General musings

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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147 years ago today, Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and George B. McClellan’s cobbled-together version of the Army of the Potomac met on the banks of Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland. After a full day of brutal, bloody slugging, the parties spent September 18 staring at each other and licking their respective wounds, and then Lee withdrew across the Potomac, back into Virginia. The single bloodiest day of the war ended with nearly 23,000 casualties between the two armies. The battle itself is often called a tactical draw but a strategic victory for the Union since Lee’s invasion of the north was repulsed there.

Antietam is a beautiful, mostly pristine place. For that reason, it has long been one of my very favorite battlefields. Despite the constant and inevitable creep of “progress” southward toward the battlefield from Hagerstown, it nevertheless lacks the chaos and touristy schlock associated with Gettysburg, but the story–and the beauty of the countryside–are equally compelling.

Last October, the battlefield yielded up another of the many blue-suited casualties who gave the last full measure of their devotion there. The remains of a New Yorker whose name and identity are known only to God who died and was buried in the Miller Cornfield were sent home for burial in the Saratoga National Cemetery on September 15. Ranger Mannie Gentile has documented the ceremony by which this soldier’s remains were turned over to the New York National Guard to be taken home for burial. The pictures are quite moving and drive home the fact that we are still touched by the sacrifices made by the young men who fought and died for causes that they believed in to this day.

Here’s to the nearly 120,000 Americans who fought and died that warm, beautiful September day 147 years ago…..

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15 Sep 2009, by

Patrick Swayze

Normally, I would not mention the passing of an actor like Patrick Swayze in this blog. As lamentable and sad as that might be, lots of actors have died without being mentioned here. Swayze’s passing is a notable exception, because the first role I ever remember seeing him in was in a pot-boiling, bodice-ripping mini-series about the Civil War.

North and SouthIn 1985, Swayze starred in an awful production called North and South, based on the novels by John Jakes. Swayze played Orry Main of South Carolina, a West Pointer who goes with his state when it secedes from the Union. The series followed his story, as well as that of his best friend from West Point, George Hazard, a Yankee. It was awful–large leaps of faith that diverged from the truth–with bad overacting and a terribly convoluted and unrealistic story. It was, perhaps, one of the very cheesiest productions in the history of Hollywood, but it did have an unbelievable cast. Among the many stars who appeared were Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, Hal Holbrook (as Abraham Lincoln), Forrest Whitaker, Johnny Cash, and lots of others. There’s no doubt that ABC spent a fortune on it, and even though it was incredibly cheesy, it was a huge success. It was such a huge success that they did two sequels, just as cheesy. Swayze appeared in the first sequel but not the second.

These bad mini-series are the last time that Hollywood has tried to tackle the Civil War on a large scale, and the 18 episodes of the three series cover a lot of ground, even if they are pot-boiling, bodice-ripping, and often historically inaccurate. They brought the drama of the Civil War to the unwashed masses, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

While I have no doubt that the vast majority of the women who watched this dreck did so to get a big dose of beefcake, undoubtedly a few became interested in the Civil War as a result. For that reason, the passing of Patrick Swayze is noteworthy and lamentable. If he helped to spur interest in the Civil War in even one person as a consequence of his performances, then that’s a good thing, and I regret his death.

Besides, this is the same man who uttered THE cheesiest move line ever, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” from the end of Dirty Dancing. The man had a real gift for cheesy performances, and I respect that.

Rest in peace, Patrick, and thanks for the cheese.

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From Associated Content:

A series of Islamic cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammad have been declined for publication by Yale University Press. The Ivy League school initially planned to include them in a book about how the cartoons incited violence from Muslim fanatics against the original publishers of the cartoons, which included one in a Danish newspaper four years ago.

Yale intended for the book and the inclusion of the cartoons to stimulate intellectual debate on why Muslims would be outraged by the depictions of their prophet. In Sunni Islam, orthodox sharia forbids the portrayal of Muhammad or other human or animal figures, while Shi’ite Islam allows the depiction of humans. There are several Persian paintings that exist that in fact portray Muhammad, such as the “Muhammad Received by the Four Archangels” one painted in 1436. Of course, there is next to no criticism from most Muslims against these paintings, if they know of their existence. Islam believes the first commandment sets the precedence for their law, which forbids the making of images to be worshiped. There is nothing in the first commandment in Judeo-Christian law that forbids the making of images for decoration, such as paintings and other artwork.

Criticism of Yale’s withdrawal of these cartoons being published are out of fear, versus respect for Islam. It is entirely possible to write and publish a book without using the actual cartoons in the book, and merely describing them and the consequences of the publication from the Islamic community. Only Islamic extremists are opposed to these cartoons plus other images which represent Muhammad. Mainstream and lapsed Muslims do not give too much attention to such matters, especially is they are comfortable and secure with their faith in Islam.

Yale alumnus Michael Steinberg accuses Yale of intellectual dishonesty in making the decision to withdraw the cartoons from the book, claiming that all the motion does it appease Islamic extremists. While such a motion may be of more concern in a nation like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, the publication of the book is taking place here in the United States, written by American intellectuals, not by Muslims who might be perceived as having an ax to grind, as Salman Rushdie was when he wrote and published “The Satanic Verses.” The only one at fault is Yale University itself, for having consulted with the wrong people when the school’s publishing sector asked for aid and research on the subject. Asking counter-terrorism experts, diplomats, and the Muslim official at the U.N. are probably not the best sources in acquiring information about publishing the cartoons in question, especially when Yale knew the responses would be biased heavily in favor of Islam. Yale is located in a nation where the freedom of speech is highly valued, not self censorship out of fear for what terrorists might do when the book containing the cartoons is published. Yale University Press has the final say in what they want to publish in the book on Islamic terrorism and its reaction to images of Muhammad in the western world.

Spineless wimpiness in the name of political correctness is not a good trend, especially among publishers. Normally, I avoid contemporary politics in this blog, but I feel compelled to speak out about this example of political correctness run amok.

By removing these cartoons from a scholarly discussion, the operators of the Yale University Press have permitted political Islam, and all of its ugly implications, to dictate policy. The moment we allow political Islam to dictate how we do things in this country, we’re finished as a society. Yale never should have done this, and I encourage all publishers to reject this as a policy.

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