Frank Varney and the Mangling of History

by Ned B. on December 6, 2013 · 61 comments

I have been working my way through General Grant and the Rewriting of History by Frank Varney, that was published by Savas Beatie this past July, and I have a problem: I am so annoyed by it I might not be able to finish. I wanted to like this book, but do not be surprised to find me writing multiple blog posts pointing out how bad it is.

Let me briefly describe what is good about the book, as I can get that out of the way in a quick paragraph. The premise of the book is good. Grant’s memoirs definitely have had an impact on the presentation of history. Memoirs, by their nature, are written from a subjective point of view and there have been authors who have too readily accepted and relied upon Grant’s version of events. So I like the idea of a book that critically examines what Grant wrote and challenges how others have used his memoirs. But a good concept only works if the execution is good and here Varney fails.

Camp Pope Publishing

Varney may not have realized a problem facing writers of civil war history in the 21st century: there are some of us who are obsessed with the Civil War (see what the name of this blog stands for) and the Internet puts a lot of the source material at our finger tips.  So when I see an interesting reference or quote and I am curious to know more, I check the citation and search online to read the source.  This process first exposed problems with Varney’s book.

For example, on page 77, in the section about the battle of Iuka, appears the following:
Confederate general Dabeny Maury said in his after-action report, “Rosecrans struck us a heavy blow. Grant failed to cooperate, fortunately, and we got back to Tupelo considerably worsted.”88

I thought this was an interesting quotation, so I looked at footnote 88 which cited OR 17, pt.2, 103. The Official Records (ORs) are available freely online so I quickly looked up the citation here.  What one finds is that part 2 of volume 17 contains correspondence not after action reports, and page 103 is Union correspondence from July 1862 and has nothing to do with Maury’s after action report. So the footnote pointed to the wrong page — is that a big deal? Maybe it was just a typo: Maury’s report appears at OR 17, pt.1, 136. Yet even after finding the right page, I discovered that the quoted statement isn’t actually in Maury’s report at all! So to recap, Varney wrote “Maury said in his after-action report” and then quotes something that is not in Maury’s after-action report and footnotes to something that is neither Maury’s after-action report nor the source of the quote. This has the facade of scholarship — an official looking footnote — that fools some people into thinking Varney has ‘built solid cases’ and ‘examined primary sources’, but it is actually sloppy and misleading work that I find disturbing from a history professor.

Because of the wonder of the Internet, we can search for the elusive Maury quote. It turns out to be from Maury’s memoirs, published in 1894.  Oddly, while he uses the quote, Varney does not include Maury’s memoirs among his bibliographic sources though he does list an article Maury wrote in 1872.  It is interesting to compare what Maury wrote over 30 years after the battle (“Rosecrans struck us a heavy blow” ) with what he wrote 10 years after the battle (“Rosecrantz had been beaten.“).  It is also curious that Varney quotes Maury’s memoirs, which he tries to pass off as his after-action report, but doesn’t quote from the post war article, which is listed in his bibliography.

Here is another passage, from page 114 in the chapter on the battle of Corinth, that has really got under my skin:

” Both Woodworth and Cozzens repeat an anecdote that Rosecrans told the chaplain of the 50th Illinois that the army was whipped, and issued a panicky order to burn the baggage train – a course from which the chaplain firmly dissuaded him in stern reprimanding tones. The only problem with that story is that neither Woodworth nor Cozzens gives any source for it, and the 50th Illinois was not part of Rosecrans’s command; it was in Bolivar with Hurlbut. Its action in the Corinth campaign would come during the fight at the Hatchie, not in Corinth. Why its baggage and its chaplain would have been in Corinth needs to be answered before the story can be accepted as fact – and some source should be given for it by these two fine historians.” 
 

So first Varney attacks Cozzens and Woodworth by claiming they didn’t give a source for the anecdote, except that both do give a source.  The source that both give is also freely available online here, so we aren’t talking about something obscure and hard to track down. With a little effort, Varney could have found the source himself rather than making false accusations against Cozzens and Woodworth.

If you ever wonder when it is a good time to take an extra moment to check your work and diligently cite sources, I recommend right after you have leveled false accusations against other writers. But Varney keeps digging a deeper hole for himself by declaring that “the 50th Illinois was not part of Rosecrans’s command; it was in Bolivar with Hurlbut”.  Of course, after attacking Cozzens and Woodworth for allegedly not sourcing, Varney doesn’t source his own claim at all.  Perhaps because there are no sources that validate what he wrote but there are multiple references to the 50th Illinois in the official records that put it at Corinth, in the battle. For example, one can read the after-action report by the regimental commander, it is also mentioned in the report of the brigade commander and the reports of General Davies, General McKean, and General MacArthur, and you can see it listed in the table of casualties at Corinth.  Thus with a teeny effort at scholarship on the subject of his book (it took me just a couple minutes to collect those links), Varney might have realized himself that the 50th Illinois was at Corinth. But yet, without citing anything, he declared the regiment was not there.

I understand that errors happen in writing. I make them too. But it strains credibility to think this is just a typo, or a misplaced word or a few transposed letters. This is an emphatic statement that in actuality is a complete falsehood without any supporting citations right after he falsely attacks two other historians for allegedly not sourcing the anecdote they used.

I don’t feel these are isolated examples, but rather are symptomatic of Varney’s assault on the historic record. A successful writer of history needs to earn and hold the trust of the reader. Varney snares readers with a mask of scholarship, then abuses their trust with mangled history.


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{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Rea Andrew Redd December 6, 2013 at 10:06 am

Ned, Thanks for your detective work on Varney’s notes! RAR

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jackie martin December 6, 2013 at 10:55 am

I wholeheartedly agree, this book is not worthy of my time and attention. Unlike you, I did NOT finish it. I literally tossed it aside, and selected a book I am ANXIOUS to read, John Hay’s autobiography!! The discrepancies in this book, Varney’s lack of knowledge of certain events and his seemingly disregard for facts and evidently the lack of energy in pursuing these facts, as with the 50th Illinois’ whereabouts at Corinth, just one illustration of disparagements throughout. So, if a writer cannot put much thought and thorough accuracy into his work, I certainly am not putting much time into it, either. Thank you, Ned, for validating my opinion on this book!!

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Cam Rob December 7, 2013 at 9:43 pm

Many thanks Ned.
What is really disappointing is Varney is supposed be a professionally trained, academic historian, and hence one would think we could rely on his scholarship. In the histories of the Great War we also see sloppy research, and unsubstantiated claims. Yet checking the sources one finds they are either a distortion of what was actually written, the quote and source just doesn’t exist, or parts of the source that don’t fit the historians pre-conceived ideas have been left out – all written by people with a PhD. With all the sources at hand from both sides, a greater knowledge of the situation than those at the time had, and the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, this is nothing short of incompetent – a charge the historian is all too ready make about generals. A sad reflection on the integrity of some modern “scholarship.” Thanks to your comments, and Jackie’s, I won’t be purchasing this book.
Cheers from Australia.

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James F. Epperson December 10, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Good job, Ned! Sorry you had to pay for this piece of trash, though.

