Month:

May, 2011

I suffered through 45 minutes of Gettysburg on the History Channel last night. With brothers Ridley and Tony Scott as directors and producers, I had high hopes for this production. The Scotts are two of my very favorite directors, and they are known for the quality of their productions.

What a staggering disappointment this thing was. I turned it off after 45 minutes because I couldn’t take another moment of it. This thing was shockingly bad. Events were presented horribly out of context, with absolutely no stage setting. The movie begins with the Iron Brigade’s advance to the unfinished railroad cut and without any context for the viewer to understand how they got there or why they were there. It would have confused anyone without a decent working knowledge of the battle.

I counted ten major factual inaccuracies in the first ten minutes of the thing. And it got worse from there. Just a few of the things wrong with this production–and this is FAR from a comprehensive list:

1. The terrain was completely wrong. Since when were segments of the Gettysburg battlefield covered with thick forests of pine trees?

2. The sets were awful–fence lines were wrong, the buildings were wrong, and the depiction of the town itself was completely wrong. The unfinished railroad cut on McPherson’s Ridge was portrayed as being only three or four feet deep when it’s really as deep as thirty feet at its deepest.

3. They had the Iron Brigade digging deep trenches atop Culp’s Hill on the night of July 1–not crude breastworks like those actually built on the night of July 2, but rather the sort of deep, semi-permanent trenches with head logs that one expects to see on the Petersburg battlefield. And they were using brand-new, shiny shovels and pick axes that looked like they still had the Lowe’s or Home Depot price stickers on them, not period tools. They never did mention Greene’s brigade either….

4. The uniforms and many of the weapons were wrong, and few, if any, of the actors looked like the people they were portraying. I just loved the yellow cavalry stripes on the infantrymen. That was my favorite.

5. The history was largely wrong. As just one example, none of John Buford, John Reynolds, Henry Heth, or A. P. Hill were even mentioned at all during the discussion of the first day. Instead, the first day focused on Rufus Dawes–you would think that the 6th Wisconsin alone captured the Confederates in the railroad cut and that no other units were involved.

6. I turned it off just as the second day’s portrayal began. I’m told that the focus was on William Barksdale and that there was no mention of Little Round Top or of Joshua Chamberlain or the 20th Maine’s defense.

I feel badly for Garry Adelman and Prof. Peter Carmichael, who were interspersed as talking heads. They presented the history accurately and correctly, and lent some credibility to this thing, but yikes–now they will be associated with this piece of crap. Pete and Garry are both good guys and very capable and accomplished historians, and I sincerely hope that their association with this terrible program doesn’t sully their reputations.

There’s plenty more, but that will give you a taste. I’m so disappointed in this that it’s shocking. What’s even more concerning to me is that novices will think that this piece of dreck is an accurate depiction of the battle and that they will find out just how terribly wrong it was and lose interest because of it. On the other hand, if it spurs interest, then I guess it’s a good thing, but it nevertheless shows how far the History Channel has fallen.

Awful. Just appallingly, horrifyingly awful. Do yourselves a favor–don’t waste a minute of your time or a brain cell on this piece of crap. It’s not worth either.

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With thanks to Bud Hall–a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War himself–for passing this along to me, I give you the words of the great American poet, Archibald MacLeish, who offered this elegy:

Who in the still houses has not heard them? The soldiers say: “Our deaths are not ours; they are yours. They will mean what you make them mean.”

They say: “Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing, we cannot say. It is you who must say this.”

They say: “We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning. We were young, we had died, remember us.”

Thank you to all of the veterans who gave the last full measure of their devotion to help give us the freedoms that we take for granted. And to all of my friends who have served, thank you for your service and for the sacrifices that you have made so that the rest of us can enjoy our freedom. As you celebrate this Memorial Day, please remember to thank a veteran for his or her service.

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The other day, I got an e-mail from Mark Gaffney, who is the owner and webmaster of a very useful web site called Impediments of War. The site was designed to be, and acts as, the archive for all of the episodes of Civil War Talk Radio, a weekly program hosted by Prof. Gerry Prokopowicz, the chairman of the history department at East Carolina University.

