The Great Iron Trail

27 January 2010

A more substantial addition this time to American railroad history: Robert West Howard’s The Great Iron Trail. The book is about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. It’s atrociously written, as I point out on my orientation page (and I’m not the first to do so); but it’s a book of solid worth nevertheless, not so much for its detailing of the technical aspects of that great American enterprise, but mostly because it seats its subject firmly in the wider context of American history, paying attention not only to the nuts and bolts and the financial shenanigans of the principals, but to the economic, political and cultural currents of the time.

The homepage of my American history site (27 books, 13,000 pages of print, 600 images in 1700+ webpages) is here.

Latrobe’s Reminiscences

13 January 2010

One more West Point item, a fairly important one, bringing my History of West Point site up to a bit more than 550 pages of print: West Point Reminiscences 1818‑1882, by John H. B. Latrobe (son of the architect of the U. S. Capitol). A member of the Class of 1822, he went on to become a pioneer in American railroading in the earliest days of the Baltimore & Ohio. His memoir, unfortunately briefer than one would like — although it makes up for that by being well-written and more interesting than memoirs sometimes are — is one of the very few first-hand accounts of the “new” West Point put in order by Sylvanus Thayer. Don’t let the whiskers in my picture fool you, by the way: that was later. He was 15 when he entered the Academy.

The homepage of my American history site (26 books, 12,000 pages of print, 600 images in 800+ webpages) is here.

USMA should be abolished (etc.)

11 January 2010

Yet another West Point item, joining the 3 books and several other journal articles in my site on the history of West Point: The Attack upon West Point during the Civil War, a paper published in 1939, detailing a flare-up in popular opposition to the Academy from Northerners who viewed it, or professed to view it, as a hotbed of Confederate sentiment, aristocratic leanings, and treason; onto this bandwagon leapt a few politicians from the radical wing of Lincoln’s Republican party. The Union reverses at the beginning of the War between the States were responsible for this flare-up; as soon as the North started winning, it died down.

The attack still holds a lesson for today’s Academy: beware of creeping feelings of superiority; and remember that not only technical training but courage and common sense win wars, of course.

The homepage of my American history site (26 books, 12,000 pages of print, 600 images in 800+ webpages) is here.

Jefferson Davis’s Camels

9 January 2010

Today’s addition: an entertaining article in Popular Science Monthly for February 1909 on Jefferson Davis’s Camel Experiment, by Walter L. Fleming, who is already represented onsite (in my American History Notes section) by papers on the Buford Expedition to Kansas, and a really bizarre little Ku Klux Klan item he dug up.

The homepage of my American history site (26 books, 12,000 pages of print, 600 images in 800+ webpages) is here.

Making West Point more useful

7 January 2010

Another West Point item, i.e., another part of the largish section of my site on the history of West Point: one more idea for restructuring it, or reforming it, or improving it — How to Make West Point More Useful. The 1894 article suggests a significant increase in the number of cadets, who are, however, to be divided into four groups, following respectively a 4‑, 3‑, 2‑ or 1‑year course, with the longest-trained graduates continuing on to the Regular Army, and those following the shorter courses to act as leaven in the National Guard. The author overlooks the horrific problems this would cause with morale and esprit de corps — look what happened with the World War I classes (Waugh, pp147‑150) — but his ideas have, in the main, been adopted in today’s army: at 4000 strong the Corps produces more graduates than he recommends, OCS provides the second tier of officer training, in just about the same proportion (3/4 of American army officers), and the Guard has been much more tightly integrated into the national army.

The homepage of my American history site (26 books, 12,000 pages of print, 600 images in 800+ webpages) is here.

Confederate Railroads

7 January 2010

One more addition to American railroad history, in the same journal issue as the previous item, and the pendant to it: The Confederate Government and the Railroads, April, 1861. The South had less to start with, and the more libertarian and states’ rights approach by the central government made matters worse; it didn’t stand a chance.

The paper, by the way, is by Charles Ramsdell, who by the time of his death would become the dean of Southern historians.

The homepage of my American history site (26 books, 12,000 pages of print, 600 images in 800+ webpages) is here.

