J. D. Petruzzi filmed a joint interview with Tom Carhart as part of the PCN coverage of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg this past July 3. J.D. and Carhart debated the merits of Carhart’s nonsensical theory about the fighting on East Cavalry Field – prior to the interview, J.D. and Carhart agreed that the conversation would remain civil, which it did. Each time that J.D. raised the issue that the evidence did not support his theory, Carhart’s response was to the effect of “I’m a trained soldier, and I know that this is how it was.” At one point, Carhart got so frustrated by J.D.’s insistence that the evidence does not support his theory, he held up his book Lost Triumph to the camera and stated that he was just there to promote his book. After the end of the interview, Carhart took J.D. aside and told him (quoting Carhart according to J.D.) “The reason guys like you and Wittenberg don’t know what you’re talking about is because you never served in the military.”

Ummm….no. While I may not have the formal military training, like Carhart does, I have a license to practice law, and I know and understand evidence, weighing that evidence, and evaluating its credibility. And I know an intellectual fraud when I see one.

I give J.D. a great deal of credit for being civil to this poseur and for not doing a “Jane, you ignorant slut” with him like the old Saturday Night Live bit. I’m not at all persuaded that I would have been able to show the same level of restraint. I would have found it all but impossible not to describe his book as the festering pile of turds that it is. And I would have found it all but impossible not to tell him to his face that he and his book are nothing but an intellectual fraud. Kudos go to J.D. for not doing so. In fact, after viewing that interview, many mutual friends later told J.D. that Carhart looked pathetic, frustrated, nonsensical, and that J.D. must have had infinite patience in dealing with Carhart’s silliness. The interviewer was also obviously increasingly frustrated with Carhart and kept signaling J.D. to move the discussion along as Carhart kept trying to dominate the conversation.

I had a chance to discuss all of this with J.D. at the Williamsport event last weekend, and yesterday, while driving, I had a sudden realization.

The gist of Carhart’s theory is that Stuart’s presence on East Cavalry Field was a coordinated thrust with Pickett’s Charge (one “prong” in a supposed “two “prong” attack), and that it represented a major component of Robert E. Lee’s plan for the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. I’ve already dealt with the bulk of this stupidity in Appendix C to the new edition of Protecting the Flank. But last night, I had an epiphany about it.

Let’s assume, just for the sake of discussion, that Carhart’s theory is correct (we need to first, of course, throw out all of the definitive evidence that refutes Carhart’s theory). If that’s the case, wouldn’t Stuart have committed all of his troopers to an all-out attack on East Cavalry Field? And would he have just called it a day after the repulse of one large-scale attack, as he did that day, if his orders were to make a coordinated attack with Pickett’s Charge? If he truly was to take the offensive, after that charge was repulsed, wouldn’t he have committed his entire command and tried again? The uncontroverted fact is that he did not do so. Instead, Stuart called it a day after the repulse of the charge of Hampton’s and Fitz Lee’s brigades at the climax of the fighting on East Cavalry Field.

The evidence shows that when he was on the offensive, Stuart was quite aggressive and quite persistent. A study of Stuart’s taking the offensive to the Union cavalry during the retreat from Gettysburg and keeping it tied up for days at a time by constantly attacking it demonstrates this beyond a doubt. Just take a good look at the battle of Boonsboro (July 8, 1863) and the battle of Funkstown (July 10, 1863) for examples of what I mean here. By taking the fight to the Union cavalry and being unrelenting about it, Stuart kept two full divisions of cavalry tied up and away from the defensive position being built by the Army of Northern Virginia. In short, Stuart’s aggressiveness bought Lee the time he needed to forge a largely impregnable defensive position along the banks of the Potomac River at Williamsport. Stuart committed his entire force on each occasion, and launched attack after attack in the process.

By contrast, on East Cavalry Field, Stuart tried once, and then with only a portion of his command. The charge by the brigades of Lee and Hampton that was the climax of the fighting on East Cavalry was only by a portion of his command. Stuart watched and saw his command was repulsed by a vastly outnumbered force scraped together from the brigades of McIntosh and Custer and he called it a day after that. If Stuart’s orders were to reach the Union rear at all costs, would he really have just quit after committing only a portion of his force? And wouldn’t Stuart have known the repercussions of withdrawing from further attempts, if his “offensive” action were indeed a vitally important prong of a “two prong” attack coordinated with the infantry assault? If, as Carhart and others have posited, Stuart was so embarrassed by his performance during the week of June 25 – July 2, and was chastised by Robert E. Lee for it, why would he run the risk of further chastisement and disappointment by Lee by not making an all-out attempt to fulfill his “coordinated mission”?

