Interview: Rosebrock, “Artillery of Antietam”

21 05 2023

Friend James A. Rosebrock (Antietam Battlefield Guide and member of Save Historic Antietam Foundation and Antietam Institute) has recently published Artillery of Antietam. He answered some questions about himself and his work below. (FYI, Jim has provided me with images of all the documents from the Dixon Miles Court of Inquiry, which I still have not transcribed and for which I still owe him a beer or twelve.)

—————

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

JR: Thanks for the opportunity to talk to you Harry. I was born and raised in the Buffalo New York area (Go Bills!), and currently live with my family in Jefferson, Maryland about 20 miles from Antietam. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Russian history from Niagara University in 1976. I was commissioned in the United States Army in the ROTC program and served for 28 years retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2004. My military career included assignments in Germany during the Cold War, deployment to Grenada with the 82nd Airborne Division in 1983, and duty as an instructor at the Combined Arms and Services Staff School (CAS3). I subsequently worked for the Federal government where I retired from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2021 as an operations officer and liaison to FEMA helping to coordinate Federal law enforcement response to natural disasters. I volunteer at Antietam National Battlefield and currently work with Antietam’s artillery detachment, Battery B, 4th United States Artillery. I have been an NPS certified battlefield guide at Antietam since 2009, and led the guide service from 2012 to 2018. I am a founding member of the Antietam Institute and am currently the Institute’s Vice President. Artillery of Antietam is my first book, but I was a contributing author for the Antietam Institute’s first book Brigades of Antietam.

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

JR: In about the third grade, I received a copy of Bruce Catton’s Golden Book of the Civil War. Like many guys I know who grew up in the 1960s and became students of the Civil War, the beautifully rendered color maps of the battlefields with the tiny lines of soldiers and cannons fascinated me. I later received Catton’s magnificent 3 volume series on the Army of the Potomac. Catton’s beautiful prose inspired my lifelong interest. I still refer to his chapters on Antietam when I need a stirring quote. As a kid and during my time in the Amry, I was a big-time wargamer and had all the Avalon Hill and SPI Civil War games. Unlike some, our family vacations were never to battlefields, and I really did not start visiting them until I moved to Maryland after I got out of the Army. Now I am at Antietam every week giving tours or volunteering

BR: Why the Artillery at Antietam in particular?

JR: I had an ancestor who served with Battery M, 1st New York Light Artillery in the Twelfth Corps. Ironically, he reported to the battery on September 21, 1862, four days after Antietam but served with the outfit until he mustered out. I had ancestors who served in the artillery during the Spanish-American War and World War 1. My dad was an artilleryman in the Pacific during World War 2, and I have a nephew who served in Marine Corps artillery units. I guess I can say it is in my blood. When I was commissioned, I requested artillery as my branch but the Army in its infinite wisdom made me a logistician. I have ten books in my library, devoted to the artillery at Gettysburg alone. Except for a book titled Artillery Hell written in 1995, there is no single book that has ever been written about the artillery of Antietam. I thought that it was time for an in-depth book on the artillery batteries at Antietam.

BR: Can you briefly describe the overall impact of artillery in the campaign and battle?

JR: At Antietam, nearly 11,000 artillerymen comprising 116 batteries of 521 guns fired some 50,000 rounds of artillery in the 12-hour battle. While the book is organized by artillery organizations, I broke the action (and the maps) out into some eight artillery sectors of fire from the Nicodemus Heights – Poffenberger Hill sector in the north to the Harpers Ferry Road sector south of town. In each, there was at least one important takeaway that significantly affected the battle. It may come as no surprise that the batteries that experienced the heaviest casualties fought on the northern end of the field. These were the batteries of Joseph Hooker’s First Corps and Confederate Stephen D. Lee’s artillery battalion. One of the least appreciated areas was the Federal line of guns along the eastern boundary of the Cornfield and East Woods. Manned throughout the late morning and into the afternoon by batteries of the Second, Sixth, and Twelfth Corps, the fire of these guns prevented the Confederates from getting a permanent foothold east of the Hagerstown Pike. I also spend some time discussing the key role of the Confederate field grade officers (majors, and lieutenant colonels) who were instrumental in moving artillery to threatened areas of the field like the Reel Ridge as Lee’s infantry reserves were exhausted. These officers had wider authority to move numbers of batteries and mass fire at critical points than lieutenants and captains had.

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, and what firmed up what you already knew? When did you know you were “done”?

JR: I began writing three years ago. Originally the artillery batteries were to have been part of a book that Brad Gottfried edited and the Antietam Institute published in 2021 titled Brigades of Antietam. Quite a number of Antietam rangers, guides, and volunteers contributed to this project. I have always been interested in the regular army organizations at Antietam and wrote the chapters on Sykes’ regular division for that book. We quickly realized that including the artillery in this book would have made it too large. I had already been conducting extensive research since 2014 on all the regular army artillery batteries with the idea of writing a book focusing just on them. Since I had accumulated a lot of material on the regulars, I offered to write Artillery of Antietam. A major stumbling block was that I began writing as the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down and I could no longer visit research centers like the National Archives and Library of Congress. This is also my first book and I had little idea at the start how long it would take.

I was surprised at how many references I found from Confederate artillerists attesting to Lee’s personal role in relocating artillery batteries during the afternoon of September 17 after the Ninth Corps seized the Lower Bridge and prepared to move on Sharpsburg. I also did not fully appreciate J.E.B. Stuart’s role in positioning Jackson’s artillery batteries on the morning of September 17. Jackson’s artillery chief Stapleton Crutchfield along with battalion commanders Alfred Courtney and Lindsay Shumaker remained at Harpers Ferry. Throughout the rainy night of September 16, four of Jackson’s batteries joined Pelham’s Stuart Horse Artillery on Nicodemus Heights where they were positioned by Stuart. Stuart also shifted the batteries to counter Sedgwick’s advance into the West Woods. Stuart doesn’t get enough credit for this. On the Federal side, Emory Upton played a surprisingly important role in the deployment of the Sixth Corps artillery.

I already knew how great Henry Hunt was as an artillery commander. Many people probably don’t know that McClellan appointed Hunt to take over the Federal artillery on September 5, 1862, just twelve days before Antietam. Previously Hunt only commanded the Artillery Reserve. Hunt like his predecessor William Barry was a very able administrator but he was also an outstanding artillery commander on the battlefield. With a minuscule staff, Hunt reorganized the Federal depleted batteries and got them ready for this fight in just 12 days. With all of this going on, Hunt on September 12 took the time to write a lengthy circular to his chiefs of artillery on the tactical employment of the artillery. I found this circular in Hunt’s papers and included it as one of my appendices.

I already knew that the Confederates possessed some excellent battery commanders like John Pelham and Willie Pegram who have books devoted to their careers. There are many others like William Poague, James Bondurant, and Charles Squires. This book brings to light some equally talented young Federal artillery commanders like Dunbar Ransom, John Tompkins, and Samuel Benjamin to name just a few. The reader will learn a lot about them and many other heretofore unknown battery commanders on both sides.

After completing chapters on the artillery batteries in each infantry and cavalry division, and the reserve artillery battalions, at Antietam, I felt I was missing something. I realized that while the Confederate batteries that fought at Harpers Ferry were covered, I had not addressed the Federal cannoneers who have never received much acknowledgment. The Federal cavalry escaped, and the infantry surrendered but the 700 men in six batteries from Illinois, Indiana, New York, and Ohio, are the only combatants on the Union side that battled the Confederates. Hamstrung by poor leadership and surrounded, outnumbered, and disadvantaged by their poor positioning, the six Federal batteries gave a surprisingly good account for themselves. The book also needed an introductory chapter for the reader to understand light artillery operations and the workings of an artillery battery. After writing that I added six appendices detailing numbers, casualties, and armament of the batteries. With that completed, I knew I was done.

