New Journal: Gettysburg College

14 12 2010

The first issue of the Gettysburg College Journal of the Civil War Era, a joint publication of The Civil War Institute and the school’s Civil War Era Studies Department, is available free in pdf format here.  The journal is unique in that it features studies by undergraduates.  Three of the four contributors are currently pursuing their bachelor’s degrees, while the fourth graduated in 2008 and is now working on her master’s.  None attends or attended Gettysburg College, though one was a participant in the Gettysburg Semester in 2009.





Interview: Hirsch & Van Haften, “Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason”

13 12 2010

Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason (Savas Beatie) is probably the most original thesis (or at this point, is it antithesis?) I’ve run across in a long while.  First-time authors and long-time friends David Hirsh (below first) and Dan Van Haften (below second) have been drawing a lot of attention with their study of Lincoln’s consistent use of principles of geometry in the construction of his speeches.  The two-headed Danvid answered a few questions for Bull Runnings.

BR:  Can you tell the readers about yourselves?

DH/DVH:  We met in the first grade.  David is a Des Moines attorney. For more than 10 years he co-authored the technology column for the ABA Journal.  Dan, who lives in suburban Chicago, retired from Alcatel-Lucent in 2007 after 37 years.  His work involved developing and testing telecommunications systems.

BR:   You have unusual backgrounds for Lincoln authors – particularly Dan.   Can you describe the winding road that led you to the wonderful world of Lincoln scholarship?

DH/DVH:  Dan first became interested in Abraham Lincoln in the 1990s when he attended three-day Lincoln seminars in Springfield. In 2006 David was thinking about researching a column for the ABA Journal on how Lincoln would have fared practicing law with today’s technology. Dan joined David and his wife in Springfield. Dan functioned as tour guide; David did research in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. After going through the old Lincoln and Herndon law office, David commented that Abraham Lincoln’s law practice, and small-town midwest law practice in the 1970s appeared to have many similarities. Then we visited the old Springfield train station from which Lincoln departed to Washington as President-elect never to return. David read the plaque outside the station containing Lincoln’s short farewell address. The combination of the touring and the research hooked David on Lincoln. He commented, “I used to think I knew something about Lincoln; I knew nothing.” There is nothing unusual about a lawyer being interested in Lincoln. It is true however that most Lincoln scholars are not lawyers. Added to that is the fact that not much substantive primary source material survives from Lincoln’s law practice. There was no official, court reported, stenographic record back then of opening and closing statements to juries, or of witness examinations. Nor was there recording of appellate oral arguments. Those are the things everyone would love to see. Plus briefs then were truly brief, not what they are today. Modern technology has made more of what survives generally available. That includes many arcane hand-drafted Lincoln legal documents. There are fine source books now like The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases, and Herndon’s Informants, and others. Things fell into place. It turned out that Dan’s math background was an ideal match for David’s legal background. When the book started there was no thought about how useful the math background would be for the book. It was one of many surprises. A secret was ready to be revealed.

BR:  How would you describe your writing and research process?

DH/DVH:  The process of two people jointly writing a book could be a book in itself. It greatly helped that we have known each other since the first grade. Obviously email, Google Books, telephone, Skype, web access to major sources including Basler’s The Collected Works all made it easier. For instance, we each had a print version of major Lincoln resources like Basler. The ability to digitally search was an added and valued tool. We wanted to focus on primary sources.

The initial plan was to focus on Lincoln’s work as a lawyer. We consciously decided that we did not want to deal with Lincoln’s presidential years and his speeches. Countless books had already done that. We felt his Lincoln’s law practice had been under-treated, mainly because of a lack of data. We wanted to use Lincoln’s law practice as a tool to both illuminate it and, by comparison, examine modern legal issues. Little did we realize where this would lead.

Right around the time of the decision not to write about Lincoln’s presidential years and his speeches, Dan stated, “The first thing I want to do is read the complete Lincoln-Douglas debates and the Cooper Union Speech.” To put it mildly, David thought this was a peculiar place to start given the topic limitation that was agreed on. But, not wanting to limit Dan’s creativity, David made no comment. Dan came back with a seven-page handwritten summary of key items from the Lincoln-Douglas debates. One paragraph included a reference which mentioned Euclid. David immediately became excited. David had always believed there was a relationship between math and language, and in his youth had wasted many hours looking for that connection. He instantly felt that this would lead to the connection between math and speech. David asked Dan to find everything in Lincoln literature that discussed or referenced Euclid.

Dan reported that not much was there other than that Lincoln mastered the first six books of Euclid, and his purpose was to learn what it meant to demonstrate.

So David said to Dan , “Do what Lincoln did; study the first six books of Euclid and find out what it means to demonstrate. Then when you find out what demonstrate means, find the best Lincoln example showing it.”

Dan studied Euclid, and then looked at Proclus’ commentary on Euclid. Proclus was a fifth century neo-Platonist philosopher. Dan determined the six elements of a proposition, which Euclid uses to prove his propositions, were used by Lincoln for the structure of the Cooper Union speech. The rest, literally, is history. Suddenly we were propelled into examining Lincoln speeches and his presidential years, in addition to his law practice. It turns out all of this nicely blended into a unified theme. We continued to rely most on primary sources, letting Lincoln speak for himself as much as possible. Then we turned to what his contemporaries said. Once we knew what demonstrate meant, we knew what to look for. Everything fell into place.

BR:  OK, this is probably the most original premise I’ve seen for a Lincoln study in a long time.   Keeping in mind that I scored higher on verbal than math on my SAT, and that the only time I consciously use geometry is when I play pool, can you briefly explain the principles of Euclidean geometry, how we know that Lincoln studied and mastered them, and how you demonstrate that Lincoln consciously used them when composing his speeches?

DH/DVH:  We cover no math in the book more complicated than 2 + 2 = 4. What we do cover is the hidden verbal template that underlies Euclid’s form, which Lincoln uniquely transferred to political argument and speech. This verbal template is profound, but simple.