Knowing Stuart’s tenacity and aggressiveness as well as I do, the fact that Stuart did not press the issue indicates the following to me:

1. He knew his command was in wretched shape from its ordeal on the way to Gettysburg and that his mounts probably could not stand more hard fighting.

2. His orders truly were to guard the flank against what he knew was the presence of two full divisions of cavalry—four of the Army of the Potomac’s eight brigades of cavalry—from the attacks of July 2, and were not to execute some grand, coordinated assault as part of the Pickett’s Charge scenario. This protection of the ANV left flank is, of course, all that Robert E. Lee claimed himself as Stuart’s mission on July 3 in his own official report of the campaign. Nothing more, nothing less.

3. The single mounted charge represented Stuart at his opportunistic best—given the opportunity to break through and make some mischief in the Union rear, he would have done so. He was probing to see whether he could get through, and the repulse persuaded him that he should simply be content with guarding the flank effectually, as he did, and as he was ordered to do.

These observations are the only ones that make any sense. Any other interpretation of these events is neither logical nor supported by the evidence.

But, then again, Carhart’s comments to J.D. demonstrate quite plainly that this man is not one to allow the facts to get in the way of a good story.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. J. David Petruzzi
    Tue 16th Jul 2013 at 11:53 am

    Well said, bro. I was floored by his comment to me after the interview. According to Carhart’s twisted logic, then, only soldiers or former soldiers should ever write military history – as if to negate all that non-serving historians, scholars, and authors have ever done. The mindset of someone who makes such a comment is pretty clear.

    I also spoke about this with Ted Alexander, as you know. Ted is a combat veteran, and he stated that being a combat soldier gives one a little different perspective, yes – but it doesn’t necessarily translate to different time periods such as the Civil War etc. The advantage of being a soldier stops very quickly at the outset. And Ted went on to say that “many former soldiers write crappy history and don’t know what THEY’RE talking about… just like Carhart.”
    We did keep the discussion civil on camera, but after an hour with Carhart I just wanted to take a shower. With bleach. And sandpaper. And in a way I felt sorry for him… he’s so obviously wrong and simply couldn’t interpret facts even if someone showed him how. And his feelings of superiority are repulsive.

    J.D.

  2. James F. Epperson
    Tue 16th Jul 2013 at 1:16 pm

    If the only people qualified to write military history are former soldiers, a lot of good books need to be dumped. Based on a quick scan of wiki-bios, DS Freeman and James McPherson never served in the military, and Bruce Catton had only a brief stint in the Navy during WWI. It appears that Allen Nevins also never served.

  3. Chris Evans
    Tue 16th Jul 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Well said.

    Just like J.D. said being a soldier is all well and good for military history but I agree that it doesn’t always ‘translate’ well to other military history eras.

    I find it strange that people stake their careers on theories like this and the one you debunked about the location of Farnsworth’s charge.

    Chris

  4. Phil Spaugy
    Tue 16th Jul 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Eric,
    Carhart couldn’t hold you or JD’s horse.

    I have never read his book because his premise has never made a lick of sense to me at all.

    You boys just keep doing what you do. It works.

  5. Mike Peters
    Tue 16th Jul 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Eric,
    Great post! It’s been a while since I’ve read, utterd, or heard the “festering pile” line. I was Jonesin! Thanks Hoss!

  6. J. David Petruzzi
    Tue 16th Jul 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you Phil. And Jim – I’d be curious to put a list together of non-serving historians/authors to see who Carhart would dismiss. Coddington? And I’m sure Brian Pohanka would find Carhart’s comment quite disconcerting – but humorous. I bet Brian would have laughed.

  7. Mike Nugent
    Tue 16th Jul 2013 at 2:15 pm

    To be honest I’m a little surprised that Carhart’s “Lost Triumph” is still even being discussed as it has been completely and thoroughly refuted. Unfortunately I don’t get the PCN broadcasts so I didn’t get to see this, but J.D. had to do well to not just laugh Carhart out of the interview.

    By the way Mr. Carhart, I DO know what I’m talking about and I’ll gladly compare my military credentials to your’s any time.

