Happy Birthday to me, sort of

There’s still so much left to do, so much still to explore. Thanks for joining the party. I’m just getting warmed up.

“I resisted creating a personal, standalone blog like this for a long time.”

That’s how I began this blog, one year ago today. I’m so happy the resistance crumbled, the hesitation eased, and the words flowed.

I’ve used dozens of posts to write about the Civil War and mojitos, Yuri Gagarin and Eva Longoria, Michelangelo and Theodore Roosevelt.

I’ve written about Thomas Jefferson’s ice cream. “Mad Men” and earthquakes. Papa Hemingway and Papa Ortiz. Writing and writers. I’ve recommended great reads and remembered great places.

There’s still so much left to do, so much still to explore.

Thanks for joining the party. I’m just getting warmed up.



My soundtrack for today included:
1. MISS YOU The Rolling Stones
2. COLOMBIA Jan Hammer
3. CRY Godley & Creme
5. RICO’S BLUES Jan Hammer
6. CARRY ME Chris DeBurgh
9. NOTORIOUS Duran Duran

The sun in my sky

Novels and short stories, blogs and essays, academic lectures and casual conversations — they’re all somehow rooted in, or unabashedly celebrating, one of the great loves of my life.

Courtesy of David D. Robbins Jr.

Earlier today, the Washington Examiner posted a story taking a look at Maryland’s Civil War scholars and how they became the academics they are today. One of them, Naval Academy professor Mary DeCredico, was a little girl when she first saw photos of Robert E. Lee. He looked so sad, DeCredico said. She felt sorry for him. She wanted to know what happened to him. Another historian, Craig Symonds, said reading about the war in his teens inspired him. The president of the Civil War Trust, O. James Lighthizer, said he was hooked when he read “The Killer Angels,” Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Civil War has enthralled me for most of my adult life. My childhood had basked in my family’s white hot passion for its own Spanish imperial history, in Peru and throughout the Caribbean, and so most of my knowledge of U.S. history came from my school textbooks. I was primarily interested in the history of World War II. The battles, the commanders and the consequences invariably led me forward into the Cold War, the Korean War, the civil rights movements, and Vietnam. Attempts to understand the root causes of the Second World War led me backward to the first World War. Anything before Wilson’s Fourteen Points and the doomed RMS Lusitania were merely answers to the questions on next Wednesday’s third-period quiz. My interests grew like green vines, toward film school, toward astronomy and psychology, toward the tantalizing prospects of a military career and a college teaching career … vines that maybe someday, I secretly hoped, would even lead me into a career as a great writer and intellectual, whatever that was. It sounded good.

So, as I eased into college, torn between becoming an engineer who imagined and built cities on the moon and becoming the next Oliver Stone or Francis Coppola, I sensed that the kind of films I wanted to make — political and historical pieces no one would ever see — needed a solid grounding in genuine U.S. history. A casual knowledge of brutal military tactics, intransigent Wilsonian idealism and genocidal Spanish conquests would never be enough. I realized that my restless mind wanted to know more about an incredible era in America, a time that saw it fight its bloodiest battles, produce some of its greatest statesmen, and ravage regions only a few hundreds of miles from where I stood. At that time in my life, I walked past a doorway I had never considered before, turned around, walked back to the threshold, and crossed it, entering a new era.

“Gettysburg” is an amazing film. Few recent films are as ambitious in scope, as beautifully filmed and scored, with as outstanding acting and stunning battle sequences. So few films are able to bring so many of these elements of greatness together, but “Gettysburg,” certainly at times a ridiculously flawed film, succeeds with an elegant force that never fails to deeply touch me emotionally and intellectually. I’ve seen that film at least one hundred times, and I could watch it another thousand times and still find something new and inspirational.

This film came along at the perfect time in my life, just as I was stepping through that doorway. I didn’t understand the obsession with the 1863 Pennsylvania battle, the adoration of Robert E. Lee, the brutal scale of the engagements, the significance of Little Round Top, or why Grant wasn’t involved in the battle. I couldn’t chart an intellectual course through the period, from Fort Sumter to Appomattox. I didn’t understand why people hated Grant so much, why no one ever spoke about Jefferson Davis, or even what happened in Texas during the Civil War. I think I had to forcibly accept the fact that I was absolutely ignorant of the Civil War in general. As embarrassed as I felt about that, I knew that if I was committed to teaching myself the essentials — at least up to a point where I could speak about it intelligently — then ignorance was OK for the moment. I was willing to improve and grow, and that‘s all that mattered. That would be my salvation. I would parachute onto that spot on the Civil War timeline, and, as I had done with the history of the two great world wars, I would work my way backward and work my way forward.

