Interview: Joseph A. Rose, “Grant Under Fire”

11 10 2015

Author photo - Don Rose cropped B&WJoseph A. Rose is the author of Grant Under Fire: An Expose of Generalship and Character in the American Civil War. I previewed the book here. Mr. Rose took some time to answer some questions about the book below.

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

JAR: Growing up, I read anything non-fiction, up to and including the 1960 World Book Encyclopedia. Our house contained a goodly number of books, and my father’s collection was rich in military history. These works, especially the West Point Atlas of American Wars, simultaneously begat a love of maps (I preferred that atlas to the pictorial maps in American Heritage’s fat The Civil War, showing little soldiers running around). One of the first books I read on warfare was The Great Siege by Ernle Bradford, with its map of Malta’s convoluted Grand Harbor. At the State University of New York at Albany, I earned sufficient credits for a minor in history, as part of a bachelor’s degree in geography, but cobbled together an urban studies minor, instead. A joint Cornell University/Baruch College program awarded me a Master of Science in Industrial and Labor Relations.

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

JAR: My interests in military history—and history, in general—have always been wide-ranging, but no early influences really stand out. I had no favorite generals or battles and read for information and not just a well-told narrative. But after returning from a year-long, cross-country trip—with requisite stops at Gettysburg, Antietam, and Chattanooga—I joined a Yahoo discussion group on the western theatre of the American Civil War.

BR: Why the interest in Grant, in particular?

JAR: I had no interest in him at first. While debating the Civil War online, however, two topics engendered particularly fierce debates: General Grant’s surprise and activities at the Battle of Shiloh and his intentions of ascending Missionary Ridge, along with other events in the Battle of Chattanooga. No matter the number and reliability of the primary sources I advanced, which substantiated a rather negative view of Grant, his defenders denied almost anything and everything. Most refused to entertain the possibility that Grant made mistakes beyond the most inarguable, accused me of being a “Lost Causer,” and even asked, “Why do you hate Grant?”

These arguments caused me to delve more deeply into the library stacks, the Official Records, the internet’s myriad resources, and various manuscript collections. It became apparent early on that Ulysses S. Grant’s own writings—biased, inaccurate, and sometimes untruthful—have been overly influential. Civil War history should no longer be founded upon his Personal Memoirs. After a while, with a ton of research already compiled, writing a book became the obvious next step.

BR: What makes your study stand out? There have been over the years and recently works critical of Grant – what does your book contribute to the literature on Grant that has not already been contributed?

JAR: Grant Under Fire overturns 150 years of what is, frankly, bad history, which has basically followed Grant’s Memoirs and the biographies of his friends, staff, and supporters. Writers such as Adam Badeau, Albert D. Richardson, and John Emerson praised Grant without end. Until lately, Civil War historiography rarely strayed from this path. Recent books by Frank Varney, David Moore, and Diane Monroe Smith, however, have made a good start, along with William McFeely’s Grant and a few much older works, in rectifying some of the mythology surrounding the General.

But there’s so much that has never before been investigated or analyzed, and never anything published that is nearly as comprehensive as Grant Under Fire. In controversy after controversy after controversy, this book offers a fresh take, more information, and—quite often—a vastly different conclusion than that reached by the General’s prior biographers. Negative but highly germane evidence, if uncovered by these writers, was somehow omitted, while Grant’s manifold blunders were ignored, minimized, or excused. Along with reevaluating Grant’s generalship, I lay bare innumerable flaws in the historiography, such as Bruce Catton’s about-face on several issues after taking over Lloyd Lewis’ biography.

BR: Grant Under Fire is a doorstop at 621 pages of narrative alone. Can you summarize your thesis, and maybe give a few supporting examples?

JAR: The examples could go on nearly without end. My book has a number of major themes: Grant’s tactical inability, favoritism and hatreds, indolence and negligence, exploitation of military politics, mistreatment of Black soldiers and civilians, and marked unreliability as a chronicler of the conflict (his Memoirs do not deserve their vaunted reputation), as well as numerous minor ones: his alcoholism, luck, corruption, injustice to fellow officers, and failure to credit essential supporters (e.g., Elihu Washburne, John Rawlins, and Charles Dana). A chapter on the post-war period demonstrates that he didn’t change his stripes. His defects were just easier to see.

