Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Is There Any Other "Copse" of Trees?

Mention the copse to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Civil War and that person will know precisely to what you are referring. The copse...or rather, Copse of Trees is of course the culminating point of Longstreet's famed assault - known to most as Pickett's Charge - on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg...what many believe was the turning point of the Civil War.

But why copse? Why not "patch" or "grove" or "thicket" or something like that? It seems that the word was selected for this particular growth of trees by historian/artist John B. Bachelder back in 1870 - in a book detailing a painting on the repulse of Longstreet's Assault (at least that is the earliest reference that I am aware of). And the name stuck. As the Battle of Gettysburg ascended higher and higher again into American lore and legend, the copse became The Copse of mythic proportions.

So by my estimation, this little stand of trees has ruined the word for any other copses out there. That is all well and good, I suppose. I mean, no one really uses the word any more to refer to other trees...so what's the trouble with having only one copse? Maybe other small groves of trees should go by the term "coppice." It's almost the same and such a reference won't confuse any Civil War enthusiasts who happen to be nearby.


Monday, July 30, 2012

The Weekend in Retrospect

Greetings all - time to do a little catching up after a brief absence. Over the weekend I managed to get a couple of important things done. One, I ran the San Francisco Marathon. It was cold, foggy, congested, and the hills were BRUTAL. But I had a good time. This, of course, means that I have now completed the LA/SF challenge - a feat for which I was awarded a giant medal - so I can rest for a while before I take on training for Las Vegas this December.

But enough about me.

I also read Kevin Levin's new book on the Battle of the Crater. I plan on writing a review of this study in the next few days, but here are a couple of very quick comments. I enjoyed the book very much. I believe that Kevin had tapped into something about the battle and battlefield that has gone unconsidered for too long. In terms of memory studies - the analytical backdrop for this book - there are many things here that Kevin and I could discuss. Stay tuned...I will expand shortly.

Finally, I was disappointed that no one knew who this person was - featured in the Cosmic America question of the day. So, if you give up.....her name is (or rather was, she passed in 2010) Cammie King. She played the role of Bonnie Blue Butler in Gone With the Wind. It was a minor part, but pivotal to the plot as I am sure you all know. King was four years old when she was selected to play the young Butler, a role for which she earned a whopping sum of $1000. Actually, not bad for a four-year-old in 1939. After GWTW, she went on to do a couple of other bit parts, including the voiceover for Young Faline in Bambi. And that was pretty much it for her show biz career. Much later in life she joked, "I peaked at five." Here is a shot of King in her Hollywood heyday.



Friday, July 27, 2012

Cosmic America Question of the Day

I am heading out the door to San Francisco - a six-hour or so drive from Hollywood - so I can run the marathon this Sunday. In between packing up the car, making sandwiches for the road, and securing my belonging so the cats do not destroy them while I am gone...I came up with this.

Who is this person? The first to answer correctly in the comment section wins a big Cosmic America shout out.

Do you need a hint? Okay, fine. There is a Civil War connection that has to do with popular culture.

Good luck to you all.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

All Comedy All the Time

Eric Andre, after noticing a little interpretive whitewashing in the commercial promoting Colonial Williamsburg, offers some historical hilarity on the Conan O'Brien show. Thanks to Matt Moore for the heads up on this one. I do not own a television - so I have to rely on the kindness of my friends in the Twitterverse when this stuff comes up.

Anyway - enjoy


Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Recently an irritated reader made this astute observation: "Cosmic America does not use footnotes." Thank you master of the obvious. It is true, I do not use them. Culminating in an attack on my academic integrity, the reader asked why I "refused" to supply proper citations. First of all...relax. Second, the answer is simple. I want to keep this cite as informal as possible. The colloquial nature of the blog format allows for a low key exchange of ideas. I reserve the formal citations for work written with the intention of publication in the traditional (print) sense.

Much of the primary evidence presented here is fairly common knowledge. Prominent individuals' speeches and publications, for example, which are readily available on any number of websites, need not be cited. But I make a rule of identifying my sources if they are not immediately recognizable. I will always make note of the origin of any historic newspaper articles, passages from lesser known or out of print books, individual private testimony and correspondence, or other sources as they come up.

But if none of this is satisfactory - please send me a note in the Contact section of this cite. I will happily supply formal citations (as I did for the irritated reader....and he didn't even say thanks - ingrate).

