TV Series Review: Ken Burns’ Civil War

by Steve Lancaster10/28/18
All civil wars are rebellions, but not all rebellions are civil wars. The difference being a rebellion doesn’t seek to replace the government, but to separate from it and form a separate government. The American revolution was this type of rebellion as was the rebellion of the Southern Confederacy. Most rebellions and civil wars fail.

It has been almost 20 years since Ken Burns Civil War aired on PBS. Both the nature of documentaries and PBS have changed. It’s been that long since I watched the entire series from start to finish. The series, narrated by David McCullough, features the voices of just about everyone in Hollywood during the production period, from Sam Waterston (Abraham Lincoln), to Kurt Vonnegut Jr. It is a masterpiece of the documentary art and regrettably, it could not be made today.

When the film was made in the late 80s there was still modicum of respect for graciousness and truth. When the script called for it Burns used the word nigger to create the cultural feelings directed to Blacks in the South and in the North. Burns doesn’t pull any punches stating that Southern Democrats were the slave holders and Republicans were the abolitionists.  Try to find a democrat who will admit that today?

The series is largely factual to the extent we can recognize fact. There a few lapses into “common knowledge” that do not fit the reality. Most notably, that R. E. Lee was offered command of all federal armies in 1861. He wasn’t, he was offered Brigadier rank and command of a division. However, whatever the offer Lee would have turned it down. The series makes it clear that Lee personally owned no slaves. All the slaves at Arlington were owned by his wife and her family. The series clarifies that there were many in the South who did not agree with disunion or slavery; yet when called to fight for either side they chose the side where their home was.

Throughout the series, the generalship of Lee, Longstreet, Stewart, and Jackson is praised as American virtues. In this era of name changes and statue destruction; these men are no longer politically correct. The series uses historians and writers to explain and color the chronology of the war. Perhaps the most well known is Shelby Foote. His million-word three volume history of the war is featured as the go to source for war history. There is a three-hour CSPAN interview in 2001 with Foote in his Memphis home. Foote’s history has come under attack recently by the usual suspects who claim he has too much sympathy for the Southern cause. However, if you listen to Foote or read his books he is just as complementary of Grant, Sherman and Lincoln.

Burns presents in 1990 a fresh form of documentary, since copied by everyone who desires to make a documentary. The entire series is based on the letters, journals, and writings of the people who lived through the war. Photographs, (Many from Mathew Brady), paintings and newspapers are featured along with period music from both sides.

It is the theme music, Ashokan Farewellthat the tone of the entire series is set. The music is emotional and sentimental.  Along with the music from the war years, Bonnie Blue Flag, Lorena, Dixie, and of course, Battle Hymn of the Republic. The Battle Hymn is a fine song. It is a shame that Julia Ward Howe was not a Southerner as it might have replaced Dixie as an Anthem. It fits with Southern sensibilities and martial attitudes about religion better than Northern ideals.

If you are more interested in the battles this is not the series for you. Burns does not dwell on the strategy and tactics of the major battles other than to present a general overview of the goals, outcomes and the horrific death count on both sides. Instead, Burns deals with the real people, on both sides, and follows them through the war through quotes from their letters and journals. You cannot listen to the Sullivan Ballou letter to his wife and refrain from an emotional moment.

Burns makes the point that we, as a people, have come a long way since the traumatic days before disunion.  Episode nine, the last one, deals with the immediate aftermath of the war. Burns stresses the comradeship of the soldiers, Yankee and Rebel, and how the United States changed to be a more united country. Shelby Foote puts it well, “Before the war the country was referred to as the United States are, after the war it was the United States is, that’s a big change.”

In this age when dangerous political passions, Antifa, mad bombers and shootouts, are no less than the years before the war and people on both sides of the political spectrum are given to speculation about a second rebellion. They talk without thinking of the likely death count. The official count of the dead on both sides is 620,000. That does not take into consideration the deaths of civilians due to malnutrition and disease, a number that can only be estimated, but is probable to be in the hundreds of thousands.

If you have seen war, its not a condition that you wish to repeat. There is no way that you desire your family to endure the kinds of privations common to civilians near a battlefield. The Civil War will remind you that this is the worst kind of war. More people die in wars between partisans inside nations than die in nation-state war. It is a catastrophe to be avoided, if possible. • (121 views)

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36 Responses to TV Series Review: Ken Burns’ Civil War

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This is Burns’ best work and the only one that I think is worth watching. The rest are ponderous, matching the heavy, drawn-out themes and asides that worked well for retelling the Civil War but made his second best series, the one on baseball, as ponderous as hell. The other series by him are heavily infused by libtardness as well.

