Interview: George F. Franks, III, “Battle of Falling Waters 1863″

14 09 2013
George Franks Outside Daniel Donnelly House

George Franks Outside Daniel Donnelly House

I’ve known George Franks for a few years and had the pleasure of meeting him when I spoke to the Capitol Hill Civil War Roundtable back in 2011. He recently authored Battle of Falling Waters 1863: Custer, Pettigrew and the End of the Gettysburg Campaign. Here he tells us about it, and his interesting connection to the battlefield.

BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? (Personal life, career, establish bona-fides, published works, etc. – whatever you’re comfortable with.)

GFF: I am originally from Pittsburgh. I currently live in Washington County, Maryland near the town of Williamsport. I studied history at the U. S. Naval Academy and University of Pittsburgh. I worked in the telecommunication industry for over twenty-five years. I am currently a consultant and also own an e-commerce business. Though I have always enjoyed history and writing, my first post academy published article was one on the Battle of Falling Waters, Maryland in 2007 in an international wargame publication.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

GFF: As a child of the Civil War Centennial, I was bombarded with magazines, television programs, books and even toys related to the conflict. I started reading Civil War books at an early age. Also, my parents took my brothers and me to battlefields as part of our family vacations. I would say my biggest influence was family friends giving me a copy of Miller’s PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORY when I was still quite young.

BR: Why the interest in Falling Waters?

GFF: I have always been interested in the Gettysburg Campaign. Melissa Cooperson and I began looking for a house to restore over a decade ago. We found and fell in love with the Daniel Donnelly House which was built in 1830. It also happened to have a Civil War battle fought on the property. While I knew the names related to it: Heth, Pettigrew, Kilpatrick, Buford and Custer, I was not familiar with the battle. As we began many years of restoration work on the house during weekends, I began my research of the battle.

BR: What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?

GFF: Two things stand out in my view. First, if you look at any book on the Gettysburg Campaign, you will find a paragraph on the July 14, 1863 Battle of Falling Waters, Maryland. A very few books devote a page to it. This is the first book devoted to the last battle of the Gettysburg Campaign. Secondly, the battle is a microcosm of the war. It is a story devotion to cause, hardship, miscalculation, unparalleled bravery, tragedy, missed opportunities and what might be considered a cover-up.

BR: What’s your last word on Pettigrew, Buford, Kilpatrick, et al? Do you follow the old traditional narrative on these guys – are black hats always black, and white hats always white?

GFF: All these men were so complex. They were products of their era. It is difficult for us to fully understand them in 2013. Having said that, I do not differ greatly from most Civil War historians on Kilpatrick or Buford based on my research. I became a great fan of Pettigrew. Not so much as a military leader, though he was admirable, but as a brilliant academic, writer, scientist, jurist and politician. His mortal wounding at Falling Waters and death 3 days later at Bunker Hill, WV were a tragedy not only for the South but for the entire country. A true “what-if” that I have thought about often.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what you learned along the way, and when you knew you were “done”?

GFF: I began my research over ten years ago. I was working very responsible full time jobs during the entire research and writing process. I focused primarily on the writing and editing over the past two years. I was fortunate to work with a very able editor, Tim Terrell. I tried to focus on primary sources wherever possible and then build a narrative from that. Of course, there were many contradictory accounts. I stopped research, with one or two specific exceptions, two years ago so the book would be available for the 150th Anniversary of the battle. I missed my goal by three days.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most?

GFF: It started out about 75% brick and mortar and 25% online. Over time those reversed as more information became available online. Initially the book covered more of the retreat but during the research process I concluded that some very good scholarship in that area was being published and to focus just on the Battle of Falling Waters 1863. I did include some background information on the events before and after for perspective.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

GFF: Sales through my web site and Amazon have been and continue to be strong. I have several retail stores selling the book with more carrying it in the near future. There is quite a bit of interest from Civil War Round Tables (I have spoken to several already) and in more tours of the Falling Waters Battlefield. We have hosted tours led by Ed Bearss, J. D. Petruzzi, Eric Wittenberg and Steve French plus the Smithsonian Institution in the past.

BR: What’s next for you?

GFF: I have several research and writing projects underway. I am not sure which one will take priority right now. I enjoy the research and writing process. There will be another book and it will probably be a Civil War topic.





Interview: Diane Monroe Smith, “Command Conflicts in Grant’s Overland Campaign”

11 09 2013

Diane Monroe SmithThis year Diane Monroe Smith, of Holden, ME, published Command Conflicts in Grant’s Overland Campaign: Ambition and Animosity in the Army of the Potomac. I have to admit that I really had not heard much about this one, but a reader brought it to my attention and one thing led to another, so here’s Ms. Smith to fill us in.

BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

DMS: My first book, Fanny and Joshua: The Enigmatic Lives of Frances Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, was published in 1999 by Thomas Publications of Gettysburg. It is a dual, whole-life biography of the Chamberlains. I know it puzzled some people why I would bother with Chamberlain’s whole life and/or his near 50 relationship with his wife, when his Civil War service is what most readers want to hear about. I confess to my own partiality to considering that part of his life, but I strongly suspect that, if one wants to know what makes a person like Chamberlain tick, one must look at the other 80 years of his life and the influence of his family and friends as well. The research I did on Fanny and Joshua led to my second book, Chamberlain at Petersburg: The Charge at Fort Hell, which is a previously unpublished, first person account of the Battle of Petersburg written by Chamberlain. My role in preparing it for publication was to set the stage by considering the 5th Corps’ and the Army of the Potomac’s role in Grant’s Overland Campaign in the weeks and months that culminated in the Battle of Petersburg. I also provided extensive annotation of Chamberlain’s account, considering other participants’ reports and testimony, and I began to find more and more seeming discrepancies in the way the 5th Corps and AoP role was interpreted by a number of commanders and historians, as opposed to what the OR (reports, correspondence & statistics) and the testimony of individuals and unit histories described. While finding Chamberlain’s account reliable, I experienced uneasiness with seemingly conflicting versions of what happened during the Overland Campaign, coupled with a emerging pattern of behavior when I considered Grant’s and “Grant’s Men’s” careers in the West and their rise to power. This led to my most recent book, Command Conflicts in Grant’s Overland Campaign: Ambition and Animosity in the Army of the Potomac. In it, I found it was essential to consider Grant’s early service in the Civil War and those of the officers he carried with him on his climb to the top of the military establishment and beyond. While I considered a sizable portion of the copious amount written by Grant biographers and authors of the Western battles, I found myself often reluctant to depend on the analysis and interpretation of others, especially those who relied almost entirely on Grant’s reports, memoirs and correspondence, or the accounts given by Grant’s inner circle to the exclusion of all others. Other warning flags go up for me about the reliability of a witness’s testimony when it varies in important details depending on who is he talking to, such as Halleck’s falsely laying blame on others, essentially lying to Grant regarding why he was removed from command after the taking of Ft. Donelson. Another flag waves when an account changes substantially over the years. In that department, I’m hard pressed to come up with a better (or perhaps I should say worse) example than Ellis Spear and his vindictive campaign to discredit Joshua Chamberlain, much of it carried on after Chamberlain’s death. Although Spear himself wrote an enthusiastic letter to the newspapers right after Gettysburg describing how Chamberlain ordered a bayonet charge at Little Round Top, that didn’t stop Spear decades later from telling anyone who would listen that his colonel hadn’t ordered a charge at all– it was someone else’s idea. Nor did it seem to bother Spear that the person he credited with initiating the charge endorsed Chamberlain’s account of how it all happened. Other easily verifiable facts didn’t stop Spear from declaring that Chamberlain’s Petersburg wound wasn’t a big deal– a suggestion which a Gettysburg Discussion Group member facetiously stated had earned Spear the “Most vindictive letter award.” Scoffing at Chamberlain’s penis wound, Spear implied that Chamberlain had made much of what was after all a trifling wound. Spear himself had previously written about how terrible Chamberlain’s wound was in his endorsement in 1899 of Chamberlain’s appointment to a Customs position. But beyond Spear’s changeable laymen’s assessment, we have the medical records that record descriptions of the wound and the unsuccessful attempts to repair it. At a field hospital at Petersburg, when the surgeons couldn’t find the ball in the wide wound that went almost clear through Chamberlain’s pelvis, they decided they would probe with a ramrod to find the offending piece of lead. The gunshot wound caused permanent injury that left Chamberlain incontinent and plagued with reoccurring infections for the rest of his life, and I believe that the many surgeons over the years who tried unsuccessfully to repair the damage would beg to differ with the malicious Spear. Yet mind you, you still hear Spear much quoted as offering positive proof that Chamberlain wasn’t an honest historian!!! As it has just been announced in the news that Chamberlain’s original Medal of Honor has just been found stuck in the back of a book his granddaughter donated to a church, I’m also reminded that Ellis Spear was one of the three witnesses whose testimony to Chamberlain’s actions at Little Round Top led to him being award that MoH, but that happened in the 1890s, before Spear began his campaign to discredit his old commander. Talk about stories that change over time… But to return to Command Conflicts, I wrote it because of my own uneasiness concerning too much of Grant’s and his comrades’ reports and/or memoirs that didn’t stand up very well to scrutiny. I find it unforgivable for a writer to use one and only one source to the exclusion of all others that could have and should have been considered. Nor do I find it possible to consider the fate of any commander while remaining oblivious to what political machinations were taking place within the Army or in Washington. I believe my own research journey to be somewhat similar to that of Frank Varney as he prepared his new work, General Grant and the Rewriting of History. While Frank’s work is, of course, focused on the destruction of Rosecrans’s reputation and career, and my work focuses on the Army of the Potomac, Frank and I seemingly agree that relying on one source, or the testimony of only those who have a vested interest in the war being remembered in a certain way, is, it should seem obvious, a mistake. Grant and his men would control the American military for decades after the war, and with their control over the army and American politics, it is not difficult to find examples of their insuring that their and only their version of the war was perpetuated. They have been, I feel, all too successful in allowing one, and only one version of history to be told.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

