Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Snowfall at Chancellorsville

This beautiful image was taken by Kristopher White, and first published on emergingcivilwar.com. It is so lovely, and reminds me of poems. The holidays are coming, and I can hardly wait. I am looking forward to writing about Christmas and New Years Day for both First Fallen and ECW.

The problem of living singly and holidays is that there are a lot of expectations of "togetherness" that just don't get fulfilled. Writing about lonely men and women who managed to make it through to another year helps with that, and I intend to make some sort of positive contribution.

I know I don't always post about battles, or tactics, or weapons. Others do that so well! I try to look at the Civil War differently--studying the silly, perhaps insignificant things that never make the big, Pulitzer-winning books, but are the things that make our heroes more human, and thus more able to be known as the men and women they were, as opposed to just a statistic.

I look forward to this December's journey!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Robert E. Lee's chicken

Lots of odds & ends in this post--catching up!

In the spirit of the holidays, I am looking for topics that are a touch more lighthearted than casualty statistics. It's cold, and no one hates a mud march of sadness and bitter results at Christmas more than I do.

So, I am researching Robert E. Lee's chicken. Apparently she was a hen, and laid an egg for him every morning under his cot. I know this is hardly the stuff of which great history is made, but it makes the Marble Man more real, at least in my opinion.

I have been very gratified at the response to my post about Fort Tejon, especially from out-of-state. It has gotten more hits than any other post (followed closely by the elusive Panic of 1837!!) and more comments.

If anyone has a picture of the Fort with snow, I'd love to have it. I plan on doing another post soon, and would like to use it. It is the least I could do for a place that was pretty good to me. Several folks have written to say that they have contacted CA legislators.

If there are any teachers out there in CA who have visited the fort, it might be nice to have your students write to the State government as well. When I taught 5th grade, I used to have my kids write letters to the soldiers so we would have some real "mail" at "fake mail call."

The book is going well. The second rewrite is almost done--very close, in fact. The next thing is to put the individual chapters together as a unified whole, and hope I haven't used the same quote in two different chapters, etc. So far no one has offered to read for me, so I keep reading to my cat.

The picture is a Black Star hen. I think the entire idea of back-breeding animals is fascinating. More on that later, but I wanted an image of a hen as close to one from the 1860s as possible. This is an older breed.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Driving by Fort Tejon

On the way south to visit Mom--that is Southern California, not the Confederacy--I drive by a wonderful place that is very important to the Civil War history of California. Fort Tejon was established in 1854, and was a Dragoon post intended to guard Tejon Pass and control local Native Americans. In 1858, it also became a station on the Butterfield Stage overland route.

It was a small fort, 225 men, I think, at most. There were camels, but not for long. By 1861 it was evacuated, and its men sent to Los Angeles because of the Civil War. It was regarrisoned in 1863 by California volunteers, but by 1864, it was again vacant.

For nearly 30 years now it has been a Civil War re-enactment site, but this may end. It is on California's list of probable park closures. This would be just terrible. The Fort, through the efforts of their volunteer organization, the FTHA, has done everything it can to comply with requests of the State, and to enhance the programs at the Fort for the California school children and citizens who come every year.

One thinks of saving battlefields in the East, and that is surely necessary, but there is a lonely, lovely little fort in the Tehachapi Mountains that needs help as well. The link below is to the Fort Tejon Historical Association website, where there is more information on how to help save this landmark. Please click the link, and think about doing something. Please?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Not to interfere with the economic recovery . . .

On September 28, 1789, just before leaving for recess, the first Federal Congress passed a resolution asking that the President of the United States recommend to the nation a day of thanksgiving. A few days later, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a "Day of Publick Thanksgivin" - the first time Thanksgiving was celebrated under the new Constitution.

Subsequent presidents issued Thanksgiving Proclamations, but the dates and even months of the celebrations varied. It wasn't until President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Proclamation that Thanksgiving was regularly commemorated each year on the last Thursday of November.

In 1939, however, the last Thursday in November fell on the last day of the month. Concerned that the shortened Christmas shopping season might dampen the economic recovery, (how familiar does this sound???) President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a Presidential Proclamation moving Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday of November.

