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.





Preview: Schmiel & Simione with Schneider, “Searching for Irvin McDowell”

4 09 2021

Just in for preview is Searching for Irvin McDowell: Forgotten Civil War General, by Frank P. Simione,Jr. and Gene Schmiel, with E. L. “Dutch” Schneider. It’s billed as “The first biography of this important Union General in the early days of the Civil War,” and I’ll soon have an interview with the authors. But for now –

You get:

  • 244 pages of text in 10 chapters.
  • 2 appendices, discussing McDowell’s stay at Liberia in Manassas, and his unique taste in headwear.
  • Bottom of the page footnotes.
  • 10 page bibliography (published works, National Tribune and magazine articles, two websites – and no, I’m not in it)
  • Index
  • 14 Hal Jesperson maps
  • 7 images





Preview: Ramold, “Obstinate Heroism”

2 09 2021

Recently received for preview from the University of North Texas Press is Steven J. Ramold’s Obstinate Heroism: The Confederate Surrenders after Appomattox. From the jacket:

“Despite popular belief, the Civil War did not end when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, in April 1865. The Confederacy still had tens of thousands of soldiers under arms, in three main field armies and countless smaller commands scattered throughout the South. Although pressed by Union forces at varying degrees, all of the remaining Confederate armies were capable of continuing the war if they chose to do so. But they did not, even when their political leaders ordered them to continue the fight. Convinced that most civilians no longer wanted to continue the war, the senior Confederate military leadership, over the course of several weeks, surrendered their armies under different circumstances.

“Steven J. Ramold examines the reasons why the Confederacy failed in the final years of the Civil War and compelled the generals to surrender. Defeatism, a growing problem in the Confederacy thanks to failed political, military, and economic policies, was a pervasive influence upon the generals. Personal rivalries undermined efforts at cooperation, while practical military matters forced leaders to make difficult decisions.”

You get:

  • 365 pages of text in 11 chapters, plus a conclusion
  • 54 pages of endnotes
  • 35 pages of works cited (in lieu of bibliography), including 4 pages of manuscript collections, as well as various dissertations, newspapers, and online sources.
  • 18 maps, and mostly portrait illustrations sprinkled throughout.

Stephen J. Ramold is Professor of American History at Eastern Michigan University.





Preview: Hahn, “Campaign for the Confederate Coast”

20 08 2021

By now, my regular readers (both of you) are familiar with how my book previews work. I have hundreds of Civil War books that sit on my shelves unread, and in my limited time left the only thing that dictates what I’m going to read cover-to-cover is me. So most books I’m asked to discuss on this site only get the “preview” treatment. This is no judgement on the worth of the book. What I try to do here is apply the methodology I would use if I was looking at a title in the bookstore and deciding whether or not to shell out the cash. And I make that clear to the authors, publicists, and publishers when they ask to send me a book for perusal. I tell them I look at the foreword and any conclusion, but most importantly the illustrations (maps, mostly), notes, bibliography, and index. These things tell me a lot, and I’m guessing they tell you a lot, too. As a side note, I don’t review advanced reading copies or uncorrected proofs because, usually, these things are lacking in those formats.

So, I was a little surprised when I received Campaign for the Confederate Coast, by Gil Hahn, from West 88th Street Press. Surprised because it contains no foreword, no maps or other illustrations, no bibliography, no index. The notes are endnotes and unnumbered, employing the technique of identification by first few words of the paragraph being referenced. I at first assumed the copy I received was an ARC, but upon inquiry was informed that:

The author thinks that the lack of maps, bibliography, index, and real footnotes are standard academic complaints against popular books. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of US geography knows where all the places are. Bibliography is a list of references already named in the notes. An index adds additional pages that most readers ignore.

With that being said, let’s look at Campaign for the Confederate Coast.

You get:

  • 255 pages of text.
  • 58 pages of endnotes.
  • No foreword
  • No bibliography.
  • No index.
  • No illustrations or maps.

From the back cover:

Readers will learn the story of blockade running from a nuanced, all-points-of-view perspective. Without recounting hundreds of encounters between pro-Confederate blockade runners and Federal blockading forces, it traces the ebb and flow of events as the U. S. Navy, blockade runners, and foreign governments (primarily the British) all pressed for advantage.

The book is blurbed by Allen C. Guelzo, William C. Davis, and James M. McPherson.

Gil Hahn is an attorney and historian who lives near Wilmington, Delaware.

See the author’s website.