    But this is his masterpiece. We should all live to produce something of this quality.

    Foote’s history has come under attack recently by the usual suspects who claim he has too much sympathy for the Southern cause.

    Shelby’s work in this series is what pushes it over the top to excellence. I found that one chick’s contributions to often be trite and pretentious. But there were many times that I thought Shelby had a sincere tear in his eye while telling the story of this American tragedy. The narration was excellent as well.

    I have nothing but the greatest contempt for those who would smear Shelby.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    I rather enjoyed the series, though it no doubt helps that I was a big fan of Foote’s superb centennial history. (Foote also wrote a novel on the battle of Shiloh, and at one point cribbed directly from it in the history. Maybe more than once, but the one scene I actually remembered when he repeated it, albeit with a slight word change.) One point people might appreciate is that in his comments about the first volume, Foote thanks the governor of his native state (Mississippi) and the neighboring states of Alabama and Arkansas for lessening his sectional bias by reminding of the bad side of why his ancestors went to war a century earlier. (He was referring to George Wallace and Orval Faubus, and probably Ross Barnett.)

    Incidentally, I suspect you’re referring to J. E. B. Stuart, cavalry commander of the Army of Northern Virginia until he was killed at Yellow Tavern. A. P. Stewart was an Army of Tennessee officer who rose from brigade to corps command and actually led what was left of the army at Bentonville.

    Foote, in an interview, once noted that there were 2 generals he really came to dislike: Joe Johnston and Phil Sheridan. The former was no surprise, but the latter was — his coverage of Sheridan’s performance was quite favorable. It was Glenn Tucker in his book on Chickamagua, not Foote, who aptly said of Sheridan’s performance at a key point in that battle: “Little Phil was rarely at his best when the odds were even.”

    He also once mentioned getting a call from a female descendant of Nathan Bedford Forrest, and telling her that he considered the two real geniuses of the war being Forrest and Lincoln. She noted that her family never thought highly of Lincoln. He found this conversation rather amusing.

    Irvin McDowell was a Brigadier General when he commanded at First Bull Run. So Lee was probably being offered command of what would later be the embryonic Army of the Potomac.

    I once read that Carl Sandburg first came up with the notion that the War of the Rebellion (to use its more or less official name, used in the full title of every volume of the Official Records) was “fought over a verb”.

  3. Steve Lancaster says:

    Coming from both sides in the war. On my mother’s side Indiana Jewish/Quaker and on my farther’s side Mississippi/Arkansas Presbyterian its easy to understand the conflicts and sectionalism of my great grand parents time. My G Gfather and his brother were with Davis brigade at Gettysburg, 42nd Miss, and a g uncle was with an Indiana brigade.

    It is difficult to not see some of the same passions arising today. The caravan invasion, mailed poison letter threats, attempted bombings and murder most foul in PA. We haven’t reached the level of bleeding Kansas yet.

    All of the internal problems coupled to the mad mullahs in Iran and the fat fuck in NK with nuclear weapons. I don’t know if it is possible to retrench back to more civility. It was Eric Hoffer who said, “when mass movements are on the march, the average person is wise to stay home.”

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Yes, a lot of people in the upper South have connections both ways. I recall my paternal grandfather mentioning an ancestor who deserted the Union Army after the Emancipation Proclamation to join Morgan’s cavalry. (Of course, everyone in Kentucky seems to have had an ancestor in Morgan’s cavalry. A prolific crew, it would seem. Evidently unlike the far more numerous Kentucky Unionists.) On the other side, of course, there’s Cousin Abe who wrote the document.

      A friend had an ancestor in Iverson’s brigade who was apparently sick at Gettysburg, luckily for him (the brigade was slaughtered partly due to poor leadership July 1). I’ve mentioned Elizabeth being related to Colonel Shepard of Archer’s Tennessee brigade. Both also had possible links to General James P. Major of the Texas cavalry and General Isham Garrott, killed in the Vicksburg campaign.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Most histories and documentaries allow you a safe distance from the subject matter. Burn’s “Civil War” made that impossible.

      As a native Washingtonian, this really is a case where I have no dog in the fight…certainly not how it is today where memories, especially in the South, linger, as do some grievances.

