September, 2006

Most of my regular readers know that I was born and raised in the Philadelphia area. I grew up a fanatical fan of Philadelphia’s professional sports teams. I stopped caring about the NBA when Julius Erving retired, and still don’t care. However, I remain a die-hard, life-long fan of the Phillies, Eagles, and Flyers. Every time my team has a game, I always skip my casino games at DaisySlots and start betting on my team to win or lose. I don’t really care.

For the City of Philadelphia, 1980 was nearly the greatest in the history of professional sports. We came within a hair of having all four professional championships in Philadelphia that year. The Phillies won the the World Series. The 1980-81 Eagles lost in the Super Bowl. The 1980 Flyers had a still unequalled 35 game unbeaten streak that year, and lost to the Islanders in the Stanley Cup finals. The 76’ers lost to the Lakers in the NBA finals in 1980. And, just for good measure, the University of Pennsylvania made it to the Final Four in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Unfortunately, rooting for Philadelphia’s professional sports franchises is an exercise in frustration. Although they have lost the Super Bowl twice during my life, the last time that the Eagles won an NFL championship was about three months before I was born in March 1961. The Flyers have won the Stanley Cup twice in my lifetime, but that was in 1974 and 1975. It’s been 31 years since the last time. The 76’ers won the NBA title in 1967 and 1983, but they also posted THE mark for futility in professional sports, going 9-73 in 1973.

The Phillies have been to the World Series five times (1915, 1950, 1980, 1983, and 1993) in the nearly 110 year history of the franchise. Their record is 1-4 in the Fall Classic. I was 19 when they won it all in 1980, something I will remember clearly for the rest of my life. It was one of the happiest moments of my young life. They have not been in post season play since the 1993 World Series.

Even though the only thing consistent about their play this year was their inconsistency, I genuinely believed that they had a real shot at making the playoffs this year as the National League wild card. They put on a concerted push during the second half of the season and were in the race until today, with a record of 85-76. That with crappy starting pitching and a lot of turmoil on the team, with wholesale changes being made mid-season. However, they have two of the finest young players in the game–Ryan Howard (58 HR’s and 149 RBI in his first full season in the majors) and Chase Utley (leads the NL in hits, hitting .312, and with his second straight season of 100+ RBI)–and an excellent 22 year old left handed starting pitching prospect named Cole Hamels.

However, the Phils were eliminated today. They now have no chance at all of making the post season, and their season ends tomorrow. This now makes 13 years since the last time that they competed in the post season. It’s going to be a long winter, yet another year of frustration and foiled hopes.

I think I will root for the Tigers to win it all this year. They’re a team largely built from within without much in the way of expensive free agents, and they’ve had quite a run; two or three years ago, they were, without doubt, THE worst team in the major leagues, and now they’ve won 95 games so far this year. And rooting for them is consistent with my policy of rooting for whoever plays the New York Yankees (sorry, Michael).

Nevertheless, it’s going to be another long and frustrating winter waiting for opening day and yet another chance to have my heart broken by this team that has broken it so many other times over the last 45 years.

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28 Sep 2006, by

Civil Warriors

Civil Warriors is a joint blog run by some of the best of the younger generation of Civil War historians, including Mark Grimsley, Brooks Simpson, and Steven Woodworth.

Ethan Rafuse has also joined the Civil Warriors team. For those not familiar with Ethan, he’s written several excellent books on the war, including an outstanding book on George B. McClellan’s role in the Civil War. Ethan is an Army historian whose work I really admire. He will make an excellent addition to the team, and I look forward to his contributions to the team blog.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Ethan.

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28 Sep 2006, by

Lancers Update

I keep talking about the Dahlgren manuscript, so tonight I thought I would give an update on the status of the Rush’s Lancers manuscript. The book is slated for release in November, meaning that there isn’t much time left to get the thing done.

My copy editor has forwarded me the marked up version of the manuscript over the past several days, and I have spent the last two nights reviewing her edits and then answering her queries. Fortunately, she is quite knowledgeable–she knows northern Virginia and lives in Philadelphia, meaning that most of the sits are familiar to her, as are many of the individuals mentioned in the book. She’s done an excellent job of it, and I completed my work on it this evening. All that remains for me to do is to proof the page galleys once the manuscript has been laid out.

That means that doing the page layout is about all that’s left to be done and then the book is ready to go to the printer. I’ve been working on this project since 1994. It’s been an incredibly long haul, with lots of twists and turns, and it’s going to be an incredible thing finally seeing a finished product in print.

