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September, 2010

Thanks to Glenn Williams, National Park Service historian for sharing this. I hereby adopt this as my code.

A Historian’s Code

1. I will footnote (or endnote) all my sources (none of this MLA or social science parenthetical business).

2. If I do not reference my sources accurately, I will surely perish in the fires of various real or metaphorical infernal regions and I will completely deserve it. I have been warned.

3. I will respect the hard-won historical gains of those historians in whose steps I walk and will share such knowledge as is mine with all other historians (as they doubtless will cheerfully share it with me).

4. I will not be ashamed to say “I do not know” or to change my narrative of historical events when new sources point to my errors.

5. I will never leave a fallen book behind.

6. I will acknowledge that history is created by people and not by impersonal cosmic forces or “isms.” An “ism” by itself never harmed or helped anyone without human agency.

7. I am not a sociologist, political scientist, international relations-ist, or any other such “ist.” I am a historian and deal in facts, not models.

8. I know I have a special responsibility to the truth and will seek, as fully as I can, to be thorough, objective, careful, and balanced in my judgments, relying on primary source documents whenever possible.

9. Life may be short, but history is forever. I am a servant of forever.

By Richard Stewart, Ph.D., “Historians and a Historian’s Code,” ARMY HISTORY, No. 77 (Fall 2010), p. 46.

Works for me.

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Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s faithful and famous war horse, Old Baldy came home yesterday. It’s about time.

From today’s issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Old Baldy returns to Grand Army of the Republic Museum

By Michael Vitez

Inquirer Staff Writer

Old Baldy came home Sunday.

And it was a fine new home, and homecoming, for the preserved head of one of the most famous horses in the land, at the Grand Army of the Republic Museum in the city’s Frankford section.

Old Baldy was no thoroughbred, just a handsome, brown horse with four white feet and a white blaze on his face. But he survived a Triple Crown of his own – shrapnel to the nose and flank at the First Battle of Bull Run, a shot through the neck at Antietam, and a musket ball to the belly at Gettysburg that finally ended his combat service.

“He was always able to come forward, despite wounds, despite illness, despite exhaustion. He was always ready to go,” said Anthony Waskie, a Civil War historian, author, and Temple University professor who serves on the museum board.

“The men saw something in the horse, something we admire in people that face adversity and prevail. He became an icon.”

Old Baldy was ridden by Gen. David Hunter at the first Bull Run, and sent to the Cavalry Depot in Washington to recuperate. There, Gen. George C. Meade bought him for $150, and Meade rode him faithfully through battle after battle.

“At Antietam,” Waskie said, “he was shot, and seemed to be dead on the ground, flat . . . and the next day Meade sent his valet to go and get his saddle. And when the valet went into the field, the horse was up and grazing.”

On July 2, 1863, the second day at Gettysburg, Meade, by then commander of all Union troops, was rallying his men on Cemetery Ridge when Old Baldy was shot out from under him.

On July 5, two days after the famous battle had ended, leaving 50,000 casualties, Meade included in a letter home, “Baldy was shot again, and I fear will not get over it.”

Three days later he wrote: “I did not think he could live, but the old fellow has such a wonderful tenacity of life that I am in hopes he will.”

Baldy survived the war, but saw no more combat.

After the war, Meade returned home to Philadelphia, where, among other duties, he became commissioner of Fairmount Park, and he often rode Old Baldy on the newly constructed trails that the general, trained as an engineer, helped design.

When Meade died on Nov. 11, 1872, Old Baldy marched in his funeral procession to Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Meade was not flashy, Waskie said, but he had earned the respect and affection of his men. “He wouldn’t waste their lives unnecessarily, paid them on time, and fed them well,” he said. “The horse became associated with the man, and it took on even more importance after Meade died.”

Old Baldy lived another decade, to age 30, cared for by a friend of Meade’s near Jenkintown.

When the horse could no longer stand, a veterinarian put him down with poison, as Meade had wished. The Public Spirit of Jenkintown reported on Dec. 23, 1882:

“Baldy in life was as trustful as brave, and he swallowed with all confidence the two ounces of cyanide of potash that was poured down his throat . . .. A few more struggles and the old warhorse stentorously breathed his gallant life away.”

Two men who served with Meade read the news report and went on Christmas Eve to Jenkintown, where they received permission to take the horse’s head and have it stuffed and mounted on an ebony shield, inscribed with a record of his service. The men presented it to Post No. 1 of the Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans organization of its time.

