Month:

February, 2006

This morning, legendary martial arts star Chuck Norris was on the morning radio show that I listen to on a daily basis. Norris was promoting his new novel, The Justice Riders, set against the backdrop of the Civil War.

Here’s the description of the book from Amazon.com: “The Justice Riders offers action-packed historical fiction from America’s favorite action hero Chuck Norris. Book one in the series takes place as the Civil War ends and the Old West begins. General William T. Sherman commissions Ezra Justice to form a secret band of cavaliers who will help end the war between North and South, and Justice complies with a pro-Union posse of diverse multinationals second to none in their fighting abilities. From dusty canyon shootouts against Confederates to the horrors faced aboard the doomed Sultana steamship, these dynamic men shine as good-hearted heroes who need each other just as much as so many others need them.”

From what Norris was saying on the radio interview, the protagonist is an abolitionist Southerner whose childhood best friend was a slave. He gets this commission from Sherman, and he and the now-freed slave form a band of secret scouts that includes an Englishman who’s a member of Her Majesty’s Coldstream Guards (Lt. Col. Sir Arthur Fremantle, I wonder?), an Irish immigrant, and twin brothers of gypsy descent.

Let’s see: we’re politically correct, that’s for sure. Never mind that there is absolutely no connection with reality to be found here. The story is preposterous. These guys are all martial arts experts, too. Again, never mind that nobody had ever heard of Tang Su Do (the Korean martial art studied and taught by Norris) in the 1860’s. Never mind, also, that the only one of these guys with any military training is the Englishman. Apparently, the six of them go out and win the war. Give me a break. The only good thing about this whole thing is that Norris said that the proceeds from the book would go to his foundation to teach at-risk children the martial arts, something that I definitely can support.

I wonder who persuaded Chuck Norris that he was a writer. Now, I understand that this is entertainment, but I get worried that people who read this sort of pap will actually believe that it’s the truth or that this has some credibility. Why is it that just because someone is a celebrity, they suddenly think that they’re authors (see that airheaded bimbo Paris Hilton, if you need an example of what I mean here)? This garbage gets published and sells, but legitimate folks who spend large portions of their lives trying to get it right have to struggle to get published at all. What’s wrong with this picture?

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27 Feb 2006, by

Last Minute Finds

There are times when people amaze me. I can think of a number of instances when I have published something, and then somebody turns up and presents me with something pertinent that makes me say, “Damn! Where was this when I REALLY needed it?” Two good examples come to mind. One was a few months after the publication of my first book, someone gave me a letter by Williams Wells that is the only known account of Farnsworth’s Charge written by Wells himself. I wish that I could have had the letter when I wrote the book, as it definitely would have changed my interpretation of things. Likewise, a couple of weeks after my book on the Battle of Trevilian Station was published, I spoke to the Greater Pittsburgh Civil War Roundtable. A fellow came up to me and handed me a copy of his ancestor’s letter about the battle, which was a terrific letter. Again, the thought that went through my mind was, “Where were you when I needed you?”

Today, the fates smiled upon me. This morning, I got a phone call from a woman who is working on editing the letters of a trooper of the 6th Michigan Cavalry. Knowing of my work on the regiment, she called to see if I would be willing to read her work and comment upon it. I said sure, and she e-mailed me the manuscript. When I went to see what was there on the Gettysburg Campaign, sure enough, there was some REALLY good material on the June 30, 1863 Battle of Hanover. As I think I have mentioned here before, J. D. Petruzzi and I have written a book on Jeb Stuart’s controversial ride in the Gettysburg Campaign that includes the most detailed treatment of the Battle of Hanover yet written. The book, which is scheduled for release at the end of June, is in final preparation as I write this. Fortunately, Ted Savas understands, and gave us permission to hastily plug this new material into the manuscript, which we’re doing tonight. This new material, previously unknown, as it’s been in private hands, allows us to put additional meat on a portion of the discussion that was a bit thin due to lack of source material. We’re very fortunate that the timing worked out the way it did, and we’re even more fortunate that Ted is understanding and willing to be flexible, as it’s in his interests, as the publisher, to bring out the best possible book, just as doing so is also in our best interest.

