August, 2006

After the publication of the annual Gettysburg issue of Blue and Gray magazine two issues ago, J. D. Petruzzi and I felt an overwhelming need to respond. The featured article was by a licensed battlefield guide named Andrea Custer that spells out a new interpretation of Farnsworth’s Charge on the afternoon of July 3, 1863. That article relies on misrepresentations and twistings of facts to suit the theory, and we came to the conclusion that it was written to intentionally mislead the public to promote the author’s own agenda.

Consequently, we composed a 5500 word rebuttal of the theory that was based entirely on the facts. We knew it was long, and we knew that we ran the risk of it being too long to run in the magazine as a letter to the editor.

Today, I got news about it. There’s good news, bad news, and then more good news.

The good news: We will have a 500-1000 word letter to the editor on the subject in the next issue of the magazine.

The bad news: Regular reader Scott Patchan’s feature article for the issue is VERY long at 18,400 words, and there is no room to run our entire piece. This year, at least, the piece will not be run as we wrote it.

The good news: Dave Roth, the publisher of the magazine is going to make it up to us by permitting us to publish the entire piece, complete with maps, illustrations, and a General’s Tour of the conventional interpretation of Farnsworth’s Charge in next year’s Gettysburg issue. So, for those who haven’t read what we cobbled together, sadly, you will have to wait. My concern, of course, is that by the time it does run, nobody will remember or care, but given the nature of Gettysburg controversies, this one keeps coming back up and keeps getting argued. We shall see, but I am pretty sure that it will stir up the waters once again.

To give just a taste to tease and tantalize you: we present lots of evidence from the veterans–those who were actually there–to demonstrate that these events took place where the conventional interpretation places them, that some of the sources relied upon in the alterantive theory have been misstated and/or misrepresented, and that the actual events played out just how conventional interpretations have depicted them.

Sorry you will have to wait, but at least it will be run in full.

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Dimitri Rotov beat me to the punch on this one. Google’s at it again, still pressing forward with its scheme of massive copyright infringement. This time, its partner in crime is the University of California system.

Here’s the latest:

The University of California (UC) system announced on Wednesday that it has inked a pact with search giant Google to digitize millions of books in its libraries as part of the Mountain View, Calif.-based firm’s Google Books Library Project, an initiative that aims to digitize volumes from the world’s vast array of libraries and make content available online, The Daily Californian reports.

Robert Dynes, UC president, said in a release that the project “greatly expands our ability to give scholars and the public access to the kinds of information and ideas that drive scholarly innovation and public knowledge discourse,” according to The Daily Californian.

Others parties that have joined Google in its digitization efforts include the University of Michigan, Stanford University, Harvard University and the New York Public Library, among others, The Daily Californian reports.

The UC network includes 10 campuses across the state that are home to some 34 million library books, and though UC has not specified which books will be digitized, it has said millions of volumes will be scanned under the initiative, according to The Daily Californian.

As part of the deal, Google will foot the bill for the books’ scanning, and the UC system will be responsible for initial start-up fees and maintenance to the tune of one to multiple millions of dollars for the first year and hundreds of thousands of dollars each additional year, The Daily Californian reports.

After a volume is scanned, two digital copies will be provided—one to the UC and one to Google for use on the Web, according to The Daily Californian. For public books, users will be able to search texts and read complete versions, and excerpts of some copyrighted texts will also be available, The Daily Californian reports.

Google has come under fire in recent months because it digitizes some copyrighted materials without first obtaining approval from the works’ authors, and a number of authors and copyright holders have even filed suit against the search firm, according to The Daily Californian.

A handful of the parties involved in the Google Books Library Project have chosen not to scan copyrighted works, but the UC system will allow some copyrighted material to be digitized, The Daily Californian reports.

The last clause of the last sentence is the telling one. “The UC system will allow some copyrighted material to be digitized, the Daily Californian reports.” In short, the UC system is encouraging copyright infringement and the theft of intellectual property.

Let’s assume for a moment that we’re talking about the digitizing of millions of books, as the article says. Let’s also assume that only a percentage of them are in the public domain. That means that each and every other work that is digitized without the prior consent of the author constitutes a copyright infringement. This means that there are potentially millions of copyright infringements that will occur, and the University of California system is encouraging, and, in fact, facilitating them.

