Civil War Times August 2010

29 05 2010

I received my copy of the new Civil War Times magazine yesterday.  Inside:

Second Guessing Dick Ewell by Chris Mackowski and Kristopher White: Is it fair to blame General Richard Ewell for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg?  Plus Five Battle Maps by David Fuller

The Great Libby Prison Breakout by Steven Trent Smith: Engineering the war’s most daring escape – one furtive shovel at a time.

Unwritten History by Noah Andre Trudeau: The war memoirs Robert E. Lee chose not to write.

“Villains, Vandals and Devils” by Ken Noe: Rebels fought to the bitter end because they hated the Yankee invaders.  See Ken’s book.

This month’s Civilians In Harm’s Way (the name change took me by surprise) by yours truly features Chickamauga’s Snodgrass house.  Once again, thanks to friends Dave Powell and Lee White for their assistance.  I didn’t get to travel for this one, so I don’t have any additional photos to share here.  That won’t be the case with next installment.

I also make an appearance in a feature on Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell’s recent Confederate History Month proclamation, The Proclamation and the Peculiar Institution.  Though it’s not the longest bit I’ve ever published, it’s certainly the largest and boldest font in which my stuff has appeared.  I share space with William Marvel, Susannah Ural, Lesley Gordon, S. Waite Rawls III, Kevin Levin, Catherine Clinton, Harold Holzer and Michael Fellman.  Here’s my full, unedited contribution (though I think the edited version was well done and a fair representation of my thoughts):

I think the Governor’s proclamation was nothing more than a dusting off of previously issued proclamations, made at least in part in fulfillment of promises given prior to his election.  I believe not much thought at all went into it, and that the apology issued was genuine.

 I find most of the reactions to the proclamation and the apology repugnant, outside of the obvious disappointment of those who objected to either and, in curious cases, both.  Pendulums are funny things, and after watching them for a while you get the impression they spend most of their time at either end, and not much in the middle.  At the extremes, we see reactions ranging from claims that Confederates were nothing more than terrorists, that slavery had little or nothing to do with the Confederate cause, that the Tea Party movement is primarily a gathering of neo-Confederate racists, and that the same movement reflects frustrations similar to those felt by the slaveholding south.  All are gross distortions of the truth, and politically motivated.  Unfortunately little attention has been given to valid historical issues raised by the issuance of the proclamation, notably that of the diversity of the people of the State of Virginia before and during the Civil War.  I’m left with the feeling we let an opportunity slip through our fingers in favor of forwarding political agendas.

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July 2010 America’s Civil War

1 05 2010

I received the new America’s Civil War in the mail yesterday.  Again, lots of good stuff inside.

  • Rebels in Check by Ethan Rafuse – Nobody played the game better than Bobby Lee.  Until his luck ran out at Gettysburg.
  • Could This Man Have Stopped the War? by Thomas Horrocks – James Buchanan left a monumental mess for the next guy to clean up.
  • “It’s No Use Killing Them” by Zack Waters and James Edmonds – The 2nd Florida fought in Lee’s army, but forged its own stature.
  • Tracing Natchez by Joe Glickman - From Grant’s mansion quarters to funky watering holes, Natchez oozes atmosphere.

These are but prelude to the real reason folks buy the magazine: my reviews.  As I mentioned before, Smeltzer’s Six-Pack has bitten the dust.  In the last couple of installments we had fallen off the formula of pairing new releases with older books on the same or similar topic – a formula which I felt set the column apart, but which fell victim to the need to preview an increasing number of new books in every issue.  July debuts Harry’s Just Wild About…, in which I’ll preview four or five new or re-issued titles (I’m not sure what they’ll call it if I happen to not be wild about any of the books).  Here’s a glimpse of what it looks like – that’s me at the Pittsburgh Irish Festival a few years ago:As you can see, I lead off with Ed Bearss’s new Receding Tide: Vicksburg and Gettysburg, the Campaigns that Changed the Civil War.  Also in this issue: The Great Task Remaining: The Third Year of the Civil War, by William Marvel; Gray Ghost: The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby, by James A. Ramage; and The Battle of Cedar Creek: Victory From the Jaws of Defeat, by Jonathan Noyalas.

