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In Memoriam: Tribute to Michael Fellman

From: Civil War History
Volume 58, Number 4, December 2012
pp. 413-414 | 10.1353/cwh.2012.0078

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Editors’ Note: Michael Fellman, Emeritus Professor of History, Simon Fraser University, passed away on June 11, 2012, at the age of sixty-nine. He left an indelible mark on the field of Civil War history, with books including In the Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History, The Making of R. E. Lee, Citizen Sherman: A Life of William T. Sherman, and Inside War: The Guerilla Conflict in Missouri during the American Civil War. His last book, entitled Views from the Dark Side of American History, maintained that “truly engaged history writing is anarchic or at least irreverent. It challenges authority; it is the assertion of freedom of thought against the constraints of received wisdom; it is the individual declaration that one need not be captured and neutralized by the powerful fear of being isolated and derided, that one can find one’s own voice.”1 Fellman was an active member of this journal’s editorial advisory board. Civil War History editor Lesley J. Gordon and advisory board member Daniel Sutherland coauthored This Terrible War: The Civil War and Its Aftermath with Fellman, first published in 2002. They share here their reflections on his passing.

When the three of us first began writing our textbook, we had nicknames for each other. Mine was “Slowpoke.” I always felt as if I was somehow lagging behind these two accomplished historians—Michael in particular, full of so much energy and dynamism, who pushed me to do more, write more, and keep striving. I first met him when I was a graduate student, more than twenty years ago. Over the years, our relationship grew from a mentorship to a valued friendship. We talked a good deal about writing history, because he possessed an inherent need to write. And we bonded over our American Jewishness, which though very different, and separated by varying traditions and a generation, made us both wonder about how this shaped our view of Civil War history. Michael was like no one else I had ever encountered in the field. He was opinionated, passionate, defiant, yet funny, and warmly affectionate. He prided himself on being a gadfly: shaking up what he perceived to be the status quo, even if it meant upsetting or offending people in the process. I do not think Michael was finished with the work (and the pestering) he sought to accomplish when he left us. I know he still had a passion about his writing, turning his creative energies toward a historic novel set during the war. Find your own voice, he urged. It is something that I will keep me with me always. —LJG

Michael was more friend than mentor to me, although, strange to say, he had much in common intellectually with my true mentor, Grady McWhiney. They were poles apart on some issues, most notably politics, but I recall many years ago when Grady, following his first extended conversation with Michael, informed me, “He is a pretty smart fellow.” His estimate came, I must assume, from their common desire, as stated in Michael’s words, to challenge “received wisdom.” They were both dandy at doing that job. Both men also understood the value of seeing the broad sweep of history, not to fall into the trap of being a “Civil War historian,” or “southern historian,” or any “type” of historian, but rather to extend oneself beyond a single, prescribed (and necessarily limiting) historical niche. Equally, Michael was determined never to let his profession define his life. His interests and expertise were extensive. We talked (and often disagreed) about the relative merits of French versus Italian wines, of Manet versus Whistler, of Verdi versus Wagner, or of Paris versus London as much as we did the latest historiographical fashion. And while Michael was famously opinionated, he was also a listener, especially to friends in distress, and the most compassionate, perceptive, and thoughtful of men. —DS


1.  Michael Fellman, Views from the Dark Side of American History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 2011), 6.

Copyright © 2012 The Kent State University Press
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Lesley J. Gordon. and Daniel Sutherland. "In Memoriam: Tribute to Michael Fellman...

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