Gettysburg NMP Blog

15 04 2011

The good folks at the NPS at Gettysburg have started a blog, and you can find it here.

There appear to be few frills and no feed (I keep track of what’s going on in the sphere with my Google feed reader). I’m really not sure why they opted for this format when the good folks at Fredericksburg have blazed such a clear path, but it’s just starting out so maybe things will evolve.





New Release: Scott Mingus, “Flames Beyond Gettysburg”

18 02 2011

Yesterday’s mail brought the new Savas Beatie edition of Scott Mingus’s Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Confederate Expedition to the Susquehanna River, June 1863.  Originally this was published in 2009 with the subtitle The Gordon Expedition, June 1863.  But be not fooled – this is a completely revised edition with new maps and photos. Scott is a long time Gettysburg geek and miniature wargamer and an e-quaintance for a number of years, and I know he worked long and hard to get this book written and published. See Scott’s website for the book here, and see his wargaming blog here.

The book is 338 pages of text, with various appendices including a chronology (I think a chronology is as essential as Orders of Battle, which this book also has), and driving tours.  Scott consulted a number of manuscript sources and newspapers in researching Flames. Footnotes are honest-to-God footnotes.

From the back cover:

…a study of a fascinating but largely overlooked operation by part of Richard Ewell’s Second Corps in June 1863 that not only shaped the course of the Gettysburg Campaign, but may well have altered the course of our nation’s history.





New in Paperback: “One Continuous Fight”

11 02 2011

Yesterday’s mail brought One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863.  This 2008 offering from Eric Wittenberg, J. D. Petruzzi, and the blogless Mike Nugent has been re-released in paperback by publisher Savas Beatie.  You can find a website set up for the original hardcover here.

You can also find any number of positive reviews for this book on the web. The paperback edition includes a lenghty interview with the three authors. Even if you have the hardcover, you may want to pick up a beater copy to use while following the fine driving tour.  Perfect for highlighting and marking up any of the eighteen original maps.





The Jacob Weikert Farm

11 01 2011

The February 2011 edition of Civil War Times magazine (previewed here) includes my Collateral Damage article on the Jacob Weikert farm south of Gettysburg, just outside the park boundaries on the Taneytown Rd and the back of Little Round Top.  I had visited the property and toured the house twice over the years prior to my return this past summer.  Friends Gerry and Beth Hoffman bought the place in 2002 and are wonderful stewards – they also run an antiques business from spring to fall each year in the barn (Tillie’s Treasures).  Unfortunately I had left my camera on a low res setting when taking my photos to accompany the article, and none could be used in the magazine.  So I’m displaying them here, along with some I shot on an earlier visit in 2006.  Click the thumbs for larger images – it might be a good idea to have my article handy.

Keep in mind that the Weikert farm is private property.  The Hoffman’s are “finest kind”, but please respect their privacy.

First the low res photos from my most recent visit:

  

The house from southwest, south and southeast.  

  

The carriage house and corn-crib; the barn from Taneytown Rd; the barn from the rear.

  

The dining room was used as an operating theater; bloodstains are still evident on the dining room floor; the site of the wartime well and the Weikert’s enduring legacy.

These are from 2006:

  

General Stephen Weed died here in the basement, where the washer and dryer sit today; rough-hewn beams in basement; the basement fireplace and oven where the Weikert’s and Tillie Pierce baked bread for hospital staff and wounded – note the charred beam above the oven.





Interview: Robert Wynstra, “The Rashness of That Hour”

24 11 2010

A brand new release from Savas Beatie is The Rashness of That Hour: Politics, Gettysburg, and the Downfall of Confedertate Brigadier General Alfred Iverson, by Robert J. Wynstra.  Iverson is best known to us as the leader of an ill-fated advance on July 1, 1863, the results of which were a long line of dead Confederates and the supposedly haunted “pits” in which those men were buried.  Robert sat down – well, I assume he sat down – and pounded out some anwers to questions posed by Bull Runnings.

BR:  This being your first book, many readers may be unfamilar with you.  Who is Robert J. Wynstra?

RW:  My background is both in history and journalism. I recently retired as a senior writer with the News and Public Affairs Office in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. I hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history and a master’s degree in journalism, all from the University of Illinois. I spent two years as a teaching assistant in the History Department and recently taught as a visiting lecturer in the College of Media.

