Tuesday, October 30, 2012

New and Noteworthy--- September Suspense: Military Defeat and Invasion, A National Election and Emancipation

September Suspense: Lincoln's Union in Peril, Dennis E. Frye, Antietam Rest Publishing, 292 pages,  notes, bibliography, appendices, 19 illustrations, index, 2012, $27.95.

Newspapers of the Civil War era are a fountain of information on the material aspects of life and political disputes. During the era there was no unbiased reporting of political news; there was lots of speculation. "Newspapers bring us closer to people and allow us to be there when they make their history" remarks Dennis Frye in his introduction to September Suspense: Lincoln's Union in Peril. During the first week of September of 1862 no one knew the outcome of the Confederate invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania, the fall elections, and the revelation of an emancipation proclamation.

Frye relies heavily on southern and northern newspapers and diaries but not those written after the autumn of 1862.  Such reliance provides an immediacy which is usually not offered in most Civil War books.  Over 35 newspapers were consulted. Frye's narrative is sharp and concise. His pacing of the chapters creates an undercurrent of a  'you are there' suspense. This is reminiscent of of John Michael Priest's use of only diaries and letters of privates, corporals, sergeants, captains and lieutenants in Antietam: A Soldier's Battle and Before Antietam: The Battle of South Mountain.

In September Suspense: Lincoln's Union in Peril readers wrestle with American abolitionists and slaveholders, British politicians and American bankers, retail merchants and marauding soldiers, presidents and their cabinets, war governors and army generals, men and women on the street and soldiers in the ranks.  There is a suspense in Frye's work that moves readers forward through these American lives.

The appendices are not 'toss in the kitchen sink' material. The first appendix is the Confederate Terms of Peace published on September 11, 1862 in the Philadelphia Inquirer which was copied from and editorial appearing in the Richmond Enquirer and a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial response to it. The second appendix is General Lee's Proclamation to the People of Maryland that was made September 8, 1862 and a third appendix discusses the dilemma of attempting to ascertain how many Confederate troops crossed into Maryland the first days of September. Each is an essential document that readers in September 1862 held in their hands and read.  In September Suspense: Lincoln's Union in Peril  Frye achieves his goal of having the reader 'feel history', enter 'a time machine' and 'live the moment' with those who passed passed, day by day, through a suspenseful month when the Union was in peril.

Also,  September Suspense: Lincoln's Union in Peril is a good 'immersion' book for Civil War reenactors who enjoy a 'campaign style' story.

New and Noteworthy---Fury At the July 2 Apex of Gettysburg: The Bliss Farm

Fury On The Bliss Farm At Gettysburg, John M. Archer, Ten Roads Publishing, 80 pages, 24 photographs and maps, appendix, end notes, index, 2012,, $9.95.

Many debates have occurred regarding whether Gettysburg was a turning point of the Civil War. Other debates have risen with the question: What was the turning point of the Battle of Gettysburg. If July 2 is the bloodiest day of the battle and if Longstreet's assault was a main feature of that day, then what event marked the end of the assault? The assault ended or failed on the Bliss Farm, located on the west side of the Emmitsburg Road and opposite the Abraham Bryan farm.  John M. Archer, a licensed Gettysburg battlefield guide,  has written on the Bliss Farm in America's Civil War magazine and has been filmed, by the Pennsylvania Cable Network, guiding a tour of the location.  With Fury On The Bliss Farm At Gettysburg, he offers a clear and concise booklet of one his popular tours.

In 1857 William Bliss and his family moved from western New York to Adams County, Pennsylvania and purchased a 44 acre farm with its double log and frame house, a large banked barn, two water wells that featured pumps, and a large fruit orchard that held principally cherries and peaches. On July 2 his farm was fought over and on July 3 it the buildings were burned. Archer describes the multiple infantry charges with the capture and recapture of the farm buildings several times. During the July 3 Grand Assault, Confederates' left flank maneuvered around the smoking and smoldered embers of the buildings.