DMS: When I was kid, it was the 100th Anniversary of the Civil War, and I couldn’t get enough of the accounts of the battles and the participants. I remember my Mom gave me a dollar (back when a dollar was a dollar) to purchase one square foot of the Gettysburg battlefield during a fund raising campaign. I was thrilled, and, of course, believed that I really owned that square foot. So Gettysburg… I want to know where my square foot is!

BR: Why the interest in the Army of the Potomac’s, and specifically its 5th Corps’, command issues under Grant?

DMS: As I mentioned above, having spent quite a few years looking at Chamberlain’s service with the 5th Corps, I spent a lot of time pursuing the 5th Corps’ experiences and record, and as with my previous books, I felt compelled to share with others what I was finding and considering. There was an awful lot that didn’t seem to be adding up… The accounts of Grant and “Grant’s Men” seemed too often to disagree with other reports and accounts, sometimes radically. Consider, for instance, Chattanooga, and the accounts of Grant, Sheridan and Sherman, and those of participants and witnesses such as Thomas and Hazen (and the delightfully sarcastic Ambrose Beirce).

BR: What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?

DMS: I think that looking at the Overland Campaign from the perspective of the 5th Corps, provides a very different view, one which had not been previous explored to the degree it deserved. The 5th Corps’ records and accounts provide a challenge to a number of histories as they have been previously written, and allow a new window to open on that tumultuous campaign. Also, considering the alliances among Grant and Grant’s Men and their supporters in Washington sheds light on why some military careers were seemingly indestructible, regardless of performance, while other commanders had their reputations and careers destroyed. While it seems silly to have to point out that the war was not won either in the West or in the East, there are still many who refuse to consider the contribution of the “band box soldiers” of the Army of the Potomac. James McPherson in This Mighty Scourge, did an admirable and startling assessment and comparison of the casualties incurred in the major battles in the West and the East, and shall we say, figures don’t lie? To quote McPherson, “The war was won by hard fighting, and the Army of the Potomac did most of that fighting.  Of the ten largest battles in the war (each with combined Union and Confederate casualties of 23,000 or more), seven were fought between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.  Of the fifty Union regiments with the largest percentage of battle casualties, forty-one [were] fought in the Eastern theater.”  And regarding casualties inflicted on the enemy, McPherson states, “Of the fifty Confederate regiments with the highest percentage of combat casualties, forty were in the Army of Northern Virginia.” Or as Chamberlain once said, many criticized the Army of the Potomac for not fighting enough, but never for not dying enough. Enough said.  While I wanted to look at the Army of the Potomac during the Overland Campaign, I felt it was also time for someone to offer up a closer look at the 5th Corps’ performance.

BR: What’s your last word on Warren, Sheridan, Meade, Grant, and all that mess?

DMS: It is inexplicable to me why Grant not only allowed Sheridan to publicly defy Meade, but rewarded Sheridan’s insubordination with an independent command. While Grant had no problem with that, he also apparently had no qualms about leaving the Army of the Potomac to move blindly without cavalry through poorly mapped enemy territory. While Sheridan did draw some of Lee’s cavalry away, Lee was not so foolish as to send all of his cavalry after Sheridan, retaining roughly half of his troopers to continue to scout and screen for the ANV. Between these horsemen and the local lads who knew every road and river ford in the area, Lee had quite an advantage. Lest I place all the blame on the Western commanders, I also came to realize that the relationship between Meade and Warren, formerly one of a trusted subordinate and advisor to the AoP commander, foundered on the bitterness that Meade harbored regarding Warren’s decision not to attack at Mine Run, and the embarrassment and anger Meade experienced because of it. While Meade declared that he agreed that Warren did the right thing in calling off a senseless attack that would achieve nothing but casualties, he was still bitterly resentful toward Warren. I believe that the situation was also aggravated by Meade’s consciousness of his enemies in Washington, and his own precarious position as AoP commander. To retain it, I believe he felt he must agree with whatever Grant said and do whatever Grant ordered, regardless of his own opinion of the wisdom of those demands. Meade’s personal correspondence gives some indication of his real opinion of Grant’s conduct of the Overland Campaign, and his anger at having Grant watching over his shoulder. But to return to the culpability of Grant and his men, there’s an unmistakable pattern, beginning in the West, and coming with them to the East, of Grant, Sheridan and Sherman making short work of anyone who got in their way on their climb up the command ladder. While Warren is an obvious case in point, you can also point to Rosecrans, George Thomas, and ultimately, George Meade himself, as commanders who got pushed aside to make way for Grant’s Men. I hope I haven’t had my last word on Warren, Sheridan, Grant and all that mess, because I want to follow Command Conflicts with a book that considers the 5th Corps’ service from the siege of Petersburg to the last days of the war.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book and what you learned along the way? When did you know you were “done”?

DMS: You might say I’ve been looking at the 5th Corps and the Army of the Potomac since the early 90s, when I began writing the Chamberlain biography. Then my work on Chamberlain at Petersburg led me to focus on Grant’s Overland Campaign, which inspired a decided uneasiness on my part regarding what Grant was reporting at the time, as well as what he would say and write later, with all its contradictions to many other reports and accounts. A major stumbling block for me when starting this project was my notion that Grant was a well-meaning sort of fellow, though perhaps not the greatest of all possible commanders. I considered his major flaw his seeming inability to judge a person’s real character and motives. He did not, I was convinced, choose his friends wisely. But the more I read about Grant’s military career in the West, the more I began to realize a real pattern of behavior that was less than admirable. My distress increased at noticing an awful tendency for a number of historians to take Grant’s version of history as the one and only infallible record, to the exclusion of all other witnesses’ accounts and reports. I came to realize that Grant possessed a willingness to disobey orders if it suited him (Belmont), to habitually report victory no matter how dismal the real results of an action were (The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg), and to attribute the credit for successes to himself or his favorites regardless of who was really responsible for the strategy and implementation (Chattanooga and the Cracker Line). Likewise, if things did not go well, he would blame those he wanted to remove from competition with himself or his cronies (Shiloh). It was a pattern that would continue on into the Overland Campaign. If you read Grant’s reports from the Wilderness, you would think that the Army of the Potomac had experienced a considerable victory, and that the Army of Northern Virginia was on its last legs. That was far from the real case, was it not? As for knowing when I was done, I knew I had finished when the Army of the Potomac reached Petersburg, and the battle became the siege. The months that follow I feel deserve their own book, following the 5th Corps through the remainder of 1864, and through the last months and weeks of the war in 1865.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most?

