Misreading the Same History

Cold Warriors

Cold Warriors

Kennedy wanted to end the Vietnam war.   Conspiracy theorists on both sides point to National Security Memo #263 as the smoking gun in Kennedy’s secret plan to get our troops out of Vietnam; and, also Memo #273 as proof the warmonger Johnson wanted to escalate the war.  Both accounts are demonstrably false.  Memo #263 simply states that Kennedy wanted to follow the recommendations of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and General Maxwell Taylor following their visit to South Vietnam(withdrawal was not one of them.)   The second memo was drafted November 21, 1963 and is clearly a Kennedy document approved by Johnson.  In an interview given on the Huntley-Brinkley Report Kennedy reaffirmed our commitment to South Vietnam and his belief in the “domino theory.”  Kennedy did not want to end the war in South Vietnam and Johnson did not personally choose to escalate it. 


September 9, 1963: "I think we should stay. We should use our influence in as effective a way as we can, but we should not withdraw."

September 9, 1963: “I think we should stay. We should use our influence in as effective a way as we can, but we should not withdraw.”

Far too many amateurs historians have duped… suspicious  Americans for academic credibility and financial gain.  Oliver Stone lends his tarnished credibility to the misreading of a complicated series of policy decisions.  Stone does not deal in complexities- as a film maker, he prefers stories with heroes, villains, and tidy plots.  For reasons unknown, Stone and his acolytes refuse to accept Jack Kennedy for what he was- a Conservative Democrat committed to the policy of containment as laid down by his Democratic predecessor, Harry Truman.  Vietnam was a national tragedy and a painful scar on our history- trying to make John Kennedy the martyr of it is a fraudulent endeavor.


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Book Review

Baumgartner, Richard, Blue Lightning; Wilder’s Mounted Infantry Brigade in the Battle of Chickamauga, Huntington, West Virginia, Blue Acorn

     Press, 2007, ISBN- 978-1-885033-35-2

“If the government would expend the large sums now used to induce men to enlist, in arming the men now in the field with this kind of weapon, the rebellion would be…speedily crushed.”  Richard Baumgartner begins his study of Wilder’s brigade at Chickamauga by discussing how and why the unit was equipped.  Colonel John Wilder was one of the few officers willing to take a chance on advances in weapons technology by equipping his men with the Spencer repeating rifle in 1863.  He also saw that his brigade was mounted, making it a unique part of the Union army in Tennessee.  Baumgartner’s book focuses on the pivotal campaign for Chattanooga and the important role Wilder’s brigade had in it.

Baumgartner’s study is richly detailed, well researched, and painstakingly documented.  The pages are filled with informative tables and rare photographs, giving the reader valuable insight into the more complex facets of Civil War era logistics.  Baumgartner, a former journalist, weaves together an efficient narrative, especially describing Wilder’s troops in complex combat scenarios.  The result is an effective book, but a book clearly intended for Civil War buffs.  Casual readers may find the subject matter too specialized and the scope too limited to invest the requisite time.

The author chooses not to put Wilder’s troops into the larger context of changing military weapons and tactics.  Focusing on the specifics of the Chattanooga campaign (Chickamauga was its decisive battle) Baumgartner relies heavily on his primary sources to expand the narrative.  At times quoting entire sections of diaries and letters, the book never leaves the Southeastern Tennessee countryside.  Serious students of the Civil War will applaud the painstaking research, but the scope may not attract the less avid reader.  Baumgartner could have broadened the appeal by using Wilder’s brigade as an example of how the Civil War was rapidly changing military doctrine.

Richard Baumgartner’s book will be a delight to Civil War and military history buffs.  The depth of the research and exciting battle narratives make it one of the better campaign studies in recent years.  Casual history readers may not be ready to invest the required time is such a narrow study.