We know Lincoln studied and mastered Euclidean geometry because he tells us he did in his short 1860 autobiography for John L. Scripps. Furthermore many Lincoln contemporaries who travelled with him on the Circuit comment on Lincoln pulling out Euclid and studying by candlelight. What Lincoln’s colleagues don’t know, and what Lincoln does not say, is specifically what he learned from Euclid. The common assumption, until now, was Lincoln learned Euclid for recreation or to sharpen his mind, kind of like mental calisthenics.

The actual technique is simple, though it takes a little practice to feel comfortable with it.

Here are the names of the six elements of a Euclidean proposition:

  • enunciation
  • exposition
  • specification
  • construction
  • proof
  • conclusion

Now for the definitions. Bear with us. The definitions, when taken together are simple. The terms themselves can be confusing at first because they are unfamiliar in this context. If you want to use this system you should first memorize the names and order of the six elements, then gradually internalize what they are.

For the enunciation, think in terms of: Why are we here. It contains short, indisputable facts. They are part of the given. It also includes a sought. This is a high level statement of the general issue being discussed.

For the exposition, think in terms of: What do we need to know relating to what is given. These are additional facts, generally fairly simple, and indisputable. These facts take what was in the enunciation’s given, and prepare for use in the investigation (in the construction).

For the specification, think: What are we trying to prove. The specification is a more direct restatement of the enunciation’s sought. While the sought is frequently neutrally stated, the specification is a direct statement of the proposition to be proved.

For the construction, think: How do the facts lead to what is sought. The construction adds what is lacking in the given for finding what is sought.

For the proof, think in terms of: How does the admitted truth confirm the proposed inference. The proof draws the proposed inference by reasoning scientifically from the propositions that have been admitted.

For the conclusion, think: What has been proved. The conclusion reverts back to the enunciation confirming what has been proved. The conclusion should be straightforward, forceful, and generally short.

We go into many more aspects of the technique in the book, simplifying and explaining. We also demarcate about 30 Lincoln writings into the six elements of a proposition. Once a Lincoln writing is demarcated, one is literally able to get inside Lincoln’s head. One sees how and why Lincoln makes his word choices.

In between the demarcations are many Lincoln stories showing his character and his characteristics. These give further insight into the man himself which make it easier to feel like one is truly inside his brain. Harvard professor and author John Stauffer characterizes our book as a sophisticated detective story. It is also a how-to manual. Anyone can be an Abraham Lincoln.

To answer your question of how we show Lincoln used this system, the 30 demarcations are the best evidence. The stories and historical comments that surround the demarcations reinforce the conclusion that this was a secret hiding in plain sight. We even construct an “I say” table that further confirms our proposition. You will have to read the book to find out what that is.

BR:  That’s fascinating stuff!  Was Lincoln unique in his use of Euclid’s template?

DH/DVH:  Yes and no. We discovered (for the first time) that Thomas Jefferson used this format for the Declaration of Independence and for his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Jefferson even refers to the religious freedom statute as a proposition. The Declaration proves the proposition that it is our right and duty to throw off allegiance to the British Crown and become free and independent. We demarcate both Declaration and the Statute for Religious Freedom in Chapter 13 of  the book. Like other discoveries in the book, we could not believe we were able to make this discovery so many years after these documents were drafted, and so many years after so many books had been written about them.

Lincoln was an admirer of the Declaration of Independence, and one can speculate that he recognized Jefferson’s use of Euclidean structure in the Declaration. We will never know. Many long regarded the Declaration as Euclidean, for instance the phrase, “all men are created equal”.  We found no reference to the six elements of a proposition in connection with the Declaration. The six elements had essentially been lost in the dust bin of history.

BR:  Are there any speakers (political or otherwise) today who you’ve identified as using this method?

DH/DVH:  Both of the authors have used the technique. The last person prior to that that the authors know used the technique was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln brilliantly transferred the language of geometrical proof to the language of political speech. The technique is usable by anyone. But even if you do not want to learn to speak and write like Lincoln, the technique is invaluable for finding weak spots in others’ arguments. It squeezes out sophistries. And if all you want to do is understand Lincoln better, you can reach a level of Lincoln understanding never before possible.

BR:  Did your research turn up anything that either surprisingly supported or contradicted any notions you held prior to beginning the project?

DH/DVH:  We had no significant prior notions. We followed the evidence wherever it led. It led us to Euclid, which led us to the six elements of a proposition. Only at that point did we set out to prove what Lincoln accomplished. We did not initially intend to cover Lincoln’s presidential years or his speeches. But we needed his speeches to prove our proposition. That led us to Lincoln’s great deception in his Cooper Union Speech, explained in Chapter 3. That again was something we did not anticipate. We could not believe that had gone undiscovered for over 150 years. But it was the six elements that indirectly led us to discover Lincoln’s Cooper Union deception. And in the process of all this, we returned to our original theme. The legal system itself proved to be Euclidean. This is what completes the explanation of how Lincoln was Lincoln.

BR:  How has your book been received so far?   In particular, what has been the reaction of the Lincoln establishment?

DH/DVH:  So far we have received warm embrace. There are flattering adjectives like “groundbreaking”, “astounding”, and “wow moments”. From our standpoint the book was a joy to research and write.

BR:  What’s next for you?

DH/DVH:  The is an endless series of topics to carry forward with the discoveries in Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason. If we find time, we will not run out of topics.

I’m not sure how David and Dan, alone or together, are going to top this effort, but if Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason is any indication, whatever they come up with should be unique.  You can keep up with their doings at www.thestructureofreason.com.





Daily Show Looks at Sesqui “Celebrations” in the South

10 12 2010

Pretty funny bit on The Daily Show about how some folks plan to “celebrate” the Sesquicentennial.  I can’t figure out how to embed this video, so I’ll just link to Kevin’s blog which is where I saw it first.  Funny stuff on many levels, but there’s a funny Bull Run tie-in too.

At the beginning of the bit are clips of a Sons of Confederate Veterans promo.  Notice that as the words “men and women of the south” went off to fight for liberty against overwhelming odds (or words to that effect, but definitely the part in quotes) are spoken a photograph of a West Point cadet is shown.  This cadet is undoubtedly Henry Walter Kingsbury (left), who served on the staff of Irvin McDowell at First Bull Run and was mortally wounded at the head of the 11th Connecticut a little over a year later at Antietam.  So much for setting the record straight.