Grant’s biographers often credit him with victory at Fort Henry—where Foote won the battle—and refuse to recognize that Buell deserves much if not most of the acclaim for Shiloh (Grant falsely asserted that he took overall command). And Grant appropriated the tribute for opening the Cracker Line at Chattanooga. Only the bravery and intelligence of the men and subordinate officers turned his foolish orders (to charge to the base of Missionary Ridge and stop) into an unexpected and glorious triumph, after which he stole their laurels. The Overland and Petersburg campaigns revealed a commander who could not stop attacking, no matter how strong the enemy’s defenses or how worn-out his own men were. Much of Grant’s advance on Vicksburg was highly commendable, but his previous bungling for months in the Delta’s swamps and his assaults on the city detracted from even that campaign.

People who might complain that the book is one-sided should keep in mind the subtitle: An Exposé of Generalship & Character in the American Civil War. It would be like saying that Woodward and Bernstein weren’t open-minded about Nixon. My investigative efforts are an antidote to the poison of Grant hagiography. The existing biographies are almost always both one-sided and inaccurate, although they may look unbiased.

Grant Under Fire should also help redeem the reputations of many unfairly criticized victims of Grant, whose biographers seemingly love to berate officers such as John McClernand and William Rosecrans, whom the General detested. They unreasonably slag George Thomas and even censure Robert E. Lee, in comparison with their hero. Grant’s failure to quickly forward a flag of truce after Cold Harbor became an opportunity for some biographers to blame Lee for letting the federal wounded suffer and die between the lines. My analysis reveals who was responsible … Ulysses S. Grant.

BR: What were the major stumbling blocks along the way to completing the book?

JAR: The inability to see more manuscripts scattered at repositories around the country. I still need to visit the Wyoming Archives to see letters of Grant’s staffer, John Rawlins, in the Bender Collection. I had to use secondhand accounts of the Hamlin Garland papers at U.S.C., although I don’t completely trust writers to correctly characterize what they cite.

BR: What surprised you in the process of writing it?

JAR: Several items: A certain level of inaccuracy in contemporary accounts and in the participants’ autobiographies, for example, was anticipated. But the extent of fallacious logic and argument and fact, not only in the Grant biographies but in standard histories, was astounding. Several authors used “proportional losses” as an indicator of generalship, when all that does is automatically reward the leader of the larger force. It’s mathematically wrong, yet no one seems to object.

Then there were omissions of readily available material (e.g., in the Official Records.) Apparently frustrated by a delay, Grant ordered the attack at the Crater when the mine hadn’t exploded (OR 40:1:47). To quote from Grant Under Fire, “But sending men atop four tons of gunpowder liable to ignite at any moment bespoke Grant’s reckless disregard of human life, and they came close to being hoist on his extremely large petard.” Shouldn’t such a startling fact be in every general biography of Grant and in every detailed account of the Crater? Furthermore, the General then unrealistically wanted Burnside to “forward intrenching tools and hold all his men had gained.”

Certain authors even practiced a literary jujitsu, turning negative characteristics into positives. Grant’s lack of detailed directions in orders to assault became an unwillingness to micromanage his subordinates. Giving friends undeserved acclaim was magnanimity. Unmilitary, unofficial dealings with Representative Washburne were celebrated as an ability to use politics. His authorizing a huge expenditure without bothering to look into it displayed his decisiveness.

BR: Can you briefly discuss your research and writing process?

JAR: Unfortunately, I multi-tasked and went off on tangents. Instead of sticking with a single line of pursuit, I constantly jumped from one issue to the next as the threads of research kept leading to new material. Had this been attempted before computers became available, confusion would have reigned. But I duly entered the information into one of many multi-tabbed spreadsheets, and this allowed me to compile numerous accounts on each aspect of an issue. So, when the time came to write it up, I could compare and analyze multiple perspectives to obtain a more accurate picture, as opposed to those writers who depended upon a single source (all too often Grant’s Memoirs, something similar, or a secondary account). A fine example might be the Union soldiers’ feelings on leaving the Wilderness. Typically, the view comes from Horace Porter’s idolizing Campaigning with Grant or Frank Wilkeson’s Recollections of a Private Soldier. William Marvel, however, determined that Wilkeson’s battery wasn’t even in the battle. By way of contrast, I examined well over one hundred sources, and Porter’s “triumphal procession” was actually a tedious, vexatious, exhausting, and silent march, according to most participants, particularly those who recorded it at the time.

With determined digging, I’ve found so many brand new or relatively unknown accounts and, in the process, overthrown other widely accepted stories. I’m amazed that more authors haven’t found or used Grant’s unsubmitted report in the Library of Congress, which confirmed that he occupied Paducah under orders. The same goes for General Stephen Hurlbut’s published letter to his wife after Shiloh, helping to confirm the Memoirs’ exaggeration (“I was continuously engaged in passing from one part of the field to another, giving directions to division commanders” at Shiloh). Grant intended to have George Thomas’ men ascend Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga on November 25, 1863, according to Sylvanus Cadwallader’s posthumous book, Three Years with Grant. Yet, this reporter’s evidently unknown Chicago Times article, written that very evening, maintained the exact opposite.

