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September, 2007

Susan and I did something incredibly cool today. We saw something that is quite likely a once-in-a-lifetime event. It was called the The Gathering of Mustangs and Legends, held at Rickenbacker International Airport over the last four days.

The Mustangs, of course, are the P-51 Mustang fighter plane. Over 100 of them were present. All are flyable, and all have been carefully and painstakingly restored to immaculate condition. The Legends are the men and women who flew them, including 80 of the surviving fighter aces of World War II. It was really an amazing event. Given that we lose 1,000 World War II veterans each day, there won’t be many more opportunities to do something like this.

When we first got there, the U. S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team were getting ready to perform.
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Here, four of the six F-16C’s, flying in the diamond formation made famous by the Thunderbirds, pass by the bleachers at about 1200 mph.

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Here they are in their six-man delta formation.

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In addition to all of the Mustangs, there were a lot of other interesting aircraft, including several vintage bombers. Those bomers, along with two Mustangs, did some low-level strafing and bombing runs, complete with lots of pyrotechnics. Anyway, here’s a B-24 flying by.

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There is only one RAF Lancaster bomber left in the world that is airworthy. It performed at the air show this weekend. Here it is in the air, doing a low-level bombing run.

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Here’s one of the few remaining airworthy B-17’s, doing a low-level bombing run.

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The last event of the show was that 20 of the Mustangs launched and then formed up. They flew over the airfield in a “51” formation. We were lucky enough to get this picture of them.

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Here’s a close-up of the front fuselage of one of the P-51’s.

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The pyrotechnics guys were having fun, including blowing smoke rings.

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Here I am, alongside one of the Mustangs, with two of the surviving Tuskegee Airmen. The fellow on the right, a retired college professor, is one of the surviving fighter aces. He shot down a German jet with his Mustang. Just being able to take a photo with someone like that made the visit worthwhile.

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Here’s Susan in front of one of the Mustangs.

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I couldn’t resist shooting this photo. The DC-3, otherwise known as the Gooney Bird, is one of the best-built and most reliable aircraft ever constructed. This one caught my attention, and I had to shoot a photo of it.

There were many more really interesting and neat aircraft there, such as a B-25, a C-5 Galaxy, a couple of very cool Warthogs (A-10’s), a B-52, one of only 3 remaining P-38 Lightnings, a P-40, painted as a Flying Tiger, and a number of others. For me, though, the best part of it was seeing those beautiful old warbirds fly one last time, and seeing the reactions of the old vets as they watched them. I heard on the news that something like 80,000 people attended over the course of the four days, which was a wonderful tribute to the old birds and to the men and women who flew them.

I suspect it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but I’m surely glad that we went.

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30 Sep 2007, by

UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!

Listen closely. Can you hear it?

That strange sound that you hear emanating from the direction of New York City is the sound of the greatest choke in the history of professional sports.

Yes, the New York Mets, who had a seven game lead with seventeen to place, proceeded to reel off a dozen losses in those seventeen games, all against teams with records less than .500. Today, of course, was the clincher.

Future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine, he of the 300+ wins and three Cy Young Awards, never made it out of the first inning today, giving up 7 runs in 1/3 of an inning. The game was over by the end of the first. The Mets lost 8-1 again to the Marlins.

And then, the Phillies–they of the horrific pitching–won 6-1, behind the ancient lefty, Jamie Moyer, who twirled five wonderful innings, meaning that they won the National League’s Eastern Division outright.

What a fold by the Metropolitans…it puts to shame the fold by the 1964 Phillies (6 game lead with twelve to play, finished second) and the 1969 Cubbies, who folded up a twelve game lead and lost to the same Mets.

It is THE greatest choke in the history of professional sports. Congratulations, Mets on your extraordinarily dubious accomplishment.

The greatest irony of all, of course, is that this was the season wherein the Phils carded the 10,000th loss in their franchise history, but yet they were the team still standing when the dust settled. Go figure.

It certainly looks like Jimmy Rollins was right last winter when he said that the Phillies were the team to beat in the National League East. And Rollins put his money where his mouth is by having an MVP-caliber season.

