November, 2007

An important but all too often overlooked portion of the 1862 Maryland Campaign is the September 19-20, 1862 fight at Shepherdstown Ford. In a hard-fought and bloody action, the men of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry, with its novice ieutenant colonel, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, saw its first combat.

I’ve been to the site once. A portion of the battlefield is preserved, as it was fought along the banks of the Potomac River. This means that some of the fighting took place on the towpath to the C & O Canal, which is part of a national park that is the steward of the canal. Thus, much of the important ground on the north (Maryland) side of the river is safe.

The ground on the south (West Virginia) side of the river is another story altogether. It’s all in private hands, and it’s endangered. The ground is largely floodplain, which means it can’t be built upon, but the question is whether the land can be purchased for a reasonable price. The good folks from the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association are doing some excellent work to purchase and preserve the land, and so is the Save Historic Antietam Foundation, one of the oldest and most effective preservation groups operating out there, is working with them.

In addition, Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia has introduced legislation before Congress to require the National Park Service to perform studies to determine whether the Shepherdstown Ford battlefield meets the criteria to become part of the national battlefield park at Antietam. Let’s hope that this legislation passes and that this particular battlefield is forever preserved.

Kudos to everyone working hard to preserve the Shepherdstown Ford battlefield.

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The following review of my history of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry, also known as Rush’s Lancers was published on H-Civil War:

Published by (November 2007)

Eric J. Wittenberg. _Rush’s Lancers: The Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry in the Civil War_. Yardley: Westholme Publishing, 2007. xi + 316 pp. Maps, photographs, bibliography, index. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 1594160325.

Reviewed for H-CivWar by A. James Fuller, Department of History, University of Indianapolis

A Cavalry Regiment’s Ride through the Civil War

Regimental histories afford the historian the opportunity to bring the past to life through the shared experience of men in military service. Using the intimate lens of the individual like a biographer while tracing the collective story of the unit and connecting it to context offers new
insights and perspectives on the issues and questions raised in works of broader scope. In _Rush’s Lancers: The Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry in the Civil War_, attorney Eric J. Wittenberg argues that the regiment overcame initial obstacles and obsolete weaponry with superb training and brave fighting that earned it the reputation as one of the finest cavalry units of the war.

Wittenberg is the author of many other books about the Civil War cavalry, including several studies of the role of horse soldiers in the Gettysburg campaign _Protecting the Flanks: The Battles for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field, Battle of Gettysburg, July 2-3, 1863 (2002), _Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions (1998), and a biography of Philip Sheridan _Little Phil: A Reassessment of the Civil War Leadership of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan_ (2005). In researching battles and campaigns, he repeatedly came back to the Sixth Pennsylvania and this added to an interest that had been kindled when he was a boy growing up in a town from which one of the regiment’s companies had come. His passion for the subject and his expertise on cavalry make Wittenberg the ideal writer for a regimental history.

The regiment initially organized as Lancers when they mustered in fall 1861, and the men trained hard in learning to use the long spears that had proven so formidable in past conflicts. Considered obsolete by the 1860s, the lance still enjoyed many supporters, including George B. McClellan, who had studied the weapon’s use in Europe and urged Colonel Richard Henry Rush to
adopt it for his new unit. The regiment’s limited use of the lance, complete with red pennons to flutter in the breeze, soon gave way to the carbine. Despite losing the distinctive arms that had given them their identity, the unit kept its name.

That name came to mean something in the Union Army. By the end of the war, the Sixth Pennsylvania had earned respect and become a tough, hard-fighting regiment. But it was not an easy road. Most of the officers hailed from the elite families of Philadelphia, the unit was commanded by the grandson of Dr. Benjamin Rush, while others pointed to famous ancestors who had led or fought in the American Revolution. At the same time, the rank and file of the regiment was made up of young men from the lower ranks of society, including many from Philadelphia’s working class. Class tensions threatened to cause real problems early on, but when Philadelphia newspapers published accounts about the few officers whose aristocratic ways grated on the enlisted men, the tensions eased. Nationalism combined with training and
the personality of fine officers to overcome the dangers of class conflict in the regiment.

The real test came, of course, on the battlefield. Time after time, the Lancers rode into combat. From minor skirmishes and reconnaissance missions to raids and actions on the flanks of major battles, even full-scale cavalry clashes, the Sixth Pennsylvania found itself in action. In between came the tedious monotony of camp life and the inevitable hardships caused by the
weather, the supply situation, and separation from home and family. Sometimes the enemy proved less dangerous than epidemics. As the months rolled into years, the Lancers developed into veterans and became a reliable unit upon whom the generals could count.

