Category Archives: history

The dead do not whisper at historic battlefields

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Jackson Shrine near Fredericksburg

Stonewall Jackson died of pneumonia May 10, 1863, at Guinea Station, Virginia, VA. eight days after being wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville. He probably would have survived the wounds–ironically from “friendly fire”–had the pneumonia not stricken him as he lay in a bed in this house which Lesa and I visited near Fredericksburg several days ago. The house was an outbuilding on the former Chandler Plantation and is preserved today at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.

His bed is there now, and it is not a quiet one.

We didn’t have time to visit the Chancellorsville battlefield, but did tour the battlefields at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania. There was a light drizzle most of the day. A fitting day, I supposed, to visit hallowed ground where so many were killed in 1862 and 1864. Lesa was a history major with an emphasis on the Civil War. We have both read fiction and nonfiction about the war as well as viewing documentaries such as the very memorable one produced by Ken Burns.

Spotsylvania

Battlefield Sign

As we walked the site of a nasty engagement at Spotsylvania called The Bloody Angle, we acknowledged that in spite of what we knew before we went there, standing there and reading the signs brought home a host of emotions about the death, fear, horror, resignation, bravery, determination and hope that were felt by the men who died and survived on that patch of ground a century and a half ago.

I don’t see how a writer of either fiction or nonfiction can write about an even without visit these historic sites. To varying degrees, we can sense the dead, hear their voices where they died. Like everyone, writers mourn the dead, the lives stopped in midstream often in moments of terror and pain. But we also mourn the living. The dead are here no more, resting in peace, we hope, but the living carry their memories of the dead and continue to suffer greatly for years and lifetimes. Better to die in the war, I’ve always thought, than to be the child or the spouse of the soldier who died in the war.

Stonewall Jackson’s wife Mary Anna visited him on his death bed in this house and subsequently lived until 1915. She suffered, I think, longer than he did. If I were to write a Civil War novel that included Stonewall Jackson, I would be listening for Mary Anna’s voice, too.

 

Malcolm

TBT: A note from Jackie Kennedy

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“She wrote of being in love, falling out of love, fearing a marriage to a skirt-chaser and then loving that marriage, and believing in God to hold on to the hope of reuniting with her assassinated husband.” – CNN in Letters reveal private thoughts of young Jackie Kennedy

KennedyNote1963With my love of history, I’m sure that many of the biographies I’ve read have been based partially on letters that were once private and that were never intended to become public.

However, as I read the news story Jacqueline Kennedy’s letters to Irish priest to be auctioned off next month, my natural inclination to err on the side of privacy trumped any opposing ideas that a lover of history in the future will benefit from the sale and publication of this material. But then, nobody asked me to be the world’s conscience.

Which brings me to the already-public response of Jacqueline Kennedy to those of us who sent her our condolences when the President was assassinated in Dallas. I seldom write public figures. But there was something different about the moments after Dallas that led me to write. Her face–shown so often in those days–was the face of a new generation’s loss of innocence.

Even though I knew she would never see my letter, I nonetheless wanted to add my voice to the chorus offering her our support. Her office sent a response and I was grateful for it even though it was formal and official.

My wife found her response and the mailing envelope and scanned them in in the midst of our huge down-size-all-the-files project. Seeing the note that surprised me as a young college student when it came in the mail reminded me this week just how stunned the nation was in 1963.

Malcolm

Navy to Scrap Historic Aircraft Carrier – 2015 UPDATES (now in Port of Brownsville)

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Ranger - Wikipedia Photo

Ranger – Wikipedia Photo

“The seventh USS Ranger (CV/CVA-61) is one of four Forrestal-class supercarriers built for the US Navy in the 1950s. Although all four ships of the class were completed with angled decks,Ranger had the distinction of being the first US carrier built from the very beginning as an angled deck ship.” – Wikipedia (See continuing updates at the end of this post.)

In matters of war, I am a pacifist.

That said, I believe our troops merit our support whether or not the war they’re fighting in is popular or not.

