Monthly Archives: July 2009

Another book that needed to be written

This is turning out to be a good year for books that I’ve always wished somebody would write.  Back in March we got the first full-scale study of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be.

Today I ran across another new book that I’m frantic to read, Kevin T. Barksdale’s The Lost State of Franklin: America’s First Secession.  This is a fascinating chapter of early American history that’s gone unexamined for far too long, and I’m glad somebody’s finally putting out a detailed piece of research on it.

This baby just shot to the top of my reading list.  Unfortunately, I’m neck-deep in class preparation, so it’ll be a while before I can dive in.  I’ll let you know what I think.


Filed under Historiography, Tennessee History

How can I get a job like this?

Check out this story from Civil War News about the Rev. Alan Farley, “one of the few full-time reenacting preachers and certainly the one who has been doing it the longest.”

I didn’t know there were any full-time reenacting preachers, but Farley’s been doing it for two and a half decades.

During the 225th anniversary of the Battle of King’s Mountain, the park hosted a whole weekend of activities.  By Sunday morning, most of the crowd had trickled away, but those of us intrepid enough to turn out early got to hear an eighteenth-century backcountry sermon by an ordained minister in authentic clothing.  (I’m pretty sure the guy officiating had a regular job at a twenty-first century church.)  It was a real treat, and if you’re ever at an event that has something like this, I recommend it.

My only question is, if reenacting preachers are full-time, then why do the soldiers have to go back to work on Mondays?

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Filed under History and Memory, Reenacting

A sample of Neo-Confederate historiography

Ladies and gentlemen, I submit for your edification a few selections from the catalogue of The Confederate Reprint Company.

  • The Genesis of Lincoln by James Harrison Cathey.  This startling tome informs us that “the man known to the world as Abraham Lincoln was actually the offspring of an illicit relationship between Nancy Hanks and a married man named Abraham Enloe, in whose western North Carolina home she worked as a servant in the early years of the Nineteenth Century.”  Given the well-documented links between an out-of-wedlock birth and a willingness to trample on the Constitution, this could very well change everything we think we know about the Union war effort.
  • The Eugenics of President Abraham Lincoln by James Caswell Coggins.  This enlightening volume explains how “the science of eugenics forever disproves the myth of the sixteenth President’s descent from the near imbecile Thomas Lincoln.”  Eugenics, in case you didn’t know, is the science of improving mankind’s genetic stock by encouraging selective breeding and by weeding out the less-desirable.  (Coincidentally, this book first appeared in 1941, when the German government stepped up their own endeavors in this fascinating field of study.)
  • Why Was Lincoln Murdered? by Otto Eisenschiml.  Eisenschiml “suggests that several top-level Government officials in Washington, particularly Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, may have played important roles in the crime and later covered up their involvement.”  This explains all those mysterious meetings between Stanton, the CIA, Cuban expatriates, and the Dallas mob.
  • The Invisible Empire: The Story of the Ku Klux Klan by Stanley F. Horn.  The rousing tale of how “the Klan quickly evolved into an institution of ‘Chivalry, Humanity, Mercy, and Patriotism’ and spread throughout the Southern States to counter the aggression against their people by unscrupulous Carpetbaggers and their vicious Union League cohorts.”

And finally, my personal favorite.

  • A Scriptural, Ecclesiastical, and Historical View of Slavery by John Henry Hopkins.  An 1864 classic which “proves conclusively that Abolitionism is at odds with, not only the entire history of mankind, but also two millennia of Christian theology.”  What Would Jesus Do?  Apparently nothing.  He’d make somebody else do it.

Operators are standing by!


Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Civil War, History and Memory

Bait and switch

So I find an article on Wikipedia that lists the titles of upcoming films, and I decide to scroll through it:

Fim titles cap

Hey, are my eyes deceiving me, or do I see a movie called Bunker Hill on that list?  Could it be that Hollywood is going to give us its first major treatment of the Revolutionary War since The Patriot?

I head over to Internet Movie Database, that oracle of all film-related knowledge, only to receive a crushing disappointment:

“When former Wall Street executive Peter Salem is released from prison, he heads for the small town of Bunker Hill, Kansas, where his ex-wife and their children have started a new life. Soon after he arrives in town, all power is lost – there is no electricity, and cars and computers suddenly shut down. Community leaders are at a loss to explain….”

Swing and a miss.  Ah, but IMDB lists two projects titled Bunker Hill, one of which is being produced for television.  Perhaps this is another of those fine history-based TNT projects, along the lines of Andersonville, The Rough Riders, or Into the West?