As for this life-long Phillies fan, today is a very sweet day. Let’s go, Phightin’ Phils…..

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28 Sep 2007, by

Nail Biting Time

After a season of incredible inconsistency marked by long winning streaks and long losing streaks and one of the most horrifically bad pitching staffs in the history of Major League Baseball, my beloved Philadelphia Phillies have pulled into a dead heat with the New York Mets after the Mets have pulled off one of the most monumental collapses in the history of the game. After a huge win that eliminated Atlanta from the playoff hunt, the Phillies are now tied for first place in the National League East.

The Mets had a seven game lead with 17 to play, and they’ve blown that lead entirely, thanks, in no small part, to eight straight losses to the Phightin’ Phils.

The Phillies, on the other hand, feature a tremendous offense (the have two players–Ryan Howard and Chase Utley) with more than 100 RBI’s and three knocking on the door with more than 90 each (Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, and Aaron Rowand). Three players (Howard, Rollins, and Burrell) have more than 30 home runs. Jimmy Rollins, the shortstop, has over 200 hits, 30 home runs, 36 stolen bases, 19 triples, and more than 90 RBI’s as a lead-off hitter. Rollins will set a major league for most at-bats in a season later on tonight. Burrell has been magnificent the second half of the season after a start so bad that I was advocating that he be cut, sicne nobody wanted him a trade. Burrell’s been one of the most productive hitters in the National League for the second half of the season.

Their pitching, on the other hand, leaves a vast amount to be desired. Other than all-star Cole Hamels and mid-season call-up Kyle Kendrick (10-3), they have one of the most incendiary, inconsistent, and atrocious pitching staffs I’ve ever seen. That they’ve hung in there this long is really a tribute to the offense and to Charlie Manuel, the manager.

Anyway, the Phils, through great clutch hitting and decent pitching, have taken advantage of the monumental collapse of the Mets, and have drawn into a dead heat with them. Both teams are 87-72 with three games each left to play. The Phils are riding a hot streak, while the Mets have been floundering badly. They close the regular season with the pesky Washington Nationals, while the Mets close with the Florida Marlins, who’ve done a great job of being a season killer against the Phillies for a number of years now.

From the very beginning of the season, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has predicted that 90 wins would take the division. Looks like he was dead on the money.

The Phillies have not been to the post-season since their magical ride to the World Series in 1993. It’s time. Hell, it’s long over due. Citzen’s Bank Park is going to be ROCKING this weekend. I wish I could be there.

It’s nail biting time for this life-long Phillies fan. Wish us luck. And wish the Marlins luck, too.

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I belong to a professional networking group that has been an excellent source of both new friends and good business referrals. Unlike many tip groups, our group follows a formal meeting agenda, has officers, and committee chairs, and the like. We meet for an hour and fifteen minutes each week. Each week, a member of the group has half an hour to present about his or her business, or some aspect of that business, so that other members can get a better understanding of what services are provided and how to refer business.

My turn to present was at Tuesday’s meeting. So, I gave a half hour talk on real property law in Ohio, and, in particular, how to convey title to real estate. As we have a realtor, a title agent, and a mortgage broker in our group, I figured it would be an excellent way to tie things up for a number of us. So, I spoke off the cuff for half an hour.

Then, that night, I gave my Stuart’s Ride talk to the Western Ohio Civil War Roundtable in Celina, OH. It’s only a two hour drive, and I had committed to the talk, so off we went. The problem is that until a cold front finally blew through yesterday, it’s been in the 90’s here, and it’s been hot. The air conditioning in the old building where the Roundtable meets, a branch campus of Wright State University, was not up to the task, and it was beastly hot in that room. Within five minutes of beginning to talk, I was drenched in sweat. The talk, counting Q&A, lasted about 75 minutes.

Then, the next day, I had to be in court in the morning for a client, and then I had to give yet another talk at lunch time. I am a member of the Columbus Bar Association. Several years ago, we formed our own Civil War Roundtable just for members of the CBA. Our programming year began on Wednesday, and, as a favor to the fellow who does the programming, I agreed to be the kick-off speaker, in part because I do tend to draw folks. So, I gave a talk on the pursuit of Lee’s army by Meade after Gettysburg that went about 75 minutes with the question and answer session at the end.

