Stephen B. Oates, Civil War Historian, Dies at 85


The American Historical Association, which reviewed the charges, rendered an ambiguous decision in 1993, saying there was “no evidence” that Dr. Oates committed plagiarism “as is conventionally understood.” But he found evidence of “too great and too continuous a reliance, even with attribution, on the structure, distinctive language, and rhetorical strategies of other scholars and sources.”

More than 20 historians have come to Dr Oates’ defense, but the allegations snowballed, sidetracked him from his job and wreaked havoc.

“Many of us on the ground saw this as criticism that turned into aggression and became a tragedy,” Harold Holzer, a prominent Lincoln scholar, said in an interview. “He was too great a talent to be silenced, but in many ways he was, at least as a historian.”

Greg Oates said that although the accusations “took a heavy toll on him emotionally and physically,” his father came together and continued to write a different kind of story, in which he relied on the historical record but has written in first person from the perspective of historical figures involved in the coming Civil War. He published “The Approaching Fury: Voices of the Storm, 1820-1861” in 1997 and a sequel, “The Whirlwind of War: Voices of the Storm, 1861-1865”, in 1998.

“He was able to immerse himself in the epic saga of war, which was the culmination of all his knowledge and research,” said his son. In creating monologues for historical figures, he took inspiration from actors Hal Holbrook and Julie Harris, who imitated Mark Twain and Emily Dickinson on stage. His work has been well received.

“This book powerfully recreates some of the significant events that produced the catastrophe of 1861,” historian Robert Remini wrote in a review of the New York Times first volume in 1997. “Mr. Oates succeeds in bringing his characters to life. and create some very dramatic scenes for them to act out.

Dr Oates started working on a book on the Cuban Missile Crisis in the same style, his son said, but he developed severe back problems and couldn’t continue. He was, however, able to serve as a consultant and counselor to his son, who adapted some of his works for television and film.


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