Ronald Griffin’s The 11th Alabama Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War was published in 2008 by McFarland & Company and was recently reprinted in a more affordable paperback edition. Below, Mr. Griffin answers some questions about himself and the book.
RG: I am an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention and have been a pastor for about twenty-seven years. In addition, I have been a lecturer in Hebrew on the seminary level, and lectured as well on the College level. I have had the opportunity to study abroad at the University of Stellenbosch and the Queens University of Belfast. I hold a doctoral degree from New Orleans Theological Seminary. I am married with three children and four grandchildren, and Mobile, Alabama, is my hometown. Outside of my unpublished master’s thesis and doctoral project, the 11th Alabama is my first published work.
BR: What got you interested in studying Civil War?
RG: I have always been interested in the Civil War. I remember playing with Civil War soldiers as a kid and hearing my Grandma Griffin talking about our family Civil War stories. I can’t point to one particular person who engendered my interest in the field, but simply a growing interest from childhood that culminated in intensive research in Civil War studies. A few works stand out in my budding interest in the field: Shelby Foote’s three volumes, The Civil War: A Narrative, Douglas S. Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command, and McMillan’s The Alabama Confederate Reader. Other influential writers along my journey have been James M. McPherson, and James I. Robertson. The Official Records and the many published works by the soldiers who fought in the war have fueled my passion. I was also greatly influenced in pursuing academic excellence while studying under Dr. Allen C. Guelzo.
BR: What were you hoping to accomplish with The 11th Alabama Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War? What was the story you were trying to tell, and what did you want the reader to come away with after reading it?
RG: The work began on a personal note after discovering that several of my ancestors had fought in the 11th Alabama. It was out of researching their war records that the idea of researching the regiment was born. I wanted to open up the world of the men who fought in the 11th Alabama for both scholars and interested descendants. I wanted to tell the story of the men, their individual journeys from 1861-1865, and their lives after the war. The 11th Alabama is not simply the unfolding of the story of an individual Confederate infantry regiment, but the personal journey the reader takes with the soldiers as they sit around a camp fire, describe the carnage on the battlefield, or double-quick over an open field toward the enemy works. It is my hope that readers will come away with a greater appreciation for both the regiment and the soldiers who fought in the 11th Alabama. The 11th Alabama was one of the hardest fighting regiments in the Army of Northern Virginia. Readers will learn of the bravery, patriotism, and motives of many of the men who comprised the unit.
BR: What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?
RG: First of all, no definite work on the 11th Alabama had been written. George Clark’s reflections on the regiment had been published in 1914 entitled, A Glance Backward: Or Some Events in the Past History of My Life . Clark’s work was not a systematic treatment of the regiment. Second, the work contributes to our understanding of the Wilcox-Sanders Brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia. A great deal of primary material accessed provides helpful information on the role played by the brigade during the war. The work provides specific details of battle developments previously undocumented. Third, the 11th Alabama contributes to understanding how the typical Confederate regiment was raised as well as the dialogue regarding the motives for fighting in Confederate service. Finally, the work has a strong biographical component. Personal stories are scattered throughout the book, and the final chapter examines the lives of the soldiers following Appomattox.
BR: Can you describe your journey in writing the book?
RG: The research and writing of the 11th Alabama took about seven years. A formidable obstacle in writing a regimental history is the time needed to visit and study key locations. A regimental history requires a researcher to travel to the locations where the unit was formed, encamped, fought, and buried it’s dead. In addition, necessary time allotment for travel to the locations containing necessary research materials provided a challenge. I found it surprising that so many extant original sources for the 11th Alabama became accessible in the project. The project was difficult to end. Academic research requires an exhaustive undertaking by the researcher which makes the decision to terminate a project difficult. Nevertheless, after tracing each soldier’s life following the war as far as I could, I knew the project was completed.
BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?
RG: Research began with the official muster rolls and Confederate service cards of the 11th Alabama (available at the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery, Alabama). I recorded the daily data on every single soldier for the entire war. The daily data provided rich personal information for cataloging the regimental developments throughout the war. A wealth of information for the book is contained in the Department of Archives and History at Montgomery, Alabama, as well as the W.S. Hoole Special Collections at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Using the official muster rolls as a chronological guide for the book, the research and writing traced the developments of the regiment from the original mustering in of the individual companies until the final parole at Appomattox Court House. Information from the Official Records, personal biographical information, and any additional relevant information was inserted within the basic chronological framework. The foundational sources for the 11th Alabama included: official muster rolls of the regiment, the Confederate service cards, the 11th Alabama Regimental Files, The Sydenham Moore Papers, The James McMath Diary, and the Dr. William H. Sanders Papers all from the Alabama Department of Archives and History at Montgomery, Alabama. In addition, the J.C.C. Sanders Papers (W.S. Hoole Special Collections the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Alabama), the Official Records, the Cadmus M. Wilcox Papers (Library of Congress Manuscript Division held in Washington, D.C.), the Velma and Stephens G. Croom Collection (held in the University of South Alabama Archives, Mobile, Alabama), and George Clark’s A Glance Backward. Online sites provided personal biographical information on individual soldiers as well as information on the location of needed primary sources. I took the time to solicit information online from ancestors of the soldiers who served in the 11th Alabama, and in response received everything from letters to photographs.
BR: I understand the book has been reprinted. Can you talk about that process, how the decision was made, etc.?
RG: The hard back copy of the 11th Alabama was released in 2008 by McFarland &Co. Inc. Publishers. The publishers decided that the sales of the book through 2011 merited a reprint but in a different format. In 2012 the 11th Alabama was released in soft cover form at a reduced price. We hope that offering the book at the reduced price might generate more book sales.
BR: What’s next for you?
SH: I am currently engaged in a new research project that I hope to publish upon its completion. I am studying the contributions of the citizens of Mobile, Alabama, to the Confederate war effort from 1860-1865. The work focuses upon civilian efforts in support of the military. The work hopes to determine the how Mobilians contributed to the war effort in order to understand the diversity, development, and motivation of their labors.