Monthly Archives: March 2011

“War in the Mountains” symposium

If you’re interested in the Civil War in Appalachia, then allow me to recommend “War in the Mountains,” a symposium scheduled for Saturday, April 16 at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Harrogate, TN.  Here are the presenters:

For more info, call (423) 869-6439 or send an e-mail to


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Filed under Appalachian History, Civil War, Tennessee History

Founders with green thumbs

Here’s an aspect of the Revolutionary era that I’d never considered, and I’m not aware that anybody else has, either.  Looks kind of interesting.

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Filed under American Revolution, Historiography

It doesn’t come out until September

…but you can already pre-order your very own copy of Bill O’ Reilly’s Lincoln assassination book, which will doubtless sell nine hundred bazillion copies.

Despite early indications that this was going to be another harebrained conspiracy account, along the lines of the 1977 book which falsely implicated Stanton in Booth’s plot, I was hoping against hope that O’Reilly and his co-author wouldn’t strike out into the tall grass of pseudohistorical nonsense.

I mean, it’s bad enough when websites and sensationalized documentaries foist that sort of stuff off on the public.  Put it in the mouth of a well-known media personality like O’Reilly, and then picture the madness that would ensue.  For decades, anyone giving a Lincoln lecture or site tour would end up fielding questions about whether members of Lincoln’s administration plotted to have him whacked. History blog comment sections would overflow with the rantings of crackpots, accusing all doubters of perpetuating a 150-year-old cover-up.

It would be one of the biggest boons to spurious history since Glenn Beck started dabbling in Native American studies.  We’d never hear the end of it.  Indeed, we’d be up to our armpits in it.

Now take a look at the promotional copy:

In the spring of 1865, the Civil War finally comes to an end after a series of incredibly bloody battles. President Abraham Lincoln’s generous terms for Robert E. Lee’s surrender are devised to fulfill Lincoln’s dream of healing a divided nation, with the former Confederates allowed to reintegrate into American society. One man and his band of murderous accomplices, perhaps reaching into the highest ranks of the U.S. government, are not appeased.

So here we go again.  Gird up thy loins, ye public historians who specialize in Lincoln.  Your job just got a little bit harder.


Filed under Abraham Lincoln

A new published edition of Uzal Johnson’s journal

…is coming this month from the University of South Carolina Press.  Johnson was a physician who accompanied Patrick Ferguson’s Tories on the disastrous King’s Mountain campaign.  His diary of the battle’s aftermath makes for some pretty harrowing reading.  The Whigs were, to put it mildly, rather inhospitable toward their prisoners on the return march northward, and Johnson was unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of their brutality.  I’m really looking forward to getting a copy of this book.

This will actually be the second annotated edition of Johnson’s diary to be published.  Dr. Bobby Moss, who has probably spent more time with the primary sources on King’s Mountain than anybody since Lyman Draper, also edited a version, and the footnotes alone are worth the price of the volume.  Moss has also published an edition of Alexander Chesney’s diary (Chesney was Ferguson’s adjutant) and annotated rosters of the men who fought in the campaign.  Check out this website for more information on these books.  They were a godsend to me when I was working on my graduate thesis, since having them in published, annotated form saved me countless hours of travel and research.

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Filed under American Revolution

Planting trees for the dead

I have mixed feelings about this:

More than 100 miles of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania roadway is about to get a little more green thanks to funding from the Commonwealth and a vision by Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership officials who created a program to honor soldiers who died in the Civil War.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton, along with journey officials said Friday that the Commonwealth Transportation Board will provide a $300,000 grant to begin the Living Legacy Tree Planting program. Through the program, one tree for every soldier killed in the war will get planted along the journey’s 180-mile National Scenic Byway, which stretches from Gettysburg to Monticello.

Honoring soldiers is a worthy cause, and so is making America a little more green.  Still, three hundred grand is a lot of money.  I realize that for the Commonwealth Transportation Board to shell out dollars the project probably needs to be transportation-related, but every time I see dollars like that getting shelled out I can’t help but think about all the endangered battlefield land and deteriorating artifacts out there.

Wyatt said over the course of about four years, they will plant 620,000 trees – at about $100 each — for the soldiers who perished during the Civil War. The number killed, journey officials said, represented about 10 percent of the nation’s population at the time.

Perhaps you’re wondering where they got that 10% figure.  I’m wondering that myself.  I think it was actually closer to two percent, which is still (as Melanie Griffith reportedly said of the Holocaust) “a lot of people.”

The idea to plant trees developed after each community along the journey’s scenic byway was asked to create a legacy project in preparation for the upcoming sesquicentennial of the First Battle of Manassas. Community officials decided to work collectively with the journey Wyatt said, and they wanted to see something different to honor those who fought .

“The mayors and chairmans [of the communities] said ‘we don’t need another flagpole’…and asked what can we do that would be bigger than any of us,” Wyatt said.

Connaughton said the state really supported this project because it brings together three major issues in Virginia- education, economic development and transportation. This project will be something schools can get involved in and it has the potential to bring more tourists to the Commonwealth.

This “will help future generations of history buffs, students and tourists visualize the sheer scale of the Civil War in this region and remind all of the courage and blood that was shed along this hallowed road and the surrounding landscape,” Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va) said

I’m not so sure that this will be enough to draw tourists; I hope it does.  Anyway, trying to help people get their heads around the concept of 620,000 dead is a good idea.  It’s too easy for numbers of that scale to become meaningless abstractions.

I once worked on a temporary exhibit about the Gettysburg Address.  Knowing that it would be difficult for visitors to visualize 51,000 casualties, I briefly flirted with the idea of constructing an acrylic case and filling it with that number of some small object.  I abandoned that plan pretty quickly, simply because assembling 51,000 items of any size in a museum gallery is all but impossible. Even one for each of the dead, leaving out the wounded and captured, would have been highly impractical.  It was a pretty sobering realization.


Filed under Civil War

Speaking of Guilford Courthouse

…the whole battle is about to play out in miniature over at one of my favorite blogs.  Check it out.

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Filed under American Revolution

If you’re going to be near Greensboro, NC next week

…then check out the lectures and anniversary festivities at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park.

By the way, the Guilford Battleground Company has a blog.  It’s been up for some time, but I wasn’t aware of it until I was looking for information on the anniversary events, so I’ve added it to the blogroll.  These folks do some fine work in support of one of America’s most important battlefields, which also happens to be one of my favorite places to visit.

Every year I hope to make it to Guilford for the anniversary and reenactment, but something always keeps me from it.  In ’09 I actually had my hotel room booked and then had to back out at the last minute.  Here’s hoping that next weekend finds me in Greensboro.


Filed under American Revolution, Museums and Historic Sites