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The limitations of the written record

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  • Aurelie1999@aol.com
    I lifted the following, with permission, from another group. It just seemed so relevant to the ongoing discussion regarding the written record of
    Message 1 of 3 , Aug 8, 2002
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      I lifted the following, with permission, from another group. It just seemed
      so relevant to the ongoing discussion regarding the written record of
      Grant/Hooker/Thomas at Lookout Mountain and a perfect reminder to all of us
      that our perceptions of the CW and the participants must be formed with a
      strong dose of common sense.

      Connie Boone
      __________________________________________________________________

      Again and again, we find contradictions not only in the accounts of different
      people, but at times, in accounts written by the same person at different
      times.  Some of this reflects the confusion of battle, incomplete
      information, and different perspectives on the action, compounded as the
      years passed by the limits of memory. In other cases, it may reflect efforts
      to protect or polish a reputation, or, to grind an ax at someone else's
      expense.

       

      But even when the reports are relatively straightforward, such as many in the
      OR, it is often extremely difficult to figure out exactly what the person
      writing was trying to say.  


      As Harry Pfanz so astutely put it in the preface to his Second Day book, "In
      attempting to understand and describe a particular action, I was reminded
      often of the void that exists between my generation of soldiers and that of
      the Civil War. Their methods and mind-sets are rather beyond the reach of our
      full understanding. Even when they described their doings in detail (and more
      often than not they assumed that such descriptions were unnecessary and did
      not give them), it is hard to understand and appreciate what they were
      describing."  


      This is why, as important as the OR's and the rest of the written record is,
      no one account can be read and taken entirely at face value, no matter how
      accurate it may sound or what the author's reputation for honesty.  Much of
      what is in these accounts is simply wrong, or if not wrong, distorted or
      misleading.  OTOH, other points in the same report may be dead on.  Figuring
      out which is which takes time, effort, and reasoning.  Every point must be
      compared to other versions of events, and evaluated in terms of the overall
      sequence of events, time, terrain, tactics, terminology, and, for lack of a
      better term, the "big picture."  Only then can, as Chuck put it, the dots be
      connected.  And as this past discussion shows, different people may connect
      them differently . . . . Jim Cameron
    • bjer50010
      ... just seemed ... of ... all of us ... with a ... different ... different ... as the ... reflect efforts ... else s ... many in the ... person ... book, In
      Message 2 of 3 , Aug 8, 2002
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        --- In civilwarwest@y..., Aurelie1999@a... wrote:
        > I lifted the following, with permission, from another group. It
        just seemed
        > so relevant to the ongoing discussion regarding the written record
        of
        > Grant/Hooker/Thomas at Lookout Mountain and a perfect reminder to
        all of us
        > that our perceptions of the CW and the participants must be formed
        with a
        > strong dose of common sense.
        >
        > Connie Boone
        > __________________________________________________________________
        >
        > Again and again, we find contradictions not only in the accounts of
        different
        > people, but at times, in accounts written by the same person at
        different
        > times.  Some of this reflects the confusion of battle, incomplete
        > information, and different perspectives on the action, compounded
        as the
        > years passed by the limits of memory. In other cases, it may
        reflect efforts
        > to protect or polish a reputation, or, to grind an ax at someone
        else's
        > expense.
        >
        >  
        >
        > But even when the reports are relatively straightforward, such as
        many in the
        > OR, it is often extremely difficult to figure out exactly what the
        person
        > writing was trying to say.  
        >
        >
        > As Harry Pfanz so astutely put it in the preface to his Second Day
        book, "In
        > attempting to understand and describe a particular action, I was
        reminded
        > often of the void that exists between my generation of soldiers and
        that of
        > the Civil War. Their methods and mind-sets are rather beyond the
        reach of our
        > full understanding. Even when they described their doings in detail
        (and more
        > often than not they assumed that such descriptions were unnecessary
        and did
        > not give them), it is hard to understand and appreciate what they
        were
        > describing."  
        >
        >
        > This is why, as important as the OR's and the rest of the written
        record is,
        > no one account can be read and taken entirely at face value, no
        matter how
        > accurate it may sound or what the author's reputation for
        honesty.  Much of
        > what is in these accounts is simply wrong, or if not wrong,
        distorted or
        > misleading.  OTOH, other points in the same report may be dead
        on.  Figuring
        > out which is which takes time, effort, and reasoning.  Every point
        must be
        > compared to other versions of events, and evaluated in terms of the
        overall
        > sequence of events, time, terrain, tactics, terminology, and, for
        lack of a
        > better term, the "big picture."  Only then can, as Chuck put it,
        the dots be
        > connected.  And as this past discussion shows, different people may
        connect
        > them differently . . . . Jim Cameron

        Connie,

        Interesting post and very definitely appropriate to the
        Grant/Thomas/Hooker discussion. The key message though has to be
        that all the evidence should be examined and weighed. When you start
        reading with a preconceived idea you only pull out what reinforces
        that idea. If you keep an open mind you may find your ideas need to
        be adjusted. Of course not everyone has read everything on the
        topic, which is what makes these discussion groups so interesting.

        JB Jewell
      • Aurelie1999@aol.com
        In a message dated 8/8/02 2:36:37 PM, bjewell@iastate.edu writes:
        Message 3 of 3 , Aug 8, 2002
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          In a message dated 8/8/02 2:36:37 PM, bjewell@... writes:

          << When you start

          reading with a preconceived idea you only pull out what reinforces

          that idea. >>

          You got that right. Cherry picking facts to support a presumption rarely
          persuades or fools anyone.

          Connie
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