As a result of the proclamation, 32 states issued similar proclamations while 16 states refused to accept the change and proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November. For two years two days were celebrated as Thanksgiving - the President and part of the nation celebrated it on the second to last Thursday in November, while the rest of the country celebrated it the following week.

To end the confusion, Congress decided to set a fixed-date for the holiday.

On October 6, 1941, the House passed a joint resolution declaring the last Thursday in November to be the legal Thanksgiving Day. The Senate, however, amended the resolution (as usual--need to put their 2 ¢ in!!!) establishing the holiday as the fourth Thursday, which would take into account those years when November has five Thursdays.

The House agreed to the amendment, (imagine that!!!) and President Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 26, 1941, thus establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.

Monday, November 21, 2011

More turkey!!

Well, the day is almost upon us. I will be driving to SoCal during most of actual Thanksgiving to visit Mom. It is a loooong drive, and I will be very thankful if there is little traffic.

We only have two days of school this week (budgets cuts!) so tomorrow is the last day. I plan to read Gary Hines' Thanksgiving in the White House to my math classes, even though my students are "too old" for the book. I think they will like it anyway!

I promised my principal that I would write up a blurb about the Lincoln Turkey Pardon to read over the loud speaker in the morning announcements, so that is to be done after this blog. I am thankful I work with such wonderful, creative, and supportive folks at my job. I have worked in other places that were not nearly so emotionally nourishing, so I know how important it is. They are all pulling for success for First Fallen.

The remaining chapters that have not gotten the second rewrite are Ellsworth's death--because I hate that chapter--and First Bull Run, which is not easy for me. I got a new book, however: The Maps of First Bull Run, by Bradley M. Gottfried. I am also going to mine the vaults of a great blog--"Bull Runnings"--to see what is there on the New York Fire Zouaves. It should be better than ever with this new information.

Enjoy the cartoon. There is more there than meets the eye, actually. And be sure to check http://emergingcivilwar.com/ on Wednesday, for the true story of the famous Turkey Pardon. Good things are happening at ECW. I know I feel very thankful for them!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Lincoln Turkey Pardon

The Presidential Turkey Pardon is scheduled at the White House for Wednesday, November 23. I may try to find it on C-SPAN, or CNN, or something. Probably not FOX, I'm thinking.

A lot of Presidents have pardoned the ol' gobbler, but just as many have chosen not to. I have no idea if there is turkey waterboarding, or a turkey version of Gitmo. I don't even know how Dick Cheney feels about all this.

I do know that Abraham Lincoln was the first President to pardon a turkey. Tad pleaded, successfully, for the sparing of his pet turkey, Jack. The President even signed the pardon. It is a pretty interesting story, and if you are a parent or teacher who is reading this, I'd like to recommend a picture book--Thanksgiving In the White House, by Gary Hines. It is a good read-aloud, and true as well.

I'd also like to recommend emergingcivilwar.com. They will be publishing my longer, in-depth analysis of this pivotal Civil War event, hopefully on Wednesday, November 23. The whole Lincoln-Thanksgiving connection is very interesting, actually. It probably won the War.

I am working on the images for this blog, and some have been more successful than others. The current iteration is "Winter at Gettysburg." Let me know what you think. Please!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

curiouser and curiouser

OK, I admit it--I check the stats of this blog pretty regularly. Is anyone reading it? I rarely get comments, so maybe I am not very provocative. I have a dedicated fan or two (you know who you are!!) and I love to hear from you, but this blogging deal is tricksy.

When I go to all-time favorite posts, two very strange entries continue to be top-rated: "The Panic of 1837, Part 3," and "The Erie Canal Changes Everything." One other, "Tired," gets constant hits as well.

Really? These are not my best writing, for sure, and they are tangential to the main topic of the blog--Elmer Ellsworth--but they stay at the top of the list each time. I wonder. I thought the topics were fascinating, but I am a history wonk.

To write biography is very demanding, and I have had to learn so much about so many things just to better understand the world in which my subject grew up and lived in.

