Tuesday, April 22, 2014

DVD Review: Civil War: The Untold Story (of the western theater)

A history resource article by  © 2014

Next week RLJ Entertainment will be releasing the new DVD series "Civil War: The Untold Story".  I know many of you Civil War buffs may be wondering how there could be anything about the Civil War that hasn't been told before, but this series, unlike a lot of others I have seen, focuses on the battles of the "west" which the producers claim actually led to the ultimate Union victory.

Now as someone from Oregon, I hardly think of Tennesssee as "the west" but it was, as far as the scope of the Civil War was concerned.  This series closely examines the battles of Shiloh, Stone's River, Vicksburg, Chattanooga and Chickamauga as well as Sherman's infamous march across Georgia that wasn't as one sided as many other programs have led us to believe.

These conflicts were particularly interesting to me because back in 1993 when my husband and I were helping my daughter move to the east coast, we visited almost all of the national military parks where these battles occurred on our way home, although we visited the sites in reverse, starting our journey at Fort Sumpter then traveling south to Savannah before swinging east to the site of the Confederate prisoner-of-war camp at Andersonville.  Then we drove on to Atlanta then Chatanooga, stopping at the Chickamauga National Battlefield, probably the largest military park on our trip.  Pressing on we drove to Stone's River then Franklin and finally visited our last Civil War cemetery at Shiloh.  The visitor's centers had excellent presentations about the battles, particularly at Chickamauga where the Park Service had just installed a new multimedia theater-in-the-round-type exhibit.  So receiving a review copy of this DVD set was like reliving that unforgettable trip!

The series begins with a discussion of the economic history of slavery.  I didn't realize that slavery was on the decline in the late 18th century until Eli Witney invented the cotton gin.  I remembered how, as a girl, I studied famous inventors like Eli Witney and his cotton gin.  Back in the 50s, though, school teachers did not point to the cotton gin as one of the primary reasons for the outbreak of the Civil War.
The documentary explains that, although the cotton gin was a labor-saving device, it made the cotton cleaning process so efficient that it made the growth of cotton far more profitable than almost any other crop.  Cotton exports jumped from 500,000 pounds in 1793 to 93 million pounds in 1810.  Cotton became as important to the U.S. economy as oil is today.

So, there was a land rush to develop more and more acres into cotton fields.  This corresponded to the increasing acquisition of land during the "manifest destiny" period of U.S. growth.  But, politically, there were sharp differences in opinion about whether newly admitted states would then have to legally sanction slavery viewed by some as necessary for cotton development.

The program was quite candid in pointing out that northerners, with the exception of a few passionate abolitionists, had no real objections to slavery as a labor strategy.  Researchers stated simply that white northeners didn't appreciate the racial "pollution" slavery introduced.   Apparently, successful black individuals in the north,  like Solomon Northup portrayed in "12 years a slave", were an extremely rare exception.

19th century Caricature of the so-called Hottentot
Venus.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
I had never heard about the so-called Hottentot Venus, a rather large African woman named Saartje Baartman, who was sold into slavery.  She was exhibited by showmen in London and Paris because of large fatty deposits on her buttocks.  After her death in 1815, famous French anatomist Georges Cuvier, performed an autopsy on her body, claiming it clearly showed that Africans were more closely related to such primates as orangutans and monkeys, than humans.  These types of studies not only reinforced attitudes of racial superiority in the north but the opinion that slavery actually served to civilize such unfortunate individuals in the south.

I was also surprised to learn that four slave states actually stayed with the Union throughout the Civil War.  Slavery was still legally recognized by the federal government and the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to the states in rebellion as a war measure intended to cripple the Confederacy.

The other military goal accomplished by the Emancipation Proclamation was that it successfully prevented the involvement of foreign nations in the struggle.  Britain and France actually considered supporting the Confederacy, since they imported most of the American cotton crop that was sold for export. But, many Europeans opposed slavery as an institution so Lincoln's directive along with a significant Union victory at Antietam successfully influenced foreign powers to maintain a "hands off" policy.

The series then shifts to an examination of military objectives of the Civil War.