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I Have Always Depended on the Kindness of Stangers

1 05 2010

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

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

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Day Trip to Maryland

29 04 2010

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

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Done and Doner

21 04 2010

The second installment of In Harm’s Way has been sent to my editors at Civil War Times, and the third victim has been chosen.  I’ll be back in the Eastern Theater, and will again get to personally visit the subject property and get lots of photos.

I also sent in my two cents on the Virginia Confederate History Month controversy as discussed here.  I don’t know if it’s exactly what they were looking for, but it’s what I think.  I may post my full comment here, but not until after the magazine ships.

Today, for the first time ever, Bull Runnings topped 1,000 WordPress hits in a day.  I topped my previous high month a few days ago, and there are nine days left in the month yet.  Last week, I doubled my previous high week.  For mysterious reasons not fully understood by me, the site since April 6 has been receiving two-and-a-half to three times as many hits as it has in recent months.  Thanks and welcome to all my new readers.  I hope you’ll come back regularly.  I haven’t written many new articles this month, but hope to get back to regular posting of original content and Bull Run Resource material soon.

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Stuff I Gotta Do

16 04 2010

I’ve been asked, along with a bunch of other folks, to contribute to an editorial piece for Civil War Times magazine.  The topic - the Governor of Virginia’s Confederate History Month proclamation, his apology for the wording of same, and the sometimes thoughtful, sometimes bizarre reactions they prompted – is a hot one just now.  I decided not to discuss it here, because as a commenter on Robert Moore’s blog correctly points out the controversy is a lot more about the present than it is about the past.  And I think no one can deny that modern politics, which are taboo here, play a big part in the discussion.  The other contributors are mostly big shots and mostly real historians (and doubtless scratching their heads wondering who the Harry guy in the e-mail cc list is), so I don’t anticipate my contribution will stand out in any positive way, and may even wind up on the cutting room floor.  I’ll give it a shot, but every time I think about it I go off in different directions.

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Coming Soon – Interview with Ed Bearss

11 04 2010

Last Thursday I was privileged to spend about 35 minutes on the phone with NPS Historian Emeritus Edwin C. Bearss.  Our discussion centered on the upcoming release of his new book, Receding Tide: Vicksburg and Gettysburg, the Campaigns that Changed the Civil War, but it naturally strayed to other topics.  I’ll be arranging our talk in the form of an interview and posting it here soon.  If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, Mr. Bearss will be speaking to the Greater Pittsburgh Civil War Roundtable on April 26.  You can find details here.  The photo above is Mr. Bearss signing my copies of his three-volume The Vicksburg Campaign in Carnegie, PA after his appearance there on February 9, 2009.

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New Civil War Times Department: “In Harm’s Way”

29 03 2010

The June, 2010 issue of Civil War Times magazine ushers in the first installment of a new department I’ll be writing called In Harm’s Way.  These columns will feature homes on or in the vicinity of battlefields.  While the structures or the grounds they occupy will typically have played some role in a battle, the focus will be on the occupants and their stories before, during, and after the action.  This is an idea I pitched to editor Dana Shoaf, who saw something in it and gave me the go-ahead for the first article on Gettysburg’s Lydia Leister house, site of Union General George G. Meade’s headquarters on July 2 & 3, 1863.  

I made arrangements with Ranger Scott Hartwig at the park and at the end of January spent a couple of days there, first in the library where Ranger John Heiser gave me access to the park files on the house, and the next day at the house where Ranger Troy Harman unlocked the door and allowed me to photograph practically every square inch of the tiny log cabin.  Not many interior photos made the article, so let me share a few here (click the thumbs for a larger image):

Kitchen:

      

Loft:

 

Bedroom:

    

I’m looking forward to this new project, which is scheduled for 6 issues.  It presents some interesting creative challenges, and will also require me to make new contacts since I won’t be able to travel to all the sites.  The subject of the next article has been chosen, inquiries have been sent, materials have been received, and writing has commenced.  Let me know what you think of the articles, and if you really like them, let the magazine know!