It was at that time that I learned that a massive new Civil War film was about to premiere in the summer of 1993, about 130 years after the Battle of Gettysburg. Relaxing one day in my college library, I flipped open a magazine and saw a short feature story about “Gettysburg.” I learned that Martin Sheen (of all people) and Tom Berenger would star in it, and that it would be FOUR hours long. What a hell of an endeavor, I thought to myself. I read a little further and learned that much of the screenplay would be based on Shaara’s novel, “The Killer Angels.”

“Interesting,” I thought. “I wonder if the library has that book?” So I put the magazine down, headed over to the card catalog (again, this was 1993) and looked up the novel. Sure enough, it was in the library. I tracked it down. It hadn’t been checked out for about ten years. It was a lazy summer afternoon. I had finished my philosophy class that morning, and I didn’t have anything else to do, so I took the book to a quiet corner of the library and opened it up.

It was beautiful, moving, and absorbing from the very beginning. Shaara gave us a fascinating introduction to the situation and to the characters, understanding that someone opening this book — like me — may not be entirely familiar with the battle or with the history in general. “So,” Shaara seemed to be saying to me, “Here’s a little primer for you. I’m writing it intelligently, because I know you can follow what’s about to happen. And here’s what I’m going to do with the characters and what I want you to understand about them before you meet them, before you follow them into the worst battle in the history of the Western Hemisphere.” And it worked so well. I was hopelessly entranced.

Shaara also had broken the chapters down into perspectives — the days and nights before and during the battle from the vantage points of Lee, Chamberlain, Longstreet, etc. What they felt, what they saw, what they thought — not necessarily what Shaara felt, saw, or thought. Not exactly. “What a great, smart idea,” I thought. I read on and on and on, captivated by Shaara’s prose, his confidence, the details he threw into the story, the nuances that made it all come alive like nothing else I had ever seen before.

Courtesy of John Bruce

There were moments that I laughed. There were moments when I wiped away tears. There were moments when I started to write down the names of characters so I could research them later — Winfield Scott Hancock, Lewis Armistead, James Longstreet, John Reynolds, John Buford, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Shaara had brought them to life so vividly that it fired off something in my starved, simpleton mind. “These people really existed. Even if they weren’t exactly as Shaara writes them to be,” I thought to myself, “here is the ticket to the ride. Here is the key to the treasure chest.” It wasn’t just Shaara saying to me, “Welcome to Civil War history.” He was also saying, “Someday you’re going to write beautiful historical novels. This is how you do it.”

There are two simple passages that I have never forgotten, either as a writer or as a historian. Even now, as I wrote them into this blog, they brought tears to my eyes, the way Mozart‘s or Beethoven‘s perfection shatters my heart into a million pieces and then gently pieces it together again.

The first excerpt is from the prologue.

“Late in June, the Army of the Potomac, ever slow to move, turns north at last to begin the great pursuit which will end at Gettysburg. It is a strange new kind of army, a polygot mass of vastly dissimilar men, fighting for union. There are strange accents and strange religions and many who do not speak English at all. Nothing like this army has been seen on the planet. It is a collection of men from many different places who have seen much defeat and many commanders. They are volunteers: last of the great volunteer armies, for the draft is beginning that summer in the North.

“They have lost faith in their leaders but not in themselves.

“They think this will be the last battle, and they are glad that it is to be fought on their own home ground. They come up from the South, eighty thousand men, up the narrow roads that converge toward the blue mountains. The country through which they march is some of the most beautiful country in the Union.”

The second is from later in the narrative.

“Lee started to rise. A short while ago he had fallen from a horse onto his hands, and when he pushed himself up from the table Longstreet saw him wince.

“Longstreet thought, go to sleep and let me do it. Give the order and I‘ll do it all. He said, ‘I regret the need to wake you, sir.’

“Lee looked past him into the soft blowing dark. The rain had ended. A light wind was moving in the tops of the pines — cool sweet air, gentle and clean. Lee took a deep breath.

“ ‘A good time of night. I have always liked this time of night.’

“ ‘Yes.’

