"The Shadows of Time: Experience in Research"
by Edward M. Coffman
by Burton I. Kaufman
Acting Head and Professor, Department of History
This is the first Dwight D. Eisenhower Lecture in Military History honoring the memory of the General and President. I am delighted that we have such an eminent historian as Professor Coffman to inaugurate this lecture series.
Before introducing our distinguished speaker, I would like to make a few acknowledgements. Most important, I would like to thank Hallmark Cards and the Hallmark Education Foundation, particularly Mr. William P Harsh of Hallmark Cards and Mr. William A. Hall of the Hallmark Education Foundation for underwriting the major portion of this lecture series. But I would be remiss if I did not also mention the Muchnic Foundation of Atchison and the Friends of History at Kansas State University who have also contributed generously to make this lecture series possible.
In addition, I would like to express my personal thanks to Professor Homer Socolofsky, chairman of the Eisenhower Lecture Committee in the Department of History and to Professors Robin Higham, Donald Mrozek, and Kent Donovan, who helped arrange and organize Professor Coffman's visit to Manhattan and our lecture tonight. Finally I want to thank the KSU Foundation, and particularly, Mr. Tom Carlin, its director of communications, for their assistance.
And now for our speaker tonight. We are indeed fortunate to have such a prominent historian as Professor Edward M. "Mac" Coffman as our first lecturer in the Eisenhower series. It also is a pleasure to have Professor Coffman return to what was, at least for one year, his home. Professor Coffman took his three degrees from the University of Kentucky, receiving his Ph.D. in 1959. He taught at Memphis State University from 1957 to 1961, was a research associate at the George C. Marshall Research Foundation in 1960-1961, and since 1961 has been a member of the faculty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. However, in 1969-1970 he served here as the Dwight D. Eisenhower Visiting Professor on War and Peace. In addition, he has also served as Visiting Professor of Military History at West Point in 1977-1978, as Harmon Lecturer and more recently at Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Air Force Academy.
Professor Coffman has published extensively in American Military History, but perhaps his two best known works are The Hilt of the Sword: The Career of Peyton C. March (1966) and The War to End All Wars: The American Military Experience in World War I (1968). Of the first book one viewer wrote, "One of the few good works dealing with the Army in the period of change and reorganization from the Spanish American War, which laid the basis of its success in World Wars I and II. " Of the second book, another reviewer commented, "The superb book is just what its subtitle claims .... It should be in every undergraduate library. " Professor Coffman is presently working on a social history of the Army.
Professor Coffman has won numerous awards and much recognition including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973 and a Civilian Service medal from the Department of the Army in 1978. He has also served as a member of the advisory committee of the National Historic Publications and Records Commission and on the editorial board of Military Affairs. Finally, Professor Coffman is currently president of the American Military Institute and is on the editorial advisory board of the George C. Marshall Papers. It is with great pleasure, therefore, that I present to you Professor Coffman.
"The Shadows of Time: Experience in Research." by Edward A Coffman
Usually the topic of scholarly lectures is the result of current research. When asked to come here, my first reaction was to follow the normal pattern. After all, I have been at work on a social history of the peacetimeAmerican Army for the last15 years and certainly General Eisenhower spent much of his life in thatenvironment. While I find these officers, soldiers, and their wives and children fascinating, I wondered if the subject of research itself might be of more general interest.
There are two reasons for this, I believe. One is thatfrom my days as a graduate student until now, I havebeen impressed by the fact that few scholars discuss how they do history. Even those who have published autobiographies tend to ignore that crucial aspect of their lives and, instead, devote their accounts to golden memories of their olden days or to a descriptive catalog of famous people they have known. There are exceptions but, generally, historians want their monographs to stand as their representatives. This is understandable, yet anyone who might wonder how the finished product came about is left frustrated. The second reason I decided to discuss research is because of my unusual, although certainly not unique, experience of working in source material from a particularly lengthy span of American history: 1784 to 1940. This has given me familiarity with sources of a more varied nature than someone who specializes in a more limited period. Although my research is in military history, those who work in other areas of American history should find basic similarities in situations and problems encountered.