I also think history and historical artifacts, objects and memorabilia are important, for they help communicate the stories of other eras. It’s been a pleasure working with museums as a grant writer and as a collections manager and seeing first hand how excited people can get when shown historic equipment, documents and photographs.

RangerPosterI served aboard the USS Ranger (CVA-61) during the Vietnam War. The war was probably the country’s most unpopular war. When I appeared in public wearing my uniform, I was intentionally bumped into on the street, spat on, and called a baby killer. Yet our history and memories of that time must be preserved.

So, in matters of history, especially those that focus on museums and other educational experiences, I am an activist. In Charleston, I have seen the displays on the USS Yorktown and I have seen the reactions of tourists and school groups as they toured the flight deck, the hangar deck, the mess decks, bridge and ready rooms of the old ship.

When the USS Ranger Foundation was formed in Oregon with the hope of following the examples of those who saved the USS Yorktown in Charleston and the USS Midway in San Diego as museums, I was happy to join up even though I don’t have the financial means to donate money nor the proximity to the ship and selected museum site to volunteer.

Ranger in 1961 - Kemon01 photo on Flickr

Ranger in 1961 – Kemon01 photo on Flickr

First, the educational opportunities here are immense. It’s one thing to read about military history. It’s quite another to walk through a fort, battlefield or restored ship. Aircraft carriers have evolved since the Vietnam War—I can hardly even recognize the modern navy uniform. As I write this, there have been tests of flying drones off of carriers rather than expensive manned aircraft. As a museum, Ranger could have been a piece of history on the Columbia River at the donated site in Fairview for many years to come.

Second, museums and other cultural tourism sites bring dollars and jobs into communities. Many studies have been done showing that a tourist destination such as the USS Ranger can bring in a higher percentage of every tourist dollar than other attractions.

Apparently this is not to be

USS Ranger Public Affairs Office on the 03 level. I am second from the right.

USS Ranger Public Affairs Office on the 03 level. I am second from the right here in 1968.

I salute the long hours and dedicated efforts of the volunteers and directors of the USS Ranger Foundation. But I think I missed a memo.

The application process for the acquisition of a decommissioned navy ship is difficult, expensive and lengthy. Unfortunately, the Foundation’s application was rejected by the Navy last October. (See Foundation to Fight NAVSEA Decision to Scrap Ranger) At that time, the Foundation was looking for ways to have that decision reversed.

Over the Christmas holidays, the Foundation said that constraints were keeping them from having more time to develop their application. Here’s where I missed the memo, I think.

I never heard what those constraints were, what (if anything) was missing or incomplete in the Foundation’s original application, or whether or not the support of influential people in and out of government could influence the Navy to provide more time, reconsider, or otherwise work with the Foundation to save the ship rather than scrapping the ship.

rangerlogoNow, the Foundation is looking for another ship. That’s probably a reasonable backup approach. Nonetheless, I think we need to know:

  • Why the application was rejected.
  • What, if anything, could be done to make the application acceptable.
  • Who, if anyone, could be enlisted to garner political and public attention to urge the Navy to delay the scrapping schedule and,
  • Who, if anyone, could raise additional funds and increased public support within the State of Oregon to save the ship and bring it to the Portland area.

We don’t know any of these things. Perhaps, in knowing them, we would see that placing a historic aircraft carrier in a Columbia River museum site had too many insurmountable obstacles in it to ever succeed even if the navy waited five more years or ten more years.

A-4 Skyhawk landing in 1980 - Kookaburra2011 photo on flickr

A-4 Skyhawk landing in 1980 – Kookaburra2011 photo on flickr

I have worked with museums and I have seen the impossible done before. Those in the know said “It will never happen.” But it did happen, with money left over and with the partnering help of those who had been thought, by those afraid to ask, to be the least likely to assist a museum.

So it is, that I do not like seeing this project fade away without a ramped up, viral PR campaign and without the help of high-level thought leaders and influencers who might be able to make a USS Ranger museum a reality. A successful aircraft carrier museum helps everyone, including the Navy. A scrapped ship frees up space at a pier and brings in a few dollars, but otherwise helps no one.

