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?

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8 comments… add one
  • Dave Kelly May 1, 2006 @ 20:35

    Too funny.

    Levin on Rotov is starting to sound like Marx on Max Stirner. In both cases it’s a sideshow.

    Some of Rotovs stuff is as bizarre as Ayn Rand. I don’t think he has a following that needs be deconstructed when he starts babbling about Centennialism. Don’t get baited.

    Congrats on the award by the way…

  • Kevin Levin May 1, 2006 @ 5:44

    Brett, — Do what you think is necessary re: a link on your blog. As I stated earlier, I don’t care what you do. You happen to be the only person who seems to have a problem with my McPherson post. Perhaps there are others out there, but I have not heard from them. Your problem is that you can’t distinguish between critical reflection and a personal attack. I do respond quite often to the ideas of others, but it is because I find it worthwhile to do so. If you don’t like it than don’t read my blog. I hope this is the last time that we have to discuss this as it seems to me to be incredibly juvenile. This is the last comment that I allow you to write on this issue before I begin deleting.

  • Brett S. May 1, 2006 @ 0:06


    “Thought police”? Right. I don’t really care either, though I made one mistake. You and I will obviously never see eye to eye, but I was wrong to remove your blog (and I have placed a link tomyour blog back on my home page). I will disagree with you vehemently, but I will never disagree with your right to say whatever you feel you need to say.

    I still feel your post was incredibly condescending (sure, readers can look at it and decide for themselves, maybe I’m WAY off base here), and Dimitri can also be quite vitriolic in his putdowns of McPherson et al. You’re right. I highly doubt Dimitri had a problem with what you’ve said. I actually think again that we both fall somewhere in the middle when it comes to Dimitri and James McPherson, but I don’t really think it’s necessary to rip on Dimitri in that fashion. I feel that someone with as many accolades as James McPherson can handle the criticism of an independent blogger such as Dimitri.

    It’s not that I’m the “thought police” here. It’s more that you think you have to comment on everyone else’s stuff, and it gets incredibly annoying. I never in a million years thought that I would go to the extreme of wanting to remove someone else’s blog. It’s just that you always seem to feel the need to COMMENT on other people’s stuff. You seem intelligent enough on your own (what with then magazine articles and your Crater manuscript) that you don’t NEED to comment elsewhere. However, you continue to do so, and in a rather unsavory fashion (again, from my perspective, maybe I’m completley off base here).

    My blog was started with only my own stuff in mind. Typically, if I disagre with someone else, I’ll either email them or post a friendly comment on their blog entry. Your method of posting a brand new, scathing entry on your own blog doesn’t lead to an exactly friendly exchange of ideas. I like your idea of debating various thing across ACW blogland. It’s a very good idea. I just don’t like the way you are currently going about it.

    Brett S.

  • Kevin Levin Apr 30, 2006 @ 6:39

    Hi Sean, — I honestly don’t care whether Brett reconsiders his position. There is absolutely nothing condescending in my post. I responded to specific points that were made in D’s post — nothing more nothing less. My position may have been stated “forcefully” but given the content that I war responding to it seems to me perfectly reasonable. If I have made a mistake in understanding D’s position than it should be pointed out by him or anyone else who has a sense of what he is talking about. Peter Carmichael made some excellent points in the comments section on your blog and I hope he agrees to write a more detailed response.

    Let me be clear that I am not a McPherson apologist. There are specific points in various interpretations that I disagree with, but that does not give me the right to go around making wild accusations about how he deals with other people and in reference to the quality of his scholarship.

  • Sean Dail Apr 29, 2006 @ 22:42

    Kevin and Brett,

    I hope that Brett will reconsider his position. While Kevin’s post is certainly emotional, I don’t think it is any more condescending that the post he was responding to. We should all try to think before we post, but we should also understand that strong feelings sometime cause us to state our opinions forcefully.

  • Kevin Levin Apr 29, 2006 @ 5:53

    Brett, — I’m sorry that you’ve decided to take on the role of the “thought police” in blogland. I stand by every point made in my post. If Dimitri were to prove any of my points wrong than I will admit a mistake and acknowledge it. There is absolutely NOTHING condescending in this post. My guess is that most of my readers will see that these are VALID points. And I even suspect that given Dimitri’s writing style that he probably doesn’t have a problem with it. If Dimitri is interested in a dialogue I welcome it. You consider my comments offensive and yet you have no problem with the content of D’s accusations against one of the more talented historians in the field. Spare me. If you feel a need to take my site off your list so be it. Your site stays where it is. I happen to enjoy it.

  • Marc Ferguson Apr 28, 2006 @ 23:19

    Civil War history is a field that has both benefitted and suffered from its popular appeal. The frequent, hostile, and uninformed attacks against such eminent and talented historians as James McPherson must be tallied on the downside.

  • Brett S. Apr 28, 2006 @ 23:07

    Barely over one week ago, you mentioned that you’d try to think a little longer over things that you disagreed with before posting rants like the one above. In that short amount of time, you’ve already outdone yourself. It’s cool to disagree with Dimitri. I don’t totally agree with him myself on many things McClellan. But again, the WAY in which you are doing it is completely uncalled for. The condescension in this post is ridiculously apparent. Everyone else is stupid and you are some sort of genius. I’ve removed your blog from my links. Please do the same with mine on this site. Thank you.

    Brett Schulte

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