Gettysburg Hidden Treasures

Gettysburg Hidden Treasures

1. Barlow’s Knoll;  Left for dead by his own troops during the first day’s fighting, General Francis Barlow fell grievously wounded near this spot.  Confederate General John B. Gordon’s act of mercy allegedly saved Barlow’s life.

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2. Hazlett/Weed Rock; General Stephen Weed had just deployed his brigade down the face of Little Round Top when he fell mortally wounded.  Nearby, deploying his battery was Captain Charles Hazlett, a friend of Weed’s from West Point.  Bending to hear his friend’s dying words, Hazlett was struck on top of him.  This engraving, long a battlefield guide secret, has recently been filled in.

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3. Hancock’s Wounding;  Involved in the decisive maneuvering on all three days of the battle, Hancock had just ordered a flanking attack to Pickett’s charge when shrapnel drove into his upper thigh.  This small monument marks the place where the hero of Gettysburg received his wound.

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Review of “John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit” by James Traub

My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies

James Traub’s “John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit” was published in 2016, about three years after I read four other biographies of the sixth president. Traub is a journalist and author who has written for The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, The New York Post and Saturday Review. He is currently a Non-Resident Fellow at New York University.

Most readers will find this widely admired 537-page biography well-organized, engaging and uncommonly thoughtful. Traub’s writing is refreshingly straightforward with just enough erudition and depth to appeal to scholars – but without discouraging a wider audience. And while it does not quite rank among the most colorful or poetic of the presidential biographies I’ve read, it is not far off the mark.

The author clearly admires his subject and he takes advantage of Adams’s intrinsically fascinating life to write an excellent biography comprised of nearly equal parts…

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Book Review- Chernow’s Grant

Chernow, Ron, Grant, Penguin Press; 1st edition (October 10, 2017)

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     A hefty, yet easily digestible biography  continues the author’s attempts at re-imagining supposedly misunderstood figures.  The actual result is consensus history masquerading as newly discovered insight. 

 

The success of his biography of Alexander Hamilton… and the subsequent musical it inspired, brought about unprecedented anticipation for his latest work.  Chernow has tapped into the millennial generation’s need for easily digestible, episodic history.  His style is to illustrate personal relationships, conflicts, and controversies and explain how the collective memory has misunderstood the stories.  This is best illustrated as he discusses Grant’s well documented drinking problem- never really that drunk, always alert, and kept in line by his dutiful wife, Julia.  Chernow’s gift is his effortless storytelling blended with an authoritative tone.  Trouble is, this analysis is not revelatory, and has been well covered in the work of previous historians.

 

Chernow combs through and pieces together observations from previous Grant scholarship… and artfully weaves it into his own narrative.  His assertion that Grant’s reputation as a poor general is undeserved  was well covered in Bruce Catton’s three volume study from 1960.  Brooks D. Simpson’s 1991 evaluation of the Grant presidency put to rest the many accusations of incompetence and corruption and established Grant’s indispensable role in Reconstruction; points that Chernow meticulously recounts in the final one third of his 1,074 page study.

 

Reviewers have already deemed this biography as “definitive”… despite the fact that Chernow breaks little, if any new ground.  Chernow wants you to believe that Grant has been widely misunderstood and underappreciated.  The casual history reader, unfamiliar with previous Grant scholarship, is best served by Chernow’s efforts.` The popularity of his previous work all but guarantees his place on the bestseller list.

Custer’s Luck

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Multiculturalism has won the battle for the right to tell our story.  All cultures, regardless of their particular practices or beliefs, deserve respect.  They must never be compared to ours, for this ultimately leads to judgements.  Judgements hurt people, and in this world, that is not allowed.  No where is this more prevalent than in the study of American Indian culture.  Indian culture is noble, peaceful, and they have been victimized by the greedy, warlike cultures of Europeans.  The American government systematically destroyed Indian culture so it must be inferior.  The historical comparisons were all unjust, for Americans cannot be as civilized as they proclaim because of these cultural crimes.  Multiculturalism ignores particulars, ambiguities, and complexities.  The culture clash must be black and white- the irony is lost upon the politically correct.  Little Big Horn is no different.  Custer and the 7th Cavalry were forces of evil and they got what the deserved…even postmortem mutilation.

 

Did Custer die for our sins?

 

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Was Custer a villain? Does he represent the evils of American expansion?… Such histrionics sell books, inspire ambitious filmmakers, and rouse the irritable activists; but little understanding is actually achieved.  Custer was an ambitious military officer who saw the Plains Wars as an avenue to personal advancement.  But, he was also a frontiersman who sympathized with the plight of a complex foe.  He was a soldier fighting a complex war few people adequately understood, himself included.  Yet, Custer lives on.  He lives on in our memory, exactly where we can imagine him; trotting at head of the 7th Cavalry, wind whipping through his long red hair,  the airs of “Garry Owen” whistling over the plains.   Remembrance is not history, but the American mind needs both.

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Reparations Will Divide

The House of Representatives will conduct hearings on slavery reparations – an idea that was not feasible in 1868 and is even more calamitous now.

 

Advocates for reparations cannot produce a consensus on how the policy will take shape.  The hearings will try to make sense of the many demands.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that our entire National Fabric should be restitched and our story rewritten.  Coates argues this can and must be done through monetizing the issue and with increased government action.  We should all quiver and such a proposal.  Who determines our remembrance? How deeply will this revolution penetrate into our personal liberties? Will the government tell us what to think and when to think it?…Mr. Coates is the featured speaker at the House hearing.

 

Monetizing acknowledgements of past wrongs is a slippery slope fraught with danger. Assuming we can identify all the direct descendants of African slaves in the United States, how much cash should each receive?  Once this wealth is redistributed, what if other groups claiming oppression and discrimination come forward demanding restitution?  Do we pay them as well? Where will this racially conscious extortion end?

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** PracticallyHistorical supports remembrance and tempered repentance for the wrongs of slavery in our history.  The more we discuss our past, the better we can appreciate the experience of all Americans in our national story.  Promoting equal opportunity for all citizens must coincide with a rededication to our Founding principles.  Better education is the only way forward.

Expunging Our Past

Progressive historians like Charles Beard… went to great lengths to discredit the work of America’s first published historian, George Bancroft.  The Nationalist school of American history revered our Founders and proclaimed American exceptionalism.  Beard argued that America’s founding ideals were nothing more than a clever disguise for our true inspiration, greed.  The New Left revisionism that pervades historiography today is a mere continuation of Beard’s fundamentally flawed concept- America really isn’t that great….

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Neo-Nationalism is a historical school of thought… that strives to reconcile two wildly opposed views of America’s past.  Common ground is sought within the discipline- social, political, military historical study working in concert to preserve the common threads that bind all Americans together…

The overriding message should be that historical figures are human and not infallible. We can honor their great deeds and learn from their most human mistakes. 

We must stop this current craze of tearing down and erasing our history because the historical figures did not possess our modern sensibilities. 

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  • America’s founding ideals are exceptional- and are standards that are difficult to attain- our history is comprised of the struggle to uphold these ideals.
  • The Founders were extraordinary men- but not infallible… we have to learn from their example- good and bad.
  • The history of America is not the story of class struggle- the silent masses played a vital role in our history and their stories should be told- but not through Marxist constructs.
  • History should be popular.  Our past must be understood by the citizenry- historical studies targeted only at academics cannot be how we measure the discipline.  There is a way to make history insightful and enjoyable.