Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ambrose Bierce

As I contemplated the current mess in Washington, my thoughts turned to newspaperman, short-story writer, poet and satirist Ambrose Bierce. What would he have to say about the Congress? Fortunately, we have some insights from him courtesy of his The Devil's Dictionary.

Here is a sampling from The Devil's Dictionary web site:

POLITICS, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

POLITICIAN, n. An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared. When he wriggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared with the statesman, he suffers the disadvantage of being alive.

CONGRESS, n. A body of men who meet to repeal laws.

WALL STREET, n. A symbol for sin for every devil to rebuke. That Wall Street is a den of thieves is a belief that serves every unsuccessful thief in place of a hope in Heaven. Even the great and good Andrew Carnegie has made his profession of faith in the matter.

ECONOMY, n. Purchasing the barrel of whiskey that you do not need for the price of the cow that you cannot afford.

LAWYER, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.

REPRESENTATIVE, n. In national politics, a member of the Lower House in this world, and without discernible hope of promotion in the next.

Please see The Ambrose Bierce Site for additional information on Bierce

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Instructor and Commandant of Cadets

During his tenure as an instructor and Commandant of Cadets from 1838 to 1843, first lieutenant Charles Ferguson Smith taught many cadets who were to become important Civil War generals. The following is only a partial list of those he guided:

Beauregard, Pierre Gustave Toutant (1838) Confederate
Buckner, Simon Bolivar (1844) Confederate
Buell, Don Carlos (1841) Union
Burnside, Ambrose Everett (1847) Union
Doubleday, Abner (1842) Union
Ewell, Richard Stoddert (1840) Confederate
Gibbon, John (1847) Union
Grant, Ulysses Simpson (1843) Union
Hancock, Winfield Scott (1844) Union
Hardee, William Joseph (1838) Confederate
H├ębert, Paul Octave (1840) Confederate
Heth, Henry (1847) Confederate
Hill, Ambrose (1847) Confederate
Jackson, Thomas Jonathan (1846) Confederate
Johnson, Bushrod Rust (1840) Confederate
Longstreet, James (1842) Confederate
Lyon, Nathaniel (1841) Union
Maxey, Samuel Bell (1846) Confederate
McClellan, George Brinton (1846) Union
McDowell, Irvin (1838) Union
McLaws, Lafayette (1842) Confederate
Pickett, George Edward (1846) Confederate
Pope, John (1842) Union
Porter, Fitz John (1845) Union
Reynolds, John Fulton (1841) Union
Rosecrans, William Starke (1842) Union
Sherman, William Tecumseh (1840) Union
Smith, Edmund Kirby (1845) Confederate
Smith, Gustavus Woodson (1842) Confederate
Stoneman, George (1846) Union
Thomas, George Henry (1840) Union
Van Dorn, Earl (1842) Confederate
Wilcox, Cadmus Marcellus (1846) Confederate

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Union Hero --- But Was He Heroic?

In Little Phil – A Reassessment of the Civil War Leadership of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, Eric J. Wittenberg reaches the following conclusions about Sheridan:

- Sheridan was not a great commander of cavalry.
- Sheridan’s performance in the Shenandoah Valley was also lackluster.
- Sheridan had a wide streak of insubordination and was not dependable in a subordinate role.
- Sheridan’s inability to recognize his own character flaws meant that others who drew his ire had their lives and careers cavalierly ruined.
- Sheridan tended to prevaricate in an effort to improve his standing in the eyes of those reviewing his actions.
- Little Phil did have some good qualities – the killer instinct, ability to lead a combined force in combat, confidence and an “electric personality”

Wittenberg does not feel that Sheridan is deserving of the “lofty reputation bestowed upon him by history.”

Does he enjoy an unwarranted reputation? Perhaps, but is he heroic?

According best-selling author, Dean Koontz in How to Write Best Selling Fiction, there are five heroic traits virtue, competence, courage, likeability and imperfections.

On the count of virtue, he seems to fall short (no pun intended). His treatment of friends and fellow officers was a testimony to his own self-promotion. He won many a promotion because of his numerous benefactors.

His competence can certainly be questioned if his actions in the Shenandoah Valley and as a cavalry commander are judged. I would even question the high marks he received in his pursuit of Lee to Appomattox. The condition of Lee’s army may have more to do with Sheridan’s victory than did his tenacity. Was he out to capture Lee or be the commander who caused Lee to surrender?