Read more on Kingsbury here, here and here.





Interview: Gary Ecelbarger, “The Day Dixie Died”

8 12 2010

I first met author Gary Ecelbarger about ten years ago on a tour of the 2nd Bull Run Campaign.  Our senses of humor run along the same lines and we got along well, so we’ve kept in touch off and on, and we booked him for a discussion group tour of the Shenandoah Valley a few years ago.  Gary has a new book out on the Battle of Atlanta, and agreed to talk about it with Bull Runnings.

BR: Gary, can you fill the readers in on your background?

GE: The most important thing to know about me is that I have never played the lottery, never took a vitamin, never purchased bottled water for myself, and have never been convicted of a felony.  That said and out of the way, I should add that I have had a life-long interest in history beginning while growing up in North Tonawanda, NY, 10 miles upriver from Niagara Falls; but I chose science as my academic background, graduating with an M.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’ve lived in Western NY for 23 years, Wisconsin for 5, and  Northern Virginia for almost 20 years (the math should tally up to 48 years). I’ve been married since 1989 and reside about 20 miles west of Washington D.C. in Annandale, VA with my wife Carolyn (a Georgetown professor) and three teen-aged children. I’ve worked at area hospitals for most of that time, primarily in ICUs, where I’ve taught a little, conducted some research, and primarily have developed nutritional regimens to infuse through IV lines or through tubes into very sick people.

I started writing history in the mid-90s. The Day Dixie Died: The Battle of Atlanta is my eighth book which includes two co-written works. I have also published about 20 articles.  My book, magazine, and journal topics are primarily focused in the mid 1800s.  I also have researched heavily into the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, the American Revolution and Western exploration.  I have spoken at several symposia and conducted tours within all these arenas of yesteryear– hired by touring companies, Civil War Roundtables, and other historic-minded organizations.

For what it’s worth I used to be as crazy for professional sports as I was for history but when your boyhood idol kills his wife and another, and your team loses four consecutive Super Bowls and hasn’t made major waves in 15 years, that interest gets tempered a bit. But I’m still a Bills fan and have followed the Atlanta Braves since the 70s—from the days of Hank Aaron, Ralph Garr, Phil Niekro, Bob Horner, and Dale Murphy. I like hockey and still consider the Miracle on Ice as the most thrilling event I ever saw although my kids will never appreciate it. Sometimes I miss the Cold War!

I must say I enjoy everything that I do which is really what life is all about, isn’t it?

BR:  What sparked your interest in history in general and the Civil War especially, and what made you decide to publish?

GE:  I remember migrating to history books in my elementary school years. My father also shares this interest which he and I discuss more now than we even did when I was a child. I chose American history courses as all my electives as an undergraduate in Buffalo.

My interest in the Civil War has been with me since childhood but it blossomed to a passion more than 20 years ago during my graduate school years in Wisconsin when I took a trip to visit my then-girlfriend’s (and now my wife’s) brother in a Maryland suburb of D.C.  We stopped at Gettysburg along the way and I became so hooked that I finagled a way for us to visit Manassas, Antietam, and Harper’s Ferry during this vacation. I devoured nearly 50 books about the Civil War in one year after coming back to Madison (I remember slipping in chapters here and there between rat experiments in the lab where I worked).  The basement stacks of the state historical library and archives became my morning routine and also where I started researching topics through their extensive and national newspaper collections. I’d be lying if I said that the Civil War played no role in my decision to take a job in Northern Virginia—within an hour’s drive of so many battlefields—at the end of ’91.

My interest and research experience intensified throughout the 90s.  I live 20 miles from the Library of Congress and National Archives. I took an interest in Kernstown with me from Madison and met the people necessary to conduct me on my first trip onto private property to visit the battlefield. I turned that into my first book topic (“We are in for it!”,: The First Battle of Kernstown), urged on by Bill Miller who had recently organized the Bull Run Civil War Roundtable and as then editor of a Civil War magazine, he oversaw my first publications of book reviews and other small pieces, including an editing credit for a wonderful letter I found on the Battle of Shiloh which was still getting cited nearly 15 years after I had it published.  Bill encouraged me to turn my Kernstown research into a book and also got me in contact with the folks at White Mane (they had published his Camp Curtain book) and they took on my Kernstown project.  Perhaps I eventually would have entered the magazine and book writing world, but Bill Miller is the reason that all started in the mid-90s.

BR:  Can you walk us through the progression from your first book to this one?

GE:  I’m really glad you asked that question (not that I was suggesting that your other questions  were subpar!). If someone sees that between the summer of 2005 and today that I have published 4 books, the first thing that would pop in their heads is that these must be the product of incomplete, haphazard research.  That’s what I would think, so it’s important to see how I took advantage of the cycle of researching, writing, and publishing as book.

I finished the Kernstown manuscript in the early spring of ’96, but it would not be published for nearly 1 ½ years.  In that time I was hired by Kirk Denkler, an editor of the Voices of Civil War Series for Time-Life Books (a lucky break for me). Denkler got word of all the unpublished letters I discovered about the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign and had me write captions and battle descriptions for their Valley volume and for the Fredericksburg book that followed. By the time the Kernstown book was published I had already started writing my biography of a Western explorer and general named Frederick Lander. He commanded Shields’s division until 3 weeks before Kernstown when he unexpectedly died.  The first chapter of my Kernstown book was my lead in to him.  I published that book (Frederick W. Lander: The Great Natural American Soldier) with LSU Press in 2000 and was already working on my Front Royal Winchester book in the year and a half between manuscript submission and the publication of Lander. I wrote 8 chapters of that Valley book and then sat on it for almost 8 years after I was unsuccessful at landing an agent to represent it.