Well...you're welcome anyway,


Monday, July 23, 2012

Lincoln's Last Public Address

Two days after Lee's surrender and three days before he was murdered by John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln addressed a large crowd gathered outside the White House. His topic was reconstruction -especially in Louisiana. The president's policies had been quite lenient thus far - but in this speech he hints that he might be revising his position. We will never know precisely what he had in mind, but perhaps we can discern something from his words on April 11, 1865:

We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained. In the midst of this, however, He from whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated. Nor must those whose harder part gives us the cause of rejoicing, be overlooked. Their honors must not be parcelled out with others. I myself was near the front, and had the high pleasure of transmitting much of the good news to you; but no part of the honor, for plan or execution, is mine. To Gen. Grant, his skilful officers, and brave men, all belongs. The gallant Navy stood ready, but was not in reach to take active part.

By these recent successes the re-inauguration of the national authority -- reconstruction -- which has had a large share of thought from the first, is pressed much more closely upon our attention. It is fraught with great difficulty. Unlike a case of a war between independent nations, there is no authorized organ for us to treat with. No one man has authority to give up the rebellion for any other man. We simply must begin with, and mould from, disorganized and discordant elements. Nor is it a small additional embarrassment that we, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner, and means of reconstruction.

As a general rule, I abstain from reading the reports of attacks upon myself, wishing not to be provoked by that to which I can not properly offer an answer. In spite of this precaution, however, it comes to my knowledge that I am much censured for some supposed agency in setting up, and seeking to sustain, the new State government of Louisiana. In this I have done just so much as, and no more than, the public knows. In the Annual Message of Dec. 1863 and accompanying Proclamation, I presented a plan of re-construction (as the phrase goes) which, I promised, if adopted by any State, should be acceptable to, and sustained by, the Executive government of the nation. I distinctly stated that this was not the only plan which might possibly be acceptable; and I also distinctly protested that the Executive claimed no right to say when, or whether members should be admitted to seats in Congress from such States. This plan was, in advance, submitted to the then Cabinet, and distinctly approved by every member of it. One of them suggested that I should then, and in that connection, apply the Emancipation Proclamation to the theretofore excepted parts of Virginia and Louisiana; that I should drop the suggestion about apprenticeship for freed-people, and that I should omit the protest against my own power, in regard to the admission of members to Congress; but even he approved every part and parcel of the plan which has since been employed or touched by the action of Louisiana. The new constitution of Louisiana, declaring emancipation for the whole State, practically applies the Proclamation to the part previously excepted. It does not adopt apprenticeship for freed-people; and it is silent, as it could not well be otherwise, about the admission of members to Congress. So that, as it applies to Louisiana, every member of the Cabinet fully approved the plan. The message went to Congress, and I received many commendations of the plan, written and verbal; and not a single objection to it, from any professed emancipationist, came to my knowledge, until after the news reached Washington that the people of Louisiana had begun to move in accordance with it. From about July 1862, I had corresponded with different persons, supposed to be interested, seeking a reconstruction of a State government for Louisiana. When the message of 1863, with the plan before mentioned, reached New-Orleans, Gen. Banks wrote me that he was confident the people, with his military co-operation, would reconstruct, substantially on that plan. I wrote him, and some of them to try it; they tried it, and the result is known. Such only has been my agency in getting up the Louisiana government. As to sustaining it, my promise is out, as before stated. But, as bad promises are better broken than kept, I shall treat this as a bad promise, and break it, whenever I shall be convinced that keeping it is adverse to the public interest. But I have not yet been so convinced.

I have been shown a letter on this subject, supposed to be an able one, in which the writer expresses regret that my mind has not seemed to be definitely fixed on the question whether the seceding States, so called, are in the Union or out of it. It would perhaps, add astonishment to his regret, were he to learn that since I have found professed Union men endeavoring to make that question, I have purposely forborne any public expression upon it. As appears to me that question has not been, nor yet is, a practically material one, and that any discussion of it, while it thus remains practically immaterial, could have no effect other than the mischievous one of dividing our friends. As yet, whatever it may hereafter become, that question is bad, as the basis of a controversy, and good for nothing at all--a merely pernicious abstraction.

