Friday, July 25, 2014

Contrasting Opinions

Two distinguished historians and two contrasting opinions of a book. Just for fun, I’ve included each of their opinions below, and then I’ll give my evaluation of John Scott’s, Story Of The Thirty-Second Iowa Infantry Volunteers published in 1896.

Dr. James I. Robertson, Jr., from Civil War Books: A Critical Bibliography, Vol. 1:

“A poor effort toward a history; the author borrowed heavily from official sources and some letters published in newspapers; there is no evidence that Scott relied on any manuscript sources” (page 156).

Dr. Ludwell H. Johnson from Red River Campaign: Politics & Cotton in the Civil War:

“This was by far the most valuable regimental history used. Scott was more compiler than author, and he gathered some very informative eyewitness accounts of the campaign. The map of the field at Pleasant Hill was extremely helpful in reconstructing the battle. The book also contains much information on the battle itself, and on A. J. Smith’s proposal to arrest Banks” (page 298).

So which opinion do I agree with? The winner is Dr. Ludwell H. Johnson in this instance. Most of Dr. Robertson’s evaluations in Civil War Books are reasonable to me, but his evaluation of the Scott book is puzzling. Yes, Scott’s book does include excerpts from the Official Records as did many regimental histories written by veterans. However, Scott’s inclusion of eyewitnessaccounts of the regiment’s campaigns makes his book particularly valuable to historians. Altogether Scott devoted 158 pages of his 526-page book to coverage of the Red River campaign. This is appropriate since the 32nd Iowa Infantry served actively in the campaign, and lost 86 men killed or mortally wounded at the battle of Pleasant Hill. Scott’s book is anything but “a poor effort toward a history.” 


  1. I'm glad you agree with Ludwell Johnson on this. His book on the Red River Campaign is my favorite on the subject. And speaking of the Red River Campaign, will you be attending the Civil War Symposium in Jefferson, Texas on August 9? The subject this year is the Red River Campaign.

  2. Yes, I still think that the Johnson book is the best! Pretty amazing that we can say that several decades after its publication. Unfortunately, I will be unable to attend the Civil War Symposium--looks like there is a great line-up of speakers so I'm sorry to miss it.

  3. My readings are almost exclusively on the Red River Campaign, but I've always thought that Scott's book is one of the best regimental histories I've ever seen. How can anyone not like this book? And why has it never come out in reprint?

  4. The Scott book is a favorite of mine even though it has some formatting issues and needed a bit more editorial work. Still, those accounts of the Red River campaign far outweigh those problems. I've heard that reprints of old regimental histories just don't sell that well, but I think if done right a reprint of the Scott book would definitely have a market.