Saturday, October 29, 2011

Civil War Lives: a Debriefing

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

The article "the" could easily have been added (as pointed out by one scholar in attendance) to the most recent soiree at the Huntington Library in San Marino to confirm that, indeed, the Civil War lives. It most certainly does.

Cosmic America readers by now know that last weekend I attended Civil War Lives: a conference (this time) focusing on biography. A splendid time was had by all. Even my wife, Coni attended - both days, mind you - and got some insight into the wonderful world in which we Civil War historians share.

For those of you who have never attended such a meeting, let me point out that this conference was not an ordinary academic gathering. While those can be a little on the dry side, so to speak, Civil War Lives was nothing of the sort. Yes - a number of the nation's most esteemed Civil War historians gave talks, but the colloquial atmosphere without question made the conference more inviting.

My point: both scholar and lay person would have come away many did. The line up featured - among others - Joan Waugh, Gary Gallagher, Brooks Simpson, David Blight, Carrie Janney, and James McPherson. I will not go in to depth about the talks specifically, but I will point out that such a collection of scholars is rarely assembled for a single conference. We even got some insider jokes...Gallagher noted how he has been a great admirer of McPherson since he was a young boy (commenting on McPherson's advanced age), and one attendant suggested Waugh's attention to questioners' use of microphones and keeping the schedule within the allotted time frames would make for great high school teaching, a point to which all (including Blight) agreed.

Personally, I got to have nice chats with former teachers (Gallagher and Waugh) reconnect with an old graduate school friend (Janney), finally meet a fellow blogger (Simpson) and have lunch with one of my favorite scholars (Blight) who, by the way, I take to task in my own forthcoming book on Civil War veterans.

I did not shoot a lot of video - you can click here to see Gallagher speak on Robert E. Lee's loyalties. Consider this a teaser...keeping in mind that you will need to clear your calendar for next year's conference. Of course I will keep you all posted when I get the dates and other information. Trust me, you will not want to miss it!


PS - Brooks Simpson pointed out on Crossroads that podcasts of all the speakers' talks will be available shortly - for now, Joan Waugh's introductory remarks and Gary Gallagher's talk concerning Robert E. Lee's loyalties are available HERE.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Could You Pick Rutherford B. Hayes Out in a Lineup?

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I am sad to say, that unless the lineup looked something like the picture above, most people would be taking a shot in the dark. Why? Is it because Hayes and his contemporaries all sported beards? Or is something more ominous at work?

Months ago I posted a question concerning Americans' lack of historical consciousness. My conclusions were that most do not grasp "history" beyond the immediate past. With this being my general attitude, I arrived at a conversation with my wife a few days ago. Coni - who admittedly answers "Grover Cleveland" to nearly all historical inquiries, suggested that most people could not pick Rutherford Hayes out in a lineup unless said lineup also contained the above...more culturally relevant people (and frogs).

Where has the history gone? I mean....Hayes is a pretty interesting guy (more so than Bret Micheals - I think). But he is sort of lost in a sea of bearded guys who did some stuff during a big war and then went on to be president or something.

Am I being too hasty in my judgement of the American people in general? Maybe I should post the lineup below on all the usual social media sites and see how well people do.

Bon chance!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Who was George Brinski?

[caption id="attachment_1722" align="alignleft" width="292" caption="Grover Cleveland - managed to avoid military service during the Civil War by hiring a substitute for $150"][/caption]

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Well, he was no Grover Cleveland, that's for sure. Except....that he sort of was, at least for a few years. George Brinski was a Polish immigrant who had the good fortune of being in the right place when Grover Cleveland needed a substitute to take his spot as a Union soldier in the Civil War. Cleveland paid Brinski $150 for his services and sat the war out safely practicing law in Buffalo, New York.

Hiring a substitute was a common practice during the war - for those that had the means and an aversion to the possibility of getting killed, there were plenty ready and willing to take advantage of others' desire to avoid military service. Of course, there was a stigma attached to this practice, and later in life, Cleveland had to answer to thousands of Union veteran voters who wanted to know why he didn't take his place in the ranks.

But anyway, apart from being listed as Cleveland's substitute, there is not much else out there on Brinski. One little tidbit did materialize through the usual searches - it seems that after the war, when Brinski was convalescing in a soldiers' home, he claimed that Cleveland (then serving his first term as president) had promised him $300, paid him $150 and then reneged on the remaining sum.

Most dismiss this as nonsense...just Brinski trying to cash in on Cleveland's political prominence. As far as we know, Brinski was paid in full for his services. He died shortly after making his claims.

