My Wife Calls This a “God Wink”

11 12 2011

I prefer to use the words of the Zen philosopher Leon Spinks: “Freaky Deaky.”

This is a little convoluted, so bear with me.

A few years ago I learned (from a total stranger via a gen group for the Smeltzer line) that my great-grandfather, John B. Smeltzer, served in the 205th PA Infantry and was wounded during the Petersburg breakthrough in 1865. You see, most of my family, if we’re interested in genealogy at all, have always focused on my mother’s side of the family, I think because her father was from Ireland and we have always identified ourselves as “Irish”. We went to the Irish school and the Irish church (as opposed to the German, Polish, Italian, Croatian, or Greek churches and schools in our little town). Yes, with a name like mine that has required a lot of explanation over the years, but my dad was in fact president of our local AOH, and I have the throne from the now defunct group in my garage right now to prove it.

Given my interest in the Civil War, this was pretty cool news to me. I haven’t done much other than get his pension file from NARA (for some reason I forgot to order his service record) and locate his grave in Vicksburg Cemetery in Roaring Springs, PA – though I have yet to visit it (UPDATE – good thing I didn’t visit, as he is actually buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery in Hopewell, PA, Bedford County.) I learned from the gen group that John was born in 1846, his father’s name was Joseph and his mother was Susan. He had, IIRC, four siblings. It looks like he signed up when he turned 18. Later in life, he suffered from pretty much the same physical maladies as do I. Weird how that works.

OK, fast forward a few years and here’s where it gets freaky.

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Milann Ruff Daugherty. She had found a collection of her great-great-uncle’s letters and published them, and wanted to know if I’d be so kind as to review the book here. I informed her, as I inform everyone, that if it was a novel I was not interested, but if it was truly non-fiction and Civil War focused I’d be happy to take a look, and at worst I’d give it a preview. Not long after, Your Affectionate Son: Letters from a Civil War Soldier arrived in the mailbox. I glanced through it and noticed that, while the letters had some good stuff, the letters that have the really good stuff, written before, during, or just after big engagements, were missing (or, less likely, had never been written: really, how affectionate could a son be if he didn’t write home after a battle, if only to let his folks know he was OK?). So I put it aside with the intent of writing said preview when I had the time.

Jump forward about a week. I received an unrelated email from my good buddy and battlefield stomping pard Mike Pellegrini:

Hope all is well with you and your family. Found something on Ancestry.com that might interest you, see attachments for JB Smetlzer. On another note, why haven’t you mentioned your other CW ancestors, one being buried at Antietam NMP Cemetery?

Huh? I too subscribe to Ancestry.com, but simply haven’t had the time to use it much other than to trace down various individuals about whom I write. Really haven’t done anything much with my own family. So I responded to Mike that the reason I never told him was that I never knew. I got this in return:

John Smeltzer’s wife Hannah Virginia Gates had a few brothers: James Gates Co F, 8 PA reserves aka 37th PA died of wounds 16 Oct. 1862 at Smoketown or he died during the battle depending which web site you want to believe and is buried in the Nat Cemetery.

I know a little about Antietam (since I’m on the board of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation I better know a little), and recognize Smoketown as a place where many Union wounded were sent after the battle to recover. Or, as in the sad case of James Gates, to not recover. A quick web search turned up this photo of his headstone, for the above use of which I thank Sharon Murray.

My great-great-uncle James Gates is buried in grave #3717 in Antietam National Cemetery. When I saw this photo I was immediately reminded of something my father said on occasion. His father, John’s son, was named Harry Gates Smeltzer. My father’s mother’s maiden name was Dorr. So my dad quipped, “My father was a Gates, my mother was a Dorr, and I was the Grand Slam.” OK, you had to be there.

Mike hepped me to a little more info on my Gates ancestors:

The Gates family goes way back. I saw a Rev war soldier and it looks like the town of Gatesburg was named for them: it’s out by State College [PA].

