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Is the ‘Eclectic history of the United States a proper book to use in our schools?’

We promised in our last issue to fully ventilate this question, and asked that teachers, Confederate soldiers and others in position to know would send us their opinions.

We have several responses, and among them the following from Colonel William Allan, superintendent of McDonogh Institute, Maryland.

To those who know Colonel Allan, no words from us are necessary to enhance the value of his opinions upon this question.

A distinguished Master of Arts of the University of Virginia, and for several years a teacher in one of the best academies in Virginia. For some years after the war one of the accomplished professors whom General Lee called around him to make Washington College an institution of such high grade, and for several years the able and efficient head of McDonogh Institute, Colonel Allan stands in the very forefront of practical teachers, and his opinions about text-books are of highest value.

Serving on the staff of General Stonewall Jackson, General Ewell, General Early, and General Gordon, Colonel Allan has added to his personal knowledge of the events of the war, a most careful study of official documents and reliable statements on both sides, and has won a wide reputation as a painstaking, accurate, and able military critic.

His paper is, therefore, of highest authority, and we give it in full (as a brief and general statement of the character of this book) before going into our own more detailed citation of its errrors.

The Eclectic history of the United States, by M. E. Thalheimer.

[A Review, by Colonel William Allan.]
This book is one of those worthless school histories which we suppose will be written and printed as long as money can be made by doing so. The Eclectic History has been manufactured—like oleomargerine—to sell. Many devices have been resorted to in order to increase its salableness, some good, but more of them bad. It is printed on good paper and in clear type. It has a profusion of illustrations, many excellent, others poor, and one at least bewildering (p. 242). It contains a number of mediocre maps, badly colored, and indifferently well adapted to their purpose. It [236] contains a copy of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution of the United States. It has the stock ‘questions for review.’ It has a number of biographical notes at the end of each chapter, some very good, all gotten up with the aim of pleasing everybody and offending no one. Thus especial care is taken to put in laudatory notices of some of the Southern leaders in the civil war. But when we look farther than this into the real merits of the book, we find little to commend.

1. It is strongly partisan, not in using unseemly language about Southern men and institutions, but in the pictures it presents of historical facts, and the description it gives of historical characters. A single instance will illustrate. On page 268 we find the following: ‘The Supreme Court of the United States decided that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, and that slaves might be carried into any territory of the Union. But this was contrary to the ordinance of 1787, which prohibited slavery in the northwest territory.’ Thus, by an unfair and disingenuous statement, the reader is taught that the Supreme Court deliberately destroyed what the author had elsewhere, (p. 190) described as ‘not a mere act of Congress which could be repealed, * * * but a solemn compact between the inhabitants of the Territory * * * and the people of the thirteen States.’ The next sentences (p. 268) contain the only allusion to John Brown in the text, and are as follows: ‘The excitement became greater when John Brown, formerly of Kansas, actually invaded the State of Virginia with a party of about twenty men, for the purpose of liberating slaves. He gained possession of the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, thinking to arm the negroes, whom he expected to join him. He was easily captured—his party being either killed or dispersed—and was tried, convicted, and put to death under the laws of Virginia.’

‘Invaded the State of Virginia’ is good! We hear nothing, however, of Booth and his accomplices ‘invading’ Washington, and attacking President Lincoln and Secretary Seward. They are murderers. Contrast with this description of John Brown the following, on page 276, which the author adopts from Mr. Lincoln's inaugural address:

‘He threw upon the politicians of the South the whole responsibility of the calamities which must follow the destruction of the Union, assuring them there could be no conflict unless they themselves should choose to begin it.’ It is a cruel outrage to teach the children of those men who died for the South on every field from Gettysburg to the Rio Grande such stuff as this.

This kind of tone is not confined to the author's chapters on the war. Even those on the settlement of Virginia and of Massachusetts show the same.

2. The book is shamefully inaccurate. The following is the description of the first battle of Manassas on page 278: ‘General Beauregard commanded the Confederate army of 40,000 men; General McDowell's forces consisted of a nearly equal number of volunteers for ninety days. For six hours the Northern men stood their ground, and kept or regained all their positions. The Confederates were once broken and driven a mile and a-half from the field, but they were rallied by Stonewall Jackson, whose inflexible bravery [237] and noble character made him one of the great heroes of the war. At the moment when the Confederate cause seemed lost, suddenly General Kirby Smith arrived with fresh forces for their relief. The Union troops, exhausted by intense heat and furious fighting, were thrown into confusion, and battle was changed to flight. * * * * Later in the evening Colonel Einstein, of Pennsylvania, returned to the battle-field and brought off six cannons.’ The errors in this are so numerous that it would suit about as well for the description of any other battle as for that of Manassas. General Beauregard did not command the Confederate army; that did not contain 40,000 men; McDowell's forces were not inferior in numbers to it, and they were not entirely composed of ‘volunteers for ninety days.’ As the Union army was the attacking party, to speak of them standing their ground or keeping their positions is sheer nonsense. The Confederate forces were driven back, but they were not rallied by Stonewall Jackson; nor were any cannon taken from the battle-field late in the day by Federal troops.

Of Jackson's death at Chancellorsville, it is said (page 297), ‘He was returning in the evening to his camp, when he was fired upon through a blunder of some of his own men, and was mortally wounded.’ Jackson was killed during a lull in the battle while he was preparing to press his victory further. Nothing could be wider of the mark than to say he was returning to his camp.

In regard to Gettysburg, it is said (pages 297-8), ‘The armies were equal in numbers, each counting 80,000 men. * * * * The Southern loss is said to have been 36, 000; that of the North, 23,000.’ There is no excuse at this day for so gross a misstatement of facts. Lee's force was between 60, 000 and 70,000 men, Meade's something over 100,000. The losses were about equal, and were in the neighborhood of the figures given above as the Northern loss.

On page 311 we find: ‘On the 1st of April Sheridan advanced to Five Forks, twelve miles in rear of Lee's position, and captured its garrison of 5,000 men.’ Five Forks was not in Lee's rear and had no ‘garrison.’ It was the scene of a pitched battle between Sheridan and Pickett, where the Confederates were badly defeated and lost many prisoners.

Again, on page 312, we have: ‘Finally, on the 9th, Lee surrendered his entire command, then consisting of less than 28,000 men, at Appomattox Courthouse, Va.’ As Lee's command was 20,000 less than 28,000 at the surrender, the author might have been satisfied with a smaller margin.

This same sort of carelessness may be found through the book from the earlier pages, where Richmond is made a flourishing settlement in 1660, downwards.

3. But after all, these, though important, are not the chief defects. The whole book is a poor, scrappy, ill-arranged syllabus, written much in the style of an abridged dictionary, and the study of its pages under the guidance of the questions for review and of the synopses given would be about as valuable and interesting to the children for whom it is intended as the study of so many pages of an inaccurate and badly compiled dictionary. It is about as well suited to strengthen and develop mind as sawdust is to promote the growth of muscle.

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