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.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine





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.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine





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’.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine





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.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine





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.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine





Antietam’s Bloody Lane Trail

4 10 2009

On September 18, 2009, I found myself at Antietam National Battlefield with time on my hands, and decided to fill it by walking the park’s new Bloody Lane Trail.  The 1.5 mile loop begins and ends at the park visitor center, and covers the attack and defense of the Sunken Road.  It was just about a perfect day, weather-wise, though it wound up being warmer than I at first thought.  So, I stopped into the VC bookstore and bought one of the NPS Bloody Lane Trail pamphlets for $0.99 (you can get a trail pamphlet for free at the front desk, but it’s bare bones).  Setting out about 4:00 PM, I snapped some photos along the way.  Click on the thumbs for larger images.

From the VC, I walked north to the New York monument.  From there I looked southwest towards the Sunken Road (the end of which is plainly marked by the red roof of the observation tower) and northeast toward the Mumma (m-you-ma) Farm.

DSCN0047 DSCN0048 DSCN0051 DSCN0050

Here at the monument the pamphlet gives a quick overview of the battle’s morning phase, and an only slightly less general description of Sumner’s 2nd Corps and what transpired through the end of the fighting in the Sunken Road.

I decided to follow the instructions dutifully; though I had walked the grounds before, the official NPS trail is a little shorter than the tours I had been on.  So I walked from the NY monument generally east to the Mumma Farm lane, and then made a left toward the picturesque farm, stop #1.  The farm buildings were burned during the battle, and only the stone spring house (and spring) are wartime structures.  Right about where the spring house sits on the gravel lane, I followed the trail right (southeast).

DSCN0052 DSCN0053 DSCN0054 DSCN0055

At the head of this path is an NPS wayside marker.  The trail took me towards the even more picturesque Roulette Farm.  Along the way I saw one of the many outcroppings that litter the field, all oriented about 23 degrees east of north – I guess glaciers don’t zig or zag much.

DSCN0056 DSCN0057 DSCN0060

The trail brought me to the bucolic Roulette Farm’s (stop #2) outbuildings, and inside one was a surprise – a limber (or was it a caisson missing a chest?) in disrepair.  I don’t think this is an original.  Regardless of budget constraints, I can’t imagine the NPS storing a 145-plus-year-old item like that in a shed.  I got a couple of nice shots of the house and a fuzzy one of the barn – it’s a new camera and this is the first time I used it.  It has about a dozen pixies flying around inside, and I think they make the camera shake when they get rambunctious.

DSCN0061 DSCN0062 DSCN0063 DSCN0065 DSCN0064

The trail snakes around the barn and continues straight while the Roulette Lane makes a right and continues southwest to the sunken lane.  The Three Farms Trail shoots off to the northeast, and then the ground gets really interesting. 

DSCN0066 DSCN0067 DSCN0068 DSCN0070 DSCN0069 

As I walked towards the line on which the Irish Brigade (among others) advanced on the Sunken Road, I was confronted with this hill and the sudden disappearance of the top of the observation tower.  It comes back into view at the top of this hill (stop #3).

DSCN0072 DSCN0073 DSCN0074 DSCN0075

The ground still rises from this point, and I made a right turn southwest toward the Sunken Road.  Using the Irish Brigade as an example, they were deployed from left to right across this scene.  The ground leveled off as I approached the #4 tour stop, but still the lane is not visible in front (though it is to the left, toward the tower).  However, unfurled colors and bayonets would have been plainly visible to the men in the lane.

DSCN0077 DSCN0078 DSCN0079 

Continuing  on I descended into the lane (stop #5), where I could view the Confederate positions left (southeast) and right (northwest).

DSCN0081 DSCN0082

At this point I took a detour from the tour, which leads northwest toward the Roulette Farm lane, to take a walk up the tower.  Unfortunately I’ve been having knee problems more severe than usual, and only made it up 21 steps.  So deciding discretion was the better part of valor, I descended (not as easy as it sounds) and proceeded back to where the trail joined the lane.  Here you get a good idea of the terrain, not just in front of the lane…

 DSCN0091 DSCN0093

…but behind it…

DSCN0090

…and in it.  Note that the Sunken Lane descends toward the Roulette Farm Lane, then ascends sharply towards where the trail turns right (north) off the Sunken Lane.

DSCN0089 DSCN0088 DSCN0092 DSCN0095 

It was in this area (stop #6), left and right of the Roulette Farm lane, that French’s division – the brigades of Weber, Morris, and Kimball – took their heavy casualties before Richardson’s division and the Irish Brigade even reached the field.  It’s true: you can look it up.

DSCN0097 DSCN0098 

From there it was a nice walk back up and across the Mumma Lane to Tompkins’s Battery and the visitor center.

DSCN0099 DSCN0100  DSCN0101 DSCN0102

You can check out the experiences of other bloggers with the Bloody Lane trail, from around the same time,  here and here.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 849 other followers