Monday, March 28, 2011

Civil War Death Counts Revisited

I stumbled across this just now and found it interesting. A couple of researchers are "recounting" deaths from the Civil War. If their current research holds up in appears Virginia will now have the most losses in the Confederacy. Currently accepted numbers show North Carolina having the most deaths in the Confederacy with over 40,000.

Read the full article here.

So what do you think? Is this really much ado about nothing? I know states take/took pride in the number of soldiers sent off to battle but are these recounts really needed and do they prove anything? Well, yes and no in my opinion. As historians it is only proper that the most accurate and honest information be provided to readers. In that regard YES these counts are important and maybe other states will have their numbers evaluated. There is no doubt more to be learned here. However, in the same vein that makes us question original government counts should we not have the same skepticism over modern counts? We all resources consulted? How accurate and complete are these sources? Are the same methods being used by historian A as by historian B? If not does this sku their findings? Finally though, can we ever really know a true number? Of course not. In that regard maybe it is best to just let sleeping soldiers lie.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Eating Our Way Through Gettysburg

Many of you know Chris and I recently took a trip to Gettysburg. There are plenty of good places to eat there so I thought I'd recap some of those we ate at. Feel free to chime in with your favorites or your comments on where we ate or better yet didn't get to.

Inside the Victorian Cottage Breakfast Lodge
 We stayed at the Quality Inn Gettysburg Motor Lodge. Seeing that breakfast was included we ate there each morning. Eggs, sausage, english muffins, toast, cereal, fresh fruit, milk, juices, coffee, and tea were available starting way too early but they had food out until 10am. Good way to start each morning.

On Steinwehr Avenue

While there we received several recommendations on places to eat and we tried a bunch of them. One place we ate lunch at a couple of times was Hunt's Cafe home of the Battlefield Fries. Owners Scott and Donna Hunt serve up heaping baskets of fresh cut "boardwalk style" fries. The small basket was easily enough to share. The cheese steak sandwich was also very good. The restaurant is a bit cramped with the ice cream station, the Green Mountain coffee display, and the hundreds of military type hats and flags, reproduction signs and more that is available. I guess that's all part of the charm but the food was excellent and both Scott and Donna were very friendly. Recommended.

We also ate at the Lincoln Diner(no website that I could find) a couple of times. Once out of necessity seeing that we were eating late and there wasn't much open and the other from a recommendation. Located near the Gettysburg Train Station the diner is easy to find. The food was pretty solid for what you would expect. It's a diner. Nothing fancy. The meatloaf was good and I had an open faced turkey sandwich that I thought more than filled the bill. Desserts are spinning in a case near the entrance and looked good. The staff isn't the best in the world and probably need to tone down the negative discussions about each other while in earshot of customers. Overall though it's what you should was clean, the food was good, and the prices reasonable. I would definitely eat there again.

The front of Pickett's on Steinwehr Avenue
 Our first night in town we had to decide where to eat since we were both hungry from the flight and the drive. General Pickett's Buffet it was. The food was fresh and good considering you never know what a buffet will hold. The offerings while not huge were satisfying. While overall pretty heavy on the starches and fried food (what buffet isn't) there some other interesting items including a spicy seafood creole that I found really good. The chili was tasty as well. Ham and roast beef with two different levels of wellness were at the carving station. Don't forget to hit the desert station before leaving for a brownie (or two) and a slice of pie or cake. Prices were fair and the service was attentive but not bothersome. Pickett's does seem to cater to tour groups and buses so you may want to have a backup plan in case you pull up to 4 tour buses of teenagers.

The Dobbin House

What trip to Gettysburg is complete without a trip to The Dobbin House? Check our their menus here. We ate lunch at the Springhouse Tavern. Chris had an excellent onion soup. The sandwiches were good and the surroundings fun and interesting. The service was adequate. Not stellar not horrible. Just an FYI it is dark in the Tavern. Most of your light comes from the candles you find on the tables. Watch your step! The house itself is full of history and during the 19th century served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. After the battle of Gettysburg the house served as a hospital for both Union and Confederate troops. Be sure to look for the spring and also ask for directions to see the runaway slave hiding location.

