Monthly Archives: May 2012

Antietam – A Battle That Changed The Course Of The Civil War.

[This blog is posted in commemoration of Memorial Day.  It also illustrates the flexibility of narrative paragraphing].

It is still remembered as the bloodiest day in American history, a deadly encounter which took place back on September 17, 1862, in a small Maryland town by the name of Sharpsburg, about seventy miles northwest of Washington D.C. virtually in the shadow of the nation’s capital.  The battle has gone down in history as simply “Antietam“, named for the nearby creek that meandered southerly from its source in Pennsylvania.

The strategic approach to Antietam began on September 4, 1862, with Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s invasion – there is no other term for it, strange as it may sound – of Maryland.  Poised to threaten Washington, D.C., and buoyed by the Union’s rout at the Second Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) on August 30, Lee hoped to continue recent Confederate victories, bring border state Maryland into the Confederacy, and secure support and recognition for the Rebel cause from France and England.

Union forces were heavily demoralized following their humiliating defeat at Bull Run.  Lincoln sacked General John Pope, in command of Union forces there, fearing an army mutiny if Pope was retained.  He merged Pope’s Army of Virginia with General George McClelland’s and reluctantly put McClellan in charge of the revamped and reorganized Union army, designating the combined force as the Army of the Potomac.

There were strong objections raised by several cabinet members to McClellan’s selection, who wanted him court-martialed or dismissed because of his failure to send troops to help Pope, his detested rival, at Bull Run.  After Ambrose Burnside declined Lincoln’s offer to take over the Army, there seemed to be no other alternative to McClellan.  But those cabinet members voicing serious concerns to McClellan felt vindicated by his subsequent failure to come to the rescue of the Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, which surrendered to Stone Wall Jackson on September 15, 1862,  allowing Jackson’s forces to reinforce Lee just before Antietam.

Earlier, on September 13, in a field near Frederick, Maryland, two Union soldiers stumbled upon a military bonanza, a copy of Lee’s order “directing the movement of the army from Fredericktown [sic],” apparently carelessly dropped by a Rebel officer.  McClellan now had at his disposal information giving him the opportunity of a commander’s lifetime, with advance knowledge of the disposition of Lee’s forces.  The army was scattered, with many miles separating each from the other part, the two largest units some twenty five miles apart with the Potomac River in between.  McClellan had only to push through the South Mountain passes east of Antietam Creek, annihilate each of these parts before they could unite, to seal the fate of the Confederate army.

But Lee, being alerted to the loss of the order, dispatched troops to block the passes through South Mountain, giving him extra time to pull the remainder of his forces together.   Moving cautiously, still fearful that Lee’s forces greatly outnumbered him (in fact, he outnumbered Lee by approximately two to one), McClellan waited until daybreak on September 14, an 18 hour delay, in getting his troops on the move. This gave Lee the time he needed concentrate the disparate units of his army.

Following a bruising battle at South Mountain on September 14, Lee withdrew his forces overnight to Sharpsburg and contemplated withdrawing across the Potomac.  The losses he had sustained in recent fighting had made his smaller army more vulnerable than ever before to the advancing might of the Union forces.  However, news that Harper’s Ferry had been secured by Stonewall Jackson and that help was on the way caused him to reconsider and set up defensive positions west of Antietam Creek  in anticipation of Federals, approaching from the east side later that day.

Attacking at dawn from the North on the bloodiest day, September 17, 1862, Union forces led by Major General “Fighting Joe” Hooker’s divisions, three abreast, stormed southward along the Hagerstown Turnpike and Smoketown Road, clashing with Rebels and driving them through sites whose names have become famous, synonymous with the bloody encounters that occurred in them – Dunkard Church, West Woods, Bloody Lane, and perhaps the deadliest killing field of them all, The Cornfield, a 40-acre plot bordered by a stand of woods on the east side. Withering rifle fire accompanied by canister shot and thunderous artillery volleys carved out staggering losses from the lines on both sides.  Aided in no small part by recent advances in weapons and ammunition technology, including the rifling of rifle barrels, which increased accuracy up to 500 yards, the carnage was appalling, with men on both sides being cut down in droves by the murderous fire.

