Short Takes

The remnants of a blockade runner have come to light in Tampa, Florida.

Chief researcher John William Morris said the dimensions of the wreck are within inches of that of the Scottish Chief, and it’s in a spot where the vessel was believed abandoned by Confederate troops after Tampa’s one and only Civil War skirmish. He said three archaeologists and four maritime historians have been consulted and all conclude that this almost certainly is the Scottish Chief.

“This is a fairly major find,” said Morris, sitting in the back of a boat floating above the wreck this morning. “This is a major component in the history of this area.”

The 124-foot oak and pine steamer that was built in North Carolina in 1855 was towed downstream from where it was heavily damaged in a Yankee raid in 1863, where all the engine workings and anything else that was salvageable was taken. The hull was abandoned there, he said. It sank and that’s where it sits today.

“It’s buried to the gunwales and the preservation factor is pretty high,” he said. The muck mostly is anaerobic, meaning the hull may have withstood decomposition and be fully intact.

More here. In spite of its completeness there are no plans to raise the wreck. (via Cronaca)

If you doubt we live in an age of wimps take a look at this repro of a circa-1866 2 bore rifle that throws a 3500 grain ball. To translate, that’s about 132 caliber! With a video that will make your shoulder ache. The original, called “Baby” was used by Sir Samuel Baker, one of those outsize Victorian characters straight out of H. Rider Haggard. Baker’s romance with his future wife, Lady Florence Baker, was typical:

Baker fell in love with a white slave girl, destined for the Ottoman Pasha of Vidin. He was outbid by the Pasha but bribed the girl’s attendants and ran away in a carriage together and eventually she became his wife and accompanied him everywhere he journeyed.

Meanwhile, photo fakery continues unabated, this time in Newsweak, and the victim is former veep Dick Cheney. The photographer, Pulitzer Prize winner David Hume Kennerly, isn’t happy about it.

Featured inside the magazine was a full-page, stand-alone picture of former Vice President Dick Cheney, knife in hand, leaning over a bloody carving board. Newsweek used it to illustrate a quote that he made about C.I.A. interrogators. By linking that photo with Mr. Cheney’s comment and giving it such prominence, they implied something sinister, macabre, or even evil was going on there.

I took that photograph at his daughter Liz’s home during a two-day assignment, and was shocked by its usage. The meat on the cutting board wasn’t the only thing butchered. In fact, Newsweek chose to crop out two-thirds of the original photograph, which showed Mrs. Cheney, both of their daughters, and one of their grandchildren, who were also in the kitchen, getting ready for a simple family dinner.

However, Newsweek’s objective in running the cropped version was to illustrate its editorial point of view, which could only have been done by shifting the content of the image so that readers just saw what the editors wanted them to see. This radical alteration is photo fakery. Newsweek’s choice to run my picture as a political cartoon not only embarrassed and humiliated me and ridiculed the subject of the picture, but it ultimately denigrated my profession.

Some things never change.

The death of actor Patrick Swayze has generated a look back at his work, including his first big starring role in the television mini-series North and South, based on the John Jakes novels. I’m not quite so sanguine about the series as Eric Wittenberg, although I do agree that it probably got a lot more interested in the Civil War. Among others I liked Kirstie Alley in her still-thin days as a rabid abolitionist married to a black man (a daring characterization at the time), who gets sexually shaken down by David Ogden Stiers (Congressman Sam Greene). Lots of stars of all descriptions, including Hal Holbrook (Abe Lincoln), Johnny Cash (John Brown), Elizabeth Taylor, Jean Simmons, Olivia DeHaviland, Robert Mitchum and a host of others. It was also made before political correctness really took hold, which gave it a lot more freedom with plot and characterizations.

Much of the filming was done near Natchez, Mississippi, in the middle of summer. I had two friends who worked it as reenactor-extras, so I got regular reports from the seat of war filming. They put in long days. Reveille at 0530, then lots of drill and waiting around. Very authentic.

Some of the stories were really amusing, such as the one about the storming of the trenches at Petersburg (supposed to represent the collapse on April 2, 1865) which involved several hundred reenactors. They waited all morning for things to be prepared (including a number of explosive charges to be set). Finally all was in readiness and “action!” The boys in blue surged forward into the trenches where hand to hand fighting swirled (Swayze was going at it with a Bowie knife). All went well until the director noticed that one of the reenactors had forsaken his rifle for a video camera—one of the large period VHS models—and was walking around filming in the trenches. “Cut!” Everything had to stop, the guy was escorted off the set followed by a selection of choice words from the director, and then everything had to be reset for another take. Sometimes the movies really are like war.


One response to “Short Takes”

  1. Chris Evans Avatar
    Chris Evans

    Were most of the battle scenes in ‘North and South’ done in Mississippi? I remember reading somewhere that the Mexican War battle scene in Book I was done near Natchez.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *