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

31 08 2010

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

Hat tip to John Hoptak.

Review: “Old Abe, Eagle Hero”

30 08 2010

Old Abe, Eagle Hero: The Civil War’s Most Famous Mascot is a children’s picture book written by Patrick Young and illustrated by Anne Lee.  In terms easy enough for very young readers to understand, the book relates the familiar story of the mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry regiment, a North American bald eagle named for POTUS 16.  Since the story is familiar to Civil War buffs, I won’t go into too many details (but you can get some here and here).  In fact, the story is so familiar that this same text was used in this earlier edition, with a different illustrator.  And that different illustrator in this case makes a big difference.  The watercolors in this new edition are striking.

So, this being a kid’s book, I asked a kid – my 12-year-old son – to read it, even though it’s a few years too young for him.  But 12-year-olds being what they are, I couldn’t get him to sit down and type up a review.  The long and the short of it is like me he dug the book.  It took him all of about 5 minutes to read, but he got the gist of Old Abe’s story.  However, he had the same question I had: after a concise account of Old Abe’s life from his birth through the end of the war, his story ends abruptly in 1876, when he travelled to Philadelphia for the centennial exhibition.  What happened to Old Abe? When and how did he die?

A little digging on the web turned up the info, though I’m still not sure if the bird was a he or a she.  In 1881, Old Abe died as a result of a fire near his rooms in the basement of the Wisconsin state Capitol.  After his death he was stuffed and put on display in a glass case in the building, where he stayed until he and the building were destroyed in another fire in 1904.  Below are a few pictures of Old Abe: with his fellow soldiers before reaching maturity, when his head turned white; a couple of publicity photos (he used to “autograph” them by poking a hole with his beak); and what is possibly all that remains of him, a single feather.  All photos from this site.


Interview: Charles R. Knight, “Valley Thunder”

24 08 2010

Charles R. “Charlie” Knight is the author of Valley Thunder: The Battle of New Market and the Opening of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, May 1864.  Publisher Savas Beatie provided a copy of the book, which has received rave reviews: no less an authority than William C. “Jack” Davis, author of what has for many years been the “definitive” study of New Market, described Valley Thunder as one of the dozen finest and most complete accounts of any Civil War action.  He recently responded to a few questions from Bull Runnings.

BR: Charlie, you’re a first time author so most of the readers may not be familiar with you.  Tell us about yourself.

CK: I grew up in Richmond, so was exposed to Civil War history from very early on. In fact, my Dad grew up on a small farm outside Mechanicsville that had a small section of the Outer Defenses of Richmond on the property. In high school I volunteered at the Museum of the Confederacy, which in turn got me into CW reenacting, which in turn got me into WWII reenacting. I graduated from Bridgewater College near Harrisonburg in the Shenandoah Valley with a degree in history. My junior year there I began an internship at New Market Battlefield State Historical Park (NMBSHP), where my first assignment was going to the Shenandoah County courthouse in Woodstock to go through all the land and marriage records to find anything pertaining to the Bushong family, whose farm was at the center of the Battle of New Market and is today preserved as part of the battlefield park. Later I was hired as a historical interpreter there, and actually got to live in the ‘original’ Bushong house (ca. 1819) there on the park grounds for a summer. For the last nine years I’ve been at the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, VA – museum, archives & final resting place of General Douglas MacArthur – where I am now Curator. I’m currently working on my MA in CW studies from American Military University. Valley Thunder is my first book, but I’ve had articles published in Blue & Gray, Classic Trains and the National Railway Historical Society Bulletin.

BR: What made you decide to write a book on New Market?  Davis’ book has been the standard for years.  Why a new one?  What makes your book different?

