June, 2009

The Civil War Preservation TrustI’m now home from the annual conference of the Civil War Preservation Trust, which was held in Gettysburg this year. More than 500 people attended, by far the largest event I’ve ever been involved with. I finally got to meet a lot of the CWPT personnel that I’ve worked with over the years in person, such as Tom Gilmore, David Duncan, Melissa Sadler, and Rob Shenk. It was really nice being able to put faces with the names.

There were lots of big name historians present, including Ed Bearss, Kent Masterson Brown, Richard McMurray, Ted Alexander, Jeff Wert, Dick Summers, and others of similar talent. It just wouldn’t be a tour if Ted Alexander didn’t get a bus stuck, and he managed to do so on Friday. So did Ed Bearss. Kent Brown’s bus not only got its front end all dinged up, it also took out a row of mailboxes on the West Virginia side at Falling Waters, undoubtedly earning the undying love of the local landowner upon whose property he and his busload were trespassing.

I had a full day tour of cavalry actions at Gettysburg. We toured South Cavalry Field, Farnsworth’s Charge, Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, and East Cavalry Field I had arranged to bring my group onto the grounds of the Rummel Farm on East Cavalry Field, and Dan and Alice Hoffman, who own the farm, rolled out the red carpet. Dan brought out his Spencer rifle and a Burnside carbine, lots of bullets and other relics, photos of the original house, and other goodies. They allowed the two guns to be passed around, and you should have heard the “oohs” and “ahs” from the assembled crowd. It was hot and muggy, and they had had very heavy rains for the two prior days, so the ground was saturated. Everybody got wet and muddy, but nobody seemed to mind.

I got to see some old friends. J.D. and Steve Stanley were there, signing copies of their new book The Complete Gettysburg Guide, and I got one of the advance copies. Great job, guys. Old friend Marc Ramsey of Owens and Ramsey Books of Richmond was there. Friday night, we had a fabulous dinner at Gina’s Place in Bonneauville, where I got to see a bunch of old friends. Saturday night was much the same.

I can’t say enough good things about the CWPT. This organization, which has more than 50,000 members, has saved in excess of 25,000 acres of battlefield land. There is no more effective advocate for battlefield preservation anywhere, and I wholeheartedly support the organization’s efforts and the fine work that it does. None of the land that has been preserved at Trevilian Station could have been saved without the help of the CWPT, and there is plenty more work to do at Trevilians and at many other locations around the country. I encourage all of my readers–and I know that many of you already do–to support the efforts of the CWPT in any way you can, including donating money to help to acquire battlefield land before it is lost forever.

After the conference ended, we traveled to beautiful Middleburg, VA for a memorial for Deb Fitts, the late wife of my dear friend Clark B. “Bud” Hall, and got to see still more friends, including Cricket Bauer Pohanka, whom I hadn’t seen since her husband Brian died, and John Hennessy, the chief historian at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefields, whom I rarely get to see. We drove partway home last night, found a hotel, and finished the trip this morning. I actually got in half a day at the office, which is important for cash flow reasons.

Friday, it’s back to Virginia, this time to lead tours at Kelly’s Ford, Brandy Station, and Trevilian Station. I hope that there will be good news shortly to report about our ongoing preservation efforts at Trevilian Station.

Tonight, I’m tired. Imagine that.

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Winston Groom is a johnny-come-lately to the world of Civil War history. Best known as the author of Forrest Gump, he’s a novelist who has apparently decided that it is his responsibility to pick up Shelby Foote’s cudgel. I wish he hadn’t.

Vicksburg, 1863His first effort on the Civil War addressed John Bell Hood’s 1864 invasion of Tennessee. The book is titled Shrouds of Glory: From Atlanta to Nashville: The Last Great Campaign of the Civil War. It contains few maps, little detail and no footnotes. While a pleasant enough read, the lack of footnoting allows him to be lazy about his research, since there is no way to hold him accountable.

Not content to let well enough alone, he’s now tackled the Vicksburg Campaign. Titled Vicksburg, 1863, this book dumbs down the history of the most important campaign of the war. There are few maps, and once again, no significant detail, and not a single footnote. I suppose that it would be an acceptable introduction to the campaign, but it’s certainly not as good as Michael Ballard’s fine Vicksburg: The Campaign That Opened the Mississippi or Terry Winschel’s excellent Triumph and Defeat: The Vicksburg Campaign, both of which are outstanding single-volume treatments of the campaign. Once again, Groom cannot be held responsible for his lack of scholarship, since he again fails to include any footnotes to tell where he got his material.