Worse yet, our history is lost in the bureaucratic shuffle. Rather than fading away, I would have preferred seeing this project end, if it had to end, with nothing less than a noisy, failure-is-not-an-option, Hail Mary, damn-the-torpedoes effort.

As always, I wish the Foundation fair winds and following seas.

Malcolm R. Campbell, Journalist
USS Ranger Public Affairs Office and Naval Station Great Lakes  1968 – 1970

Update – January 9, 2014

Those of you who live in the Bremmerton area may have a better means of finding out whether the ship has been scrapped already than I do. However, I have checked with the Navy about the rationale for disposing of the ship (in addition to the costs of maintaining mothballed ships).

From the Navy’s perspective, the USS Ranger Foundation’s progress throughout the entire application process was slow and it finally appeared that little or no progress was being made on some fairly large obstacles:

  • En route to the ship’s proposed mooring site, the BNSF bridge at river mile 80.9 had not been solved. Basically, the ship couldn’t clear the bridge without a major effort on the railroad’s part.
  • The foundation’s cost estimates for the project were incomplete. They gave an overall figure to the Navy about projected costs, but only documented a fraction of those costs.
  • The USS Ranger was placed on a donation hold in 2004. Even though the foundation had expressed an interest in the ship in 2003, the application wasn’t filed until 2009. With the ship available for an eight-year period and with major obstacles not being resolved, it seemed unlikely that the foundation would ever present a complete and viable application. Unfortunately, the Navy’s assessment about this is probably correct.

Update – February 3, 2014

More Updates:

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell, who  served on the USS Ranger during the Vietnam War, is the author of the Jim Crow era novella “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

Time to pick up a 2012 Montana Calendar

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I look forward to my yearly calendars from the Montana Historical Society that come as part of my membership. They are filled with western scenes from the society’s photographic collection. Calendars are 8.5 x 11 inches and feature black and white photography.

The front of the 2012 calendar features a historic photo of Mt. Wilbur and Swiftcurrent Lake from Glacier National Park. If you love western history, you can join the MHS by calling 406-444-2918 or heading out to their website at www.montanahistoricalsociety.0rg. Memberships are $55 per year and include a subscription to the quarterly Montana The Magazine of Western History. Or, you can buy the calendar alone for $8.50, order from the museum store.

Maybe the 2012 calendar will inspire me to get started on my next novel set in Glacier National Park. Maybe it will inspire you to think of wild places in the Rocky Mountains.

Ledger Art by Curly, Crow - MHS

New Museum Exhibits: Two exhibits open tonight (December 1, 2011)  from 6-8 p.m. at the Montana Historical Society’s museum at 225 North Roberts in Helena, The Art of Story Telling: Plains Indian Perspectives and Mapping Montana: Two Centuries of Cartography. Wish I could be there.

The drawing pictured here is an example of “ledger art,” a transitional approach to recording stories and events by plains Indian nations between 1860 and 1900 as artists switched from the traditional paints and hides to ledger paper with crayon, colored pencils and water colors. The new exhibit will include the Walter Bone Shirt ledger book, on loan to the society.

According to the Plains Indian Ledger art Project, “Changes in the content of pictographic art, the rapid adjustment of Plains artists to the relatively small size of a sheet of ledger paper, and the wealth of detail possible with new coloring materials, marks Plains ledger drawings as a new form of Native American art.”  For more information about ledger art, click here.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s contemporary fantasies “Sarabande” (new) and “The Sun Singer” are set in the Swiftcurrent Valley of Glacier National Park.

a young woman's harrowing story

Tracking Montana’s History

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I recently received a letter from the Montana Historical Society reminding me that my membership renewal date was coming up in June. I’ve been a member for over twenty years, and though I’ve never once set foot inside the Society’s museum and library at 225 N. Roberts Street in Helena, I was happy to renew.

By far, the best magazine that arrives in my mailbox four times a year is the Society’s award-winning, thoroughly researched Montana the Magazine of Western History. As it celebrates its 60th year, the magazine recently one another national award, the Westerners International Coke Wood Award for Monographs and Articles. The magazine has a free, searchable index on the Society’s web site.

