Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Union Forever!

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Just a short note today to illustrate something that I believe is worthy of further discussion. Most of us can agree with President Lincoln...that slavery was somehow the cause of the war. One of my former professors said it best when he wrote  on the blackboard on the first day of Civil War class: "It was slavery - stupid."

But with all the talk about slavery - both the reasonable informed discussions and the back and forth bang-your-head-against-the-wall (usually pointless) arguments with neo-Confederates, one thing sometimes slips beneath the radar.

The overwhelming number of northern soldiers enlisted to fight for the preservation of Union. The destruction of slavery did not, for the most part, compel them to take up arms.  During the war, many saw the demise of the institution as a great way to undermine the Rebels' war effort...and after the war, Union veterans' sense of moralizing self-righteousness in regard to their participation in emancipation went a long way to show the world that theirs had been the noblest of efforts.

Perhaps the notion of Union is far to abstract for 21st century folks to really grasp. Even historian Barbara Fields has suggested that 19th century soldiers did not consider Union worth fighting and dying for - implying that emancipation was the only truly noble cause. Sure, emancipation was a noble cause indeed...and many came to see it that way. But it was Union that stirred patriots' hearts in 1861.



Tuesday, February 28, 2012

John Brown Gordon Describes the Final Scenes at Appomattox

[caption id="attachment_2155" align="alignleft" width="173" caption="John Brown Gordon during the war"][/caption]

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Ralph Lowell Eckert, in his book John Brown Gordon: Soldier – Southerner – American, recounts Gordon’s description of the final scenes at Appomattox, in which he attempts to arrange a truce with the Federals in his front and finds his wing of the army in the unfortunate condition of having no white flag. Eckert sites as evidence Gordon’s official report in the OR, a letter to E. P. Alexander in 1888, another letter to Bryan Grimes in 1872, and several published accounts including those of J. William Jones and James Longstreet. Apparently, the story of his part in the final hours of the Army of Northern Virginia was a story he was fond of telling. In an 1899 letter to Mrs. Peyton, the wife of Colonel Green Peyton, Gordon’s chief of staff and the man to whom he gave the order to procure a flag of truce, Gordon offers nearly the exact account as he had rendered to Grimes decades earlier. Sounding something like a letter of reference, the letter is in answer to a request from Mrs. Peyton…for what it is uncertain.

1918 F. St. NW

Washington D.C.

Feby 13, 1899.

My Dear Mrs. Peyton:

I dictate a brief reply to your letter received some time since.

On the night of April the 8th, 1865, a conference was held at General Lee’s Headquarters at which it was decided that my command consisting of nearly one half of the Army, should, the next morning, attempt to cut its way out. We moved at daylight and swept over the Union breastworks, capturing some Artillery, and driving the enemy before us. We were however, soon almost completely surrounded when Colonel Venable rode up with an inquiry from General Lee as to the situation. I replied, “Tell General Lee that my command has been fought to a frazzle.” Then I received a note from General Lee informing me that there was a flag of truce between General Grant and himself stopping hostilities. It was at this time that I called your gallant husband to take a flag of truce, and communicate this information to the Union Commander in my front. Colonel Peyton could find no white flag or handkerchief. He finally secured a towel or something of the sort and rode rapidly away to the enemy’s lines. He soon returned with General Custer, with a demand from General Sheridan for my surrender, which was promptly declined, with a statement form me that General Lee was in conference with General Grant. On Custer’s return, General Sheridan rode toward my lines under a flag of truce, and I rode out with your husband and other members of my staff to meet him. This conference between Sheridan and myself resulted in an agreement to stop the fighting until Generals Lee and Grant should be heard from. My wing of the Army at this time consisted of other Corps. Rode’s old Division was a part of Jackson’s Corps, and therefore under my command. Colonel Peyton was the ranking Staff Officer in the Corps, and his fidelity, courage and great efficiency had long been recognized both in the field and by the War Department in Richmond. He was at this time serving as chief of staff with me. His never failing cheerfulness and hope; his words of encouragement and his good humour under the most trying conditions made him a delightful and helpful companion on the march, at the mess, around camp fires at night – indeed everywhere.

[caption id="attachment_2156" align="alignleft" width="199" caption="Senator Gordon of Georgia in the late 1890s"][/caption]

I wish I could write more; but hope that this may answer your purpose with every good wish.

I am, sincerely your friend,

J B Gordon

P.S. I beg to give you a more detailed account of the part played by your gallant husband in the last scenes of Appomattox. When the message reached me from General Lee, I directed Col Peyton, my chief of staff to take a flag of truce, ride quickly to the front & communicate to the Union Commander of the forces in front, the substance of General Lee’s note to me. Col Peyton replied: “General we have no flag of truce.” “Well,” I said, “Take your handkerchief & tie that to a stick & go.” He felt in his pockets & promptly replied: “I have no handkerchief Sir.”  “The tear your shirt Sir & put that on a stick & go” I ordered. He looked at his shirt & then at mine & said: “General, I have on a flannel shirt & I see you have. There isn’t a white shirt in your whole army. “Then get something at once & go” I quickly directed. Whereupon he found a towel or rag of not very immaculate whiteness, and rode off rapidly to the enemy’s lines. I have given in the body of this letter the circumstances of my parley with General Custer and later with General Sheridan.

Affectionately your friend,

J B Gordon

What a storyteller - he was full of 'em...and some were pretty close to the truth! And for those of you who demand satisfaction (from citations) the Gordon letter is housed at the Eleanor S. Brockenbrough Library, Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia. Their archivist was kind enough to send me copies of the Gordon collection.



Monday, February 27, 2012

William H. Seward's Gettysburg Address

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

You really don't hear much about this one - but Lincoln's Secretary of State had his say at Gettysburg too. On the evening of November 18th, the night before the big show, Seward made a few impromptu remarks in response to a serenading crowd. At least one historian has suggested that he had had a few cocktails.

At any rate, while his words are not nearly as eloquent as his boss's far more famous Gettysburg Address, he is nevertheless direct on both the slavery issue and the fundamental principles of democratic government.

I thank my God that I believe this strife is going to end in the removal of that evil which ought to have been removed by deliberate councils and peaceful means. . . And I thank him for the hope that when that cause is removed, simply by the operation of abolishing it, as the origin and agent of the treason that is without justification and without parallel, we shall thenceforth be united, be only one country, having only one hope, one ambition, and one destiny.

