Preview: Taylor (Ed.), “My Dear Nelly”

27 11 2020

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New in 2020 from Kent State University Press is My Dear Nelly: The Selected Letters of General Orlando M. Poe to His Wife Eleanor, edited by Paul Taylor. Paul is a Detroit Tigers fan and, among other works, is the author of this biography of Orlando Poe, the West Pointer, topographical engineer, 3rd and 9th Corps brigade commander, and corps and department engineer.

The selected letters of Poe to his wife, Eleanor Brent, span October 1860 to April, 1865, and follow his ups and downs leading various levels of infantry command but ultimately failing to garner the support necessary for permanent promotion. Consequently, he reverted to staff engineer duties and performed, by most standards, spectacularly.

What you get:

  • Forward by Earl Hess
  • 320 pages of text featuring 241 “highly literate and previously unpublished wartime letters,” fully annotated
  • Ten page bibliography including unpublished manuscript and archival material and newspapers
  • Full index
  • Bottom of page footnotes
  • Hal Jesperson maps
  • Photograph and engraving illustrations scattered throughout the text

It’s good stuff. Check it out.





Interview: Powell & Wittenberg, “Tullahoma”

5 11 2020

I’ve known David A. Powell and Eric J. Wittenberg now for a depressingly long time. I won’t go into their numerous publications, but you can find them on Dave’s and Eric’s Amazon author pages. There are a lot of them.

Dave and Eric have teamed up for a new book from Savas-Beatie on the 1863 prelude to Chickamauga, The Tullahoma Campaign: the Forgotten Campaign that Changed the Course of the Civil War, June 23 – July 4, 1863. They took some time to answer a few questions (I’ve interviewed Dave a couple of times, so you can get even more info on him in his most recent interview here – see, I get more page views this way).

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BR: Can you tell the readers a little bit about yourselves? 

DP: Just an update: I still live and work in the Chicago suburbs. Since we last talked, I merged my company with another local messenger service, which means I am still doing the same thing: running a specialized delivery service, just with a different title — Vice president of Airsped, Inc. In the history field, I have been very busy: publishing a book a year for about the past ten years. I write primarily on the Western Theater of the American Civil War, with a focus on the campaigns in Tennessee and Georgia, though I have written one monograph covering Franz Sigel in the Shenandoah Valley.

EW: Thanks for asking, Harry. I’m a native Pennsylvanian, born in the Philadelphia suburbs and raised in a suburb of Reading. I have a BA from Dickinson College, an MA in international affairs from Pitt, and a law degree from Pitt (it was a four-year, dual degree program). After graduating from Pitt in 1987, I settled in Columbus, Ohio—I had to go where the job was—and am still here more than 33 years later. Once I finished law school and got out into the real world, I decided to try my hand at writing history since I wanted to challenge myself—I haven’t had a formal history class since 10th grade and am entirely self-taught. I found that I really liked doing so, and I’ve continued with it since my first attempt at it in 1991. Today, I am a partner in my own law firm, Cook, Sladoje & Wittenberg Co., L.P.A., where I manage our litigation practice. My wife Susan and our three golden retrievers live in Columbus.

Today, I serve on the board of directors of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust and the Little Big Horn Associates, and I likewise serve as the program coordinator for the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars. I am also a member of Emerging Civil War, although it’s been quite a while since I last contributed anything. Battlefield preservation is one of my primary focuses.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War? Who/what were your early influences? 

DP: My dad was interested in the war and had numerous books on the subject. He owned both the American Heritage Illustrated History of the Civil War, for example, and Bruce Catton’s works. He took me to Gettysburg when I was eight, and I was hooked. I have been reading ever since, which translated into designing boardgames through much of the 1980s and 1990s, and later, to writing about the war.

EW: For me, it was a third-grade trip to Gettysburg. I was hooked by the end of the day. When my uncle heard that, he bought me Bruce Catton’s Army of the Potomac trilogy, and I was off to the races. Catton, for obvious reasons, was (and still is) a major influence on me.

BR: How long have you two known each other?

DP: I met Eric in the mid 1990s, and what would prove to be the first of many annual events, the Gettysburg Discussion Group’s Spring Muster. We were at an impromptu evening tour of “Iverson’s Pits.” At that time, I was involved in a wargame company, not doing much writing beyond a few articles, while Eric was deeply interested in the Gettysburg cavalry story. We became fast friends, and I have since been on many tours with Eric.

EW: Dave and I met in 1996 thanks to the magic of the Internet. We were both members of the late, great, lamented Gettysburg Discussion Group, and we struck up a friendship that remains strong nearly a quarter of a century later. I suspect that, if we didn’t live so far apart, we would hang out often. As it is, we get together when we can.

BR: You’ve written Tullahoma together. How did you come to the decision to write it in tandem, and how does that process work? How do your earlier solo works inform this book? Were there any unexpected benefits or difficulties

DP: I had some elements of an unfinished manuscript on the subject, a couple of chapters, really; and Eric had some stuff on Wilder and the Union Cavalry action at Shelbyville — his interest in cavalry, again. I wanted to finish this project, but never could quite make the time, until Eric proposed merging our stuff into a full-length campaign study. I was excited by the offer and said yes immediately.

My own work on Chickamauga of course carries echoes of the earlier Tullahoma campaign all through it. It is the most masterful of Rosecrans’s three offensive campaigns — Stones River, Tullahoma, and Chickamauga — and as such, it is hard to discuss Chickamauga without referring to what came before. So much of my research material bled over directly into the Tullahoma project as well.

The dual writing process proved very smooth. I think it is fair to say that neither Eric nor I carried big egos into this project. We were willing to accept each other’s editing and comments without pause, and each of us went over every chapter for continuity and style. As a result, I feel it really is a blend; we each wrote half the book and edited the other half to match. There were times when we had to do a fair bit of re-writing on one chapter, not so much for style, but because we were covering a big, detailed, complex operation; and narrative flow was critical to making sense of things.

Speaking for myself, I inevitably find things I would change when re-reading my own work. But having another writer along for the ride, smoothing out my own language, was a very real benefit. I think Tullahoma benefited a great deal from this partnership.

EW: I happen to enjoy doing collaborations with my friends. I find it to be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, and I had been looking for a project that Dave and I could do together. I had already written an essay on the seizure of Hoover’s Gap by the Lightning Brigade and had started one on the Battle of Shelbyville for a failed collection of essays. I had even toured the sites associated with the Tullahoma Campaign about ten years ago when I was working on those two essays. My interest in these actions was piqued by my Chickamauga studies. I knew from prior conversations that Dave wanted to tackle Tullahoma, so it seemed like a natural fit, and Dave readily agreed when I suggested it. We then divided up the primary drafting responsibilities, and we both got busy. We each served as the primary author of certain chapters, with lots of input from the other. We then smoothed it out once a complete draft was done so that differences in style were not jarring. I think we succeeded, because nobody has yet identified the chapters that we each wrote as primary author, other than that I gave away two of them here.

BR: Why the Tullahoma Campaign?

DP: Again, because Chickamauga led me there. And because it is one of the most interesting major campaigns of the war, but lacks any major study examining it. The Civil War field is largely driven by battle narratives, with actual operational histories few and far between. Tullahoma’s lack of a climactic battle has led to it being ignored.

EW: My interests have long been drawn by obscure actions—the more obscure, the better. Because of the lack of casualties and the lack of a marquee battle, Tullahoma has long been the red-headed stepchild vis-à-vis Gettysburg and Vicksburg. I wanted to correct that. Tullahoma was an absolutely brilliant piece of strategic planning and execution that drove the Army of Tennessee out of Tennessee without a full-scale battle and with minimal losses. The fact that the high command of the Army of Tennessee puts the fun in dysfunctional makes it an even more interesting study.

BR: How would you characterize the popular notions of the Tullahoma Campaign, and how does your book conflict with that notion? Is there any merit to Rosecrans’s fear that a lack of casualties would result in a lack of appreciation for the accomplishment? Do you think the administration at its far remove grasped the operational difficulties facing Rosecrans?

DP: I joke that Tullahoma is the campaign that everyone has heard about, but no one really knows much of anything about it. Rosecrans’s fear that the campaign would be overlooked has certainly been borne out. However, that same lack of knowledge is also a small blessing, since our book fills a blank slate. The late 19th and early 20th century mythology that sprang up around so many battles (Just think, for example, of stuff like the Barlow—Gordon incident at Gettysburg) does not exist for Tullahoma. We had little to unlearn or refute.

As for the Lincoln administration not grasping the operational difficulties, that is true for not just Tullahoma, but Chickamauga and Chattanooga as well. In October, 1863, when Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs finally came west to help in the relief of Chattanooga, he recorded that he simply would not have believed the difficulty of the terrain unless he saw it for himself — a clear sign that the Washington authorities were beset by similar terrain blindness.

EW: Traditional notions seem to be that Tullahoma was, to borrow a phrase, a sideshow to the big shows at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. I believe that it was every bit as important as those two major victories, and that the combination of the three were the death knell of the Confederacy. Certainly, the lack of casualties meant that the newspapers weren’t going to give it the same coverage as Vicksburg and Gettysburg, and Stanton really didn’t like Rosecrans, who carped and complained a lot. Because of that, the Union high command tended to ignore a lot of what he said.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, what firmed up what you already knew? When did you know you were “done”?

DP: For my part, some of the chapters were written as much as fifteen years ago, though they all had to be revised before integrating them into the current book. Once we agreed to write, however, I think it took us about ten months. Given the publisher’s schedule, we had the chance to do some polishing after that, but I knew we were essentially done in late 2018.

EW: Dave had independently started on the introductory chapters before we decided to do this, and I had written Hoover’s Gap and part of Shelbyville, so some of it was done before we ever agreed to collaborate. That significantly shortened the writing process. It took us about a year to get the thing to a state where we felt it was ready to go to the publisher.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most?

DP: My earlier research really drove a lot of the book, since I had so many overlapping sources from my Chickamauga work, and I had been adding material while also researching for Atlanta. Eric had some great information, especially on Shelbyville, and of course, our friend Greg Biggs helped us immensely by providing a huge amount of material that he had collected on the subject. The Stones River National Battlefield gave me access to their files, so I was able to find some particularly good accounts there as well. Finally, the newspapers and older regimental histories are now so readily accessible online that huge amounts of material can be found at the click of a mouse. I am a subscriber to Newspapers.com, to Fold3.com, and to Ancestry.com — each provides useful avenues when I am running down details.

EW: Fortunately, I had all the research done on Hoover’s Gap and Shelbyville. Dave had a lot of stuff that he has accumulated over the years that is in PDF form, so he shared all of it with me. A fair amount of the newspaper stuff came from various online databases such as the Library of Congress and Newspapers.com. I also have a fair number of applicable sources, such as the Official Records, in hard copy form in my personal library.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

DP: Very well. The book is drawing positive reviews on Amazon and other places, and it is selling well. It is a book club selection, is doing brisk business in digital form, and we have even gone into a quick reprint. I originally worried that the subject’s lack of a big battle to hang the narrative on might hinder sales, but so far that has not been a concern. It won’t sell like a Gettysburg title, but what else does? It is holding its own. I am delighted.

EW: Very well. I’m tickled by the reception. There was (and is) interest in this topic out there, and we filled a gap in the historiography that had needed to be filled for a long time.