But only Part 3? How is it better than the other two? And the Erie Canal? Railroads had pretty much taken over by the time of the Civil War, except for local commerce in upstate New York.

"Tired??" Now that post is just me complaining about having too much to do one summer day. I even got a personal email from a friend who told me not to whine on the blog, but to be positive and informative. I took his advice, but "Tired" still gets hits--who knows why???

Well, it is what it is. I am loving this blog, and even go back and read older things myself. One of my favorite parts of the blog are the illustrations. The one above is a shot of Fall leaves, but not just any leaves. These particular leaves are in Mechanicville, New York, home town of the late Colonel Elmer Ellsworth!!

So there! <3

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is Thanksgiving Northern or Southern?

I never thought of Thanksgiving as either Northern or Southern, exactly. I know Plimoth is in Massachusetts, but I also know about George Washington's declaration of a day of national thanksgiving, and he was Virginian.

I especially know about Abraham Lincoln's proclamation of the 4th Thursday in November as Thanksgiving, in 1863. I thought that meant everyone, but apparently somewhere along the line (Mason-Dixon, probably) Thanksgiving got to be known as a Yankee holiday.

I find this confusing. Our family turkey was always stuffed with a cornbread and sage stuffing. The gravy was made with turkey giblets (don't ask), and we had a sweet potato casserole of some sort. The rolls were soft and white, with butter, and someone brought Ambrosia, a Confederate fruit salad if there ever was one. There were pickled things like gherkins, small onions, and bread-and-butter pickles.

What I loved best was the crab apples. They were canned in large jars, and looked beautiful, red and cinnamony. I know there were cinnamon sticks in the jars, and maybe red hots, or simple syrup flavored with red hots, or cinnamon oil and red food coloring. They were what we had instead of cranberries, and they were wonderful!

The desserts were, of course, pie. We had two kinds--pumpkin and pecan. The whipped cream always had bourbon in it.

Looking back over this list, I fail to see a Yankee footprint anywhere. Did southerners just do a southern version of someone else's feast? I hope not. The addition of oyster casserole and cranberries only makes everything just that much more memorable.

Did anyone bring the green bean casserole?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Sad Fall in Upstate New York

The image to the right is the grave marker of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth. It wasn't there 150 years ago--in fact, it took several years until one was purchased and put up.

This is how the cemetery looked last Fall, before the graveyard was cleaned up and decorated for the 150th anniversary memorial activities, which were covered by local, state, and national news.

Fall is a season of change, and for many it is a sad, sort of melancholy time. Imagine a year or more into the Civil War, and not knowing if the man you sent to the Army was dead or alive. No ID chips, no GPS, no DNA--just a lot of unidentified dead guys who hoped for, who deserved more.

Even this neglected graveyard is better than that.

My latest post for emergingcivilwar.com is about Condolence Letters, the ones sent from friends and commanders to those left at home, informing them of their soldier's fate. It will be up tomorrow, November 16.

Read it, please. Read it and be thankful that, in this twenty-first century season of thanks, there will be fewer and fewer unknown soldiers. Amen.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sometimes I worry about myself . . .

I thought the picture above appropriate, alas!

I am now a writer for the outstanding blog site, Emerging Civil War. As such, I get "special privileges" such as access to their parent web host, WordPress. I am supposed to submit my articles there, along with a variety of illustrations I think might be appropriate.

Well, that is where the privileges get really special. I can get to the site, I can find my page, I can download my stuff, I can download images--and that is where it stops. I can't figure out how to get my post to the blog without accidently publishing it. Plus, the pictures all show up, and I have no idea how to edit them.

I have asked the great folks who run ecw, and they have sent me email after email, all of which I print out and follow, but where they lead me is nowhere. I am feeling like Lee at Gettysburg without Stuart.

Anyway, something should be up at ecw this week. It is about letters of condolence, and is sad and touching, I hope.

In the meantime, send help!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Ellsworths Reply to Lincoln

I am working on a new piece for emergingcivilwar.com. It is about condolence letters, their uniformity, and purpose. I found a lovely little book printed in 1916 that contains Lincoln's condolence letter to Ellsworth's parents.