Damn, can you imagine me as an SAR? Or my sisters walking into a DAR meeting? I’d PAY to see that! I mean, I suspect that I was perhaps descended from a Rev War soldier, but always thought it most likely would have been from one of the Hessians who stayed here after the war (yes, a couple of them were Smeltzers).

The last little tidbit is even better. I asked Mike if any of my great-grandfather Smeltzer siblings were in the war:

JBS did not have any soldier siblings, but there appears to be a step brother KIA at South Mountain, William Harker Co. E 8th PA Reserves.

[Hmmm...there's that regiment again. Maybe this explains how John B. met Hannah! Wait a minute - step brother?]

When I started looking for siblings I found JBS living with a Miller family in the 1850 & 60 census, so I thought maybe he was orphaned. Next I tried looking at some existing family trees that were posted and here’s what I found: Joseph Smeltzer [my great-great grandfather] married Susan Barley and they had 5 children before she passed about 1850 (then i saw the Joe S and  2 kids living with the Strayer family & JBS with the Miller’s on the same 1850 census page)   I guess splitting up the kids with different families was common when the mother of young children passed so the father could still go to work, that happened in my family when one of my great grandmothers died.  Joe then married Mary Ann Harker (who had 4 kids of her own). Joe & Mary went on to have 6 more kids. It was like the Brady Bunch on steroids!  So it looks like you have hundreds of relatives.

Wow. I’m really indebted to Mike for all this info.

So, I think so far you’ll agree this has been freaky, right?

But I also promised you deaky.

Something about the 8th PA Reserves struck me as familiar, and I looked down to my right as I was typing away during these exchanges and saw Your Affectionate Son. And wouldn’t you know, Millan Ruff Daugherty’s great-great uncle James Cleaver was a lieutenant in the 8th PA reserves (AKA 37th PA Volunteer Infantry, but the Reserves were a proud bunch and liked to go by their Reserves unit number – add 29 to the Reserves number and you get the PAVI number). Not only that, he was in Company F, my great-great uncle’s company. James’s name appears in a roster in the back of the book.

Now, that’s deaky, which makes this whole thing Freaky Deaky.

Stay tuned – more to follow. Your Affectionate Son will be getting a closer look than I at first thought.





Your Grandpa’s Maryland Campaign – NOT!!!

18 09 2011

It would appear the worm has turned at Antietam National Battlefield. From the get-go of yesterday’s all-day hikes, it was apparent that much of the tried and true narrative of the 1862 Maryland Campaign has been scrapped by the National Park Service, at least as far as rangers Keith Snyder and Brian Baracz are concerned. There were quizzical looks on the faces of some of the 125 or so folks on the tour as no mention was made of a cowardly, traitorous, or even just plain stupid George McClellan. These were for the most part veteran tourists of the battlefield, conditioned to the old-line tales of the single greatest threat ever faced by our Union – no, not Jeff Davis, not R. E. Lee, not the Confederate armies, not the fire-eaters, not the KGC, not the Copperheads, not the slaveocracy. Those forces combined could never compare to the evil spectre of the Young Napoleon, especially in September, 1862. The debate was closed.

Or was it? To sum up the gist of the seven hour presentation, the Army of Northern Virginia, while defeated at Sharpsburg (What?) was saved from ultimate destruction by the advantages of a its more experienced soldiery (What?), favorable topography (What?), and interior lines of communication (What?). While the Union commander had a good plan (What?), he also had poor lines of communication (What?), many green troops (What?), and experienced troops in not so great condition (What?). It seemed to me that a few grizzled vets in the crowd were thinking “This is bull. That coward McClellan had 300,000 well equipped and experienced soldiers and Lee’s “battle plans”, this battlefield is flat as a board, just like the maps in Landscape Turned Red, despite what my bursting quads are telling me, and Lee won a victory here with three couriers and a one-armed orderly.” Well, there will always be folks whose minds were made up by Bruce Catton back in the 4th grade. But there were a surprising number of younger (well, not older) folks in the group whose minds are just possibly open enough to consider other lines of thought.

