05 July 2006 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 3 comments

Lest it be said that I am a complete Cro-Magnon Man, I wanted to follow up on what I said yesterday.

Someone–who didn’t have the guts to sign his name to his comment–posted a comment on Kevin Levin’s blog that says that I research and write for entertainment. I want to address that comment. While it’s true that my projects are chosen based on my own interest, I also do so because researching and writing about things is how I LEARN about them. I find that doing so is the best way for me to learn. While I don’t have to worry about the old “publish or perish” rule, and don’t write because my job security depends on it, I also write because I am, at heart, a teacher, and since I erred in going to law school and not history grad school, this is how I scratch that particular itch.

Also, when I finish Dahlgren, I have a book on John Hunt Morgan’s great Indiana and Ohio Raid of 1863 under contract. Given the fact that the raid covered about 1100 miles and that many, many civilians fell in its path–many of whom had horses, cattle, and other possessions taken from them by Morgan’s men–the social history aspects of the raid will, by necessity, take up as much space as the tactical (let’s face it–there’s not much tactical to discuss simply riding from one place to the next). Showing how Morgan’s men affected these folks–and in places like Louisville and Cincinnati, which were brushed by the raid but not directly invaded–is most assuredly an appropriate melding of social and military history, and one where I believe it is appropriate. Hence, a good portion of my research is from the civilians along the way and not just the reminiscences of soldiers.

If I can pull this off–and I hope I can, as I don’t have much experience with the social history aspects–then I think that I will have accomplished the sort of blend that meets what Ken Noe called “the new Civil War history” in his fine Perryville book.

That, I believe, is the sort of balance that should be the focus. To be very clear about my position on these matters (which, I think, has been a bit misconstrued, and which is probably my fault for not being clear), my complaint is where the social history overwhelms the military/tactical. That’s where I think that the problems arise, and that was my complaint about Rable’s book on Fredericksburg. In my mind, the best study is that which is balanced, and that’s what I’m trying to accomplish.

Note to the commentator on Kevin’s blog: It’s really a shame that you didn’t have the guts to sign your comment and to engage me in a dialogue directly, as it might have been fun. Instead, you took the low road, insulted me, made personal attacks on me, and then hid behind a veil of anonymity. Very mature of you. I can only hope that the likes of you aren’t in front of a classroom teaching America’s youth. By the way, anonymous comments are not permitted here, so you won’t be able to play your cowardly game here. If you want to discuss something with me, do so like a man. Otherwise, you are beneath contempt.

Scridb filter


  1. Wed 05th Jul 2006 at 6:17 pm

    Drew, Kevin, and Eric,

    I’m crossposting this comment across all three of your blogs since you’ve all brought the discussion of New Military History up. I tend to agree with Timothy B. Smith, the author of both Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg and an historiographical look at Shiloh Battlefield. He also happens to be a Shiloh Park Ranger. In a Civil War Talk Radio interview with Gerry P., Dr. Smith says something to the effect that there is a place for many different types of Civil War history. He points to his mainly tactical study of Champion Hill as one of those times where it makes sense to present the battle in mainly military terms, considering that it has never before been covered in much detail. But he also points to his historiographical book on Shiloh Battlefield as an example where military events are naturally going to be found only in the background. The talk is located at


    if anyone wants to go take a look.

    I’ve made my POV on this subject known in the past, but for the beneift of any new readers, let me restate it. As I mentioned above, I think Dr. Smith takes a “common sense”, middle of the road sort of view, and that’s my take as well for the most part. As a wargamer and someone who is more interested in the purely military aspects of the war, I prefer books similar to Champion Hill However, this does not mean that I do not think books such as Dr. Smith’s look at the historiography of the Shiloh Battlefield are unimportant. It’s just that I find them less interesting than the actual battles themselves.

    It really is personal preference as far as purchasing and reading books of various aspects of the war goes. Again, this does not mean that I do not think the social history aspects of the war should be taught in schools, or that people are wasting their time by doing so. In addition, I do not object to a blending of social and military history in one book either, as many different people from Kevin to Ken Noe to Dr. Smith have all suggested. But the great thing is that there can be many different books on one battle, all focusing on different things.

    One thing that I don’t believe has been brought up is the feasibility of creating one book that truly covers all aspects of a story adequately. Rable’s Fredericksburg book is one such example. Apparently it covers the social history aspects of the battle in great detail while skimming over the military portion (I am going by what others have said as I don’t own it). It is already an extremely large book as it is. If Rable had tried to cover the military aspects in greater detail, would a single volume have even been possible? What publisher would find it profitable in today’s environment to publish such a monster? If an author truly wanted to do a definitive New Military History book on a large battle, I do not see how it would even fit in one volume. Just something to think about.

    The nice thing is that there are so many new books being published that I believe anyone can find exactly what it is they are looking for among the vast amount of Civil War literature out there. As Kevin mentions, it doesn’t have to be a “social history vs. military history” dichotomy, but as Eric points out, there are differing viewpoints as to what sort of balance there should be. It’s an interesting question, and I don’t think there is necessarily a “right” answer.

    Brett S.

  2. Wed 05th Jul 2006 at 7:15 pm


    You’ve got it precisely right, and I agree with basically everything you’ve said here.


  3. Valerie Protopapas
    Fri 07th Jul 2006 at 8:57 pm

    Excuse me, but what’s wrong with entertainment? If one goes back to the Bible, one sees moral and ethical principles defined, taught and explained often by use of parables (little stories) that ‘entertain’ and this is done by those who are either inspired by God or Who – many believe – IS God.

    How much more do we learn from that which ‘entertains’ than from that which bores us? Indeed, nothing is more worthwhile than books which prove that history is more exciting, interesting and ‘entertaining’ than fiction!

    It may be that the poster involved meant the comment as a ‘put down’, but to me, any man who writes accurate history that is also ‘entertaining’ has earned his or ‘bread and butter’ – and then some!

    Keep on entertaining – and enlightening – us Eric!

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