At least, that’s what Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, but that is neither here nor there.
Thomas Desjardin provides interesting narratives from the Civil War riddled with inaccuracies. These fiction-filled stories lead readers such as myself wondering how someone, such as a historian, judges the intent and purpose of an author’s work? Desjardin makes reference to the questionable motives in some instances, but does not completely flesh out the underlying drivers, skewing history for personal agendas.
Desjardin writes about the “yellow journalism” of Hearsts magazine, and the wildly “corrected” version of Joshua Chamberlain’s “Through Blood and Fire at Gettysburg,” explaining that Hearsts certainly had reason and motive for changing the story provided by the colonel. Was Hearsts’ exaggeration simply for increased sales, or did he have ulterior motives beyond money?
Another instance of hidden motives involved General Lafayette McLaws of the Confederacy and John Badger Bachelder, a portrait and landscape painter. Bachelder requested information from McLaws in the heat of the battle, but was declined because McLaws felt it wasn’t “proper to give an extended account of the operations of [his] command.” Months after the war ended Bachelder published his writings and was criticized by McLaws, who questioning the validity of Bachelder’s facts. Rather than correct Bachelder, McLaws simply said “the day for the history of that battle is not yet.” What motives could possibly prevent McLaws from pointing out the fallacies of someone’s writings? Possibly to protect the later publication of his own story?
John Badger Bachelder also turns out to be the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association superintendent of tablets and legends. Bachelder has already been accused of reporting falsified information; however, what motives could Bachelder have had to want control over what monuments and inscriptions appear in Gettysburg? He never actually served in Gettysburg; however, he did tag along and record battles.
Reasonable questions? Maybe not.