Archer's six stop tour begins on the east side of Emmitsburg Road at Ziegler's Grove, moves to the Brian Farm and then the 14th Connecticut monument. Stops 4, 5, and 6 are on the west side of Emmitsburg Road. The Confederates' important occupation of Long Lane, the multiple attempts to take and hold the farm buildings, and the role of the Bliss Farm in Wright's occupation of Cemetery Ridge are thoroughly explained. In three appendices, Archer describes the nature of skirmishing and Wright's breakthrough; also armies' the order of battle is offered. Fury On The Bliss Farm At Gettysburg is useful for the armchair reader and the battlefield visitor who desires an informed walk describing what might be the apex of Longstreet's July 2 assault.

Monday, October 29, 2012

New and Noteworthy---History and Guide to Civil War Shepherdstown: A Community of Suffering

A History and Guide to Civil War Shepherdstown: Victory and Defeat in West Virginia's Oldest Town, Nicholas Redding, Schroeder Publications, 144 pages, 56 illustrations, 6 maps, 2 appendices, order of battle, endnotes, index, 2012, $14.95.

 A History and Guide to Civil War Shepherdstown: Victory and Defeat in West Virginia's Oldest Town offers a intriguing description  of a village that began the war in Virginia and ended the war in West Virginia. Nicholas Redding finely balances aspects of Shepherdtown's citizens, it buildings and industries, and its proximity to Harpers Ferry, South Mountain, and the Battle of Sharpsburg. A third of the book presents Shepherdstown in the path of war. Wesley Culp, a recent immigrant from Adams County, Pennsylvania is typical of the town's  citizens who are divided in their allegiances. Reddington relies on eyewitness accounts of Shepherdtown's conflicted loyalities: Dr. Charles Wesley Andrew, Caroline Bedinger, and Henry Kyd Douglas and the Shepherdstown Register newspaper.

The middle third of the book is a guide to the Civil War sites in present-day Shepherdstown. The first third of the book is not retold; the discussion offers additional information that further clarifies the suffering and destruction of the town. The burning of the covered, two lane Potomac River bridge is well told and illustrated. Redding presents a black and white illustration of the bridge intact and a photograph of the remnants of the pilings.  Remarkably the illustration and the photograph were made from nearly the same location and reveals much about Shepherdstown. Ferry Hill in Maryland overlooks Shepherdstown and was the home of Henry Kyd Douglas, whose father practiced law across the river. Hotels, the town hall,  graffitti, homes that became hospitals, the residence of a Confederate spy, the site of the wagon shop where Wesley Culp was employed, churches and the cemetery are described and presented with personal primary source accounts of the structures' appearance and uses.

The final third of the book is a clear and concise history and guide to the September 1862 battle at Shepherdstown. Offered as a appendix, Mary Bedinger Mitchell's article in the 1886 Century Magazine recounts Shepherdstown citizens' experiences of the battles of South Mountain, Antietam and Shepherdstown. A second appendix is Henrietta Lee's lamentation addressed to Union general David Hunter; it presents the heartfelt anger of woman whose ancestral home was intentionally burned on the orders of the general.

History and Guide to Civil War Shepherdstown: Victory and Defeat in West Virginia's Oldest Town is both a satifying portrait of a border community overcome by the war and a guide book to the historic town. Redding's use of period photography, pen and ink sketches and primary sources is commendable. He introduces intriguing episodes that may compel readers to look further into Shepherdstown's history:  the Confederate spy network in the county, the printing of money that could be spent only in the town and the African Americans who remained in the town during the course of the war. 

Nicholas Redding's interview by the Civil War Trust

Friday, October 26, 2012

News--- Arkanasas Teenage Confederate Spy Remembered

 Long After Death, Confederate Spy Remembered, Jeannie Nuss, Asociated Press, October 15, 2012.

The story of David O. Dodd is relatively unknown outside of Arkansas, but the teenage spy who chose to hang rather than betray the Confederate cause is a folk hero to many in his home state.
Street signs and an elementary school in the state capital have long borne Dodd's name, and admirers gather at his grave each year to pay tribute to Dodd's life and death.  "Everyone wants to remember everything else about the Civil War that was bad," said one of them, W. Danny Honnoll. "We want to remember a man that stood for what he believed in and would not tell on his friends."