Interview: Knight, “From Arlington to Appomattox”

2 08 2021
Charles R. Knight

New from Savas Beatie is one of those volumes that Civil War researchers will keep on their reference shelves along with Warner, Heitman, Crute, Dyer, Boatner, Long, and Miers – Charles R. Knight’s From Arlington to Appomattox: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War Day by Day, 1861-1865. Mr. Knight has been good enough to answer a few questions about the book.


BR: You’ve spoken with us before – any updates with you?

CRK: Since our last interview, I’ve moved across the country…twice. First to the Civil War research hotbed of Phoenix, AZ, and then to the much better Raleigh, NC. Still in the museum field and now have 20+ years experience in the museums/historic sites field – a career choice I made for the money, obviously. Oh, and the family has grown by one since last time as well.

BR: In the beginning, this new book must have seemed either like an insurmountable task, or a put-my-nose-to-the-grindstone-and-it will-eventually-be-done procedural. What, in the first place, possessed you to undertake it? Were you influenced by Miers’s Lincoln Day-by-Day?

CRK: A number of years ago I was well into the research on my biography of “Little Billy” Mahone when Ted Savas sent me this cryptic message to call him. He asked me how that was going and said he had an idea that could use a lot of the same research materials, but looking at R.E. Lee rather than Mahone. “Go on,” I replied. He asked if I was familiar with E.B. Long’s CW Day by Day, which of course is an invaluable work looking at the major events of every day of the war. Ted explained that he wanted someone to do a similar work but focusing on Lee during the war. I thought “OK sure, how hard can this be? Between Lee’s own papers, the ORs, the writings of Lee’s major staff officers (Walter Taylor, Charles Marshall, Armistead Long) and D.S. Freeman to fill in the gaps, this shouldn’t be too much of an undertaking.” I cannot have been more wrong, that became apparent VERY quickly. For all the scores of titles that have been written in the last 160 years about Lee, no author – not even Freeman – set out to record the detail this type of project required. In fact the only person I am aware of for whom such a project had ever been attempted was Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln Day by Day project was similar but quite different at the same time, in that it looked at his entire life and there was a team of researchers compiling EVERY known scrap of paper with Lincoln’s signature on it. This Lee project was concerned only with four years of his life, it was just me (although I could not have done it without the help of many friends and colleagues) pulling everything together, and I knew it would be an impossibility to even attempt to find everything. But I’m a detail person when it comes to research, and I found myself going down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, sometimes chasing things that wound up in the finished book, others that either hit a dead end or were not important enough to include.

BR: While nothing about this could have been easy, did you find any kind of freedom in the fact that you didn’t have to construct an overall narrative? Was there less “creative” writing?

CRK: With the exception of the introductory section for each month April 1861 through April 1865, it really was largely just compiling raw data: where Lee was, who he was with, who he wrote to, etc. There was no need to try to weave it into a sort of narrative for each day. That said, there are of course some days with gobs of information which do require a lot more organization than those for which there is little recorded. When I sat down to convert my notes into “complete” entries for each day, there were instances where I could move through several months in a matter of hours and other times where a single day of Lee’s life took me an entire weekend to do. Because of the lack of much interpretation, I was afraid that the finished product would be dry – and in some cases I admit it is – but, I think when you tackle large chunks, say at least a week at a time, you can really see how events both big and small take shape. And in a traditional biography that is lost.

BR: Cutting to the chase, what were some things you learned about the Marble Man that surprised you (individual events or overall characterizations)?

CRK: Without a doubt the most surprising revelations came from the private writings of those closest to Lee: either his family or his staff. Walter Taylor, Armistead Long, and others who were part of Lee’s inner circle wrote of their time with the General in the decades after his death, and the public by and large gobbled it up. But these were specifically designed for public eyes – none of them would say anything bad about their chief in that format. But when you look at their private letters – those not meant to be seen by the public at large – that is where you get their true thoughts. By reading Freeman one would never suspect that Lee harbored a tremendous temper and could hold a grudge for days on end, or that he would ever order his staff to fire on their own men. The writings of Lee’s military family however reveal much that would have made Freeman cringe. Taylor frequently griped about the lack of recognition he received from Lee and how frequently the General took out his temper on those around him at HQ. In fact Taylor referred to Lee in not so flattering terms as the “Tycoon.” Charles Venable – who butted heads with Lee perhaps more than any other of his aides – recorded some of the most eye opening details about Lee, and just how unpleasant life could be at ANV HQ. One of my favorite incidents I found that doesn’t come from one of the staff was an account by a gentleman who sat next to Lee on the train as the General returned to the army from a meeting in Richmond in the midst of the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid, which noted how anxious Lee seemed and how distant he was whenever anyone tried to talk to him, and he was constantly looking out the windows on both sides of the car. No one at the time understood Lee’s behavior, but once they arrived at Gordonsville they all learned just how close they had come to being captured by Union horsemen and immediately grasped the reason for his odd actions. I was also surprised at how much things of a non-military nature Lee dealt with on an almost daily basis. When we look at battle or campaign studies, such things are often not mentioned or if they are it is just a cursory one. Personal tragedy struck Lee multiple times during the war, with the well-known death of his daughter Annie in the wake of Sharpsburg, but also the death of his two grandchildren – one during the Seven Days, and one only weeks after Annie’s death, the death of his daughter-in-law Charlotte the day after Christmas 1863, Rooney’s capture from his literal sick-bed days before Gettysburg, how much his wife’s nomadic lifestyle concerned him, and not to mention his own failing health.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what the stumbling blocks were?