“ ‘Well.’ Lee glanced once almost shyly at Longstreet‘s face, then looked away. They stood together for a moment in awkward silence. They had been together for a long time in war and they had grown very close, but Lee was ever formal and Longstreet was inarticulate, so they stood for a long moment side by side without speaking, not looking at each other, listening to the raindrops fall in the leaves. But the silent moment was enough. After a while Lee said slowly, ‘When this is over, I shall miss it very much.’

“ ‘Yes.’

“ ‘I do not mean the fighting.’

“ ‘No.’

“ ‘Well.’ Lee said. He looked to the sky. ‘It is all in God’s hands.’ ”

How many volumes of Civil War history had Shaara condensed into these two passages? I can’t imagine. But it’s thrilling to think about it.

As my heart and mind absorbed these words, the silly dreams of being a filmmaker, an astronaut, an admiral, or an engineer all faded away. History — its drama, violence, romance, inspiration, lessons and characters — was all I needed to satisfy my intellectual hunger and my determination to lead a noble, dignified, and strenuous life. Novels and short stories, blogs and essays, academic lectures and casual conversations — they’re all somehow rooted in, or unabashedly celebrating, one of the great loves of my life.

Works cited or consulted:

— Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative. New York: Vintage, 1986. Print.

— McPherson, James. The Atlas of the Civil War. New York: Macmillan, 1994. Print.

— Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels. New York: Ballantine Books, 1987. Print.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

The fate of the space station … Mission to Jupiter … A beach in Paris … Guide to a great clambake … A world with 7 billion people.

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. Space station will eventually end up in Pacific to avoid becoming space junk
Associated Press | July 27
“A Russian space official said … that once the mammoth International Space Station is no longer needed it will be sent into the Pacific Ocean.”

2. Juno’s Jupiter mission may yield clues to Earth’s origins
By Scott Gold | The Los Angeles Times | July 28
“Starting Aug. 5, NASA will enter the launch period for the spacecraft Juno, which will begin an unprecedented exploration of Jupiter’s secrets. ‘We are after the recipe for planet-making,’ says a scientist.”

3. Research Exercise: Did Grant Say This?
By Brooks D. Simpson | Crossroads | July 19
“Over the last week or so a quote often attributed to Ulysses S. Grant has made the rounds again. … My own take on this is that the quote rings false. However, I am curious as to its origins, and I think the matter deserves further research. And what does that research show us?”

4. A Beach Sweeps Into Paris
PlanetPic :: GlobalPost | July 28
“The Seine River — dotted by the famous Notre Dame Cathedral, the Tuileries Gardens and the Eiffel Tower — is transformed into a beachside resort enjoyed by Parisians and tourists alike.”

5. Let’s Have a Real Nice Clambake
By Mark Bittman | The New York Times Magazine | July 28
“Few meals are more beautiful than a well-executed clambake. And because demanding culinary tasks are in vogue, at least for a certain hard-working segment of the sustainable-food set, it seems like the right moment for a clambake revival.”

6. Qassem Suleimani: the Iranian general ‘secretly running’ Iraq
By Martin Chulov | The Guardian | July 28
“[T]the elusive Iranian with so much Iraqi influence that Baghdadis believe he is controlling the country”

7. Presidential historian indicted on federal charges
Associated Press | July 28
“Federal prosecutors said Thursday the two are also accused of stealing and selling documents from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in New York. They also stole Franklin’s letter to John Paul Jones from the New York Historical Society, prosecutors said.”

8. Army Hits Pause on ‘Wearable Computer’ Program
By Spencer Ackerman | Danger room :: Wired.com | July 28
“Debi Dawson, a spokeswoman for the Army office overseeing the Nett Warrior program, confirms that the Army has put the multi-million effort on pause.”

9. World population soon to hit 7 billion after boom in developing world
Associated Press | July 28
“By 2050, the population will reach 9.3 billion, and 97 percent of the growth will be in less-developed regions. …”

10. Fermat’s Last Theorem
Witness :: BBC News | June 23
“Solving the problem had intrigued mathematicians for centuries. In June 1993 a British academic, Andrew Wiles, thought he’d cracked it. But then someone pointed out a flaw in his calculations.”


Tonight I’m spending some time with the blues, specifically with the Texas Blues Café. Check out the line-up and then listen here.

