September, 2009

Here’s a sane voice regarding the Wilderness Wal-Mart debate that appeared in today’s issue of The Washington Post:

Wal-Mart’s Rueful Victory at the Battle Of the Wilderness

By Robert McCartney
Thursday, September 10, 2009

In the hierarchy of Civil War engagements, the Battle of the Wilderness doesn’t quite make the A-list. Although it ranks in the top 10 by the grisly measure of total casualties, it doesn’t enjoy the fame of Gettysburg or Antietam. Wilderness doesn’t even get top billing in its own national park, which includes four major battlefields and is named for Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania.

Wal-Mart and the Battlefield: How Close?

Given such shaky status, it’s little surprise that Wilderness has lost to Wal-Mart Stores in the latest encounter in the nation’s conflict between developers and the robust Civil War preservationist community. Unless final appeals soften its corporate heart, Wal-Mart will build a Supercenter right at the edge of the densely thicketed area in Virginia, 60 miles south of Washington, where 160,000 Americans fought for two bloody days in 1864.

That’s frustrating, because a reasonable compromise has long been within reach. The preservationists say it’s fine with them if Wal-Mart builds the store a few miles up the road. It would be a hassle, and costly, to find another piece of land and get it rezoned. But there’s lots of empty forest there, and the company and authorities in Orange County should do it.

Otherwise, the new store and the additional development it will attract will destroy the mostly woodsy ambience at a crossroads once defended by Union troops where most visitors now enter the battlefield. Wal-Mart and its supporters make some good arguments but can’t justify permanently defacing the entrance to a historic national site.

“Our main concern is what happens to that gateway,” said Russ Smith, superintendent of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. “We’re hoping that Wal-Mart will show itself a good corporate citizen” by moving the site, he said.

The struggle between strip malls and hallowed ground crops up regularly in our region, the richest in the nation in Civil War history. The debate over Wilderness has been shaped significantly by preservation guidelines issued in 1993 amid bitter tussles over development around the two battlefields in Manassas.

At Wilderness, as elsewhere, the tug of war pits property rights against community rights. The Orange County supervisors, who voted 4 to 1 last month to approve the store, stressed that the 50-acre site had been zoned commercial for decades. That means the owner, an outside investor, has been paying higher taxes than if the site were zoned for homes or farming, so supervisors said he should have the right now to cash in. They also say the county needs the jobs, close-to-home shopping and half-million dollars in annual tax revenue that the project will generate.

The larger community also has rights, though, and in this case the community is the entire nation. In two years, the United States will mark the 150th anniversary of the nation’s bloodiest conflict, whose impact we still feel today. Before the Civil War, most Americans the race of our current president were slaves. We should honor that history by making extra efforts to preserve the places that trigger memories of the brutal price paid for national unity and the end of slavery.

Wal-Mart and its supporters dismiss such opposition as exaggerated, because the store would not sit directly on parkland or on what is known as the core battlefield, where the most intense fighting took place. Instead, the site is in what was the Union rear. They point out that a Sheetz gasoline station and McDonald’s are already at the intersection and that Wal-Mart has promised to take steps to minimize the store’s visibility, such as leaving some trees between it and the road.

That’s not quite the full story. The Wal-Mart would be well inside the battlefield’s “historic boundary,” according to historians chartered by Congress in 1993 to make such distinctions. That means it’s an area that doesn’t need absolute protection but should be treated with sensitivity. More important, though, the site would be four times the size of the commercial development that’s already there and is universally expected to attract still more stores.

Teri Pace, the only supervisor who voted against Wal-Mart, called the store “a huge economic mistake,” adding, “If you want to capitalize on tourism, you don’t do that by building the kind of commercial retail that people are trying to escape.”

Most outsiders have agreed. A bipartisan roster of Virginia’s top politicians expressed opposition to the plan before the supervisors’ vote. The list included Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and both candidates for governor. More than 250 prominent Civil War historians signed a letter of protest. The supervisors have received more than 3,500 e-mails urging them to put the store somewhere else.

