Thursday, August 25, 2016

74th Illinois

Sadly the plaque on the back of the monument is gone.  I'm unsure the reason however many times it is due to vandalism.








Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Hour of Peril book review

Another audio book I've listened to lately is "The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War" by Daniel Stashower.  This was a great book.  Much of the book is about Allan Pinkerton and his detective agency, from his start as a bumbling investigator in rural Illinois to the national organization he was running quite well at the time of the Civil War.  Pinkerton is too famous for the time period to not have previously read about him but much of my connection with him was during his time with McClellan in 1862.  I knew far less about his start and how deeply he was involved in ferreting out the 1861 plot in Baltimore to kill Lincoln on his way to Washington DC for the inauguration.

I don't want to give away too many of the twists and turns in how Pinkerton did this.  It is a good spy story, I think it would make a great movie.  But I can share some of the back story.  Pinkerton was hired by one of the railroads that ran thru Maryland (name of which escapes me at the moment) but the railroad owner was worried about the secessionists damaging his railroad, either as part of a plot to prevent troops, or Lincoln, from reaching DC or as just simple destruction.

Pinkerton got his network of spies in the area and slowly they uncovered that there was a plot in Baltimore that was much greater than destroying a railroad, they were going to try to kill the president.  Once they fleshed out enough of the plot to know real particulars Pinkerton then faced the daunting prospect of making Lincoln believe it, while on a railroad tour that was getting closer to Baltimore everyday.  Time was of the essence and obviously Pinkerton pulled it off in the nick of time.

In some respects that's the tough part of the book.  We all know that Lincoln is going to get through Baltimore safe.  Most of us also know that he did change his plans at the last minute and slipped through town in the middle of the night instead of following the publicized plan.  We all know the conclusion of the story but it is a fascinating story to get that to that already known conclusion.



Monday, August 22, 2016

35th Indiana

The 35th Indiana has a monument and two markers.




And the markers:

Friday, August 19, 2016

I Will Hold book review

One of the perks of blogging is that publishers reach out to me from time to time with books for review.  Sometimes its Civil War and sometimes its general history.  Recently I received "I Will Hold: The Story of USMC Legend Clifton B. Cates, from Belleau Wood to Victory in the Great War" by James Carl Nelson.  I said yes to this book because World War I interests me, I had two relatives (that I know of) that participated in the war.  I truthfully had no idea who Clifton Cates was.

After reading this book I am very impressed by Cates service.  He was everywhere with the Marines, got in a ton of action and somehow escaped without being wounded, while everyone around him seemed to get wounded.  As some of you know Cates eventually became commandant of the Marine Corps, so this is not just the story of a good field commander but is actually the story of a true Marine legend (like the subtitle says).

It was interesting to hear how the Marine Corps came to prominence during the war.  Before the war the Marines were relatively unknown despite having been around for a long time.  But during one of the charges in the early stages of the Belleau Wood fight the newspaper correspondent with them was severely wounded, blinded actually.  When the story hit the censor's desk he was sure the author would be dead soon so he let the the story go in without deletions, as a tribute to the author.  It was practice at the time to not put unit designations in stories, both to not reveal much but also because it could create jealousy between units.  The Marines were highly written about in the story and it became a major story in papers across the country.  It also happened that the author did not die.

My only complaint of the book was that it needed map(s).  I don't know the battlefields of WWI at all, so that got a bit confusing.  I had an advance reading copy and have been told that the final version will have at least some maps.  I'd recommend this book for anyone wanting to hear a good WWI story.

UPDATE:  I received a final copy of the book after this post was first published and it indeed has a theater map, as well as pictures of Cates, his fellow soldiers and war scenes.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Our Man in Charleston book review

This past fall I got a new job.  Putting my degree to real use in an industry I have a personal interest in.  Everything about the job is great, except for one thing.  I went from a 6 minute commute (each way, yes I timed it) to a total of an hour and a half daily (30 minutes in the morning but closer to an hour in the evening).  But its only 4 days a week, and I've found another silver lining, books on tape.  Obviously I was always aware of books on tape but with such a short commute it was not really feasible.  Now my daily book is something I look forward to, in fact some days I don't want to go into the office until a particular section is finished.

My latest book "read" this way was "Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South" by Christopher Dickey.  This is the story of Robert Bunch the British consul in Charleston who served there from 1853 to 1863.  Another review I saw took issue with calling Bunch a secret agent as it is the job of a diplomat to gather information about the country he is serving in.  And I agree with that.  I think the reason the title refers to him as a secret agent is that Charelstonians thought Bunch was sympathetic to their cause.  He had mainly friends in Charleston society and he had family connections through his wife to slave owners.

However Bunch was very much against slavery, in particular the international slave trade that had been outlawed in the United States in the 1830s but had continued in a covert way since.  It was this issue that Bunch hammered in his reports, believing that the Confederacy would reopen the trade at some point.

One could tell that the author had done extensive research in British archives (of course no notes or bibliography was available in an audio book, so I'm making some assumptions about that).  I've done very little reading previously about Britain's viewpoint so this was an eye opener in many respects.  For instance it seems from the correspondence among the foreign service officers and various prime ministers of Bunch's decade that there was never any chance of British involvement in the war.  The southerners, and then the Confederacy, made several missteps along the way that did not endear them to the British.  One would be the insistence that England needed Southern cotton. One exchange between the British indicated that if they (England) were so weak that they could not survive without Southern cotton then they should just give up being a country at all.

England might have been able to support a country with slavery but under no circumstances would the international slave trade be permitted.  In one case it was suggested to the Confederacy that if England did become involved the Confederates would have to state that the international slave trade would not be resumed.  The Confederate response was that their constitution outlawed this and that it would be unconstitutional to state so again in a treaty with England,  That last bit of reasoning seems a bit flawed to me, I cannot understand how restating a law (or in this case article of their constitution) would unconstitutional.  Not that this one moment would have turned the British to openly declare for the Confederacy but it was yet another mark against that.

In fact it seems like British involvement in the Civil War would have been because they wished the Union split than any sympathies for the South, cotton or otherwise.  A smaller USA and a new CSA might be a better international situation for the British than a large USA.

Another aspect I found interesting was that the common theme of the Emancipation Proclamation is that the war now being for freedom was what effectively turned the British against involvement in the war.  But the author instead says that Seward had raised the possibility of freeing the slaves as the first step in a racial warfare, that they would be able to cripple the South in that way.  This is what he had been telling the British during the spring/summer of 1862 so when the Proclamation was announced England's first reaction was not that this was making the war about freedom but that the North was grasping for straws to end the conflict.  And if they were this desperate this was not the sort of war England wanted to be involved in.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.