When we part to-morrow night, let us remember that we owe it to our country and to mankind that this war shall have for its conclusion the establishing of the principle of democratic government;—the simple principle that whatever party, whatever portion of the community, prevails by constitutional suffrage in an election, that party is to be respected and maintained in power, until it shall give place, on another trial and another verdict, to a different portion of the people. If you do not do this, you are drifting at once and irresistibly to the very verge of universal, cheerless, and hopeless anarchy. But with that principle this government of ours — the purest, the best, the wisest, and the happiest in the world — must be, and, so far as we are concerned, practically will be, immortal.

To my amazement, I had a hard time finding this speech through the usual Internet searches. I finally found it in John Hay and John G. Nicolay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume VIII, on page 191. So it seems books retain their usefulness. Hallelujah!



Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Days After the Battle of Gettysburg

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

In 1863, Gettysburg was hardly the "sleepy little hamlet" of lore. While the population was only around 2500 or so, the bustling town was set to do great things. There were tanneries, carriage manufacturers, and shoe cobblers. Gettysburg was the seat of Adams County, several roads converged there, and the town boasted a brand new train station.

Then, over three days in  early July 1863, 180,000 men showed up with their 50,000 horses and mules and all the accoutrements of war and had at each other - killing in great profusion. And just a quickly, they left. Lee's beaten army headed toward the Potomac - Meade's victorious Federals (cautiously) followed.

What happened in the town over the next few days, weeks, and months does not occupy the minds of those who follow the epic military saga nearly as much as it probably should. Both armies left behind thousands of wounded and dying men - with few, at first, to care for them. The handful of care givers had to contend with the most horrific of man's work. The psychological scars must have surely lasted a lifetime. Here I include one nurse's (Emily Souder)  vivid and emotional description of the scenes immediately following the battle.

The amputation table is plainly in view...I never trust myself to look toward it...the groans the cries, the shrieks...I buried my head in the pillow to shut out the sounds which reached us, from a church quite near...the Union soldiers and the rebels lie side by side, friendly as brothers...Monday, there was no bread...manna in the desert...Almost every hour has its own experiences to tell...from seven in the morning till seven in the evening...I am sorry to say that I gave out totally...a perpetual procession of coffins is constantly passing to and will be a place of pilgrimage for the nation.

With oddly reconciliatory overtones, Souder sensed what would soon follow - the creation of a national shrine...not to both armies, but to Union. Spearheaded by Pennsylvania governor Andrew Curtain and prominent Gettysburg citizen David Wills, a plan quickly came together for the dedication of a national cemetery. Invited to the dedication were Massachusetts politician Edward Everett, President Lincoln, and poet  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow declined perhaps, as historian Gabor Boritt put it, because poets are "sensitive souls and muses often fail to speak upon demand."

Or...maybe he was just busy. Of course you know the rest...

Ultimately, the town and the entire surrounding area became a national shrine - not just the cemetery. As "altogether fitting and proper" as that is, the elevation to shrine status meant that Gettysburg would grow no more. And I am just fine with that.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Robert E. Lee and Slavery (Part Deux)

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

The question of Robert E. Lee's thoughts concerning the peculiar institution deserve more than one post. Last week, I spoke of the oft-quoted letter to Mrs. Lee, written in 1856, that has suggested to many that Robert E. Lee was opposed to slavery. I concluded that while he may have been uncomfortable with the institution in the abstract, he was perfectly comfortable with it in practice - and thought it the best relationship that could possibly exist between the two races. Slavery - the course of it anyway - was in God's hands.

I include the "relationship" letter below in full. Written to Virginia state legislator Andrew Hunter on Jan 11, 1865, the whole letter discusses the arming of slaves for use in the Confederate ranks.

Headquarters  Army of Northern Virginia
January 11, 1865

Hon. Andrew Hunter

Richmond Va.:

Dear Sir:

I have received your letter of the 7th instant, and without confining myself to the order of your interrogatories, will endeavor to answer them by a statement of my views on the subject.  I shall be most happy if I can contribute to the solution of a question in which I feel an interest commensurate with my desire for the welfare and happiness of our people.

Considering the relation of master and slave, controlled by humane laws and influenced by Christianity and an enlightened public sentiment, as the best that can exist between the white and black races while intermingled as at present in this country, I would deprecate any sudden disturbance of that relation unless it be necessary to avert a greater calamity to both.  I should therefore prefer to rely upon our white population to preserve the ratio between our forces and those of the enemy, which experience has shown to be safe.  But in view of the preparations of our enemies, it is our duty to provide for continued war and not for a battle or a campaign, and I fear that we cannot accomplish this without overtaxing the capacity of our white population.

Should the war continue under the existing circumstances, the enemy may in course of time penetrate our country and get access to a large part of our negro population.  It is his avowed policy to convert the able-bodied men among them into soldiers, and to emancipate all.  The success of the Federal arms in the South was followed by a proclamation of President Lincoln for 280,000 men, the effect of which will be to stimulate the Northern States to procure as substitutes for their own people negroes thus brought within their reach.  Many have already been obtained in Virginia, and should the fortune of war expose more of her territory, the enemy would gain a large accession to his strength.  His progress will thus add to his numbers, and at the same time destroy slavery in a manner most pernicious to the welfare of our people.  Their negroes will be used to hold them in subjection, leaving the remaining force of the enemy free to extend his conquest.  Whatever may be the effect of our employing negro troops, it cannot be as mischievous as this.  If it end in subverting slavery it will be accomplished by ourselves, and we can devise the means of alleviating the evil consequences to both races.  I think, therefore, we must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies and the slaves be used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which must be produced upon our social institutions.  My opinion is that we should employ them without delay.  I believe that with proper regulations they can be made efficient soldiers.  They possess the physical qualifications in an eminent degree.  Long habits of obedience and subordination, coupled with the moral influence which in our country the white man possesses over the black, furnish an excellent foundation for that discipline which is the best guaranty of military efficiency.  Our chief aim should be to secure their fidelity.

There have been formidable armies composed of men having no interest in the cause for which they fought beyond their pay or the hope of plunder.  But it is certain that the surest foundation upon which the fidelity of an army can rest, especially in a service which imposes peculiar hardships and privations, is the personal interest of the soldier in the issue of the contest.  Such an interest we can give our negroes by giving immediate freedom to all who enlist, and freedom at the end of the war to the families of those who discharge their duties faithfully (whether they survive or not), together with the privilege of residing at the South.  To this might be added a bounty for faithful service.

