Accidents happen when citing sources, of course. Those who wonder if Stephen Sears suffered an accident in Landscape Turned Red (as described yesterday and Monday) are encouraged to reach for the nearest Sears work and to go through the endnotes as I have in this example. The strongest correlation between references and text occurs in his biography, George B. McClellan, after which the connections weaken. His Antietam (Landscape) and Peninsula books (To the Gates of Richmond) offer citational problems as extreme as the one I have highlighted.
There is also the matter of bibliographies. What are they for? The implication readers draw from the presence of a bibliography is that of "sources generally consulted" unless otherwise noted (e.g., "for further reading"). In his McClellan biography, Sears includes a bibliography listing many books whose facts and conclusions differ widely from his own. These are not books cited anywhere in his text; they are not books whose data or conclusions he calls attention to in notes or asides; they are simply books in a list and they seem to say, "See, I am aware of these materials that contradict me." In Landscape Turned Red and in To the Gates of Richmond, Sears stops doing even this; he ceases the listing of bibliographic items that contradict his facts and conclusions. Professionalism, ethics: do these play any role in the management of bibliographies?
This leads to a broader question of how the historian views himself (herself) in relationship to data and how much historical sensibility is at work in any particular writing project. (Remember Ambrose's tart retort to critics of his citational habits: "I tell stories!")
Sears gives us a clue to his attitudes in his preface to Controversies and Commanders published in 1999 by Houghton Mifflin (who brought out his Antietam and Richmond works). He says,
Because of my close connection with McClellan - as his biographer, as editor of his papers, as a chronicler of his two major campaigns – I have as a matter of course evaluated what historians have written about the general in the last century or so.
Until this book came out, he never really shared his thoughts on "what historians have written about the general in the last century or so." He had a long career in which to do so. Instead, he ignored views counter to his. As we have seen there are codes of professional conduct that require acknowledgement of and dealing with contrary evidence and conclusions.
Furthermore, we have, in this self-description, a good gauge of Sears' relation to data. "Because of my close connection with McClellan - as his biographer, as editor of his papers…"
The "editor of his papers" looks like a syntactical slip. Of course he is not the editor of McClellan's papers, there has never been one. Later in the book, he repeats this precise formula, "editor of his papers."
John Simon is the editor of Grant's papers. He has thus far published over 20 volumes of these. The project goes on. Sears is the editor of one book of commonly available letters. He compiled this abbreviated book of what he correctly called "selected" wartime correspondence, the bulk of which previously appeared either in the OR, McClellan's Report, or McClellan's Own Story. There is minimal context supplied, very few notes, and all of the correspondence is one-sided being from McClellan not to him. Not much of an editing job, even for a selection wartime papers.
Some of McClellan's papers, specifically the collection at the Library of Congress, were indexed for microfilming over 30 years ago. Everything we know about these particular "McClellan papers," their organization, content, etc., comes from the work of anonymous LC and microfilm archivists, not from Sears. The large number of McClellan papers in the New Jersey State Library that I personally have handled have never even been indexed, much less edited by Sears (and some of them contain important information on topics he wrestled with in George B. McClellan, the Young Napoleon).
Calling one's self the editor of the McClellan papers is resume padding and it suggests a carelessness with the facts.
Tomorrow we'll look at fundamental, student-level errors Sears made in editing The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865.