Civil War Bookshelf presents a somewhat contrarian view to the popular Civil War history that is accepted by many academics and taught in school. Frankly, this blog has influenced my thinking a lot. In general, I'm not that knowledgeable about the Civil War, so I can't really think to deeply on some of the issues presented. However, this blog did make me pick up on a few things that had always been lurking at the back of my head.
The basic point made by the blog is that if you read one of the more popular works on the civil war, i.e. The Battle Cry of Freedom or Bruce Catton's works, you will experience a feeling of cognitive dissonance. This stems from the fact that in an attempt to cram a history into a shortened account such as one of these, there is a danger of creating distorted account. This seems pretty obvious, but in the case of Civil War history it is very insidious, and causes historical evidence to be warped in order to create a picture of history that is congruent to the narrative created in these historical works.
Take an example from one of the most recent posts on CWBN (comments on a review on a book by General Halleck):
"Marszalek provides extensive coverage of the general's antebellum life." * I expect a reasonably full accounting of Halleck's California law wranglings with Edwin Stanton and his dealings with a certain West Coast politician named Joe Hooker, two topics far oustside the scope of any Centennial history. (Shame the review does not indicate whether I will get satisfaction here. )
Regardless of whether Marszalek talks about these issues in his book on Halleck, I assure you they are not mentioned in THe Battle Cry of Freedom(considered by many to be the definitive one volume account of the ACW) at all. Halleck, in general, is marginalized despite the fact that for much of the war he was the highest ranking officer in the Union Army. When I read the Battle Cry of Freedom I didn't know shit about Halleck. Then a few years later I read How The North Won by Herman Hattaway and Arthur Jones. Suddenly, Halleck became a central character, and I experienced a very strange sense of feeling really confused about what the hell was going on.
Anyways, the discussion of this issue, warping evidence and sources to fit a preordained master narrative of the civil war, is at the center of the CWBN. Even for someone like me, with only passing knowledge of the the Civil War, the blog is very accessible and interesting.
But what struck me the most, was how often this idea of warping evidence to fit our preconcieved notions prevails in our society today with regards to historical analysis.
I think this type of distortion is endemic in the way that many of us think.