Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Civil War may have been even worse

…than we thought it was, if J. David Hacker’s upwardly revised estimate of the dead is on the mark.


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Young punks allegedly burglarize Rev War museum, then receive comeuppance

One helping of just deserts, coming right up.


Filed under American Revolution

Spielberg’s Lincoln movie is actually an end-of-Lincoln’s-presidency movie

…according to an article in The Orlando Sentinel.

His “Lincoln” is “not a battlefield movie,” Spielberg says. “There are battles in it, and being in Virginia, we have access to those historic battlefields. It is really a movie about the great work Abraham Lincoln did in the last months of his life.

“We’re basing it on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, ‘Team of Rivals,’ but we’re only focusing in on the last four months of Abraham Lincoln’s life.

“The movie will be purposely coming out AFTER next year’s election. I didn’t want it to become political fodder.”

I was looking forward to hearing Daniel Day-Lewis do a rendition of the Gettysburg Address.  Oh, well.  Still looking forward to the movie.

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We’ll do it live! I’LL WRITE IT AND WE’LL DO IT LIVE!

Renowned commentator Bill O’Reilly talked to Peter Boyer about his upcoming book on the Lincoln assassination.

“In this time when we’re struggling for leadership—and whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you know that we are struggling with leadership in America—we need to go back to a guy like Abraham Lincoln and understand what made him great,” O’Reilly says.

If you’re going to understand what made Lincoln great, the assassination is the place to start.  Something about the way he slumped forward in that chair was eminently statesmanlike.

O’Reilly, now 62, says Americans are ill equipped to make wise decisions (“History in the public-school system now? Forget it”) in choosing their leaders, and that a dose of Lincoln—“the gold standard of leadership”—may help. But he has not gone suddenly egghead. Killing Lincoln is not a work of original scholarship or of breakthrough insight; it is meant to be a page-turner, modeled after the thrillers of John Grisham. “That’s the kind of books I like,” he says.

Good.  The last things I want in a history book are original scholarship and breakthrough insight.  If I want to learn something, I can always watch Ancient Aliens.

He mostly succeeds in that regard, in the sense that if Grisham wrote a novel about April 1865—a tiny span densely packed with history, from Appomattox to the Lincoln assassination and the hunting down of John Wilkes Booth—it might well read like Killing Lincoln. O’Reilly and Dugard collaborated on the project via email and telephone and wrote it in six months. If it sells, O’Reilly says, he plans a series of such books.

I’d say six months sounds like an adequate amount of time to write a book on the Lincoln assassination.   All my previous concerns about this book have melted away, like marshmallow Peeps in the noonday sun.


Filed under Abraham Lincoln

Bringing the background to the foreground

So, as I was saying, I was driving around in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park the other day when I spotted a wayside marker I’d never seen before.

I’ve driven by this spot several times, so I think this sign is a recent addition, but maybe I just need to be paying closer attention.  Anyway, this marker is worth a closer look, because it scratches an itch that I noted earlier this year.

Back in March I was griping about our tendency to get so caught up in the dramatic and exceptional events that happened in historic areas that we ignore what happened in between them.  The Gap is notable mainly for those people who were (often quite literally) just passing through.  Its story is one of long hunters, pioneers, Civil War garrisons, and industrialists who came and went.  The people who lived in the area had their own history—a long and interesting one—but it’s a history that’s invisible to many observers.  Their story forms a hazy and indistinct background to the procession of pioneers, soldiers, and boosters that passed by on their way to whatever it is they were after.

In some cases, the local story vanishes altogether.  CGNHP isn’t a battlefield or a building; it’s acres and acres of beautiful green space.  A lot of visitors come for the views and the hiking trails instead of the history.  It’s so easy to find the “wilderness” along this famous segment of the Wilderness Road that you can forget about the people who once lived nearby.  Who were these folks, and how did they live?

These are the questions I was asking back in March, and they’re exactly the questions the NPS answers in this wayside exhibit.  It affixes an actual, flesh-and-blood past to the rural Appalachian communities that so many Americans misunderstand or ignore.  Here’s a close-up of the text:

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Filed under Appalachian History, History and Memory, Museums and Historic Sites


I have a long break between classes this semester, so I’ve developed the habit of making short little excursions into Cumberland Gap National Historical Park after grabbing lunch.  CGNHP is the largest historical park in the NPS system, with 24,000 acres and eighty-five miles of trails, so you can easily spend months or even years poking around in its nooks and crannies and still not manage to take it all in.

I was driving around near the Sugar Run trailhead today and passed by some interpretive signage I’d never noticed before.  When I stepped out of the car and walked over to have a look, I encountered this.

That’s dog poo, and it’s sitting right in the middle of the sidewalk, which is a most inconvenient resting place for fresh fecal matter. Dogs are permitted in CGNHP, of course, provided they’re on a leash, and I certainly don’t begrudge them the occasional bowel movement.  It happens to the best of us.  But consider the location of this particular specimen.

The sidewalk runs alongside a grassy strip, which in turn borders one of the wooded areas that are quite plentiful within the bounds of CGNHP.  It would seem to be a simple matter, if one’s dog was in the process of assuming a posture conducive to defecation, to persuade the animal to take two or three steps off the sidewalk and relieve him or herself in the grass.  Failing that, one might dispose of the excrement in one of the many conveniently located trash receptacles provided by the NPS.

Indeed, one such receptacle was readily available, as documented in the photograph below.

The small lump in the foreground is the offending bit of canine waste; the brown metal object behind it is for trash disposal.  About ten feet separate the one from the other.  Note also that the dog crap is almost directly in the center of the sidewalk.

Don’t mind us, you inconsiderate puke.  Make yourself right at home.

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Mountain Meadows upgraded to National Historic Landmark

…as of this past Sunday.  The Mountain Meadows Massacre was the subject of the movie September Dawn, which ranks just behind The Last Legion as the second most bizarre film I saw in 2007.

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Filed under History and Memory, Museums and Historic Sites