DMS: The Official Records were by far my most frequently utilized source. I’m also grateful for the many works done by the historians of the Western war, which allowed me to begin my consideration of Grant’s and his men’s rise to power. Regarding the Overland Campaign, I’m particularly grateful to William Steere for his wonderful work, The Wilderness Campaign, with its great detail, many citations and well-constructed considerations. I also was very impressed by Bill Matter’s book on Spotsylvania, If It Takes All Summer. I was told by Bill, who was kind enough to discuss my research on the Overland Campaign with me, that he so admired Steere’s work (as do I), that he hoped to make his book on Spotsylvania a continuation of where Steere’s book left off. I can testify that I think, as I told Bill, that he accomplished that very well. Would that every battle I encountered had such comprehensive and even-handed treatments as Steere and Matter gave their work. Beyond that, I considered dozens and dozens of memoirs and accounts of both Federals and Rebels… anyone who would help me to put the puzzle pieces together for as accurate a picture of what happened as possible..

BR: How has the book been received so far?

DMS: While I was aware that fans of U.S. Grant would probably not be pleased with what I wrote, I am happy to say that reviewers, while taking issue with some of my conclusions, have nonetheless stated that serious students of Grant and the Overland Campaign should read my book– that it gave one plenty to think about. That’s most gratifying. Am I happy with how much promotion the book has gotten, or how many people have read the book? No, I am not. I mean to continue pursuing opportunities such as this one you’ve kindly provided for me in order to let people know that this work has something to offer by way of a different look at a period of the war which has suffered from too many works which have relied on limited, weak and unreliable sources.

BR: What’s next for you?

DMS: I’m raring to go on the book that will follow Command Conflicts, but I’m taking time to do a work on Col. Washington Roebling’s military service. Roebling, best known as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, served as Gen. Warren’s aide and scout from Gettysburg through the last month of December, 1864. A top notch topographical engineer, he was a daring and intelligent soldier, and was delightfully outspoken. Laconic, except when he had something to say, he seemed to be not at all in awe of his commanders. For instance, when accosted by Meade on a battlefield, who was demanding to know who had put a battery in a spot Meade considered too “hot,” Roebling replied, “I don’t know. I didn’t put it there.” One can easily imagine Meade’s eyes bugging out at this flippant reply. I will definitely enjoy spending time with Washington Roebling in the coming months.





Interview: Allen Carl Guelzo, “Gettysburg: The Last Invasion”

26 05 2013

Dr. Allen Carl Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, and Director of the Civil War Era Studies Program there. Perhaps best known for his works on Abraham Lincoln, he has twice been awarded the Lincoln Prize (for Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America). Recently he authored  a single volume history of the Civil War, Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction. His new book, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, is available – pretty much everywhere – now.

ACG File PixBR:  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

ACG: Dr. Johnson, the first great dictionary-maker of the English language, once defined a lexicographer as “a maker of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.” Substitute “a writer of history” for the bit about dictionaries, and I think you can say the same about me: a harmless drudge. I am an Army brat (born in Yokohama, Japan; when I discovered in 5th grade that this disabled me constitutionally from being president, I was left with nothing better to do in life than write history), with a son now an officer in the U. S. Army. I had strong musical interests, and was even a composition major in my first year in college – until I discovered that I wasn’t really any good at it – then went to seminary with a view toward the ministry. But I still has a certain itch to write history, so I went and obtained a PhD in history from the University of Pennsylvania.

BR: What got you interested in the study of history and the Civil War period?

ACG: I can scarcely remember a time when I wasn’t interested in history, an interest sparked mostly by the training I got as a small boy at my grandmother’s knee in reading, memorizing, and so forth. As a girl, she could remember Union veterans coming round to her school on Memorial Day to talk about the war, and I suppose that gives me one living link to the Civil War. Otherwise, I had no ancestors of any sort in the war (they all arrived in the decades afterwards, from Sweden, Prussia, and Ireland). My first encounter with the Civil War in print was the Classics Illustrated version of The Red Badge of Courage, with its capsule history of the war at the back. That was followed by the American Heritage Golden Book of the Civil War, a Christmas present from 1960 – just in time for me to be taken to the hospital with a double case of encephalitis and meningitis.

Bruce Catton was then, and always has been, a great model for me as a writer. I recall walking home from school, reading A Stillness at Appomattox.

I did not actually get to visit Gettysburg until 1975. When I did, I had read so much about it that it was like déjà vu. Even so, never saw myself as having more than a polite amateur’s interest in the subject. I wrote my PhD dissertation on Jonathan Edwards and the problem of free will in American thought, and have always considered myself primarily an American intellectual-history person. That was how I backed-into writing about Abraham Lincoln. And one thing has led to another, so that here I am, teaching at – and writing about – Gettysburg and the Civil War. No one could be more surprised than I am. Through all of this, I’ve never taken a course on the Civil War or Lincoln, either as an undergraduate or a graduate student.

BR: Here are the $64,000 questions: Why another book on Gettysburg? What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?

ACG: Because it’s there. (That’s what Mallory said when the New York papers asked him why he was planning to climb Mt. Everest; it works here, too, especially since it took almost as much time to write Gettysburg: The Last Invasion as it took Mallory on Everest). I do think, however, that there are some important things about Gettysburg that I think need saying.  First of all, I think Gettysburg (and the Civil War in general) could benefit hugely from being understood in a larger international context, especially when it comes to military thinking and tactical doctrine (which is, after all, a species of intellectual history).  The Civil War did not occur in a vacuum; the experiences of the Crimean War (1854-56), the Sepoy Mutiny (1857-58), the North Italian War (1859) all offer important illumination for why Civil War generals thought as they did. That’s why Gettysburg: The Last Invasion is constantly invoking comparisons to the Alma, Solferino, and Koniggratz. In that sense, I’m trying to claw away from the blinkered view imposed on the Civil War by American exceptionalism.

That’s what lets me call into doubt the conclusions that have been repeated over-and-over again for decades about the significance of cavalry (and especially Stuart’s ride), about the practicality of Pickett’s Charge, uses of staff, and the weapons technology of the period.

I think you’ll also see the hidden (or not-so-hidden) hand of John Keegan, Paddy Griffith, Richard Holmes, and other examples of the British ‘new military history’ – which, come to think of it, is not actually so new any more. The Face of Battle made a terrific impact on me when I read it in the 1970s, and Griffith shaped my thinking about Civil War tactics more than any other writer.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write The Last Invasion, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, and when you knew you were “done”?

ACG: It took four years, if you count the research time devoted solely to Gettysburg. In a larger sense, I suppose I’ve been writing this book ever since 1975. I cannot say I encountered anything that looked like a stumbling block. People have been extraordinarily generous with time and resources – and I think here especially of John Rudy and Bill Frassanito, not to mention the quartet of manuscript readers recruited for this project, Greg Urwin, Chuck Teague, Scott Bowden and Joe Bilby. My biggest surprise was in the Meade Papers, which I’ll explain in a minute. My sense of being “done” was on August 21, 2012, when I sent off the Epilogue. The publishers, Knopf/Random House, were determined to have this out for the Sesquicentennial of the battle, and they smiled, threatened, and cajoled all the way down to the last minute. A waterpipe in the house then broke and ruined the main-floor of the house. It must have been feeling the strain.