CK: Edward Turner’s The New Market Campaign was the first book-length study of the battle by a non-participant, published in 1912. Turner worked very closely with several key players on the Confederate side in his research, but almost ignored the Federal side. One contemporary review of Turner (who was a European history professor, and thus really out of his element in writing about New Market), complained that he did more to create the fog of war which clouds the battle than he did to lift it. Until William C. Davis’s Battle of New Market appeared in 1975, Turner’s was the ‘go-to’ book about New Market. Davis’s excellent work then assumed that role for more than 30 years. Davis uncovered some excellent sources which clarified a lot of what Turner could not, and was a much more balanced version than Turner. Yet there were still some aspects of the battle that could not be settled, as sources for some of the units involved simply were not known at the time. In some instances, that is still the case today. Jack Davis’s book was the last book-length account of the battle, although some works appeared which discussed the 1864 Valley Campaign and thus touched on New Market, and in that 35-year interim, new sources came to light that were unknown at the time of Davis’s writing. These sources change significantly what had been accepted as “fact” for years, such as the role of the 23rd Virginia Cavalry in the battle (which was thought to have fought dismounted in line with the infantry, but in fact stayed with the rest of the Confederate cavalry and was little more than observer to most of the battle); the notion that the VMI Cadets were the only ‘under-age’ young men engaged at New Market; and exactly how much Union department commander Franz Sigel and his proposed field army commander Edward O.C. Ord despised one another and the impact that had on the planning stages of the campaign are likely the biggest. I also included in the appendices the battle reports from both Sigel and Confederate commander John C. Breckinridge verbatim, which somehow did not find their way into either the Official Records or the more recent Supplement to the ORs. Also in the appendices are detailed looks at the Bushong family and the history of the battlefield park, as well as an examination of the shell-struck post – a local landmark in New Market which according to legend is evidence of Breckinridge’s brush with death during the battle.

BR: How about a thumbnail sketch of Valley Thunder?

CK: The Battle of New Market is one of those unique small engagements of the Civil War – so small in numbers involved that it really should be little more than a footnote in the overall picture of things, but a number of factors give it historical interest beyond its military significance. In this case, the main factor would be the participation of the Corps of Cadets from Virginia Military Institute.  New Market was the opening engagement in the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, pitting Franz Sigel’s small Federal ‘army’ against a small Confederate force pulled together shortly before the battle led by former U.S. Vice President John C. Breckinridge, whose ‘army’ included the VMI cadets. Although the cadets accounted for only about 250 of Breckinridge’s 4,500-man force, they received the lion’s share of the attention then and now. I’ve taken a lot of ‘new’ sources and worked them into telling the story of the New Market Campaign.

BR: How long did it take to finish Valley Thunder?

CK: From start to finish, 10 years, but that is misleading as I was working in little spurts here, a little there. Usual story – having to fit in this project around work, family, etc.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing processes.

CK: I mentioned above that my first ‘assignment’ at NMBSHP was doing primary document research on the Bushong family. I suppose that could be considered the beginning, as I never really had an epiphany where I just woke up one day and said “I will write a ‘new’ New Market book.”   The late John Heatwole, noted Shenandoah Valley historian and folklore expert, is the one who really convinced me to undertake the project. Davis’s book of course was the main ‘go-to’ source for all the interpreters.  But whenever I found a new source I would always weave it into the tour narrative, and it just sort of snowballed. Suddenly I had a bunch of other sources, and leads on others – some in public repositories, some still in private collections. And with most repositories having lists of their holdings and/or finding aids on-line, it makes tracking down sources a lot easier.

Also I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful assistance and support I’ve gotten from Jack Davis.  I wasn’t sure how he’d react to some new-comer requesting assistance on a topic he had so exhaustively covered many years before. Not only did he point me toward his sources, he was of great help when a few of those sources could not be found, telling everything he remembered about what they said and reading and making recommendations on the manuscript.  He also wrote the foreword – more than I ever hoped for.

BR: Were there any aspects of publishing your first book that you found particularly nerve-wracking?

