Month:

September, 2009

23 Sep 2009, by

Milestones

This is the 1000th post on this blog, made on the fourth anniversary of the first post. It hardly seems possible that something I started on a whim continues to be an important part of my life. Posting here has become an important part of my life, and so has the interaction with those of you who come here and read my rantings and leave comments. Were it to end, I would miss it a great deal.

I am grateful to each and every one of you who comes here, and to each and every one of you who indulges my rantings.

At the same time, I have never taken an extended break from posting. I’ve averaged 250 posts per year for four years now, in addition to my professional responsibilities and my research and writing. As I mentioned the other day, I am feeling burned out. I’m constantly tired, I have a very negative perspective, I’m angry, I’m bitter, I’m frustrated, little things that shouldn’t bother me do, and I’m in a dark place right now. It’s really no wonder that I’m tired–I’ve written 16 books in 12 years, plus about two dozen articles, and 1000 blog posts. That’s a LOT of words. And all while practicing law full time.

All of that has caused me to react to situations in an inappropriate way, and has likewise caused me to say things to people who are important to me that are inappropriate and hurtful. I had an inappropriate reaction to something on Monday that caused me to respond in an inappropriate fashion that caused harm to someone who means a lot to me and whose friendship and support has been an underpinning of my work and success for a long time. My inappropriate response needlessly caused this person pain and may well have destroyed a relationship that ultimately means more to me than nearly any other. I have nobody to blame for that but myself, and words fail to describe how much I regret my own stupidity and pigheadedness.

I now realize that I need to take some time, have an unblinking look in the mirror, figure out what’s wrong, do something about it, and also deal with the consequences of my actions Monday. That means that I’m going to take a break from this blog for a while until I can get myself right and regain my mojo.

Fear not. I won’t be gone forever. I will be back, and probably soon. I just need to step back and regain my perspective.

In the meantime, please know that I value each and every one of you and that I will miss the interactions that occur here. Be well, think good thoughts for me, and be patient. I will be back.

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Jim EppersonReader Jim Epperson sent me a note about his experience with Google and the reason why he is not a fan of Google’s copyright infringement scheme. After hearing Jim’s story, I asked him to prepare a guest blog post for me for inclusion in this blog. Here’s Jim’s guest blog post:

Eric asked if I would write a guest post about my Google experience. First, some background:

I graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University with a mathematics Ph.D. in 1980, and began my academic career at the University of Georgia. I later moved to the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). While I began my career with typical dreams of setting the mathematical world on fire, by the mid-1990s I had come to terms with simply being a good but middling scholar and a fine instructor, tough but fair.

In 1997 I decided to write a textbook. This decision was made for a variety of reasons —dissatisfaction with existing books being a large one—but the prospect of additional income was certainly part of it. For two and a half years, through health crises, the birth of my son, and a career change and associated move to Ann Arbor, I worked on “my baby.” It appeared in the summer of 2001, and a Revised Edition came out in 2007.

Over the years it has brought in a non-trivial amount of money to the family coffers (not as much as I’d hoped, of course) and I am very proud of it as a piece of mathematical exposition. The expected future for the book might be another edition in a few years, then possibly a sale to a publisher like Dover which would keep the title in print at a much reduced price. Imagine my surprise when I discovered, on Friday afternoon, that Google had put my book up as part of its scanning project.

There’s a boatload of ways to react to this. The first is to honestly say that anyone who tried to use the online version of the book for a course (in lieu of purchasing the book) would be an idiot. In the first place, they only scanned in about 85% of the book; while most of the listings in the Table of Contents are active links, some are not. Even if the entire book were there, taking a course based on reading the book online would, IMO, be a recipe for disaster. But college students have tried dumb things before, so I would not doubt that someone, somewhere, will try to save the money that the book would cost, by using the online version as their text. (Given that it retails for $100, this is not surprising.) So Google is not only potentially taking money out of my pocket, they are enticing students to do educationally foolish things. Admittedly, there is an element of pride that my book was considered good enough for this project, although I could do without the ego boost in exchange for the royalties I might lose (and my understanding is they are scanning everything in the Stanford Library).

But, at the bottom, I feel more than a little violated. Almost as soon as I discovered that Google had scanned my book, I contacted my editor at John Wiley & Sons. Today I got a reply from one of her staff, explaining that Wiley had been part of the suit against Google, and so was part of the settlement. Based on her description of things, it appears possible that there might be some cash payment to me for this, although $25 million won’t go very far when split between so many books and authors. I’m not holding my breath…

I’ve got no problem with Google scanning in and uploading books that are public domain. That’s frankly a good idea, IMO. But this business of scanning in books currently under copyright, worst of all textbooks, strikes me as a gross violation of intellectual property rights. I’m surprised that Wiley and the other publishers were not able to find a good enough lawyer to beat Google in this.