  8. Ted
    Tue 16th Jul 2013 at 3:43 pm

    I guess I need to withdraw my new manuscript on how bad my Minnesota Vikings are–having never played football after 9th grade. How far can you take this idea?

    Eric demolished the guy in his latest book we published, and that says it all.

  9. Tue 16th Jul 2013 at 5:23 pm

    I too was surprised to see Carhart included as one of the speakers for PCN. His theories have been so thoroughly refuted that I would not expect him to be high on anyone’s list of potential contributors.
    JD was a true gentleman and deserves praise for resisting the natural human tendencies to slam someone who is acting the fool. Carhart’s notion that military service is necessary to write on military matters is one I have encountered….and it is hooey.
    Carhart is likely just angry that your books on Cavalry operations are well received and awaited with excitement.
    Kind of sad for him.

    John

  10. Tue 16th Jul 2013 at 8:04 pm

    While military experience can provide some useful perspective, I highly doubt it gives Mr. Carhart any special interpretive advantage in this case, unless of course he served in a 19th Century cavalry unit.

  11. Brad Snyder
    Tue 16th Jul 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Eric,

    Glad to see that you are back in the saddle and continuing to disclose what ” a festering pile of turds ” that Carhart’s book is. That is certainly one of your more memorable phrases. Keep up the good work.

    Brad

  12. Duane
    Tue 16th Jul 2013 at 9:12 pm

    Having followed a lot if this for awhile now, knowing many of the parties involved as I do, and having seen the amounts of time, research, revision and editing that go into any major historical work on a personal basis, I’ll gladly say that I feel that research trumps military experience on the events of 150 years ago. Saying someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about, even in spite of the evidence, because they’ve never served would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic. It shows that the person saying such nonsense is nothing more than a delusional glory hound who resorts to emotional response when the facts don’t support his theory.

    Kudos to my friend JD for keeping his composure and looking like the gentleman, and thanks, Eric, for giving us the real poop on the history of that day. Keep fighting the good fight. Those who made the history deserve to have it kept alive and unaltered.

  13. Richard K. MacDonald, Jr.
    Tue 16th Jul 2013 at 9:16 pm

    Believe me, a good deal would be tossed. I was in the military close to 14 years. I don’t think that is true. What you said about Stuart is 100% correct as I have studied him(and Stonewall) my entire life. I tried to read one of Carhart’s books a while back. IT got tossed. To the library. I gave it away.
    Keep up the good work, Eric. Who cares about blowhards like him? I don’t. I know what I read, and it don’t mean anything to have been a soldier or not. Its the writer making it believable for his readers.

  14. Tue 16th Jul 2013 at 9:39 pm

    Everyone’s life experiences differ. And likewise the experience of veterans differ. So mileage varies greatly.

    What military experience offers is “a perspective.” I don’t say that is a better perspective. But is it as a different perspective from those who have not served in the military. A good writer will make the most of that perspective. Then again a good writer could probably cover the subject regardless of experience.

  15. Wed 17th Jul 2013 at 12:09 am

    I knew my two years in ROTC would eventually pay off.

    I don’t believe that Jim McPherson served, so what Carhart is really arguing is that the man who wrote the foreword to the book in question doesn’t know what he’s talking about, right?

  16. J. David Petruzzi
    Wed 17th Jul 2013 at 10:13 am

    Ha, Brooks – good point. Darn good point.

    And thank goodness you had those two years, I was just about to dismiss you….

    :)

    J.D.

  17. David C. Kinsella
    Wed 17th Jul 2013 at 10:15 am

    Like Brooks, I had my years in ROTC and a lifetime of studying military science, so we are at least knowledgeable on the subject. J.E.B. Stuart had insufficient numbers on July 3rd to be much more than a nuisance in the rear of the Union Army. And of course, J.E.B. Stuart could disrupt the Union lines of communication had his force been successful.

    Many of us are qualified by education, experience, and years of inquiry. A trained soldier or a civilian with no training has as much right to pursue the truth in Civil War history.

  18. Mike Peters
    Thu 18th Jul 2013 at 10:54 am

    Gentlemen,

    Besides being able to write, the historian needs research skills, passion, and impartiality. Those traits are found in many professions.