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Ned B. December 10, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Thank you Jim. One thing of value I take away from the book is that it inspired me to write, not just this review but some other blog posts in the works.

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Joshism December 10, 2013 at 8:08 pm

I look forward to seeing more such blog posts about this book.

One thing I have learned is that if I ever publish a book I need to over a citation for darn near everything. Not only because this and similiar blog posts demonstrate how a work can be torn apart, but also because I have all too often found myself coming across something interesting I want to know more about, flipping to the endnotes, and ending up frustrated when the author has given no citation for the statement in question (I’ve noticed some otherwise very good authors have a bad habit of citing nothing except direct quotations).

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Sir December 11, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Book deleted from my Amazon shopping basket. Thank You.

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David Moore December 12, 2013 at 1:29 am

Mr Ned B. in your heart of hearts you know you have hardly addressed the case Frank Varney makes against Gen Grant. Instead you have nit-picked two citations. In regard to Dabney Maury perhaps instead of the sentence fragment you cited from 1872 you should have cited what Maury wrote in 1878:
“Then was manifested to the minds of some the mysterious force of that man, who, after misconduct which had cost better men their commissions, and in spite of widespread charges of drunkenness, was again entrusted with the most important military enterprise ever undertaken in the West, and with the greatest army that had ever yet been assembled outside of Virginia. The war was now two years old; and in that time Grant’s career had embraced the doubtful affair of Belmont, the capture of Fort Donaldson, the disastrous first day at Shiloh, the battle of Iuka, in which Grant did not fight at all, but by his slowness opened the way for Price’s retreat, after he had repulsed Rosecranz, the battle of Corinth, won by Rosecranz during Grant’s absence, who, on his return, not only failed to follow up the beaten army of Van Dorn, but allowed it to recruit and reorganize close by him, and when at last he did march against it, he moved (with overwhelming forces) so cautiously and slowly that by Christmas he was only six days march from Corinth, where his enemy had been almost destroyed three months before. This unpardonable inaction, and the grave neglect to guard his depots, gave Van Dorn the opportunity to pass behind him, destroy all the supplies of his army, and defeat his campaign. Yet, after all this, Mr. Lincoln recognized in Grant the qualities essential for the successful leader of his armies; and he then reposed in him irrevocably his absolute confidence; and there it rested, through evil report and through good report, to the very end. What made him do it, no man can tell; but he did it, and the results are before us!”
Here is the source for the above quote https://archive.org/stream/Southern-Historical-Society-Papers-volume-5/SHSP-05-wmm#page/n231/mode/2up Pages 227-239
The source you cite for your second complaint is a book published in 1894, thirty-two years after the Battle of Corinth. So thirty years is too long to trust Maury but thirty-two years is acceptable for the source you like.
Frank Varney’s main argument is with the record vs. Grant’s Memoirs. He shows that many historians sympathetic to Grant’s disputes with Rosecrans only cite Grant’s Memoirs, nothing else.
I suspect Mr. Ned B. that your main interest is defending Grant rather than determining the truth. In the case that I am wrong and you are interested in the truth you might start by reading the many works of Henry V. Boynton, a participant in the campaign for Chattanooga,winner of the Medal of Honor, and first Superintendent of Chickamauga Battlefield Park and a severe critic of Grant and Sherman.
As far as Corinth, the author of the most recent book on the battle, Tim Smith when asked about Rosecrans’ performance answered:

Civil War Trust: There has been much positive and negative commentary on William Rosecrans’s generalship during the Second Battle of Corinth. Where do you come down on his performance at Corinth?

Tim Smith: After the battle, rumors flew all around that Rosecrans had run away, that he was a coward, and so on. While there were some curious activities on Rosecrans’s part at Corinth, I nevertheless think he did pretty well overall. He had a plan, and that was much like Shiloh’s winning formula – falling back slowly during the first day, tiring the enemy out, and withdrawing to a strong last line where reinforcements (coming under James B. McPherson and E. O. C. Ord) could help him out. And it worked, so I think he fought a pretty good battle.

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Ned B December 12, 2013 at 3:18 pm

I don’t feel the need in this review to address the details of the case that Varney attempts to make about Grant. My review was about Varney’s handling of evidence and not about his views of Grant. Since I found that Varney mishandles quotes and citations and misstates facts, I feel that whatever point he is trying to make about Grant has been fatally comprised by his errors.

You also suggest that I “like” a source yet I said nothing of whether I liked or disliked or trusted or did not trust any specific source. What I did do is point out that a source existed and that Varney’s uncited claims about the 50th Illinois are wrong. I am interested in the truth, not misrepresentation and error.

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David Moore December 12, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Ned
Is your main problem with the Dabney Maury quote the mis-citation
or do you feel Frank Varney misstated how Maury felt about Grant and Rosecrans?
Isn’t your quote ” Rosecrantz had been beaten” itself a truncated citation of what Maury wrote? ( See page 611 of The Southern Magazine, Volume 10. )
It appears Maury implied Rosecrans was beaten back but planned to attack again the next morning. I’m sure I needn’t remind you that Grant, the commanding general, did not participate in the battle of Iuka.

You say you don’t “feel these are isolated examples, but rather are symptomatic of Varney’s assault on the historic record.”
You don’t “feel” or you don’t know?
You say “I am so annoyed by it I might not be able to finish [the book].
Did you finish the book or is your review and its judgement of an “assault on the historic record” based on a partial rather than a complete reading of the book?
Peter Cozzens accuses Grant of lying about aspects of the Chattanooga Campaign?( Shipwreck of Their Hopes p 391-2)
It seems to me that Grant’s truthfulness and how it affected the careers and reputations of many Civil War figures is the main point of Frank Varney’s book. A thoughtful and thorough review should engage that central issue.

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Ned B. December 12, 2013 at 10:05 pm

My main problem with the Maury quote is the misrepresentation and mis-citation: identifying in the text that the quote is from one place when it actually came from somewhere else and the footnote refers to a completely unrelated third source. I thought I was pretty clear about that. My second problem is that Maury wrote different things at different times which is something that ought to be evaluated but isn’t.

I’m not sure what you are trying to say about Maury’s 1872 article. Maury does clearly write (not just imply) that Price intended to attack Rosecrans in the morning. Is that what you are referring to?

I don’t feel they are isolated examples but since you insist I will also say that I know they are not isolated examples.

I am also not sure what your point is about Cozzens.

I have since finished the book. There is a lot to deal with in it but I only have so much time and space to write so I had to make choices for my review. If I had simply written that it is poorly written and fails to deliver on its main point, I would have been attacked by the likes of you for lack of specifics and for being a Grant apologist. So I have started with a few specifics that have nothing to do with my own views on Grant or on Rosecrans but that I believe demonstrate the shortcomings of the book.