BR:  What was it that got you interested in history, in the Civil War era, and specifically Alfred Iverson?  He’s been a controversial figure almost to the point of dismissal by many students of the war. 

RW:  My interest in the civil war dates back to my teenage years. I grew up around the time of the Civil War centennial, with all the hoopla that went along with it. I visited Gettysburg during that time and came away with a real interest in that particular battle. One book, in particular, sparked my fascination with the Confederate side of the war. That was Douglas Southall Freeman’s three volume set, Lee’s Lieutenants. At the time, I was really caught up with the stories about Lee, Jackson, and Jeb Stuart fighting against hopeless odds. I’m always a sucker for underdogs, so I was totally hooked. I remember at the time that our local library obtained a set of the Official Records. I thought here’s everything you need to know, all in one place. Little did I know how naive that was.

In reading about Gettysburg, I came across the story of Iverson’s men being slaughtered along Oak Ridge on July 1. My immediate thought was: how could such a thing happen? I really wanted to know more, so I started digging into some of the primary sources. I initially decided to develop a complete roster of the entire brigade at Gettysburg. I obtained a gigantic pile of microfilm from the National Archives and spent months going through the compiled service records for every man in the four regiments. To my surprise, the records contained a number of contemporary letters, which I had no idea of at the time. As I read through them, I realized that there was much more going on behind the scenes than anyone knew. From there, I just continued digging deeper and deeper. Ten years later I’m still digging.

BR:  How do the fruits of your research compare to history’s judgment of Iverson?

RW:  Like many authors, I went into the process with the thought of producing a revisionist history of Iverson. I thought, surely he could not be as bad as everyone in his brigade said. To my surprise, I quickly found out that he was that bad, if not even worse. The surprises came in the details. The usual story is that he rose to his position through the influence of his father, who was a powerful U.S. senator and an ally of Jefferson Davis. He supposedly was widely hated by the men in his former regiment, who resented the fact that he was Georgian commanding a Tar Heel brigade. According to the standard account, he performed well before Gettysburg but for some reason he faltered badly there, possibly because he was drunk. He later redeemed himself at the battle of Sunshine Church in Georgia, where he surrounded and captured General Stoneman and most of the men from his command.

Like so many stories, that account is part true and part wrong. Clearly his father played a prime role in promoting his career. The idea that he performed reasonably well before Gettysburg is far from true. He spent the first year of the war on coastal duty in North Carolina. He certainly did well at Gaines’ Mill in the Seven Days campaign, where he was wounded and cited for gallantry. His regiment, however, broke and ran from the field at both South Mountain and Sharpsburg in the Maryland campaign. His next major fight came at Chancellorsville, where some of his men openly accused him of remaining well behind lines throughout the battle. Dodson Ramseur even heard that Iverson would be tried for cowardice. No trial ever happened, but clearly the dissatisfaction with his performance ran deep. Surprisingly, the men under his command at Sunshine Church also charged that he was nowhere near the front lines at that battle and had little to do with winning the victory. Later in the war, some of his commanders openly complained that he would withdraw along Sherman’s front without putting up any kind of a fight.

The men in his original regiment, the 20th North Carolina, certainly hated him well before Gettysburg. What remains less well-known is that he endured equally bitter disputes with the officers in two of the other regiments in his brigade. The conflicts reached into the highest levels of the state government in North Carolina, including Governor Zeb Vance and both Confederate senators, and served to seriously undermine his position. At least one of those disputes was still well underway even as they marched toward Gettysburg. For me, the most important thing to take away is an appreciation how much the politics behind the scenes affected events on the battlefield.

As bad as Iverson was, some of his opponents in the brigade were hardly better. There were few heroes in this story. Blind ambition—on both sides of the many controversies—often overruled sound judgment. Petty jealousies and personality clashes were more important in shaping events than military glory.

Another surprise was that there is virtually no evidence that he was drunk at Gettysburg, or even at Carlisle days before the battle. In fact, there is no reason to think that he was drunk at any time during the entire war.

BR:  I’m very interested in the research and writing processes of different authors.  How would you describe the way you work?

