This evening, I got a call from J. D. Petruzzi, who wanted to share with me an interview with Gary Gallagher in the new issue of Civil War Times Illustrated magazine. The gist of it is that Gallagher doesn’t believe that microtactical history adds anything to the body of literature on the Civil War, and that there’s nothing to be gained by publishing more books on the Battle of Gettysburg. I vigorously disagree with him on this point, but the man is entitled to his opinion.

What REALLY bothered me is that he then proceeded to rip Plenty of Blame to Go Around by saying something to the effect of “who needs new books on Stuart’s role in the Gettysburg Campaign, as there’s nothing new out there?” That statement made it abundantly clear that he has not read our book, for if he did, he would know that there is actually quite a bit of new material in the book that hasn’t ever seen the light of day previously.

J. D. has written a rebuttal that appears on his blog this evening, and I commend it to you.

I’ve always admired and respected Gary Gallagher. I have to admit that I’m terribly disappointed to see that he’s publicly ripped our book in print when it’s quite clear he hasn’t read it. If he had, he wouldn’t have made sweeping statements about our book that were flagrantly untrue. It’s very disappointing indeed that someone of his stature would launch an unwarranted and inappropriate attack on a book he hasn’t even read.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Fri 08th Jun 2007 at 11:26 pm

    Amen, Eric. As one will tell by reading my post, I’m very, very disappointed in his comments – so much so that I could really only deal with them with sarcasm. I just spoke earlier with a friend who knows Gary personally, and in a conversation with him was told by Gary that “we don’t need any new books on Gettysburg.”

    That’s a shame. To be that close-minded, that it drives your opinion of anything of the genre by dismissing it all out of hand, is impossible for me to understand.

    Does Gallagher truly believe we’ve gone as far as we can with all things Gettysburg? That the new literature “doesn’t take us anyplace?”

    Maybe for him. As for me and much of the rest of us clods, I have much more to learn. Perhaps my future days of study will be more exciting than his.

    J.D.

  2. Brad Snyder
    Sat 09th Jun 2007 at 8:08 am

    Eric,

    While everyone is entitled to have an opinion, it is disappointing and downright hypocritical that Mr. Gallagher would publicly criticize recent books about Gettysburg in general and, more specifically, recent books about jeb Stuart’s ride when 1) he hasn’t read the book written by you and Mr. Petruzzi and 2) he has himself written books about Gettysburg which have a narrow focus. Even if there were some validity to Mr. Gallgaher’s opinions, which obviously there is not, isn’t this a classic case of “the pot calling the kettle black.” My view is that Mr. Gallagher must have an exaggerated sense of his own self-importance. The critical and commercial success of “Plenty of Blame to Go Around” demonstrates that Mr. Gallagher is simply wrong.

    Brad

  3. Steve Ward
    Sat 09th Jun 2007 at 9:23 am

    In my humble opinion Gary Gallagher is way off base. He is yet another PhD “celebrity” style historian, whose has done very little to advance the field of Civil War study, other than to be a talking head on documentaries, adding very little meat to the shows. His books over the past few years have been nothing more than collections of essays. His commentary about your Stuart book is garbage. He probably read the dust jackets blurb, and felt comfortable making a substantive comment. For me at least, there is always room for new studies, like yours, that are based on new primary sources. It’s a shame that the general public even gives him the time of day. Steve.

  4. Mike Peters
    Sat 09th Jun 2007 at 10:09 am

    My opinion of Dr. Gallagher, to use a cliche, has done a complete180.

    Mike

  5. Sat 09th Jun 2007 at 10:21 am

    Sounds to me as though Gallagher is an elitist. They exist in all disciplines-it’s in their nature to display envy by being publicly critical of someone’s work. But then it most often is a facade to cover up their own problems.

  6. Valerie Protopapas
    Sat 09th Jun 2007 at 10:44 am

    ‘Someone of his stature…’ and by that, you have identified the problem. ‘Stature’ is something that, like honor has to be maintained. It isn’t bestowed upon the individual any more than a ‘reputation’ is bestowed never to be contradicted no matter what the person does.

    People like Gallagher and others I could mention like to hear themselves talk (or read their own writing) and they lose touch with the human aspect of existence – that is, that ANYONE can make an error and people should avoid statements that do not allow for natural human frailty. If he had said, ‘I don’t believe that there is much left to say about this issue…’ he could then graciously ‘recant’ and admit that, in fact, there IS more to be learned (actually, there is ALWAYS more to be learned and even persons like myself with NO expertise know that much!).

    When any author, historian, academic etc. start making, like Moses from the Mount, PRONOUNCEMENTS of fact and truth where no such ‘fact’ or ‘truth’ exists, then you know that their ‘stature’ has gone to their heads.