It appears the works of modern-day scholars like Joe Harsh, Tom Clemens and Ethan Rafuse have been making dents in the armor of the Maryland Campaign. And the good folks at the Park are contributing as well. Of course, they only work with the literature, artifacts, and battlefields of this campaign every day all day, so what do they know?

Thank you, Ranger Snyder and Ranger Baracz. It was a great day on the field, with great company including my stomping buddy Mike and fellow blogger Craig (whose thoughts on the day can be read here).





Liberia Tour

1 11 2010

Opportunity for a detailed tour of Liberia on November 13.  Check it out here.

I will be at the Manassas National Battlefield this coming Friday doing field work for an upcoming Collateral Damage.  On Saturday I’ll be at Antietam National Battlefield with the Save Historic Antietam Foundation for our work day and board meeting.





Antietam’s Roulette House

22 08 2010

As I noted here, the October 2010 issue features the third installment of my column which  is now titled Collateral Damage.  The subject is the Roulette house on the Antietam battlefield.  Though I took lots of photos, and also had a few by friends Mike Pellegrini and Mannie Gentilenone were used in the article.  So I present them here for your perusal.

Let’s start with some exterior shots.  The left side of the front of the house is south, the right north.  The second and third photos were taken by my friend Mike.

  

Here’s the rear of the house.  Mr. Roulette kept his beehives in this back yard.  Confederate artillery, advancing Union troops, and upset hives combined here for an often repeated story.

 

The barn sits east of the house.  In the orchard to the southeast is a pear tree that survives from the time of the battle.

 

Here’s the basement door (I call these “Dorothy Doors”) out of which Mr. Roulette burst to encourage the advancing Federals to “Drive ‘em”.  The interior photo was taken by Mannie.  On the day I was there, my NPS guide Keven Walker warned me that the hot day and cool basement meant lots and lots of snakes, so we opted not to go downstairs.  I did see two large black snakes that day.

 

Inside the house Keven, a historian with the Cultural Resources division, pointed out that many of the fixtures dated from before the war, and could have been installed as early as the mid 1700s.

  

We entered the house via the kitchen, in the north end of the house.  One of the cool features in here is the beehive oven.  No flame inside – kind of like a pizza oven.  The fuel (wood) was put in outside, via this little addition on the north end of the house.  Must have been a pain cooking in winter, but was probably state-of-the-art.

  

Here’s the large dining/entertaining room in the center of the house.  You can see by the shot of the window how thick the walls are in this section of the house.  The construction is log at the south end, stone in the center, and frame on the north end.

  

The south end of the dwelling on the first floor is a living room or parlor.  There’s a little problem here with falling plaster, but a collection of the debris on the fireplace mantel shows how the plaster was made in those days.  It was heavy stuff.

 

The main stairway leads up to two smaller bedrooms in the south end of the house. 

   

On Sept. 17, 1862, a bullet fired from the vicinity of the sunken Pig Trough Road to the south of the house entered the window of the southwest bedroom, went through the wall above its door, traveled across the hall and exited inside the closet of the middle bedroom.  That’s Keven pointing to where the bullet entered the wall in the hallway.

   

There is a middle bedroom and a large bedroom at the north end of the house over the kitchen.  You can see in the sagging ceilings the effect of the heavy plaster over 200+ years.

 

The tour of the Roulette house was one of the great perks of my “job”.  Much thanks to Keven Walker, who has a book coming out soon on the farms of the battlefield.  Be sure to check out this and all the Collateral Damage columns in Civil War Times.