Although it is little remembered and ended in a draw, Wilderness has the distinction of being the first encounter between the war’s two best-known generals, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. It was also the first battle in the 11-month Union campaign that ultimately captured Richmond and ended the war. Wal-Mart should move up the road. It has lots of stores. There’s only one Wilderness.

He’s right, of course. The problem is that Wal-Mart is not a good corporate citizen and has shown no inclination but to do what it always does, which is to do whatever it wants to do wherever it wants to do it, with no regard for public opinion. Mix in the fact that the county supervisors are idiots who went along with it, and a mess is what you get….

In spite of it all, I hold out hope….

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From Associated Content:

A series of Islamic cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammad have been declined for publication by Yale University Press. The Ivy League school initially planned to include them in a book about how the cartoons incited violence from Muslim fanatics against the original publishers of the cartoons, which included one in a Danish newspaper four years ago.

Yale intended for the book and the inclusion of the cartoons to stimulate intellectual debate on why Muslims would be outraged by the depictions of their prophet. In Sunni Islam, orthodox sharia forbids the portrayal of Muhammad or other human or animal figures, while Shi’ite Islam allows the depiction of humans. There are several Persian paintings that exist that in fact portray Muhammad, such as the “Muhammad Received by the Four Archangels” one painted in 1436. Of course, there is next to no criticism from most Muslims against these paintings, if they know of their existence. Islam believes the first commandment sets the precedence for their law, which forbids the making of images to be worshiped. There is nothing in the first commandment in Judeo-Christian law that forbids the making of images for decoration, such as paintings and other artwork.

Criticism of Yale’s withdrawal of these cartoons being published are out of fear, versus respect for Islam. It is entirely possible to write and publish a book without using the actual cartoons in the book, and merely describing them and the consequences of the publication from the Islamic community. Only Islamic extremists are opposed to these cartoons plus other images which represent Muhammad. Mainstream and lapsed Muslims do not give too much attention to such matters, especially is they are comfortable and secure with their faith in Islam.

Yale alumnus Michael Steinberg accuses Yale of intellectual dishonesty in making the decision to withdraw the cartoons from the book, claiming that all the motion does it appease Islamic extremists. While such a motion may be of more concern in a nation like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, the publication of the book is taking place here in the United States, written by American intellectuals, not by Muslims who might be perceived as having an ax to grind, as Salman Rushdie was when he wrote and published “The Satanic Verses.” The only one at fault is Yale University itself, for having consulted with the wrong people when the school’s publishing sector asked for aid and research on the subject. Asking counter-terrorism experts, diplomats, and the Muslim official at the U.N. are probably not the best sources in acquiring information about publishing the cartoons in question, especially when Yale knew the responses would be biased heavily in favor of Islam. Yale is located in a nation where the freedom of speech is highly valued, not self censorship out of fear for what terrorists might do when the book containing the cartoons is published. Yale University Press has the final say in what they want to publish in the book on Islamic terrorism and its reaction to images of Muhammad in the western world.

Spineless wimpiness in the name of political correctness is not a good trend, especially among publishers. Normally, I avoid contemporary politics in this blog, but I feel compelled to speak out about this example of political correctness run amok.

By removing these cartoons from a scholarly discussion, the operators of the Yale University Press have permitted political Islam, and all of its ugly implications, to dictate policy. The moment we allow political Islam to dictate how we do things in this country, we’re finished as a society. Yale never should have done this, and I encourage all publishers to reject this as a policy.

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in case any of my readers are in the Cleveland area and have an interest, I am speaking to the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable on Wednesday evening. The Cleveland CWRT meets at a place called Judson Manor, which is located near the Cleveland Clinic at the corner of East 107th Avenue and Chester Avenue. The social hour and meal begin at 6:00, and I believe that I go on at 7:00. Advance reservations are required, so please be sure to make a reservation if you intend to come hear my talk, which will be based on my book Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg.