My book could not have been written without the internet. So many resources are now available online, particularly newspapers of the period, scholarly and magazine articles, government records, maps, dissertations, and even manuscripts (I am particularly happy when transcripts are provided). I’ve downloaded thousands of books in the public domain, including hundreds of the “regimentals.” For more current works, Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature and Google books permitted limited searching.

BR: What archival sources did you use, both brick and mortar and digital?

JAR: I used everything that I could. New York City has a wealth of resources, and having friends and family in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington helped immensely. The $1 fares offered by Megabus kept my costs down. A two-month trip across country featured stops at the Lincoln and Grant libraries, other repositories, and many battlefields. Those interested can see the bibliography on the book’s website (along with the introductory chapter and index) at:

BR: How long did it take? How did you know you were done?

JAR: Altogether, it took roughly twelve years, and for almost half of that period, it was a full-time pursuit.

And I’m still not done. Although the book has been printed, the research continues. Friends told me that “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” meaning that I had done enough and it was time to publish. I finally did so, but good is sometimes not good enough. There are so many resources still untapped, that I get a kick out of those who say—even about Grant Under Fire—that a book is “exhaustively researched.”

BR: How has the book been received so far?

JAR: It’s gotten great commendations from everyone (except a certain “CANNIBAL” on Amazon: “This book is probably the worst book on Grant ever written. The author seizes every opportunity to twist the facts to suit his purposes.” When this was written, the book was almost unavailable; I’m pretty sure that the reviewer hadn’t read it. Cannibal’s three other Civil War reviews—including Tim Smith’s Shiloh—were also one-star, but were typed in all caps, and I wish the same had been done for my book to reveal the nuttiness). Before Grant Under Fire was published, eight noted Civil War authors had read parts or the whole of the book, and their blurbs praised it, especially for the research. Midwest Book Review stated: “Impressively researched, Grant Under Fire is an iconoclastic but exceptionally well documented contribution to our clearer and more in-depth understanding of the role Grant played in the American Civil War.” A very large number of other review requests are still outstanding, as those in journals, especially, take a long time to appear.

I did introduce the book on one Civil War website where Grant’s supporters seemed rather resistant to new information and perspectives. In that respect, it will be a tough sell; almost everybody, it seems, loves a hero. But I’m not at all astonished that people admire the General, as hundreds of biographies have lauded him with little reservation since before the war even ended. Surprisingly, the sales in Europe have been higher than I would have imagined. Maybe they are not as emotionally involved as some readers on this side of the Atlantic.

BR: What’s next for you?

JAR: As part of the marketing campaign, I am scheduling speaking engagements on a 2016-17 cross-country tour. My research projects are all related to the Civil War and/or Ulysses S. Grant. I’ve learned so much throughout this whole process and hope to put it to use. I am currently editing two Civil War manuscripts and expect to be helping other authors publish their work, be it history, inspirational, or fiction.

You can find out more at Mr. Rose’s website here.

Preview – Joseph A. Rose: “Grant Under Fire”

10 10 2015

PrintIronically, this preview of Joseph A. Rose’s Grant Under Fire: An Expose of Generalship & Character in the American Civil War, will be brief. I say ironically because this one weighs in at 621 pp of narrative, with another 105 pp of notes and 38 pp of bibliography. That is to say, it’s a big honking book. Dust jacket blurbs include William Glenn Robertson, Wiley Sword, John Horn, Lawrence Lee Hewitt, and Gordon Rhea, among others. Most of the maps are by Hal Jespersen, or are based on maps by him. Other than maps and tables, though, there are no illustrations in the book, so what you get for the most part are words. Lots and lots of them.

This book is about Grant’s generalship, and so we go from his birth to the Civil War in ten pages, and the postwar is covered in about 40 pages. So it appears that, despite the length of the book, the author has not been distracted too much (I’ve seen lengthy tomes ostensibly focused on specific actions, units, or individuals, which spend dozens of pages on Lincoln’s election, secession, and the outbreak of war, for instance.)

As the author points out, Grant Under Fire is an expose, so it will feel distinctly one-sided. That’s the nature of the beast, after all. You can find more information at the author’s website here. And I’ve completed an interview with Mr. Rose which I’ll post shortly.

Think of this as a tease.

Stay tuned – this should be interesting. At least, I hope so!

