I am adding NARAtions to my blogroll along with other sites that help me with my research. I’m sure this won’t be news to many of you but NARAtions is, as my article title suggests, the U.S. National Archives blog. The stated purpose…
We began this blog because we are hoping to talk with you about online public access to the records held by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). We care about improving your researcher experience.
There are currently seven bloggers most of whom appear to be “history geeks” – a phrase I use only with the utmost respect and admiration.
As I embark on my own thesis research in Civil War naval history, I am both appreciative and disappointed with what is online from our National Archives. Apparently, the cost of digitization means that a small percentage of available materials have been digitized. What a shame that there isn’t more. Interestingly, ancestry.com has pension records for soldiers and sailors of the American Civil War and I have full access to the site (yes a pretty penny).
They’ve also created a Wiki called “Our Archives” where the public can contribute. It is accessiblehere. This could actually be a good thing if adopted. It will be interesting to see if it is given more respect among historians than other Wikis. The stated purpose of the Wiki is as follows:
Our Archives is an online space for researchers, educators, genealogists, and Archives staff to share information and knowledge about the records of the National Archives and about their research.
Over half a century ago, T. Harry Williams wrote an exceptional work with as major theme that the performance of President Abraham Lincoln as commander in chief during the American Civil War positioning him as the true director of the war efforts of Northern armies and the progenitor of the country’s first modern command system. He shows Lincoln to be an able student of military strategy who ramped up quickly, grasped the end game and generally how to reach it, but struggled to find the right executioner of those plans. That he was even more skilled as a politician meant that he functioned superbly as leader in both political and military spheres throughout the conflict.
This is a work about the challenges of leadership set against what Williams calls the first of the “modern total wars.” (3) Williams chronicles the war from Lincoln’s perspective presenting the strengths and, more notably, the many foibles of the men who served the North in senior military positions. Their relative caliber appears to have been directly correlated to the attention Lincoln had to give them. More attention from and scrutiny by Lincoln was thus not a mark of achievement. Williams’ work reflects that relative attention. For example, he begins his discussion of McClellan in Chapter 2 and does not finish with him until Chapter 8 at which point Lincoln finally dismisses McClellan in disgust. (179) Williams takes his readers through the agonizing months Lincoln spent attempting to manage McClellan and his paranoia regarding enemy troop strength and inability to execute when it would put his men in harm’s way or there was the potential to fail. Grant, by contrast to McClellan, received some but not extensive coverage by Williams reflecting Lincoln’s own confidence that Grant could carry forward Lincoln’s strategic aims effectively. Williams concludes that in the waning months of 1864, Lincoln had sufficient trust in Grant to intervene little in the war’s management. That is not to say that Lincoln shrugged off any responsibility in setting strategic direction or in monitoring closely “and sometimes anxiously” the conduct of the war. (336) He was quick to reset direction when required.
Williams’ organization of the book is driven largely by the order of his encounters with senior military leaders. He begins with the infamous but corpulent and declining General Winfield Scott. We are given images of Lincoln chatting by the fire in Scott’s drawing room about daily reports and strategic options. Lincoln begins to reveal his own nascent military strategies and to measure those proposed by the militarist Scott against civilian and political realities. Lincoln also demonstrates an important resolve to make and stand by decisions even if they go against those of senior military advisors. Williams provides illustration of this by pointing to Lincoln’s grasping of the strategic golden nugget within Scott’s Anaconda Plan of control of the Mississippi but Lincoln’s rejection of its execution because it risked a drawn out and uncertain resolution.
Regular army man Irvin McDowell is then tagged by Lincoln to take command of the swelling number of troops in and around Washington, a number that by the summer of 1861 exceeded 30,000 men. Lincoln pushes McDowell, of course, into an offensive movement at Manassas to disastrous results. While the mark against McDowell’s mediocre reputation is severe, Williams allows us to see that Lincoln is willing to bear some of the blame.
The scene is thus set for the summoning of McClellan to Washington. This begins Lincoln’s relationship with “the problem child of the Civil War.” (25) Williams chronicles the early months of McClellan’s experiences in the East, his messianic complex, disrespect for Lincoln and others with whom he had to deal, and the efforts that Lincoln had to make to manage a man who held such promise but failed to deliver. It is clear that Lincoln, to this credit, attempted many different techniques in his efforts to supervise McClellan.
John C. Fremont, McClellan’s peer in the Western Department and a political appointment made by Lincoln himself, proves disastrous in his mismanagement of Missouri and a bitter disappointment. Williams captures well the odd quirks of both Fremont and the Blair family, his patrons, and the lengths to which Lincoln had to go to remove him.
