Now Reading…

4 01 2007

“No Disgrace to My Country”, the Life of John C. Tidball, by Eugene C. Tidball.  I chose this as my next Bull Run book tidball.jpgbecause artillerist John C. Tidball wrote an influential account of the battle, because this book has considerable material about West Point and the antebellum army, and because it is a front-loaded biography.  Eugene C. Tidball is one of the many lawyers trying his hand at writing Civil War history.  I have mixed feelings about lawyers as historians, in spite of their training to gather, evaluate, and present evidence, because at the same time they are trained to be advocates for their clients.  But it can’t be denied that some of them turn out some really good work.   As a lawyer and apparantly as a distant relative of his subject Tidball seems to have elements of birth  and profession standing in the way of objectivity.  We’ll see how he does – I’m only 50 pages in.

When I say this is a front-loaded biography, by that I mean it gives lots of detail on the subject’s life leading up to the “critical event”, in my case the Battle of Bull Run or the Civil War in general.  In most cases, at least in recent years, biographers of Civil War personalities give only cursory treatment of their lives leading up to the war.  This of course renders the biography only marginally useful in evaluating or even understanding the decisions made by the subject.  Decisions should not, and really can not, be evaluated based on their results.  They must be evaluated based on what was known at the time of the decision.  When it comes to biography, what we need to know more about is what shaped the actor prior to the events – the decisions.  As promised in ‘Splain it to me, Lucy!, I’ll talk about my ideas on this more, hopefully as early as this evening.  For now, I’ll say that a great example of how biography should be written can be found in Ethan Rafuse’s  McClellan’s War: The Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union.

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7 responses

7 01 2007
Dave Powell

Tidball was long time commentator on military affairs, as well. In addition to his long military career, he wrote many articles that appear in the Journal Of The Military Service Institution, including histories of the various battles from an artillery POV.

Dave Powell

7 01 2007
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks, Dave.

Tidball was certainly a prolific writer. Much of the biography so far reads more like an annotated memoir.

I’m not familiar with the journal you mentioned. Is it similar to the Army and Navy Journal/Gazette? I think journals like these and newspapers like the National Tribune are a gold mine of information on the period that is not used nearly enough. It’s strange that The Confederate Veteran and The Southern Historical Society Papers have been available in reprints and digital format for years while these Union sources are very tough to find. Hopefully, as digitization technology continues to improve we’ll see these become more accessible.

On a similar note, if anyone has a clean copy of the August 1911 edition of Cosmopolitan Magazine, let me know. I’m looking for a copy of an article in there.

8 01 2007
Dave Powell

The Journal was more of a scholarly work than the gazette. The journal eventually morphed into the service journals (Infantry, Armor, etc) that exist today. Throw in some PERAMETERS and you get the idea. A forum where modern military developments could be explored by the US army. Lots of stuff on the Franco-Prussian War, for example, and lessons-learned type stuff from our own ACW. Tidball surveyed arty practice in various battles.

Dave

8 01 2007
Dave Powell

>On a similar note, if anyone has a clean copy of the August 1911 edition of Cosmopolitan Magazine

We should have talked sooner:) I just got back from UW Madison on a gathering trip. They have it.

Dave

25 01 2007
So far I’ve managed to hold off… « Bull Runnings

[...] far I’ve managed to hold off… …chucking this Tidball book across the room.  But first, some [...]

21 03 2009
Shout Out « Bull Runnings

[...] already done it, I may as well say that I hope to make a post tomorrow about this infuriating Tidball biography I’m reading, and that right now I’m going to do a little more work on the Confederate OOB.  [...]

21 03 2009
Some Stuff I’m Working On « Bull Runnings

[...] in accounts of the First Battle of Bull Run; some annoying devices employed by the author of the Tidball biography; a hat tip to USAMHI; and a just purchased new book that covers the outbreak of the [...]

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