1. The Homemade Jamz Blues Band — Loco Blues
2. Mark Searcy — Truth
3. Joe Bonamassa — Man Of Many Words
4. Gurf Morlix — Drums From New Orleans
5. Nate Rodriguez & The Unlikely Criminals — Better Left Unsaid
6. Luther Allison — Low Down & Dirty
7. Scott Miller & The Commonwealth — 8 Miles A Gallon
8. Gene Reynolds — Bobby’d Be A Star
9. Rocky Benton — Have Mercy
10. Zack Walther & The Cronkites — Money Tree
11. Henry’s Swank Club — Changin All The Time
12. Giles — Nutbush City Limits
13. Chris Juergensen — Sweet Melissa
14. The Lost Immigrants — Dixie Queen

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

What was Machu Picchu for? … Intricate revenge … Haiti’s new president … Al-Qaeda on the brink of collapse? … Alexander McQueen’s gift to his dogs.

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. A Revenge Plot So Intricate, the Prosecutors Were Pawns
By Dan Bilefsky | The New York Times | July 25
“Soon after Seemona Sumasar started dating Jerry Ramrattan, she had an inkling that something might be wrong.”

2. Haiti’s new president lacks power base, disappoints voters
Associated Press | July 26
“Haitian President Michel Martelly has styled himself as a man of the people, a showy former pop star who waded easily into adoring crowds. So the reception he received on his latest trip to his country’s north was a surprise: Protesters pelted his entourage with soft drink bottles and rocks.”

3. The ’27 Club’ — curse or myth?
By Drew Grant | Salon.com | July 26
“Is Amy Winehouse the latest victim of the same force that killed Hendrix and Cobain? Experts weigh in.”

4. U.S. officials believe al-Qaeda on brink of collapse
By Greg Miller | The Washington Post | July 26
“U.S. counterterrorism officials are increasingly convinced that the killing of Osama bin Laden and the toll of seven years of CIA drone strikes have pushed al-­Qaeda to the brink of collapse.”

5. What Was Machu Picchu For? Top Five Theories Explained
By Ker Than | National Geographic | July 21
“Popular ideas include a royal retreat and sacred memorial.”

6. The Abortion Trap
By Mara Hvistendahl | Argument :: Foreign Policy | July 26
“How America’s obsession with abortion hurts families everywhere.”

7. Castro Offers a Wave at Cuban Fete, but, Again, No Speech
By Damien Cave | The New York Times | July 26
“For the second year in a row, Raúl Castro left the rhetoric to his vice president.”

8. Alexander McQueen leaves $82,000 apiece to dogs
Weird Wide Web :: GlobalPost | July 27
“Alexander McQueen, the fashion designer who committed suicide last year at the age of 40, willed $82,000 to each of his three English bull terriers, Juice, Minter, and Callum.”

9. 14 Not-So-Fun Facts About Mosquitoes
Surprising Science :: Smithsonian.com | July 27
“1 ) There are around 3,500 species of mosquitoes, but only a couple hundred feast on human blood.”

10. Elian Gonzalez
Witness :: BBC News | June 28
“The little boy caught in the middle of a tug-of-war between Miami and Havana. When armed US agents stormed his relatives’ home in Miami a photographer, Alan Diaz, captured the fear on his face.”

‘He was nearly pulled apart’

Part 6 of this series focuses on Mary Ann and Septimus Palairet, a British couple who honeymooned in the United States and Canada in the 1840s.

This special Stillness of Heart series explores the Morgan Library & Museum’s fascinating exhibit, “The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives.”

Part 6 focuses on Mary Ann and Septimus Palairet, a British couple who honeymooned in the United States and Canada in the 1840s. They wrote and illustrated a travel diary, recording — and often haughtily (and hilariously) criticizing — daily life in American society.

“On the boat’s arrival at her destination, the passengers were assailed by a mob of cabmen, porters &c who though not allowed to come on board the steamer quarreled about their passengers, and if any one ventured ashore and presumed to scorn their offer he was nearly pulled to pieces for his temerity.”

Examine images of their wonderful diary and listen to the museum’s audio guide here.

Entries in this series:
Part 1: Introduction to the exhibit and Charlotte Brontë
Part 2: Frances Eliza Grenfell
Part 3: Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne
Part 4: Paul Horgan
Part 5: John Newton
Part 6: Mary Ann and Septimus Palairet
Part 7: Walter Scott
Part 8: Bartholomew Sharpe
Part 9: Tennessee Williams
Part 10: John Ruskin

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

A very wet universe … Celebrating Gordon Wood … A century of studying Machu Picchu … The sound of a paranoid Nixon … The unknown Rick Perry.