I feel Jim’s pain, and I completely understand where he’s coming from. If any of you need any further reasons to oppose Google’s massive copyright infringement scheme and the proposed settlement, I hope that Jim has provided it to you.

Jim, thanks for taking the time to contribute.

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One of the posters on my Civil War forum boards wrote a post today that indicated his interest in the Civil War is waning, and wondering if there was something wrong with him.

I responded. I made the point that I grow through intensive Civil War burnout regularly.

Keep in mind that in some ways, this is a second job for me. Consequently, I can’t even remember the last time that I just went to Gettysburg to go to Gettysburg and have fun, as opposed to going there for some event, to lead some tour, etc. Honestly, I don’t even remember when that was. I’ve been there twice so far this year, and on both instances, I ended up working–leading tours–nearly ever waking minute I was there. At some point, it ceases to be fun and becomes just another chore. As much as I loved seeing everyone at the CWDG Muster this spring, I worked the whole time I was there. It was neither relaxing nor was it fun in a lot of ways. It was work. And work is tiring.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Last year, I auctioned off a two-day tour of cavalry battlefield sites in Central Virginia as a fundraiser for battlefield preservation, and this June, it was time to deliver the goods. I drove the 6.5 hours to Culpeper on Friday, arriving there about 3 in the afternoon. I checked into the hotel and then spent two hours frantically driving around, taking GPS coordinates for a driving tour for my forthcoming Brandy Station book. I ate dinner alone at the hotel, and then spent a big chunk of the evening drafting a contract for a client. I spent the entire next day (a solid 8 hours) taking a dozen people around Kelly’s Ford and Brandy Station. I went to dinner with a friend that night, and then the next day, drive down to Trevilian Station, led the tour, then drove nearly 500 miles home, arriving about 8:30 PM. The next day, Monday, I had to get up and go to work. Sound relaxing? Hardly. Sound like fun? It was nice to have the camaraderie and to be on the fields, but no, fun is not a word that I would describe the experience. It was absolutely exhausting, I got paid nothing for it, and the expenses were out of my own pocket. And, just for good measure, I brought home a nasty case of poison ivy that took nearly a month to go away completely.

Likewise, in the last three years, I can think of one instance where I went to see a Civil War battlefield just for fun, and that was a one-day trip to Perryville with three friends in August of last year. In May 2008, I got a partial day visit to the Rev War battlefield at Guilford Court House. That’s it since 2006.

I get tired of it. I get frustrated with it. I get very burned out with it. I’m actually in one of those phases right now. I don’t feel like writing and I don’t feel like doing much digging. When I’m doing “pleasure reading”–as opposed to stuff that pertains to either my daytime job or to my research and writing–I almost never read Civil War stuff any more. I just finished an interesting book about the how the Israelis hunted down and captured Eichmann and then brought him back to Israel for trial. I finished that last week, so last night I started a book on the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

What I really need is to take some time and just go visit a battlefield–without leading tours and without researching or doing something pertinent to my work–and simply enjoy it for the sake of enjoying it and for no other reason. That usually recharges my batteries and gets me back into the mode again. However, I’ve already been gone too much this year, I have another event coming up next month–another tour to lead–that will require me to be away from the office again, and I simply don’t have the time to be away right now, as my professional responsibilities will get in the way.

I miss the days when I could just go and enjoy being another visitor to a battlefield with no demands on my time or attention. I fear those days are gone forever, which I can accept. However, I really need to find some time to just go and enjoy being on a battlefield without any demands on my time to get my mojo back.

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The CWPT issued the following press release on Friday:

Sen. Jim Webb Joins Preservationists to Celebrate Protection of Third Winchester Battlefield

Ambitious Project Required Cooperative Efforts from SVBF, CWPT, the Commonwealth of Virginia, Frederick County and the Federal Government

Nearly a year after the announcement of an ambitious effort to protect a landscape that the National Park Service described as some of the “most sanguinary fields of the Civil War,” representatives of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation (SVBF) and Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) gathered today in Winchester, Va., with government officials and guests to celebrate the success of that undertaking.

On August 7, 2009, SVBF officially closed on the 209-acre Huntsberry property, which was part of the bloodied Middle Field during the Third Battle of Winchester, fought on September 19, 1864. Fighting on this land was especially fierce — the Union Army’s 19th Corps suffered devastating losses, with 40 percent of its men and every one of its regimental commanders either killed or wounded.

