About once per week, I get a call from J. D. about something he has found on Google’s book search site. He spends a lot of time trolling the complete versions of the public domain books that can be found there. He will call me to tip me off to some really obscure source that is of interest, and a fair number of them pertain to Ulric Dahlgren. Yesterday was an especially good one.
Abraham Lincoln had three personal secretaries. Two of them are well-known, John Hay and John G. Nicolay. The third is not well-known at all. His name was William O. Stoddard, and Stoddard wrote a memoir of his time at the White House titled Inside the White House During War Times. There was a nice anecdote in the book that recounted a dance that Ulric Dahlgren attended in Washington, D. C. in February 1864, just after being fitted for a prosthetic leg. Doris Kearns Goodwin recounts this incident in her book Team of Rivals, but I had been unable to locate her source, so my working draft cited to Goodwin’s book. When J. D. tipped me off the Stoddard book, I now not only had the primary source, I also had three good quotes to use that Goodwin had not employed. I now cite to the primary source, which is always my preference when writing.
The problem is that this sort of thing keeps happening. Folks are constantly feeding me tidbits when they know I’m working on projects, and I really appreciate their thinking of me. Usually, they’re items worth having, so I’m grateful to get them. The problem, however, is that it raises a very legitimate question: when do you have enough? When do you say enough already? I’ve been writing the Dahlgren bio on and off for fourteen–almost fifteen–months now. There have been long gaps due to things going on in my life, but I’ve been diligently pressing forward with this work and it’s pretty much finished at this point. However every time that I think it’s done, something else surfaces like the Stoddard material that J. D. tipped me off to yesterday.
My old friend Clark B. “Bud” Hall has been working on a study of the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station for something like twenty years now. For about ten of those years, I’ve been steadily feeding him primary source material on the battle as I find it. Bud already has hundreds–perhaps even thousands–of sources on the battle, and it really becomes a question of decreasing returns. When do you say “Enough”?
A basic proposition is that you will never get EVERY source pertaining to a particular topic. It’s impossible because of the vast amount of material that remains in private hands or is far too difficult to find because it’s in some incredibly obscure place where nobody would ever think to look. That means that, at some point, the historian has to say, “Okay, I’ve given this my best shot” and pull the trigger. I think I’m now at that point with Dahlgren. There is one thing I’ve been looking for, and if it turns up, I will gladly have it, but other than that, I think I can safely say that I have more primary source material on Ulric Dahlgren than anyone else has ever accumulated. Consequently, I’ve adopted the attitude that if someone else can surpass my research, then bully for them, and I will be the first one to shake his or her hand and say “job well done”.
There is clearly a point where enough is truly enough, and with the exception of locating this one particiular newspaper account apparently written by Ulric Dahlgren just a few weeks before his death that has turned out to be pretty much impossible to find, I’ve reached my “enough is enough” point with this project. I’ve been searching for that article for several years now, and I’ve pretty much given up at this point after reviewing dozens of papers. It’s literally like searching for a needle in a haystack, and I’ve reached my point of frustration with it. That means it’s about time to pull the trigger and declare the project complete.Scridb filter