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. The High Road to Ruins
By Andrew Berg | Intelligent Travel :: National Geographic | July 7
“[O]ne eco-minded outfitter is turning the Camino Salkantay, a backcountry route through unspoiled ecosystems and undisturbed hamlets, into the Next Inca Trail—and setting a new standard for sustainable tourism in the Andes.”

2. Machu Picchu, Before and After Excavation
National Geographic Daily News | July 22
“The ruins of Machu Picchu are covered in jungle growth in this 1911 photograph taken when Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham first came to the site a century ago this week.”

3. Gordon S. Wood, Historian of the American Revolution
By David Hackett Fischer | The New York Times Book Review | July 22
“More important than his productivity is the quality of his work, and its broad appeal to readers of the right, left and center — a rare and happy combination.”

4. New recordings a window into Nixon’s paranoia
By Bill Plante | CBS News | July 21
“It’s no secret that Richard Nixon was obsessed with his enemies — but it turns out it started long before Watergate.”

5. Ten things you probably don’t know about Rick Perry
Texas on the Potomac :: Houston Chronicle | July 23
“Across the United States, Rick Perry is largely an unknown quantity.”

6. More Fancy Words
By Philip B. Corbett | Times Topics :: The New York Times | July 26
“The good news is that Times writers don’t feel the need to use the words panegyric, immiscible or Manichaean very often. That’s fortunate because the bad news is, when we do use them, a lot of readers don’t know what we’re talking about.”

7. Peru’s Garcia leaves conflicts unresolved
By Carla Salazar | Associated Press | July 27
“Economic growth averaged 7 percent a year during his 2006-2011 administration, inflation held at less than 3 percent annually and the government amassed $47 billion in foreign reserves. The economic numbers only tell part the story, however.”

8. Black Hole Drinks 140 Trillion Earths’ Worth of Water
By Michael D. Lemonick | Time | July 26
“We don’t think of the universe as a terribly wet place, but in fact, there’s water out in space pretty much everywhere you look.”

9. G.D. Spradlin, Prolific Character Actor, Dies at 90
By Douglas Martin | The New York Times | July 26
“In ‘The Godfather: Part II’ (1974) he played Pat Geary, the corrupt United States senator who defies the Mafia boss Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, telling Corleone he intends to ‘squeeze’ him.”

10. President Kennedy’s Visit to Ireland
Witness :: BBC News | June 27
“The Irish author Colm Toibin remembers President Kennedy returning to the land of his forefathers and being taken to the nation’s heart as if he were one of its own.”

The next steps into a darker world

As the bodies from the Battle of Bull Run were buried and the fog of war dissipated, people in the North and the South stared ahead into uncertain, violent futures.

As the bodies from the Battle of Bull Run were buried and the fog of war dissipated, people in the North and the South stared ahead into uncertain, violent futures. “It seemed,” E.B. Long writes, “that the battle in Virginia had ended one phase of the war or started another.”

On July 23, Abraham Lincoln issued “Memoranda on Military Policy.”


JULY 23, 1861

1. Let the plan for making the blockade effective be pushed forward with all possible despatch.
2. Let the volunteer forces at Fort Monroe and vicinity under General Butler be constantly drilled, disciplined, and instructed without more for the present.
3. Let Baltimore be held as now, with a gentle but firm and certain hand.
4. Let the force now under Patterson or Banks be strengthened and made secure in its position.
5. Let the forces in Western Virginia act till further orders according to instructions or orders from General McClellan.
6. [Let] General Fremont push forward his organization and operations in the West as rapidly as possible, giving rather special attention to Missouri.
7. Let the forces late before Manassas, except the three-months men, be reorganized as rapidly as possible in their camps here and about Arlington.
8. Let the three-months forces who decline to enter the longer service be discharged as rapidly as circumstances will permit.
9. Let the new volunteer forces be brought forward as fast as possible, and especially into the camps on the two sides of the river here.

When the foregoing shall be substantially attended to:
1. Let Manassas Junction (or some point on one or other of the railroads near it) and Strasburg be seized, and permanently held, with an open line from Washington to Manassas, and an open line from Harper’s Ferry to Strasburg the military men to find the way of doing these.
2. This done, a joint movement from Cairo on Memphis; and from Cincinnati on East Tennessee.

With this memo, Long writes, Lincoln was “firmly standing and preparing for increased war.”

Works cited and consulted:
— Lincoln, Abraham. Speeches and Writings: 1859-1865. Ed. Don E. Fehrenbacher. Vol. 2. New York: The Library of America, 1989. 262-263. Print.
— Long, E.B. and Barbara Long. The Civil War: Day by Day. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971. 100. Print.
— McPherson, James. Battle Cry of Freedom. New York: Oxford UP. 1988. Print.

