Historian William Marvel was recently asked to review Dr. R. Fred Ruhlman’s new book, Captain Henry Wirz and Andersonville Prison: A Reappraisal for the Georgia Historical Quarterly and found that much of it had been pulled from his well-regarded 1994 book, Andersonville: The Last Depot (UNC Press). The story is beginning to make the rounds. From Southern AP News:
“I would characterize the extent as ‘pages and pages’ of text that has been lightly rearranged and doctored to appear original, and without counting the work of other historians that he has appropriated,” Marvel said in an e-mail. “In one instance I found him repeating the only bibliographic error in my entire book, and it would be incredibly coincidental for him to have made that transcription error through his own research,” Marvel wrote. Ruhlman said in a UT Press news release that he’s innocent of willful plagiarism but acknowledged oversights in crediting the work of Marvel.
“I feel very bad about this,” Ruhlman said. “If I had done this deliberately, it would have been academic suicide because Marvel is an authority on this. He would have been asked to review this. I’m reaching out to Mr. Marvel with an apology.” Marvel said the volume of questionable material is troubling.
“I certainly don’t consider it a merely technical violation and find it impossible to believe it was unintentional,” Marvel said.
Here are some comparisons compiled by KnoxNews:
Marvel, p. 21: “He nominated Alexander W. Persons, a twenty-seven-year-old lawyer from Fort Valley, barely thirty miles up the rail line from Anderson. Persons was lieutenant colonel of the 55th Georgia…. The 55th had never been in a real battle, and it enjoyed no great reputation, once having mutinied….”
Ruhlman, p. 53: “Cobb recommended Alexander W. Persons, a twenty-seven-year-old attorney from Fort Valley, Georgia, a small town
approximately thirty miles from Andersonville. Persons was the lieutenant colonel of the 55th Georgia Infantry, a regiment of dubious distinction. The 55th had never seen actual combat and had once mutinied….”
Marvel, pp. 24-25: “A few tried to run for it anyway, but they found the guards true to their word.”
Ruhlman, p. 57: “…a few attempted to escape and discovered that the guards were true to their word.”
Marvel, p. 36: “Mrs. Wolf was a perfectly respectable Methodist lady whose husband had recently died, leaving her with two small girls.”
Ruhlman, p. 77: “She was a respectable Methodist lady whose husband had recently died, leaving her with two daughters to raise.”
Marvel, p. 36: “All his life Wirz had wanted to be a doctor, and in 1854 he joined Dr. Webber as an apprentice….”
Ruhlman, p. 77: “Wirz had wanted to be a doctor all his life, and in 1854 he joined Webber…as his apprentice.”
Marvel, p. 37: “In August of 1862 Wirz assumed command of all Richmond prisons, exerting a strict but reasonably humane authority over the Federal captives. He denied the Yankees any opportunity to communicate with their own officers, or to buy contraband from civilians, but he did not hesitate to arrest a guard for shooting one of the prisoners.”
Ruhlman, p. 78: “By August 1862, Captain Wirz was in charge of all prisoners in the Richmond area. …[H]is administration was strict but humane in its treatment of prisoners of war. Wirz removed any opportunity for the prisoners to communicate with their officers, forbade the sale of contraband by civilians to the prisoners, and quickly arrested one of the guards for shooting a prisoner.”
Marvel, p. 37: “Wirz took Ould at his word, embarking on a quest of another four thousand miles, crisscrossing the Deep South from Columbus, Georgia, to Houston, Texas.”
Ruhlman, p. 79: “Wirz took Ould at his word and sojourned another four thousand miles, tracking across the Deep South from Columbus, Georgia, to Houston, Texas….”
Marvel, pp. 39-40: “…a dozen men came down with the symptoms of fever, headache, wracking spasms of vomiting, and the little red eruptions….”
Ruhlman, p. 143: “…a dozen more prisoners were showing symptoms of the disease: fever, headache, spasms of vomiting, and small red sores….”
Marvel, p. 45: “Wirz worried the quartermaster for tools, and early in April Colonel Persons learned of a supply available in Augusta. He stopped by Richard Winder’s quarters to apprise him of them, but the quartermaster lay writhing in bed with an acute attack of rheumatism.”
Ruhlman, p. 83: “He kept after Capt. Richard Winder with constant requests for tools and reminded him if the critical need. In early April, Colonel Persons received information that a supply of tools was available in Augusta, Georgia… Upon arrival at WinderAs quarters, he found him incapacitated from rheumatism.”
Marvel, p. 244: “Then he called a procession of former prisoners who seemed determined to outdo one another in their recollections of WirzAs barbarity.”
Ruhlman, p. 192: “In their testimony, it appears as if the former prisoners were determined to outdo one another in their recollections of…Wirz’s brutality.”
Marvel, p. 244: “Men swore they saw Wirz shoot prisoners at point-blank range, citing names that never appeared on the death register.”
Ruhlman, p. 192: “…others told of witnessing Wirz shoot prisoners at point-blank range…. They gave names of victims who never appeared on the death register.”
Marvel, p. 245: “The alleged affidavit survives, bearing a date of August 27, 1864… and it is signed in a perfectly steady hand.”
Ruhlman, pp. 194-95: “The alleged affidavit… bearing the date of 27 August 1864, can still be viewed and bears a signature written in a strong, steady hand.”
Marvel, p. 246: “On the chilly morning of November 10, Wirz rose in his cell at the Old Capitol and wrote a last letter to his wife, whom he had apparently not been allowed to see….”
Ruhlman, p. 209: “The morning of 10 November 1865 was cool. Wirz sat in his cell writing a last letter to his wife. He had not been allowed to see her….”
It would be an understatement to say that it doesn’t look good for Ruhlman. Ruhlman earned his PhD in history from a school in England and is currently teaching at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. UT is going to have to take a look at its peer review process and try to figure out how this one got through. What I don’t understand is why they didn’t send the manuscript to Marvel for review. Marvel’s book on Andersonville is considered by many to be the definitive study; it’s not as if there are a significant number of historians who focus on Civil War prisons.