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March, 2009

The following passage, which comes from the quarterly newsletter of the Washington County, Maryland Planning Department, demonstrates the excellent preservation work being done around the Antietam National Battlefield by the local authorities. The folks from Washington County are quietly doing an excellent job:

RURAL LEGACY PROGRAM AWARDED $ 460,700
FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009

Washington County received a Rural Legacy Program award in the amount of $460,700 for Fiscal Year 2009 at an award ceremony by Governor Martin O’Malley on December 3rd. Senator Don Munson was on hand for the award presentation. The funds will help Washington County to continue purchasing easements in the Antietam Battlefield area as we work towards our overall county goal of 50,000 acres under permanent preservation.

Including the FY 2009 award, our 11th since the inception of the Rural Legacy Program, Washington County has now preserved in perpetuity more than 4,000 acres on 30 farms in the Antietam Battlefield area through grant awards exceeding $11 million.

Kudos for a job well done. I wish more states had this sort of program to provide funding and that better use is made of preservation easements.

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Even at the height of this horrific recession, the House of Representatives has passed legislation to provide funding for battlefield preservation:

HOUSE PASSES BILLS TO PROTECT REVOLUTIONARY WAR, WAR OF 1812 AND CIVIL WAR BATTLEFIELDS

On March 3, 2009, the House of Representatives passed two battlefield protection bills that authorize federal grants for the preservation of significant sites associated with the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Similar bills passed the House last year, but were not considered by the Senate before it adjourned.

H.R. 146, the “Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefield Protection Act,” amends the “American Battlefield Protection Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-333)” to direct the Secretary of the Interior to establish an acquisition grant program for battlefields and associated sites identified in a Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Historic Preservation Study prepared by the National Park Service (NPS).

The bill would authorize $10 million in grants annually in fiscal 2010-14 from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for the preservation and protection of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefields and related historical sites, as is currently done for Civil War sites. The bill would allow officials at the American Battlefield Protection Program to collaborate with state and local governments and non-profit organizations to preserve and protect the most endangered historical sites and to provide up to 50 percent of the costs of purchasing battlefield land threatened by sprawl and commercial development.

According to a 2007 National Parks Service “Report to Congress on the Historic Preservation of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Sites in the United States,” 170 of 677 nationally significant sites associated with the two wars are in danger of being destroyed in the next 10 years. . In addition to the 170 sites in danger of being destroyed within the next 10 years, the NPS found that 99 have already been lost forever and 234 are in poor condition. The bill includes $500,000 to update the Report within three years of enactment.

The House also passed H.R. 548, the “Civil War Battlefield Preservation Act of 2009.”

The legislation directs the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the American Battlefield Protection Program, to assist and work in partnership with citizens, federal, state, local, and tribal governments, other public entities, educational institutions, and private nonprofits in the identification, research, evaluation, interpretation, and protection of historic Civil War battlefields and associated sites.

The bill establishes a battlefield acquisition grant program under which the Secretary may provide grants to eligible entities (states and local governments) to pay the federal share of the cost to acquire interests in eligible sites for the preservation and protection of those sites. It permits an eligible entity to acquire an interest in an eligible site using a grant in partnership with a nonprofit and requires the non-federal share to be at least 50 percent. It limits acquisitions of land and interests under the bill to acquisitions of conservation easements and fee-simple purchases of eligible sites from willing sellers only.

The legislation authorizes appropriations to fund grants at a level of $10 million annually through fiscal year 2013. The Act would be repealed on September 30, 2019.

Let’s hope that the Senate not only gets to this legislation, but that it passes it.

Conservation/preservation easements can be an extremely effective means of preserving land without having to incur the cost of acquisition. This technique is being used very effectively in Washington County, Maryland in the areas surrounding the Antietam battlefield, and it’s a great way to leave land in private hands while still ensuring it will remain in its pristine state.

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Susan and I just made a quick overnight trip to Hockeytown, USA, which is also known as Detroit, Michigan. Thanks to fellow blogger Jack Dempsey, we got to watch the Columbus Blue Jackets destroy the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings 8-2 at Joe Lewis Arena last night. Many thanks to Jack for the tickets. It’s very cool seeing those 11 Stanley Cup banners and the retired numbers, and all of the other banners that fill the rafters of the venerable old arena. Considering that this is only our team’s 8th season, and we’ve never even made the playoffs, we don’t have such stuff hanging from our rafters (yet). The monuments to Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel–the legendary Production Line–are also neat.

Go Blue Jackets!