Union Railroads in the War between the States

30 December 2009

Two additions to my subsite on American railroad history, both journal articles: The Northern Railroads, April, 1861, giving essentially the status of railroads in the North at the outbreak of the war and The United States Military Railroads, 1862‑1865: War Time Operation and Maintenance, showing how the Union government, principally because of Gen. McCallum and Henry Haupt, was able to take advantage of these assets and make the military railroad administration one of the most successful contributors to the Union cause and ultimately to Northern victory.

The homepage of my American history site (26 books, 12,000 pages of print, 600 images in 800+ webpages) is here.

Herman Haupt and Mule’s Ears

27 December 2009

Two small items, one serious, the other hilarious; you will guess which is which, of course. Herman Haupt: biographical sketch from Cullum’s Register (a West Pointer largely responsible for the success of the Union Army’s military railroad system in the War between the States), and Mule Ear Currency (a tale from the West, maybe even a true one).

The homepage of my American history site (26 books, 12,000 pages of print, 600 images in 800+ webpages) is here.

Death at Norridgewock

4 December 2009

An addition to my subsite on American Catholic history, an excellent piece of detective work, stripping away the 18c French government propaganda from a hagiographic tale of the death of Father Sebastian Rasles (or Rale), missionary to the Abnaki Indians of Maine: The Attack on Norridgewock, 1724, by Fannie Eckstorm (New England Quarterly, 1934). The author has been pilloried by some as anti-Catholic for this article, but it shows nothing of the sort; if anything, she has reconstructed a piece of real life and shown us a real man, who may still well be a saint.

The homepage of my American history site (26 books, 12,000 pages of print, 600 images in 800+ webpages) is here.

Epic of the Overland

26 November 2009

Not the book I promised a coupla posts ago, but another railroad item just the same: Robert Lardin Fulton’s Epic of the Overland, a short account of the human side of the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, by a man who worked on it; there are a couple of hilarious stories in it, as well as some rather somber stories of hangings and scalpings, and then those poor itchy buffaloes: it’s a good read, and includes a detailed map of the line from Omaha to San Francisco. [In sum, to use a railroad image, I got sidetracked. The (much longer, more technical) book I promised otter be finished in a day or two; a few images remain to be scanned.]

The homepage of my American history site (26 books, 12,000 pages of print, 600 images in 800+ webpages) is here.

Chilean history

12 November 2009

Expanding the meaning of “American history” a bit, the latest addition to my site goes beyond the United States, with an excellent (if not optimally translated) book, A History of Chile by Luis Galdames. I won’t make a habit of it, at least not a very frequent one; but to accommodate similar items from time to time in the future — and there’s another already onsite from a while back — I also set up a page on History of the Americas.

The homepage of my American history site (25 books, 12,000 pages of print, 600 images in 800+ webpages) is here.

American railroad history

1 November 2009

One of the most important and characteristic aspects of American history is how we managed to expand so fast over an entire continent, and a key element in that expansion was the building of America’s railroads. One would think therefore that the story of the railroads’ rôle in that expansion would be well represented online, but it isn’t really — so I intend to do my six bits’ worth in filling up that gap. Today’s item, maybe I didn’t choose so well, since it’s already online in three or four other places; but the book was so short that it took me less than 4 days to input it and proofread it, and then I include the maps, which the other sites out there kissed off, or at least those that I looked at. More on American railroad history is on its way, including of course, now that I’ve done my research a bit better, stuff not online anywhere. For now, though: John Moody’s The Railroad Builders.

The homepage of my American history site (25 books, 12,000 pages of print, 600 images in 800+ webpages) is here.

Boat chase

27 September 2009

California has by now become firmly celebrated for its car chases: some nut or hoodlum at one end, the local authorities at the other; the latter winning out, almost always. Hollywood knows we like car chases. Today’s item, The Itata Incident, is a celebrated boat chase of 1891, with an arms-laden boat — two of them actually — and as chases go, it was a long one, of several thousand miles down the west coast of the Americas. We nearly went to war with Chile over it. (I wonder why it hasn’t been made into a movie; or, more seriously, there are many points in common with marine chases today that could have grave consequences to our national security.)