      This was a battle over a continent with a way of life at its heart. Would it be Yankee capitalism or Southern plantations? We can understand the hardened attitudes back then because we see them today. We see partisanship that makes people crazy. And I submit that the Civil War was almost entirely the fault of the South, a South thad had gone rapid, particularly because it was steeped in the degrading practice of slavery.

      That’s not to make the North out as angels who for long time (perhaps even then) had a stake in slavery, if only in second-hand profit. But had the South not rebelled, who knows what history would look like today? But there would have been several tens of thousand less wooden legs and arms to dispense, as well as grave markers.

      Although Northern abolitionists surely must have been an obnoxious breed at times, I think the Southerners went out of their way to be objectionable. They stoked themselves to this war. However, there was good reason to believe the sincerity of Lincoln’s words in the first inaugural address:

      I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

      But the South, not unlike the rabid zealots of the Left we see tofay, went politically nuts. They became paranoid and unreasonable.

      But that battle is done. As MacCarthur said aboard the Missouri in Tokyo Harbor:

      The issues involving divergent ideals and ideologies have been determined on the battlefields of the world and hence are not for our discussion or debate.

      What’s done is done. And no region of the United States has produced more soldiers in the cause of maintaining our liberty than the South. Let us thus romanticize an era we have no hope of changing. Let the old soldiers fade away gracefully and hope the next time we fight we can get it over quickly.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        A lot of northerners disliked slavery, at least where they were, not for its immorality but because the slaves were black. Abolitionists were another matter. MacArthur’s comment sounds very much like Dr. Dubois’s comment in Starship Troopers that anyone who thinks “violence never settles anything” should tell that to the city elders of Carthage.

        Ironically, I read of some Virginians who thought their state would be the industrial capital of the South, supported by protective tariffs. They might as well have been Pennsylvanians.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I wonder if we’ve learned the lessons of the Civil War and if we’re even capable of it. Today’s race hustlers forbid any mention of it in terms other than fits their agenda.

          That’s why I thought Burns’ Civil War was so good. This was a minute look at this great American tragedy. Although, if memory serves, they kept it fairly ecumenical — blaming neither side — a viewer couldn’t help but be struck by the pain and waste of it all.

          Yes, you could say that many brave men fought gallantly. And as long as you look no further, you can get the warm, fuzzy glow of heroism sacrifice, and commitment to a cause. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this series, but I think it went well beyond that.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            I recall hearing one of their memoir readings (from Sam Watkins’s Company Aytch, which I’ve read) that detailed his very negative view of the war long before it ended.

            • Steve Lancaster says:

              Any soldier who doesn’t condemn war after seeing it is a fool, win or lose. For all the glory, comradeship and excitement it is a condition to be avoided if possible. The greatest act of courage is not the first experience of combat, but every time after.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                It’s so amazing to me, Steve, that once in it — once the full reality of the horror has blown away all romantic notions — that men are still able to (and seem to want to) stick with it.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                One of Churchill’s biggest laments was humanity’s inability to learn from history.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                As Bill Mauldin said in Up Front, “The easiest way to become a pacifist is to join the infantry.”

      • Steve Lancaster says:

        There is a story, perhaps true, but illustrative of North and South. A Yankee and a Southerner were talking in the days before the war and the Southerner was, as we are, passionate and fiery. The Yankee let him go on and when he settled down the Yankee compared the North as a huge boiler of water at room temperature. It takes a long time to bring that to a boil but watch out when it does.

        A lesson that the South did not, and I suppose could not, take to heart. Also a lesson that today’s democrat party can not take to heart.

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I believe it was Churchill who called the War of Rebellion, “The last war between gentlemen.”

    I have the complete series on VHS as well as Foote’s history. While I enjoyed both, I find Foote’s history to be the more interesting, but I would not have known about it were it not for Burn’s series.

    While I agree that such a documentary could not be made today for the reasons Steve mentions, I also believe it would not be made as today’s younger audience has a shorter attention span and does not appear to have much interest in knowing much of anything. (Dennis Prager’s piece at NRO about his recent experience buying a new car lays out this phenomenon nicely.)

    The left has done a wonderful job dumbing down young Americans. The education system has been largely co-opted by the radicals of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Look at how many ex-SDS/Weather Underground members went into education and the law. You will understand. Bill Ayers was only one of them. Antifa is only the latest iteration of Jacobins, Communards, Anarchists, Bolsheviks, Communists and Weathermen.

