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March, 2008

This will follow up on my post of last week, where I complained about The History Channel. The following appeared on MSNBC today. It’s nice to see that I’m not the only one who feels the same way about this particular issue.

NEW YORK – The History Channel is now history.

Make that History. The cable network quietly dropped “the” and “channel” from its name recently, claiming History for itself.

“Our brand is, in the media landscape, synonymous with the genre of history so I don’t think it’s presumptuous of us to call ourselves History,” said Nancy Dubuc, the network’s executive vice president.

That’s how many viewers already refer to it, she said. “Channel” is a drag on efforts to establish the brand in other media, like on the Internet. There were no licensing issues involved in the switch, she said.

The network has even changed its “H” logo to make it look bolder, less ancient.

Once dubbed “The Hitler Channel” for all of its World War II documentaries, History has switched to a more “immersive” style that tries to show rather than tell, she said. Adventure-seeking is in. Sitting in an armchair telling war stories is out.

History is following the model of Discovery, whose popular “Deadliest Catch” series about Alaskan crab fishermen is one of the most influential shows on cable. History, owned by the A&E Television Networks, has its own “Ice Road Truckers” about drivers on frozen lakes in Canada and just started “Ax Men” about loggers.

The series “MonsterQuest” may sound like a video game; it’s about searches for mythic creatures.

“It’s not exactly history, is it?” said Sean Wilentz, award-winning history professor at Princeton University.

“Anybody who thinks that there’s only one place to go for history is badly mistaken,” Wilentz said. “Why are they doing that? I don’t know. Especially at a time they are moving away from history? I don’t get it.”

Although the attention-getting “Life After People” special dramatized a world after the human race had been wiped out — prehistory, in other words — Dubuc said she’s concentrating on building signature series that people will return to each week.

Despite his bewilderment at the change, Wilentz and another prominent historian said they appreciated any efforts to get more people interested in the topic.

“Truth is that I love history so much and if the changed name brings more people to watch more history it’s all to the good,” said Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Gordon Wood, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian at Brown University, doesn’t watch the network much.

“I must confess, I’m still back in the reading-of-books stage,” he said

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

It may be interesting, but it’s NOT history.

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The Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (“MOLLUS”), a veteran’s organization for Union officers of the Civil War, established its museum and headquarters in a building on Pine Street in one of the oldest parts of Philadelphia. The museum is presently located at 1805 Pine Street. When I was a child, my aunt and uncle lived at 2021 Pine Street, just over a block away, and I never knew that the place existed. I only discovered it in the 1990’s. The place has an interesting collection: a very impressive library, including all of the MOLLUS publications, the stuffed and mounted head of George Meade’s war horse, Old Baldy (which is actually kind of creepy, if the truth be told), weaponry, including an original lance carried by a trooper of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, and lots of other interesting ephemera. A few years back, the name was changed to the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum.

Unfortunately, the building where the museum is housed in crappy condition and the place is dead broke, and has been for some time. Consequently, everything is being moved. The following was posted on the Gettysburg Discussion Group today by old friend Paula Gidjunis:

The Civil War and Underground Railroad museum, at 1805 Pine St in Philadelphia will be closing at the end of July, 08 for about 2 years in preparation of their move. The museum will be moving to the former 1st National Bank of the United States at 3rd and Walnut which will provide more room for their holdings. If you plan on seeing the museum and haven’t done so, you should do it by July or you will have to wait until 2010. This is the website, however, I must tell you that it hasn’t been updated in awhile, but the basic info is correct. http://www.cwurmuseum.org/pages/PhilaCivilWar.htm

Also, the home page wasn’t working this AM, the other pages were. The CW and UGRR museum is the home of Meade’s horse, Old Baldy’s head and it contains the saddle that John Reynolds was on when he was killed. Other items of note, items belonging to Meade, Grant, Lincoln and a large collection of military escutcheons.

If you have the opportunity to visit the museum before it closes in July, do yourself a favor and do so. It’s well worth the visit, and you really should get the ambience of seeing it in its crummy old run-down surroundings.

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I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit where it’s due and if I didn’t point out what a great job Rene Tyree’s doing over at the Wig Wags blog. Rene’s been posting some remarkably insightful and thoroughly fascinating material on Jominian military history that are some of the most informative blog posts I’ve ever seen.

Keep up the really great work, Rene.

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J. D, and I were approached by Randy Drais, the proprietor of a new website on the Battle of Gettysburg several weeks ago. He asked us to review a draft of the site and give him some feedback, which we gladly did. Randy’s been banging away at it since then, and he’s now formally launched the site. For those interested in the Battle of Gettysburg, his site is definitely worth a visit. Check it out.

I’ve added a link.