It’s nice that this material surfaced when it did; another couple of days, and it would have been too late.

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Hat tip to Dimitri Rotov for first pointing this out.

Richard F. Miller, the author of an excellent recent regimental history of the so-called “Harvard Regiment”, also known as the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and who is a regular reader of this blog, works in radio news.

Richard will shortly be leaving for the hellhole of Iraq, where he will be serving as an embedded reporter with U. S. Army forces. As Dimitri points out, Richard will begin podcasting stories from the front soon. This will not be Richard’s first trip, and I can only hope that he will return to us safely and soundly, and that he stays out of harm’s way. Keep your head down, and your kevlar on, Richard. And please drop us a line from time to time while you’re over there and let us know that you’re safe and sound. We’ll miss you, and you will be in all of our prayers.

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In an earlier post, I noted that when Brian Pohanka’s estate announced that substantial gifts had been left to two battlefield preservation groups, the Civil War Preservation Trust was missing from that list, and I wondered aloud whether that absence was a sign that perhaps Brian was unhappy with the way things had gone with the CWPT. It turns out that there was much more to it than met the eye.

Yesterday, Jim Campi of the CWPT called to discuss a variety of things with me, most notably the incident a couple of weeks ago when someone from the Morris Island Coalition used the comments to this blog to launch personal attacks on Dimitri Rotov because the poster does not agree with Dimitri’s opinions about the CWPT. However, in the course of that conversation with Jim, he let me know that there was going to be a public announcement today regarding Brian’s gifts to the CWPT.

Here is that press release, which was provided to me by Jim yesterday:

“(Washington, D.C.) – In a statement released today, the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) announced a major gift from the estate of historian and ardent preservationist Brian C. Pohanka, who passed away in June 2005. In his will, Pohanka left CWPT – with whom he has been associated since its earliest days – a bequest totaling $1 million earmarked for land acquisition.

In acknowledging the gift, CWPT President James Lighthizer said that the donation is telling of the innumerable contributions Pohanka made to the cause of historic preservation over the years.

‘From the very beginnings of the Civil War battlefield preservation movement, Brian Pohanka led the charge. He not only gave of his time and talents, but frequently and generously reached into his wallet as well. We at Civil War Preservation Trust are proud to carry on the work he began nearly two decades ago.’

Pohanka’s generosity to battlefield preservation was unequalled. In addition to the $1 million bequest, he and his wife Cricket quietly donated an equal amount to CWPT in 2004. Over the years, Pohanka gave generously to both CWPT and countless other local battlefield preservation groups – in his will, he also set aside money for the Central Virginia Battlegrounds Trust ($500,000), the Richmond Battlefields Association ($500,000), and the Save Historic Antietam Foundation ($200,000).

In recognition for Pohanka’s outstanding contributions to battlefield preservation, in 2004 he was named CWPT’s Preservationist of the Year during ceremonies in Nashville, Tenn. At the ceremony, one of Brian’s last public appearances, he urged the preservation community to continue the struggle to save this nation’s irreplaceable hallowed battlegrounds.

Cricket Bauer Pohanka, who recently agreed to join CWPT’s Board of Trustees, said she is confident that the bequest would be used to create a legacy of which he would be proud. ‘Brian placed an immense value on the preservation of our Civil War battlefields,’ she said, ‘and to see the sites he so cared about perpetually protected will be a fitting tribute to his life and his work.’

According to Lighthizer, Brian was frequently quoted as saying the inspiration for his tireless efforts was the idea that a century from now a child might become as interested in the Civil War as Brian was in his own youth. That child, he said, must still have the opportunity to visit our battlefields, our hallowed grounds, and absorb their lessons. ‘With this gift, Brian has truly made that vision a reality, giving us the power to protect more of that ground for generations yet to come.’

Lighthizer concluded his remarks by stating: ‘Author, living historian, preservationist, consultant, friend; Brian touched us and our work in so many ways. He is truly missed, but we will make sure that his dedication and his contributions will not be forgotten.’