This is the e-mail that Mark sent me:

My website is titled Impediments of War and is intended to be a Companion Website to Civil War Talk Radio. My inspiration was Dyer’s Compendium, I originally had the website subtitled “A Compendium of Civil War Talk Radio,” but decided it was a big mouthful….Companion is easier for most people to say and understand. I started the website in November 2010.

Additional background information can be found on the website HomePage and on the About Our Site page.

As you may, or may not know, World Talk Radio owns the Civil War Talk Radio shows. Gerry is merely a volunteer who is willing to provide his services each week as a labor of love. World Talk Radio does not offer Gerry much in the way of support and their website is atrocious. I started the website out of frustration with World Talk’s site. I believe in the show so much that I was willing to put up money to spread the word (Sounds like that old Remington Shaver commercial from the 70’s!). I taught myself HTML, PHP and MySQL while creating the site. To my good fortune, Gerry liked the website so much that he adopted it as the “official” website. He mentions it at the beginning of each show.

My website provides the information on each show and links to the original MP3 files on the World Talk Servers. There are currently 200+ hours of interviews online. The show listings are organized by season, the 100 series being the first year and the 700 series being the 7th year, etc. I also have a listing of guests, alphabetical by last name and recently added a “search” tool that is still being tweaked.

I am not in the Military History business nor am I a web designer, I am a structural engineer who practices in New Jersey, consulting to architects to make sure their buildings stand up. I maintain the website as a hobby. Through Gerry’s show, I have widened my appreciation of the Civil War and discover so much valuable information. I think that is worth sharing with others.

I was interviewed on Gerry’s show during the program’s episode 129, in case anyone is interested. Like the others, this episode is archived on Mark’s website.

Thanks, Mark–both for writing and for your obvious labor of love that does a service for all of us. Mark’s doing a great job with this project, and I commend his site to anyone with an interest in listening to any of the terrific interviews that Gerry Prokopowicz has done over the years.

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Craig Swain, a former member of the board of trustees of the Brandy Station Foundation, has written an excellent and concise summary of his concerns about, and dealings with, Joseph McKinney and the rest of the appeasers on the board. I commend it to you. It can be found here. Well said, Craig. It is indeed a tragedy when a preservation organization ceases doing preservation work on the battlefield it is supposedly the steward for. It’s an even greater tragedy when a preservation organization begins to oppose the very preservation work it was created to perform.

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John Hennessy, who as chief historian for the Fredericksburg/Chancellorsville/Wilderness/Spotsylvania battlefield complex, knows a bit about battlefield preservation, also left a very succinct and well-put comment on the post where I described the ill-advised and wrong-headed policy declaration by the BSF. John began by quoting the BSF statement, drafted to supposedly allay our concerns that the BSF is on top of things, and then reacted to it:

“Frequently landowners are required to obtain permits before making improvements or undertaking certain agricultural activities. We view the permit process primarily as an issue between the landowner and the governmental agency exercising legal or regulatory authority over the matter.”

While anyone may choose to view the permit process as an issue between the landowner and the agency, the law in play here–Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act–views it VERY differently. The law REQUIRES the permitting agency (in this case the Corps) to seek the input of the public in its review of projects. The law is written to encourage precisely the sort of public input that BSF has apparently eschewed.

Preservation groups have very few legal tools at hand to accomplish preservation; section 106 is by far the most useful. The idea that a preservation organization would publicly proclaim its intent NOT to use the major legal tool at its disposal might well be unprecedented.

Well said, John, and an excellent description of precisely how badly the BSF has strayed from its stated mission of protecting the battlefield.

The board of the BSF, in its rush to appease Tony Troilo, failed to consult with its pro bono legal counsel to determine whether there might be a regulatory impact (or weapon to use to prevent) of the destruction of Fleetwood Hill. Mr. McKinney and his board clearly know nothing of, or care about, the tools that are available to protect the battlefield. How can someone possibly serve as the president of a battlefield preservation group, but yet be as clueless about the fundamental governing regulations and the tools available as Mr. McKinney appears to be?

