Tag Archives: James McPherson

Is Dimitri Accusing James McPherson of Plagiarism?

51rbYvhY5RL._SS500_ Well, I guess we shouldn't be surprised that Dimitri Rotov doesn't like James McPherson's new study of Abraham Lincoln as commander-in-chief.  I have to admit that I had anticipated a nauseating analysis of how McPherson fails to understand the nature of the relationship between Lincoln, his generals, and McClellan in particular.  Instead, Rotov accuses McPherson of one form of plagiarism and for appropriating the analytical phrase, "concentration in time" from Archer Jones without attribution.  It's worth reading posts, which can be found here and here.  As for the first claim, readers will find it difficult to judge since Dimitri fails to quote McPherson in full.  Since I have a copy of the book I went through the references in question, but failed to see what was so troubling.  Readers can decide for themselves.  As for the more serious second claim, here is the crux of the argument:

It is not until 1992, when Archer Jones' Civil War Command and Strategy appears that the repeated, wholesale, anachronistic application of "concentration" (attributed to Clausewitz) displaces "simultaneous." Jones again stresses Lincoln's centrality to simultaneous operations and he is relentless in calling simultaneity "concentration in time." "Concentration" is Jones' signature and stamp on Lincoln's involvement in synchronous operations[.]

If the term "concentration in time" does not appear in the primary sources, if the application of this Clausewitzian expression to Lincoln's strategy is unusual and a hallmark of Jones (also Hattaway plus Jones), has not James M. McPherson transgressed?

Perhaps I fail to follow Dimitri's argument, but his charge of plagiarism seems to come down to the assumption that Archer Jones was the first historian/writer to utilize the phrase, "concentration in time" and McPherson fails to reference this in any of his endnotes.  Is that about the size of it?  If this is it than what are we to make of the following letter written by Gen. Beuaregard to Jefferson Davis on February 21, 1865:

Should the enemy advance into North Carolina and towards Charlotte and Salisbury, as is now certain, I earnestly urge a concentration in time of at least thirty-five thousand infantry and artillery at latter point, if possible, to give him battle there and crush him[.]

Consider the following passage written by Cadmus M. Wilcox', which can be found in History of the Mexican War (1892):

The first difficulty anticipated by General Scott was the concentration in time, off the Brazos, of a force large enough to give reasonable hopes of success before the usual period–end of March–of the return of the black vomit to the coast of Mexico.

I did a Google search and found the passage within 3 minutes.  I also found the phrase used in William T. Sherman's memoir.  My guess is that there are plenty more where that came from.  For now it is enough to say that Dimitri's central claim – that Archer Jone coined the phrase – is simply false.  Perhaps Dimitri should investigate as to whether Jones properly attributed the phrase.

Note: A reader reminded me that I failed to make one final point in reference to Dimitri's accusations.  I agree that McPherson should have cited some of the secondary literature on this particular point of "concentration in time."  Keep in mind, however, that there is no bibliography and McPherson cites only a limited number of secondary sources in the endnotes.  The notes are devoted almost entirely to personal and official correspondence.  Finally, I am surprised that Dimitri didn't mention that McPherson cites the work of his buddy, Russell Beattie.  C'mon…McPherson can't be all that bad. (LOL)

Civil War Odds and Ends

Check out the programs for two upcoming conferences that will focus heavily on the Civil War, the South, and Virginia history.  The first is the Second Annual Virginia Forum which is scheduled for April 13-14 at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.  This conference brings together scholars who focus on all areas of Virginia history.  I took part last year and had a wonderful time.  The American Civil War Center and Virginia Historical Society will host a conference titled “In The Cause of Liberty: How the Civil War Redefined American Values” on March 23-24.  Participants include James McPherson, Gary Gallagher, Nina Silber, David L. Lewis and George Rable.

HNN includes two interviews with James McPherson and Eric Foner which were taped at the recent meeting of the AHA in Atlanta.  The session was titled “Why I became a historian.”  Finally, Chandra Manning will be interviewed today on Civil War Talk Radio followed next week by Gabor Boritt.

Finally, the latest issue of the OAH Magazine of History focuses on Abraham Lincoln.  The staff is planning a few issues devoted to Lincoln over the next two years.  If you are a high school history teacher I highly recommend subscribing to this publication.  The lesson plans are all first-rate and the articles are written by some of the leading scholars in their respective fields.