BR: Can you summarize for potential readers your assessment of George Meade’s performance at Gettysburg?

ACG: George Meade does not seem to have been on many people’s A list for commander of the Army of the Potomac. A reserved, haughty and testy officer, he could be meaner than a badger in a barrel. On the other hand, no one could doubt either his competence or his personal courage, which he demonstrated in spades on the Peninsula and at Fredericksburg, where his attack on Prospect Hill was nearly the only thing which went right for the Army of the Potomac. Meade’s chief deficit in the eyes of the Lincoln administration was that he was a McClellan Democrat, very much like Porter, Hancock and Sedgwick. In the years after the war, Meade’s son, George jnr., struggled to airbrush his father’s politics out of the picture (Meade junr.’s Life and Letters of his father carefully bowdlerized the letters reproduced there to produce an image of a plain, no-nonsense, apolitical professional). But in fact, Meade grew up in the same neighborhood in Philadelphia as the McClellans, shared the same conservative Whig-cum-Democrat politics, owed his initial promotion to brigadier-general of volunteers to McClellan, and received a “very handsome” congratulatory message from McClellan after Gettysburg. And the evidence lay in the Meade correspondence, archived at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

I have to admit that, coming into this project, I was pretty well disposed to regard Meade as man unjustly humiliated by Lincoln after winning a great victory. What I read in the Meade letters gave me a wholly different image of the man: angry, vain, contemptuous of abolitionists (he had two sisters who had married slaveowners), thin-skinned and passionate in the search for promotion and attention.  He regarded the war (and I’m using material here that I did not have room for in the book) as “this unnatural contest” which, after eleven months, “the people of the North will be prepared to yield the independence of the South.”  Even in August, 1863, he was willing to “say make terms of some kind or other with the South.”  It was the Radical Republicans who were deliberately prolonging the war: “I believe Peace could be made but not on the terms that the rulers of the North would require.” The final break came, in my mind, when I read a letter he wrote on January 20, 1865, describing a meeting he had in passing with the three Confederate peace commissioners – R.M.T. Hunter, John Campbell and Alexander Stephens – who were en route to their meeting with Lincoln and Seward at Hampton Roads. Meade “plainly” set out “what I thought was the basis on which the people of the North would be glad to have peace.” This would have to include “restoration of the Union.” But “a settlement of the slavery question” could be reached which would ensure “that they must have labor & the negroes must have support,” since “it was well known they would not work unless compelled.” After reading this, the first question which burned through my mind was, Whose side are you on? What Union major-general gives talking points to Confederate negotiators as they are on their way to meet with Lincoln and Seward? No wonder Meade concluded the letter with the injunction, “all this I have written you, must be confidential, as it would not do to let it be known I had been talking with them, or what I have said.” This letter appears nowhere in young Meade’s Life and Letters, or Freeman Cleaves’ well-known biography of Meade.

BR: Can you describe the reactions of other historians and enthusiasts to your assessment of Meade?

ACG: This portrait of Meade has generated some vehement responses, based largely (I think) on the assumption that since Robert E. Lee was a genius, and since Robert E. Lee lost the battle, ergo, George Meade must be a genius, too. Questioning Meade’s “genius” is nearly as offensive on those grounds as questioning the virtue of Robert E. Lee among the Southern Heritage partisans. But the fact is that Meade was not at Gettysburg for a third of the battle, was taken utterly by surprise by Longstreet’s flank attack on July 2nd, and miscalled the point at which the Confederates would attack on July 3rd. despite the Meade equestrian statue’s location, Meade was nowhere near the apex of Pickett’s Charge at the time it happened. Meade did not so much win the battle, as Lee lost it; or rather, it was the near-miraculous initiative taken by individual officers on the line – Samuel Sprigg Carroll, “Pappy” Greene, Strong Vincent, Gouveneur Warren, Patrick O’Rorke, Norman Hall, and (yes) Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain – that over-and-over again saved the Union position at Gettysburg. But the biggest black-mark beside Meade’s name remains his failure to follow-up after the battle. Yes, I know that the Army of the Potomac was battered and mostly used-up; but so was the Army of Northern Virginia. The lesson of every commander in history worth remembering is this: in victory, follow up. I don’t know that I can entirely blame Meade. He was conscious of the fact that if he attacked Lee and won, he would probably receive little if any credit; if he attacked and lost, his head would be on a pike. In that respect, he may have felt that Lincoln had no one to blame but himself for creating such an atmosphere of mistrust. But this was to allow personal and political considerations to interfere with a military decision, considerations which the American military tradition has always been supposed to eschew.

One objection which has surprised me much more has been about the title: The Last Invasion. Some people wonder whether I’ve forgotten about Early’s or Morgan’s raids. Well, that’s the point: they were raids. They were short-term events intended to disrupt communications and infrastructure, but not to offer a full-scale challenge to battle or to occupy and feed off territory for a substantial length of time. Lee intended to do much more in 1863. He planned to remain in Pennsylvania until the fall, letting Pennsylvania rather than Virginia  feed his army, or bring the Army of the Potomac to a head-on battle. That’s an invasion. It’s all the difference between a transatlantic crossing and a Caribbean cruise. Besides, I’m unapologetically borrowing the phrase about ‘the last invasion’ from Melville’s poem, Gettysburg, which appears on the opening page.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?

ACG: I do not know that I have a method, per se. I simply wade into the literature, scan archives for collections, and go to it with a will.  It’s taken me quite far afield – from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Charlottesville, Virginia, and a few other points beyond.

BR: Has the process of writing this book impacted you in any profound ways?

ACG: It has made me feel very glad that it’s done.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

ACG: I am much too humble to say (snark, snark…) But it did make the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list [per publisher notice of June 2, 2013 list - ed.]

BR: What’s next for you?

ACG: Back to Lincoln.





Interview: Patrick Schroeder, “Vortex of Hell”

28 03 2013

Patrick Schroeder is the editor of the posthumously published Vortex of Hell: History of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, by Brian C. Pohanka. Patrick, who recently completed an interview for Bull Runnings on his publishing company Schroeder Publications, also took time to answer a few questions about the Vortex project.

[To order any of the Schroeder Publications titles listed below, go to their website and click on the “Schroeder Books” tab. You’ll find the covers of all the books, and can click on the covers for descriptions of the books.]

vortex-of-hell-book-coverBR: Vortex of Hell is not your typical project. Can you describe for our readers Brian’s interest in the 5th New York and the extent and nature of what he collected over the years on the regiment?

PS: Brian’s interest in the 5th New York took off when he met re-enactors of the 5th New York in the summer of 1975 at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.  After returning from a year of college in Italy, he joined the unit in 1978.  Brian quickly became the de facto unit historian.  He was an advocate for the original unit, as he believed—supported by period accounts—that the 5th New York was one of the best units in the Army of the Potomac.  He also wanted to educate the public about the unit and illustrate the fact that Zouaves did not disappear after the first months of the war, which is incorrectly represented in many books and articles.  One of Brian’s favorite sources was meeting descendants of the original soldiers when they would shows up as spectators at a living history event or he searched them out through a name connection via the internet.  He was able to build the soldiers bios by this means, get family stories, photos and diaries or letters.  The largest source of material was the National Archives where he scoured the unit’s regimental books and papers, as well as going through every one of their service records and pension files with some assistance over the years from Rob Hodge and myself.  Brian created a file on each man in which went service and pension record info as well as anything else he discovered about that soldier.  There were printed sources such as Alfred Davenport’s 1879 regimental history of the unit that needed to be studied and analyzed.  There are diary, journal, and letter collections in various institutions and in private hands.  He incorporated accounts from 28 period newspapers and an equal number of Historical Societies, Universities, and Archives—including the Archives Nationales in Paris, France.  Brian also purchased photos, letters and original items that belonged to members of the 5th, and built a considerable collection pertaining to Duyree’s Zouaves.