Wittenberg rightly places the regiment’s history within the story of the brigade and always reminds his readers of the broader context of the war. Mistakes in decision making at the highest rank are brought to awful reality at the company, squad, and even individual levels. Familiar battles like Gettysburg are seen from the perspective of the cavalry, a view that sheds
new light on the whole campaign. Instead of the usual recounting of the battle, the reader is taken to places on the flanks and rides along with the Sixth Pennsylvania as the Confederates retreat. The great cavalry battle at Brandy Station receives a well-deserved chapter as does Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign. Success followed failure, disappointment followed victory. The regiment’s participation in the successful Stoneman Raid was part of the campaign that led to General Joseph Hooker’s defeat at Chancellorsville. Gettysburg was followed by disappointing results during Robert E. Lee’s retreat. Embarrassments gave way to proud victories as the Union cavalry learned to hold its own against its counterpart, and then
began to defeat the Southern cavaliers.

Throughout the book, the reader becomes familiar with the individuals whose writings make up the author’s main sources. Some of the men died, others were transferred, others were promoted, many reenlisted, and other new faces joined up. Officers and enlisted men, surgeons and chaplains are all given a voice. Some of them had the famous names of elite families, some were related to famous commanders (George Meade Jr. is the obvious example), some were wealthy lawyers, some were poor farmers, and some came from the wrong side of town. But they served together and Wittenberg allows a broad cross section of them to speak about their experiences. They served under famous generals: McClellan, Meade, John Buford, Alfred Pleasanton, George Custer, Sheridan, and Ulysses Grant. They fought against famous generals: Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, and Thomas Jackson, to name three. Wittenberg’s final chapter, “Requiem,” provides the stories of what happened to many of the familiar faces and brings them together in reunion celebrations.

At times, Wittenberg displays the storyteller’s gift and the reader is drawn into the narrative. It is, after all, an action packed tale. But he sometimes includes so much detail that his prose slows to a plodding slog that reminds the reader of some of the Lancers’ miserable rides through
terrible weather. This makes the book less attractive for use in the classroom and will make it less appealing to general readers. But, it is a must read for those interested in the cavalry, buffs, readers in the Philadelphia area, and specialists in Civil War history. The book is well
researched, generally well written, and the author’s argument is persuasive. In the end, Wittenberg has provided a very capable regimental history that deserves a place on the shelf alongside other such studies.

I’m very pleased with this review. I think it’s very fair and accurately reflects the book.

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11 Nov 2007, by

To All the Vets

Today is Veteran’s Day. Veteran’s Day was originally called Armistice Day, in recognition of the armistice that ended World War I. Promptly at the stroke of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns fell silent and the butchery of the Great War, the War to End All Wars, finally came to a close.

There is only one British veteran of World War I remaining, and he is 109 years old. It might be too much to ask or expect that he will see the passage of another Veterans’ Day. However, this morning, I saw film of him greeting and talking to British veterans of Iraq, just home from deployment there. Somehow, it seemed a fitting completion of the circle.

My father is 87. He is a member of what Tom Brokaw has dubbed the Greatest Generation. His peers, friends, and family members went to war to defeat the forces of Fascism. These men and women are dying off at the rate of 1,000 per day, and before long, there won’t be any World War II vets left, either. Similarly, Korean War vets are of the same generation, and usually only a few years younger, as the entire Korean War was fought less than ten years after the end of World War II. Korea is, of course, often called the forgotten war, and for good reason. It was a horrible, grinding war far from home where many Americans died in a proxy war against Communism.

Today, our soldiers are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. I will avoid ranting about the failed policies of the Bush Administration and instead focus on the sacrifices of these good men and women to whom we owe our freedom and to whom we owe our security.

Thank you to all of the veterans for your contributions to making America the country that it is today.

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My publisher, Ted Savas, has jumped into the blogging fray with a new blog from a publisher’s perspective. Welcome to te blogosphere, T. I will look forward to your insights.

I’ve added a link to Ted’s blog.

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Madness Mike has a really interesting post on his blog tonight about former Presidents of the United States during the Civil War. I recommend it.

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Here’s another in my infrequent series of posts on forgotten American cavalrymen. The subject of this post is a favorite of mine; his letters home are some of the most useful and insightful I have ever read.

