Category Archives: Civil War Historians

UT Press: Additional Thoughts

Just wanted to follow up to yesterday’s posts surrounding the plagiarism allegations made by William Marvel against UT author Fred Ruhlman.  First, historian Peter Carmichael’s comments are worth repeating:

I don’t think you should blame UT Press for this. This is the author’s responsibility alone. All presses and reviewers operate from the assumption that they are reviewing original manuscripts (I can’t imagine how one checks for plagiarism when reviewing a manuscript. Unless you happen to be familiar with a book (like Marvel was with his own study of Andersonville) it is not realistic to expect a press or a reviewer to catch plagiarism. Let’s keep the responsibility on the authors. Moreover, the review process at UT and other academic presses works 99% of the time. The system is sound and it almost always produces high quality scholarship. Let’s not overreact to this unfortunate incident. [Disclosure: Carmichael edits the Voices of the Civil War series for UTP.]

I agree that the review process utilized by university presses works as a rule; clearly this is an exception.  It should also be pointed out that the UTP is a first-rate publisher; this incident should not in any way cause one to question the overall quality of their catalog.  From what I can tell they pulled the book immediately.  One of the comments from yesterday’s post indicated that Ruhlman’s degree is illegitimate.  Clearly, his employer at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga should be asking about its candidate review process.

We should also watch what kinds of lessons to draw from this incident.  Here is what one reader over at Eric Wittenberg’s site had to say:

It’s funny, as I have been told by a few members of the academic ilk, that someone like me, who does not have the correct “training” to write about the Civil War has no business doing so. The last I checked, in terms of plagiarism of Civil War books, those who were caught red handed recently are not from the ranks of the “untrained” historians.

My advice to those in academia is to clean up their own house first before casting continued derogatory comments on the “amateur” historians they seem to take issue with.

Let’s not make the mistake of lumping academic presses with professionally-trained historians.  Remember, most of William Marvel’s books are published by the University of North Carolina Press (Civil War America).  Both Mark Dunkelman and Thomas Lowry have had books published by the Louisiana State University Press.  Neither Dunkelman nor Lowry work at universities or have a PhD in history.  There are many more examples that can be cited.  What these presses have in common is a commitment to publishing sophisticated and well-argued historical studies, regardless of the author’s background.  And I can testify to that first-hand.

University of Tennessee Press Embroiled In Plagiarism Allegations

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.

Is Russel Beatie The New Douglas S. Freeman?

There is an interesting thread over at the Civil War Forum about Russel Beatie’s latest volume in his multi-volume study of the Army of the Potomac.  The thread starts with a post by historian Jim Morgan who offers his own critique of McClellan Takes Command: Sept 1861 – Feb 1862, which is vol. 2 in the series.  Volumes 1 and 2 were published by Da Capo while the next volume is slated for release by Savas-Beatie.  I think that is correct.  Scroll down to post 14 of 18 to read historian John Hennessy’s very critical review of volume 1.  While Morgan points out multiple factual errors Hennessy notes both specific factual mistakes as well as more significant interpretive and historiographical problems.  In short, it looks like this series is a disaster.  I have no plans to read these books since I stay away from books published by Da Capo (unless they are those excellent reprints) as well as other small independent presses.  Of course there are specific titles that must be worth reading, but I don’t have the time or energy to sift through it all. 

Sounds like a number of people will be looking to see what Savas-Beatie does with volume 3.  Given Hennessy’s review of volume 1 and Morgan’s review of volume 2 it is difficult to imagine any significant changes in the works.  The publisher can at least correct the grammatical and factual errors if indeed they utilize a sufficiently strong peer review process.  Oh, and by the way, David Woodbury confirmed that the Beatie in Savas-Beatie is none other than Russel Beatie.

As far as I can tell the standard by which multi-volume works must be compared with is Gordon Rhea’s Overland Campaign study.

Historians Write, But Does Anyone Listen?