I have to say that, considering we were both wearing Blue Jackets jerseys in a place where not much but red and white can be found, we were pleasantly surprised that the local folks were extremely friendly. A couple of Red Wings fans congratulated us on our team’s record-setting performance last night, and one fellow looked at me and said, “If your team does this well in the playoffs, it will go a long way” as he headed out after the 7th goal.

Neither of us had ever been to Joe Lewis previously, and it is one of those pilgrimages that every serious hockey fans needs to make.

I had actually hoped to mix a little history into the trip, but the weather defeated that good intention. It rained somewhat heavily yesterday, but it was like a monsoon today, meaning that there was no real reason to stop in Monroe, Michigan on the way home as I had planned. The intent was to visit the handsome equestrian monument to George Custer in his adopted hometown, see the home where his wife Libby grew up, and then spend a bit of time visiting the War of 1812 battlefield there, which was the Battle of the River Raisin. The Custer monument is actually on a portion of the River Raisin battlefield, but I am told that there is interpretation being placed on the battlefield. I’ve never really visited a War of 1812 battlefield (unless you count the Perry Victory Monument on Middle Bass Island in Lake Erie), and I was really looking forward to it. Looks like another trip is going to have to be in the offing to make it happen. I want to go to a Tigers game this summer, so hopefully we will be able to visit Monroe then.

Thanks again to Jack Dempsey for his generosity in giving us the tickets last night. That generosity was made all the more remarkable by the performance our team put on.

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Time for a major rant.

To avoid embarrassing the person, I will not identify him, and I will not identify the blog where it took place, but I just got done drafting a lengthy critique of an essay on the coming of age of the Union cavalry. There was so much that was factually incorrect about what he wrote that I could not resist the temptation to point out how much was wrong. I was not gentle about it, either.

I have devoted most of my adult life to the study of Union cavalry operations in the Civil War. I have published fourteen books and a couple of dozen articles on the subject. I’ve written more than a million words on the subject. Along the way, I have examined more than a thousand–probably closer to two thousand–separate sources on the subject. At this point, I think I know a little bit about the subject. And I’ve had a book published that addresses the coming of age of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps.

One lesson I learned very early in my writing career is that it’s very embarrassing to put stuff out there that is factually incorrect, because you’re going to get ripped for it. Since the very beginning, I have had others review my work to make sure it’s factually correct and to make sure I haven’t made any stupid gaffes. I’ve had lots of things pointed out to me as wrong, and I’ve made lots of revisions/corrections because of it.

The author of this piece obviously did nothing of the sort. I would never discourage anyone from researching or writing, but there are few things that irritate me more than people simply propagating and perpetuating things that are just plain wrong because they haven’t bothered to have someone else check their work or do their own primary source research. This particular individual clearly did neither, and it shows.

Boy, does that irritate me….either get it right, or please, don’t do it at all.

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I’m pleased to announce the publication of the fifth volume in Ironclad Publishing’s The Discovering Civil War America Series. The latest volume is Scott L. Mingus, Sr.’s excellent study of the Confederate expedition to the banks of the Susquehanna River in the days just before the Battle of Gettysburg, Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Gordon Expedition, June 1863. Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon’s Georgia brigade of Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s division actually made it to the Susquehanna in time to try to prevent the great wooden bridge at Wrightsville from burning up before being recalled to join the Army of Northern Virginia, which was concentrating around Gettysburg. Thanks to Brad Schmehl for permitting us to use his excellent painting “Columbia Bridge Burning” as the cover illustration for Scott’s book.

Scott has done a tremendous amount of research and has written an excellent book. Like the rest of the volumes in the series, it covers little-known engagements, such as Jubal Early’s engagement with the 26th Pennsylvania Emergency Infantry west of Gettysburg on June 26, 1863, the death of George W. Sandoe, of the Bell’s Adams County Cavalry, who was the first Union soldier to die at Gettysburg, the engagement at Witwer’s Farm, the capture and occupation of Gettysburg, the capture and occupation of Hanover, and the capture and occupation of York. It’s a well-written story that fills some significant gaps in the coverage of the Gettysburg Campaign. The book features lots of good maps drawn by Scott, lots of illustrations, and several driving tours that allow the reader to follow in Gordon’s footsteps all the way to the Susquehanna. The book also includes a foreword by yours truly.