If any readers make it to the talk, please be sure to come and introduce yourself to me.

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From CNET on September 2:

Amazon came out swinging Tuesday against Google’s proposed settlement with book authors and publishers.

Amazon’s opposition was made public last week when it joined the Open Book Alliance, but the company filed its own brief with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Tuesday arguing against making the proposed settlement final. In its filing (click for PDF), Amazon notes that it has also scanned books, but has not taken the controversial step that Google took in scanning out-of-print but copyright-protected books without explicit permission.

Way back in 2004, when Google began scanning books from libraries, it believed it had the right to scan the entire text of a copyright-protected book under fair-use laws so long as it only displayed a snippet of the contents. Authors groups and publishers vehemently disagreed, resulting in a class-action lawsuit and the proposed settlement at issue in this case.
Lawyers for Amazon wrote “Amazon also brings a unique perspective to this court because it has engaged in a book scanning project very similar to Google’s, with one major distinction: As to books still subject to copyright protection, Amazon has only scanned those for which it could obtain permission to do so from the copyright holder.”

The brief goes on to complain that the settlement “is unfair to authors, publishers, and others whose works would be the subject of a compulsory license for the life of the copyright in favor of Google and the newly created Book Rights Registry.” Amazon wants Congress to intervene in the dispute over fair-use provisions in copyright laws, saying the use of a class-action settlement to obtain these rights “represents an unprecedented rewriting of copyright law through judicial action.”

Amazon, of course, has a lot at stake when it comes to the future of books. One of the largest sellers of regular books in the world, Amazon has also turned its attention to the digital book market with the release of the Kindle and a digital book store of its own.

Google has supporters in its fight to get the settlement approved during an early October fairness hearing before Judge Denny Chin. Sony, the American Association for People with Disabilities, the European Commission, and several others have filed briefs of support with the court. And on Tuesday, U.K. publisher Coolerbooks agreed to join Google’s Partner Program, allowing it to offer Google’s scanned copies of public domain works not at issue in the settlement.

Updated 2:52 p.m. PDT: Google plans to hold a press conference tomorrow morning with settlement supporters from civil rights groups and advocates for people with disabilities, which we’ll cover.

And three library groups reiterated Wednesday that while they do not oppose the settlement they wish to ensure “vigorous oversight” is enforced by the court.

But judging by the court docket, the opposition is out-filing supporters. Those interested in flooding Judge Chin with additional reading material have until Friday to do so.

I really hope that the Judge does not approve this settlement. It’s bad for EVERYONE but Google.

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Plenty of Blame To Go AroundRecently, the newsletter of the Old Baldy Civil War Roundtable of Philadelphia published the results of an update poll as to the 50 greatest books on the Civil War of all time, and J.D.’s and my book Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg made the list! We’re in some very elite company, and it is both humbling and flattering to make a list like that. I’m also pleased to see Jim Morgan’s A Little Short of Boats: The Fights at Ball’s Bluff and Edwards Ferry make the list; we published that book at Ironclad, and I was the one who persuaded Jim to write it. Given that thousands of books have been published on the war, to make the top 50 is an incredible honor.

Here’s the list:

