03 February 2007 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 12 comments

Yesterday, I got a call from JD, asking me if I had received a letter in yesterday’s mail accusing us of plagiarism of our work on the charge of the 1st Delaware Cavalry at Westminster, Maryland on June 29, 1863. Specifically, we were accused of plagiarising an unpublished manuscript on these events written by correspondent, submitted to the Carroll County, Maryland Historical Society, but never published by them. Neither JD nor I had ever even heard of the manuscript, let alone seeing it. In short, we’ve been accused of stealing from a manuscript we’ve never seen.

Neat trick, eh? I’ve often wished that I was good at mind-reading; I know my wife wishes I was a mind-reader when it comes to her. :-)

However, it’s never been one of my talents, and try as I might, I am utterly unable to read long distance by osmosis–and take verbatim–pieces of a manuscript that I not only have never seen, but had never even heard of prior to reading this individual’s letter. The basis for the claim was our using the moniker “the John Burns of Westminster” to describe civilian Francis Shriver, who joined the 1st Delaware Cavalry in fighting Fitz Lee’s Virginians, and because we made use of several unpublished manuscript sources.

Well, a descendant of Shriver wrote a book about his family’s role in the Civil War that was published by Heritage Books of Westminster, Maryland, and we got that particular moniker from Shriver book. As for the unpublished manuscript sources, well, let’s see….there is a copy of one of them in the archives of the Gettysburg National Military Park, which is where we discovered it. I found another by doing a Google search and then having a friend go to the Winterthur Museum and Gardens in Delaware to go get the manuscript material for me, and the final material came from another published source.

So, here’s the deal: we got all of our sources from fair and legitimate sources. Neither JD nor I have ever even heard of this manuscript, let alone having seen it. It is, therefore, entirely impossible for us to have plagiarized something we’ve never even seen. Needless to say, receiving this letter really pissed us both off. We combined forces to draft a response that is firm, professional, but quite insistent that we did absolutely NOTHING wrong.

We’ve both come to the conclusion that this guy–who claims to have spent forty years researching these events–is really pissed that we stole his thunder by publishing a well-respected account of the episode and beat him to the punch. All I can say is that it’s not our fault that the Carroll County Historical Society elected not to publish his manuscript–and there must be a reason for that–and that he’s angry that someone else is getting the credit for conducting good scholarship and writing a good account that made its way into print. So, instead of accepting that he might have had something to do with his own failure, it must, therefore, be our fault and we must have plagiarized a manuscript we never saw to do so.

Needless to say, this really pisses me off. I guess it’s the price of doing this sort of work, doing it well, and stealing someone else’s thunder in the process.

I’m sorry you feel that way, but it’s not my fault. Get over it.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Dave Powell
    Sun 04th Feb 2007 at 7:58 am

    It’s interesting to see how often I see charges of plagiarism. I know of at least two others personally: One where a guy who wrote on a subject got ranted at in a situation very close to yours, and one where a guy feels his thesis work was taken for a published work by another guy.

    I am confident you are not plagiarists.:)

    You just moved faster, and perhaps did better work than the other guy. he’s frustrated. I get that. But it is a bad idea to start making accusations over that kind of frustration.

    Too bad, but it will blow over…

    Dave Powell

  2. Paul Taylor
    Sun 04th Feb 2007 at 9:03 am

    Eric (and JD),

    I empathize entirely and from my own experience, I’d say your theory as to why this guy is torked is quite plausible. Perhaps this extends to any field of research, but I’ve encountered a few folks over the years who were EXTREMELY proprietary and territorial when it came to a particular CW topic.