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David Moore December 12, 2013 at 11:13 pm

You seem in your truncated Maury quote to imply that Maury believed Rosecrans was beaten. I think the full sense is that Maury believed Rosecrans was beaten back from his, unsupported by Grant, assault but was quite prepared to fight the next day.
I can assure you Maury had a consistently low, to be mild, opinion of Grant from the 1870s on.
The point about Cozzens is that he, like Varney, accuses Grant of lying. Are you going to start picking through Cozzens citations for errors?
You have time and and space to write a review but when asked to elaborate and give example to support the accusation of an “Assault on the historic record” you all of a sudden have no time or space.
Your last statement seems to say your review is not about the main theme of Varney’s book but rather about two citation errors. Why not tackle the central idea of the book?
For those who have dismissed Frank Varney”s book based on Ned Baldwin’s admittedly unthorough review perhaps the following conclusion by Dave Powell, a leading authority on Chickamauga. will cause you to reconsider:
… General Grant and the Rewriting of History is an important read for any student of the war. It warns all of us of the dangers of over-reliance on single source history and a too-quick acceptance of one man’s version of events.

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Ned B. December 12, 2013 at 11:53 pm

In his article in 1872 Maury clearly stated that Rosecrans was beaten. Those are the words he uses. Its not an implication. So you’re not making sense.

As for Cozzens, writing about “Shipwreck of their Hopes” would be a different review than this one and since that book is many years old it would not be that timely. So again, not clear what point you are trying to make here.

My point about time and space was that I chose to give just a couple of examples in the review because I only gave myself so much time to write the review and wanted to keep it to a certain length.

You seem to feel I am avoiding the issue while I thought I was being self-evident. Since you don’t get it, let me spell it out. In your criticism of Jim Epperson you wrote “Familiarity with the subject is the one requirement of judging anything seriously and honestly.” In reading the book I found multiple errors the result of which is that I question how familiar the author is with the subject. If he is not sufficiently familiar with the subject, how in your opinion can he be an accurate judge of it?

I am going to waste more of my time and the space on this blog to give you some more examples in hopes that you grasp what I am getting at.

When Varney writes that Grant “sent no reinforcements to the Army of the Cumberland until he was placed in overall command of the department”, that’s factually false.

When Varney writes that Dana “arrived at Rosecrans’s headquarters directly from those of Grant” that’s factually false.

When Varney writes that “no such orders sending Dana to Rosecrans exist” that’s factually false [you can see the order at the bottom of page 229 in OR Series 1 – Volume 30 (Part III)].

After this string of false statements (all on the same page), Varney writes that “perhaps Dana was sent by Grant, not by Stanton”. Now he isn’t talking about the truthfulness of Grant’s memoirs — the memoirs aren’t mentioned is this passage — nor is he discussing other authors reliance on the memoirs — no other authors are mentioned here. He is speculating about what he imagines Grant did based on a set of factually incorrect assertions. I see a problem with that. How can I accept Varney’s version of events when I see what it is based on?

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David Moore December 13, 2013 at 11:26 am

Here is the full paragraph which includes the phrase “Rosecrantz had been beaten”:
While Rosecrantz advanced by this Jacinto road, which enters Iuka from the south, Grant was to attack by the Burnsville road from the west. As generally happens in combined movements, there was want of concert of action. Rosecrantz had been beaten and forced back by Little, when, at about sunset, Grant deployed in front of me. He was then too late to attack me that night.
You wrote in your review:
“It is interesting to compare what Maury wrote over 30 years after the battle (“Rosecrans struck us a heavy blow” ) with what he wrote 10 years after the battle (“Rosecrantz had been beaten.“).”
You place a period after beaten changing the context and meaning of the phrase. This may seem to be nitpicking but it is you who seems so concerned about precise citation. The bigger point is that Dabney Maury had a poor opinion of Grant as a soldier and a person as can be seen by reading his 1878 article which I have cited and referenced above.
In regards to Charles Dana again you lose sight of the bigger point Varney makes which is Dana lied in his reports to Washington about the condition of Rosecrans’ army after Chickamauga.
It seems you can’t see the forest for the toadstools.
My purpose is writing these posts is not to engage in a game of “gotcha” I really could care less if you like Varney’s book or not. I do care that others may be dissuaded from reading the book because of your review. That is unfair to them. I have already cited Dave Powell’s positive review. Below is a link to a review of the book by Edward Bonekemper, a historian whom Varney criticizes in his book. The review begins:
This superb book disproves the notion that there’s nothing new to learn about the Civil War. Frank Varney builds a convincing case that William Rosecrans has been treated unfairly by historians and, perhaps more significantly, that Ulysses S. Grant deliberately destroyed his reputation and the reputations of other Civil War generals.
The full review can be read here: http://www.civilwarnews.com/reviews/2013br/sept/grant-varney-b09137.html

I hope we both agree that a purpose of history is to try and find the “truth” of what happened in the past. I think we would agree that interpretations of the past can and have changed. I hope we would agree that rational people can disagree. You have a negative opinion of Frank Varney’s book. I really only wish to show that other reviewers with a deep knowledge of the subject disagree with your assessment. I hope you are broad minded enough to allow that other people may be right at least on some things. I fear you hope that your review will keep people from reading Varney’s book. I hope that’s not the case.
Thank you

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Ned B December 13, 2013 at 1:06 pm

My excerpt from the Maury article did not change the context or the meaning at all. In quoting the full paragraph you have shown no change in meaning. And the bigger point is not Maury’s opinion of Grant since that is not the use of the Maury quote in Varney’s book nor is relevant to any point I have made about Maury’s writings.

Regarding Dana, I have not lost sight of the point all. The point is that a number of things Varney writes about Dana are factually wrong and he builds conclusions on these untruths.

I definitely feel that the purpose of history is to try and find the truth of what happened, and this book does not do that. Therefore I believe that it is in the interest of truth that other people should be informed about the problems with this book.

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David Moore December 13, 2013 at 3:32 pm

I ll just say that others who know a lot about the topics touched on in Frank Varney’s book disagree with your assessment of it. Indeed they praise the book,
Thankfully there exists not only the right to express disagreements but the technological means of disseminating the disagreements.

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James F. Epperson December 12, 2013 at 11:08 am

Mr. Moore, Ned’s point is very simple: If you are going to suggest that other historians have done shoddy work, you had best make sure your own work is above reproach. And Ned demonstrates that Varney’s work is not beyond reproach. Now, if these are the only flaws in the book, then it could be said there was some carelessness and that might be the end of it. But I doubt these are the only flaws.

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David Moore December 12, 2013 at 11:22 am

Mr. Epperson, have you even read Varney’s book which you refer to as ” a piece of trash”?
If so could you please give examples of “trash”
If not, well I needn’t say more.

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James F. Epperson December 12, 2013 at 11:34 am

Calling the book a “piece of trash” might have been a bit over-the-top, and for that I apologize to Dr. Varney. But I do have serious questions about parts of the book. To answer your question, I have not read it and have very little intention of doing so, based on Ned’s findings and my own qualms about some of the claims made in a chapter that the publisher put online.