In the meantime, before Lander was published and while I was writing Front Royal/Winchester I became fascinated by “Black Jack” Logan and also the Atlanta campaign.  I researched both topics together and separately for a few years and decided to write a one-volume bio of Logan’s life and career.  I made the conscious decision not to craft this as a Civil War book (completely opposite from my approach to Lander), but rather a fairly equal and representation of his entire life—almost a political bio of a Civil War general. I succeeded in getting representation for this, submitted the manuscript in ’04, and got it published (Black Jack Logan: An Extraordinary Life in Peace and War) by Lyon’s Press in the summer of ’05.  I deliberately kept much of my Atlanta campaign material out of that book knowing it would receive a separate treatment someday.

Now comes some major overlap of several book topics and a big career decision. Late in the autumn of ’03 I made my first of what would be at least half a dozen trips to Springfield, Illinois to research Logan material at the state library and archives and also to plan a Lincoln tour for the Civil War Education Association. I decided to expand my research to include pre-Presidential Lincoln, or as I like to call it LBTB—Lincoln Before the Beard. The tour I designed throughout central Illinois included a heavy focus on events leading to Lincoln’s nomination. Two years later with much more Lincoln research completed by the fall of ’05 and a few months after Logan came out, I realized I should get a trade publisher to take a Lincoln topic with the Lincoln Bicentennial approaching, but my research and writing projects were restricted by my full-time (and then some) clinical job.  With my wife’s blessing I took a shot and did what a writer should never do—I quit my day job at the end of ‘05 after 14 years to try to make a full-time career as a writer, speaker, and tour guide.

I went back to full-time hospital work exactly four years later (insert heavy sigh here). I could blame the sudden turn in the economy, but it would have been tough even in a boom.  I was productive, though. In the winter of ’06 I finished the remaining chapters of the old Front Royal/Winchester book and found an excellent home for it with the University of Oklahoma Press. I also landed an agent for my Lincoln nomination project—Ed Knappman of New England Publishing Associates. He struck a deal with Thomas Dunne Books (an imprint of St. Martin’s Press) and I spent the rest of 2006 and the first half of 2007 completing the research and writing that manuscript. Early in ’08 I believe, the good folks at Thomas Dunne suggested to Ed that they would be interested in publishing a Civil War book from me if there was a big battle out there that had yet to be covered. I pounced on that one with the Battle of Atlanta (By this time I had already conducted four of my five trips down there to study what was left of the field and conduct more research) and immediately went to work on it.

This is how I suddenly had three books published on completely unrelated Civil War era topics in the past 30 months. Three Days in the Shenandoah, Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester, mostly written between 2000-2002, was published in April of 2008; The Great Comeback: How Abraham Lincoln Beat the Odds to Win the 1860 Republican Nomination, written in 2006-2007, was published five months later in September of 2008; and now The Day Dixie Died, written in 2008-2009 and submitted in October of 2009, has just been released this past Thanksgiving.  And boy am I thankful I got all of that–along with a few articles, several speeches and several history tours, and a fairly extensive book tour—completed before I went back to work again in February of 2010.

BR:  What is your research/writing process?

GE:  I think the previous answer offered a good glimpse into my process.  I can only write in the mornings.  Prior to 2006 I would write from about 4:30 a.m. until I left for work. During my four-year retirement, I began a few hours later but I usually was done before noon.  I would review material I intended to use in my morning’s work the evening before.  I’m not much of a typist and rarely write more than a couple of pages in a stint, but I usually get 5-6 days in per week so I usually could finish writing a book manuscript within 12-15 months from the start date. After Kernstown, my start date for each book usually began the day after I submitted the previous manuscript. That running tradition ended last year after I submitted the Atlanta manuscript. This past year is the first time in 15 years that I have gone more than a month without actively writing a book.

I usually feel comfortable enough to start writing with about 65-75% of the research completed and then fill in the blanks as I acquire new and usable material. My books are outlined in chapter summaries before I write them. This is a requirement for a nonfiction book proposal which is submitted with just one or two sample chapters written. With one exception (the Lincoln book), I rarely begin with chapter one. For example, I wrote the battle chapters first in all three of my battle books and finished with the introductory and concluding material afterwards. Similarly, the first chapter of both of my biographies ended up being the last chapter I wrote. I can never be convincingly charged with having a padded bibliography because I create my bibliographies from my footnotes, so I only reference in the end what I cite within a chapter.  I don’t use index cards or transcribed notes—I am a photocopy animal. I organize my sources as copies of letters, diaries, memoirs, archive material, newspapers, etc. and either group them by subtopic or by chapter where they are intended to be used.  I get familiar with a source by the way it looks as a photocopy—I still remember how photocopied items look many years after I have used them for a book.

If I have a knack about anything as a writer it is the ease at which I can compartmentalize a battle or a life story into distinct chapters. I tend to end my chapters with a little cliffhanger or two to entice the reader to go on to the next one. I don’t hash out disagreements between claims in primary source material in the narrative; instead, I’ll come down on one side or another based on the quality and quantity of the available evidence and then bring out the opposition to my conclusion in the respective footnote. I always try to maintain a strong flow of the story without throwing in speculations and suppositions to break the flow, but make sure to elaborate on “the story behind the story” in the footnotes.

My research techniques have evolved with experience and time. Prior to 2002 or so the Internet was not that helpful to me for history research; now it is a godsend. Except for hiring private researchers to acquire some genealogy and local history work for biographies and researcher extraordinaire Bryce Suderow for archival work for one of my battle books, I usually conduct my own research and gladly accept items generously provided by others. I have already accumulated primary source material for three future projects while on research trips for books that I was writing at the time. I try to keep my book topics finite enough to make research a fruitful and not too expansive effort. For example, I didn’t delve into Army of the Cumberland sources for my Battle of Atlanta book since they were not active in the battle, realizing however, that there may have been opinions or first-hand accounts within that material pertinent to my topic that I missed.  I had to cut off the notion of reading a Union soldier’s Peachtree Creek letter in the hopes he talked about the Atlanta battle two days later because he would not be a participant of that battle and if he said anything, it was likely a hearsay opinion.

