Historians as numerologists: what Mac saw
It was McClellan’s assessment that the Rebels would mount a supreme effort to defend Richmond, which meant – as a minimum – the assignment of all available regional forces to his front. He could not conceive of the CSA doing otherwise and it is an anomaly of history that the concentration envisioned by McClellan and demanded by Johnston would be denied by Davis until Lee replaced Johnston at the very gates of the city.
Johnston himself calculated Lee’s strength in the Seven Days at 126,000 (Harsh so notes in Confederate Tide Rising). This obviously does not include the three militia regiments at Williamsburg we have previously mentioned, nor any emergency men, nor Richmond city militia, nor Carson's Division of Virginia Militia, nor any military formations outside the CSA “federal” field army structure – just Lee’s forces. We don’t know how many of those were effectives, but we know how many present for duty McClellan himself had based on the morning reports collected by the field surgeons and published in the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion. He peaked in June with just over 78,000. From this number would be deducted the detachments, sick, skulkers, etc.
Johnston was good enough to break the Rebel figure down: 15,000 men from NC; 22,000 from SC and GA, 16,000 from the Valley (Jackson) totaling 53,000 reinforcements added to the 73,000 men Johnston said he had on 5/31/62. (Harsh says that later in life, Johnston changed his figuring. Wonder why.)
It is interesting to compare Johnston’s estimate with what Livermore counted in April 1862. Johnston’s Army of the Potomac = 110,000 excluding troops in the Acquia district. Ewell (apart) = 8,500. Valley District forces (Jackson) = 8,397. Huger in Norfolk = 15,143. The Department of North Carolina = 26,433. SC and GA = 40,000.
We have not counted Magruder behind his Warwick Line and yet we have reached 208,000 men in the field armies available to defend Richmond. We have not counted the state militias, reserves, home guards, etc. and we are over 208,000.
This is what McClellan saw while at the head of his 74,000 in May and his 78,000 in June.
Edwin C. Fishel, who died a bitter critic of both McClellan and Pinkerton, gives Pinkerton at least one compliment - one that is key to the entire business. He said that Pinkerton was extremely accurate in counting and identifying units in theatre: that the failure (in his opinion) came in assigning fill rates that were too high to those formations.
We have not gained in Rebel head counting much since Livermore but we have clarified the presence of Rebel units in theater and on the battlefield (which positions us to pass judgements on Pinkerton). It is time now for those Civil War historians who would let go of numerology to actually count those units as Pinkerton did and then consider their own reasonable fill rate. It will ruin their storylines but they would see Union commanders in an entirely new light.
Deal with unit counts and fill rates, with the Surgeons' history, with Fox and Livermore, and we are on our way out of the morass of made-up numbers that advance a literary purpose.
More in this in considering the Maryland Campaign.
A Rick walks among us
The 1860 census
I was spurred by your blog-thoughts about the 1860 Federal Census to find out when it was published. The Preliminary report was issued in May 1862, Final in 1864. I've blogged on this and linked to the documents here: http://behind.aotw.org/2006/10/25/1860-federal-census-hits-the-street/
Thanks, Brian. That means the early war commanders were reading the 1850 census until May ' 62.Will have to look that one up and see what it tells us....
Rick Beard, man of mystery
They finally replaced Richard Norton Smith over at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) with a fellow who gets around but of whom little has been written online, one "Rick Beard." In terms of self-publicity, he is the anti-Smith.
The few Beard quotes from search results are not encouraging. Try this one: "It is too much to argue, as some have, that the history of the Presidency can be ascertained by resorting to a careful examination of the memorabilia." Maybe that was a joke.
In Atlanta, he was key to a program hiring minorities for museum work. An article on the OAH website summarizes his contribution with comic brevity: "This gets back to Rick Beard's idea of letting students know that public history institutions exist and what's involved in the work."
Beard appears to be a self-styled people's historian. The problem with being a "people's historian" is that of transmitting received wisdom instead of searching out wisdom. It is not at all good to have a people's historian - a non-scholar - stand at the head of a major presidential library.
We know Beard was fired from his role as COO of the New York Historical Society and that the instrument of his demise appears to be Richard Gilder, a funder of Lincoln prizes and friend of Lew Lehrman and Gabor Boritt.
Boritt, if I can be cruel for a moment, fronts the award of prizes in Lincoln scholarship funded by Gilder and Lehrman. A political division in the Lincoln camp thereby continues.