Louis H. Carpenter was born in Glassboro, New Jersey on February 11, 1839. His blood ran as blue as any Philadelphia aristocrat’s: he was a direct, linear descendant of Samuel Carpenter, who was William Penn’s right hand man. Louis enlisted in the army in Philadelphia as a private in 1861 after dropping out of college during his junior year. He served as a private in the 6th U. S. Cavalry until he was commissioned second lieutenant, 6th U. S. Cavalry, July 17, 1862, and first lieutenant Sept. 28 1864. He was brevetted from first lieutenant to lieutenant colonel for gallant and meritorious conduct during the course of the Civil War. Carpenter was one of only three officers of the 6th U. S. Cavalry to escape from its ordeal at Fairfield, PA on July 3, 1863. He served in the following campaigns during the Civil War: The Peninsula, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville (in Stoneman’s raid to the rear of Lee’s army), The Wilderness (as aide-de-camp to Major General Phillip H. Sheridan), Siege of Petersburg, The Shenandoah Valley, Richmond (Sheridan’s raid) and Trevilian Station.

He remained in the Regular Army after the end of the Civil War. He was appointed Captain on 28 July 1866 of “D” company, 10th Cavalry and served with them for thirteen (13) years of continuous Indian wars. His men respected him, and his company had the lowest desertion rate of the regular army during his charge. His ability to train and lead was notable and he was mentioned in the official reports for Gettysburg and in an order issued by General Sheridan concerning combat on the Beaver Creek in Kansas.

Carpenter was awarded the Medal of Honor as a Captain with the 10th Cavalry (“The Buffalo Soldiers”) during a forced march to the relief of Colonel Forsyth on the Arickaree Fork of the Republican River, Colorado, and for the combat on the Beaver, in the campaign of 1868. Brevetted Colonel for gallant conduct in an engagement with the Cheyenne and Sioux Indians in 1868.

Here is an account of the action that earned him the Medal of Honor: “On the 17th of this month Lieut.-Colonel G. A. Forsyth, A. D. C. to General Sheridan, with a party of white scouts, was attacked and “corralled” by a force of about 700 Indians on an island in the Republican River. Two of Forsyth’s scouts stole through the Indian lines and brought word of the perilous situation of the command to Fort Wallace. Parties were soon on the way to its relief. First and last the following troops were started towards it from different points. Captain Bankhead with about 100 men of the 5th Infantry, Captain Carpenter with Troop H and Captain Baldwin with Troop I, of the 10th Cavalry, and two troops of the 2d Cavalry under Major Brisbin. Captain Carpenter’s troop was the first of these commands to arrive upon the scene. It found Forsyth’s command out of rations, living on horse-flesh without salt or pepper. All its officers had been killed or wounded. Every horse and mule, too, had been killed. Forsyth, who had been twice wounded, was lying in a square hole scooped out in the sand, within a few feet of a line of dead horses which half encircled the hole and impregnated the air with a terrible stench. Captain Carpenter immediately pitched a number of tents in a suitable place near by, had the wounded men carried to them, and the rest removed to a more salubrious air. Twenty-six hours later Captain Bankhead arrived bringing with him the two troops of the 2d Cavalry. On the 14th of the following month, two weeks after he had returned to Fort Wallace with the wounded of Forsyth’s command, Captain Carpenter was ordered to take his own troop and I Troop of the 10th Cavalry and escort Major Carr, of the 5th Cavalry, to his command, supposed to be on Beaver Creek. On the march he was attacked by a force of about 500 Indians. After proceeding, regardless of the enemy’s firing and yelling, far enough to gain a suitable position, he halted his command, had the wagons corralled close together and rushed his men inside at a gallop. He had them dismount, tie their horses to the wagons, and form on the outside around the corral. Then followed a volley of Spencers which drove the Indians back as though they were thrown from a cannon. A number of warriors, showing more bravery than the others, undertook to stand their ground. Nearly all of these, together with their ponies, were killed. Three dead warriors lay within fifty yards of the wagons. The Indians were so demoralized by these results that they did not renew the attack and the troops accomplished their march without further molestation. They were back at Fort Wallace on the 2ist, having travelled 230 miles in about seven days. For their gallantry in the fight, which took place on Beaver Creek, the officers and men were thanked by General Sheridan in a general field order, and Captain Carpenter was breveted Colonel.”