  7. Sat 09th Jun 2007 at 11:29 am

    I just put up another post on the subject on my blog this morning. I haven’t touched on the “elitist” or “academic” angle of Gary’s comments (yet) but I agree with what’s been said here.

    In talking with a friend about this last night, who happens to be a program director of a large CWRT, I was told that when given a possible name as an upcoming speaker to the RT, the academics in the group always ask, “Where does he/she teach?” That seems to be the litmus test for so many. I don’t want to get into that old academic vs. amateur debate all over again, but I can’t help but notice that most of the microhistory published today is by those “amateurs.” Much of academia is today publishing books about the social aspects of the war. And in that CWT interview, what does Gallagher finally say he’d like to see more of? The social history of Gettysburg – i.e, the effect on the civilians. I have a whole shelf full of books on the civilian impact. Perhaps he’s just not aware of them. Plenty of “amateurs” are writing those books, but maybe they’re just not up to his standards – or, maybe the authors don’t have “Ph.D.” after their name.

    I don’t know. But as I put in my post this morning, those of us who love the obscure, who are spending their time trying to find those details that Gallagher says just DON’T exist, we’ll just keep on keeping on.

    With or without his imprimatur or approval.

    J.D.

  8. Sat 09th Jun 2007 at 12:31 pm

    Eric,

    I can only say that regardless of credentials the work you and J.D. are doing is great.

    Your formal training as an attorney has no doubt added to the level of study that has been performed.

    This brings up the issue of who can publish and teach. Everyone should be able to, maybe not is formalized academic institutions, but surely in private groups and think tanks.

    Chris

  9. Sat 09th Jun 2007 at 2:47 pm

    I’ve also noticed that some of the elitist writers tend to be loose with historical opinion with little historical fact to back them up. They turn once respected historical figures into pathetic drunks or known incompetents into a genius, but cite nothing to support their new opinions. I’m told by a few people I’ve asked about this that juicing up a story tends to sell books.

    I’ve noted Eric’s comments about being careful about not creating unsubstantiated myths and agree with him about holding true to historical fact.

    Maybe it’s all about money.

  10. Barry Summers
    Sat 09th Jun 2007 at 4:15 pm

    He most likely mad because yall beat him to the punch. His next book on Gettysburg was going to be about Stuart….Maybe.

    I wonder if Eric found the lost report of Pickett if he would say there is no need to write a book about it.

    Everyone can have there own opinon and everyone can ignorne it. An’t that grand.

    Barry Summers

  11. Valerie Protopapas
    Sat 09th Jun 2007 at 5:10 pm

    Where does he teach? Why he teaches in the school of the interested as opposed to those schools whose ‘students’ take courses in order to fulfill some obligation relative to their major. The person who talks to the devotee has got to mind his ‘p’s and q’s’ because HIS audience knows their business. The professor in some college classroom could tell most of his students that the Wicked Witch of the West took Atlanta and Glinda the Good Witch led the Army of Northern Virginia – and they would neither know nor care whether or not the information was accurate.

    IMHO, the ‘amateur’ who writes for those passionately interested in the subject is far more qualified to opine than someone who merely deals with time servers and apathetic adolescents.

  12. Sat 09th Jun 2007 at 5:32 pm

    In addition, Valerie – just what has Gallagher written that’s original? He’s edited some collections of essays, but that’s it. He’s not written any ground-breaking battle, campaign, or event studies that I’m aware of. So I ask (and not rhetorically) what qualifies him to say in print what should and should not be written, or what it worthy and what is useless?

    As I told Eric this morning, I’ve been seeing Professor Gallagher as the Paris Hilton of Civil War scholarship… he is only famous for being famous. Knowledgable and personable to be sure, yes – I’m not saying that he doesn’t have the credentials. However, he doesn’t have the body of work behind him that one would equate with such an “ability” to judge the merits of what should and should not be published or pursued. In other words, how nice of someone to be able to pontificate about what should or shouldn’t be written, when he’s done precious little of it himself.

    If an author wants to do a 450-page book on two hours’ action in the RR cut at Gettysburg on July 1, and a publisher prints it, and a public buys it, then so be it. Gary must despise Gettysburg Magazine – each article is a microhistorical study. To him, it’s all a waste of time. For us, it’s our passion. I could never be that cynical – how miserable that must be.

    J.D.

  13. Sat 09th Jun 2007 at 8:21 pm

    Off the topic a little but this reminds me of an occasion several years ago when the ‘worm’ had a chance to turn. One of the offices in my business group was jam-packed with research statisticians, professors, directors of this and that. Most were easy to work with and with some coaxing, could even be down to earth fun people.