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jackie martin December 12, 2013 at 1:24 pm

As with many books of this caliber, Varney brings forth information that foments numerous “discussions” concerning the characterizations and abilities, in this case, of Grant and Rosecrans. If you are pro-Grant, this book will rankle you, and illustrations of Rosecrans’ poor tactical judgments (Chickamauga),slowness to move (following victories at Iuka and Corinth, after Murfreesboro), “eccentricity and impulsiveness”, as cited by his commanders/staff members, etc., will “confirm” your opinions of the skills of Rosecrans. On the flip side, if you are pro-Rosecrans, you will laud Varney’s overdone (MY opinion) portrayal of Rosy’s hero status and victim of what seemed to be a burgeoning conspiracy against him, from all sides. You will rightfully applaud his triumphant victory in Tullahoma Campaign. But in the end, YOUR opinion is all that matters, and valid arguments from both sides, will probably not sway you much regarding this subject of Grant and Rosecrans, and, for that matter, ANY subject concerning the Civil War. We all know the volatile feelings that emerge when discussing this war.
Lastly, if one peruses the “Papers of Ulysses S. Grant,” edited by John Y. Simon, which is thoroughly researched, any violations/misdoings on Grant’s part would definitely be acknowledged. This is online at U.S. Grant Association’s website. THEN, the validity of Varney’s claims might be more credible and acceptable.

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James F. Epperson December 12, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Mr. Martin makes a number of good points. One thing that has always offended me about the Varney book is the implication that this is some kind of conspiracy spanning over 100 years: First, Grant deliberately lied in his Memoirs (instead of being human and in incredible pain from the cancer that killed him); second, legions of historians that followed have uncritically accepted “Grant’s version” (instead of professionally reaching different conclusions than Varney does). There is no question that Grant and Rosecrans did not get along—not in the 1860s, and not in the 1880s (Rosecrans, as a member of Congress, tried to block a bill that would have placed the terminally ill Grant on the retired list, thus making him—and Julia—eligible for a pension), and they were on opposite sides of several controversies. But we don’t need to go channeling Fox Mulder to explain this as some vast conspiracy.

(PS: Stanton didn’t like Rosecrans, either.)

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Brett Schulte December 12, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Did Stanton like anyone? 😉 Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

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Brett Schulte December 12, 2013 at 2:12 pm

I wanted to add a few housekeeping items to this thread.

First, in a related item, the posts I did earlier this summer on the book (do a search for “Varney” in our search box if you want to take a look) lost all of their comments at some point between then and now. It wasn’t just those posts. For some reason, and I’ll have to look into it, ALL of the posts at TOCWOC lost their comments from mid-2013. I’m disappointed this happened, because there was some good discussion in those comments, including some from Ned which in part started his journey to writing the post above.

Second, I was told that Dr. Varney tried to acknowledge the writing of this post via a comment. I honestly did not see that comment, as it probably was mistakenly put into my spam queue where I then missed the chance to rescue it from oblivion. I believe Dr. Varney will be sending along another comment soon, so be on the lookout for that.

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jackie martin December 12, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Mr. Jim (may I call you Jim?), not that it’s a BIG deal, and hopefully won’t sound petty, but it’s not “Mr.” Martin, it’s female Martin, (cuz I don’t like the tag, “Ms”, either), haha—but no offense intended!!!

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James F. Epperson December 12, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Sorry about that—my most abject and humiliated apologies. And, yes, you may call me “Jim,” as can anyone else.

JFE

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Chris Evans December 12, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Excellent review.

Thanks for pointing these flaws out.

Chris

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Frank Varney December 12, 2013 at 5:40 pm

I’m going to take another stab at replying to some of the comments on this site. Unfortunately I’m in the midst of the end-of-semester crush (something anyone involved in academia will understand) and have simply not had time to give Brett’s comments the thorough response they deserve. Sadly, that is still the case. However, I do want to assure you that any errors were just that. They were not part of any plot to deceive or manufacture a case. Secondly, Jim Epperson and I have discussed this topic on several sites, and I simply reiterate what I said to him there; you appear to have a deep misunderstanding of what the book is about. If you read it you might be surprised to find that some of your assumptions about my intent are just not the case. If you don’t want to read it that’s certainly your prerogative. But then you really should reconsider the vehemence of your comments. You are absolutely entitled to your opinion, James. But an informed opinion would be helpful. You obviously know a great deal about the Civil War. But you know less about my book.
Brett, thanks for taking the time to review the book. When I have the time to look at the precise problems you’ve identified I will certainly do so. I appreciate you pointing out your concerns and giving me a chance to respond. By the way; you characterize my comments regarding Woodworth and Cozzens as an “attack,” but please note that I refer to them in the quote you included as “fine historians.” As attacks go that seems pretty mild. I’ll backtrack the source and locate it when I can. Please note that much of the research for this book was done as long as 14 years ago, and much cutting and pasting has taken place since then during the editing process. I certainly do not claim to be perfect, and it’s possible that I made mistakes. If some folks choose to feel that invalidates the body of my work, that’s certainly their choice. But as Jackie Martin points out, many readers will go into the book with preconceived notions in any case; human nature. There are literally hundreds of footnotes in the book. If a couple of them are flawed – and I’ll have to check when I have time to see what’s what – well, as I said: I’m not perfect. Please note that I never “attacked” (I think criticized is more precise) any historian for the validity of their citations, but for their dependence on a single source. And it’s no surprise that such a thing can happen. One person writes a book and cites a source. Someone else writes a book and cites historian A. Another cites historians A and B. Down the road you may have half a dozen books out there which are saying the same thing. I never claimed that there was a conspiracy between Grant and historians to ruin Rosecrans. What I said – for those of you who have read the book – was that things become “common knowledge” because all the books repeat the same thing. But if you trace sources back up the line sometimes you find that there is a paucity of sources being considered, and all other sources are being ignored. A few historians who were mentioned in the book have actually given it very positive reviews, which basically shows what Larry Daniel said to me when he and I talked; we build upon one another’s work. Personal attacks are not part of the process. If I seem to have stepped over the line I certainly did not mean to, but none of them people I mentioned seem to think that I did.
Okay, I need to get back to my day job. Thanks, Brett, for the opportunity to reply. I’ll look into the issues you’ve raised when I have the time.

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Brett Schulte December 12, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Frank, thank you for your comments. I did want to point out that I did not write this review. Ned Baldwin, one of our other bloggers here at TOCWOC, is the author of this post.

Brett Schulte

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Ned B. December 12, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Mr Varney,

I appreciate that you took the time to respond. Whatever was your intent in writing it, what comes across to the reader may be different. When I read the book my reaction was very much the way Jim Epperson feels. So I don’t think his view can be dismissed so easily. I chose two examples for my review because of space and time constraints but I have plenty of other issues with it. I know it can be tough to get such a critical review but I feel I have to express what I found upon reading the book.

Ned Baldwin

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David Moore December 12, 2013 at 11:21 pm

I have posted the quote below elsewhere in this discussion but
since some readers may not be following the relevant thread I want to post it here too. I would not want anyone to be dissuaded from reading Frank Varney’s book solely because of Ned Baldwin’s review.
Here is how Dave Powell, a leading student of Chickamauga, ended his review of the book:
… General Grant and the Rewriting of History is an important read for any student of the war. It warns all of us of the dangers of over-reliance on single source history and a too-quick acceptance of one man’s version of events.

