Mac Wycoff on Richard Kirkland

[Part 1, Part 2, and John Hennessy's assessment of the evidence]

Not too long ago I featured a guest post by Michael Schaffner on the subject of Richard Kirkland.  Mr. Schaffner did extensive research on Online sources related to the Kirkland story which left him with a number of questions re: the veracity of the story. I thought it was well documented so I decided to feature it on Civil War Memory.  I’ve also written a bit about our fascination with the Kirkland story.  In the end, while I’ve expressed skepticism about the story based on the available evidence I am much more interested in our continued attraction to this particular story.  It’s a wonderful case study for understanding how we, as a nation, have chosen to remember our Civil War.

Former National Park Service historian, Mac Wycoff, has done extensive research on the story and has written up his findings for a series of posts at Mysteries and Conundrums.  This is a must read for those of you who are interested in this story.  I suggest that if you have comments that you leave them with Mac’s post so that he can address them directly.  Finally, let me just reiterate that my goal in writing about Kirkland has never been to “debunk” or use the story to “attack” the South.  Such a suggestion is silly and not really worth acknowledging.  I use this site to ask questions.  If you are uncomfortable with the questions that I ask than you really need to find yourself another blog.

12 responses... add one

A good lesson about drawing conclusions based on the limited sources available online. The testimony of the federal convalescent to the poet of the Union makes this discussion seem small indeed.

Agreed, but there are plenty of sources online for consideration. Remember, the author acknowledged that he was limited by the fact that he relied on online sources and I chose to feature because I believe he did a good job of interpreting this body of evidence. Some people just don’t have the means of getting to an archives. Mac’s piece is important because it fills in some of those gaps.

The author also ended his post by declaring the Kirkland story a myth despite the admitted limitations of his research. This is suggestive of a rush to debunk.

Does it really matter whether the author intended to “debunk” the story? In the end, the post raised questions about a very popular story that probably most people have never looked into. That is exactly what I hoped the piece would accomplish. And now Wycoff has given us even more to think about.

It is the difference between seeking the truth and making a case. Too often today (and this is not limited to one “side” of a historical or contemporary issue), we accept the facts that fit our own view or object and stop there. Another false narrative is birthed and accepted – and no one is the wiser. I am not an indignant “neo-Confederate.” Just a history lover who is distressed by this.

But I think Schaeffer did make his case as best he could and with the available evidence. Please remember, that I have never suggested that his interpretation was the final word on this issue. I don’t believe there ever is a final word. We do our best with what we have. I don’t know what you mean by “false narrative” and I really have no idea why you are “distressed” by anything on this site. As always, thanks for your comments.

The false narrative promoted is that something that actually happened during the war was a myth created as part of the “Lost Cause.” I fail to see how anyone is enlightened. The SCV raises “questions” about the causes of the Civil War and about the “popular” narrative about Lincoln, but that doesn’t mean that their questions merit serious consideration when the historical record is overwhelmingly at odds. I enjoy your blog but was “distressed” by the promotion of such a shallow piece of research. Cheers!

We will have to agree to disagree. The essay in question was anything but “shallow.”

“But I think Schaeffer did make his case as best he could and with the available evidence.” Exactly. He was making a case.

“He was making a case.”

That’s exactly what historians do – examine the evidence, consider what it means, and make a case for their interpretation. Nothing nefarious going on there.

We often draw conclusions from limited, partial, conflicting and biased evidence. It’s called “writing history.” And sometimes we have to change our minds when new evidence becomes available, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that our prior conclusions were poorly made.

Jonathan,

You are absolutely right. This is a problem for some of my readers, who tend to view history as a collection of timeless stories rather than explanations that we continue to try to improve upon.

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