Gallagher and ACW history

An author friend tipped me that Gary "Stop the Madness" Gallagher has published thoughts on blogging in one of the glossies.

In the true spirit of blogging, I thought it best to immediately launch harsh ad hominem attacks without even reading the underlying piece.

Just kidding. Up to a point, anyway.

Kevin Levin has written nicely about GG's position and Harry Smeltzer has a very good comments section on it. Makes me reconsider opening up comments.

Just kidding again.

Seriously, though, I had been thinking about Gallagher lately because UNC Press keeps sending me review copies of very interesting books. This has been going on for years (and if GG reads this blog, this is his chance to tell marketing to cut me off.)

I would say Ted Savas and Gary Gallgher are the very best acquistion editors in Civil War history publishing today. UNC simply could not do better than Gallagher (since Savas is unavailable), and that's worth a few postings. I owe the Press a few lines anyway based on this backlog of titles weighing down my shelves.

I hold GG in low esteem as an historian, as you know. He reminds me of certain political commentators who strain for some sparkling but non-controversial insight while burrowing through piles of common knowledge and acceptable truths. I also find his writing as wickedly polemical as any blogger's.

Note to self: A blogger complains about polemics. Oh, the irony.

When the history of Civil War history is written, Gallagher will be that bright young hope of the dying vestiges of Centennial dogma, the man who carries the shopworn and dusty insights of an ancient era into the harsh light of the 21st Century. I speak of him this way in his form as an author and anthologist.

As an author, he's a lost battalion, trapped behind the lines of historiography, out of touch with his headquarters (destroyed by the creeping barrage of time), searching for a way to rejoin the fight against revisionists, struggling for relevancy on a battlefield for which he has no maps. He's low on ammunition (fresh insights). He's also low on water, in terms of a stream of supporting research and ideas.

And yet, Gallagher does not use his editorial position at UNC Press to pound us with tome after tome reiterating the golden verities of 60 years ago. Lost behind the lines as author Gallagher is, editor Gallagher sends these daring little patrols in different directions to find some way out of no-man's-land. This is what makes his editorship so different from Ted Savas's and so interesting in a completely different way. Being utterly lost, Gallagher is forced to experiment in ways Savas, knowing the terrain, is not.

Ted has a firm grip on Civil War historiography as it is developing now and as it has been evolving for the last decade, partly because he is a committed neutral with a taste for good research and writing. Gallagher, however, is a committed partisan who cannot, therefore, admit of new work that contradicts "the canon" and therefore he cannot discern the shapes emerging from the smoke of battle. It would have required shell shock for him to have published Rowland, Reese, Harsh, Beatie, Rafuse or others as an editor at UNC Press. And yet, in his own reconnaisance of the battlefield, editor Gallagher's thoughtful desperation yields novelty again and again. Now, that novelty is generally within the framework of the canon and it never explicitly contradicts "the masters" on any point of importance, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Editor Gallagher's new works are not concerned with the central truths that have been handed to us by the Centennial generation. It may be that Gallagher's misplaced conceit spares us endless recastings of Catton, Williams, et al. He seems to believe that the literary nonfiction of the 1950s and 1960s era delivered us "settled science" in Civil War history and therefore does not need repeating. Who but a blogger would contend with these greats?

Author Gallagher's flirtation with topics like the "Lost Cause" and "black Confederates" show a man bereft of basic historiographic instincts and insights. In a way, this is the last man you want in charge of selecting new ACW titles. Gallagher's new writing shows a man fighting for the orthodoxies of the past. And yet, editor Gallagher's commissioning of new books, shows all the verve, spunk, intelligence, and insight we have come to expect from ... bloggers.

Think of editor Gallagher as a blogger and new UNC books as his (extended) posts. If you do, you'll find him really interesting.


Again in the true spirit of blogging, here are some of the more hurtful things I have written about author Gallagher in the past. I hope you find them interesting.

Stop the Madness -- Wittenberg, Petruzzi and I pile on while Kevin Levin plays defense for GG.

When You Can tell a Book by Its Title - Beating an historiographical blunder by GG into the ground.

Foner Criticizes Gallagher - nuff said.

McClellan Bad, Very Bad Man - A sampler of stale Centennial punditry from a Gallagher book. If you don't laugh out loud (i.e., LOL!) at some of his quotes, you're not paying attention.

Let that be enough. Even blog readers have limits.

Browse UNC Press here.

Update, 3/24: the ever-estimable Manny has read GG's article and is okay with it.