We should not expect slaves to fight for prospective freedom when they can secure it at once by going to the enemy, in whose service they will incur no greater risk than in ours.  The reasons that induce me to recommend the employment of negro troops at all render the effect of the measures I have suggested upon slavery immaterial, and in my opinion the best means of securing the efficiency and fidelity of this auxiliary force would be to accompany the measure with a well-digested plan of gradual and general emancipation.  As that will be the result of the continuance of the war, and will certainly occur if the enemy succeed, it seems to me most advisable to adopt it at once, and thereby obtain all the benefits that will accrue to our cause.

The employment of negro troops under regulations similar in principle to those above indicated would, in my opinion, greatly increase our military strength and enable us to relieve our white population to some extent.  I think we could dispense with the reserve forces except in cases of necessity.

It would disappoint the hopes which our enemies base upon our exhaustion, deprive them in a great measure of the aid they now derive from black troops, and thus throw the burden of the war upon their own people.  In addition to the great political advantages that would result to our cause from the adoption of a system of emancipation, it would exercise a salutary influence upon our whole negro population, by rendering more secure the fidelity of those who become soldiers, and diminishing the inducements to the rest to abscond.

I can only say in conclusion that whatever measures are to be adopted should be adopted at once.  Every day's delay increases the difficulty.  Much time will be required to organize and discipline the men, and action may be deferred until it is too late.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R.E. Lee,

While he discusses limited emancipation, and thus gives even more support to those who think Lee was actively engaged in his opposition to slavery, he is actually looking to use some slaves in an effort to preserve the Confederacy and its institutions. He knew that the United States armies fielded former slaves - would the people of the Confederacy be better off using slaves to defend their cause...rather than have the United States use them to destroy it? Lee certainly thought so.



Thursday, February 23, 2012

Edward Porter Alexander on Lee at Gettysburg

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Edward Porter Alexander - Confederate artillerist.  His reminiscences are among the best resources on the operations of the Army of Northern Virginia. Why? They were not intended for publication.

This is a great boon to historians simply for the fact that as far as we can tell, he was being candid concerning the war, the southern cause, and the soldiers he fought with and against.

Unlike many of his ex-Confederate contemporaries writing in the postwar South, Alexander was critical of Robert E. Lee. Here are a few words on Gettysburg, and what Alexander considers the failings on that battlefield - and the alternatives that Lee should have explored.

Now when it is remembered that we stayed for three days longer on that very ground, two of them days of desperate battle, ending in the discouragement of a bloody repulse, & then successfully withdrew all our trains & most of the wounded through the mountains; and, finding the Potomac too high to ford, protected them all & foraged successfully for over a week in a very restricted territory along the river, until we could build a bridge, it does not seem improbable that we could have faced Meade safely on the 2nd at Gettysburg with out assaulting him in his wonderfully strong position. We had the prestige of victory with us, having chased him off the field & through the town. We had a fine defensive position on Seminary Ridge at our hand to occupy. It was not such a really wonderful position as the enemy happened to fall into, but it was no bad one, & it could never have been successfully assaulted.

Well, I do not think that Alexander is giving Lee enough credit for trying to exploit the successes of the 1st, but still - this is a usefully honest critique of Lee written by a prominent soldier in Lee's army - free from the mythology and deity like status that others had built around their former chieftain.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Better an English Girl Than a Yankee

[caption id="attachment_2121" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara"][/caption]

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

This is the last (for a while anyway) of posts relating to the epic Civil War drama - Gone With the Wind. It all stemmed from a question asked by an anonymous emailer about Hattie McDaniel...then a few other people asked some questions and well, there you have it.

Michael from Oregon wanted to know: who else was considered for the part of Scarlett? It was certainly one of the most sought after parts in Hollywood...and some of the biggest names in show business populated the list of potential Scarletts. There were at least 128 actresses suggested for the part and 32 women tested including. Lucille Ball, Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn, Dorothy Lamour, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, Barbara Stanwyck, and Mae West.

Some heavy hitters indeed. The favorite of course, was British actress Vivien Leigh - but producer David O. Selznick was concerned that she would not play well to southern audiences. He need not have worried - when the Georgia chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy heard the news about Leigh's casting, they summed up the South's feelings: "Better an English girl than a Yankee."

So much for reconciliation. Oh sure, the response may have been issued in good-natured tongue in cheek fashion. But there is a lot of truth in every little joke...right ladies? I wonder if the film would have been such a success in the South had Selznick cast New Yorker Lucille Ball? Hmmm....makes you think.

So - Cosmic America will be back to focusing on topics directly related to the war (and not films about the war) tomorrow. But I have had fun with the Gone With the Wind stuff. Remember, if you have any questions you want answered here or on Office Hours - just fire at will!


Monday, February 20, 2012

Office Hours: Where is Hattie McDaniel Buried?

[caption id="attachment_2103" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Hattie McDaniel's house on W. 22nd St. in Los Angeles"][/caption]

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

An anonymous emailer wanted to know - so I did my homework and figured it out. You can find Hattie McDaniel's grave, not in Hollywood Forever where she wanted to be buried, but in Rosedale Cemetery off of Washington Street in Los Angeles. Racism dogged McDaniel to her grave. At the 1939 Academy Awards ceremony, where she won an Oscar for best supporting actress for her portrayal of Mammy in Gone With the Wind, she and her husband had to sit in a separate area outside the segregated main auditorium. In 1942, she had to launch a class action suit to purchase a home in what was then an exclusive all-white neighborhood - on the corner of W. 22nd Street and Harvard Avenue. When she died in 1952, Hollywood Forever, where she wished to be interred, was reserved for white people.

[caption id="attachment_2104" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind"][/caption]

And thus her final resting place is Rosedale, established in 1892 - one of the few cemeteries in Los Angeles that allowed black interments. You can easily find her modest headstone today - near the Washington St. entrance and just to the left of the driveway. There is nothing there denoting her accomplishments either as an actress or an activist. Just her name and years of birth and death. While she is not surrounded by Hollywood superstars as she would have been at Hollywood Forever, she is in good company. Buried within Rosedale's 65 acres are several Civil War veterans, some of note, and a number of Los Angeles mayors and other prominent citizens.