I learned to look for things I never had access to or conceived a decade ago.  I purposely spell names wrong in search engines in hopes of – and oftentimes succeeding in – finding a primary account where the soldier misspelled his commander’s name or where he was. For biographies, if I look for an opinion or account of something that occurred, for example, in the first week of January of 1864, I’ve learned to look at handwritten letters also headed with an early January date in 1863, because human tendency was and still is to misdate letters, documents, checks, etc., in a new year with the previous year’s designation for the first week or so. (I wonder how many good Stones River/Murfreesboro accounts are still hidden in letters dated January of 1862 rather than 1863.)  But now I am straying from the topic . . . The most important facet of my research is newspaper letters.  They are a researcher’s dream: they are primary source material, oftentimes contemporary, already transcribed, and not subject to copyright infringement, and although they are technically considered “published,” they have been virtually unseen for nearly 150 years.  I use more than 50 of these in my latest book and placed them under a separate bibliographic heading rather than the misleading “Newspapers Cited.”

BR:  There have been two books on the battles for Atlanta released over the past two years. How does yours differ from those?

GE:  I was aware that both of those books were being written either before or very early into my battle book. From what I heard at the time I was convinced that my subject was much more pinpointed than theirs and when both of those books came out in the summer of ’09 I was relieved to see that they not only don’t repeat my topic, they enhance interest in the period. The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta is primarily a social history about Atlanta during the war and the war’s impact upon its citizenry. War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta includes “The Battle of Atlanta” in the subtitle but is actually referring to “the battles for Atlanta.”  That book deals with the last half of the Atlanta Campaign with a focus on its effect on the city. He has two chapters dedicated to the same topic as my book. I believe it is Mr. Bonds himself who proclaims the need for book-length attention to the individual battles of the campaign. Regardless, I read both books with interest and relief that mine was not a copycat of theirs. I think they are both outstanding books.

BR:   Were there any surprises you uncovered in your research, or anything that conflicted with or confirmed any notions you may have held prior to starting the project?

GE:  I approached this book the same way I did with the other battle books I have written. I tried to rid myself of any preconceived notions from other secondary sources and let the primary source research direct me. This battle was more difficult to interpret compared to the Shenandoah Valley battles I covered. There are powerful voices from the past making claims that are absolutely refuted by the Official Records and other solid primary sources.  For example General Sherman in his memoirs insisted that The Army of the Tennessee fought the battle alone without assistance from their northern neighbor, Schofield’s Army of the Ohio.  Yet, it’s clear that 10,000 members of that army were deployed to do just that.  They were never engaged but they were deployed late in the afternoon.  Also, the notion that XVII Corps troops fought a two-front contest on and near Bald Hill by jumping from one side of the earthworks to the other and back again is literally true, but the impression that this feat was accomplished seemingly after every volley or two may only be true for one harried Iowa regiment at the end of the line. Other corps members fought a two-front battle but not against troops that were attacking consecutively from opposite directions.  Instead, one side seemingly attacked within minutes after their comrades converging from the opposite direction were repulsed. I even found that I could not accept the tradition surrounding the deaths of the highest ranking officers on each side. General McPherson could not have been mortally wounded as late as 2:02 p.m. as a damaged watch found by an orderly suggests, but in my opinion, it had to be at least 20 minutes earlier. I also refute the site of Confederate General William H. T. Walker’s death, and place it at 1:00 p.m. instead of before noon and I also place it about a mile northwest of where his monument currently stands.

I came to realize that to interpret this battle General Hood must not be viewed through the prism of the Tennessee Campaign which followed—two entirely different campaigns run by a general who was not the same commander at Atlanta than he was at Franklin and Nashville. I find much less to fault in Hood’s strategy and tactics at Atlanta than most others who have written about him. The similarities to Hood’s circumstances and Robert E. Lee’s in front of Richmond in the late spring and summer of 1862 are remarkable. Both men necessarily sacrificed 20,000 troops to save their beleaguered city from capture. Lee succeeded and Hood failed in the end, but I don’t credit the obvious difference in talent between Lee and Hood to be the major determinant to those disparate outcomes. I also maintain that the Army of Tennessee divisions and brigades defending Atlanta were clearly more experienced and led by commanders who were at least the equals of those in Lee’s army two years before. In my mind the major difference in the outcome was the confidence, efficiency, experience and skill of the Western soldiers fighting within Sherman’s three armies compared to those in McClellan’s Army of the Potomac in 1862. This is clearly apparent at the Battle of Atlanta. On opposite ends of the Union line troops were routed from their entrenchments and yet the panic was isolated, it did not last, and was replaced by resurgence to claim the lost ground. I can only point to Cedar Creek three months later as an example where you see this on a comparative scale to Atlanta on July 22, 1864. Hood’s battle plan perhaps was too ambitious to pull off but it had a chance to work except that the army he struck again and again refused to leave the field. The fact that Hood was applying a go-for-broke strategy—a “Hail Mary” if you will—indicates that he was considering in forethought what I have concluded in hindsight: that the Battle of Atlanta was the turning point of the campaign.

I also have appreciated from my work on this project that the unit of tactical impact in 1861 and early in 1862 appears to be the regiment, but in 1864 this progresses to the brigade and division. Brigades in 1864 were not only close to the size of regiments in 1861-1862 but also the added two years of experience made the brigade a much more cohesive fighting unit. No better example of this can be seen than by the accomplishment of Brigadier General Daniel Govan’s Arkansas brigade (in Cleburne’s Division), who turned in one of the most spectacular performances in the War. In less than half an hour Govan’s men routed a larger Iowa brigade (a unit that had proven the day before and would prove later this day that it was no pushover)  from its entrenchments—earthworks supported by artillery—killing, wounding and capturing more than 400 Federal soldiers and capturing 8 cannons. This was an awesome performance that should not have gone unnoticed as long as it did.

These were some of the many new “takes” on the battle that I have discovered.

BR:  How was this book different to write compared to your others, particularly those about the 1862 Shenandoah Valley battles?