Press Release

Preview: Powell, “The Chickamauga Campaign: Glory or the Grave”

5 10 2015

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve at least heard about David A. Powell’s multi-volume study of the Chickamauga Campaign being published by Savas Beatie. In summary, this is what you want to do:

51mj2AQheYL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_A) Get Volume I (The Chickamauga Campaign – A Mad Irregular Battle: From the Crossing of the Tennessee River Through the Second Day, August 22 – September 19, 1863, which has been out since last year.

B) Get The Maps of Chickamauga: An Atlas of the Chickamauga Campaign, Including the Tullahoma Operations, June 22 – September 23, 1863which has been out for, like, six years so you have no excuse.

C) Read them together, stopping in the map book when Volume I ends. I read the Atlas map section first, then the corresponding detailed narrative.

D) Then get the newly released The Chickamauga Campaign – Glory or the Grave: The Breakthrough, the Union Collapse, and the Defense of Horseshoe Ridge, September 20, 1863.

E) Repeat C) above through to the end of Volume II.

F) Sit and wait for Volume III.

What is covered in Vol. II is apparent from the title. You get 708 (!) pages of narrative. Yes, just in Vol. II – Vol. I weighs in at 641 pp. Footnotes are at the bottom of each page. Plenty of maps (but you’ll still want to keep the Atlas nearby) and illustrations throughout. The OOB is in Vol. I. The bibliography will be in Vol. III. So, you see, you’ll need to buy all four books.

Are there problems? Some little, nitpicky ones that aren’t really worth mentioning and probably only bothersome to people like me who are more directionally challenged in their reading, and perhaps rely on maps a bit too much. And the weird misplaced word or punctuation that is omnipresent in publishing these days. Nothing to worry about – I think we just have to get used to that stuff.

This is the Chickamauga Campaign study. You need to read this. I’m finishing up Vol. I now (I had to take a break for some fiction – Andy Weir’s The Martian was fun, by the way – as my brain gets fried after 450 pages of anything.) I’ll be cracking Vol. II next, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Previews: Three from Savas Beatie

13 09 2015

Over the past few weeks I’ve received three new titles from Savas Beatie. Here are the vitals:

51waXUoJnjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Resisting Sherman: A Confederate Surgeon’s Journal and the Civil War in the Carolinas, 1865is the journal of Dr. Francis Marion Robertson, a surgeon who fled with the Confederate garrison in Charleston, SC, ahead of William T. Sherman’s army as it moved north. The journal has been edited and annotated by the author’s great-great-grandson Thomas Heard Robertson, Jr., who traveled extensively to research the places mentioned in the journal. The book offers a unique look into the final few months of the war.  141 pp and 3 appendices.

51tcoY0UUaL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Grant’s Last Battle: The Story Behind the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, is a part of the Emerging Civil War series. (Interestingly, this slim [163 pp] volume is resting atop a gargantuan volume also examining the story behind Grant’s memoirs – I’ll be interviewing its author Joseph A. Rose soon.) Chris Mackowski provides a narrative on the production and publication of the memoirs in 127 pages, which is followed by five appendices by authors including Pat Tintle, Kathleen L. Thompson, Edward Alexander, Richard Frederick, and Jim McWilliams.

robertsonThe First Battle for Petersburg: The Attack and Defense of the Cockade City, June 9, 1864, is a new, revised, and expanded edition of William Glenn Robertson’s 1989 H. E. Howard Virginia Civil War Battles effort The Petersburg Campaign: The Battle of Old Men and Young Boys, June 9, 1864. The title is self-explanatory. This revised and expanded edition includes new, crisp Hal Jesperson maps, and new casualties analysis made possible by electronic versions of data sources not available a quarter-century ago. 147 pp and 4 appendices.

Interview: Boardman, Brenneman, Dowling: “The Gettysburg Cyclorama”

15 08 2015
Brian Dowling, Chris Brenneman, and Sue Boardman

Brian Dowling, Chris Brenneman, and Sue Boardman

Sue Boardman, Chris Brenneman, and Bill Dowling, Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides, are the authors and photographer, respectively, of The Gettysburg Cyclorama: The Turning Point of the Civil War on Canvas, new from Savas Beatie. See my preview here for a recap on the books vital stats. I’ll just repeat that it’s a beautiful book and an interesting concept. The guides recently and graciously took the time to answer a few questions from Bull Runnings:

BR: How about some background on yourselves for the readers?

