January, 2009

Kevin Levin has a really good post on his blog today that I commend to you. Be sure to read the comments, as they are critical to understanding Kevin’s point.

Kevin’s had one particular anti-Semitic neo-Confederate nut job–my first nominee for 2009’s grand champion, by the way–who calls herself “JosephineSouthern”, and who cannot resist any opportunity to (a) be insulting and condescending, (b) loudly bang the neo-Confederate drum, and (c) ignore Kevin’s rules for civility as a condition to being permitted to leave comments on his blog. Given that the primary focus of Kevin’s blog is Civil War Memory, his blog is a prime focus for all of these neo-Confederate jerks who so seem to enjoy tormenting him.

It’s a great case study in how blogging brings out both the best and the worst in people. Kevin, while you and I may not always agree on everything, I very much appreciate your willingness to serve as a lightning rod for those loons.

By the way, the 2008 neo-Confederate grand champion, Olaf Childress, paid my site a visit not too long ago and left me a rude and condescending comment. I guess he must have googled himself and found me that way. Thanks for your warm wishes, Olaf. Sorry I deleted your comment and blacklisted your IP address. You will find that you will be unable to post further comments here as a consequence.

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Late last October, it was announced that Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent John Latschar was going to retire to assume the presidency of the Gettysburg Foundation at a major salary increase. I seriously questioned the ethics of this job move in a couple of posts here. Kevin Levin disagreed with me in a comment to his post, finding nothing wrong with the ethics of the situation.

Well, as the following press release from the National Park Service plainly demonstrates, there was something fishy about this situation after all. After being reined in by the NPS ethics people, who finally woke up and realized that there serious conflicts of interest inherent in this situation, Latschar has now reversed field, announced that he won’t take the position with the Gettysburg Foundation, and that he will remain as superintendent of the GNMP:

Latschar to remain in current post as Gettysburg Superintendent

Gettysburg Superintendent John Latschar will remain in his current post, reversing his decision to retire and become president of the Gettysburg Foundation. Latschar made the decision following advice by Department of the Interior ethics officials that would have severely curtailed his ability to work with the park in his new role with the Foundation.

When initially approached to consider heading the Gettysburg Foundation, Superintendent John Latschar did what any responsible federal employee should do, said National Park Service Northeast Regional Director Dennis R. Reidenbach. He contacted National Park Service ethics officials, and he also contacted me as his supervisor.

When initially informed by the Washington office in October 2008 that there was no ethical issue in accepting the position, Latschar announced his retirement. Subsequently, Department of Interior ethics officials issued supplemental guidance because of Latschar’s involvement in developing agreements between the Foundation and the NPS.

“The Foundation obviously would have been honored to have John as its next president,” said Foundation President Robert C. Wilburn. “But we are thrilled that he will continue to facilitate our successful partnership as superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park.” A search committee to find Wilburn’s successor is in place; Wilburn will postpone his departure from the Foundation until a successor is named.

“I had been looking forward to the challenges of moving to the private sector and working for the Gettysburg Foundation,” said Superintendent John Latschar. “However, I can’t complain about going back to the best job in the National Park Service as Superintendent of Gettysburg NMP and Eisenhower NHS. We’ll now redouble our efforts to make our wonderful partnership with the Gettysburg Foundation the best that the National Park Service has ever seen.”

“The Gettysburg Foundation’s loss is the National Park Service’s gain, and I am happy that John chose to remain as superintendent,” said Reidenbach. “The situation with the ethics guidance was unfortunate, but John Latschar and the Gettysburg Foundation have always maintained the highest ethical standards possible.”

Personally, I’m glad that the ethics people finally woke up and realized that they needed to do something about the huge conflict of interest inherent in this transaction, and that they took steps to stop it. It just never smelled right to me from the very beginning, and I was shocked that they didn’t have the same reaction to what seemed to me to be a very obvious problem.

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We had our quarterly meeting of the Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Foundation yesterday. We learned some good news. The Ohio Historical Society has set aside funds to establish an interpretive kiosk at the four-acre battlefield park that it owns. Consequently, the two architects and the display designer who will be responsible for setting up this display attended the meeting. This is great news, as there is almost n interpretation on the battlefield.