Speaking at today’s event, U.S. Senator Jim Webb praised the cooperative nature of the project, citing the importance of Civil War battlefield preservation to Virginians and all Americans.

“As someone with ancestors who fought on both sides of the American Civil War, the preservation of these battlefields has personal significance,” said Senator Webb. “The need to protect our nation’s battlefields is far too great for any one well-intentioned federal program. That’s why the partnerships with groups like the Civil War Preservation Trust and the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation are so critical. They are in this fight for all the right reasons. This partnership truly serves as a model of bringing all stakeholders to the table to tackle pressing national issues.”

Webb was joined at the podium by Kathleen S. Kilpatrick, Virginia’s Director of Historic Resources, Richard C. Shickle, chairman of the Frederick County Board of Supervisors, Paul Hawke, program chief of the American Battlefield Protection Program, SVBF chairman Dr. Irvin E. Hess, CWPT chairman emeritus Theodore Sedgwick and SVBF executive director W. Denman Zirkle. The involvement of each group was absolutely critical to the project’s successful completion.

Preservation Made Possible Through Partnership

The $3.35 million purchase price was funded through a partnership between the Battlefields Foundation and the Civil War Preservation Trust, together with government grants from the federal, state and local levels.

The federal Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program, funded by legislation championed by Senator Webb in Congress, issued a $1.23 million matching grant toward the effort, and a $1 million Virginia Land Conservation Foundation grant to protect important natural and historic landscapes was applied to the project. Frederick County contributed $112,000 from its Historic and Open Space Preservation Fund, which is supported by proffers from a residential development in the Third Winchester battlefield study area. Remaining funds had to be raised by the two nonprofit organizations through private donations. Preservationists stressed that while they closed on the land last month, payments remain and fundraising efforts are ongoing.

Welcoming guests to the event, Zirkle stressed that while the protection of this land has been a long-standing SVBF goal, the endeavor would not have been successful without the cooperation of the various organizations and agencies working in tandem. “Without tremendous advocates at all levels of government and stalwart friends in the preservation community, today’s celebration would not have been possible,” he said.

The county’s Shickle concurred, saying “Frederick County has many historic resources of national significance. We acknowledge that it is our duty to be thoughtful stewards of these resources, and the county is proud to have been a part of this preservation effort.”

Connecting Already Preserved Battlefield Areas

Protection of this property at the heart of the Third Winchester battlefield is particularly significant since it links areas previously protected by the Battlefields Foundation and CWPT. Its addition to the existing preserved landscape creates a 567-acre battlefield park that stretches from Interstate 81 in the west to Millbrook High School in the east.

“The landscape that has been preserved here at Third Winchester is irreplaceable,” said Hawke, who administers the American Battlefield Preservation Program, an arm of the Park Service responsible for issuing federal matching grants for historic preservation. “This land retains enough of its historic character that the men who fought here almost exactly 145 years ago today would recognize its features. It is an unparalleled resource for understanding the battle’s history.”

CWPT’s Sedgwick was enthusiastic about the additional public interpretation opportunities that the newly preserved acreage provides. “Since 2007, when we opened a five-mile educational walking and biking trail on our adjacent property, the Third Winchester battlefield has become a tremendous resource for the surrounding community. I look forward to working cooperatively with our partners at the Battlefields Foundation to expand our understanding of this battlefield through study, and to create one seamless battlefield park.”

Dr. Hess, chairman of SVBF pointed out that the protection of the Huntsberry property went a long way toward completing the preservation puzzle at Third Winchester. “This land is the largest remaining undisturbed portion of the battlefield,” he said. “Now that it is protected, Third Winchester is ready to become a genuine destination for heritage travelers eager to better understand American history.”

Virginia’s Ongoing Efforts to Protect Civil War Battlefield Resources

While acknowledging that the preservation ceremony was scheduled to coincide with the battle’s 145th anniversary tomorrow, Kilpatrick also looked toward the future, when our nation will commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. “There is no time more appropriate to encourage the study of the American Civil War than during this significant period,” she said. “And there is no place more appropriate to do so than on the battlefields themselves, which provide a deeper level of understanding than any book or museum exhibit can hope to. While today is indeed a celebration, it is also a reminder that our work is not complete. Other landscapes, no less hallowed than this one, still deserve our attention.”

Senator Webb agreed, declaring, “No state is richer in significant historic Civil War-era landmarks than Virginia, and I am proud of the work that the Commonwealth has undertaken to safeguard its heritage. Our time to protect these sites is limited. I will continue my efforts in Congress to ensure such historic landscapes are preserved for future generations.”

