A Sad Virginia Blog

A fellow blogger brought this post to my attention. The author makes some claims that are as remarkable as they are ridiculous, and he sounds just like another person whose shrill whining is a matter of note.

First, an observation: although I’ve never met Steve Davis (at least to the best of my recollection), I have blurbed his first book. I wasn’t aware of this book until the post in question appeared. Unlike some other bloggers, I do not normally receive books from publishers, and so I find out about what’s appearing through happenstance and advertising. Thus, when the author of the entry says it’s “highly unlikely” that other bloggers haven’t heard of the book, he can’t be speaking about me. It’s especially highly likely when I’m engaged in several writing projects. Nor is he highlighting “hypocrisy in academia” … but he is highlighting his own personal issues.

Second, it is amusing that the author of this blog entry admits he hasn’t read the book … apparently he’s not subject to his own standards concerning other bloggers. This doesn’t stop him from holding forth on it, and I think you can judge for yourself someone who assesses a book he hasn’t even read.

On to the claims:

I also recalled how a number of Civil War bloggers have downplayed this aspect of the war, even questioning the veracity of some of the claims of Southern civilians; while others took a “so what?” attitude and, in some cases, actually became cheerleaders in justifying such treatment for the “slave-holding rebels.”

I’d love to see proof for this. The author paints poorly with a rather broad brush.

I recall specifically a number of historians downplaying Sherman’s march through Georgia. One in particular labeled the various claims of atrocities as “myth” and “legend.” Of course, much of this perspective hails from the same objective bunch that thought George Bush was guilty of war crimes, but applaud the first President in history who simultaneously holds the Nobel Peace Prize and a kill list. Frauds. But let us not forget, they are really about sociology, not history. No wonder the court historians are fawning over Spielberg’s fantasy movie of Lincoln. After all, the Spielberg film’s screenwriter is a big Obama fan who has referred to Reagan supporters as psychotic.

Again, evidence would be nice. Please point to any comment in this blog saying George Bush (either one, I guess) was guilty of a war crime; show me the applause here for Barack Obama; and readers of the blog know that I’ve criticized Tony Kushner several times. Court historian? Please … try to be original, instead of plagiarizing Tom DiLorenzo.

And, no, the book is not published by Pelican Publishing – another favorite target of historiography’s gatekeepers.

I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned that particular publisher on this blog.

Those who decide to look at the blog entry in question might well compare the handling of a review with the actual review, which is more of a summary of the book (as well as two other books) than anything else.

This does not deter the blogger, who then warms to his central concern:

But what I find rather strange, is that there seems to be a deafening silence on just about all of the Civil War blogs when it comes to this new title. Are they boycotting it? Does it expose them for their own sloppy, biased posts about atrocities perpetrated on many Southerners by the Union Army? One would think that such a “breathtaking” and “scholarly work” would have gotten some mention on the more prominent CW blogs. But no – utter silence – at least from the ones I typically visit.

Oh my goodness.  First, I have no idea who Bill Hendrick is. I have no idea as to his qualifications for reviewing a book. Read this biographical sketch, and judge for yourself.

Second, let’s look at where these terms appear.

The richly documented tome, published by Mercer University Press, is breathtaking as a scholarly work, so meticulously researched that it can only be objective — which had to require extraordinary effort by Davis, who clearly feels Sherman was far too ruthless.

Now, this is wonderful blurb material, but what exactly do the reviewer mean when he says that the book was “so meticulously researched that it can only be objective”? The presence of footnotes means a book “can only be objective”? That’s funny. And yet later on the reviewer suggests that perhaps scholarly objectivity was not quite such a concern:

Davis, 64, who has been working on the book off and on since 1990, says he uses the word Yankees as Southerners did during the war. “In writing this book I wanted to return to the time of the war and re-experience what my people and the city had endured,” he said. “I wanted to shed all academic filters and feel what my city endured.”

Not exactly a testament to scholarly objectivity, but our blogger decided to leave that out. Were I to adopt his mode of thinking, I’d say the omission was a deliberate distortion of the truth in order to satisfy his personal political agenda. But I won’t say that.

