Civil Warriors Greatest Hits: From Williamsport to Warrenton

(this post first appeared on Civil Warriors on May 15, 2006)

I’m sure that by now you’ve heard of the complaints that we have too many books on too few campaigns on the Civil War. How many more Gettysburg overviews can we stomach? [One more, I hope.] Moreover, too many campaign histories proceed on predictable tracks, with the big picture rarely changing, or changing in ways that appear to be as outrageous as they are novel.

There are some understudied areas, to be sure. Continue reading

Civil Warriors Greatest Hits: Form and Function (part two)

(the following post originally appeared in somewhat different form on Civil Warriors on January 26, 2007)

Given what I’ve said about the product being the thing, what’s the value of a Ph.D?  I think it’s best for me to respond by suggesting what in my mind the Ph.D. is intended to do and how Ph.D.s are trained institutionally and individually (and there is a difference, I can assure you). I think I can speak with some insight on this, having been rather close to the graduate students as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, having received my postgraduate professional training at the University of Wisconsin, and having trained a number of Ph.D. students at Arizona State University, as well as being a part of the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate and the Preparing Future Faculty Program. I’ve spoken on these issues at major conferences to the point that it’s now part of my professional reputation.

So let’s see what professional training does … at least good training …

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Civil Warriors Greatest Hits: Form and Function (part one)

(this post first appeared, in modified form, on Civil Warriors on January 25, 2007)

I can well understand how some people who have done good research and produced meritorious scholarship are taken aback when they believe they’ve been dismissed all too quickly by an academic historian (and, no, I don’t think this is just a product of the offended’s imagination). It’s also true, however, that at times I have come under criticism from some people who have a very narrow focus (and sometimes an obsession) and where what I say has been dismissed as “politically correct” (that’s hilarious, for reasons I may discuss another time; I’m more worried about being historically correct) or that I’m some academic historian who hasn’t done the work, doesn’t understand something, I’m serving some secret agenda (for example, depriving George H. Thomas of his due), and, by Jove, I’m not half the researcher and historian they are (this is more likely from someone who’s never published a word or a peer-reviewed word).

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Civil Warriors Greatest Hits: Propositions and Implications

(this post originally appeared in Civil Warriors, February 4, 2007)

One of the more troubling aspects of Civil War history lies in going beyond the tales of battles and leaders and tightly-focused military studies to ask broader and more probing questions about issues of causes and motivations. Such queries are sensitive in part because some people see a characterization of motivation or cause as passing judgment on one’s own ancestors and perhaps on oneself. There’s something deeply personal about these queries, and simply to explore the topic is a risky proposition. Nevertheless, we make moral judgments all the time about the past, whether we admit it or not.

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Greatest Hits from Civil Warriors: The “Politically Correct” Strawman

(this post originally appeared in somewhat different form on Civil Warriors, November 13, 2009; note that the blog in question is a multiauthor or group blog, and I’m replying to one of the bloggers, whose views may or may not be shared by his colleagues)

The blogosphere’s an interesting place.  Really.  Anyone can gain a measure of legitimacy by setting up a blog or posting reviews on Amazon or making comments on websites.  In an age of ever-opening information and access, everyman can be his own historian, as Carl Becker once put it … and everywoman as well.

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Greatest Hits from Civil Warriors: Personal Politics and Professional Practice

(a different version of this post originally appeared on Civil Warriors on November 20, 2009)

You hear it all the time … at least I do.  Critics of this historian or that historian claim that the historian in question is pushing a personal political agenda.  Their professional work reflects that personal political agenda: if anything, their scholarship is nothing more than their politics refracted through a flawed prism of the past.

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Greatest Hits From Civil Warriors: So What? An Observation on the Debate over Black Confederates

(This essay originally appeared on Civil Warriors on November 8, 2010; it appears here slightly revised)

It’s been interesting to follow the renewed interest in the debate over black Confederates at conferences, on television, in the newspapers, and especially the blogosphere, where Kevin’s Levin’s Civil War Memory offers a cyber-battleground where sides clash.  Suffice it to say that interested parties would be well advised to start there, not primarily because of Kevin’s own position on the issue, but because of the information and links one might glean from the site.  Kevin has long debated other people on this issue, and it has become identified with him to the point that he’s been asked to write a book-length manuscript about it.   If nothing else, his blog suggests the power of blogging to place oneself in the middle of a debate and establishing a reputation, and that’s something well worth considering for others seeking to get a word in.  It’s really an amazing story.

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Greatest Hits from Civil Warriors: Towards Reassessing A. Lincoln, Commander-in-Chief

(published in somewhat different form at Civil Warriors on May 16, 2007)

Many people like to point to Abraham Lincoln as a model commander-in-chief. Scholars have celebrated him as an instinctive strategist who had to put up with a series of inferior generals until he finally assembled the team that went out and won the war. At most, he comes under some criticism for appointing some generals based primarily upon their political value instead of their military skill, but even this practice has been defended as a necessary step towards winning the war.

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