BR: What was the nature of your realtionship?

PS: At age 13, I joined the 5th New York re-enactment unit and initially I thought Brian who was about 26 at the time, did not like me.  At my first event I was given the National Colors to carry and at one point they struck some tree branches and Brian gave me a scowl.  But I started submitting articles to the unit newsletter and he took me under his wings, giving me encouragement and direction, telling me of better ways to do things, giving me research assignments, and coaching my writing style.  Brian gave me my first real research project in high school when he had me go to the University of Virginia and visit their Special Collections to see the Leavitt Family Letterbooks—where the family had copied the letters from their sons into a journal; their son George serving in the 5th New York.  In 1986, Brian took me to the National Archives and I have researched at that institution more than anywhere else.  Brian was my mentor and I, his protégé.  During my high school and college years, I used to visit his home which was like a museum—more in interesting pieces such as paintings rather than artifacts, and hear stories about these items.  I loved to go through his album of Civil War CDVs.  Sometimes I would house sit for him and feed his cats when he travelled for extend periods of time.  I helped him move to Leesburg in the late 1980s. Typically we saw each other at reenactments/living history events, both of us being in the 5th New York.  Brian and I and other members of the unit made some long distance trips together such as to the filming of the mini-series “North and South” in Mississippi, the movie “Glory” in Georgia, the 125th Shiloh event, and even to Paris and Hirson, France.  You really get to know people on trips such as those.  Sometimes Brian would ask me to come by to help him with some yard work.  Mostly we’d talk history on the phone a couple times a week about our latest discoveries, especially with the 5th New York, 5th New York Veteran Volunteers and 146th New York Zouaves.  These units were so connected that our information overlapped and we wanted to share it with each other.  Brian also came to me with several book projects, the first being the reprinting of Thomas Southwick’s narrative A Duryee Zouave that originally had only been printed for his family.  It is a very entertaining read.  Another was Summer on the Plains:  The 1870 Diary of Annie Gibson Roberts.  This he obtained from descendants of Roberts.  Annie was part of the Custer inner-circle and married Captain Yates who was killed beside Custer at the Little Big Horn.  I visited Brian weekly during the last stages of his illness. We didn’t talk much, if at all, about the book.  He was comfortable that it would be taken care of.  With his illness, he knew the end was coming, and he got most everything in order before he was too bad off.  We’d talk about light-hearted stuff, recollect funny incidents, he’d share his perspective on things or do his personification of someone that we were discussing, and we ended up watching episodes of the Little Rascals that I brought with me which he greatly enjoyed.  During my last visit, Brian was not doing well at all and was confined to bed. After visiting for perhaps an hour, I told him that I’d see him next week, and he said “Okay,” but I knew I would not, as did he.  As I reached the doorway to leave the room, I paused and looked back, Brian’s eyes were closed, but he had his right hand raised across his body for a handshake, which I rushed back and shook. A final parting handshake—a stoic and manly gesture of a true friend.  The next day, when his wife called, I already knew he was gone. I have since finished a book project on Arthur Alcock and the 11th New York Fire Zouaves that Brian and I had started on back in the late 1980s, and need to finish the full regimental history on the Fire Zouaves begun about the same time, but at this time, I can not say if that will be before or after Volume II of the Vortex of Hell is finished.

BR: When & how did the project change for Brian once he realized his time was limited? Was your intended role clear at that point?

PS: Brian had been adding pieces to the book since he first started writing/compiling it in the early 1980s.  Whenever he found something new, he would plug it into the roster or narrative where appropriate.  Even before he had ocular cancer, he gave me discs with his manuscript and roster to keep should his house ever burn or computer suffer some irretrievable damage.  He would give me updated discs every few years, so I would have the latest version as he was constantly adding to it.  In these earlier versions, it did not have much of a narrative flow, just the information he found inserted at the date that the events being described happened.  Those closest to him thought the book would never be completed, as Brian didn’t want there to be any stone left unturned.  And that is impossible as new stuff will always turn up.  So we used to joke that it is the greatest book never written, since he had been working on it for some twenty years.  Brian first learned of his cancer and had his right eye removed in 1999. The reoccurance of that cancer in the summer of 2003 caused Brian to work in earnest on finishing the book—completing it and making it into a readable narrative, and he continued to work on it until he could not do it anymore.  Yes, I knew my role and what Brian expected of me.  I would visit Brian a couple times a month after he became too ill to go out in public and on a weekly basis the last month or two before he passed.  He went over where everything for the book was—photos, files, etc.  He also wrote me a letter that was given to me after his passing of things he would like me to do for him, including seeing the book into print.

BR: Can you describe the status of the book when Brian finally put down his pen?

PS: Brian had to stop working on the book months before he passed away.  One of the last things to get incorporated into the book were excerpts from the Baltimore American newspaper that he had me track down on microfilm and print for him.  He was very excited to learn that the copies of the newspaper existed on microfilm as this was a major untapped source as the 5th New York was posted in Baltimore from July 1861 to March 1862.  Once Brian incorporated that information, he was done—this would have been in early March 2005.

BR: How did you view your task at that point?

PS: Though the narrative was finished the completion of the book for final publication was still a daunting task, but I never doubted it would be completed eventually.  Brian let me know that I would have to select the photos and write their captions and create the maps for the book, that he was not going to be able to get to those things.  I picked out the photos that I thought were most appropriate to incorporate with the topic being discussed, but even so, we used less than half (145 of perhaps 300) of the photos Brian had assembled.  The rest will be included in the Second Volume that will feature those photos, a complete and detailed biographical roster, and transcriptions of additional letters that have been discovered or acquired since Brian’s passing.  For the captions, I incorporated what I knew, plus information from the book and roster.  So Brian had his hand in writing them too.  The maps were created through consulting historical maps or by revising maps that Steve Stanley had already done.  Steve produced the maps for the book and we, in many cases, were able to refine some base maps already done for the battles in which the 5th New York participated. And, overall, I think they turned out pretty good.  Brian’s widow indexed the book

BR: What were the major stumbling blocks to converting the manuscript to a book?

PS: The biggest problem was not having Brian there to ask him questions, to clarify something, or review the final product.  The book also needed some editing as well as some consistency work. The maps and photo captions just took time.  That was a big issue in getting the book done, time.  My first child was born before work on the book began in earnest.  That, along with other book projects that we were working on, as well as my regular job, left little time to commit to the project.  Brian’s widow also remarried during this time.  Plus, we’re not talking about a small book, this book is over 600 pages, and a book that large takes much longer than say a 200 page book.  Many people think books can be turned out quickly and were anxious to get the book in their hands, but it is not as easy as people tend to believe.  Indexing a 600 page book is also time consuming, and Brian’s widow did that.

BR: How would you describe the finished product? Do you think it’s what Brian intended? How does it differ from other regimental histories?

PS: I’m gratified to have the finished project available for the people interested in the 5th New York and for the friends and admirers of Brian.  I think it is what Brian expected, and he would be well pleased with the final product.  It differs from many other regimental histories in its thoroughness—over 600 pages; the number of photos and maps incorporated and its readability—Brian’s writing style is enjoyable.  Plus Brian’s book does not end with the unit’s muster out in May 1863, he follows the three-year men that were transferred to the 146th New York, and the second creation of the unit, the 5th New York Veteran Volunteer Infantry, 1863-65; and he continues with the history into the veterans’ post-war organization and doings, such as raising the General G. K. Warren monument on Little Round Top.  Typically, most regimental histories do not even cover this time period.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

PS: The book has been highly anticipated, and thus far been well received.  It is still early and we are awaiting reviews.  The book has been acclaimed to have raised the bar for any regimental history in the future.  It will be hard to match or surpass, especially with more than twenty years of work going into it.  The book is available at http://www.civilwar-books.com/ where there is also a link to a memorial page about Brian with photos and  the remarks I gave at his memorial service at Manassas Battlefield.





