Short Takes

by Fred Ray on May 4, 2010 · 0 comments

Confederate general Ambrose Powell Hill, a man controversial enough in life, continues to cause problems 145 years after his death—or at least his portrait does.

Nine years ago, amid considerable controversy, Hill’s portrait was removed from the county courthouse and put on display at the Museum of Culpeper History.

During all that time, further controversy swirled around ownership of the painting and who had the right to remove it: The United Daughters of the Confederacy, who commissioned the portrait, or Culpeper County, to whom it was presented in 1935?

On March 2 of this year, the Board of Supervisors, who had dealt with the issue for almost a decade, gave up all ownership of the painting and returned it to the Culpeper chapter of the UDC.

The late and prolific historian Stephen Ambrose is in trouble again, this time for well, making things up.

His book Band of Brothers – which chronicled the exploits of one company of US airborne troops in second world war Europe – was turned into a highly praised TV series.

But now American historian Professor Stephen Ambrose, who was President Dwight D Eisenhower’s official biographer and wrote or edited more than a dozen books about him, is embroiled in a posthumous controversy. It is alleged that he invented many meetings he claimed to have had with Eisenhower, and even fabricated entire interviews with him. The revelations have sent shock waves through the scholarly community in the United States.

Ambrose always claimed that Eisenhower had contacted him after reading his biography of Civil War general Henry Halleck, but it now appears that Ambrose initiated the matter, and that many of his supposed interviews could not have happened. Computer searches of his writing have also found some problems.

An Atlanta couple, Amanda and Henry D. “Greg” Gregory, have endowed a chair for the study of Civil War history at the University of Georgia.The money will be used to hire a “distinguished Civil War scholar.”

“My husband and I are very interested in history, and we loved (studying) the Civil War era,” said Amanda Gregory, a former school teacher. “We just think it’s important that it’s taught correctly and people get all the facts.”

Still, I have to wonder if, given the current climate of political correctness in academia, if the Gregorys quite know what they’re funding. The article continues, quoting historian John Inscoe.

“It’s just a real opportunity for this department,” Inscoe said. “We’ve always been a department in which Southern history has been a strength, and in a sense, what this chair is going to do is play to our strengths.”

Civil War history has changed considerably in the 50 years since the nation observed the centennial of the war. That anniversary came in 1961 – the same year UGA admitted its first black students – in the middle of the struggle for civil rights for blacks, Inscoe noted.

Civil War historians 50 years ago often focused on military campaigns and the men who led the armies and political movements on both sides. Today’s historians are more holistic and apt to take a more complicated view of the war, Inscoe said, looking at the roles of slavery, civilians and women in those times.

Which would seem to mean writing not much about the war itself but about society with a heavy emphasis on modern ideas of class, race, and gender. Inscoe himself fits this description, having written mostly about slavery. We’ll see who this “distinguished scholar” is and what he writes about. Will the donors be happy with someone who writes about nothing but how evil their ancestors were?

Speaking of slavery, Heritage Auctions is listing a collection of slave badges from Charleston.The accompanying article about the “hire” system is worth reading.

Charleston had a system whereby a slaveholder could pay a license fee, good for one year at a time, on a sliding scale based on the slave’s primary occupation. In return, he would receive a copper tag or badge for each slave registered containing four pieces of information: the city (Charleston), a serial number, the date (year), and an occupation. The master was then allowed to hire that slave out to private individuals, businesses, or even the municipal government with the proviso that the slave would wear the badge at all times when on one of these hire-out jobs and that the slave could only perform the function he was licensed to perform. Who benefited from this? The city made thousands of dollars a year in badge fees; the slaveholders made extra money for hiring out slaves that they had no work for at the time; the slaves themselves were often allowed to keep part of their outside wages and, as a bonus, they were given a certain amount of freedom in exchange for their skills.

During the war the hire system was modified somewhat to allow slaves to prepare military works for the Confederate government. Sometimes this was voluntary and sometimes it was done by impressment.

And finally, here’s your chance to own a full-sized replica of a bronze 12-pounder Napoleon! A bit pricey, but what’s a few dollars for history?

UPDATE: Forgot to mention, under secession news, the rebellious state of Jefferson, to be composed of northern California and southern Oregon. The push for statehood was overtaken by WWII.

…both sides of the California-Oregon line felt neglected by their respective state governments. It was in fact the dismal condition of the state roads on either side of the border that pushed Gilbert Gable, mayor of the small coastal town of Port Orford, to announce the creation of a new state.

Gable’s secessionism first and foremost was a wake-up call for both state governments, but it developed a momentum all of its own. The city of Yreka, seat of Siskiyou County in California, was proclaimed the ‘provisional capital’ of the future state. In November, a ‘constitutional assembly’ met in town to provide the secessionist project with a name (Orofino, Bonanza and Discontent were proferred, among others) and a governor (Yreka judge John C. Childs). The fledgling state was even endowed with a flag (3).
On November 27, 1941, the movement took up arms.
A ‘Citizen’s Committee’, armed with hunting rifles, occupied a stretch of US Route 99, handing out pamphlets proclaiming Jefferson’s ‘independence’ (possibly similar to the pamphlet which is partially shown here). The mainly good-natured incident – the rebels promised to “secede every Thursday until further notice” – was recorded by the main newsreel companies. Apparently, the light-hearted item lingered long enough in transit and in cutting rooms to be pushed off the news agenda by Pearl Harbor.

The West Coast has been almost as prolific as the South in the matter of secession. In addition to Jefferson there was the Republic of Rough and Ready in California in 1850, and there was more than a little talk of the Golden State joining the Confederacy. And of course there are the mythical states of Cascadia (guarded by the ever-vigilant Sasquatch militia) and Ecotopia.

Update II: On the battles ranges front, a British sniper (who has 37 kills already) in Afghanistan has taken out five Taliban in 28 seconds at a range of some 1600 meters. He was using an American-made issue L115A3 .338 rifle.


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