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

JR: I had a head start with all the information that I previously gathered on the regular army artillery at the National Archives and from Henry Hunt’s papers at the Library of Congress. I also visited the United States Army Heritage and Education Center at Carlisle and the archives at Norwich and Yale Universities before COVID closed everything down. I acquired every battery history that I could find including all the Virginia Regimental Histories Series which covered nearly all the 44 batteries from Virginia that participated in the Maryland Campaign. The three volumes of Ezra Carman’s Maryland Campaign edited by Tom Clemens, the Carman-Cope Maps, and the Official Records provided the foundation of the book. Tom shared over 115 letters with me from 70 different artillery officers and soldiers who corresponded with Ezra Carman. Many of the letters contain details of the fighting seen nowhere else. I shared their stories for the first time in Artillery of Antietam.

Individual chapters cover each division’s artillery batteries, the Federal Artillery Reserve, the five Confederate batteries of the General Reserve, and the Harpers Ferry federal batteries. The chapters discuss the origin of the batteries, a short biography of the commanders, and combat action prior to the Maryland Campaign. The length of the narrative on their actions in the Maryland Campaign varied greatly depending on how much information I could locate. For example, the chapter on Abner Doubleday’s division which includes Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery is long and detailed. The chapter on Confederate Major Hilary Jones’ battalion is much smaller. Jones left now report that we can find. I used whatever battery histories I had and of course, letters to Carman to flesh out the stories. Each chapter ends with a conclusion and some analysis of the role of that artillery command in the Maryland Campaign.

I have always been frustrated with books that have good content but incomplete end notes and poor indexes. I took great pains in citing sources and adding supplemental information in the notes. Colleagues who have written books advised me not to outsource the index. I’m glad that I did the index myself. I indexed each chapter as I wrote it and merged them all together when I finished the book. Every artilleryman that I write about is mentioned in the index.

I also wanted to create maps that focused on the batteries. My map maker is Aaron Holley is an amazing young cartographer who does all the maps for Antietam Institute publications. Together we devised eight artillery sectors that detail the opposing artillery lines on the field at various times of the day. While the infantry lines are shown, you can clearly tell smoothbore vs rifled guns on the maps, range information and well-developed terrain details. In addition to the 23 battlefield maps, there are five maps for South Mountain, Harpers Ferry, the fighting on September 16, and Shepherdstown.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

JR: I think it is doing well. I know that in the Antietam community, there has been a lot of interest and expectation. It is available only to Antietam Institute members until the end of May after which it will be available to everyone at the Antietam bookstore, other local outlets, and on Amazon.

BR: What’s next for you?

JR: I am looking forward to a little break this summer and going back to Grenada this fall for the 40th anniversary of Urgent Fury. I’ll get to experience “soldier memory” firsthand. The next book in the Antietam Institute series is The Commanders of Antietam. I am writing the biographies for all the artillery commanders. I plan to get back to the U.S. Army regular artillery, perhaps writing a book on each artillery regiment and its role in the Civil War, much like the Virginia Regimental Histories Series does for Virginia military organizations. There is probably another book out there on the artillery at Antietam as well, looking at it from a more integrated view instead of by individual artillery organizations. Thanks again for the opportunity to talk to you Harry.





Interview: McLean, “Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg”

13 05 2023

I’ve known James L. McLean, Jr. for twenty or so years, ever since I met him when he was the bookseller at a Civil War conference I attended. You may know Jim as the owner of Butternut and Blue, which reprinted so many fine Civil War titles with superior quality. I was really glad to hear that Savas Beatie was publishing a new edition of Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg. Jim recently sat down and answered a few questions about himself, his book, his writing and research, and his future plans.

—————

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

JM: I have had a life-long interest in early American history, especially the Civil War era.

I graduated from Towson State College (now Towson University) with majors in history and education as well as a minor in mathematics. I taught mathematics for 30 years, covering courses from remedial arithmetic to calculus. Concurrently, my wife and I operated a new and out-of-print Civil War book business, Butternut and Blue, from 1983-2016.

My first edition of Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg came out in 1987, followed by a revised edition in 1994. I have had two articles published: “The First Union Shot at Gettysburg” appeared in the spring 1980 issue of the Lincoln Herald; “The Execution of John Wood on the March to Gettysburg” appeared in The Gettysburg Magazine (Issue 45, July 2011).

BR: What got you interested history in general, and the Civil War in particular?

JM: When I was seven or eight years old, my parents took me on a Gettysburg bus tour. I still remember being mesmerized by the rock formation at Devil’s Den. At an early age, I gravitated toward history books at my local library, titles such as Fletcher Pratt’s The Civil War or Earl Schenck Miers The How and Why Book of the Civil War. On subsequent trips to Gettysburg, I purchased Frederick Ray’s Gettysburg Sketches and Human Interest Stories of the Three Days’ Battle at Gettysburg by Grimm and Roy. As I got older, I received as gifts Bruce Catton’s American Heritage histories of the Civil War and Gettysburg. When I was 12, my father took me to my first Civil War Round Table meeting (the night before JFK was assassinated). My obsession with the Civil War, particularly Gettysburg, has never waned.

BR: Why Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg, in particular?

JM: In the 1970s, I delivered several talks to my local Round Table. Around 1978, I decided to make my next presentation about a single brigade’s performance at Gettysburg. I didn’t want to cover the obvious choices, such as the Western Iron Brigade or the Texas Brigade, so I did some digging. Sifting through my volumes of New York at Gettysburg led to my selection of Cutler’s brigade.

I gave the talk in September 1979, but I felt there was more to the story. I have pursued information about the brigade, especially concerning the 14th New York State Militia/14th Brooklyn ever since, which has now led to this third, revised edition of Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg.

BR: Can you briefly describe the actions of the history of the brigade and its actions at Gettysburg?

JM: The components of the brigade that Cutler commanded at Gettysburg came together slowly. At 2nd Bull Run, Abner Doubleday led the brigade, where its three regiments, the 76th and 95th New York and 56th Pennsylvania, saw their first combat. After the battle, the 7th Indiana joined the brigade. Together, the four regiments fought a night action at South Mountain. The brigade saw limited action at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.

Cutler assumed command of the brigade in early 1863. In March, the untested 147th New York was assigned to the brigade. Cutler’s final Gettysburg component, the 14th Brooklyn, was added in early June after all the two-year units it had been brigaded with were mustered out. The 14th Brooklyn became the brigade’s most experienced regiment.

On July 1, 1863, Cutler’s brigade led the 1st Corps’ march to Gettysburg where it fired the first Federal infantry shots on the battlefield. As a result of Reynolds’s orders, the brigade soon split into three distinct sections to meet the threat posed by Confederate General Heth’s division and to support Hall’s 2nd Maine battery. Cutler’s men delayed the advance of Archer’s and Davis’s Southern brigades. Then two of its regiments, in conjunction with the 6th Wisconsin, attacked the Rebels holding the railroad cut, which not only ended the morning fight but also led to the capture of a significant number of Southerners.

Despite heavy losses, Cutler’s brigade maintained its battlefield integrity, enabling it to serve along Seminary Ridge on the afternoon of July 1 and on Culp’s Hill the next two days. Cutler’s brigade was one of the few units to fight all three days of the battle, becoming one of only five brigades in the conflict to suffer in excess of 1,000 casualties.

BR: You published the most recent edition of Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg 29 years ago. What has happened with this work in the interim?