Carpenter’s Medal of Honor citation reads:

Captain Louis H. Carpenter, Company H. Actions: At Indian campaigns in Kansas and Colorado, September October 1868. Entered service at: Philadelphia, Pa. Birth: Glassboro, N.J. Date of issue 8 April 1898. Citation: Was gallant and meritorious throughout the campaigns, especially in the combat of October 15 and in the forced March on September 23, 24 and 25 to the relief of Forsyth’s Scouts, who were known to be in danger of annihilation by largely superior forces of Indians.

He commanded the Army posts of Fort Robinson in Nebraska, Fort Myer in Virginia and Fort Sam Houston in Texas and served as director of cavalry instruction at Fort Riley, Kansas as Lt. Col, 7th Cavalry (1892-1897). He served as President of the Board to Revise Cavalry Tactics for the United States Army. Carpenter was promoted to Colonel, 5th Cavalry in 1897. In May 1898, he was commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers May 1898 for the duration of the Spanish-American War. Carpenter commanded the 1st Division, 3rd Corps at Chickamauga and afterwards commanded the 3rd Division, 4th Corps at Tampa, Florida. Later ordered to Cuba to occupy the Providence of Puerto Principe with a force consisting of the 8th Cavalry, 15th Infantry and the 3rd Georgia Volunteers, his were the first troops to take station in Cuba after the Battle of Santiago. Carpenter was appointed Military Governor of the providence and remained in that capacity until in July 1899. He was relieved and returned to New York, reverting to his Regular Army rank of colonel.

He received a promotion to Brigadier-General U.S. Army and was then retired the next day at his own request on Oct. 19, 1899, after having served over thirty-eight years in the Regular Army. Much of his retirement was spent lecturing and writing about his Civil War service, including a well-known and well-respected account of his participation in the May 1864 Richmond Raid and the Battle of Yellow Tavern, where Jeb Stuart was mortally wounded.

General Carpenter died January 21, 1916 and was buried in Trinity Episcopal Church New Cemetery, Swedesboro, Gloucester County, New Jersey.

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I vigorously disagree with the politics of these authors. I particularly loathe the bozos that wrote the book that led to the swift boating of John Kerry in 2004 for subjecting us to another four years of corrupt incompetence, outright lies, and high crimes and misdemeanors by a regime that has done more harm to this country than any other in history. While I’m probably long overdue for a good anti-Bush rant, that’s not the purpose of this particular blog post.

As an author, I support the idea of writing for a profit and I support the idea of writers being paid for the fruits of their labors, even labors I despise, as I do these. This article appeared in today’s edition of The New York Times:

Conservative Authors Sue Publisher

Published: November 7, 2007
Five authors have sued the parent company of Regnery Publishing, a Washington imprint of conservative books, charging that the company deprives its writers of royalties by selling their books at a steep discount to book clubs and other organizations owned by the same parent company.

In a suit filed in United States District Court in Washington yesterday, the authors Jerome R. Corsi, Bill Gertz, Lt. Col. Robert (Buzz) Patterson, Joel Mowbray and Richard Miniter state that Eagle Publishing, which owns Regnery, “orchestrates and participates in a fraudulent, deceptively concealed and self-dealing scheme to divert book sales away from retail outlets and to wholly owned subsidiary organizations within the Eagle conglomerate.”

Some of the authors’ books have appeared on the New York Times best-seller list, including “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry,” by Mr. Corsi and John E. O’Neill (who is not a plaintiff in the suit), Mr. Patterson’s “Dereliction of Duty: The Eyewitness Account of How Bill Clinton Compromised America’s National Security” and Mr. Miniter’s “Shadow War: The Untold Story of How Bush Is Winning the War on Terror.” In the lawsuit the authors say that Eagle sells or gives away copies of their books to book clubs, newsletters and other organizations owned by Eagle “to avoid or substantially reduce royalty payments to authors.”

The authors argue that in reducing royalty payments, the publisher is maximizing its profits and the profits of its parent company at their expense.

“They’ve structured their business essentially as a scam and are defrauding their writers,” Mr. Miniter said in an interview, “causing a tremendous rift inside the conservative community.”

Traditionally, authors receive a 15 percent royalty based on the cover price of a hardcover title after they have sold enough copies to cover the cost of the advance they receive upon signing a contract with a publisher. (Authors whose books are sold at steep discounts or to companies that handle remaindered copies receive lower royalties.)