The issue with all of this, of course, is that if it’s done without the permission of the copyright holders–and I have specifically instructed my publishers to tell Google that I do NOT grant permission for the digitizing of my copyrighted work–it’s no different than stealing. It is, in fact, theft facilitated by precisely the sort of institution that is supposed to preserve and protect the intellectual property rights of even some of the academics who teach in the UC system.

It seems to me that the University of California system is engaging in hypocrisy of the worst variety.

It also seems to me that the only way to prevent this theft of intellectual property is for Congress to act. Sadly, with the Republican culture of corruption dominating Congress, the rights of the little guy are at the very bottom of the list of Congressional priorities. Thus, unless the courts issue the injunctions requested in the litigation pending against Google, authors like me will continue to be powerless to prevent the theft of our intellectual property.

And if that happens, then I will stop writing. There will be no reason to continue at that point if I can’t have some protection over the fruits of my hard labors and cannot expect to receive some return on the very large investment of money that I make in researching these books. If the fruits of my labor (and financial investment) can be stolen with alacrity and I am powerless to prevent it, why bother?

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Tonight was the regularly scheduled meeting of the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable. I had intended to go to the meeting tonight, as fellow blogger Mark Grimsley was the speaker tonight, and I had really wanted to hear Mark’s talk.

Instead, I got bogged down in a project at work, lost track of time, and completely forgot about the Roundtable meeting. Consequently, I missed Mark’s talk.

Mark, if you see this, I am very, very sorry that I missed your talk. I had every intention of making it, and then was stupid and flat out forgot what day of the week it was. My apologies.

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I told you all that I had finished the first draft of the Dahlgren biography the other evening, and I got to enjoy that fact for about 24 hours.

The hard part now begins. The difficult part is the process of editing and tweaking what I’ve written. I sent the very rough draft of two chapters to Frank O’Reilly for review and comment. Frank not only corrected the factual errors and the like, he also did an extremely thorough copy edit, probably much more than such an early draft required or deserved. I neglected to tell Frank that he was reading what was quite literally first draft, and he thought it was supposed to be something close to a finished product and went after it quite aggressively with his red pen. The copy editing job was first rate, but it took me most of the evening to incorporate his suggested revisions.

I also sent the Second Bull Run chapter to Scott Patchan for his review and comment, and Scott suggested adding some substantive material. That also took time.

That means that I got through two and a half chapters worth of comments this evening. Once done, I will then print the thing out and start editing it in earnest. The truth is that getting it down on paper is really just the start of the process of getting a manuscript ready for publication, not the end.

I have a long way to go. Before long, I will be thoroughly sick of the thing. 🙂

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My list of pending projects is really kind of staggering:

1. Finish up the history of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry.
2. Turn in the material for the new edition of Trevilian Station.
3. Edit and finish the Dahlgren biography.
4. Complete the research and write the study of John Hunt Morgan’s Indiana and Ohio raid of 1863.
5. The Gettysburg cavalry project.
6. Complete the rewrite of my half of the John Buford biography.

Then there are ideas that are in the research phase:

1. Monocacy (this battle fascinates me, and has for a long time).
2. A study of Union cavalry operations in Pope’s Army of Virginia.
3. A biography of David McMurtrie Gregg.
4. A study of the Wilson-Kautz Raid (the research for this is actually finished; the project just keeps getting bumped)
5. A regimental history of the 6th Michigan Cavalry.
6. My study of the 11th Corps at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.

And then tonight, someone I respect a great deal suggested that I do biographies of Jeb Stuart and Phil Sheridan. I actually laughed when I read that suggestion. Yeah, rrrriiiiiiiiigggghhhhhhttttt. Fortunately, I was able to beg off on the Stuart biography, as old friend Jeff Wert is actively working on just that, and I have every reason to believe that Jeff will do a first-rate job of it. That permitted me to beg off that suggestion.

As for Sheridan, there’s just no way. For one thing, I despise Phil Sheridan, and I don’t think it’s advisable for a biographer to hate his or her subject. My biases would prevent me from presenting a fair or balanced presentation of his life. so, while I definitely agree that Sheridan deserves a really good scholarly treatment of his life, I am DEFINITELY not the right guy for the job.

Fortunately, I was able to escape from this suggestion.

Then, on top of all of it, I have to finish reading Randy Saul’s manuscript, which I started in May and never finished, and I also promised old friend Scott Patchan that I would read his, too. On top of everything else I have to do….

Sometimes, I think I am certifiably insane.

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There are more developments to discuss pertaining to the question of what Lincoln knew and when he knew it.