Interview: Ronald G. Griffin, “The 11th Alabama Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War”

13 01 2013

Ronald Griffin’s The 11th Alabama Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War was published in 2008 by McFarland & Company and was recently reprinted in a more affordable paperback edition. Below, Mr. Griffin answers some questions about himself and the book.

R.G. GriffinBR:  As usual Ron, let’s start off with a little background.

RG: I am an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention and have been a pastor for about  twenty-seven years. In addition, I have been a lecturer in Hebrew on the seminary level, and lectured as well on the College level. I have had the opportunity to study abroad at the University of Stellenbosch and the Queens University of Belfast.  I hold a doctoral degree from New Orleans Theological Seminary. I am married with three children and four grandchildren, and Mobile, Alabama, is my hometown. Outside of my unpublished master’s thesis and doctoral project, the 11th Alabama is my first published work.

BR: What got you interested in studying Civil War?

RG: I have always been interested in the Civil War. I remember playing with Civil War soldiers as a kid and hearing my Grandma Griffin talking about our family Civil War stories. I can’t point to one particular person who engendered my interest in the field, but simply a growing interest from childhood that culminated in intensive research in Civil War studies. A few works stand out in my budding interest in the field: Shelby Foote’s three volumes, The Civil War: A Narrative, Douglas S. Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command, and McMillan’s The Alabama Confederate Reader. Other influential writers along my journey have been James M. McPherson, and James I. Robertson. The Official Records and the many published works by the soldiers who fought in the war have fueled my passion. I was also greatly influenced in pursuing academic excellence while studying under Dr. Allen C. Guelzo.

BR: What were you hoping to accomplish with The 11th Alabama Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War? What was the story you were trying to tell, and what did you want the reader to come away with after reading it?

RG: The work began on a personal note after discovering that several of my ancestors had fought in the 11th Alabama. It was out of researching their war records that the idea of researching the regiment was born.  I wanted to open up the world of the men who fought in the 11th Alabama for both scholars and interested descendants. I wanted to tell the story of the men, their individual journeys from 1861-1865, and their lives after the war. The 11th Alabama is not simply the unfolding of the story of an individual Confederate infantry regiment, but the personal journey the reader takes with the soldiers as they sit around a camp fire, describe the carnage on the battlefield, or double-quick over an open field toward the enemy works. It is my hope that readers will come away with a greater appreciation for both the regiment and the soldiers who fought in the 11th Alabama. The 11th Alabama was one of the hardest fighting regiments in the Army of Northern Virginia. Readers will learn of the bravery, patriotism, and motives of many of the men who comprised the unit.

BR: What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?

RG: First of all, no definite work on the 11th Alabama had been written. George Clark’s reflections on the regiment had been published in 1914 entitled, A Glance Backward: Or Some Events in the Past History of My Life . Clark’s work was not a systematic treatment of the regiment. Second, the work contributes to our understanding of the Wilcox-Sanders Brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia. A great deal of primary material accessed provides helpful information on the role played by the brigade during the war. The work provides specific details of battle developments previously undocumented. Third, the 11th Alabama contributes to understanding how the typical Confederate regiment was raised as well as the dialogue regarding the motives for fighting in Confederate service. Finally, the work has a strong biographical component. Personal stories are scattered throughout the book, and the final chapter examines the lives of the soldiers following Appomattox.

BR: Can you describe your journey in writing the book?

RG: The research and writing of the 11th Alabama took about seven years. A formidable obstacle in writing a regimental history is the time needed to visit and study key locations. A regimental history requires a researcher to travel to the locations where the unit was formed, encamped, fought, and buried it’s dead. In addition, necessary time allotment for travel to the locations containing necessary research materials provided a challenge. I found it surprising that so many extant original sources for the 11th Alabama became accessible in the project.  The project was difficult to end. Academic research requires an exhaustive undertaking by the researcher which makes the decision to terminate a project difficult. Nevertheless, after tracing each soldier’s life following the war as far as I could, I knew the project was completed.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?

RG: Research began with the official muster rolls and Confederate service cards of the 11th Alabama (available at the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery, Alabama).  I recorded the daily data on every single soldier for the entire war. The daily data provided rich personal information for cataloging the regimental developments throughout the war. A wealth of information for the book is contained in the Department of Archives and History at Montgomery, Alabama, as well as the W.S. Hoole Special Collections at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Using the official muster rolls as a chronological guide for the book, the research and writing traced the developments of the regiment from the original mustering in of the individual companies until the final parole at Appomattox Court House. Information from the Official Records, personal biographical information, and any additional relevant information was inserted within the basic chronological framework. The foundational sources for the 11th Alabama included: official muster rolls of the regiment, the Confederate service cards, the 11th Alabama Regimental Files, The Sydenham Moore Papers, The James McMath Diary, and the Dr. William H. Sanders Papers all from the Alabama Department of Archives and History at Montgomery, Alabama. In addition, the J.C.C. Sanders Papers (W.S. Hoole Special Collections the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Alabama), the Official Records, the Cadmus M. Wilcox Papers (Library of Congress Manuscript Division held in Washington, D.C.), the Velma and Stephens G. Croom Collection (held in the University of South Alabama Archives, Mobile, Alabama), and George Clark’s A Glance Backward. Online sites provided personal biographical information on individual soldiers as well as information on the location of needed primary sources. I took the time to solicit information online from ancestors of the soldiers who served in the 11th Alabama, and in response received everything from letters to photographs.

BR: I understand the book has been reprinted. Can you talk about that process, how the decision was made, etc.?

RG: The hard back copy of the 11th Alabama was released in 2008 by McFarland &Co. Inc. Publishers. The publishers decided that the sales of the book through 2011 merited a reprint but in a different format. In 2012 the 11th Alabama was released in soft cover form at a reduced price. We hope that offering the book at the reduced price might generate more book sales.

BR: What’s next for you?

SH: I am currently engaged in a new research project that I hope to publish upon its completion.  I am studying the contributions of the citizens of Mobile, Alabama, to the Confederate war effort from 1860-1865. The work focuses upon civilian efforts in support of the military. The work hopes to determine the how Mobilians contributed to the war effort in order to understand the diversity, development, and motivation of their labors.





Interview: Patrick Schroeder, Schroeder Publications

27 12 2012

Schroeder

In addition to his steady NPS gig as Historian at Appomattox Court House NHP, Patrick Schroeder is owner of Schroeder Publications, which puts out quality Civil War books on an ecclectic range of topics. Patrick took some time from his very busy schedule to answer a few questions in this first (for Bull Runnings) two part interview. In Part I, we focus on Schroeder Publications in general. Part II will focus more narrowly on the recent release of what is without a doubt the most anticipated regimental history of the past couple of decades, the late Brian C. Phohanka’s history of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry (Duryee’s Zouaves), Vortex of Hell.

To order any Schroeder Publications title, go to their website and click on the “Schroeder Books” tab. You’ll find the covers of all the books, and can click on the covers for descriptions of the books.

BR: For any of our readers out there who may only know you from the spine of your books, who is Patrick Schroeder?

PS: I can claim being both a Southerner and a Northerner.  I was born in Virginia when my father was in the army, but was raised in Utica, NY, until I was 13.  My father transferred with GE to Waynesboro, Virginia.  I attended Stuarts Draft High School in Augusta County and went to Shepherd College (now Shepherd University) specifically for their degree in Historical Park Administration, which they no longer offer.  I obtained my Master’s Degree in Civil War history at Virginia Tech, where Dr. James I. “Bud” Robertson chaired my thesis.  My family and I now live in Lynchburg, VA.  When not involved in history pursuits or entertaining the kids, I’m typically at an ice rink reffing or playing hockey.