In Regnery’s case, according to the lawsuit, the publisher sells books to sister companies, including the Conservative Book Club, which then sells the books to members at discounted prices, “at, below or only marginally above its own cost of publication.” In the lawsuit the authors say they receive “little or no royalty” on these sales because their contracts specify that the publisher pays only 10 percent of the amount received by the publisher, minus costs — as opposed to 15 percent of the cover price — for the book.

Mr. Miniter said that meant that although he received about $4.25 a copy when his books sold in a bookstore or through an online retailer, he only earned about 10 cents a copy when his books sold through the Conservative Book Club or other Eagle-owned channels. “The difference between 10 cents and $4.25 is pretty large when you multiply it by 20,000 to 30,000 books,” Mr. Miniter said. “It suddenly occurred to us that Regnery is making collectively jillions of dollars off of us and paying us a pittance.” He added: “Why is Regnery acting like a Marxist cartoon of a capitalist company?”

In an e-mail statement, Bruce W. Sanford, a lawyer with Baker Hostetler, a Washington firm representing Eagle and Regnery, said: “No publisher in America has a more acute marketing sense or successful track record at building promotional platforms for books than Regnery Publishing. These disgruntled authors object to marketing strategies used by all major book publishers that have proved successful time and again as witnessed by dozens of Regnery bestsellers.”

The authors also say in the lawsuit that Regnery donates books to nonprofit groups affiliated with Eagle Publishing and gives the books as incentives to subscribers to newsletters published by Eagle. The authors say they do not receive royalties for these books.

“You get 10 per cent of nothing because they basically give them away,” Mr. Patterson said in an interview.

The authors argue that because at least a quarter and as much as half of their book sales are diverted to nonretail channels, sales figures of their books on Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales but does not reflect sales through book clubs and other outlets used by Eagle, are artificially low. Publishers use these figures when determining future book deals, and the authors argue that actions by Eagle and Regnery have long-term effects on their careers.

Mr. Miniter said that when he was negotiating a book deal with Threshold Editions, a conservative imprint of Simon & Schuster, he could have gotten a higher advance if BookScan reflected the true quantity of sales of his books.

According to BookScan, Mr. Miniter’s “Shadow War” sold 46,000 copies in hardcover, and “Losing Bin Laden” sold 36,000 copies in hardback.

Mr. Miniter, who spearheaded the legal action, said he became aware of the discrepancies in royalty payments while defending a separate arbitration initiated by Regnery over a canceled contract. Mr. Miniter said that during the arbitration, which is pending, he saw royalty statements in which it appeared that about half his books’ sales had not gone through stores, and that his payments for those sales were much lower than the payments for bookstore sales. He contacted other Regnery authors and learned that they saw similar patterns on their royalty statements.

Joel Mowbray, author of “Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America’s Security,” said he was particularly disappointed in Regnery and Eagle because they had so championed conservative authors. “These guys created the conservative book market,” Mr. Mowbray said. “Before them, conservatives were having to fight, generally unsuccessfully, to get books published.”

The authors, who say in the lawsuit that Eagle has been “unjustly enriched well in excess of one million dollars,” are seeking unspecified damages. But Mr. Miniter said, “We’re not looking for a payoff; we’re looking for justice.”

There are certainly plenty of opportunities for publishers to really manipulate the payment of royalties to their authors. While I despise what these men write and what they did to this country, I do hope that they get what they’re entitled to if they got screwed out of royalties they were entitled to.

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Kevin Levin has been following the evolution of a new blog dedicated to the advancement of Neo-Confederate ideology for several months now. Today, for the first time, I took a look at it, and it’s scary.

Calling herself Dixie Dawn, here’s how our Neo-Confederate heroine describes herself: “a staunch rebel if you will. A true southern raised redneck girl and a believer in the real causes for civil war as well as preserving the heritage of our south and the confederate soldiers.” Not hard to figure out what her worldview is, is it? It likewise isn’t hard to figure out that any attempts to try to engage her in rational discussion that might get her to change her mind won’t be terribly successful and will only lead to excruciating levels of frustration for those who might try.

What’s more is that Dixie Dawn allows anonymous comments on her blog. She permits one clown in particular to launch personal attacks on anyone who disagrees with the neo-Confederate worldview and then allows that person to hide behind anonymity. NOTHING infuriates me more than that, which is why I don’t permit it here. I likewise do not permit anyone to hide behind some made-up name here, either. If you’re going to attack someone, at least have the guts to sign your name to your post. Otherwise, you’re a gutless coward who’s not worth the time of day or the bandwidth clogged up by him or her.