First, however, the good news: I just completed the first draft of the Dahlgren manuscript. After nearly a year of writing it, the first draft of this complex and fascinating young man’s life is complete. Plenty of work remains to be done; my writing style has always been to put things down on paper and then play with them, so I have lots of editing and tweaking to do. However, the first draft is, at long last, complete. It’s a great feeling.

I had an epiphany tonight about Stanton’s role, so I added a new paragraph to the chapter. By way of background: In February 1864, Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, commanding at Fortress Monroe, conceived of a plan to send Brig. Gen. Isaac J. Wistar on a “lightning” raid on Richmond to free the POW’s from the east; Wistar was stationed at Yorktown and commanded the garrison there. With about 4,000 troops, Wistar advanced on Richmond to free the POW’s in February 1864, less than a month before the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid. His advance was detected, and the Confederates easily repulsed Wistar’s sortie. Recognizing that the element of surprise was lost, Wistar wisely broke off and withdrew. What’s important about his excursion is that many of the operative details were the same as what ended up in the Dahlgren Papers. Wistar penned a report that was endorsed and sent on my Butler.

Thus, Stanton was well aware of the Wistar raid and its objectives. I realized that tonight. Consequently, I added the following paragraph to my discussion, in the middle of my discussion about Stanton’s possible role in the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid:

The similarity between the failed Wistar expedition of February and the plans set forth in the Dahlgren Papers also suggests strongly that someone high up in the administration was well aware of the plan and had authorized it. Otherwise, why would Kilpatrick have been summoned to Washington for consultations with Lincoln and Stanton? And why else would one-legged Ully Dahlgren have been selected, other than the fact that he was known to be a reliable confidant of the President?

Then there’s this quote, from a letter by John Singleton Mosby, who met Wistar at a post-war party in Philadelphia: “On a recent visit to Philadelphia I met socially with General Isaac Wister (sic) of the Federal army,” recounted Mosby. “He informed me that the infernal purposes of Kilpatrick and Dahlgren were correctly disclosed in the papers found on Dahlgren’s body; that he was in command at Yorktown at the time, that Kilpatrick after his retreat from Richmond spent several days at his headquarters, that Kilpatrick, who was then ignorant of Dahlgren’s death, told him all his plans which were identical with what was stated in the Dahlgren papers. He also said that [General Benjamin] Butler once ordered him on a similar expedition but that he positively refused to go.”

This letter has a great deal of credibility. Wistar was in command at Yorktown, Kilpatrick did end up in Yorktown for several days after being repulsed from Richmond, and Butler had ordered Wistar to advance on Richmond to free the prisoners of war prior to the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid. It appears, therefore, that Wistar’s claim that Kilpatrick in fact knew of and approved the plan to kidnap and assassinate Jefferson Davis and his cabinet ring true.

This certainly adds food for thought, doesn’t it?

Here’s one final factor that further reinforces my suspicion of Stanton. I deal with this in the appendix to the book, where the issue of the authenticity of the Dahlgren Papers is addressed. Like so many other things associated with the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid, the fate of the Dahlgren Papers themselves remains a mystery lost to the ages. When the Confederate leadership abandoned Richmond on April 2, 1865, they took the Confederate archives with them in an effort to protect them. After Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrendered his army in North Carolina a few weeks later, he told the Federal authorities where to find the contents of the archives, and U. S. authorities took possession of the documents on May 16, 1865. Dr. Francis Lieber, head of a bureau in the office of the adjutant general, took custody of the documents for eventual publication and inclusion in the National Archives.

In November of that same year, Secretary Stanton ordered Dr. Lieber to turn over the Dahlgren Papers to him. Dr. Lieber responded on December 1, surrendering possession of four packages associated with the Dahlgren Papers, including Dahlgren’s notebook, the address to his men, a letter to Dahlgren marked “confidential,” and supporting documents gathered by the Confederate government to authenticate the documents found on Dahlgren’s body. These four packages then disappeared. There is no record of them remaining anywhere. When the official records of the Civil War were being compiled, a request was made for them, to be included. In 1879, the request for the Dahlgren Papers addressed to Adjutant General Edward Townsend came back endorsed, “No record is found upon the War Department books or files of the papers herein referred to.” Thus, once the Dahlgren Papers were delivered to Edwin Stanton in November 1865, they vanished. There has been no record of them since, other than a photographic copy that later surfaced in the Virginia Historical Society in 1975, and the accounts of them published in the Richmond newspapers in 1864.