Gordon Sheaffer

James Madison Preparatory School


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Facts in Five

Gettysburg Address edition


  • Lincoln did not write the speech on the back of an envelope during the train ride to Gettysburg- he worked on the speech in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, making minor alterations after arriving in Gettysburg
  • “Under God”  is in the original speech.  Secularists enjoy speculating Lincoln omitted those words, but three separate newspaper transcriptions include them- the reporters were in the crowd that day.
  • There is no photograph of Lincoln giving the speech- the one known photo captures Lincoln returning to his seat after speaking… a recent discovery may show Lincoln before the speech. 
  • Lincoln composed the address without speechwriters.  This is one of the few Presidential speeches where this can be positively asserted. 
  • The exact spot of the address is still in doubt.  Scholars now acknowledge that both commemorative plaques in the National Cemetery are incorrect. 
November 19, 1863- nice hat, Abe

November 19, 1863- nice hat, Abe

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ECW Weekender: Remembrance Day at Gettysburg

Emerging Civil War

There is always a lot to see and do when visiting the battlefield and town of Gettysburg. Most visitors head to the well-known and oft visited locations of Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, and the fields of Pickett’s Charge. Some will stop for a look at impressively large and symbolically laden state memorials such as those from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina. Perhaps the most important place to visit is one that is not a deal-breaker for those running short on time, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. It is here that the Federal dead who “gave their last full measure of devotion” rest and where Lincoln recommitted the northern populace and Federal government to the war effort. Every year in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the annual Remembrance Day Parade, luminary, and ceremony reflect and honor the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery and President Lincoln’s “few, appropriate marks.” In that spirit, take a…

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Buckey O’Neill, Captain of TR’s Rough Riders

Presidential History Blog

Next to Theodore Roosevelt, Buckey O’Neill was the most famous Rough Rider.

Buckey O’Neill: Not-So-Rough Riding

Buckey O’Neill, man of varied and various interests.

No doubt about it, when Theodore Roosevelt assembled the voluntary cavalry corps nicknamed the Rough Riders, a wide assortment of men couldn’t wait to sign up. One of them, westerner William Owen O’Neill (1860-1898) had almost as varied a life-path as his soon-to-be pal TR.

He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of a Union Civil War soldier seriously wounded at Fredericksburg. The family moved to Washington, DC, where Buckey (still called William) graduated from the National Law School. By nineteen, he had found his way to Tombstone, Arizona and became a gambler. He earned his nickname, “Buckey” from his habit of “bucking the tiger” or “bucking the odds” in faro and other gambling games. The nickname stuck.

O’Neill began his adult career as…

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Review of “Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times 1908-1960 (Vol 1)” by Robert Dallek

My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies

Published in 1991, “Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times 1908-1960” is the first volume in a two-volume series on LBJ written by Robert Dallek. Dallek is a retired professor of history and the author of nearly two dozen books including a bestselling biography of JFK (which I recently read and liked) and a more recent dual-biography of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.

Covering LBJ’s life through his election as VP, this book often feels like a deliberate counterweight to Johnson’s previous biographers (notably Robert Caro and Ronnie Dugger). In Dallek’s view, earlier books portrayed Johnson in an unfairly harsh light and failed to acknowledge that his unsavory methods for accumulating and using power often led to significant legislative progress for the poor and disenfranchised.

Dallek also believes that the enormous contributions Johnson made during his political career are largely unrecognized by the public-at-large. But…

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New Deal Data Gone Awry

Critics of the New Deal assail the consensus history that… FDR’s social programs helped the US out of the Great Depression.  Their objections are based on two faulty parameters of statistical analysis:

  • First, they use 1929 as a baseline for all New Deal data compiled by the Census Bureau.  —  WRONG. Any elementary study of economic policies in the 1920’s exposes the data as artificially enhanced by rampant speculation, unscrupulous trading, and predatory lending.  These statistics in no way represent typical American economic activity.
  • Second, modern economic indicators are used to examine the progress made during the 1930’s.  — WRONG. Post World War II employment patterns are radically altered by the baby boom.  The statistical sample is completely different from the 1930’s.  The average 5.5% unemployment figure following 1970,  cannot be factored against the data compiled following the grossly inflated figures from the 1920’s.

Skewed Data

The Great Depression presented a crisis never before seen in American economic history… and required measures beyond mere market correction to address the suffering.  The basic indicators of GDP and unemployment rates improve during the New Deal.  The so-called Roosevelt Recession of 1938-39 must be considered an effect of the budgetary restraints forced on FDR by the newly elected Republicans in the 76th Congress.

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