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Perhaps I spoke a eulogy for the Hunterstown battlefield too soon.

From today’s edition of the Hanover Evening Sun newspaper:

Hunterstown, Fairfield part of Gettysburg Battle
Evening Sun Reporter

The National Park Service sign near the site of the Battle of Hunterstown details the cavalry engagement there. The Park Service has designated the battle at Hunterstown and another at Fairfield as part of the Battle of Gettysburg.

The National Park Service announced Tuesday it intends to include Hunterstown and Fairfield in an updated field study of the Gettysburg Battlefield.

Both towns were the site of cavalry battles during the Battle of Gettysburg – Hunterstown on July 2nd and Fairfield on July 3rd.

But their inclusion in the field study by the Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program does not mean they are now part of the official Gettysburg National Military Park.

“In this program, the community drives the efforts. It’s not a top down thing,” said Katie Lawhon, the spokeswoman for the park. “This does not mean the National Park Service intends to expand the park boundary to include Fairfield and Hunterstown.”

In a news release from the American Battlefield Protection Program, it said the two sites “were the scenes of fierce cavalry fighting and were directly related to the battle.”

The release states the primary purpose of the update is to help planning the preservation of Civil War battlefields, but also makes clear that the program does not have the authority to expand park boundaries.

And that means the new inclusion of the battlefield won’t affect currently planned and approved development like the 2,000-home Gettysburg Commons, Lawhon said. Some of the houses will actually be placed on the Hunterstown battlefield, an outcome preservationists would like to avoid.

Lawhon said the National Park Service would need an act of Congress and funding before acquiring any new land or expanding the boundaries of the park.

But local preservationists hope an act of Congress will follow, now that a federal government study has legitimized claims the battles were integral in the battle.

“With the support there is in Congress to preserve these battlefield sites, it’s going to happen,” said Hunterstown preservationist Roger Harding. “I think a lot of people just don’t want to believe it.”

Instead of just taking land, the program provides funding to help communities implement planning policies to protect the battleground if they decide to, she said.

And that funding and designation as part of the Gettysburg Battlefield will open doors to more grant money and matching funds, Harding said.

He’s the leader of Friends of Hunterstown, a group that hopes to preserve Hunterstown’s history.

Hunterstown, four miles north of Gettysburg, has been called the “north cavalry field,” following the pattern of the east and south cavalry fields. Some historians have argued the seemingly separate cavalry actions from Hanover to Fairfield are unified elements, part of the big picture of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Groundbreaking on the first phase of Gettysburg Commons, near Routes 15 and 394, is anticipated for later this year, but it will be at least four or five years before the Hunterstown battle area is developed, developer Rick Klein has said.

Klein has already agreed to extra screening in certain critical areas and to install a wayside exhibit at the Confederate position near the Gilbert farm, but preservationists hope for further concessions.

They also hope the Civil War Preservation Trust will follow the lead of the American Battlefield Protection Program and consider Fairfield and Hunterstown as part of Gettysburg, a top priority for the trust’s preservation efforts.

“I think it’s very good for the preservation community who has been concerned about sites at Fairfield and Hunterstown because now the American Battlefield Protection Program is now available to help them with planning, interpreting and protecting of the sites,” Lawhon said.

This doesn’t mean that the battlefields will be saved, but it’s a first step, and perhaps they can, in fact, be saved after all. Stay tuned.

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The Detroit metropolitan area is huge. So huge, in fact, that there are five different Civil War Roundtables, if you count the one in Ann Arbor. Months ago, I was invited to speak to the Israel B. Richardson CWRT, which is on the northeast side of town. The CWRT meets in a Barnes & Noble store, and it’s the largest B&N store I’ve ever seen. I’m told that it used to be bowling alley.

I agreed to accept the invitation largely because Susan’s got family in the Detroit suburbs. Her aunt and uncle live in Franklin township, and she has cousins in Bloomfield Hills. We figured we could tie a visit with them to the talk. Unfortunately, they weren’t available, and we couldn’t find anyone to watch the dogs. That meant driving 4+ hours to Detroit, doing the presentation and the book signing, and then driving 4+ hours home to Columbus, all in one evening. I had a 7:30 breakfast meeting yesterday, so it was a VERY long day.