Halleck is portrayed as only marginally effective and jealous enough of Grant’s successes in the field to take credit for them. (61) His self-directed shift to subordinate role as coordinator and communicator between Lincoln and his staff is fascinating.
Other commanders are mentioned primarily for their lack-luster performances including Rosecrans, Buell, Thomas, Banks, and Butler to name a few. Williams’ provides an excellent summary of each man including physical characteristics, approach to command, reputation, and personality traits. He often reveals the quirks or failings that made them less than acceptable as senior command candidates. For example, he describes Benjamin F. Butler as “ingenious, resourceful, and colorful, but …no field general.” (188) Williams’ description of Rosecrans reveals a well researched sum of the man from his “intensified Roman nose” to his “good strategic sense and aggressive instincts.” (186-187) But he is thorough enough to point to Rosecrans weaknesses including a lack of “balance and poise that a great commander should have” which revealed a man unable to “control himself and the situation.” (187)
Clearly apparent in this history is that Lincoln, while climbing a steep learning curve, became an astute war strategist. In fact, Williams contends that the notion of “total war” as a means of destroying the Confederate Army was identified earliest and most enthusiastically as a strategic plank by Lincoln who “saw the big picture” better than most of his commanders and staff. (7) He further asserts that no one in the military leadership of either side had the experience to wage war at the scale that would be America’s Civil War. Both sides shared an equal innocence of the knowledge war making. (4) That said, Lincoln’s performance when viewed against that of Davis is all the more impressive.
Williams points out that Lincoln exhibited many good qualities as a leader. By example, he was not quick to claim credit for the successes of Sherman, even though he would have been justified to do so given the strategic direction he provided. Rather, Lincoln showered praise on men whose efforts were successful. He seemed to simply want vigilance and self-reliance from his commanders, both qualities he saw in Grant. (315)
Williams’ use of primary sources is impressive and adds credibility to his conclusions. Many citations were from actual correspondence or official records of exchanges between Lincoln and his team or Halleck and the field commanders. This depth of research adds much to the work.
At the time of publication, this book was the only one to fully examine Lincoln’s performance as commander in chief and stood as such for many years. Interestingly, in 2009, historian James McPherson visited the same topic and drew much from Williams’ foundation in his work, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. While good, I find it no better and in many ways a rehashing of Williams’ work, one that continues to stand on strong scholarship and goes far toward explaining Lincoln’s brilliance as both politician and military strategist.
In an earlier post, I mentioned that I’d been contacted by a publicist at PBS to preview the upcoming documentary that begins airing this week (May 6th), WWII Behind Closed Doors. I’ve had a chance to watch the full documentary and found it fascinating.
When I think of PBS, I think of credibility. Add credibility to reenactments performed by an extremely talented cast, the drama of war on a global scale, and the intrigue of information hidden from the public for decades, and the result makes for excellent viewing.
The story largely centers around Joseph Stalin – his hatred of Poland, betrayal by Hitler, paranoia and its impact on his leadership cadre, dealings with Churchill and Roosevelt, and hand in decisions that doomed millions. It also depicts how a few leaders determine the fate of nations. The deception around Stalin’s atrocities against Poland, these lies perpetuated by England and the United States, is startling. Another of the documentary’s highlights is its presentation of the war from the view of the Poles.
This from the publicist…
Rare wartime documents made briefly available only after the fall of the Soviet Union help reveal the real story of confidential meetings held during the war between c. Award-winning historian and filmmaker Laurence Rees (Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State, Nazis – A Warning from History) tells the hidden story of Stalin’s back room dealings – first with the Nazis and then with Roosevelt and Churchill. By juxtaposing conventional documentary elements with dramatic recreations, WWII Behind Closed Doors breaks through the myths of the Allied powers, illuminating the hidden motivations of “The Big Three” and creating a dynamic reappraisal of one of the seminal events in world history.
View an excellent video on the making of the series here.
For full information on each episode and a wealth of additional information, see the PBS program site here or by clicking on the image below.
For more information on Laurence Rees, see his website here or by clicking on the image below.
I recently listened to a audio version of Franklin Haskell’s account of the the Battle of Gettysburg. Written in his own hand to his brother several weeks after the battle, it would not be published until 1898. This important primary work is available in both written and audio format today. The audio version can be downloaded for free from most public libraries who offer such services.
Haskell was, at the time of the battle, aide to General John Gibbon. Lt. Haskell played an important role in defending the stone wall after it was breached by Confederates. His criticism of Daniel Sickles’ action during the battle is nothing short of scathing.