“The Shadows of Time: Experiences in Research”
In the opening passage of his novel about a Kentucky feud of the 1820s, World Enough and Time, Robert Penn Warren described a situation familiar to those of us who have worked on antebellum subjects: "I can show you what is left, after the pride, passion, agony, and bemused aspiration, what is left in our hands. Here are the scraps of newspaper, more than a century old, splotched and yellowed and huddled together in a library . . . . Here are the diaries, the documents, and the letters, yellow too, bound in neat bundles with tape so stiffened that it parts almost unresisting at your touch. " The novelist's words conjure the ambience of manuscript rooms where, surrounded by paintings or prints on richly paneled walls, a researcher can study the fragments of the past. What a contrast to the metal and plastic surroundings of his counterpart who works in twentieth-century history. Instead of a folder of two letters, the modern historian may sit behind a dozen or so record boxes crammed with the contents of hastily emptied file cabinets. It is a difference almost as striking as that between a rare book shop and a B. Dalton supermarket. To be sure, there is overlapping but even if the recent historian gets inside one of these paneled rooms, he will find far different material than that which his colleague in eighteenth- or nineteenth century researches.
An experience of my friend, Holman Hamilton, the noted Middle Period political historian and biographer of Zachary Taylor, illustrates that point. After the death of the former senator and vice president, Albert Barkley, his estate sent his papers to the University of Kentucky. Holman, who wanted to write a biography of this prominent figure, eagerly awaited their arrival. When they came, the movers almost filled up one floor of a warehouse with hundreds upon hundreds of boxes. As Holman made exploratory searches, he became increasingly frustrated. Nowhere were there long, informative letters written to family or friends or the detailed intimate diaries that he was accustomed to finding in the papers of political worthies of the 1840s and fifties. Box after box of constituent mail routinely answered by form letters prepared by assistants hardly offered the rich source material one could expect to find in a small folder of letters written in 1850. In a few hours of random sampling, my friend learned a hard lesson that anyone who has worked in both eras recognizes. One of the most skilled historians in that category, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., has best defined the problem. "The revolution in the technology of communications - especially the invention of the typewriter and the telephone - has eroded the value of the document . . . . In the last three quarters of a century, the rise of the typewriter has vastly increased the flow of paper, while the rise of the telephone has vastly reduced its importance. Far more documents have been produced, and there is far less in them."
My research has taken me from the pleasant, rarified atmosphere of the manuscripts and rare book rooms which one finds at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin and Yale to the harshly utilitarian research rooms of 8 W and 13 W of the National Archives and the old World War II records center in what I was told had been a torpedo factory on the riverfront in Alexandria. Before I say another word, however, I want to pause and pay tribute to a few of the curators and archivists who made it possible for researchers to do their work. Jacqueline Bull (University of Kentucky), Garry Ryan, Sara Jackson, Tim Nenninger, Mike Musick, and Dale Floyd (National Archives), Bob Schnare and Marie Capps (West Point), Dick Sommers (U.S. Army Military History Institute), and Duane Reed (Air Force Academy) are those who have earned special places in my heart. Who among historians has not had cause to be grateful to one or more of such individuals who help us to find the needles in the historical haystacks?
I embarked on my first serious research in the fall of 1953 at the University of Kentucky. The Civil War interested me so I chose a particularly fascinating topic - the wartime exploits of Thomas H. Hines, the young Confederate officer who had the mission in 1864 of fomenting a revolt among the Copperheads in the Old Northwest. It was a thrill to go through the four boxes of his papers. This collection was small enough to afford the luxury of re-examining the relevant documents again and again, yet large enough to contain not only enough facts to construct the skeleton of his story but also to add much of the flesh. Of course, I used other sources, including other interesting manuscript collections. At this time, however, I want to talk a few moments about newspapers.