    But, a few would constantly bicker about their degrees, where they went to school, etc. One day, a PhD came in to my office and hob nobbed for a little while then asked me if I minded a question about myself. No, I replied.

    He wanted to know what particular training I had, my degrees (I never put papers on my wall) and qualifications for running a large research business unit.

    I pretended to think for a few seconds because I knew the answer was important to him. Then I said; “I’ve had formal training as a tank mechanic in an armored division.” Which wasn’t a lie, I had been in service several years prior. His response was ; ” you mean to say we are being managed by a tank mechanic?” I loved it. I think he was miserable for a month.

    You figure Gallagher is ‘annoyed’ by your books? Write and sell more.

  14. Brooks Simpson
    Sat 09th Jun 2007 at 8:40 pm

    I’d like to see the entire interview before I offer any comment on what Gary said (Pete Carmichael’s one of Gary’s PhDs). I post this here because while I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of meeting J.D., I have met Eric, and he was kind enough to take me on a short personal tour when we were working together at Gettysburg … so Eric can speak about me from personal experience.

    There’s an opportunity here, and there’s the potential for a sorry return to more of the same. To me Eric and J.D. have a perfect opportunity to make the case for the importance of their book to a better understanding of the Gettysburg campaign. They should use that to their full advantage. I don’t think Mark Grimsley would have written a foreword if he did not see merit in the book. I know I need to read their book carefully as I continue work on my volume on the Gettysburg campaign for the Great Campaigns series.

    Folks who do battlefield guides have to have an interest in tactical battle studies, so I think folks know that I do have an interest in them, even if my work does not focus on them. I would not write the book Eric and J. D. did, just as they wouldn’t write some of what I write. Frankly, no one’s forcing anyone to read anything, and there is an audience for these studies, so what’s the problem?

    But please, please don’t turn this into another professionals versus amateurs thing. Let me let you in on a little secret: my fellow peers in the profession outside of my immediate field believe I pander to a popular audience (that is, when I’m writing about the Civil War, not Reconstruction), while some people among the larger readership see me as academically aloof, part of some Grant cabal, or doing it only for the money (and I attract my share of lunatics, from some frustrated folk to neo-Confederates). That comes with the territory. I don’t judge my broader audience based on the comments of these few people, so please don’t paint with too broad a brush. Thanks.

    To cite Ricky Nelson, you can’t please everyone, so you’ve gotta please yourself. :)

  15. Steve H
    Sat 09th Jun 2007 at 8:58 pm

    Plenty of Blame is a great work. I just finished it and am in the process of reading it a second time to go more in depth.

    What is the criteria to distinguish a “professional” from an “amateur”? Is it solely based on being an academician? If so, that is crazy.

    Thanks for a great book and keep them coming-from a purely amateurish standpoint, of course.

  16. Sat 09th Jun 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Brooks,

    No, I haven’t had the pleasure of your company (yet, I hope!). And I do understand what you mean. I too wish to stay away from the amateur vs. pro issue, because I feel that just muddies the waters and paints with just as broad a brush as I feel is in Gallagher’s comment – and that gets us nowhere.

    The problem with his comment, as I see it, is the responsibility that someone of Gallagher’s status has (and certainly he must understand that). To those who are given much, much is expected. Think of how the authors of that Railroad Cut study would feel about his comment. And of the budding authors out there who are thinking of writing a “microhistory” or microtactical-type work on Gettysburg or anything else. As I mention in the follow-up post I made today on my blog, such a comment as this was made in a time when CW readership is down and spiraling further, reenacting/living history interest is down, battlefields and historical sites are under increasing developmental attack, and our younger generation is losing interest in history as their attention is demanded by the latest gizmo. I just feel it is irresponsible to make comments such as he made, and Gallagher should know better. I don’t believe you’d hear folks like Ed Bearss make such a statement, and you certainly wouldn’t have ever heard Brian Pohanka make it. I knew Brian well enough to know that he loved every bit of new research and felt that everything should be constantly revisited because you just never knew what new thing was around the corner, or lurking in someone’s attic or basement.

    The CWT issue was a Special Gettysburg issue, and here we have one of the premier CW historians basically saying that we just don’t need anything new on Gettysburg, and in fact what’s been coming out recently is virtually worthless. And that there’s nothing new to discover. Oh, that I had such omnipotence!

    When you get a chance to read the entire interview (if you do) please let us know what feeling you come away with from that comment – and whether it was constructive or not. Gallagher and others may be thinking those things, but to have actually articulated it and have it printed is simply beyond my understand. Pompous, or immature, or unwise, or undiplomatic – any or all of those – but just plain dumb to say.