PS - Youtube blocked my original video, which featured McDaniel's Oscar acceptance speech. Here is a clip (strangely, available on Youtube).

Office Hours: What Rhett Misses in Gone With the Wind

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Melissa from Indiana wanted me to talk a little about the scene in Gone With the Wind where Rhett enumerates the Union advantages, essentially foretelling Confederate demise. He did a nice job spoiling everyone's brandy, cigars, and dreams of victory...but he missed an important Confederate advantage. Have a look at the video to find out.

This is one of several posts I will be doing this week that deal in some fashion with the film Gone With the Wind. Arguably, this film has done more to "teach" people about the Civil War era than any other. I continue to use it as a teaching tool - not for its accuracies, but as a way to get at how many Americans (especially white southern Americans) understood the conflict in the mid-twentieth century.



Sunday, February 19, 2012

I can't let Tara go. I won't let it go while there's a breath left in my body.

[caption id="attachment_2088" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Tara in ruins - circa 1950s"][/caption]

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Well, Scarlett - I'm afraid Tara is gone...long gone. And it never stood in Georgia either. But it did eventually (sort of) make it there. Yes indeed - the old Tara set, really just a facade, stood for quite some time in a horrible state of disrepair on a David O. Selznick studio back lot in Culver City, California. And it remained there after the lot changed hands from Selznick to RKO to Desilu.

In 1959, the set was dismantled and shipped to Atlanta for use in a theme park that never came to be - the plywood and paper pieces were stored in a barn for years, where - as the story goes - they deteriorated beyond any usefulness to anyone. I know not what became of the remnants. For all anyone knows, they still rot away in some barn in Georgia. Tara's front door and the large oil painting of Scarlett have found a home in the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum.

[caption id="attachment_2089" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The Culver Studios"][/caption]

For all of you film buffs, the old Selznick Studios main building still stands - now the Culver Studios - in Culver City. The building was used in the film, but only during the credits as the backdrop for the David O. Selznick logo.The entry way was used for the formal walk up to Scarlett and Rhett's new Atlanta home and is virtually unchanged. You won't see the building, though - it was covered by a giant matte painting.



Friday, February 17, 2012

Spirit of the South

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

How were things shaping up for the Confederate cause by April year into the war? Meh - not so great. Both the battles of Shiloh and Ft. Pulaski ended in Confederate defeat. By the middle of the month, Union forces were in motion against New Orleans and the Virginia Peninsula. Stonewall was kicking up a fuss in the Shenandoah Valley but otherwise, things looked pretty bleak.

Still - I believe there were signs that spirits were high, especially in the press. Here is a little snippet from the Richmond Times-Dispatch from April 17, 1862 concerning Confederate patriotism and sympathy for the cause across the Potomac in Georgetown.

We learn that on a recent occasion in Georgetown when the clergyman of one of the churches read the prayer of thanksgiving for Northern victories, most of the congregation rose from their knees, and some of them left the church. The flame of patriotism is still burning brightly in the very strongholds of despotism.

In a matter of months, Robert E. Lee would take the helm of Rebel forces outside of Richmond and really give the Confederate populace something to cheer about. But for now....a little patriotism would have to go a long way.



Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lighten Up, Phil

Even Ebay can make a good commercial - the comically fierce fashion banter is good all by itself, but the Segway makes it art.


A Letter to Mrs. Lee

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

A significant component of what can be best called the Lee myth is his attitude towards slavery. You hear it all the time at conferences, roundtables, in print, and on the battlefield - Robert E. Lee was opposed to slavery. Much of this part of the overall myth stems from a letter Lee wrote his wife in December 1856 while serving in the U. S. Cavalry in Texas.

December 27, 1856 - I was much pleased the with President's message. His views of the systematic and progressive efforts of certain people at the North to interfere with and change the domestic institutions of the South are truthfully and faithfully expressed. The consequences of their plans and purposes are also clearly set forth. These people must be aware that their object is both unlawful and foreign to them and to their duty, and that this institution, for which they are irresponsible and non-accountable, can only be changed by them through the agency of a civil and servile war. There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race. While my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things. How long their servitude may be necessary is known and ordered by a merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influences of Christianity than from the storm and tempest of fiery controversy. This influence, though slow, is sure. The doctrines and miracles of our Saviour have required nearly two thousand years to convert but a small portion of the human race, and even among Christian nations what gross errors still exist! While we see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is still onward, and give it the aid of our prayers, let us leave the progress as well as the results in the hands of Him who, chooses to work by slow influences, and with whom a thousand years are but as a single day. Although the abolitionist must know this, must know that he has neither the right not the power of operating, except by moral means; that to benefit the slave he must not excite angry feelings in the master; that, although he may not approve the mode by which Providence accomplishes its purpose, the results will be the same; and that the reason he gives for interference in matters he has no concern with, holds good for every kind of interference with our neighbor, -still, I fear he will persevere in his evil course. . . . Is it not strange that the descendants of those Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom have always proved the most intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others?

Alan Nolan argued in his excellent book, Lee Considered, that Lee's words are too often taken as gospel. They are true because he said them. But when examined in context, one could begin to chip away at the myth that rests on this so-called Lee gospel. In regard to the letter. As an abstraction, it makes sense that Lee would find slavery troubling. He was an educated and enlightened individual - and was not alone among other educated and enlightened individuals when it came to moral questions concerning slavery.

But in reality, Lee was perfectly comfortable with the southern institution and felt that Providence would decide when the time was right for slavery to meet its end. Later, Lee even stated that slavery was "the best [relationship] that can exist between the white and black races while intermingled as at present in this country."

Lee belonged to an aristocratic slave-holding family in a society where slavery had long existed and was taken for granted. When northern agitation threatened his society both before and during the war, including threats to the institution of slavery, Lee let his dissatisfaction be known. Only after the war did he claim he was always in support of emancipation.



PS - If you found this and other Cosmic America posts intriguing, please join me on Facebook - we talk about imagery (northern and southern), mythology, the sesquicentennial, and all kinds of fun stuff.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Robert Gould Shaw Before the 54th Massachusetts

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Most Civil War enthusiasts these days are familiar with Robert Gould Shaw. The son of wealthy Boston abolitionists, he enlisted in the Union army as a very young man and served with the 7th New York Infantry, a 30-day unit, and then with the 2nd Massachusetts before his appointment as colonel of the 54th Massachusetts - one of the very first black regiments in the war.