1. The Civil War: A Narrative – Shelby Foote
2. Battle Cry of Freedom – James McPherson
3. Killer Angels – Michael Shaara
4. Lee’s Lieutenants – Douglas Freeman
5. Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend – James Robertson
6. The Gettysburg Campaign – Edwin B. Coddington
7. Co. Aytch – Sam Watkins
8. A Stillness at Appomattox – Bruce Catton
9. Confederacy’s Last Hurrah/Embrace an Angry Wind – Wiley Sword
10. Fighting for the Confederacy – E. Porter Alexander
11. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam – Stephen W. Sears
12. Gettysburg – Stephen W. Sears
13. American Brutus – Michael Kauffman
14. Gettysburg: The Second Day – Harry W. Pfanz
15. Generals in Blue – Ezra J. Warner
16. Gettysburg: A Journey in Time – William A. Frassanito
17. Team of Rivals – Doris Kearns Goodwin
18. A Little Short Of Boats: The Fights at Ball’s Bluff and Edward’s Ferry – James A. Morgan, III
19. Centennial History of the Civil War – Bruce Catton
20. Harvard’s Civil War: The History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry – Richard Miller
21. Mosby’s Rangers – Jeffry D. Wert
22. The Golden Book of the Civil War – American Heritage
23. Confederates in the Attic – Tony Horwitz
24. April 1865: The Month That Saved America – Jay Winik
25. This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga – Peter Cozzens
26. Taken at the Flood: Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862 – Joseph Harsh
27. Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865 – Steven E. Woodworth
28. The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy – Bell Irvin Wiley
29. The Civil War Dictionary – Mark Boatner
30. Robert E. Lee – Douglas Southall Freeman
31. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years & the War Years – Carl Sandberg
32. The Red Badge of Courage – Stephen Crane
33. The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion – Participants
34. Antietam: The Soldiers’ Battle – John Michael Priest
35. The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox – John C. Waugh
36. Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor – Russell S. Bonds
37. Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West – Shea & Hess
38. Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant – Ulysses S. Grant
39. Hardtack & Coffee – John Billings
40. The Guns of Gettysburg – Fairfax Downey
41. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
42. Warrior Generals – Thomas Buell
43. Generals in Gray – Ezra J. Warner
44. Battles & Leaders of the Civil War – Various
45. Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas – John Hennessy
46. The Secret War for the Union – Edwin C. Fishel
47. Three Years in the Army of the Cumberland – James Connolly
48. Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign – Kent Masterson Brown
49. Last Full Measure – Jeff Shaara
50. Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg – Eric J. Wittenberg & J. David Petruzzi

I can’t fathom how a couple of these books would make such a list, such as the horrible dreck that Jeff Shaara churns out (I couldn’t even bring myself to finish that awful book), or how Gone With the Wind qualifies, but so be it. I am nevertheless greatly honored and greatly humbled all at the same time to be considered in such elite company as the rest of the list, and I thank everyone who voted for us.

Thanks to Tom Ryan of Bethany Beach, Delaware for bringing this to my attention.

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The first Battle of Middleburg occurred late in the day on June 17, 1863. Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, the acting commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, was known to be a terrible xenophobe. He felt that foreigners had no place in the American Civil War, and he didn’t trust any of them. Once he took command of the Cavalry Corps, he took steps to purge his command of all foreign-born officers. One of his prime targets was Col. Alfred N. Duffie of the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry.

Duffie, a Frenchman of questionable military lineage, had briefly commanded a division before a reorganization and poor performance caused him to be demoted to regimental command. Pleasonton sent Duffie’s regiment, the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry, on a mission far behind enemy lines to find out whether there were any enemy in the town of Middleburg. This small but fine regiment got chopped to bits when it got there, unexpectedly finding Brig. Gen. Beverly H. Robertson’s large but green brigade of North Carolina cavalry there. The Tar Heels chopped Duffie’s regiment to shreds, and only a handful of men avoided capture. Not surprisingly, they lost their regimental flag, which was, for years, part of the collection of the North Carolina Museum of History.

In his blog post today, Michael C. Hardy shared this interesting piece of news:

The North Carolina Museum of History has returned a Civil War flag of Company L, First Rhode Island Cavalry to its home state. The V-shaped flag, called a guidon, was captured by the 63rd North Carolina Troops (Fifth North Carolina Cavalry) on June 17, 1863, during the Battle of Middleburg, Virginia. The battle was part of the Gettysburg campaign, a series of battles in June to July during Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s movement through Virginia toward Pennsylvania.

The silk, striped guidon of Company L, with stars and letters on a field of blue, was donated to the Museum of History in the early 1900s. The gold-fringed banner has been fully restored by the museum and has appeared in previous exhibits.

