November 30 I chanced across Eric’s post and asked him to post this belated message to those who wished me well.

Thanks to:
– my ex-wife Kelly who knows the tough life of the U.S. Army well.
-my aunt Sharon who has always been there for me.
-my old high school and college friend Episcopal Minister Taylor Albright…at least one of us didn’t go to the dark side.
-my cousin Kathy who has 2 West Point officers as sons.
-my old Infantry Officer Basic buddy Mike Peters who is now a Houston PD homicide detective…better him than me.
-my old cop buddy, the late Frank Spadaro…see you in cop heaven.
-Rhonda Travis, a direct descendant of William Barrett Travis…I’m glad you are doing well.
– my old 27th Conn. buddy Ron…have a few for me.
-Heather and Matt Philbin (of Winslow’s Battery and The Irish Bde.) who probably have as many ‘Mike Phipps’ stories as anyone..I deny most of them.
-noted Civil War Historian Brooks Simpson.
-my good friend Adams County Historical Society President Wayne Motts…without a doubt the most enthusiastic battlefield guide ever and a guy who has helped me out of numerous jams.
-Mike Nugent, Chris Swift, Brian S., Don, Ian Duncanson, Jim Studnicki, and finally motor coach operator extraordinaire Tony.

My e-mail is Thanks again for your kind thoughts back in 07.

Mike told me earlier today that he would be returning to his home at Fort Hood next month. Keep your head down and your powder dry, Mike.

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