29 January 2006 by Published in: General musings 9 comments

Every now and again, you find materials in repositories that cause you to say, “how is that this has never been published?”

There are a number of instances of this that I can think of.

When John Pope commanded the Army of Virginia, he had a staff officer named T.C.H. Smith. Smith was extremely loyal, and decided to write a defense of Pope’s conduct during the Second Bull Run Campaign. He spent years corresponding with various veterans of both sides, gathering material. Smith then wrote a book manuscript telling the story of the campaign his way. For some reason, the book has never been published, even though Smith completed the manuscript. The entire collection–manuscript AND correspondence–is at the Ohio Historical Society. I looked at it years ago, when I was researching cavalry operations in the Second Bull Run Campaign, and came away wondering why nobody has ever published the thing. While it probably won’t sell a ton of copies, it would definitely make a good university press book project.

Here’s another example. Perhaps the single best soldier diary I have ever read was written by a sergeant of the 1st Maine Cavalry named Nathan Webb. Webb’s diary is at the Clements Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The descriptions are fabulous, and so is the detail. The problem with the diary is that it’s (a) huge and (b) cannot be photocopied. That means that anybody wanting to use it has to sit and transcribe it by hand with a pencil or on a laptop. Obviously, those are not terribly good or productive options for making something useful. The last time I wanted to use some of it, I ended up having to pay an undergraduate student to go to the library and sit and transcribe the thing for me. It took weeks to get the stuff, and was expensive to pay the kid to do the work. I wish someone would publish this diary–it’s well worth it, and it would make an excellent addition to the body of knowledge.

Here’s a final example–a career soldier named John Bigelow, Jr. made chronicling the Battle of Chancellorsville his life’s mission. Like John B. Bachelder did at Gettysburg, Bigelow also collected a tremendous volume of correspondence from participants describing their part in the battle in their own words. He then used those materials to write a history of the battle that was published with a very impressive map series. This incredible collection of correspondence was donated to the Library of Congress, where it resides to this day. It seems to me that a worthy addition to the existing body of knowledge would be for someone to compile all of that correspondence and publish it as David and Audrey Ladd did with the papers of John B. Bachelder pertaining to his research on the Battle of Gettysburg, which have become one of my very favorite Gettysburg sources.

Tom Clemens has been working on editing Ezra Carmen’s history of the Battle of Antietam, which is a previously unpublished account of the battle, and it had its genesis in his Ph.D. dissertation. It seems to me that there are lots of other good, useful projects out there that would make fabulous Ph.D. projects. I can only hope that someone will figure that out and take advantage of them. The three mentioned here undoubtedly barely scratch the surface of what’s still out there.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Mon 30th Jan 2006 at 7:42 am

    I agree with you 100%. Let’s just hope the people who take the initiative know what they are doing.

  2. Mon 30th Jan 2006 at 9:19 am

    Kevin,

    Agreed.

    Eric

  3. Paul Taylor
    Mon 30th Jan 2006 at 11:37 am

    Hi Eric,

    FYI to all – very interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal (page B1) entitled “Publishers Say Fact-Checking Is Too Costly.”

    The apparent lack of editing and fact-checking in modern publishing is a topic that has been raised in this forum several times. This piece attempts to explain why. The primary focus is the recent brouhaha over the James Frey “memoir,” however the economics that the article discusses can apply to any non-fiction work.

    Paul

  4. Mon 30th Jan 2006 at 12:37 pm

    Paul,

    I will check it out–thanks for passing that along.

    It’s really a sad statement on the state of the publishing industry if this is how it’s handling things.