The Farnsworth House

Another destination for many tourists is The Farnsworth House. This is kind of one stop shopping for tourists: inn, restaurant, ghost tour, dinner theatre, gift shop, bookstore, and more. The house still shows the scars from the Civil War with over 100 bullet holes in the south wall. We ate in the tavern. I had a good burger, but then it should be hard to mess that up. Chris again had onion soup (though not as good as at Dobbin House) and a ham sandwich. We had a very nice window table looking out over the courtyard. I imagine during season though this wouldn't be such a great table since the courtyard would be busier.

If you are looking for pizza look no further than Tommy's. Made fresh while you wait this was really good. Run by third generation family members Tommy's and other restaurants owned by the same family are Gettysburg institutions so to speak. We got there late one evening and the inside was empty. We got our pizza quickly and noticed that while after 8pm during a still slow season the restaurant did a good take out business. The restaurant was clean, within walking distance of several hotels (including ours) and the staff friendly. We were greeted coming in the door and thanked when leaving. If you go to their website be sure to check out the about us page. Great story!

Probably the only disappointing meal we had was at Momma Ventura's. Located just off Lincoln Square in downtown Momma Ventura's bills itself as Gettysburg's only true Italian restaurant. If that is the case then somebody needs to open something else to help bring up the standards a bit. The problem started early when the bread was cold and hard. Now this was not meant to be standard room temperature bread. It really seemed like yesterday's bread. There were two rolls to start (one for each I suppose) and when the waitress noticed the basket empty and asked if we would like more it was a race as to who could say no quicker. I had lasagna which was just OK. Not bad but clearly not the best I have ever had. Chris had baked ziti but didn't think too much of it. I believe canned pasta was the term used to describe it. At least Chef Boy Ar Dee has found a job in this economy huh? After looking at what appeared to be brought in food service deserts tightly wrapped in cling wrap sitting in the old display case standing by the front window we took a pass. Service was so-so, prices were too high for what the food was, and the food, well you read my thoughts.

On Steinwehr Avenue

Eddie Plank

I guess to make up for Momma Ventura's we found Gettysburg Eddie's. Named for baseball hall of fame Eddie Plank, who is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, this was a nice find. We ate dinner here two different nights and had the same waiter both times. I was pleasantly surprised he remembered us since it was not back to back nights. Both times the food was good as well. The first time we went Chris had the blackened chicken and I had the seafood platter. Both were good. The chicken was different from other blackened I am used to. In addition to the blackening seasoning it also came covered in BBQ sauce. A bit unusual but I did try a bite and it was tasty. The seafood platter was a combination fried and broiled and was good. For our second go around we tried our waiters recommendation of the english style beef sandwich and the Philly cheese steak. The english style won out but the Philly was good too. I guess the only disappointment was that they were out of shirts in my size. Chris said maybe Santa was listening though.

Overall we had a great trip and had some good food. I know there are places we didn't get to though so please post your favorites or what you think of where we ate.

FTM Top 10 Civil War Websites

Family Tree Magazine has posted a list of the top 10 Civil War websites for genealogists in their May 2011 issue. I thought I would post this and open the floor for comments. Let readers know what you think of these sites. Remember they are using criteria for genealogists not necessarily what others would use. My comments are strictly based upon what was published in FTM and not from my usage.

HOWEVER...I would like to compile a listing of readers top 10 Civil War websites. Please leave a comment with your favorites and I'll compile them and publish in a future post.

1) Civil War Soldiers and Sailors  This NPS site is a winner for anybody researching particular soldiers. It also has regiment information, cemeteries, POWs and more. A great site.

2) Footnote  This pay site has Confederate service records, Union pension applications and more.

3) Ancestry  Another pay site. Pension apps, census records, POW records and more can be  found here.

4)  The 128 volume OR appears to be the highlight here. Battle maps are also available.
5) eHistory  The OR with a searchable index is here as is the atlas. Civil War letters and diaries can also be viewed.