In his renewal letter, Mike Cooney, the MHS interim director, noted that the society “provides free public access to over 50,000 books, 455,000 historical monographs, 8,000 maps, 2000 oral history reviews and more. Our education and outreach program has grown, reaching over 5,000 students from over 53 communities and thousands of adults throughout Montana.”

In addition to Montana the Magazine of Western History, MHS also helps members who live outside the state. Using my member’s research question benefit, I had historical questions tracked down and answered for my novels The Sun Singer and Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey and for my article “Bears, Where They Fought,” about Glacier National Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley that appears in Vanilla Heart Publishing’s Nature’s Gifts Anthology.

The Society’s professional, yet accessible approach, to Montana History was recently validated by its re-accreditation by the American Association of Museums (AAM). Re-accreditation is an intensive, two-year process that occurs every 15 years. According to the MHS newsletter Society Star, “There are an estimated 17,500 museums in the nation and only 777 are currently accredited by the AAM.” As a former museum manager and a museum grant writer, I know just how difficult and exacting the AAM standards are.

While AAM standards are designed to fit a wide variety of museums and collections, all museums must successfuly answer two core questions:

  • How well does the museum achieve its stated mission and goals?
  • How well does the museum’s performance meet standards and best practices, as they are generally understood in the field, appropriate to its circumstances?

The success of the MHS and its research, collections policy, artifacts conservatorship, programs, publications, historic properties and its National Register sign program are a dynamic testament to just how well the Society continues to answer those core questions.

As for me, I’ve saved every issue of the magazine since my membership began: for Montana, they are gospel.

Montana teachers will find help on the Montana: Stories of the Land site. You may also like Montana Place Names from Alzada to Zortman and the Centennial Farm and Ranch Program sites.

Malcolm R. Campbell

Book Note: ‘Montana Moments: History on the Go’

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If you love Montana or simply enjoy humorous and shocking vignettes about the old west, Montana Historical Society historian Ellen Baumler has an easy-reading book for you.

Montana Moments: History on the Go, released last fall, is packed with the stuff of legend from strange epitaphs to bizarre happenings to comedic are-you-kidding-me yarns.

Harry Fritz of the University of Montana puts it this way: “The pages of ‘Montana Moments’ overflow with historical vignettes that cover nearly everything important that’s happened in Montana’s history. Newcomers will find an excellent introduction to what makes Montana tick, while Baumler’s careful research and entertaining writing style will delight old-timers.”

Do you know about the madams, villains and critters? Do you know who wrote the state song? Have you seen the monster lurking in Flathead Lake?

Click on the link above to buy the book from the Montana Historical Society in support of its work. Or, check out the book on Amazon.

Malcolm

Click here to enter the Garden of Heaven Give-Away drawing

Montana: Glacier Park Issue

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Readers, tourists, hikers, and climbers who are fans of Glacier National Park will enjoy the Summer 2010 centennial issue of Montana: The Magazine of Western History beginning with the John Fery painting on the cover.

The issue not only contains a great overview of the park, but includes dozens of photographs and paintings in support of the text. Read it for the information, then keep it as a collector’s item.

Here’s what you’ll find inside:

“Conceiving Nature: THE CREATION OF MONTANA’S GLACIER NATIONAL PARK” by Andrew C. Harper

“Where the Prairie Ends and the Sky Begins: MAYNARD DIXON IN MONTANA” by Donald J. Hagerty

“Glacier National Park: PEOPLE, A PLAYGROUND, AND A PARK” by
Jennifer Bottomly-O’ looney and Deirdre Shaw

“The Miraculous Survival of the Art of Glacier National Park” by Hipólito Rafael Chacón

Cover Art: “The iconic mountain goat on the front cover is a detail from a painting by John Fery, one of the park’s foremost painters. Fery made it the centerpiece of his untitled collage of Glacier views (n.d., oil on canvas, 65″ x 115″) commissioned by the Great Northern Railway.”

Congratulations to the editors, writers and photographers on a wonderful commemorative issue.

Malcolm

Available in multiple e-book formats for only $5.99