3632Re: Any ideas on this book?
- Sep 1, 2007Hmmmm. You know, I've been rolling your question over and over in my
brain all day. It's a hard one to answer quantitatively.
First of all, given the massive size of Carman's manuscript, one can
find evidence to support almost any claim about it. At over 1,400
handwritten pages, it would be equally true to say that "It contains
a lot of factual material found in other sources" as it would be to
say "It contain a lot of factual material found nowhere else." It
all depends on which pages you want to hold up to support your
Then there's the question of accessibility. A good deal of the
factual material contained within the manuscript comes from
nineteenth century sources that are long out of print, often unknown
save to the most dedicated of Antietam scholars, and can only be
found in the largest of research libraries. (Double checking some of
Carman's quotations required trips to the Library of Congress's rare
book division.) Can you find a good deal of his factual material
published elsewhere? Yes--but spread across a few hundred books.
Just to have it all between the two covers of Carman's book is an
That said, if you mine the footnotes of Sears, Harsh, Murfin, etc.,
you will find a number of instances where the Carman manuscript turns
out to be the sole source for the episode in question. (From
Carman's voluminous personal correspondence, one can compile a
partial list of the veterans with whom Carman personally walked the
battlefield. When you come to certain portions of the manuscript
involving those persons, now and again you come across anecdotes and
details that do not appear in any known published source. They're
likely the product of Carman's conversations with the survivors--the
manuscript providing the only fragments of a written record of those
Leaving that all aside, there's the question of interpretation. Even
when discussing facts contained in other sources, Carman brings a
fresh perspective to the material. We can all agree on what the
facts are and yet COMPLETELY disagree on what they mean. (In this
regard, consider the bios of McClellan written by Stephen Sears and
Ethan Rafuse. They used the exact same source material, yet the
portraits they drew were so divergent it's hard to believe they're
talking about the same man.) WHAT Carman has to say about the facts
is as valuable as the facts he provides--and the former cannot be
found anywhere save in his manuscript.
Most importantly, the history of Antietam (as a construct) simply
can't be understood without reference to Carman's work (the Atlas,
the manuscript, the battlefield). Everything that has been done
since with regard to Antietam travels through the prism of Ezra
Carman. His findings have been employed by every serious study
produced in the 20th century. Antietam NB's interpretive model--
heck, its very layout--comes from Carman. Even those who comes to
different conclusions can only do so by engaging with Carman's
ideas. (He's like Douglas Freeman in regard to the Army of Northern
Virginia. Everywhere you look, you have to deal with his influence.
In the end you may not agree with him, but you can't avoid
My interest in the Carman manuscript was first piqued when I came to
the acknowledgements page in Landscape Turned Red to find Stephen
Sears refer to it as "the most detailed account of the events of
September 17, 1862." Ted Alexander, Carman's 21st century successor
at Antietam NB, calls the manuscript "one of the most important Civil
War publications to come out in decades." William C. "Jack" Davis
says it's "one of the great and largely unknown masterworks of Civil
War history," Ed Bearss describes it as "a masterpiece," and James
McPherson asserts that nothing written by another participant "rivals
in accuracy and thoroughness Ezra Carman's study." I will gladly
defer to the judgment of my historiographic betters in this
In the end, all I can say with certainty is that Carman's manuscript
is not only important as an artifact of the history of the history of
Antietam (that's not a typo; the repetition is deliberate), but--even
100 years after its composition--it makes an important contribution
to the historiography of Antietam in its own right.
But if I don't stop TALKING about Carman's book and start INDEXING
it, you'll never get to see and decide for yourself. :)
Happy Labor Day to all!
--- In TalkAntietam@yahoogroups.com, "Scott Hann"
> Joe, thanks for the exhaustive answer to my question. Quite
> frankly, I am far more familiar with Bachelder's correspondence
> Gettysburg veterans than I am with the government-funded manuscriptsources
> he wrote. I feared that the Carman work would merely rehash
> previously published, but apparently this isn't the case. Can youa
> estimate the amount of material that is "fresh," that is, material
> that hasn't been published previously in either the O.R.'s or
> regimental histories?
> I enjoyed reading your article in America's Civil War. I too made
> contribution to the issue; more than a dozen photos from my
> collection were used in the magazine.
> When the publication date nears I'll be sure to ask for an
> autographed copy of your book.
> Best wishes,
> Scott D. Hann
- << Previous post in topic Next post in topic >>