Having now given you more Beard background and links than any newspaper, press release, or commentator to date, let me add more.
The man's actual name is "Richard Eric Beard" although you will be hard pressed to break through the walls of his preference for "Rick Beard."
He seems to have one book to his name, and that as editor.
He has at least one major controversy behind him, failing, due to political opposition, to mount a lynching exhibit in Atlanta.
His sole connection with Lincoln seems to be tangentially through his leadership of the Civil War 150 Sesquicentennial Initiative, a celebration that lacks its own website. I had not heard of this outfit until Beard's promotion.
Beard appears to be a kultur apparatchik who suits the ALPLM's needs. Reading the tea leaves, I would guess that Smith was the showman intended to drive attendance. The need now seems to be on the fund raising side. Let's see what develops.
p.s. Beard's appointment was disclosed on Oct. 4. There have been no new stories, profiles, or interviews following the announcement - very unusual. He's either keeping a low profile or the negotiations were incomplete when the appointment was made...
p.p.s. Speaking of Lincoln tourism, you may enjoy this from Springfield: "The mayor laughed and said a previous mayor said of visitors 'Tourists are easier to shuck than corn.' "
Gabor Borritt - 596
Gabor Borrit - 117
Gabor Borit - 25
Gabor Boritt - 17,300
Drink some beer, hit snooze control
Ken Burns via Camille Paglia
But I was still amazed at all those servile TV reviewers who raved about the recent four-hour Ken Burns PBS documentary about Andy Warhol. What a tedious, pretentious program -- with its funereal music and preening, jargon-spouting talking heads. Shows like that do incalculable damage to the reputation of the fine arts in the U.S.
Just as Civil War research, writing, and publishing were set back several years by his lowest-common-historiagraphy ACW series...
Historians as numerologists: keeping it local
There is of course the question of what those numbers could be. Where Livermore used the census to calculate a military-age male population in the South of 1,239,000 by 1865. Joseph Harsh looked at the same base data and tallied 1,596,318.
There is the additional question – not touched by the Civil War historian since Livermore – of how the mobilized men were divided between the standing “national” military establishment of the CSA and the state and local authorities.
Livermore took a try. Looking at Fox and comparing Fox’s figures with those of the CSA’s Superintendent of the Bureau of Conscription dated 2/65, he estimated that 978,664 men ended up in the field armies of the Confederacy. Livermore counts 160 regiment-sized organizations outside of the CSA’s army structure. He allocates a wartime strength of 98,720 to the militias and state forces, leaving an unexplained gap between the total mobilization and the combined totals of “establishment” and local forces; more work is clearly needed.
Some of the bits are fascinating and Fox presents them as scraps of fragmentary information that illuminate our ignorance as readers.
* In August 1861, Carson’s Division of Virginia Militia wanders into the Valley and onto the pages of history with a strength of nine regiments.
* In April of 1862, we learn of three regiments of Virginia militia deploying at Williamsburg. We don’t know of other militia or emergency men deployments on the Warwick line but we know of this one.
* For November of ’62, Livermore found at least three regiments of Virginia militia serving with the ANV. Were there more? Were these counted in Fredericksburg histories?
* In South Carolina, where there were local defense companies, these company strengths are set by law at no fewer than 76 and no more than 137 men, with regiments to consist of 10 companies. The idea of regiments formed of local defense companies is a little confusing and shows how much remains to be done in this field.
Livermore also identified nine regiments of North Carolina militia with an average strength of 617 men per regiment.
And so it goes. Let's next take a look at a reasonable theatre-level assessment of enemy strength in Virginia and Maryland in 1862.
More numerology here and here.
New books and good news
Regiment. "Well researched, The Second Georgia Infantry Regiment is a compilation of first hand accounts of those who fought or those who loved the soldiers of Burke's Sharpshooters, the color company (Company D) of the Second Georgia Infantry Regiment." Very nice website, too (linked above).
Carnegie as "draft dodger"
Historians as numerologists: what any Union generals knew
Now allow me another leap of faith: I assume that today's ACW historian has access to those numbers. I don't suggest that he would consult them, or analyze them, just that he has access to them. If you, the reader, have access to them, you will perceive that no Union count of 200,000 enemy on any front is outlandish. Not even a little off.
There is this persistence in the count of 200,000 enemy in front among many Union commanders. I have mocked it but it is not as crazy as Civil War historians may suggest. For if any Union general used the census data, what would he see? I don't have a crystal ball but I have Livermore and Fox.
