"Stop the madness"

If there is such a thing as "old media" or "legacy media," Gary Gallagher is the Civil War equivalent, as his recent comments show.

J. David Petruzzi writes a stinging post about a Gallagher interview.
Eric Wittenberg joins in
here and here.
Kevin Levin says there is no need to take offense at Gallagher.

I join in with this post to say Gallagher's comments offend us all regardless of which histories he had in mind, regardless of any amateur versus professional dimension.

Let's "fisk" a few of Gallagher's remarks.
“But for most people, those who want to understand the Civil War, or even the war in the East or the Gettysburg campaign,” Gallagher stated, “do they need 450 pages on two hours in the Railroad Cut? I don’t think so. I just don’t see that this literature takes us anyplace.”
Here's where it takes us: command relationships; friction of war; commander's intent; weight of alternative outcomes; nearness each individual what-if; modes and habits of important generals. Not to mention any new documents discovered in the research phase. Is that trivial? This literature takes us nowhere only if all the historiographic issues have been decided. For Gallagher they were decided by 1965 and ratified when Battle Cry of Freedom codified Civil War doctrine for all time.

One of my favorite examples of this blindness appears in McPherson's Antietam book where he repeats the conclusion (from his own earlier works) that McClellan obtaining the lost order is a not just a unique happenstance for the Civil War but probably any war. We also see this claim in the essays edited by his friend Gallagher for two Maryland Campaign collections. In his own Antietam book McPherson lavished praise on John Hennesy Return to Bull Run. But in Hennesy's book we see Lee, Pope, Jackson, and Longstreet capture each other's orders five times in 40 days. To McPherson that never registered. It was just noise - it doesn't "take us anyplace."

The details in Return to Bull Run cannot or could not change the master narrative or its conclusions. So it is with Gallagher. He has learned what he has learned.

Another example comes to mind. McPherson, Gallagher, and Sears hold to the view that after discovering the Lost Order, McClellan issued no new march orders until after 6:00 pm, when he wrote instructions to Franklin. Those who read micro-tactical history understand that this opinion stands or falls on march orders issued by GBM during the day the order was found. This is too down-in-the-weeds for Gallagher or McPherson; they are oblivious to the "micro-tactical" activity that happened after the S.O was brought to GBM's attention.

Sears, on the other hand, surveying and citing a number of books concerned with the march routes and times, understands snakes live down in those weeds and can bite you. He offers his readers a nuanced (and futile) defense of his/McPherson's/Gallagher's position.* In Gallagher's and McPherson's views march routes can never mean anything except stops on a tour bus.

Gallagher illustrates his willfulness when he says:

I just can’t believe that there is anything new to say about Jeb Stuart in the Gettysburg Campaign. I really believe there is not. All the arguments have been laid out, pro and con.
Could this perhaps serve also as an argument against all journals and all academic publishing?

Or is this a misguided sports fan's approach to history; we see it again when he tackles the "Lost Cause" historiography with his us-versus-them, pro versus con analysis. Understand one thing: any Stuart work, no matter by whom, is implicitly committed to solving huge problems - about the commander's intent, his relationships with subordinates, the contemporary concept of "role of cavalry," and the command system of the Army of Northern Virginia. Why would you ever stop exploring that?
All the key documents have been available for a very long time…
And all the inventions have been invented. And all the ways of putting things together have been exhausted. Self-parody anyone?

But the notion that there would be a lot that’s new, enough to support new books - and not just one new book but maybe two or three - I just say, stop the madness.
Madness? That is inflammatory and cruel.

Regardless of whom he is referring to, J.D. and Eric set out to write the touchstone book on Stuart's ride - not the last word, because there can be no last word, but the best and most complete study ever. They produced a history that will be consulted as long as ACW material is published. They deserved prizes and this "expert" hasn't even noticed their work. Then he makes a principle out of his own ignorance.

We owe a tip of the hat to Civil War Times for drawing this fellow out.

(Gallagher pictured top right via Hal Jespersen)


* i.e. that all these afternoon movements represented units already in motion and McClellan's adjustments and changes represented modifications of previous orders not new activity in the light of new data. Naturally, this argument is impossible; once you know something your decisions are affected by what you know. In Sears' world, at least movements were noticed.