Back to our blogger, who declares:

But from the same Civil War blogs which I refer to above – nothing. I wonder why. It couldn’t be bias, could it? Or maybe, they’re simply not interested because the book does nothing to advance their preferred narrative. Perhaps they’re uncomfortable with having their assumptions challenged.

Ah, I didn’t know they made tin foil hats in the shape of Confederate kepis.

This particular blogger seems to overlook an important point. Those historians who have questioned the destructiveness of Sherman’s march through Georgia are not discussing the siege of Atlanta, but the following march to the sea. Davis’s book covers the siege. Able students of the war understand the difference.  The blogger in question does not.

So what we have here is another example of a blogger’s agenda-laden ranting, displaying not only the bias he deplores but also simple outright ignorance, all the while making unsupported claims (yet again) about other bloggers. In this case, I expect the promise of future blogs entries dedicated to exploring these issues in detail, although such entries usually fail to appear.

It’s at moments like these when I think the complaints of some bloggers that entries like these give attention to people who do not deserve such attention have some merit, and as a rule I ignore certain blogs. In this case someone waived this entry in my face. That person speaks for himself: I have chided another blogger who used to bring this same blog to everyone’s attention. Sometimes the best way to deal with such foolishness is to ignore it: in the case of this particular blogger, I ask my readers to indulge my annoyance and to treat this post as the exception that proves the rule.

UPDATE: As expected, the blogger in question huffed and puffed and whined, but he failed to offer any evidence to support a single allegation, and he could not even admit that he had confused the march to the sea with the siege of Atlanta. Typical. But I’m sure he’ll remain a loyal reader.


24 thoughts on “A Sad Virginia Blog

  1. Pat Young February 17, 2013 / 4:35 am

    I blog quite extensively in the area of immigration law, history, and policy. Every so often some author will denounce me for ignoring his or her work, as though every word written on my subject is entitled to commentary from me. In this case, it isn’t even the author of the book who demands that attention must be paid. Boy.

  2. wgdavis February 17, 2013 / 6:22 am

    Those who cherry-pick their own versions of history [in this case descended through generations of hate], ultimately become dangerously ignorant [in the word’s broadest sense].

    What is odd in his comments section is his condemnation of slavery and his defense of the US Flag, which is purely in juxtaposition to his fervent drum beating as Confederate victim of the US military [generationally removed]. How soon people like this forget that it was not the Yankees who attempted secession, and it was not the Yankees who fired on Fort Sumter, and it was not the Yankees who resisted attempts to restore that Flag, and the Constitution to those states that all ratified it.

    There was only one way to eliminate Slavery and free four million people, and it was the South that chose that path. The process included the necessity to destroy the Southern economy, the Southern will to wage war, and the Southern culture that depended so heavily on Slavery.

    When all peaceful attempts to resolve a situation peacefully have failed, there is nothing left but war. And there is nothing gentlemanly, or fair, about war. If a nation is unprepared to pay the price of that war, they have but one alternative: to acquiesce.

    Now it is long past time to stop whining about that price, and move on. Most have. Others, well, they will be left behind.

  3. R E Watson February 17, 2013 / 7:57 am

    At the very least, your “annoyance has led me to add another book to my “must read” list – the bloggers Stonewall Jackson ~ The Black Man’s Friend, Can’t wait ! 😉

  4. Jefferson Moon February 17, 2013 / 8:37 am

    Both sides acted badly at times,that is what is being denied by confederate apologists,they would have folks believe all confederate soldiers were sweet little angels,not so.I started collecting confederate atrocities,war crimes and misdemeanors,in responce to the same hand full of Union soldiers “atrocites” I would see posted over and over,I’m saving them here,
    I haven’t really put much effort into it,thats why I believe it isn’t just the tip of a iceberg,but just looking at the tip of a iceberg.
    I am no academic,there be no book from me.But, maybe someone could write a book detailing confederate atrocities and war crimes. I believe it’s a untapped part of our Civil War for study.

  5. wineandhistory February 17, 2013 / 9:19 am

    I find it unprofessional for that blogger to launch into a rant without backing up his claims. He refers several times to other bloggers, without naming the source or what the “other blogger” has allegedly written that supports his claim. That makes it nearly impossible to refute his off-base statements, but perhaps he knows they wouldn’t hold up if he actually had to provide some facts.

