Four Dozen Years of Reading

Birthdays often lead to reflection… 48 years have passed and reflection reveals a life devoted to the study of history.  A career in education has shown how rare academic commitment can be…. all I have ever wanted to do is history.  These books inspired, taught, and frustrated me along the journey. ..

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  • American Heritage History of the Civil War-Narrative by Bruce Catton.  Little more than a coffee table dust collector in most homes, the copy in my parents’ home was well worn.  Richly illustrated with historic photos and informative maps, it was the perfect introductory course in Civil War studies.  Luckily, video game consoles weren’t available during the early days spent reading Catton’s crystal clear prose.
  • Band of Brothers- by Stephen Ambrose.  WW2 stories from my Grandfather inspired me to learn more about the greatest generation.  Ambrose showed me the power of primary sources- there are hundreds utilized in this harrowing tale of Easy Company’s combat experience.  All of the vitriol aimed at Ambrose (much of it jealousy) causes us to forget what a great storyteller he was.

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  • Red, White, and Black- by Gary Nash.  The book that deconstructed the mediocre history education I received in high school, Nash’s study opened my eyes to New Left historiography.  The colonization of North America was more complicated than Pilgrims, John Smith, and Ponce Deleon; Nash’s vision challenges the cereal box standard that passes for history in many high schools.
  •   The Killer Angels- by Michael Shaara.  Historical fiction at its very best, Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel about the battle of Gettysburg is steeped in history.  Shaara exposes us to the battle through the eyes of its key participants, a riveting format often imitated, but never equaled.  Growing up just an hour from the battlefield, this novel helped bring it to life better than any audio tour.
  • Lincoln’s Virtues-by William Lee Miller.  An “ethical biography” of our greatest President, Miller departs from the typical Lincoln canon.  Rather than recounting Lincoln’s deeds, Miller attempts to explain the actions by examining the history of his belief structure.  This book is essential in understanding the man behind the myths.
  • The Radicalism of the American Revolution- by Gordon Wood.  Spend enough time in college history courses and you’ll get the impression that the American Revolution was stale, conservative, and not all that revolutionary.  Wood sets the record straight in a compelling study that makes a brilliant counter to the anti-Americanism of Howard Zinn.  The work of Wood is so much more valuable than a passing quip by Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting.”

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  • Gettysburg: The Second Day- by Harry Pfanz.  Richly detailed tactical study of the crucial day at the battle of Gettysburg that is essential reading to students of the battle.  Pfanz does more than explain the complicated troop movements; he brings the battle to life with the memories of the men who were there.  I spent many a Summer afternoon tramping the field with a well worn copy of Pfanz’s masterpiece in my hands.
  • The American Mind- by Henry Steele Commager.  Trying to explain the central American consciousness seemed an impossible task, but Commager’s signature study managed to frustrate a generation of history students.  He should be admired for valuing stories above statistics, personalities over presumption, and a firm belief in American exceptionalism.
  • For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought the Civil War- By James McPherson.  Nothing ends speculation, conjecture, and bad theories like research, and this book is research personified.  McPherson utilize over 10,000 primary sources to provide readers the most comprehensive study of why men fought in the Civil War.  A direct refutation of Linderman’s “Embattled Courage,” McPherson shows that courage, patriotism, and friendship still motivated men even in the darkest days of the war.

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Jefferson to Wasington- Free Press

Thomas Jefferson cautioned George Washington about the importance of a free press…. his words should serve as warning to citizens today…

“No government ought to be without censors, and where the press is free, no one ever will. If virtuous, it need not fear the fair operation of attack and defense. Nature has given to man no other means of sifting out the truth whether in religion, law or politics. I think it as honorable to the government neither to know nor notice its sycophants or censors, as it would be undignified and criminal to pamper the former and persecute the latter.”

Hamilton and the Military State

Alexander Hamilton warned his fellow citizens about the dangers of standing armies and a society dependent upon its military.

In Federalist No.8 he cautioned:

But in a country, where the perpetual menacings of danger oblige the government to be always prepared to repel it, her armies must be numerous enough for instant defense. The continual necessity for his services enhances the importance of the soldier, and proportionally degrades the condition of the citizen. The military state becomes elevated above the civil. The inhabitants of territories often the theater of war, are unavoidably subjected to frequent infringements on their rights, which serve to weaken their sense of those rights; and by degrees, the people are brought to consider the soldiery not only as their protectors, but as their superiors.

What’s in a Name?

To the chagrin of revisionists… Thomas Jefferson is part of the national fabric of America.  He gave us our creed, the words that define what it means to be an American.  No other country on earth has such a luxury.  A simple look at our landscape will provide a clear picture of Jefferson’s impact on posterity:

Named after Thomas Jefferson–

  • 45 High schools
  • 5 Colleges or Universities (including the University of Virginia)
  • 9 cities (larger than 10,000 residents)
  • Counties in 16 states
  • 13 mountains
  • Thomas Jefferson Building, Library of Congress
  • Jefferson National Expansion Site (includes the Great Gateway Arch)
  • Jefferson Alberta, Canada

Named for Thomas Jefferson–

  • Thomas Jefferson Randolph–  Jefferson’s eldest grandchild and executor of his estate. (1792-1875)

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  • Thomas Jefferson Truitt– 2nd Lt. in the 62nd Penna. Volunteers from Kellersburg, PA.  Enlisted for three years service in July of 1861.  Killed in action near Bethesda Church, Va June 3, 1864.     (1837-1864)

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  • Thomas Jefferson Sheaffer– Youngest child of Alissa Hegge and Gordon Sheaffer.  Born in peaceful sleep, January 11, 2008.

