Another Ride on the McPherson Express
I was wondering when we would see another McPherson rant from Dimitri Rotov over at Civil War Bookshelf. This installment does not disappoint as it is
filled with what has become the routine incoherent references to a so-called “centennial school” and now a pseudo-analysis of McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom as some kind of sufficient indicator for the broader Civil War market. This post is filled with intimations of an American Heritage/Allen Nevins cabal to somehow subvert the integrity of Civil War history. It is tempting to think that most people who read these McPherson rants see through the smoke
screen of vague references and accusations. Still it is worth pointing a few things out to help the uninformed see their way through the noise.
First, it is not clear to me that Dimitri has ever read Battle Cry of Freedom or much of anything that McPherson has written. Just consider his comment that McPherson “executed his commission by aggregating material millions of Americans had already read in American Heritage and in popular books by American Heritage writers. All Dimitri has to do to is look at the footnotes throughout the book. Where are all these supposed references to American Heritage? In addition, to characterize McPherson as an unknown among Civil War historians before the publication of this book is dumfounding. I suspect that Dimitri is working under an extremely narrow interpretation of the field. McPherson has written numerous articles and book reviews in scholarly journals on mid-nineteenth century America. News flash: the Civil War was bigger than George McClellan, Antietam, and the Army of the Potomac.
McPherson’s concentration on race and African-American history constitutes an absolutely essential part of our understanding of the Civil War-Reconstruction era. I highly recommend that Dimitri read The Struggle for Equality (Princeton University Press, 1964) and The Abolitionist Legacy: From Reconstruction to the NAACP (Princeton University Press, 1975). And this is supposedly the work of an unknown Civil War historian? Give me a break. Both volumes are well worth your time if you really have an interest in the Civil War-Reconstruction era.
The most bizarre claim that Dimitri makes is to characterize Gary Gallagher’s agreeing to allow McPherson the opportunity to write the volume on Civil War navies for the Littlefield Series as a “shakedown.” What can one say in response to such irresponsible language? It at least suggests that Dimitri knows nothing of the steps that Gallagher has taken to secure some of the most respected scholars in the field and his attention to turning out a series of books that will not only reflect the state of the field, but push it further as well. I think I am starting to understand why the comments option is off. Haven’t we had enough of this silliness?