Review: The Maps of the Wilderness

The Wilderness Battlefield exhibit shelter sits in the middle of Saunders Field like a tiny oasis as the roar of Route 20 zooms by. The Wilderness is no longer wild these days, with vast gated communities hidden behind the trees. What forest still remains is older and less dense than the woods of 1864. These […]

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Let’s Celebrate Presidents’ Day with FDR!

Not since Abraham Lincoln have I been this excited about the next president on my journey through the best presidential biographies. Two years ago, twelve biographies of Lincoln consumed four months of my life with everything that 9,500 pages of gripping narrative could offer. Now I’m on to an even more audacious task: reading 18 […]

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Weekly History News Roundup

Humans are born to teach… evidence suggests teaching skills are part of genetic make-up


Bill looks to renounce Maryland’s state song… original lyrics attack Lincoln as a tyrant


Germany prosecuting Auschwitz guard... Reinhold Danning one of the few remaining Nazis


Soviet leadership discussed capturing our spy… newly released transcript reveals concern over spies’ pay


Civil War Preservation Trust marks banner year… $52.5 million raised for battlefield preservation


Maryland My Maryland sheet music

The Tyrant born Today!!

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Ramblings of an Antiquated Mind

I have blog, hear me roar….I guess.

  • We only have ourselves to blame for this Trump candidacy
  • Harry Truman lost the New Hampshire primary to a guy in a coonskin cap- perspective matters
  • John Kasich is experienced, seasoned, reasonable, and very electable- no wonder Republicans hate him…
  • Votes against Clinton and Bush are votes against oligarchy
  • The incessant purifying of the Republican party will be its downfall…
  • A moderate Democrat is needed now, more than ever
  • We need fewer, yet motivated people in college- not more disinterested students enticed by free tuition  
  • Bernie Sanders shouldn’t give up his night job….heckling the Muppets
  • Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill were not golfing buddies- they were political rivals who compromised often…for the good of the country.
  • There is nothing more dangerous to liberty than a second-term President nearing the end of his time in office…
  • One of the current political parties has overstayed its welcome…. flip a coin
  • A Trump administration will undoubtedly call for a third incarnation of the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities –  I can’t wait to be called
  • Corporate charter schools are becoming part of the problem in education reform-  nonprofit charters are the only answer
  • School Choice still works- keep the corporate money out.
  • You will really “Feel the Bern”  on tax day…

1213_BIOP_Hair Trump


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Tough Loss

Why did the British lose the War of 1812… consensus history teaches that the Napoleonic wars kept mighty England from crushing the upstart Americans.  As expected, consensus historical lessons are wrapped too tightly, strangling the complexities from our past.  America won the war, but Britain lost it just as much.  We cannot pin this all on the French.

Right on the nose !

  • Poor strategy and execution– As in the Revolutionary War, Britain attempted a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy.  Simultaneous invasions would divide American forces and allow the British to defeat the disorganized American armies.  Unfortunately, the invasions were far from timely; poorly organized and executed, British forces were unable achieve any strategic success during the invasions of upstate New York and Maryland.  The third invasion at New Orleans ended in disaster.  The first graduates from the American military academy (like Winfield Scott)  were able to rally American forces, including the unreliable militiamen, to resist the uncoordinated assaults.
  • Political disunity– The government of Spencer Perceval had taken a stand against American attempts to trade with France their during the war.  Perceval’s ministers enacted the Orders in Council and did little as the tensions with America continued to rise.  Diplomats serving in Washington did a poor job communicating Britain’s positions on key issues.  Perceval’s assassination on May 11, 1812 brought to power Lord Liverpool, who sought to ease tensions with America.  The repeal of the Orders in Council just two days before America’s declaration of war was not accepted by all British ministers.  The disunity in  Liverpool’s government continued as the hostilities escalated.
  • Swatting flies– The British military machine was not built to fight an enemy like the United States.  The British army was recruited and trained to fight on the sweeping fields of Europe, not the wilds of North America; geography proved to be a keen enemy in both wars Britain fought in America.  The small, but powerful American fleet did not give the Royal Navy its Trafalgar of the west.  The power frigates of the US fleet held their own in ship to ship combat.  These small victories boosted American morale during the dark days of the conflict.  The British dependence on its Indian allies on the frontier proved as detrimental as in the Seven Years War.  The United States used its home field advantage to keep the British war machine from operating efficiently.

No contest, one on one.

But it is said that we are not prepared for war, and ought therefore not to declare it. This is an idle objection, which can have weight with the timid and pusillanimous only. The fact is otherwise. Our preparations are adequate to every essential object. Do we apprehend danger to ourselves? From what quarter will it assail us? From England, and by invasion? The idea is too absurd to merit a moment’s consideration. –Henry Clay, 1811


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New Hampshire Lunacy

Anything can happen in the New Hampshire primary… ask Harry Truman.