    And while war should be the absolute last resort, average people should think about which side to chose should war come. Not taking a side is probably the most dangerous position to take in such situations. One need only look at the millions of non-participants who died in the Russian Civil War, or in any war, generally speaking. Tribalism is not pretty and a lot of bad things can happen in the name of “our side”, but the splitting of political hairs is not at the top of the list of things to be considered in a civil war.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Here’s that article by Prager.

      Prager’s logic and analysis are usually pretty good, but often there’s still a little fat to trim. No fat in this one. His conclusion is completely non-namby-pamby and spot on. Oh…and concise.

      For you article writers out there (and I’m not referring to Steve….this is just a place to mention it), take a clue from Prager. If it takes more than 20 paragraphs (about 19 short ones for Prager) to say something, it’s very possible you don’t actually have a clear point and are just stretching out the muddle.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    rom Sam Waterston (Abraham Lincoln)

    Loved McCullough’s narration. Hated Waterston’s narration of Lincoln. And you said, Steve, the music was very good. Truly a memorable part of the series.

    Shelby Foote puts it well, “Before the war the country was referred to as the United States are, after the war it was the United States is, that’s a big change.”

    This is why Foote’s contributions were so valuable. There was a day when at least some historians meant to give you an unvarnished view of history, not to strangle and warp the facts to fit a narrow political view. I found Burns’ documentary on Prohibition (what little I watched of it) to be slanted. It just had the feel of liberal revisionism.

    Thanks to Shelby Foote, Burns couldn’t quite pull his Civil War documentary in that direction. When you are surrounded by weighty people, it makes it harder to be stupid.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Foote believed that his previous work as a novelist played a role in making him a good historian. It meant he had an eye for good writing, and also (like many, but not all, novelists) he was a good researcher. (Irving Wallace in The Prize not only did a lot of research himself, but also gave a nice summary of the process in the biographical background of Literature laureate Andrew Craig.)

      I also naturally watched Burns’s series on baseball. I got rather annoyed with how much time was spent in some later episodes discussing Mario Cuomo, a minor leaguer in the 1950s. This was in 1994, and he faced an uphill re-election battle, and the liberal Burns was obviously giving him a little help (not enough, as it turned out, fortunately). I’ve never watched anything by him since.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I also naturally watched Burns’s series on baseball. I got rather annoyed with how much time was spent in some later episodes discussing Mario Cuomo, a minor leaguer in the 1950s.

        I vaguely remember that. Basically his documentary helped to start the Jack Robinsonization of ESPN. They can’t stop talking about the guy, virtue signaling until (to my mind) they are doing disservice to this name, using him as mere cannon fodder for white guilt.

        The guy was a great player, overcame a lot of obstacles, and the Dodgers should be commended for breaking the color barrier. But this stuff had very little to do with the average American and everything to do with rich, racist, baseball owners and players. I don’t need to be lectured. It’s like that great shtick that Bill Burr (gratuitously foul-mouthed as many low-brow yutes tend to be these days) has on all those “public service” domestic violence commercials rammed down our throats during sporting broadcasts: We’re not the ones who need this message. It’s those violent, wife-beating athletes who need this message.

        Baseball as a sport might be dying, at least what I saw from the World Series. A very boring series. Everyone is swinging for the fences and there’s very little strategy involved. And twice in the series there were players who were slacking off. One jerk was sitting there at home plate watching what he thought would be a home run. Ooops. Hit the wall. Better get to first base, might have easily made it to second. and this was a Dodger when the Dodgers were behind by two games, and not in spring training but in The World Series.

        Another guy (I forget if he was a Dodger or a Red Sox) put in a half effort going from first to second. The ball was hit to the left side. I think the pitcher had to field it and he had no chance to force the runner at first because of the long throw. But his entire bench was screaming “2! 2! 2!” because they saw the guy who was already on first lollygagging his way to second. They easily got him out on a force.

        May you all live long, healthy lives and receive healing when you need it. I really mean that. But, good god, what a douche-chilling moment when they stopped the game to have a “Let’s say no to cancer” rally and everyone was holding up some stupid sign. Bill Burr has some schtick on this too. Wouldn’t it really annoy if you were watching a movie in a theatre and they stopped the picture so that they could tell you all about cancer?

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      One of the things I liked about Foote’s role was his accent. He had a beautiful, soft way of speaking which brought the past back. He did not speak like some hick, rather his speech brought to mind the highly literate Southern culture which gave birth to so many great America writers.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Yes, his voice was evocative of a reluctant historian with a depth of perspective and a lot of heart.