BR: What’s next for you?

DP: I have just published another book: The Impulse of Victory: Grant at Chattanooga, have just completed the manuscript for The Critical Decisions at Shiloh, which should be out in 2021, and am returning to a project I have been researching for a while: a full length campaign study of Atlanta. I am sure there will be other stuff along the way.

EW: I’ve got a couple of other individual projects that are finished and in the production queue, including a study of cavalry actions leading up to the Battle of Cold Harbor in 1864 and a monograph on the Johnson-Gilmor Raid of July 1864. My friend Jim Hessler and I are working on a complete battlefield guide to the Battle of the Rosebud and Little Big Horn together. Other projects down the road include a monograph on the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania/the Battle of Moorfield that will be a collaboration with Dan Welch, and a monograph on the Battle of Battery Wagner.





Interview: Dixon, “Radical Warrior”

27 10 2020

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I interviewed David T. Dixon previously with the release of The Lost Gettysburg Address.”You can read the interview here to learn about that book and to get a little background information on David that I won’t repeat here. His most recent work, Radical Warrior: August Willich’s Journey from German Revolutionary to Union General, is available from the University of Tennessee Press, and you can order it on David’s site here. David took the time to answer a few questions about his new book.


BR: I’ve always been mildly intrigued by the story of, for lack of a better term, “Marxists” in the Union army. I got a little more of a boost when I ran across your man’s name while browsing a biography of Friedrich Engels. But for you, why the interest in August Willich? 

DTD: First of all, the term “Marxist” did not exist in the 1860s, as Karl Marx was little known outside of a small circle of radicals. His economic philosophies only gained widespread notice following his death. There were, as you mention, numerous communists and socialists in the Union Army, especially among exiled European revolutionaries. My interest in Willich stems not so much from his political orientation but more from his compelling life story and the need to bring outstanding but obscure general officers like him to the attention of Civil war enthusiasts.

BR: Can you give us a brief sketch of Willich’s life?

DTD: Willich was born into the Prussian lesser nobility known as Junkers. His father was a decorated cavalry solider in the Napoleonic Wars, but died early as a result of his war wounds, orphaning three-year-old August Willich. August grew up in the household of German philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher, who was called the father of German liberal theology. After attending the Prussian cadet schools and military academy, Willich embarked on a 17-year-career as a lieutenant in the Prussian artillery. Exposure to republican ideas, however, caused him to leave the army and rebel against his king in the revolutions of 1848 and 1849. While a political refugee in London, he fought a duel with an acolyte of fellow Communist League leader Karl Marx, whom Willich thought was not radical enough to overthrow the princes of Europe. Willich journeyed to America in 1853 and edited a German language newspaper in Cincinnati; the first daily labor paper in any language in the U.S. He was an ardent abolitionist and champion of workers and welcomed the coming of the Civil War as a war to destroy what he saw as a slaveholder aristocracy in the Confederate states and validate the principles of republican government and universal human rights. His experience and leadership talent in the military arts led him to advance quickly through the ranks from private in April 1861 to brigadier general in July 1862. He fought with great tactical skill and bravery in most of the largest engagements in the Western theatre until a sniper’s bullet ended his combat career at Resaca in May 1864. He died at St Marys, Ohio in January 1878. The New York Times praised Willich as “undoubtedly the ablest and bravest officer of German descent engaged in the war of rebellion.”

BR: What did you find while researching Willich that most surprised or impressed you?

DTD: I am most impressed by Willich’s extraordinary self-sacrifice and lifelong commitment to social justice. He renounced his noble status, alienated his family, abandoned a successful military career, foreswore marriage and children, and was exiled from his homeland all because he believed wholeheartedly in free government and human rights. He never strayed from his moral compass.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, what firmed up what you already knew? When did you know you were “done”?

DTD: Research on the book took about two years. The fact that so many German language primary sources were in barely legible Kurrentschrift handwriting or archaic Fraktur print and spread all over western Europe and America was more than challenging. I traveled to Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Switzerland to walk in Willich’s footsteps and, of course, tramped the US Civil war battlefields where had had his most significant engagements. The best surprise, given that my bachelor general left no collection of personal papers, were the timely and intimate letters I found in numerous collections all over the world. This, combined with two pamphlets he wrote and his daily newspaper editorials, gave me plenty of material to work with. I knew I was “done” when I felt I could tell the story completely and add enough scholarly context to tell it intelligently. But of course, one is never really done with the research and I hope my book will encourage others, especially in Germany, to dig deeper and reveal answers to still unsolved mysteries about this man’s life.

BR: I’ve asked you this before, but can you describe your research and writing process? Particularly, how did writing your prior work affect how you approached this one.

DTD: So glad you asked this question. The process was very different from The Lost Gettysburg Address in two ways. In that first book, I had an embarrassment of riches in terms of primary sources; 45 boxes of personal letters to and from Charles Anderson at one archive alone! The challenge was what to include and exclude. As I mentioned, I really had to dig deep and wide for the Willich archival gold. Most importantly, I learned the value of peer collaboration in my Willich biography. I was fortunate to have a volunteer translator in Germany, a small platoon of expert peer readers, and formed a partnership with a German PhD candidate. He and I traveled in Europe and America together as he researched Willich for his dissertation.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

DTD: I have been so pleased with the feedback so far. Early reviewers have been very kind and invitations for interviews and podcasts have been streaming in. Launching a book during a pandemic is challenging. All my in person speaking engagements either canceled or postponed, so I feel very fortunate that the book has received so much attention online.

BR: What’s next for you?

DTD: I have a book proposal ready to go and a fair bit of research completed on another biography. I will use that one as a case study to examine the impact of emotions of allegiance and Confederate dissent. With archives closed, the project is on ice, so I have spent more time publishing short form pieces in magazines and on the Emerging Civil War blog. Long term, I would really love to transition from university press publishing to a trade press to reach a much larger readership. All I need is a great story and a bit of serendipity. Wish me luck!





Interview: Quest, “I Held Lincoln”

31 03 2020

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Richard Quest, Author of I Held Lincoln: A Union Sailor’s Journey Home (spoiler alert – this book is much more about the sailor’s journey than about his role in the moments after the assassination of POTUS 16) has been good enough to answer a few questions for us.


BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

REQ: Harry thanks very much for the opportunity to share a little bit about the book and myself. I began my career in education over 30 years ago now and began as high school history teacher in upstate New York. I taught 11th and 12th grade for 10 years and then moved into administration and became a principal serving at both the high school and elementary levels. After completing my doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania I left K-12 education and moved into higher education. I held positions as an Associate Dean and Dean at a couple of community colleges and then as an Associate Vice President at a four-year college. Along the way I founded a nonprofit called Books in Homes USA and along with my wife established that organization and then became the founding Executive Director in 2014. In October of 2018 I accepted a position as the National Director of Education with the US Naval Sea Cadet Corps located in Arlington Virginia and continue there today.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

REQ: I became interested in the Civil War when I took a trip with my sixth grade class to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Standing on little round top looking across at Devil’s Den and seeing in the distance the Peach Orchard I suddenly realized that something extraordinary had happened there. It was as if I could feel the struggle. I must have talked a lot about it after I got home because my parents decided that we should take a vacation and go camping there that summer. That was it I was hooked not just on the civil war but with history in general. It seems that I have always been interested in old things and growing up in a historic (read that as old, circa 1870’s) house in upstate New York led to my poking around and often finding things stuck in the corners of the basement of that old house and garages. Those early interests would lead me to my college major in anthropology and archaeology as an undergraduate student and then working at the Public Archaeology Facility at SUNY Binghamton as a field archaeologist.

BR: How did you come across the story of Benjamin Loring?

REQ: I came across the story of Lt. Benjamin W. Loring in the mid-90s when I held the appointed voluntary position of Tioga County historian in upstate New York. The town of Owego historian Emma Sedore knew of my interest in the Civil War and that I was always looking for opportunities to bring some local history into my 11th grade United States history classroom. She asked me one day if I knew the story of Lt. Loring and that he had served during the Civil War and that it was alleged that he had been at Ford’s Theater the night of the Lincoln assassination. She then mentioned that it was rumored that he had actually come in contact with Lincoln. She also stated matter-of-factly that the frockcoat that Lt. Loring had worn the night of the assassination was in the local County Museum and that again it was alleged that Lincoln’s blood was on it. As the County Historian I was also an ex officio member of the county museum and so I sought out the frockcoat and more information. That was over 25 years ago now.

BR: Tell us a little about Loring prior to the titular incident.

REQ: Loring began life just outside of Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1840s. He was an active young man and left home in his teens seeking to make a living and find adventure at sea. Over the years he would gain enough experience to climb through the ranks to that of a sea captain. I don’t have a lot of information regarding Loring’s early life and career but we do find him in California and the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the 1860 census. Loring and his younger brother Bailey are listed as Packers taking supplies high up into the mountains to the gold miners and making a good living at it. It is here in 1861 that Loring learned of the first shots fired at Fort Sumter. Feeling it his duty to return and enter the fray Loring headed back east leaving the business to his brother. After arriving back east Loring enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was commissioned an Acting Master, which would today be considered a lieutenant junior grade. Loring was given orders to report for duty aboard the USS Galena. In command of that vessel was Loring’s distant cousin Capt. John Rogers. It is aboard the Galena that Loring would first see action and the severe cost, devastation and personal destruction of war.

BR: The stories around the night of Lincoln’s assassination are legion. I have a special interest myself, as the four soldiers who bore Lincoln from Ford’s Theater to the Peterson House were from my hometown and nearby. Without spoiling the book, can you clue us in on Loring’s role?

REQ: Lt. Loring plays an interesting, dynamic albeit small role at Ford’s theater the evening of April 14, 1865. It was this role that very early on captured my interest in the entire story. Over the course of many years of research it is this incredible story leading up to the events at Ford’s Theater that I have found most interesting. Lt. Loring’s living descendants have the actual orders which place Lt. Loring in the Navy Yard on April 12, 1865 where he was still recovering his health after his prison escape. It is through similar artifacts and documents such as those as well as Loring’s own writings that provide us with some incredible documentation regarding his time in the US Navy and eyewitness accounts to an extraordinary time in our nation’s history. Very often family histories are passed down through the ages, embellished and even rewritten however in this case we have Loring’s own words which transcend time.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, what firmed up what you already knew? When did you know you were “done”?

REQ: This is a very interesting question about how long it takes to write a book and one that I am asked quite often. Because there are so many components to it; the research, the actual writing, the rewriting, the editing, the wordsmithing, checking data, rewriting some more and even setting it aside for a few weeks at a time to give yourself some distance and perspective. So… if you consider the first time that I heard about Loring and the frockcoat and his involvement at Ford’s theater that was over 25 years ago. It has taken decades to actually see a book come to fruition. However, the actual act of putting all this down on paper began in 2014 when I decided to make a phone call to Lt. Loring’s great-grandson whom I had met during the summer of 2000 to ask him if he had any materials that I might be able to borrow to actually write the story. After making the call and reintroducing myself from 14 years earlier I was warmly welcomed and told that we should get together to discuss this further. After our meeting in May 2014 and returning home with voluminous documents related to Lt. Loring I set about organizing all of these. Among the papers were included letters, orders, handwritten notes, journals, maps and a few photos. As I pulled all of this information together and began to create a chronology an incredible story began to unfold. It was a story of an ordinary man living in extraordinary times who felt that it was his duty to help preserve the union and his nation. The very nation that generations before his family and helped found.