[caption id="attachment_1725" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Coni hearts Grover Cleveland "][/caption]

But on to the fun and games! I promised on Twitter and Facebook that the first person who could answer the question: "who was George Brinski?" correctly would get a shout out on Cosmic America. The winner was none other than my lovely, talented, and ass-kicking wife, Coni Constantine - a real history buff (snicker) who is developing more than a passing interest in Grover Cleveland. Who knew? Check out her Facebook page - fitness is her thing. Have a will find out that she means business.

There were a few who came in a close special thanks to Vienna from California and George from Callander, Scotland for getting close!


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Office Hours: A Few Words on Confederate Slave Owners

Greetings Cosmic Americans - I'm just enjoying life at the Laguna Cliffs Resort in Dana Point!

Perry from Vancouver, British Columbia has had it with all of those "revisionist" historians who insist that Confederates soldiers were fighting to preserve the institution of slavery. He just wants to remind me and other Cosmic America readers that very few Confederates actually owned slaves - so they could not possibly have been fighting for slavery.

Well Perry, your Lost Cause credentials must certainly be in order. Like many former Rebels in the decades following the war, you seem to be trying to distance the Confederate cause from slavery. Not so fast my friend. You didn't need to own slaves to be tied to the institution. Confederates far and wide felt it absolutely necessary to maintain the slavery system, whether they owned slaves or not. Just watch the video.


My friend and fellow blogger Richard McCormick reminded me that Joseph Glatthaar's book General Lee's Army does a nice job of explaining Confederate soldiers' connections to slavery. Thanks Richard!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Writing Will Beget More Writing

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

This may be one of my favorite Youtube videos. James McPherson - talking about his writing habits. I can't imagine what it must be like to write out entire books in longhand and then type them on an old (once state of the art, to be sure) Olympia typewriter, But hey - whatever works...right?

My Civil War enthusiast readers should definitely enjoy this - but any author will benefit from McPherson's words. I would pay particular attention to what he says about introductions. Words to live by :)



Friday, October 7, 2011

Upcoming Civil War Conference You Will Not Want to Miss

[caption id="attachment_1692" align="alignleft" width="195" caption="Historian David W. Blight, author of Race and Reunion and American Oracle will be discussing the work of Bruce Catton"][/caption]

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

If you live in Southern California, or if you are looking for an excuse to head west - you will want to be sure and put this one on your calendar.

On October 21st and 22nd, the Huntington Library in San Marino (right next to Pasadena) will host the much anticipated conference: Civil War Lives, co-convened by Joan Waugh (UCLA) and Gary Gallagher (UVA).

This should be quite the shindig indeed. Speakers include an all-star line up of the some of the country's best historians including James McPherson, David Blight (pictured), Joan Waugh, Caroline Janney, Brenda Stevenson, Brooks Simpson, Alice Fahs, Stephen Cushman, and Gary Gallagher. Prepare yourself for a healthy dose of Civil War history and memory - you will not be disappointed. The icing on the cake? It only costs $25 (money well spent). You can access the Huntington calendar of events by clicking HERE, and there you will find a contact email and phone number for registration.

Naturally, Cosmic America (namely, me) will be there with cameras rolling. So stay tuned for a full report.



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

If Robert E. Lee had a Facebook Page

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Today, just for fun, let's see if the impossible can actually shed a little light on something. I mean...why not? I am home sick with a cold and it is pouring down rain outside.

This past summer, when I was attending the Civil War Institute 2011 conference in Gettysburg, historian Peter Carmichael wondered what Robert E. Lee's Facebook page would have looked like. After stating to the audience (correctly) that they probably were somewhat unfamiliar with the medium, he went on to discuss how on Facebook, you live your life for all the world to see - and that it is all about approval and affirmation.You make a statement...and people can "like" it.

Now - Lee understood that military policy needed the support of the Confederate populace. Without it, the efforts to secure independence would surely fail. So in this regard, a Facebook page would have been entirely helpful. "Should I invade Pennsylvania?" he could ask...and wait a minute or so to see how many of his friends clicked the little thumbs up button.

Of course, this is an utterly ridiculous proposition - but it does make one think about the connections between military policy and the homefront in a democratic republic. Lee understood that his army was the physical manifestation of the will of the Confederate people...and that so long as his army could continue the fight, his country's citizens could hold on to their dreams of independence.

Hey! Guess what. Lee actually does have a Facebook page (in case you were wondering, he has a Twitter account as well). I sent him a friend request - not because I support his efforts, but because I want to click the like button should he ever post anything about surrendering at Appomattox. He has not accepted just yet...maybe he thinks I am a Yankee spy.