Dimitri Rotov is apparently very impressed with Donald B. Connelly’s new biography John M. Schofield and the Politics of Generalship. He quotes the author who asserts that “Too many writers, unfortunately, treat both the civil and military sectors as relatively distinct and monolithic entities. They presume that the military and political spheres can be readily delineated …” To anyone familiar with recent Civil War historiography this is not a new idea, but Dimitri claims that “This is not just an excellent new biography, as Steve Woodworth blurbs it, it is a new model biography for Civil War historians. Its attention to the cloud of politics enshrouding every general of Schofield’s rank is precedent setting.” I received an advanced copy of the book some time ago, but have not had a chance to read beyond the introduction.
What is surprising is that given Dimitri’s rants about the so-called “centennialist school” he does not note that this book was published under the editorial supervision of none other than Gary Gallagher. The book is part of the Civil War America series which is published by the University of North Carolina Press. Gallagher, according to Rotov, is one of the most devoted of the centennialist school. (I still have no clue what that means exactly, but let’s leave it for now.) My guess is that this recent description of the guilty parties would easily apply to Gallagher:
A generation of young Civil War buffs who read widely in the 1960s, has come to the fore under the profound influence of Nevins’ editorial policy. Many of them are now professors sitting on two stools, doing whatever serious research is required by academic norms and lusting in their hearts to write the next blockbuster nonfiction Oprah offering. They don’t fit well into the universities and the universities tend to distrust them.
Such descriptions are absolutely laughable at best. A quick glance at the series-list suggests that Gallagher has been on the lookout for innovative approaches to the study of the Civil War for some time. Gallagher has been pushing for a more inclusive study of the war for over ten years. Perhaps these rants are entertaining for those who are historiographically naive, but my guess is that most informed readers just laugh it off. Back to Connelly’s biography and Rotov’s claim that the merging of both the military and political spheres reflects a step in a brand new direction, let me suggest that this is not the case at all. A quick glance at my shelves includes general studies and biographies that go back to the 1950’s and has increased sharply in the last two decades.
Addendum: Apparently Dimitri did give Gallagher credit for the Connelly biography in an earlier post. Perhaps a revision of the already vague concept of “centennial history” is in the offing. For an excellent survey of recent literature that covers just the intersection that Dimitri references see “Blueprint For Victory: Northern Strategy and Military Policy,” in James McPherson and William J. Cooper eds. Writing the Civil War: The Quest To Understand, by you guessed it, Gary Gallagher.