Access Denied to Those Seeking Historical Truth
“Undoubtedly the main reason for confusion about some of the incidents of the War Between the States – such as the assault on July 3rd at Gettysburg – was the arbitrary manner in which the Northern war department denied Southern writers access to the official documents – even those of their own preparation which were stolen or captured.
This blackout continued for thirteen years after the end of hostilities, a period during which most of the abiding impressions about the war were being formed. It is an amazing fact that when General Robert E. Lee endeavored to inspect his own reports of battles and his own field returns, he was denied that right. He never did have the opportunity to make use of them. Other Southern officers and writers were rebuffed in their efforts to examine papers which they desired to see solely for historical purposes. Officialdom is usually more illiberal than the people it represents.
Never was there a more obvious effort to channel the course of history – to make certain that history was written from only one side – than of the arbitrary Northern war department officials in the late 1860s and the 1870s.
When Governor Zebulon Vance of North Carolina sought to review his own letter books, which had been seized, in order that he might refute accusation made against him that had been based on garbled use of these same letters, the privilege was denied.
It should be recalled that after the war the South was virtually destitute of papers and reports bearing on the conflict. All documents either had been destroyed or seized by the invading armies, bundled and sent to Washington. There many of them remain.
The Rev. J. William Jones, long the secretary of the Southern Historical Society engaged in a spirited campaign with the North’s war department to gain for Southern writers the privilege of reading the reports of Southern generals that were freely available to northern writers. The standard reply was that Congress would have to authorize the printing of any war archives.
Jones charged that the records had been “for years closely guarded to all save a favored few,” and added: “Indeed, the outrage of keeping those documents locked up to Southerners, and open to every writer on the other side who might desire to defame our leaders or falsify our history, has become so patent to all right-thinking people that there have been denials that access has been denied to any seeker of historical truth.”
(Some Aspects of North Carolina’s Participation in the Gettysburg Campaign. Glenn Tucker. NC Historical Review, Vol. XXXV, No. 2, April 1958, pp. 191-193)