Letters and citations: Sears revisits McPherson

Stephen Sears was not satisfied with the last word (twice) given him here on McPherson's plagiarism and McClellan's so-called letters: see Harry's blog.

Harry asks "Can the [so-called McClellan] letters be found in the LOC as referred to by McPherson? That is, if he says 'see letter dated x from McClellan to wife,' can a person, with no other reference, find that letter in the LOC?"

Sears says "yes, it can be done–and it’s no harder than finding something in any large ms. collection. Dimitri is just blowing smoke here."

Sears says in proof: "McClellan’s letters to his wife are actually the easiest to find of anything in the Papers, contrary to Dimitri’s ranting. In the table of contents, under Series C, you will find “Extracts of Letters to Wife, 1861-62,” Volume C-7 of reel 63."

If I understand this correctly, Sears has been asked about the papers in the LoC which McP cites, but is looking at the microfilm index for an answer. McPherson did not cite the document labeled “Extracts of Letters to Wife, 1861-62,” Volume C-7 of reel 63." Harry gives McPherson's citational form when he says 'see letter dated x from McClellan to wife."

Harry's researcher is still left with the problems (a) where are these letters in the LoC (b) is the book marked "Extracts" the only LoC source for such "letters" and (c) do they show the dates McP gives? The McP citation as given is false.

If one is looking up "McClellan to Ellen, October 11, 1861, McClellan Papers, LC," one's in trouble because "Extracts of Letters to Wife, 1861-62" - should one know this to be what McP is actually citing - does not contain an "extract" dated October 11, 1861. This date was supplied by Sears in his book and its use by McPherson tells us McPherson sat outside the Library of Congress, flipping through Sears' book for this reference. He has to cite Sears. There's no escape from this point. No number of anguished letters can change the false form of a citation, the form Princeton University calls "plagiarism."

Again, some of the notes ("extracts") in the LoC and on microfilm have dates but some do not. Would it be helpful of me to go through McPherson's list and flag all the citations that he gives dates that do not appear in the LoC with dates and therefore cannot be found via the citation given? See below.

In the example I gave, 10/11/61, the date comes from Sears, not the LoC book. This is a "tell" on McPherson since it does not appear in the LoC or microfilm. He could not have seen it during his time among the collection, whether physical or virtual (microfilm).

Sears is invested deeply in the LoC notes being letters and makes his case as forcefully as possible. Of course, I view his case as wildly overstated. He may be missing the point of my McPherson accusation out of concern with tangential matters relating to my criticism of the notes.

Let me make a few irreduceable observations about what we call "McClellan's letters to his wife." Sears' presents these in his collection of GBM's wartime correspondence; each and every one offers variation from the text found in the LoC (or on microfilm).

(1) No scholar has ever seen an original on which these are "extracts" are said to be based.

(2) The notes in the LoC constitute a first level of information; notes supplied by May McClellan provide a second layer; William Prime tampered with May's notes to provide a third set of artifacts for McClellan's Own Story; Sears reworked Prime's material to restore cuts and add bits from May's notes, which offers us a fourth level artifact; Sears then rolled in missing letterlike data (addressee, dates, places, as needed) to produce a fifth level of information. This fifth level artifact is what Sears refers to as McClellan's letters to his wife, which I have asked scholars to stop doing without first revisiting the definition of "letters."

(4) The "letters" Sears presents and that scholars cite are composites with McP's LoC-cited material offering a foundation or starting point.

(5) Sears has made no sleight of hand in rendering these artifacts. His additions are annotated.

Let us return to what Sears first said about the "letters" in Young Napoleon (Da Capo edition). My remarks are in-between.
McClellan's wartime letters to his wife, which constitute an invaluable guide to his thinking, survive in the Papers in the form of extensive excerpts he himself copied, probably in the mid-1870s, when he was working on his memoirs, and in additional copies made by his daughter, May, after his death.
(1) Notes made possibly ten years after the war (date unknown) in McClellan's own hand are what we have in a small book in the LoC. If these be "wartime letters," then we need better provenance. We especially need to know why we see much material of no use to a memoir writer; why some passages are crossed out as if composed on the fly; why data important to memoirs is missing - dates, places, times, and how many are to wife and how many to others.

