Stand by for revision

I see that the second volume of Beatie's Army of the Potomac, released this week, will attempt a full-scale revision of the prevalent McClellan myth. So states the author in some prefatory remarks.

Whether he succeeds or fails (and he promises overwhelming detail from primary sources in the attempt), this signals huge trouble for the glossy magazine editors, the Gary Gallaghers, and, needless to say, the sunset years of Allan Nevins' various proteges. To refute Beatie, they are going to have to roll up their sleeves. And popsters don't do much primary research, except to mine colorful anecdotes.

Since 1998, there have been nibbles at the corners of the Civil War Master Narrative put in place 50 years ago and ruthlessly enforced by various self-awarding prizewinners and literary hangers-on. Tom Rowland ventured a defense of McClellan that argued not for the general's virtues but rather against critical excesses. Stephen Sears went beserk. James McPherson praises new regiment-level campaign studies in recent works, not realizing their underlying data makes hash of his timelines, conclusions, and life's work. Tim Reese suggests that a battle was fought at Crampton's Gap and the Civil War establishment convinces Maryland that it is better to forego tourism dollars than to admit such a thing.

If Joe Harsh delivers on his plan to write a Maryland Campaign history from McClellan's perspective, the lid will finally be on the coffin of Civil War entertainments, and Civil War history, as a discipline, may at last get its day.