SB: I am a graduate of Danville Area High School (PA), Penn State-Geisinger School of Nursing and attended Bloomsburg University. After a twenty-three year nursing career, most of it in the ER at Sunbury Community Hospital, I moved to Gettysburg and achieved my Licensed Battlefield Guide License in 2001. I am proud to be a two-time recipient of the Superintendent’s Award for Excellence in Guiding. When the new visitor center was being built, I joined the staff of the Gettysburg Foundation to do research, locate artifacts for inclusion in the museum, and work with the conservation team, as a research historian, to restore the Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama.

I have been an avid collector of Gettysburg images, mostly from the 19th century. My images of the four versions of the Gettysburg cyclorama proved to be especially useful during my work on that project.

CB: I am 44 years old, I am married to a very supportive wife, Laura, and we have a daughter, Mary, who is 3. I was born in York, PA and I lived in Newark, DE and Lancaster, PA before we moved to Fairfield, PA (just outside of Gettysburg) about 8 years ago. . I have a degree in Psychology from the University of Delaware. For many years after college, I ran a bowling center in York, Colony Park North. While I have had several different careers, history and the Civil War have always been my hobbies. My wife and I have visited most of the major battlefields on the east coast. I became a Licensed Battlefield Guide in 2010 after 5 years of study. As a guide, I have taken many different groups of people on tours of the battlefield at Gettysburg. I also work for the Gettysburg Foundation as the Assistant Manager of the Visitor’s Services department. As part of my job at the Foundation, I have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours looking at the Gettysburg Cyclorama. My curiosity led me to try to identify every person, unit, or place pictured in the painting. After a few years I realized that I had a good portion of a book worth of material, which got me started on this project. Our new book is the first book I have ever written.

BD: I’m a native of Connecticut and relocated to the Gettysburg area in 1999 with my wife Lynn, where I pursued my interest in photography and Gettysburg history. My images have appeared in local, regional and national publications, textbooks, corporate publications and commercial advertising and book jacket covers.

BR: What got you interested in the study of history in general and the Civil War period in particular?

SB: I have always appreciated history as an avenue to discover who we are as a culture and how I fit in to it. I love to read works of non-fiction, especially biographies of historical figures. Learning about these people in the context of the times in which they lived has often inspired me to broaden my range. When I read a biography of Paul Tibbetts, who piloted the Enola Gay, I was deeply affected by the impact of the bombing on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and read as many personal accounts as I could find. After meeting Elie Wiesel and reading a biography about Simon Wiesenthal, I began to study Holocaust history. Again, it was the personal accounts that affected me the most. My interest in Gettysburg was also inspired by the human side of the story. I acquired a Civil War diary written by a man who lived in the same area that I did. His name was Michael Schroyer and he served in Co. G, 147th PA Volunteers. Schroyer and his story pulled me into Civil War history and I have never left! The license plate on my car reads “147th G”. I love the questions I get from people who don’t immediately recognize the meaning, and the knowing smiles and nods from those who do. Human connections are such a powerful way to experience history!

CB: As a young boy in the 70’s, my grandparents, Lois and Corky Brenneman used to bring me to Gettysburg several times every summer. We would see some of the sights and have a picnic. At that time I just loved to climb on the rocks and cannon and pretend to fight a mock battle with my wooden rifle. My parents also took me to many historic sights on our family vacations like Yorktown and Fort Sumter. In general, I have always loved history (colonial, W.W. II, medieval, roman times, etc..), especially the Civil War. After college I started reading more history books and as I read about Gettysburg, I could picture the various places from my childhood explorations. Besides trying to visit other battlefields, my wife and I would always be sure to go to Gettysburg a couple of times each year. After a while, we liked it so much that we decided to move into this area. I really have to thank my wife for being so supportive of me and my dreams. She helped me change carriers and relocate here to Gettysburg while I was studying for the Licensed Battlefield Guide exams.

BD: I visited Gettysburg when I was a young boy on a family vacation and was moved by the human drama of the events that unfolded on these lands.

BR: Gettysburg Cyclorama is really two books in one, (the story of the Cyclorama, and a tour using the painting as a guide.) Can you tell us about what you were responsible for, and what it contributes to the Gettysburg literature?

SB: I have a strong desire to know the back story about people, events and things in general. So my part of the book is the back story of cycloramas – the history of how cycloramas came to be such a big part of life in Victorian America, as well as who made them and how. Since the Gettysburg painting had not been displayed as a true cyclorama for many decades, I thought it was important to let readers know what a cyclorama was supposed to look like so they could fully appreciate the restored Cyclorama.