A state commission's decision, though, to grant approval for yet another tribute to Dodd has revived an age-old question: Should states still look for ways to commemorate historical figures who fought to defend unjust institutions? "(Dodd) already has a school. I don't know why anything else would have to be done to honor him," James Lucas Sr., a school bus driver, said near the state Capitol in downtown Little Rock. Arkansas' complicated history of race relations plays out on the Capitol grounds. A stone and metal monument that's stood for over a century pays tribute to the Arkansas men and boys who fought for the Confederacy and the right to own slaves. Not far away, nine bronze statues honor the black children who, in 1957, needed an Army escort to enter what had been an all-white school.

The newest nod to Dodd would mark a site across town where he was detained after Union soldiers found encoded notes on him about their troop locations. Dodd was convicted of spying and sentenced to death, and legend has it he refused an offer to walk free in exchange for the name of the person who gave him the information.  "He was barely 17 years old when the Yankees hung him" on Jan. 8, 1864, Honnoll said. "Yeah, he was spying, but there (were) other people that spied that they didn't hang."

Dodd is certainly not the only teenager to die in the war or even the lone young martyr, said Carl Moneyhon, a University of Arkansas at Little Rock history professor.  "If you start talking about the 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds who were killed in battle, the number is infinite," Moneyhon said. "There are tens of thousands of them. They become unremarkable."  So it seems all the more curious that some have come to portray Dodd as Arkansas' boy martyr.

Text Source and Full Text Continued at Associated Press
Image Source: Kay Tatum at Arkansas Sites

Thursday, October 25, 2012

News---1960s-1990s Iconic Photographer Annie Liebovitz Is Captured by Gettysburg

securedownload.jpegPhotographer Annie Leibovitz, Celebrated For Her Portraits of Famous People, Turned To Historic Places For Her Latest Project, "Pilgrimage," Now On Display In Gettysburg, David Dunkle, The Patriot News, October 24, 2012

 Photographer Annie Leibovitz talks Wednesday morning about "Pilgrimages," her new photography exhibit at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.   For Leibovitz, this meant visiting places in the United States, Canada and England that were iconic in their way, but were also spots that just drew her to them.
These ranged from Niagara Falls and folk singer Pete Seeger's workshop, both in upstate New York, and artist Georgia O'Keeffe's studio in New Mexico. She also visited photographer Ansel Adams' studio in Carmel, Calif., the home of poet Emily Dickinson in Massachusetts. and rock and roll king Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion in Tennessee. And of course, Gettysburg, where a tremendous battle between huge Union and Confederate armies fought in July 1863 helped to set the course of the United States up to the present day.

"This is truly not my normal work, but it's not so far from my normal work either," Leibovitz said Wednesday morning during a news conference to announce the opening of an exhibit of her "Pilgrimage" work at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. "It's sort of the peripheral vision of my usual work."  The exhibit officially opens Thursday and continues through Jan. 20, 2013. Access is included as part of regular museum admission.

"Annie is without a doubt one of the most famous photographers in the world, and her photographs capture the culture of our time," said Joanne Hanley, president of the Gettysburg Foundation, which runs the museum and visitors center in concert with the National Park Service. "But today we are seeing a different side of Annie. The photographs in this exhibit were taken simply because she was moved by the subject."

"I wanted to see what was inside me," she said of her reaction to the battle against lawsuits seeking up to $24 million from her. "It was something that built slowly over a period of time. It was an extraordinary journey of soul-searching."  . . . .

Leibovitz said she backed into the project, which coincided with a period of time when she was facing severe financial problems that could have cost her control of her own photographs, which include famous portraits of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, taken earlier on the day the ex-Beatle was murdered in New York City, and a nude and very pregnant Demi Moore.  "I thought I would come to Gettysburg and take a simple photograph of the battlefield. Of course, nothing is ever that simple." - Annie Leibovitz, on what she called "a bad day," she took her daughters to Niagara Falls, and was fascinated by how fascinated they were by the natural wonder. That led her to develop a preliminary list of about a dozen places where a pilgrimage would be appropriate.
The 70 photos now on display in the museum and visitor center include two she took on the battlefield at Gettysburg. One is of the Jacob Lott farm, which was at the center of the Union lines on the final day of the battle and it still being farmed today. The other is a shot of Devil's Den, where a famous Civil War photo, "Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter," was taken just days after the battle by Alexander Gardner.  Her trip to Gettysburg, a place she had visited as a child, was sparked by visits to Lincoln exhibits at the Smithsonian Institutes in Washington, D.C., and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill.