6) Civil War Trust  Battlefield maps, Civil War Discovery Trail, biographies and battle histories are available.

7) Nationwide Grave Locator  Find where a veteran is buried using this site. Confederate burials are included.

8) Ken Burns' The Civil War  A large image gallery, historical documents, bibliography and links are available.

9) Library of Virginia  A searchable index of 30 years worth of Confederate Veteran magazine, Virginia Pension apps, disability apps, and more can be found here.

10) American Civil War Homepage  A huge links site maintained by George H. Hoemann.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sign up for a FTM Civil War webinar

Family Tree Magazine is offering the chance to attend their Civil War webinar for free. It will be hosted by Michael Varhola, author of Life in Civil War America. This will take place April 6 at 2pm. Read the email I received below.

Free Civil War Webinar

Posted by jamie

Good news, family historians! We're offering one of our interactive online seminars for free to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

Learn what life was really like during the war between the states for the soldiers who fought and died in the conflict, as well as the civilians they left behind at home. Take a virtual trip back to the 1860s with Michael O. Varhola, the author of the new book Life in Civil War America, to discover what your ancestors wore, said, ate, earned, did for fun and more.

Registration for the live session includes:

* participation in the live presentation and Q&A session
* access to the webinar recording to view again as many times as you like
* PDF of the presentation slides for future reference
* coupon for purchase of Life in Civil War America or 2011 Civil War desk calendar

The Life in Civil War America webinar is scheduled for April 6 at 2 p.m. Click here to reserve your spot.

UPDATE: If you cannot attend the free webinar when it is being broadcast, you can still access the recording and handouts afterward by registering for the webinar. Click here to register.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book Review--Civil War Paper Items

Dickinson, Jack L. Civil War Paper Items: The Rosanna A. Blake Confederate Collection Marshall University. Pictorial Histories Publishing Co. Charleston, WV, 2005, 122 pages, index, bibliography, notes, color & b/w photos. ISBN 1575101181, $14.95.

Civil War Paper Items - The Rosanna A. Blake Confederate Collection Marshall UniversityThere are those out there with the time, money, and dedication to build top notch collections. Then there are the libraries, historical societies and museums lucky enough to receive these collections as gifts or bequests. This brief book touches on the story of one such collection.

Rosanna Blake's collection began at the tender age of 10 with the gift of the book The Heart of Lee from her mother. She later earned degrees from Marshall University, Ohio University, and a law degree from the University of Kentucky. Her career afforded her the opportunity financially and time wise to expand her library which began almost exclusively devoted to Robert E. Lee. As Lee material became more difficult to find she expanded her interests to a point that included material related to all aspects of the Confederacy. When she passed away in 1987 her will stipulated that the Confederate Collection be donated to Marshall University.

Rosanna Blake in her library.

The collection now totals over 4,000 monographs and 3,000 imprints. Also included is a microfilm library of Civil War era southern newspapers. Ms. Blake also had a large collection of music that was printed in Confederate states, photos, and other paper items.

Marshall University has an excellent website dedicated to the collection that you may access here. Included in the site is a list of holdings that is broken down by category. Quite an interesting way to spend some time.

The book itself is small and is broken down by item type. Sections include documents and manuscript items, entertainment, tracts and religious printings, Confederate bonds and money, caches and letterheads, government imprints, carte-de-vistes, prints and sketches, wallpaper printings, miscellaneous, and veteran organizations.

Obviously with this many subjects none can be covered in depth with the space limitations of the book. Each chapter begins with a brief, usually one page description of the category. After this are the photos and descriptions. Some items are described in more detail than others and most contain catalog numbers from the library.

This is an interesting book that should appeal to those who collect Civil War paper items and is a must view for those collecting Confederate paper. This is not a reference or teaching book and you aren't going to learn much on collecting or on the various subjects. There are no prices so don't look to use this for valuations. What you will get however is the chance to view some really neat items that most of us would never see otherwise.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Book Review--My Old Confederate Home

Williams, Rusty. My Old Confederate Home: A Respectable Place for Civil War Veterans. The University Press of Kentucky; Lexington, Kentucky. 313 pages 267 pages of text. B/W photos, index, bibliography, notes. 2010. ISBN 9780813125824. $34.95.