Once I had organized the papers and created the chronology the most difficult part of writing the book was actually getting started. I was unsure of how to proceed. I knew I would need an editor and so began that search online. As has been the case with this project since the beginning I have been very lucky. I found an online offering stating that if you filled out the form an editor would contact you within three hours to discuss your project. I had nothing to lose so I filled it out. Three hours later no one had contacted me so I called the number left a message and emailed the company complaining and thinking this was some type of a scam. Sure enough someone emailed me back and provided me with a name and phone number. I called the number and was introduced to a person that would become my initial editor and later literary agent in this project. From the point of identifying this editor to having a written document and landing a publisher to actually seeing a book in my hands took nearly four years to the day.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most?

REQ: My research process is based on the fundamental of trying to triangulate all the data that I come across. Utilizing primary sources, letters, Adjutant Generals reports, US Navy documents, official US government reports, referencing historical newspapers and other eyewitness accounts are all part of the process. It is important to note that I rely heavily on Lt. Loring’s own writings whether through family letters, journals or personal memoirs. This book is his story and told through his experiences and I have tried hard to remain true to that perspective. I have however corroborated all the historical facts utilizing the aforementioned triangulation of data where possible. The actual writing process however has been more about telling a story and making it interesting, engaging and exciting and less a traditional scholarly work. I’ve always felt that it was important to bring history alive for my students when I was teaching and so with this work I have taken that same idea to produce this book. All too often I hear from people about how boring history can be. Well it doesn’t have to be. This book is for all those who have been unfortunately exposed to history presented in a boring manner and who might be interested in an amazing story regarding an incredible time in our nation’s history presented in what I hope is an engaging story. So, even those who may not be interested in the Civil War or the US Navy or the Lincoln assassination might be very interested in one man’s story of survival, the ability to overcome and adapt and the willingness to put others first while sacrificing your freedom and putting your own life in jeopardy so others may survive. Lt. Loring takes his patriotism to a level unsurpassed and when combined with the action and adventure throughout this book it provides the reader with a first- hand view of our nation’s struggle during our most critical time.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

REQ: The book has been well received thus far. Those who have read it have thoroughly enjoyed the story. One of the most often received comments has been that it is a “page turner” and I take that as a tremendous complement. People enjoy reading history when told in this fashion. I am sure there are historians that question the events as told to us by Lt. Loring regarding the evening of April 14, 1865 as they unfolded in Ford’s theater. However, with all of the corroborating evidence and artifacts I have no doubt that this is factual. However, it is a small piece of the entire story and up until now it is information that has been lost to history.

BR: What’s next for you?

SRS: I continue to study the volumes of documents that the family has very generously given me access to and I continue to research the various ships Lt. Loring was attached to and the battles in which he participated. The family continues to come across new material as they sift through boxes and old trunks. For example, new information in the form of letters and artifacts regarding Lt. Loring’s action aboard the USS Galena at the battle of Drewry’s Bluff have recently been uncovered and provide new information written the day after that battle. In fact, one amazing discovery ties Lt. Loring to Marine Corporal John Mackey on board the USS Galena and Mackey’s gallantry in action. In fact, Mackey would become the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor and it was Lt. Loring who nominated Mackey for that medal. This is clear in the letters written in the days and months after the battle. In addition, 86 letters were recently uncovered relating to the time just after the Civil War when Lt. Loring was mustered out of the Navy and was commissioned a 3rd Lieutenant in the US Revenue Cutter Service, predecessor to the US Coast Guard. These letters span nearly 10 years and are full of historical detail related not only to the Revenue Cutter Service ships which Lt Loring served aboard but it includes the names of other officers he served with, the daily business that the cutters were engaged in and the locations in which they were working. These letters also provide a glimpse into the life of the post-Civil War period during reconstruction and what life was actually like for Lt. Loring while he was trying to build a new life for himself and his family.

I thoroughly enjoy delivering lectures related to the book and Lt. Loring. If people are interested in contacting me to ask questions or schedule a lecture they can do so via email at RichardEQuest@yahoo.com

There is currently some interest in bringing the book to the big screen and I am in conversations with a script writer who is a Sundance Fellow from that famous film society. I’m also currently considering the next book regarding Lt. Loring onboard the USS Galena and bringing to life the battle of Drewry’s Bluff as well as more of a traditional history of the Revenue Cutter Service and Lt. Loring’s service in the mid-1860s and early 1870s.

Harry, I want to thank you again for this wonderful opportunity to share with you and all of your Bull Runnings followers and readers a little bit about Lt Loring and myself. I also want to thank you for providing a forum to share Lt. Loring’s incredible story and all that is related to the Civil War while continuing to contribute to our understanding of this critical time period in our nation’s history.





Interview: Somerville, “Bull Run to Boer War”

12 03 2020

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Michael Somerville is an English military historian whose doctoral thesis at the University of Buckingham looked at the influence of the American Civil War on the Victorian British Army. The end result of that work has been published by Helion & Company as Bull Run to Boer War: How the American Civil War Changed the British Army. Michael has been good enough to answer a few questions for Bull Runnings.


BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

MS: I graduated with a First Class degree in History from Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge University, but at the time I didn’t want to continue academic study and made what was as the time perhaps a rather unusual decision to go into a career in IT. I spent nearly forty years as a programmer, consultant and project manager before retiring in 2018. Alongside my professional career though I always remained interested in history and particularly military history. I live in Wimbledon, south-west London with my wife, Gillian. She did her degree in American Studies, so interest in the Civil War period is something we share, though mine are primarily military and hers in the social aspects.

When I was working overseas for a year Gillian suggested that I do an MA course in military history to keep me occupied in the evenings! This was not practical for many reasons, but the following year I signed up for the MA course at the University of Buckingham, and with the centennial of the First World War coming up in 2014, the idea of researching the idea of looking at how one conflict had influenced the other was an obvious. In 2017 I was awarded a doctorate by the University of Buckingham for my thesis on the influence of the Civil War on the Victorian British Army.

I’m a member of the American Civil War Round Table UK, who appointed me their President this year. I’ve written a number of articles for our society journal (which publishes some excellent scholarship), mostly on British observers to the war, but Bull Run to Boer War is my first externally published work.

BR: I’m curious – as an Englishman, what got you in the American Civil War? Who/what were your early influences, for both your interest in the Civil War and Military History?

MS: I had always been interested in military history as a boy, but it was initially about the Second World War, like many of my generation I think. I did read a little on the American Civil War at University, but only briefly. In the 1980s I became quite a serious wargamer – figures, not re-enactment – and the period covering the American Civil War and contemporary European and British wars became my main focus. The historical side of the hobby was always as important to me as the gaming aspect, and I did a lot of reading and research in order to set up games and competitions that I felt challenged the players with the problems and choices that the generals had to make at the time.

In 2011, Gillian was working in the BBC on a series of radio programmes to mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and she was put in touch with the American Civil War Round Table (United Kingdom) who were organizing a number of events around the country. We went to their conference and I was hugely impressed with the level of collective knowledge that the group had, and with the welcome we received, we joined the group on the spot. Although the war is a minority interest here in the UK, it is a small but important part of the heritage of some places such as Liverpool. Many of our members visit the USA regularly to tour the battlefields, and we also have many people who trace the stories of the many British-born soldiers and sailors who served on both sides. Attending the Conferences and hearing the many excellent speakers also made me want to build on such knowledge as I had to do more academic research into the American Civil War, prompting me to sign on for the MA.

BR: I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to the use of the term “military history.” I think it gets misused and abused here in the U. S., and means something deeper and broader than simply researching or writing about people, places, and events of a military nature. How do you define “military history” and “military historian?”

MS: The book could almost be classified as ‘pure’ military history. It looks at how a military event (the American Civil War) was studied by a military organization (the British Army), and how that influenced its military equipment, tactics, and thought. It is not a narrative about the war, or about the army, but tries to analyze the influence of one on the other. That potentially limits its appeal to those interested in purely military matters, and put off those who are drawn to military history by depictions of battle and by personal stories. I was very conscious when writing the book that I needed to make it accessible to the non-specialist where possible. But I believe that military history needs to be more than a narrative of a battle or a series of vignettes of soldiers’ personal experiences – it needs to have an element of analysis, to explain how and why people acted and things happened the way they did, and with what consequences. I am also fascinated by parallels and comparisons between different military periods and armies, and how armies function as institutions, an understanding of which I think is essential to a military historian.

BR: Bull Run to Boer War looks at how the American Civil War “predicted the way in which later wars such as the Boer War and the First World War would be fought.” Can you summarize this premise, and give a brief overview of your findings?

MS: The Civil War and the First World War hold similar places in the American and British national consciousness – they are the bloodiest conflicts that the two nations have respectively fought, and they are each portrayed to some extent as being unnecessary, incompetently fought, or both. Many histories of warfare point to technical and tactical innovations in the Civil War – the machine-gun or trenches for example – and how these were then features of the First World War. The inference is that the men in charge of the armies in 1914 should have seen what was going to happen, and therefore have avoided it. The British come in for particularly severe criticism – partly because they were one of the few European armies to actually fight significant actions in the closing years of the nineteenth century. For example, some websites on the Boer War perpetuate the idea that the British expected to fight it using almost Napoleonic tactics, whereas if only they had studied the Civil War properly they would have realized the errors of their ways.

My basic premise is that this is twenty-twenty hindsight, and even then mostly inaccurate. If you trace the history of this view, it really derives from British critics of the Army’s performance in 1914-18 which were written in the 1930s. But the British Army of the nineteenth century was responding to the challenges and demands of the day, which did not include planning for a four-year global war involving every Great Power. The tactics and technologies of the Civil War were not as novel or unprecedented as they are sometimes depicted, so when the British went to America in 1861-65 – and many more officers did than the few who are usually mentioned – they did not see dramatic change in the nature of warfare, because none had yet occurred. Also the geography of America at the time was not at all like most of Europe with its highly developed agricultural and transport systems. The Civil War was Napoleonic in the scale of its armies but most individual campaigns were fought over sparsely populated wilderness. Attributing some aspects of the way that the Civil War was fought (such as the way the Americans used cavalry) to these local factors, was not a misunderstanding of what was seen, it was in fact quite perceptive. And the conditions in South Africa, with wide open plains and steep bare hills, were nothing at all like the mostly forested battlefields of the Civil War.

Conversely, the British did not subsequently ignore what they had seen in America. The latter half of the nineteenth century was a time of great technical change in the military. To give just one example, the British infantryman used at least five different standard small arms between 1850 and 1900 – ranging from the smooth-bore musket with a range of about 100 yards and firing twice per minute to the Lee-Metford magazine rifle, with twenty times the range and seven or eight times the rate of fire. With such weapons, to plan to fight the next European war in the same manner as Waterloo – or even Gettysburg – would indeed have been suicidal. But they did not. The infantry understood the need to entrench and to use open formations. The cavalry knew it could not charge machine guns and magazine rifles frontally, and looked to use its mobility to beat its opponents by maneuver, surprise, and dismounted firepower. And there are descriptions of preparing defensive positions written in the 1870s that refer to the use of trenches, wire entanglements, explosive mines and machine guns – not a bad prediction of what would be seen over forty years later.]