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All of the snow has melted, meaning that the ground here was fully and completely saturated before today’s heavy rains hit. My back yard looks like a lake, there is so much standing water. With two golden retrievers that go slogging through the mud every chance they get, we’re both getting tired of giving the dogs baths. I gave Aurora a bath a little while ago, as there is muck, muck, and more muck everywhere. We’re supposed to have 3-4 inches of rain between today and tomorrow, meaning widespread flooding all over Ohio. I never thought I would hear myself say this, but….

I’m almost praying for a drought. I can’t take any more mud…..

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17 Mar 2008, by

Quiet….

I decided to take a few days away from the blog–three or four–just to recharge my batteries a little bit, and also because I didn’t really have much of anything to say. I’ve been working on stuff related to a completely unrelated business venture that has nothing to do with the Civil War as well as legal stuff, and nothing terribly interesting pertaining to the Civil War or to this blog came up. In short, I really didn’t have much of anything worth saying, so I decided to take a couple of days away from the blog. I know you all are used to my posting nearly every day, and I apologize for being away for a few days, but it was unavoidable.

I’m back now.

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Hat tip to Harry Smeltzer for pointing this one out to us….

Welcome to the blogosphere to Robert H. Moore, II, who’s got a new but interesting blog called Cenantua. Robert wrote several of the volumes of the H. E. Howard Virginia Regimentals Series (mainly on artillery subjects), so I am familiar with his work. I’ve added a link to his blog.

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Today is the 166th anniversary of the death of British officer Henry Shrapnel, the inventor of the long-range artillery shell that bears his name.

Here’s an interesting article about him that appeared on Wired.com today:

March 13, 1842: Henry Shrapnel Dies, But His Name Lives On
By Tony Long 03.13.08 | 12:00 AM

1842: Henry Shrapnel, inventor of the long-range artillery shell that bears his name, dies.

ShrapnelShrapnel, a British lieutenant, was serving in the Royal Artillery when he perfected his shell in the mid-1780s. A shrapnel shell, unlike a conventional high-explosive artillery round, is designed as an anti-personnel weapon. The projectile is packed with fragments — often sharp metal, lead balls or nails — and detonates in midair, spraying enemy troops in the vicinity with what the British quickly christened “shrapnel.”

In developing his shell, Shrapnel married two existing weapons technologies, the canister shot and the delayed-action fuse. Canister shot, in use since the 1400s, burst upon leaving the gun’s muzzle and was originally used in small arms at close range against infantry. Shrapnel’s refinement carried the shell intact to the enemy’s lines, where it detonated above the heads of the troops with much more devastating effect.

The British army, not quick to embrace innovation, did not adopt Shrapnel’s invention until 1803. It saw early action against the Dutch in Suriname but really came into its own after the Duke of Wellington demonstrated its effectiveness against Napoleon’s army at several engagements, including the Battle of Waterloo.

Henry Shrapnel, by then a captain, was rewarded with a promotion to major and soon thereafter to lieutenant colonel. In 1814, the British government awarded him a lifetime annual stipend of 1,200 pounds (about $128,000 in today’s money). Later, as inspector of artillery, Shrapnel also worked on improvements in howitzers and mortars. He ended his military career a major general.

The shrapnel shell was quickly adopted by the armies of all Europe’s great powers. Armorers across the continent tinkered with the design, mainly looking for ways to improve range, but Shrapnel’s original principle remained the basic blueprint through the end of World War I. By then, shrapnel shells could be hurled 6,000 yards and were being used in a variety of situations, including close infantry support.

By World War II, the day of Henry Shrapnel’s shell was over, although variants saw action throughout that war, as well as in Korea and Vietnam. Modern arsenals still employ shells that use canister-shot projectiles based on the original shrapnel principle, but the nature of ordnance has obviously changed.

As for the word itself, shrapnel has long been used generically to refer to any shell fragment.

Shrapnel’s invention certainly impacted the American Civil War and forever changed the way that artillery would be used.

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Old friend and fellow blogger Harry Smeltzer came to Columbus yesterday and did an excellent presentation to our Civil War Roundtable last night on some really interesting obscure topics arising from the First Battle of Bull Run. I joined Harry and our program chairman, Mike Peters, for dinner, enjoyed the company, and then went on to hear Harry’s talk which was, without doubt, one of the most interesting CWRT talks I’ve ever heard. Thanks, Harry.

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I seem to have struck a nerve with yesterday’s post. We’ve had about a dozen comments so far, including an especially good one from old friend Ted Savas, I decided to send my complaint on to the History Channel.

The following, although a little difficult to find, appears on THC’s website:

It is important to us to receive feedback from our viewers, and we appreciate your taking the time to contact us.

I took them up on it. I copy/pasted last night’s blog entry into an e-mail and sent it on. I want to encourage anyone else who cares about this issue to do the same. You can send your e-mails to thc.viewerrelations at aetv.com. Maybe a popular revolt by those of us who have been loyal viewers for years might bring back the sort of programming we want. Maybe not. But it’s worth a try.

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