"I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I thought about the Lincoln Memorial and what that meant," Leibovitz said. "But it led me to Gettysburg. I thought I would come to Gettysburg and take a simple photograph of the battlefield. Of course, nothing is ever that simple."
She admitted that she shot the photo of the Lott farm, which shows wash hanging from a clothesline in the yard with battlefield memorials in the background, before asking permission of the current owners. "I was just praying they were going to say 'yes' when I did ask them for permission," she said. "Thankfully, they did."

Leibovitz, 63, has mostly overcome her financial problems, and is back to concentrating on the work that made her one of the world's most famous photographers. Her work has graced dozens of covers for Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines, and her "Pilgrimage" project has been published in hardcover with an introduction by noted historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Leibovitz said she hoped her work would inspire others to follow in her path, or make their own.  "Anyone can go to any of these places," she said. "Gettysburg is there for anyone. It's all there for anyone."
Text Source, Full Text Source, and Image Source: The Patriot News, October 24, 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012

News: Spielberg Answers Questions--Why Lincoln? Why Are The Names of the Democratic Senators Changed?

Steven Spielberg Shares His Daddy Issues Talks Linocln on 60 Minutes, October 21, 2012.

Steven Spielberg’s career can be roughly divided into two distinct periods: the Mad at Dad phase, and the Reconciliation phase. The director admitted as much in a probing 60 Minutes interview last night. See, Spielberg’s parents, Arnold and Leah, got divorced when he was 19 — and for the following 15 years or so, Spielberg was furious with his father. He thought workaholic Arnold, an engineer, had instigated the split after years of ignoring his family in favor of his job.

What Steven didn’t know was that his beloved mother had actually fallen for another man — one of Arnold’s friends. As adorable 95-year-old Arnold explained to Lesley Stahl last night, he didn’t tell his son the truth for years because he was still in love with Leah… and Spielberg responded by littering movies like E.T. and Hook with absentee fathers or the void they left behind. Eventually, Steven’s wife, Kate Capshaw, prodded him to make peace with Dad — ultimately leading to films like War of the Worlds and Lincoln.

Not interested in Spielberg’s psychology? Press “play” on the first video and skip ahead 10 minutes. You’ll miss Spielberg discussing his daddy issues and his brushes with antisemitism — but you’ll get inside scoop on Lincoln, the director’s latest perfectly engineered Oscar-bait project. You could also just watch the second clip, which takes a more in-depth look behind the scenes of Lincoln — complete with a brief appearance by the famously taciturn Daniel Day-Lewis. It also features John Williams playing the theme from Jaws.

Link to Enterainment Weekly's webpag that contains the 60 Minutes segment that contains a 14 minute report with an interview and a link for Sixty Minutes Overtime that lasts 6:22 minutes with discussion of Daniel Day-Lewis' performance, why Spielberg changed the names of Democratic senators, and James Horner's creation of the soundtrack.