CB: My part of the book focused on everything that is in the painting. I tried to name every unit, individual, farm, or geographical feature that I could find. I used modern photographs of the painting that could be enlarged in order to see distant objects in extreme close-up. I then compared them to modern pictures of the terrain, maps, historic pictures, and the actual battlefield. The last ten chapters of the book are my analysis of the ten sections of the painting (based on the ten terrain photographs that the artist had taken in 1882). Another important resource were the historic keys to the painting. The key was a circular drawing that came with the historic souvenir programs in the 1800’s. Viewers of the 19th century would look at numbers on the circular drawing and the key would have descriptions of the various people and places. We knew that these keys were changed in different cities, presumably to market the painting to the local audience. Thanks to my partner Sue, who collects the historic programs, I had access to all of the historic keys. Nobody had ever tried to catalog every historic key (along with the modern keys from the 20th century) and identify exactly who was who and where. So I think our first contribution to the literature of Gettysburg is that we have thoroughly examined this painting for the first time and given it the treatment that such an important piece of history deserves. The analysis of the keys also is very interesting because it shows how the painting  – and the Civil War – were viewed in the 1880’s and 90’s. Many of the people mentioned in the keys were more important in 1884 than they were in 1863.

BD: I was the principal photographer whose role it was to faithfully record, document, and accurately prepare the images for printing that supplemented the text.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write your part, 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?

SB: I had some basic knowledge about the Gettysburg Cycloramas because I had collected images and memorabilia in the years before it was restored. When the restoration project got underway around 2005, I was given the opportunity to share the images and provide research support. The chief conservator, David Olin, was very much aware of the historical significance of our cyclorama as an artifact but also as a historical document. He had done work for the Library of Congress and the National Archives, among other institutions, and recognized that integrity in restoring the content of the painting was paramount. Therefore, even the tiniest detail, such as a tree added to the canvas during a 1960s conservation, needed to be carefully researched, and removed when it was found to be not original to the painting. There were a number of these interesting challenges, each one requiring research to inform the final outcome. The biggest of these challenges was the need to restore 14 feet of missing sky which had been cut away before the painting came to Gettysburg in 1912. Although we had some historical documentation by Michael Jacobs, a professor of math and science at Pennsylvania College, as to what the cloud cover looked like that fateful third day of July, it was hard to put the words “a few white, fleecy cumulus clouds floating over from the west” onto canvas with a degree of certainty that it was being correctly interpreted. Then a stroke of absolute good fortune intervened to help us overcome this particular challenge. We found the original oil-on-canvas scaled study made for the purpose of informing the larger work! I had been sent by the museum design team to look at some artifacts at the Chicago History Museum for possible use in our new exhibits and while there, I found the studies among the general collections. I will never forget how exciting it was to bring back digital copies of those studies! Needless to say, our beautiful cyclorama sky is historically correct.

The biggest surprise for me in researching the Gettysburg Cycloramas was discovering that there were more of them than Philippotaux’s original four. Once I was able to establish that there were others – all copies of Philippoteaux’s work, known as ‘buckeyes’ – it became clear that the Gettysburg Cyclorama stored at Wake Forest University was not the original Chicago version as it has been purported to be, although it was shown in Chicago at the 1933 World’s Fair. I am still getting calls from individuals asking me to prove it which I happily do.

CB: The entire process of writing, getting it published, editing, and lay-out took almost five years. The layout and editing were extremely time-consuming for such a complicated book with so many pictures (over 400). You also forget about things like sources and captions, which also take a lot of time. As a new author, much of the process was new to me. Luckily, the staff at Savas Beatie were extremely helpful with some of the more complicated issues.

During the process of examining the painting, I made a really fascinating discovery. With the help of a few of my co-workers at the Gettysburg Foundation, we realized that several areas of the painting had been changed. With some detective work I eventually discovered that the changes were made in 1889. The artists added extra troops, flags, cannon, and even General Meade. Over the years, it had been forgotten that these changes ever happened. Some more investigation helped me to discover that it was the suggestions from the veterans of the battle that led to these modifications being made to the painting.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?

