I love reading the comments of those who both agree, but especially those who disagree with my posts. In fact, I’ve found since I started this blog that one of the great benefits it offers is the increased interaction with people that I normally would have no contact with. At times, however, I find people’s comments to be very curious. I say this because it seems to me that many who write assume that I am the author of a certain interpretation, whether it involves the role of slavery in causing secession, the debate about black Confederates or the importance of emancipation. I have to admit that I have not done any original research on most of the important questions connected with both the battlefield and the home front. Yes, I have done substantial work on the Battle of the Crater, William Mahone, and Civil War memory but that’s about it. What I am trying to get at is that most of what I post about is the result of a voracious appetite for the best in Civil War studies. On most historical debates I defer to the experts in the field whose job it is to research the past. This acknowledgment is no different from my deference to credentialed physicians when I need a diagnosis. I am interested in studying the work of people who are trained to investigate and analyze historical sources.
Apparently my blog is making the rounds on a Neo-Confederate listserv. As a result I’ve received some very colorful comments. For the most part I just delete the emails or ignore the individual comments posted on the blog. The only reason I raise this issue is that a few of my students who read my blog have commented on specific posts. What I am surprised by is their evaluation of these comments as a product of immature ignorance. I’d like to think their time in my class has raised the bar in terms of what counts as meaningful criticism. So, if you have a problem with my emphasis on the importance of race and slavery as it relates to secession and emancipation don’t criticize me; pick up the latest studies by James McPherson, Charles Dew, William Freehling, and Ed Ayers and find out where these and countless other historians writing over the last few decades went wrong. What I know about the Civil War is based in large part on what I read. Please don’t suggest that I check out your personal website on black Confederates or Lincoln’s “real attitude” towards slavery. I am not interested in your personal view or your non-credentialed website that more than likely is structured around some preconceived conclusion. I am only interested in the extent to which you’ve engaged the relevant secondary literature or contributed to it in some fashion that includes a strenuous peer-review process. Tell me where the leading historians have gone wrong and your views will receive a great deal of attention from me. Calling me a “yankee,” “revisionist,” “liberal,” or “Trotskyite” (still trying to figure this one out) does little more than tell me that serious debate is not on your agenda. Hold off on what Eric Wittenberg has rightly called, “Neo-Confederate Hooey.” And for those of you who feel a need to air out your emotions on my blog, know that my high school students are getting a good laugh at your expense.
I am still trying to figure out the place of blogging in my academic life. (A recent survey shows that the majority of bloggers last about 3-4 months.) As a result, I am uncertain if I will continue this blog for much longer. If I do continue it will be in large part to the incredibly thoughtful comments that many of you have shared over the last few months.