In addition, we learned that more than 600 signs will be installed along the route of Morgan’s Ride through Ohio during 2009 and 2010. Obviously, some of this interpretation will affect the battlefield at Buffington Island. My view on it is the more the merrier. We can’t have too much interpretation.

Also, my efforts to develop an advisory board for the Foundation are beginning to pay some dividends. So far, Bud Hall, Mark Grimsley, Lesley Gordon, Pete Carmichael, Mark Snell, Ethan Rafuse, Ken Noe, and Brooks Simpson have all agreed to serve on our advisory board. They will make great additions to our efforts, and I appreciate their agreement to do so.

After the meeting, we paid a visit to the battlefield. It’s actually been a couple of years since my last visit. In fact, the last time I was there, the sand and gravel company had not commenced mining operations there yet. It was very only about 20 degrees and quite breezy yesterday, meaning that it was REALLY cold out there, and the conditions were less than ideal for an extended session of battlefield stomping. Consequently, we did an abbreviated tour intended to show the OHS folks what they needed to see in order to do their work at the battlefield.

It broke my heart to see what the sand and gravel company has done to the heart of the battlefield. It looks like a war zone. There are deep pits, and lots of heavy machinery present to remove the gravel from the battlefield. A big chunk of the section of the field where the heaviest and most protracted fighting occurred is torn up forever. Unfortunately, the sand and gravel company’s contract with the Army Corps of Engineers permits them to mine the area and then leave it as ponds and the like. They have no obligation to restore the ground in any fashion, so the ground that it has dug up is forever destroyed.

The only good news is that we are being told that the sand and gravel company is not finding the concentration of gravel that it hoped to find there. Hopefully, that will mean that they will terminate their mining operations early and without destroying as much of the battlefield as they had originally intended to dig up. We don’t know this for certain, but it is what we’re hearing. Let us hope that that’s true.

I will keep everyone posted as to our progress.

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The fuzzy green fellow in the photograph below is the Phillie Phanatic. Anybody who has followed major league baseball over the last thirty years undoubtedly recognizes the best sports mascot there is. The Phanatic set the gold standard for sports mascots. He is a living legend.

Dave RaymondMichael came up with the absolutely brilliant idea of asking Dave Raymond to write the introduction to the baseball book. We’d thought of lots of great ideas for the book, but had neglected finding someone great to the introduction. My initial thought was to ask former major league pitcher and ex-Seattle Pilot Jim Bouton to write the introduction for us, but Jim declined when I asked. Hence we were groping in the dark, hoping to find someone who could capture the essence of what we’re trying to do with this book. To his undying credit, Michael came up with the idea of asking Dave Raymond to do the introduction for us.

The Philly PhanaticDave spent sixteen years as the Phriend of the Phanatic, as he himself describes his role, and he was the first to bring the Phanatic to life. Today, he heads his own company, Raymond Entertainment Group, where he helps college and professional teams develop mascots, and then helps to train the men in the suits to be effective and funny mascots. He has the fabulous title–one I would love to have, by the way–of Emperor of Fun and Games. Personally, I can’t think of anyone better to write the foreword for us, and I am tickled to have him on board with the project.

The project continues to grow and morph each day, which is a big part of what makes it so much fun. Thanks, Dave, and welcome aboard.

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21 Jan 2009, by

Professional News

My experiences in law firm partnerships have not been good. Prior to my going back out on my own at the end of March 2007, I was involved in three different partnerships, and each was a really bad experience for its own set of reasons. The last one was an economic disaster, and, as I announced here on April 4, 2007, I had to do something different. I spent some time (about six months) trying to figure out what to do with myself, including possibly going back to school to obtain an MBA. In all, I spent 18 months as a sole practitioner, at first trying to figure out what to do. Then, once I figured out that I was going to stay in the practice of law, I then spent about a year looking for the right way to do it, as I had no desire to remain a sole practitioner for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was the lack of resources.