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A Gen Forum Saves the Day

23 03 2010

As I’ve been researching the backgrounds of the staff and commanders of the armies at Bull Run, I’m finding more and more that when I get really stuck, help has been coming from an unexpected source: genealogy forums.  There are thousands of them out there.

Yesterday I was searching for some information on Otis Tillinghast, McDowell’s AAAG who was mortally wounded on July 21.  I wasn’t having much success until I ran across a discussion on a Tillinghast genealogy website.  It turns out Kent Watkins - like Otis a descendant of the one of the founders of Providence, RI, Pardon Tillinghast - was intrigued by the marker for Ft. Tillinghast that he saw across the street from the Arlington, VA tennis courts where he plays.  In the discussion thread to which Google pointed me I found Mr. Watkins’s announcement that he had written an article on Tillinghast for the group’s newsletter, including an email address for its editor, Ms. Greta Tillinghast Tyler.  I contacted Ms. Tyler and asked how I could go about getting a copy of the newsletter.  I received a prompt reply along with a complimentary pdf of her fine newsletter, Pardon’s Progeny II (click to view the newsletter, with permission of author and editor).  The entire issue consists of Mr. Watkins’s 29 page (!) article on Tillinghast and Ft. Tillinghast, complete with footnotes and bibliography.

So, thanks to Kent and Greta.  I’m sure I’ll be using the article when I write my biographical sketch of their ancestor.

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How Writing Leads to Thinking

1 03 2010

Lynn Hunt has this article up over on the American Historical Association site that any non-fiction writer – or aspiring writer - should read.  (Hat tip to Mark Grimsley via Facebook.)

A few tidbits from Ms. Hunt: 

  • My first rule…is not to look at notes. In the era of digitized databases, digital photographs of manuscripts and archives, and digital copies of notes taken of books and archives, such a rule is yet more imperative.
  • You want the number of your pages to increase steadily over time, culminating in the completion of a first draft. Whether you use an outline or not (I jot down bullet points in no particular order as a way of starting), what really counts is momentum, not momentum as in a jet racing forward to the completion of its route but rather momentum as in three steps forward, two steps back, two or three pages written (maybe even five!), then revised the next day while another one, two or three are added, and so on.
  • …life is short and if you want to write more than a dissertation or one book or two books and so on, you have to limit yourself to what can be done in a certain time frame. You cannot accumulate pages if you constantly second guess yourself. You have to second guess yourself just enough to make constant revision productive and not debilitating. You have to believe that clarity is going to come, not all at once, and certainly not before you write, but eventually, if you work at it hard enough, it will come. Thought does emerge from writing. Something ineffable happens when you write down a thought. You think something you did not know you could or would think and it leads you to another thought almost unbidden.
  • …writing crystallizes previously half-formulated or unformulated thoughts, gives them form, and extends chains of thoughts in new directions.
  • Nothing is more important to writing than the weeding, thinning, mulching, and watering that is known as revision. Sometimes another eye provides the added sunlight needed for new growth.
  • Most problems in writing come from the anxiety caused by the unconscious realization that what you write is you and has to be held out for others to see. You are naked and shivering out on that limb that seems likely to break off and bring you tumbling down into the ignominy of being accused of inadequate research, muddy unoriginal analysis, and clumsy writing. So you hide yourself behind jargon, opacity, circuitousness, the passive voice, and a seeming reluctance to get to the point. It is so much safer there in the foliage that blocks the reader’s comprehension, but in the end so unsatisfying.
  • When you are reading a book that grabs you, consider how the author accomplishes that effect. What is it that draws you in? What makes you think it beautiful or forceful or astute? Which quality do you cherish most? What can you learn about writing from it?
  • In short, one is not born a writer but rather becomes one. Learning to write well is a lifelong endeavor.

That’s a lot to chew on.  Maybe time for some introspection.

Lynn Hunt, professor of history at the University of California at Los Angeles, is a former president of the AHA. Among numerous books that she has written, the most recent are Measuring Time, Making History, and Inventing Human Rights: A History.

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