JM: When Ted sought permission to reprint Cutler’s Brigade, I agreed as long as I could make some changes. The result is a fuller, slightly expanded, revised edition.

When I reformatted the footnotes, I occasionally added extra analysis to emphasize points I made in the text. I not only addressed a few historical flaws but I also included several more soldier accounts that described the July 1 fighting. My ongoing research into the exploits of the 14th Brooklyn led to my discovery of daily field returns for the brigade throughout the campaign. The document, housed at the National Archives and Records Administration, specifies the number of men present for duty each day of the battle, so I incorporated those numbers for the regiments’ strengths rather than the ones I used in the second edition. The maps have been redrawn (and slightly adjusted), and three new appendices have been added. I added a postscript to explain what happened to the brigade and some of its personalities after Gettysburg campaign. Instead of a photographic supplement, the increased number of photos and illustrations has been interspersed throughout the text. Finally, this version of Cutler’s Brigade sports an attractive, full-color dust jacket featuring Allen Redwood’s painting of the 14th Brooklyn at the railroad cut.

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”?

JM: I started my research in 1978, so it took nearly ten years before the first volume appeared in 1987. The expanded, second edition, was published seven years later. I continue to collect source material.

As I mentioned earlier, this volume was intended to be a reprint, but I not only incorporated a fair amount of new material but I also made several revisions or clarifications to the text. When the Gettysburg portion of my 14th Brooklyn study becomes available, readers will find even greater detail concerning that regiment’s role in the battle. However, my subsequent findings confirm the conclusions I made in the three iterations of Cutler’s Brigade.

As for stumbling blocks, there are no memoirs or regimental histories for half of the units in the brigade. With the exception of J. William Hofmann, very few of Cutler’s men left published records of what they had experienced.

Three findings surprised me when I started my research 45 years ago. I soon realized that the 147th New York fought in an isolated position during the morning of July 1. Earlier accounts of the battle placed the regiment in line with the 56th Pennsylvania and 76th New York, which is understandable since their three monuments are together aligned north of the middle railroad cut. Second, I had been unaware of the important role Cutler’s men played in securing and holding Culp’s Hill. On July 2, Greene’s brigade had plenty of help defending the height. Finally, I was surprised by how dismissive many 6th Wisconsin soldiers were to the role of the 14th Brooklyn and 95th New York in capturing the railroad cut, to the point where some of them even claimed that the 14th Brooklyn never made a charge.

I don’t think my research will ever be “done” —I continue to look for information that will enhance or alter my views of what happened on the morning of July 1 at Gettysburg, especially the part played by the 14th Brooklyn.

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

JM: When I started this project in 1978, I relied heavily on the following: the MOLLUS Civil War Library and Museum in Philadelphia, which no longer exists; the War College Library in Carlisle, which became the U. S. Army Military History Institute (USAMHI) before changing its name to the United States Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC). Since then, I have personally worked at the New York State Archives, the Museum of the Confederacy, the Library of Congress newspaper files, the Library of Virginia, and the National Archives and Records Administration. Additionally, librarians from the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Oswego Historical Society, the New York State Military Museum, the New York State Library, the New York Historical Society, the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania have kindly forwarded material that I have requested.

Numerous trips to the battlefield helped me visualize and understand the accounts left by the battle’s participants.

I compose my manuscripts the old-fashioned way, with paper and pencil. After several revisions, I bang out the text on my computer.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

JM: The first two editions received favorable reviews. I hope readers will enjoy this revised and expanded Savas Beatie edition.

BR: What’s next for you?

JM: I am working on a multi-volume history of the 14th Brooklyn/14th NYSM. The first volume, already submitted to Savas Beatie, awaits its place in the company’s production schedule. It covers April 1861, when the regiment recruited to wartime strength, through the 2nd Bull Run campaign. The manuscript features 36 full-color maps as well as numerous illustrations and photographs. I am half-way through volume 2.





Preview: Cameron, “Tar Heels in Gray”

2 05 2023

A 2021 release from McFarland & Company is Tar Heels in Gray: Life in the 30th North Carolina Infantry in the Civil War, by the late John B. Cameron. This is an interesting work, akin to Joseph Glatthaar’s Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia, with lots of statistics digging into the makeup of the regiment. In fact, some of the many tables in the book compare the author’s findings in the micro to Glatthaar’s in the macro. From the jacket:

The 30th North Carolina Infantry was involved in most of the major battles in Virginia from the Seven Days through the surrender at Appomattox, and saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the American Civil War. Two-thirds of these men volunteered early; the others were enlisted at the point of a bayonet. Their casualty rate was high, the rate of death from disease was higher and the desertion and AWOL rate was higher still. What was the war actually like for these men? What was their economic status? To what extent were they involved in the institution of slavery? What were their lives like in the Army? What did they believe they were fighting for and did those views change over time? This book answers those questions and depicts Civil War soldiers as they were, rather than as appendages to famous generals or symbols of myth. It focuses on the realities of the men themselves, not their battles. In addition to the author’s personal collection of letters and other contemporary records, it draws upon newly discovered letters, diaries, memoirs, census records, and published works.

What you get:

  • 138 pages of text, in 10 chapters, a preface, an intro, a conclusion, and an appendix. The chapters are broken down by topic. The history is not chronological.
  • 23 pages of endnotes
  • Full bibliography including unpublished and archival sources.
  • Index
  • Numerous tables and graphs




Interview: O’Neill, “Small But Important Riots”

31 03 2023

A new release from Potomac Books is Robert F. (Bob) O’Neill’s Small But Important Riots: The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville. I’ve known Bob for about six years now, ever since we spent a week together out west visiting Indian Wars sites, including Little Bighorn. Bob graciously consented to discussing his new book, below.

—————

Bull Runnings: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Bob O’Neill: My wife and I live in King George, VA. I am a retired police officer, and law enforcement instructor. Virginia Country’s Civil War published my first article in 1984. I have also published articles in Blue & Gray, Gettysburg Magazine, America’s Civil War, and the Little Big Horn Associates, Research Review. In addition to the 1993 H. E. Howard edition of The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville, I published Chasing Jeb Stuart and John Mosby, The Union Cavalry in Northern Virginia from Second Manassas to Gettysburg in 2012. The latter study follows Maj. Gen. Julius Stahel’s Union cavalry, attached to the Defenses of Washington, and examines John Mosby’s first six months as a partisan commander from the viewpoint of Stahel’s troopers, using previously unpublished contemporary documents.

Dave Roth, owner, and editor of Blue & Gray, and I became good friends while working together on several Civil War articles. He had long wanted to publish an issue on the Little Big Horn, and in the early 2000’s we made two trips to the battlefield and several other nearby battlefields. Those trips and numerous related discussions led to my article in a later issue on the 1876 fights at Powder River and Rosebud. My work with Dave also resulted in my guiding two Custer related tours for Bruce Venter and America’s History, LLC.

Lastly, I publish a cavalry related blog, (Small But Important Riots), and several appendices not published in the new edition may be found on that site.

BR: What got you interested in history in general, and the Civil War in particular? Who/what were your early influences?

B’ON: Beyond grade-school classes, I learned to read and to enjoy reading by reading the books in my parent’s library. My dad, a naval officer in WW2 and Korea, had an extensive military library, including naval studies, Lincoln biographies, and Civil War histories. I began reading during the Civil War Centennial and studies such as Bruce Catton’s Army of the Potomac trilogy sparked my interest, as well as heavily illustrated books from American Heritage and similar publications. An early family trip to Gettysburg when I was nine or ten also left an indelible impression that continues to this day.

BR: Why Civil War cavalry, in particular?

