Halleck again - part one of two

I have been toying with the idea of buying John F. Marszalek's Commander of All Lincoln's Armies: A Life of General Henry W. Halleck. I need details of Halleck's political life and it may be worth enduring a few hundred pages of Marszalek's old-school doctrines to get at the better part of his research.

I had skipped reading Curt Anders' Henry Halleck's War - I find anything Anders writes an outrage against historic sensibility. One reviewer accused Anders of merely repackaging OR correspondence for Henry Halleck, which if true is grotesque.

Ambrose's Halleck - it may have been the first book-length treatment of the man - could reasonably be called a dry and inadequate mini-thesis written with minimal access to records, although it tickled Eisenhower enough to invite the young author to pen Ike's own authorized biography.

Now, Prof. Ben H. Severance has published an almost entirely descriptive review of Marszalek's new book for H-CivWar, and it makes my purchase decision even more difficult.

First, however, the question of "who is Marszalek."

Centennial Civil War doctrine might be delineated into an "old school" and a "new school." The "old school" is embodied in the work of the Nevins, Williams, Williams, Catton, et al; we've spoken about their doctrines here at length.

The "new school," exemplified by Catton's protege at American Heritage magazine Stephen W. Sears, attempts to remedy the historiographic problems of the "old school" by applying psycho-history. This essentially literary device is used to interpret "characters" so that the "story" can "work" for the broad mass of (non-history) readers. Marszalek and Joseph Glathaar, along with Sears, represent this commitment to the editorial policies of American Heritage, elaborated through psychological "insights" layered onto "story lines" that would not otherwise satisfy.

A bearable Marszalek reading, therefore, would be one in which he soft-pedals his hard doctrines and psychoanalysis to make room for new findings and new interpretations.

Severance's review promises the opposite.

More on this tomorrow.