BR: How did you catch the Civil War bug?

PS: I actually grew up on the Revolutionary War in central New York, where the Oriskany Battlefield and Fort Stanwix were close by, and not too far distant was Saratoga and Fort Ticonderoga, as well as Baron Von Steuben’s and General Herkimer’s homes.  My parents liked history and we travelled a good deal when I was young and we visited many historical sites during our family vacations.  We attended many National Park programs, and I always would be in front and answer all of the Ranger’s questions to the group.  My interest changed to Civil War when we moved to Waynesboro, Virginia, when I was thirteen and saw the re-enactment at New Market Battlefield.

BR: Why did you decide to get into publishing Civil War titles?

PS: While working as a seasonal at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park I did a college project focusing on Myths about Lee’s Surrender and eventually developed it into my first little book Thirty Myths About Lee’s Surrender (1993), which sold at the park and various places in Appomattox.  People suggested that I see if other historical sites, shops, and bookstores, would want to carry it, and many places did.  After writing More Myths About Lee’s Surrender and publishing a reprint of The Fighting Quakers with additional materials, others approached me with projects.  The Historian at Appomattox asked me to reprint Five Points in the Record of North Carolina in the Great War 1861-65 and Brian Pohanka asked me to print a book called A Duryee Zouave, the recollections of Thomas Southwick which previously had only been printed for the family, but is an excellent account, perhaps my favorite.  I added photos to the North Carolina book and put a more marketable cover on the book and titled it Tarheels and kept the former title as the subtitle.  I had done a good deal of leg work getting the Myth books out and now had more than 100 places carrying our titles.  When I finished my 500+ page book “We Came To Fight”:  The History of the 5th New York Veteran Volunteer Infantry, Duryee’s Zouaves 1863-1865 (that started as my master’s thesis) and spoke to several publishers about taking it on.  I found out that they really would not do anything more for my book, and probably less, than I was already doing.  So, we published it and marketed it on our own.

BR: What makes your books stand out – what does Schroeder Publications have to offer to both writers and readers that is not already provided by other publishers?

PS: Honestly, I’m not sure.  We’re not limited to a certain Civil War genre, our books cover a wide range of areas and topics in the Civil War realm—cemeteries, battles, letters, Zouaves, African-Americans, regimental histories, photo studies, biographies, and memorials.  People really like our books on animals in the Civil War.  Mike Zucherro’s book, Loyal Hearts:  Histories of Civil War Canines is our best seller.  Civil War Animal Heroes:  Mascots, Pets and War Horses by Charles Worman is very popular as well.

I’ve seen Civil War books printed where the publisher has no idea about the subject and just printed the material as is.  I read through the manuscripts and am able to make corrections, ask questions, or even add something to the work.  We love using large and numerous photos in our books, something that is shied away from by larger main-stream publishers.

BR: Can you describe how you go about attracting manuscripts and authors, or how you decide to republish an out of print work?

PS: We do not solicit manuscripts as more than enough come in on their own, which we take as a nice compliment.  We only publish one or two titles a year and have a backlog of titles to publish, so we have to be selective.  We’d like to print them all, but time, a limited staff, finances and the marketability of some titles, just does not make it feasible.  This year, we pushed hard and were able to release three new books.   “My Country Needs Me”  The Story of Corporal Johnston Hastings Skelly Jr.:  87th Pennsylvania Infantry, A Son of Gettysburg and Confidant of Jennie Wade by Enrica D’Alessandro; then Nicholas Redding’s A History and Guide to Civil War Shepherdstown:  Victory and Defeat in West Virginia’s Oldest Town; and lastly Brian Pohanka’s long awaited Vortex of Hell:  History of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, Duryee’s Zouaves 1861-1865.  We receive a considerable number of submissions by mail and e-mail, but often it is someone that talks to us in person.   Sometimes it is a friend with an idea.  These days, a title needs to have a definite selling market.  So whether it is a new title, a reprint, or the printing of an out of print book, the market and demand has to be there. This year we also reprinted (new to Schroeder Publications) Brian Bennett’s book The Beau Ideal of a Soldier and Gentleman:  The Life of Col. Patrick Henry O’Rorke From Ireland to Gettysburg; another reprint , this time in soft cover, is Four Years in the First New York Light Artillery:  The Papers of David F. Ritchie, edited by Norman L. Ritchie; and Thomas McGrath’s Shepherdstown: Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign September 19-20, 1862 was brought out in soft cover.

BR: Can you describe your production process, from manuscript acceptance, through editing, to publication, promotion, distribution and sales?

PS: After accepting a manuscript , I will read and edit the manuscript for historical accuracy, grammar and style.  I often do this when the manuscript is first submitted.  My wife, Maria, or I will work on the layout, and typically, Maria will design a cover.  We use several printers depending on the size of the book.  Both are excellent to work with.  We submit books for review to various papers and magazines.  Then we work on getting the books out to our sources.  We don’t do too much advertising, but concentrate more on getting the books out to certain historical sites and venues.  It usually takes six months to a year to get a book selling well.  We are also attending re-enactments and shows to push the book during the 150th Anniversary.

BR: What’s in the Schroeder Publications pipeline?

PS: The next book we plan to release is Cooper Wingert’s Emergency Men:  The 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia and the Gettysburg Campaign.  Cooper is a young fellow, still in high school, but already has two good books to his credit.  When he submitted it, I was very impressed with the research he had done and his writing style, and I’m a fan of good regimental histories.  This seemed like a good title to accept as I was always intrigued by the 26th Pennsylvania Militia monument at Gettysburg on Chambersburg Street of the young boy not wearing a jacket but sporting boots and a rifle at port arms.  I never knew the whole story about that unit, but now I do and others will soon too.  We will have it out in March or April, well in time for the 150th events at Gettysburg.  By taking on other peoples’ projects to publish, my works have been sitting for years.  I do hope to get out a collection of letters by various 20th Maine soldiers before the Gettysburg Anniversary as well, and the transcribed letters and diary of Axel Leatz—a Swedish officer who served in the 5th New York Veteran Volunteer Infantry, Duryee’s Zouaves, 1863-1865.  The letters and diary were all in Swedish, so I had to recruit some Swedish friends to help on this one—it is a very unique perspective.  There are several other titles on our list, and I’d like to do a second book on the Pennsylvania Bucktails with Ronn Palm – he has so many great photos of those soldiers.  Researching what happened to each one is fun; the writing of their stories is a bit harder.

Part II coming soon…





Interview: Bryce A. Suderow, “The Petersburg Campaign”

30 11 2012

Savas Beatie has recently published The Petersburg Campaign Volume I: The Eastern Front Battles June-August, 1864, by Edwin C. Bearss with Bryce A. Suderow. Bull Runnings has previously interviewed Mr. Bearss here. You may or may not be familiar with his partner in this effort, Bryce Suderow, but you’ve likely read works which have benefitted from his efforts.

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Layout 1BR:  Bryce, most of our readers have been exposed to your work, but in many cases may not be aware of it. Can you tell them something about yourself?

BAS: I was born in Chicago in 1950 and grew up in one of its suburbs, South Holland.  I attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois and moved to California in 1973 to attend graduate school at Sonoma State University where I got a Masters in American History.  Although my focus was on early American History, my thesis was on a Civil War battle.

My career as a writer began in 1973 when I published an article in the Westport Historical Quarterly.  Since that time I have published articles in Civil War Times Illustrated, North and South and other magazines.

My first book was actually my thesis on the Battle of Pilot Knob, Thunder in Arcadia Valley.  After that I was co-editor for theSupplement to the Official Records.  My third book is Volume 1 of The Petersburg Campaign.