(2) These cannot be "extensive excerpts" because it was necessary for May to provide additional notes when Prime proposed to publish them in McClellan's Own Story. Nor did the notes May gave necessarily complete any alleged letter.

(3) With McClellan dead, May's material supplements the notes - Prime wanted more meat - and he gave her the notes he wanted her to supplement. We cannot know if May made mistakes or if she made anything up, or if she even ever handled originals that no one else has ever seen.

(4) We do not know if the notes in the book in McClellan's hand represent a complete or accurate transcription of corresponding letter text or if notes contains deviations not corrected by May.

Although the original letters have not been found, I am satisfied that these copies contain their substantive content, complete and uncensored, with only personal matter deleted.
Substantive? A letter is a letter, it's not substantively a letter. Complete and uncensored? How on earth can such a claim be made?

You see the whole foundation of Sears' position here: "I am satisfied." Are you satisfied? If so, at least now you know the situation. My position: I am not satisfied.


p.s. A postscript on McPherson's use of the LoC in citations. Stephen Sears assures Harry that
McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom was published in 1988. In it he quotes from
McClellan’s Letters to his wife (from the general’s letterbook in the LC Papers, not Prime’s bastardized versions in McClellan’s Own Story), including the very October 1861 letter Rotov is crowing about. My edition of McClellan’s Civil War correspondence was published in 1989–one year later. So McP’s “plagiarizing” from me is simply nonsense.
Quite a "gotcha" there - Sears is really getting the hang of this Internet thing. Problem is, Internet people look stuff up, so you'll want to give references so people can see the difference between crowing and research.

Since the specific Battle Cry reference that would make me the fool is missing from his message, I'll give it. In my 1988 Ballantine paperback edition of Battle Cry, McP refers to the text of the in question on page 364 in the chapter "Farewell to the Ninety Days' War." See his note 45.

"I can't tell you how disgusted I am becoming with these wretched politicians," the note starts.

Funny thing about that note; there's nothing showing Oct. 11, 1861. There cannot be: it is Sears' date and does not appear in the LoC material. The text of the note is quoted but no citation is given. If he had given 10/11, Sears' point would be made. He doesn't. He can't. It's not in the LoC.

McP's citational style for the "letters" is the same now as it was then -- Sears is right about this. McP cites LoC and date. But that's beside the point.

Look more closely to see McPherson at work. He places the bit ("I can't tell you") in a short paragraph of quotes. Here is his note, complete: "McClellan to Ellen Marcy McClellan, Oct. 2, 7, 10, Nov. 2, 17, 1861, McClellan Papers."

The note for October 2 tracks with McP's use of it; October 7 is fictitious, there is no note so dated in the LoC; October 10 tracks with his use of it; Nov. 2 has nothing to do with the cited passage; Nov. 17 tracks but is out of quoted sequence. There is no citation for the letter containing I can't tell you. He skipped it. It didn't fit his style because it had no date affixed to it. "The very October 1861 letter Rotov is crowing about," is present, yes, but not showing Sears' date or any other date. In 2009, as we have seen, it will appear in a new work and be cited, using Sears' dating but without citing Sears.

Now, to give you an idea of the peril McPherson put himself in by committing to this style of citation (whether he is actually citing the LoC or not), let me run you a tally for citations between McPherson's Oct. 2 and his Nov. 17, 1861 "letters." I don't have microfilm handy, but I have Sears' Wartime Correspondence which shows alterations made to the underlying text. Out of 17 "letters" to Nellie "extracted" and present in the Sears' book, four have complete dates (d/m/y), nine have partial dates (no year), and four have no dates whatsoever, with dates assigned by Sears. (BTW, Sears' reconstruction of Oct. 11, 1861, is based on the original notation "Friday," which I count as undated.)