Shaw was immortalized in the film Glory. His enthusiasm for leading a "colored" regiment was a bit overdone in the film - in reality he had declined the offer first suggested by his father in late 1862. As we all know...he eventually reconsidered - and the rest is history (as they say).

Before the war, Shaw's letters home reflect the thoughts of a young patriot - intensely passionate about Union - something that bleeds through (bad metaphor?) in a mostly secondary way in the film. Here is a letter from very early in the war, while Shaw served with the 7th - Stationed in Staten Island.
North Shore S.I. [Staten Island]
Thursday, April 18, 1861

Dearest Mother,

You will probably know when you get this, that the only piece of bad news to greet you when you arrive is that of my departure with the 7th Regt. for Washington. It is very hard to go off without bidding you goodbye, and the only thing that upsets me, in the least, is the thought of how you will feel when you find me so unexpectedly gone.

We all feel that if we can get into Washington, before Virginia begins to make trouble, we shall not have much fighting. We expect to get there on Saturday [April 20]. […] Won’t it be grand to meet the men from all the States, East and West, down there, ready to fight for the country, as the old fellows did in the Revolution?

Our Col. [Marshall Lefferts] tells us we are only going to Washington for the present and shall be sent back to New York as soon as troops from the more distant States can arrive. I feel as if I were not going on anything but an ordinary journey. I can’t help crying a little through when I think of Father & you & the girls. Don’t be too anxious. Please be careful of your health. May God bless you all. When we are all at home together again, may peace & happiness be restored to the Country. The war has already done us good, in making the North so united.

The unit moved on from New York and made their way to Annapolis Maryland and eventually to the defenses of Washington City. Shaw didn't see much action with the 7th, but would fight at Winchester, Ceder Mountain, and Antietam with the 2nd before assuming command of the 54th.

Shaw is somewhat different from the character seen on the screen - my suggestion: read Blue Eyed Child of Fortune, the edited collection of his letters. You will come away with a much more thorough understanding of the man.



Introducing U. S. Grant - February 1862

[caption id="attachment_2055" align="alignleft" width="290" caption="Map of Fort Donelson - New York Tribune, February 18, 1862"][/caption]

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

We all know Grant - of course we do. Whether you think of him as an unimaginative butcher or a determined fighter who out-generaled Robert E. Lee one thing is for sure. He did more to crush the Confederacy than any other Union commander. (Go ahead....just try to think of someone else.)

But in February 1862 he was relatively unknown. Not until the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson (the anniversary of the fall of the latter is tomorrow) did the contending parties get to know the Union hero (or adversary...if you like).

The New York Tribune managed to offer a few biographical notes about the man who would become, in very short order, a pretty heavy hitter:

Brig-Gen Ulysses S. Grant, the hero of Fort Donelson, is a man of about 40 years of age. He is a native of Ohio and a graduate of West Point. He was twice brevetted for gallantry and meritorious conduct in the Mexican War and was in every principal battle in which it was possible for any one man to be. He was in the 4th Infantry, he resigned in 1855, and went in to business in St. Louis. He subsequently moved to Galena Ill, where he now resides, and became interested in a large leather establishment.

At the breaking out of the rebellion he immediately offered his services to the Government, and was soon put in command of an Illinois regiment. He participated actively in a campaign in Missouri and obtained great credit. At the extra session his name was brought forward for a Brigadier- Generalship by Mr. Washburne of Illinios, of the House of Representatives, and the entire delegation joined in the recommendation, and he was appointed. He soon after went into command of the military district of Cairo.

And that is it - no one yet knew to what heights Grant would rise. Shiloh was on the horizon, as were the the great battles around and the siege of Vicksburg. But with these first reports of "Unconditional Surrender" Grant's handiwork we begin to get a glimpse of the man who would soon occupy the minds of citizens and soldiers North and South. Stay tuned - I'll be providing several of the many (and much more illustrious) reports on down the line. Learning about Grant as the people did. Bit by bit.



Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Civil War History Hashtag

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

It is my pleasure to direct you all - Civil War historians, buffs, enthusiasts, and students to the Twitter hashtag: #civilwarhistorians .

The objective - to help facilitate open dialogue between academic historians and an informed public.

For all of you out there with something to say about the Civil War, or if you are looking to get into a debate, or if you want to direct your followers to a Civil War blog, article, or op-ed, or if you like to stalk Civil War historians...this will be a useful tool. Please attach it to all of your Civil War Tweets.



Monday, February 13, 2012

Confederate Veteran James F. Crocker on Pickett's Charge

[caption id="attachment_2033" align="alignleft" width="238" caption="James F. Crocker"][/caption]

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I was checking out a nicely written report at 901 Stories from Gettysburg by Gettysburg College student Natalie Sherif on the experiences of Pennsylvania College graduate (aka Gettysburg College) and Confederate veteran James F. Crocker. It reminded me of two things. One, he served in the 9th Virginia Infantry with Henry A. Allen - A Confederate soldier captured at Gettysburg  who would write dozens of captivating letters to his wife describing prison life. Two, I have in the Cosmic America archives a 1894 speech delivered to the Stonewall Camp, Confederate Veterans in Portsmouth, Virginia. In this speech, Crocker offers an all-too-familiar narrative of the three days in July 1863, when his certainties (and many others' too) of independence were dashed.

Amidst the pathos typical of many commemorating Confederates, Crocker enumerates those to blame for the Rebels' devastating loss. The usual suspects take their hits: Jeb Stuart for leaving the Army of Northern Virginia blind, Richard Ewell for not taking Cemetery Hill on July 1st, and James Longstreet for dragging his feet on July 2nd and 3rd. Robert E. Lee, of course, was faultless.

Crocker's story, focusing primarily on the frontal assault of July 3rd, places him squarely in what one could call the John Brown Gordon school of reconciliation - the predominant "we were all brave Americans North and South and fought for a cause we thought just" type...much unlike the bitter and antagonistic reflections of Confederates such as Jubal Early.  But his speech is laced with lament. He emphasizes the horrific losses in men and naturally mourns them - leading us to suspect that his words could indeed be part of the general ex-Confederate reconciliationist position. He is reconciled - but not forgetful.