Livermore looked at the Southern white male population of military age in 1860, checked all mobilization records, and saw that 1,239,000 Rebels took up arms against the United States of America. Is it too much to split off 200,000 enemy here and there on this front and that?
Livermore notes that "the entire military population of the Confederate States not exempted were enrolled." In 1860, the white men aged 18-45 numbered 984,475. As men came of age, 1.269 million were available by war's end.
By what stretch of the imagination would a Halleck, Grant, McClellan, or Sherman assume that he faced fewer than 200,000?
Fox counts the equivalent of 764 regiments in Southern service. Livermore, looking at other studies, cites wartime total counts of 1,009.5 Rebel regiments; alternatively, he reviews sources claiming 805 regiments and legions plus 331 battalions.
The Rebs had a whole lot of manpower in the fight. As of 1/62,Livermore estimated they had 350,000 in Jeff Davis' "federal" army, not counting the Senior Reserve, the Junior Reserve, the state militias, the Home Guard, etc. More on which later.
Then came the edicts. Pay attention to the edicts. The Union generals certainly did and the general run of historians don't.
* 4/16/62 - The CSA president is authorized to call up all white men 18-35 not exempt; all on duty are required to stay on duty.
* 4/28/62 - Davis acts on that legislation and no further law on volunteering is ever enacted in the CSA.
The mobilization is done - except to expand the age range and racial spectrum. Any Union general on duty in April of 1862 had to consider what that meant to him and to his command. I note with fascination - as would any Union commander - that new laws as of February 1862 raised the strengths of Rebel infantry comapanies to 125 from 100. Is this a sign of flagging manpower?
* 2/17/64 - The CSA expands the definition of military age to include 17 - 50.
Mind you,this is not the entire picture of military strength: the Junior Reserve is under 17 and the Senior Reserve is over 50. More on that too in a future post.
* 10/5/64 - The CSA SecWar mobilizes all free Southern black men and 14,000 male slaves.
Livermore also looks at some numbers calculated by Joseph Jones, a postwar "surgeon general" of a leading CSA veteran's group. Jones counted 3.5 million cases of wounds and disease in the Rebel army.
Now 3.5 million seems like a lot to divide among Lee's historian-approved total well under 70,000 and Bragg's historian-approved total well under 60,000. Nor can Price, Smith, and Taylor make up a difference that accounts for 3.5 million medical cases. If Jones is notcrazy,we have to begin to admit of the possibility that the historian/numerologists are not on their game.
Next: Harsh, Johnston, and Livermore.
Military history and the politics of identification
I like the idea. Seems practical. And although Mark had linked to this article, I did not read it until a correspondent drew my attention to it again.
The core anecdote around which the piece is written involves a fully funded chair in military history remaining empty because the school refuses to fill it. In other words, Mark's plan of getting almuni or whomever to fund a seat in this discipline is just the opening gambit in a longer and more painful game.
Analysis as to why this is is interesting (emphasis added):
Then came the Vietnam War and the rise of the tenured radicals. The historians among them saw their field as the academic wing of a “social justice” movement, and they focused their attention on race, sex, and class. “They think you’re supposed to study the kind of social history you want to support, and so women’s history becomes advocacy for ‘women’s rights,’” says Mary Habeck, a military historian at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. “This makes them believe military historians are always advocates of militarism.”This resonates with me. One of the hallmarks of the current national political psychosis is personal identification with causes, issues, and political personalities. If the academy has been politicized on the social science side, the personal identification that drives American politics today will make mincemeat of the idea of military studies.
Mark seems to have a Plan B - take the endowed chairs down a notch to second-tier or regional institutions. I don't know enough about colleges to have an opinion as to whether that will work.
I know what will work, because we see it happening whenever a mogul wants to be remembered. Raise enough money to create and endow an entire department.
Anybody got half a billion or so?
The Press has done great work publishing the papers of U.S. Grant by John Y. Simon (the very one who said that Civil War readers were like little children who want to hear the same story told exactly the same way every bedtime; the same who coined the term "rubber Lincolns" to characterize pop history at the Lincoln Museum). Good for them.
I bought an SIU Press mainstay last week, The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln . I got this idea that I wanted to timeline Lincoln's pesonal crises vis a vis certain comand decisions and then overlay that on episodes of out-of-control behavior from Chase, Stanton, and Seward.