At Third Winchester, intense fighting raged across an area covering almost eight square miles. Of these nearly 5,000 acres of core battlefield, only 830 are permanently protected. Throughout the Shenandoah Valley, more than 16,000 acres of battlefield land are vulnerable to development, and similar situations exist elsewhere in Virginia and across the country.

Preservation Fits with Landowner Legacy

The land’s previous owner, the Huntsberry family, has roots in the Shenandoah Valley stretching back centuries. The property was originally granted to ancestor Jacob Huntsbarger by Lord Fairfax in 1762. Civil War-era maps clearly show the Huntsberry House as a battlefield landmark, and the building’s remains can sill be found on the property today.

Bob Huntsberry, a co-manager of his great-grandfather C.E. Huntsberry’s estate, which sold the property to preservationist interests, fondly remembered childhood summers spent on the land. “This is an important place for my family—and growing up, we knew that it was historically important, too,” he said last year, when the preservation initiative was announced. “We felt pretty strongly that it needed to be preserved so we are very happy that it will end up in good hands and that people will someday be able to come and learn about what happened here.”

Third Battle of Winchester

The Third Battle of Winchester, or Opequon, was a significant action of Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s devastating Shenandoah Campaign—which ultimately decimated the Valley’s agricultural bounty when farms as far south as Staunton were put to the torch. More than 54,000 troops were engaged in the battle, including two future Presidents — Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley.

In the early morning hours of September 19, 1864, Sheridan’s troops marched west from encampments around Berryville, ultimately stacking up in the Berryville Canyon along the modern-day alignment of eastbound Va. Route 7. The traffic jam created by slow-moving supply wagons delayed the deployment of the Federal army east of Winchester and foiled Sheridan’s plan to surprise and wrest the city from Gen. Jubal Early’s Confederates.

As Early moved troops south from Stephenson’s Depot to meet the Union attack, Sheridan sent portions of his army north of the Berryville Pike (Va. Route 7) to confront the southerners’ movement. The ensuing fighting at First Woods, Middle Field and Second Woods along Redbud Run—including the Huntsberry property—was fierce, close, and devastating. Nearly 1,500 men were killed or wounded in this area alone and one soldier remembered the area as “that basin of Hell.”

In the 1992 National Park Service Study of Civil War Sites in the Shenandoah Valley, historian David W. Lowe wrote, “Third Winchester was the largest and most desperately contested battle of the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley, resulting in more than 9,000 casualties. The Union 19th Corps sustained 40 percent casualties (2,074 men) and lost every regimental commander during its assaults on the Middle Field and Second Woods…The Middle Field ranks with some of the most sanguinary fields of the Civil War, witnessing more than 3,000 casualties.”

Future Benefits of Preservation

Containing almost a half-mile of Redbud Run, a tributary of Opequon Creek and, in turn, the Potomac River, the property also has ecological significance. Protecting its sloping, forested banks will enhance water quality at the site and in downstream watersheds, including Chesapeake Bay.

The newly preserved property will remain in agricultural use while archaeological and cultural resource studies are conducted. Eventually, the land will be interpreted and fully opened to visitors.

A map of the property may be downloaded from the news areas of www.shenandoahatwar.org/news/news_list.php and www.civilwar.org/news.

National Park Service 1992 study of the Shenandoah Valley’s Civil War battlefields: www.cr.nps.gov/hps/abpp/shenandoah/svs0-1.html

National Park Service 1992 study of the Third Battle of Winchester: http://www.nps.gov/history/hps/abpp/shenandoah/svs3-12.htm

About the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation (SVBF)

Created by Congress in 1996, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District encompasses Augusta, Clarke, Frederick, Highland, Page, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Warren counties in Virginia and the cities of Harrisonburg, Staunton, Waynesboro, and Winchester. As authorized by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation serves as the non-profit manager of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District, partnering with local, regional, and national organizations and governments to preserve the Valley’s battlefields and interpret and promote the region’s Civil War story. The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields website is located at www.shenandoahatwar.org.

About the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT)

With 55,000 members, CWPT is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s remaining Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds through education and heritage tourism. Since 1987, the organization has helped save more than 28,000 acres of battlefield land, including nearly 1,000 acres in historic Frederick County, Virginia. In 2007, CWPT opened a popular walking and biking trail on its 222-acre Third Winchester property. The CWPT website is located at www.civilwar.org.

For information about making a tax-deductible donation to this project, please contact Tom Robinson at the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation at 540-740-4545 x204 or David Duncan of the Civil War Preservation Trust at 202-367-1861 ext. 202.