    Eric

  5. Buckeyes All
    Mon 30th Jan 2006 at 4:28 pm

    Eric: From your keyboard to a publisher’s ear – those are great suggestions. I have always been a fan of the work of John Bigelow, Jr. The Bigelow Papers idea is fabulous. I too have often run across archival material that would make a great book. Yet, they remain obscure. With all the junk being published I just don’t understand that. The Wells Bushnell diary and papers (6th OVC) housed at the WRHS would make a wonderful book. The Cincinnati Historical Society includes in its collection great materials by the likes of the Hannaford brothers, Andrew Hickenlooper and Henry Cist. The list is a long one. These sources are also great resources for young historians in training. Any one of them would be a great place to start an honor’s paper, or a Masters or PhD. program. School projects often lead to publication. Perhaps the great teachers at OSU might start directing their graduate students in those directions, if they haven’t already. Steve.

  6. Andy
    Mon 30th Jan 2006 at 6:37 pm

    Eric, I have enjoyed your posts on research and unpublished finds. I will have to the Webb diary to my list of manuscript material related to Maine regiments. I would like to update the Maine in the Civil War A Bibliographic Guide someday. My take on research is a little different in that I relish any opportunity I can get to go to sources myself. Although I have to use my own time I do find it relaxing. In Maine we have the Maine Historical Society which is privately funded and luckily it does have Saturday hours. Sounds like the OHS needs to consider doing some sort of private/Public partnership.

    Regards
    Andy

  7. Mon 30th Jan 2006 at 7:36 pm

    Steve,

    I’ve seen the Wells Bushnell diary, and I agree about it. Pieces of Roger Hannaford’s reminiscences have been published here and there, and they’ve always been good ones. I’m not familiar with the other two, but I will certainly take your word for it. Hopefully, somebody will pick up on these ideas and run with it. And I do hope that somebody publishes the Bigelow papers.

    Eric

  8. Mon 30th Jan 2006 at 7:37 pm

    Andy,

    I think that a bibliography of Maine sources would be a very useful tool, and I would not only encourage you to do the update, but to seek a publisher for it.

    Eric

  9. Cathy
    Fri 08th Dec 2006 at 3:25 pm

    Hi Eric,

    Re: Nathan Webb’s diary. Whoa Nellie!!!!

    I am a “retired” librarian (not really, just an at-home-mom as long as I can keep the gig going, anyhoo) and an amatuer historian as well. As background…I started out focusing on shipwreck stories on gravestones (tons in Maine) which led me to Mainers in the Gold Rush, which led me to a particular Mainer, George Washing Bartlett, who wrote a daily journal aboard the brig that carried him from Bath, Maine, around Cape Horn, to San Francisco in 1849.

    Well, I found Bartlett’s journal and decided it had to be published!!! So, I sat in a local college library day after day transcribing it (enjoying every minute of it, indeed.) and now continue to research Bartlett’s life for a full fledged biography. I’ll skip the radical Unitarian minister phase of his very interesting life and jump right into his civil war experience. Turns out George Washington Bartlett was a Chaplain with the 14th Regiment, as well as the 1st Maine Cavalry. Just to make the whole story more exciting, Chaplain Bartlett was “literally blown into a thousand pieces” while at the head of a cavalry charge on the 1st day of the 2nd Battle of Cold Harbor.

    So, that’s the Webb connection….you mention that you had portions of Webb’s diary copied. Wondering if the time period February-June 1864 was part of your research. If so, might I borrow them? I’m a rather accomplished local history researcher (last work gig was as a librarian at the Maine Maritime Museum) and will gladly help out with any Maine-based research that comes up for you. Also, I’m a NEHGS member have access to a lot of New England material as well.

    While I’ve got you on the line…., have you ever heard of the Charles Henry Smith papers? There was a neat little history of the 1st Maine Cavalry based on Col. Smith’s papers published about 15 years ago. The author refers to a few letters written by Chaplain Bartlett that are in the Smith papers. Unfortunately, the author passed away and I’m having a great deal of difficulty finding the papers. The author’s son thinks they were donated to Colby College (Smiths alma matter) by his father, but I made a trip there and spent several hours with the archivist without any luck.

    Well, thanks in advance for any suggestions for accessing the Webb diary (how did you find that undergrad??) or the Smith Papers. Let me know if there are any opportunties for us to collaborate.

    Best regards,
    Cathy

    So…

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