I ran the Louisville Journal for the war period and learned the value of such research. Since it was a Union newspaper, I read of General Lee's death and various other distortions, but it really took me into those turbulent years. It also acquainted me with all sorts of exotic remedies for bowel problems and female complaints. Later, when I read the Washington Star and New York Times of 1918 for another topic, I was impressed by the tremendous increase in the size of the newspapers as well as the correspondingly greater opportunity for digressions. I enjoyed the photos in the Sunday rotogravures and found too much diversion in the theater, arts, and book sections. I was also shocked as I opened up the bound volumes in the newspaper room of the Library of Congress Annex to have bits of brittle, yellowed paper crumble into the air. Sadly, I came to expect to find the first page or two in each volume of those newspaper files missing. When the publishers switched from rags to wood pulp newsprint, they created newspapers with a relatively short life. The Civil War papers I had used were thus in much better physical condition than those of World War I.
As my discussion of newspapers indicates, I changed eras when I chose a World War I topic for my dissertation. No one seemed to know much about Peyton C. March, the man who had held the crucial pinnacle of power in the Army as Chief of Staff in 1918 so I attempted to find out who he was and what he had done. I was not daunted by the ten boxes of his papers in the Library of Congress nor even by the more than 300 boxes of General Pershing's papers. These were well organized and there were many letters similar to those I had found in my Civil War research. It was simply a matter of taking more time to make the search.
The National Archives, however, was something else! I shall never forget the cool, rainy March morning in 1957 when I walked in and tried to assess the possibilities of research in the World War I records. The first archivist with whom I talked did not bolster my morale when she argued vehemently that the Army did not have a Chief of Staff. That was a valuable lesson to me. You must find an archivist who knows your period. This person was a nineteenth‑century specialist and, since the Army did not have a Chief of Staff until 1903, she was unaware of the office. This was more than a bit discouraging. How could I research a man whose office did not exist in the mind of the person who stood between me and the records? As hastily as possible, I sought help elsewhere. When I did I find someone who accepted the existence of a Chief of Staff and had even heard of General March, he revealed the overwhelming mass and confusing organization of the records. That was intimidating ‑ indeed, I am being euphemistic. More accurately, those records scared me to death.
After such a disagreeable morning, I went back to the more comfortable, even cozy, Manuscripts Room of the Library of Congress Annex that afternoon and returnedto the more manageable task of taking notes on the personal papers of March and his contemporaries. It was easy to rationalize that I could get what I wanted out of those letters and the assorted memoirs and published reports. March's official report for the war period, alone, might give me enough to supplement the other material. Its 261 pages were crammed with information. Right at hand in the Library of Congress were the papers of Secretary of War Newton D. Baker and two other Chiefs of Staff, Hugh L. Scott and Tasker H. Bliss. Anyone who has had the enjoyable experience of reading one of Bliss' long, thoughtful and informative letters about the activities of the Supreme War Council might well wonder what else would a historian need. The articulate Bliss who tossed off letters of up to twenty pages or more, which went into all ramifications of an issue, was surely a blessing to scholars. Yet, the vision, or rather the nightmare, of those tons of records continued to haunt me. I could not forget what Gerhard Weinberg had told me ‑ the personal papers are just the crumbs from the table. The records are the essential source. But then I was certain that he had not seen the Bliss letters or George W. Goethals' detailed office diary.
Some seventeen months later, I returned to the Archives with the resigned attitude of one with a heavy load attempting to cross a pit of quicksand. Fortunately, I fell into the hands of a superb archivist, Garry Ryan, who helped me learn how to probe in voluminous masses of paper and find the relevant information. General March was also a help since he was the only Chief of Staff, so I was informed, to keep his office files together as an integral unit. While it was more than a hundred boxes, I had reached the point that such quantity seemed reasonable. Besides, I had the great advantage of an interview with one of his Secretaries of the General Staff and a lengthy letter from the other. From them, I learned the office procedure and, among other things, the notation which indicated whether or not March has personally seen a document. Most of the papers in his file, incidentally, he had not actually seen. It took a lot of time to adjust to working in records but eventually I became blas6 about calling for ten boxes at a time and spending only an hour or two in determining whether or not they offered anything of interest. To be sure, I had to go to the expense of a long stay in Washington and had to have records sent down to the Central Search Room after closing time in the branch rooms in order to get in another two or three hours at night to make the best use of time, but an end was in sight.
