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.