A Giant Passing

13 09 2010

Tom Clemens called me this evening with the sad news of the passing of historian Joseph L. Harsh.  Read his tribute here and here, and read an obituary here.  Dr. Harsh will be laid to rest, fittingly, on September 17, the 148th anniversary of the event that was so central to his career.

Joe Harsh had a huge impact on how I read and research.  I first met him about eleven years ago, at one of Carol Reardon’s Mont Alto Civil War conferences.  Joe’s mantra was “chronology, chronology, chronology”, or “what did they know, and when did they know it”.  It sounds simple, but especially when it comes to Dr. Harsh’s particular area of expertise, the 1862 Maryland Campaign, it’s surprising the number of folks who seem incapable of keeping those things in mind.

Joe was a wonderful conversationalist, and I have fond memories of sipping scotch into the wee hours in the gazebo outside Mont Alto’s dorm listening to his stentorian tones (think Charles Kuralt) as he opined on a variety of CW topics.  (I took the photo above in the gazebo in 2001 – that’s Keith Alexander on Joe’s right, and my nearly empty bottle of 12-year-old Macallan in the foreground.)  I remember how proud I was to stump him with his own book, Sounding the Shallows, the last installment of his three-volume legacy, asking how the regimental commanders of  Hood’s Texas Brigade managed to make it all the way through the Maryland Campaign without a scratch.  I felt pretty smug for a few seconds, until I remembered the magnitude of his work and mentally put myself in my place.  Joe was considerate enough not to do it for me.

A giant has passed – we may see his like again, but I doubt it.  Rest in peace.



5 responses

13 09 2010
Ted Savas

Indeed, this is a real loss. Those of you who have not yet read Dr. Harsh’s work cannot fully appreciate the import of his passing. That trilogy is the best overall campaign study ever done on any campaign in my humble opinion. I have read the first two volumes three times. (The third volume is less a narrative than it is a “statistical notebook”–my description.) Each time I read his work I uncover numerous gems of interest and eyebrow raising levels of understanding. Truly, you cannot–and I mean CANNOT–understand the Maryland Campaign until you read at least the first two volumes of his trilogy. Do yourself a favor and read them . . . slowly. Savor them. They are well worth your time and money.

Rest in Peace and thank you for your work on our behalf and on the behalf of posterity.



14 09 2010
Larry Freiheit


What sad news. You are very lucky to have met and talked with Dr. Harsh, all I have are his books and articles but am fortunate to have a signed copy of Taken at the Flood. I am so sorry not to have met him.

Mr. Savas is correct IMO that his study of the Maryland Campaign will never be surpassed; it was required reading in one of my graduate courses some years ago and I thank Dr. Hagerty for that requirement.

Fortunately, his students such as Dr. Clemens and Dr. Rafuse are well able to bring to us the benefits of his scholarship and tutelage.



14 09 2010
Dr. Robert Hamann

Dr. Harsh was gifted in how he presented the Civil War- spoke about it and related his thoughts so clearly. The CW Community will miss one of its most brilliant minds.

pkdbladerunner@yahoo.com on Facebook


15 09 2010
John Foskett

Agree with these comments. Hopefully, as a fitting tribute, somebody can access Dr. Harsh’s work and publish the Army of the Potomac version of his “Sounding the Shallows”. I believe that he had that project in mind at one point.


23 09 2010
Keith Yoder

Our local Centreville newspaper had a nice front page write-up about Dr. Harsh.



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