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Interview: Dr. Thomas Clemens, “The Maryland Campaign of September, 1862 Vol.I”

15 07 2010

Dr. Thomas Clemens (pictured below) of Keedysville, MD is the editor of The Maryland Campaign of September, 1862 Volume I: South Mountain.  I’ve known Tom for a few years, and serve with him on the board of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF).  He recently sat down (virtually) for an interview with Bull Runnings.

BR:  Tom, before we get started can you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?

TC:  I have Bachelor’s and Masters’ degrees in history from Salisbury State College, now Salisbury University.  In 1990 I went to grad school at George Mason University in Fairfax VA where I met Dr. [Joseph L.] Harsh.  I graduated in 2002 with my doctorate, and also a firm foundation in the Civil War thanks to Joe Harsh.  I have been at Hagerstown Community College for almost 32 years, mostly teaching U.S. History, but occasionally I get to teach a class in Civil War. 

I also became involved in battlefield preservation in 1985 when Dennis Frye, John Schildt and a lot of other people formed Save Historic Antietam Foundation, Inc.  I have been president of the group since 1989, and it is a great experience.  

I have been a volunteer at Antietam National Battlefield since 1979, doing everything from cannon firing demonstrations to scene restoration work.   Living within cannon-shot of the battlefield allows me to walk the ground on a regular basis.  That allows me to better understand some of the details of the action of the battle. 

BR:  What first got you interested in Ezra Carman’s papers?

TC:  Joe Harsh was the person who most inspired me to focus more attention on the Maryland Campaign, something I’d been interested in for years, but not in a serious fashion.  I spent a lot of years traveling to battlefields and reenacting with some great folks, including the incomparable Brian Pohanka, but Joe Harsh had so much enthusiasm and so much knowledge, and an incredible ability to ask the right question and do the research to answer it.  He became a friend and mentor, in that order.  One night sitting in a bar with Joe he asked me what I had in mind for a dissertation.  He suggested editing the Ezra Carman manuscript, which he had been using to write his splendid trilogy on the Maryland Campaign.  He had typed a lot of it, and I finished the job.  He had thought about editing it, but it was too time-consuming.  Beware of “gifts” from friends!  The size and complexity of the project was unknown to me then, and I thought it would be a relatively simple job.  Little did I know how many years it would take to finish the job.

BR:  How long have you been working on Carman?

TC:  I began editing Carman’s manuscript in the 1990’s, completed several early chapters to get my degree, but got much more focused after Ted Savas approached me about publishing my work. He has been very supportive. 

BR:  What particular challenges did editing Carman’s manuscript present?

TC: What makes the editing so difficult is that I am working backwards compared to the way an author usually works.  Instead of obtaining source material and using it to create a narrative, I am tied to a narrative written over 100 years ago, and trying to figure out what source material Carman used to create it.  Sometimes he cited sources directly and then it is simply a matter of tracking down old books to verify his work.  Far more often he did not cite sources and then it becomes something of a detective game.  Tracking down the sources for his work in many instances led to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion.  These books, known as the ORs, were being compiled in the 1880s and Carman had access to them.  He also had access to captured Confederate government records, allowing him to cite Muster Rolls and diplomatic correspondence.  A few regimental histories were available then and Carman used them on occasion.  He also referred to early biographical works on Lee, Jackson and others.  For better or worse, Carman also relied on McClellan’s Own Story, and he made much use of the Century Magazine’s Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.  If he had only used published sources this work would be simple.  But even before Carman was hired on the Antietam battlefield Board they had been soliciting memoir accounts from veterans of both sides.  These letters provided many otherwise unpublished material which Carman used liberally.  To accurately determine which letters Carman used and how reliable they are it became necessary to organize all the letters into one database.  There are over 1,000 letters in the National Archives and Library of Congress Manuscript Division.  More letters exist in the New York Public Library and others were scattered into private hands.  John M. Gould of the 10th ME Infantry gathered even more letters regarding the fighting in the East Woods and Cornfield area.  Carman and Gould swapped information, so it became necessary to add Gould’s letters to the database.  Currently there are over 2,200 entries in the file, and I am still adding more.  So gathering source material, checking it against current scholarship, and then finally writing a footnote is the bulk of my work.  In the first volume there are over 850 footnotes; do you see what I mean about time consumption? 

