Fiction as Fact: The Horse Soldiers and Popular Memory

Fiction as Fact: The Horse Soldiers and Popular Memory

Fiction as Fact: The Horse Soldiers and Popular Memory

Fiction as Fact: The Horse Soldiers and Popular Memory

Synopsis

In 1863 Colonel Benjamin Henry Grierson led a cavalry expedition the General Grant hoped would distract Confederate forces while the Union Army made its way toward Vicksburg. This is a thorough examination of this expedition.

Excerpt

The seed of this book was sown over twenty-five years ago, when I was an undergraduate. in a course that started with Herodotus and Thucydides, I was obliged to think deeply about the nature of historical inquiry, more deeply than I had ever imagined I would or could. At the end of the semester my classmates and I turned in papers attempting to answer the question of whether history is an art or a science. I learned the hard way the meaning of the phrase “false dichotomy”; I had been set up and did not realize it until too late.

Other issues discussed in that same course, ranging from the possibility of objectivity to the existence of historical truth, have stayed with me over the years. Like most historians, I concentrate on research and writing, not on exploring, in any systematic fashion, the big questions in the philosophy of history. and yet those questions are always there, not quite buried in the back of my mind. Every lecture I give, every essay I write, is a reminder of their importance. I find excuses to slip the big questions into my courses, though I do so carefully. Many of my students are history majors, but they are rarely interested in the abstractions that fascinate philosophers. Few have read serious historical works even if they are considering a career in history teaching. More than a few had their understanding of the American past shaped in movie theaters or in front of the television—something that professional historians often lament. Perhaps it is lamentable, but such is life, and it is a development that is not entirely bad. If nothing else, the popularity of certain films and television programs is proof that curiosity about the past still exists, that there is still an audience for historians to try to reach.

I have spent almost all my academic career studying Revolutionary America. At one point, well over a decade ago, I combined my interests in that period with an inquiry into the nature of history and commentary on how elements of the past as we know it are formed by popular culture.

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