GE:  This book required more pre-planning than any book I have written before, largely because of the inherent impediments that have bogged down writers and readers of the Atlanta Campaign and other campaigns of the Western theater.  The too-similar names of the opposing armies are a good indicator of these troubles: Army of Tennessee versus the Army of the Tennessee. There are six brigade and division commanders surnamed “Smith” in this battle and very few of the generals, Smith or otherwise, in this contest are household names of the Civil War except to those well versed in the Atlanta campaign. My challenge was to not only create a purely nonfiction battle study for them but to broaden the appeal to Eastern Theater Civil War aficionados and general readers of American history without condescending to the Western Theater buffs. Adding to these challenges is working around large-scale attacks (such as that conducted by General Carter Stevenson’s division) which have almost no documentation in the official records or any other useful primary source document.

Not to be overlooked is the mind-numbing challenge to rookie and veteran readers of recognizing Confederate brigades and divisions identified by a previous, popular commander who no longer leads the unit in this battle. For example, General Granbury no longer leads Granbury’s Brigade in this battle—Brigadier General James A. Smith does. So why should I ever mention Granbury’s name? This source of confusion comes up front and center when we deal with Cheatham’s Division of Tennessee soldiers in Hardee’s Corps. General Cheatham isn’t in charge of these men at the Battle of Atlanta; General George Maney is. Cheatham’s in charge of Hood’s Corps in this battle.  See the problem?  If I write “Cheatham’s men” am I referring to the Tennesseans in Cheatham’s Division or to the soldiers in Hood’s Corps, now commanded by Cheatham?  And I definitely wanted to avoid the cumbersome reminder like: “Cheatham’s Division commanded this day by General Maney.”

After working this out and testing it in bar-stool discussions with folks on my tours I found a way to write this narrative far different from most of the styles I have read in the past, and I included a special “Author’s Note” at the beginning of the book to inform the reader of the pitfalls and what I have done to avoid them.  Long story short, I avoid the official names of both armies in the same sentence or paragraph, I always use the full name of Colonel Smith or General Smith (as well as in the maps), and I refer to a Confederate brigade or division only by its commander on the battlefield followed by a lower case letter to designate the unit (i.e., Maney’s division instead of Cheatham’s Division).

I also deliberately chose to describe my attacks at the regimental level as I have done in the past, but sometimes l kept the description at that of the brigade. I experimented with complete regimental descriptions within all brigades but came to the conclusion that while this tact appeals to many readers of military history, it also unnecessarily jeopardized the comprehension of what I was trying to describe if I found that the regiments were working cohesively within the brigade (refer to my earlier position on Civil War brigades in 1864). My maps also reflect this decision; many of them show regiments while others are depicted at the brigade level. I also need to admit here that the occasional dearth of source material available to describe a portion of the battle, particularly on the Confederate side, prevented me from breaking down a brigade to its components because I did not (and still do not) know exactly how all the regiments were aligned within the brigade. A recent and fair review from Drew Wagenhoffer recognizes this decision and appears to understand the reason for it and accepts it.  I hope other readers agree with his conclusion.

BR:  How has the book been received so far?

GE:  Reviews thus far have been positive. I am confident with what I found, what I wrote, and how I wrote it. The book won’t appeal to some and others may have preferred a different emphasis, but I’m certain that all will read a story that either they had never heard before or one that clarifies a previously muddled interpretation.

BR:   What’s next for you?

GE:  There will be a “next” but I need to adapt to a new timetable since I now leave for work at the same time I used to write before work. I’m not sure if this will be the next book yet, but a natural follow up to The Day Dixie Died is a book about the next battle of the campaign fought between these two “Tennessee” armies: The Battle of Ezra Church.

Hopefully Gary can continue to produce good books despite his return to the workforce and retaking his palce as a productive member of society.  I suspect he will.





Blogroll Update

8 12 2010

I’ve updated the blogroll once again.  There are a number of additions, some of them are new and some of them have been around for a little while.  Check it out, mostly good stuff there.  If you know of any sites not listed, let me know.  I’ll check them out and if in my magnanimity I deem them worthy, I’ll add them next time around.





In the Works

6 12 2010

Lots of stuff going on around here, but I’m way to busy to get to everything for a little while.  I’m teaching a class tomorrow and trying to get the PowerPoint done.  Then of course all day tomorrow will be taken up with that and winding down from same.  Then I have my next Collateral Damage to finish up – my editor was kind enough to give me an extension.  Hint: this story ties-in directly to the focus of Bull Runnings while at the same time being something of a departure for the column.  I received the paperwork for my Civil War Institute tour and need to figure and fill that out.  And of course (real) work has picked up just when I least expected it.  Once that’s all out of the way – or at least put in better order – I’ll have for you:

  • a new author interview – the longest one yet!
  • a preview/review of an upcoming PBS documentary on a Civil War personality
  • a preview of the new issue of Civil War Times
  • tentatively, an interview with two authors who have written a new Lincoln Book from a Different Point of View (thank you, Jimmy Buffett).  This book will challenge me, as I scored much higher in verbal than math on my SAT.  That’ll make more sense later.

Just let me get through this week and we should be good to go.





Interview: Tonia Smith, Author and Professional ACW Researcher

3 12 2010

Here’s an interview that’s a bit of a departure from the formula:  Tonia “Teej” Smith, while an established author in her own right, is probably most noted as a professional researcher (she’s even helped out Bull Runnings on occasion).  Her name may be familiar to you if you read the acknowledgements sections of a number of Civil War books published in the past 10 years or so.  Teej has also moderated a couple of Civil War email discussion groups and founded the Rufus Barringer Civil War Roundtable in Pinehust, NC, where I’ll be speaking for the second time this coming May.  Always a great friend, Ms. Smith graciously consented to answer a few questions for Bull Runnings and shed some light on a little known aspect of that there book-writin’ process.

BR:  Can you tell the millions of Bull Runnings readers a little about yourself?
 