This is an outstanding example of the good things that can happen when preservation organizations and governmental entities join forces to work together to save critical battlefield land. Kudos to all involved, and especially to Sen. Jim Webb, who has been out in the forefront of efforts to save the battlefield at Winchester and to fight the construction of a mammoth Wal-Mart store at the gateway to the Wilderness battlefield. Preservationists appear to have a real friend in Senator Webb.

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Thanks to reader Todd Berkoff for bringing this to my attention.

From yesterday’s edition of the Culpeper Star-Exponent:

A less commercialized future for Willow Run

ROB HUMPHREYS, RHUMPHREYS@STAREXPONENT.COM , (540) 825-0771 EXT. 128
Published: September 17, 2009

Willow Run, billed three years ago as a massive retail destination planned for eastern Culpeper County, has fallen victim to the recession.

Instead, 442 acres of the property along U.S. 29 will likely transfer into a conservation easement with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

A separate piece of nearby land at Beverly’s Ford — arguably the Civil War’s most fought-over river crossing — could also be preserved through the DHR.

Both properties are on the agenda for today’s joint meeting of the State Review and Historic Resources boards in Richmond.

“We won’t know for a while” whether the easement application goes through, said Chuck Gyory, who owns the Willow Run property along with his brother Pete. “It’s a very complex process.”

When landowners agree to easements with the state, they retain their property but forfeit development rights in return for tax credits. Future owners must follow the same rules.

In this case, the easements are significant for two reasons:

– Land could be saved that witnessed heavy troop movements and fighting during the Battle of Brandy Station and several other Civil War skirmishes.

– In a more modern context, it shows just how far the local economy has plummeted.

The Gyory property
Willow Run, which supports a commercial greenhouse operation and sits southeast of Culpeper Regional Airport, made headlines three years ago as “the next big thing” in commercial real estate.

In August 2006, Fairfax-based USA Development Inc. submitted plans to the county that would have transformed Willow Run into more than 3 million square feet of retail space — rivaling Fredericksburg’s Central Park.

Site plans included: shops, gas stations, 16 restaurants, a movie theater, ice-skating facility, three hotels, 300-loft style apartments, office space, a lighted golf course, retirement center, water park, equestrian village, private school and 9,078 parking spaces.

At the time, Culpeper County’s planning director said it would be one of the largest commercial developments in the state. Bill Chase, who represents the Stevensburg District on the Board of Supervisors, had called it “the right thing for the right place.”

Proffers to the county would have included road improvements, $8,000 per residential unit, and construction of a large-scale water and sewer system along Mountain Run.

The plans, of course, never materialized. When the real estate market crashed, Willow Run — for many years the site of Culpeper Fest — became just another piece of open farmland.

“We realized it wasn’t going to be viable about a year ago,” Chuck Gyory said, “and the developer just couldn’t do it, which is understandable.”

Gyory, 66, president of the Culpeper Chamber of Commerce in the early 1990s, has mixed emotions about the turn of events.

“I think that property was ideally suited for a spectacular development,” he said. “It’s also ideally suited as a farm for scenic value.”

Gyory’s family, which sold the nursery in 2006, will still own the Willow Run property, which is being used to make hay. The greenhouse’s current owners are moving to another location in October, so Gyory is trying to find a business that will occupy the industrial buildings already on site.

As for why the family decided to apply for a historical easement, Gyory pointed to a combination of reasons.

“It’s time to retire,” he said, “and I know the economic situation is not going to improve for quite a few years. It just makes sense, and we’ll be able to keep our very pretty farm.”

The Stilwell property
The Stilwell family owns a large piece of property just north of Willow Run, at the confluence of the Hazel and Rappahannock rivers.

Their 208 acres is the second tract up for consideration at today’s state board meeting.

Contacted by phone Wednesday, Bill Stilwell chose not to comment for this story, only saying that the easement deal has yet to go through.

The Stilwell property is especially important for preservation purposes, according to historian Clark “Bud” Hall, because it embraces Beverly’s Ford, a strategic point where Union and Confederate soldiers repeatedly crossed the Rappahannock.

“The Gettysburg campaign,” Hall said, “opened at Beverly’s Ford when Federal cavalry attacked on the morning of June 9, 1863,” during the Battle of Brandy Station.

The battle saw considerable cavalry fighting in the area of both the Stilwell and Gyory properties. Six months later, that area of the county housed 20,000 troops from the Union’s Sixth Corps during the winter encampment of 1863-64.

Both properties are “extraordinarily significant,” and keeping them free from development is a “huge plus,” said Hall, a founding member of the Civil War Preservation Trust and the Brandy Station Foundation. Hall, a retired Marine and former FBI manager, is considered the leading historian on Culpeper’s role in the Civil War.

