[The ACW] is defined in our consciousness by the cliches with which historians and the purveyors of popular culture have surrounded it. - Alan Nolan, quoted by Rowland
Bruce Catton and T. Harry Williams, as well as Kenneth P. Williams, a mathematician by profession, will be forever remembered by succeeding generations in the professional historian community; after all, they have provided a basis on which careers and livelihoods have been built.
One of the consequences of their undisputed [Centennialist] influence is in the unquestioned and matter-of-fact presentation of Civil War platitudes, analogies, and individual comparisons employed by those who write for popular or public consumption. The Unionist interpretation of the Civil War is accepted lock, stock, and barrel.
While elements of the Unionist interpretation have been targeted for revision, the body of their work, aprticularly as it relates to the quality of Civil War commands, has remained largely intact and greatly respected.
Of all of America's wars, the Civil War has produced such an incredible variety of intriguing military personalities as to lend itself easily to the standard characterizations that the film industry adopts.
What seems to be missing is any sense of balance, perspective, and proportion.
Civil War history lends itself to sweeping myths and generalizations. [...] However, history has a way of catching up with myth.
Postscript. In 1999, I asked Rowland what McClellan historiography had taught him. In this context, his answer is worth reprinting in full (emphasis added):
Well, it has made me quite humble. I realize just how much effort was expended to understand the historiography of one figure. It makes me aware of just how much study is required to make well informed judgements about issues and persons during the Civil War. It also made me aware of just how reliant I am upon the consensus thinking of most events in virtually all historical writing. That realizaton is both amusing and frightening at the same time.Read humbly, read frightened, my friends. And give the blowhards a full measure of skepticism.