BR:  What can you tell us about Carman and his project?

TC:  It is a testament to his thoroughness that Carman created the manuscript at all.  He was hired in 1894 to be the “Historical Expert” on the Battlefield Board.  He was to layout the field and tour roads, create and place plaques, and monuments and map the field.  He also was charged to write a “pamphlet” to advise future leaders in developing the battlefield.  This “pamphlet” became the 1,800 page manuscript that has kept me busy for over 18 years.  He began writing the manuscript in the late 1890’s and completed it shortly after the turn of the century.  I have found notes scribbled in the margins that came from material dated 1905, but most of the work was complete by 1902 or 1903. 

Mostly what Carman wanted to know was the positions on the field and the identity of opposing forces.  This knowledge helped him create the extremely detailed time-sequenced maps to place the combat on the proper locations in the field.  In doing that he overlooked or ignored many fascinating details, humorous stories and anecdotes which provide so much richness to our understanding of the battle today. I am constantly fascinated by reading these letters, although their memories may be hazy 30 years after the war, their stories are still captivating.

Carman was in many ways the creator of the field as it appears now and the interpretation of it we still recognize today.  This is a good thing, and in some ways a bad thing.  Carman had his limitations and his prejudices, and they carry over into his manuscript.  For example, Carman unabashedly admired Lee and Jackson, often criticized McClellan and positively loathed Halleck.  That amazes me when you think that Carman fought through the war in the Union army, and suffered all his later life from Confederate-inflicted battlefield injuries.  He clearly did not hold any grudge against his former enemies.

BR:  What will Carman’s manuscript – and your annotations – tell us about the Maryland Campaign that we don’t already know?

TC:  For many years Carman’s manuscript languished in the Library of Congress.  A few people read parts of it, the battlefield had a copy, and built their interpretive plan around it, but that was about it.  A few historians looked at it, but the writing is quite small and difficult to read.  That is a shame because Carman had the “correct” story about a lot of things that several historians botched in their books.  For example, Carman correctly stated that the staff officer who verified Chilton’s handwriting on S.O. 191 knew Chilton through a business relationship.  Other accounts mistakenly say they were in the U.S. army together.  These mistakes happened because Carman did not document how he knew things, and people weren’t sure he was right.  That is exactly what I am trying to do; inform the reader about where Carman is correct, and where he is questionable. 

There were also several “stories” that Carman included in his manuscript that had no known source other than him.  I am especially thrilled to say that by careful attention to the letters I have solved several of these “Carmanisms,” as I call them.  For example, there is a story in the early part of the campaign where Jackson, reaching the vicinity of Buckeystown on September 6, asked Col. E. V. “Lige” White to ride with him.  Together they rode almost back to the Potomac and then returned to camp, Jackson never speaking during the entire ride.  Nobody ever knew where that story came from until I discovered the letter from White in one of the letter collections. 

BR:  What is unique about your edition of Carman’s manuscript?

TC:  It is the attention to the letters and the analysis of Carman’s historical method that make my edition much different from the other published version of the manuscript.  While the [Joseph] Pierro edition has almost as many footnotes, he was content to identify sources; I go the next step in analyzing them.  For instance, Carman relied on Battles and Leaders for much information, especially in the early part of the campaign.  Pierro correctly noted that fact, but I go on to point out that many writers in that work are embellishing or fabricating what they wrote.  Confederate General John Walker is a good example: he claims to know much of the strategic aspects of Lee’s plans in 1882, but in his after-action reports in 1862 he seemed not to know much at all. 