News: Major Structure on Ball's Bluff Battlefield Preserved

NVRPA, Civil War Trust, Close In On Purchase of Jackson House, October 19, 2012
Photo 1The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is close to acquiring the Jackson House property, which is adjacent to Ball’s Bluff Battlefield. The venture was made possible via a partnership with the Civil War Trust, who will help with the purchase and then donate the property to NVRPA to manage.
“We are so thrilled to be in partnership with the Civil War Trust in preserving a number of significant Civil War properties,” said NVRPA Executive Director Paul Gilbert. “Today, we are working on the acquisition of the Jackson House and the expansion of the Ball’s Bluff Battlefield. Recently, we celebrated another joint NVRPA/Civil War Trust project in preserving Mt. Defiance, a key site in the Battle of Middleburg.”
In addition to increasing the area of the Ball’s Bluff Battlefield property, the house also has a significant place in the battle’s history. James Morgan, author of “A Little Short of Boats: The Fights at Ball's Bluff and Edward's Ferry” notes that the house was a key landmark during the conflict.  Adjacent to the current battlefield park, the house was a key landmark around which the morning phases of the battle of Ball’s Bluff were fought,” Morgan said. “Union troops centered their initial line of battle around it. The widowed Mrs. Margaret Jackson, her seven children, and part of a neighboring family are known to have taken shelter in the basement as Union and Confederate troops fought around and through the house on the morning of October 21, 1861. A Union soldier later wrote of hearing the cries of the women and children below.”
According to Brian Knapp, Chairman of the NVRPA Board, the Jackson house would most likely exist as a simple rental property. However, NVRPA has much larger plans for the property down the road.  “In the long term, we plan to turn the Jackson house into a visitor center for Ball’s Bluff, and the public in Northern Virginia and elsewhere will be able to learn more about this battle and how the Civil War shaped and influenced our region,” Knapp said. “ We look forward to working with our many partners in the region – especially the Friends of Ball’s Bluff Battlefield - to make this vision a reality.”
Photo 3Morgan, who also chairs the Friends of Ball’s Bluff Battlefield, added “The Friends of Ball’s Bluff Battlefield would consider the acquisition of the Jackson house to be a dream come true. The property was the center of the morning skirmishing but, up to now, has not been part of the battlefield park. This purchase would allow us, for the first time, to properly interpret that phase of the battle on the actual site. We hope eventually to see the house become the Ball’s Bluff visitor center and museum.”
Ball’s Bluff Battlefield is located at the end of Ball’s Bluff Road in Leesburg. The park is open during daylight hours year round. The park was also one of the primary subjects in the recent documentary “Region Divided: Civil War in the Northern Virginia Regional Park,” created by NVRPA and Fairfax County Government Access Television, and narrated by Roger Mudd. The Balch Library in Leesburg will hold a public screening of the film on Sunday, October 21, 2012, from 2-4 p.m.
Text and Image Source:   Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New and Noteworthy: 1863, The Volunteer State, Longstreet and Burnside

The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee, Earl J. Hess, University of Tennessee Press, 440 pp., notes, bibliography, maps, photographs, $39.95

From the Publisher: In the fall and winter of 1863, Union General Ambrose Burnside and Confederate General James Longstreet vied for control of the city of Knoxville and with it the railroad that linked the Confederacy east and west. The generals and their men competed, too, for the hearts and minds of the people of East Tennessee. Often overshadowed by the fighting at Chickamauga and Chattanooga, this important campaign has never received a full scholarly treatment. In this landmark book, award-winning historian Earl J. Hess fills a gap in Civil War scholarship—a timely contribution that coincides with and commemorates the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

The East Tennessee campaign was an important part of the war in the West. It brought the conflict to Knoxville in a devastating way, forcing the Union defenders to endure two weeks of siege in worsening winter conditions. The besieging Confederates suffered equally from supply shortages, while the civilian population was caught in the middle and the town itself suffered widespread destruction. The campaign culminated in the famed attack on Fort Sanders early on the morning of November 29, 1863. The bloody repulse of Longstreet’s veterans that morning contributed significantly to the unraveling of Confederate hopes in the Western theater of operations.
Hess’s compelling account is filled with numerous maps and images that enhance the reader’s understanding of this vital campaign that tested the heart of East Tennessee. The author’s narrative and analysis will appeal to a broad audience, including general readers, seasoned scholars, and new students of Tennessee and Civil War history. The Knoxville Campaign will thoroughly reorient our view of the war as it played out in the mountains and valleys of East Tennessee.

“Hess’s account of the understudied Knoxville Campaign sheds new light on the generalship of James Longstreet and Ambrose Burnside, as well as such lesser players as Micah Jenkins and Orlando Poe. Both scholars and general readers should welcome it. The scholarship is sound, the research, superb, the writing, excellent.” —Steven E. Woodworth, author of Decision in the Heartland: The Civil War in the West

"Applying his discerning eye to yet another important but neglected aspect of the Civil War, Hess provides us now with the most though and professional examination of the Knoxville campaign we have, or are ever likely to have." —William J. Marvel, author of Tarnished Victory: Finishing Lincoln’s War
“Anyone who believes that everything significant that could be said about the Civil War has already been written must also be unfamiliar with Earl J. Hess, whose books tend to make historians studying the same subjects consider choosing other ones instead. The Knoxville Campaign, often overlooked or even dismissed as largely insignificant, can now be understood in its proper context at last. Operations in East Tennessee have never been so closely examined, so vividly described, and so convincingly explained as Hess does here in the first comprehensive study of this campaign and its impact on Union and Confederate strategy in the Western Theater.” —J. Tracy Power, author of Lee’s Miserables: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox

EARL J. HESS is Stewart W. McClelland Distinguished Professor in Humanities and an associate professor of history at Lincoln Memorial University. He is the author of nearly twenty books, including The Civil War in the West—Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi and Lincoln Memorial University and the Shaping of Appalachia.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Review---Lincoln's 100 Days Between September 22 1862 and January 1 1863

Jim Cullen's Review of Louis P. Masur's Lincoln's 100 Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War For the Union, [Oxford 1862]

Louis P. Masur's latest book stands at the intersection of two important long term trends in Civil War historiography (and, by extension, U.S. historiography generally). The first a post-1960s emphasis on foregrounding the racial dimension of the conflict, asserting slavery was the precipitating cause and abolition as the primary significance of its outcome. This would almost be so obvious among scholars to not bear mentioning if such emphasis was not primary before the late twentieth century, and if there didn't remain vocal segments in the culture at large that explicitly reject it. The other, more recent trend is a new emphasis on political history, in effect closing a circle that began with a move toward social history in the 1970s and '80s and cultural history in the 1990s and 2000s. In recent decades historians have tried to affirm their commitment to a democratic discourse by affirming the agency of individual actors at the ground level rather than the Words and Deeds of Great Men. Like all well-intentioned (or perhaps just intellectual marketplace-driven) trends, however, such tendencies have perhaps reached the point where they conceal more than they reveal. Who's running the government at any given time really may matter after all.

Given this context, there may well have been a spate of Emancipation Proclamation books even if its 150th anniversary was not at hand (President Lincoln issued the preliminary Proclamation on September 22, 1862, and the final one putting it into effect on January 1, 1863). In recent years, a string of heavyweight scholars -- among them Allen Guelzo, Harold Holzer, and, going back a bit further, John Hope Franklin -- have made it the subject of volume-length studies. This is interesting when one considers the traditional perception of the E.P., captured most vividly by Edmund Wilson, who in Patriotic Gore famously described it as having "all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading." But just as the center of gravity in the military history of the war has shifted from Gettysburg to Antietam, so too is the E.P. getting a second look as a document as carefully crafted, and eloquent in its own way, as the Gettysburg Address.

Full Text Continues at  History News Network, October 15, 2012

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

News---First Look of Film 'Lincoln' Occurs in UK

Lincoln, First Look At The Film in UK,  Katey Rich, The Gaurdian,  October 8, 2012 

Playing politics … Daniel Day-Lewis as the president in Lincoln.Politics was a dirty business even in the 19th century, and even when changing history for the better, as the best moments of  Lincoln  wittily and elegantly prove. Steven Spielberg's  behemoth of a new film, which premiered in unfinished form at the New York film festival Monday night, has a title that suggests a sweeping portrait of the great 16th American president. But the film is largely too content depicting Abraham Lincoln as an all-knowing icon, and even with Daniel Day-Lewis's beautifully measured (and surprisingly soft-spoken) performance, Lincoln often recedes to the background of the very uneven movie that bears his name.
The screenplay from Pulitzer prize-winner Tony Kushner focuses on just the last four months of Lincoln's life, as he works in Washington to end the civil war raging just south of him, but not before passing an amendment to officially outlaw slavery. The backroom deals and legal hurdles to make that happen are immensely complicated, but after some bulky exposition this wheeling and dealing among lawmakers makes for the film's strongest scenes. Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) hires a trio of hooligans (John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson and James Spader) to rustle up votes for the amendment through whatever means necessary, while on the floor of the House of Representatives, anti-slavery lawmaker Thaddeus Stevens  (a gloriously scene-stealing tommy Lee Jones) bellows at pro-slavery Fernando Wood (Lee Pace), with the roomful of men around them banging on their desks and shouting over each other. If only modern American politics were remotely as entertaining.

We visit the battlefield a few times, with General Ulysses S Grant (Jared Harris) preparing to negotiate peace with the Confederacy, but Lincoln is largely set in the cramped chambers of the White House and Congress; between that and the many speeches about constitutional law, it can start to feel a little airless. Glimpses into Lincoln's personal life, including strained relationships with both his wife (Sally Field) and eldest son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), are intended to add a human dimension to the president, but they're never as effective as simply seeing the man at work; Gordon-Levitt has had a fantastic year in other films, but his character here is entirely superfluous, and Field brings tremendous overacting to a cast that's otherwise quite restrained.