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Frank Varney December 16, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Ned, thanks for taking the time to read it. I was never naive enough, or vain enough, to expect that everyone was going to love the book. I do think the title of your review is a bit extreme, but that’s up to you. So far, to my knowledge, you are the first reviewer with a negative opinion, and the first person to make negative comments online who has actually read it. So I thank you for making that effort.

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James F. Epperson December 12, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Brett, you are faster to your keyboard than I am 🙂

Dr. Varney, let me re-iterate my apology for using rough and unprofessional language to refer to your book. That was uncalled for.

My notion of what your book is about is framed by what others have said about it, most notably the Amazon blurb (which IMO is *really* over-the-top), as well as some folks who might be called over-enthusiastic about your point-of-view. You are not responsible for those people, but you do have the opportunity to comment on what they say. You are entirely correct that some folks have had positive things to say—a good friend of mine, Dave Powell, gave it a positive review on his Chickamauga blog (although he was not enthusiastic about your assessment of Rosecrans at C-mauga). You also might have pointed out in our initial discussion that it was a two-volume study—that alone would have addressed several of my concerns (although opened up many others).

I have read part of the book, the chapter that the publisher put online. I’m sorry to be so negative, but your complaints in that chapter seemed to boil down to three points:

1. Grant and Stanton didn’t like Rosecrans;
2. A telegram from Dana to Stanton is missing;
3. Some soldiers appear to recall a trickle of supplies coming through before the Brown’s Ferry operation occurred.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t see this as anything more than very thin gruel. You also complain about USG not sending reinforcements to Rosecrans, without any acknowledgement of the communications issues between Washington and Grant at Vicksburg. According to some accounts, Grant set troops in motion (JE Smith’s division, from Helena) *before* he received actual orders to do so.

There is no question there was a serious clash of personalities between Grant and Rosecrans, just as there is between my brother and I. That doesn’t mean that the two of us are lying about each other.

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David Moore December 12, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Jim, the central point is not whether or not you’ve read Frank Varney’s book or even if you should. The fact is you have decided to make yourself an expert critic of the book based on reading one chapter of the book. (Actually your original review of the book on this site was written before you had even read that one chapter.)
This hardly qualifies you to write a review of the book. This point need not be argued. Familiarity with the subject is the one requirement of judging anything seriously and honestly..
Rather than write reviews and make insulting statements for which you later apologize you should read the subject of your review first. Or just keep quiet.

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James F. Epperson December 12, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Mr. Moore, I made my first post on this site on December 10; I read the chapter excerpt the day it was posted, which I think was in early November or late October. And I have written no review of the book.

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David Moore December 12, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Ok so you admittedly don’t know that much about the actual content of the book. I would only suggest, as Dave Powell did to you back in August on his Chickamauga blogsite, that you read the book.

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Frank Varney December 16, 2013 at 3:31 pm

James, it may well be that you didn’t post your response on this site until after you’d read the chapter. But I know of at least two other sites where you attacked what I wrote long before the publisher made the chapter you looked at available online. At that point you were proudly proclaiming that you had not read the book and would not read it. Perhaps you have not done a formal review of the book (which, until you read it, is a good thing) but you have not shrunk from commenting on it whenever you get the chance; so you are pretty much splitting hairs here. Until you read it you can not possibly have the context of the argument. I urge you to do so.

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Frank Varney December 16, 2013 at 3:44 pm

James, you understate my argument and then say that it doesn’t hold up. Let me address the three points you raised.

1. The issue isn’t so much that Grant and Stanton didn’t like Rosecrans, but that they undercut him and, in Grant’s case, lied about him.

2. Yes, a telegram is missing – the telegram which Grant claimed was his reason for removing Rosecrans from command, so it’s a bit more important than you make it appear with an offhand comment. There is, in fact, no indication that it ever existed, beyond the word of Grant.

3. Not what I said. I said that the Cracker Line was in operation and supplies were flowing some time before Grant relieved Rosecrans. I never said “Some soldiers appear to recall a trickle of supplies coming through.” Those are your words, not mine. If that had indeed been the case there wouldn’t be much of an issue.

And I do indeed address the issue of communication issues between Grant and Washington. So complaining that I make “no acknowledgment” of those issues is false.

In Brooke Simpson’s blog you self-identified as a Grant supporter, so I think it’s clear where your interests are. And that’s your right. Support the man all you like. But please don’t misquote me, and please don’t criticize things without reading them. Just because we disagree doesn’t make me wrong – or you either, for that matter. Let’s let the facts speak for themselves.

I’m sorry you and your brother don’t get along. But until he makes an attempt to ruin your career and your historical reputation it isn’t much of a comparison to the Grant-Rosecrans feud.

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James F. Epperson December 16, 2013 at 10:18 pm

I was going to just let things sit, as I have a plane to catch tomorrow, but let’s talk about that telegram. Your suggestion is that Grant invented it—lied about it. IMO, there are at least three possible explanations here:

1. Grant made it all up;
2. Grant was absolutely truthful, and the telegram is simply missing;
3. Grant is relating an honest but erroneous memory of events—perhaps there was no telegram, but Stanton had a panic attack moment and came to see Grant full of fears that Rosecrans would abandon the town, and all else followed from that.

Frankly, I think #3 is much more likely than #1, especially given Grant’s health issues at the time he wrote the Memoirs. (A 4th possibility is that Stanton lied to Grant—there was no telegram, but he said there was; IMO not likely.)

It is this apparent insistence on seeing conundrums like this in terms of one historical figure lying about another that just turns me off. “Never search for evil intent as an explanation when simple error is available” is an aphorism I first heard long ago, and I think it is a good one.

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jackie martin December 13, 2013 at 3:15 pm

On a different course here, and all scholarly rhetoric aside, one thing this book does do, is bring to light a subject I’m not ready to embrace, and that’s looking at an historical figure in a totally different light. Grant is a star player for me in my studies of the CW, (as is Sherman), and the thought that his reputation might be sullied is disconcerting, and disheartening. I don’t WANT to believe it. I will continue to hold him in high esteem, but with some reservations now, UNFORTUNATELY. But, on the good side, it is ALWAYS good to bump into thought-provoking/controversial material on any subject, and have different ideas brought to our attention—it “broadens our horizons.” . . . . . . . . . .(but it is STILL hard to alter thinking processes!)

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David Moore December 13, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Bravo to you Jackie for expressing what the goal of historical inquiry should be.
Additional praise for expressing how tough it can be when what we discover goes against what we believe or want to be.

I would recommend the book Victors in Blue by Albert Castel for new interpretations of seemingly settled facts of the Civil War.

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Brooks D. Simpson December 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm

I’m sure you know who assisted Dr. Castel in that endeavor. 🙂

I point this out merely because sometimes I read about so-called conspiracies on behalf of person A or against person B. So it’s worthwhile to recall that a Grant biographer helped bring to publication a book that praised Rosecrans a great deal.