The war begins

In the long run, Bull Run was merely a tactical victory for the South. More importantly, it was the psychological defeat the North needed for its people and its leaders to truly comprehend what was necessary to achieve true and complete victory over the Confederacy.

'Capture of Ricketts' Battery' by Sidney E. King

The brutal Texas heat has kept me indoors for most of the weekend, and there’s no better place to lounge away the summer hours than in the long, cool shadows of my Civil War library. Recollections and histories of the Civil War’s first major battle have dominated my recent reading.

This week in 1861, on July 21, the Battle of Bull Run — or the Battle of Manassas, as Confederates called it — was fought just southwest of Washington, D.C. (we add “First” to each version of the name because there was a second battle in the general area 13 months later). I won’t get into the actual play-by-play of the fight because one of my favorite Civil War historians, Gary W. Gallagher, has already taken care of that with a piece on the New York Times Disunion blog. I strongly encourage all of you to check it out. It’s a great account of a fascinating battle.

A good companion piece to Gallagher’s introduction comes from the Civil War Trust, which put together a pretty good online package that includes narration, placing the fight in its historical context and animating the military manuveurs, recommending reading, slideshows showing the battlefield today and video chats with historians. Also check out the magnificent Bull Runnings, a blog and digital archive that has collected diaries, biographies, articles on the battle, slideshows of the battlefield, unit histories and much more.

On the news side, the Associated Press produced an interactive feature on the war and published some interesting pieces on the Manassas battle on its Facebook page. Finally, the Washington Post reported earlier today that re-enactors re-fought the battle in Virginia.

Tactically, as Gallagher explains, the battle was a mess, especially once the Confederates struck the Federal army for the last time. The Union’s front lines broke, and any sense of military cohesion collapsed. In “Battle Cry of Freedom,” James McPherson wrote that “the men on both sides fought surprisingly well. But lack of experience prevented northern officers from coordinating simultaneous assaults by different regiments.”

In “The Coming Fury,” Bruce Catton agreed, writing that [Union commander Irvin McDowell] and his officers did their best to reorganize the men and make a stand, but the effort was hopeless. These untrained regiments had simply been used beyond their capacity and they had fallen apart.” Wounded men, stragglers, and exhausted and frightened troops flowed northward, away from the battlefield, coursing through the lines of civilians that had come south to watch the battle. Wild rumors that the Confederates were about to pounce on the retreating masses for one final massacre spread panic like wildfire, turning the lurching and limping into a stampede.

William Howard Russell, writing for The Times of London, remembered that as he watched the northerners stagger from the battlefield he “felt an inclination to laugh, which was overcome by disgust, and by that vague sense of something extraordinary taking place which is experienced when a man sees a number of people acting as if driven by some unknown terror.” Mired in the chaotic traffic jams, Russell simply didn’t appreciate the totality of the Union military disaster on July 21.

Heavy rain drenched the region in the days after the fight but it did little to dampen Southern excitement. Confederate officer Lafayette McLaws wrote on the 23rd, “The news from Manassas is so very glorious that I cannot believe all that is told. It seems a dream only, to think of our army meeting with such extraordinary success.” Word of the Southern victory reached Louisiana a few days after the battle, and a pleased Kate Stone recorded the news in her diary: “[O]ur side victorious, of course. … It was gallantly fought and won.” And Mary Chesnut, writing from Richmond, remembered the extra little thrill, above and beyond the martial glee she already felt, when someone showed her letters a Union soldier left behind on the battlefield: “[W]hat a comfort the spelling was! We were willing to admit the Yankees’ universal free school education puts them ahead of us in a literary way of speaking, but these letters do not attest that fact. The spelling is comically bad. …”

In Shelby Foote’s first volume of “The Civil War: A Narrative,” he wrote that the Battle of Bull Run afforded Southerners the reassurance “that the Yankees had been shown for once and for all. The war was won. Independence was a fact beyond all doubt. Even the casualty lists, the source of their sorrow, reinforced their conviction of superiority to anything the North could bring against them.”

As quoted in McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom,” the Richmond Whig newspaper had perhaps the most magnificently pompous reaction to the battle’s outcome: “The breakdown of the Yankee race, their unfitness for empire, forces dominion on the South. We are compelled to take the sceptre of power. We must adapt ourselves to our new destiny.”

