Rebel Yell Bourbon. Discuss.

Screen shot 2014-01-29 at 10.16.01 AMI’ve been know to enjoy a bourbon from time to time. I was recently admiring labels and this one in particular struck me as odd. There are several things going on here that I found somewhat incongruous. The Confederate cavalryman I get. But “Rebel” Yell established in 1849? And the “deep south” of Old Kentucky? Hmmmmmmmm…. maybe they are just trying to cover all their bases. What are your thoughts? Not for nothing…this stuff is pretty good for a less expensive bourbon.

With compliments,


Who Was George Brinski?

Screen shot 2014-01-28 at 11.08.01 AMWell, he was no Grover Cleveland, that’s for sure. Except….that he sort of was, at least for a few years. George Brinski was a Polish immigrant who had the good fortune of being in the right place when Grover Cleveland needed a substitute to take his spot as a Union soldier in the Civil War. Cleveland paid Brinski $150 for his services and sat the war out safely practicing law in Buffalo, New York.

Hiring a substitute was a common practice during the war – for those that had the means and an aversion to the possibility of getting killed, there were plenty ready and willing to take advantage of others’ desire to avoid military service. Of course, there was a stigma attached to this practice, and later in life, Cleveland had to answer to thousands of Union veteran voters who wanted to know why he didn’t take his place in the ranks.

But anyway, apart from being listed as Cleveland’s substitute, there is not much else out there on Brinski. One little tidbit did materialize through the usual searches – it seems that after the war, when Brinski was convalescing in a soldiers’ home, he claimed that Cleveland (then serving his first term as president) had promised him $300, paid him $150 and then reneged on the remaining sum.

Most dismiss this as nonsense…just Brinski trying to cash in on Cleveland’s political prominence. As far as we know, Brinski was paid in full for his services. He died shortly after making his claims.Screen shot 2014-01-28 at 11.13.03 AM

And as a side note, I am pretty sure my wife, Coni has a secret crush on Grover Cleveland. I guess I can see it.

With compliments,


The Worst Film about the Civil War Era. Ever.

Screen shot 2014-01-25 at 10.37.43 AMNot long ago, I discovered that The Conspirator was available on Amazon Instant Video. Huzzah, I thought. I had the house to myself and I figured it was the perfect time to enjoy a Civil War era film.

I made it through twenty minutes and turned it off.

Keep in mind, I have never walked out on or turned off any Civil War film. Ever. And I have sat through Gods and Generals TWICE. Clearly I am committed to Hollywood’s take on this epic historical event. But I just could not stomach this wretched piece of rubbish.

If the first twenty minutes were any indication of things to come in the rest of the film, then I suppose I would have been treated to more over-wrought testaments to “American” jurisprudence – the right to a trial by one’s peers and the notion of innocence before guilt can be established without any element of doubt. Thanks for the elementary lesson in  law.

But wait, there are more lessons to be learned here. Yes – Mary Surratt was indeed a woman. Her implication in the murder of Abraham Lincoln and her subsequent execution were shocking to be sure. Thanks for the elementary lesson in nineteenth-century gender assumptions.

The problem, at least in the first few scenes that I could watch, is that both of these issues are of great significance – then and now – but they were glossed over in a tisk-tisk fashion only after dripping a taste of sickening “look-at-how-we’ve-progressed-but-there’s-still-work-to-be-done” syrup on for good measure. And even this was done so in a mumbly dead-pan stumble fest. Such nonsense can only refelct some of the worst writing, the worst acting, the worst directing, or a combination of the three. I would have been more riveted watching a plate of white toast get stale as time slowly, painfully passed.

Not that the film was completely lacking in merits. I got a bit of a chuckle at the actor who played John Wilkes Booth. With all the southern-Gothic charm of a junior high production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, his brutish pronunciation of the Virginia state motto in the Ford’s Theatre scene – sic semper tyrannis – was delightful. I suppose this was merely an effort to “southernize” or if you like, “Rebelize” the president’s assassin (who was not a redneck but a classically trained actor), by giving him a slightly raspier Jethro Bodine-esque accent. Such clumsy and obvious efforts make me laugh.

But who knows? Maybe the utter brilliance of rest of the film made up for the first twenty minutes. I will never know. Perhaps it got slightly less patronizingly preachy. Maybe there was a musical number. Maybe robots. If anyone has seen the whole thing, chime in.

With compliments,


Who are the Caretakers of Modern Civil War Memory?

Screen shot 2014-01-24 at 10.17.59 AMCertainly not historians. We are far too busy with analysis to actually look after the memories we so laboriously scrutinize. But to ask who will shepherd over memories begs the question: what memories are people preserving? Civil War veterans were the first to take on this task – and they did so in fine style. Modern Civil War memory is up for grabs, and the preservation duty seems to have fallen to sons, daughters, and other heritage groups. A likely choice given that these groups have a keen interest in the war. But as they preserve are they in fact writing a new set of memories? Without question. I open the floor for discussion…

With compliments,


Angelenos – Mark Your Calenders!

Screen shot 2014-01-23 at 10.48.42 AMResidents or anyone within striking distance of Los Angeles should make the time on Saturday, February 8, to head out to the Autry National Center of the American West. Between 2:00 and 4:00 you will be treated to an array of brief talks on how the West changed the Civil War. This “Lightning Round” features historians Megan Kate Nelson, Greg Downs, Virginia Scharff, Josh Paddison, Bill Deverell, Steve Hahn, Steve Aron, Marni Sandweiss, Jim Jewell, Fay Yarbrough, Dianne Mutti Burke, Lance Blyth, and Nick Guyatt. Further programming will follow in spring 2015, with the exhibit — and Adam Arenson’s essay on John Gast’s American Progress as a Liberal Republican/Reconstruction image will center a (public) discussion on Tuesday February 11. Sheesh…that’s a lot of historian for the price of admission. You can buy tickets HERE.

See you at the Autry,