Typescript is easier to read than handwriting, but I discovered a disadvantage. One reason why my eyes do not make the 20/400 level is that I spent day after day reading the smudged and dim, almost to the point of illegibility, third carbon copies of the once classified cables between the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the American Expeditionary Force and the War Department General Staff. You might well ask, and believe me, I did, stridently, where are the first copies or even the second carbons? No one knew. After a three‑month sojourn I was as much at home in the windowless Modern Military Records Research Room as I had been in the Manuscript Room of the Library of Congress Annex with its vista of the Library of Congress itself.
I was pleased to find that classification which is such a bugaboo for many recent historians was not really a problem for me. This was fortunate since my attempt to gain clearance proved disastrous. One of my first chores when I returned to the Archives in September 1958 was to fill out the necessary forms to obtain clearance. I had gone through a clearance process only seven years before when I had been commissioned in the Army so I naively assumed that this was a proforma exercise. I asked the Army to clear me to work in World War I era records for three months ‑ September through November. Days passed, then weeks, and finally months with no response. After the first few days, this ceased to bother me. As I became acquainted with the records, I found that none of those which I had to examine were still classified, thus, I completed my three‑month stint without needing clearance. It was early in 1959, two or three months after I had left Washington, that the clearance finally came through for three months in that spring. By that time, its value was merely that of a tidbit to brighten a conversation.
Scholars who had worked in records of World War 11 and the Cold War have faced real problems in the area of classification but the earlier time periods of my topics have saved me from that tribulation. There is one general exception. I have been unable to see some personal records, an officer's personal file and a collection of reports on officers relieved for cause in World War I. The Army barred access for 50 to 75 years (the correct figure was in dispute when I attempted to see those documents) to any papers which might reflect on an individual's reputation.
So far, I have only discussed records of World War I vintage. Of course, there are records of the earlier periods as well. In regard to records, generally, I should warn any prospective scholars. You need to know as much background as you can before you begin your examination of official documents. Anyone who uses them would do well to heed the advice of the distinguished British historian, Arnold Toynbee:
In the Foreign Office during the First World War, I had watched official documents being made and had sometimes myself had a hand in the making of them, and I had learnt that one purpose for which no official document has ever been made is to provide information for historians. Even when documents are made in order to inform, they are intended to inform officials and politicians; the purpose of the information is to serve as a guide to action; and the information that is given is the minimum required for making decisions about the action that is in prospect. As official documents will never be superfluously overloaded, they will not include information that is common knowledge among all concerned. Yet things that are common knowledge among the initiated may be unknown to the profanum vulgus, while they may, at the same time, be key points, of which one has to be cognizant if one is to comprehend the official document's meaning and purposes. Without these items of unwritten but indispensable information, and the document becomes, not informative, but misleading. With this in mind, I have, since then, been skeptical when I saw scholars treating documents as if these told the truth and nothing but it. These humanists were relying on the contents of documents as confidingly as a geologist legitimately confides in the composition, structure, and stratification of rocks.2
A famed military historian, B.H. Liddell Hart, raised a disturbing point that Toynbee dismissed: namely that some men use documents purposefully to deceive historians. He remarked that after working in World War I history for two decades "pure documentary history seems to me akin to mythology. " He sustained this charge with the following anecdote:
When the British front was broken in March 1918 and French reinforcements came to help in filling the gap, an eminent French general arrived at the certain army corps headquarters and there majestically dictated orders giving the line on which the troops would stand that night and start their counter‑attack in the morning. After reading it, with some perplexity, the corps commander exclaimed, 'But that line is behind the German front. You lost it yesterday.' The great commander, with a knowing smile, thereupon remarked, 'C'est pour I'histoire.' It may be added that for a great part of the war he had held a high staff position where the archives on which such official history would later depend had been under his control.3
The moral is obvious. A scholar should approach records warily. He should know enough to be able to assess then and place them in their proper perspective. The great bulk of routine documents are accurate, but if a policy is at stake or a reputation is in danger, be suspicious.
