The 1st Maine Cavalry’s Committee on History adopted a policy “that no unpleasant thing should appear relating to the personal record of any comrade,” in the regimental history prepared by Edward Tobie. Other regimental historians may have followed suit, though I am not aware of another history in which this intention is so clearly stated. Noble Preston appears to have followed such a policy in preparing his history of the 10th New York Cavalry. For example, his brief biography of Col. Henry Avery fails to mention that Avery was court-martialed several times, once for sabering and crippling one of his soldiers in a drunken-rage. Preston also fails to mention that Capt. Aaron Bliss was, along with eight other officers, cashiered from the army for submitting a fraudulent pay voucher. Bliss was one of the first of the men returned to duty, and almost certainly dismissed in error. All of the men were eventually returned to duty, though several were almost certainly guilty to some degree. Bliss moved to Michigan after the war and is credited with preparing the regimental rosters mentioned in my previous post.
The policy adopted by the 1st Maine’s Committee on History is both admirable and understandable. I doubt anyone would readily agree to have his or her transgressions made public, especially those made under the stress of combat, but the policy also limits our ability to fully understand the history of these regiments, and the men who fought under their banners, as my previous story demonstrated.
I am not looking to enter into a broad debate on the right to privacy, but I am curious how the readers feel about this specific policy, and the degree to which such a policy limits our knowledge of these soldiers, their units and their times. I am also interested in learning how official unit historians are charged with handling such matters today.