From a military standpoint, reclamation of the important economic highway of the Mississippi River was paramount to defeating the Confederacy.  Yet, it appeared to me that Confederate leaders seemed to think there was more importance in victory at the high profile battles along the eastern seaboard (the Civil War version of winning hearts and minds) than in protecting the vital commerce artery of the Mississippi River in the west.  The most famous Confederate generals such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were assigned to those eastern theaters of war, while the battle for control of the Mississippi was relegated to Generals Albert Sidney Johnston, Braxton Bragg and John Bell Hood, names much less familiar to people like me that have not studied the Civil War as intensely as I have battles of the ancient world.

Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
I use the word relegated as if Johnston, Bragg and Hood were lesser commanders but that was not necessarily the case.  Johnston was an experienced combat veteran, fighting and directing engagements in the Texas War of Independence, the Mexican-American War, the Utah War and the American Civil War.  Johnston was actually considered to be the finest general officer in the Confederacy by Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  But this did not prevent Davis from distributing most of the Confederate resources to the eastern front.

Johnston had to supply his troops by conducting raids and engaging in maneuvers that made it appear that he had larger forces than he actually did.  My additional research revealed that this was compounded by the assignment of support staff that were either incompetent or frequently intoxicated.

Despite all of these obstacles, Johnston still managed to pull off a massive surprise attack against Ulysses S. Grant on the first day at the battle of Shiloh, despite being delayed for three days by adverse weather.  Grant just couldn't imagine Johnston would leave his well fortified position at Corinth to confront Grant in the field.  The surprise maneuver almost worked, with Confederates overcoming bitter Union opposition at the "Peach Orchard" and the "Hornet's Nest".  But, Johnston, charging back and forth ahead of the advancing Confederate line, was shot behind the right knee, possibly by one of his own soldiers .  The bullet cut a major artery and Johnston, seemingly unaware of the seriousness of the wound, bled to death.  The three days lost to bad weather would also prove fatal.

The epic struggle at the "Hornet's Nest" on the first day of the battle of  Shiloh.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

By the second day, Grant, with control of the vital Tennessee River,  received reinforcements bringing total Union troops to 45,000 men to the Confederates'  remaining viable troops estimated at only about 20,000.  To make matters worse, Confederate General Beauregard, unaware of the Union reinforcements, pressed Grant, only to be driven back.  Later counterattacks were eventually repulsed as well. So, Confederate forces finally had to fall back to the heavily defended railroad center at Corinth.

It makes you wonder if Grant had faced the more formidable Johnston on the second day and the battle had occurred on schedule, if the outcome would have been different.

Later in the series as the researchers discussed the campaigns of Sherman in Atlanta, I was surprised to learn about the Confederate successes at Kennesaw Mountain and the more aggressive resistance in Atlanta after command was given to General John Bell Hood.  As my husband and I did not visit any Civil War museums in Atlanta, I only remember Hood as a Confederate general who had suffered severe casualties at the battle of Franklin (where we did stop) in an action sometimes known as the "Pickett's Charge of the West".

Confederate General Braxton Bragg.  Image
courtesy of Wikipedia.
The other Confederate general I enjoyed learning more about was Braxton Bragg.  When I first saw a picture of him at the Chickamauga National Battlefield Visitors' Center, I thought he looked a lot like John Brown with his bushy brows and rather wild look in his eyes.  But this surly officer orchestrated what has been called the greatest Confederate victory in the Western Theater, defeating Union General William S. Rosecrans at the battle of Chicamauga.

As for other political issues of the Civil War, I had never read about George McClellan's run against Abraham Lincoln for president or that if Sherman had not taken Atlanta at the time he did, Lincoln may have lost to powerful and vocal northern supporters in favor of a truce that would have ended in two separate nations.  So I found all of this background information fascinating.

As for the production quality of the DVD set, I thought the reenactment sequences were very well done with very life-like special battle effects and the cinematography was excellent.  Elizabeth McGovern's narration was articulate and quite empathetic.  I much preferred her voice to the rather harsh newsbroadcaster voiceovers I have heard in other presentations.

The series will premiere tonight (April 22, 2014) on a number of public television channels and the DVD set will be available for purchase next week.  I highly recommend it!

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

Diamonds are Forever exhibit to explore the history of famous diamonds and the monarchs who possessed them

A history resource article by  © 2014
George Stuart's 1/4 life-sized sculpture of Catherine the
Great in robes of state.  The Imperial Crown of Russia,
created for her coronation, contains 4936 diamonds
including the second largest red spinel diamond in the
world at 398.72 carats.  Her scepter contains the 189.62
carat rose-cut Orlov Diamond which once served as the
 eye of a Hindu deity in a temple in Tamil Nadu, India.