With 75,000 members, CWPT is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s remaining Civil War battlefields. Since 1987, the organization has saved more than 22,000 acres of hallowed ground. CWPT’s website is located at www.civilwar.org.”

A few months before he died, Brian told me that once he was gone, we would learn of steps he had taken with respect to battlefield preservation, but didn’t elaborate. Knowing him as I did, I knew better than to ask; if he had wanted me to know, he would have told me. Given that Brian was one of the three founders of APCWS–the predecessor to the CWPT–I was genuinely surprised to hear that no gift had been announced for the CWPT after Brian’s passing.

Yesterday, Jim Campi told me about the two $1 million gifts, and we both had the same reaction–this was so typical of Brian–unfailingly generous, but unfailingly avoiding ANY hint of publicity about it, as Brian felt that doing so was unseemly. $2 million will buy a lot of land. While it’s difficult to define precisely what Brian’s legacy is, this is probably the most tangible and most important aspect of it.

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Last month, I dealt with the issue of neo-Confederate hooey here. I related the problems I had with a member of the Civil War Discussion Group that I own and operate.

Last week, this clown went off on rant about black Confederates. Although the guy denies that he has a neo-Confederate agenda, he clearly does have one. If you read his posts about black Confederates, it becomes obvious that he’s beating the neo-Confederate drum as loudly as possible. I called him on it. I posted:

“Time for me to put on my moderator/owner hat.

This site does NOT exist for the pushing of any particular group’s agenda. Mr. Tucker has apparently decided that this web site exists to promote the agenda of the SCV, and, in particular, of the radical wing of the SCV that is presently in control.

Here’s the bottom line, folks.

This stuff stops now. I am not interested in seeing another self-serving neo-Confederate post from Mr. Tucker or anyone else. The next time it happens, not only is the post gone, the person who posted it is gone, too.

And, to reiterate what I’ve said before: This is my web site. I own it. I pay for it. Therefore, I also get to make the rules. My rules are what they are. They are neither negotiable, nor are there any exceptions to them. Once a decision is made about whether the rules have been violated, there is no discussion of it, and there most assuredly is no right of appeal. If you don’t like my rules, Mr. Tucker, you are more than welcome to leave on your own.

I am a benevolent despot until pushed. And now, I’ve been pushed. That means it’s time for me to step in and end the problem.

I trust that I have made myself abundantly clear.

Eric”

The guy then posted a lame apology that attempted to explain his conduct. I responded and told him that he would get one more chance, and the nect time he stepped so much as an inch out of line, he was history. He promised to straighten up and fly by my rules. It lasted exactly one week.

Today, he posted yet another neo-Confederate rant, trying to claim that slaves loved their masters and gladly fought for the Confederacy, blah, blah, blah. I dropped the nuclear weapon:

“Mr. Tucker has been warned repeatedly that this web site does not exist for the promotion of his neo-Confederate agenda. The last time that this happened, I informed him that the next time I got even so much as an inkling that he was using this web site for the promotion of his agenda, he would be excommunicated. He agreed to my terms, and I hoped that would be the end of it. Well, it lasted less than a week.

As a result of this post, Mr. Tucker has, in fact, been permanently excommunicated from this web site. We will not be bothered by him and his agenda any longer.

This thread is now being locked.

Let us speak no more of this.

The Management”

The fight against neo-Confederate hooey never ends. And I will always remain vigilant and will always fight that fight. Bring it on. 🙂

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Gettysburg Magazine was Bob Younger’s baby. He started it, and he made the rules. Bob believed that the honor of being published in his magazine should be reward enough; if you wanted to be paid you had to ask for it. Those checks would come, but I always got the sense I was imposing on him to even ask. However, I have always insisted on being paid simply because of the principle of the thing.

One of Bob’s primary rules was no advertising. If you look at an issue of the magazine, you will find nary a single advertisement. This meant that either (a) the issue had to be paid for in full by subscription and bookstore sales or (b) it lost money regularly. Mix in Bob’s irascible nature and the fact that there was no national distributor, and it’s no surprise that this magazine was never a moneymaker for Morningside. Bob once told me that he and his wife Mary regularly had to subsidize the thing.