This project I know will pay dividends if I can find the time to do it.
Simpson spots a ruse
Please take a close look, also at his posting on the persistence of a certain quote ("I can't spare this man") in Grant/Lincoln folklore. The key point here, if I can chip in, is that the phony Lincoln saying in question serves a literary purpose and is therefore irresistible to storytellers. Its use in advancing a storyline trumps historical truth. And this is one problem with Civil War history today - the story drives "fact."
Another easy example of this is that of the Gettysburg shoe industry attracting Rebel columns. Storyteller James McPherson, for one, won't give up on this one despite evidence against him (he argues that all that is needed is for Rebels to have believed in shoe factories, despite the absence of evidence for such belief). McPherson won't surrender; the dime-a-dozen Grant biographers won't surrender either. Myths that serve a purpose may be permanent.
Meanwhile, if you are open to the idea that the Grant-Lincoln relationship was difficult and nuanced, go with Brooks Simpson.
Sculptor James E. Kelly (1855-1933) found a destitute Matthew Brady in Manhattan near the end of his life being supported by Alfred Pleasanton and a certain New York priest. (Do you like melancholy? This is the book for you.)
Brady (right) tells Kelly about the allocation of $25,000 by Congress for his work. Wikipedia describes it this way:
During the war Brady spent over $100,000 to create 10,000 prints. He expected the U.S. government to buy the photographs when the war ended, but when the government refused to do so he was forced to sell his New York City studio and go into bankruptcy. Congress granted Brady $25,000 in 1875, but he remained deeply in debt.Received wisdom, to be sure.
Brady told Kelly that he had entered a deal to split the $25,000 50/50 with that member of Congress who acted as the motive force behind the legislation. He was bitter about it and Kelly does not name the man.
But Kelly's editor Bill Styple does in a footnote. It was one Benjamin Butler. "Spoons" himself.
More Bronze here.
You have my number
The book is made up of memoranda of conversations with generals, the conversations being recorded by artist and sculptor James E. Kelly (1855-1933). They were collected by William B. Styple and were published by his Belle Grove publishing venture.
Belle Grove is the name of Phil Kearny’s New Jersey home and Styple is a Kearny fan extraordinaire, on which basis I spoke to him a few years ago after founding the McClellan Society. He was working on a Kearny bio (and the dust jacket of Bronze tells me his is working on it still).
He is also one of those readers – like Beatie – with an eye for the picaresque, non-conforming detail. Bronze is, in its way, a celebration of such hard-to-digest fact and opinion and it would have been a very different book if a Gallagher, McPherson or some other consensus monger had chosen which of Kelly’s overabundance of memoranda to publish.
I want to give a small example regarding Sherman’s March to the Sea. The deep reader already knows that Generals John Schofield and William T. Sherman had issues. Asked why Schofield did not recount these in his biography, JS tells Kelly that his publisher wanted no controversy whatever in the book.
Kelly asked Schofield about the March and I will summarize (abstract) Schofield’s answers. Quotes indicate Schofield’s words rather than my paraphrase.
(1) In breaking away westerly after Atlanta, Hood “outgeneraled” Sherman.
(2) The correct Union course was to pursue and defeat Hood, then do a March to the Sea a month or so later.
(3) Any westerly pursuit of Hood would have embarrassed Sherman; it would seem on the face of it that a year of campaign gains had been lost.
(4) The March put Thomas and Schofield at considerable risk to no purpose.
(5) It was “completely unnecessary.”
Compare with the conventional wisdom offered by a James F. Rhodes, writing in 1917 (my emphasis):
The march to the sea, the march northward from Savannah and Thomas’s operations in Tennessee are a combination of bold and effective strategy, possible only after the Chattanooga-Atlanta campaign and a fit sequel to it. A hundred persons may have conceived the design of advancing to the ocean but the genius of the general lay in foreseeing the possible moves of his adversary, in guarding against them and in his estimate of the physical and moral results of cutting the Confederacy in twain. Wise in precaution and fully conscious of the difficulties of the venture, Sherman showed the same boldness and tenacity in sticking to his purpose when others shook their heads as Grant had shown in his Vicksburg campaign. No general who lacked daring and resolution would have persisted in his determination to advance through Georgia after Hood had crossed the Tennessee river …And so on. Our general run of Civil War historians has not advanced since 1917, I think, except to curb its enthusiasm and dress it in robes of scholarship.