James McPherson Set To Release New Edited Collection In January

I was browsing the History News Network and noticed that James McPherson is set to release a new edited collection in January titled, This Mighty Scourge of War: The American Illiad, 1861-1865.  Like his other collections, this one is published by Oxford University Press.  Here is a description from their website:

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom and the New York Times bestseller Crossroads of Freedom , among many other award-winning books, James M. McPherson is America’s preeminent Civil War historian. Now, in this collection of provocative and illuminating essays, McPherson offers fresh insight into many of the most enduring questions about one of the defining moments in our nation’s history.  McPherson sheds light on topics large and small, from the average soldier’s avid love of newspapers to the postwar creation of the mystique of a Lost Cause in the South. Readers will find insightful pieces on such intriguing figures as Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Jesse James, and William Tecumseh Sherman, and on such vital issues such as Confederate military strategy, the failure of peace negotiations to end the war, and the realities and myths of the Confederacy. This Mighty Scourge includes several never-before-published essays–pieces on General Robert E. Lee’s goals in the Gettysburg campaign, on Lincoln and Grant in the Vicksburg campaign, and on Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief. In that capacity, Lincoln invented the concept of presidential war powers that are again at the center of controversy today. All of the essays have been updated and revised to give the volume greater thematic coherence and continuity, so that it can be read in sequence as an interpretive history of the war and its meaning for America and the world. Combining the finest scholarship with luminous prose, and packed with new information and fresh ideas, this book brings together the most recent thinking by the nation’s leading authority on the Civil War. It will be must reading for everyone interested in the war and American history.

Perhaps we can all chip in and buy a copy for Dimitri.  Hey Dimitri it looks like McPherson has been upgraded from “dean of Civil War historians” to “master historian of the Civil War in our time” by Gabor Boritt. It must be a conspiracy.

Another Ride on the McPherson Express

I was wondering when we would see another McPherson rant from Dimitri Rotov over at Civil War Bookshelf.  This installment does not disappoint as it is
filled with what has become the routine incoherent references to a so-called “centennial school” and now a pseudo-analysis of McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom as some kind of sufficient indicator for the broader Civil War market.  This post is filled with intimations of an American Heritage/Allen Nevins cabal to somehow subvert the integrity of Civil War history.  It is tempting to think that most people who read these McPherson rants see through the smoke
screen of vague references and accusations.  Still it is worth pointing a few things out to help the uninformed see their way through the noise.

First, it is not clear to me that Dimitri has ever read Battle Cry of Freedom or much of anything that McPherson has written.  Just consider his comment that McPherson “executed his commission by aggregating material millions of Americans had already read in American Heritage and in popular books by American Heritage writers.  All Dimitri has to do to is look at the footnotes throughout the book.  Where are all these supposed references to American Heritage?  In addition, to characterize McPherson as an unknown among Civil War historians before the publication of this book is dumfounding.  I suspect that Dimitri is working under an extremely narrow interpretation of the field.  McPherson has written numerous articles and book reviews in scholarly journals on mid-nineteenth century America.  News flash: the Civil War was bigger than George McClellan, Antietam, and the Army of the Potomac.
McPherson’s concentration on race and African-American history constitutes an absolutely essential part of our understanding of the Civil War-Reconstruction era.  I highly recommend that Dimitri read The Struggle for Equality (Princeton University Press, 1964) and The Abolitionist Legacy: From Reconstruction to the NAACP (Princeton University Press, 1975).  And this is supposedly the work of an unknown Civil War historian? Give me a break. Both volumes are well worth your time if you really have an interest in the Civil War-Reconstruction era.

The most bizarre claim that Dimitri makes is to characterize Gary Gallagher’s agreeing to allow McPherson the opportunity to write the volume on Civil War navies for the Littlefield Series as a “shakedown.”  What can one say in response to such irresponsible language?  It at least suggests that Dimitri knows nothing of the steps that Gallagher has taken to secure some of the most respected scholars in the field and his attention to turning out a series of books that will not only reflect the state of the field, but push it further as well.  I think I am starting to understand why the comments option is off.  Haven’t we had enough of this silliness?

Ayers v. McPherson or Another Straw Man Argument

While I appreciate that Dimitri mentions me in the same post as James McPherson and Ed Ayers it is not at all clear as to exactly how I fit in. More importantly, this supposed dichotomy between Ayers’s contingency and McPherson’s Whiggism is way off the mark. Dimitri would have us believe that McPherson assumes a broad view of American history as both inevitable and heroic. I couldn’t disagree more. There is indeed an element of this in Battle Cry of Freedom, but it is clear to me that McPherson maintains a distinction between the contingency on the battlefield and the outcome of the war more generally. Back up a little and a close reading of McPherson on secession and war reveals even more contingency. Even after the states in the Deep South seceded, McPherson does not conclude that war was inevitable. There is plenty of contingency in this book and others if you read closely. McPherson does celebrate the outcome of the war and why shouldn’t he; after all, the end of the war brought an end to slavery. It wasn’t inevitable that this should have happened; in fact, few people would have predicted the end of slavery as late as 1860. McPherson’s celebratory stance seems to me a function of contingency and not some whiggish view of history in general. Emancipation did bring this nation closer to its founding principles.

In reference to Ayers I think it is important to remember that his comments on McPherson’s work are meant for the field as a whole. Ayers’s “deep contingency” sinks deeper than McPherson’s grand narrative in Battle Cry. He is interested in the view from the ground, which means that broader conclusions about the meaning of the war take on a different tone. From this far down there are as many interpretations of what the war means as there are people to interpret. This in no way implies some fundamental disagreement with McPherson. They have different research agendas.