I also believe that maps are critical to understanding the narrative and so there are 22 detailed maps in my edition.  In fact, I am thrilled with the maps – Gene Thorp did an outstanding job creating them.  Some pictures are included too, but not the usual Gardner photos of the battlefield.  I included some lesser-known photos mostly from the time that Carman was writing.  It seemed logical to use pictures that showed the sites as they looked to Carman. 

Because of the in-depth footnoting and more readable format in my version the book runs a bit longer in total pages.  The publisher and I decided to break it into two volumes for the convenience of the reader.  The price [of both volumes combined] will still be less than the earlier all-in-one volume. 

BR:  What’s next?  Any plans to go beyond the second volume, like editing the papers?

TC:  What’s next?  – Right now I am working on Volume II, as well as reading collating and categorizing letters from the John M. Gould collection and also some from the New York collection into my database.  All of this work is very time-consuming so you won’t see the second volume anytime soon.  Ultimately there are a lot of other things I’d like to see published.  Some of the letters are absolute gems and it would be nice to see them in print.  The database I am creating would allow readers to see who wrote to Gould or the Battlefield Board.  I also am creating a biographical register with a brief bio of every person mentioned in the manuscript.  Whether Savas-Beatie will want to do that is unclear at this time, but these things are on my wish list. 

Thanks Tom.  We look forward to seeing more of your ground-breaking work in print soon.

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Spinning My Wheels as Fast as I Can – Again

7 07 2010

Just an update on what’s going on here at Bull Runnings.  Despite an increased “real job” work load, I’ve got a few things going.  I’ve sent out the first round of questions for four author interviews.  The questions were fairly broad, so I think it will take a little while for the subject’s to get back to me.  But when they do, I’ll have nice previews of three very important books and one quarterly publication.

Bynum’s book continues and expands on her work on the definitive history of The Free State of Jones.  Clemens’s and Tagg’s books are perhaps the most important releases of 2009 and 2010.  And Lesley Gordon has some interesting plans for the long running academic journal.

Stay tuned.

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SHAF Sponsored Tour of Phase I of the Maryland Campaign of September, 1862

11 06 2010

Dr. Tom Clemens

 On Saturday, July 31, 2010, the Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF) will sponsor a tour of “Phase I” of the Maryland Campaign of September, 1862.  The tour will be led by SHAF board members Dennis Frye, National Park Service Chief Historian at Harper’s Ferry, and Dr. Thomas Clemens, editor of Ezra Carman’s “The Maryland Campaign of September, 1862, Volume I: South Mountain”. 

NPS Historian Dennis Frye

The tour will begin at 8:30 AM at the parking lot of the Monocacy National Battlefield Visitor’s Center in Frederick Maryland, where the guides will cover the action up to the discovery of General Robert E. Lee’s “Lost Order” by Union forces.  Then the tour will proceed to Harper’s Ferry, covering the fighting and siege operations and capture of that place, as well as the escape of Union cavalry. 

Lunch will be served at The Anvil Restaurant in Harper’s Ferry.  Choices of a wrap, cheeseburger, or Reuben sandwich, each with French fries and drink. 

From there, participants will travel to and discuss the importance of the sites of the Battles for South Mountain, including Burkittsville, Gathland, and Crampton’s, Fox’s, and Turner’s Gaps. 

This is a “caravan” tour.  Car pooling is strongly encouraged.  Participation is limited to 30 individuals.  Fees, including lunch, are $30 for SHAF members.  Non-member fee is $50, which will include a one year membership to SHAF.  Members receive a quarterly newsletter and member rates for SHAF sponsored events.  Also, copies of Dr. Clemens’ edition of Ezra Carman’s “The Maryland Campaign of September, 1862, Volume I: South Mountain” will be made available at a $5 discount the day of the tour. 

A firm number of participants is required by July 21, 2010.  Make your reservations by sending an email with the names of those who will attend to tours@shaf.org.  You will receive instructions on where to send payment. 