The homepage of my American history site (25 books, 12,000 pages of print, 600 images in 800+ webpages) is here.

Diplomatic archbishop

16 September 2009

Many Americans think that the Constitution mandates a total separation of church and state: the government should have nothing to do whatsoever with any religious organization. This is a recent development, though; in the 19c, the U. S. Government had a special battalion of Mormons in the U. S. Army; it paid Quakers and Catholics and others to educate native Americans; and, in the little item I just put up today, it commissioned a Catholic archbishop as a diplomatic representative: read all about it. (Oh, and in case you’re still wondering, what the Constitution prohibits is the establishment of any religious belief; which presumably includes atheism and secular humanism.)

The homepage of my American history site (25 books, 12,000 pages of print, 600 images in 800+ webpages) is here.

American Catholic history

11 September 2009

I tend to mark September 11 by adding some important item to the site. Today, it’s American Catholic History: an orientation page to what I expect will be a growing site on the Catholic contribution to our American history, and in particular to the development of the frontier, which is my main theme these days. Right now, the linchpin of the site is not John Gilmary Shea’s History or one of the (few) public-domain works by Ellis or some similar general item, but a rather odd one, a 600‑page book by Camillus Maes: the Life of Charles Nerinckx, a Belgian pioneer priest of Kentucky. Some journal articles round out the site: some of them related to Fr. Nerinckx, but among the others, Flemish Franciscan Missionaries in North America; Father Sebastian Rale, S. J. (1657‑1724) who evangelized the Abnaki Indians in Maine; The Significance of the Frontier to the Historian of the Catholic Church in the United States, a vigorous rebuttal to an exaggerated application of Frederick Jackson Turner’s theory of the frontier; and The Mission as a Frontier Institution in the Spanish-American Colonies by Herbert Bolton, solid as that author always is.

The homepage of my American history site (25 books, 12,000 pages of print, 600 images in 800+ webpages) is here.

Unexplained phenomenon

5 September 2009

Thomas Jefferson’s UFO has been onsite for a while now, but in honor of today’s Google doodle, I’ll play too: unexplained phenomenon.

The homepage of my American history site (24 books, 11,000 pages of print, 600 images in 700+ webpages) is here.

An academic view of USMA

21 August 2009

One more addition to the largish section of my site on the history of West Point: a 1937 paper, titled Military Education in the United States: A proposal to Differentiate Training into Pre-Military and Military. It’s a critique of West Point by an educator, a professed admirer of the Academy, who doesn’t let that blind him to what he views at its flaws from an academic standpoint: (1) the non-military education suffers because the instructor and professorial staff is grossly unqualified; (2) this non-military education (calculus and French and so on) could be dispatched in a civilian college, bumping up USMA to a school teaching exclusively military subjects: a proposal rather like pre-med before med school; (3) the professorial staff is inbred, by and large themselves products of the Academy, and thus less likely to be aware of the need for change.

The well-intentioned suggestion is one of a family of such proposals over the years in favor of turning West Point into a technical school. As far as I can tell, the teaching staff is now much more academically qualified, but some of the author’s other points still seem to be valid, in particular the inbreeding, which has been looked at much more recently by other outsiders with the same general assessment. I can’t say much for his solution though; turning West Point into a technical school, no matter how high-quality, misses the boat somehow, and even graduating cadets as first lieutenants as he proposes: this guy’s approach would give us a sort of a cross between USMAPS and the War College; no go.

The homepage of my American history site (24 books, 11,000 pages of print, 600 images in 700+ webpages) is here.

Louisiana takes over her forts in 1861

20 August 2009

Today’s item is a 1961 journal article (rather late for public domain, but the copyright was not renewed) on The Seizure of the Forts and Public Property in Louisiana (in 1861): a straightforward account of the actual mechanics of the process by which control of government property was forcibly transferred from the old government of Louisiana to the new.

The homepage of my American history site (24 books, 11,000 pages of print, 600 images in 700+ webpages) is here.

Resaca de la Palma

7 August 2009

Yesterday’s output: a 1937 journal article on the Mexican War battle of Resaca de la Palma, one of the victories that ensured the official American control of Texas. It remains the defining battle for the Second Cav.