SB: I love to research but tend to get bored when I don’t find anything new after a lengthy period of time. However, it only takes the discovery of one elusive little tidbit to get me re-energized and back on the hunt. Early on in my cyclorama research, it seemed as if there was nowhere to go to find cyclorama related information. In the larger scope of Victorian life in America, the cyclorama phenomenon lasted barely a decade before giving way to motion pictures, thereby limiting the quantity of documentation able to be amassed for future reference. Eventually, the isolated tidbits of information I was able to find began to connect and lead to other sources. As the project was getting underway, a visit by participants of the International Panorama Conference offered a wonderful opportunity to network with other researchers and scholars. Two of these individuals, Suzanne Wray of New York City and Chicagoan Gene Meiers, often sent research notes they encountered while doing research for their own projects. This proved invaluable since two of Philippoteaux’s Gettysburg cycloramas were located in those cities. The park archive at Gettysburg has a decent amount of information but it was unorganized until Museum Technician Beth Trescott put it in useful order. Much of it was amassed by Alfred Mongin, a park historian who began to research Gettysburg Cycloramas in 1933 in anticipation of the park acquiring the painting from private hands. Mongin’s work was laborious, consisting of numerous form letters mailed to museums across the country. He meticulously followed up on leads from respondents but seemed to struggle to fit the pieces together. He also conducted lengthy interviews with people who had personal connections to the world of cyclorama exhibitions. My favorite one of these was Mongin’s interview, in 1942, with Charles Cobean, who had served as manager for the painting from 1918 until 1942, the year it was acquired by the National Park Service. Cobean met Philippoteaux during the artist’s visit to Gettysburg sometime before 1920 and remembered the artist telling him that the dog in the painting was his own pet.

The writing process for me is always more difficult than the research. I tend to write like I speak (I am Pennsylvania Dutch!) so there is an ongoing need to tweak, review and repeat a number of times before the work becomes reader-ready, or at least, ready for an editor.

CB: The first part of the process came from having spent many hundreds of hours inside the Cyclorama looking at the various details and answering visitor’s questions while doing my day job for the Gettysburg Foundation. I would then compare the view with the same views on the battlefield today. Thanks to the tree cutting that has been done in the last 20 years by the park, the views today are very similar to the historic pictures that the artist used to create the painting. In order to answer questions from my co-workers and the visitors, I started adding to the modern key more and more items that I could identify. I also designed a tour of the battlefield that visited all the places that you could see in the cyclorama. Eventually, I realized that I had enough material for a book about the painting. I had been a big admirer of Sue’s first book about the Cyclorama, but I knew that she had made several new discoveries about the history of the painting. I also thought that a larger book with hundreds of close-ups was needed to do the cyclorama justice in book form. I approached Sue and said that we could combine our efforts and write one comprehensive book that covered every known aspect of the painting and its history.

As far as sources are concerned, I used the historic keys and pictures of the painting from Sue’s collection to compare every key to both the modern painting and the pictures of the 4 different versions painted by Paul Philippoteaux. I also read through all of the files on the cyclorama at the Gettysburg National Military Park. The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies and my own personal collection of maps and books on various subjects were relied heavily upon. My colleagues in the Licensed Battlefield Guides were extremely helpful in answering many of my questions. I was also assisted by many of the park rangers at Gettysburg, and the Adams County Historical Society.

BR: The book’s design is bold. Can you describe how that was conceived and evolved?

SB: The inspiration for the book’s layout stems from the diagrammatic keys that accompanied the souvenir programs which were unique for each version of the painting. They changed to cater to the interests of each new target audience, and reflected ongoing input from veterans. Co-author Chris Brenneman, who spends considerable time on the platform in the course of his work, was inspired to find out how many of the faces looking back at him from the canvas had unique identities. Such a concept required good quality images, and lots of them. That’s how Bill Dowling, a professional photographer as well as a Licensed Battlefield Guide, was brought into the project.

CB: I came up with the layout as I was writing, knowing that it was going to be a very visual book. The first thing we did was rent a scissor lift and re-create the 1882 terrain photographs that the artist used to make the painting. Then, during the writing, I had a large digital picture of the entire cyclorama. I used this large image to focus in on specific areas and crop out the areas that I was discussing. At the same time, I used Microsoft Publisher to make a crude layout of which pictures went with what text. I gave this layout to Bill Dowling so he would know exactly which close-up shots I needed him to take. Bill did a tremendous job, and even the shots of objects in the extreme distance are very clear. I knew that this was very important, to have high-quality images, or else the whole book would not have the desired effect on the reader.

When the book got to the publisher, I made a mock-layout of the first 3 chapters to help the publisher envision what I had mapped out. I also gave them the crude mock-up of the last 12 chapters that I had made while I was writing the book. I really have to thank the layout specialist who worked for Savas Beatie, Ian Hughes from England. He did a tremendous job following my sometimes extremely complicated plans. Ian also used his skill to make everything fit together and flow really well. One of the biggest challenges was getting everything to fit in the space allotted. Ian did a tremendous job and we did not have to cut out any of the pictures (we did reduce a few in size, but out of 400+ pictures, that is not bad at all).

BR: Bill, can you describe your photographic process, and basically what you had to consider producing the required images?