That post evolved into the museum in Frankford, but it fell into such disrepair in the 1970s that it closed temporarily, and Old Baldy was transferred to the Civil War Museum on Pine Street in Center City.

When that museum closed in 2008, a legal struggle ensued, and Sunday, to the great joy of members of the Frankford museum, Old Baldy returned to what they consider his rightful home. The museum, at 4278 Griscom St. (www.garmuslib.org), is open Tuesdays from noon to 4 p.m. and the first Sunday of every month from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

The museum prepared a special room just for Old Baldy. After a ribbon cutting, about 50 people walked through, admiringly.

“Wow, what a history!” said Jim Souder of South Jersey. “What a horse!”

Eric Schmincke, museum president, invited everyone up to the second floor for a champagne toast. Meade’s favorite drink was champagne, and the general was known to drink it in the saddle.

“To Old Baldy,” Schmincke said, “and all who protected the Union.”

For years, Old Baldy resided in the old Civil War Museum and Library in Philadelphia, but when the organization ran into serious financial woes after the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania welshed on a commitment to fund a new building, the collection of artifacts, including Old Baldy, was the subject of a drawn-out legal battle. I’m glad that it finally got resolved and that Old Baldy has an appropriate home. Kudos to the G.A.R. Museum and its dedicated cadre of volunteers for making this happen.

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A number of months ago, I posted about Capt. Paul von Koenig, who was killed at the Battle of White Sulphur Springs, and who obviously plays a major role in the tale of that battle that I am beginning to write. I had a really difficult time finding anything substantive about him for a long time, and almost nothing about his life in Germany. The bulk of what I found deals strictly with his short 2.5 years here in the United States.

Captain von Koenig was actually Baron von Koenig, and he was a member of an ancient ennobled family from Lower Saxony that dates back to at least the 17th Century. One of Paul von Koenig’s brothers was a lieutenant general of cavalry in the Kaiser’s army during World War I. That brother, Lt. Gen. Gotz von Koenig, had a son who became a famous painter. Leo von Koenig, the painter, had a son named Dominik, who is now 66 years old.

This past week, Freiherr (Baron) Dr. Dominik von Koenig contacted me after his son found my postings about Paul von Koenig on this blog. Baron von Koenig has been unfailingly generous with me, and has agreed to provide me with some family reminiscences of Paul von Koenig written by one of the captain’s brothers. I’ve asked him to help me to locate some family history on the von Koenig family so that I can elaborate a bit on just who this man and his family were. He’s agreed to talk to one of his cousins, who still owns the family estate in Lower Saxony, to see whether there might be an image of Paul von Koenig somewhere in the family so that I can use it in the book if one exists.

In return, I will be able to solve some family myths/mysteries for him and to elaborate on his great-uncle’s brave performance during the American Civil War. Captain von Koenig died while leading a flank attack on the Confederate infantry at White Sulphur Springs.

To make a long story short, Baron von Koenig’s coming forward and offering to help me will enable me to do something that I really wanted to do with my White Sulphur Springs project, which is to include an appendix on Paul von Koenig that really tells his fascinating story. It will flesh out the book and make an interesting story even more interesting.

I am very grateful to Baron von Koenig for coming forward and offering to help me.

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Today marks the fifth anniversary of this blog, and my 1082nd post here. There have only been 82 posts this year, largely because I took several months off from blogging entirely after averaging 250 posts per year for four years, and then because I decided to only post when I had something worthwhile to say instead of posting just for the sake of posting. I hope that you haven’t been disappointed by the relative paucity of posts this year, but I have found it more rewarding to post only when I have something worthy of saying.

I know that I say this every year, but it is true every year, and remains true…..

I started this blog as a little exercise in narcissism. I was surprised to find out how many of you read it regularly, I was surprised by the volume of traffic that it draws, and I remain astounded by how personally rewarding I find the interactions that I have with you, my readers, each and every day. I find the posts from descendants of the forgotten cavalrymen that I profile most rewarding of all, but I value each and every one of you and my interactions with you here. Thank you for enriching my life, and I hope you will continue on this journey with me.