Antietam is remembered today for the deadly toll taken in American lives. Total casualties for the day from both Union and Confederate forces exceeded 23,000, with over 6,000 killed and mortally wounded, a total of more dead American soldiers then were killed in the entire American Revolution, more than those dying in combat in all the wars fought by the United States of the nineteenth century combined,  four times the number  killed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and over twice the number of fatalities suffered by the country at the hands of terrorists on September 11, 2001!

Both sides had been staggered by their losses, but McClelland still had fresh troops and outnumbered Lee nearly two to one, even after Lee had been reinforced by Stonewall Jackson’s forces arriving from Harper’s Ferry. Lee had lost countless veteran, seasoned troops, which he could ill afford to lose in view of what was now the prospect of a long, continuing war, his plans for an early ending by invasion having been turned back.  If McClellan had followed through, as Lincoln wanted, and renewed battle the next day after Antietam, many believe that he could have shattered Lee’s army and thereby shortened the war considerably.  McClellan, however, wired Lincoln that victory was complete, and believed to his dying day that Antietam was his finest hour because he had saved the Union.

Coming at a time when the survival of the United States was open to question, Antietam was a decisive battle that changed the course of the Civil War.  Though it was a limited Union victory strategically, the consequences of Antietam in other respects were enormous. It restored morale in the North and allowed the Republican Party to remain in control of Congress. It shattered hopes of British recognition of the Confederacy.  Finally, it  provided Lincoln with the opportunity he had been seeking to issue his Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves in areas still in rebellion against the Union as of January 1, 1863, “shall be… forever free.”

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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More Punctuation Tips: Use The Apostrophe and Quotation Marks Correctly For Clear Writing.

MORE PUNCTUATION TIPS:  USE THE APOSTROPHE AND QUOTATION MARKS CORRECTLY FOR CLEAR WRITING.

Continuing our punctuation review, today’s blog covers two more important marks, the apostrophe and quotation marks.

Apostrophe. 

a. An apostrophe should be used in a contraction (the shortening of a word, syllable, or word group by omission of a sound or letter; see Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Ed., p. 271),  where a word is omitted.

don’t do it

we won’t

we’ll do it

he’ll be there

you’ll be sorry

it’s all yours

b. Don’t use an apostrophe where personal pronouns form the possessive.

its, his,  hers, ours, yours,  theirs

c. Where nouns are concerned,

for nouns not ending in s add  ‘s  (men’s shoes)

for nouns ending in s add  ‘ (ladies’ shoes)

d. For proper names ending in s (John Adams’ papers, Jones’ house, Morris’ book).  When there is a possessive plural to write:  we rode in the Adamses’ car to the Joneses’ house.

e. Where joint possession is involved, use an apostrophe only for the last name in the series.  (Smith and Jones’ golf lessons are the best in the club).

f. For plurals of letters of the alphabet or numbers, add ‘s. (His 5’s and E’s are hard to recognize.)

Quotation Marks.

a. Use quotation marks to enclose exact words of a direct quotation but not an indirect quotation.

Direct quotation – As they trudged up the hill Emily remarked, “What a beautiful view.”

Indirect quotation –  It’s a beautiful view she said.

Single quotation marks are used to enclose a quotation within a   quotation.

Joey laughed and said, “You may be right.  But I remember     Ben Franklin’s crack at the Continental Congress, ‘If we don’t hang together we’ll surely all hang separately.'”

Note that punctuation marks such as a period or comma go inside the closing quotation marks; colon and semi-colon are placed outside.  Other marks such as an exclamation point, dash, or question mark are placed inside the quotation marks if they apply to the quotation alone; otherwise they are placed outside.  Here are some examples:

Bruce yelled out as loud as he could, “Fore!”

The trouble with Dickson is that he thinks he’s General Patton  when he shouts “Let’s go now!”

Donna inquired anxiously, “Do you think we’ll ever get out of here?”

The list was posted conspicuously, listing the “household grievances” as follows:  dirty floor, clothes strewn around, unwashed windows, and unmade beds.