I guess this sort of book has a place for those who are casual readers and not serious students of the Civil War. However, I, for one, choose not to spend money on them because I refuse to buy any book that does not provide references for its historical interpretations. I just won’t do it. So, I won’t be buying Mr. Groom’s book.

Please go back to doing what you do best, Mr. Groom. Give us wonderful, whimsical fiction that has history as a backdrop like Forrest Gump and, unless you’re willing to act like a real historian, please stop trying to write stuff that tries to pass itself off as legitimate history.

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I received the following from Jackie Barton, who was named the coordinator for Ohio’s Sesquicentennial Commission:

Dear Friends of the Ohio Civil War 150 Effort,

The Ohio Historical Society launched an initiative to commemorate the Civil War 150th anniversary in Ohio early in 2009. With an approach that emphasizes programs and activities that provide lasting value for Ohio ’s communities and history organizations, the effort has already generated an immense amount of interest and support, even garnering a Governor’s Directive in April. Today, the program is in danger of disappearing, as the Ohio Senate is considering cutting ALL FUNDING for the Society’s outreach activities from the state budget! The Civil War 150th, which would provide coordination, traveling exhibits, Civil War collections care, and technical assistance on various topics, would be shut down, and Ohio would be unrepresented in an important national effort to better delivery of community-based history programs. In addition, this funding cut would end important programs like Ohio History Day, the Local History Office, and others.

We need your help! Please contact your Ohio Senator immediately (Senators are finalizing the budget as I type) and tell them that this is unacceptable. The Society has seen ongoing, disproportionate cuts throughout past years, and these cuts will be the final blow to some of Ohio ’s most community-based and effective history programs. Please consider visiting the local senate office or placing a phone call, as these methods have the biggest impact. Send an email if you have limited time, and forward this message to others you feel would be interested, to help protect this and important programs. Here is a link to the OHS Legislative Update website that will provide you with all the information you need to communicate with your Senator (as well as the Governor and your state representative): (after landing on this page, click on the Take Action button)

If you’d like more information on this, please feel free to contact me or our Government Relations Director, Todd Kleismit (, 614-297-2355).

In thanks,

Jackie Barton, Coordinator
Ohio Civil War 150 / Local History Office
Ohio Historical Society

I wish I could say that I’m surprised by this, but unfortunately, I can’t. The morons in Ohio’s legislature, who have no appreciation of history, always look to the OHS budget as the first place to cut. At this point, there’s really nothing left to cut, so the idiots have now slashed the funding for any attempt to recognize the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

This, of course, is the same legislature that refused to consider an eminent domain action to preserve Ohio’s only Civil War battlefield, and is also the same legislature that believes that the OHS should operate on a wing and a prayer. It’s also the same legislature that has been operating in contempt of the Ohio Supreme Court for years by refusing to legislate a new school funding system that is not unconstitutional, even though the Court has ordered it to do so more than once. I appreciate the critical budgetary situation in this state, and having lived here for 22 years, I likewise understand and appreciate the fact that the recession has hit Ohio harder than the vast majority of states. I get it that most states are having budget crises. So am I.

At the same time, this sort of thing will bring tourist dollars into Ohio, which, in turn, will generate tax revenue. It seems to me that some tax revenue being generated would be a good thing, and that Ohio should be proud of its contributions to the Union victory in the Civil War. Sadly, I am obviously wrong about this. Instead, the morons we elect–my particular idiot is named State Sen. David Goodman, who, unfortunately keeps getting himself re-elected by using sleazy, slimy campaign tactics–would rather fund their own pay raises.

Never mind that Ohio gave more men per capita than any other state in the Union. Never mind that three of the four Union generals considered the greatest of the war–Grant, Sherman and Sheridan–were all Ohioans. Never mind that Confederate prisoners of war died at Johnson’s Island and at Camp Chase here in Columbus. Never mind that Salmon P. Chase and Edwin M. Stanton were Ohioans. All of this is apparently irrelevant to our legislative geniuses.

For shame, Ohio State Senate. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. While the rest of the 35 states that made up the Union from 1861-1865 celebrate the sesquicentennial, we Ohioans will be on the sidelines, wondering why.

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