The Boer War provided the British with a new and important set of lessons – which is why I decided to close my book in 1900. But since these descriptions and recommendations appear in manuals, books, and articles written before 1900, they cannot be ascribed to lessons from the Boer War or the early twentieth century – they derive from the study of earlier conflicts, in which the American Civil War featured prominently.

BR:Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, what firmed up what you already knew? When did you know you were “done”?

MS: The book originated in 2012 as a dissertation for a MA in Military History at the University of Buckingham, which was meant to last one year. At the end of that time, I realized that I had far more material than I could fit into a 25,000 word dissertation, and my supervisor suggested that rather than submit it I expand it into a doctorate thesis. I was still doing a full-time job, so it was around four years before I was in a position to submit, and then about another year of reviews and amendments to finally get the thesis accepted in 2017. During that final year I was already thinking that maybe I would like to publish it in some form, as I felt that the subject matter had been left unresearched for many years and the material which I was uncovering was of significant importance to the history of military thought.

I thought it would be relatively easy to turn the thesis into a book, but my publisher warned me that it would take some time; in the event around two years! Some of that was the immensely tedious business of revising things like footnotes to meet a different editing standard. Rather less soul-destroying was the need to make the book comprehensible to the non-specialist reader. I knew it was a subject that could interest readers on both side of the Atlantic, but a lot of British would not be familiar with Civil War people and events, while most Americans probably don’t know much about British operations in Africa, India and elsewhere. Getting the balance between accessibility, readability, and brevity was a challenge.

Mostly my research supported my initial belief that the British Army had been over-criticized for its indifference to the Civil War. In fact I was surprised when I discovered just how early some changes were initiated. The Austro-Prussian War of 1866 is traditionally supposed to have made European armies wake up to the potential of the breech-loading rifle and the railways, but the British Army adopted the former in 1864 (nine months before the US Army!) and set up a railway board in 1865. Far from ignoring the machine-gun the British were keen adopters of the technology, even though early weapons had not performed well in field, because it could compensate for their relatively low numbers of troops. The use of barbed wire was mentioned in books published twenty years before the First World War. I don’t conclude that the Army was perfect – both the organization and individuals made lots of mistakes. But we should not judge them by twentieth century standards.

I started the process rather skeptical of the idea that the American Civil War predicted the First World War. I would still argue that is true in the field of technology – there is no comparison between the artillery, machine guns, and rifles of the Civil War and those of 1914. And as a result the tactics of most of the better known battles have more in common with the Crimean War than the Western Front. But I now think that by 1865 there were aspects that could be said to have been more comparable to the two World Wars at an operational and strategic level, such as the mobilization of most of the countries human and physical resources for war. Unfortunately these were the lessons that it was most difficult for a democratic country, like Britain or America, to prepare for in time of peace, so they had to be relearnt and reapplied.

My test audience is my long-suffering wife, who has read almost every version of every chapter. She is keen on history but not so much on the military side, so can tell me where I need to explain or clarify things for the non-specialist. If she told me a bit of the book was interesting or good I could feel confident it was about ready.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most?

MS: As a former Project Manager I have a tendency to set plans and targets, so although there is sometimes some tension between ‘academic’ and ‘amateur’ historians, I rather appreciate the rigor which the academic process enforces. Because it started out as an academic thesis, I had to produce a detailed work plan up front, with a core research question and a series of subsidiary questions that the thesis intended to answer. The next stage was to read any secondary works already written on the subject. In one respect I was fortunate that there is only really one work that covers it directly – Jay Luvaas’ Military Legacy of the Civil War, which was ground-breaking for its time but sixty years old. I discovered that most books describing the military impact of the Civil War on Europe, if it was mentioned at all, simply referenced Luvaas’ research. I determined to read all of Luvaas’ primary sources, and see whether I agreed with his interpretations and conclusions, trying to look at everything from a nineteenth century rather than a twentieth century perspective.

That meant going through large numbers of old military books and journals. Some of these are available online, and I was able to borrow some from the RUSI library in London, but for many it meant long hours taking notes in the British Library – at weekends or in the evening after work. As well as articles about the Civil War, reading other articles and books on tactics and weapons revealed several less obvious evidence that people were taking note of what had happened in America. I also looked at military manuals of the period – both official and unofficial – and found it was mostly untrue that tactics did not change during the period. I had already decided that I would adopt a thematic rather than a chronological structure, and this research largely formed the basis for the chapters on the infantry and cavalry in particular, by identifying what soldiers saw as being the military issues of the day and analyzing what they thought the solutions were.

Being able to download electronic versions of much of the out of copyright material from sites such as archive.org meant that I could view them on my laptop at home and on holidays. Having online search engines was immensely useful, and generated some surprising leads. Even in the British Library, browsing their online catalogue with various search terms and date ranges revealed an interesting but long-forgotten pamphlet by a British general written in 1865, proposing how to fight a war with the United States. A Google search for British observers came up with a bookseller who had a report written by [William T.] Sherman and dedicated by him to Sir Bruce Hamley, a prominent British military writer, and pointed me to a set of letters between them contained in Hamley’s biography. I would probably never have found this otherwise. Another Google search came up with a copy of the Guards Brigade’s Journal for 1863 and an article describing a visit to Meade’s army after Gettysburg – another source I don’t think has been previously identified. I also used family history sites to research the background of the different observers in 1861-65. It turned out one young Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers who visited the Confederate lines at Petersburg in 1864 was a nephew of Robert E. Lee – which was both unexpected and perhaps gives some insight how he managed to travel through Virginia at the time. .

There are a number of reports in the old War Office records at The National Archive in Kew, London, that show how American technology was being studied both during and after the war. This ranges from artillery, fortifications, to coastal obstructions and mines. And a friend at the ACWRT pointed me to the leave records held there for the British troops stationed in North America, from which it is possible to check when many of the known observers visited. I did further analysis to spot patterns in the leave records which enabled me to suggest how many undocumented visits might have been made, and by who and when. Almost all of this is new research on previously untapped sources.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

MS: There has been a significant amount of interest from several military journals, although I have not yet seen any reviews published. The few people who I have had feedback from have said that they have found it both interesting and convincing in its argument. One acquaintance from the Round Table has authored several successful historic novels about the Civil War, and I was especially pleased that he found the book very readable as well as informative. I have given a couple of informal lectures to small groups in the UK, and it generates a lot of discussion. I am visiting America in the summer and have one talk planned in Charleston SC, I hope to do a few others. This will be interesting, as I expect to get different challenges and questions from an American audience compared to a British one.

A few friends have said that they thought I have been rather hard on Jay Luvaas. This was not my intent, his original work was a classic of its time and the foundation to my research, but it did not tell the whole story. Like mine it originated as a dissertation, was expanded into a thesis and then became his first book. Unfortunately I never met him, but I would like to think that he would have approved.

BR: What’s next for you?

MS: My next project is very different. My father served in the Second World War, but like the majority of veterans from that conflict he rarely talked about it, even to me. A few years ago I decided to get his military record, and that led me to thinking that most history about that war is written about famous battles and elite units. I want to try and write the story of an ordinary infantry battalion. Unlike Bull Run to Boer War it will be a narrative history, but through the narrative trying to understand what it was like to be one of the millions of ordinary men serving in the war – who they were, why they joined up, how they trained, what happened to them in combat, plus all of the mundane aspects of military life that often get forgotten.

I’ve chosen the 5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters, my father’s unit, as the subject for obvious personal reasons – but it is effectively a random selection, as British conscripts of whom my father was one got relatively little choice which unit they joined. They were not at Alamein, or Anzio, or Normandy or Arnhem, so most of the battles in which they fought have had very little written about them. I also want to try and visit as many of the locations as possible to understand why the battles were fought as they were and with the results that they had. It is likely to be a three or four year project. I hope will appeal to both dedicated military historians and to a wider audience who want to understand more about their father’s or grandfathers’ experience of the war.

Michael will be speaking at the Ft. Sumter Civil War Round Table in Charleston, SC in August, 2020 (this is the same venue hosting me in May).





Interview: Stotelmyer, “Too Useful to Sacrifice”

19 02 2020

Steve StotelmyerToo Useful

2019 saw the release of Steven R. Stotelmyer’s Too Useful to Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan’s Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam, from Savas Beatie. Mr. Stotelmyer took a little time to discuss his work, which is sure to raise eyebrows and hackles.

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BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

SRS: I am a native of Hagerstown, Maryland. After a stint in the U.S. Navy I earned a Bachelor of Science Degree from Frostburg State College majoring in Elementary Education. I also minored in English Literature and World History. I earned my Master of Arts from Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. My areas of study were mathematics and science, content and educational methods. I taught in the Washington County Public School System for ten years. One of the high points my fifth-grade students looked forward to in the spring was the day long field trip to the Antietam Battlefield. Eventually I made a career change into surveying and that eventually led to civil engineering. My new employment took me to Frederick where I spent over twenty-five years. My daily commute throughout those years carried me directly through the South Mountain battlefield.

Shortly after my career change in 1988, I became extremely interested (my wife would say obsessed) about the fate of 58 dead Confederate soldiers dumped down a farmer’s well at Fox’s Gap after the battle of South Mountain. I knew that Fox’s Gap, just like Antietam, was a real place and this led me to seek out the location and story of those unfortunate souls dumped in that well. As with many events in the Maryland Campaign I discovered there were actually two stories; one tale was legend and the other was fact. The legend blamed the farmer Daniel Wise for the deed and the facts led to a Union burial detail.

My curiosity in the Legend of Wise’s Well brought me into contact with others interested in the South Mountain battlefield. At that time there was a real possibility of the ground behind the Reno Monument at Fox’s Gap being developed for a private building lot. That situation resulted in my becoming a founding member of the Central Maryland Heritage League (CMHL) in 1989. Our initial purpose was to purchase that ground and save it from being developed. I served as the group’s Historian and briefly as President before my departure in 2000. CMHL was not only successful in saving the Reno Monument property but also gained a modest amount of success increasing the public’s knowledge of the Battle of South Mountain. Eventually we were able to save over 30 acres of that endangered battlefield. My research into the fate of those dead 58 Confederate soldiers put into the well at Fox’s Gap resulted in the publication of The Bivouacs of the Dead: The Story of Those Who Died at Antietam and South Mountain in 1992.

Since its creation I have served as a part-time volunteer and historical consultant for the South Mountain State Battlefield. Currently I serve as a Volunteer Battlefield Ambassador and NPS licensed Tour Guide at Antietam National Battlefield (see their website).

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War? 

SRS: It is near impossible to grow up in Hagerstown and not even become remotely aware of the American Civil War. I was 12-years old in 1962 and that year not only saw the Bicentennial Anniversary of the founding of Hagerstown, but also the Centennial Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. I would have to credit my father for generating my interest in the Civil War. He had no great passion for history, but he belonged to the Maryland National Guard and Maryland donated their services during the Antietam Centennial. It was the only time in his entire life I ever saw him grow a beard. I figured there had to be something important about the Civil War if it caused Joseph Robert Stotelmyer, Jr. to grow a beard.

BR: You’re an Antietam Battlefield Guide. What got you interested in the battle to the extent you pursued that?