There are a couple of other points about records which I should make. One is that while it is relatively much more difficult even to know where to look or to know exactly what one is looking for in records, volume which is such a tremendous problem in the twentieth century, however, is not as much of a worry in the earlier period. A friend of mine, John K. Mahon, who has done such excellent work in ante-bellum American military history, one remarked that the advantage of working on that era is that one could hope to see every extant relevant document on a topic. In contrast, those who venture into World War II history have to be extremely selective. I recall my first visit to the old torpedo factory in Alexandria. From a walkway, I looked over a huge warehouse floor with row after row of four drawer file cabinets stacked two deep, one upon the other. According to a former Chief Historian of the Army, the Army alone produced 17,120 tons of records "enough to fill 188 miles of filing cases set end to end. 114 No one will ever live long enough to took at every possible relevant document on a major topic of that era.
In my current research on the social history of the American Army in peacetime, I have moved across the spectrum. I was not surprised to find that there are few records left from the three decades between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The combination of a War Office fire in 1800 and the British conflagration in 1814 spared few documents. Even among those, there was one particularly disappointing set of documents. Among the first captains in the peacetime Army of the 1780s was Jonathan Heart. I had read a published version of his diary so was delighted to find that the original was longer and available in the National Archives. That was the good news. The bad news was that when I eagerly called for his letter book, I found that it had a hole of some four inches diameter clear through which rendered all of the letters useless.
Over the years as I reached in records, I came to realize that what I had to do was match wits with some long dead Army clerk in my search for any particular document. Where would he be apt to file it? With what other likely topic file would he combine the documents I sought? In one instance, an antebellum clerk, Mr. Addison, kept a separate file of queries docketed with abbreviated answers. Here are letters from fathers wanting to know the whereabouts of sons who enlisted four years before and had not been heard from since or from wives begging for the discharge of husbands who enlisted while drunk or from ex-President John Tylerwanting to know if his brother was eligible for a veteran's pension. More important to me was another Adjutant-General's Office file the General Information Index to which a retired archivist, Karl Trever, called my attention. Clerks put this together in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century apparently to facilitate the answering of questions from the public. They filed either the original records or the notes they had made in this collection. Here I discovered a fascinating unknown letter of William T. Sherman in which he discussed his banking venture in San Francisco and one of the very rare letters of a peacetime enlisted man who described life in New Mexico Territory to his mother in 1854. Even in the ante-bellum period, I only had the time to probe for specific items, thus, I had to rely greatly on the suggestions of archivists. I was even more selective in the period from the Civil War to 1940. The mass increased so much with the introduction of the typewriter in the late nineteenth-century and the expansion of the Army. There was another change not long after the turn of the century: one that is very noticeable to scholars who work in both periods. Clerks stopped folding papers and binding topic files in red tape and began to file them flat in folders.
Before I leave the matter of records, I do want to acknowledge the value of the publishedrecords in theAmerican State Papers: Military Affairs volumes, and the War Department Annual Reports which pick up in 1838 where the ASP stops. Official Army Registers are also helpful, particularly after 1869 when they began to include biographical data on officers. In addition there are other official documents published by Congress which are most useful. There are also available in print the personal papers of several political and military personages ‑ John C. Calhoun, Jefferson Davis, U.S. Grant, and George C. Marshall ‑ through the programs of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
As the Marshall Papers illustrate, there are still excellent letters to be found in the twentieth century. The example of mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth century politicians which I gave earlier is thus somewhat misleading. I have located not only letters and diaries but also unpublished memoirs of Army men and women in the 1920s and 1930s which are of real interest. Whether or not this is true of post-World War II military people, I cannot say. Letter writing is supposed to be a dying art and the prevalence of tape recorders may have completed the job of killing off good war letters which censorship began in World War I. Nevertheless, there are some good World War II diaries, although combatants were not supposed to keep them, and I have seen two sets of good letters from Vietnam.
