Monday, September 20, 2010

Joseph L. Harsh: rest in peace

Grown men look foolish when they cling to the opinions they formed as nine-year-olds, yet those childish opinions, especially regarding the Civil War and the conduct of the generals involved remain in no short supply among many grown men.

The masterful scholarship of Joseph L. Harsh, a man I never met, collided with my nine-year-old notions upon my arrival at Antietam five years ago.  Reading Harsh's assessment, cool, rational, and filled with a remarkable humility, caused me to reassess my indoctrination especially as regards the abilities of George B. McClellan.

"Life is short, ambiguity is long" is a wonderful Harsh quote that should keep all historians, and history enthusiasts on their guard lest their smug allegiance to folklore cause them to end up looking like callow nine-year-olds walking around in grown men's shoes.

It's a sad loss for the craft and rigor of history, though the Antietam trilogy he left behind will serve generations of future historians who chose to listen.

Joseph L. Harsh was laid to rest last Friday September 17, in Hagerstown.  The 148th anniversary of the battle that he shed such light upon for this former nine year old boy.


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