Monday, December 17, 2012

Burnside's Legacy Lives On

Ambrose Burnside
Ambrose Burnside is considered one of the most incompetent generals of the Civil War.  The criticism is based on his "leadership" at the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle of the Crater.  We can now add another black mark to his legacy.  Burnside was the first president of the National Rifle Association.

Like millions of Americans, I am in mourning for the 26 victims of the attack at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. My prayers and sympathies are with the families.  While a lone, crazed gunman pulled the trigger, he had many accomplices in this tragedy.  The prime suspects are the National Rifle Association and their Congressional lap dogs. 

The NRA stonewalls any attempt to regulate gun control by virtue of their contributions to national elected officials. According to, the NRA contributed $719,596 to Federal candidates in 2012.  The overwhelming number went to Republicans.  Of the top 25 candidates receiving funds 23 were Republicans and 2 Democrats.  The complete list is available at  The NRA and their paid representatives were notably absent in expressing sympathy to the victims of this recent shooting.  Falling on the side of their own self interests rather than doing the right thing.  Perhaps their silence is a indication of their shame in their role in this horror.

Now here is where things get tricky.  I believe that Americans have the right to own firearms and that most members of the NRA are responsible gun owners who exercise care to restrict access to their weapons and support proper instruction in using rifles and guns.  What I object to is the unwillingness to work with authorities to manage the distribution and ownership of weapons especially high-powered assault rifles.  I know the mantra of the NRA is that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." 

Let me make an analogy with automobiles.  Cars don't kill people either, but we have laws that force automobile drivers to act responsibly.  Just because people don't behave properly, doesn't mean we shouldn't have the laws. In fact, it is this lack of any semblance of responsibility that compels, demands, us to have laws.  While it is impossible to make people use common sense --- don't drink and drive, don't text and drive --- we still have regulations and punishments to help control public behavior.  People who want the privilege or right to drive cars or own guns have a requirement to lead the fight to ensure proper usage of both.  The NRA should reach out to President Obama and the Congress to seek ways to restrict guns to those who use them in a responsible fashion. 

The measure of a society is how we protect those who cannot protect themselves.  On Friday December 14, 2012 we failed the test.  Let us honor their memory by getting these assault weapons off the market. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Civil War at the Huntington

The 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War is being celebrated at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California.  I just learned about The Huntington's exhibit "A Strange and Fearful Interest" that explains how "photography became a powerful tool of reporting and remembrance in the Civil War."

The following link will take you to the exhibit website so you can view the image galleries and learn about Civil War photography.  Please click on A Strange and Fearful Interest.

The site has two short videos: In the Usual Manner that explains Civil War photography and another Completely Silenced that comments on photographs made by Alexander Gardner after the 1862 Battle of Antietam.

The exhibition was assembled from more than 200 works in the Civil War Collection at the Huntington Library.

A compilation of Civil War music adds to the exhibit in the West Hall of the library.

The exhibit will be closing in early January. 

The exhibit has taken clues from Drew Gilpin Faust's 2008 best seller This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Beautiful Glittering Life - Book Review

A Beautiful Glittering Life by J. D. R. Hawkins is the story of Hiram Summer's family during the first two years of the Civil War.  The novel describes the difficulties encountered by the northern Alabama family after Hiram enlists in the 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment.  Author Hawkins focuses on Hiram's struggles in the Confederate Army and his son David's adventures at home.  When Hiram enlists, he places the responsibility of caring for the farm on his son's shoulders.  David does his chores, helps his mother, Caroline, and younger sisters, and still finds time for adventures with his friend Jake. 

We follow Hiram and his friend Bud through battles in the Eastern Theater including first and second Manassas, Cold Harbor, Malvern Hill, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.  Meanwhile, back in Alabama, David and Jake sneak away to Union-occupied Huntsville where they meet a local family suffering at the hands of the Yankee invaders.  The boys press their luck and are captured by a schoolmate who has joined the Union forces.  The boys are released, but David loses his horse.  Yet life at home seems to go on relatively undisturbed in spite of the chaos gripping the country. 

The picture of life on the battlefield and home front proceeds at a rather uneventful pace without many dramatic moments.  Hiram and Bud survive battles before tragedy strikes at Fredericksburg.  David escapes Union troops at Huntsville and Caroline and David face down marauding Union soldiers.  After the Union troops leave Huntsville and the family learns that Hiram will be coming home for Christmas, the Summer family anticipates a return to pre-war normalcy.

This is a pleasant book that unfortunately lacks the emotional intensity to make it a compelling read.  Hawkins' novel lacks the building drama that makes the reader anxious for the next chapter.  The characters are likable but don't have the depth, especially Caroline, to bring them to life.  The conflicts in David's life --- desire to join the army, responsibilities to maintain the homestead, and dreams of joining the Pony Express --- are not fully exploited.  Interspersed with Hawkins' narrative are events from the Civil War timeline that provide a historical perspective.  The battle sequences lack the intensity to put us in the scene and more detail on camp life would be welcomed.   The seeds for the sequel were sown in an ending which was too abrupt in my opinion. 

A Beautiful Glittering Life is reminiscent of a story from The Walton's television show.  Young readers will find this a good introduction to life during the Civil War as seen through David's eyes.

We rate this book