Whoever wrote that the U.S. Government should be run “like a business,” including a president with “business experience,” and an “experienced board of directors,” was absolutely right.

Jack hit the nail on the head when he said, “What made this  country great is one thing and one thing only: free enterprise!”

Note:  The next blog will be posted on Friday, May 25, and will commemorate Memorial Day.  The subject will be Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history.

Copyright© 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

Published 5/18/12.  485 words.

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Clear Writing Requires The Use Of Correct Punctuation Marks.

Punctuation is an extensive subject which will be discussed in several blogs.  Today’s blog covers end marks and the comma.

To some extent, punctuation has the same use in writing that the use of gestures, pauses, and vocal inflections have in speaking, i.e., for emphasis or to reveal the precise relationship of thoughts.  But the use of punctuation goes beyond what is necessary for emphatic writing.

The use of correct punctuation makes writing more understandable, and aids in the smooth flow and clear presentation of information.  Without punctuation all writing would be a jumble of words.  The correct use of punctuation will mark you as a superior writer.

End Marks.

The most common use of punctuation is to use a period at the end of a sentence.  If the sentence is for emphasis, use an exclamation mark.  If it is a question, use a question mark.

Comma.

Several punctuation issues revolve around the correct use of the comma. Without the proper use of a comma sentence parts would collide, making the sentence difficult to read.  Use of a comma is required in a wide range of writing situations.

Use a comma in the following instances:

–  to set off (enclose or punctuate on both sides) a parenthetic statement (aka an interrupter);

–  between items in a series, unless and or or is used throughout;

–  between main clauses joined by a conjunction (and, but, or);

– to separate parts of a sentence which might confusingly be read together.  Rewrite the sentence if necessary.

Confusing and unclear – Despite replanting America’s forests are not limitless.

Made clear by punctuation – Despite replanting, America’s forests are not limitless.

–  to set off non-restrictive (non-essential) modifiers;  do not set off restrictive modifiers.

Restrictive – Students who work the hardest get the best results. [The who clause points out what particular students get best results.  If the clause were set off by commas, the sentence would mean that all students work the hardest.]

Non-restrictive – Shale oil, which used to be prohibitively expensive to recover, is now being recovered in greater quantities due to technological advances.  [The term shale oil specifies what kind of oil is being discussed.  The which clause adds extra information.  This information is not essential to the main thought that increased amounts of shale oil are being recovered.  If the clause was deleted the main thought would still remain.]

A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence is usually set off.

Non-restrictive – After sleeping all morning, Thomas was too embarrassed to go to work.;  Pressing the accelerator to the floor, Paul overcame the other racers.

Restrictive – Books dealing with automobile racing are in great demand.

Sometimes the wording of a sentence permits a clause to be either restrictive or non-restrictive.  When that happens, the writer may decide which of two meanings should be used.

Correct:  The speaker who spoke last week is also speaking again this week.

[The who clause is restrictive because it identifies the man who spoke].

Also correct:

The speaker, who spoke last week, is the same one speaking this week.  [The who clause is non-restrictive because the reader is supposed to know who the speaker is].

Certain clauses where adverbs such as while, after, though, since, if, as, and because are used, will also require a comma when used in a non-restrictive sense.

Non-restrictive while clause:

My brother-in-law has the best of all possible worlds, while I have to scrape out a living.  Restrictive:  Even so, he lets me use his house while he is away.

Non-restrictive after clause:

The meeting reached a vote at midnight, after all members had declared there was was an emergency.  Restrictive:  One member tried to reopen the meeting after it was adjourned.

Non-restrictive though clause:

The city has tried to fill all potholes, though there is no money for repairs.  (Though and although clauses are always non-restrictive).

Non-restrictive since clause:

He may be away, since his house has been dark for two weeks.  Restrictive:  His house looks better since it was painted.

Non-restrictive if clause:

Mr. Reynolds was there first, if you don’t mind.  Restrictive:  He will be upset if you get out of line.

Non-restrictive as clause:

The Raptors are now the best team in this league, as you said they would be.  Restrictive:  Bob watched the team eagerly as the season drew to a close.