BO’N: A couple of reasons: At Gettysburg, my parents hired a Licensed Battlefield Guide for the day, and while I do not remember much of the visit, I have never forgotten our first stop at the John Buford Memorial. I do not recall the guide’s description of the stand made by Buford’s cavalry, but the regimental markers and the Buford statue provided an early spark. I had also received by then a Landmark Series account of George Custer and his fight at the Little Big Horn. I loved the book, and my parents soon bought me more accurate studies of Custer and his demise. My interest in Buford and Custer has never waned. Finally, I have to credit Hollywood depictions of the cavalry and cavalry uniforms. Inaccurate though they often are, the bold colors caught my eye and sparked my interest in both the cavalry and the American West.

BR: You published The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville with H. E. Howard 30 years ago. What has happened in the interim?

BO’N: A lot. The book was very well received and sold very well but has been long out of print. Used copies commanded very high prices and remained out of reach for most folks who may have wanted to purchase a copy. The towns of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville, the battlefields, and other historic landmarks throughout the Loudoun Valley faced intense pressure from developers in 1993 when Harold Howard published the book. The book brought attention to the history of the Loudoun Valley at an opportune time, just as citizens were organizing preservation efforts to save historic sites, including the battlefields. The efforts of many dedicated residents have resulted in hundreds of acres of land protected by preservation easements, several battlefield sites are now under the protection of the Northern Virginia Park Authority, roads retain their historic integrity and structures once on the verge of collapse have been saved. The battlefields have been mapped, with core and study areas defined, while opportunities to view and understand the battlefields, most of which remain in private hands, have been improved by construction of paved roadside pull-offs, and placement of Civil War Trails interpretive markers.

The first edition opened many doors, and I have met many residents of the area who have shared their time and knowledge and who remain friends.

BR: So, what have you turned up since the publication of the first version in 1993?

BO’N: No author had attempted a book-length study of the fighting in the Loudoun Valley prior to my effort. In his 1965 book Here Come the Rebels!, Wilbur Nye dedicated two chapters to the cavalry actions in the Loudoun Valley. Likewise, Ed Longacre discussed the events around Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville in two chapters of his 1986 book, The Cavalry at Gettysburg. All of the battlefields remained largely inaccessible in private hands, and only one monument and a couple highway markers marked the fields. Interpretation of the fighting remained in its infancy. Likewise, my own abilities, or lack thereof, as a researcher, as well as a deadline and format imposed by the publisher hampered by work. Publication and positive reviews, however, opened many doors for me, and the late John Divine, who had guided me over the fields, as he had guided Wilbur Nye, introduced me to many historians who have continued to offer assistance. Most importantly, John introduced me to Mike Musick, then the dean of Civil War archivists at the National Archives. I had made a couple brief forays into the archives for the first edition, but a combination of factors limited my work there. Mike, as the late Horace Mewborn used to say, broke the code for us at the archives. With Mike’s patient guidance, I grew comfortable there and learned to accept the time one needs to put in, in order to realize the real rewards the archives offers. Those rewards, as I will discuss below, convinced me that I, as well as all who came before me and after me, had erred in our interpretation of the events. The importance of one of those errors convinced me to re-write the book.

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”?

BO’N: The author of one online review site has declined to review Small but Important Riots, because he sees the book as a revised edition of my previous work, and he maintains a policy of not reviewing revised editions. And I cannot argue with him too strongly, as most revised editions contain very little new material. However, this edition is completely new from the first page to the last page. I spent nine years looking at every aspect of the study, taking advantage of improved access to the battlefields, my familiarity with the National Archives, the advent of online resources and a wealth of material gathered over the preceding thirty years, as well as the wise counsel of many knowledgeable friends. Not wishing to give everything away, I will offer, by way of example, the change that convinced to redo the book.

Every preceding study, to include my own, has been based around one over-riding theme, that Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, commander of the Union Cavalry Corps, had disobeyed his orders from army commander, Joseph Hooker, to take his cavalry and find Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, regardless of the cost. The editors of the Official Records defined that premise, by the communications they chose to include in Volume 27. The editors included thirteen messages between Hooker and his superiors, including President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and Gen. Henry Halleck from the night of June 16-17, 1863, in which they emphatically told Hooker to send his cavalry to find the enemy and Hooker appears to agree with them. But thirty years of experience has convinced me that the editors, faced with a monumental task, left out more information than they included.

Thirty years ago, as a novice researcher, I drank all the anti-Pleasonton Kool-Aid and ignored evidence to the contrary, including his testimony before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. But I went away from the process convinced that I and others painted Pleasonton with a very broad brush, being too lazy to parse the truth from the fiction. Over time, I found the evidence that Pleasonton had told the truth: Hooker had told his superiors one thing and told Pleasonton another. Hooker’s orders were emphatic, Pleasonton was not to send his corps in search of Lee. Rather, Hooker granted him permission to send only one regiment to do so. But Pleasonton disobeyed his orders. He disobeyed that he might find Lee and in doing so he precipitated the fighting.

I have also corrected many lesser, though still embarrassing, errors of fact or interpretation. Some errors had lingered the entire time. That is, I knew there was a problem but I did not have a solution. Others had gone unrecognized until I began the writing process.

Covid told me I was done, and, as odd as it may sound, I am grateful for the events that forced me to move on.

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

BO’N: I enjoy researching much more than writing and never considered myself much of a writer. I often described my style as police report writing 101. Luckily, a friend with a deep well of patience convinced me during the last nine years to change my style and I believe, with his help, Small But Important Riots is, by far, the best narrative I have produced. I spent nine years working on the book, re-examining every facet of the events covered.

One challenge in writing of these events is that they fall between the larger battles at Brandy Station and Gettysburg. Many soldiers did not have time to write accounts of the Loudoun Valley fighting before being engulfed by events in Pennsylvania. Thirty years ago, I chased down letters and diaries as primary sources of information. As often as not the efforts proved unrewarding, but I never ceased to gather such accounts, and several proved vital in correcting errors. Rather than focusing my efforts again on letters and diaries, I determined to focus on documents in the National Archives, including pension and service records, regimental records, unpublished reports and communications, ordnance records and quartermaster records. The first edition included just three entries from the archives, whereas the new edition includes thirty-five.

The advent of online digital newspaper databases proved extremely beneficial. Thirty years ago, my bibliography included accounts from nineteen newspapers. I cite eighty-nine in the new edition. The online Fold3 database has also accelerated the process of reviewing service records and pension files. Whereas I examined maybe a dozen pension files in the first edition, I checked more than three hundred for the new edition.

Ancestry.com also proved invaluable. The combination of online newspapers, online ancestry records and my wife’s investigative skills with family and property records, as well as Wynne Saffer’s invaluable work on 1860 property boundaries, helped me to pinpoint the property where the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry met near total ruin on June 18, 1863.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

BO’N: The reviews so far, both in print and online, have been very positive. I am grateful for all who have published their thoughts and comments and I encourage everyone who reads the book to do so.

BR: What’s next for you?

BO’N: I work very slowly. Nine years spent re-writing a book I had already written may seem a bit extreme to some. But I had started almost from scratch thirty years ago. There was simply no template for these events. I have expanded the narrative and corrected many errors of interpretation, but much remains to be done. But for Covid, I might still be researching the book. I hope that someone will continue to expand our knowledge of these events in the not-too-distant future.

At the pace I work, I doubt I have another book in me. At present, and with the National Archives again open, I am helping some friends research their own projects and enjoy doing so. I am currently working on a presentation involving the Michigan Cavalry Brigade on the Plains, following the end of the Civil War. That study continues to expand and intrigue me and who knows what might follow.