RW:  For me, everything goes back to using primary sources. I first obtained copies of letters and reminiscences from the well-known collections at places like Chapel Hill and Duke. Sometimes a single line in letter would open up a new line of inquiry. A major help for any researcher is the internet. Exhaustive searches would often uncover references to collections in obscure historical societies or private collections or smaller university repositories. Google books and other internet sources provided instant access to many of the older books and reminiscences. I eventually hired a professional researcher. With his help, I obtained a ton of great letters that were published in contemporary newspapers. Anytime a new book came out, I would turn immediately to the footnotes or endnotes and try to track down any primary sources that were new to me. Another treasure trove was the National Archives. With the help of a professional researcher, I obtained dozens of letters and diaries that had never been used before. In the writing process, I really want to give voice to the individual soldiers. As much as possible, I like to quote them directly.

BR:  What’s next?  I see you’re working on a something on Robert Rodes.

RW:  Yes, my next project is a full-scale treatment of Rodes’ Division in the Gettysburg campaign. I have accumulated a mountain of material on the other brigades in the division that did not fit into the Iverson book. A major emphasis will be on the events during the advance to the north. Although many at the time compared the results to those of Stonewall Jackson’s campaigns, Rodes’ actions at Berryville and Martinsburg in the Shenandoah Valley have been completely overlooked. Also I will be providing a detailed account of the encounters with the people in Pennsylvania as Rodes’ Division moved forward at the front of Lee’s invasion. The amount of supplies that they gathered up is truly staggering. There are lots interesting accounts on this aspect of the campaign. I have unearthed a ton of new information on the rounding up of free blacks and runaway slaves during the advance through Pennsylvania. Also, I hope to present the first detailed account of Albert Jenkins’ cavalry brigade during the time that it operated in coordination with Rodes’ Division. I will continue with the same emphasis on primary sources. Hopefully it will be a good read and provide some new insight.

The Rashness of That Hour has received the endorsement of historian Robert K. Krick.  A must-read for Gettysburg nuts, it includes 10 maps and over 30 photos.  The bibliography includes an impressive list of unpublished manuscript sources.





No Casino Gettysburg Video #2 – The Gettysburg Address

7 09 2010

Another slick video from the No Casino people.  Very sharp, but like Mike I prefer my emphasis on of, by, and for, not people.  Sorry Sam.





No Casino Gettysburg Video Presentation from 8/31/2010 Hearing

31 08 2010

I have some disagreement with how the No Casino folks have been presenting their case – in some regards I find it misleading, weak on facts, and poorly argued.  However, I believe the proposed casino is a horrible idea and that it will likely interfere with the interpretation and the experience of the battlefield.  I object to my state government – my employees –  awarding the gaming licenses to a group whose site is in such close proximity to the battlefield.

Hat tip to John Hoptak.





Interview: James Hessler, “Sickles at Gettysburg”

29 07 2010

Jim Hessler is the author of 2009’s award-winning Sickles at Gettysburg: The Controversial Civil War General Who Committed Murder, Abandoned Little Round Top, and Declared Himself the Hero of Gettysburg.   He recently was nice enough to take the time to answer a few questions for Bull Runnings.

BR:  Tell us about yourself. How did you become interested in the Civil War?

JH:  I was born and raised in Buffalo NY, a city with a fair amount of history but not exactly a Mecca for Civil War battlefields. Although there was always a general history interest in our family (we would annually take day trips to historic sites like Old Fort Niagara and watch movies like John Wayne’s The Alamo), unlike a lot of Civil War enthusiasts I didn’t have any great childhood interest in the Civil War. There was no epic family vacation to Gettysburg. The Civil War was interesting, and we played with our toy soldiers, but I liked things like hockey, video games, and baseball better. For some reason though, I remember always being interested in George Armstrong Custer’s “Last Stand” at the Battle of Little Bighorn, and I would read books on that subject when I could find them. Because so many of the officers who went out West to fight Indians got started in the Civil War, eventually an interest in the Civil War developed because I wanted to know the early careers of  these guys. One year, someone (I think it was my then future mother-in-law) bought me The Killer Angels for Christmas, and although to my initial disappointment there was no Custer in that book, I started to get hooked on the Gettysburg story. But Dan Sickles wasn’t even on my radar — I hadn’t really even heard of him at that point, although I imagine Custer had set the precedent for my being interested in controversial guys. The Gettysburg interest ultimately built up to my moving to Gettysburg in 2000, and in 2003 I became a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg.

