Since they first appeared in the late 19th century, professional academic historians in the United States have been pretty much Establishment men (though, in other days, they did observe some canons of evidence and reasoned argument, and an occasional maverick appeared to remind that historical understanding should be an evolving debate and not a party line).  Where we are now is signaled by the fact that academic historians a few years ago gave lavish praise and their highest award to a book purporting to prove that gun ownership was not widespread among early Americans—a proposition that was later shown to rest upon fabricated evidence.

Aside from Revelation, and perhaps biology, history provides our only clue to understanding the strange drama of the existence of our human race on this planet.  Its usefulness lies in its attention to human experience.  But, more and more, academic historians do not write about people, or even about groups of people.  They write about categories of victims and oppressors—abstractions predefined by Cultural Marxism.  Historianship is starting to resemble a bureaucratic exercise in spreading official ideology.

And so, in the future, we shall place increasing reliance on amateur historians, such as the authors of the books here reviewed.  Amateur was once an honourable term, suggesting not lack of skill but gentlemanly excellence for its own sake rather than for money.  Wade Hampton III had not had a biographer in half a century before Mr. Cisco, retired from business, undertook to write a new biography of him.  Though his name is barely recognized today, Wade Hampton was once the best-known historical South Carolinian after Calhoun.  Grandson of pioneers and Revolutionary soldiers, Hampton was a type that Americans today can hardly believe existed, much less understand.

One of the richest men in the South—with more than a thousand slaves on plantations spread over three states—he was capable of dispatching a bear single-handedly with a knife, and of writing cultured letters and speeches.  Not an eager secessionist, when the die was cast, Hampton raised and equipped (at his own expense) a legion—horse, foot, and guns—for the defense of his people.  Like his forebears, he was never a professional soldier but a willing and gifted amateur in time of need.  Hampton fought most of the war in the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia, assuming its command on the death of “Jeb” Stuart.  Near the end, he went south to see what could be done with Sherman’s banditti.  Wade Hampton III led from the front, was wounded several times, lost his son to a Yankee bullet, and performed great feats with dwindling resources against long odds.  In February 1865, Sherman’s men went out of their way to destroy his home outside of Columbia.  Sherman put out the lie that Hampton, in retreating, had started the fires that destroyed the city.  He hoped to damage Hampton’s standing with his people.  The trick did not work.

Hampton’s greatest service, however, was after the war.  He organized and led the resistance that redeemed his state from ten years of military rule.  His election as governor in 1876 was crowned by the departure of the U.S. Army, with the carpetbaggers and their loot in train (although they left public debts that were not paid off until 1955).  If you believe the prevailing Marxist notion that Reconstruction was a noble social revolution that simply did not go far enough (rather than an orgy of stealing and oppression as everyone used to believe), you will dwell on the electoral fraud and coercion by Hampton’s men that brought it to an end.  And you will never mention the fact that such action was simply a response to a regime that had never allowed an honest election during its decade of rule.

Retreat From Gettysburg is another “amateur” contribution, by a distinguished attorney, Kent Masterson Brown.  Unlike most of the endless stream of books about the war, Retreat From Gettysburg tells us new things and gives us new ways of seeing familiar events.  Lee’s battered army moved from Gettysburg to the south bank of the Potomac in intense heat, heavy rains, and deep mud, with a 50-mile-long wagon train full of supplies and wounded, interspersed with vast herds of livestock and thousands of prisoners.  Within ten days of the failure of Pickett’s Charge, Lee had restored a balance of power and an army that would remain a deadly fighting force for almost two years more.  It was a great military success, perhaps the greatest of the many brilliant exploits of Lee’s army.

This understanding casts a new light on the great Union “victory” at Gettysburg.  The Confederate army, though greatly outnumbered, moved freely in Northern territory until it met enemy forces by accident.  For three days, the smaller force attacked the nearly immobile larger one defending its own land (with large reinforcements only a few days’ march away).  Barely failing of a decisive blow, the Army of Northern Virginia quit attacking and made the difficult journey home.  The victorious army kept a safe distance and only feebly molested the retreat.  Some victory.

American amour propre will never allow the admission, but, man for man, the Confederate soldier did more than his opponent.  People invading and laying waste your country to destroy the liberty won by your fathers and grandfathers is a great motivator: far more so than enlistment bounties, the tariff, war contracts, and government loans, or even the “national greatness” to be established by a reconstructed “Union.”  Like earlier American armies, but unlike the U.S. Army then and later, the Confederate army was not a military machine but a large expedition of cousins and neighbors, advantaged in morale, adaptability, and teamwork.

The Confederate move into Pennsylvania has usually been attributed to strategic considerations.  Brown’s careful study highlights the role of logistical needs.  Lee needed resupply, which could not be obtained in devastated Virginia nor in adequate quantity by the railroads to the further south.  The Army of Northern Virginia went home from Pennsylvania with vast quantities of grains and vegetables, clothing and transport, equipment, and meat on the hoof.  This vast haul was seized and receipted in accordance with the widely recognized rules of war.  Unlike the Northern armies in the South from the first day of hostilities, the Confederates engaged in no systematic wanton destruction of private property and oppression of civilians.  In this respect, the Prussians who invaded France a few years later compare favorably with the U.S. Army.

Another interesting discovery by Brown, which could only have been made by an historian who had not been socialized into the “profession”: More than 5,000—and possibly as many as 10,000—black men, bond and free, accompanied the Southern army to Pennsylvania and back.  (Ambrose Bierce wrote that, in four years of hard fighting in the Union western army, he never saw a black person except the conscripted servants and concubines of Northern officers.)  Colonel Fremantle of the Coldstream Guards observed in Pennsylvania one of the black Confederates marching a Yankee prisoner to the rear.  He wondered what the London abolitionists would make of that.  When the Confederate survivors turned back from the attack on the third day, they returned to lines occupied entirely by black men.  Many of those men performed signal services during the battle and the difficult retreat, including the protection and evacuation of wounded masters.  This is really not hard to understand and accept if you remember that these men were people and not categories.


[Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior, Conservative Statesman, by Walter Brian Cisco (Washington: Brassey’s Inc.) 399 pp., $35.00]

[Retreat From Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign, by Kent Masterson Brown (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press) 534 pp., $34.95]