33880CW history in context
- Sep 8, 2005Dear John:
I both agree and disagree with you on this point. My training
is actually in the field of East and Southern African History, so
I've read pretty extensively in both Western and non-Western history.
I think there is always a great deal of writing dealing with micro
history - biography, a campaign, the New York draft riots, whatever.
I've seen plenty of this type of necessary writing whether it is WW
II or AIDS in South Africa. Obviously there is quite of bit of this
in Civil War historiography as well but I don't think that is unique.
I've been studying the so called 2nd Bulge - the German attack in
Alsace-Lorraine in December-January 1944 against the 7th Army (my dad
was in the 70th Division) and most of what I have read are
micro-studies of units or the campaign. Very little analysis beyond
that - and I think that is what you are complaining about CW books. I
agree with you that there is, perhaps, a higher proportion of this in
CW writing, but at the same time I have seen broader works. Brent
Nosworthy, for example, has produced an excellent work on CW tactics
putting it into the context of centuries of tactical development.
Works on Lincoln have put him into a broader context, and so forth.
But, I do agree that it is time for broader analytical works to start
coming out putting the CW (whether political, social, economic, or
military) in the broader stream of US and Western history. I am, for
example, trying to write a book on the evolution of Cavalry tactics
in the war, examining their roots in both European tradition and the
Indian Wars period. Some of you may have read my article in North and
South in January 1999 on the evolution of Federal cavalry tactics.
Unfortunately, my coaching job keeps getting in the way of writing
and it may have to wait for retirement for completion.=-). Now, one
more thing, and not to criticize the many excellent 'amateur'
historians out there, but much of what has been written on the ACW is
written by folks who have a very specific interest. Some is good,
some is bad - but these folks are not as likely as a professional
historian to spend the time to look at the much broader picture or do
the research on a much bigger historical period. That generally takes
more time. For example, I reviewed a book called 'The Jewish
Confederates'. The author did a wonderful job of collecting data - a
life's passion. And it was an informative book about a topic not too
many of us know much about. But I would have liked him to have put
the Southern Jewish community into the broader context of the
American Jewish community - but that would have taken a different
mind-set. I completely agree with you about the questions you pose -
very interesting ones indeed.
At 11:07 PM +0000 9/7/05, email@example.com wrote:
>Date: Wed, 7 Sep 2005 04:16:25 -0700 (PDT)--
> From: John Beatty <jdbeatty.geo@...>
>Subject: OT: Civil War Historiography
>I've been struck of late by an observation that maybe
>some of you have already made. It has to do with how
>the Civil War is and has been written about.
>I study things other than the Civil War, mostly
>American military history up to about 1960 and a few
>other topics. Whenever I read a book or article about
>the Civil War I have come to feel as if I'm
>transported into a vacuum into which nothing emerges
>and very little can enter. The vacuum contains the
>American Civil War and precious little else.
>It seems to me as if the Civil War is treated as a
>special case, isolated and without context or
>reference to any other conflict. Many works feel
>distinctly like extended biography, a careful
>treatment of a single topic with the singualar purpose
>to paint an artist's interpretation of a person, unit
>or battle that reflects the vision given. Nothing
>else may mar the effect.
>I find very little in the literature that places
>anything in the conflict in a larger context. It
>doesn't ask questions like:
>o What was the influence of the Piedmont War of 1859
>on tactical planning?
>o How did the logistical planning and operations in
>the Vicksburg campaign affect future combined arms
>logistical operations, in and out of the United
>o Did anyone try a flank march across the front after
>o What effect did Civil War naval operations have on
>world naval developments?
>o What did Stones River tell us about the growing
>power of 19th century artillery in the defense?
>o What lessons from Shiloh did the Army translate to
>Kasserne or the Ardennes?
>What troubles me is that there's practically no effort
>in the Civil War community/business to put the
>American Civl War in any sort of a larger context with
>any degree of regularity. Ocassionally some will: Ed
>Bearss gives a memorable comparison between Civil War
>medical services and his experience as a wounded
>Marine on Bougainville. But these exceptions stand
>out in glaring relief against the utter sameness and
>isolation of most of the literature.
>Maybe I'm all wet, but I don't think so. Maybe
>somebody here can give this some thought. I'm done
>John D. Beatty, Milwaukee Wisconsin
>"History is the only test for the consequences of ideas"
Dr. Laurence Dana Schiller