However, there were about 75 people in attendance, and the B&N customer relations person did a fabulous job of it. She had multiple copies of all of my books but one there. There were probably 40 copies of the Stuart’s Ride book, and I signed about 30 books over the course of the signing. One fellow who came arrived toting his copies of all twelve of my books for me to sign, which I did before the start of the meeting. Paul Taylor, who regularly comments here on the blog, also came. It was really nice getting to meet him in person.

I did my Stuart’s Ride talk for them. I enjoy that talk because I can do it almost completely without notes. I use the notes only to read the operative orders for the raid, and then work off the cuff. I get a charge out of that, and the audiences always seem amazed that I can do a talk like that without notes. From my perspective, the interesting thing is that because I do it off the cuff, no two talks are ever the same. That helps me to keep it fresh and keeps it interesting for me.

We finally got home after 1 AM. Like I said, it made for an incredibly long day. Fortunately, Susan came with me, so that we could split up the driving. Unfortunately, the consequence is that we’re both exhausted tonight. I could use some sleep.

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Chaplain Louis N. Beaudrye was the regimental historian of his unit, the 5th New York Cavalry. The regimental history is one of the better ones, but like many, it has its flaws. As a chaplain, Beaudrye didn’t spend much time on the battlefield, and he was also captured during the retreat from Gettysburg, meaning that he spent a stint at Libby Prison and hence wasn’t present for some of the events chronicled in his history of the regiment. That means that it has gaps in the thoroughness of its coverage. Nevertheless, it’s an important source on the Army of the Potomac’s Third Cavalry Division.

There’s also one other small point. The name on the regimental history is “Boudrye”. However, it appears that the proper French spelling of the name is “Beaudrye”, which was apparently anglicized a bit. I have chosen to use the proper French spelling.

Beaudrye was back with the regiment by the time of the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid. Two companies of the 5th New York went with Dahlgren’s column to Richmond, while the rest went with Kilpatrick’s column. It was always believed that Beaudrye also accompanied Dahlgren’s column. The regimental history contains a lengthy description of the Dahlgren raid written by a member of the unit, but it’s not attributed. It appears in the middle of the narrative, and everyone has always assumed that Beaudrye wrote it since there’s nothing to indicate that he didn’t. This account contains a detailed description of the last minute or so of Dahlgren’s life, including recounting what was said just before the fatal shots were fired.

Virgil Carrington “Pat” Jones, as one very notable example, cited to the Beaudrye regimental history as a major source in his 1957 book Eight Hours Before Richmond, which is generally considered to be the best and most detailed account of the raid yet published. Jones attributes the account of the last moments of Dahlgren’s life to Beaudrye. So does Duane Schultz in his book The Dahlgren Affair: Terror and Conspiracy in the Civil War.

I discovered last night that these traditional accounts were all wrong. In the 1880’s, an officer of the 5th New York Cavalry named Lt. H. A. D. Merritt, who commanded the advance of Dahlgren’s column during the raid, wrote an account of the raid that was published in The Century Magazine as part of its “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War” series. A four-volume set of what the editors believed were the best articles from the series was published under the title Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. However, Merritt’s article was not included in that collection. It was, therefore, largely lost to history.

In 1996, a descendant of Chaplain Beaudrye published the chaplain’s war diary, which is now out of print. I pulled out my copy last night and discovered the truth: during the raid, Chaplain Beaudrye stayed at Cavalry Corps headquarters at Brandy Station, performing his ministerial duties. He did not accompany the raid. Thus, he could not have written an account of the raid as a primary account. That meant that the account contained in the regimental history could not have been penned by Chaplain Beaudrye. It’s far too detailed to have been written by someone who was not present.

When I realized that, I realized that, while the error is certainly understandable, ALL of the conventional accounts of the raid published to date have misidentified the source of that account of the last moments of Dahlgren’s life. So, I set out to figure out who really wrote it.

In the 1990’s, Peter Cozzens decided to publish more of the articles from the series and came out with a fifth volume of Battles and Leaders. Then, in 2004, Cozzens published volume six of Battles and Leaders. Sure enough, the Merritt article appears in volume 6. I pulled out the book this evening, and…mystery solved. The mystery account in the regimental history is the same as the article in volume 6. Therefore, the author had to have been Lieutenant Merritt and not Beaudrye.

So, in a small way, I have corrected a long-standing but easily made and understandable error. This is the sort of thing that I really enjoy and which makes this sort of historical work fun for me. It made me feel good to fix a historical error and to finally set the record straight. It’s a small thing, for sure, but it’s cool stuff nevertheless. It goes right along with my constant desire to shatter Civil War mythology.