Sheridan seems to be courageous and his actions inspired his soldiers to make the sacrifices necessary.

Sheridan was very respected and liked by Grant and his troops.

He certainly had imperfections which seemed to be ignored by his supporters. He did not succeed by overcoming his faults, but rather by superior officers who overlooked them because of his “electric personality.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bitterly Divided

Bitterly Divided by David Williams provides a perspective on conflicts within the South during the Civil War. He believes that, far from presenting a uniform front, there was disagreement and disenchantment about war. He suggests that a 25% minority composed of powerful plantation owners fostered the war. Williams says that the war quickly became a "rich man's war, poor man's fight." The book is available from The New Press for $27.95.

Battle of Mill Springs DVD

The Mill Springs Battlefield Association has produced a new DVD on the battle that can be obtained for $25 (plus $2 for Shipping and handling). KET-TV is showing the film at several times in early October. I strongly recommend a visit to this battlefield in Kentucky.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Civil War Events in September

While Civil War enthusiasts flock to Chickamauga, GA for this weekend's 145th anniversary re-enactment, there are other battles that are also celebrating the same anniversary.

Opequon, VA - September 19, 1864 - Is an A rated battle that is part of Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign

Fisher's Hill, VA - September 21-22, 1864 - This B rated battle is also part Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign

Fort Davidson, MO -September 27, 1864 - This might be an opportunity to visit the fort which was part of Price’s Missouri Expedition

Chaffin's Farm/New Market Heights, VA - September 29-30, 1864 - Was an early battle featuring U.S. Colored Troops. The troops showed great valor and several were awarded Medals of Honor.

I hope you will have the opportunity to visit one of the sites this month.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Early Life of Charles Ferguson Smith

Charles F. Smith was born in Philadelphia, PA on April 24, 1807. He was the son of Assistant Surgeon Samuel B. Smith of the U.S. Army. He attended the U.S. Military Academy from July 1, 1820 to July 1, 1825. Upon graduation he was made a brevet Second Lieutenant of Artillery. [Brevet refers to an authorization to promote a commissioned officer to hold a higher rank temporarily, but usually without receiving the pay of that higher rank.] His status was made permanent on the same day. [Why was the brevet authorization even made?]

The superintendent from 1817 to 1833 was Colonel Sylvanus Thayer who is known as the "father of the Military Academy." Thayer improved academic standards, instilled military discipline and emphasized honorable conduct. He also created a teaching method which emphasizes self study and daily homework. Thayer made civil engineering the foundation of the curriculum and as a result West Point graduates were responsible for the construction of the bulk of the nation's initial railway lines, bridges, harbors and roads.

Please see United States Military Academy to learn more about this institution.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Washington's Civil War Defenses

The Fall 2008 issue of Hallowed Ground published by the Civil War Preservation Trust, contains an excellent article on Washington's Civil War defenses. According to the article, the city had 68 enclosed forts with 807 mounted cannons and 93 mortars, 93 unarmed batteries with 401 emplacements for field guns and 20 miles of rifle trenches. The article also contains a summary of the battle of Fort Stevens.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

History Channel Magazine Articles

The September/October issue of History has several articles of interest to Civil War enthusiasts. The Great Debate discusses the debates between Lincoln and Douglas in 1858. Conductor on the Underground Railroad presents the roles played by Levi Coffin and New Garden, Indiana in helping slaves escape from the South. To Catch a Thief reveals how a letter written by Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead that had been stolen from the National Archives was recovered.

To learn more, please see The History Channel.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Battle of Chickamauga

The 145 Anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga will take place from September 19th to 21st, 2008. If we survive hurricane Ike, I may see you there.

To learn more about the re-enactment, please see Battle of Chickamauga to learn more.

I would appreciate any suggestions for lodgings and dinning.


Welcome to Salient Points, a new Blog dedicated to research and discussion on the American Civil War. We welcome you to participate. Please keep your comments, suggestions and attitudes appropriate to a general audience.

I am doing research on Union General Charles Ferguson Smith and would appreciate any help in locating articles about him. I would also be interested in your thoughts on books on the history of West Point.