Those Pesky (and Just Plain Wrong?) Roman Numerals

8 07 2010

Of course there were no corps in either army at First Bull Run, but just bear with me and maybe you guys can help straighten me – or the powers that be – out.

I received a digital copy of my next Civil War Times article in what is now known as the Collateral Damage department – it was first called In Harm’s Way.  As usual, and as anyone who writes for a periodical should expect, there were some editorial changes.  One in particular caught my attention.  I have two really big pet peeves.  The first I’ve written about many times, and that is the use of an before variants of the word history.  The H is pronounced in all forms of history (unless you’re Cockney), therefore it should be preceded by a, not an.  Check out any style manual.

I know better than to give anyone an opportunity to foul that one up in the editing of anything I write, as much as it’s in my power to do that.  But it’s a little tougher when it comes to Union corps designations.  I always use Arabic numerals (1,2,3), while many, including my editors, prefer Roman numerals (I, II, III).  My thoughts have been that Roman numerals were not used during the Civil War to denote corps, so I shouldn’t use them either.  It’s been pointed out to me that the compilers of the Official Records usually spelled it out (First, Second, Third), but did not use Roman numerals.

Perhaps because today’s readers expect Roman numerals, what was 2nd Corps became II Corps in the final version of my article.  So when, and how, did the use of Roman numerals to designate Union corps come into vogue?  What’s your preference, and why: any middle-schooler will tell you that Arabic is way easier than Roman!

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