Last week I linked to a dissection of Michael Bellesiles' use of sources conducted by Clayton Cramer; I wanted readers to get a sense of citational behavior gone completely wrong.
This week, I would like to look at the citational behavior of Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen W. Sears, which though not as outlandish as the activity Cramer documents, is completely beyond the bounds of acceptable scholarship.
Here is a passage from Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam (Hought Mifflin, 1983, pb edition, p. 271):
"The timidity that had marked William Franklin’s generalship at Crampton's Gap and in Pleasant Valley evaporated when he rejoined the main army that day; shedding the responsibility of independent command apparently restored his confidence. At about one o'clock, as the Bloody Lane fighting died out and General Burnside captured his bridge, both of Franklin’s Sixth Corps divisions were at the front. He proposed an immediate attack on the West Woods by Smith's and Slocum's 10,500 fresh men and notified Sumner of his plan. Sumner was appalled at the thought. 'General Sumner rode up and directed me not to make the attack,' Franklin wrote, 'giving as a reason for his order, that if I were defeated the right would be entirely routed, mine being the only troops left on the right that had any life in them.' The two men argued the question with some heat, and Franklin sent a staff man hurrying off to the general commanding to plead his case."
This is one of five paragraphs given a single endnote number, 22. The endnote appears on page 396 and includes five citations. Mapping the citations to the text, the paragraph given above corresponds to Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. II, p. 597.
Turning to B&L, we see that Sears has referenced one page of an article written by General Franklin himself. In the course of normal history reading, you would expect that most or all of the data referenced is derived from Franklin’s account. One passage, given one citation, covers all of what is in the passage or at least all that is novel or striking. In this case, the only thing in the source that matches Sears' passage is the direct quote.
Here are the differences between Sears’ paragraph summary and the source he cites as authority:
(1) At about one o’clock … Franklin gives no times.
(2) both of Franklin’s Sixth Corps divisions were at the front … Franklin seems to suggest he had the idea for an attack sometime after Smith's division was committed to fighting at the Dunker Church and while he was waiting for Slocum’s division to come to Antietam battlefield. The two divisions were NOT both at the front when the subject of an attack is taken up in Franklin's narrative.
(3) He proposed an immediate attack on the West Woods by Smith’s
and Slocum’s 10,500 fresh men … Franklin does not give the number 10,500 or any other figure. He does not propose an immediate attack because (in this passage) one division is committed and the other has not come up yet. He notes that eventually two of Slocum’s brigades arrived on the field and that he proposed to attack with these when the third could come up and act as a reserve. Franklin’s attack, then, is to be of two brigades only, certainly not one involving the entire corps, whether it numbers 10,500 or not.
(4) Sumner was appalled at the thought…. No. Franklin does not characterize Sumner’s reaction in any way, he merely conveys the gist of Sumner’s words.
(5) The two men argued the question with some heat … There is no trace of this in the source. Franklin’s text tells us that as the attack was about to be made, Sumner came up and forbade it. The next thing he records is, McClellan’s ADC Hammerstein being near, Franklin asked Hammerstein to tell McClellan that his attack has been forbidden and that he thought it should be made. There seem to be no words exchanged with Sumner; the sequence given is that Sumner quashes the attack and Franklin turns to Hammerstein.
Let's inventory our goods. We have an author attributing all these to a source: a time for an incident where none is given; a plan of action that is contradicted by the text; a strength number absent from the text; a characterization (appalled) not in the account; and an argument nowhere alluded to. Are we in Bellesiles territory yet?
Tomorrow we'll develop the sources under this citation a little further than Sears has to come closer to the truth of the event being reported.