That made 180 minutes worth of addressing audiences by me in a span of about 30 hours. By the time I finished up with the lunch talk on Wednesday, my voice was about shot, as I had a big room with no amplification. Enough, already!

Thank heavens I get a break for a few weeks…..

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Maj. Gen. William Farrar “Baldy” Smith is an interesting fellow. I’ve learned to appreciate just how interesting a fellow he is from my work on the emergency militia forces that gathered in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to defend the Keystone State against the Confederate invasion in 1863. I had never looked at any of what I’m about to discuss until a couple of weeks ago, when I decided that one of the things that I wanted to focus on in the book on the retreat from Gettysburg was the role played by Smith’s command, which has never been given any sort of a detailed treatment anywhere. Consequently, I immersed myself into this, and boy, did I find some interesting stuff when I did.

Baldy Smith was a West Pointer, and was, by all accounts, a brilliant engineer. He was also a good soldier, but for his penchant for not knowing when to keep his big mouth shut. Smith, a Vermonter, was the first colonel of the 3rd Vermont Infantry. Before long, he was the commander of the First Vermont Brigade, and by the time of McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, he was a major general commanding a division of the 6th Corps. His date of commission is May 4, 1862.

After McClellan was relieved of command and Burnside took command of the Army of the Potomac, Burnside instituted the Grand Division organizational scheme for the Army of the Potomac. Each Grand Division consisted of two corps of infantry. The 6th Corps was part of the Left Grand Division, which was commanded by Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin, who had been Smith’s corps commander int he 6th Corps. When Franklin was promoted to Grand Division command, Smith was promoted to command the 6th Corps.

Smith, however, was his own worst enemy. After the twin debacles at Fredericksburg and Burnside’s Mud March, Smith and Franklin sent a letter to the War Department complaining bitterly about Burnside and seeking his removal from command. Although Burnside was eventually relieved at his own request, that letter sealed the fates of both Franklin and Smith. When Joseph Hooker took command of the Army of the Potomac, Smith was relieved of command of the 6th Corps and sent home to wait for orders.

In June 1863, when the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania began, Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch, whose commission as major general also dated back to May 4, 1862, was sent to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to assume command of the Department of the Susquehanna. Couch, who had commanded the 2nd Corps at Chancellorsville, ended up in de facto command of the Army of the Potomac when Hooker was dazed by an artillery shell that struck the wooden post where he was standing, leaving him sick and concussed. Disgusted by Hooker’s bungling at Chancellorsville, Couch, the army’s senior corps commander, refused to serve under Hooker’s command, and asked to be relieved of command of the 2nd Corps. His request was granted, and he was instead sent to Harrisburg.

Smith, aware of the crisis, and wanting to help his old friend Couch, volunteered his services, even offering to serve as a lieutenant if that’s what Couch wanted him to do. Couch was assembling a large force of raw militia from New York and Pennsylvania. These men were emergency troops, had virtually no training, had no experience soldiering, and were not good for much other than as cannon fodder. Couch gladly accepted Smith’s offer and placed him in command of these troops. Smith now commanded about 4,000 of the worst troops the American Civil War had to offer, and it’s no surprise that they made little impact on the Gettysburg Campaign.

After the Union victory at Gettysburg, the Army of the Potomac followed Lee’s beaten army to the banks of the flooded Potomac, and Smith’s ragtag command was ordered to march to Maryland to join the army. Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac, needed every able body he could get, experienced or not.

These orders horrified Smith. After commanding the 6th Corps–now commanded by Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, his junior, Smith now led troops that he himself described as useless. “If you send an order for this command to report to Meade, will you at the same time order me to return to you, leaving [Brig. Gen. Joseph] Knipe in command?” Smith begged Couch on July 6, 1863. “You can appreciate how unpleasant it would be for me to serve under existing circumstances with the Army of the Potomac.” Couch denied the request, and Smith, a good soldier, pressed on with his thankless duty and suffered the inevitable personal humiliation that undoubtedly accompanied his return to the Army of the Potomac at the head of a useless command.