Preview: New from Savas Beatie with Bull Run Links

27 01 2023

Two new releases from Savas Beatie have Bull Run ties.

The Civil Wars of General Joseph E. Johnston, Confederate States Army, Vol. I: Virginia and Mississippi, 1861-1863 by Richard R. McMurry looks at various aspects of the career of the commander of the Army of the Shenandoah at First Bull Run. From the dust jacket:

In The Civil Wars of General Joseph E. Johnston, Richard M. McMurry argues persuasively that the Confederacy’s most lethal enemy was the toxic dissension within the top echelons of its high command. The discord between General Johnston and President Jefferson Davis (and others), which began early in the conflict and only worsened as the months passed, routinely prevented the cooperation and coordination the South needed on the battlefield if it was going to achieve its independence. The result was one failed campaign after another, all of which cumulatively doomed the Southern Confederacy.

McMurry’s study is not a traditional military biography but a lively and opinionated conversation about major campaigns and battles, strategic goals and accomplishments, and how these men and their decision-making and leadership abilities directly impacted the war effort. Personalities, argues McMurry, win and lose wars, and the military and political leaders who form the focal point of this study could not have been more different (and in the case of Davis and Johnston, more at odds) when it came to making the important and timely decisions necessary to wage the war effectively.

You get:

  • 326 pages of narrative in 12 chapters
  • Foreword by Stephen Davis (who concludes McMurry’s assessment of Johnston in this work “is one of the most scathing that exists in the voluminous Civil War literature”)
  • Four Edward Alexander maps
  • (Bibliography will follow in Vol. II)
  • Bottom of page footnotes
  • Index

The Military Memoirs of a Confederate Line Officer, edited by William R. Cobb, are the recollections of John C. Reed, who was a lieutenant in Co. I, 8th Georgia Infantry, at First Bull Run (read his account of the battle, which is included in this volume, here). From the website:

John C. Reed fought through the entire war as an officer in the 8th Georgia Infantry, most of it with General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The Princeton graduate was wounded at least twice (Second Manassas and Gettysburg), promoted to captain during the Wilderness fighting on May 6, 1864, and led his company through the balance of the Overland Campaign, throughout the horrific siege of Petersburg, and all the way to the Appomattox surrender on April 9, 1865.

The Military Memoirs of a Confederate Line Officer is a perceptive and articulate account filled with riveting recollections of some of the war’s most intense fighting. Reed offers strong opinions on a wide variety of officers and topics. This outstanding memoir, judiciously edited and annotated by William R. Cobb, is published here in full for the first time. The Military Memoirs of a Confederate Line Officer is a valuable resource certain to become a classic in the genre.

You get:

  • 176 pages of memoir, in 28 chapters.
  • Foreword by Lt. Col. (Ret) Henry Persons
  • Bottom of page footnotes
  • Nine maps (Hampton Newsome and Hal Jesperson) – including an interpretation of Reed’s map found here
  • Bibliography listing five sources used, including numerous CSRs from Fold3
  • Index




Preview: Three Recent Releases from Savas Beatie

21 11 2022

I apologize for the delay in posting this, but here are recaps for three recent Savas Beatie publications.

From the jacket:

“When Hell Came to Sharpsburg” investigates how the battle and its armies wreaked emotional, physical, and financial havoc on the people of Sharpsburg. For proper context, the author explores the savage struggle and its gory aftermath and explains how soldiers stripped the community of resources and spread diseases. Cowie carefully and meticulously follows fortunes of individual families like the Mummas, Roulettes, Millers, and many others—ordinary folk thrust into harrowing circumstances—and their struggle to recover from their unexpected and often devastating losses.”

What you get:

  • 464 pages of text in 12 chapters
  • 34 page bibliography, including numerous manuscript and newspaper sources.
  • Index
  • Bottom of page footnotes
  • Forewords by Dennis Frye and John Schildt
  • 8 Hal Jesperson maps, including town plat map and list of lot owners
  • Photos and illustrations throughout

From the jacket:

Scott L. Mingus Sr. and Eric J. Wittenberg, the authors of more than forty Civil War books, have once again teamed up to present a history of the opening moves of the Gettysburg Campaign in the two-volume study “If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania”: The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac March to Gettysburg. This compelling study is one of the first to integrate the military, media, political, social, economic, and civilian perspectives with rank-and-file accounts from the soldiers of both armies as they inexorably march toward their destiny at Gettysburg. This first installment covers June 3–21, 1863, while the second, spanning June 22–30, completes the march and carries the armies to the eve of the fighting.

You get:

  • 409 pages of text in 19 chapters, by day
  • Appendix on the itineraries of the armies
  • Bibliography to follow in volume 2
  • 14 page Dramatis Personae
  • Index
  • Bottom of page footnotes
  • Foreword by Dr. Jennifer Murray
  • 31 Edward Alexander maps
  • Photos and illustrations throughout

From the jacket:

In Six Miles from Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell: The Battle of Secessionville, June 16, 1862, historian Jim Morgan examines the James Island campaign and its aftermath. By including several original sources not previously explored, he takes a fresh look at this small, but potentially game-changing fight, and shows that it was of much more than merely local interest at the time.

You get:

  • 151 pages of text in 12 chapters
  • 2 appendixes: driving tour and the Campbell brothers of the 79th New York Volunteers
  • Order of Battle
  • 14 page Dramatis Personae
  • Foreword by Dr. Kyle Sinisi
  • 10 Edward Alexander maps
  • Photos and illustrations throughout




Preview: Bryan, “Cedar Mountain to Antietam”

20 04 2022

New from Savas Beatie is M. Chris Bryan’s Cedar Mountain to Antietam: A Civil War Campaign History of the Union XII Corps, July-September 1862. From the jacket:

Bryan’s extensive archival research, newspapers, and other important resources, together with detailed maps and images, offers a compelling story of a little-studied yet consequential command that fills a longstanding historiographical gap.

You get:

  • 346 page narrative in eleven chapters and an epilogue
  • 3 appendices, with orders of battle, numbers and losses, and the 3rd Wisconsin at Cedar Mountain
  • 10 page bibliography
  • Full index
  • Bottom-of-page footnotes
  • 28 (!) Hal Jesperson Maps




Interview: Groeling, “First Fallen”

14 01 2022
Meg Groeling

Meg Groeling has been a friend for a long time. She crossed over from what I call and “e-quaintance” to a real, live friend on the Bull Runnings “In the Footsteps of the 69th NYSM” tour a in 2019 when, despite some health issues, she made the trip from California and gamely joined us as we tramped the sometimes-challenging terrain of the battlefield. She has recently published First Fallen: The Life of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, the North’s First Civil War Hero, with Savas Beatie, and was good enough to take the time to answer a few questions about it.

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

MG: In high school I told my dad I wanted to be a writer and a historian. He told me that was a terrible idea, because I needed a job that would support me and writing history would never do that. He was correct, as dads usually are. I began this iteration of my life after thirty-three years of teaching 5th grade and middle school math. Sure enough—without my retirement I’d be out of luck. So, believe me when I say I am enjoying every moment of life just now. My master’s degree is from American Public University and is in Military History with an American Civil War emphasis. I have written one other book, published by Savas Beatie as well. It is The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial of the Civil War Dead. It is part of the Emerging Civil War series.