BD: The manuscript authors, Sue and Chris, spent countless hours of research, writing, editing and fact checking to ensure that the, development, creation, preservation and history of this “American Treasure” that we know as the Gettysburg Cyclorama was accurately told. I owed it to them, to the people who would purchase this book, to myself, and primarily to Mr. Paul Philippoteaux and his team of artisans to ensure that the images I recorded were clear, sharp and color balanced. Initial interest in a book is dependent on its subject matter. With a book containing hundreds of photographs that illustrate and explain the words of the writers the images take on a more meaningful role – especially if what is being illustrated in an iconic work of art. Many inter-dependent factors need to be considered and balanced to produce a worthy image. Lighting – its source, color temperature, intensity and direction is of primary importance. The human eye and brain work flawlessly to instantaneously compensate for these variations – a camera lens cannot. These variations need to be addressed and adjusted, if required, in the photographers editing processing. Image size, clarity, exposure time, aperture setting, depth of field, resolution measured in pixels per inch (ppi) are still more variables that require attention if a tack sharp image is to be reproduced. All competent photographers must deal with these laws of optics before and after the shutter button in pushed.

All of this work is for naught unless the publisher is committed to producing a quality product. Ted Savas and Savas Beatie Publishing were certainly invested in this project for which we are very grateful. The Savas Beatie staff and Ian Hughes combined the manuscript and
images into its final eye pleasing form which was faithfully reproduced by the printers.

Some people may never have the opportunity to visit the Gettysburg Cyclorama. Perhaps with this book they can examine Paul Philippoteaux’s interpretation of one of the most dramatic events in all of United States military history – Pickett’s Charge – in the comfort of their favorite easy chair.

My favorite image is the overhead shot of the Cyclorama taken from the catwalk above the painting. This perspective is one that few people have the opportunity to see first hand.

I hope I did justice to the people who produced The Tuning Point of the Civil War on Canvas.

Examples of my photography can be viewed on my web site:

BR: Sue and Chris, what’s next for you?

SB: Since 1991, I have been researching the men in Co. G, 147th Pennsylvania Volunteers. The first item on my bucket list is to publish their story. Meanwhile, I am excited to be able to watch the restoration of the Atlanta Cyclorama currently underway. It is truly wonderful that soon, history buffs will be able to see two beautifully restored Civil War cycloramas!

CB: I do not know what is next for me. When it comes to books about Gettysburg, there are many books about every conceivable part of the battle. I felt lucky to find a subject that did not have a book (or dozens of books) written about it. I hope that this book will be the definitive book about the cyclorama for many years to come. Unless some amazing discovery is made about the painting (like if someone finds a Philippoteaux diary), there is not much more to uncover about the Gettysburg Cyclorama. For now, I will be quite content to spend time with my wife and daughter, give visitors tours of the battlefield, and work for the Gettysburg Foundation. Maybe someday I will travel the world and try to write a complete book documenting all the cycloramas in the world, but for now I am quite happy here in Gettysburg.

No More, No Less

6 07 2015

1434533581_the-civil-war-monitor-vol.5-no.2If you’ve received your new copy of Civil War Monitor (Summer edition, I think it is), you may notice that I have a little sidebar in it, listing my three recommended First Bull Run books. Now, I’ve already received this question a couple of times, and expect there are more of the same to come, or at least a few folks wondering the same thing, even if you have no intention of asking me.

“Why wasn’t fillintheblank on your list?”

The answer to that is pretty simple: I was asked for three. In the counting of the books, “Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three” were, I think, publisher Terry Johnston’s instructions.

Here they are:

Hennessy, John, The First Battle of Manassas: An End To Innocence July 18-21, 1861

Gaff, Alan, If This Is War: A History of the Campaign of Bull Run by the Wisconsin Regiment Thereafter Known as the Ragged Ass Second

Longacre, Edward, The Early Morning of War: Bull Run, 1861

You can read the whys and wherefores when you buy the magazine.

Preview – Mackowski, “Strike Them a Blow”

30 06 2015

51wGX8oFV3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Recently received: Chris Mackowski has written Strike Them a Blow: Battle along the North Ann River, May 21-25, 1864, part of the Emerging Civil War series from Savas Beatie. This covers that (at one time) mysterious few days in the history of the Overland Campaign between Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor.  Generously illustrated and including eleven maps, the narrative is a concise 123 pages. There are also six appendices, describing the battles of Wilson’s Wharf and Milford Station, a sketch of R. E. Lee’s engineer M. L. Smith, and also a look at preservation efforts. A full Order of Battle is also included.


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