Thus Schofield told Kelly – in sum - is that Sherman risked two armies to spare himself personal and professional embarrassment and to make a prideful display. This need not be true, but it needs repeating when coming from the mouth of a colleague and the honest writer will deal with it - not avoid it.
p.s. In his memoirs, Schofield alludes to "Sherman's premature start for the sea" and aside from that remark and the disclosure that he told Sherman that Thomas's forces were too small to beat Hood, there is no more there on the wisdom of Sherman's March.
Have been reading Styple's Generals in Bronze - very interesting. It occurs to me that if you are at home in this blog, you'll like that book. If this blog seems weird or offensive, you'll have difficulties with the information in Bronze. More on that soon.
Your ACW blogs hard at work
Funding military history
Wert and Taaffe save us from Beatie
It's a July review of Beatie's Army of the Potomac vol II posted to the H-CIVWAR posted by one "Rick Dyson, Library, Missouri Western State University."
I have no idea why this review comes 2 years after the fact. It is not an old review, as it refers to Wert's and Taafe's books. But you have to love the reviewer's use of the word 'bias' when referring to Beatie's approach. I think he hits the nail right on the head with his last sentence, though. Readers of that list indeed.Here is the end of the review:
Beatie's work is countered by two new major studies detailing the Army of the Potomac, Jeffrey Wert's _The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac_ (Simon & Schuster, 2005) and Stephen R. Taafe. _Commanding the Army of Potomac._ (University of Kansas Press, 2006). Both of these titles by respected historians and researchers are to sure to be of greater value and interest to readers of this list.
I needed a good laugh. Thanks, Harry.
The Goodwin effect - old hat
What they tell us about ourselves
"As an art historian, I went through our collection pulling out powerful and provocative images to see what they tell us about ourselves," he says. "I'm not trying to shove a point of view down anybody's throat. I want to encourage people to contemplate the realities of war."
A map of time
"History, if properly taught, should give people a sense of time and a map of time. You should be able to place yourself in time."
Historians as numerologists (recap)
We've noted that the occult numbers dealt out by Civil War historians are then used to cast spells on the reputations of battlefield commanders who are labeled "timid" or "deluded" or at least "ill informed" if they do not leverage their numerological (as opposed to numerical) advantages over the enemy.
At the root of this wizardry is the conceit of "factual evidence." This is implied rather than displayed because the numbers found in Civil War history are rarely numbers earned by research, analysis or any discipline commonly associated with historical method. They are on the level of guesses with no pretense of research attached to them. They are as occult as the blood in stool.
The reader, then, must be careful around Civil War writers dealing in numbers, for he faces an carefree author denouncing the opinions of real men facing real situations who were counting and accounting as if their lives depended on it.
The reader should also keep in mind that the historian will never consider "the enemy in front" when he can take the easy way out of equating that with "the enemy army in front" - before miscounting the army in front!
The enemy in front consists of the enemy army in front plus all those military formations not under the control of the commander of the army in front. It consists of all those emergency men ordered to the colors who are not part of the regular establishment and muster rolls. It can also include regular formations in theatre available to join the army to the front. And it includes every type of auxiliary armed force.
We have seen Joe Johnston's Valley army reinforced by the mobilization of white male Virginians aged 18-45 and we have seen Patterson note an "explosion" (David Detzer) in the size of Johnston's force. Patterson is not declared crazy and that is progress indeed.
What we want to do next is look at what every Union commander knew about Confederate mobilization - and the implications of that knowledge on force estimates.
I had promised to look at Livermore's tally of auxiliary forces, but that can wait...
Historians as numerologists (Detzer and Patterson)
First, he makes a distinction. When he notices General Robert Patterson telling Congress about 40,000 being a strength figure for Joe Johnston in the Valley, he explains to readers that Patterson was sharing raw information and that the general himself said the report was “exaggerated.” (The norm here would be for historians to confuse a report with an estimate andthen make Patterson own the estimate.)
Second, Detzer takes the trouble to wonder about the report(s). (The norm here would be to wonder about Patterson.) What could cause such an “explosion” (Detzer) in Johnston’s numbers?
Now, broadly speaking, the ACW historian cannot be bothered to account for the more accessible Union numbers - heavens forbid that he should attempt an examination of Rebel strength. But Detzer plunges on.
He points out that Gov. Lechter mobilized the white male population of Northeast Virginia by decree on Saturday, July 13, 1861 ordering every male who could bear arms to obtain arms and report to Johston or Beauregard; three days later, the mobilization was statewide. The males of Loudon County (ages 18-45), for instance, mobilized on the 13th, were given until Monday to wrap up their affairs and then report to Johnston in Winchester.
Thousands of men poured into Johnston’s camp from many counties; Detzer does not try to count them but thinks 10% of the white male population within the mobilization age range reached the field. Those men were armed. They belong in any intelligence report, any intelligence estimate, and any half-decent Civil War history.
Using anecdotal evidence and/or assumptions and/or both, Detzer says the thousands of emergency men were diverted into performing labor by Johnson’s command. They were intended for combat.
So, two cheers for David Detzer. He has noticed those wraiths of Civil War history, the “emergency men.” But he has limited his research because the report of 40,000 concerned Johnston’s command exclusively – not the entire enemy in front of Patterson, just Johnston’s command.
The general run of historians are not that careful in their delimitings and may be baffled by that last comment. In the symmetric world of bad history, it is Pope versus Lee, Halleck versus Beauregard, army versus army, again and again. Who ever heard of an emergency influx of men?
Moreover, who ever heard of the Senior Reserve, the Junior Reserve, the militia, the Reserve Militia, the State Guard, and the other formations in theatre outside of the army establishment?
Livermore has. And these forces constitute part of the enemy in front of a commander, as we shall see.
Historians as numerologists (cont. again)
There are essentially four possible positions available on commanders and Civil War estimates:
(1) We know - they didn't know.
(2) We know - they knew.
(3) We don't know - they didn't know.
(4) We don't know - they knew.
What's your view? Most people, sadly, fit into (1) and these are the people torturing Manny by calling the fallen "stupid as pissants."
To let you know where I am coming from, I am closer to (4) than to (3).
I view (1) and (2) as preposterous. Until I see one historian use the Union's Medical and Surgical History figures (or refute them), (1) and (2) are beyond the reach of the Civil War reading public. Totally beyond its reach.
Choice (3) requires a humility that is not in the least encouraged in the literature.
Hubris in ACW authors is why I was so surprised to find (4) in David Detzer's Donnybrook. Detzer notices Robert Patterson attributing high numbers to Johnston's army in the valley and asks why? He asks it honestly, humbly, not as a setup for character assasination.
He asks, he seeks, and he finds something remarkable. That's where we'll pick this up next time.
There are no stupid questions? Right?
I like this exchange:
Visitor: "Were these guys stupid?Now where on earth do you think they got that attitude from? Who put them in the judgement seat? Clue: they are visiting a battlefield. They are not here by accident.
Me [Manny]: " How do you mean sir?"
Visitor: "What kind of education did the rebs have?"
Me: "Well sir, I'm sure that it varied from man to man".
Visitor: "Well, with the way they fought, seems to me they had had the hearts of lions but were stupid as piss-ants"
Lo! They are students of pop history, wherein the author and reader are judges of men and geniuses of surpassing insight. Doubt me? Read on:
The question is framed in such a way as if to imply that the soldiers of the Civil War were somehow a species inferior to us. Not nearly as sophisticated as we are, and certainly less adept at reading the tour map as we are.That's coming from a park ranger, folks. And he's getting the backwash from Sears, McPherson, et al.
Manny tries to convert the geniuses to compassion. Good luck. "But still, I'm often struck by the lack of empathy that many people today have toward the soldiers of the Civil War."
I would say "people of Ken Burns." People of best selling ACW books.
Historians as numerologists (cont.)
The first refuge of a Civil War historian confronted by numbers is to split the difference between figures found in the worst sort of pop history. Rather than buckle down and do some serious accounting, the historian retreats into the world of numerology - mystical numbers, numbers of destiny, numbers of power, sanctified by the priests of a buddy system that produces Pulitzer Prizes. Many have the guts to say figuring doesn't matter, or we can never know exactly, or even that it is difficult to reconcile the material. So why try? They then go on to elevate champions and demote goats based on suspect figures.
The figures were not hard to get at for Fox or Livermore, and although their works suffer from being estimates, they offer a starting point for modern revision. One historian, who loves round numbers and the payroll musters submitted by elected officers once told me that Livermore had an "agenda."
Payroll = purity! Livermore = agenda! I didn't know how to answer him. Where accounting is king, the Union surgeons trump Livermore in aces but if my author cannot even come to terms with Livermore (or Fox) he will never come to terms with the hard data, the nose counting of the U.S. surgeons. It would shatter his world.