We all agree that the seceded States, so called, are out of their proper relation with the Union; and that the sole object of the government, civil and military, in regard to those States is to again get them into that proper practical relation. I believe it is not only possible, but in fact, easier to do this, without deciding, or even considering, whether these States have ever been out of the Union, than with it. Finding themselves safely at home, it would be utterly immaterial whether they had ever been abroad. Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these States and the Union; and each forever after, innocently indulge his own opinion whether, in doing the acts, he brought the States from without, into the Union, or only gave them proper assistance, they never having been out of it.

The amount of constituency, so to speak, on which the new Louisiana government rests, would be more satisfactory to all, if it contained fifty, thirty, or even twenty thousand, instead of only about twelve thousand, as it does. It is also unsatisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given to the colored man. I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers. Still the question is not whether the Louisiana government, as it stands, is quite all that is desirable. The question is, "Will it be wiser to take it as it is, and help to improve it; or to reject, and disperse it?" "Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining, or by discarding her new State government?"

Some twelve thousand voters in the heretofore slave-state of Louisiana have sworn allegiance to the Union, assumed to be the rightful political power of the State, held elections, organized a State government, adopted a free-state constitution, giving the benefit of public schools equally to black and white, and empowering the Legislature to confer the elective franchise upon the colored man. Their Legislature has already voted to ratify the constitutional amendment recently passed by Congress, abolishing slavery throughout the nation. These twelve thousand persons are thus fully committed to the Union, and to perpetual freedom in the state--committed to the very things, and nearly all the things the nation wants--and they ask the nations recognition and it's assistance to make good their committal. Now, if we reject, and spurn them, we do our utmost to disorganize and disperse them. We in effect say to the white men "You are worthless, or worse--we will neither help you, nor be helped by you." To the blacks we say "This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where, and how." If this course, discouraging and paralyzing both white and black, has any tendency to bring Louisiana into proper practical relations with the Union, I have, so far, been unable to perceive it. If, on the contrary, we recognize, and sustain the new government of Louisiana the converse of all this is made true. We encourage the hearts, and nerve the arms of the twelve thousand to adhere to their work, and argue for it, and proselyte for it, and fight for it, and feed it, and grow it, and ripen it to a complete success. The colored man too, in seeing all united for him, is inspired with vigilance, and energy, and daring, to the same end. Grant that he desires the elective franchise, will he not attain it sooner by saving the already advanced steps toward it, than by running backward over them? Concede that the new government of Louisiana is only to what it should be as the egg is to the fowl, we shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it? Again, if we reject Louisiana, we also reject one vote in favor of the proposed amendment to the national Constitution. To meet this proposition, it has been argued that no more than three fourths of those States which have not attempted secession are necessary to validly ratify the amendment. I do not commit myself against this, further than to say that such a ratification would be questionable, and sure to be persistently questioned; while a ratification by three-fourths of all the States would be unquestioned and unquestionable.

I repeat the question, "Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining or by discarding her new State Government?

What has been said of Louisiana will apply generally to other States. And yet so great peculiarities pertain to each state, and such important and sudden changes occur in the same state; and withal, so new and unprecedented is the whole case, that no exclusive, and inflexible plan can be safely prescribed as to details and colatterals. Such exclusive, and inflexible plan, would surely become a new entanglement. Important principles may, and must, be inflexible.

In the present "situation" as the phrase goes, it may be my duty to make some new announcement to the people of the South. I am considering, and shall not fail to act, when satisfied that action will be proper.

Your thoughts are welcome (as always).


Friday, July 20, 2012

Casting a Wider Net

You may have noticed that I have changed the subtitle of this site from "Civil War History" to "Civil War. Reconstruction. Reunion." No, I have not run out of things to say about the Civil War...and I do not suspect that I ever will. But, there are a few developments underway that suggest Cosmic America should cast a wider net.

For one, I signed on to teach a class in Reconstruction history at UC Riverside during the winter 2013 term. This of course means that I will be talking a lot about it here. I will more than likely set up a page including the course syllabus and all the primary documents. But that is not happening for a while yet.

Also, I talk about reunion all the time anyway, so I believe the subtitle should reflect the content of the site - wouldn't you agree?

I am looking forward to the Reconstruction course - getting back in the classroom is exciting indeed, especially since I will be dealing with one of the most controversial eras in American History. To my mind, the period represented an uncertain landscape for those who lived through it. So many of the the websites and forums I run across dwell on retrospectively examining the successes and failures of the period - primarily the failures...taking on the Reconstruction period as some sort of "lost moment."  But this approach could be of limited utility. One has much more to gain by accessing the events - success and failures all - as they unfolded. No one in 1865 knew what was about to happen. So I would say it is best not to try and understand their history from our perspective. I trust my students will agree.