    Steve H – thanks for the kind words and the second reading! Very kind of you. As for the pro vs amateur definition, basically anyone in the field of academia as a career is defined as a “pro,” whatever that means. Guess there’s lots of gray areas there, too. For some, it’s important to make that distinction, I guess.

    J.D.

  17. Sat 09th Jun 2007 at 10:16 pm

    Guys,

    Let me begin by saying how much I appreciate the votes of support posted here.

    Brooks, there is absolutely no doubt that you’re correct, and we will find a way to try to do just that.

    Although I pretty vigorously disagree with Gary, I do understand his point. I wonder if his objections to microtactical histories extends to those that have not been covered previously? My book on the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads is the ONLY detailed tactical treatment of that fight ever written, and I get into microtactics in it. Why? It was a soldiers’ fight, down to the individual level. So, is a work like that–with no prior tactical treatment–also objectionable in Gary’s view of thing? I certainly hope not, but it also sounds that way when you read Gary’s comments.

    And, for the record, you’re right, I do know you. We’ve spent some time together on the battlefield, and we’ve broken bread together. I have absolutely no intention of turning this into a professional vs. amateur thing, as that’s NOT what this is about. Rather, this is a Gary Gallagher thing, pure and simple.

    Eric

  18. Jim Lamason
    Sun 10th Jun 2007 at 11:44 am

    Hi all,

    Boy do I feel like a fish out of water ! :-) I am writing this among three very distinquished authors and JD and Eric, I count among my dearest friends.. (Mr. Simpson some day you and I are going to have to sit down and talk about G.K. Warren!). :-)

    But here goes. As I noted over on JDs blog, as one who continues to learn something new every time I visit Gettysburg and walk the grounds, I am astounded at Mr. Gallaghers comments!

    For instance. During my research into Burlings brigade at Gettysburg, I walked out to the approximate location of the brigade before it moves to the Rose farm where its broken up and sent to its destiny with history.
    While standing there, I opened up Joe Bilbys book on Remeber you are Jersey men, and read the account. I then opened up Tombs book on New Jersey and read his telling of the story. Then but not least, I pulled out the after action report of Burling, Humphry, and all of the regimental officers (Those who survived- so in some cases it was subordinates who wrote it)…
    What began to naw at me was their statements of recieving heavy arty fire from Seminary Ridge. Helllllooo!!! Where the brigade was, they cannot be scene from Seminary Ridge unless the AnV scouts were standing on Longstreets tower, and even then they would have had a hard time!!!

    We then moved to Roses farm. And having read the accounts allready, I am now really scratching my head.. Their accounts DONT MATCH THE GROUND!! My wife (A CW and Gettysburg novice who is learning fast), says Jim this doesnt add up!!! We have just learned something together and been spurred further to research this………..

    So in light of this.. What is my point??? Obvisouly there is still so much to learn! And this is about one brigade!!

    How many more mysterys are out there like this??? How many more retelling of the story to make sure the history we are telling is RIGHT! How much more research, exploration, walking the ground is it going to take before even I personally understand this brigades place in the largest battle of the Civil War, and in North America …….

    So Mr. Gallaghers comments seem to me to show either a distain for those of us who are stiill driven to explore, undertand, and yes tell the REST of the Story or maybe caught up way too much in his “impotance”..

    Jim Lamason

  19. Sun 10th Jun 2007 at 4:02 pm

    I know how you feel. I, too, have been subjected to criticisms of my book about Stonewall Jackson and his black Sunday school class by those who admit they never read it. Amazing that these same individuals then hold themselves out as “scholars.” It’s my opinion that such attacks are often prompted by jealousy and/or some other agenda.

  20. Brooks Simpson
    Sun 10th Jun 2007 at 4:25 pm

    G. K. Warren was my ancestor’s brigade commander; my ancestor joined the 5th New York during the Maryland campaign

  21. Mike Peters
    Sun 10th Jun 2007 at 5:33 pm

    Brooks,

    If I may ask, who was your Zouave ancestor?

    Mike

  22. Brooks D. Simpson
    Sun 10th Jun 2007 at 8:14 pm

    James L. Denton. He transferred later to the 146th when the 5th’s two years were up. He just missed Second Manassas. Whew.

  23. Nels
    Sat 13th Oct 2007 at 7:55 pm

    I’m new to the topic. Do members of this board have suggestions on who in their opinion are the best generalists on the war if one was interested in those who have the best and most interesting overviews of the entire conflict, its personalities, the era, etc?

    Thank you

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