Preservation
Much of the Brandy Station battlefield, which incorporates a wide geographic area, has been preserved through land acquisitions by the CWPT and BSF.

In the past 20 years, both organizations have pushed to save parts of the battlefield that have been threatened by development — specifically, residential housing, a corporate office complex and a proposed Formula One racetrack.

And while a campaign was never waged to fight the Willow Run retail development, preservationists like Hall are happy with the result.

“This is a really big deal,” he said. “If, in fact, these easements go through, major historic resources of Culpeper County will be protected in perpetuity. … It benefits all of us, and the landowners are to be heartily commended for seeking easements on their magnificent properties.”

A massive shopping center is off the books
As part of its rezoning request in August 2006 with Culpeper County, here’s what Fairfax-based USA Development planned on 513 acres occupied by the Willow Run Co. nursery in Brandy Station:
» 3 million sq. ft. of retail
» 2,500-seat multiplex theatre
» 16 restaurants
» 300 loft-style apartments
» three gas stations
» three hotels
» water park
» equestrian center
» three banks
» private school
» lighted 18-hole golf course
» ice-skating rink
» Dave and Buster’s restaurant
» retirement center
» 9,078 parking spaces

The developer’s proposed proffers (or incentives) to the county in the Willow Run case included:
» construction of a private K-12 school
» providing a landscaping plan for each phase of development
» providing a 900,000-gallon-per-day wastewater treatment plant
» providing numerous transportation improvements, according to VDOT standards
» contributing $8,000 per residential unit
» reserving 25 acres for acquisition by Culpeper Regional Airport
» community recreational amenities to include: a water park, 8-foot-wide pedestrian pathways, athletic fields, equestrian trails and a natural stream valley with pedestrian walking trails

Sources: usadevelopmentservices.com and rezoning application on file with Culpeper County

Wow…that was a close one. This would have been a commercial development of immense proportions RIGHT on the edge of, and encompassing a part of, the Brandy Station battlefield. I have been down to Beverly Ford with Bud Hall twice, both from the north side, where the easement will be granted, and the old road trace is still there. So are the bluffs that hid the Federal cavalrymen on the night of June 8. The ford itself is pristine, and the thought of a gigantic commercial development there is chilling. The Stillwell property is the connector between the St. James Church line and Fleetwood Hill and is a critical piece of ground in terms of preserving the battlefield.

Kudos to these two landowners for doing the right thing.

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147 years ago today, Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and George B. McClellan’s cobbled-together version of the Army of the Potomac met on the banks of Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland. After a full day of brutal, bloody slugging, the parties spent September 18 staring at each other and licking their respective wounds, and then Lee withdrew across the Potomac, back into Virginia. The single bloodiest day of the war ended with nearly 23,000 casualties between the two armies. The battle itself is often called a tactical draw but a strategic victory for the Union since Lee’s invasion of the north was repulsed there.

Antietam is a beautiful, mostly pristine place. For that reason, it has long been one of my very favorite battlefields. Despite the constant and inevitable creep of “progress” southward toward the battlefield from Hagerstown, it nevertheless lacks the chaos and touristy schlock associated with Gettysburg, but the story–and the beauty of the countryside–are equally compelling.

Last October, the battlefield yielded up another of the many blue-suited casualties who gave the last full measure of their devotion there. The remains of a New Yorker whose name and identity are known only to God who died and was buried in the Miller Cornfield were sent home for burial in the Saratoga National Cemetery on September 15. Ranger Mannie Gentile has documented the ceremony by which this soldier’s remains were turned over to the New York National Guard to be taken home for burial. The pictures are quite moving and drive home the fact that we are still touched by the sacrifices made by the young men who fought and died for causes that they believed in to this day.

Here’s to the nearly 120,000 Americans who fought and died that warm, beautiful September day 147 years ago…..

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Time for a major rant, and one that is not only overdue but richly deserved….

My biography of Ulric Dahlgren has been available for sale for about six weeks now. In spite of that fact, none of the big box booksellers have it in inventory. Amazon says it hasn’t been released. So does
Barnes & Noble, and Borders says it won’t be available until December 30. December 30? Say what?

Donald Thompson at Touch the Elbow asked publicly where his book is today on the blog, which is what triggered this post.

This is my 15th book. I also have published about ten books as a publisher. At this point, I know a little bit about marketing and how distributors work. My publisher claims that he selected his current distributor because of its record of success selling books on Amazon. I can’t begin to imagine what that success might be, because it’s become painfully and abundantly clear to me that the distributor hasn’t done a damned thing to sell my book. It has not done anything at all to see that the book is available for sale to the general public, or I wouldn’t have gotten the same result from the three big-box book retailers.