Thursday, July 19, 2012

Stephanie McCurry Offers Remarks on Confederate Reckoning

Oh sure, I have plenty to say about this book. But let's hear it straight form the author first. You'll have my two cents in a later post.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Counterfactuals and Alternate Histories

Robert E. Lee would certainly have benefited had he understood the power of the Force...or at least if Stonewall had not bought it at Chancellorsville. But of course, neither happened...so trying to extrapolate anything at all from either scenario is really little more than a futile exercise. Or is it? Believe it or not...I am beginning to hedge a smidge on my admittedly absolutist stance against counterfactual balderdash.

Fear not. I am not embarking on a career in fictionalizing historical actors into dragon slayers, gigolos, or time travelers. Nor am I planning on devoting any time at all to pondering the countless "what ifs" of history.

Lately, there have been a number of posts in the blogosphere and elsewhere grappling with the counterfactual. One such post suggested that I conflate the terms "counterfactual" and "alternate" when discussing this topic. Guilty as charged. I really see little difference musing over the prospect of Stonewall Jackson attacking Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg and South African White Supremacists traveling back in time to help the Confederacy win the war. Both were impossible. Neither happened (yet, anyway...the word is still out on that SA time machine project). So why bother?

But the posts and related comments got me thinking.

There indeed may be a benefit to all of this. As nonsensical as some of the counterfactual/alternate scenarios play out, the mere consideration of such stories might (it just might) lead a person down the road to finding out what actually happened and why an event unfolded the way it did. Let's just hope that folks can distinguish history from absurdity.



PS - why do people only ever consider the momentous "what if" scenarios? No one ever asks..."What if Robert E. Lee had had a nut allergy." That could very well have been of great import to the Confederate cause.




Tuesday, July 17, 2012

David Blight on American Oracle

Greetings Cosmic Americans - In this video, historian David Blight discusses the collision of the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement during the 1950s and 60s - the topic of his latest book, American Oracle. I strongly suggest having a look at this book - I found it interesting to read about the war during the centennial...and how things have (and in some cases) have not changed for the sesquicentennial.


Monday, July 16, 2012

The Politics of Self Emancipation

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I have been reading (and rereading) Stephanie McCurry's Confederate Reckoning over the last few days and it has rekindled some thoughts that recall graduate school classroom debates at the University of Virginia. Is self emancipation a political action?

McCurry thinks so. I will save an in-depth review of the book for a later date, but for now I will note that she believes slaves - in the contexts of impressment, Confederate military duty, and the opportunity for escape - developed political networks and formed a political entity with which both Confederate and United States governments had to deal.

I'll give her this. Many slaves organized, spread war news through plantation networks, and seized opportunities when they were presented. But is this political? Certainly not in the traditional sense - yet ruling out political activity based on narrow definitions is always a bad idea.

I still can't help but wonder if we are retrospectively assigning the term "political" to a group of people who did not assign it to themselves. Could self emancipation and the development of communication networks function politically as...say...intentionally slowing the work pace on a plantation as a subtle protest to the institution? I am not sure the latter is political either. Just protest - and perhaps vindictiveness. And for the former - it may be nothing more than an attempt to remove oneself from a bad situation in the hopes of finding a better one. Not necessarily political...but certainly human nature.

One could consider political action in terms of personal investment (even without the franchise) in some sort of governing body - state, community, region, section, etc...like joining the Union army, for instance. That seems political. But even here I tend to drift to the traditional sense of the term.

My point with all of these equivocations over the term itself and the actions supposedly (or not) defining it is that I am not yet convinced that the broader definition of politics holds up from the point of view of those engaging in said actions - but I am keeping an open mind...and I am more than happy to discuss the subject with anyone.



Thursday, July 12, 2012

Albert Woolson - GAR

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Today, still keeping with the veteran theme, I offer some video footage (unfortunately sans interview) of Albert Woolson, claimed to be the last surviving GAR veteran (he died in August 1956).

Now, I have heard that there may be more to the story...that he might not have been a combat veteran or that he may not have served in the army at all. This is all hearsay, of course - if anybody wants to chip in their two cents, I am all ears (um....hello Barb Gannon).