    • Brooks D. Simpson February 17, 2013 / 9:33 am

      This is typical of the blogger in question, as is the repeatedly unfulfilled promise to offer other blog entries detailing his charges.

      So you see why I think it’s best to ignore this blog. It even lacks entertainment value.

      • Michael Lynch February 17, 2013 / 1:05 pm

        I used to read that blog regularly, and would comment from time to time, but I hadn’t looked at it in a good while until clicking that link. One of the weird things he used to do was highlight something he’d found online, and then rail against the entire historical blogosphere for not mentioning it, citing the fact that they failed to do so as proof of their collective hypocrisy. It never seemed to occur to him that fellow bloggers and historians might have other things to do besides rush to their keyboards to address whatever it was that caught his attention.

        Anyway, I guess it’s good to know that he’s still going strong.

        • Brooks D. Simpson February 17, 2013 / 10:36 pm

          There’s a strong mix of fantasy, bitterness, and anger evident in that blog. If it rarely makes sense, it does no harm.

    • Corey Meyer February 17, 2013 / 8:10 pm

      See that is the catch-22…If we did not blog about it…you get his current post about it. If we blog about the contents and he does not agree with our take on it…you get a similar post. No way to win.

      • Brooks D. Simpson February 17, 2013 / 8:42 pm

        You can simply ignore him. You need to make the case to me that he’s important. He’s not. Does what he says matter? No. I never would have heard of him has it not been for other bloggers highlighting him. Failing that, you need to make the case that he’s funny. He’s not. Other folks are, although they don’t mean to be. Still, even in those cases I don’t give those folks the attention I once did, because the educational value (as in yes, there are people who actually believe such-and-such) has declined. Even in those cases,how did I learn about the existence of such folks? From the interplay on other blogs.

        This case seemed useful precisely because it shows how wrong-headed some folks are. The blogger in question sounds just like someone else we all know. That mindlessness I found amusing.

        Tell me why you would bother answering these people on their blogs.

  6. John Foskett February 17, 2013 / 9:19 am

    Of course, Mr. Davis also wrote the following in 1994 regarding the use of Yankee artillery against Atlanta:

    “The absence of medical or burial records during the seige prevent an accurate counting of the number of Atlantans killed or maimed by the Yankee shells. Confederate newspaper reports and scattered diaries or letters suggest that the number of deaths may be quite low, perhaps a score or so lives. Most of the city’s population, estimated at 20,000 in the spring of ’64, had fled the city by the time the Union artillery opened fire.”

    In addition, the blurb for his book indicates that the fires which were started on November 11 were actually against Sherman’s orders. War is indeed a messy business and cannot be described in the “all or nothing” terms some folks desperately need to grasp.. Anybody who doesn’t believe that troops on both sides committed “atrocities” and other sundry wrongs in this war or any other is sniffing glue, a liar, or just plain ignorant.. ..

  7. Drew Wagenhoffer February 17, 2013 / 10:05 am

    I must be involved in lots of conspiracies if me not shooting certain books to the top of my reviewing pile constitutes a cover up of some kind.

    It’s funny how often people take book titles as a literal representation of the author’s ideology or irrefutable evidence of a book’s overriding theme or narrative thrust. Press marketing departments very often have a hand in title wording, with sales promotion sometimes a larger consideration than accurate indication of a work’s actual content. Provocative contemporary quotes in titles have become a well established tradition in Civil War publishing. I only know Davis’s work from his articles (I haven’t read his slim SR series Atlanta overview published a while back), but it is my impression that he’s well regarded in the world of Atlanta Campaign scholars.

    I was amused by a recent CW messageboard thread (wish I could remember where it’s located) with dozens of entries slamming Davis as some kind of dangerous Lost Causer merely on the implications of the title. As far as I could tell, none had read the book or had plans to do so. A sad state of affairs.

    Also, for those that might be interested, there’s no reason to depend on happenstance and ads for new release awareness. There’s a certain website that does a reasonably good job of this ….

    • Brooks D. Simpson February 17, 2013 / 10:20 am

      Having not read the book in question, I would not hazard a guess about its contents or arguments. This has not stopped other people from advancing praise or criticism.