Thanks to Brian Dirck over at A Lincoln Blog for providing a link to Ed Ayers’s thought-provoking review of Nicholas Lemann’s book, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War.  Ayers raises a number of interesting questions about our popular perceptions of Reconstruction and the general publics failure to take into account the significant interpretive developments that have taken place since the end of World War II.  From the review:

Nicholas Lemann’s Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War tells a story we keep trying to forget: White Southerners used every kind of violence at their command to destroy Reconstruction after the Civil War. Beguiled and benumbed by Gone With the Wind, many white Americans still imagine Reconstruction as a crime against the white South, marked by the sins of the carpetbaggers and the corruption of the Reconstruction governments. It is good to have this stubborn fable of Reconstruction refuted by a gifted and respected writer. It is good that it received a front-page New York Times review with a striking graphic of a Confederate battle flag in which the stars have been replaced by bullet holes. May it be widely read.

I disagree with Ayers that this is a story that we "keep trying to forget" since most Americans – and even those who consider themselves to be "Civil War buffs" have never known anything else.  Just the other day I came across a post from a fellow blogger who referenced the same overly simplistic view of Reconstruction even as he sets his sights on researching a crucial aspect of that period.  No one has done more to package the best of recent historical scholarship into books that have wide appeal.  But let’s face it Reconstruction is much too difficult for most white Americans to grasp.  I see this every year when I teach this subject.  Feelings of guilt are strong and for those more focused on the war itself, Reconstruction fails to provide anything approaching the glory of the battlefield.  So, what are we left with but talk of "scalawags" and "carpetbaggers" and a set of simplistic assumptions that assumes a unified white South and obedient former slaves.  The overarching problem for most casual observers of the period is that Reconstruction seems to challenge an overly optimistic view of American history that assumes continual progress.  Forget that this was a period where African Americans voted, were elected to office, and were able to pass legislation that often benefited poor southern whites for the first time.

Ayers also briefly comments on the failure of academic historians to compete with popular writers such as Lemann:

That is too bad, for the writing of history has never been richer, deeper, or more inventive than it is today, and historians have never been bolder in tackling new topics in new ways than they have been in the last two generations. The writing in many academic books is as good as the best nonfiction. These books have made a place for the people who have been left out of the best-selling histories, and they are the driving force behind the most innovative historical documentaries on television; they help shape the next generation of history, driving innovation and creativity; they are debated in fervent discussions on campuses across the country and around the world. But they remain part of a secret conversation and do not make a public mark as books.

Anyone familiar with recent titles authored by professional historians can sympathize with Ayers.  It is safe to assume that Ayers hoped to crack this barrier with his most recent book, In The Presence of Mine Enemies, though it is unclear to what extent he achieved this goal.  Academics have to take some responsibility for this failure and for the general public perceptions of the Ivory Tower.  In the end, however, Ayers’s observations have little to do with popular v. academic history, but with a general lack of interest in reading serious history that challenges some of our basic assumptions from this period.  It comes down to education and the teachers who man the trenches day in and day out. 

Glory In The Classroom

This week my Civil War class has been watching Glory, which I believe to be the most thought-provoking movie of the period.  I allowed the students to watch it through apart from a few interruptions when I thought it necessary to point out places where the script veered from the history.  Here is a short overview of the movie written by Professor Robert Kenzer of the University of Richmond for his Civil War film course.

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The following information comes from one of the best studies of Colonel Shaw and the 54 Massachusetts, Russell Duncan’s Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune:  The Civil War Letters of Robert Gould Shaw.  This book contains a 67-page biography of Shaw as well as 300 additional pages featuring the various letters Shaw wrote to family members, some of which are read in the movie.