Truman’s popularity was at an all time low in 1952… but Harry had beat the odds before.  He was challenged in the 1952 New Hampshire primary by Estes Kefauver- a homespun Senator from Tennessee.  The first politician to proudly wear a coonskin cap since David Crockett, Kefauver used his folksy demeanor and no nonsense reputation to upset the incumbent.  Truman saw the writing on the wall and withdrew.

Estes was "bestes"

Estes was “bestes”

Expect the unexpected in today’s primary… the voters of New Hampshire rarely disappoint.

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Sykes at Gettysburg, Pt. 1

Civil War history has not been kind to the memory of George Sykes. Outspoken peers who outlived him saw their exploits at the battle of Gettysburg well- documented for posterity. Sparse correspondence, a routine battle report, and lack of written recollections have allowed Sykes’s fellow officers to mold his role in the story of the battle. Despite leading the Fifth Army Corps in its greatest battle, Sykes has been relegated to the ranks of forgotten generals. A closer examination of his performance reveals the consummate professional leading his troops with a steady hand. One of only two Corps Commanders at Gettysburg without an equestrian monument, the reputation of “Tardy George” has largely been accepted as historical fact.

Sykes and the Fifth Corps were thrust into the Battle of Gettysburg after Major General Daniel Sickles’s reckless deployment of his corps in advance of the Army’s primary position. Meade’s left was dangerously exposed as Confederate skirmishing announced the combat on July 2. Orders were issued at a hasty assembly of his Corps commanders- Meade was going to reinforce Sickles’ new position (no notation was kept.) Sickles galloped back to his men expecting a brigade from Sykes and assumed the Fifth Corps to be at his disposal. Meade and Sykes conferred separately as the meeting adjourned. Sykes recorded the gravity of the discussion in his report- Meade ordered the Fifth Corps to hold the Union left. Sykes understood this order to be preemptory, freeing him of any obligation to Sickles.
Major Generals David B. Birney and Daniel Sickles testified to Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War that Sykes delayed his movement to the left and allowed his men to “boil coffee.” They slandered Sykes and his men before the Committee and in the press to distract historical scrutiny from their tactical blunder on July 2. Birney told a different story in his more credible battle report; the Fifth Corps arrived “opportunely” and Sykes deployed them with a steady hand. Though he coordinated troop placement with Birney at Devil’s Den, Sykes deployed his men independently, answering Warren’s call to defend Little Round Top and committing the rest of his corps to repulse the Confederate push for Cemetery Ridge. Sickles’s presence at the Peach Orchard salient divided the command structure and hampered Meade’s defense.

The muddled battle lines obscure Sykes’ actions. The well- documented exploits of Colonels Strong Vincent and Joshua Chamberlain epitomize courage at Gettysburg, while General G.K. Warren’s statue stands on Little Round Top as testament to its “savior.” As Corps Commander, Sykes needed to stay above the fray. Battlefield professionalism and a calm demeanor helped save the Union left, but have not landed him a prominent place in the historiography of the battle. Even the routine order to occupy Round Top, given late on July 2 is often attributed to enterprising subordinates rather than Sykes.
George Sykes’s role in the Battle of Gettysburg is overlooked because of circumstance and self-serving recollections in the years after the battle. The enduring debate over Sickles’ blunder has allowed rumors and slander about Sykes’s performance to persist. The nickname bestowed on him from his days at West Point became a convenient depiction of dawdling Corps Commander. The historical record is filled with tales of noble stands and fallen heroes, aggrandized by ambitious subordinates. Sykes wrote little about his performance and had no patience for fellow officers seeking to inflate their own deeds. He cautioned General Samuel Crawford, “There was glory enough in the battle of Gettysburg for all who fought there…and undue prominence given to certain persons and parts of the Corps to the prejudice of others.”

1. Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg;The Second Day, (Chapel Hill, Univ.of North Carolina Press, 1987) p.207
United States. 1880. The War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol.XXVII, pt.1, p.592 ; Sykes to Editor of The Chronicle, Dec. 9, 1886, in George J. Gross, The Battlefield of Gettysburg, (Philadelphia, Collins, 1886), p.27
2. US Congress. Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, (Washington, Gov. Print Office, 1865) Vol. 1, p.299, 367;

3.OR, Vol. XXVII pt. 1, p.483; Sykes to Editor of Chronicle, in Gross, p.26-27
4.OR Vol.XXVII, pt. 1, p. 593 ; Edwin Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, (New York, Scribner’s Sons 1968) p.400 ; Pfanz, p. 226
5. William H. Powell, The Fifth Army Corps, (New York, GP Putnam’s Sons, 1896) p. 522 ; Noah A. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, (New York, HarperCollins, 2002) p.340

6. David and Audrey Ladd, The Bachelder Papers:Gettysburg in Their Own Words, (Dayton, Ohio, Morningside Press, 1995) Vol. 2, p.992-993 ; Bradley M. Gottfried, “Fisher’s Brigade at Gettysburg: The Big Round top Controversy”, Gettysburg Magazine 19 (1998) p.89
7. Sykes to Crawford, December 17, 1863, Chamberlain Papers, Library of Congress ; Pfanz, p.393

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