Also, Bob alienated enough of his authors that people stopped writing for him. I certainly did. When he decided that I was the enemy because we couldn’t get a bank to finance the deal, that was the end of my efforts to write for him, even though I have had lots of ideas of things that would have made for good articles for the magazine. I am far from alone in this. Consequently, in the past several years, the overall quality of the articles that have been published in the magazine has dropped significantly. For one good example, one of the licensed battlefield guides has propounded a bizarre theory that because the monument to the 5th New York Cavalry was moved, the rest of the monuments to Farnsworth’s brigade also were going to be moved. This person, in fact, contended that the veterans had been PROMISED that their monuments would be moved. The problem with this is that it was entirely and completely fabricated. There is no footnote for this proposition; there can’t be one–the records of the Gettysburg Battlefield Monument Association do not reflect any such thing. Yet, this nonsense crept through and was published.

Now, I’m all for theories that push the envelope. However, my support for and tolerance of these theories ends when they depend on material that is completely and totally fabricated. Had someone bothered to read this festering pile of garbage and hold it to the sorts of standards that marked the early years of the magazine, it never would have been published and put out there to intentionally mislead the public, as the author has set out to do. There is no quality control or consistency, and I have heard this complaint many, many times from many people.

This magazine has offered a great deal, and was once great. It can be great again. While Bob Younger’s passing was a tragedy, it nevertheless offers an opportunity to rejuvenate the magazine and make it great again now that it’s no longer under his thumb. With him gone, I would be willing to write for it again. Let’s hope that whoever is now in charge recognizes this opportunity and seizes it and does something good with it. Time will tell.

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20 Feb 2006, by

This Week

I wanted to let everyone know that I have an incredibly busy week doing lawyer stuff this week–something significant every day this week–and hence may not have time to post much this week. I hope I will be forgiven for permitting my job to get in the way of my hobby. I hate it when that happens.

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This rant has been brewing all day.

Please put this in the “stuff I hate” category. It also fits squarely within the “stuff that frustrates the hell out of me” category.

In the course of researching my Ulric Dahlgren biography, I found the published pamphlet of the eulogy for Ully delivered by Rev. Bernard Sunderland, the minister who watched Ully grow up. The eulogy was delivered a few weeks after Dahlgren’s death even though the body was missing, and then the thing was published shortly thereafter. There is a frustrating, tantalizing little tidbit in this thing that has been driving me nuts.

By way of background, Ulric Dahlgren attended Rittenhouse Academy in Washington, DC as a boy. He left there without graduating in 1858 at the age of 16 to go and study law as an apprentice to his uncle in Philadelphia. The school no longer exists.

I found the following passage in the published eulogy:

“It was this stirring period [early June 1862], while on the road between [Harpers] Ferry and Winchester, that two young officers, once associates and pupils of the Rittenhouse Academy, each ignorant of the other’s connection with the Army, met in the middle of the night, one marching with his regiment eastward, the other with a body of cavalry rapidly riding to the west. As they were sweeping by, though under cover of the darkness, one hearing the other’s voice giving an order to his men, instantly recognized him, and the two former school-fellows drew night for a short greeting and a swift good-bye, and each strode on again. They were Major Morrison and Captain Dahlgren, both cut down in the flower of their young manhood, both sleeping in a soldier’s sepulchre, and both cherished in every loyal heart as the true sons of America, the noble scions of her noblest race.”

This reference clearly made sense to the folks who attended the funeral. Obviously, they knew who this Major Morrison was, and it’s entirely possible that he was also a member of Reverend Sunderland’s Episcopal congregation. Sadly, it makes absolutely no sense to me. I have bene trying to figure out who this Major Morrison was for several months now, and I keep coming up dry. I would love to include this fascinating little anecdote in my book–it’s great stuff–but there seems to be no way of finding out who this myseterious Major Morrison was.

