Saturday, August 25, 2012

Wittenberg, the trial lawyer

Wittenberg, in the preface of his Little Phil, A reassessment of the Civil War Leadership of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan makes a virtue of his experience as a trial lawyer, but do lawyers strive to arrive at the truth or win their cases?


On the first page of Wittenberg's book is something that looks awfully like a lie, Wittenberg's not Sheridan's. Wittenberg writes "Roy Morris Jr., Sheridan's most recent biographer, points out that Sheridan harbored presidential ambitions. 'He purposely obscured his foreign birth to protect his putative presidential aspirations, in which case he must have been unusually ambitious, since by this reasoning he began to lie when he was seventeen,' observed Morris, 'and unusually persistent, since he stood by the story in his posthumous memoirs, long after he had passed beyond such transient glories."


Wittenberg's reference for the above quote is "Roy Morris Jr., Sheridan: The Life and Wars of General Phil Sheridan (New York: Crown Publishing, 1992), 10-11.


But when I turned to pages 10-11 of the book Wittenberg references, here is what Morris actually wrote:


"It has been suggested that he purposely obscured his foreign birth to protect his putative presidential aspirations, in which case he must have been unusually ambitious, since by this reasoning he began to lie when he was seventeen, and unusually persistent, since he stood by the story in his posthumous memoirs, long after he had passed beyond such transient glories. Probably, he just never knew."


Comment: I reread the two versions several times and could not arrive at a theory that leaves Wittenberg an honest historian bent upon arriving at the truth. I can much more readily see a trial lawyer twisting the truth in order to support his case.

1 comment:

severalfourmany said...

Wittenberg is highly opinionated, particularly when it comes to Sheridan. I found his descriptions of the various battles to be very helpful, but the biographical parts were so clearly biased that I skipped most of them. I have often wondered how badly this impairs his other books. They are thoroughly researched with many hard to find sources, but I often wonder about his judgement.