SRS: Ever since I can remember Antietam has always been a part of my life and a special place. I can truthfully say that I have been visiting Antietam since before I was born. I have a treasured old black and white photo of my mother and father at the top of the observation tower at Bloody Lane and mom has the proverbial baby bump and it is me. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my parents picnicking at the Philadelphia Brigade Park with a blanket spread out in the shade playing Scrabble on a lazy Sunday afternoon while me and my sisters played around (and on) that towering monument. I also remember Saturday afternoon visits to Lohman’s Souvenir Stand at Bloody Lane. Dad would get me a soda and candy bars (for a quarter) and we would always end up at the tower. I have vague memories of a clear hilltop where the current Visitor Center now stands. My grandmother knew some farmers in Southern Washington County and sometimes in the early Spring my father would take her and my mother dandelion hunting.

Our travels took us over the Burnside Bridge (in those days it was still open to traffic). I was impressed by the monuments attached to the bridge at that time. I didn’t understand why they were on the bridge, but I was old enough to know something was special about that bridge.

I became aware that something very special happened at Antietam during the Centennial celebration and that sparked a lifelong search to find out what made the battle so important. I camped on the battlefield as a Boy Scout and continued to visit with family and friends as a teenager. As a young adult I taught fifth-grade at an elementary school in Hagerstown. Every Spring I would take them on a day long field trip to the battlefield. Every trip was a learning experience for me as well. I met my wife while we were both teachers and as fate would have it, we purchased a home within 10 minutes driving time to Antietam. It remained a popular place to visit with family and friends. My wife also played violin with the Maryland Symphony. In 1986 family history seemed to be repeating itself as my wife was 8 months pregnant with our second daughter during the first Salute to Independence. Consequently those 4th of July weekends became yet another special family memory connected to Antietam.

This was about the same time as my career change from teaching to surveying. Because I worked in Frederick my morning commute took me through Turner’s Gap. My daily journeys over South Mountain sparked an interest in the Maryland Campaign that continues to this day. Many people think I’m a Civil War buff. Actually, I’m not; for me it is just local history. When I retired, I discovered that the Antietam Guides were taking applications for the guide exam. It seemed like the natural thing to do. Becoming a guide at Antietam has provided me the opportunity to share my lifelong process of discovery about that special place. I continue to learn with every tour I give. I am often asked by visitors how long have I been giving tours at the park. I tell them officially since 2013, unofficially as long as I can remember.

BR: Over the past twenty years or so, the worm has, to some extent and despite stiff resistance, turned for George McClellan. Joseph Harsh, Ethan Rafuse, Tim Reese, Tom Clemens, and most recently Dennis Frye have all contributed to this altered view. Can you describe your own personal journey with the Young Napoleon?

SRS: I grew up with the standard anti-McClellan stereotype of the slow timid commander who did not like to fight. I often refer to these beliefs as the three pillars of the Bad General Stereotype. Furthermore, the battle of Antietam was always the standard tale of Robert the Bold vs. George the Timid (Joe Hash’s phrasing, not mine). I believed these stereotypes as being true the better half of my adult life. I credit two people with changing that perception. My early days with CMHL and battlefield preservation efforts on South Mountain brought me into contact with a kindred soul who was instrumental with preservation efforts at Antietam, Thomas G. Clemens. I think I first met Tom when CMHL was trying to purchase some Iron Brigade battlefield east and below Turner’s Gap (sorry Tom, you know, and I know it’s Gibbon’s Brigade). We were touring the property and I was attempting an overview of the Maryland Campaign and made some statement about the Lost Orders to the effect that a more aggressive commander might have made better use of the once in a lifetime opportunity fate handed to him (you know the standard spiel). Rather than call me out publicly, Tom waited until the tour was over and quietly took me aside and gave me a few things to think about. I have always believed in the old adage “Don’t talk when you can listen.” At the time I knew Tom taught at the Hagerstown Junior College and to hear him talk about McClellan in a positive manner greatly impressed me that day. Tom gave me something quite different to think about that was at odds with what I grew up believing.

The other person that greatly influenced me was Joseph L. Harsh. In September 1998 CMHL held a fund-raising re-enactment near Boonsboro. This was shortly before the publication of Taken At The Flood. I had no idea at the time who he was, but Tom had suggested him as a guest speaker. Joe graciously consented to donate his time and spoke on Saturday afternoon. I remember a rather heated argument after he spoke with someone in the crowd who just would not accept Joe’s assertion that it was an aggressive McClellan Lee faced in Maryland. Afterwards Joe had some time to kill before his ride arrived and he sat with me and helped out at CMHL’s information booth. I actually spent the better part of a Saturday afternoon talking and listening to Joe Harsh chat about McClellan and the Maryland Campaign. After speaking with Tom and Joe there was no going back, I never looked at McClellan the same again.

My personal journey with the Young Napoleon has resulted in a complete debunking of the Bad General Stereotype. McClellan was not slow in the Maryland Campaign. Divisions were covering 8 to 10 miles a day on roads little better than modern gravel driveways. In the words of Robert E. Lee, “the enemy was advancing more rapidly than was convenient.” McClellan was not timid. He aggressively attacked Lee three times in six days at South Mountain, Antietam, and Shepherdstown. Furthermore, at Antietam he attacked Lee, it wasn’t the other way around. What is remarkable is that McClellan attacks Lee believing he is outnumbered and knowing that for the better part of the battlefield Lee holds the high ground. McClellan does not believe he has the required 3:1 attack ratio taught at West Point necessary to carry the position (in his mind’s eye he doesn’t even have parity). Furthermore, he knows Lee is an engineer like himself (they both served on the staff of Winfield Scott in the Mexican War). As an engineer it was logical to assume his enemy had entrenched his position or constructed field works. Attacking an entrenched enemy in an elevated position with less that overwhelming force is certainly not the hallmark of a timid commander. The last pillar is the most easily demolished. The general who did not like to fight was directly responsible for the single day’s worst bloodletting in our nation’s entire history. Clearly the stereotype is flawed and, in my opinion, the characterization should be George the Courageous vs Robert the Reckless.

BR: Can you describe and, if you like, defend Too Useful to Sacrifice? 

SRS: My favorite Lincoln biographer, James Garfield Randall, wrote in 1945 that George B. McClellan “is most bitterly assailed, not by those who have gone afresh into the elaborate sources to restudy his campaigns, but by those who repeat or perpetuate a party bias.” Many people are not aware that most of the negative elements of the McClellan stereotype popularized over the years had their origins in the Presidential Election of 1864 when Democrat McClellan ran against the incumbent Republican President Lincoln. Politics is politics and to discredit McClellan the candidate it was necessary to discredit McClellan the General. The groundwork for destroying McClellan the general was laid in pamphlet literature that survived for years on library shelves. That is the party bias Randall spoke of and it survives to the present. Randall identified 16 political themes used by writers to propagate the bias (it is interesting to note that a very popular book written about Antietam in the 1980’s scores a perfect 16 out of 16). What I have attempted to do with Too Useful To Sacrifice is go afresh into the primary sources and restudy the Maryland Campaign of 1862.

The title of the book is taken from something President Lincoln is purported to have said to his secretary John Hay. It occurred after Lincoln restored McClellan to command following Second Manassas. There was strong opposition against McClellan in the President’s Cabinet. It was generally believed he had betrayed Gen. John Pope. According to Hay, Lincoln told him, “Unquestionably he has acted badly toward Pope! He wanted him to fail. That is unpardonable, but he is too useful just now to sacrifice.” The book is not a comprehensive treatment of the Maryland Campaign (for that I would definitely recommend the works of both Clemens and Harsh). I provide five chapters that deliver thought-provoking essays regarding major themes of the campaign.

Chapter 1 addresses the discovery of the Lost Orders. A few of my arguments are that its finding was not the singular event it is made out to be; it did not hasten McClellan’s army; the alleged 18-hr delay between the finding and McClellan’s orders to march to South Mountain is a myth; and that South Mountain and Antietam would have occurred regardless of the finding of the document.

Chapter 2 is about the Battle of South Mountain.

Chapter 3 covers the September 15 pursuit of Robert E. Lee; the true Prelude to Antietam.

Chapter 4 explores the influence of the Battle of Second Manassas upon people and events at Antietam. It also debunks the myth of McClellan’s unused 20,000 reserves.

Chapter 5 deals with the post Antietam supply crisis and the Lincoln-Stanton-Halleck triumvirate conspiring in the background against McClellan. The supply crisis was genuine and not a figment of the Bad General’s imagination. There is strong circumstantial evidence presented that the supply crisis was deliberately engineered by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton as part of his documented efforts to oust McClellan from the army.

I realize it is an uphill battle all the way. So much anti-McClellan bias has been repeated over the years that there exists a historical consensus that he was a Bad General. It is so ingrained in the national consciousness that it is seldom questioned. Even people who are not Civil War buffs, if asked about McClellan will likely respond that he was the general Lincoln said had the Slows. People however are not to blame. The documentaries they watch and most of the popular books they read perpetuate the consensus. But consensus is not fact; it is collective opinion and I hope to seriously challenge that popular opinion. To that effect, to go afresh, I have employed over 150 primary sources and 100 scholarly secondary sources. Another of my favorite historians and veteran of the Maryland Campaign, Emory Upton, once mused in 1912, “seeking information at the point of the bayonet is one thing, and looking for it on the shelves of a library is another.” I have attempted to use the experience of those who participated and not those who repeat the party bias in the pamphlets on the library shelves. I hope I have done it in a manner that even the non-Civil War buff can find interesting.

BR: What have you found the greatest obstacle in your attempt at reconsidering McClellan’s generalship in the Maryland Campaign?

SRS: There is not one, but two obstacles that immediately handicap any attempt at accurately portraying Gen. McClellan’s conduct not only in the Maryland Campaign, but in any aspect of the war as well: Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee.

At the outset, it should be noted that the mere mention of Abraham Lincoln’s name frequently hamstrings any attempt at an even-handed accounting for George B. McClellan. Most popular histories recount the events of the Civil War from President Lincoln’s viewpoint (or what they think is Lincoln’s viewpoint). Joe Harsh identified this perspective as the Unionist Interpretation. Others have called it the Centennial Theme. Writers espousing this point of view insist the results of the Civil War: the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery are attributable primarily, if not solely, to President Lincoln. They also acknowledge that the war was a great national tragedy that cost too many lives, too much time, too much destruction. Adherents of this interpretation assume that victory might have come sooner and are critical of anybody who may have hindered victory, especially by causing delays. The standard theme of the Unionist histories is that the president’s greatest problem was finding a general who would win the war for him. In this scenario Lincoln suffers through a sorry lot of candidates until Ulysses S. Grant appears, whereupon the doom of the Confederate States was sealed. A constant in the Unionist theme is that McClellan was the first and sorriest of the candidates to try the president’s patience.

Abraham Lincoln is perhaps the greatest American heroic symbol in our collective culture and in the eyes of popular history, he stands as a martyr by tragic assassination for his success. Honest Abe has become many things to many people. For a large number of Americans, he is Father Abraham, the Great Emancipator. For an even larger number he is the man responsible for single-handedly saving the Union. Few historians have been willing to honestly appraise McClellan because it would mean criticizing the martyred Lincoln. James G. Randall, who Joe Harsh considered the greatest Lincoln scholar, provided the most succinct summation of the Unionist Theme I have ever read, “It is assumed that if one is pro-Lincoln, he must be anti-McClellan.”

