Stonewall at Appomattox

Historians of the American Civil War often have to contend with what-if questions (and some ask a few of their own). Indeed, inherent in much of an assessment of the wisdom of this or that move or decision is some contemplation of what was likely to happen if someone made a different move or decision.  Otherwise, we would be stuck assessing decisions by outcomes, which is little more than hindsight, and tells us very little about the options open to the decision maker.

A different sort of what-if question reverses the course of history in some seemingly critical way. The favorite what-if that embodies this approach is asking what if Stonewall Jackson had been at Gettysburg. Usually, the person asking the question has Jackson replace Richard S. Ewell as a corps commander on the afternoon of July 1 and believes that Jackson would have attacked the Union position on Cemetery Hill, usually with the assumption that such an assault would have been successful, etc.

This exercise is so inherently problematic as to suggest that it is useless unless someone would rather deal with history as they fantasize about it as opposed to understanding what really happened and why (which would take actual work as a reader and researcher). Continue reading

John Stauffer and Black Confederates Redux

They say if you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Apparently John Stauffer thinks so, because today on The Root he offered a slightly different (and somewhat better developed) essay sharing his perspective on Black Confederates.

Among those things that haven’t changed from the last time we went on this merry-go-round based in Cambridge is his misrepresentation of my position in general and this post in particular.

I have responded.

Stauffer’s strained effort to construct a strawman of scholarly controversy in order to frame his contribution would be understandable if it came from someone of lesser talent, but I think we are entitled to expect more from him. Continue reading