CK: I had read horror stories of first-time authors having stacks of rejection letters – thankfully that didn’t happen once in my case. After completing the manuscript I was somewhat at a loss as to what to do next. So I turned to the internet trying to track down authors for advice, and Eric Wittenberg graciously agreed to help out – reading the manuscript for me and helping find a publisher. Then having to whittle down the photos I’d gathered to a usable number. And mentally coming to terms with the fact that there are still sources out there – sources that will fill in a lot of the gaps, and sources that will contradict what is now ‘fact.’ But not writing and continuing to collect sources would be awfully Frederick Jackson Turner-like…have to draw the line somewhere and say ‘This is what I have to work from’ and just go with it.

BR: What in Valley Thunder will surprise readers?  Did anyone come off better than they have in the past, or worse?

CK: Franz Sigel has this stigma attached to him of being completely incompetent, and although not entirely unjustified, not entirely warranted either. Sigel did make some very poor tactical decisions, in fact, quite a few of them. But in his defense, he was never intended to be commanding a field army in the Shenandoah. He was much better suited to the administrative role originally intended for him there. Not unlike George McClellan, Sigel had excellent organizational skills. However, he also seems to have been given to playing favorites, so who knows how things could have turned out had he remained behind a desk instead of in the field, given that he didn’t particularly care much for his two principal field commanders – Ord and George Crook.

As to what may surprise readers, I think my analysis of the 23rd Virginia Cavalry will be a different view of their role than what anyone familiar with Davis’ book and other 1864 Valley Campaign literature has to say about them. That is one of those questions that Edward Turner could have laid to rest with his book (maybe by his silence on them, he did), since he was working with a number of veterans of the battle.

Confederate cavalry commander John Imboden performed admirably in the weeks leading up to the battle, yet on the day of the battle he takes his command almost entirely off the playing field to become mere observers and thus they are not there when needed most. Another instance of wishing there were more sources to know what he was thinking/doing.

BR: What are your thoughts on how readers have reacted to the book?

CK: I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the popularity and the reviews Valley Thunder has gotten to date. As this is my first book, I wasn’t sure at all what to expect, but I’m lucky enough to have found a supportive publishing staff and editor in Ted Savas and everyone at Savas Beatie. Both the Military and History Book Clubs have chosen to include it in their offerings, and the Civil War Preservation Trust ran a huge feature on New Market in their summer 2010 issue, in which Valley Thunder figures prominently. And speaking of the two book clubs, Jack Davis again stepped in, providing an excellent review for their catalogs/websites.

BR: Have you decided how to follow the success of Valley Thunder?

CK: I’d like to stay with Shenandoah Valley history, and I keep coming back to the idea of the Battle of McDowell. Although much has been written about McDowell in the context of the 1862 Valley Campaign, there has been little written solely about just that engagement. Or shifting gears to WWII and MacArthur, I’ve gotten to know quite a few guys who served in the General’s Honor Guard 1945-1951 and almost nothing has been written about his Honor Guard, which is a shame considering the stories they have to tell not just about MacArthur but about the end of WWII, the Occupation of Korea and the first year of the Korean War.

It sounds like Charlie isn’t going to rest long on his laurels.  Visit his blog for Valley Thunder here.

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Antietam’s Roulette House

22 08 2010

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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Tour at Liberia

20 08 2010

The Manassas Museum will sponsor a tour of Liberia Plantation (left) on August 28.  The focus is on spies at First Bull Run and the Civil War.  I tend to think the influence on the battle of intelligence received from folks like Rose Greenhow (right) was minimal at best, but it makes for a great story, so why let that get in the way?  See here for details.

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Thanks for the Thanks

17 08 2010

Today I received a nicely inscribed hardcover copy of War Like The Thunderbolt from its author, Russell Bonds.  This replaces the advance reading copy (ARC)/uncorrected proof/bound galley I was provided for review (read that review here).  Russ also included a handwritten Thank You note on a cool card with an embossed image of The General, the subject of Mr. Bonds’s preceding work.

