Saturday, May 24, 2014

AHA Conference Review: Saturday January 4, 2014, the rest of the day

After our panel concluded on Saturday, I went to the book exhibition, visited the poster session (which I did not easily find), and finished the day by attending James McPherson's Society of Military History lecture, "The Rewards of Risk Taking: Two Civil War Admirals." Like many historians I could easily recognize McPherson. In addition to having read several of his books, I have seen him numerous times on television. His lecture focused on the subject of his most recent book, a naval history of the Civil War, which I admit I have not read. Not sure if I ever will, but that is a statement on my limited reading time, not on the value of McPherson's work. Craig Symonds's Civil War at Sea, which I have read, covered the subject masterfully. Symonds's was present in the audience and McPherson acknowledged him and his expertise. McPherson's lecture compared Union Admirals Samuel DuPont and David Farragut to  Generals George McClellan and Ulysses Grant. In this analogy DuPont and McClellan are the dilatory commanders who sought to mitigate risks, while Farragut and Grant were more gutsy commanders willing to take a gamble and double down in the next move. The main point being that in engagements that involved thousands of men on both sides, the outcome often depended on the personality and command traits of the leaders. I enjoyed the lecture, but I have some qualms with an approach that puts all the agency in the hands of the Union commanders. In my humble opinion chance and luck are underrated factors in historical events, especially in military history.

I then waited an hour for a shuttle back to the Hilton that never came. I missed the last one of the evening by a couple of minutes, but did not see the sign until later. It was a cold, dark walk across the bridge, but only a 20 minute walk.

No comments:

Post a Comment