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

Archive for the ‘Maritime History’ Category

John Woo’s Epic Film…Red Cliff. Civil War in Ancient China

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Every once in a while, a movie comes along that takes the visual depiction of battle to a new level (Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan).  John Woo’s epic film, Red Cliff, does just that. Based on the actual Battle of Red Cliffs (see the Red Cliff Wiki here) that took place in the winter 208 CE, the film depicts the conflict between northern Chinese Prime Minister Cao Cao, and a coalition of southern forces led by Liu Bei and Sun Quan. While fact and fiction undoubtedly blur, the film is based on Records of Three Kingdoms, which provides a more historical view of the epic battle than that depicted in the novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Its American distributor is Magnolia Pictures who kindly sent me a review copy last week.

This film demands your full attention. It depicts both land-based and naval warfare in an age when weapons included sword and shield, bow and arrow, spear, and fire bombs. Woo went BIG in imagery and battle size. Cao Cao was reported to have brought 800,000 soldiers to invade the south on twently thousand ships so Woo used Army soldiers to supplement extras. Animators did the rest. Those interested in the animation techniques used in creation of the film will find interesting Bill Desowitz‘s article “The Battle of Red Cliff — John Woo Style!,” on the Animation World Network here. Pay particular attention to the Tortoise Shell Formation battle (below), one of the highlights of the film.

Turtle Formation Battle Scene

Animator’s also created the immense fleet of ships on which Cao Cao transported his army south. The climatic naval battle is beyond anything I’ve seen on film. Your attention is also required because the film, made in Mandarin, uses English subtitles that are occasionally difficult to see.

Red Cliff Trailer from Magnolia Pictures

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Wildly popular in China since its 2008 release, Red Cliff is now available to American audiences in select theaters and through video on demand (VOD) in a abridged format (the original film is in two parts and runs over four hours).

The cast, while perhaps less familiar to American audiences, includes some of the most popular actors on the planet.

Zhang Feng-Yi (Prime Minister Cao Cao)
Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (Strategist and warrior Zhou Yu (Ye))
Takeshi Kaneshiro (Shu strategist Zhuge Liang)
Yong You (Liu Bei)
Chang Chen (Sun Quan)
Vicky Zhao Wei (Wu princess Sun Shang Xiang)
Lin Chi-Ling (Zhou Yu’s wife, Xiao Qiao)
Shido Nakamura (Gan Xing) [also appeared in Letters from Iwo Jima]
Hu Jun (Zao Yun)

HIGHLY RECOMMEND

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Hunting Books for Independent Study … Civil War Naval History

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"The Fight Between the Alabama and the Kearsarge" [NH59354]

I’m exploring options for topics for an independent study course. This one is floating to the top of what I’d like to study. Any other books my readers might suggest are welcome.

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Naval Operations of the American Civil War
Reading Pace: 1 book or equivalent primary sources per week or two weeks depending on length (max 16)
Course Evaluation: Book Review for each book read and Final essay
Beginning Reading List (Not complete and to be agreed on with professor):

Bennett, Michael J. Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
Brooksher, William R. War Along the Bayou: The 1864 Red River Campaign in Louisiana. Washington: Brassey’s, 1998.
Chaffin, Tom The H. L. Hunley (Hill and Wang, 2008)
Forsyth, Michael J. The Red River Campiagn of 1864 and the Loss by the Confederacy of the Civil War, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002.
Friend, Jack. West Wind, Flood Tide: The Battle of Mobile Bay. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2004.
Joiner, Gary D. One Damn Blunder from Beginning to End: The Red River Campaign of 1864. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2003.
Lewis, Charles Lee. David Glasgow Farragut: Our First Admirial. 2 vols. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1943.
Merli, Frank J. Great Britain and the Confederate Navy, 1861 – 1865 (Indiana University Press, 2004)
—-, The Alabama, British Neutrality, and the American Civil War (Indiana University Press, 2004)
Symonds, Craig L. Confederate Admiral: The Life and Wars of Franklin Buchanan. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999.
—-,Lincoln and His Admirals (Oxford University Press, 2008)
Tucker, Spencer C. Andrew Foote: Cvivil War Admiral on Western Waters. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000.
Valuska, David L. The African American in the Union Navy: 1861-1865. New York: Garland, 1993.
Weddle, Kevin. Lincoln’s Tragic Admiral: The Life of Samuel Francis Du Pont, Charlottesville: Universtiy of Virginia Press, 2005.