By far the most significant fact about Shaw not mentioned in the movie was that he was married to Annie Kneeland Haggerty.  Indeed, the omission of his marriage raises two questions about the movie. One, did the movie leave out this fact on purpose because it may complicate Shaw’s relationship with his troops? In other words, could a man who was married seem to place as much importance on his troops as Shaw did in the movie? Would the meaning of his death appear to be the same if the viewer knew he left a widow? Two, it is important to note that Shaw wed Annie while the 54th was training at Camp Meigs in Reidville, Masssachusetts in early 1863. Indeed, Shaw left the camp for a considerable time to make the arrangements for his wedding as well as for the wedding itself and the honeymoon. Further, as Duncan notes, Shaw’s mother, who was especially committed to his service as commander of the 54th, was worried that “Annie distracted her son from his obligations to the regiments.” (p. 37) For example, when Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase visited the camp to meet Shaw the Colonel was on his honeymoon. Again, would Shaw’s dedication to his troops have seemed diminished if the viewer knew this aspect of Shaw’s personal life?Finally, it should be added that because the movie did not reveal Shaw’s wife, it could not include his many letters to her. Instead, the movie largely focused on his letters to his mother. There is no question that when Shaw wrote his mother that he did so in a manner to bolster her strong abolitionist and pro-black sentiments. Likewise, his letters to his wife Annie indicate much more ambiguity and personal doubts about his men and his leadership abilities.

Shaw’s tendency to be influenced by his mother is best seen when Governor John Andrew offered him command of the 54th. Of course, in reality this was not done at a party in Boston but was tendered by a letter to Shaw carried by his father while Shaw was in winter camp at Stafford Court House, Virginia. Shaw initially refused the offer, writing to his father, “I would take it, if I thought myself equal to the responsibility of such a position.” However, as Duncan observes, Shaw’s motives for refusing were far more complex: Shaw had been through a lot with his regiment [as you saw in the opening scenes at Antietam], and seen many of his friends die near him. He was loyal to their memory and to the men who remained to fight on future fields.” When he discussed the offer with his close friend and tentmate Charles Morse, Shaw, according to Duncan, wondered whether the position might be ridiculed, doubted that blacks would enlist, and questioned the fighting ability of black troops.” (p. 23) Clearly Shaw’s decision to change his mind and accept the offer was influenced by his mother who, after learning of his initial refusal, wrote her son: “Well! I feel as if God had called you up to a Holy work. You helped him at a crisis when the most important question is to be solved that has been asked since the world began. I know the task is arduous…but it is God’s work.” (p. 24) Could this more complicated story have been portrayed in the movie?

The next comparison concerns the training of the 54th Reidville, Massachusetts. While it is a minor issue, the 54th was not in camp over Christmas. Indeed, Camp Meigs did not open for training for the 54th until February 21, 1863. There are a number of aspects of the recruiting and training of the 54th that need to be contrasted with the movie’s portrayal. First, while the majority of black soldiers were former slaves (as shown in the movie), this simply was not the case with the 54th. To raise this unit a massive and expensive effort was conducted to attract northern free blacks. While most of these free blacks were not as well educated as Shaw’s boyhood friend Thomas, they surely were not runaways. Second, the 54th was one of the best-equipped northern units from its very foundation. Duncan reveals, “Shaw did what he could to insure the comfort of his men.” (p. 32). In contrast to the movie, Shaw ensured that the regimental quartermaster, Lt. John Ritchie, met the needs of the troops. After all, as Governor Andrew’s “model” regiment, their every need was considered and met. Indeed, they did not sleep four to a tent as in the movie but occupied ten wooden barracks. Third, if the unit suffered under cruel training, if was not inflicted on them by an Irish drill sergeant, but Shaw himself. Duncan describes how in “an effort to prevent ridicule and instill discipline,” that Shaw went too far. For a minor disturbance Shaw put the offenders in the guard house, in chains, and worse. When men quarreled with officers, Shaw threatened them with death. He forced some men to stand on barrels for hours. Others were gagged and had their hands and feet bound with their arms stretched around heavy sticks.” Indeed, even the camp commandant called this punishment “contrary” to what the army permitted, thought they never included flogging as shown in the movie. Significantly, the commandant “ordered Shaw to stop all ‘severe and unusual punishment not laid down by regulations.’” A fourth difference with the movie was that while Shaw made sure his mother never heard him use racist speech, clearly to his close friends his tone was much different as he referred to his recruits at this time as “niggers” and darkeys.” (p. 35) Still, it should be noted that there is no question that as the training of the 54th passed that, as Duncan notes, “Shaw became attached to his men and defended them strongly against outside abuse.” He had been forced by their actions to question, then conquer, his own misconceptions.” Duncan adds, “As Shaw changed, he won the respect of his men…. Shaw still wondered what they might do when they reached the battlefield, but he finally stopped calling them niggers.” (p. 35)

