Behind the curtain

5 March 2008

Buried below the fold here on the blog are a number of fantastic discussions growing from older biographical posts. As site owner I can see these conversations as they happen, but I’m not sure either of our other readers notice. Hence this pop-up flag. That, and I’m not getting any writing of my own done …

Notable lately have been contributions from Morrisons and a Lewis. Look in comments more recently, too, for insights from descendents of Weisiger and Clark. Old mysteries solved, but new avenues opened as well, so please jump in if you can help.

The many of the Morrison Clan who have stopped in to add information have driven the comment count on last year’s piece on patriarch Robert Hall Morrison to first place all-time. I’m amazed by the rich detail these family historians have brought to the story, and recommend you get caught up if you’ve not been following the threads there.

Anne Morrison Garber also seeks help locating Morrison scholar Sarah Marie Eye’s new email address … anyone?

Enoch Lewis’ descendent Annie Lewis teases of connections to the US Military Academy at West Point in a new comment. Do please speak up if you know where that hint leads. Captain Lewis’ case is still a tangle of unanswered questions of politics and motivation to me.

Oh for more time to research …

New required reading

5 February 2008

Your assignment: catch up with some new and fascinating online work about the Maryland Campaign of 1862.

Recent and ongoing now is an excellent discussion about who did what at Sharpsburg on TalkAntietam*. Beginning with fine-grain research Dean Essig is doing for his new wargame–with other genuine experts weighing in–the group is exploring the reality of the “numbers” of the battle. The unintentional but inescapable conclusion here may be that it’s impossible to acurately quantify the battle. See what you find …

from Harper's Weekly, 24 October 1863 (Son of the South)
from Harper’s Weekly, 24 October 1863 (Son of the South).

Be sure also to catch the two latest feature articles Larry Freiheit has contributed to AotW. At the top is his view of Military Intelligence in Maryland from both General’s perspectives. You’ll find a number of ‘hmmm’ moments in that piece. Larry’s also the author of an analysis of JEB Stuart’s cavalry at and before Sharpsburg, which was posted just before the anniversary last year. Mighty fine.

Also fresh is John David Hoptak’s masterful biographical sketch of Brigadier James Nagle. Ranger Hoptak is highly fluent on Nagle and the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, as you probably know from his blog. Thanks to the Save Historic Antietam Foundation for sharing that work online. When you see (or visit) next, ask John how you can help restore the General’s sword, too.


* Anyone can read the messages on TalkAntietam, but you’ll have to join the group and be approved to contribute. But that’s easy, trust me. I know the group moderator really well; I can get you in :)

National Pike blogged

25 January 2008

I’ve just stumbled over a fascinating project of Christoper Busta-Peck’s covering the Old National Road/National Pike. You probably know that part of that historic thoroughfare was on the path of the Armies during the Maryland Campaign of 1862.

National Pike marker (recreated, C. Busta-Peck)
National Pike milestone, recreated (C. Busta-Peck)

Christoper is a librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, and is using the blogging medium to perfection, as I see it, to illuminate history right under our noses. History, I dare say, most of us have missed. Do go see his excellent use of GoogleMaps to cover the milemarkers and other sights along the Road, in addition to the range of other fine posts on the subject.

When he started in September 2007, Christopher explained:

This blog is my attempt to describe and share my journeys on the National Pike, as it winds its way from Baltimore to Cumberland, Maryland, as well as the National Road, from Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia, Illinois. I plan to include plenty of photographs, maps to describe the journey.

The blog post that finally caught my attention today is about the series of 19th Century stone bridges over the Antietam and the 1910 book on the subject by Helen Ashe Hays. He’s scanned and posted the superb photos from that volume. Both of my readers will immediately recognize the spans in his post as brothers and sisters of what’s now known as Burnside Bridge.

Bravo. Brilliant!

library card

Man, oh man, am I having fun with my mini-vacation. I promised myself a few days between Christmas and New Year’s–after family visits and home chores–to devote to research and writing for Antietam on the Web. Most people would see this as an odd use of valuable free time, but I find it therapeutic play.

Today I’m pulling threads in a huge source that’s new to me: the HeritageQuest database service from ProQuest. It’s a searchable collection of thousands of books and other documents. I’d not looked into it before, thinking wrongly that it was only genealogical information. If you’re as lucky as I, and your library has a subscription, you can get to it from home by the web at the price of a library card…

2007 navel gazing

18 December 2007

Thompson's Navel (orange), A. Newton, 1915
Citrus sinensis (A. Newton, USDA, 1915)

Not known as an omphaloskeptic, I’ve nonetheless been meditating on some things that have been piling up in my blog ‘idea box’ over the last year. Grumpy little snippets about blogging and history. Things noted over the year. Pray humor me as I unburden myself in a collection of mini-posts here. Call it end-of-year housekeeping…

Trees? Meet forest

4 October 2007

Beech-maple forest

In Google Books: Is it Good for History? in the latest Perspectives–the journal of the American Historical Association (AHA)–Robert Townsend reprises his April AHA blog post with

The Google Books project promises to open up a vast amount of older literature, but a closer look at the material on the site raises real worries about how well it can fulfill that promise and the potential costs to history scholarship and teaching.

