Look, you gotta get your own ducks in order before you challenge fellow historians in the body of your text. More importantly, your publisher has a responsibility to put in place a process that ensures that those ducks are not decoys. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to have happened in the case of a new book about Ulysses S. Grant and historians who have written about Grant published by Ted Savas.
Before Challenging Fellow Historians…
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There is a story in Grant’s memoirs about Braxton Bragg functioning as quartermaster and post commander at an outpost prior to the War. Grant wrote that Bragg made a requisition as quartermaster that he rejected as post commander prompting his superior officer to point out that Bragg was so argumentative that he was arguing with himself.
Yet at an October 11, 2013 presentation in Chattanooga two of the panel historians cited the story without explaining that Grant’s memoirs are the original source for the often repeated story. There is no further documentation about the episode. One of the panel historians referencing the alleged episode was Glenn Robertson. The panelist who volunteered the story was Brooks Simpson, although he said it “may be apocryphal”. But neither identified Grant as the original source, or explained that Grant wrote it after Bragg was dead and could not respond.
Anyone who actually viewed the program (which is on tape) would note at the 1:36 mark that I do indeed mention Grant as the source of the story (1:36:10). Robertson raised other questions about the story.
So you’re not exactly correct, to be kind. Your case is reduced to saying that I did not refer to the story as you would have me refer to it in the give-and-take of a discussion. That seems to me to be a rather slim basis upon which to mount a criticism, especially when what you do claim … that I did not mention Grant as the source … is contradicted by the record of the very event to which you refer.
It is a bad business to criticize historians for what they say (and don’t say) if in fact you don’t have your facts straight or you misrepresent what they say.
Fascinating. Thanks for posting.
I’m interested that these controversial books seem to be working toward a Grant ‘bad’, Hood actually ‘pretty good’ paradigm.
Thomas Kuhn would have been proud.
I can’t say that I’m terribly surprised. The citations in Savas-Beatie books sometimes seem indifferent to best practices. I noticed in the Hood book that reprinted sources often neglect to provide the original date of publication; unless one knows better, one would think that Mamie Yeary’s Reminiscences of the Boys in Gray was published by Morningside in 1986. In Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front, many of the citations reference the bound volumes at FSNMP without giving any indication of where the materials came from in the first place. It is somewhat mystifying why the original source wasn’t cited, as FSNMP is conscientious about keeping track of where they got their information.
It’s especially important when the thrust of your study challenges how others handled evidence.
Of course; but just to be clear here, I’m not saying I noticed any factual errors in the footnotes of the two books that I mentioned on the level of what was pointed out in Varney, just mentioning a trend I’ve seen regarding the citation style in the footnotes. I was very frustrated me that many of the citations to FSNMP bound volumes don’t really help one track down the source document. Letters from Lee to Davis that appear in the OR, for instance, are cited as FSNMP bound volumes. It made me curious whether the FSNMP volumes had the original documents, facsimiles of the originals, or facsimiles of the OR.
Absolutely. It would be interesting to know what goes into these kinds of decisions at various publishing houses.
Yes, of course 🙂 Although I would not be surprised if this discussion or the one at Crossroads attracted their attention.
It will be interesting to see what sort of response this gets from either Savas or Varney.
I hope by “this” you mean the review at TOCWOC. 🙂
I’m guessing pixels will be spilled all over the internets.
Hmmm, he admits to not having read the book.
“I have been working my way through General Grant and the Rewriting of History by Frank Varney, that was published by Savas Beatie this past July, and I have a problem: I am so annoyed by it I might not be able to finish.”
I admitted to not having finished the book at the time I wrote that blog post but I thought it was clear that I had already read some of the book at the time. I had read enough to get the sense of how it was written. I have since forced myself to finish it in order to reinforce my standing when dealing with comments like yours.
Just kidding you. There was a week-long fol de rol here over who had, and who had not, read a certain book from the same publisher as the Varney book.
Did finishing the Grant book change your mind on the book? Did the last chapter convince you that you need to retract your earlier review?
Finishing the book just gave me more topics for blog posts.
Let us know when you put them up.