My Old Confederate Home: A Respectable Place for Civil War VeteransAmericans have always felt a duty and obligation to their soldiers. This was especially true for those living in the former Confederate states where the federal government was of course unwilling to supply for the needs of those once considered to be traitors. If support was to be provided for Johnny Rebs it was left up to state governments, concerned citizens, and Confederate veterans groups (which would come to include the United Daughters of the Confederacy) to accommodate the physical needs, health issues, and as Rusty Williams adds provide a "respectable place" for the aging Confederate populations.

States met with varying degrees of success in providing for Confederate soldiers. There were funds to be raised, property to be purchased, staff to be hired and trained, funds to be raised, and even more funds to be raised. In My Old Confederate Home Rusty Williams presents the story of the Kentucky Confederate home. While not a Confederate state in the sense that it did not secede there was a strong Confederate feeling both during and after the war. Varying groups wanted to be in the lead of building a Confederate home in Kentucky. Despite the political bickering the home was founded in 1902 in a closed luxury hotel in Pewee Valley. While not originally welcomed in the area the home became a fixture in the community and children even played on the grounds. Soldiers were not always known by name but they were known. The home brought a limited number of jobs to the area as well as provided revenue from those who came to visit.

As veterans aged it became inevitable that some met monetary success while others struggled. The story of the home is really the story of the soldiers and the people who help run the home. We meet men like Billy Beasley who is given a second chance at life and prospers running a newspaper stand courtesy of fellow veterans. We come face to face with the varying management styles of Commandants William Coleman, Henry George, Charles Daughtry, and Alexander McFarlane. These are the men who  dealt with the day to day issues of the home. From providing nutritious yet interesting meals, to entertainment, to passing down discipline, these men dealt with a multitude of difficulties but met the job head on. We see veterans like James H. Mocabee who was caught red handed smuggling whiskey into the home. Veteran Alexander N. White was known as an inmate Reverend and had a reputation for preaching and also for being a busybody. It is this human touch and bringing soldiers to life that helps make Williams book such a success.

While this is the story of the Kentucky Confederate Home this book also becomes a social history of the early twentieth century. The world was rapidly changing as would things in Pewee Valley. Women were becoming more vocal in their quest for equality. The Confederate Home was not immune to this as the United Daughters of the Confederacy became a well meaning fly in their ointment. These women were interested in making sure the veterans were properly cared for. This meant good food, good medical care, good mental stimulation, but also they wanted a part of the decision making process. While the Board of Directors remained a bastion of maledom there was little doubt times were changing. 1914 became a key year for the home in many ways. In 1914 the home began to lose inmates (by using the definition from the time frame an inmate is "one who lives in the same house or apartment with another" and not the negative association we have with the word today ). More veterans were dying than were being admitted. Also, during this time frame the outbreak of World War I led to a shifting of priorities. Part of the property was taken by the Red Cross for it's work. Veterans returning from oversees were seemingly given priority. In 1920 a major fire damaged much of the property but led to no lose of life. Despite a rebuilding the home was never the same. As Williams points out the home was rapidly losing residents. By 1929 less than 35 men lived in the home. This coupled with the fact that more than 9 out of 10 residents of Kentucky were born after the Civil War led to a strong shift in priorities. By the time of the Great Depression the home housed less than a dozen residents. No longer was the home politically needed nor was it financially viable. By mid 1934 the home was closed and the last five residents were moved to a local sanitarium.

In My Old Confederate Home Rusty Williams has written an important book. It is important we realize the war did not end once the guns and swords were put down. For many men they were dealing with it's realities for the rest of their lives. Homes like those at Pewee Valley played an important last role in these men's lives. Using primary documents for much of his work Williams has provided these veterans with a more than respectable tribute. Highly recommended.