Because his world is based on numbers. He has staked everything on material he never investigated and has no interest in. Today's historian anchors all on zeroes - round numbers derived from divination. Imagineering. This one outnumbered that one by X to 1. This one missed an opportunity to crush that one based on our impeccable numerological insight.
The numerology is as grass to the cow; the judgements are the historian's milk, strengthening the bones of his obnoxious posturing, arguing, condemning.
I used to enjoy flipping the force ratios on Mac bashers based on careful accounting of numbers; Livermore and Fox show McClellan fought every one of his Virginia battles outnumbered. The surgeons show he was fearfully outnumbered. The reader of pop history is stunned.
But ultimately, this kind of accounting, careful or careless, is only useful in a Puritan history of the Union high command, in assigning pennants to the thrifty, the bold, the enterprising; in arrogating condemnation rights to an author who never smelled cordite - a knight of the carpet.
Civil War history is about people under incredible duress called upon to accomplish miracles while remaining within conventions of normalcy as their worlds collapse about them. In that sense, if we apply a literary analogy, the American Civil War is fundamentally Russian, not New England-ish. It is not about prudence and pluck, as reconstructed in today's pop literature.
Is there a moral component to the story? The reactions of that people to circumstance is the moral lesson, not their reactions to imaginary opportunities based on force ratios carelessly reconstructed. Not their failure to react to the post facto imposition of false historical constructs.
More to come...
Historians as numerologists
(1) Mistaking information passed along for an intelligence estimate. If the commander is passing along raw intelligence, that is not an estimate. You often have to dig out the reference to see what the author is (falsely) ascribing to the commander.
(2) Mistaking passed-on intelligence for what the commander believes. I notice in pass-along information all sorts of hedges and caveats from the commander that the historian strips out of the account. Be vigilant, reader.
(3) Apples equal oranges. The commander is estimating one thing but the historians are counting something else as if it were the object of the commander's estimate. This sets up those commander = idiot arguments that so entertain writer and reader.
(4) We now know the true numbers. If there is a "most embarassing moment" for historians it's when they claim numerological Truth in order to castigate a commander for not knowing what historians (erroneously) think they know now.
(5) The mistaken estimate is a personal failure. The deep reader knows better - it is a universal failure.
(6) Better estimating would lead to better campaigning - Is there a single example of this in the Civil War? Is it not said of Grant that after a certain time he ignored estimates in order to become effective?
(7) These estimates could not be true! The historian here has experienced a failure of imagination and a failure of research - both at once.
(8) Lots of zeroes. The well rounded pop historian likes a well-rounded number. Since it is impossible to know what the actual figures are, it is madness to try to calculate with exactitude! Not to say we can't claim Truth for our well-rounded number...
(9) Rely on the payroll muster for your own analysis. The payroll muster is the absolute first stop for anyone doing a count. It is also the last stop for the overwhelming majority of historians. All those elected company commanders can be relied upon absolutely to render an accurate census on pay day. That's what they were elected for.
(10) Rely on the commander's reported strength figures. It is simply not possible that a commander would put a political shading on his numbers. This is, after all, military history.
History as documentary
Speaking of Kevin Willmott, I got a newsletter from my old history department and they are trying something new. They have cranked up a joint program with my old journalism school to offer credits in history documentary film-making. (I was a dual major enrolled in both schools when there were no joint programs.)
Not to be mysterious, these are the Maxwell School and the Newhouse School at Syracuse U. Students have to produce a film in this course, which gets me to thinking.
What kind of history documentary would be acceptable to history academics?
If the deal had been between Newhouse and say the science faculty instead of the history department, would students be allowed to submit Steve Irwin type stuff for credit? And what, in history terms, would be a Steve Irwin equivalent? Ken Burns' nonsense? But it's based on the highly esteemed pop history synthesis of James McPherson! The Confederate States of America? That's merely history-based.
No offense to my alma mater, but I think the history faculty has laid down with the dogs. Flea alert. It'll be fun for the students, in any case.
"Confederate States of America"
I had to bail out of Confederate States of America after a half hour of viewing.
The mockery made of Ken Burns/PBS documentary style kept me engaged for awhile and I thought Willmott handled the bona fide historical material pretty well. The humor was not heavy handed but the compounding alternatives were overwhelming.
Kevin Willmott should collaborate with Harry Turtledove. Harry has proved there is a market for out-of-control alternative history.