Read the rest of this entry »

Civil War High Tech: Excavating the Hunley and Monitor from MIT World

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Always on the hunt for opportunities to inform my understanding of history, I’ve hit a gold mine. In addition to my fascination with the Civil War, I am equally passionate about maritime history and am a degreed engineer. Those three fields of study converge in a fascinating symposium hosted by the DeepArch Research Group in Technology, Archaeology and the Deep Sea at MIT in April 2003 which they have made available for viewing on MIT Earth (TM).

The symposium, Civil War High Tech: Excavating the Hunley and Monitor gives us an opportunity to hear from the senior archaeologist on the recovery of the C.S.S. Hunley, Maria Jacobsen. For those of you familiar with Civil War Naval history, the CSS Hunley will not be a new name. For those not, its story is nothing less than remarkable. A Confederate submarine, it was lost after driving a mine into the hull of USS Housatonic, detonating it, and sending the ship to the silty bottom of Charleston Bay in five minutes. But the Hunley was lost as well, only to be found, recovered, and excavated in the last decade or so.

I have made it through the first presentation on the Hunley (wow) and hope to watch the second half of the symposium on the Monitor. But for now, this from the MIT site:

Civil War High Tech: Excavating the Hunley and Monitor

Moderator: Merritt Roe Smith
Maria Jacobsen
David A. Mindell PhD ’96
Brendan Foley PhD ’03

About the Lecture
In the last few years, archaeologists have recovered two of the Civil War’s most ingenious inventions: the Union ironclad warship Monitor and the Confederate submarine Hunley. In this symposium panelists discuss the newest technology projects that have brought these inventions to light from the sea depths, and what they can teach about technology and the Civil War.

cwhightech

"Civil War High Tech: Excavating the Hunley and the Monitor" from MIT World

Submarine CSS H. L. Hunley [1863-1864]

  • Submarine built by Horace L HunleyCSS Hunley
  • First submarine to destroy an enemy ship
  • All three crews died aboard although several from the first crew were able to escape.
  • Lost off of Charleston after sinking the USS Housatonic with a spar torpedo
  • Remains discovered in 1995 by NUMA
  • Recovered August 8, 2000

Photo credit: Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley (1863-1864) U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph [#NH999]

You may be interested in previous posts I’ve made on the Hunley. My first was the following:

On Dog Tags, Sunken Confederate Subs, and Graves Registration

The H.L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of The Confederacy

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The good folks at Hill and Wang sent me a review copy of Tom Chaffin’s book, The H.L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy which arrived today. I’m really jazzed about this since I wrote a post on the Hunley a while back (see On Dog Tags, Sunken Confederate Subs, and Graves Registration). Fascinating stuff.

The book’s official webpage is here and includes some interesting features including interactive blueprints of the sub.

hlhunley

Hill and Wang
Published: September 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8090-9512-4
ISBN-10: 0-8090-9512-2
Trim: 5 1/2 X x 8 1/4 inches
352 pages, 16 Pages of Black-and-White Illustrations/2 Maps/Appendix/Notes/Bibliography/Index

I found Professor Chaffin’s credentials (see his page at the University of Tennessee here) impressive and will enjoy reading the text version of his dissertation as well.

Ph.D., U.S. History, May 1995; Emory University. Dissertation: “‘Buffalo Hunt’: Narciso López and the Clandestine U.S. War against Cuba, 1848-1851.”
M.A., American Civilization, 1982, New York University. Thesis: “Toward a Poetics of Technology: Hart Crane and the American Sublime.” B.A., English, “with honors,” and philosophy minor, 1977, Georgia State University.

Lincoln and His Admirals

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I’m very pleased to have received a review copy yesterday of Lincoln and His Admirals by Craig L. Symonds from the terrific folks over at Oxford University Press. You can view the book’s listing at OUP here. Being a student of both the American Civil War AND maritime history, I can’t think of a better read. I’m reserving this one for the Christmas holiday. This will also be my first introduction to the work of Craig L. Symonds. More to come on my review.

517zblrtvyl_sl210_

Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 17, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0195310225
ISBN-13: 978-0195310221
Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches

Link Updates

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Over the weekend, I added quite a few links to the right navbar which I use to keep myself organized. Here’s a quick run down of several of the new adds. There’s a theme in here somewhere….