Since good letters and diaries are so helpful, it is no wonder that the researcher's goal is to locate ones that have hitherto been unused by scholars. It was my good fortune to make one such discovery of a major collection. These papers were not only still in private hands, but also unknown to the owner.
I am indebted in this regard to a man who had already earned my appreciation for the help he had given me in my work on General March. Colonel George W. Hinman, the librarian of the Army‑Navy Club in Washington, was a charming, urbane man with a keen sense of history. Early on in my dissertation research, I made his acquaintance and profited greatly from his knowledge of old Army people. He knew
March and he could tell me of others who had been associated with the general. While researching my book on World War I, I depended on him again. I would ask him, for example, if he knew of men who hadserved on destroyers in the North Atlantic. He would come up with two or three names and a brief description of their service, and the valuable information of whether or not they would be likely to help me.
I had written about half of my book and, presumably, had completed my research when a happy turn in a lunchtime conversation with him opened up a great possibility. I had not yet begun writing on the largescale operations of the AEF so I mentioned to him that it was sad that apparently there were no papers of such AEF luminaries as Hunter Liggett and Hugh A. Drum. He said that he knew Drum's daughter and would get her address for me. As a young staff officer, Drum had been near the center of power throughout the existence of the AEF If he had a good set of papers, they should help enormously in my understanding of the combat operations. True to his word, Colonel Hinman sent the address of Carroll Drum Johnson a week or so later. A letter brought back a prompt response with the news that what papers the general had Mrs. Johnson had given to First Army Headquarters. Since I was to be in New York City that December, however, she kindly invited me to her home in New Jersey. During the pleasant day I spent with her and her son, she said that she did not think her father had written letters of any historic value, but she had not been able to learn from the First Army people, if, indeed, there are any. She did hold out a faint hope with the mention that there were some boxes in the attic which she had never examined. I left with the promise that she would look into them in the spring and let me know if she found anything. Months passed and I heard nothing. That summer, as I planned to go East again, I phoned her home and learned the shocking news that she had been killed in an automobile accident a few weeks after my visit. Meantime, the son had been drafted and the family lawyer, John Dolan Harrington, was living in the home. When I asked him about the boxes in the attic, he said that he opened them and there were wartime letters in them. Naturally, I took advantage of his invitation and spent three glorious days of discovery. There were excellent letters, also a good diary, and fragments of a book which Drum had started to write about the war. He had also supplemented his own memory with correspondence with other generals about some of the AEF controversies. The Drum Papers were not at the First Army Museum but were in the attic. I found them invaluable and turned to them frequently when I wrotethe last part of the book.
Of course, one can turn up such collections from* any period of the last several hundred years, but there is onearea in which a recent historian has a significant advantage over others. He can contact individuals who took part in the events he is trying to describe. I have emphasized already the difference between hunting for scattered fragments of the distant past and the necessity of probing in huge masses of paper preserved in more recent years. Asking people who where there is an available key to ease the passage through those papers to the actual events. In my work on March and World War I, I did talk and correspond with a good many people. In this social history, I have continued to use this most helpful tool. Before I turn to oral history, however, I would like to describe one poignant experience that I had in correspondence which demonstrates the thin line connecting us to the past.