I think he misses the point; and yes, the Google Books project is good for History …

Selling the Archives II

1 August 2007

The US National Archives has inked another commercial deal to sell public domain materials. In this case, film and video. The “non-exclusive” agreement is with’s CustomFlix Labs, who will let you initially buy on-demand DVDs of any of “thousands” of Universal Newsreels, dating from 1920 to 1967 from the Archives collection.

Universal Newsreel opening screen (1944)

This is similar in feel to the earlier deal with Footnote, from whom you can buy online access to historic documents and photographs from the Archives.

Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein spins it this way:

Our initiative with CustomFlix Labs will reap major benefits for the public-at-large and for the National Archives. While the public can come to our College Park, MD research room to view films and even copy them at no charge, this new program will make our holdings much more accessible to millions of people who cannot travel to the Washington, DC area. CustomFlix Labs DVD on Demand will provide the National Archives with digital reference and preservation copies of the films that are sold on This is an important contribution to our preservation program.

The Archivist fails to mention why it’s necessary for the US Government agency to make a commercial deal and charge the public to get these benefits.

Perhaps the Archives could take a lesson from the Library of Congress’ highly successful American Memory program for tips about how to make archival works available online without charging the public for them.

Or ask advice of the folks at the Internet Archives, who already have over 600 of these same vintage newsreels up and freely available.

See the NARA Press Release of 30 July 2007.


Added 3 August

Apparently American Historical Association blogger Andrew Britt thinks the deal is a good idea, too.

I’ve also just seen the Washington Post article on the subject.

Nina Gilden Seavey, an “Emmy-winning filmmaker and director of the Documentary Center at George Washington University” is quoted in that piece, noting the key issue with which the Archives is dealing:

Ultimately, the accessibility of the collections and the maintenance of the collections has become such a huge burden on the federal government, the question is how to provide some sort of self-sustaining mechanism for use of these collections.

I agree this is a burden. A burden however, that comes with the mission of the agency.

In the face of scarce resources, apparently the only option considered was commercializing the collection.

That’s my gripe here.

MilHisCar III

17 June 2007

Welcome to the third Military History Carnival! Here you’ll find a random and eclectic selection of recent blog posts talking about military history of one kind or another. These are hardly an exhaustive survey of all military history posts, obviously, but may point you to new time sinks for future enjoyment.

Saddle up!

Lowville (NY) Journal&Republican (October 1862)click to see larger image

The 21st Century has been getting in the way of the 19th around me, more’s the pity, as I have been blessed with showers of Antietam-related material recently. Two of these cloudbursts just coincided; Colonel William B. Goodrich of New York at the focus.

Fellow blogger and Antietam Ranger John David Hoptak kindly sent me his biography of the Colonel, freshly written for the Antietam Volunteer Newsletter, to fill a gap on AotW. It’s up now. It is very fine.

Goodrich has the unfortunate distinction of being the only Union Brigade Commander killed in action at Antietam. Formerly commanding the 60th New York Infantry, as senior Colonel he was put in charge of his Brigade in the XII Corps on 16 September, the day before the battle.

It was back in February that I first saw the Colonel’s face, however, courtesy of the first of a series of emails full of local newspaper lore and her own research from avid genealogist Connie Sterner. Connie is master of the North Country (NY) history site, which apparently began, as these things do, as a small project and got completely out of hand!

Building on a CMS 2

14 February 2007

Lego blocks

When it rains, it pours goes the old saw. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been up to my ear lobes in two proposal writing projects. I expect two more by the end of March. The normal pace is two in a year. These are good for business, but hard on my personal and online lives.

This time crunch has tightly focused the effort I told you about in a December post about an off-the-shelf content management system (CMS) as basis for a website. To recap: I’m working a pro bono project to help a worthy historical non-profit upgrade their online presence. Last we talked I had built a demo website on WordPress and was planning to migrate to the more sophisticated Textpattern platform.

I just won’t have time for that anytime soon, and the non-profit wants to publish fast. So, after some reassuring research, I’ve decided to stick with WordPress and avoid the learning curve and rework needed to implement on Textpattern.


First, there is an array of proven plugins and custom modules available for WordPress to meet all the likely business needs of the client. Just ask Lorelle, for instance. Sure, there is danger that too many plugins or widgets will result in Lego architecture, but for the few functions we’re considering, I think the maintenance burden will be low.

Second, the client wants to implement new functions and features iteratively–one at a time at a moderate pace–so I will have opportunity to write custom PHP within the WordPress framework or bite the bullet and convert to a new platform later, if worst comes to worst.

It comes down to the fastest and easiest way to get function online with minimum investment.

I’d appreciate hearing from anyone with similar projects: I need all the advice I can get! I’ll keep you up on how it goes …