  • Links to all state historical societies
  • The Historical Maritime Society
  • Smith’s Master Index to Maritime Museums (WOW!)
  • Portsmouth Historic Dockyards (GO if you get a chance!)
  • Five excellent new links to sites related to slavery filed under “Slavery Links”

slavery-links

Written by Rene Tyree

November 17, 2008 at 8:46 pm

Manet and the ACW – 4: Captain John A. Winslow and the U.S.S. Kearsarge

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Gideon Welles

Continuing my series on “Manet and the American Civil War,” (see posts 1 here, 2 here), in post 3 here, I introduced Captain Semmes of the C.S.S. Alabama, the target of U.S.S. Kearsarge in the waters off of Cherbourg France in 1864. This post provides background on the Kearsarge and her captain, John A. Winslow.

According to authors Juliet Wilson-Bareau and David C. Degener in their book Manet and the American Civil War, the U.S.S. Kearsarge was ordered built by U.S. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles (click here for bio) in 1861 as a part of the Civil War emergency shipbuilding program intended to augment the number of vessels available for blockade duty. [1]

As of March 4, 1961, the U.S. Navy possessed ninety vessels, twenty-one of which were being overhauled of those remaining only twenty-four were in commission. U.S. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles needed many more than that to blockade a coastline 3,500 miles long. Welles therefore launched an ambitious program of acquisition and construction. U.S.S. Kearsarge was one of the steam sloops that he ordered to be built. It was roughly 198 feet long, 34 feet across, and displaced 1,550 tons, third-rate in the navy’s classification system. Construction began on June 17, 1861. [2]

U.S.S. Kearsarge off Portsmouth, New Hampshire, shortly after her return from European waters in 1864.

The U.S.S. Kearsarge “was a Mohican class steam sloop of war, and was built at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine. She was commissioned in January 1862 and almost immediately deployed to European waters, where she spent nearly three years searching for Confederate raiders.” [3]

Her captain was John Ancrum Winslow (1811 – 1873), appointed in April of 1863 and given the task of patrolling European waters for Confederate raiders. He had begun his career as a midshipman in 1827 and saw action in the Mexican War and along the Mississippi during the Civil War.

Captain John A. Winslow, USN circa 1862-63

In the next post, the sea battle between the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama.

_______

References:

U.S. Library of Congress for photo of Gideon Welles available at http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cwpb.04842 , accessed August 18, 2008.
[1,3] Naval Historical Center, http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-k/kearsarg.htm, accessed August 18, 2008.
[2] Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 25.

Manet and the ACW – 3: Captain Semmes and the CSS Alabama

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Continuing from posts 1 here and 2 here, in this post I begin to examine what authors Juliet Wilson-Bareau and David C. Degener in their book Manet and the American Civil War call “one of the most celebrated naval battles of the American Civil War.”

Queen Victoria 1861

The authors adeptly set the scene by providing the reasons why an American Civil War naval battle would take place in European waters and capture the imagination of artist Edouard Manet. They chronicle the debate that led to “Lincoln’s blockade” of the south contending that the very word “blockade” ultimately gave the “Confederate organization” the status of a “quasi government” which would have “a position among nations.” [i] This ultimately led to both Queen Victoria (see bio here) of Great Britain (May 13, 1861) and Emperor Napoleon III of France (June 11, 1861) declaring the neutrality of their respective countries. “The evolving rules and policies of neutrality would eventually play a large role in determining the circumstances under which, in June 1864, U.S.S. Kearsarge – a ship originally built to enforce Lincoln’s blockade – engaged and sank the Confederate raider Alabama off the coast of France…” [ii]

CSS Alabama Captain, Raphael Semmes

Captain Raphael Semmes on the CSS Alabama

Captain Semmes on the deck of the CSS Alabama

The Alabama, a six screw steamer, was built in Great Britain by John Laird Sons and Company and found its way into Confederate hands because the “British customs agents, port authorities, prosecutors, judges, and courts found ways of understanding England’s Foreign Enlistment Act and the Queen’s declaration of neutrality.” [iii] Enacted during the reign of George III, the Act “prohibited the outfitting of, or aid to, vessels that would be used to commit hostilities against a nation with which England was not currently at war.” [iv} But in a clandestine series of events surrounding the vessels shake down cruise, the ship, known initially as simply No. 290, was acquired by Confederate agent James Dunwoody Bulloch (1823 - 1901) [a fascinating fellow who deserves a post of his own] who saw it supplied and crewed sufficiently to sail to the Azores where its new captain, Southern “son” Raphael Semmes (1809 – 1877), would christen it the CSS Alabama on August 24, 1862. The “enterprising” and “abrasive” Semmes would become a celebrity for his raiding of Federal ships. His exploits would be enthusiastically covered by the London media, indicative of Great Britain’s sympathy for the “Confederate cause for almost the entire duration of the American Civil War.” [v]