The arrogance of the president and board of the BSF is truly staggering. Thanks for pointing that out so eloquently, John.

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A particularly insightful comment was left on this blog pertaining to the outrageously inappropriate policy statement issued by the BSF:

Mike Stevens, the president of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust–a legitimate battlefield preservation group that has done some fabulous work in the Fredericksburg area–wrote:

Surely no one who understands what this ground means to us and to our country would allow its destruction and desecration without standing up and saying, “No!”

Surely any battlefield preservation organization with its priorities straight would do the same.

It appears that the only positive thing stemming from this unfortunate incident is to show how a preservation organization should NOT act.

That sums it all up quite succinctly and quite well. Shame on you, Joe McKinney, and shame on all of the members of the BSF board that voted for the worst appeasement since Neville Chamberlain at Munich.

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The Brandy Station Foundation published this policy on its web site today in response to the Lake Troilo incident:

BRANDY STATION POSITION
LANDOWNER IMPROVEMENTS AND AGRICULTURAL ACTIVITIES

The strategic goals of the Brandy Station Foundation include “Preserv[ing] and protect[ing] the Brandy Station and Kelly’s Ford Battlefields and related sites of historical significance for the appreciation and education of future generations.”

The Foundation does not support commercial or residential development on historic battlefield property, and in the past has opposed developers before governmental agencies and in the courts. This last occurred in 2005 when Golden Oaks, a development company, purchased eighteen acres on the western approach to Fleetwood Hill with the intent of subdividing the land and building a dozen dwellings. In that endeavor the Foundation was successful and the Golden Oaks tract is now protected.

However, in pursuing our goals, we are mindful that landowners have certain rights with regard to the property that they own. As a result, we believe that it is generally not productive to officially oppose common property improvements, particularly when those improvements are reversible. Also, we do not oppose landowners who conduct agricultural activities on battlefield property. We freely acknowledge that such improvements and agricultural actions may be contrary to the personal views of some of our members and supporters.

Frequently landowners are required to obtain permits before making improvements or undertaking certain agricultural activities. We view the permit process primarily as an issue between the landowner and the governmental agency exercising legal or regulatory authority over the matter. However, the Board of Directors is prepared to consider each matter individually, and to provide the Brandy Station Foundation’s official position to the appropriate governmental agency if warranted.

We of the Brandy Station Foundation believe that all people, even those whose opinions or actions we may disagree with, should be treated with courtesy and respect.

Board of Directors
Brandy Station Foundation
May 16, 2011

Mr. McKinney has told several of the former board members that he believes that the wonton destruction caused by the digging of Lake Troilo is “reversible”. How it’s possible to reverse that sort of damage–after the dirt has been turned, the artifacts dug up, etc., is a complete and total mystery to me.

Never mind that this policy expressly contradicts the organization’s stated mission statement, which is: “Our goal is to ensure the history and heritage of the area is not ‘paved over’ in our rush to progress.” It seems to me that not opposing development of core battlefield land like Lake Troilo is directly in conflict and in contradiction of the stated mission of the organization. In short, it is nothing more than a complete abrogation of the stated mission–and sacred duty–of the organization, all in the interest of appeasement.

Can you say “sell out”, boys and girls?

The whole agricultural thing is a dodge–the original spinning of Lake Troilo was that it was to be expanded for agricultural purposes, but that’s utter horse hockey.

So much for the Brandy Station Foundation as a legitimate battlefield preservation organization. Let’s play taps for what used to be a great organization that used to do great preservation work before it decided that appeasement was the best course of action. By publishing this wrong-headed and ill-advised policy statement, it has officially lost all credibility as a preservation organization and should immediately lose the support of LEGITIMATE preservation organizations like the Civil War Trust, the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust, or the Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation.

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I’m proud and pleased to announce that Gettysburg Magazine, which has published more of my articles than any other, has now become a sponsor of this blog. I’ve added a link in the “Our Sponsors” section of the links. Thanks to Publisher Andy Turner, and I hope you will support Andy’s fine publication.