Unless it was to cover his tracks, why would Stanton have caused the Dahlgren Papers to disappear when there is no evidence that any other such documents are also similarly missing?

The more I delve into this mystery, the more intrigued by it I find myself.

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My regular readers know that I’ve wrestled with the question of what Lincoln knew and when he knew it with respect to the Dahlgren raid has simultaneously bothered and intrigued me for a very long time. I have finally reached the point in my biography of Dahlgren where it’s time for the rubber to hit the road. Consequently, here’s my take on these events, reflecting concusions drawn after years of deliberation and taking into account the useful discussions we had here.

There remains one great, daunting question that any biographer of Ulric Dahlgren must tackle before leaving the subject. The ultimate question to be determined is whether Abraham Lincoln knew of Ulric Dahlgren’s plans in advance, and whether Lincoln approved them. In other words, what did Lincoln know, and when did he know it, to borrow the parlance of the Watergate era.

Southerners certainly believed that Lincoln not only knew of the plot, but that he approved it. Lincoln’s close relationship with Admiral Dahlgren was well known, and the esteem in which Lincoln held John Dahlgren was also well known. It was no stretch, therefore, for the average Southern citizen to conclude that Lincoln had something to do with the mission, given the choice of one-legged Ulric Dahlgren to lead the critical portion of the expedition. At the very least, they speculated, Lincoln knew of Ully Dahlgren’s plan, and his choice of Ully to command a portion of the expedition constituted a tacit endorsement of the plan.

These conclusions are understandable, and they are also logical. The question is, how well grounded in truth are they?

Lincoln understood that a harsh Reconstruction policy, combined with an aggressive prosecution of Jefferson Davis for treason, would ultimately do the country more harm than good. In a conversation with Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman at City Point, Virginia at the end of March, 1865, Lincoln told one of his famous parables to make his point, one of the President’s favorite tactics. Sherman specifically asked what Lincoln wanted to see happen to Davis once the war ended. “A man once had taken the total-abstinence pledge. When visiting a friend, he was invited to take a drink, but declined, on the score of his pledge, when his friend suggested lemonade, which was accepted,” Lincoln said. “In preparing the lemonade, the friend pointed to the brandy-bottle, and said the lemonade would be more palatable if he were to pour in a little brandy; when his guest said, if he could do so ‘unbeknown’ to him, he would not object.” From this story, Sherman concluded that Lincoln’s thinly veiled desire was that Davis be permitted to slip out of the country “unknowingly” rather than to have him prosecuted for treason.

Admiral David Dixon Porter, who also attended the City Point conference, had a similar recollection. “My opinion is, that Mr. Lincoln came down to City Point with the most liberal views toward the Rebels,” he wrote in 1868. “He felt confident that we would be successful, and was willing that the enemy should capitulate on the most favorable terms.” Lincoln reported said, “Let ‘em up easy” in responding to a question about what his intentions for bringing the Confederate states back into the fold.

Given these declarations, it seems implausible that Lincoln would have approved the assassination of Davis and his cabinet. Lincoln was a brilliant and politically astute man, and he had to have known that such a policy would have ramifications for his own presidency. It defies logic, therefore, to conclude that Lincoln knew of and approved of Dahlgren’s plan before it was put into motion.

At the same time, a nagging element of reasonable doubt remains. Dahlgren visited the White House twice in the weeks just before the commencement of the raid, and on both occasions, he had extended private audiences with the President. There is no record of those conversations, and we will never know precisely what was discussed. It is, therefore, entirely possible that they discussed the plan, that Lincoln approved it, and then made certain that there was no written record of that approval that could be traced back to him. Since neither Dahlgren nor Lincoln survived, and because neither of them said anything about the subject that has been recorded, we will never know the truth.

Lincoln also knew that he was going to be in for a difficult reelection campaign, and he likewise knew that the population of the north was growing war weary. He was desperate to find a way to bring the war to a quick and successful conclusion, and he may well have concluded that a decapitation strike—one that would eliminate the Confederate political leadership—might bring the war to a speedy conclusion. Chop off the head of the snake, and the rest of the snake will die, provides an old cliché. It is possible that Lincoln had endorsed a plan that offered the hope—slim as it might be—that the war could be brought to a swift conclusion with less bloodshed than what would necessarily occur if the war was fought to a military conclusion. Again, Lincoln never said so specifically, and there is no record to evaluate.