BR:  When and why did Sickles become the focus of your studies?

JH:  Sickles eventually started to interest me on a number of different levels. As a Battlefield Guide, Sickles provides some of your best tour stories. You can cover him from a lot of different angles for different audiences—murder, adultery, politics, disobedience of orders, etc. So I simply had a lot of fun telling Sickles stories as do many Guides. But I also became impressed by the importance that this guy holds to Gettysburg – he has one of the most interesting pre-battle resumes, his battlefield maneuvers are massively influential, and he is a key individual in the early preservation of the battlefield. He’s the only major player who is here both on the battlefield and later. So it became interesting to me that so many people had never heard of him or knew very little about him. Why? Because a lot of Civil War historians hate him and either minimize his importance, try to avoid talking about him, or simply make his romantic escapades into the butt of jokes. Then there was what I felt was an increasing trend to almost cartoonishly lampoon him as the villain of Gettysburg. At the end of the day, he might indeed be a villain, but I started to wonder if there was a real guy underneath what I thought were almost laughable one-dimensional stereotypes. My personal favorite: he moved to the Peach Orchard hoping that he could fight his way to a draw and spin that into a White House presidential bid. Really? So I thought there might be an opportunity here to find out if there was more to the story (and if he REALLY wanted to be President I wanted to find that proof!) 

BR:  Hmmm…I think you could delete the word “Sickles” in a lot of the above and insert a couple of other folks’ names in its place.  But, tell us about the book.

JH:  I didn’t start out with the intent to write a book. I was simply reading and learning what I could about Sickles for my own benefit; and contrary to some pre-publication skepticism about putting out “another Sickles book” there really wasn’t a lot of substance out there. W. A. Swanberg’s Sickles the Incredible was the justifiable gold standard but it was decades old and had several chapters that simply did not meet my Gettysburg needs, and Richard Sauers had mastered The Meade-Sickles Controversy, but it was very slim after that. And none of the “Sickles books” covered what I decided that I wanted to see under one cover: an understanding of who he was; an explanation of why Sickles and Meade disliked each other, and why Sickles did what he did at Gettysburg; a detailed account of the Third Corps’ fighting; and Sickles’ role in relation to Gettysburg after the battle. In particular, I was surprised at how his role in the early development of Gettysburg National Military Park received so little coverage in other books; I made that the focus of the final 1/4 of my book because I thought there was a lot of interesting and fun stuff there. Ultimately, I had all this Sickles research and figured I might as well try to write the Sickles book that I had always wanted to read.  To be clear, “taking sides” in the Meade-Sickles controversy was NEVER on my radar. I think it’s irresponsible when historians do that when their personal dislike of their subject clearly jumps off the page. Part of my goal was to peel away decades of name-calling and try to lay out the facts, BOTH sides of the story, as objectively as possible so that I could at least understand to the best of my abilities “what happened.” People were skeptical about this— a sneering “whose side are you going to be on?” was a question that I heard from historians far too often before the book came out. But now that Sickles at Gettysburg has been out for nearly a year, I’m grateful for the positive support that it has received. Nothing makes me happier than when a reader thanks me for being objective. It may sound like a cliché but I really thought this was a story that needed to be told – because I do think that if you want to understand Gettysburg then you need to understand Dan Sickles. You don’t have to love him or like him but he is worth more than a passing mention.   

BR:  Did you find anything during your research that changed or reinforced opinions you already held?

JH:  Honestly, other than the fact that I found him interesting and more important to Gettysburg than his critics give him credit for, I really didn’t come into this with many other opinions. What impressed me the most about him as I started to better understand him was that I liked his ability to overcome adversity. Several times during his life he appears down and out – after the murder trial, when his general officer nomination is delayed, when he loses a leg at Gettysburg, etc. But he has this ability to overcome, often by reinventing himself (from politician to “war hero”), and move forward. That’s an ability that I think possesses successful people, so given this skill, it became no surprise to me that Sickles was able to hang around for so long after the Civil War ended. The extent of his lifetime accomplishments is pretty impressive when you think about it – decades on the national stage in law and politics, tenures in Congress decades apart, a participant in some of the Civil War’s most memorable battles, and his involvement in veterans affairs and battlefield preservation. It fascinated me that someone must have thought fairly highly of his abilities during his lifetime, but a couple of generations later he is universally despised. And some may disagree with me on this point, but I do believe that his heart was in the Union cause, I think he loved being a soldier, and definitely had an interest in his veterans. This was not the villain that I had been conditioned to expect.