The final nail in the coffin regarding an appraisal of McClellan is the fact that his story is tainted from the beginning to be one of failure because Lincoln sacks him and removes him from command. There are varied reasons behind the decision, some petty and some political, but none military as the Unionist theme would have you believe. Regardless, after November 7, 1862, when McClellan is relieved of command and leaves the army, the Young Napoleon’s image in popular history is fixed: he forever becomes the Bad General Lincoln was forced to fire.

To a lesser extent any attempt at an honest appraisal of McClellan faces a similar difficulty with Robert E. Lee. As with Lincoln, an established perspective surrounds Lee’s story. Historian Alan T. Nolan calls it the Lee Tradition. Among its certain unmistakable earmarks are that Lee was a reluctant American who sided with his state over his country. Marse Robert is often held up as the personification of the Christian gentleman. A master military strategist and tactician, he often appraised his opponents and their intentions with near clairvoyant insight. Above all, Robert the Bold was audacious. It is the antithesis of McClellan and the cornerstone of the Lee Tradition, manifesting itself in his admirable predilection for the offense. Amazingly, until the publication of Joe Harsh’s Taken At The Flood, Lee was very much immune from the analysis and evaluations that are the conventional techniques of history. Almost all who wrote about Lee previously, especially Southern writers, have accepted Lee entirely on his own terms. If he said something was so, it was accepted as so. Analysis of Lee’s activities usually stopped with a determination that he did what he thought was right. Because of the Lee Tradition apparently, few historians before Harsh dared question whether Lee’s actions were ethical, wise, or even rational. Historian T. Harry Williams summed up the popular attitude and provided the most succinct description of the Lee Tradition when he wrote, “Whatever Lee did was right because he was Lee.”

As they must with Lincoln, any person attempting an honest appraisal of McClellan must tread carefully with any criticism of the audacious Lee. It is beyond strange that a general commanding an army engaged in armed insurrection against the United States of America has become an iconic hero in America’s popular culture. He represents one of the most appealing of tragic themes, the man who goes down in defeat battling against overwhelming odds. To this day throughout much of the nation he embodies the Lost Cause. Honest appraisals of Lee often invite the charge of trying to change history.

I am constantly surprised by the number of visitors to Antietam that are not aware of Lee’s debilitating injuries which plagued and hindered him throughout the Maryland Campaign. It is understandable; I have never been able to find an illustration accurately showing Lee’s true physical condition in the campaign. Showing Robert E. Lee as a frail invalid riding in an ambulance with both hands bound tightly in splints and the right arm in a sling would be heretical to the Lee Tradition. The image of a national iconic hero that can’t dress himself, feed himself, or take care of his own toilet without help is one many visitor’s refuse to accept. As you know there is actually a monument at Antietam portraying Lee on horseback holding a pair of binoculars, that simply is not an accurate portrayal of him in the Maryland Campaign. Such is the staying power of the Lee Tradition.

Together, the Unionist Theme and the Lee Tradition tend to bias most narratives that focus on McClellan’s activities. Because of them a fair appraisal of McClellan is an uphill struggle all the way, if not impossible. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” goes an old saying in American popular culture. As I previously stated, the stereotype of McClellan as the Bad General has become so entrenched that it amounts to a historical consensus, and the Unionist Theme and the Lee Tradition has cemented it in popular American culture. Indeed, we could easily mimic the Lee Tradition by stating an antithetical McClellan Tradition that permeates traditional history: Everything McClellan did was wrong because he was McClellan.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, what firmed up what you already knew?

SRS: This book was decades in the making. After the publication of Bivouacs of the Dead, and while still a member of CMHL, I embarked on writing a book about the Battle of South Mountain. To put the battle in context required writing a book about the Maryland Campaign. There was a lot about the campaign I did not know. In the process of learning about the campaign I had to study the two commanders involved with the campaign. I began to learn that a lot of what I thought I knew about McClellan simply was not true. My conversations with Tom and Joe cemented that fact. I was determined to not repeat the myth and stereotype others had presented as fact. Too Useful To Sacrifice grew out of that effort.

In the beginning the biggest obstacle was back-sourcing popular books and locating those sources. I was extremely fortunate to have access to both the Hagerstown and Frederick public libraries. They both have special collections that proved extremely helpful. There were also many trips to the old USMHI at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In the days before the internet (I’m getting old) their library and manuscript division were valuable resources. I was also extremely fortunate to have been a volunteer at Antietam Battlefield at the time. In their library they have a collection of primary sources researched by rangers and letters and diaries of ancestor participants donated by visitors over the years that is truly unique.

I was greatly surprised at how ill-prepared Lee was for South Mountain and the effect that battle had upon his campaign. McClellan caught him totally by surprise and delivered a blow from which Lee never fully recovered. Although many Southern writers often claim it as somewhat of an operational victory for Lee because it bought him a chance to regroup at Sharpsburg, it was the surrender of Harpers Ferry that gave him that opportunity, not South Mountain. Lee had actually decided to abandon his campaign in Maryland and move back into Virginia after South Mountain. South Mountain was the turning point of the campaign, and Joe Harsh was right: it was an aggressive McClellan that caused that battle to occur.

I already knew that military sources generally spoke favorably of McClellan’s leadership. But I was surprised at the number of competent military men who experienced an epiphany regarding McClellan. Even Francis Palfrey, a staunch critic, had to admit “there are strong grounds for believing that he was the best commander the Army of the Potomac ever had.” Theodore Lyman, of Gen. Meade’s staff, admitted later in the war that he was not fanatic about any general and then declared, “I am forced to the conclusion that McClellan (who did not have his own way as we have) managed with admirable skill. Mind, I don’t say he was perfect. I say he was our best.” I was especially astonished by Emory Upton. Upton was a bit of a prodigy. He entered the Civil War as a 2nd Lt. of artillery (was with Franklin’s VI Corps in the Maryland Campaign) and by war’s end, at age 25, had served in all 3 branches, artillery, cavalry, and infantry. He stayed in the army as a career officer. He is credited as the father of the modern American General Staff. In 1912 his comprehensive The Military Policy of the United States was published posthumously. Upton, an ardent abolitionist whose sympathies were strongly Republican and anti-McClellan at the war’s beginning, admitted to his lifelong friend Henry Du Pont in 1879, “I now regard McClellan in his military character, a much abused man.” That same year he wrote future President James A. Garfield that he once believed McClellan had not done his “whole duty to the country,” but in the process of writing his manuscript, “I have been compelled to change my mind.” Finally, according to his son, even Robert E. Lee, when asked after the war which of the federal generals he considered the greatest, replied “McClellan, by all odds.”

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most? When did you know you were “done”?

SRS: Research on the Maryland Campaign has pretty much been ongoing since the days of taking my fifth-graders to Antietam. The easy thing at present is that most of the stuff I had to get at brick and mortar libraries in the past is now available on the internet.

I bring my background in science to my writing. With the Scientific Method one forms a hypothesis, and then devises an experiment to prove or disprove the hypothesis. If you prove it fine, if not then revise the hypothesis and start over. With accurate history one starts with a statement, consensus, or assumption and then one looks for primary sources or indisputable facts to prove or disprove the them. If you find reputable primary accounts fine, if not then you have to accept the statement, consensus, or assumption. Unlike science, the hard part with history is being able to tell the difference between a statement, consensus, or assumption and an indisputable fact. This can also sometimes be true with primary sources. Just because something was said or written in the nineteenth century by an alleged primary source doesn’t necessarily make it true. Case in point: “McClellan was slow” certainly qualifies as a statement, consensus, or assumption. It was said a number of times by no less a primary source than Abraham Lincoln. As I have shown with primary accounts from numerous participants marching thru the Maryland countryside in 1862 there were units ranging from regiments to divisions marching at rates that are anything but slow. Individual regiments, brigades, and divisions moving 10 to 19 miles in a day. These are rates of march any competent military commander would hardly judge as slow. The truth is, as far as I have been able to tell, McClellan is accepted as being slow in the Maryland Campaign simply because President Lincoln said he was slow. I remember Joe Harsh making a very convincing argument that Lincoln had a bad case of the Fasts. Unionist historians simply parrot Lincoln’s alleged fact without realizing it is a value judgment from an impatient politician, not an actual campaign participant. However, going against a primary source such as Lincoln requires indisputable facts from numerous primary sources, not counter statements, consensus, or assumptions. Having the primary sources is only half of the writing process. It also requires that you present it to the reader in a manner they find interesting. You want them to have the desire to turn the next page. I think my background studying literature in my youth helped me with that.

My wife would tell you that I’m never done.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

SRS: Generally, the book has been received very well. Even though it was not released until August 2019, it became one of the top five bestselling books at the Antietam Bookstore. Obviously, the staff as well as my fellow volunteers and guides at Antietam are overjoyed at having a reputable book to suggest to visitors that counters decades of misrepresentation of Gen. McClellan. Some of the rangers have revised their presentations to incorporate new information from my book. Many visitors bring with them the three pillars of the Bad General stereotype and my fellow guides are happy to have something they can suggest countering that narrative. It has been my experience as a tour guide that there are many facets of the campaign and battles (South Mountain and Antietam) presented in the book visitors are not aware of and find interesting. I have had people tell me that have gone back to read the book two and three times.

However, going against the grain of long accepted historical consensus is not easy. There does exist a hard-core group of anti-McClellan bashers in the Civil War community and nothing you can say or do will disabuse them of the notion that the Young Napoleon was the Bad General. As an Antietam Volunteer and Tour Guide I have years of experience tactfully and sympathetically dealing with these folks; after all, I once believed it myself. I now have a book I can specifically suggest that counters their opinions. I generally know I’m succeeding with the critics when they are forced to bring up the subject of the Peninsula or McClellan’s arrogance (his alleged snub of Lincoln). My response usually is that my book is about the Maryland Campaign, not the Peninsula. It is a different animal (although there is a lot of criticism about that campaign that is also popular consensus). As far as being arrogant, I simply counter that by asking visitors if they have ever met a general? Even the most ardent of McClellan critics comment on the extensive research and documentation in my book. The McClellan bashers are fond of dismissing me as a McClellan apologist. I know that technically it simply means one who argues in defense or justification, but in the popular culture it has a negative connotation. I am not apologizing for anything. McClellan was a human being and he had his faults just like the rest of us. However, he was not a bad general. In my opinion, he was a bad politician. His biggest mistake may have been running against Lincoln for President. I cannot help but think he would have been remembered more favorably if he had not.

A few weeks ago, I was involved in a back and forth on Facebook regarding the merits of Stephen W. Sears’s Landscape Turned Red which certainly is on the other side of the spectrum from Too Useful To Sacrifice. Somebody responded that he thought the truth about McClellan was somewhere between Sears and Stotelmyer. I thought to myself, Wow, if I have managed to move the needle halfway in the popular image of George B. McClellan then I feel like I have accomplished something special.

BR: In the editorial process something always ends up on the cutting room floor so to speak. Was there anything in your manuscript that you regret being cut from the published book?