      A simple rule: when I’m busy writing, I’m not paying very much attention to books that appear out of my areas of interest. But I do recall that you implied something about a forthcoming title of mine that you had yet to read (and apparently do not plan to read) in a commentary on forthcoming books about Gettysburg. 🙂

      • Drew Wagenhoffer February 17, 2013 / 10:57 am

        No, that was Dimitri that implied that on his blog. I just mentioned there was one title in the list I was looking forward to. He assumed it wasn’t yours and suggested I make it two!

        BTW, now that we’re on the subject, I would be interested in reading a blog post about it, summarizing what’s in it, why you wrote it, what you hope readers get out of it, etc.

        • Brooks D. Simpson February 17, 2013 / 5:46 pm

          Whenever in doubt, blame Dimitri. 🙂 You could address his implication by specifying the title you had in mind. 🙂

          Years ago Ethan Rafuse made the interesting observation that he believed that my Grant biography would have made a bigger splash had I not telegraphed some of my findings in earlier work. So I think I’ll hold back until the book actually appears (or is on the point of appearing) before complying with your request. What I’ll say now is that we write more and more about less and less, and in the process we’ve lost sight of the person who comes to the battle (or the battlefield) with very little knowledge of the battle itself but who is curious and interested in something more than the usual play-by-play. The two books that helped me approach my task were studies of Waterloo by Jeremy Black and Andrew Roberts.

  8. Michael Confoy February 17, 2013 / 10:19 am

    Read the blogger’s bio and that will be all you need to know about him — “Though largely self-educated due to his disdain for pedantry…” The book on Atlanta is available through the History Book Club, so what can you say.

    As far as treatment of southern citizens? And I quote, “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

  9. James F. Epperson February 17, 2013 / 2:06 pm

    There are a couple of points to be made here. First, to state the obvious, war is not a pleasant parlor game, although there are times when I think the Confederates (not to mention their modern partisans) acted as though it was supposed to be played that way. Bad things happen, and people get hurt because of it. What Williams and associates want is to paint the Yankees as somehow especially evil in this regard, ignoring any Confederate atrocities or any context to those they accuse the Federals of. (Can you say “Centralia”? Gainesville hangings?) It is “history as victimhood,” and we see what I think is the real point in Mr. Williams’s opening, where he indulges in a gratuitous modern political rant.

    • Brooks D. Simpson February 17, 2013 / 10:40 pm

      The blogger in question projects his own practice of mixing his sociology, political philosophy and partial understanding of history on others. Change a few key words and you can see he’s really describing himself. Perhaps the blog is nothing more than a cry for help. After all, when he complains that a male critic of his argument must be a “lady,” perhaps we can conclude that he’s insecure about his own masculinity and manhood.

  10. Bob Huddleston February 17, 2013 / 4:34 pm

    I always enjoy these sort of complaints about the Evil Yankees. Of course Sherman woke up one morning and decided to blast away at a defenseless Atlanta. There could not have been any Rebels in the City, of course not.
    BTW, where is the Virginia Bloggers indignation at Robert E. Lee ordering the burning of Richmond as he fled the city in 1865.

  11. B. Parks February 17, 2013 / 7:09 pm

    Richards entire focus nowadays is ranting against anyone who does not share his neocon/conservative agenda. If you look at his past posts you will note that he has a handful of regular commenters who simply bolster his cause. I sometimes suspect if these folks are not Richard in disguise. Nobody pays any attention to him anymore and he desperately wants our attention. Apparently this is the only way he can get it as you have likely given him more hits from your post that he can get on his own. Sad.

  12. Brad February 18, 2013 / 5:33 pm

    Although this is your blog and what you choose to write about is, of course, your decision, if it’s best to ignore him, why even give him the time of day?

    • Brooks D. Simpson February 18, 2013 / 6:09 pm

      In this case, another blogger highlighted the post in question. I thought it offered a good case study as to why I don’t give him the time of day. After all, I haven’t used his name. Having demonstrated why it’s a waste of time to deal with him, I can now refer to this entry when others call on me to man the barricades, so to speak. I’m sure he’ll remain a loyal reader.

      • Brad February 19, 2013 / 4:33 am

        Fair point 🙂

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