[caption id="attachment_2037" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Gettysburg Sources, Volume 2"][/caption]

I believe it important to make a distinction here. Historians such as John Neff argue that mourning fallen comrades served as an impediment to reconciliation...thus adding more veterans to the unreconciled side of the balance sheet than we thought might exist. This sort of dichotomy is problematic, suggesting clearly delineated groups, and doesn't much get at the many ways veterans expressed reconciliation in public, private, among their peers, or among strangers.

This is the fascination thing about published speeches - available (in this case) in the three volume collection, Gettysburg Sources. Most speeches lauded reconciliationist efforts. But within these speeches were often hints - or sometimes outright demands - that certain issues be recognized. For Crocker - it was the loss of a generation.



Sunday, February 12, 2012

Can Social Media Bridge the Gulf Between Academic Historians and the Public?

[caption id="attachment_2015" align="alignleft" width="236" caption="I may have a few ideas..."][/caption]

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Of course, I believe that the answer is yes. This summer, I will take part in a panel at the Civil War Institute's annual conference at Gettysburg College with fellow Civil War bloggers Kevin Levin, Brooks Simpson, and Mark Grimsley. The so-called "gulf" is one of the principal issues that I will be addressing.

Years ago, before the Internet opened the doors for real-time access to just about anyone anywhere in the world, the television historical documentary probably stood alone as the medium most likely to serve as the middle ground on which academic historians and an informed public might relate.

In 1996, historian Gary Gallagher, writing of Ken Burns's The Civil War, noted reactions among academics, who protested the absence of issues falling outside the field of military history (such as the home front, religion, or gender themes) and the public, who focused on the military and picked nits over missing campaigns and the prominence of the eastern theater of war. The two groups could not see eye-to-eye.

But Gallagher really went after academics. They, he argued, were "content to speak to one another in a language that [excluded] anyone outside the university community...a sense of "we know best" [permeated] much of their commentary about Burns." In short, scholars were put off by the public's fondness for battles, generals, and narrative integrity. They wanted "real history" as defined by scholars. One might assume then, that these scholars returned to their studies and continued to ignore the public. Perhaps they proceeded with their dense works laden with esoteric language that no one ever read. Who knows?

Has anything changed? Yes indeed. The advent of blogging and micro-blogging (i.e. Twitter) has extended the reach of those academics who are both ready to accept the literate public into their super-special club, and willing to embrace the tools that make it possible.

The limits of blogging are defined only by the limits of the blogger. Not all blogs are created equal. Academics who blog, and there are a number of first-rate bloggers, are successful precisely because of their openness, their consistency, their engagement with the commenting public (regardless of the comment) and of course, their historical content - often defined not by scholars...but by the public scholars seek to reach. Student-run blogs are also worthy of mention. 901 Stories from Gettysburg, for example, brings the voices of the battlefield to the public - all courtesy of the research of Gettysburg college students. The blog has its shortcomings (there is currently no forum open for discourse), but as it develops it is sure to become a wonderful platform for academics, students, and the public to exchange ideas.

Twitter is perhaps the most powerful, but alas, most misunderstood and misused tool. Many historians, historical institutions, and lay people alike miss opportunities to create and maintain informed conversations on historical matters (in 140 characters or less - believe's possible) by ignoring this communication powerhouse. Granted, Twitter can be a number of things - a platform for self-indulgent narcissists with too much time on their hands, or, it can be a media dumping ground - harnessed by would-be marketers for free advertising. Both fail miserably to reach anyone. But with patience and attentiveness, Twitter can (and does) facilitate discourse between academic and academic, academic and the public, and the public with everyone.

In 2012, the University still is what it is (snicker). For now, exclusivity reigns triumphant, and many (but most certainly not all) of its scholars look condescendingly at a public who just doesn't know any better...all the while creating more of the same. But as things change - and they always do - some academics are extending their reach beyond the hallowed halls of academia, breaking traditions, coloring outside the lines, and (if you can believe it) functioning in the real world.

Which means the way we teach and learn history is changing too. Maybe it's time to add my Twitter handle and blog address to my vita. You know...I am not kidding about this.



Saturday, February 11, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Please join me in celebrating the 203rd birthday of Abraham Lincoln.

Now...try to imagine a 19th century blonde bombshell birthday song in Monroe-to-Kennedy fashion. Maybe Kate Chase? I don't think Varina Davis would have been interested. Besides...she wasn't blonde anyway.



Cosmic America Office Hours: What Was the First Civil War Book I Ever Read?

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Joel from New Hampshire just had to know - so here you have it. The Civil War by Bruce Catton was a Christmas gift from my grandparents back in 1980. I read it cover to cover, loved it, and I have been a Catton fan ever since. My 1980 edition has been with me through all my travels...the well-worn dust jacket should serve to illustrate that.

[caption id="attachment_2005" align="alignright" width="201" caption="My 1980 edition of The Civil War by Bruce all its glory. "][/caption]

At 13, I had looked in to the Civil War already and I had seen a number of things that caught my attention. Naturally, the family yarns about our Confederate ancestors from Lawrence County, Alabama kept me spellbound. But Catton's work was the first that drove some of the principle issues home. Even way back then, I had a sneaking suspicion that Civil War history would be my life's work. It was either that or becoming a rock star. If I could only figure out a way to combine the two....

And remember - if you have a question about the Civil War and want it answered on Office Hours - tweet me or just post it in the comment section!


The (International) Grand Army of the Republic

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Scott MacKenzie at Slaveholders' War posted an interesting tidbit today concerning GAR veterans in the Great White North. I suppose I should not be surprised that a number of Union veterans made there way to Canada after 1865 and naturally, considering their tendency to organize, I should not be surprised that they formed GAR posts. Scott listed the posts on record - you never know...there may be more.

I have to admit that I am embarrassed on my lack of knowledge of international GAR veterans. My own research stopped at the borders, so to speak. Scott points out that little, if any research has been done on these guys and wonders about things such as national origin, ethnic identity, and how their presence affected their communities.

If anyone has any insight, chime in. While the overwhelming majority of Union veterans returned to their homes or relocated to places in the United States, some surely left for international locales. Hmmmm - maybe an ambitious historian out there should break some new ground. My current project concerns Union veterans who migrated to California - maybe I'll tackle the Canadians next. Unless, of course, somebody beats me to it!


Friday, February 10, 2012

What Happened to the History on the History Channel?