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

MG: I think most of us has a parent, grandparent or some relative who loves history. They talk about the dead as though they were still with us, and laugh at their jokes. My maternal grandmother was the first one of those for me. My first remembered lullabies were war songs like “Bonnie Blue Flag,” and “Hail Columbia.” I learned to play checkers because “that’s what Uncle George liked to do.” (Uncle George was a Tennessee Yankee cavalryman). The oldest class at my elementary school re-enacted the Great Oklahoma Land Run, so from Kindergarten I was primed to want to be involved in participatory history. My stepfather was a WW2 vet who came with old records called Songs of the North and the South, and lots of books, including the one with the dead men at Antietam. When we moved to California, I loved the Life magazines that were issued to commemorate the Civil War Centennial. I had few Barbies, but enough Ken dolls to at least handle a cannon if need arose. They all had tattoos, too. Eagles, I think! Life intervenes, I reinvented myself a couple of times, but finally there is time in my life again for the Civil War.

BR: What got you interested in Elmer Ellsworth?

MG: A casual convo with my middle school principal actually inspired the book. I worked at—here it comes! —E. E. Brownell Middle School. The principal dropped by to say hello at my first parent conference. I had just started teaching there, and I happened to be sitting under a painting of a 1940s-looking chap. The principal was making general conversation and happened to ask if I ever wondered just what the E. E. in Brownell’s name stood for. I looked up at the painting and then said that I had guessed they stood for Elmer Ellsworth. “I wonder if he is related to Frank Brownell,” I mused. That was when I found out my principal was a serious Civil War buff and wanted to just get coffee and talk about Ellsworth and Brownell for the rest of the conference. Greg Camacho-Light is one of those bosses that becomes so much more than a boss. He gave me the opportunity to work on my Masters, he supported the writing I did, and we have become very good friends. And FYI, E. E. Brownell is a very distant relation of Frank Brownell, “Ellsworth’s Avenger.”

BR: Can you describe Ellsworth’s role in the militia system in the antebellum North?

MG: I am fascinated by this, and by the idea that the Algerian zouave infantry drill could have revolutionized the role of the infantry in a way that took many more years to happen. If Ellsworth had not been killed—one of the great what ifs! There is a quote from Robert E. Lee alluding to his thought that Ellsworth would have led the Army of the Potomac had he lived. I don’t believe that, but I do believe that his combination of tactics and troop usage could have brought the idea of “Special Forces” into being. Not in the Confederate sense of extra-legal maneuvers but playing a parallel role to Berdan’s Sharpshooters. I am actively researching the combination of Ellsworth’s ideas for organizing state militias, his mastery of infantry drill (any and all versions) and the changes in military basic training which might have ensued. Just in case you think I am jumping down an empty rat hole, please look at Seal and Ranger training videos, then compare what they are learning with what Ellsworth’s U. S. Zouave Cadets did. Getting the unit over the wall brought tears to my eyes.

BR: What were the most surprising things you learned about Ellsworth?

MG: I had a suspicion that Ellsworth had a bigger story than just what most people knew—that he was killed in Alexandria over a flag. It was what I had learned in reading about the early war in all the usual places that made me wonder if he had anything to do with that period, and my curiosity, which sprung from re-enacting and Billy Yank made me wonder about the Union men who so eagerly answered the call to war. I had gone through Vietnam, so I knew what it was like when folks did not care to fight. I wanted to understand these earlier volunteers better. After I got my degree, I saw where Ellsworth fit in in the antebellum militia movement and saw how important that was—not just to Elmer, but to Lincoln as well. Ellsworth created the first “national craze,” the Zouaves.

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”?

MG: I began the book in 2011, thinking I would just fool around with the idea of writing a biography of someone I had always found interesting but who was not on the “A” list, as fellow author David Dixon says. I was not sure I had anything new to say about Grant. But since no one had said anything about Ellsworth since 1960, well—that looked more promising. I wrote a first draft in about a year (remember, I was also working full-time and writing new math curriculum for our district) and gave it to a few friends to read.

When I revisited the book again and heard/read the comments, I realized that this book might actually have legs. If that was true, I needed to be more than a “Civil War buff.” “Retired math teacher” didn’t sound so great either. I looked for a masters’ program in local colleges and universities, but quickly realized that if I wanted an advanced degree in tree hugging, California was the place. Military history? Not so much. I found a wonderful program at American Public University. APU is the sister program to American Military University, which was developed so that service members who are stationed worldwide could continue their educations in a single place. APU is the place where we civilians enroll, but the courses are the same. The work was demanding, the professors often were the same ones whose books I owned, and often the number of women in class was very small compared to the number of military men, all of which created a challenging, dynamic learning environment. I loved every moment! I would never consider the four years it took me to finish as any kind of impediment, but it did slow down things a bit.

The time it took, eleven years in all, worked to my advantage. I now came back to my manuscript with enhanced research skills, much more confidence as a writer, a far more complete understanding of the change the military needed to make to fight the Civil War effectively, and during all that time, I kept finding new information. For instance, it was not until 2017 that positive proof of Ellsworth’s passing the Illinois Bar Exam was found, clearing up at least one unknown detail of his life. Also, Ancestry.com had, by then, linked to Fold3, FindAGrave, and other online resources that are simply invaluable to understanding the details of a person’s life that place him or her in a specific social stratum. This culminated in my being able to refute Ellsworth’s claims of dire poverty. It also helped greatly as I chased the men who were U. S. Zouave Cadets into the Civil War and beyond. Every one of those fellows served in some capacity. Huzzah!

I realized I was done when Elmer died—seriously! I knew then that, except for polishing and improving my writing, I wanted to add some important things about his legacy and then John Hay’s NY Times obituary, but that was all. My amazing editor, Mitch Yockelson, suggested using appendices instead of trying to add unnecessary chapters. He was, in my opinion, spot on. This is where I became even more of a bullrunnings.com fan. Harry, you are a blessing to us all.

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

MG: I think my reading/writing process is pretty common. I did plan the overall outline of the book, and when a particular source seemed to be rich in information I either printed it off in hard copy or bought the book from amazon, if possible. I bought used books whenever I could, so no priceless first editions line the shelves. As for brick-and-mortar, I have to say the museums and battlefields I visited. Not bookstores, but the Kenosha Civil War Museum, the Brown University Library, the New York State Military Museum, Fort Ward, and the battlefield at Manassas were inspiring, helpful, and very real. Mostly I was able to use on-line resources, even to point to hard copies of information.

I also read extensively. Lesley Gordon’s work on the exoneration of the 11th New York Fire Zouaves helped me navigate the OR in a totally different way, and that helped a great deal. I really like to write, so I have little trouble fitting it in, although my life went through full-time work, retirement, a new marriage, keeping up with a house built in 1928, writing for other places such as the magazine American Bungalow, and getting cancer. Reading and writing are my happy places, I guess.

BR: How has the book been received so far

MG: Amazingly enough, it is getting excellent reviews. I say “amazingly enough” because I doubt if many authors expect their firstborn to do as well as this one has. I am so grateful. The writing journey has been the best, people have been so kind, and the reviews say I have written a book that will help historians more fully understand Ellsworth, the years before the war in Illinois, and the earliest days of Lincoln’s presidency. I feel I have broken ice on the facts of the Baltimore Plot as well. The plot to kill Lincoln as he stopped to change trains in Baltimore was much debated. With the release of Alan Pinkerton’s personal papers and research done up to that time, I think I have what might be the closest (so far) explanation of that particular incident.

BR: What’s next for you?

