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Journal of a graduate student in military history and the American Civil War

Archive for August 2009

Q and A with History Shots’ Larry Gormley on Civil War Information Graphics

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My August 16, 2009 post, Review of History Shots – History of the Union Army, American Civil War 1861 – 1865, promised a Q & A with History Shots creator Larry Gormley of History Shots. Larry was kind enough to shoot answers to my first barrage of questions this evening.

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Larry Gormley

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Q: What was the most challenging aspect of creating the two Civil War graphics?

A: The toughest challenge was how to display the multi-variable data sets within an easy to follow and interesting design. The subject matter dealt with both chronological and geographical content which is difficult to map in a two dimensional space. Selecting the scale and scope of the data took a lot of trial and error. The color palette was critical to the design and information flow and, therefore, required significant work.

Presenting accurate and objective information is very important to me as well. And the importance of accuracy and objectivity is directly related to the level of complexity found in each of the graphics. I wanted to provide enough information and context about the subject to allow people to understand the topic and to draw their own opinions and conclusions.

Q: What techniques do you use to research and create the graphics? I’m imaging a room with ceiling to floor white boards and lots of dry erase pens along with sticky pads.

A: The creation process was long and often difficult but it was always interesting and highly educational; I enjoy greatly the journey from raw idea to completed print. It took about a year to create the first print, History of the Confederate Army, and about nine months to complete the History of the Union Army. Half of the time was devoted to research and data collection. For the research, I started with books in my collection and quickly added material from many libraries located throughout the Boston area. In addition, I purchased a number of very specific, limited run editions that focused on Civil War statistics. Also, I spent hundreds of hours going through a CD version of the Official Records. I captured my research in a spiral notebook and many Excel spreadsheets.

History of the Confederate Army (History Shots)

History of the Confederate Army (History Shots)

After most of the data is collected I started to prototype micro parts of the story (for example, an individual army in 1862) and high-level views. I find working in both micro and macro levels helps me during the design process. I created about 10 rough ideas before settling on an overall design. I started the design process using paper and colored pens then I moved to Adobe Illustrator.

Q: In your mind, why is this form of social study powerful?

A: I think it is powerful because it presents a large and complex issue within a form that allows the viewer to learn and explore at their own pace. It provides detailed and multi-layered context about important stories within a beautiful design. The design draws you in and lets you dive as deep as you want into a lot data.

Q: Do you have any other Civil War graphics planned?

A: I have an idea for a third graphic but at this time I do not have a firm start date. The idea covers a more direct comparison between the Union and Confederate armies. In addition, I have an idea that includes the Civil War era plus other time periods as well. I have a long list of ideas and it keeps getting longer!

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“Darwin’s Legacy” on Academic Earth – The 19th Century Milieu

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Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

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I find endlessly fascinating the global milieu of the 19th century.  Academic Earth has recently made available an absolutely superb ten lecture course, Darwin’s Legacy. This was a special course organized by Stanford University. Its glue is Dr. William H. Durham, Bing Professor of Anthropological Studies Stanford University.

Much is shared by the outstanding group of lecturers (some of the world’s top scholars representing multiple disciplines) in this course about the world of middle 1800’s. Recall that Charles Darwin’s most famous work was published as America was on the verge of Civil War.

  • 1859 On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life is published in London, Nov. 24 by John Murray.
  • 1860 Publishes 2nd edition of Origin. Foreign editions appear. Begins work on Variation book.
  • 1861 Continued work on Variation book. Published 3rd edition of Origin. Began work on Orchid book.

You can find his complete works online at the delightful British site, The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online.

Course Description

“Light will be thrown…” With these modest words, Charles Darwin launched a sweeping new theory of life in his epic book, On the Origin of Species (1859). The theory opened eyes and minds around the world to a radical new understanding of the flora and fauna of the planet. Here, Darwin showed for the first time that no supernatural processes are necessary to explain the profusion of living beings on earth, that all organisms past and present are related in a historical branching pattern of descent, and that human beings fall into place quite naturally in the web of all life.

Now, 150 years later and 200 years after Darwins birth, we celebrate the amazingly productive vision and reach of his theory. In this Fall Quarter course, we will meet weekly with leading Darwin scholars from around the country to learn about Darwins far-reaching legacy in fields as diverse as anthropology, religion, medicine, psychology, philosophy, literature, and biology.

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Free Copy of Harsh’s Confederate Tide Rising

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UPDATE ALERT: The book was snapped up within minutes of this post. Thanks to everyone who inquired.