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I remember it well...the day way back in 1995 when I learned that A&E Networks were going to launch the History Channel. I was about as excited as a history guy could be. Back in those days, they actually had some shows that dealt with history. Not the deeply analytical kind you can find rocketing out of the hallowed halls of academia, but history nonetheless.

What happened? Heading over to the History Channel website, here is what I see. Swamp People, Full Metal Jousting, Pawn Stars, Pickers, Restorers, and a lot of other "reality" type shows (appealing to the lowest common denominator) that deal more with people who "wrastle" alligators than with any topics of historical interest. And for the cherry on top - you can always watch America's favorite insipid pinhead, Larry the Cable Guy. His show...Only in America features moose kissing and various other asinine activities that apparently only take place here in the good 'ole US of A. No wonder the rest of the world thinks we are idiots.

I challenge the History Channel to air something of historical value. It doesn't have to be heavy-handed academics - just history. Or...maybe it would just be better if you changed your name to something else.



From the Archives: Ohio Civil War Veterans on Aging and Union

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I came across a couple of tidbits in the Cosmic America archives this morning I thought worthy of sharing. The source: testimony form the war papers published in 1891 by the Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Ohio, Fred C. Jones Post, No. 401, Cincinnati. The papers are housed at Columbia University.

The few short paragraphs here are excellent representations of two very important themes in veterans' commemorative activities. One, the rapid thinning of their ranks as the years inexorably passed, and two, their unflinching commitment to Union.

Union, as historian Gary Gallagher has recently pointed out in his book The Union War, has somewhat faded from our understanding of why northern soldiers flocked to the colors. Why, we might ask, would so many risk their lives for something so abstract? Clearly these soldiers did not dismiss Union as an abstraction, but rather stood by the idea as a tangible one - and one worthy of defending.

I will let them speak for themselves...on aging and Union:

The life of the Grand Army is necessarily a brief one. The survivors of the great war of the rebellion are past the meridian of life, and the shadows of the coming night are rapidly rising above them. There is hardly a man among us whose hair is unsilvered with age. There are no means of perpetuating our Order. We draw recruits from a single source, and that a circumscribed one whose limits are narrowing year by year. In a few years the last veteran of the great army will have passed away.

Our nation survived the shock of war largely because of its peculiar structure, which made every loyal man feel that he was part of the Government; that under our system of decentralized power a part of it is lodged in his person. He felt that he was challenged when the Federal Government was defied, and that he was robbed when the Federal forts and arsenals were taken. The quarrel thus became his personal concern, and the people of the North rose as one man to beat back the bold assault upon a system of government which every man of them was inspired to defend by the same feeling which would move him to defend his own hearthstone.

I discuss both of these subjects at length in my upcoming book on Civil War veterans. I will let you know as the publication date approaches.



Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ron Paul on Slavery and the Civil War

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I initially hesitated before I posted this because the last thing I want is for this space to become a political battleground. The ensuing presidential election should once again bring out the fear and paranoia reminiscent of 2008 - mudslinging and accusations of presidential candidates walking arm in arm with every political extremist from Hitler to Chairman Mao. I personally find this troubling and at best counter- productive. Remember what John Adams once said: "There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution."

Anyway - enough about that. In the end I thought it was my civic duty to point out to those who don't already know - presidential hopeful Ron Paul has an alarmingly simplistic view of slavery, emancipation, and the Civil War. "We could have just bought them and freed them" doesn't quite cut it. I am just going to wager a guess that most slave owners weren't selling, and even if they did, what would they have done with millions of former slaves? The economic and social fabric of the slave holding part of the nation was far to bound to the institution to simply let it go for a price.

In fact - President Lincoln floated this idea to slaveholders in the border states in July 1862. The plan included gradual emancipation, compensation, and eventually colonization of former slaves. The borders state slaveholders didn't go for it.

Thanks anyway, Ron. And by the way...why is D. L. Hugley on CNN and really...what the hell is he talking about?


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Classic Lost Cause Images

[caption id="attachment_1979" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Lee and His Generals by George Matthews"][/caption]

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I have been reading a lot these days about some of the relics from the Lost Cause - you know...the myth former Confederates cooked up after the war to help explain defeat. Some of the tenets, as I am sure you know: Robert E. Lee and his peerless lieutenant, Stonewall Jackson were unmatched by any of their northern counterparts. They, with an noble army of southern patriots defending their homes and hearths eventually wore themselves out defeating an army vastly outnumbering them in terms of both men and materiel. Really - they never had a chance. Or so the story goes...

[caption id="attachment_1978" align="alignright" width="223" caption="The Last Meeting of Lee and Jackson by E.B.D. Julio"][/caption]

Here are a couple of prints that capture some of those ideas. Lee and his Generals showing Lee as slightly taller than his subordinates and The Last Meeting of Lee and Jackson illustrating Lee pointing the way to certain victory.

These are without a doubt two of the most iconic Lost Cause images. Want to talk about it? Pitch in your ideas about these and other images of the Lost Cause.


$4 Million for Land Preservation!

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Yep - that is a lot of coin! According to the Civil War Trust website, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently announced a $4 million federal grant to benefit land preservation at Richmond National Battlefield Park.

As many of you who have traversed the battlefields across the former Confederacy know, a great deal of these historic sites have been accosted by urban (and suburban) sprawl. The area around the Wilderness and Fredericksburg come immediately to mind - but other battlefields have taken a hit as well (I am not forgetting you in Pennsylvania, Missouri, Maryland and Kentucky).

Cosmic America applauds the efforts of Salazar and the Civil War Trust, as well as living historians and round tables throughout the world who strive to preserve Civil War battlefields. Future generations will owe you a debt of gratitude.



Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Robert E. Lee's "Country"

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I have been been dutifully at my post scouring Youtube for interesting videos worthy of sharing here. I came across this one portraying a Robert E. Lee reenactor giving his take on allegiance to his "country" of Virginia and how the founders formed a union of "countries" under the Constitution.

I will have to give props to the reenactor - he has the look down. But his understanding of the formation of a union of sovereign countries seems a little more than problematic. Like Lincoln, many other folks understood that the formation of a union of former colonies made one country of constituent parts - and thus the formation of the Union created states...bound by allegiance to an indissoluble nation. What do you think?