MG: I have cancer, so staying well enough to do the traveling and presentations I have looked forward to is really what is next. I am working on a book about Walt Whitman for the Savas Beatie Emerging Civil War series, and I shall keep blogging for Emerging Civil War, which gave me my first opportunity to be published as a historian back in 2011. As I said before, I am researching Ellsworth’s ideas for interior drill changes and trying to push that forward. That and petting cats…





Interview: Simione & Schmiel, “Searching for Irvin McDowell”

13 12 2021
Gen Schmiel, “Dutch” Schnieder, and Frank Simione

Frank Simione, Jr. and Gene Schmiel, with E. L. “Dutch” Schneider, have recently published a Searching for Irvin McDowell: Forgotten Civil War General. Frank and Gene took some time to answer a few questions about the book. For more info, check out the review at Civil War Books and Authors.

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

FS: I am a retired bioscience industry administrative professional who has written a number of technical papers and review articles, manuals, and book chapters throughout my 42-year career. Prior to the McDowell biography my only other book writing experience was the story of the organization I worked for titled, Transformation of an Icon: ATCC and the New Business Model for Science written in collaboration with our CEO.

GS: I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. After receiving my Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, I taught History for four years at St. Francis University (PA). I then changed careers, becoming a U.S. Foreign Service Officer in the Department of State. I served as a diplomat in five nations overseas and in several positions in Washington over a 24 year career. Since my retirement from the Foreign Service, I have worked part-time for the Department of State in historical document declassification.

In 2010 I decided to write a biography of Civil War General Jacob D. Cox based on my doctoral dissertation. That book, Citizen-General: Jacob Dolson Cox and the Civil War Era, was published in 2014 by Ohio University Press and was a History Book Club selection. A companion volume, My Dearest Lilla: Civil War Letters Home by General Jacob D. Cox, is currently under consideration for publication by the University of Tennessee Press.

I have written and self-published thirteen other books about the Civil War, ten of which are part of my series, “Civil War Personalities, 50 At a Time.” These books are designed to introduce the reader to key people in distinct categories, ranging from Civil War Trailblazers and Troublemakers to Civil War Virginians to Civil War Women to The Civil War in Statuary Hall. I will soon begin the eleventh book in the series, tentatively titled, Baptism by Fire at First Bull Run. [See Gene’s Amazon Author Page here.]

I also have lectured to some 25 Civil War Round Tables around the country, and beginning in 2019 I have been the guest lecturer about the Civil War aboard American Cruise Lines ships on the Mississippi River and on the Southeast Coast. Here’s my Civil War web-site.

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

FS: My interest in the Civil War began during the 1961-1965 centennial. Authors such as Bruce Catton were a major influence, and living only 40 miles from Gettysburg, my early interest focused on the Battle of Gettysburg. I have sustained my Civil War interest since then, primarily through reading, and expanded that interest well beyond Gettysburg and Pennsylvania. My personal library contains nearly 200 volumes on Lincoln and the Civil War.

GS: My main doctoral field of study was 19th century American history, and the Civil War was the most important event in that era. While I have always been interested in the Civil War, it was the 2014 publication of my book about Jacob Cox that convinced me to devote a considerable amount of time and effort to studying, writing, and speaking about this critical era.

BR: How did you two meet?

FS: When I realized I needed help, Dave Button, a mutual local colleague, and an early reviewer of the book draft, introduced me to Gene in early 2020.

GS: Yes, our good friend Dave Button is responsible for our meeting, and we have thanked him many times since.

BR: You’ve written “Searching for Irvin McDowell” together. How did you come to the decision to write it in tandem, and how does that process work?

FS: After unsuccessful attempts to get my first draft published, Gene joined me in early 2020. He provided a critical review of the first draft, agreed to review a revised version as it was developed, and in the process made major edits, rewrote sections, and added new material.

GS: At first I thought that I would just help Frank here and there with edits and suggestions. But as the project evolved, and because I had additional free time because of COVID’s closing my office in the Department of State, I decided to “dive into” the project. Most importantly, Frank was amenable to my editing and tinkering with the text and my additions. Further, we found that we had complementary skills and interests: I did the formatting and organizing, Frank carefully proofread and checked the text and created the index, and we both checked each other repeatedly. In the end it became a solid partnership.

BR: Why a biography of Irvin McDowell?

FS: Our third author, Dutch Schneider, is a McDowell look-alike who portrayed him in local events in Manassas, Virginia. When I saw Dutch in his McDowell role, I became interested in learning more about him and went looking for a biography. Dutch informed me that there were none, and I suggested that we write one as I was appalled that no one had told McDowell’s story.

GS: I knew that there was no biography of McDowell, but until I met Frank, I had not thought of filling that historiographical gap. But when this opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance. The fact that I live just a few hundred yards from the Manassas battlefields and am able to walk that ground whenever I wish was another motivator. Finally, as in the case of Jacob Cox, Irvin McDowell deserved to have his story told.

Let me emphasize here that our objective was to write a biography focusing primarily on McDowell’s time on the battlefield, but not a definitive study. In fact, we chose the title because we recognized that the “search” for Irvin McDowell would be ongoing. As we noted in the Preface, we wish others engaging in that search with an eye to writing the definitive scholarly text, “God Speed.”

BR: Of course the stumbling block when it comes to McDowell is the lack of personal papers. Other than the ten letters to his wife written in the summer of 1862, there’s not much out there (I suspect there’s more, of course, we just need to find it). How did you deal with the lack of your subject’s private voice?

FS: We focused on the “public” voice by looking for what others said about McDowell. Our hope was that what we found would contribute to a meaningful story about who McDowell was.

GS: Of course we also used the Official Records and other key primary sources, including those ten letters. I especially found McDowell’s testimony at Fitz-John Porter’s re-trial to be revealing of the “inner Irvin McDowell,” a man who, deep down, knew he had performed poorly at Second Bull Run but, as he testified, “I shut it out of my mind as best I could.”

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”?

FS: I began doing the research in January 2017 by looking through my private library, the local libraries, and doing online searches. We knew from the beginning that there was little primary material on McDowell, no memoir, few letters and that he did not contribute to “Battles and Leaders” or other publications regarding his experiences. The lack of these materials made the search and the selection of material to include in the book more difficult. At the end of 2020, Gene and I determined that we had reached a point of diminishing returns in our quest for additional material.

GS: After I began working with Frank, I thought that while he had exhausted most of the available material, there were several other areas to focus on, including the Porter trial transcripts and the records of McDowell’s military administrative work after the war. When we had gone through those sources and a few others and had finished our umpteenth re-write, we decided to declare the book “done.”

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

FS: Brick and mortar sources were limited to books and articles that included McDowell, mostly as a secondary character. For example, Francis Baylies’, A Narrative of General Wool’s Campaign in Mexico: in the Years 1846, 1847 & 1848, published in 1851, is about General Wool’s campaign, but also contains interesting information about McDowell, Wool’s aide-de-camp. The Official Records, and Supplement to the Official Records, provided primary information on McDowell during the Civil War. Information on his family history was found primarily by searching online resources.

GS: I agree with Frank. Also, see what I wrote above.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

FS: Gene did the publishing via amazon.com and has been in touch with other scholars and reviewers, so I leave this answer to him.

GS: Civil War Books and Authors and Civil War Monitor magazine will be reviewing it soon. We hope and trust other Civil War magazines and interest groups will be doing the same. Sales of the book, which is available in hardbound, paperback, and ebook, have been quite good.





Interview: Ovies, “The Boy Generals”

24 09 2021

New from Savas Beatie is The Boy Generals: George Custer, Wesley Merritt, and the Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, by Adolfo Ovies. Mr. Ovies took some time to answer a few questions about his book and his writing.


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

AO: The most influential moment of my life was in 1960, when my family fled Communist Cuba for a new life in Connecticut where I became a “Connecticut Yankee” —more American than Cuban. I have, however, always remained comfortable in both cultures.