Photo courtesy of
I just made my arrangements to fly down to Los Angeles so I could attend a unique exhibit of museum-quality replicas of world-famous diamonds at the Museum of Ventura County in Ventura, CA opening May 3, 2014.  This exhibit entitled "Diamonds are Forever" will be presented along with a display of George Stuart's 1/4 life-sized sculptures of the monarchs that at one time owned these famous gems.

Scott Sucher, one of the world's foremost experts on the technology of documenting and replicating famous historical diamonds and the gemologist who created the jewels on exhibit will deliver two presentations, "Tracking the Hope Diamond" and "Evolution of Diamond Cutting".  He has images of his full sized diamond replicas on his website http://museumdiamonds.com/.

Some of the replica jewels on display will include the Hope Diamond, the Regent Diamond, the Beau Sancy, the Orlov, the Mirror of Portugal and the famous Koh-i-Noor that was once adorned the Peacock Throne of Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Majal.

Although the Hope Diamond and the Koh-i-Noor are probably the most famous of these jewels, I actually think the Regent Diamond is one of the most beautiful.  At 140.64 carats, it is not as large in its cut form as either the Hope Diamond or the Koh-i-Noor, but it is reputedly one of the most perfectly cut diamonds in the world since it was cut and faceted back in 1710 CE.

Scott Sucher's museum quality replica
of the Regent Diamond.
The Regent was supposedly found by a slave back in 1698 and, in its rough form, weighed an astounding 410 carats.  The slave found the diamond in the Kollur mine in the Guntur District of India and supposedly secreted the stone inside a large wound in his leg. This gruesome beginning was further compounded by an English sea captain that killed the slave and stole the diamond.  The gem found its way to a diamond merchant who eventually sold it to India's English governor at the time, Thomas Pitt.  Afterward, the diamond was sometimes referred to as the Pitt Diamond.

After many attempts to sell it to various Members of European royalty, including Louis XIV of France, it was purchased by the French Regent, Philippe II, Duke of OrlĂ©ans in 1717 for £135,000 (£17,385,050 as of 2014),. The stone was set into the crown of Louis XV for his coronation in 1722 and then into a new crown for the coronation of Louis XVI in 1775. It was also used to adorn a hat belonging to Marie Antoinette. In 1791 its appraised value was £480,000 (£48,882,550 as of 2014) - Wikipedia

George Stuart's sculpture of Marie Antoinette who
once used the Regent Diamond to adorn an
elaborate hat that included a sailing ship.
 Photo
courtesy of
In 1792, during the French Revolution, the Regent was stolen along with the other crown jewels of France but was eventually recovered by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1801. Napoleon used the gem to adorn one of his swords.  But when Napoleon died, his second wife, the Empress Marie Louise, took the diamond back to her family home in Austria.

The empress' father returned the stone to France and it was subsequently incorporated into the the crowns of Louis XVIII, Charles X and Napoleon III.  Finally, it was mounted in a Greek diadem designed for Empress Eugenie, it's last fashion makeover, and remains in that diadem today in The Louvre.

Artist/historian George Stuart has created sculptures of most of the people who have touched the Regent and some of these sculptures will be on exhibit along with the replica stones.  Mr. Stuart will also unveil a new figure he has just created of Shah Jahan exclusively for the upcoming exhibit.

I developed the website for Mr. Stuart's Gallery of Historical Figures, a project that began back in 2005 because of my passion for the history these sculptures represent.  Later I was named to the board of directors for the Historical Figures Foundation and continue to serve in that capacity.

Mughal emperor Shah Jahan seated on the Peacock Throne embellished
with the famous Koh-i-Noor Diamond receiving deputations in Delhi.

Image courtesy of the British Library and Wikimedia Commons.
When the executive director of the Foundation told me about a new collaboration with gemologist Scott Sucher of MuseumDiamonds.com who would not only create historically accurate replicas of famous crown jewels for Mr. Stuart's historical figures but appear with Mr. Stuart at a new exhibit featuring the figures with crown jewel replicas, I was intrigued.  I'm sure I will find it to be a fascinating weekend.