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I recently ordered a “Like New” copy of Joseph L. Harsh’s Confederate Tide Rising: Robert E. Lee and the Making of Strategy, 1861 – 1862 to round out my set of his series. It came damaged in the post in part because the shipper packed it poorly (no padding). He has kindly offering to replace the book. I would be delighted to provide the damaged copy to anyone who would care to pay for the shipping. The pages of the book are in excellent shape and clearly new/unread. The damage is a scrape/bend to the cover and an associated rip of the book jacket. The dent slightly effects the first 10 pages of the book. Please contact me at renetyree at gmail.com. First-come-first-served.

Confederate Tide Rising

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Battle of the Crater Pen and Ink Map

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Speaking of The Battle of the Crater, I found this at the Library of Congress. This is a zoomed in view of pages of what appears to be a journal. Whether intended or not, it implies by its shape a salient (see previous post: Military History Word of the Day – “Salient”). The author appears to be unknown.

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Map of the Battle of the Crater, 1 map : pen-and-ink ; 7 x 12.5 cm. Library of Congress

Map of the Battle of the Crater, 1 map : pen-and-ink ; 7 x 12.5 cm. Library of Congress

Military History Word of the Day – Salient

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salient ˈsālyənt; -lēənt n.
1. a piece of land or section of fortification that juts out to form an angle.

2. an outward bulge in a line of military attack or defense. (see example below)

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Salient at Spotsylvania

"The salient" at Spottsylvania

The word “salient” is used frequently in John F. Schmutz’s The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History (see post on his book here).

Due to the extremely close proximity of the opposing lines between the two forts, sniper fire was heavy and constant in this area. Potter’s division was located in the ravine a little more than one hundred yards from Elliott’s Salient, which itself was situated at an angle in the Rebel line of works, the closest at any part to the Union lines. Observers at the time felt the Union line had penetrated into the interior of the Confederates’ lines in this area after the last battle and was thus occupying a tenuous position. (2)

Petersburg, Virginia. Interior view of Confederate works near Elliott's salient, Courtesy of the Library of Congress # LC-B811- 3222

Petersburg, Virginia. Interior view of Confederate works near Elliott's salient, Courtesy of the Library of Congress # LC-B811- 3222

The National Park Service identifies Elliott’s Salient as a point where Federals and Confederates had come close together.

One of these locations was in front of Elliott’s Salient, a Confederate strong point near Cemetery Hill and old Blandford Church. Here the Confederate position and the Union picket line were less than 400 feet apart. Because of the proximity of the Union line, Elliott’s Salient was well fortified. Behind earthen embankments was a battery of four guns, and two veteran South Carolina infantry regiments were stationed on either side. Behind these were other defensive works; before them the ground sloped gently downward toward the Union advance line. (3)

Petersburg, Virginia. Confederate fortifications at "Gracie's Salient." LOC Call #: LC-B815- 1059[P&P]

Petersburg, Virginia. Confederate fortifications at "Gracie's Salient." Courtesy of the Library of Congress LC-B815- 1059

Someone has done a nice job exploring the term salient as military term on Wikipedia including a variety of examples of “salients” from the American Civil War as well as other military engagements which you can read here.

Other well known military salients:

Heth’s Salient

From the National Park Service’s virtual tour of the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania Battlefields: By mid-afternoon on May 12 the fighting at the Muleshoe Salient had reached an impasse. By coincidence, both sides focused attention on another bulge in the Confederate lines known as Heth’s Salient. General Grant ordered General Ambrose Burnside to attack Heth’s Salient at the same time as General Lee ordered General Jubal Early to attack Burnside’s left flank. In doing so, he hoped to relieve pressure on the Confederates at the Bloody Angle.

Muleshoe Salient: Look for reference to Mule Shoe Salient in the Wikipedia post here.

From the National Park Services (see the full story here): The armies flowed onto the battlefield the rest of the day, extending corresponding lines of earthworks east and west of the Brock Road. Ewell’s corps filed in on Anderson’s right and built their entrenchments in the dark to conform with elevated terrain along their front. First light revealed that Ewell’s soldiers had concocted a huge salient, or bulge, in the Confederate line, pointing north in the direction of the Federals. The men called it the “Mule Shoe” because of its shape, but Southern engineers called it trouble. Salient’s could be attacked not only in front but from both sides, and as a rule officers liked to avoid them. Lee, however, opted to retain the position trusting that his cannoneers could keep the “Mule Shoe” safe enough.

Doles’s Salient:

From the National Park Service (see the full story here): On May 10, the Union found a weakness in the Confederate defenses. Colonel Emory Upton was ordered with 5,000 men to attack a slight bulge in the Confederate lines known as Doles’s Salient. Upton’s men approached the Confederates on a narrow road (typical of the roads in the area that linked one farm with another) through the woods.

Ypres Salient: Famous for the World War I battle that took place there.

(1) “salient.” The Oxford Essential Dictionary of the U.S. Military. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2009). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O63-salient.html

(2) John F. Schmutz, The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History, (Jefferson, North Carolina: 2009), 50.