He did get a monument at Gettysburg...so that must mean something. I am embarrassed to say that I know little about him.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

With a Rebel Yell

I keeping with yesterday's theme - Civil War veterans' commemoration (a subject that I will always be ready will and able to discuss at length) today I offer a reunion of Confederate veterans...having at the Rebel yell. You will note that one veteran comments: "We don't have much left but we will give you what we've got." Well, I would say that they do a mighty fine job. Try to imagine thousands of these guys (much younger versions, of course) yelling all at once. It would certainly scare the you-know-what out of me.

Something we should also keep in mind: this event recalls a spirit of elan and fraternity and even looks fun and entertaining...note - I cannot tell with precision when the film was shot (early 30s?) but this version was released in 1962, during the centennial. But decades prior to the event pictured these men were involved in some pretty grim work. What they saw and did we can never really understand - try as we might.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

75th Anniversary of Gettysburg

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

As the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg just passed us by, we might pause for a little reflection on anniversaries past. Today I offer footage from the 75th anniversary, an event that included veterans from both armies, a speech delivered by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the unveiling of the Eternal Peace Light Memorial. At the dedication ceremony, an entirely scripted reconciliationist event, FDR noted, "all [Civil War veterans] we honor, not asking under which flag they fought then, thankful that they stand together under one flag now."

There is so much one can say about this event and the context(s) within which the proceedings played out. But I think you know how I feel...so I will open the floor for discussion. But whatever you think - please enjoy the video.


Monday, July 9, 2012

What do Irvin McDowell and the San Francisco Marathon Have in Common?

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Well - they really have nothing in common, except that I will be doing something in connection with both on the weekend of July 28-29, 2012. Yes, that is the weekend of the San Francisco Marathon, which I will be running as part of the LA/SF challenge. Exciting, yes? I will be heading up to the bay area to give it my best AND if time allows, visit Irvin McDowell's grave at the Presidio.

You see, in 1864 McDowell was "promoted" to command the department of the west after a number of Civil War debacles (including 1st and 2nd Bull Run). I guess the Lincoln administration figured he couldn't cause much trouble in California. And what do you know....? He excelled when he did not have anything to screw up...it turns out he took quite a liking to the west coast and was a popular fellow indeed.

So look forward to marathon updates and McDowell images in the next few weeks. I will keep you posted. I just love it when I can combine my two favorite things: running and Civil War history. Yay me :)



Sunday, July 8, 2012

Civil War Delayed Due to Excessive Heat

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

A few days ago was the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The reenactment commemorating said event took place yesterday - in the sweltering July heat. It was so hot in fact, that the scheduled battle events had to be delayed until late in the afternoon...when the temperature dropped from around 100 degrees to a less shish-kabobing mid 80s-ish.

And it was a good thing they did too. With thousands of soldiers converging on the region, someone was bound to get hurt...or at least dehydrated. Maybe they were just trying to keep with historical accuracy. Between July 1-3, 1863 the skies over Gettysburg were cloudy and the temperature closer to the high 70s - much more comfortable conditions for killing people. Or maybe this is the greatest expression of farbism ever witnessed. Ice cubes, absent during the town's battle 149 years ago, were dropped down shirt fronts and piled in kepis. Cooling stations drenched wool uniforms. Horses were hosed down and teams of emergency-medical responders monitored weary re-enactors for signs of heat exhaustion.

Fight? Oh heavens no! Not in these conditions. It is far too hot for such nonsense.

All ribbing aside (and it is good-natured....I am cool with reenactors, so relax) delaying the reenactment was probably a good idea. Wearing a wool uniform and marching about in the 100+ degree weather with limited shade is a really bad idea. So I am going to give the thousands of Gettysburg reenactors a pass on this one. But the next time I go to an encampment and see "authentic" recreations of Civil War soldiering replete with fast food, laptops, and cell phones the gloves are coming off.




Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Book You Need to Check Out - The Won Cause

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Yesterday, I did a video interview for Civil War Monitor. Stay tuned, the air date is coming up in the next couple of weeks so I will keep you posted. We talked about all kinds of things - but one thing we did not have a chance to get to were some of the recent Civil War books that really stand out. No fault to the Monitor....we just ran out of time.