Nothing in my academic career prepared me to become a historian. During my college tenure, monetary issues turned me in the direction of the food service industry and for 45 years I worked as an executive chef and food service director, opening restaurants in both the midwest and southwest. Throughout the years my passion for history has flourished. The books in my library span the period from the Vikings to the Vietnam war.

Tournament bass fishing provided an outlet for my competitive nature. In Florida, many of our fisheries came under pressure from a host of environmental groups. I was a founder and president of South Florida Anglers for Everglades Restoration (SAFER), a group dedicated to restoring the Everglades, thus preserving the sport we all loved so much. At this time I began researching and writing what would become my first book on George Armstrong Custer.

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

AO: My love of Civil War history developed almost as a perfect storm. I have always been an avid reader and at ten years old I made the switch from reading the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift to reading Quentin Reynold’s book on Custer, a part of the Landmark Series of history books for children.

Hard on the book’s heel came Errol Flynn’s mesmerizing portrayal of George A. Custer in They Died with Their Boots On. When I was 12, my father took us on a vacation to Gettysburg. Up to this time, I had just been nibbling on the bait, but with the visit to this storied battlefield I took a full bite and was hooked for life. When my grandfather gave a copy of Jay Monaghan’s Custer, I knew I had made the transition to becoming a big time Civil War history buff.

BR: Why Custer and Merritt?

AO: The answer to the question comes down to a letter written by Elizabeth Bacon Custer (Libbie) to then General of the Army, William T. Sherman. In the letter, written at the time that Wesley Merritt was appointed superintendent of West Point. Libbie told Sherman, “years ago I knew . . . that General Custer was his [Merritt’s] enemy.” I have always believed that history is sometimes written in too cut and dried a manner. Here was a chance to be a storyteller, to write the tale of two men who came to detest each other with a passion. My book is more than a recitation of the battles and campaigns of the cavalry. Though well researched and detailed, it is also the story of two men whose differing personalities and tactical philosophies led them to what I call “a fight for the soul of the cavalry.” Compelled to trace the development of their dysfunctional relationship, I found more than I bargained for.

BR: Can you describe the relationship between the two what we can learn from it, in a nutshell?

AO: The flamboyant Custer, often chastised for his recklessness, would suffer a horrific death on Last Stand Hill at the battle of the Little Big Horn. His name will remain emblazoned on the pages of our nation’s history as long as there are historians to write. He was 38 at the time of his death on June 25, 1876.

The understated Merritt would go on to a long and influential career in the U.S. Army. He fought the Native American tribes on the frontier and led the expedition to the Philippines in the 1898 Spanish-American War. But his greatest contribution would be his founding and presidency of the United States Cavalry Association. He would use the journal of the association (JUSCA) as a platform to transform an army utilized to fight on the western frontier into one capable of fighting against the best the European powers had to offer. Yet his life and achievements remain obscure.

The lesson here is that each man created his own legacy, wove his own destiny. The old Saxons and Norsemen called it Wyrd.

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”?

AO: My first attempt at writing a history book was a self-published effort entitled Crossed Sabers: General George Custer and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864-65. That was back in 2004. It was not a commercial success, however, as the result of his review of this book, I met and became friends with cavalry historian Eric Wittenberg. Eric graciously offered to mentor me in my next effort, The Boy Generals, which has been in the works for about 9 years.

I had two major stumbling blocks in writing this trilogy.

1. Much of the mythology that has sprung up around Custer had to be challenged. Often conflicting accounts exist that needed to be verified. During his Civil War career, Custer was a great soldier sometimes disguised by his flamboyant nature.

2. The enigma that is Wesley Merritt had to be brought into the light of day. Unlike Custer, there are no trunks filled with personal material. His character had to be fleshed out through his official reports, his extensive after-war writings and the accounts of the men who fought under him.

The extent of the deterioration of the relationship between Custer and Merritt was crystal clear once I understood the underlying roots. It was not something that occurred overnight, but developed gradually, battle by battle, campaign by campaign, right up until the end of the war, and even beyond. The effect of Custer always being subordinated to Merritt cannot be understated. I knew I had come to the end of the scope for this project when, during Sheridan’s 1865-1866 Texas campaign, Custer sent Merritt a brief note in which he basically thumbed his nose at Merritt and told him that he was no longer Custer’s boss.

BR: You describe this as the first volume of a trilogy. Very briefly, what does each volume cover?

AO: Volume 1 lays out the background of the hatred that developed between Merritt and Custer. It covers the time from their tenures at West Point, to McClellan’s Peninsular campaign, and on to Brandy Station, where, already, there were inklings of tension. During the battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville, their careers, literally, took divergent roads. Destiny took them on dissimilar paths to the fields of Gettysburg. Merritt’s actions on South Cavalry Field and Custer’s participation at East Cavalry Field were but the groundwork for their blossoming adversarial relationship.

Volume 2 follows their respective brigades as they contested the defeated Rebels down the face of the rugged Blue Ridge Mountains. After Major General Philip H. Sheridan replaced Major General Alfred A. Pleasonton as commander of the Cavalry Corps, the confrontation between Merritt and Custer was ratcheted up several notches. The volume covers the hard-fought battles of the Overland campaign, and details the battle at Trevilian Station, where their rupture became part of the official record. In August 1864, Sheridan’s troopers were transferred to the Shenandoah Valley. For Custer and Merritt, things began to deteriorate rapidly.

Volume 3 For Merritt and Custer, the situation went from bad to worse as the Shenandoah campaign rumbled up the valley. The dysfunctional relationship finally erupted into public view following the battle of Cedar Creek, after which there was no hope of reconciliation. The glory of the Appomattox campaign would be forever tarnished when Custer was insubordinate to Merritt. Their acrimony would continue into the post-war army.

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

AO: My approach to research is that there is no such thing as a solitary clue. Each clue provides another direction that needs to be tracked down and examined, and then re-examined. Each account offers a different perspective, and none can be taken as gospel truth. I have tried not to bring an agenda to this work. Though I admit that I am an unabashed Custer buff, I have tried to keep an open mind in my research on Wesley Merritt. I believe that I have brought as much material to the book on his behalf as has been written since his solitary biography by Don E. Alberts was published back in 1980.

The Official Records have been one of my primary sources of information. It takes many, many readings to mine all the nuances that are contained in the reports of the participants. There are several versions of the OR online. My favorite is the one from Cornell/Hathi Trust as it is copied from the originals. I don’t trust some of the transcribed versions. Google Books has turned out to be a tremendous resource as I have been able to download many regimental histories, both north and south, that I probably wouldn’t have gotten access to. I have taken trips to the Army Heritage Institute, the National Archives and visited every accessible battlefield pertaining to the events in this work. Many fellow historians have given freely of their time and sources. To them I owe a great debt of gratitude.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

AO: I am really heartened by the responses I have received so far. Many of the comments make specific reference to the style of my writing. As I mentioned earlier, my main goal was to tell the story of these two men who played such an important part in the actions of the cavalry in the Eastern theater of the war. Judging from the comments, I think I have succeeded in accomplishing this.

BR: What’s next for you?

AO: I have already written the following volumes of this trilogy, though they need some tweaking to bring them up to date with some of my latest research. These volumes will be published next year. I am well into my next project which deals with the Bay of Pigs invasion. It is entitled The Cuban Conundrum: The Brigade 2506, the CIA and the Cuban Civil War. I have interviewed two dozen members of the Cuban Brigade and have gained access to over 200 declassified CIA documents written in Spanish of the Brigade’s training in the jungles of Guatemala. I hope to bridge the cultural gap that has separated Cuban and American historians and write the definitive story of the 3-day battle and its aftermath.