"The Pirate 'Alabama,' Alias '290,' Certified to be correct by Captain Hagar of the 'Brilliant'"

[i - v] Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

Manet and the American Civil War – 2 The Artist

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Edouard Manet (1832 - 1883) [photographic portrait by Nadar (public domain, source: wikicommons)

Continuing from post 1 here, in this post I explore the life of Edouard Manet, the artist. Born in 1832 to upper-middle class parents, Manet’s father was a magistrate who had hopes that his oldest son would follow him in his profession. But young Edouard had no interest in law and though attracted to art, decided to go to sea. But he couldn’t pass the French Navy’s entrance exam. Authors Wilson-Bareau and Degener provide a fascinating glimpse into the system by which young men could qualify for careers in the French Navy in their book Manet and the American Civil War which provides the reference for this series. A sixteen year old Manet would spend several months aboard the vessel, Le Havre et Guadeloupe on a trip for the sons of the wealthy who had failed the exam and could qualify to retake it if they sailed across the equator. The ship was staffed with teachers tasked with drilling the boys in the topics required for the naval exam. Manet failed the test again regardless but was exposed to the sea to a greater extent than most Frenchmen. (Wilson-Bareau and Degener, 12-13)

Manet had another tie to the military. His interest in drawing and art was sparked by an uncle who was “attached to the [Army] artillery school who spent a lot of his time sketching…” (Wilson-Bareau and Degener, 13-14)

“The schoolboy soon fell under the spell of blended lines and blurred cross-hatching. [Note: For a great glimpse of crosshatching, see a post at the blog, Big Time Attic here.) From that moment on, he had only one calling. He neglected his compositions and translations and filled the blank pages of his notebooks not with schoolwork but with portraits, landscapes, and fantasies.” (Ibid)

This diversion would lead Manet to produce arguably one of the most famous paintings of the naval engagement between the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama, that took place in June of 1864 off France’s Normandy coast.

The Battle of U.S.S Kearsarge and C.S.S. Alabama

Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

In the next post, the ships engaged in the battle.

Manet and the American Civil War – 1

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A recently received a gift of a book that I am thrilled to add to my library. It is, Manet and the American Civil War published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [which I had the opportunity to visit for the first time this year], and Yale University Press. It is co-authored by Juliet Wilson-Bareau, “an independent art historian based in London” and David C. Degener, an independent researcher based in San Francisco.

The Battle of U.S.S Kearsarge and C.S.S. Alabama

Click on image to be directed to my bookshelf listing.

 Manet and the American Civil War

  • Published on: 2003-06-10
  • Publisher: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Yale University Press, New Haven and London
  • ISBN: 0-300-09962-2 
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 86 pages
  • The book’s primary focus is the battle of the U.S.S. Kearsarge and C.S.S. Alabama. This from the front flap which provides an eloquent introduction to the book which I could not better….

    “On June 19, 1864, the United States warship Kearsarge sank the Confederate raider Alabama off the coast of Cherbourg, France, in one of the most celebrated naval engagements of the American Civil War. The battle was widely reported in the illustrated press and riveted public attention on both sides of the Channel. When Kearsarge later anchored off the French resort town of Boulonge-sur-Mer it was thronged by curious visitors, one of whom was the artist Edouard Manet.  Although he did not witness the historic battle, Manet made a painting of it partly as an attempt to regain the respect of his colleagues after being ridiculed for his works in the 1864 Salon. Manet’s picture of the naval engagement and his portrait of the victorious Kearsarge belong to a group of his seascapes of Boulonge whose unorthodox perspective and composition would profoundly influence the course of French paintings.”

    In part 2, more on Edouard Manet followed in subsequent posts about the two ships and their encounter across the Atlantic.

    Note that I have added a shelf to my online library titled “Civil War Art and Artists.” You can access that shelf here. I will shortly cross-reference this book on the Naval History shelf as well.