In late August 1980, while at the Military History Institute, Dick Sommers called my attention to an officer's memoir about a tour of duty in the early thirties with the Philippine Scouts. I found this manuscript not only interesting but also charming. Colonel Charles F Ivins described with sensitivity and wit his days at Zamboanga. Upon my return home, a few days later, I wrote Colonel Ivins to compliment his memoir and to ask some questions about his service prior to the Scouts assignment. Less than two weeks later, I was shocked to read a story in my local newspaper that he had shot and killed his invalid wife and then committed suicide. She was confined to a wheelchair and he had just learned that he was suffering from cancer so they made a suicide pact as he explained in a note. In that day's mail, I found a letter from him. It was postmarked the day before he died. He had written three pages of answers to my questions and then penned a brief cover note: "I am toting 82 years around with me. Things are really difficult."
Within the last two decades, oral history has come to prominence in the history profession. Its possibilities have excited a new generation of scholars so much that some, understandably, wonder why their predecessors did not use this research tool. Unquestionably, there was opposition to its use. I recall arguing about its merits in 1957 or 1958 with a scholar whose field was in the late eighteenth century. Obviously, I had the advantage since it was out of the question for him to talk with a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Yet, I suspected that he would accept reminiscences in memoirs or correspondence or perhaps even interviews (and, indeed, some were practicing the art then) of his subjects. The survivors are witnesses whose testimony more often than not will be lost unless someone asks them questions and tapes or writes down their answers. Of course, you have to consider the possibility that memory can play tricks, but then you have to careful with documents as I mentioned earlier.
My initiation into oral history was when I was eleven. A Union Army veteran lived a block from my grade school so one afternoon after class I walked over and spent an hour talking with him. He told me about Shiloh and Chickamauga where he had been wounded as he fought with George H. Thomas, the Rock. Later in that spring of 1940, after I had seen Gone With the Wind, I learned that he had watched those Confederate ammunition trains blow up in Atlanta. That hooked me. When I researched my master's thesis, I went to see two men who had known my subject. In my work on March and World War I, turned to those who had been there to bring life to men who were otherwise only names to me as well as to gain understanding of documents. A particularly impressive instance occurred in November 1960. 1 came across the transcript of a conference between March and Pershing just after the latter's return from France in 1919 among the records in the National Archives. Some time before, I had talked with one of Pershing's secretaries hence I know that he worked in the District Building only two or three blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue. I phoned him and asked if he was the stenographer who made that transcript. When he said that he was, I walked over and interviewed him about that momentous occasion. He remembered it very well as he had never seen anyone talk to his boss, Pershing, as March did.
Asking someone who was present at an event or who knew a person provides information as to the ambience of the situation or to the personality of an individual that is otherwise often difficult if not impossible to obtain. From the first American ace in World War I, I discovered that planes in dogfights might be as close to each other as fifty feet. From Pershing's secretary, I learned that he was most contented after he had broken up an expensive cigar and chewed it just like chewing tobacco. I also learned that Major General William M. Wright was a particularly close friend. Time and again, I was given guidance as to what were the proper questions to ask of the documents and I can attest to the relief of having someone who should know corroborate my analysis of historic events. Then, spending some time, even if only a few minutes, with a prominent historic figure, has given me a feeling of more authority when the time comes to describe that personage and his actions.
As I come to the close of my talk, I realize that I have not discussed the importance of maps or of illustrations from crude prints to movies or of artifacts and historic sites although all have certainly given me a firmer grasp of history, Together with oral history and the assorted papers and records, they provide images which are shadows of the past.
In conclusion, I think that anyone who has done historical research would agree that when you try to answer the questions that arise and, even more, when you sit down and face the blank sheet of paper, you welcome any help you can get.
1. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., "On the Writing of Contemporary History," Atlantic, vol. 219, No. 2 (March, 1967), 70-71.
2. Arnold J. Toynbee, Acquaintances (London, 1967), 117.
3. B. H. Liddell Hart, Why Don't We Learn From History? (New York, 1971), 21.
4. Kent R. Greenfield, The Historian and the Army (New Brunswick, N.J., 1954), 6.