      • Steve Lancaster says:

        In his three hour interview with CSPAN Foote calls Proust and Shakespeare as his go-to writers with Faulkner a close second. Foote knew and understood Southern culture the good and the bad. He also understood Yankee motivations equally well. In this he was wholly American.

        I once heard that Southern women like their men, committed and just a little crazy. That’s why so many of them marry preachers. It’s not a Shelby Foote quote but I think he could have said it.

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      Brad,
      You have touched on an elemental truth. Modern historians, most notable, Howard Zinn have a political agenda rather than explaining history in as factual manner as possible. I used Wilson as an example of racism in class not long ago and actually got pushback from skulls full of Zinn mush, even here in Arkansas.

      The level of dis-education among high school seniors, and even university graduates is astonishing, not only Civil War history but all of history. History classes at the University of Arkansas do not teach but the barest levels of American history at the 101 level. Even graduate school and seminars are woefully lacking in a grounded approach to constitutionalism and the opinions of the founders.

      I tried to watch the Burns Baseball and Prohibition shows and found both of them ponderous and largely uniforming. As I recall Burns did not mention, or perhaps I missed it, the contribution of Hot Springs, AR to baseball. Not only the white leagues, but also the Negro leagues. I guess the idea that Black and White ballplayers intermixed in the early years of baseball was not PC.

      Incidentally, there is an excellent museum of the Negro Leagues in Kansas City.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        What I remember most from the baseball series is that it was a shame that Satchel Paige wasn’t allowed (until much later, if memory serves) to play in the big leagues. He may have been another Babe Ruth.

        I think it’s right and proper to remember the full history such as the Negro Leagues. I found that fascinating. And it is indeed too bad there was no mention of Hot Springs. Certainly the idea of racial harmony in the early years (if only in places) would not fit Burns’ agenda at the time.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Paige was a pitcher, and still a good one when he joined the Cleveland Indians in the late 1940s. He may have compared well with Ruth as a pitcher (and a good one, who held a World Series record for consecutive scoreless innings until Whitey Ford broke it in 1961). You may be thinking of Josh Gibson, a catcher with a lot of home-run power, who was compared to Ruth and other great power hitters of the era. Unlike Paige, he didn’t last long enough to make the major leagues.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            No, I was thinking of Satchel Paige. He had Babe Ruthian qualities in his pitching (as did Ruth himself, of course).

      • Timothy Lane says:

        A lot of people don’t realize that Jackie Robinson was not the first black major league baseball player. There was apparently one guy who spent a single day as a substitute. More importantly, there was Moses Fleetwood Walker, a black pitcher for Cleveland in the then-major American Association. His brother Wellday, a catcher, also spent some time there. But some white players, led by Cap Anson (now a Hall of Famer) were too racist to accept the Walkers (or any other black who might turn up), and the color bar came down.

        The black leagues, as far as I know, did allow whites, though there were few. Some may have been Latin Americans.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    While remembering David McCullough’s outstanding narration of “Civil War,” it reminded me of his excellent book, “John Adams.”

    His house is one place I would love to visit. And I had no idea that there existed a Stone Library which houses over 12,000 volume. (More info here.) It was built by the son of John Quincy Adams. I would walk those orchards and gardens with the same reverence as a Civil War battlefield.

    Regarding Burns’ “Civil War,” as Steve mentioned, the photographs of Matthew Brady were a big part of it. He (and others) pictured what promised to be just a good old camping trip in the country with one’s buds turned into something perhaps few could anticipate. Look at his photographs of individual men at that link (including Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, and Robert E. Lee). They are captured with the immediacy of a family snapshot. I loved the one of Lee, in particular. This is not an icon staring back at you. It’s a person.

    All these shots are posed, of course. And many of the same shots on the page are obviously pretty stiffly posed pictures. But I thought those individual photos were superb.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      In our sightseeing days, we toured a number of mansions. Some nice gardens were among them, though I don’t recall any extensive looks at libraries — not even at Monticello. (But then, Jefferson’s books no doubt are no longer there. On at least one occasion he gave them to the Library of Congress.) I don’t know that any of them had a separate, detached library.

      As Ambassador to Britain, Charles Francis Adams is perhaps most famous for his comments to the British as it looked like the Laird rams were going to leave in the pretense of going to Egypt and then sail to America as Confederate ships to break the blockade: “It is superfluous for me to add that this will mean war.”

      Some interesting photos. Either Brady or subordinates of his photographed actual battle-aftermath scenes, which are as gruesome as you’d expect. The photo of a gun reminded me of Alonzo Cushing at Gettysburg during Pickett’s Charge. As Stephen Vincent Benet put in a section of poetry I came across in high school and never forgot:

      Cushing ran down the last of his guns to the battle-line.
      The rest had been smashed to scrap by Lee’s artillery fire.
      He held his guts in his hand as the charge came up to the wall,
      And his gun spoke out for him once before he fell to the ground.

      • Steve Lancaster says:

        Adams and Jefferson’s books are in the library of congress. Jefferson’s books are in remarkable condition, not unread but generally free of hard wear. Adams books, on the other hand, are very worn. Adams was an underliner, glosser, and note taker and his books reflect that. He carries on conversations from page to page and his language is not in any way the refined tones expected of a founder.

        I had the opportunity in the 70s, while stationed in DC to peruse the collections. It’s amazing what a CIA id and the magic words national security can get you into.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Very cool. Yes, now that you mention it, it was the Library of Congress who got his books. But maybe there was an intermediary route. I don’t know.

          I wonder what Adams would have thought of having an entire library on your iPad or Kindle. Clearly you’d expect him to have nostalgia for real books on real paper. But also clearly books were not just decorations for him. They were to be used. And as a lawyer, the ability to search probably would have won him over quickly.

          One of my hopes for this site was that someone would got to a place such as the Stone Library, snap a few photos (if allowed), and give informative, interpretive, and subjective impressions of the journey. I’m not likely to travel to Massachusetts anytime soon. And others might not make it to Boeing’s Museum of Flight.

          And that’s a real benefit of these better-done documentaries, not only taking us to a place that isn’t immediately convenient for us to travel to, but also taking us to another time.

          • Steve Lancaster says:

            Adams and Jefferson were fans of technology. It was Jefferson who kept Eli Whitney busy developing the machine tool industry.

            Whitney got a government contract to produce a stand of 10,000 muskets with interchangeable parts in the 1790s. Jefferson when he was still President-elect was in a meeting with congressmen and Whitney.

            Whitney brought in a box of musket locks all in pieces, put them on the table and had the congressmen and Jefferson pick the parts and put them together. Jefferson was fascinated and Whitney got additional funding. Whitney completed the last of his stand of muskets years later, a good example of cost-overruns dating to our founding.

            However, the machine tool industry he created in New Haven put the US in the technology lead of the industrial revolution 20 years ahead of England.

            Jefferson while in France made friends with a third son of a large chemical producer named DuPont. He persuaded this son to come to America and bring the family secrets for making gunpowder with him. The result is the US did not have a gunpowder shortage during the war of 1812 and had the beginnings of a chemical industry.

            I guess you might call this Jefferson’s attempt to put America first, or perhaps, Let’s Make America Great. LMAG?

            • Timothy Lane says:

              I remember reading a short playlet of the scene with Jefferson and Whitney when I was in school. I don’t know how accurate it was.

              The US had to buy its saltpeter for gunpowder from India, which had a monopoly on the trade as late as the 1860s. This was a potential threat to America in the event of war with Britain, which controlled India.

              The Confederacy had to improvise, leading to some bawdy songs on the subject. In addition, they needed their own gunpowder factory, which George Rains (whose brother Gabriel was a specialist in torpedoes going back to the retreat from Yorktown) built at Augusta, Georgia. After that, they never ran out of gunpowder either.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        But then, Jefferson’s books no doubt are no longer there.

        And from what I read, most of John Adams’ books were donated by him to a local library or museum.

        Just as an aside, can you imagine John Adams with a Twitter account? Might have made Trump seem somewhat normal.

        A gritty poem.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          As I recall, the government bought Jefferson’s books in order to help him with his massive debt. I believe this purchase was the beginning of the Library of Congress.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Not the whole poem. It’s from Benet’s epic “John’s Brown Body”, which is a history of the era from Harper’s Ferry to war’s end. The pamphlet I read it in included the section on Gettysburg July 3. Bits and pieces stuck in my mind, especially that stanza. Cushing was actually killed by a shot through the mouth into the brain, but was probably already mortally wounded by the gut wound Benet alluded to. (Foote describes him as holding on to a flap of skin to keep his entrails from falling on the ground as “steel-drivin'” John Henry’s did.)

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