David Herbert Donald, in “Lincoln,” wrote that the “next day, Lincoln began to assess the damage. He learned that many [Federal] troops had fought bravely and well. … [Most] of the volunteer Union regiments had retreated in good order, and the demoralized mob described by so many witnesses was largely composed of teamsters, onlookers and ninety-day troops whose terms of enlistment were about to expire. The army was defeated but not crushed. …”

The president, Donald wrote, visited soldiers stationed in forts protecting Washington D.C., publicly reassuring them they would be well-supplied while privately realizing that they were not well led. Irvin McDowell was not going to work out. Lincoln saw a flicker of fresh hope in a new commanding general: George B. McClellan.

In the days following the Union defeat, McPherson concludes, the psychological impact “on the North was not defeatism but renewed determination.” As northern newspapers published defiant editorials, Lincoln signed legislation authorizing the enlistment of one million men into the Federal armies. More men would be equipped, trained, armed and sent south.

In the long run, Bull Run was merely a tactical victory for the South. More importantly, it was the psychological defeat the North needed for its people and its leaders to comprehend what was necessary to achieve complete victory over the Confederacy.

Works cited and consulted:
— Catton, Bruce. The Coming Fury. London: Phoenix Press, 2001. 458, 463. Print.
— Chesnut, Mary Boykin. A Diary From Dixie. Ed. Ben Ames Williams. Cambridge: Harvard UP. 1980. 89. Print.
— Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. 307-308. Print.
— Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative. New York: Vintage, 1986. 84. Print.
— McLaws, Lafayette. A Soldier’s General: The Civil War Letters of Lafayette McLaws. Ed. John C. Oeffinger. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2002. 96. Print.
— McPherson, James. The Atlas of the Civil War. New York: Macmillan, 1994. Print.
— McPherson, James. Battle Cry of Freedom. New York: Oxford UP. 1988. 341. Print.
— Stone, Kate. Brokenburn: The Journal of Kate Stone, 1861-1868. Ed. John Q. Anderson. Baton Rouge: Louisiana UP. 1995. 44-45. Print.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

A name seen from space … Prince Andrew … Jesus sightings … A fight over Guadalcanal … Arthur Ashe at Wimbledon.

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. The tragedy of imperial retreat
By Tarak Barkawi | Al Jazaeera | July 21
“When the US withdraws from Afghanistan, don’t expect much help for the people it leaves behind.”

2. Sheikh’s Name Written In Sand Visible from Space
By Natalie Wolchover | Life’s Little Mysteries | July 21
“Hamad bin Hamdan al Nahyan, a billionaire Sheikh and member of Abu Dabhi’s ruling family, has had his name carved into the sandy surface of an island he owns in the Persian Gulf.”

3. Stephen Marche and Arthur Phillips on Shakespeare
The Paris Review Daily | July 21
“The cult of Shakespeare is one of the weirdest and most persistent in literature. This spring, Arthur Phillips and Stephen Marche each published books on the obsession. … They discussed their various journeys into the heart of this cult by e-mail.”

4. Prince Andrew’s Tabloid History
By Matt Pressman | Vanity Fair | August 2011
“Prince Andrew’s friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein … is only the most recent of his many public blunders. Whether it’s the company he keeps or his driving technique, Andrew usually makes the news for all the wrong reasons.”

5. Jesus sightings in food (and walls) – in pictures
The Guardian | July 21
“A couple from South Carolina have claimed to have found the image of the face of Jesus Christ on a Walmart receipt. Here are other examples of Jesus turning up in everyday life.”

6. Unmanned Navy boat has brains – and an attitude
By Hugh Lessig | Daily Press | July 21
“The Navy is advancing its development of Autonomous Maritime Navigation, using unmanned craft that can patrol waterways and ports without humans at the helm – and without humans at the joystick, for that matter.”

7. Long-Term Unemployment, by State
By Sara Murray | The Wall Street Journal | July 21
“More than one in three jobless Americans were out of work for at least a year in a handful of U.S. states that appear to be disproportionately caught up in the nation’s long-term unemployment problem.”

8. Mitt Romney’s Sad Tour of America’s Modern Ruins
By Elspeth Reeve | The Atlantine Wire | July 22
“To hammer President Obama on the sluggish economy, Romney has been touring businesses around the country that closed during the recession.”