My career as a researcher began in 1991 when Noah A. Trudeau hired me to do some research.  I liked the work so much that I decided to switch over to  doing research for a living.  Over the next twenty years I did research at the Library of Congress and the National Archives for J.D. Petruzzi, Eric Wittenberg, Gordon Rhea and many others.  I was among the first researchers to use Civil War era newspapers as sources and now the practice is quite common.

BR: What got you interested in studying the American Civil War?

BAS:  When the Civil War Centennial arrived, I was at the very impressionable age of eleven.  Chicagoans took the Civil War very seriously.  Ralph Newman and some others started the first Civil War Round Table.  Newman’s nationally known bookstore attracted Civil War writers and Civil War buffs from all over the country, including Bruce Catton. 

Newman was a local legend, so the Chicago Tribune persuaded him to write a weekly column on the Civil War called Ralph Newman’s Scrapbook for their Sunday magazine section.  The Trib even published a comic strip series every Sunday called Old Glory at the Crossroads which dealt with the events that had occurred one hundred years ago that week.  The Newman Scrapbook and the Old Glory series were among my earliest influences.  About the same time I was also influenced by two comic books on the Civil War published by Classics Illustrated and by the multi-part Life Magazine series on the Civil War.

The greatest influence from an individual came from my Social Studies teacher, Ted Gunaka, who was a Civil War buff.  He assigned each of his fifth grade students a Civil War battle and required us to write a paper and deliver an oral speech on it.  I chose the Battle of the Crater and the Siege of Petersburg.  Gunaka thus put me on the path to researching the Civil War.

All this occurred when I was a pre-teen.

As a teenager I read all of Bruce Catton’s Civil War books.  His writings thrilled me and instilled in me a deep love of the Civil War.  When I was in my twenties I moved to California and majored in History and got my Masters Degree at Sonoma State University.  I decided to specialize in the war west of the Mississippi and it was then that I became aware of Edwin C. Bearss and his writings taught me and inspired me.  Also important were two other writers, Richard Brownlee and John R. Margreiter, both of whom wrote about the battle of Pilot Knob, Missouri.  I wrote my Master’s Thesis on that battle and it was published as a book in 1985 under the title Thunder in Arcadia Valley.

BR: Why Petersburg?

BAS: After years of studying and writing about the war in the Trans-Mississippi, I changed my focus to the Siege of Petersburg because the 1864-65 campaigns in Virginia won the war.  I wrote a series of articles on the early battles of the siege for a long-defunct magazine called The Kepi.  I also began research on the First Battle of Deep Bottom and even wrote a manuscript on the battle.  Unfortunately, though this was 25 years ago, it has not yet been published.

BR: What makes this work on Petersburg stand out from others?

BAS: There are a number of books that deal with particular battles or offensives of the Siege of Petersburg, the Crater being the most popular topic.  However, there are only two books that cover the entire Siege of Petersburg.  One of them is Noah A. Trudeau’s The Last Citadel.  The other is John Horn’s The Petersburg Campaign.  Both books have their strengths and weaknesses, but both are far too short to cover the siege in the detail it deserves.

The Bearss book stands out for two reasons.  One of the book’s strengths is that deals with the entire siege in-depth. Each chapter is devoted to one battle and each chapter is around 70 pages long.  No one has ever done this.  For the first time people who want to walk the battlefields will know where to go.

Another strength is Bearss’ writing style.  He writes so clearly that any layman can understand him and so dramatically that readers are hooked on the story he tells.

BR: What is your role in The Petersburg Campaign project?

BAS: I had two roles when I worked on Vol. I.  First, I was editor of the material that Bearss wrote and second  I was co-author since I wrote the introductions and conclusions to each chapter.  In Vol. II I am also the editor.  My writer role has expanded.  In addition to the intros and conclusions, I am adding material to some chapters, material that came to light after Bearss wrote his ms.

At the request of the Federal Government Bearss wrote a series of studies on the Petersburg battles in the mid-1960s.  He never intended to publish them.  For years the only people who knew about them were the employees at Petersburg battlefield park and scholars of the battle.  I obtained copies of some of the studies and was impressed by them.

Five or six years ago I decided they should be published, but first I needed to obtain copies of all the studies.  The park employees were kind enough to provide those.

Next I needed volunteers to type the chapters into their computers.  On a site called The Civil War Message Board Portal I posted a message calling for volunteers to help publish a book by Edwin C. Bearss.  The effect of his name was magical and a surprisingly large number of people volunteered to do the typing.  Once the computer version of the book was typed, I called for volunteers to make certain each chapter followed the same format.  Again the volunteers came forward.  This phase was completed three years ago.

Finally, I approached Ted Savas and told him about the manuscript.  He was enthusiastic and immediately agreed.  The biggest obstacles to publishing were finding someone to create the maps and finding authors to write about two battles Bearss did not cover, the Battle of the Crater and the Battle of Fort Stedman.  This took a couple of years.  Finally this year we found two experts who were eager to co-author a book with Edwin C. BearssPatrick Brennan wrote the Crater chapter and Bill Wyrick wrote the Stedman chapter.  Also this year I chose George Skoch to create the maps.  He did a score of superb maps in just a few months.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?

BAS: To write the introductions and conclusions in Vol. I I used John Horn’s book, The Petersburg Campaign.  For Vol. II I am using that book, plus the Official Records, the Supplement to the Official Records and various published and unpublished accounts.

People who read this book are in for a real treat.  Most Civil War enthusiasts have a completely wrong idea about the siege.  They think the siege consisted of static warfare and doomed Union attacks against Confederate trenches.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Of the ten battles that took place during the siege, only three involved Union attacks on the Confederate lines.  There were the initial Union assaults of June 15-18, 1864, the assault at the Crater on July 30, 1864, and the Union attack that led to a breakthrough on April 2, 1865.  All the other battles took place in the woods and fields around the city and occurred because Grant was sending portions of his army to seize and/or destroy the Weldon and Southside Railroads.

Each of the battles is interesting because different corps and corps commanders were engaged in the various battles and they commanded their men differently.  For example contrast the union generalship in two battles for the Weldon Railroad.  On August 18 Warren seizes the railroad and quite prudently wants to fortify his position against the inevitable Confederate attacks.  Grant and Meade insist that he press up against the Confederate fortifications which places him in dense woods where he can’t see the Confederates coming.  As a result on August 18 and 19 the Confederates attack his flanks, surprise his men and rout them, so  he suffers tremendous losses, mostly in prisoners.  On August 20 Grant and Meade allow him to do what he asked permission to do.  He fortifies and the next day a big Confederate attack is repulsed.

Hancock fights a battle at ream’s station four days later and his style is quite different.  He occupies a badly planned and laid out fortification constructed in June by the VI Corps and is seemingly indifferent to improving the strength of his position.  Instead he spends his time destroying the railroad.  As a result the Confederates attack him while he’s holding this weak position and the II Corps is routed and driven from the field with a large loss in prisoners.  The difference between the two generals is clear.  Warren was more astute than Hancock so he was acutely aware of the danger Lee’s army posed and Hancock was not.  Warren was also aware that fortifications were necessary because the quality of his men had deteriorated because of excessive casualties.

The book is also fascinating because it shows the rise and fall of fortunes of Confederate high commanders at Petersburg.  A.P. Hill was so ill that he often turned over command to Henry Heth or William Mahone.  Mahone  rose to the occasion and became one of the two most outstanding commanders on the Confederate side.  The other stellar commander was Wade Hampton.  It was he who persuaded Lee to attack the isolated Hancock at Ream’s Station and he played a key role in the victory.

I guarantee that anyone who reads this book will end up fascinated by the Siege of Petersburg.

BR: What’s next for you?

BAS: I hope to co-author a book on Five Forks with Mike McCarthy.  Mike wrote a dissertation on the battle and on the Warren Court of Inquiry.  I found him a publisher and we’ve become friends.  And I want to publish my Deep Bottom manuscript.

Good luck with your future work, Bryce. We’re all looking forward to Volume II of The Petersburg Campaign.








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