I would call this distributor useless, but that would be an insult to all useless things in the world. Rather, I prefer to call them grossly, rankly incompetent, probably liars, and worse than useless, because they surely haven’t done a God damned thing to do that they were contracted to do. If I knew the name of this useless outfit, I would gladly tell all of you, in the sincere hope that you will all either bitch to them or avoid doing any business with them.

I deeply and sincerely apologize to each and every one of you who has tried but failed to buy this book as a result of the overwhelming misfeasance of this so-called distributor. I wish that there was something I could do about it, but there’s not. All I can do is to suggest that you either buy the book directly from me, or from Edinborough Press, because I don’t what else to suggest.

To say that I am frustrated doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

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From the September 13, 2009 issue of the York Daily Record:

Electric Map Could Make A Comeback: New Gettysburg Visitor Center Could Host A Video Presentation Of The Map

The Electric Map might have a place at the new Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center after all. More than 16 months since the famous map’s last showing, visitors continue to ask about the Gettysburg icon, park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon said. She said rave reviews of the new museum center are often punctuated by a single comment from visitors: “I really wish that you still had the map.”

Park officials have taken note, she said, and are in the middle of an “experiment” they hope will satisfy those visitors and critics who have argued that the 46-year-old Electric Map deserves to have a place in the new facility. Their idea is to create a film “based on the Electric Map presentation” that would orient visitors to Gettysburg history — and give them an alternative to viewing the museum’s current film, “A New Birth of Freedom.” The details of how it would work are still sketchy, but Lawhon said the Electric Map film has potential to create a better visitor experience.

“The common ground here is that for people who are coming to the park and they want to see the Electric Map, it’s a way to meet their needs,” she said. Created in 1963 by Joseph Rosensteel, the Electric Map used lights to depict troop movements during the Battle of Gettysburg. It could be viewed by the public for $4 before the old visitor center on Taneytown Road was closed last April.

Though the Electric Map had originally been included in the park’s general-management plan as one of three pay-to-see “interpretive venues,” park officials ultimately decided not to reopen the exhibit at the new site on Baltimore Pike. They cited a lack of interest from the public and an opportunity for new technology. Then, a year ago, some suggested reinstating the Electric Map as a means of generating revenue after the park announced its plan to institute an admission fee for the previously free museum. Officials had projected a $1.78 million shortfall. But park and foundation officials said they believed the potential revenue from the Electric Map would not resolve the overall problem.

The Electric Map was disassembled earlier this year and placed in storage, where it remains today. But before it was taken apart, the Electric Map presentation was filmed, Park Superintendent John Latschar said Thursday. The film is being edited, he said.

“When it’s ready, we’re just going to run an experiment,” Latschar said, adding that park officials have heard from many visitors who “desperately missed the map.” The experiment, Latschar said, will be to show both the Electric Map film and “A New Birth of Freedom” simultaneously “and let visitors vote.”

Asked to explain further, Lawhon said that doesn’t mean the park intends to offer only the more popular film. Rather, she said, visitors will likely have a choice of which film they’d like to view before moving on to the Cyclorama painting presentation. That’s possible because there are two theaters in the museum. Calling it a hybrid of old and new technology, Lawhon stressed the Electric Map film is still an experiment. “If we get it up and running, we would probably leave it as a second option,” she said.

I’m not the least bit surprised to hear that there’s a clamor to bring back the Electric Map. A lot of people have a warm place in their hearts for it, including me, and I think that the Park Service can do a lot to bring joy to a lot of people by bringing back some incarnation of it. I wholeheartedly support the idea of finding a way to return it to its rightful place, even if it is a film presentation of it. It belongs somewhere in the new VC.

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15 Sep 2009, by

Patrick Swayze

Normally, I would not mention the passing of an actor like Patrick Swayze in this blog. As lamentable and sad as that might be, lots of actors have died without being mentioned here. Swayze’s passing is a notable exception, because the first role I ever remember seeing him in was in a pot-boiling, bodice-ripping mini-series about the Civil War.

North and SouthIn 1985, Swayze starred in an awful production called North and South, based on the novels by John Jakes. Swayze played Orry Main of South Carolina, a West Pointer who goes with his state when it secedes from the Union. The series followed his story, as well as that of his best friend from West Point, George Hazard, a Yankee. It was awful–large leaps of faith that diverged from the truth–with bad overacting and a terribly convoluted and unrealistic story. It was, perhaps, one of the very cheesiest productions in the history of Hollywood, but it did have an unbelievable cast. Among the many stars who appeared were Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, Hal Holbrook (as Abraham Lincoln), Forrest Whitaker, Johnny Cash, and lots of others. There’s no doubt that ABC spent a fortune on it, and even though it was incredibly cheesy, it was a huge success. It was such a huge success that they did two sequels, just as cheesy. Swayze appeared in the first sequel but not the second.