Non-restrictive because clause:

Your back porch should be stained, because you need to preserve the redwood.  Restrictive:  I did not stain the porch because I wanted to improve its looks.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Absolutely Eliminate All Spelling Errors In Your Writing.

The question os spelling is important enough to justify a separate post.

 This point must be made perfectly clear: misspelled words will cause all of your hard work to sink – fast.  So, be forewarned!

It is absolutely imperative to make sure your spelling is correct. Misspelled words in particular are the bane of good writing; nothing will undermine your hard work and turn a reader off faster than a misspelled word, particularly if it’s a common one.  You must take the time to check the spelling of any word that looks suspicious to you. Resorting to a dictionary for new or difficult words should be the first and ongoing choice.

Many writers shortcut the correct spelling of words either because they don’t know the correct spelling or are too lazy to find out.  Spelling “nite” instead of “night,” and “thru” instead of “through” is the result of careless, sloppy, or lazy writing and is disfavored in good writing.  Don’t take any shortcuts with your spelling; they will stamp you as an amateur.

Another solution is to record all misspelled words on a separate sheet of paper; the act of writing down the correct spelling should in itself help you remember it.  Keep this paper handy for continued reference and add to it on a regular basis.  Try to understand why each word was misspelled.

You can also master the intricacies of good spelling through visualization. Good golfers are said to visualize each shot before hitting it.  If it works in golf, it can work in spelling.  Teach yourself to picture the correct spelling of all misspelled words in your mind.  Concentrate on the correct spelling of these words to be sure you see every letter. Then look away, spell the word, and look back for verification.  Repeat this procedure on a regular basis until you can instantly recognize the correct spelling of each word previously misspelled.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Final Review Of Your Writing Should Include Document Appearance.

Document appearance is important.

Document design plays an important part in developing a clear writing style.   Writing that appears cluttered and dense will create a negative reaction in your reader.  Documents that are easy on the eye are far easier to understand than if not.

Basic design decisions such as typeface selection can dramatically determine if your writing is easy to read. Whether you are writing an advertisement, company manual, letter, essay, book report, or anything else, the appearance of the finished writing can make a big difference in its success.  If the writing has a sloppy, disorganized appearance, you are starting off with one strike against you.

Add some thoughtful design choices to your writing to enhance its readability by making it easier to read and the information easier to understand.  Poor design choices can hamper the communication success of even a well written document. A well organized document makes the goal of clear writing easier to achieve.

While the subject of design is very broad, there are five basics to keep in mind to make your document as clear as possible:

– Organization of writing to distinguish levels of information

– Typography

–  Layout

– Graphics

– Color

Not all may apply to your document.

Organization.

 The organization of your writing should follow that contained in your outline. This organization helps the reader understand the relationship between different levels of   information.  Organization in a typical document may follow this sequence:

– Title

– Section headings (first level)

– Subsection headings (second level)

– Paragraph headings (third level)

– Text (fourth level)

Use different typefaces in the headings to distinguish them for the reader.

Break up your writing into visually manageable pieces.  Limit the number of sections on each printed page to not more than five to six maximum.  The use of shorter sentences and paragraphs and grouping related items together will make it easier for your audience to understand your writing.

Be discreet in the use of emphasis. To highlight important points use bold or italics to focus attention on them. Use these techniques in moderation for maximum effect.  Don’t overdo it or you’ll dilute the impact.  Also, don’t put everything in capital letters or underline everything.  Overuse of this technique makes the document harder to read.

Typography.

Typeface selection may seem like a minor decision or one that you may not even consider at all.  But nevertheless it should be considered because it is one of the elements that influences the appearance and readability of your document.

There are two typeface varieties, serif and sans serif.  Serif typefaces have small lines at the beginning or ending strokes of each letter.  Sans serif typefaces lack those small connective lines. Serif fonts are easier to read than sans serif because their small connective lines help to lead the eye more quickly and smoothly over the text.   It is best not to use sans serif typeface for general text. So, many newspapers and magazines use some form of serif type for their general text.  Both serifs and sans serifs work well for headings.