I’ve also given the site a bit of a refresh. I hope you like the new look.

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Todd Berkoff, one of the board members of the Brandy Station Foundation who resigned because of the election of Joseph McKinney, left this particularly astute and insightful comment here yesterday. It explains why Mr. McKinney needs to resign as president of the BSF. The reasons are simple: he is not interested in preserving the battlefield.

As one of the board members of The Brandy Station Foundation (BSF) for 2010-2011 who resigned in protest over Mr. Joseph McKinney’s elevation to president, I can tell you that I, along with my other colleagues who resigned, assessed last month–before he led the group–that Mr. McKinney was not interested in making the protection of the battlefield a priority. And the other board members were more interested in allowing ghost hunters to look for “ghost cats” in the Grafitti House than protect a battlefield where young men gave their last full measure of devotion. I’m not even kidding about the ghost cat…there is paranormal group investigating the house this month.

The “Board in Exile” made this prediction about Mr. McKinney and his new direction for the BSF over four weeks ago — and now our fears and predictions have come true. However, I am surprised–and elated–it took as little as three weeks for him to show his true colors. I don’t want to say “We told you so,” but guess what folks, “We told you so!”

Some of us did research on Mr. McKinney during the nomination process earlier this year and soon discovered he had a twisted view of historic preservation. See his perplexing op-ed in the Washington Post from 2009, and his posting on this blog last year defending the McMansion on Fleetwood Hill. It is unclear to me how a man who leads one of the country’s oldest battlefield preservation groups could condone Disney’s America theme park, the Wal-Mart at the Wilderness, the McMansion on Fleetwood Hill, the widening of Route 3 in Stevensburg, and also participates in massive relic hunts on the very battlefield he was charged to protect. Yes, folks, he is a relic hunter too.

A recurring theme in Mr. McKinney’s strange argument for his stances on preservation is that we, as good citizens, are powerless to do anything against what landowners wish to do on their own property, so why bother making a fuss. Well sir, that is where you are wrong. As Bud Hall demonstrated this week, you can require the landowner to abide by proper regulations — which the landowner had not done.

If people took your appeasement view on preservation, then there would be a mall at Manassas, a casino at Gettysburg, and a racetrack at Brandy Station. As a result of the quick actions taken by the “Board in Exile” this week–led by the indomitable Bud Hall–the Army Corps of Engineers has compelled Mr. Troilo to cease further construction of his pond that rumor has it was intended for his jet skiing hobby. Stopped at least for now.

How embarrassing that the current president and board FAILED MISERABLY to even issue a simple statement of protest over the last two weeks! But more alarming is that Mr. McKinney knew about this project for some time and chose to not to oppose it because Mr. Troilo is a friend and influential member of the community. This is a clear conflict of interest, as Eric has rightly pointed out. Mr. McKinney and current members of the Board should be ashamed of themselves, and if you had any integrity whatsoever, you should resign from the organization and join the local crochet group and leave battlefield preservation to those who actually care.

Because I think it’s important that you see Mr. McKinney’s own words, here is the op-ed piece from The Washington Post that Todd mentioned:

Posted at 9:58 AM ET, 08/ 6/2009
If Not Wal-Mart… ?
By washingtonpost.com editors

By Joseph W. McKinney
Brandy Station

The controversy over the “Wilderness Wal-Mart” proposed in Virginia’s Orange County reminds me of the time in the 1990s when the Walt Disney Co. proposed building a theme park in western Prince William County.

The site that Disney selected was not historically significant, but it was only a few miles from the Manassas National Battlefield Park. Preservationists, concerned that increased traffic and sprawl would degrade the experience of visitors to the battlefield, rose in opposition.

After intense lobbying and public relations campaigns waged by both sides, Disney canceled its plans.