His command finally reached the main body of the Army of the Potomac on July 11. It’s interesting to note that Smith outranked George Meade, whose date of commission as major general was in November 1862 (in fact, Henry Slocum also outranked Meade, but Slocum had specifically agreed to serve under a junior officer). Had Smith been anything but a good soldier, he could have made a big kerfuffle about serving under someone junior to him. However, and to his credit, he did not do so. Instead, Smith tolerated some pretty humiliating circumstances and performed admirable duty under some extremely difficult circumstances.

Smith certainly had his faults, but it’s hard to fault such selfless service as he performed during the Gettysburg Campaign. It’s episodes like this that demonstrate why I find the Gettysburg Campaign so fascinating, and why I find the pursuit of Lee’s army, in particular, intriguing.

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Hat tip to Brian Downey, whose post about this blog brought it to my attention. Good catch, Brian.

Mike, a substitute teacher from the Toledo area, has an excellent blog called Madness Mike that actually began in July. There is quite a bit of really good content on this blog already, and I’m adding it to my blogroll. Frankly, I’m not sure how this one managed to slip by all of us, but I’m glad Brian found it.

Check it out.

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On September 23, 2005, I made my first post on this blog, dipping my toe into the blogging pool for the first time. Two years and 539 posts later, I’m still standing. It’s been a real labor of love, and I’ve enjoyed every minute.

Any number of Civil War blogs have come and gone since that time, some memorable, and some definitely not. I’ve published several books in that time, and I’ve seen the culmination of a couple of projects that I’ve been working on for 15 years or more. I’ve seen changes in the book publishing industry, and I’ve seen a sea change in the availability of primary source resources on the Internet. You’ve been along with Susan and me as we’ve faced personal and professional challenges.

Who knows what the next two years will bring? However, I fully expect that I will still be here blogging in two more years. And I hope that all of you who’ve made this whole exercise worthwhile by giving some of your precious time to indulge my rantings will still be here with me.

Thanks, and I hope you will continue to come along for this ride, wherever it might lead us.

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I’ve become a huge fan of Roger Hunt’s work. Roger is one of the most diligent and effective researchers out there. To date, Roger has published three of the most useful books in my reference library. I discussed these books in detail in a lengthy post back in January.

Of special interest is Roger’s series of books profiling Union colonels. To date, two volumes in the series have been published. One book covers just New York. The other covers the New England states. I’ve been referring to them regularly during the writing of our study of the retreat from Gettysburg, and the photos found in these books are also very useful. Other than that the prior publisher had priced them excessively, I can’t say enough good things about these two books. Unfortunately, the prior publisher decided that the books didn’t sell enough copies, and elected to discontinue publishing the series.

I heard some great news the other day.

The newest volume in the series will be published by Stackpole on October 10. Unlike its predecessors, this book is very reasonably priced at $29.95. It covers the Mid-Atlantic states, meaning that it addresses the colonels from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia. Fortunately, it will be published in the same 8 1/2 x 11 format as the first two books in the series, and I likewise hope that Stackpole will continue with the high grade, glossy Baxter paper used by the prior publisher.

I’ve been waiting for this book since the New York volume was published in 2003. I’m really looking forward to seeing the new volume.

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WordPress tells me whenever somebody links to my blog. Today, one popped up for a blog I’d never heard of, called Mounted Valor, a name I did not recognize. So, I went and checked it out.

It turns out to be Chris Swift’s new blog, which, unlike his old blog, deals only with Civil War cavalry. I have changed the link in the blogroll, which was to his old blog, Yankee Tirade. That link is dead, and I was planning on deleting it this weekend. I’m glad to see that Chris is back and resuming his studies of Civil War cavalry. Welcome back, Chris.

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I am in Leesburg, Virginia on business today and part of tomorrow. Consequently, I got together with fellow blogger Dimitri Rotov for dinner this evening in downtown Leesburg. We ate at a very interesting place suggested by Dimitri. It’s called The Green Tree, and it features menu items based on 18th Century recipes.

The meal was excellent, the wine dry and fruity, and the dinner conversation delightful. If you’re ever going to be in the area, be sure to look Dimitri up. He makes for an excellent dinner companion.

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