SRS: Yes, I had several appendices that were cut. The one I regret the most that never made it to print was titled Little Mac at the Front. In the popular imagination there is this image of McClellan never leading from the front and spending the whole day of the battle of Antietam leisurely smoking cigars at the Pry House. With primary sources this appendix proved that image false. McClellan came under enemy artillery fire at a forward observation post on September 15. The same on the 16th while conducting reconnaissance at the Lower Bridge. Also, during the late afternoon and evening of the 16th several primary sources from soldiers in the Pennsylvania Reserves put him near the East Woods and the Joseph Poffenberger farm. One account has McClellan directing counter-battery artillery fire. On September 17 there are several primary accounts proving a morning visit to the East Woods in addition to the well-documented afternoon visit. During the afternoon visit he again directs counter-battery fire from an exposed position near the Cornfield. He revisits the forward observation area and is also seen with the long-range artillery on the high ground astride the Middle Bridge. The most remarkable primary account I found was a letter written by an Ohio soldier a few days after the battle of Antietam. Private Alexander Wight of the 23rd Ohio wrote his brother that he saw and interacted with McClellan on the southern part of the field somewhere in the area of the Final Attack. Wight was a member of the regimental band on duty as a medic helping a wounded soldier of the 23rd to the rear when he turned around and saw both McClellan and Burnside. Little Mac asked Wight if the wounded soldier could ride and offered his mount. Later that evening Wight observed McClellan at a field hospital talking to the wounded like a father and shaking their hands. Evidently Wight and his brother were critical of McClellan before the Maryland Campaign because he ends the letter, “I don’t know what your opinion is about George McClellan, but I have changed my opinion.” It is a primary account, a letter from one brother to another not meant for the public. I (and several of my fellow guides) have no reason to doubt it. It places McClellan on the southern part of the Antietam Battlefield on September 17 and that has never been presented in any other book on the battle that I have ever read. I am hoping I can get the essay published as a magazine article.

BR: What’s next for you?

SRS: I’m torn between doing a companion piece on Lee and something on South Mountain. The Confederates made mistakes in Maryland, some of which doomed the campaign from the start. Part of the campaign was supposed to be about recruiting in Maryland, but there is no Confederate Maryland infantry regiment to attract Marylanders. Confederate signalmen occupied Sugar Loaf Mountain at a time when McClellan’s army was marching thru the Maryland countryside. The large clouds of dust raised from that advancing army should have been visible to even a casual observer at Sugar Loaf. Somehow that information never seems to have made it to Lee and he completely misjudges McClellan’s rapid advance. The Confederate reception in Frederick was not as cold-shouldered as traditionally portrayed. I have always been curious how Lee’s injuries may have affected his judgement. Given the staying power of the Lee Tradition that may be even more of an uphill battle than accurately portraying McClellan. Then again, I’m considering going back to my first love: Fox’s Gap. Most people are not aware that proportionately, square foot per square foot, the Sunken Road that runs thru Fox’s Gap was bloodier that it’s famous counterpart at Antietam. I feel confident that I could write a comprehensive history of what occurred in and around Wise’s cabin from dawn to dusk during that bloody sabbath. It would give me another chance to exonerate Daniel Wise from throwing those bodies in his well. Daniel’s story is personal to me. By some strange mysterious metaphysical design I won’t try to explain, my great nephew is Daniel’s fifth great grandson.

However, to be honest, I am enjoying the down time. I am looking forward to the Spring and resuming my Volunteer and Tour Guide activities at Antietam. As we guides like to say to each other, “See you on the field.”

I highly recommend anybody interested in a fair treatment of McClellan by a Lincoln biographer check out a copy of James G. Randall, Lincoln The President: Springfield To Gettysburg, 2 vols., volume 2, chapters 18-20. And for how Lee becomes an American iconic hero, Thomas L. Connelly, The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society.

There is a formatting error on page 85 of Too Useful To Sacrifice which resulted in a few lines of missing text. This web page that corrects the mistake and provides the missing text.





Interview: Schmidt, “September Mourn”

17 02 2020

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I first met Alann Schmidt when he was a ranger at Antietam National Battlefield probably 10-15 years ago. He has since moved on from the NPS, but recently published with co-author Terry Barkley September Mourn: The Dunker Church of Antietam Battlefield (previewed here). Mr. Barkley was unavailable for interview, but Alann took some time to answer a few questions.

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BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

AS: I was born in Bethesda Naval Hospital, but have lived most of my life in south central PA. I have had some interesting jobs over the years, as I started out as a funeral director at one of the largest funeral homes in Pittsburgh, but eventually I decided to go back to school to pursue what was always my greatest interest – history. While completing my Master’s degree at Shippensburg University I did an internship at Antietam, and I jumped through whatever hoops necessary (and there were many) to stay. It was a terrific job for nearly 15 years, but suddenly I became sick with an unknown illness, to the point where I was so dizzy that I couldn’t stand, my vision was blurry, and I was so achy that I could hardly get around. It turned out to be Lyme disease and a malaria related disease called Babesia, and I had to take a disability early retirement. Over the years I have improved somewhat and am able to function fairly well, but I am still affected by neurological damage and limited in what I can do. Despite this (or maybe because of this!) I followed the Lord’s call to become a pastor, and I was ordained last year and now lead a small country church (Cherry Grove Church of God) near my home.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

AS: Well, I am sure that this is sacrilege to admit, but I never was much of a Civil War buff. I live near Fort Littleton, a fort on the Forbes Road, so I was interested more in the French & Indian War. When I started at Antietam I obviously needed to learn all I could about the Civil War, and spending every day for years and years immersed in it does tend to sink in! And I had an amazing bunch of friends around me, like long-time Antietam fixtures Ted Alexander and Paul Chiles, Brian Baracz and Keith Snyder, and current authors like John Hoptak and Dan Vermilya. It was a privilege to learn from them and be part of that group. And certainly Rev. John Schildt, who I dedicated the book to.

BR: How did you come to be interested in the Church of the Brethren? Obviously you worked at the Antietam Battlefield, but did your interest predate your employment there?

AS: My denomination (Churches of God) has very similar beliefs, but I am not Brethren and had no connection to the Dunkers before I came to Antietam. As rangers we present general orientation talks and tours, but also have the opportunity to highlight other more specific topics. I was drawn to the Dunker Church simply because no one was doing a program on it, and in practical terms it was right across the road from the visitor center so I could easily organize and take groups over there! But as I began to research it to put a talk together I found more and more interesting sides to its story. I began to organize files, thinking perhaps someday I would write a magazine article or something, and gradually I had a large plastic tub full of files. I eventually became the go-to guy on the church and have been blessed with many opportunities to share the story, from park events to local history groups. The Brethren community very graciously welcomed me, and I have made several friends and often speak at their churches and events.

BR: Tell us a little about the Dunkers.

AS: “Dunker” is actually a nickname for a Protestant denomination that began as the German Baptist Brethren. To learn about them you simply break down that longer name. The group began in Germany in 1708 as part of the Pietism movement, wanting a more personal religious experience. One of their most notable features was that they practiced adult baptism out in the river, dunking themselves in the water (hence the nickname.) Like many others, the Dunkers came to America for religious freedom, and later spilt into a few denominations, the largest being the Church of the Brethren. The Dunkers were similar to other “plain” churches like Amish and Mennonite, and believed in a very literal reading of the New Testament. They were against most forms of indulgence, like drinking and gambling, were against slavery, and perhaps most of all were against any form of violence. There were Dunkers in central Maryland by the 1750s, and their first meetinghouse in the area was called the Manor church, built in 1829 in Tilghmanton, between Hagerstown and Sharpsburg. By 1852 the small white building we know as “the Dunker Church” was built on land donated by Samuel and Elizabeth Mumma just north of Sharpsburg.

BR: What roles did the Church (the building and the congregation) play during the battle and afterwards?

AS: The Dunker Church is the classic example of wrong place at the wrong time. It sits along the road on the ridge north of Sharpsburg. This made a good defensive position for the Confederate army, but that meant that all through the morning of the battle the Union army would be making waves of attacks coming right at the area. So… sitting right in the middle of the worst part of the worst one-day battle in American history was this church, dedicated to the principle of peace. You couldn’t write a fictional story like that and have anyone take it seriously, yet it is all true. The church sustained heavy damage (as you can see in the Gardner photos) but remained standing. Immediately after the battle it was a triage/emergency room, as surgeries were performed in it and soldiers were loaded up and taken to one of the many farm hospitals in the area, and it is even claimed that embalming was later done there.

While the locals, including the Dunkers, had left before the battle and were not in physical danger during it, when they came back they found a much different scene from what they had left behind. Their crops were destroyed, especially devastating since it was harvest season, and now their fields are giant cemeteries, greatly impacting how they will be used in the future. Their homes and farms are now hospitals, and they will be expected to provide much of the care and labor in these endeavors, not to mentions even more of their supplies. And their church has been defiled by the very thing they stand against. How would we respond? Obviously the focus of most Civil War studies is on tactical aspects of the battles, but there is so much more to these stories, so much more to think about. From just one day of battle these local folks’ lives were forever changed, and not only right after the battle, but years later, as due to things like monuments, tourists, and National Parks there would always be out of the ordinary impacts. I think the way the locals, especially the Dunkers, persevered, recovered and are still there is an inspiring story that we can learn much from.

One aspect that I wanted to shine a light on is the overlooked story of what happened later to the church. The congregation outgrew the building and moved in town in 1899, and it fell into disrepair, eventually collapsing in a windstorm in 1924. While it is known such an important landmark to the battle most folks don’t realize that the church was not there for nearly 40 years. It was only through a long, arduous process that it was finally reconstructed for the battle’s Centennial in 1962. This church has a tremendously interesting story of ups and downs (literal ups & downs!) and fascinating tidbits (like a connection to Mark Twain!) that is so much more than the Battle of Antietam.

BR: As we may have discussed, my great-grandmother’s brother, Pvt. James Gates of the 8th PA Reserves, was mortally wounded on Sept. 17, 1862, while advancing toward the church from the north. I learned of the circumstances of his death from the 8th PA Reserves file in the Park office, in accounts written by his comrade Frank Holsinger. I also learned that prior to the war, he came down from his Pennsylvania home as a seasonal hired hand on the farm of Church Elder David Long, and that he had courted one of Long’s daughters. After the battle, prior to Gates’s eventual death in Smoketown, Holsinger visited the Long’s and informed them of the wounding. Later, after the war, Holsinger returned for the dedication of the National Cemetery, where Gates is buried, and again struck up relations with the Longs, marrying another of their daughters. Can you tell us a little about the Long family?

AS: Elder David Long was the main pastor for the Manor church for many years before and after the battle, and as such would have also been the same for Antietam’s church, as it was one of several in the area grouped together. He was born in 1820, and in 1841 married Mary Reichard. They had 12 children; four sons were ministers and three daughters married ministers (one named Seth Myers – probably not the NBC one.) It is said that Elder Long would go to slave auctions and purchase slaves to set them free. Lots of folks (as many as 100) gathered at his house during the battle, and he would been the one preaching in the Dunker Church the Sunday of the Battle of South Mountain. He represented the area’s Brethren churches at many Annual Meetings, and is said to have performed more marriage ceremonies than anyone else in the area. He died at 75 from pneumonia. The History of the Brethren in Maryland notes that “Few families in Middle Maryland have made such a deep impression on the life of the Church as the family of David & Mary Long.”