Haskell was later commissioned a Colonel and commanded the 36th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. He was killed during the Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia on June 3, 1864. He had briefly assumed command of the brigade after its commander, Colonel H. B. McKeen, (Eighty-first Pennsylvania), was killed. Within minutes of assuming command, Colonel Haskell was felled by a bullet to the temple.
In this world of hustle and bustle, having books read to me is a wonderful luxury. Today I found a terrific site, Freeaudio.org, that takes largely public domain works and provides them free to the public in audio form. This trumps my Kindle 2 text-to-speech feature in that real human readers are easier to listen to.
I have finally purchased my own copy of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, as translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Tocqueville’s works rank near the top of the the most frequently quoted in a great many of the books I’ve been reading this term and in previous terms for that matter. I decided on The Library of America version because, as was the case with my purchase of Frederick Douglass Autobiographies (see post here), I like the look and feel.
Today I discovered a remarkable site, George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media which you can access here. It’s really about exploring history using digital media. It has three broad sections.
Teaching + Learning
Research + Tools
Collecting + Exhibiting
Not only do I like the site’s premise but it makes available some outstanding tools including Zotero which I downloaded and began using today. It is an extension to Firefox designed “to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources.” It was very easy to install and is free.
On the night of November 8, 1800, fire devastated the United States War Office, consuming the papers, records, and books stored there. Two weeks later, Secretary of War Samuel Dexter lamented in a letter that “All the papers in my office [have] been destroyed.” For the past two centuries, the official records of the War Department effectively began with Dexter’s letter. Papers of the War Department 1784-1800, an innovative digital editorial project, will change that by making some 55,000 long lost documents of the early War Department available online to scholars, students, and the general public. By providing free and open access to these previously unavailable documents, Papers of the War Department 1784-1800 will offer a unique window into a time when there was no law beyond the Constitution, when the federal government hardly existed outside of the Army and Navy, and when a new nation struggled to define itself at home and abroad.
The CHNM site is well worth a visit and some serious exploration for historians and students alike. I’ll be adding to my links. Highly Recommend.
I’ve made some additional adds to my blogroll and links. First a belated welcome to Jim Beeghley whose blog, “Teaching the Civil War with Technology” has not only a strong premise but some terrific posts.
And thanks to Alex Rose over at The History Man blog for a lead to British History Online. This is an impressive site with some great information including primary sources. I’ve added it under a new category titled History Sites of Merit.
Back on July 5th, 2008 when I was reading East of Chosin as assigned for the class “Studies in U.S. Military History,” I posted several thoughts which you can read here. I made mention of it in another post on Technology in U.S. Military History here. This is a remarkable story and one of those rare books that I count among the best I have read. I know others in my class felt the same.
This haunting work by Roy Appleman falls into the genre of narrative history that is difficult to set down once a reader begins. Appleman’s stated purpose is to “tell the neglected story of American soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division who fought on the east side of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.” He succeeds in portraying in significant detail the fate of these near 3000 U.S. Army soldiers trapped east of the Chosin Reservoir in the dead of the winter of 1950. This is good history. Because Appleman uses a number of primary sources (interviews with survivors), it is likely the most complete account of what actually occurred during this episode. Official records were almost non-existent.
The narrative spans a short period of time, approximately four days and five nights during which the battle took place. Appleton begins by setting the scene of the war in Korea in November of 1950. This framing of the picture provides an excellent background for the events of the story: a war five months old, an over confident MacArthur who saw unprecedented success in his Landing at Inchon, a “Chinese phantom force” stealing across the Korean border. He then chronicles the deployment of U.S. Army troops in the area of the reservoir. Pointedly he also devotes a chapter to what the troops and their leaders did not know, predominately the massing of Chinese troops in the vicinity. The remaining chapters give a day-by-day account of the action. He ends with a chapter that explores whether the troops could have been saved and a thoughtful epilogue. The text has an impressive collection of maps and photos. Appleman created the maps himself after careful study. Most of the photographs are published here for the first time having been collected by Appleton from survivors. The author includes a large number of first person accounts of experiences by the men who returned which adds to the work’s credibility.
In an essay in the Appendix, Appleton addresses the inevitable rival-based comparisons between the disastrous breakout attempt of the Army’s soldiers east of Chosin Reservoir and the successful breakout to the sea of the much larger Marine forces that occurred in December of 1950. His conclusion is that the Army units east of Chosin were pieced together quickly to guard the Marine flank. They were not given adequate time for supply and planning, This points the finger of blame for the resulting tragedy clearly at senior leadership.