I am using the letter as part of the article, but there is more to the story of that particular letter. A few weeks after receiving the letter from the White House, Mr. Ellsworth replied to Lincoln.

I think the text of that short letter is worth printing here, small grammar errors and all:

It would be useless for us to describe our feelings upon the receipt of the sad news of Elmers death. Although the blow was severe, how severe God only knows, yet through his goodness and mercy we are enabled to say 'thy will not ours be done' The sympathy of all true Christians, and lovers of that country in whose defense he perished has done much to assuage the intensity of our grief We sincerely believe that God has removed him from a life of strife to one of eternal peace.

He was indeed toward us all you represented him, kind loving and dutiful. Our present comfort and future happiness always seemed uppermost in his mind. But he is gone and the recollections of his goodness alone is left us. We trust he did not die in vain, but that his death will advance the cause in which he was engaged.

With these few words accept our most grateful thanks for your kindness to and interest you have shown in our beloved son May it never repent you.

We would always be pleased to hear from you.

Gracious, as always.

Friday, November 11, 2011

no matter what war

We should never forget our men and women who serve. It is popular to be anti-war, I know. I don't advocate war for its own sake, but it has always been with us, and probably always will be. Whether you hail from a country with professional standing armies, or one that depends on volunteers to step forward when the time comes, soldiers, sailers, marines, air corps members, all serve. They do what many of us cannot, and their legacy is our continued freedom.

Flanders Field can just as easily easily be Yorktown, Gettysburg or Baghdad. Enjoy the poem, and remember, not just today, but every day.

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Not Billy Idol's Rebel Yell!

The painting above is by Roberta Wesley, and is called "Rebel Yell." I chose it for a very specific reason--I thought it nicely illustrated the topic below.

I was digging around in that gold mine--the Internet--and found something that is just endearing and enduring. The Smithsonian, which has been a huge supporter of the 150th, and of Colonel Ellsworth, has put a film segment on the web. Here is the address: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/search/?keyword=rebel+yell

It is an amazing clip from a Confederate Veteran's reunion, and in it the vets are asked to give the Rebel Yell one last time. I have read much about that yell, and even from men who are pretty advanced in years, it comes through loud and clear. It is high, eerie, and chilling. It is now much easier to image what it would have been like to hear that sound from thousands of Rebel throats as they charged. This one is priceless. Check it out.

Of course, Yankee that I am, I immediately thought of the many contrasts made between the yell and the Northern "manly huzzah." Then I thought about the phrase "manly huzzah." It went downhill after that.

If there was a team of male strippers who made house calls in breakaway blue and butternut, the name chosen for the Yank would have to be Manley Huzzah. Any suggestions for the Reb?

Forgive me. Sometimes the fit comes, and I am helpless in its grasp.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hiram's Honor

The latest thing I have done for emergingcivilwar.com is a book review of Dr. Max Terman's Hiram's Honor, a fictionalized account of his relative Hiram's Civil War experiences.

It's pretty good, and amazing in that it is not taken from diaries or letters, but from government documents and Hiram Terman's war record. It is a good read, and is now in both paperback and hardbound. It is also in e-book format.

Anyway--that's the latest. I had a funny thing happen with it. I was eating lunch in the teacher's lounge, and one of our teachers was showing off her students' book reports. I had printed a copy of the blog, including the graphics and had it with me in my teacher bag (we all have them--really!)

I took it out and, in my best student voice, said, "Will you look at MY book report?" She told me I was being silly, that grown-ups didn't write book reports. I assured her that I had, indeed, written one. She looked at me, and I sort of pushed it at her. Everyone laughed.

Hmmmm-it was funnier at school. Lots of things are.

Check out the book report.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Veteran's Day

November 11 is Veteran's Day, and although the Boys in Blue & the Boys in Gray aren't here to thank any more, there are plenty of men and women who are currently serving or have served in the past.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum has a pretty good idea. They have taken images of Illinois soldiers from the Civil War and created postcards from them.

Beginning on 11/11 and ending on 12/7, the "Boys In Blue" postcards will be available at the Museum. For the paltry donation of $1, a visitor can purchase a card and write a message on it for a currently-serving Illinois soldier.