So I will talk briefly about one here and now. Barbara Gannon's The Won Cause is the most engaging book on Civil War veterans I have read in quite some time. Think about this: the largest fraternal organization in the 19th century was integrated. Yes. If this surprises you, it may be because no one has really given that rather remarkable fact much thought until now.

There is a consensus among historians (as I have spoken of often) that suggests whites essentially turned their backs on black veterans after the war. Gannon tells us otherwise - focusing on the Grand Army of the Republic (the largest Union veterans' organization). She shows how, although racism persisted throughout the country after the Civil War, white Union veterans honored its black members, feeling a bond of comradeship that transcended racial barriers.

But don't take my word for it - read the book.




Friday, July 6, 2012

Rebellion, Revolution (or Something Entirely Different)?

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Yesterday (as I am wont to do) I issued a call to those following my Twitter feed to provide Cosmic America with a question of the controversial variety. One that might stir some embers, so to speak.

I got a number of great responses, many of which dealt with cause, emancipation, even the state of the field. But my favorite came from none other than Pete Carmichael, the director of the Civil War Institute. "Was," he asked, "the Civil War a revolution?"

Now this could have meant a couple of things. One, he could have been referring to the revolutionary character of the war itself - were the great issues being decided on the battlefields the makings of a revolution of sorts? Two, he might have meant the questionably revolutionary nature of secession. I have a sneaking suspicion he was referring to the former (perhaps I should have asked) but details notwithstanding, he got me thinking about the latter.

So I will open the floor for discussion. Was secession and the formation of the Confederate States an act of revolution? Without question, plenty of the fire-eating types rang some revolutionary bells during the secession crisis - invoking the oratory of the revolutionary generation and demanding a separation from a tyrannical government many thought was poised to deny white southerners their rights as Americans. On the other hand, cooler heads thought twice about the rhetoric of revolution. After all, in their formulation the southern states claimed the legitimate connection to the founders. The north had gone astray. In this light, the Confederacy was not at all revolutionary but merely carrying on the American tradition under a new government.

What do you think?


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Shaara on Shaara

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I was virtually thumbing through C-Span Civil War lectures and I came across novelist Jeff Shaara speaking about his father Michael Shaara's novel, Killer Angels. I do not believe that Shaara the younger is known for brevity (he speaks for over an hour) but he may offer some insights on his father's book that you will find interesting.

For many, Killer Angels and the film based on the novel: Gettysburg function as the definitive history of the battle. In terms of popular history and public memory, I believe that the novel is a must read. Though one should read it with a critical eye.

Watch the video - when you have the time - and let me know what you think. You can check it out HERE.



Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Fourth of July

Greetings Cosmic Americans and happy Fourth of July. I found a short piece in the New York Times entitled "The Fourth of July - HOW THE ARMY AND NAVY WILL CELEBRATE IT" This one is from 1864...enjoy.

The arrangements for the celebration of the Fourth of July, by the army and navy, in this vicinity and elsewhere, are progressing rapidly. On Governor's Island, the old headquarters of the Department of the East, a salute will be fired at the usual time, a dress parade may come off if the day is fine, and the Declaration of Independence will not be forgotten. The soldiers of the regular army look forward with joy to the anniversary of the nation's birthday. The navy will honor the occasion by saluting and dressing ship. The magnitude of the war fleet in harbor at present renders it likely that a more picturesque display of bunting was never seen in our harbor than can be witnessed on the coming Fourth. The receiving ship North Carolina, the old razee Savannah, now our local school ship; the steam-frigate Niagara, and 50 sail beside, will contribute to the show. The commandants of the foreign fleet in port will be formally informed by Admiral PAULDING, on the 2d, of the approaching festival, and will fire salutes of course. In San Francisco, Callao, Hong Kong, Spezzia, Rio Janeiro, Queenstown, Lisbon, Alexandria, Southampton, and 20 other commercial rendezvous, such of our naval vessels as have been spared from blockading duty, will fire for the home of the free. It is not improper to say that an experience of four years' cruising in an American man-of-war has proved that no holiday is welcomed with more genuine friendliness, by sailors and soldiers everywhere, than ours.

Have a safe and happy holiday - and don't blow yourself up.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Was the Confederacy a Nation?

The Confederate States of America. Was it a legitimate nation? I mean...they had a flag and everything - but more often than not, a flag just isn't enough.