I want to acknowledge Scott’s employer, the Glatfelter Paper Co., which donated the paper upon which the book was printed. Glatfelter is the world leader in providing the paper upon which books are printed, and we were honored to be the beneficiary of Glatfelter’s generosity. Glatfelter has a program that we at Ironclad wholeheartedly support, which is called Permanence Matters. Advocating the use of acid-free, high quality paper (not cheap papers based on groundwood) for the printing of books to ensure that they will be around without deteriorating from within, Glatfelter contributed its high quality paper for the publication of Scott’s book, which we appreciate. We at Ironclad endorse Glatfelter’s initiative and commend it for its dedication to ensuring that books will be permanent parts of our libraries and lives.

Check out Scott’s website for his book, as well as his Cannonball! blog, and please check out Flames Beyond Gettysburg. There’s a nifty photo gallery of persons and places that play a prominent role in this story on Scott’s website that is worth a visit all on its own.

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From the February 27 edition of the on-line version of The National Journal:

Park Service Employees Allege Pressure on Gettysburg Project
Interior IG Is Investigating The Gettysburg Superintendent’s Role In Developing A Massive New Battlefield Museum

by Edward T. Pound

Friday, Feb. 27, 2009

The senior construction program manager for the National Park Service says that an agency panel rejected a staff recommendation to scale back plans and cut costs for a massive new museum and visitor center at Gettysburg National Military Park after political pressure was exerted at the highest levels.

“We were rolled,” Michael D. LeBorgne told National Journal. LeBorgne, along with another staffer, Roger K. Brown, made the recommendation on Gettysburg to an important Park Service advisory board in 2003 while the museum project was still on the drawing board. Brown, the senior program analyst for construction before his retirement last year, told NJ: “Clearly, there was political pressure brought to bear. It wasn’t even subtle.”

Their objections, they said, were shunted aside and the new museum project — 139,000 square-feet and costing, in the end, $103 million — was given the go-ahead by the Park Service’s Development Advisory Board, or DAB. LeBorgne and Brown said the DAB acted after then-Park Service Director Fran Mainella showed up at the proceeding. She attended only one other DAB meeting during the entire five-and-a-half years she was director, they said.

“I am quite sure,” Brown said, “that the director’s presence intimidated the board.” In an interview, Mainella said she was only “trying to better understand how the DAB process worked” and was not trying to pressure the panel.

The staff members’ charges came in the wake of a National Journal story detailing conflicts over the Gettysburg project, including the proceedings before the Park Service’s advisory board. The superintendent at Gettysburg, John A. Latschar, went to higher-ups after LeBorgne and Brown raised concerns in October 2003 about the project in a discussion with Latschar and a project architect.

Latschar’s central role in developing the museum and visitor center now is under scrutiny by the inspector general of the Interior Department, which includes the Park Service. IG Earl Devaney is investigating Latschar’s dealings with the Gettysburg Foundation, the nonprofit that developed the museum project in partnership with the Park Service. Devaney’s investigators are also reviewing whether Latschar misused $8,700 in park and private funds to construct a fence on parkland adjacent to his home. Latschar has strongly denied acting improperly and said that he is confident he will be cleared by investigators.

In more than 14 years at Gettysburg, site of the most well-known battle of the Civil War, Latschar has engaged in repeated conflicts with critics, principally over his role in developing the new museum to replace an older facility.

This week, Richard R. Hohmann, the president of the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides, called on Congress to explore possible “abuses” and “malfeasance” in the project’s development. Hohmann, whose members conduct tours of the Gettysburg battlefield, requested a congressional oversight hearing in letters to Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Rep. Todd Platts, a Republican whose district includes Gettysburg.

Hohmann said Congress should also take a hard look at “possible ethics violations” in light of news reports that raised questions about Latschar’s conduct. Hohmann, who has clashed with Latschar over issues related to the guides’ organization, also pointedly noted in his letter to Platts that the lawmaker had received campaign donations from Robert Kinsley, the chairman of the Gettysburg Foundation and head of a company that oversaw construction of the new museum facility. “We hope you will put aside any conflicts of interest,” Hohmann wrote, “and do your elected duty.”

Hohmann wrote in his letter to Platts that there has been “virtually no oversight” of the Gettysburg museum project for 10 years while the Park Service and the Gettysburg Foundation “proceeded under a veil of secrecy.” Both Platts’ and Casey’s offices said they would review the issues raised by Hohmann before commenting further. Latschar declined to comment on Hohmann’s criticisms.

But Latschar and others involved in the museum project, including Kinsley, have strongly defended their actions in developing the new facility. Both Latschar and Kinsley told National Journal that the new museum allowed them to convey much more clearly Gettysburg’s story and the battle’s consequences. The old museum, scheduled to be demolished, did not do justice to the historical importance and emotional power of Gettysburg, they added.