Monday, February 6, 2012

JEB Stuart Was Here

[caption id="attachment_1956" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Archeological Conservator Christopher Mills hard at work preserving the Brandy Station graffiti. "][/caption]

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I came across this article on the Richmond Times-Dispatch website about the preservation efforts of a structure located at the Brandy Station battlefield.

According to the article, the "circa-1858 structure is believed to have been used as a hospital by Confederate and Union forces during the war. For unknown reasons, patrons decided to mark up the walls with signatures, drawings and anything else that crossed their minds. Mills' challenge is to remove the post-historic paint and whitewash that subsequent owners attempted to cover the markings with, as well as stabilize the fragile plaster."

What a great way to peer into the real lives of Civil War soldiers - and although without transcripts it is undetermined at this point exactly how different graffiti is from others means of communication such as letters, diaries, or post-war writing - I am going to bet that there are some very unique expressions inscribed on the building's walls.

I am looking forward to finding out exactly what these wounded and visiting soldiers thought about the 1863 cavalry battle or about the war in general. The article mentions that they have a JEB Stuart room, named so because of a signature. I am going to assume that it is indeed Stuart's signature, even though the article is kind of vague on this point.



It Helps to Have a Colorful Nickname

[caption id="attachment_1950" align="alignleft" width="202" caption="Unconditional Surrender Grant"][/caption]

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Henry, which coupled with the Battle of Fort Donelson (the anniversary for this one is the next week), adds up to a slam dunk when it comes to great Civil War nicknames. On February 15th, after Confederate generals John Floyd and Gideon Pillow skedaddled and turned over their command of Fort Donelson to Simon Buckner (Grant's old pal, as it turned out), Buckner - the hapless fellow that he was - asked Grant for the terms of surrender. Grant's reply? “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.”

Well now - isn't it interesting that Grant's initials were U. S. anyway? They weren't really...but that is a story for a different day. Still, the whole U. S. thing sure does make the "Unconditional Surrender" nickname sound all the more clever. It helps in terms of popular memory too. While it is hard to imagine Grant fading from the landscape of Civil War remembrance (although a lot of people tried to usher him out) what is for certain is that we will remember him as a resolute and determined fighter.

Nicknames tell us a lot about the subjects we study and about how individuals felt about their leaders both during and after the war. Folks in the Confederacy once called Robert E. Lee "Granny" and "King of Spades." Neither were complimentary - and these names were soon dropped after Lee proved to be an aggressive and audacious fighter in the Seven Days battles around Richmond in 1862.

Of course there is "Stonewall." Who will ever forget him? (No one in Virginia will any time soon). And there are lots of others too - William "Little Billy" Mahone, Richard "Old Bald Head" Ewell, Edward "Allegheny" Johnson, William "Grumble" Jones, John "Prince John" Magruder, George "Old Snapping Turtle" Meade, George "Slow Trot" Sykes, George "Rock of Chickamauga" Thomas, Henry "Old Brains" Halleck, Winfield "Old Fuss and Feathers" Scott, and the list goes on and on. Many of these names denote well-deserved accolades, many do not, and some just seem like good-natured ribbing. Either way, they give modern students a good insight into contemporary impressions of military leadership.

What are some of your favorites?



Sunday, February 5, 2012

Straight From the Department of Bad Ideas

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

On June 10 1865 - Federal veterans dedicated one of the first (if not the first) monument to the Union dead. Located on Henry Hill at the Manassas battlefield, this comparatively modest structure stands to remind visitors of the sacrifices at both battles decided on that field.

So...that actually seems like a good idea. The bad idea comes into play when we look at exactly how the monument was adorned. The builders needed a few decorations - and (according to a story I heard while visiting this very monument) decided to go with some 2o pound shells. No one thought to check if this was live ordnance, which it was.


[caption id="attachment_1943" align="alignright" width="222" caption="Don't get too close!"][/caption]

Strangely - also...according to hearsay - no one figured this out until 1975 during a restoration effort. From what I understand, when the National Park Service took the shells down for disarming, one exploded and killed a worker. Today, the shells are reproductions.

An interesting story to be sure...I am not sure of its veracity, so I am going to check with my friend Harry Smeltzer - he's the authority on all things Manassas. At least the story, apocryphal or not, provides a good lesson for future monument builders - be wary of live ammunition!



Thank You Facebook

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Not a Civil War post's Super Bowl Sunday anyway - so I am sure people are thinking about football and not the Civil War. I would like to make just a few comments about my favorite social media website: Facebook. There is a lot of hullabaloo these days concerning Facebook and public trading - but the main issue is (and probably will remain) privacy. One of the principle concerns is the now all-too-familiar practice of selling your personal data to advertisers. That means pictures, profile updates, information, and all the rest. Some of you might even be genuinely upset by this. RELAX.

My friends. Facebook provides a platform for you to connect with old friends and make new friends. It has allowed Cosmic America to reach thousands of people - potentially hundreds of thousands or even millions. And they provide this platform for no charge. So from where I sit, if the company wants to increase their revenue by selling my profile updates to advertisers who are trying to figure out what kind of toothpaste I should use then they have my blessings. I mean really - did you think the good people at Facebook create web platforms out of the kindness of their hearts? Sheesh.

Here are a few words of wisdom to those who might be in a fury over Facebook's policies. If you have something to say or a photograph that is so sensitive that "breaches" of privacy could cause you anxiety...DON'T POST IT ON FACEBOOK. Better yet, delete your account. There are lots of ways to communicate with your friends - like the US Mail. Now that's an efficient service (snicker).

And one last thing - if you ever plan on running for an elected office. You might reconsider that profile picture of you sitting on the toilet eating a sandwich.

Enjoy the game!


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Morgan Freeman on Black History Month

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

It's Feb 1 - and the beginning of Black History Month, 2012. I thought I would share Morgan Freeman's thoughts on the month. In short...he thinks it is ridiculous. What do you think? He also thinks we should stop talking about race - an intriguing proposition to be sure. But do you think that is even possible? Do you think the majority of Americans are prepared (or even willing, in some cases) to look past race?

I will add that I agree with him on one point for certain. Black history IS American history - it's hard to deny...although I am sure some of you out there will try.

In related news...this year marks the sesquicentennial of a very important decision - in 1862 President Lincoln decided the time was right to push the war in a new direction - and look towards emancipation as a Union war aim. All he needed was a victory, and he got that in September. With this in mind I should be talking more and more about slavery, emancipation, and the Union cause this year - so stay tuned.