18 October 2010 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 9 comments

This post is a month overdue, and I regret that. I’ve been struggling with symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, and I have been trying to keep from typing as much as possible. I actually have been largely avoiding it, and it’s paid off, because the symptoms–quite painful and unpleasant, by the way–have abated some. The trade-off for that is that there just haven’t been any posts since September 30. Please forgive me for that.

Taken at the FloodProf. Joseph L. Harsh of George Mason University passed away on September 13. After overcoming modest roots in Hagerstown, Maryland, Joe dedicated his entire life to the study of the 1862 Maryland Campaign, and wrote an absolutely brilliant strategic analysis of the first Confederate invasion of the north. He then followed it up with two excellent companion volumes that are now the cornerstone of most modern analyses of the campaign. As a young graduate student, Joe helped Jim Murfin write his classic study of the Maryland Campaign, The Gleam of Bayonets.

Unfortunately, Joe wasn’t one to take care of himself, and he lived large. Consequently, he left this world too young, leaving his life’s work unfinished. Before a series of strokes robbed him of the ability to do the sort of deep analysis that he was known for, Joe had started on the accompanying analysis of the Union side. That he won’t get to finish it is really too bad, because his Confederate studies of the campaign needed that bookending to be complete.

I have my own debt of gratitude to Joe Harsh. About twelve years ago, Dr. John Hubbell, then the director of the Kent State University Press, and an old friend of Joe’s, invited both of us to give talks at a Civil War symposium that John had organized at Kent State. Prof. Bill Blair of Penn State University was also on the program (my talk there, by the way, was the first time I ever gave a talk on Stuart’s Ride in the Gettysburg Campaign, and we all know where that led). The night before, the four of us went out to dinner and had a perfectly delightful meal that featured sparkling conversation. I was just finishing up the writing of my book on Sheridan’s Trevilian Raid of June 1864, and we started discussing my conclusions about Sheridan’s conduct of the raid.

I explained how disappointed I was with my conclusions about Sheridan, not the least of which was that Sheridan was a very mediocre general, a pathological liar and a really bad human being. We discussed my conclusions at length, and Joe suggested that I put those conclusions in writing, and that got me thinking. By the time I got home the next day after the seminar, I had my book Little Phil mapped out in my head. The book is intentionally controversial and intentionally not objective, and says so, but a lot of people just don’t get that. We stayed in touch for a while after that dinner, I specifically discussed that with Joe, who loved that idea and encouraged it. Then Joe had the first stroke, and dropped off the radar screen. However, but for my knowing Joe Harsh, that book would never have been written, and for that I will aways be grateful. I likewise will always have warm memories of Joe, who impacted my work in a very real way.

We in the Civil War community are fortunate that Joe worked among us, and that he left such an excellent legacy of great work behind. We’re even more fortunate that Joe passed the torch the way Jim Murfin passed the torch to him. Although Joe’s books are great contributions and a brilliant legacy, his greatest legacy is in the form of his protege, my friend, Prof. Tom Clemens, who is carrying on Joe’s work, just as Joe carried on Jim Murfin’s work. Joe will be missed, but I’m glad to know that his legacy is in Tom’s very capable hands. I hope he rests in peace.

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Comments

  1. Tim
    Mon 18th Oct 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Great story Eric.

  2. Mon 18th Oct 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Thanks, Tim. I appreciate it.

    I wanted to do this a month ago, but I was really trying to avoid typing as much as possible, and I wanted to get it right.

  3. Mike Peters
    Tue 19th Oct 2010 at 11:55 am

    Eric wrote the following:

    “Although Joe’s books are great contributions and a brilliant legacy, his greatest legacy is in the form of his protege, my friend, Prof. Tom Clemens, who is carrying on Joe’s work, just as Joe carried on Jim Murfin’s work. Joe will be missed, but I’m glad to know that his legacy is in Tom’s very capable hands. ”

    Eric,

    Amen!

    The circle is now complete. Murfin begat Harsh. Harsh passes the baton to Clemens. Clemens edits and annotates the manuscript of Ezra Carman, the dean of Antietam scholars. WOW! Now how’s that for a Fab Four?

    I never got to meet Carman, Murfin or Harsh. But, I have tromped the battlefield with Clemens. His knowledge of the MD Campaign is unsurpassed and trumped only by his kindness and generosity.

    I hope to walk the fields with Tom again — the sooner the better.

    Mike

  4. Tom Clemens
    Tue 19th Oct 2010 at 9:14 pm

    You are both very kind, but I must point out that Ethan Rafuse’s accomplishments dwarf my own humble efforts, and he too was a Harsh student. As Eric poiints out, Joe inspired a huge number of historians, and I am merely one of them.

  5. Tue 19th Oct 2010 at 9:21 pm

    Tom,

    You’re just being modest. :-)

    Seriously, no disrespect to Ethan, but in your case, the link is even more obvious.

    Eric

  6. Chris Evans
    Thu 21st Oct 2010 at 11:07 am

    Excellent story.

    I remember seeing Mr. Harsh on CSPAN talking about Lee various times in a very fascinating and interesting manner. I particularly remember a panel discussion where he was on with people like Alan Nolan and that Prof. Harsh was one of the best presenters. I liked how fair Prof. Harsh was to Lee as a military commander.

    I also remember a strange incident on a CSPAN call in morning show where Mr. Harsh was a guest discussing Lee and he made a small, innocent joke about an army man (Lee) being in charge of Marines at Harper’s Ferry and some ‘Jarhead’ called in all huffy and said Mr. Harsh should apologize for making jokes about Marines. Mr. Harsh brushed the caller off easily and said some of his best friends were Marines. I just remember it as it was a strange moment that a caller has an opportunity to talk to an excellent Civil War scholar like Mr. Harsh and instead wants to take exception to a little joke he made.

  7. Thu 21st Oct 2010 at 8:12 pm

    Prof. Harsh’s work holds a prominent place on my bookshelf. May he rest in peace.

  8. JOHN MILLER
    Sun 24th Oct 2010 at 11:29 am

    CARPEL TUNNEL SYNDROM.

    HAD RUN IN WITH THAT AB OUT 10 YEARS AGO. SOMEHOW IT PASSED, BUT NOT BEFORE SMART DOC SAID THAT WRIST WRAPS WEAKENED THE AREAS RATHER THAN STRENGTHENED.

    HAVE HEARD THAT THE DRAGON VOICE READERS OR WHATEVER THEY ARE CALLED ARE INFINTELY BETTER THAN WAY BACK. COULD NOT GET WORSE. YOU PRO BABLY KNOW.

    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.

    JOHN MILLER
    ATHENS, STEUBENVILE, EAST LIVERPOOL BUT NOW RICHMOND

  9. Dave Gill
    Sun 31st Oct 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Thanks for this, Eric. As a relative novice on CW history (compared to you serious folk), I was unaware of Harsh. I now have a nice clean used copy of “Taken at the Tide” and am looking forward to reading it. I also have the Clemens/Carman book(s) on my wish list. So thanks for helping me branch out from G’burg to some serious reading on Antietam.

    Dave
    North Canton, OH

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