A more likely scenario is that Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton not only knew of the plan, but approved it. Stanton was well aware of the suffering of the prisoners of war, and he was under a great deal of pressure to do something about their plight. It is entirely conceivable that Stanton not only knew of and approved the plan, but that he might even have thought it up, ordered Dahlgren to implement, and that he never told Lincoln about it in order to permit the President to adopt a policy of plausible deniability.

As further evidence of Stanton’s probable involvement in conceiving and ordering the plan for the kidnapping and assassination of Jefferson Davis and his cabinet, is the unlikely choice of Ully Dahlgren to command the critical portion of the expedition. It is important to remember that Dahlgren had never commanded anything larger than the detachment of 100 troopers who went to Greencastle with him on July 4, 1863, that the men of the Third Cavalry Division were not particularly familiar with him, and that he was clearly not in physical condition to undertake such a difficult mission. But for Stanton’s patronage, how else could Dahlgren have gotten such an unlikely appointment and such a critical role in the planning of the raid?

Likewise, and as set forth in detail in the appendix to this book, the Dahlgren Papers themselves, and the photographic copies of them delivered to General Meade with Robert E. Lee’s letters disappeared after the war, probably at Stanton’s direct order. Unless he had something to hide, why would Stanton have destroyed important historical evidence? Dahlgren was already dead, and the controversy had already raged for a year, so there was nothing to gain by destroying the documents other than protecting Stanton’s own reputation and legacy. If it could be proved that Stanton had conceived of the plan, then he would become the target of the controversy, and in the wake of the Lincoln assassination in April 1865, Stanton’s power grew even greater. He would have done anything to protect and preserve that power, and destroying the Dahlgren Papers would have been a wise move under those circumstances. It seems likely, therefore, that Stanton knew of the plan at least, and that he was likely its author.

There remains a third possibility: that there is nothing more here than what meets the eye. It is also entirely possible that Ulric Dahlgren dreamed the whole thing up himself without the authority or even knowledge of his superiors. Perhaps the Dahlgren Papers represent the desperate attempt of a crippled but brilliant young man to achieve further military glory that would probably be denied him otherwise. Dahlgren’s propensity for exceeding his orders is well-documented, and has already been discussed in some detail earlier in this chapter. Perhaps the Dahlgren papers represent the best-known episode of ill-advised opportunism of the war, and perhaps the Union high command was entirely justified in disavowing him and his scheme.

Well, there you have it. I wonder what y’all think of it?

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One of the things that I was able to learn during my trip to Trevilian Station last week was precisely which parcel of land was the subject of the recent acquisition. The parcel in question is on the west side of the Fredericksburg Road, Rt. 669, just to the north of the old railroad depot. The parcel starts just on the other side of the CSX right of way and extends to the north, connecting with the nearly 1000 acre parcel that was the first major acquisition by the Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation. It’s really a very important parcel of land, and it gives an unbroken link to the railroad itself.

The old train station, which is post-war, used to serve as the post office for the hamlet of Trevilians. I was surprised to find that the post office has moved out of the building, which now sits vacant. CSX has told the TSBF that it can buy the building for $1.00. Sounds like a great bargain, right?

Wrong. If the TSBF buys it, it will have to move it immediately, as it sits in the right-of-way and moving it would be a condition of sale. That means that TSBF would have to have a place to put it, as well as the money to physically relocate it. The building’s not in great shape, and would require a lot of fixing up. There’s too much endangered land out there, and I’m pleased to report to you that the TSBF has its priorities straight–it would rather devote its scarce resources to land aquisition than to buying this building that wasn’t even there at the time of the battle. Smart call, even if a fixed-up version of the depot would make a decent battlefield visitor’s center.

The logical place for a visitor’s center for the Trevilian Station battlefield would be the reproduction of the Netherland Tavern that sits adjacent to the original site of the tavern. There are also problems with it. First, and foremost, it’s on private property, and the owner sees it as a money-making venture. Second, when it was built, it was done 1864-style. It has no electricity, and it has no running water. It would have to be wired and plumbed, and heat and air conditioning installed for it to become a viable visitor’s center. It also is short on parking. Thus, it is far from the optimal choice, either.

Some day, the issue of a visitor center for the Trevilian Station battlefield will need to be addressed. However, for now, it need not be. The simple truth is that there aren’t that many battlefield visitors yet, and there’s far, far too much endangered land at Trevilians to devote the resources to developing one when those dollars would be better spent buying more of the battlefield.

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