Writer doesn’t know about Civil War

To the editor:

I reply to the recent letter of Mr. Wayne Leonard (Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Nov. 11).

Mr. Leonard, you express displeasure that your unqualified identification of the Army of the Potomac as a Confederate army (ADE, Oct. 15) drew my derision. But that’s loving kindness compared to how Civil War historians would spurn your pretentious and sloppy “scholarship” in their field.

You can’t pretend to deny that an unqualified reference to a particular person, place or thing is to that figuring most prominently in history, geography, art or the like. Thus an unqualified reference to Alsace-Lorraine is to the venerable French province, not to the German territory it became for a short period after the Franco-Prussian War.

Similarly, an unqualified reference to the Army of the Potomac must be to the renowned Union army which held that name till the war’s conclusion. It’s of that army that esteemed authors (Wert, Catton, Chamberlain, etc.) write in describing “Army of the Potomac”, not the obscure Confederate army whose existence ended with Robert E. Lee’s appointment as commanding officer.

If on rare occasions writers choose to refer to the Army of the Potomac in its obscure sense as a Confederate army (or Alsace-Lorraine in its transient existence as a German territory), they are careful to provide clarifying qualification.

You provided no such qualification in your original letter. You didn’t because you knew nothing about the Civil War. You simply Googled on “Confederate army” and (unluckily) grabbed a spurious name from the results list. Only after seeing my letter (ADE, Oct. 21) did you panic and Google about to discover the confusing historical oddity by which two distinct (but entirely disproportionate) armies were named “Army of the Potomac.”

So it’s obvious that when you wrote your original letter you knew nothing about the Army of the Potomac. What’s not obvious is why your second letter argues that your first letter was meant “to elicit discussion.”

You attach the following expressions to officials and citizens of Tupper Lake to elicit that discussion: “lack of empathy and historical relevance,” “lack of backbone,” “missing the big picture,” “hypocrisy,” “dysfunctional one-party dominance,” “mindset remains impenetrable,” “arrogance without true purpose,” “impotence,” “following and never leading,” “antiquated right-wing mindset,” “cultural skeletons,” “political incompetence,” “undeniable weakness” and “ugly discriminatory subculture.”

Your complimentary close reads, “With all due respect.”

Well, “with all due respect,” Mr. Leonard, the accusations you pile upon Tupper Lake’s residents explain your outcast from that town. You’re bitter now, and hopefully you can make a fresh start in Florida. If you can gather up the fragments of your life and devote your energies and talents to low and simple issues, we can see you as a great man in small matters, and not just a small man in great matters.

John Edelberg

Saranac Lake 


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