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Posted By: Joe Martin on: 08/21/2009 23:25:19 EDT
Subject: RE: Gen'l Myer's character

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Once in awhile, a writer will admit that “biography” (i.e., personal traits/interactions) plays a much greater role in history than is generally recognized. Myer is certainly a classic example—without him, the history of the Signal Corps would no doubt be considerably different than what we now accept. But the historian, for better or worse, must often rely on documents or data generated by the very people who, sometimes literally, “make” history. To amplify Dave Gaddy’s point appearing elsewhere, the “other side of the coin” is not always well documented, and, when viewed years or decades after the fact, may become virtually invisible.

As I’ve remarked in other postings, cyber technology has opened a whole ’nuther world to those of us who have neither the time nor money to perform classical historical research. As a sort of instructive exercise, I decided to see—literally—what Dr. Scheips had to say about Myer’s character. A word search of his dissertation yielded 49 instances of some form of the word “character”. Scheips used it often, as in “the character of the country”, or "the character of the [telegraphic] apparatus”, but I found only one direct reference to Myer’s personal traits: An 1853 letter from a physician commended Myer’s character. Similar letters followed, including one from the Florida Secretary of State, who wrote “that he [Myer] is esteemed by all who know him as a young gentleman of high honor and integrity.” (p. 47) Obviously, a search using other words or phrases relating to personal character might yield different results.

W. A. Glassford, himself a significant figure in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century Signal Corps, commented on another facet of Myer’s character. (p. 492) Glassford described Myer’s 1864 report as “diffuse in details and silent as to essentials”, and considered it to have been written “with less reference to its military value than to its political bearing upon legislation then under consideration in Congress.” “It is a hard task”, Glassford concluded, “to arrive at the methods by which the Signal Officer proposed to utilize the military results of his actions, in firmly establishing his own position which as yet had not emerged ….”

Glassford may have been referring more to the Signal Corps itself, as represented by “the Signal Officer”, rather than to Myer in particular. In any event, Scheips agreed that, “as a generalization, Glassford's estimate has some merit”, and follows with nearly a full page explanation (p. 493) of Myer’s likely rationale for “spinning” his accounts and for indulging in what might appear to be excessive politicking.

For chronological reasons if no other, A.J. Myer is near and dear to the denizens of this forum. It may have little or nothing to do with personal character, but from my armchair perch, I see A.W. Greely, who had plenty of his own struggles and used much the same tactics and methods as Myer, as deserving at least equal credit for transforming the Signal Corps into a useful and accepted branch of the service.

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