02 October 2005 by Published in: General musings No comments yet

Well, I’m home after a long weekend. I led two tours this weekend, even though I don’t feel particularly well. I seem to be coming down with a cold, and it’s difficult for me to talk in my normal voice at the moment. Nevertheless, I had a great time. The weather was just spectacular, I got to talk about things I really enjoy in a place I love, and with people whose company I enjoy. All in all, it doesn’t get much better than that.

As I finish this series of posts, there’s one final issue that I want to address.

There’s something about Gettysburg that compels otherwise normal, sane people to do things that make no sense. I’m not sure what it is. However, there’s something about Gettysburg that drives good people to propound goofy, unsupportable and unsubstantiatable theories. Perhaps they feel a need to be able to claim that after 140 years and countless tens of thousands of pages of books and magazine articles that they have made a great discovery that somehow unlocks the battle. Perhaps it’s that they feel the need to be the subject of discussion. Perhaps they just feel a need to stir up controversy. I don’t know what it is. However, three very prominent examples come to mind.

First, is a certain park ranger. He’s well respected among his peers, and he’s known as being a fellow who’s not afraid to research things and go out on a limb. His first book, which is an expounding upon Lee’s “real” strategy for Gettysburg, has sold a lot of books. This fellow’s most recent theory is that Meade figured out that Longstreet was making a countermarch, sending Union cavalry to meet it in the vicinity of Hunterstown. Instead of Longstreet’s infantry, the Federal horse found Confederate troopers, and a nasty little fight ensued. Never mind that there isn’t a single shred of evidence to support this particular claim. It’s new, and it’s controversial, so therefore, it has to be advanced.

Then, there’s a particular licensed battlefield guide. This individual is absolutely obsessed–to the point of perhaps being unhealthy about it–with a particular portion of the field. This guide has cooked up a bizarre theory about where an important event occurred that is based on a flawed and factually incorrect assumption. Without there being so much as a scintilla of evidence to support it, this person claims, as a matter of absolute fact, that the monuments of a particular brigade were misplaced and that the veterans were promised that these monuments would be moved, thereby reflecting the true place where these events occurred. Never mind that the records of the Gettysburg Battlefield Monument Association do not reflect anything whatsoever of the sort in any fashion. When this person is challenged about the evidence underlying this theory, that person responds by launching vicious personal attacks against anyone who challenges the theory, and demanding that anyone showing the moxy to challenge the theory prove it wrong. Never mind that the responsibility for proving a theory is on the person advancing a theory. By all accounts, this individual is a nice person. I’ve never seen it–this person has launched vicious personal attacks on me in public because I had the temerity to challenge the theory.

Finally, there’s another ranger I know. I’ve actually spent a fair amount of time with this fellow, and I enjoy his company. However, this fellow seems bound and determined to make a name for himself as making some great discovery. Consequently, he latches on to these bizarre theories and insists that they have merit. There’s also the fact that this fellow insists on arguing theories even when others prove him incorrect. It’s frustrating as hell when that happens.

I have never met the first two people mentioned. By all accounts, the first person is a very good guy, well liked and well respected. The second person, I am told, is nice. I would not know, and from the way I have been treated, I couldn’t possibly care less what that persons says and does. If what that person says and does has no impact on my life, then that’s good enough for me. So long as this person ceases and desists from launching personal attacks upon me, I couldn’t care less what that person says or does. The third fellow I know fairly well, and I enjoy his company.

Why these people insist on advancing these theories is a total mystery to me. Perhaps it’s because they feel some need to advance new theories in the hope of finding something new all these years later. Maybe it’s that they hope to make a splash and that they also feel some need to have a moment in the limelight. I doubt we will ever know, and it may not even be conscious on their part.

I do know that these theories frustrate me to no end when unwitting members of the public accept them as the gospel truth just because someone in a position of credibility says that they are so. In my mind, that’s wrong, and in my mind, it should not be allowed. The second individual I mentioned shows people the wrong part of the battlefield and claims that EVERYONE–the veterans, the GBMA, and the National Park Service were all wrong about where these events were placed. It’s wrong, and it needs to end.

Either put up or shut up. And if you can’t put up, then please, do us all a favor and shut the hell up.

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