As anyone who has spent any significant time working with the Official Records of the Civil War (the “O. R.”) knows, there was a ton of information–an overwhelming amount, actually–included in them. There was also a lot of information that was not included.

Tom Broadfoot, the owner of Broadfoot Publishing, decided to publish a 100-volume supplement to the O. R. that would add additional reports, a couple of transcripts of court martials or courts of inquiry, and complete itineraries of every regiment of either side. This evening, I went through several volumes of the Broadfoot supplements to make sure I hadn’t missed anything Dahlgren-related, which got me thinking about the set, which is what inspired this post.

There are two major problems with the Broadfoot supplements. First, and foremost, is the price. The $5500 price is enough to make anyone gag; only libraries with too much money have the ability to afford this set. It’s not available on CD-ROM, so if you want it, you’ve either got to bite the bullet and spend the money, or you have to find a library and use it there.

That, of course, raises the question of whether they’re worth the outrageous price. My humble opinion is that they are not. I have a small portion of the set–the twelve volumes that truly supplement the O. R. and the two trial transcripts. I also have four or five of the itinerary volumes. When I got the first volume of the itinerary stuff, I was definitely not impressed, but I decided to wait, get a couple or three more of those volumes, and then make a decision. I decided that they were definitely NOT worth the money and terminated my subscription at that point. I have those volumes of the Broadfoot supplement that are worth owning.

There’s also the issue of what’s in the volumes of supplemental material. Some of it is quite good. Much of it is not. The sense that I get is that Broadfoot was hasty about trying to get the set published instead of investing more time and effort into researching and gathering additional material, as I am aware of some good material that was uncovered after these volumes were published but which would have been appropriate to include. As just one example, I recently found a report of the actions of the 1st Vermont Cavalry during the Gettysburg Campaign written by the regimental commander to the Vermont adjutant general that was not included in the O. R. but which was published in a local newspaper in Rutland, VT. This report is different from the one in the O. R., and includes some different/additional details on the specifics of Farnsworth’s Charge on the third day at Gettysburg. It’s just one of many such examples that I am aware of.

My conclusion, therefore, is that the set might have been worth its absolutely outrageous purchase price if the additional time and effort to do it right had been invested by the publisher. As it stands, it’s one of those “what might have been” things that remains a persistent disappointment to me.

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Comments

  1. Dave Powell
    Fri 14th Jul 2006 at 6:26 am

    I have the whole supplement set, and I agree, most of the regimental volumes are of limited value, and Broadfoot really missed a lot of “lost’ OR material as well. I have several “lost” reports for Chickamauga, for example. The Park there has one excellent official report for the 30th Georgia which never found its way into the supplement. State AG records can be a valuable source for unknown OR reports, which is where I found a couple of Indiana reports.

    The newspapers are simply a goldmine – official and semi-official letters home, etc. Peter Cozzens has been very successful in ferreting out stuff for the Indian Wars by tracking journals and newspapers, and doing some really remarkable compilations.

  2. Fri 14th Jul 2006 at 8:08 am

    Dave,

    Exactly my point. I agree with you.

    There is so much more out there, and it all could have been done for so much less money.

    Eric

  3. Art Bergeron
    Fri 14th Jul 2006 at 8:22 am

    As a contributor of numerous reports, I can tell you that we were under a tough deadline for submissions. I was able to send a number of items culled from period newspapers, but many of the latter seem not to have been consulted. Likewise, there are a number of pertinent documents in archives and libraries that did not get into the set.

  4. Fri 14th Jul 2006 at 8:57 am

    Art,

    Since you were a contributor to the project, can you give us any insight/input into why so much good stuff was left out?

    Eric

  5. Valerie Protopapas
    Fri 14th Jul 2006 at 5:11 pm

    I’d like to see the war history covered differently, myself.

    I am two things: a ‘specialist’ rather than a ‘generalist’, and an ‘individualist’, that is, a person whose interests involve an individual or individuals rather than groups. Battles, strategies, movements of armies etc. interest me only insofar as they affect the particular individual of interest to me, otherwise, they are simply so much clutter in an already overcrowded mental ‘attic’. Of course, all biographers are ‘perforce’, ‘individualists’ at least during the time that they are writing on their particular subject although they may – and usually do – return to a more general and group oriented field of interest once that work is accomplished.

    Still, what I would love to see – and to a certain extent has been the case with very important figures of the War – Lee, Grant, etc. – are books which allow one to find out information on an individual without having to purchase the umpteen books, papers, publications etc. which comprise the source material. Some people say that this is already extant when one reads a biography of the individual, but that is not necessarily the case. Biographies cover a great many things and frequently for the sake of sheer volume, they leave out interesting side lights, speculations, newspaper coverage of the individual etc. which might be of great interest to the researcher while adding little to the biography itself.

    I just wish that there was a ‘general index’ of the historical period – and for some time preceding and subsequent to it – which would direct the researcher to anything and everything that has been printed about the subject, listing the name of the book and/or publication and whatever is necessary to obtain the information including libraries where the documents might be copied or read if copying is not permitted. At least such a source would prevent one’s buying books sight unseen ‘just because’ it MIGHT have different and unusual reference material only to find out that the person of interest isn’t even mentioned therein!

  6. Scott
    Fri 14th Jul 2006 at 11:58 pm

    They could have done without the record of events in all those volumes. I heard at the time from someone doing the research that they did not find as much material as they initially intended so they decided to include the record of events. A lot of money for all of those volumes with little to no information in many cases!

  7. Paul Taylor
    Sat 15th Jul 2006 at 9:41 am

    I’m surprised that these records, as well as the MOLLUS volumes, have yet to appear on CD-Rom. Can anyone advise why that may be? Are there copyright issues, excessive costs involved, or just that no one has ever gotten around to it?

  8. Sat 15th Jul 2006 at 3:09 pm

    Paul,

    That’s a very good question, and one that I don’t know the answer to.

    Eric

  9. Dave Powell
    Sun 16th Jul 2006 at 5:48 pm

    Mollus and National Tribune are the most important sources yet to be included on CD. After that, I would like to see the service journals.

    I think that over time, more and more newspapers will be online, as a number of State newspaper projects want to do that, they just lack money.

    I think I could fill a book with just soldier letters home from Chickamauga, culled from newspapers. And that does not include the casualty lists, BTW, but just working with a number of spectacular letters written by participants to their hometown papers.

    I suspect Broadfoot really hoped that the regimental record of events stuff would be more useful, but once in, they had to press on.

    Dave Powell

  10. Art Bergeron
    Mon 17th Jul 2006 at 8:29 am

    Eric, it would be speculation on my part, but it seems that the rush to get the “Supplement” in print was the primary factor. There were sources that I had hoped to check for reports and battle accounts but was unable to do so because of the deadline imposed on me.

  11. Mon 17th Jul 2006 at 5:12 pm

    Art,

    I figured it wa something like that. Thanks for the information.

    Eric

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