9. Arthur Ashe wins Wimbledon
Witness :: BBC News | July 1
“In 1975 he became the first African-American man to win the tennis tournament. His friend and agent, Donald Dell, talks about that memorable match – and about what else Ashe might have achieved if he had not died young.”

10. Dogfight Over Guadalcanal
Secrets of the Dead :: PBS
“Deep in the jungle of Guadalcanal in the South Pacific … are the rusting remains of a World War II-era fighter plane. … Research confirms that the plane is the doomed Wildcat flown by James ‘Pug’ Southerland in one of the most heroic and legendary dogfights in aviation history.”


Tonight I’m spending some time with the blues, specifically with the Texas Blues Café. Check out the line-up and then listen here.

1. Jason Ricci & New Blood — I’m A New Man
2. Stingray — Met Me In The Middle
3. John Mayall — Snake Eye
4. Storyville — Lucky One More Time
5. Dan Granero — My Baby
6. Pat Green — Me And Billy The Kid
7. Barely Legal — White Line Fever
8. Joe Galea — Wash My Hands
9. Max Meaza — The Long Goodbye
10. Texas Boogie — Adelie
11. Tim Gaze & Rob Grosser — Six Strings Down
12. The Bois D’arcs — Feel All Right
13. Zed Head — Shotgun
14. The Ramblin Dawgs — Steppin Up

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

A tropical Antarctica … Cuban gossip … A sunken island in the Atlantic … The generalship of U.S. Grant … Sex in a mosque.

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. Sex in mosque riles angry mob
By Patrick Winn | The Rice Bowl :: GlobalPost | July 18
“Villagers swarm mosque after teen couple discovered undressed in bathroom”

2. A City Steeped in Picasso’s Lore
By Raphael Minder | The New York Times | July 19
“Málaga hardly featured in Picasso’s adult life, but the city has still done its utmost to call attention to its claim to its most famous artist.”

3. An Asteroid So Big It Has Its Own Moon
By Alexis Landis | SkyTalk :: WHYY Radio | July 18
“Four years into its mission The Dawn Space Craft is orbiting an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The craft is orbiting the 330 mile long asteroid to collect data.”

4. Rick Perry Says He Has No Interest In VP Slot
By Jay Root | The Texas Tribune | July 19
“John Nance Garner, the colorful West Texas politician known as ‘Cactus Jack,’ used to say the office of vice-president ‘wasn’t worth a warm bucket of piss.’ ”

5. The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant and the American Civil War
By Richard J. Sommers | U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center
The lecture “analyzes the generalship of Ulysses S. Grant, identifies his many strengths as a military commander, and yet also acknowledges limitations in his leadership.”

6. Inside Rebekah Brooks’ News of the World
By Georgina Prodhan and Kate Holton | Reuters | July 16
“‘It was the kind of place you get out of and you never want to go back again.’ That’s how one former reporter describes the News of the World newsroom under editor Rebekah Brooks, the ferociously ambitious titian-haired executive who ran Britain’s top-selling Sunday tabloid from 2000 to 2003.”

7. Giant lost island found on Atlantic seafloor
By Tim Wall | Discovery News | July 18
“The island was created when the Icelandic Plume, a bubble of magma beneath the Earth’s surface, forced the crust up and out of the water. The land was forced up in a series of three steps, each one pushing the land 200-400 meters higher. ”

8. The Cuban Grapevine
By James Scudamore | More Intelligent Life | Summer 2011
“Today, in a nation where the only official media are state-controlled, Radio Bemba has become shorthand for the word-of-mouth information network, which is by far the quickest (and often the most reliable) way to find out about anything from baseball chat to celebrity gossip to news of the latest defection to the United States.”

9. When Antarctica was a tropical paradise
By Robin McKie | The Observer | July 17
“Geological drilling under Antarctica suggests the polar region has seen global warming before”

10. Secret war in Yemen
Witness :: BBC News | June 29
“In the 1960s British mercenaries joined the fighting in Yemen’s civil war. They trained local tribesmen to fight against Egyptian troops. Their activities were never officially sanctioned by the British government.”

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North River Notes

Daily observations on the Hudson River as it passes through New York City. The section of the Hudson which passes through New York is historically known as the North River, called this by the Dutch to distinguish it from the Delaware River, which they knew as the South River. This stretch of the Hudson is still often referred to as the North River by local mariners today. All photos by Daniel Katzive unless otherwise attributed. Twitter @dannykatman


Where your favorite flavors come together

Melora Johnson's Muse

A writer blogging about writing, creativity and inspiration.

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