Lincoln isn't as sentimental as you might expect from Spielberg, and though it never digs deep enough into Lincoln as a man, it's unafraid to show him as a canny politician willing to bend the law and make enormous compromises to accomplish a greater goal. With John Williams's gentle score, posh cinematography from Janusz Kaminski and a whole load of big costumes and facial hair for the cast, Lincoln veers too often toward becoming a somnolent period piece, but the strong cast and political texture always manage to perk things back up. Though it might have worked better as a tighter, purely political thriller with even less focus on the title character, Lincoln's smarty-pants pleasures manage to outweigh its stuffy drawbacks.

Text and Image SourceThe Gaurdian

CWL:  Lincoln will be released in the US on November 9, 2012



News---Drink Beer and Support Civil War Museums

Civil War Beer Crafted In Frederick, Ike Wilson, Frederick News Post, October 8, 2012.

The first of nine beers to commemorate the 150th Civil War anniversary -- Antietam Ale -- is now on tap. The concoction was derived from a number of beer recipes from the 1800s and researched by National Museum of Civil War Medicine researcher Terry Reimer. Monocacy Brewing Co. in Fredeerick  bottled the first batch Sept. 28 for distribution.

Antietam Ale is based on a recipe for an English-style ale once brewed by Brewer's Alley -- a style commonly referred to as an ordinary bitter, Brewer's Alley marketing manager Jim Bauckman said. The National Museum of Civil War Medicine provided brewmaster Tom Flores with a variety of historic recipes that likely resemble the flavor profile of Antietam Ale, Bauckman said.  The strength is relatively low compared with that of modern beer renditions, Flores said, but making the brew still involves a lot of complexity. "The harmony of all the flavors, and making all the delicate intensity work, was important," Flores said.   Antietam Ale has a slight hoppy presence that is quickly balanced by the flavor of specialty malts, Bauckman said.

Full Text Continued at Frederick News Post October 8, 2012 

CWL: On Saturday while eating a meal in the Pry House Barn on the Antietam Battlefield I bought a National Museum of Civil War Medicine glass tumbler and refilled it twice.  A good beer with good food at a good place.


Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Review: Russell Bond on the New Grant Biography

imageThe Man In Grant's Tomb: A Review of H.W. Brands' The Man Who Saved the Union, Wall Street Journal, September 29-30, 2012

'It's a bad business to fall in love with dead people," historian Brooks D. Simpson has sensibly warned—yet biographers often do just that, particularly when presenting the lives of American military heroes. The foremost example is Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, unquestionably a great commander but one whose mistakes and human failings were glossed over for generations. Lee's daring victories against the odds were romanticized by biographers who cast him as the ideal gentleman-soldier and the symbol of the Lost Cause. Meanwhile, tradition portrayed Lee's adversary, Ulysses S. Grant, as a besotted butcher who won the Civil War by unimaginative reliance on superior manpower and whose tenure as president was characterized by bumbling and corruption.

A backswing of the pendulum was inevitable. In recent decades, historians such as Thomas Connelly have questioned Lee's character and military acumen, mocking him as "the Marble Man"—a West Point nickname for Lee now used to signal an icon above criticism. Even as Lee's reputation has declined, Grant's has ascended—so much so that it is now Grant who arguably deserves the "marble" mantle.

Grant has come to rival Abraham Lincoln as the Civil War's most popular and revered biographical subject. William S. McFeely's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Grant: A Biography" (1981) ushered in the modern era of Grant scholarship, but its still-critical take on Grant's generalship sparked a flurry of responses trending toward hagiography. More than a dozen biographies, "dual biographies" and studies of Grant have been published in the past 15 years, their authors lauding Grant as a "genius" and a "savior"—all the while insisting that he has been "overlooked" and "underrated." (More balanced treatments, such as Mr. Simpson's excellent "Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865," are the exception.) Recent historians have not so much drawn Grant's portrait as erected new monuments to him.

For full text of the review go to the Wall Street Jounal, September 2903, 2012