Today, instead of Disney’s theme park, residential developments line Route 15 from Haymarket to the Loudoun County line. Along Route 55, Gainesville and Haymarket have essentially merged, joined together by retail establishments and housing. Instead of tourists, the roads — including those running through the Manassas battlefield — are choked with commuters.

The drive along the base of the Bull Run Mountains used to be pleasurable. Now it is stultifying. I support battlefield preservation, and I even wrote a book about the Battle of Brandy Station, but sometimes, as I sit in traffic on the way to Leesburg, I think we might have been better off with the theme park instead of the houses.

That leads me to wonder: If Wal-Mart is not acceptable near the Wilderness battlefield, what is? Is a strip mall better than a Wal-Mart? What about 500 single-family dwellings? The people of Orange County deserve an answer to these questions as the review of Wal-Mart’s proposal proceeds.

By washingtonpost.com editors | August 6, 2009; 9:58 AM ET

This, coming from the man who is supposed to be the head of a battlefield preservation organization? Do these words suggest that he cares even the slightest bit about saving the battlefield?

And finally, I give you a piece of one of the nasty e-mails that I received from Mrs. McKinney last week that spells out the family’s preservation philosophy quite clearly and quite succinctly:

As an avid foxhunter and as a resident in the community of Brandy Station, I understand that in Virginia, land ownership is everything. The rights of landowners to do what they wish with their own property trumps everything. That is an acknowledged fact. If someone wants a landowner to listen to his opinion on what he should do with his own land, he had better be prepared to reason with him.

Were this true, the Brandy Station battlefield would either be a Formula-1 racetrack or an industrial park now. Were this true, the Wilderness would have a gigantic Wal-Mart store being built. Were this true, there would be an immense Disney theme park butting up against the Bull Run battlefield, overwhelming an area where the road network already can’t handle the volume of traffic it must sustain. Were this true, all of the Cedar Creek battlefield would be a rock quarry now. I could go on, but you get the idea. The fact is that Mrs. McKinney’s claim that the rights of landowners to do what they wish with their property trumps everything is clearly NOT true, as the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers plainly demonstrated yesterday. Battlefield preservation is NOT about appeasement, as the McKinneys believe. It’s about being aggressive and being proactive and doing whatever has to be done to prevent the destruction of core battlefield land, and if someone’s feathers gets ruffled in the process, that’s too damned bad. In the view of the McKinneys, feather-ruffling is apparently something to be avoided at all costs, even if it means that core battlefield land at the base of Fleetwood Hill is turned into a lake because the good friend of the McKinneys who owns the land has to be appeased at ALL costs.

This bizarre laissez-faire attitude of Mr. McKinney plainly and amply demonstrates that this man is NOT committed to battlefield preservation unless it promotes fox-hunting or doesn’t annoy the local landowners. That’s not how to save a battlefield. You do whatever has to be done, and if that means calling the Army Corps of Engineers and annoying the neighbors, it’s what you do.

I think it is entirely possible that REAL battlefield preservation organizations, such as the Civil War Trust, will completely disavow and disenfranchise the BSF unless these wrong-headed and ill-advised policies are abandoned, and that would be a disaster.

Mix in the huge and irreconcilable conflict of interest that I pointed out here last week, and it becomes painfully clear that this man has NO business heading the BSF, and that his continued leadership of it will cause irreparable harm to an organization that has a twenty-plus year record of tremendous success in saving battlefield land that resulted from active and aggressive action and leadership.

Mr. McKinney, it’s time for you to either resign or to limit yourself to simply running the Graffiti House and leave the real work of preserving the battlefield to those of us who have the nerve and the fire in our bellies to do it.

UPDATE, 6:30 P.M.: Below are three photographs of Lake Troilo taken this afternoon after a long day of heavy rain. If there wasn’t a major erosion problem before, there most assuredly is now. Shame on you, Joe McKinney, and shame on you, BSF board, for sitting on your hands and allowing this sort of desecration to happen without so much as making a peep about it. Resign. Now.

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As I mentioned here last week, Bud Hall–NOT the president or board of the Brandy Station Foundation, which should be doing this sort of work–called the Army of Corps of Engineers about the destruction of critical battlefield land at Fleetwood Hill on the Brandy Station battlefield.