The audience for East of Chosin is clearly military historians but it also has relevance for the families of those involved in the event. It is equally informative to lay readers who want to better understand the nature of the Korean Conflict, much forgotten to the current generation.
Appleman brings respectable academic credentials and those of a soldier who fought in the Korean War. He was not a professor of history, rather a civil servant and soldier and his experiences inform his publications. He received the A.B. degree (magna cum laude) from The Ohio State University, attended Yale Law School, and was awarded an A.M. degree from Columbia University. He was first employed as a sites survey historian by the National Parks Service in 1936, and in July 1937, entered on duty as regional historian in Richmond, Virginia. He retired as chief, Branch of Park History Studies, Washington Office, in 1970. Appleman served in both World War II and the Korean Conflict. He was combat historian and captain with the Tenth Army on Okinawa and lieutenant colonel with the X Corps in Korea. His service as army historian during the Korean War required him to interview troops shortly after combat, a role that gives him a truly unique perspective from which to approach his writing. Appleman authored (or co-authored) several other military history studies including South to Naktong, North to the Yalu, Okinawa: The Last Battle, and Ridgway Duels for Korea, which won the Truman Library Book Award.
Appleman has successfully woven into his narrative much about the American military force in Korea including the weapons at its disposal and its command and control structure. The book is an excellent choice for providing a real accounting of the experience of soldiers in the Korean War. Highly recommend.
In his award winning, sweeping work on the American Revolution, Charles Royster sets out to prove his thesis that “there was an American character prevalent during the War for Independence and that we can profitably analyze it.” His focus is on the emotions, attitudes, and conduct of Americans in wartime but he also set out to prove that Americans exemplified collectively the disposition of revolutionaries. This notion of national character is an important one because it suggests an emergence of a sense of nationhood among the inhabitants of America’s colonies. Royster acknowledges that not all Americans were anti-British but he does conclude that the majority of Americans during the War for Independence were loyal to the revolution’s cause. These arguments are foundational to his discussion of the Continental Army. Royster deals with the rather broad topics of the ideals of revolutionary citizenship, society, and state by limiting his scope to the standards “that Americans defined for themselves in creating, recruiting, and fighting in an army” and it is this focus that makes the book more relevant to the military historian. He finds evidence of a disparity between society’s ideals and its actual conduct, the latter being “always flawed.” To find reasons for the disparity he touches, admitted lightly, on other areas such as religion, government, and commerce, drawing a connection between these and the way in which Americans related to the army.
Royster describes his book as analytical rather than narrative history. This distinction drives the book’s chronological format which supports his position that the study of revolutionary attitudes and the changes that took place over time are best observed “in the order that Americans experienced them.” Royster begins with an examination of the high ideals that Americans caught up in the revolutionary mindset placed upon themselves and others, ideals of virtue and valor. This foundation then allows him to explore the “tension” created when Americans failed to live up to those ideals and how they dealt with the disparity between desired standards and reality. Thus Royster begins with the years prior to the war’s start, describes the “rage militaire” of 1775, and then proceeds through the early war years in a series of chapters with religious titles and analogous themes: 1776: The Army of Israel, Jericho, and The Promised Land. The second half of the book focuses on Valley Forge, Treason, Division, and finally Legacy. It is in this final chapter that Royster brings together his analysis of the whole of the American experience at war.
This work is intended for students of early American history and particularly those who want to better understand the American Revolution. It should also find interest among military historians because of its focus on the experience of soldiers in the American Army of Independence as well as the institutional history of America’s armed forces. Royster’s forays into the realms of sociology, psychology, political, and civic history, should allow the book to find even broader readership. The work’s extensive notes section is worth mention. There is also an essay in the appendix that challenges some other authors who draw conclusions too quickly from statistics about American soldiers who fought in the Revolution, many of whom were both young and poor. The book is particularly noteworthy for its use of readily available primary sources but fresh approach to the information contained therein. His presentation is entirely satisfying albeit occasionally repetitive. One of the clear strengths of the book is its introduction to the reader of a broad number of characters of the period often through their own narrative or those of others around them.
Charles Royster brings impressive credentials to his work which is a shortened version of his doctoral dissertation. He received all of his degrees from the University of California, Berkeley including an A.B. (1966), M.A. (1967), and Ph.D. (1977). At the time of the book’s publication, Dr. Royster was assistant professor of history at the University of Texas. He is now professor of history at the Louisiana State University. Royster has amassed an impressive list of publications several of which received academically recognized awards. His work Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans won the Bancroft Prize, The Lincoln Prize, and the Charles S. Sydnor Award in Southern History. A Revolutionary People at War was recognized with the 1981 Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians, the 1979 John D. Rockefeller III Award, the 1981 National Historical Society Book Prize, the 1980 Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award from the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York, and the 1980 Silver Medal, Nonfiction from the Commonwealth Club of California.