Be sure to check out Rusty's blog here. It hasn't been updated in a while but there is some interesting information there.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

New Book Deals with Lincoln and Colonization

I came across this on Yahoo this evening and wanted to share. Published by the University of Missouri PressColonization After Emancipation, puts forth the idea that Lincoln was continuing to push for voluntary black colonization of the area that is now Belize after they were released from slavery. Based upon recently discovered documents in the British National Archives and also the National Archives this book is sure to stir discussion and arouse feelings both for and against President Lincoln.
Colonization After Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black ResettlementMcLEAN, Va. – Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address has inspired Americans for generations, but consider his jarring remarks in 1862 to a White House audience of free blacks, urging them to leave the U.S. and settle in Central America.

"For the sake of your race, you should sacrifice something of your present comfort for the purpose of being as grand in that respect as the white people," Lincoln said, promoting his idea of colonization: resettling blacks in foreign countries on the belief that whites and blacks could not coexist in the same nation.

Lincoln went on to say that free blacks who envisioned a permanent life in the United States were being "selfish" and he promoted Central America as an ideal location "especially because of the similarity of climate with your native land — thus being suited to your physical condition."

As the nation celebrates the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's first inauguration Friday, a new book by a researcher at George Mason University in Fairfax makes the case that Lincoln was even more committed to colonizing blacks than previously known. The book, "Colonization After Emancipation," is based in part on newly uncovered documents that authors Philip Magness and Sebastian Page found at the British National Archives outside London and in the U.S. National Archives.

In an interview, Magness said he thinks the documents he uncovered reveal Lincoln's complexity.

"It makes his life more interesting, his racial legacy more controversial," said Magness, who is also an adjunct professor at American University.

Lincoln's views about colonization are well known among historians, even if they don't make it into most schoolbooks. Lincoln even referred to colonization in the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, his September 1862 warning to the South that he would free all slaves in Southern territory if the rebellion continued. Unlike some others, Lincoln always promoted a voluntary colonization, rather than forcing blacks to leave.

But historians differ on whether Lincoln moved away from colonization after he issued the official Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, or whether he continued to support it.

Magness and Page's book offers evidence that Lincoln continued to support colonization, engaging in secret diplomacy with the British to establish a colony in British Honduras, now Belize.

Among the records found at the British archives is an 1863 order from Lincoln granting a British agent permission to recruit volunteers for a Belize colony.

"He didn't let colonization die off. He became very active in promoting it in the private sphere, through diplomatic channels," Magness said. He surmises that Lincoln grew weary of the controversy that surrounded colonization efforts, which had become enmeshed in scandal and were criticized by many abolitionists.

As late as 1864, Magness found a notation that Lincoln asked the attorney general whether he could continue to receive counsel from James Mitchell, his colonization commissioner, even after Congress had eliminated funding for Mitchell's office.

Illinois' state historian, Tom Schwartz, who is also a research director at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Ill., said that while historians differ, there is ample evidence that Lincoln's views evolved away from colonization in the final two years of the Civil War.

Lincoln gave several speeches referring to the rights blacks had earned as they enlisted in the Union Army, for instance. And presidential secretary John Hay wrote in July 1864 that Lincoln had "sloughed off" colonization.

"Most of the evidence points to the idea that Lincoln is looking at other ways" to resolve the transition from slavery besides colonization at the end of his presidency, Schwartz said.

Lincoln is the not the only president whose views on race relations and slavery were more complex and less idealistic than children's storybook histories suggest. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both slaveholders despite misgivings. Washington freed his slaves when he died.

"Washington, because he wanted to keep the union, knew he had to ignore the slavery problem because it would have torn the country apart, said James Rees, director of Washington's Mount Vernon estate.

"It's tempting to wish he had tried. The nation had more chance of dealing with slavery with Washington than with anyone else," Rees said, noting the esteem in which Washington was held in both the North and the South.

Magness said views on Lincoln can be strongly held and often divergent. He noted that people have sought to use Lincoln's legacy to support all manner of political policy agendas since the day he was assassinated. And nobody can claim definitive knowledge of Lincoln's own views, especially on a topic as complex as race relations.

"He never had a chance to complete his vision. Lincoln's racial views were evolving at the time of his death," Magness said.