    And so the reading begins… in earnest

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    Historiography is a wrap. The new class, Studies in U.S. Military History, started yesterday. There was a slight change in texts. For the Korean War, Roy E. Appleman’s East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950  will be used rather than the one I mentioned earlier.

    East of Chosin

    I also picked up a book on the recommended reading list, One Hundred Years of Sea Power: The U.S. Navy, 1890 – 1990  by George W. Baer. I’ve added both to my virtual bookshelves here.

    The U. S. Navy, 1890-1990

    The class will be a challenging one. Thirteen books will be required reading as noted in my last post here. The pace will be more than one book per week in addition to writing assignments. Best get to it!

    First up – jumping into Millett and Maslowski’s For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America – which will be the primary text for the course. Just a chapter this week dealing with the period between 1607 and 1689.

    For the Common Defense

    Second – reading in its entirety Jill Lepore’s The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity which was winner of the Bancroft Prize in 1999.

    King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity

    Jomini on the Nature of War – Part VII – Jomini’s Impact on Civil War Leadership

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    jomini-cropped.jpgThis post continues the series of “Jomini on the Nature of War.” Part I: Introduction is available here, Part II: The Burgeoning Military Theorist here, Part III: The Founder of Modern Strategy here, Part IV: The Basics here, Part V: Lines of Operation here, and Part VI – The Conduct of War here.

    Returning to Baron Antoine de Jomini (right), I wanted to explore the extent to which his strategies influenced those who held leadership positions during the American Civil War. A modest survey of the literature revealed some disagreement. 

    Historian James L. Morrison, Jr. in his article “Educating the Civil War Generals: West Point, 1833 - 1861,″ pointed out that exposure to Jomini came during “Professor Dennis H. Mahan’s [pictured below] course, Civil and Military Engineering and the Science of War which all First Classmen studied daily.”[i]

    Dennis Mahan

    Dennis H. Mahan
    Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

    But only nine hours were given to the study of the science of war and Morrison contends that this was entirely too brief an exposure to have had any lasting impact. That said, he acknowledges that some alumni of the military academy studied Jomini thoroughly including Beauregard, Lee, Halleck, and McClellan.

    “…The same cannot be said for the great majority of their colleagues who had neither the opportunity nor the inclination to continue their strategic studies after graduation. Probably Sherman was more representative of the typical graduate when he denied that Jomini had affected his thoughts or actions in the war.” [ii]

     I’ll discuss some additional viewpoints in the next post.

    A word on Dennis H. Mahan. A military theorist in his own right, Mahan was instrumental in developing the engineering-focused curriculum at West Point. Some may recall that he was the father of naval strategist Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan. The elder’s obituary, which appeared on September 17, 1871 in New York Times here, reveals that Professor Mahan committed suicide by jumping in the Hudson River from the deck of the steamboat Mary Powell in such a way that he was hit by the wheel. He was apparently despondant about being forced to retire. A sad end to a remarkable career. Professor Mahan’s memoir is available online here.

    Powell Photo
    Mary Powell, Queen of the Hudson

    [i, ii] James L. Morrison, Jr., “Educating the Civil War Generals: West Point, 1833 – 1861,” Military Affairs, Vol. 38, No. 3. (Oct., 1974), pp. 109.

    Addition to My Blogroll

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    I’ve recently added ELEKTRATIG to my blogroll. He and I have cross-referenced several posts on topics like the inevitability of the American Civil War (available here) and he has always provided thoughtful comments.

    Today, he has a post on George Bancroft that you can read here which speaks to the special relationship that Bancroft had with President James Polk. Bancroft was instrumental in Polk receiving the democratic nomination in 1844 because he was able to swing the Massachusetts vote his way. Bancroft became, as a result, the most powerful Democrat in Massachusetts.[i]

    As Elektratig mentions, today not a lot of people know of Bancroft but for citizens of the nineteenth century he was, as biographer Robert Canary put it, “one of the first great American historians and one of the most widely read American historical writers of his time.”[ii]

    Naval historians will know that it was Bancroft who founded the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis while serving as Secretary of the Navy under President Polk. (Below is Bancroft Hall at Annapolis).

    For more information:
    George Bancroft, American Historian available here.
    Book Review: George Bancroft available here.
    2008 Democratic Convention Guide here.
    Secretary of the Navy available here.