These bad mini-series are the last time that Hollywood has tried to tackle the Civil War on a large scale, and the 18 episodes of the three series cover a lot of ground, even if they are pot-boiling, bodice-ripping, and often historically inaccurate. They brought the drama of the Civil War to the unwashed masses, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

While I have no doubt that the vast majority of the women who watched this dreck did so to get a big dose of beefcake, undoubtedly a few became interested in the Civil War as a result. For that reason, the passing of Patrick Swayze is noteworthy and lamentable. If he helped to spur interest in the Civil War in even one person as a consequence of his performances, then that’s a good thing, and I regret his death.

Besides, this is the same man who uttered THE cheesiest move line ever, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” from the end of Dirty Dancing. The man had a real gift for cheesy performances, and I respect that.

Rest in peace, Patrick, and thanks for the cheese.

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We’re home from our banzai run. We left on Friday, headed for my home town of Reading, PA. My mother’s 85th birthday is tomorrow–happy birthday, mom!–so we went in to celebrate the occasion a little early. Yesterday morning, we took off for Culpeper County, VA for the 20th anniversary picnic commemorating the founding of the Brandy Station Foundation. It had rained hard the whole time we were in Pennsylvania, and I was scared that the weather would not cooperate for the picnic. Fortunately, my fears turned out to be groundless, because it was a gorgeous day in central Virginia, about 80 degrees, not humid, and gentle breezes. The weather was just ideal.

The picnic was held on the grounds of Berry Hill Farm, which is south of the village of Brandy Station proper. The ford over Mountain Run where Col. Sir Percy Wyndham’s brigade of David M. Gregg’s Third Cavalry Division crossed while on the way to Fleetwood Hill is on the property. The house was destroyed by John Pope’s soldiers in 1862 and was rebuilt in 1866, and it’s a real show place.

More than 150 people attended, including all of the past presidents and most of the past and present board members of the BSF. Fellow blogger Craig Swain attended, so I finally got to meet him in person, and my friend Prof. Chris Stowe of the Army Command and General Staff College branch at Fort Lee in Petersburg, Virginia also made the trek and attended. As always, it was good to see and visit with Chris.

It was a well-done event that turned into an excellent fundraiser for the BSF’s good work. My role was to deliver a 15 minute talk on the history of the preservation of the Brandy Station, battlefield, a great but mostly unknown story that I intend to tell in book-length form. For the local newspaper’s coverage of the story, click here.

Eight of us–including Bud, Susan, me, Jens and Mary Tholand (Mary is a board member of the BSF), Mike and Caryn Block (Mike is also a board member), and old friend and cavalry nut Todd Kern–then had a wonderful meal at Pelham’s Pub at the Inn at Kelly’s Ford after the event, watching the horses and cows grazing in the fields by Kelly’s Ford that saw so much violence and bloodshed during the course of the war. Then, Susan and I spent the night in the General Hooker Suite at the Inn. We then drove home today, making a very brief stop at the Fort Necessity National Battlefield on the way home. We put 1000 miles on Susan’s car this weekend. No wonder I’m tired tonight….

Here are some images from the weekend for your perusal…

Clark B. (Bud) Hall

This is Clark B. “Bud” Hall, the guiding light behind the preservation of the battlefield at Brandy Station, addressing the crowd.

Eric speaking to the crowd

Me, addressing the crowd during my short speech.

Bud Hall, Eric Wittenberg, and Mike Block

Bud, BSF board member and fellow Phillies fan Mike Block, and me.

A Great Group of Friends

A great group of friends after the picnic: Todd Kern, Bud Hall, Kimberly Abe, me, Susan, Mike Block, and Caryn Block. A good time was had by all.

Berryhill House

The house at Berry Hill Farm. It’s a beautiful home.

The Inn at Kelly's Ford

The main house at the Inn at Kelly’s Ford, taken by Susan this morning. The front portion of the house is the original house, which was there at the time of the March 17, 1863 Battle of Kelly’s Ford. I am advised that there is battle damage to the house from the many actions that occurred at Kelly’s Ford during the Civil War. The Inn itself is spectacular.

It was a great trip, and it was my honor and pleasure to help advance the cause of preserving a battlefield that means as much to me as this one does.

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