“We only had one chance to do this,” Latschar said, “and we wanted to do it right, as befits this hallowed ground.”

Kinsley has donated nearly $8.4 million to the foundation through his own family foundation, his personal funds and Kinsley-owned partnerships, according to foundation officials.

But two companies affiliated with Kinsley have also worked on the museum project; the foundation has paid those firms a total of $8,509,825. Kinsley’s company, Kinsley Construction, provided construction management “at cost” and at “no profit,” he and foundation officials have explained. Another company, LSC Design, headed by one of his sons, Robert II, was paid to provide program management and architectural services to the Gettysburg Foundation.

Criticism of the new museum, which opened last April, has centered on its size and cost. Critics argue that the Park Service and the Gettysburg Foundation misled the public.

Initially, the museum and visitor center carried a price tag of $39.3 million. Latschar and the Park Service repeatedly maintained that the project would not need government assistance. In his speeches years ago, Latschar said this about how the project would be funded: A “nonprofit corporation will be formed. Approximately 55 percent of the total project cost ($22 million) will be raised from donations, grants, and corporate sponsorships, while the remaining 45 percent ($18 million) will be borrowed.”

As it turned out, the Gettysburg Foundation spent $15 million in earmarked federal money to restore an oil painting-in-the round known as the Cyclorama, which is housed in the new facility. The Pennsylvania state government also poured $20 million into the museum development, and the foundation raised $68 million privately.

The Park Service and the foundation also did not plan to charge an admission fee to see the artifacts and museum exhibits. But four months after opening the new facility and projecting an annual revenue shortfall of nearly $1.8 million, a $7.50 admission fee was imposed; the fee also allows visitors to see the Cyclorama painting and a 22-minute feature film.

Looking back on the history of the project, one of the most important events took place in October 2003 when Latschar, Robert Kinsley II and the two senior staff members of the Park Service’s Development Advisory Board discussed the scale and cost of the project over the phone. At the time, according to Latschar, the younger Kinsley’s LSC Design provided “program management services” to the Gettysburg Foundation.

In the phone conversation, the DAB staffers — LeBorgne and Brown — made it clear that they thought, based on their analysis, that the project should be scaled back. According to Brown, he and LeBorgne expressed the view that “the scale of the design was too monumental.” He explained: “The best Park Service in-park design is something that fits into the landscape and doesn’t draw attention to itself.” He said that he and LeBorgne felt that there were “plenty of monuments at Gettysburg without adding” another.

LeBorgne, a 35-year veteran of the Park Service, told National Journal that, based on the agency’s models, a reasonable size for the facility would have been about 62,000 square feet. Figuring in another 20,000 square feet for foundation offices, a restaurant and book shop, LeBorgne said, the project would have been much smaller than the 139,000 square-foot-facility that eventually was built.

He said that he and Brown also raised concerns, in the phone conversation with Latschar and Robert Kinsley II, about the Kinsleys working on the project since the senior Kinsley was chairman of the Gettysburg Foundation board. Further, he said, they expressed concerns that the Gettysburg Foundation would not develop sufficient revenue to cover operational costs.

LeBorgne said it was his understanding that foundation officials believed that the museum-visitor center would be “totally self-supporting” and not require a public admission fee. And Brown said: “It wasn’t clear that the project would be adequately supported by revenue.”

Latschar disputed their account. In e-mail responses to National Journal questions, he said that he did not recall the DAB staffers raising either conflict-of-interest concerns or possible revenue shortfalls in the October 2003 phone conversation.

While the younger Kinsley was working on the project at the time, Latschar said that the Kinsley companies did not take on construction management and design-service responsibilities until late 2004, almost a year later. Robert Kinsley II did not return a phone call from National Journal seeking comment.

After the contentious phone call, Latschar said that he complained to Park Service higher-ups, including then-Director Mainella, about the staffers’ “unprofessional behavior.” With Mainella in attendance on Nov. 4, the DAB rejected the advice of LeBorgne and Brown and approved the project. Had the staffers prevailed, the project would have been reduced in size and cost, according to LeBorgne.

“The DAB is a very professional board and usually supports staff recommendations,” LeBorgne said, “so it was somewhat unusual for us to be rolled on this so easily.” Brown said that he concluded that Mainella attended the meeting to ensure that DAB members — a majority of whom worked for her — approved the large-scale project.

“I don’t recall her saying anything,” Brown said of Mainella. “She didn’t have to. It was very evident, just looking around at the board members’ faces, that they were stunned that she was there.”