This past summer, I made arrangements to relocate to the firm of another attorney whom I have known for years and for whom I’d always had a great deal of respect. Our discussions began last summer after I referred one of my clients to him. I moved into his building on November 1, with the idea being that I would continue to run my practice separate of his until we decided whether we should merge our practices and create a law firm. No matter what, we figured we would make that decision by April, as both of our malpractice insurance comes up for renewal in April.

Because of a couple of major cases that came in, we had to work together a great deal very quickly, and things clicked. In fact, the relationship has worked well enough already that we are in the process of merging our practices now. For now, the firm will continue to be called what it’s always been, which is Ricketts Co, L.P.A. However, I am considered to be a principal in the firm, and the plan is to change the name later this year, when my name will go on the door. There are three of us, and we will all be partners in the venture. It has already been a very good thing for me, as I now have full resources available to me and lots of additional work to supplement my own practice. In addition to taking care of the needs of my own clients, I am going to be responsible for managing the firm’s litigation practice. It’s a very good fit with my skill set.

In short, I believe that I have finally found the arrangement that I’ve been looking for for more than ten years, and it’s nice to be somewhere where I am both wanted and respected.

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20 Jan 2009, by


Today, our country stands on the brink of truly historic events. Barack Obama is being inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States, joining the most exclusive club in the world. The thought of an African-American in the White House was unheard of just twenty-nine years ago in 1980, when I voted for the first time as a nineteen-year-old college student. But here we stand on the precipice of history, having finally closed the circle on the stain on America that was slavery. Yes, these are events that boggle the mind.

I am hopeful for our future. I am not sorry to see the present administration leave, as I am convinced that this country has only ever had one President worse than George W. Bush in James Buchanan, who presided over the unraveling of the Union. Susan thinks Bush is the worst. I do know this: this administration presided over a nearly unprecedented economic meltdown, did more to erode our civil liberties, and did more to drive a wedge between Americans than any other, and from where I sat, it could not have ended soon enough. Indeed, I have been counting the days for some time now.

Now, we have an energetic, brilliant, and purposeful man in office who has a real vision for the future of this great country, and I am hopeful for the future for the first time since the dark day that George W. Bush took office in 2001. What Obama did last night in feting John McCain and in embracing the man who was his opponent is almost without precedent, and it gives me hope that petty partisan politics can be overcome for the good of us all. To be sure, we face a lot of painful days until the economy turns around, and we face a lot of hurdles across the globe. But, for the first time in eight long, dark, bleak years, I awoke this morning believing that this country is back on track again.

The historian in me celebrates the uniqueness of today’s events. The American in me prays for the health and success of our new President, and the human being in me is proud of what we’ve done in electing this man President.

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Thanks to reader Todd Berkoff (again) for passing this along.

The moron re-enactor who shot the 73-year old Union re-enactor at an event last year has been indicted, proving that idiocy can, indeed, be a crime. From Saturday’s edition of The New York Times:

Re-enactor Is Indicted in Shooting of a Yankee

Published: January 17, 2009
The mysterious shooting of a would-be Yankee cavalryman from the Bronx during the filming of a Civil War re-enactment in Virginia in September has been solved, according to the authorities, with the indictment of a latter-day Johnny Reb who, they say, accidentally fired a .44-caliber ball from an 1860 Army Colt pistol that was supposed to be empty.

The shot wounded Thomas Lord, a 73-year-old former New York City police officer from Suffolk, Va., and a bluecoat with the Seventh New York Volunteer Cavalry. The group’s roots include a pitched battle against Confederates in the trenches near Suffolk in 1864.

Mr. Lord said of the shot, “It missed the main artery by centimeters, in which case I could have bled out.” He faulted the Isle of Wight County’s sheriff’s office for what he called blunders in the investigation.

The suspect, Josh O. Silva, 29, of Norfolk, Va., was armed and in costume as an unofficial walk-on in the re-enactment. He was identified with the help of movie footage that captured the gunfire and narrowed the possible suspects but did not pinpoint the gunman, said C. W. Phelps, the county sheriff.

Mr. Silva was indicted on Monday on the charge of “reckless handling of a firearm,” said Wayne Farmer, the county attorney. The charge is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

“No one is alleging ill will or that anyone acted intentionally,” said Mr. Farmer, speaking from his home on Friday because Virginia offices were closed for Lee-Jackson Day, marking the birthdays this month of the Confederate heroes Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and now celebrated on the Friday before Martin Luther King’s Birthday.

