Friday, November 25, 2005

Ha! Got called "hidebound" today. Since I *am* kind of conservative, I suppose that's OK. After all, the established literary tropes and conventions are generally so established *because* the alternative generally dies ill-read, neglected, and lonely on the remainder stacks.

I've been reading Brown's Retreat from Gettysburg. I don't generally read Civil War history for incident, but Retreat from Gettysburg is surprisingly full of interesting non-battle conflict. It makes the second Northern overland campaign seem like a vast cattle-raid, an enormous rampage of theft, pursuit, and retribution or escape. The bit where the good citizens of Chambersburg non-chalantly lead a wayward train of Confederate wounded carefully into the center of town, in preparation for their arrest far from the main columns, is particularly surreal. The cavalry-battle in Hagerstown, on the other hand, is impressively chaotic, with Brown describing various townsfolk spontaneously joining one side or the other, extending even to an anonymous female sniper opening up on retreating Union cavalrymen from a second-story window.

Brown doesn't seem particularly enthusiastic about the "Longstreet slave raid" hypothesis which has had such currency the last five years or so. Talks about it at some length, but dismisses the evidence as insufficient, and he tends to emphasize the tens of thousands of black slaves running the ANV trains and accompanying the field units as servants & camp-followers & their propensity for desertion & escape over the "re-capturing Underground Railroad escapees and kidnapping free blacks" narrative. Basically, Brown seems to be arguing that the large numbers of ANV blacks accompanying the vast foraging parties made it seem to local Union witnesses as if they were recent captures being marched back to Virginia, whereas they were actually integral part and parcel of the invading army itself. Eh, it strikes me as a half-explanation.

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