In a gesture of goodwill, the Museum of History initiated the offer to return the flag to the State of Rhode Island. In 2008 the Rhode Island National Guard accepted the gift from North Carolina.

“The Rhode Island National Guard is thankful to the North Carolina Museum of History staff for graciously returning a Rhode Island Civil War guidon,” says Maj. Gen. Robert T. Bray, Adjutant General and Commanding General of the Rhode Island National Guard. “We are delighted to display the banner, especially given its pristine condition as a result of the careful preservation provided by the museum, among the many historical artifacts at the Varnum Armory in East Greenwich.”

The Museum of History hopes the State of Rhode Island will return a North Carolina flag captured by Rhode Island soldiers at New Bern on March 14, 1862. “We would like this Confederate flag, along with ones held by other states, to eventually be returned to North Carolina,” says Tom Belton, curator of military history.

In addition to the Rhode Island guidon, the Museum of History has given back a Civil War flag to Louisiana. The banner was mistakenly identified as being associated with North Carolina. Within the last few years, the Museum of History has received North Carolina flags from Arkansas and Massachusetts to add to its collection.

The Museum of History boasts the third-largest Confederate flag collection in the world. All banners in the collection were carried by Tar Heel troops. The museum is currently engaged in an extensive flag conservation program in anticipation of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War; commemorative events will take place from 2011 to 2015.Company L, First Rhode Island Cavalry at the Battle of Middleburg

Company L, First Rhode Island Cavalry suffered devastating losses during the Battle of Middleburg. On June 17 Union Col. Alfred N. Duffié led more than 230 men into Middleburg around 4 p.m. After hearing of their arrival, Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart ordered Brig. Gen. Beverly Robertson to move the Fifth North Carolina Cavalry in, and at 7 p.m. the regiment surrounded and attacked the Rhode Island unit. Several of Duffié’s men were killed or wounded, and the rest were driven out of town and fought their way through the night.

Most of Company L’s soldiers were captured the next morning. Only four of Duffié’s officers and 27 soldiers made it back to Centreville on June 18. A few more men from Company L returned during the next two days, but the regiment’s losses were about 200.

For more information, call 919-807-7900 or access The Museum of History is located at 5 E. Edenton St., across from the State Capitol.

I’m pleased that this flag has been returned to Rhode Island where it belongs–it’s a generous and worthy gesture by North Carolina to do so. Thanks to Michael Hardy for sharing this good news with me.

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Today, the CWPT issued the following press release, announcing yet another preservation victory:

Dear Friend,

Just as I was able to write to you recently about our triumph in saving 643 acres at Davis Bridge, Tennessee, I now have the privilege to let you know that CWPT has successfully raised our portion of the matching grant to help save 178 absolutely key acres at Port Republic, Virginia!

Partnering with the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation (SVBF), we are helping to buy the development rights and preserve forever 178 acres at Stonewall Jackson’s final battle of the 1862 Valley Campaign.

Of the total $420,000 cost, the SVBF is putting in $140,000 of the price, the Commonwealth of Virginia is putting in $140,000, and we have applied for an additional federal grant of $98,000…meaning CWPT’s final $42,000 has sealed the deal. This is a $10-to-$1 match of your donation dollar.

Good economy…bad economy…ANY economy…this was a great opportunity to save significant land at a vitally important battlefield. I hope you agree.

I also hope that you will take a look at the other on-going preservation fights we are engaged in, and will help to the extent you can, so we can achieve even more victories! Thank you for your tremendous dedication, incredible support and wonderful generosity.

Sincerely yours,

Jim Lighthizer

I’ve never been particularly interested in Jackson’s Valley Campaign for a variety of reasons, but I’m always thrilled when important battlefield land is preserved. Whoever put this particular deal together did a great job of finding government grant money for the bulk of the purchase, which is the best way to do these deals.

Once again, kudos to Jim Lighthizer and his excellent staff for their good work. Keep it up, guys.

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