“If I had any idea that Mr. Silva had fired intentionally at another person, it would be a much more serious charge,” Mr. Farmer said.

Asked why Mr. Silva had not turned himself in after the shooting, Sheriff Phelps said: “He wasn’t sure he did it. He didn’t know he’d shot anyone.” He attributed delays in the investigation to recent turnovers in the county attorney’s office.

Mr. Farmer said that Mr. Silva was not a member of an organized re-enactment group but showed up in Confederate grays and joined the event, evidently unaware of rules strictly forbidding loaded weapons. He said Mr. Silva did not appear to have a criminal record and was expected to surrender on Tuesday.

Mr. Silva would not open the door to his home in Norfolk’s Willoughby Spit neighborhood on Friday, and said only, “We don’t want any.”

The shooting occurred shortly after noon on Sept. 27, 2008, as a movie crew from a company called Alderworks was filming the re-enactment of a trench battle in Heritage Park in Suffolk for a documentary.

Mr. Silva drew attention by brandishing a large unsheathed Bowie knife, Mr. Lord said. Union cavalry troops had just taken the earthworks from a group of rebel fighters when, Mr. Lord recalled, “I was hit in the right shoulder with a sharp blow — it felt like someone had hit me with a baseball bat.”

The lead ball, a reproduction fired from an authentic period pistol, punctured his scapula and ended up sticking out from the front of his shoulder. The angle of the shot, Mr. Lord said, suggested it came from someone below in the enemy ditch.

He said the area was not immediately secured as a crime scene, allowing suspects and witnesses to leave. Investigators spent weeks searching for a hunter who was presumed to have fired the shot, Mr. Lord said. He added that the authorities obtained the projectile only because he preserved it in a vial and turned it over.

Still, Mr. Lord said he was looking forward to his unit’s next re-enactment, in March at Endview Plantation in Newport News, Va., marking the Battle of Williamsburg. “I’ll be there,” he said.

Lisa A. Bacon contributed reporting from Virginia.

As Bugs Bunny would say, “what a maroon.” I certainly hope this idiot does some time.

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Thanks to reader Charlie Knight for passing this along….

The Augusta, Georgia Museum of History was recently robbed of Civil War-era items. None had a great deal of monetary value, but all are probably irreplaceable. A newspaper article from Charlie’s e-mail:

Published: January 13, 2009

(AUGUSTA) – The Augusta’s Story Room at the museum is missing some pieces of history and the theft was a brazen one.

Richmond County Investigator Alton Creech says Saturday, or Sunday, someone waited until no one was looking and smashed the display case that used to be here and took the items. No one may have seen the theft, but cameras were rolling.

Inv. Alton Creech: “There was video of the incident we’re trying to locate the exact video of the incident itself. There were also fingerprints found at the scene.”

This is a list of some of the stolen civil war ear items:

Georgia $500 note Civil War Era valued at $40.

A Confederate States of America $20 note valued at $32

The Bank of South Carolina currency for $.10 valued at $12

Seated Liberty half dollar valued at $120

City Council of Augusta $.25 note number 955 Civil War era vauled at $12

Augusta $1 bill Civil War era valued at $25

Pair of earrings made of hair valued at $150

Hair jewelry brooch valued at $250

Ring link chain made of meat bones (brown) with approx. 25 links valued at $250.

Inv. Creech: “They were not the most expensive items that they had. They don’t want any type of loss, in any way. It definitely could have been worse.”

This is another instance where I think that waterboarding and an all-expenses-paid vacation to Gitmo would be wholly appropriate for the perpetrators. Let’s hope that they get caught quickly.

In the interim, if anyone tries sell or donate any of these items, please report it to your local police.

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From the January 12 edition of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star newspaper:

Store Appears a Go in Orange
By Robin Knepper


It can only be called unintended consequences.

Reacting strongly, and negatively, to pressure from groups of historians and preservationists, a majority of Orange County supervisors have thrown their support behind a Wal-Mart supercenter in the northeastern corner of the county.

