Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Revisionism and Falling Waters

Whenever the consensus behind a significant Civil War event has reached the point that the footnotes pertaining to its background in subsequent works merely cite secondary works that only reinforce the consensus, then it is always welcome when some hardy soul attempts a new assessment. These revisionist assessments range from unconvincing (ex. much of Alan Nolan's Lee critique) to eye opening (ex. Russel Beatie and David Detzer on Robert Patterson).

Conventional wisdom states that an aged and overly timid Robert Patterson was ordered to vigorously fix General Johnston's Shendandoah Valley force in place so that it could not escape to reinforce General Beauregard's army at Manassas. Patterson failed to do so and Johnston's reinforcements played a crucial role in the subsequent Confederate victory. Most historians place the lion's share of the blame for this squarely on the doorstep of poor old Robert Patterson. However, most recently, David Detzer's Donnybrook and Russel Beatie's Army of the Potomac: Birth of Command have convincingly made the case that the greatest blame should rather be attached to General Winfield Scott, whose orders to Patterson and constant declawing of Patterson's army simply did not allow for the aggressive advance that historians so vehemently criticize Patterson for not undertaking.

Coming back to the present, the current Fall 2005 issue of Blue and Gray Magazine just so happens to feature this campaign and the Battle of Falling Waters. I haven't had the opportunity to read it yet, but it will be interesting to see what tack author Gary Gimbel takes.