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Brett Schulte December 19, 2013 at 11:52 pm

Brooks,

Thanks for stopping by. I’ve read several of your posts about how you initially took things when someone gave you a bad review the first time and how you’ve changed over time. It was also interesting to read some of the comments you’ve made as someone who was criticized in Dr. Varney’s book, though I think you came out relatively unscathed if I remember correctly. I’m curious what you thought about Sam Hood’s recent book questioning historians on their depictions of John Bell Hood. Do you think he makes a good case? Do you think it matters? I don’t have any ulterior motive where I’m trying to make a point or anything. I’m genuinely curious after the Civil War Monitor review, which I heard summed up the book as basically, “so what?”.

This last comment is addressed to the peanut gallery in general, but I’m wondering if these books might lead to more of what Dmitri Rotov has been calling for for years in a new book craze: careful reading of sources, questioning if authors are using those sources in a fair manner, questioning which sources an author chooses to use and which s/he chooses to omit, and generally questioning things any Civil War buff worth his salt knows are “true.”

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Brooks D. Simpson December 23, 2013 at 12:14 am

I have no particular axe to grind versus Dr. Varney. However, I was a little puzzled by some of the things he said in his brief comments about a few things, because I think a closer examination would point in a somewhat different direction. I am far less troubled about what I take to be his two main arguments: (1) Grant’s memoirs are not always accurate (2) Grant had it in for William S. Rosecrans.

I think that it would have been a good idea in both of these cases if the authors had simply stuck to revealing questionable interpretations and set aside speculation about motives. What are we more interested in: finding out and understanding what happened, or taking pot-shots at other folks? To borrow from another discussion about typology, the former is a worthwhile exercise in content, whereas the latter seems to me to be more an exercise in controversy.

Finally, I am most amused if anyone thinks Peter Cozzens is a Grant apologist.

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James F. Epperson December 23, 2013 at 11:20 am

(This really should be a reply to Brooks, but the threading doesn’t allow replies that deep in the discussion, apparently.) I generally agree w/ Brooks main points that the Memoirs are not perfectly accurate, and Grant and Rosecrans had conflicts (to be polite about it). But I am familiar enough with the literature to know that both these points are hardly new revelations—hell, I learned both by reading Bruce Catton!—and what bothered me about Dr. Varney’s book was the apparent suggestion of malign intent to all this—what Brooks calls”speculation about motives.” Ned has done a good job of showing that Dr. Varney’s case is rather thin, and built on a very soft foundation.

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Cloud Keyes December 22, 2013 at 8:05 am

The fact that tocwoc publishes a book review by someone who fails to even read the whole book puts my respect for this website into negative territory.

After lurking here for a while it’s become obvious that tocwoc is nothing more than a place that worships at the alters of Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan. The place is not worth a grown man’s time.

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Brett Schulte December 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm

That’s funny. This wasn’t a traditional book review. It took points Ned found odd at first glance and successfully challenged those points. Do you disagree with what Ned Baldwin wrote? Would you care to challenge the assertions he makes in the entry above? Does not reading the entire book negate his points?

This seems like a pretty weak attempt to deflect from the main argument of this post: some of what Frank Varney wrote can be, and has been, proven wrong. Dr. Varney all but admits this in an earlier comment. I, as the editor/owner, do not completely share Ned’s views on the book. I do think Dr. Varney makes some good points, and I did read the entire advanced proof I was sent earlier this year.

The point going forward is that if I agree with something written in the book, I am going to go double check the notes provided and make sure I continue to agree.

I hold no particular allegiance to Grant or Sheridan, but I do admit a fondness for Sherman. Sheridan in fact, wrongly sacked a man who had helped him win at Five Forks, a move for which I will always think less of the man. Ned is an admitted fan of Grant, yes. But he’s always made his bias clear. It’s at the bottom of every post he writes.

I’m sorry you feel the site is not worth a grown man’s time. Perhaps others will disagree. It’s your choice to read or not read as you see fit.

Brett

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Ned B. December 22, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Criticizing me for admitting I had not yet finished the book when I wrote my observations is silly. I had read enough to make comments as what I wrote about was the part I had read. There is a double standard at play: if I had praised the book, would anyone have made an issue of how much of it I had read? I doubt it. Other historian/writers have questioned in their blogs whether the writers of blurbs used to promote books have actually read the whole book they are praising.

Anyway, since writing that first post, I did finish the book. I think there may be some who wish I hadn’t, as the end result is that I now have more to write about: I could blog for weeks about all the issues I have with this book.

Its also silly to say I worship at “the alters of Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan.” In three years of writing at TOCWOC, I dont think I have mentioned Sheridan at all. I have talked about Sherman a couple times and some of my views of him are definitely outside the mainstream but I hardly worship him. And Brett overstates what is at the bottom of my posts: all it says about Grant is that Grant’s memoirs was my entry point to becoming obsessed with the war. But look through my 35+ posts in the last three years: there is not much about Grant.

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James F. Epperson December 22, 2013 at 2:41 pm

We’ll have to have a Five Forks discussion then—I think Warren’s relief was the right call, although Sheridan was needlessly mean-spirited about it. (Both men were idiots in the way they tried to justify themselves after the fact.)

But that is all a story for another day. 😉

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Brett Schulte December 22, 2013 at 2:45 pm

🙂 Oh boy. I agree that would be a good topic for another day, but let’s wait until this one settles down first. Very briefly, I agree that Warren probably should have been relieved, but before Five Forks and not for what he did during the Ninth Offensive and especially not for his actions on the day of Five Forks.

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James F. Epperson December 22, 2013 at 3:23 pm

I actually wrote poorly. I think Warren’s relief was *justified* and perfectly legal, and the result of some of his many failings as a corps commander. In a very real sense, it can be argued that he was relieved at Five Forks for his poor showing at the day before at White Oak Road. A thought: A good friend wanted us to do a joint CWRT talk/debate on Five Forks. Perhaps you and I could render that into a joint (but lengthy) blog post. One person opens w/ X words, the second is allowed Y words to respond, then the first closes w/ Z words; X + Z = Y.

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S. J. Bradley July 6, 2014 at 12:22 pm

I agree with you that there are many flaws in Cozzen’s 25 year old book; it was groundbreaking -3 decades ago- before the internet. However, your statement that Henry Boynton was the first Superintendent of CCNMP is also incorrect; he was about the fourth, by my count. The first died, then Frank Smith (apparently an abrasive, loose cannon) assumed the role, but soon had to be transferred to France, and his replacement didn’t relish the job; only then could Boynton, formerly the “historian” for the Commission, usurp control of the Commission. I have researched ole Henry Van Ness quite thoroughly in the last 15 years, and collected numerous quotations about him from myriad folks who personally knew him and dealt with him; it ain’t pretty. You ought to take anything he wrote as suspect unless you can corroborate it through another source. Henry was a disturbed, ambitious, and manipulative man with a strong personal agenda. As a Washington reporter for a Cincinnati newspaper, he had been trained to be a professional major spin doctor. Joe Bradley, 787 Chickamauga Ave., Rossville, GA.