Overall, Royster provides an excellent addition to scholarship of early America.
Jay Luvaas has pulled together in a single work what Napoleon never set to paper – a cohesive, single treatise on his philosophy of war. Luvaas, a respected military historian, accomplished this by reviewing, organizing, translating and editing Napoleon’s writings over the course of his life including much of his correspondence. He has organized the book into a series of essays so that it is structured not unlike the work of other military theorists. It begins with Napoleon’s views on creating a fighting force and preparations for war. This is followed by his thoughts on military education – an area about which Napoleon was passionate – particularly as related to the study of “great captains” of history: Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Turenne and Frederick the Great.. A section on “combat in arms” reveals Napoleon’s brilliance in changing up formations utilizing the men, animals and weaponry at hand. “Generalship and the art of command,” army organization, strategy, fortification, the army in the field, and the operational art are also examined through Napoleon’s writings with additional historical references as well as reference to correspondence written about major Napoleonic campaigns. This book is instructive to the study of military philosophers and military thought in that it provides insight into one of the most influential militarists in history. Military thought leaders such as Clausewitz and Jomini were contemporaries of Napoleon and highly influenced themselves by strategizing to fight with or against him. The book fills a rather noticeable gap and would be an excellent addition to any examination of military philosophers and strategists.
I am quite impressed that the New York Times has digitized and made available on the web many of their stories written as far back as the 19th century. I find them extremely useful.
Case in point: In my Historiography class, we are actively discussing German, French and American historians in the 18th and 19th centuries. George Bancroft , pictured right, (see my earlier post on Bancroft here) is a topic of discussion not only because of his status as the preeminent American historian of the 19th century, but because he was heavily influenced by German thought on – among other things – historiography. One topic led to another and eventually to a discussion about Bancroft’s views on slavery. As it turns out, a review of Bancroft’s then upcoming work Literary and Historical Miscellanies, was published in the New York Times on June 12, 1855 and titled “Bancroft on Slavery.” This was easily found using Google search. One can preview the article here and read it in its entirety in pdf format (see snippet below).
How cool is that? I’m sure the New York Timesderives benefit from the advertising placed even in their archives section. I’ll put up with a few ads to not have to travel to the library and look up articles on microfiche.
I mentioned in the last post that I had begun reading Douglas Southall Freeman’s R.E. Lee: A Biography. In the “Foreward,” Freeman mentions that in his references to military terminology, he has applied “Hardee’s Tactics” which was used by both armies. Fortunately, I found a copy on the web. I discovered – you all may have found it long ago – the fantastic U.S. Regulars Archives which has digitized copies of a variety of tactics documents. I’ve filled under military history.
I am thoroughly impressed with the photographic record of the American Civil War. In my ongoing search for “primary sources,” I have been exploring the National Archives and The Library of Congress. The photographic collections at both are simply excellent. Long time historians in the field are no doubt quite familiar with these. For me, humble graduate student, these are a real find. And as we all know, this kind of photographic record sets the American Civil War apart from previous wars. Because I want to have easy access to photographs, I’ve created a photographs “category” on the right nav bar. The following are the best two sources I’ve found to date.
Many of the photos have been attributed to Matthew Brady who supervised or collected them and showed – for the first time in history – the horrors of war. More on him in a future post. Amazing fellow.
The photo above was taken in Charleston Harbor, S.C. and is of the deck and officers of U.S.S. monitor Catskill; Lt. Comdr. Edward Barrett seated on the turret. It is categorized as “Photographs of the Federal Navy, and seaborne expeditions against the Atlantic Coast of the Confederacy — the Federal Navy, 1861-1865” [Call Number: LC-B811- 3412].
— The National Archives: Pictures of the Civil War
Photos in this collection are organized as follows: Activities – Army Life, Army Units, Cavalry, Civilians, Communications and intelligence, Councils, Engineering, Foreign Observers, Generals in the Field, Medical, Morale, Navies, Ordnance, Photographers and Their Equipment, Prisoners and Prisons, Quartermaster and Commissary, Railroads Places – Battle Areas, Richmond, Va., Washington, D.C., and Environs Portraits – Abolitionists, Artists and Authors, Confederate Army Officers, Confederate Officials, Enlisted Men, Federal Army Officers, Federal Navy Officers, Foreign Diplomats, Government Officials, Women