Alan Nolan

I just found out that Alan Nolan died yesterday.  As far as I can tell there is nothing in the news so if I come across any additional information I will make sure to pass it on.  Nolan was the author of numerous Civil War studies, most notably, Lee Considered: Robert E. Lee and Civil War History and the Iron Brigade: A Military History.

Please feel free to share your memories of this controversial historian.  I am interested in hearing from those of you who knew him personally or have spent time reading his books and articles.

4 thoughts on “Alan Nolan

  1. John Hennessy

    What a kind, engaging, and enjoyable person Alan Nolan was. Back in the 1980s I got to know him fairly well. One of the greatest days I ever had on a battlefield was walking up to the Brawner Farm (at Manassas) with him in 1985. Though he had written the Iron Brigade two decades before (a book that helped cement my interest in the soldiers who fought the war), he had never been to the Brawner Farm–all he’d been able to do was look on the site from afar, fearful that the owner would accost him with a shotgun. But this day, he was like a kid. And, just like a kid, he wanted SO BAD to find a bullet. It was with a combination of amusement and sympathy that I called him the next week to tell him that the very next day, when I took a group up the driveway to the farm, someone indeed found a bullet poking out of a bank. “Damn. Damn. Damn,” he said. No question, those men he had written about so eloquently meant a great deal to him.

    I have no doubt Alan believed everything he said and wrote about R.E. Lee, but knowing him a bit, I suspect he got his biggest thrill from gently agitating people about the Marble Man. He was a lawyer–and a good one–who took joy in argument and, I suspect, liked nothing better than to see a befuddled expression in you at the end of a sentence.

    He was careful, kind, absolutely considerate, and smarter than many of us put together.

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  2. Pete Carmichael

    Mr. Nolan took me under his wing when I was in high school and a member of the Indianapolis Civil War Round Table. He was always so supportive of my historical endeavors and despite the fame that he had in our small pond of Civil War history, I never found him to be aloof. I also found him to be intellectually fearless and very engaging as a speaker, and I suspect that he was very formidable in the courtroom, even though, as John H. points out, he was so kind and generous in his general disposition. When I left Indiana to study under Bob Krick at Fredericksburg NMP, he never once questioned my decision even though the two of them could barely agree on the fact that Robert E. Lee commanded the Army of Northern Virginia. Mr. Nolan and I used to joke that going from him to Krick would cost me a great deal in therapy bills late in life.

    I am not sure how Mr. Nolan’s scholarship will hold up over time, but there is no question in my mind that he will always be remembered as someone who cared deeply about this world and our obligation to those that we study in the past

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  3. Mark Shapiro

    That’s really sad news. I’ve been reading his essays on the Lost Cause and just picked up a copy of “Lee Considered”. I’ve been struck by his well-researched opinions and historical rigor; clearly a fresh perspective on old myths. Thanks for bringing this news to our attention.
    John, I read “Return to Bull Run” several months ago. Just fantastic, thank you for writing such a strong campaign history. The section about Brawner Farm was amazing, I nearly cried reading about the wounded boy in the swarm of bees calling for his father.

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  4. Bill McCauley

    Letter to the Editor

    I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Nolan but certainly enjoyed his brave presentation and thoughtful work on Lee. He also stood up for freedom of expression in the harsh 1950’s, another badge for a true American. There are too few Alan Nolan’s.
    With respect,
    Bill McCauley

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