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David Moore July 15, 2014 at 11:22 am

I’d be interested in what “ugly” things you’ve found on HVNB.
Most of what I’ve seen is positive. He won the Medal of Honor for his service at Missionary Ridge where he was severely wounded.
After the war in addition to his journalism career he was president of the District of Columbia school board and was one of the first commissioners of Washington DC’s Rock Creek Park.
He was a strong critic of Grant and Sherman and equally strong defender of Thomas and Rosecrans. His writings like Sherman’s Historical Raid certainly caused some to dislike him. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery in 1905. A couple of links:
http://books.google.com/books?id=N_0TAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA128&lpg=PA128&dq=boynton+henry+howe&source=bl&ots=WxuX0e0_-r&sig=RSQmhuLhiMu6t1iRooHDmaC1Wsg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=DU7FU_6dAYu3yASj0oGgBA&ved=0CCsQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=boynton%20henry%20howe&f=false
and
http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/hvnboynt.htm

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Kaye Green May 7, 2016 at 11:36 pm

Hi Ned
I agree with your initial comment, but I got hung up by the Cracker Line issue, which I have still not arrived at a satisfactory view of. I read the whole book and was struck by the tone, which was some how off, and set about to find out if there was a review of the book on line and hence found this location. I find the Internet a great addition to modern life so I will look in from time to time Kaye Green

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Phil Pam October 19, 2018 at 9:28 am

Ned, I don’t know if anybody reads comments to five-year-old posts but here goes. I just read Varney’s book. I googled the book title searching for reviews and found this blog. I too found evidence of sloppy research. I did approach the book with an open mind. I would be very happy to see Rosecrans rehabilitated. Nor am I surprised that Varney finds inaccuracies in Grant’s memoirs. Memoirs are notoriously self-serving. Getting into the meat of the book I found his accounts of the battles of Iuka and Corinth and the conflicting versions confusing and didn’t know what to make of them, but the part that shocked me was his claim that Grant had been ordered by Halleck to come to Rosecran’s aid before the Battle of Chickamauga but culpably failed to do so. This was new to me. I had to check it out.
On page 182 Varney writes: “As it became apparent that something was stirring in Bragg’s army, Halleck began hastening orders to Grant at Vicksburg, Stephen Hurlbut at Memphis, John Schofield at St. Louis, and Ambrose Burnside at Knoxville, urging each of them to send troops to assist Rosecrans. However, none of the commanders Halleck contacted did a single thing to help.” Here there’s a footnote reference: OR 30, pt. 3, 644. It refers to a dispatch from Halleck to Rosecran warning him that Bragg was probably going to be reinforced by three divisions from Lee’s army and that Sherman and Hurlbut were bringing reinforcements. But it’s dated Sept 15, 1863, three days before the battle. Varney also writes, on page 183, that “By September 14, Halleck was aware that all was not well” and writes to Burnside urging him to reinforce Rosecrans. (Varney next goes on for several pages criticising Burnside for not moving for several weeks, although by then the battle was long over. Burnside probably deserves the criticism but it has nothing to do with either Grant or Chickamauga.)
Then on page 186 Varney writes: “Nor did Grant provide any more help. On August 25, Halleck had issued orders for Hurlbut, commanding elements of Grant’s Army of the Mississippi, to cover the right flank of the army of the Cumberland. Twenty-six days later, however, nothing had been done. The battle of Chicamauga had been fought and Hurlbut had not budged.”
So now it was August 25, not September 14 when Halleck became alarmed? Here there’s a reference to OR 30, pt. 3, 644. I found nothing relevant on that page so I searched the entire volume for “Hurlbut.” I did find something on page 594, so maybe 694 was a misprint. It was indeed a dispatch from Halleck to Hurlbut ordering him to send all available forces to Corinth and Tuscumbia to operate against Bragg should he attempt to turn Rosecran’s right and further to send to Sherman at Vicksburg for reinforcements. Only the dispatch is dated September 13, not August 25. The dispatch ends with this: “General Grant, it is understood, is sick in New Orleans.” This would have been after his riding accident, which occurred on September 4. He didn’t return to Vicksburg until September 17. This is no doubt why Halleck wrote to Hurlbut rather than Grant.
Next I looked for that August 25 dispatch. I found two from Halleck on that date; one was to Burnside directing him to move forward rapidly, the other to Rosecrans, then at Stevenson, Alabama, in response to a telegram in which Rosecrans had asked if Grant could do something to distract Johnston. To that Halleck replied “Grant’s movements at present have no connection with yours.”
So Varney’s shocking charge that Grant was ordered to send help to Rosecrans when his army was in a perilous situation but did nothing for nearly a month appears to vanish upon examination. The reference to Halleck’s supposed August 25 order to Hurlbut seems to be a deliberate attempt at obfuscation. It appears that it was no earlier than September 13 that Halleck became aware of Bragg being reinforced and that Rosecrans might need more troops. But on that date Grant was still laid up and Halleck was communicating with Hurlbut instead.
Varney accuses Grant of manipulating the historical record, destroying evidence and even perjury. But he’s not above massaging the facts himself. There may be nuggets of truth in his book but after that exercise I wouldn’t rely on anything he says.

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James F. Epperson October 19, 2018 at 8:20 pm

Mr. Pam, I got an email notice about your post, and while you might not be the first person to have raised these issues, you might have done the best job of tracking them down.

When Dr. Varney’s book was first announced, there was an extended discussion on one of the Facebook Civil War groups about it, eventually involving both the author and the publisher. Someone referred to Halleck “ordering” Grant to reinforce Rosecrans, and I asked for a cite to that order in the OR. I’m a fairly sound student of the Civil War, and it is my impression that Halleck almost never gave an order to an independent commander. He would ask, demand, suggest, plead, but not order. (I’m speaking generally ; exceptions do exist.) I wanted to see the precise language of the order. Dr. Varney declined to give me the details, suggesting that I buy the book and read it. I do understand that kind of answer, but (as a book author—mathematics—myself) I would have given a more helpful reply. That’s OK, though, it is his business.

A few years later, as I was reading the final volume in Dave Powell’s trilogy on Chickamauga, I fell in to a discussion with someone who tends to support Dr. Varney’s view of things, and the notion of an “order” to reinforce Rosecrans was again mentioned. This prompted me to write a Facebook post about the circumstances under which Grant came to send troops to WSR, based largely on Powell’s book and other sources. (Full disclosure: Dave Powell has been a friend of mine since the late 80s). The account in Dave’s book is not that different from what could be found in Catton’s “Grant Takes Command.” The post to the Facebook group is given in a link below, and it generated a bit of discussion. Eventually a friend, who has Dr. Varney’s book, provided the “bad citation” that you mention in your post. Someone else tagged Dr. Varney, and he said he would look through his notes, etc., and try to resolve the matter. He never has.

Link:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/tcwrt/permalink/334179973629022/

Errors happen. I’ve found serious citation issues in a couple of other Civil War books, and I wish I could get them all resolved. (My math book has many more errors than I would like—and that is on me.) But this error is a serious flaw in Dr. Varney’s book.