Lacking the microfilm, let's use Sears' mark-ups as proxies for the LoC text and go through McPherson's citations again. The sources are Sears, McPherson's Battle Cry and Prime's book, McClellan's Own Story.

Oct 2. Shows as incomplete date in Sears; McPherson adds 1861; Sears does likewise; Prime leaves off 1861 and adds (?) after Oct. 2.

Oct 7. No such dated note in Sears. Prime places an undated entry ("No date") after his entry for Oct. 6, "I must ride much every day..." which could be mistaken for Oct 7 if you were taking liberties. It is not what is quoted in McP, however (and "I must ride" is not text I could find in Sears.)

Oct 10. Incomplete date in Sears; McPherson adds 1861; Sears does likewise. Prime shows the date as uncertain, simply as Oct. with a (10)? suggesting the notation "Oct" is all that we have.

Nov 2. Two dates in Sears: one is complete (original to the book), one is revised. The note with the complete date, which is what McPherson would have encountered in the LoC, is not quoted in the text nor does it make sense in his context. McPherson has made a spurious citation. The second date is one that Sears has revised downward. McClellan wrote "Nov 3," and Sears changed it. Prime gives it as in the original, "Nov 3." It also has nothing to do with McPherson's passage.

Nov 17. Shows as incomplete date in Sears; McPherson adds 1861; Sears does likewise; Prime leaves off 1861.

Sears is correct to point out that McPherson began this date/LoC citational style for the "letters" back in the days of Battle Cry. It was bad then. It doesn't work.

Now that you see my methods, let's return to McPherson's new work and flag the material that is uniquely Searsian without having been credited to Sears. We are in the book Wars within a War, in the chapter "My Enemies are Crushed." Where there was no year in the note book, we give McPherson credit for assigning it himself, since he has set the precedent in Battle Cry. McPherson's presumed additions are in blue, Sears' unique additions are in red.

Note 1, Sep 7 1862, Feb 26 1863
Note 4, Aug 8 1861, Oct 11 1861, Nov 17 1861
Note 5, Oct 11, 1861
Note 6, July 13 1862, July 22 1862
Note 10, July 27 1861, July 30 1861, Aug 9 1861, Oct 31 1861
Note 12, Aug 8 1861
Note 14, Aug 8 1861, Aug 9 1861, Aug 14 1861, Aug 16 1861, Aug 19 1861
Note 17, Oct 26 1861
Note 18, Oct 19 1861
Note 22, Oct 31 1861
Note 38, Apr 8 1862
Note 41, Aug 10 1862

The only references that would check out in the LoC need to be all black (assuming the researcher knew McP's citations refer to the book "Extracts"). Black is what you see in "Extracts."

Couple of observations: Notes 10 and 14 count in McPherson's favor where he cites 8/9/61 because 8/9 is a date showing in the LoC book (minus year) but it is a date Sears rejects, giving it as 8/10 instead in his Correspondence. McP here went back to sources and missed Sears' correction.

The wind changes for Note 5 and any other references to 10/11/61; Sears had to build this out of scratch using the entry "Friday" as a starting point. Here, McPherson has copped Sears' work to the LoC.

A strange date is 10/31/61 (see notes 10 and 22 above). Sears puts brackets around it showing it to be absent in the original. Looking at Prime, however, we see Prime found a note dated 10/31 in the LoC book. The text in Prime's 10/31 is not repeated in Sears' 10/31.

Additionally, Sears inserted a separate LoC note at the bottom of his 10/31 "letter" as if it were a p.s. and added the date [Nov. 1] to introduce the merger. Most confusing! The Sears letter provides the quotes McP uses in the cited passage, but we might need to see the microfilm before deciding the issue.

Let us close with McPherson's comments on his McClellan "letters" as rendered in Battle Cry. Heed these words:
These letters to his wife consist of extracts from the originals, copied by McClellan himself some time after the war. There is no way of knowing whether he edited these copies in any substantive way, for the originals no longer exist.
There's no way of knowing a damn thing about any of this, truth be told.