Dialog with a Civil War author
DR: This history you're writing - you've got to use this opportunity to answer your critics!
Author: What critics? The book isn't out yet.
DR: The material you cover includes controversies. There are many authors with different positions than you on these controversies. You need to answer them wherever you take a position on a particular Civil War controversy.
Author: This is out of sync. They've already published their books, I'm just now publishing mine. How are they my critics?
DR: Their books are not going away. Even if they gather dust on a library shelf, they contradict your work with facts, logic, and argument. They can be picked up and read by the same person who buys your stuff next month.
Author: Maybe they need to address my book since mine is new.
DR: Maybe they already addressed your book because the content is old. What's in your book?
Author: Oh, I've gone back to the primary sources and worked exclusively from those.
DR: Newly discovered sources? Never before used sources?
Author: No, the gold standard. The OR, some correspondence, some key manuscripts.
DR: And you think this is the first time that's been done?
Author: I'm pulling more together to tell a richer story and paint a more complete picture in a compelling way.
DR: And what do you think about the work that has already been done on this?
Author: I'm not really that interested in it. I have my favorite authors but I'm trying to do this right, from scratch, with a clear mind and a minimum of influences.
DR: The people who came before you wasted their time, it seems.
Author: That's not my problem.
DR: So how are you resolving all these controversies you encounter?
Author: I'm not really seeing many controversies at all. I follow the sources, apply some logic, done.
DR: What do you do when sources contradict each other?
Author: I just go with the more credible source. This is not rocket science.
DR: Who is "more credible"?
Author: The person with the more durable historical reputation, usually. The more iconic, the more credible, to be blunt.
DR: There is a lot of new research, regimental histories, letters, and so on, that bears on these controversies and contradicts the iconic accounts. Then, there's context.
Author: That's getting into the weeds. That's not writing a general or campaign history, that's writing a specialized monograph for scholars.
DR: What if I told you that repeat Civil War readers were self-made scholars of different grades?
Author: I'm writing for a general audience, a mass audience. They want answers not puzzles.
DR: How do you know you've given them the right answers?
Author: I have my primary sources and credible testimony to settle controversies.
DR: So, you won't answer your critics?
Author: My critics are the future buyers of my book. They'll judge me on flow, human interest, and a satisfying reading experience. If I score high in those areas, I may have no critics at all.
DR: Except at CWBN.