At a weekend retreat supervisors Mark Johnson, Zack Burkett and Teel Goodwin declared their backing for the 138,000-square-foot store planned for a 19.5-acre site a quarter mile north of State Route 3.

Newly elected Board Chairman Lee Frame said he was undecided and his constituents were divided 50-50. Supervisor Teri Pace steadfastly opposed Wal-Mart’s building at that location.

The supervisors were reacting to a five-page memo sent to Frame and Pace on Friday from Katharine Gilliam, Virginia Programs manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. She forwarded a proposal from the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition, a group of eight organizations opposed to Wal-Mart’s building in the vicinity of the Wilderness Battlefield.

The group offered to pay for a “Gateway Vision Planning Process” to “protect the character and integrity of the national park.”

(The Wilderness Battlefield, part of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, is on the opposite side of State Route 3 from the proposed Wal-Mart and is already home to a Sheetz, McDonald’s, used-car lot and strip mall.)

“This is nothing but a cheap ploy to slow down Wal-Mart,” said Burkett, “and we need the jobs and the tax revenue.”

“I vigorously oppose this,” said Johnson. “It’s just a delaying tactic.”

Pace objected, saying that her fellow supervisors were “throwing away an incredible opportunity for the county.”

Burkett replied, “If we give our blessing to this, it’s guaranteed they’ll use it against us.”

“I don’t want to give that group any standing,” added Johnson. “They’ve got a specific agenda they’re pushing.”

When Supervisor Teel Goodwin was asked whether he supported the coalition’s offer, he quickly replied, “Hell, no.”

It’s not only Wal-Mart that’s under fire from preservationists and Civil War buffs. The coalition has declared the agriculturally zoned land located in a 1,000-acre area designated by the county for economic development to be too close to the Wilderness Battlefield.

A condition of its offer was that the county not act on any development proposals in the study area (the Route 3 corridor between Wilderness Run and Vaucluse Road and east to the Rapidan River) until the study was completed.

Charles “Chip” King, whose family owns 2,000 acres on the north side of Route 3 and has planned Wilderness Crossing, a 900-acre mixed-use development there, has been meeting with preservation groups and the representatives from the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park to develop an alternative route from Route 20 to Route 3.

King has hoped to have Wal-Mart locate in the Wilderness Crossing development to shield it from view from Route 3 and to expedite traffic into the larger development area.

Although traffic from routes 3 and 20 into the Wal-Mart site (between the existing Wachovia Bank and 7-Eleven) would further degrade that intersection, Wal-Mart officials have not been part of the discussions between King and the coalition. Sources say that Wal-Mart officials have recently been contacted, however, and have agreed to discuss the situation with King, Orange County officials and members of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition and the National Park Service.

The present intersection is failing, according to officials of the Virginia Department of Transportation, who have to approve a traffic-impact analysis from Wal-Mart before the county can grant a special-use permit for the store.

According to County Administrator Bill Rolfe, Wal-Mart’s application for a special-use permit (required for retail construction larger than 60,000 square feet) will be subject to administrative review this month.

A public hearing on Wal-Mart’s application will be held before the county Planning Commission in March. A public hearing before the Board of Supervisors is expected in April or May.

It would appear that the attempt to pressure the Planning Commission has not only failed, but that it has actually backfired. It would appear that the Wilderness Wal-Mart project is going to be a go. What a tragedy, and what a terrible case of shortsightedness by those who ought to know better.

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As I did with his excellent last book, Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign, I’ve been working my way through the manuscript of the next volume in his trilogy on Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. The second volume will cover Third Winchester and Fisher’s Hill. I’ve now read 11 chapters, and am nearly through the narrative on Third Winchester, and it’s every bit as good as the last book was. When Scott’s done, he will have given the Valley Campaign the same exhaustive treatment that Gordon Rhea has given the Overland Campaign. There won’t be much left to cover when he’s finished.

I also introduced Scott to Ted Savas, and I believe that Ted’s planning on publishing the second volume.

I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of the second volume and then moving on to seeing how Scott treats actions like Tom’s Brook and Cedar Creek.

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