…why I even bother.
Let’s get a couple of things out of the way. I know that not every single person researching the First Battle of Bull Run (or even, if you prefer, the First Battle of Manassas) is going to use this site. I know a lot of people do, but I’m certain there are some who do not. And even those who do may only use a part of it. But I also know that, while there are some major issues which I feel almost everyone who has written about the battle have misapprehended, there is at least one minor misconception I thought had been put to rest: the uniforms of the 11th New York, and specifically those worn on July 21, 1861.
I’m not going to rehash that here. You can find other stuff I’ve written on the topic by searching the tag 11th New York in the cloud at the bottom of the margin at right, but this post sums things up nicely, I think.
What brings me to remind you of this is a book I’m currently reading and recently previewed, Custer’s Trials, by T. J. Stiles. So far it’s been what I expected – very nice writing and some interesting takes in the way of storytelling based on facts already in evidence. Some instances of a lack of familiarity with military structure during the Civil War, both theoretical and practical. But one inconsequential passage set me off, and perhaps is more illustrative of the stuff that gets in the way of folks like us, who have perhaps read too much, enjoying non-fiction story telling. Here it goes:
The cavalry did not stand by the artillery. Instead, the 11th and 14th New York infantry regiments hustled up the hill – the 11th wearing the baggy red pants of Zouaves, patterned after Algerian troops serving in the French army and something of a craze in America in 1861.
Ugh. No footnote, of course.
I have kept and will continue to keep in mind that this is a book about George Armstrong Custer. A character study. It will get some things wrong, as the author is not a specialist. He will rely on some he considers to be specialists (one author of very popular books on the Peninsula Campaign and of the Union Army commander, for instance). And I may not be happy with the results as far as that goes. But I will be guided by the question of how an error affects the story being told about Custer, as opposed to falling into the “if he got that wrong, what else does he get wrong” trap. That’s just plain lazy.