Why I Will Never Write a Biography of William Mahone
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if I plan to write a biography of William Mahone. The problem is not a lack of material. You can find a massive collection of Mahone’s personal papers at Duke University and a smaller collection at the University of Virginia. In many ways Mahone would make for an ideal study. He was a successful Confederate general and probably the most important Virginia politician of the nineteenth-century. Given the evolution of studies of the postwar South and race relations it is clear that a modern study of Mahone is long overdue. The last biography was published back in the 1930s. I enjoyed spending time at Duke with the Mahone collection and on an article that was published back in 2005, which is currently chapter 3 in my Crater manuscript. No, the problem is Mahone’s penmanship. To put it bluntly, it’s like reading an EKG scan. Here is a sample of Mahone’s writing and although you may be thinking that it’s not so bad, I assure you that this sample is from one of his better days.
I simply can’t imagine spending the necessary amount of time trying to decipher his writing. Life is too short.