I’ve called in favors. Tom Clemens even gave up his time to search the roster of volunteer officers for me, and we found nothing that matched–there was no Major Morrison killed during the time frame when Ully Dahlgren was still alive. That leads me to believe that this guy may have been brevetted, but who knows. I just know that I have run into a roadblock at every turn, leaving me scratching my head and cursing Reverend Sunderland for not naming this guy so I could tell the story in my book.

Damn, it’s frustrating.

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On February 16, I learned of the senseless vandalism of three handsome monuments on the battlefield at Gettysburg. Vandals pulled the top stone and sculpture off of the 11th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Monument, dedicated on October 8, 1885. The 11th Massachusetts monument is located on Emmitsburg Road at the intersection of Sickles Avenue. Vandals pulled down the bronze sculpture of a Zouave infantryman from the pedestal of the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Monument, dedicated on July 2, 1886, located at the Sherfy house on Emmitsburg Road. The figure landed on a decorative iron fence that was also damaged. Finally, the bronze figure of a cannoneer topping the monument to Smith’s battery, in the Devil’s Den area, suffered $100,000 worth of damage. The head of the cannoneer is missing entirely. This is one of my very favorite monuments on this battlefield, and it saddens me deeply to think that it will probably never be the same again. There simply is no reason or justification for what was done to it.

Photos of the damaged monuments appear here. See for yourself the senseless devastation of these monuments, which were placed on the battlefield by the veterans of these regiments, and which represent our nation’s heritage and legacy.

Chances are that this senseless idiocy was the work of bored college students or idiot teenagers. Now, I was both. I was an idiot teenager, and I was a fraternity idiot. We got in a lot of trouble during my last semester in college when we vandalized a fiberglass grizzly bear. We destroyed the thing, but there was nothing historic about it, and it surely was not a part of our national heritage. It cost $1000 to replace the thing. So, I have some first-hand knowledge from whence I speak. I also have a certain amount of understanding of the motivations that cause otherwise intelligent human beings to do idiotic things. In our case, it was way too much alcohol. I have to imagine that the same thing happened here.

However, there is a HUGE difference between understanding it and endorsing the conduct. In fact, I think it is, without question, one of THE most reprehensible things I have ever seen. I hope that these imbeciles are caught, and that they are prosecuted. In my mind, there is no punishment or penalty severe enough. Perhaps these jackasses might show some regret for what they did if they know that they face 15-20 years in a Federal penitentiary as their reward, as well as having to pay all expenses associated with repairing the damage that they caused. If it was up to me, I would give them an immediate death penalty, no decades of endless appeals, and no lethal injections. It would be hanging by piano wire, something especially brutal. That would send the message that needs to be sent. From where I sit–and yes, I know I’m a lawyer and that this is a purely emotional response on my part–there is no penalty severe enough to impose upon the morons who did this.

The National Park Service already suffers from having its budgets stripped away whenever the Bush Administration needs to trim its immense deficits. I worry, therefore, for how long it will take to repair the damage done to these monuments, as who knows when funds will be available to do so. There is simply no way to predict when funds might be available to repair these national treasures. For now, the damaged figures have been stored to keep them safe until they can be repaired and returned to their rightful places.

So, to all of my loyal readers, I don’t ask much of you other than for your attention from time to time. This time, however, I am going to ask something of you. Please write to your Congressman and your Senator and ask them to appropriate funds to repair these monuments AND to increase security at sites like Gettysburg. And please, if you can spare a few dollars, contribute to any funds that may be established to raise money for the repairs of these monuments. I hope I’m not imposing on our relationship by asking you to do this, and I likewise hope that it’s not too much to ask of you. However, this is something that I feel very strongly about, so that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

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Here are a couple of updates on a couple of things….

1. Ted Savas informed me today that the release date for my book on the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads is the third week in March. The book is at the printer. It’s also under review by the History Book Club for an alternative book of the month selection. I will keep folks posted as the date draws near.

2. I’ve been fighting the neo-Confederate wars again today on my forum boards. I think I’ve won this particular battle, but what a waste of valuable time and energy. As I said here previously, I will never stop fighting these battles.

That’s it for now. There will, undoubtedly, be more to come….

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