CRK: When I first began this project I was living in Norfolk, VA – hometown of Walter Taylor. So I had easy access to Taylor’s papers at the Norfolk Public Library and the important repositories in Richmond were only a couple hours away. Then I moved to Phoenix, which is of course widely known as one of the major centers of CW scholarship in the country. Access to original papers became quite difficult to say the least and an increasing amount of my research was done remotely. Then I really lucked out when I got a job in Raleigh and had the immense collections at UNC and Duke at my fingertips. The first six months I was in NC I spent almost every weekend in either Chapel Hill or Durham, and I found a lot of smaller collections that I may not have ever found otherwise, many of which had some excellent REL material. I was researching this for at least five years, and it took a good six months to convert the raw data in my notes into daily entries. I never intended to find EVERY piece of Lee correspondence or reference to him, and I know there are lots of them out there that I didn’t find, so there’s always that little voice in the back of your mind that wonders if one of them has info that would fill in some of the gaps.

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

CRK: I don’t remember now for certain, but I think the very first source I started with was Dowdey & Manarin’s volume of Lee’s papers. I just started a Word document and for every event in Lee’s life, be it a letter written or received, a meeting with someone, etc., I recorded it by date. When I was “done” I think that document was 600-something pages, and it still didn’t have all of my notes – some of which I just plugged directly into the manuscript. The first mss collection I targeted was Walter Taylor’s papers at the Norfolk Public Library. His wartime papers were published back in the mid-90s, but the original collection has so much more of value than just those – I learned a lot from Taylor’s post-war correspondence with the other members of Lee’s staff as well as other notable officers like Jed Hotchkiss and others; anybody who uses just the published letters misses out on so much that Taylor offers. I got to be on a first name basis with the folks at UNC, Duke, VA Historical Society (even though one archivist there just seemed to take a perverse delight in making me request Lee materials one letter a time), and the VA Library. And speaking of the Library of Virginia, they have some of Freeman’s original Lee notes – it is incredible to me what he was able to accomplish in a pre-internet world, in particular his list of Lee mentions in the Richmond newspapers. I much prefer hardcopy books to electronic versions, but in this instance I was very glad to be able to use the “search” function of the online version of the ORs. Thankfully I had been putting off the large multi-volume works – the ORs, Southern Historical Society Papers, Confederate Veteran – so my time in Arizona was not a complete waste research-wise, as I was able to tackle them either online or the actual books.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

CRK: I’ve heard nothing but good things. Well, except for one Amazon review from someone who didn’t seem to read the book description before purchasing.

BR: In the editorial process something always ends up on the cutting room floor so to speak. Was there anything in that didn’t make the final cut – things for which you expected to find support and came up dry, for example?

CRK: I was lucky in that regard, not much in the way of text was cut. The format of the book wasn’t really conducive to that – eliminate text and data rather than interpretation or fluff is gone. Some of the bios and explanatory text in the footnotes were trimmed, but nothing major. I had far more images than could be used, and thankfully Ted Savas likes images and uses far more than any other publisher but even still it was difficult to pick and choose what would make the cut.

BR: Were there any areas in which you found info lacking?