As you can see, my review while generally positive was not free of criticism.  And lots of folks with much bigger wigs than mine reviewed Russ’s book, and some in more glowing terms.  This is the first time any author has gone to such lengths to thank me for a review (though most are generally gracious).  Bloggers who review books – as far as I know – don’t usually receive any compensation for doing so outside of the book itself.  ARCs are first very, very difficult to review (they typically have no indexes or maps and very poor quality images if any) and second they are, well, worthless – we don’t like to put them on our shelves.  So Russ’s gift was very thoughtful and fortunate, as this very successful book has gone into paperback and hardcovers are tough to come by.  And don’t get me started on publishers who offer to provide pdf copies of the book.  Double yoi!

Still, sometimes folks want to get the word out before the product is finished.  Such was the case with Thunderbolt.  Authors and publishers take note – this is the way to do things.  Thanks, Russ – you’re one classy guy!

Potomac Crossing Event 2010

16 08 2010

To honor the 148th Anniversary of the Battle of Shepherdstown, the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association (SBPA) has scheduled a Battlefield Tour including a wading of the Potomac River. The tour is set, rain or shine, for Saturday, September 18, 2010.

Dr. Tom Clemens and Tom McGrath will be the guides. Two tours are scheduled; one to begin at 2:30PM followed by another at 3:30PM. Each tour will last about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

After each tour, the participants will hike to 132 Trough Bend Lane to enjoy a barbecue, beer, wine and soft drinks. We ask for a donation of $30 per person.


After you make your reservation we will email you precise instructions for the tour.

Reserve as soon as possible as we can only accommodate a limited number of participants.

Thank you for your continued support,

SBPA Board of Directors

See here for a summary of the 2009 crossing event.

What’s Up With Me

15 08 2010

For those many, many fans of Bull Runnings who just have to know what’s going on in the exciting, fun-filled life of its host, I have a couple of things going on right now. The most immediate is the completion of the next installment of Collateral Damage for Civil War Times. This will feature a home on a Western Theater farm, though it’s not really on a battlefield and it’s on the Eastern seaboard. I checked the CWT website but don’t see that they’ve ever put one of these articles online. If they ever do, I’ll let you know.  And yes, I will be putting up all the photos I took of the Roulette Farm, my subject of the current issue of the magazine, in the near future.

You may have noticed that I have a speaking date coming up at the Rufus Barringer Civil War Roundtable in Pinehurst, NC in 2011.  After much deliberation, I’ve decided to make a presentation on Peter Conover Hains, the young artillery lieutenant who opened the ball for the Union at Bull Run with a shot from his 30 pdr Parrott, Long Tom.  I’ve been fascinated with his story for a long time, but haven’t really buckled down on it.  Of course I’ll share the fruits with you all here, when the time is right.

Other than the above mentioned date, I really don’t have any firm commitments to speak in 2011, or the rest of 2010 for that matter.  A couple of roundtables have expressed some interest, but I haven’t nailed anything down for sure.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be leading at least on bus tour on the battlefield, but even that isn’t official yet.  Keep in mind that I have incredibly high standards: I pretty much won’t speak to any group unless they say Hey, would you like to speak to our group?

If your group is interested in a Bull Run related program – or one on any of the other Civil War topics I’ve written on here or elsewhere – you can contact me at the email address in the right hand column.

Last, the Facebook fan page is doing well – Bull Runnings has 136 “likers” as of this morning.  If you want to follow on Facebook, you can use the link in the right hand column.

13th Mississippi at First Bull Run

13 08 2010

Dick Stanley has a few posts up on his 13th Mississippi Infantry Regiment blog about that unit and First Bull Run.  Check them out here.

New Blog – Gettysburg Civil War Institute

13 08 2010

There’s another blog in the hot tub, this one from the Gettysburg College Civil War Institute.  Check out Civil War Institute.  OK, maybe this first post is pandering a bit – a version of that wink-wink nudge-nudge McClellan remark that some NPS rangers and other guides throw out there when they feel like they’re losing the crowd.  But I can’t blame them for putting up an attention grabber: it’s a very crowded hot tub, after all!

I’m not sure who will be contributing posts to this blog, but imagine it will be a team of folks headed up by Institute Director Peter Carmichael.  So my expectations are high.