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Last week, I gave a talk on the turning points of 1862. As a sidebar, I mentioned that the Confederacy was indeed a nation...it just didn't last for very long. What followed was an audible groan from the audience. The (mostly northern) group insisted that what passed as a nation in the southern United States was in fact nothing more than a collection of said states in rebellion. No nation.

I asked them to think about that for a minute. The Confederacy resembled a nation in many respects. They had executive and legislative branches of a national government. They had a constitution. They had an army and a navy. They were granted belligerent status by European powers. Not enough? Even the Lincoln administration recognized the Confederacy as a nation de facto when it was convenient. For example - you do not exchange prisoners with rebels, nor can you blockade yourself. But in the end many deny the Confederacy national status because they lost the war. I am not sure that I won many over. They seemed determined to disagree with me. Always careful to choose my battles, I moved on to the topic at hand

But as naming is the origin of all particular things, perhaps we should reflect on some further aspects of nation, nationalism, and indeed...legitimacy. If by recognizing a Confederate nation are we implying as well the existence of Confederate nationalism? Historians have debated this problem for some time. Some say it did not exist in strength - pointing to protests, the relatively few number of slaveholders, etc. Others say that government officials "created" Confederate nationalism and thus duped the white southern populace into supporting the cause. Still others say that despite the privations that went hand in hand with living through war, white southerners remained virulently committed to Confederate nationalism.

I side with the latter - and push the issue even further. The evidence suggests a strong southern commitment to a national vision that existed before the war broke out. In the South, this commitment easily fit with a new national experiment that to white southerners more closely resembled the intentions of the founding generation. Generally speaking, they were nationalistic and created a nation to fit their vision - a slave-holding democratic republic free from the tyranny of an outside power.

Sound familiar? They didn't put George Washington on the national seal for shits and giggles.

And here's where the trouble really gets brewing. Recognizing the Confederacy as a legitimate nation (albeit with a pretty short shelf life) might give one away as a member of the neo-Confederate ranks. Not meaning to complicate the obvious,  I would still like to point out that such logic is profoundly flawed. Dear readers, rest assured - I am not throwing my support behind the Confederacy. But I will stand behind my position. The white people of the South created a new nation. They went to war to protect it and in short order...failed on a catastrophic level.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Death of a Museum

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Not too terribly long ago, the old Gettysburg National Military Park's Visitor Center Cyclorama building was bustling with activity of the touristy variety. It now sits eerily vacant and covered with weeds, trees, and brush. Neglected. Ignored.

In the 1990s, battlefield preservationists lobbied to have the building razed. Sitting on the highest point of Cemetery Ridge, the culminating point of the battle on July 3, 1863,  many felt that the structure compromised the interpretive view of the landscape - and thus visitors would not be able to comprehensively understand the battle or battlefield.

But those who wished the structure away met stiff resistance. Those with an interest in preserving significant mid-century architectural achievements deemed the building worthy of life - and fought to keep it in place. In fact - there has been quite the battle raging. Dion Neutra, son of Richard Neutra, the building's architect, and the Recent Past Preservation Network have been going at it with officials of the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, and the Gettysburg park in an effort to halt demolition of the Cyclorama’s old home.

Back in the 1990s, requests for funding to restore the building - removing asbestos, patching cracks, repairing masonry, and redesigning the interior - were categorically denied, and the building was slated for demolition. In 1998, the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places determined the "Cyclorama Building was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places," reversing conclusions by the National Park Service in December 1995 and the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Officer in May 1996. Litigation ensued. And as often happens with litigation....efforts to both preserve or destroy stagnated. Until 2010 - when a court finally ruled for the Recent Past Preservation Network that the NPS "had failed to comply with federal law requiring it to analyze the effect of the Cyclorama Center demolition and come up with alternatives to destroying it."

And there it sits. When I was in Gettysburg last week I spoke to more than one person about the future of this building. The consensus (off the record, of course) seems to be that the NPS is going to let the structure fall to ruin - let it decline to the point where there will be no other choice but to tear it down. For those of you who have lived in this region, you will know that it will not take long for the elements to do their grim work. So we may be seeing a lot more Ziegler's Grove and a lot less Cyclorama building very soon indeed.

I for one side with the NPS. Although I have fond memories of the building in its former glory (I spent some time there in 2001 when I was researching my UCLA undergraduate senior thesis), I feel it is time for it to go. Architectural significance or not. Adios, mi amigo viejo.