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One year ago today, I launched this blog. The first post was dated September 23, 2005, and it was simply a welcome post. Little did I realize that 303 posts and countless comments later, this thing would still be around. There’s a comment on the weekly blog roundup on Civil War Interactive this week that indicates that the CWI folks believe my blog draws more comments than all of the other Civil War blogs combined. I don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if it was.

If it is true, it’s quite a tribute to you, my readers. Without you, this would just be my place to rant. There’s certainly a value to a good rant–there are times when I need to get something off my chest–but without all of you and the interaction we have here, this wouldn’t be half the fun that it is. Thank you to everyone who has made my little corner of the Internet a regular stop and who have helped to make this blog what it is.

And until I run out of things to rant about, this blog will go on…..

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22 Sep 2006, by

L’Shana Tova

Sundown today marked the arrival of the Jewish High Holy Days, and specifically, the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana. L’Shana Tova–happy new year–to all.

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Early this year, I was contacted by Norwich University. A Norwich alum named Edward B. Williston was awarded a Medal of Honor for his valor on the second day of the Battle of Trevilian Station, June 12, 1864. This was not one of those bullshit Medals given for capturing a flag or for political reasons. This was the real deal–Williston fought his guns right on the skirmish line. When he wrote his report of the battle, Wesley Merritt, in describing Williston’s performance, wrote, “The light 12’s were magnificent.” Norwich informed me that it had commissioned Dale Gallon to paint a scene of Williston’s performance at Trevilian Station. I gave Dale everything I had: the Medal of Honor file, a copy of the book, and some miscellaneous stuff.

I gave them what information I had, and then offered to show Dale the battlefield, as I felt it critical that he get the terrain right. The first weekend in June, JD, Dale, a representative of Norwich, and I drove down to Trevilians from Gettysburg for a battlefield tour. It made for a long, but fun, day. We covered the whole battlefield, but focused in particular on the second day’s battlefield and the area where Williston did his deed of gallantry. Dale spent a good bit of time getting the lay of the land and the right perspective, and I believe he’s portrayed it as accurately as it can be portrayed.

The print of the painting has been released. I’ve got a copy of it coming. I can’t wait to see it full-size, but I think that Dale got it just right.

Have a look.

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Yesterday, Dimitri Rotov had a really interesting post analyzing what he views as flaws in military history.

According to Dimitri, the biggest issues are too much reliance on too few sources and carelessness about the origin of a decision, leaving the analysis incomplete and lack in thoroughness. The combination of these two factors leaves Dimitri cold about traditional military history. It really is an interesting analysis.

He gave Mark Grimsley and me a tip of the cap, indicating that he believes that we go farther toward completeness and fairness in our analysis than most, a compliment I appreciate a great deal.

I thought I would touch base on these two issues. I have always prided myself on being extremely thorough in my research. I would prefer to delay the writing of a book in order to make certain that the scope and coverage of what I do is as complete as possible. I much prefer primary sources, and deifnitely prefer unpublished manuscript material as the basis for my research.

At the same time, it’s impossible to get EVERY source. I don’t care how thorough a researcher might be, you will never find everything. There are just too many obscure repositories out there to get every single one, and there are too many things still in private hands to have even a realistic hope of getting everything. Further, there are too many obscure newspapers that are not generally available to get all of the contemporary coverage and soldier letters published in them. All you can do is to give it your very best shot and then say “enough, and if someone can take what I’ve done and do a better job, more power to them.” I reach that point with every project I undertake. And sometimes, stuff turns up unexpectedly and at the last moment, as it did with those two sets of letters that I had to incorporate into my history of Rush’s Lancers.

With respect to Dimitri’s second point, I think that going into projects with preconceived conclusions is a very bad idea. With the exception of my Sheridan bash, which was written as a legal brief that took an advocate’s position, I have always permitted the evidence to take me where it would. Anything less is intellectually dishonest and fails to give the coverage necessary to address the situation accurately and completely.

As to the issue of failing to recognize the origin of decisions, I try to follow the principles of Ockham’s Razor (also known as the principle of parsimony) wherever possible: entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity. Put more succinctly, keep it simple, stupid (also known as the KISS Principle). I admit that I have done a poor job of following my own rules with respect to the Dahlgren debate on what Lincoln knew and when he knew it, but beyond that, I do my level best to keep it as simple as possible and to try not to overly analyze things when I’m doing my historical work.

Thanks for a most interesting and thought-provoking post, Dimitri.

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