Don’t miss this rare opportunity to tour the sites of the Maryland Campaign of September, 1862 with recognized experts Dr. Thomas Clemens and Dennis Frye.





I Have Always Depended on the Kindness of Stangers

1 05 2010

OK, well maybe not strangers, but certainly folks who are under no obligation to help me.  I’m back from my day trip to Antietam.  NPS historian Ted Alexander provided me with more information on my In Harm’s Way subject house than I could ever fit into an article of under 1,000 words.  I could have read through the material all day, but I only had a couple of hours and with the help of my buddy Mike waded through the material and made copies of the most essential stuff.  Cultural Resources Specialist and historian Keven Walker took us over to the house and gave us a fine tour of the structure along with detailed history of the building and its occupants.  Thanks to both Ted and Keven for their expert and enthusiastic assistance.

We decided to drive back to Pittsburgh via Gettysburg (kind of like Uneasy Rider driving to LA from Jackson, MS via Omaha).  We ran into Antietam ranger John Hoptak on the street there, outside the Farnsworth House bookstore.  It was a beautiful, warm day – lot’s of folks milling about.  Curiously, many merchants stuck to their 5:00 PM closing times.  Of course I’m not privy to their financial records, but it seems odd to me, especially considering many of these are small businesses actively staffed by their owners, implying more flexibility in scheduling operating hours (that is to say, “Look Marge, the hotel parking lot is full and there are a bunch of people eating outside O’Rorke’s.  Maybe we should stay open until 6:00 or 7:00″).  I’m just sayin’.

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Day Trip to Maryland

29 04 2010

Tomorrow early AM I’m off for Antietam National Battlefield with my friend Mike.  I have some work to do with NPS historian Ted Alexander at his office, then will spend some time at one of the farmhouses on the battlefield.  We should have a little time to bum around before heading for home, but this trip is feels more like work than fun.  Fun work, nonetheless, and it pretty much beats anything I do in my “real job”.  This is for a future installment of In Harm’s Way for Civil War Times, which is going very well thanks for asking.  I admit to preferring the subjects of the articles which allow me to visit the site and look through the files myself.  The subject of the article which will appear in the next issue that hits the stands - I submitted it last week and reviewed the edited pdf file yesterday – is on a Western Theater battlefield, and I had to write it remotely, with the help of others (a friend on the NPS staff sent me copies of the file, and another friend took photos – they did right by me).  I feel more connected to the house if I can crawl around it, measure it, and take photos - lots of photos - myself.  But I’m not complaining; this is a good gig.

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John Hoptak’s “Our Boys Did Nobly”

1 11 2009

41YejDu4b9L__SL500_AA240_Fellow blogger, NPS ranger, and author John Hoptak was nice enough to send me a copy of his most recent book, Our Boys Did Nobly: Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania  Soldiers at the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam.  Hoptak uses the story of Schuylkill County soldiers of the 48th, 50th, & 96th PA Volunteer Infantry regiments to tell the larger tale of the 1862 Maryland Campaign.  It’s an original and effective approach, and a good read.

The 48th and 50th PAVI of Ambrose Burnside’s 9th Corps, and the 96th of William Franklin’s 6th Corps were in good positions to use as bases for a narrative of the battles of South Mountain and Crampton’s Gap, with all three units seeing action.  And while the 50th saw the biggest part of the elephant at Antietam, the author fleshes out the story of the rest of the battle more than adequately and with a variety of primary accounts.  What happened on the southern end of the field after the crossing of the Antietam by 9th Corps typically gets short shrift in most studies of Antietam, and Hoptak has gone a long way to bringing into sharper focus those events.  I’ve been reading and stomping Antietam for years, and learned a lot from Our Boys.

The book is self published and has some of the editing problems attendant to such a product, but the author more than makes up for those deficiencies with his demonstrated command of the subject and materials, and he’s put together a fast-paced narrative that will be eye-opening for readers of all levels.

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