“A Charlestown native returns to his hometown from serving in Afghanistan to join the Boston Police force like his father and brother before him. Now he must confront his mysterious past which includes his dead brother’s widow with whom he has very strong feelings….”

Curses, foiled again.  But at least they managed to set this one in Boston.

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Filed under American Revolution

Lincoln at Tusculum

If you still haven’t gotten your Lincoln Bicentennial fix, you’ve got two more chances this fall with a couple of interesting events at Tusculum College in Greeneville, TN.

Tusculum itself has a pretty interesting history.  It’s the oldest college in Tennessee, and one of the oldest in the country.  Andrew Johnson was a trustee, and one of the school’s museums has a fine collection of Johnson material.  The other is devoted to the Doak family, whose members founded a couple of the schools that were Tusculum’s forerunners.  (Rev War buffs might recognize the elder Samuel Doak as the guy who gave the sermon at Sycamore Shoals in late September 1780, when the overmountain men mustered for the expedition that ended at King’s Mountain.)

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Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Tennessee History

Cumberland Gap on MSN Travel

Hey, speaking of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park—check out this list of “America’s Undiscovered National Parks and Monuments” that popped up on MSN’s front page today.  Cumberland Gap is the fourth one featured.

I’m not sure the Gap is as obscure as they’re making it out to be.  The crowds aren’t anything like what you’ll run into in the Smokies or the Grand Canyon, but I don’t think I’ve ever had the view at the Pinnacle to myself, and the Visitor Center is always full enough.  If they really wanted to feature some “undiscovered” parks, I can think of a lot of neglected battlefields that would’ve benefited from the attention.

As you browse through the list, note the emphasis on nature and scenery, rather than history.  The Gap is one of the few “historical” parks that made the cut, and it’s just about the only item in the list where the description focuses as much on what happened there as on the ambience. 

All this raises some interesting questions about the place of heritage tourism in travel writing.

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Filed under History on the Web, Museums and Historic Sites

Happy 50th birthday to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

This past Independence Day wasn’t just America’s birthday celebration.  It was also the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

When I was a kid my family lived just a few miles from the park.  Years later, I lived in an apartment on the park’s edge, at the foot of Cumberland Mountain and just below the pathway followed by the Wilderness Road, with a fantastic view of the opening in the mountain wall that made this spot one of the most important in the history of American expansion.  At work, my desk sat before a huge window that looked toward the Pinnacle.  I still drive past the Gap several times a week, and I can’t begin to count how many hours I’ve spent wandering the trails and enjoying the interpretive exhibits and programs. 

So on behalf of everybody else who either lives in the neighborhood or has paid a visit, here’s a big thank you to the park’s staff, and congratulations on five decades of preservation and education.

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Filed under Museums and Historic Sites

Get your very own Thomas Jefferson decoder ring!

Actually, I just wanted you to read this article about a cipher found in Jefferson’s correspondence.  A Princeton mathematician has cracked it using a computer algorithm, and it’s pretty interesting stuff.

This is one sub-discipline of history I won’t be working in anytime soon, and anyone who’s seen my math scores on the GRE can attest to it.

Thanks to Neela Vaswani for pointing this out to me.  (I mean pointing out the article, not the fact that I can’t do math.)

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Filed under American Revolution

Happy Original Independence Day

Go out to your backyard tonight and set off those fireworks a couple of days early.  When your irate neighbors open their windows and lean out to ask you what the heck you think you’re doing, you can give them a little history lesson. 

The Continental Congress actually voted to make America independent on July 2, 1776.  That was the day the delegates adopted the resolution, presented by Richard Henry Lee, that the colonies were in fact “free and independent States.”  No wonder John Adams assumed independence was settled when he wrote to Abigail on July 3.

The Fourth of July, therefore, is not the “original” Independence Day, but the anniversary of the formal acceptance of the Declaration of Independence by Congress.  And, of course, it’s also the anniversary of our victory over the aliens.

Here are a few other independence-related myths from HNN.  Anyway, it’s the independence that counts, right?

(Independence Hall photo from Wikimedia Commons)


Filed under American Revolution

Lincoln’s got a secret. . .

…but you’ll have to read this new novel to find out what it is.  It’s the latest book from Steven Wilson, curator of one of the country’s best Lincoln/Civil War collections.  He also happens to be the guy that taught me everything I know about public history.

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Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Civil War