Nevertheless, to his undying credit, fellow blogger David Woodbury has fought the good fight and has tried, with admirable patience and with admirable restraint, not to respond to the numerous personal attacks launched upon him by the anonymous knuckle dragger who refuses to sign his comments. David, I don’t know how you do it. Perhaps you have a Don Quixote complex, or perhaps you enjoy being frustrated. More power to you. I’d have blown a gasket long ago.

In any event, this sort of neo-Confederate hooey scares me, as I worry that the uneducated will actually buy into this crap and accept it as true. We have to be diligent and we have to fight the neo-Confederate wars every day. I have done so, and will continue to do so. Kudos to Kevin and David for fighting the good fight (although Kevin’s post makes it pretty clear that he’s throwing in the towel on Dixie Dawn).

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Even I do things that are galactically stupid. Yes, I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

I drive a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo. I’ve had a lot of cars in my life, but this particular one is high on my list of favorites. I like its ride, I like the power of the V-8, and I enjoy driving it. It’s hard on gas mileage–these days, $50 won’t fill it–but that’s about all I can say negative about it. It’s already got about 75,000 miles on it.

Like most new cars, this one came with two keys. However, Susan lost hers about a year ago, meaning we’ve been operating with just one key. Well, somehow, some way, I managed to lose the other one on Sunday night, somewhere between the car and the time I went to bed. It had to have been lost here in the house somewhere, but I will be damned if I could find it. Susan and I tore the place apart last night. Literally and figuratively. And we still couldn’t find it.

An SUV without any keys is a very large and very expensive paperweight. And that’s what my Jeep was all day yesterday. After we realized we couldn’t find the damned key, it then became obvious that the only way to restore it to being a useful vehicle and not a very large and very expensive paperweight was to bite the bullet and replace the keys.

The keys, of course, are not the sort of keys one runs to Kmart and gets cut. Nah, why should I get off that easy? It all has to be done at a dealership. The keys include a computer chip, and once cut, they have to be programmed. What’s more is that they not only have to be programmed, the vehicle has to be there when they do it. Otherwise, the key will not work. When one’s SUV is a very large and very expensive paperweight and cannot be started due to a lack of having any keys, there’s only one way to get it to the dealership. That’s right, you guessed it: on the business end of a tow truck.

So, this morning, I did what had to be done. I had it towed, they cut and programmed new keys, and about an hour later, I drove off, the Grand Cherokee no longer a very large and very expensive paperweight. And, as I drove away feeling galactically stupid for losing the key inside my own house, our checking account was $322.70 lighter. Talk about an expensive lesson.

But hey, we now have two functional keys again, and I don’t expect the thing to turn into a very large and very expensive paperweight again any time soon…..

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For some time now, there’s been a thread going on the Armchair General forum boards on Pickett’s Charge. To date, there have been 121 replies to the original post, and there is a posted poll.

For the life of me, I simply cannot comprehend the fascination with the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge. Now, I recognize that this is the sort of thing that one often gets filleted for, but I’m going to explain my reasons for taking this position. Personally, I couldn’t care less about it. If I never heard another word about again for the rest of my life, it wouldn’t bother me a bit.

Tactically, there’s nothing interesting about it. I’ve walked it four or five times in my life, including several times with Wayne Motts, who is pretty much THE authority on the subject, and other than some interesting terrain features, I don’t find it interesting, and I don’t find it compelling. Not a bit. Strategically, it was gallactically stupid and doomed to fail. If you need evidence of that, take a good, long look at the frontal assault of the 5th Corps at the Deep Cut at Second Manassas. 12,000 Union troops made a direct frontal assault up a ridge line at a single spot, and they were repulsed with heavy losses. It was the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge in reverse, with the same level of losses and the same destiny.

Why doesn’t the attack at the Deep Cut get the same level of attention?

Why does the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble attack get so much attention when it’s quite clear indeed that Longstreet couldn’t have been more correct in his statement that no 15,000 men alive could take that position? I can understand why people who are descendants of participants are interested, and I suppose I can understand the fascination of the Lost Causers and neo-Confederates. Beyond that, though, I just don’t get it.

If you want to study a tactically and strategically interesting and important direct, frontal assault, study Emory Upton’s assault at Spotsylvania Court House in May 1864. It was novel, unique, and it worked.

From my perspective, if I never heard of this ill-advised and doomed from the start attack again, it most assuredly wouldn’t bother me a bit. I just don’t get the endless fascination with it when there are so many more interesting things to study.

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