And You, Too, Can Charge Here

So, according to legend, this Union general was given the assignment of driving through the Confederate flank and coming up behind the main body of the Southern army. He led his men forward once, twice, and even a third time, only to find that grey flank unyielding.

It was high summer, and he paused after the third withdrawal, pulling out his handkerchief to mop his forehead. Looking up, he spotted a position where the Confederates were not so thickly assembled, and decided this was his chance. Not pausing to look around him at his subordinates or even to draw his sword, he urged his horse forward, calling for a charge and waving his hanky over his head so his men would know whom to follow.

Well, it was a weak spot in the line, and his men did make it through, and the Union won that particular engagement in Georgia that day. A year or so later, when the war was over, the United States Army offered a full-time job as general to the man who dared to charge an enemy position flourishing his handkerchief.

The Powers That Were were modestly surprised to get a “no” from General A.C. McClurg. Seems he wanted to go back to Chicago and sell books. And so he did.

And that is part of the reason, dear children, that sitting just around the corner from the Newberry’s Civil War exhibit is a bookstore named for A. C. (Active Cavalry) McClurg. It is not a direct descendant of McClurg’s famous bookstore, but there is a picture of him over the entrance, and one of his own personal books is on display there.

Now, one of the famous features of the actual and original bookstore run by the former general was the Saints and Sinners Corner, a spot where men gathered to talk books, swapping lies about the big ones that had gotten away. (They do say that General McClurg fostered the creation of The Caxton Club so all the saints and sinners would go sit somewhere else at least one day a month.) In place of that, we have those two benches out in front of the store, facing those two carts of books for sale from the bookstore.

YES, this is a shameless plug for the books I have for sale. (But what did you think this blog was about anyhow, pumpkin spice fishsticks?) As a matter of fact, I am trying to load them down with scary Halloween titles, even scarier holiday cookbooks (can I eat—never mind bake—all those treats in one two-month holiday season?), books about the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, and books suitable to a P.G. Wodehouse convention which is being held down in the Loop this weekend. Something for everybody, I hope.

But I would also like to pause and reflect on the saints and sinners who gather there on the bench. I have nothing against ‘em, after all. Some are poor folks who were to meet a significant other when that S.O. had finished doing some research, and have now been sitting in the lobby for an hour because the S.O. has gotten caught up in figuring out a blotted word in an old census entry. The carts give them something to do while they await the results of the Rohrshach.

Among other things, they build little Civil War forts on the bench, using the books as blocks. And they take books from the bottom shelves and jam them into the top shelves so no one can pry any other books out. They jam books in any old how and rip dust jackets to shreds, or slide books back onto the shelf backward and upside down, and we had one regular customer who used to take any book that was even slightly risque and sneak it into the store to hide in the children’s section.

I’m not saying YOU do anything like that, flounder dumpling. I just thought I’d mention that I may look up that sword that General McClurg had sheathed when he charged the Confederate line and see if I can’t find a use for it outside the bookstore named for him.

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