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January 9, 1861: First Shots Fired in Civil War

Almost Chosen People

The nation began going down a very dark path towards civil war 162 years ago when the first shots in the Civil War were fired.  The Buchanan administration had sent the civilian steamship Star of the West to resupply Fort Sumter.   Cadets from The Citadel on Moultrie Island fired on the ship as it entered Charleston Harbor.  The cadets were acting under the orders of the Governor of South Carolina.  The ship was hit three times, and the Star of the West, abandoning its mission, sailed back to its home port of New York.

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The Funeral of Theodore Roosevelt

Presidential History Blog

When Theodore Roosevelt died on January 6, 1919, the world was stunned.

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Not only was the world stunned at the death of former President Theodore Roosevelt, who was only sixty, but perhaps TR himself would have also been surprised, had he not succumbed to a heart attack, or perhaps an embolus – in his sleep. No pain. He had plans for his future, which included (maybe) becoming the Republican candidate for President (again) in 1920.

Actually, TR had been in declining health for some time, but mostly precipitated by his Amazon adventures in 1913-14, and the tropical disease/infection that nearly cost his life. He recovered, but never completely. Tropical diseases have a nasty way of recurring periodically. 

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Older TR

The Great War in 1918 had been one of the roughest years for the old “Colonel.” President Woodrow Wilson had adamantly refused to allow his predecessor to raise…

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History Wishes for the New Year

  • An authentic, realistic, and gritty film made about the fighting men of the American Civil War.  All politically correct platitudes about slavery, secession, and racism must be left out of the script… tell the story of the men who fought the war, not the academics who  steal the narrative. 
  • A spirited talk show on the History Channel where controversial historical topics can be debated.  False consensus and authoritative conjecture pass for the final word far too often in historical scholarship today- let the “experts” fight it out, for the record. 
  • George Washington returns to the top of the list of most “influential” Americans
  • The National Park Service continuing to work with the Preservation Trust and other private groups to help preserve America’s heritage. 
  • All school districts considering the 1619 Project as curriculum take into consideration the objections esteemed scholars like Gordon Wood, Sean Wilentz, and James McPherson.
  • Remove Confederate monuments from communities voting to do so.
  • Prevent school districts from banning books by WEB DuBois, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, and Toni Morrison.
  • Save the Oxford Comma.
  • Protect the true mission of Charter Schools- keep class sizes small and expectations high. Brick and mortar is not a sign of academic quality. Corporate charters are ruining the movement.
  • Bring back basic Civics class to every school district.
  • Utilize Section 3 of the 14th amendment where necessary.

Christmas on the Mountain

Thomas Jefferson celebrated Christmas… but not with stockings and Christmas trees- modern incarnations of the season didn’t take hold in America until after the Civil War. Jefferson’s Christmas was a time for family, friends, and as he described it, “merriment.” Family was all important to the Sage of Monticello, and he described the day” “the day of greatest mirth and jollity.”

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He received the greatest joy from watching his grandchildren… opening gifts and playing games in Monticello. Describing the scene to a friend, Jefferson observed his youngest grandson; “He is at this moment running about with his cousins bawling out ‘a merry christmas’ ‘(this is) a christmas gift” His music library included many Christmas standards including the family favorite, Adeste Fideles.

Good friends, good food, and good conversation… marked the holiday season at Monticello. Plenty of wine was on hand to compliment Jefferson’s holiday favorite, mince pie. Mince at Monticello consisted of apples, raisins, beef suet(fat), and spices.

Leyte, eye-witness account from Gen. Robert Eichelberger

Pacific Paratrooper

Gen. Douglas MacArthur, left, Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, right.

“Eighth Army took over Leyte on Christmas Day.  There were 8 divisions fighting there when I assumed command.  When the 32nd Div. and 1st Cavalry broke through on a narrow front, GHQ described the Leyte campaign as officially closed and future operations as “mopping-up.”

“Actually, the Japanese Army was still intact.  I was told there were only 6,000 Japanese left on the island.  This estimate was in serious error.  Soon, Japanese began streaming across the Ormoc Valley, well equipped and apparently well-fed.  It took several months of the roughest kind of combat to defeat this army.  Between Christmas Day and the end of the campaign, we killed more than 27,000 Japanese.

Leyte painting, “FOLLOW ME!” by Col Aubrey Newman

“Many others, evacuated safely by bancas (small boats), and reappeared to fight the 8th Army on other islands.  I called these…

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December 15, 1865: Battle of Nashville Begins

Almost Chosen People

Battle of Nashville

The final major battle in the West in the American Civil War, the two day battle of Nashville that commenced on December 15, 1864, was a decisive Union victory.  Delayed by bad weather, Union general Thomas endured a steady stream of telegrams from Washington and Grant demanding that he attack.  Thomas would not do so until he was ready.  Grant, who had never had a good relationship with Thomas, decided to remove him, and only the knowledge that an  attack was imminent stayed the decision:

I consequently urged Thomas in frequent dispatches sent from City Point to make the attack at once. The country was alarmed, the administration was alarmed, and I was alarmed lest the very thing would take place which I have just described that is, Hood would get north. It was all without avail further than to elicit dispatches from Thomas saying that he was getting ready…

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