If you are writing for a predominantly senior audience, it’s preferable to use 12 point font or even larger.

 Tables and graphics. While tables and graphics may not be appropriate in most writings, a brief discussion is included here for sake of completeness.

Tables and graphics may be useful in some situations to communicate your thoughts.  They may enable a reader to grasp information faster than text by increasing clarity and cutting down on dense, block-appearing text. Keep the design as simple as possible so that the design elements do not interfere with the clear presentation of information and the data stands out. You should use as much ink as possible to deal with a data point and not as decoration.

Tables and graphs are often the most effective way to summarize numbers or other numerical and statistical data such as annual sales revenue for a specific number of years, market share captured by various products,  market segments captured by country, operating profit per year, and other similar types of information.

Remember that excellence in creating useful graphics is that which gives the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time with the least ink in the smallest space.

Layout is another important appearance issue to consider.

Generous white space on your writing enhances readability, helps to emphasize important points, and lightens the overall look of the document.  Avoid the impulse to fill up the entire page with text.  Use a wide left or right margin to help make the document easier to read.  Dense blocks of impenetrable text are discouraging to readers.

The current trend is to use justified left, ragged right text, to make your writing easier to read.  That is, the text is aligned to the left with a ragged or uneven right edge   This blog is set in that manner.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All Rights Reserved.

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Use The Active Voice For Clear Writing.

Use the active voice; minimize the passive voice.

As pointed out in the April 17, 2012 post, discussing hidden verbs, a verb is a word or word group that makes an assertion.  The Century Handbook of Writing, 4th Ed., p. 140, explains that the full meaning of a verb depends on the inflectional forms that show voice, mode, and tense.  Voice shows whether the subject performs or receives the action expressed by the verb.

 Using the active voice as opposed to the passive voice has been written about extensively, much of it confusing.  The secret of the active voice is simply to write more directly. In other words, to borrow a thought from a legendary songwriter, the late Johnny Mercer, you should “accentuate the positive” in your writing.

More specifically, the active voice makes it clear who is supposed to perform the action in the sentence. When using the active voice in a sentence, the person who’s acting is the subject of the sentence.  Where the passive voice is used, the person who is acted upon is the subject of the sentence. The active voice eliminates ambiguity about responsibility for action; the passive voice obscures that responsibility. More than any other writing technique, use of the active voice will improve the quality of your writing.

The following examples reflect the difference:

Active – Albert and Bess missed their tax return filing deadline.

Passive – The deadline for filing their tax return was missed by Albert and Bess.

Active –   A smart shopper buys only the freshest coffee.

Passive – Only the freshest coffee is bought by a smart shopper.

Active –  The IRS has proposed new regulations.

Passive –  New regulations have been proposed by the IRS.

Active –  You need a fishing permit to fish in that lake.

Passive –  A fishing permit is required to fish in that lake.

Writing in the active voice will usually result in the elimination of abstract or vague words and a clearer, easier to understand sentence.  Thus,

I purchased the airplane ticket,

is better than,

The airplane ticket was purchased by me.

We appreciated your report,

is better than,

Your report was appreciated by us.

Readers understand sentences in the active voice more quickly because the active voice is not only stronger and saves words but conveys the writer’s thought more directly.

Use the present tense of verbs, their strongest and simplest form, together with the active voice and a personal pronoun, to transform sentences and make them shorter, easier to understand, and more forceful and direct. Writing in the present tense helps to make your point clearly.  Avoid conditional or future tense when possible.

Before  -The following summary is intended to assist buyers in understanding the costs and expenses that will be incurred if product A is purchased.

After – This summary describes costs and expenses that you will incur for the purchase of product A.

Another example:

Before – The subscription to the X Journal may be cancelled at any time.

After –  You may cancel your subscription at any time.

Even a past event may be clarified by writing in the present tense as much as possible:

Your policy may not cover you if you did not file a claim within 30 days of date of injury.     

However, the passive voice should not be avoided in all cases.  It may be used to show that the actors are vague, as in the following examples:  “A signal was seen from a distant peak”;  “After swinging futilely at the next pitch, the batter was ordered out.”

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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