“Do Your Own Research!”
By Jonah Begone
We reenactors frequently admonish each other to “…do your own research.” In other words, not rely on any one source.
This is good advice. An example of this is presented by Barbara Mikkelson, who runs the Snopes.com Internet site – an urban legend resource. (I use it all the time to do fact-checking, and have gotten a reputation as something as an Oracle as a result. Her search window makes looking up, say, that Capers’ story about a minie ball inseminating a woman easy and straightforward – you just search on “Capers,” or “minie” or “civil war.” (The snopes page debunking this particular story is here.)
By the way, go to the search function on Snopes.com and enter “civil war.” You’ll be interested in what comes up.
Anyway, a good example of how to perform a historical search is on this web page debunking a legend about Clark Gable killing somebody in a vehicle accident which MGM covered up. This particular page is something of a departure from her usual pages in that she describes her research process. I would imagine a process something like this could be followed by amateur Civil War researchers.
What I find especially interesting is that folklorists like Mikkelson often discover that stories and legends become blurred, confused and intertwined over time; such is the case with the Gable legend, which is combined with a story about producer John Huston that happened twelve years prior. And this is a tale that is less than sixty years old. The Civil War happened 140+ years ago – it stands to reason that more legend blurring occurred, and, hence, the need for doing new research!