“No Disgrace to My Country”, the Life of John C. Tidball, by Eugene C. Tidball. I chose this as my next Bull Run book because 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.