TS:  I’m a native Tar Heel, born in Oxford, NC, but, my dad being a career soldier, I was an army brat for the first thirteen years of my life. We did a couple of tours in Germany and were stationed stateside in a number of posts such as Fort Riley, Kansas, Fort Carson, Colorado and my personal favorite, Fort Knox, Kentucky. We came back to North Carolina when I was in the 8th grade and, except for a two year sojourn in Fredericksburg, Virginia, I’ve been here ever since. I now live in the golf capitol of North Carolina, Pinehurst, but I have no interest in chasing the little white ball. In 2001, with the urging and support of some dear friends, I started the Rufus Barringer Civil War Roundtable in Pinehurst. We began with fourteen members meeting in my sunroom and finished last year with eighty-one paid members in our third meeting place. I still serve on the board of the RBCWRT and am its program director.  Over the years I began doing research for various Civil War authors and eventually began writing articles myself. I also got involved in presenting Civil War programs at local schools and doing roundtable programs based on the articles I’ve written. 
 
BR:  What was it that got you interested in history, and in the Civil War era in particular?
 
TS:  You might say my dad, who was himself a history buff, planted the seed when he took me to my first battlefield, Stones River, and lifted me up so that I could touch a minie ball buried in a witness tree. What I remember most about that trip was the cold and mist (it was January) and the intense silence across the field.  I then took about a thirty-five year hiatus from studying the war when I got involved in school, marriage and raising a family. What brought me back may surprise you. While channel-surfing one Sunday afternoon in the mid 1990s I came across an advertisement for THE MOVIE aka Ted Turner’s Gettysburg. After watching it, I bought the book The Killer Angels, on which the movie was based, and joined an online discussion group that was and still is dedicated to the study of the Gettysburg campaign. I then began building my own library. At first I was all over the place with my studies, trying to learn about individual battles, whole campaigns, and commanders all at the same time. Trying to make up for lost time, you might say, but it didn’t take me long to realize I was going to have to narrow my field of interest if I didn’t want to become overwhelmed. From the very beginning, I was drawn to J.E.B. Stuart and his cavalry. The first biography I bought was Manley Wade Wellman’s Giant In Gray.  However, what attracts me most to the Civil War period are the characters that you might say were created by the war. I don’t mean the central players like R.E. Lee, U.S. Grant, Stonewall Jackson, etc but people such as Confederate nurse Abby House, or the Cape Fear Minutemen, or cousins Orton Williams and Walter Gipson Peter, both also cousins of Mrs. Robert E. Lee who were executed on June 9, 1863, for spying at Franklin, Tennessee. History has all but forgotten these people but, in my opinion, it’s their stories and stories like theirs, that add the richness and color, and in many cases, the humanity to that era. 
 
BR:  How did you get started as a researcher for other authors? 
 
TS:  As realtors like to say “Location, Location, Location…” Seriously, a writer friend of mine knew that I live just over an hour from the libraries at the University of North Carolina and Duke University. One day he asked me if I would be interested in taking a look-see at a couple of collections he knew to be at those two schools. Like so many researchers, I immediately fell in love with “the hunt,” but I also found out that I have a knack for digging out the arcane tidbit. More importantly, I’m pretty good at deciphering the flowery penmanship prevalent in Civil War era letters, diaries and journals. 
 
BR:  Can you mention some names, like who you’ve worked with and any specific books/articles?
 
TS:  Eric Wittenberg and I share a passion for all things cavalry so I’ve worked more with him than anyone else, most particularly, Glory Enough For All: Sheridan’s Second Raid And The Battle of Trevilian Station and The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads and The Civil War’s Final Campaign. Monroe’s Crossroads is just thirty miles from my home so you can understand why I would be interested in it. I’ve also done some work for Dave Powell on his Chickamauga project and for Sheridan “Butch” Barringer whose biography of Brig.Gen. Rufus Barringer, commander of the North Carolina Cavalry Brigade is still in the works. Two years ago I assisted Stevan Meserve in researching his footnotes for an annotation of a journal that eventually became the book In The Shadow of the Enemy: The Civil War Journal of Ida Powell Dulany. If I had to choose a favorite it would be having contributed to A Little Short of Boats: The Fights at Ball’s Bluff and Edwards Ferry, October 21-22, 1861, by Jim Morgan, both his original edition and the newly revised edition due out next spring. Those last two projects were a bit of challenge for me since they were not cavalry specific. 
 
BR:  Can you describe your research process?
 
TS:  It varies. Sometimes an author will send me to a list of collections found at a specific repository/archive with the request that I look for a  letter or letters known to be in that collection. Most often though, authors send me a list and an overview of what they hope to find in those collections. In which case, it becomes my job to look for references in those collections that are specific to my author’s needs. That often requires that I read every letter in a collection. And sometimes I do come up empty, but that is not as disappointing as it sounds. Often it simply means that the letter writer wasn’t present at an event or he did not find it important enough to write about it. What does take the wind out one’s sails is coming across the letter that begins, “Brother John should be home by now and no doubt has told you all about the battle of __________ so I will not go into the details again…”   Sigh…

It’s an entirely different process when I’m doing research for myself since I have to start from scratch. Often I can get an idea of where to start to search by looking at bibliographies of other authors who have written on  similar topics but most often it comes down to running names, events and locations through the search engines of various universities and other archival sites. I generally start with the universities closest to home and branch out from there. Even when I find what I think I need in the collections at Duke or Chapel Hill, I will still check other facilities to make sure that all of my bases are covered. Whether I’m working for myself or another author, the process has been greatly simplified by the growing number of research institutions that allow the use of digital cameras. In the same amount of time it used to take me to copy a few letters in a file, I can photograph the entire file and then decide what is truly needed at a later time. Another lesson I’ve learned is if the research facility has a card catalog as well as an online finding aid, use both. Often things in the card catalogs fall through the cracks in the transcription process.  
 
BR:  What are some of the surprises you uncovered in your research?
 