The homepage of my American history site (24 books, 11,000 pages of print, 600 images in 700+ webpages) is here.

Two views of West Point

2 August 2009

Two more West Point items (yet another part of the largish section of my site on the history of West Point): one of them pretty good, the other pretty bad; but as Pliny the Elder said, no book is ever so bad that something useful can’t be got from it.

The good one is an 1869 article on The System of Instruction at West Point, laudatory but not unthinkingly so, by a young graduate of Yale who finds much in Sylvanus Thayer’s educational system that might be profitably applied to civilian universities.

The other is a paper published in a 1901 medical weekly, The Nervous Exhaustion due to West Point Training. The author — a graduate of Annapolis, natch — just embarking on a mercifully brief career as a crackpot eugenicist, tells us that West Pointers are fragile (as you can tell by observing any grade-school playground), die easily in the tropics, are permanently induced to a lifetime of bibliophobia; and a bit more leisure time and vacation couldn’t do them any harm: as I said, some good points. An entertaining read, and I’ve intentionally not quoted you the most bizarre item of the lot, which has to be seen to be believed.

The homepage of my American history site (24 books, 11,000 pages of print, 600 images in 700+ webpages) is here.

West Point, 1852‑1902

28 July 2009

And, online this morning to join the previous West Point items, William Godson’s History of West Point: 1852‑1902. As doctoral dissertations go, a failure, for the reasons I point out on that page; but the summary account of those 50 years is still good to have, and there’s an OK bibliography.

The homepage of my American history site (24 books, 11,000 pages of print, 600 images in 700+ webpages) is here.

History of West Point

21 July 2009

Long overdue, finally put online a few minutes ago: a decentish site on The History of West Point. Right this minute, in addition to some material already onsite (MacArthur’s 1962 farewell address to the Corps, Francis Smith’s 1879 address to his classmates of the Class of 1829, Union and Confederate brought together for one of the first times after the War), new material put on the WP section of my site these past ten days:

Roswell Park’s Sketch of the History and Topography of West Point and the Military Academy: published in 1840, it was the first history of the Academy.

E. D. J. Waugh’s West Point: The Story Of The United States Military Academy: published in 1944, an odd mix of history and anecdote and war propaganda, but not bad.

I expect to expand the site considerably.

The homepage of my American history site (24 books, 11,000 pages of print, 600 images in 700+ webpages) is here.

The History of Kona, Kentucky

16 June 2009

Very, very minor — but in one sense, not: A Brief History of Kona, Letcher County is one of the rare items onsite that had never been published. Interesting, too: this little town of maybe a hundred inhabitants has a bit more history than one might expect, and even the shadow of Daniel Boone.

The homepage of my American history site (24 books, 11,000 pages of print, 600 images in 700+ webpages) is here.

John Sevier’s Diary

24 May 2009

The “large and relatively significant item” is now online: Gov. Sevier’s Journal (or Diary, same difference); nominally complete — although I may have unearthed some hanky-panky: the gory details are on that orientation page. Other related material as well.

The homepage of my American history site (24 books, 11,000 pages of print, 600 images in 700+ webpages) is here.

Bedford’s Tour

20 May 2009

More Tennessee, all from the Tennessee Historical Magazine: one small item — Why the First Settlers of Tennessee were from Virginia (as opposed to North Carolina, which after all has a much longer border with what is now Tennessee, and is due east rather than kitty-corner like Virginia): a question that is weird only when you don’t think of it, so to speak, and with an interesting answer — but mostly Bedford’s Tour down the Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, the 1807 diary of a man who traveled from Nashville to New Orleans in a very small boat, and in winter: we all know that “free navigation of the Mississippi” was for decades the buzzword that justified much of early United States diplomacy, but this gives us an extraordinarily clear view of what it was actually like in practical terms.

And no, this isn’t the “large and relatively significant item” I mentioned in my last entry as in prep. I shouldn’t tease people that long; I need to finish it.

The homepage of my American history site (24 books, 11,000 pages of print, 600 images in 700+ webpages) is here.