    Bancroft Hall

    [i] Russel B. Nye, George Bancroft, (New York: Washington Square Press. Inc., 1964), 10.

    [ii] Robert H. Canary, George Bancroft, (New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1974), i.

    New Pages

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    As my studies progress, I’ve found need of several more pages on the blog. Those of you who roam around a bit will know that I’ve intentionally used the more static “page” feature of my blog template to accumulate information that I’m picking up from classes and research. To that end, I’ve added the following:

    Comte

    the philosophers / sociologists 
    I’ve discovered a group of people that aren’t pure historians and who have influenced thought in areas not specific to military history. You’ll only find Auguste Comte there so far but watch for more (interesting fellow – pictured here).

    the terms 
    I’ve got a ton of new words / terminology coming my way and I need a spot to jot them down and eventually define them. I’d also like to be able to go back to them in one spot. It’s looking very highbrow-ish to me now that I’ve added words from today’s reading in Breisach. You, on the other hand, may look at the words and think I must have been sleeping in Freshman general ed classes. OK I knew some of these terms before today!

    civil-war-084-cropped.jpg

    the railroads
    It occurred to me when I did my two posts on the railroads and the American Civil War just how important the rails were to this – arguably – first modern war. Since I also have a page on the ships, I decided to begin collecting railroad information as well. For now it has links to the two railroad-specific post I made last month. More to come.

    Kudos
    Finally, I’ve add a kudos page which it’s possible is an act of shameful self-aggrandisement but I prefer to think of it as a karmic act of thanks to those folks who have taken the time to make a nice comment either on my blog or theirs. It’s my modest plug back to them and where possible, I provide a link to their site. Thanks to all for the encouragement. And if I missed anyone, I’ll hope to fill in the gaps shortly. Oh and by all means, if you’d prefer I take you name off of this page, do let me know.

    Top photo: Auguste Comte. Public Domain. Source: Wikicommons.
    Middle photo: Station at Hanover Junction, Pa., showing an engine and cars. In November 1863 Lincoln had to change trains at this point to dedicate the Gettysburg Battlefield. LOC: 111-B- 83.

    American Historian: George Bancroft

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    I’m back from Christmas break and trying to recuperate from a few too many cinnamon rolls. Reading assignments and preparation of a research proposal due Sunday are top of mind.

    The class is Historiography so the research isn’t to be about the development and proof of a thesis. It’s more about research into the history of how history was written.

    George Bancroft in Old AgeFor my research paper, I plan to explore the influence of historian George Bancroft (right) on Antebellum, Civil War, and Postbellum American history. I may need to shave this down a bit depending on how much material I find.

    Bancroft was one of the best known American historians of the 19thcentury. While Harvard educated (he entered at 13 and graduated at 17!), he is considered a “literary historian,” who wrote in a style popular with A History of the United States Bancroftthe public. His primary work was the multi-volume History of the United States from the Discovery of the American Continent, which he began writing in 1830. [Picture left of remaining vHe published the first three volumes over that decade. The final set would be ten volumes. A first revision was completed and published as six volumes in 1876 as part of the national centennial.

    Perhaps less known is that Bancroft, while Secretary of the Navy, created the Naval Academy. He was also chosen by Congress to eulogize Abraham Lincoln. The New York Times reprinted that Eulogy on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the event in 1915. It, along with drawings of the event, can be seen in their entirety here.

    I have located the index to his papers housed on microfiche at Cornell University and two biographies which leverage that material. The first, a two volume set 1971 reprint of M.A. DeWolfe Howe’s 1908 work The Life and Letters of George Bancroft I was able to find on the Amazon Marketplace in almost pristine shape. The second, George Bancroft: Brahmin Rebel, was written by Russel B. Nye and published in 1945. It’s on order. There are other large collections of Bancroft materials in holdings by the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library. I’m beginning in earnest a search for articles that deal with his contributions to American history as well.

    As a follow-up at some later point, I think it would be very interesting to contrast the style and impact Bancroft Portraitof George Bancroft with Charles and Mary Beard. As a historian friend of mine said, “you’d be hard pressed to find two more different expositors on the American experience than Bancroft and Beard. Bancroft was an unabashed patriot and advocate of democracy, to a degree that would be considered embarrassing in most academic settings today. Still, he was indeed the most articulate and widely-read of our early historians, and his writings both reflected and helped to create the sense of American exceptionalism that has prevailed for most of our history as a nation.”

    You might recall that Charles and Mary Beard were the first to suggest that the Civil War was the second American revolution as was mentioned in my previous post here.

    The exceptional oil on canvas portrait above of Bancroft in later life was painted by Gustav Richter, a German painter (1823 – 1884). It is a part of the Harvard University Portrait Collection and is on display at Memorial Hall.

    More as I get into my research.

    Photo credits:
    Photo of George Bancroft in middle age taken by Mathew Brady, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
    Photo of painting above: The President and Fellows of Harvard College.

     

    On Dog Tags, Sunken Confederate Subs, and Graves Registration

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    I am returning in this post to a topic covered previously here on the discovery and recovery of the Confederate submarine, CSS H. L. Hunley, found in 1995 in the waters off Charleston, S.C. The Friends of the Hunley chronicled the archaeological discovery process which uncovered something very interesting. It was the “ID Tag” of Ezra Chamberlin. This created somewhat of a mystery because Ezra was a member of the infantry of the Union Army. What would the ID Tag of a Union soldier be doing in a sunken Confederate submarine?

    Research by forensic genealogist Linda Abrams provided a plausible solution to the mystery as outlined in a story on the Friends of Hunley site. It’s a good read. The suggestion is that Chamberlin died at the Battle of Fort Wagner, a.k.a. the First Assault on Morris Island. His body was likely ransacked by Confederate troops and his ID medallion taken as a souvenir. This was common practice on both sides.

    Interestingly, the remains of the Hunley crewman wearing Chamberlin’s medallion were identified to be those of Confederate Corporal J. F. Carlsen who can be placed at Morris Island during the Union’s second attack. His facial reconstruction is available at the link above. Whether he took the medallion from Chamberlin’s body or traded for it is unknown.

    That Civil War soldiers wore identification medallions (Dog tags) like the one belonging to Private Chamberlin was news to me. My research confirmed that they were not issued by either government. According to an essay by Edward Steere posted on the U.S. Army Mortuary Affairs Center, there were no graves registration units to formally identify and bury battle dead. “Burial was, of necessity, performed by fatigue parties from the line. … Little or no provision could be made for any systematic interment of remains during a campaign of rapid movement.” Burying the dead at Fredericksburg, Va., after the Wilderness Campaign, May 1864. Photographed by Timothy H. O'Sullivan. 111-B-4817.

    As in any war, the bodies of the victors were treated better than those of the vanquished. It is well known that battle dead in the Civil War were often buried in pits or unmarked graves. Use of coffins, like those pictured here at Fredricksburg after the Wilderness Campaign, was unusual.

    Men began to take responsibility for their own identification. Those of means could order ornate identification medals or pins. Some purchased less expensive medallions from sutlers, merchants following the armies. Made from coins or other metallic disks, sutlers charged a small fee for stamping into the metal a soldier’s name and unit among other things. Some men without other identification simply wrote their names on paper and pinned it to their shirt prior to going into battle. Shockingly, Steere estimates that only 30 percent of soldiers who died in the Civil War were identified.

    Of additional interest:

    • Mike Brown has an excellent history of Civil War Dog Tags and pictures of several varieties on his website.
    • Replica ID tags can be purchased from Civil War memorabilia shops like Memorial Brass.
    • The modern process for embalming began during the Civil War as grieving families wanted to have the the bodies of their oved ones returned home for burial.

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    Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree

    Capturing the Civil War: The Photographic Record

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    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.

    Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Selected Civil War Photographs[Charleston Harbor, S.C. Deck and officers of U.S.S. monitor Catskill; Lt. Comdr. Edward Barrett seated on the turret].[Charleston Harbor, S.C. Deck and officers of U.S.S. monitor Catskill; Lt. Comdr. Edward Barrett seated on the turret].
    The collection includes 1,118 photographs of “scenes of military personnel, preparations for battle, and battle after-effects.” Both Confederate and Union soldiers of officer and enlisted ranks are represented. Also in the collection are albums of CDVs (carte-de-visite) – with over 200 visiting card photos representing a “who’s who” of the time of the Lincoln presidential administration.

    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, RailroadsConstruction of telegraph lines 1864
    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

    Lincoln’s Assassination

    The photograph above captures the “Constructing of telegraph lines, April 1864.” It was photographed by Timothy H. O’Sullivan. Reference number 165-SB-62.
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    Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree

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