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23 Sep 2010, by

A worthy cause

In 1882, General William T. Sherman donated a twelve-pound Parrott gun to his home town of Lancaster, Ohio. That gun is still there to this day, situated in a small city park next to a monument to Cump Sherman. Unfortunately, the ravages of time and weather haven’t been kind to the gun’s carriage, which is rapidly deteriorating. The local SCV camp has taken on a campaign to Save the Cannon, by raising funds to replace the carriage. On October 23, the campaign is hosting an evening with General Sherman to raise funds for the purchase of a new carriage, and I’ve donated some books for the fundraising auction and also just purchased a brick in honor of all the brave men who followed the guidon. If you have a couple of spare dollars and want to help a worthy cause, I hope you will consider this one.

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Susan and I visited some friends in Springfield, Illinois this weekend. We just got home. They only moved there a few months ago, so this was our first time out to visit them. It was also my first visit to Springfield, which means it’s the first time I’ve seen any of the Lincoln sites there.

Springfield, of course, was Abraham Lincoln’s home for something like 17 years before his election as President of the United States, and his body was returned there for entombment after his assassination. He lived there, practiced law there, and raised his family there. Even though Springfield is the capital of Illinois to this day, Abraham Lincoln’s presence is everywhere there. It’s unavoidable.

In downtown Springfield, you will find the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, the Abraham Lincoln home and preserved neighborhood, the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, the Old State Capitol Building (where the Lincoln/Douglas debates occurred), and, of course, the magnificent Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery. There are multiple statues of him throughout the downtown. Not far away–just a few miles–is Lincoln’s New Salem, where he operated a general store for several years before beginning his legal career in Springfield.

We had limited time, so we didn’t get to see everything. We decided to reserve a visit to the Lincoln home and preserved neighborhood, New Salem, and the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office for our next visit. We began our visit to the Lincoln Tomb, which is our second presidential tomb in three weeks (we visited Grant’s Tomb in New York City last month). The Lincoln Tomb is very beautiful, and a very appropriate tribute to the greatest American President. President Lincoln, his wife Mary, and their two younger sons, Willie and Tad, are entombed there. The monument features a standing figure of Lincoln, surrounded by the soldiers who preserved the Union. The temporary crypt where he was buried–and his body was nearly stolen from–also still exists. It’s on the hillside behind the main tomb. I left there with a real sense of awe. I’ve visited a number of presidential graves before, but I have never come away with the feeling that I left Lincoln’s Tomb carrying. On one hand, it was deep sadness, knowing that our greatest President was assassinated at his greatest moment of triumph, but with a deep respect for the fact that I had just visited the final resting place of a truly great man.

When we left there, we then drove by the site of the Lincoln Home and neighborhood (and the Herndon-Lincoln Law Office), just to get a look, and then we went to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. For those unfamiliar with it, the Museum opened in 2005, and it’s quite a facility. It’s enormous, and someone spent a vast amount of money building it. It’s filled with very accurate reproductions of various important scenes from Lincoln’s life, from the cabin where he spent his boyhood, to his law office, to the White House, to Ford’s Theater, and finally, to his catafalque at the Illinois State House. It thoroughly documents his life, and is very informative, especially for those not familiar with his life. As far as that goes, it kind of sets the gold standard for this sort of interactive museum. At the same time, I was somewhat disappointed with how few actual artifacts pertaining to the 16th President are there. There’s a small room, called The Treasures Gallery, that has some tremendous items, such as one of the five handwritten drafts of the Gettysburg Address, written out by Lincoln himself for Edward Everett. This small collection also includes the kid gloves that Lincoln had in his pocket when he was shot, and the feathered fan that Mrs. Lincoln was carrying that night. The few real artifacts are remarkable, but there are very few of them. I frankly expected more of them and was surprised with how few there were.

There is also a very impressive gift shop in the museum. When I got there, I realized that it’s been many years since I purchased or even read a Lincoln biography, so I purchased Ronald C. White’s well-received 2009 Lincoln bio, which I will read shortly. Susan, who can’t resist this sort of thing, purchased the very silly Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

On another note, I have long maintained a fascination with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, the great architect. The Dana-Thomas House, which was one of Wright’s last prairie houses, and the largest and best preserved example of the prairie houses, can also be found in downtown Springfield. We made a quick visit to the site, long enough to spend some money in the gift shop, but didn’t have time to take a tour of the house. I definitely want to go back and take the full tour of the house, as it’s really spectacular.

As I said, Abraham Lincoln’s presence in Springfield is palpable, and it’s everywhere. There’s so much of it to see that it’s actually a little overwhelming. I will have to see the rest of it on our next visit. I left Springfield with an even greater appreciation of our greatest President, and for his towering presence that still lingers over the city 145 years after his tragic death at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. It’s almost as if he’s still there.

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