Here is the damage done to Fleetwood Hill:

Note the hideous McMansion in the background. To see larger images, just click on the photos.

The Corps of Engineers did an inspection and has acted. Here is the letter that was sent to the landowner, Tony Troilo:

DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
NORFOLK DISTRICT, CORPS OF ENGINEERS
FOR NORFOLK, 803 FRONT STREET
NORFOLK, VIRGINIA 23510-1096

May 13, 2011

Northern Virginia Regulatory Section (Flat Run)
NAO-2011-990

Mr. Tony Troilo
[address deleted]

Dear Mr. Troilo:

On May 11, 2011, Mr. Hal Wiggins of my staff visited your 60-acre property located off Route 685 near Brandy Station in Culpeper County, Virginia. Based on this site visit there appears to be earthmoving activities by bulldozer in and adjacent to approximately 600 linear feet of a perennial stream, known as Flat Run. It is our understanding that you intend to construct a private pond. Our office was notified regarding your recent work in Flat Run. Flat Run is a perennial tributary to Rappahannock River and is a water of the United States regulated pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Please be advised that the unauthorized discharge of fill material in Flat Run is in direct violation of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1344), which requires a Department of the Army permit prior to initiating work in the waters of the United States.

In addition, we have been advised by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources that your unauthorized work has occurred within the Brandy Station Battlefield Historic District, a property that is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. In accordance with Corps regulations 33 CFR 320-330, no work can be authorized in waters of the United States which may affect historic properties listed, or eligible for listing, in the National Register of Historic Places unless and until the Norfolk District has complied with the provisions of 33 CFR 325, Appendix C.

This letter constitutes formal notice to you to cease and desist any unauthorized activities in Flat Run.

To facilitate my investigation of your activities, you are requested to provide in writing your reasons for placing fill in waters of the United States, the dates that fill was placed in these waters and the contractor who performed the work, the dates the work was performed, a copy of any state or local authorizations for this work, the reasons why this work was performed without Department of the Army authorization, and a copy of any wetland and/or stream delineations prepared for this property. Your written responses to these questions must be received by this office within fifteen days of receipt of this letter. We request that you assist us in resolving this matter.

In the interim, you must install any appropriate silt fences, hay bales, and/or check dam, and take any action required by Culpeper County pursuant to State Sediment and Erosion Control standards to control sedimentation in Flat Run in order to prevent impacts to downstream water quality. Mr. Wiggins can assist you in determining appropriate interim measures.

We are sending a copy of this letter to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Marine Resources Commission, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Culpeper County.

As soon as my investigation has been completed, you will be notified in writing as to any further action that may be required. In the interim, should you have any questions, please contact Mr. Hal Wiggins at xxx-xxx-xxxx or xxxxxxxxx@usace.army.mil.

Sincerely,

Nicholas L. Konchuba
Chief, Northern Virginia
Regulatory Section

The emphasis is in the original of Mr. Konchuba’s letter.

And so the destruction of Flat Run has been halted, but major damage has been done that will require extensive remediation in order to restore it to its previous condition, all of which will be at Mr. Troilo’s expense. Mr. Troilo will be required to hire an approved consultant to develop a restoration plan, and that plan will have to be approved by the Corps of Engineers. There will likely also be a fine involved too.

Halting the destruction of the battlefield has been the work of the dedicated FORMER members of the board of directors of the BSF. Specifically, this was done by the people who resigned from the board in protest over the election of Joseph McKinney. There has been a complete and total abrogation by the BSF of its duty to protect the battlefield by the organization that is tasked with doing so.

Mr. McKinney, you have allowed your conflict of interest to get in the way of the preservation of the battlefield, and have permitted permanent decimation of core battlefield land. Do the honorable thing and resign, as you have no business being at the head of a battlefield preservation organization.

UPDATE, MAY 17, 2011: The press is now onto this story. An article on this appears in The Fredericksburg Freelance-Star today.

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