The next critical comparison between the movie and the reality of the 54th concerns the Darien Raid. In some ways this story took place just as the movie showed, with important differences. There is no doubt that Shaw was not happy when Colonel James Montgomery ordered the 54th to join his unit and burn Darien. According to Duncan, “Shaw believed the action unjustified and disgraceful, and said he could have assented to it only if they had met Rebel resistance.” (pp. 43-44). Shaw surely was concerned about the negative publicity that might emerge from the event that, in fact, was reported in northern and southern newspapers. What is not brought out in the movie is that Montgomery was acting on orders from General David Hunter. Indeed, it was not Shaw’s threat to expose Hunter’s personal expropriation of southern property that got Shaw and the 54th released from Hunter’s command. In fact, President Lincoln at this time replaced Hunter—not because he was acting in an illegal fashion to feather himself financially, but because of his intense vindictiveness toward the South. It should also be noted that while Shaw clearly spoke out against what happened at Darien that in his accommodations in the Sea Islands he, according to Duncan, “added its furnishings with accent pieces from Darien. (p. 46)This ambiguity about Darien extended into Shaw’s feelings about Montgomery. For example, when writing to his wife Annie on June 12, 1863, just after the Darien raid, Shaw declared, “Montgomery from what I have seen of him, is a conscientious man, and really believes what he says,–‘that he is doing his duty to the best of his knowledge and ability.’” Two weeks later Shaw described Montgomery to his mother as “being a very simple-minded man—and seems to be pleased at any little attention—perhaps because he has been so much abused. You will see that he is very attractive to me, and indeed I have taken a fancy to him.” Besides showing Shaw’s fuller relationship to Montgomery, the movie ignores the fact that Montgomery also later participated in the assault on Fort Wagner. Of course, this is because the movie falsely suggests that Montgomery was linked to Hunter’s supposed financial misdeeds. Thus, Montgomery cannot also be united with Shaw in some more noble effort as the attack on Fort Wagner is portrayed.

As far as the assault on Wagner, the movie is pretty accurate. Yes, it incorrectly has the assault coming from the wrong direction, but that really is not essential. Further, it is true that because the 54th had fought so effectively at James Island days before that it won the admiration of the white Federal troops to the extent that it did march through thirteen white Federal regiments, many of whom cheered. Yes, Shaw gave some letters to Edward Pierce the newspaper correspondent before the assault. And yes, Shaw led the assault and was killed largely as shown in the movie. However, unlike in the movie, not all of the 600 men of the 54th were killed—though 272 killed, wounded or captured is surely a significant share for a single engagement. It should be noted that another 1,200 Federal white troops were also killed, wounded or captured at Wagner. Finally, it is true that the Confederate commander at Wagner ordered Shaw’s body to be thrown into a ditch with his dead black comrades as an insult. When Shaw’s parents learned of this act his father wrote Edward Pierce that they could hope for “no holier place” for their son’s body. Indeed, one month later after Wagner fell, they told the Union commander not to move Shaw’s body.

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Following the movie the class began a discussion of memory and the process by which this story was forgotten in place of a narrative that emphasized reconciliation and reunion.  I ask the students to pay careful attention to the scene that takes place right before the assault on Wagner between Trip and Shaw.  Shaw asks Trip to carry the regimental colors in the upcoming fight which he refuses to do.  At one point in the exchange Trip asks his commander what the men of the regiment stand to gain from this war.  The second scene takes place right before the final attack when Shaw approaches the Harpers reporter and says, "Remember what you see here."  It is a perfect line to set us up for a discussion that involves the gradual removal of African Americans from the national narrative as well as the beginning of Jim Crow.  We used an article by David Blight which appeared in North and South Magazine back in April 2003 to get the discussion off the ground.