(3) “The Battle of the Crater, July 30, 1864,” http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/hh/13/hh13f.htm

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The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History

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BotCrater

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I have happily received a review copy of John F. Schmutz’s The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History. I can be counted among those whose interest in this remarkable 9 hour battle was piqued after watching the mesmerizing opening sequence of the film based on Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.

Scenes of The Battle of the Crater in the trailer of Cold Mountain, a film by Anthony Minghella

Scenes of The Battle of the Crater in the trailer of Cold Mountain, a film by Anthony Minghella

It would be hard to find a similar military event in history that paralleled this one in terms of overwhelming potential for success run amok. Schmutz’s use of an opening quote about the July 30, 1864 battle by Ulysses S. Grant perhaps says it best…

The loss in the disaster of Saturday last foots up about 3,500, of whom 450 men were killed and 2,000 wounded. It was the saddest affair I have ever witnessed in the war. Such an opportunity for carrying fortifications I have never seen and do not expect again to have.

- Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to Major General
Henry W. Halleck, August 1, 1864.

According to Schmutz, his interest in the Battle of the Crater began with the discovery that he had “two direct ancestors in the battle, one with the 14th New York Heavy Artillery, which at the last minute, and without any preparation or forewarning, was chosen to lead the assault, with disastrous consequences.” (Preface) This seed germinated into one of the first studies to take a broad-brush approach to the battle, examining the events leading up to it, the country’s mood in its now third year of civil war, brutality committed against black troops, atrocities perpetrated by both sides, first-hand accounts, and the impact of the battle “on the body politic of both sides.”

Schmutz appropriately gives readers a sense for war in the trenches that were part of the Siege of Petersburg.

As both sides dug even deeper entrenchments and more infantry obstacles, the rolling farmland east and south of the city was soon churned into scenes resembling a moonscape. These tandem ramparts ran for twenty-six miles, crossed two major rivers, and traversed parts of four Virginia countries, from White Oak Swamp, east of Richmond, across Bermuda Hundred and south of the Jerusalem Plank Road below the city. No campaign of the war quite equaled the siege of Petersburg, which was the object of the longest military action ever waged against an American city. More battles were fought and more lives lost there than in the defense of any better-known Southern cities such as Richmond, Vicksburg or Atlanta. (p. 40)

Henry Pleasants

Henry Pleasants

The excellent chapter titled “The Earth Movers,” reveals how Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants and the men of the 48th Pennsylvania, many of them coal miners, accomplished what Meade’s engineers mockingly called impossible, the building of a lengthy tunnel without detection by the Confederates. Receiving literally no support from Meade or his men, Pleasants overcame every challenge with ingenuity and innovation. As an example, he used a combination of miner’s bellows and fire to create draft to circulate air through a shaft built into the tunnel wall. This bit of creative thinking, the details of which are a must read, became what Schmutz called Pleasants’ “greatest engineering feat.” (p. 61)

The Crater as it appeared in 1865. The Union soldier seated at the end of the tunnel gives an idea of the size of the Crater.  National Archives.

From the National Park Service site on the Petersburg National Battlefield, "The Crater as it appeared in 1865. The Union soldier seated at the end of the tunnel gives an idea of the size of the Crater." Click the image to go to the site.

Of note, Schmutz provides an impressive set of references in his appendices, something I always value in a book of serious history. These include:

  • Organization of Opposing Forces on July 30, 1864 including Union and Confederate Corps, Division, and Brigade, and in some cases Company commanders and officers
  • Casualty counts by Corps, Division, Brigade and Unit
  • Medal of Honor Recipients and Confederate Roll of Honor Recipients by Corps including a brief statement about why they received the award
    Union Officers Killed or Mortally Wounded by Corps, Division, and Brigade
  • Full and extensive Chapter Notes
  • An impressive Bibliography which demonstrates the extent of primary sources used in Schumtz’s research

I greatly look forward to fully reading this book and fully expect that a Highly Recommend will be forthcoming.

Kevin Levin has recently provided a review of The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History on H-Net here.

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Stephen Woodworth to Teach Civil War Command and Leadership

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JeffersonDavisandHisGenerals

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I just registered for my next course: Civil War Command and Leadership. Here’s a quick summary: “a study of national, theater, and operational command structures of the Union and Confederacy, the leadership styles of key military leaders on both sides, and the evolution of command and control in the war. Major themes include the relationship between the commanders in chief and the generals who led the armies in the field, the relationships between the generals themselves, and the ways in which the relationships described above either served to facilitate or debilitate the causes those commanders served.”

I am VERY excited about the professor, Steven E. Woodworth!

SWoodworth

I’ve added a new page on my bookshelves to show the booklist for the course as it stands today which you can access here.

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