TS:  WOW…that’s actually a tough question as I have seldom completed a research project without finding some surprising tidbit that either confirmed what I originally had thought or told me that I was going in the wrong direction. But one that comes to readily to mind was a letter written by J.E.B. Stuart to Custis Lee, April 9, 1864, that I found at Virginia Historical Society while researching material for an article on Flora Cooke Stuart [wife of J. E. B.]. It was marked “confidential” and with good reason. Most cavalry folks know there was no love lost between Stuart and Wade Hampton but until I saw this letter, I had no idea of the extent to which Stuart was prepared to go to rid himself of the troublesome South Carolinian. Stuart also made a reference to the need for him and Custis to do what they could to keep cavalry chieftain, Fitz Lee, from drinking for the duration of the war. Her husband was barely cold in his grave before Stuart’s chief of staff, H.B. McClellan, wrote to Flora to warn her of the destructive nature of this letter and to suggest that she get the letter from Custis Lee and destroy it. Lee, too, was all for destroying the letter but Mrs. Stuart refused to do so.  The Jonathan Olds’ Flora Cooke Stuart Papers at Virginia Historical Society - which I was fortunate to be allowed to access even before they were cataloged - turned out to be a virtual gold mine of little known facts concerning the Stuart family after Yellow Tavern. 
 
BR:  Can you describe any instances where your research turned up anything that either conflicted with or confirmed your preconceived notions prior to starting a project?
 
TS:  One of the questions I’m most often asked when I do a program on Flora Stuart is whether there was ever reconciliation between the Stuarts and the Cookes. While I knew that Philip St. George Cooke reached out to his daughter when he heard about Jeb’s death, I hadn’t until recently been able to determine if she responded to him. Letters written by Cooke to his nephew, John Esten Cooke, which were recently posted on a website maintained by Cooke family descendants, indicated that she did. There is conclusive proof at Virginia Historical Society that Cooke also reconciled with his son, Brig. Gen. John Rogers Cooke, CSA.

The “smoking gun” that continues to elude me is proof positive that Orton Williams was not a glory hound so consumed with a desire to make a name for himself that he ended up getting himself and his cousin killed at Franklin, Tennessee. However, two years ago, I found a heretofore unpublished letter in the Mary Lee papers at Virginia Historical Society written April 7, 1863 by R.E. Lee to Orton Williams which totally debunked the often told story that Lee considered Williams a drunk and a failure. It also put to rest the notion that Orton’s immediate superiors, too, considered him a failure, and had removed him from command.  Add to that another unpublished letter I found at Duke’s Perkins Library which was written by J.E.B. Stuart at about the same time as the Lee letter to an unnamed colonel serving in the western theatre.  In his letter, Stuart stated he was he was pleased that the colonel was returning to serve in Virginia where “he should have been all along.” Lee, too, expressed a desire to have Williams back in Virginia. Not exactly resounding evidence that Williams and Peter had a legitimate reason to go to Fort Granger dressed in Union uniforms but if previous historians were wrong about the nature and character of Orton Williams which is the basis for their claim that Williams was unstable then in what other areas of the story might they have erred?

BR:  Can you tell us something about your own writing and speaking engagements?
 
TS:  My first article was titled Gentlemen, You Have Played This D____ed Well, published in the September 2005 issue of North and South Magazine. It was the story of the capture and execution of the aforementioned Confederate officers Colonel William Orton Williams and his first cousin, Lieutenant Walter Gibson Peter. Since then I’ve had an article on Confederate nurse Abby House published by America’s Civil War  and one in Civil War Times on the Stuart-Custis Lee letter. My article on Flora Cooke Stuart is still pending with ACW. I’ve done programs on Flora Stuart for the Loudoun County CWRT in Leesburg, Va., and the Eastern Loudoun County CWRT in Sterling Virginia, and for the Stuart-Mosby Historical Society in Richmond this past May. I’ve also spoken on Mrs. Stuart to various roundtables in my home state of North Carolina and will go to Huntsville, Alabama next June to tell her story of life without Jeb to the Tennessee Valley CWRT. In addition to the Stuart programs, I’ve also given presentations on Aunt Abby House, Confederate nurse; the capture and imprisonment of Brig. Gen. Rufus Barringer, the only Confederate general in uniform that Abraham Lincoln met; and the execution of Williams and Peter, most recently at the 2009 Longwood Seminar in Lynchburg, Virginia. 
 
BR:  What’s next for you?  

TS:  I’m very excited about a new research project that I will be starting next week for James Hessler, author of Sickles At Gettysburg. Jim’s next book will concern Lt. Gen. James Longstreet at Gettysburg and I will be going to Perkins Library at Duke and Wilson Library at UNC for him. On May 10, 2011, I will debut a new program based on the capture of Forts Caswell and Johnson on the North Carolina coast in January 1861 by a group of men out of Wilmington, NC who called themselves the Cape Fear Minutemen. Like my other roundtable presentations, this one will be based on an article that I am in the process of writing.

There are quite a few folks who owe Teej a lot, including writers, readers – and bloggers.  I have a couple of tidbits she scrounged up that I’ll be adding to the Resources section here in the future.  If you’re an author with research needs of your own and would like to explore the possibility of working with Teej, she can be reached at teej@nc.rr.com.





Winfield Scott’s “Operational Art”

2 12 2010

Dmitri Rotov has this interesting series going on Winfield Scott that looks at what Dmitri calls Scott’s “first two offensives” from a slightly different angle.  Check it out.





Manassas in the News

2 12 2010

Here are a couple of news items concerning the battlefield and surrounding area.

This one on cemeteries located on the battlefields of Manassas.

And this one on expectations for tourism in the coming year.





Gettysburg College Civil War Institute Conference 2011 Schedule

1 12 2010

The schedule for the 2011 Gettysburg College Civil War Institute conference, Mobilizing for War and the Battle of First Manassas/Bull Run, has been announced.  They’ve put together quite a lineup of speakers and guides.  The conference runs from June 26 to July 1, with guided tours of the First Bull Run battlefield slated all day on Wednesday, June 29.  Each of the seven guides will be leading their own specialized tour.  The tours are part of the conference package and cannot be attended separately.   The guides are:

  • Ed Bearss
  • Ray Brown
  • Jim Burgess
  • Ethan Rafuse
  • Joe Rizzo
  • Harry Smeltzer
  • Greg Wolf

You can find the full conference schedule here; registration info here.  As more on the tours becomes available, I’ll let you know.








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