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Phil Pam October 22, 2018 at 3:20 pm

Thank you, Mr. Epperson, for your reply. We all make mistakes, myself included, but it’s really hard to think of an innocent explanation of that business of the alleged August 25 orders. Moreover I’ve found yet another blatant misstatement in the book. It concerns the Battle of Iuka. I’ll try to make this one brief, summarizing only the essential facts. The battle took place on September 19, 1862. Ord was supposed to attack from the west, Rosecrans from the south with columns marching along two separate roads, the Jacinto Road and the Fulton Road with the idea of attacking Price from the rear. Rosecrans ended up taking only the first road, allowing Price to escape by the second, the Fulton Road, which Grant criticised him for in his Memoirs. Varney says Rosecrans had a good and sufficient reason for changing the plan, because he discovered that the roads were too far apart. That may well be true.

The day after after the battle, September 20, Grant submitted a preliminary report in which he praised Rosecrans, saying “I cannot speak too highly of the energy and skill displayed by General Rosecrans in this attack and of the endurance of the troops under him.” (Someone less hostile to Grant than Varney might see his original enthusiastic praise of Rosecrans before all the facts were in as signs of a generous nature.) But in a fuller report on October 22 “Grant was already attempting to establish a case against Rosecrans.” That’s how Varney characterizes it. To me the report is blandly factual, neither praising Rosecrans nor explicitly criticizing him. He does acknowledge his surprise that the Fulton Road remained open. But then he also says, “A partial examination of the country afterward convinced me, however, that troops moving in separate columns by the routes suggested could not support each other until they arrived near Iuka.” This could be viewed as exculpatory, or as implicit criticism of Rosecrans’s original plan, depending on your point of view. It’s only in his Memoirs that he explicitly criticized Rosecrans for leaving the road open.

Varney discusses the September 20 report on page 42. He gives this citation: OR 17, pt.2, 59. Guess what? It’s wrong. That citation points to two dispatches on July 1, 1862 having nothing to do with Iuka. As you know, most of the volumes of OR are divided into “Reports” and “Correspondence.” So I looked in Part I and found the September 20 report on page 64. So the correct citation is OR 17, pt.1, 64. Varney quotes Grant’s praise of Rosecrans, the sentence I quoted earlier, and then goes on to say, “He [Grant] also agreed with the decision to concentrate the southern column on one road rather than risk defeat in detail.” You know what? There is no such statement in the report. Make no mistake about it, despite the mis-citation we’re both talking about the same report. The report at OR 17, pt.1, 64 is dated September 20, covers only half a page and contains the exact same quotation praising Rosecrans that Varney cites. But there is nothing in that report about the original plan or any change to it.

According to Varney, Rosecrans later claimed that he notified Grant of his determination to concentrate his columns on one road. If so, this makes Grant into a liar, at least in his Memoirs. Varney presents what he views as circumstantial evidence that Grant knew of the change in plan before the battle. His evidence seems shaky to me. Otherwise you have a he-said, he-said situation. So Varney bolsters his case by fabricating a direct admission on Grant’s part.

Do you see a pattern here? It’s like that alleged August 25, 1863 dispatch before Chickamauga. Varney plants a false fact to mislead readers and lull them into accepting the rest of his argument. Moreover Varney contradicts himself for he says repeatedly that Grant denied he had been notified of the change of plan. But he provides no documentation of any such denial or offer any dates. Besides, the first time Rosecrans made his claim publicly was in February, 1865 when testifying before Congress.

Finally I must call attention to the repeated mis-citations. A report from Ord to Grant dated October 15 is cited as OR 17,pt.2,4 when it should be OR 17,pt.1,118. A message from Rosecrans to Grant at 6 A.M. on September 19 which Varney places great stock on is listed as OR 17,pt.2,127 when it should be OR 17,pt.1,69. Another message from Rosecrans to Grant at 12:40 P.M. on the same day is listed as OR 17,pt.2,70 when it should be OR 17, pt.1,69. One more on page 56, OR 17,pt.2,234 I couldn’t find at all. After that I gave up. I could forgive his confusing Parts 1 and 2 but he can’t even get the page numbers right. So how many wrong citations is a Professor allowed to make in a so-called scholarly book before we stop making excuses for him? Isn’t that just basic scholarly competence?

Varney’s most serious charge against Grant is that he falsified the Official Records. How ironic that he frequently distorts the record himself. He promises us a Part 2 to his book. He’d better clean up his act if he wants to be taken seriously as a scholar.

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James F. Epperson October 22, 2018 at 10:55 pm

I recently gave a CWRT talk to my home CWRT (Ann Arbor) on Iuka. It is a complicated mess, with lots of gaps. The big reason, IMO, for the difference between the Sept. 20 preliminary report and the later Oct. 22 formal report, is that stories began to appear in Ohio newspapers alleging that Grant was drunk at Iuka, and that is why Ord’s column did not attack. The talk extended so far that Rosecrans’s brother, a Catholic bishop, was complaining (in private correspondence) to General Rosecrans’s wife. Rosecrans at this time had a newspaper editor as a volunteer ADC, and this was complained about to Grant by at least one subordinate. (The details are detailed in the Papers of US Grant, volume 5.) So there really is no mystery why Grant became critical of Rosecrans. Nobody likes these kinds of stories being spread around about themselves. Also, when Grant was destitute, and dying of cancer, there was an effort to put Grant’s name on the retired list so that he could qualify for a pension, and Congressman Rosecrans tried to block it. IMO, that along explains everything Grant wrote about WSR in his Memoirs.

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Phil Pam October 23, 2018 at 7:52 am

Mr. Epperson: This will probably be my last comment on the subject. Varney says exactly the same thing you do. Far be it from me to suggest that everything Varney says is wrong or that his book is totally valueless. Nor do I believe that Grant was a flawless human being. He may have been unfair to Rosecrans in his Memoirs or earlier. I don’t profess to be a Civil War expert on your level. What prompted me to write was a sense of outrage at Varney’s distortions. I am not an academic but am a lifelong student of history. I revere scholarship of all kinds. Historians often disagree about interpretation but I believe most do their honest best. I don’t think Varney is an honest historian. I think he is trying to make a reputation as a contrarian even if it involves flagrant distortions. I don’t know Varney personally. He’s probably a nice guy. But fraudulent scholarship is not acceptable.

I will add one thing about the Oct. 22 report. When Grant wrote his preliminary report he couldn’t have known all the facts. All he would have known was that half of his army, Rosecran’s part had defeated what Grant believed to be a larger army. Hence his enthusiastic praise. Once he was in possession of all the facts he refrained from criticizing Rosecrans. Perhaps he felt that to do so would bring discredit on himself as overall commander. Or perhaps he was telling the truth in his Memoirs when he said he still held Rosecrans in high esteem. Grant may have held a grudge already (who knows?) but a grudge isn’t needed to explain the change between the two reports. In his Preface Varney writes, “Grant, for reasons we can only speculate about, chose certain men and did his best to destroy them.” So effective was Grant in destroying Rosecrans that he went on to command the Army of the Cumberland, and if he hadn’t been defeated at Chickamauga he might have gone down as one of the great heroes of the war.

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