(I do apologize that the Gates and Holsinger stories didn’t make the book, as things were pretty far along in the editing process until I realized what an interesting side story that was. I was amazed at this Bedford connection to the battlefield, as that isn’t far from where I live.)

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, what firmed up what you already knew? When did you know you were “done”?

AS: All in all it took 15 years, as I continued to gather information here and there in my daily work as well as in dedicated research. I continued to hone the material mostly through what was best received in my presentations, and even used the subject for class projects (deed chain exercises, term papers, archival studies.) As I continued to work at it I hoped to get it published as a book, but I had no idea of how that end of the process actually went. I hoped to have it completed for the 150th anniversary of the battle in 2012, but I always seemed so busy that I just never got around to finishing it. Then I got sick in 2015 and retired, and I simply thought that I had missed my chance, that it never would get done, as my mind is not nearly as sharp as it was before I got sick. I hoped that at least the material could be passed on for future ranger use, so that the park programs would continue after me and the subject not forgotten, but as time went by it all slipped further away.

Then fortuitously Terry Barkley contacted me in 2016! He was newly retired from the Church of the Brethren archive, and remembered that I had been there to research several years before. He asked me if I had ever finished the book, and I explained that I hadn’t and my circumstances. Much to my delight he offered to take up the project and finish it for me, especially the Dunker background chapters. He added and polished and made it so much more than I ever imagined it could be. We decided to send it to Savas Beatie, and much to our surprise they agreed to publish it. I am so happy that finally the Dunker Church story is out there for all to learn. Together with Terry’s Brethren background and my NPS background we have tried to give the subject the attention and respect it deserves, and in turn fill in a gap in the Antietam story.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most?

AS: One of my collateral duties at Antietam was working in the park library, so I got to spend at least a small part of every day with lots of various source material, so that was where the vast majority of my information came from. I visited any other facilities I thought may have some related material, such as the Washington County Historical Society and the Washington County Library, both in Hagerstown, and the two National Archive facilities in Washington DC and College Park, MD. Once they heard I was working on the project folks far and wide gave me information, especially locals like Betty Otto, Ike Mumma, Tom Clemens, and Steve Recker, and my ranger friends would pass along things they would find in their research as well. I tried to cover all sides of the story, from Dunker religious history, to battle accounts, to park development, anything and everything. Terry had daily access to the Brethren archive and library for many years, so he was well versed in Dunker history subjects and got lots of material there. He was living in Lexington, VA at the time and did much of the final writing at the VMI library.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

AS: Well, it sold out of the hardcover printing run, so that’s good. I’ve been very encouraged by the good reviews, enthusiastic turnouts at my signings (2 years in a row now at the Church of the Brethren’s Annual Meeting the books sold out before I even got there!), and the appreciative feedback I’ve received from so many. I hoped to simply provide another option for those coming to Antietam that maybe weren’t hardcore tactical buffs, and it seems that the book has been that and more, and I hope will be for years to come.

BR: What’s next for you?

AS: Probably no more books, but who knows. I still write a lot – preparing sermons every week, and I really enjoy the research and public speaking I got used to doing as a ranger. My wife and I have a volunteer cat rescue, Righteous Rescues, that keeps me plenty busy enough for what I can handle physically.

My co-author Terry Barkley has a new book out, The Other “Hermit” of Walden Pond: The Sojourn of Edmond Stuart Hotham, also published by Savas Beatie. It is another interesting but little known side to a well known story, in this case Thoreau’s Walden Pond. Check it out.

Thanks for this opportunity, I have been so very blessed by this book and this whole process. All the best to you and your readers.





Interview: Powell, “Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah”

12 02 2020

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I’ve interviewed long-time friend Dave Powell here before. His numerous books on the war in Tennessee and Georgia have been previewed on this site as well – search his name in the box in the right margin. Now, Powell has moved his pen to the Eastern theater of the war with Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah: Major General Franz Sigel and the War in the Valley of Virginia, 1864, from Savas Beatie. Dave recently took some time to answer a few questions about his new work.


BR: Dave, you’ve done a Bull Runnings interview before, so our readers are familiar with you. Any updates you’d like to share? 

DAP: Just that I have been busy, extremely busy. I published two books in 2019, and I have two books coming out in 2020: a volume co-authored with Eric Wittenberg, on the Tullahoma Campaign; and a volume on Grant at Chattanooga for SIU Press’s The World of Ulysses S. Grant series. (). Both have been tremendous projects to work on, and I am excited that they are coming to fruition.

BR: You’ve made your bones in the Western Theater, especially the Chickamauga Campaign. Geographically at least, Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah is quite a departure for you, at least at this level. What prompted this shift? What are the overlaps?

DAP: I don’t see it as much of a departure, actually. Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah is a command study, and most of my other work fits that category. What drew me to the Shenandoah project – aside from the fact that I attended the Virginia Military Institute and hence, couldn’t really avoid New Market – is the lack of sober analysis on the Union side of the campaign and battle. There are good tactical studies of the battle, and considerable insight into Confederate thinking in May, 1864, but the Union role in the Valley has not really been subject to the same rigorous analysis.

BR: Can you describe Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah? 

DAP: Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah examines the 1864 Spring Valley Campaign from the Federal perspective. It sets the campaign in the framework of Ulysses S. Grant’s strategic concept, outlines both sides’ command problems and objectives, and examines the outcomes of various decisions up to and including the Battle of New Market, fought May 15, 1864. For a such small engagement (about 5,000 combatants on each side) New Market had an outsized impact on the subsequent campaign in Virginia.

BR: Union General Franz Sigel is central to the book, of course. Can you give us some background on him, his experience in Germany for example, and your ten cent assessment on his performance in the Valley?

DAP: Sigel is an interesting character. One of the reasons I wrote the book is because I think most other descriptions of him reduce him to a cartoon; the bumbling, clueless European “political general” that is a stock character in Civil War literature. In fact, Sigel was a highly trained European soldier with both a professional education and real field experience, not only with German regular troops but also in leading raw revolutionary troops in 1848.

Certainly, however, he is a flawed character. His leadership and combat experiences in the American Civil War were uneven, to say the least; but he did perform competently at Pea Ridge and even Second Bull Run. He could be exceptionally stiff-necked in matters of what he viewed as his honor, but he also was willing to try and execute the orders he was issued to the best of his ability. I argue that this is what brought him to grief at New Market – he was doing his best to follow Grant’s intent, while other Union commanders didn’t execute their missions nearly as well. George Crook, for example, was supposed to capture Staunton. Instead, even after winning handily at Cloyd’s Mountain, Crook lost his nerve and retreated into West Virginia.
Sigel achieved most of what he was supposed to accomplish in the valley that spring. However, at New Market he let subordinates ignore his orders and draw him into a fight he neither wanted nor was prepared for: That was a blunder, and he paid the price.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, what firmed up what you already knew? When did you know you were “done”?

DAP: This project was first intended for the History Press, with a publication date of 2014. The writing took most of 2013. In the end, they didn’t want it, so I offered it to Savas Beatie, who have published so many of my books. Theodore Savas liked it, and agreed to publish it. I took the first draft and revised it a bit, so it received considerable polish along the way, even prior to the official editorial process. As for knowing when it is “done,” I always know I am finished when, instead of making useful edits, I reach the stage of merely re-arranging words in sentences during re-write; whereupon I know it is time to let other folks get involved.
I knew I was going to write a book that challenged the conventional view of Franz Sigel. I did not expect to level much criticism at the Confederate commander, John C. Breckinridge, but I did in the end offer some critique of him, as well. I was also surprised at the amount of pro Sigel Federal sentiment in the ranks of his army. To date, he has been portrayed mainly by those critical of him, but even after the defeat at New Market, many of his soldiers were sorry to see him go. Some even thought he “saved” them from a worse disaster. That is not the traditional view of Sigel we gain from the extant literature.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process for this book? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most?

DAP: I generally try for a very broad approach; I want to gather as many primary sources as possible, especially from the rank and file. And more and more, research is shifting to online access, as archives digitize large elements of their manuscript collections. I used several excellent online sources, including some very useful items from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Library of Congress’s Chronicling America Newspaper site was very useful for ferreting out newspaper accounts. Still, most of the research was done the old-fashioned way, visiting archives and copying material. By far the single most useful repository was the Virginia Military Institute’s Preston Library, with its treasure trove of accounts on the battle, but the Western Reserve Historical Society, which holds a large collection of Sigel papers also proved invaluable. I copied nearly 100 pages from those papers, including some extremely useful day-to-day campaign commentary.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

DAP: Very well. The book has received a number of very solid, very positive reviews; and I think it is selling decently for such a small topic. It’s always a struggle to find new ground on well-covered subjects, but I try and only tackle projects where I think I can do so, and I feel well satisfied with this one.

BR: What’s next for you?

DAP: I have begun writing on another very large project, a history of the Atlanta Campaign. I’ve been laying the research groundwork for this project for years, and frankly I probably now have more material than I can ever use. I expect the study to require multiple volumes – something like Gordon Rhea’s excellent Overland Campaign studies. While this might seem ambitious, I feel that Atlanta is very much a neglected subject, especially from the operational perspective, and I hope to be able to fill that void.

 





Preview: Pfarr, “Longstreet at Gettysburg”

19 12 2019

b05c2ea8-f26f-4ee5-ab7b-1f3dfb9e7f71_1.e8282d87c195f3ff131d7793df1c2dd4A recent publication from McFarland & Co. is Cory M. Pfarr’s Longstreet at Gettysburg: A Critical Reassessment. Mr. Pfarr works for the Department of Defense and lives in Pikeville, MD.

From the back cover:

This is the first book-length analysis of Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s actions at Gettysburg. The author argues that Longstreet has been discredited unfairly, beginning with character assassination by his contemporaries after the war and, persistently, by historians in the decades since.

By a close study of the three-day battle and an incisive historiographical inquiry into Longstreet’s treatment by scholars, the author presents an alternative view of Longstreet as an effective military leader, and refutes over a century of negative evaluations.

I guess the key phrase here is “book-length,” because undoubtedly there have been other works that reassess Longstreet in general, stretching back to the first assessments, as well as modern works by folks like Jeffery Wert, Henry Knudsen and William Garrett Piston, to name just a few. How this singular focus on Lee’s Warhorse’s work at Gettysburg specifically differs from others is the question.

You get:

  • Foreword by Harold Knudsen
  • 186 pages of narrative in 25 chapters.
  • 12 pages of endnotes.
  • 4 1/2 page bibliography, primarily published sources.
  • Full index

 

 

 





Preview – Stahl & Borders, “Faces of Union Soldiers at Antietam”

13 12 2019

0facesantietamA 2019 release from The History Press is Faces of Union Soldiers at Antietam, by Joseph Stahl and Matthew Borders. Mr. Stahl is a licensed Antietam Battlefield Guide and has authored numerous articles on the civil war. Mr. Borders is a National Park Service ranger at Monocacy National Battlefield as well as a licensed Antietam Battlefield Guide.

Faces of Union Soldiers at Antietam is built around carte de visites (CDVs) of 36 individual soldiers who fought at Antietam, from Mr. Stahl’s personal collection. They’re organized by the sectors of the field in which the men fought, six sectors with six soldiers each. Each CDV is accompanied by a biographical sketch of the soldier. Maps from Brad Gottfried’s The Maps of Antietam kick off each sector/chapter. Also included are endnotes, bibliography, and full index.