  19. John Foskett
    Thu 18th Jul 2013 at 6:47 pm

    “While I may not have the formal military training, like Carhart does, I have a license to practice law, and I know and understand evidence, weighing that evidence, and evaluating its credibility.” A more salient point in this discussion than one might think, because Carhart on his website claims to have a J.D. from Michigan and to have practiced “as an international corporate lawyer at the Archibald law firm in Brussels representing multinational corporations before the European Economic Community.” So you’d think he’d have the skills he is so obviously missing. And then there’s this thorny problem – using his own criterion, I’d like to know if he has commanded mounted cavalry in actual 19th century combat. Because otherwise he has the same amount of relevant “training” that I have..

  20. J. David Petruzzi
    Fri 19th Jul 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Indeed, John. I had a career military officer recently say to me that regardless of modern military training, it doesn’t translate very far into 19th century combat (or any military period in the far past anyway). Beyond perhaps getting shot at and having that sense and experience, modern military experience only goes so far when you’re talking about 19th century warfare. Driving a tank does little for the appreciation of mounted maneuvers. Carrying an M16 doesn’t mean a whole lot when you’re trying to discuss tactics with a muzzleloading weapon, etc.

    An another skill that Carhart is painfully lacking, obviously, is diplomacy. You’d think he would have picked that up along the way with all his experience. Saying what he said to me, about me and others, was the height of tactlessness and rudeness, regardless of his own stupid opinions.

    J.D.

  21. John Foskett
    Fri 19th Jul 2013 at 7:15 pm

    JD:

    I’ve had a similar discussion with the brother of a friend who graduated West Point and has occasionally taught there since. As he put it, “I know more than the “non-professionals” do about Civil War combat – including how to call in air support”. Carhart’s assertion reveals only one thing – massive insecurity. By the way, your end of this debacle was nicely handled.

  22. Ralph Hitchens
    Mon 22nd Jul 2013 at 1:47 pm

    What these guys said. Military experience can be useful in some cases, but sound scholarly methods are always needed, and there are many scholars and former journalists who do quite well in this field without actual military experience.

    Perhaps the chief contra-example is CNN’s “Valley of Death” fiasco back in 1998, where an investigative reporter with zero military experience waded fearlessly into a complex military issue making no effort whatsoever to inform herself about some of the “basics” about the Vietnam War, the units and the various military subcultures involved, the overwhelming evidence that contradicted her thesis, etc., and capped it off by deliberately withholding her piece from review by CNN’s senior military adviser, a retired USAF general who would have gladly set her straight had she only asked. When you approach history with something to prove, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

  23. Fri 26th Jul 2013 at 5:15 am

    I was actually shocked that they even had Carhart on one of the panels. His work has been so thoroughly discredited that they certainly could have found someone better. JD should get an award for self restraint and civility for just staying in his seat for the entire time as Carhart continually injected unrelated nonsense into the conversation.

    John

  24. billyray
    Sun 28th Jul 2013 at 1:49 pm

    Can anyone tell me where I can view this interview?

  25. J David Petruzzi
    Sat 03rd Aug 2013 at 10:39 am

    Billy Ray,
    I think PCN is or will put together a DVD or collection of the 150th coverage those three days. If I hear they’re available I will let you know. I’d like to see it myself – I don’t get PCN at home (we have satellite).

    John,
    Thank you – I think I was indeed squirming in my seat a bit, but I held onto the reins. Brian, the interviewer, kept making facial motions to me off-camera to cut off Carhart and get the discussion back to the topic. Did you see in the middle of the interview when Carhart held up his book and said “I’m just here to promote my book”? That was when I about fell off my own chair…

    J.D.

  26. Wed 07th Aug 2013 at 7:43 pm

    I’ve run across types like this as well. Just because somebody did a stint in the Marines or whatever (yet never served in combat) doesn’t mean squat when it comes to evaluating facts from 150 years ago. Frankly, it reminds me of those who claim that because I’m from the North I don’t really know anything about Confederate or Southern history. Gag me. Keep up the good work Eric.

  27. William Olenick
    Sun 09th Feb 2014 at 11:19 pm

    Well being a career soldier and a historian, the service adds a view on tactics and maneuvers. Of course the important part is remembering that current tactics are based on those used in the past. You must be about to view the evidence from the participants’ time period in which you are writing about. It helps being a soldier but by no means are soldier exclusive in writing history. I have meet many soldier who know not a thing about the Civil War.

Add comment

*

Copyright © Eric Wittenberg 2011, All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress