Again, all-in-all, I thought the things over which I had control came off alright for the tour. As of now, I have no control over the weather, but never say never.
I really like the fact that no one had to put out any cash, including me, other than for travel, meals, and lodging. Sure, a bus may have been nice, but that comes with a certain lack of flexibility (some folks left early or came late), and the added risk of someone backing out at the last minute and wanting their money back. I think if we do something like this again (and that will depend a lot on you folks), we’ll try to keep a similar format. That is, caravans and no expenses.
I also was pleased to see that most attendees had the handouts I provided here. Some made up nice binders with artwork, and a good number had everything on their phones or tablets. Plus there was no copying or paper expense, and it would have been a real mess to hand those things out in the rain.
I had a lot of material that we just couldn’t get to. Yes, some of it was hardcore military stuff, and a lot of it was “cool stuff.” This time John Hennessy was the guiding force, which was only appropriate given the fact that most in attendance were there to listen to him, not me. I just angled in when I saw and opening. It’s better to have too much stuff than too little.
I was really happy with the give and take along the way. We had a number of very knowledgeable people in the group (at one point, someone came up to me and excitedly, gleefully said, “These guys are all hardcore!”), and many of them chimed in to add to the experience. Thanks to all of you who spoke up. I felt bad after I singled some of you out in the opening remarks, because I know there were accomplished names I left out. My apologies to you.
There were things about McDowell’s plan and how he did and didn’t diverge from it that I wish I had said. Sometimes I get so geared up I forget to say everything. But then, we were covering a lot of ground and a lot of material.
That back door of the Stone House opening apparently all by itself right when John mentioned ghosts was classic. I don’t think I can count on a repeat.
John and a few others prodded me several times about when or whether I am going to write “a book or something,” and by “something” I assume they all meant something other than this blog. I’ve thought a lot about that. As I said before, I think John has written the definitive study of the campaign. There are several possible outcomes when one writes a book:
- The result is well written, well researched, and adds to the literature. (This is something rare in Civil War publishing. Very rare.)
- The result is well written, marginally researched, and adds nothing to the literature. (This is the stuff that wins Pulitzer Prizes sometimes.)
- The result is well written, well researched, and adds nothing to the literature. (So, why bother?)
- The result is poorly written, poorly researched, and adds nothing to the literature. (Lots of this out there.)
- OK, I think you catch the drift…(We often hear it said, and we may say it ourselves that “we really need a book on fillintheblank.” I think often that’s just not true, and Paul Taylor, Mike Pellegrini, and I had an interesting discussion about that the night before the tour.)
The point is, I’d only want to put something out there if it qualifies as a #1. I do have ideas for a Bull Run project, more of a reference work I guess, but not like any you’ve seen before. That’s problematic when describing it to publishers. My thoughts along the lines of a narrative history would produce something very similar to John Hennessy’s book. I don’t know if it would be as well written. We differ not so much in our thoughts of McDowell’s plan, mostly in the psychology at the root of it. I suspect it’s more firmly based on military principles/doctrine than John thinks. That alone, I don’t think, justifies a new campaign study – but perhaps an essay/article. However, there’s always the possibility of telling the whole story in a different, compelling way, and I’m always exploring that.
Short answer – who knows?
Most of all it was great meeting everyone, putting faces to names, moving many of you from e-quaintance to friend, and of course seeing old friends again. I’m really sorry if I didn’t get to speak to each one of you – next time, I hope. And I hope there’s a next time. With that…
Please take a little time to leave feedback in the comments section if you attended (or even if you didn’t). What did you like? What did you not like? If we do something like this again, what particular aspect of the battle or what particular sites on the field would you like to see covered?
I have a few ideas, including following letters around the field, annotating them as we go. Perhaps touring a Confederate letter and then a corresponding Union letter, covering the same action from a different perspective. Also, among Bull Runnings’s readers I know there are some with extensive expertise to share.
Let me know – fire away. Maybe we’ll do something like this again.