In an interview, Mainella denied using her position to pressure the DAB. “Some employees feel that pressure when you show up,” she explained, “but that was not my intention.” She added that she was “very supportive” of the Gettysburg project.

What a cesspool of conflicts of interests this situation is…..

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The Amazon Kindle 2Last week, Amazon released its Kindle 2 wireless reading device. The concept works like this: the device, which is 1/3 of an inch thick, is like a big IPod, only for books. The idea is that you download digital files of books onto the thing, and you then take it with you and not large, bulky books. According to Amazon, the Kindle can hold 1500 books on the device.

I have really mixed feelings about this. David Woodbury is excited about it because of its convenience and because it’s a nifty gadget perfect for travel. Rene Tyree bought one and really likes it. She also points out that there are a number of public domain books available for free or for minimal cost, all of which are useful to the researcher (Harry Smeltzer says he may buy one to use as a reader for public domain books downloaded for free from Google Book Search). The Author’s Guild has criticized it as being another variation of an audiobook which will threaten authors’ income streams.

The thing is not cheap. It retails for $359, which is nearly twice as much as an IPod Classic, and once you’ve bought the gadget, you still have to pay to download content to it. It’s a proprietary technology, and all files downloaded have to be converted to the proprietary format in order to read them. That sort of digital rights management ALWAYS irritates me; I’m a BIG believer that this stuff should be based on open source technology available to all (which, by the way, also applies to the IPod. Fortunately, Apple has decided to allow customers to pay more to download songs that do not include digital rights management). Amazon has been smart about one thing: it has elected to permit individual publishers to determine whether they want their books to be available in a text-to-speech format, which reflects some indication that Amazon is being somewhat sensitive to the concerns of authors and publishers and to the substantial audiobook market as well.

I love gadgets. I have my fair share. I have had a series of laptops dating back to 1995. I have a smart phone. I have an IPod. I have Bluetooth devices. However, I just cannot wrap my arms around the idea of buying one of these gadgets and actually reading a book on one. I love the feel and look of books. I like turning pages. I like dust jackets. I like illustrations and maps. I just love everything about books. I can’t get my arms around the thought that what I’m reading on this electronic gadget is a book.

At the same time, I have many more books than I do places to store them at this point, and I am very conscious of the fact that books take up a lot of space. You should see the piles of books all over the floor in my home office/library because I have nowhere else to put them. Relieving that problem would certainly be a Godsend, and one of these gizmos can help to do that to some extent.

I am also a publisher. As some of you may know, I’m the president and part owner of Ironclad Publishing. As the publisher of niche works, I’m always looking for means and opportunities to sell more books. These things may well change the way books are sold, and as someone who tends to be resistant to change, it worries me. At the same time, a downloadable electronic file has a much lower cost of good sold, so we can sell our products for a lower purchase price while bypassing our distributor altogether and still maintain or even increase our profit margin.

As an author, I am constantly left unhappy by the fact that unless I devote an inordinate amount of time to selling books by traveling and speaking and hoping somebody buys books (when my time bills at $225 per hour, I have to sell a LOT of books for it to be worth my while to be away from the office, and that is rarely the case), I don’t make dirt from selling books. We recently got the royalty statement for One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863, and even though the book has sold well, my share doesn’t even begin to cover the cost of having the maps drawn and the book indexed, let alone to make money on the book. Please believe me when I tell you that I make next to nothing on sales of books, typically less than $1.00 per book, when a distributor is involved and I have a co-author. It becomes a function of doing cost/benefit analysis, and in most instances, it simply doesn’t make economic sense for me to be out of the office making a small profit on a book vs. billing paying clients at $225 per hour. So, I am eager to maximize revenues and make some money, and the Kindle offers another opportunity to do so.

This all becomes relevant to me because I will very shortly be bringing my first book, Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions, back into print after its being unavailable for a couple of years. I’ve decided to offer it both in its original softcover format as well as in Kindle format, as it would be really nice to make some money on this book again; it’s the only one I’ve ever done that brought about steady revenues. I also intend to discuss making a Kindle version of Scott Mingus’ new book, just published by Ironclad, with Scott to see if he’s interested in selling it this way too.

So, while I’m not keen on buying one of these gizmos, I understand that the publishing industry is in the midst of a sea change and that those who don’t get on board with new trends will be left at the train station. I have come to the conclusion that, in spite of my significant concerns with the copyright issues associated with the Kindle 2, it’s here to stay and that I need to avail myself of its benefits.

What say all of you?

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