The postcards will then be mailed to 3 Illinois units currently serving in Afghanistan--the 1-14 Agribusiness Development Team, the 1644th Transportation Company, and the 661 Engineers.

This event complements an exhibit I would love to see: the Presidential Library's "Letters To Soldiers" holiday tree showcasing the beautifully crafted and emotional letters written to and from Illinois soldiers during the Civil War. I cannot but hope something is there from Elmer to Carrie, or Carrie to Elmer. They were such sweethearts!

The link for more information is http://ow.ly/7lRKk
or just google up the ALPLM. And thank a service member.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

How Tintypes Are Made

When researching history of the nineteenth century, there are, thankfully, photographic images of a lot of things that it would be next to impossible to imagine.

Thankfully as well, the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War has brought a ton of wonderful historical resources together on the Internet. What a treasure trove!!! I am daily blown away by what I find. How did historians ever work before they had computers?

On Twitter, I Follow civilwarphoto, which is from the Center for Civil War Photography. They have so many great images--I even got my official cwp 3-D glasses to look at stuff they have digitalized into three dimensional images. (so kewl!)

They had a link up tonight to the following:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fY5KQQLBbcs, which is a short (less than 4 minutes) film by the George Eastman House on how tintypes are made.
OMG!! Not only is the music sweet, the film itself is simple and very accessible. The Comments which follow are interesting, as are the Suggestions in the right-hand column. You gotta see this!!!

And of course, the picture tonight is a tintype of my favorite soldier--in rarely seen civilian attire. Remembering Ellsworth is much easier with images such as this one available.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Other Famous Ellsworths

It had to happen--it was inevitable. Someone asked me just how many things were named in honor of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, and I got to digging . . .

May I present Ellsworth, the pet mynah of Disney's Goofy? This particular image of Ellsworth was drawn in 1949, and shows a mynah that looks suspiciously like a crow. Nevertheless, the bird was created as Goofy's pet and appeared in a variety of Sunday Funnies world-wide.

Usually he wears clothes, a red-orange shirt and a beret, and he had a "Y" on his shirt in early incarnations, for "Yarvard," his alma mater.

He is sarcastic and supercilious, and his catchphrase is a warning, "Let's not, shall we?" He isn't seen very often any more, but he is, indeed, an Ellsworth.

Next time someone asks me to look up random information, I think I shall quote the bird. "Let's not, shall we?"

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dick Cheney at Appomattox?

I am always both surprised and awed at where the Civil War shows up. It is such a touchstone for our lives. Even politicians can be identified with labels from the War. Copperheads, wanting to bring down the government, Fire-eaters making a lot of noise without much substance--it goes on and on.

I thought this worth sharing.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Henry Clay Didn't Do It!!

In researching First Fallen, I read several interesting books about being a man in the nineteenth century--sort of proto Iron John stuff. The whole "Self-Made Man" idea started then, and was an important part of nineteenth-century male identity, especially for those hard-working, money-grubbing Yankees, such as--oh!--Abraham Lincoln, for instance. And Elmer Ellsworth.

Basically, it involves leaving family money and identity behind and going one's own way, creating an identity based solely on personal achievements.

Henry Clay is credited with coining the phrase, "self-made man," in a speech made before the Senate on February 2, 1832. "In Kentucky, almost every manufactory known to me, is in the hands of enterprising and self-made men, who have acquired whatever wealth they possess by patient and diligent labor." The OED even claims this to be the first use of the term.

However, in further study, I found an article by a gentleman, SubtropicBob, who disputes this. He googled that great online research tool, newspaperarchive.com and found a print article--a letter signed by a Professor Newman--about Roger Sherman, Declaration signer and . . . self made man! Professor Newman claimed that Sherman rose from humble beginnings, etc. And--he wrote this letter to the Delaware Advertiser on October 9, 1828, predating the Clay quote by 5 years.

Who cares? SubtropicBob and I. I have changed my References and Endnotes, as well as the text of First Fallen, to reflect this new information.

It never hurts to keep researching.