    They had not written or published on the topic in question, yet seemed quite miffed when they learned of my, or others, efforts. Almost as if we were trespassing across their property…

    Hey, here’s an idea. Perhaps we in the ACW community could create a “first dibs” database for any given topic in the CW. That way, nobody has to worry about getting beaten to the punch! :-)

    Paul

  3. Sun 04th Feb 2007 at 10:59 am

    Hi All:

    First of all, thanks for a plagiarism charge that doesn’t involve those pesky academics. After that brouhaha last fall we needed a break. ;-)

    In all seriousness now, you’re on solid ground. The “[noun] of [some other battle or theater]” formula is common, especially when you get out west. I bet many fights have a John Burns figure. If that’s all he’s got, the charge clearly is capricious and should be ignored by all. I won’t take it seriously. At worst, the Carroll County group should be able to establish that you never saw the manuscript there or that they never mailed it to you. That is one reason why archives keep records of who is accessing what.

    Paul’s comments also seem particularly on target. He’s sure right about territorrialism, and I speak from unpleasant personal experience. I also encourage my students to give talks or publish long before they complete a dissertation precisely to establish “dibs,” or at least to inform people of what they’re working on.

    This too shall pass.

    Ken

  4. Sun 04th Feb 2007 at 11:08 am

    It’s obvious from the tone of the letter that this guy “claims” the Westminster fight for himself – he even goes so far in the letter to say that he knows anything and everything about the fight, there’s no source about it that he’s unaware of, and therefore what we did must have come from him…

    Unbelievable. And as Eric says, we never heard of this guy’s manuscript prior to this. And he admits that the Carroll County Historical Society did not publish it, so that’s a hint there’s probably a good reason – maybe it was poorly written or unworthy for whatever reason.

    I was steaming when I read the letter in Friday’s mail. The gall of this guy was astonishing. He implies that he’s let people know about our “theft” of his monopoly on Westminster – so in our response, Eric and I let him know that if we ever hear of any accusations by this guy from anyone else, we’ll take any and all action necessary to set the record straight. He better get the message and take it seriously. He’ll learn one way or the other – the easy way or the hard way – that flippant and unfounded charges can get you in very serious, and regrettable, hot water.

    J.D.

  5. Scott Mingus
    Sun 04th Feb 2007 at 5:19 pm

    I wonder if he realizes that Eric is an attorney. It’s dangerous to make unfounded claims of stealing intellectual property; it’s STUPID to do it when one of the people being accused in a lawyer. He better have one on his side…

  6. Sun 04th Feb 2007 at 7:06 pm

    Guys,

    I’m so glad that you all understand that you all can appreciate why this bothers us so much. All this clown had to do was to ask the folks at the Carroll County Historical Society, and they would have told him that we were not provided with a copy o fhis manuscript, and that would have been the end of it. Insteadd, he had handle things this way, and I take this as seriously as a heart attack.

    And Scott, you’re absolutely correct. I guess we will see how this plays out, but I sincerely hope that when JD sends out the letter, that’s the last we ever hear of this.

    Eric

  7. Sun 04th Feb 2007 at 11:41 pm

    I hope it ends it as well. Eric is indeed an attorney who works closely on copyright law, and I’m an insurance broker who spends a great deal of time on liability issues – malpractice, commercial, personal injury, and – libel and slander.

    This fellow DEFINITELY picked the two wrong guys to throw a pile of plagiarism BS at. Our letter back to him is to the point and very strong. As Eric says, if he just would have taken 30 seconds to as the folks at the Historical Society whether either of us, or anyone else, ever looked at his manuscript, he would have avoided all this embarassment.

    J.D.

  8. Tue 06th Feb 2007 at 6:17 pm

    Sir,

    I am the original coiner of the phrase:

    “get over it”

    I first used this expression in 1983 (prior to the widespread use of irony in network television) in a conversation, the last, I think, with my ex-wife.

    Please cease and desist in using this phrase without crediting me, the originator.

    Mannie (“there’s plenty of crazy people to go around”)Gentile

  9. Tue 06th Feb 2007 at 6:49 pm

    Mannie,

    It was Eric, not me :)

    Do you want to sue him? I’ll testify!

    J.D.

  10. Tue 06th Feb 2007 at 9:40 pm

    Mannie,

    LOL. Thanks for the laugh.

    Eric

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