The exhibit "Diamonds are Forever" will be on display in the Smith Galleries of the Ventura, CA from May 3 to August 24, 2014.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Classic Trial of Orestes for Matricide slated for January 29 in Chicago

An ancient history resource article by  © 2013
Orestes and Elektra by Menelaus after Praxiteles
1st century CE.
 Photographed at the Palazzo Altemps
in Rome, Italy 
by  © 2009

I see that a group of attorneys in Chicago are planning to put Orestes on trial for matricide on January 29th, 2014.  They're only a few thousand years late!  Talk about how slow the wheels of justice turn!

Following the tremendous success of the National Hellenic Museum’s Trial of Socrates in January 2013, Patrick Fitzgerald, Dan Webb, Patrick Collins & Bob Clifford take on another ancient Greek in the Trial of Orestes, son of Agamemnon, of the cursed House of Atreus. 
The Trial will take place at the UIC Forum – 725 West Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL 60607, Wednesday, January 29th, 2014 from 6 to 9pm. Reception to follow immediately after the trial. Tickets available through TicketMaster: $100 per ticket; student tickets: $50 (must present valid Student ID). 
Judges Richard A. Posner, Presiding, Charles P. Kocoras, William J. Bauer, and a jury of distinguished citizens of Chicago, will decide the validity of these charges. Orestes will be defended by Dan K. Webb (Winston & Strawn) and Robert A. Clifford (Clifford Law Offices). Counsel for the prosecution will be Patrick J. Fitzgerald (Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP) and Patrick M. Collins (Perkins Coie). 
A bronze sculpture of Aeschylus from the
Archaeological Museum of Florence, Italy.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The trial is based on The Oresteia, by Greek playwright Aeschylus (525-456 BC), a foundational literary work that examines the crucial place of law in society, depicting the movement from primitive retaliatory vengeance to civilized justice and a hopeful new order under the rule of law. 
Consisting of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides, the trilogy constitutes a deeply affecting study of crime and punishment, probing such irresolvable and vexatious issues as the nature of justice, the frequent conflicts between love and duty, the torments of moral decision making, our obligations to the gods, society, and ourselves, and the spiritual consequences of irremediable actions. Above all, the Oresteia shows us the burdens of a culture based on the lex talionis—an eye for an eye—and the blessings of a jury trial in a court of law.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

What is the basis for the claim that the tomb of Atahualpa has been found in Ecuador?

A history resource article by  © 2013


Mixed media sculpture of Altahualpa by artist-historian
George S. Stuart
.  Photographed at the Ojai Valley Museum
in Ojai, California
by  © 2006 The last couple of days there has been several news postings about the possible discovery of the tomb of Atahualpa, last independent Inca ruler, in the highlands of Ecuador.  Unfortunately, after reading the articles I found the claim was not particularly substantiated by more than just a statement by a group of researchers that a formation 260 feet tall by 260 feet wide has been discovered  in the Llanganates National Park in Ecuador and "might" somehow be the tomb of Atahualpa.  Of course the article also says the researchers admit the "structure" may just be an unusual rock formation.

After looking at the images, I do think the formation looks man-made but how they connected this find with Atahualpa is a mystery to me.

The article points to "artifacts" that have been recovered but there was no explanation about their purpose, how they were determined to be Incan or any attempt at dating them.  Looking at the pictures of the "artifacts" included with the article,they appear to be extremely primitive in nature - more neolithic looking than pre-Columbian.

Stone formation found in in the Llanganates National Park
in Ecuador proposed to be Atahualpa's lost tomb.
 Image
courtesy of . 
I'm also wondering what sources they are using that may have claimed Atahualpa's body was stolen by his followers and whisked off to the highlands of Ecuador.  According to Spanish sources, Atahualpa's body was partially burned then interred in a "Christian" burial after he was strangled by a garrote following a mock trial at Cajamarca in the Peruvian highlands in 1533.  Of course I must admit Atahualpa is thought to have been born in what is now present day Quito, Ecuador so it is at least plausible that remaining clan members may have sought to return his body to the region of his birth.

If the structure is a tomb, it is of such monumental size that you would think it would have had to have been built before the Spanish conquest then repurposed as I doubt the activity needed to quarry and transport the stone then build a structure of the size reported would have gone unnoticed by the Spanish.  Perhaps it was the tomb of Atahualpa's father, Huayna Capac, who engaged in a number of monumental building projects before he contracted smallpox and died in the epidemic of 1527.  Maybe it is one of Huayna Capac's food storage silos that he purportedly built around his empire.  I've got to admit, as someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest who has frequently visited Idaho, the structure sort of resembles a big potato cellar!

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