BR:  If as you say he had so many positive qualities, why, do you think, does he have so many strident detractors?

JH:  Well, like a lot of public figures he was a pretty complex guy, and he was capable of some very dirty tactics to protect his interests. Easily his worst character flaw. His womanizing is certainly of less historical value anyways.  The attacks on George Meade are the most notable examples of his post-battle tactics, and because a lot of Gettysburg enthusiasts feel that Meade did not get his due, perhaps because of Sickles, then he becomes an obvious target for Meade’s supporters. I don’t think that the venom directed at Sickles today has much to do with his battlefield performance. Lots of generals made costly mistakes on the battlefield.  Consider for example, the guys responsible for ordering and executing Pickett’s Charge.  And at the end of the day we forget that Sickles’ advance still caused Longstreet to suffer heavy casualties taking meaningless positions. I firmly believe that if Sickles had taken the “high road” after Gettysburg, or just faded into oblivion, we would not be here talking about him with such enthusiasm today. But he did not have that ability to quietly fade away. That was not him.

BR:  What has been the reaction to Sickles at Gettysburg?

JH:  I’m very grateful for the support that this book has received. I can’t thank enough those Battlefield Guides who have supported it. I was recently honored to win the Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award as the best Gettysburg release of 2009. There was a lot of skepticism about this book prior to release: Sickles was not a popular topic; people assumed the book would be on “his side”; the economy at the time of release was horrible; and frankly the Civil War community had no idea who I was. The book’s release at one very late stage was almost delayed indefinitely. But I really felt that this book would have an audience given the response that Sickles stories get on battlefield tours. That’s one advantage that the Gettysburg Battlefield Guides will always have – we’re out there talking to people about Gettysburg regularly and we know what parts of the story interest people, and Sickles will clearly “put butts in seats.” Sickles detractors are still his detractors after reading the book; some people tell me that they still hate him but understand him better. That’s OK with me – I never ask the reader to love Sickles. And other readers have told me that they have not changed their mind, again OK with me, but at least the issue was more complicated than they had previously believed. I love to hear that. We went into our paperback printing this spring and I’m still hearing from new readers so it has exceeded my expectations. The highlight of this experience has easily been that I have made many new friends because of the book and I’ll always remember those who overcame that early skepticism to support this. I thank forums like Bull Runnings for continuing to give me the opportunity to talk about it. There are still potential new readers out there.

BR:  What’s next for you?

JH:  As a first time author, I underestimated the amount of work that occurs after a book is released. Much of my “free” time is still spent on promotional work (signings, Round Table speaking, etc.) I also keep busy with my family, day job (non Civil War related), and giving Gettysburg tours. So I have a lot going on and that’s a good problem to have. I was also burned out on research and writing for months after Sickles at Gettysburg was released, but I’ve found in recent weeks that the urge is increasing to get started on another project. I have a couple of ideas in my head, but during the course of “Sickles” I amassed some information on Longstreet and I think a proper Longstreet book would be a good counter-balance to my Sickles book. Longstreet has his share of myths and stereotypes associated with him, “the defensive general whom Lee failed to listen to”, and I think my next full length project might be in Longstreet’s direction. Then I feel like I have to try my take on Custer at some point down the road, but I think something Longstreet-centric might be next. It is only a matter of finding time – the desire to do more is here.     

Jim, whatever topic you decide on, I’m sure there are plenty of new fans created by Sickles at Gettysburg who will be anxious to hear what you have to say.  Visit Jim’s website here.

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Live Blogging from Gettysburg

26 06 2010

Gettysburg battlefield stomper and photographer extraordinaire Will Dupuis intends to blog live from the Gettysburg Battlefield during the upcoming anniversary battle walks.  This should be interesting and visually impressive.  Check it out here (sorry, I had the wrong link in there before).

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The Maps of Gettysburg Trailer

3 05 2010

Friend Bradley Gottfried’s The Maps of Gettysburg has been re-issued in color.  Here’s the trailer:








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