CRK: The first year of the war for Lee is probably the least documented part of his CW service. For this I blame Walter Taylor; well not Taylor himself, but his fiancée Bettie Saunders. Taylor served with Lee for all but the first 3 weeks of the war, joining the General as an aide in early May ’61. Taylor was a very observant and detail-oriented young man, and he wrote to Betty usually at least twice a week, more often when he could. His letters are the best source we have on the inner circle at ANV HQ. But his letters from the beginning of the war up until mid’62 don’t survive – Bettie for whatever reason destroyed them. When Taylor found this out he was not happy and he pleaded with her to save them, as he was writing not only for her information, but for his own use as well – his letters to her were the only personal record he was keeping of his service. When he wrote his two books in later years, one can plainly see he was referring back to those letters as his main source. So without Taylor’s insight for Lee’s time as commander of Virginia’s military forces the first few months of 1861, his time in the mountains of western Virginia that summer and autumn, and while in command on the south Atlantic coast in late 61 and early 62, the sources are largely few and far between. And whenever Taylor went on leave later, documentation of HQ suffered as a result. A couple other areas were surprisingly little-documented as well: the period after Sharpsburg, as well as winter encampments.

BR: What’s next for you?

CRK: I hope to have my Billy Mahone manuscript finished by the end of the year, assuming of course places open back up for outside researchers. Mahone’s papers – almost 500 boxes of them – are at Duke, which as of now, is still closed to non-Duke people. Mahone is one of the few remaining important figures of the ANV without a good biography. Nelson Blake did a bio of Little Billy back in the 30s, but he focused on Mahone’s post-war political and railroad career – he devoted only about 25 pages to the Civil War. As one of the most peculiar of Lee’s lieutenants, Mahone clearly deserves better. Once that is done, I want to publish Charles Venable’s memoirs and letters. His writings are a great resource on Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia and only a relative handful of folks are aware of them and even fewer have ever used them.





Interview: McMillan, “Armistead and Hancock”

17 07 2021
Author Tom McMillan

New from Stackpole Books is Tom McMillan’s Armistead and Hancock: Behind the Gettysburg Legend of Two Friends at the Turning Point of the Civil War. The author took some time to answer a few questions about himself and the book.

——————————————————–

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

TM: Bottom line, I’m someone who loves history and studying the Civil War. I just retired from a 43-year career in sports media and communications, but my second career choice was history teacher, and history has always been a passion. I serve on the board of Trustees of Pittsburgh’s Heinz History Center and previously was on the board of directors of the Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial. I’m also a docent at the Civil War Room/GAR Post at Carnegie Library in Carnegie, Pa. My first history book was Flight 93: The Story, The Aftermath and The Legacy of American Courage on 9/11, and my previous book on the Civil War was Gettysburg Rebels: Five Native Sons Who Came Home to Fight as Confederate Soldiers, which won the 2017 Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award as the best new work on the Gettysburg Campaign.

BR: What first got you interested in history, and the Civil War in particular? What Civil War authors have influenced you?

TM: Like most kids growing up in Pennsylvania, I visited Gettysburg with my parents on vacation, but I was so focused on my professional career as a young adult that there wasn’t room for much else. It wasn’t until the movie Gettysburg came out in 1993 that I turned the corner. I saw it at a theatre in Pittsburgh on a Tuesday night, drove to Gettysburg on a Friday and have been immersed in the study of the Civil War ever since. It was only after this became my No. 1 hobby that I realized “I had so many ancestors who fought in the war (including several who fought in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg). The authors who impacted me most at the start were Edwin Coddington and Harry Pfanz, the Gettysburg icons. As a long-time writer I also appreciate the talent of Stephen Sears — a brilliant writer — although I don’t always agree with his conclusions. From a more contemporary perspective I really like the work of James Hessler, (Sickles, Peach Orchard, Pickett’s Charge), who is also a Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide.

BR: Your previous Civil War related book was about Gettysburg’s rebels, while this new one focuses on Gettysburg as well. Is this battle your main Civil War interest?

TM: There’s a powerful draw to Gettysburg, especially for someone who lives only a few hours away. And it was the movie Gettysburg that sparked my renewed interest in the 1990s, so, yes, there is something very special about the place. My wife and I always attend the Anniversary Days. But we’ve really become interested in Antietam in recent years and may try to become guides there in retirement. We’ve visited the Virginia battlefields, and Vicksburg, and will always continue to appreciate those places as well. It’s important to have context about the entire war. Frankly, though, from a bottom line perspective as an author, national publishers have more interest in Gettysburg books than those from other battles.

BR: So, why Armistead and Hancock?

TM: Did I mention the movie Gettysburg? (he says, laughing). The movie, and the novel it was based on, The Killer Angels, have made such a huge impression on an entire generation of Civil War visitors – probably more than any other works about the battle. The impact is so strong that many people tend to forget they are based on historical fiction. I was fascinated from the start by the story of Armistead and Hancock, two friends described as “almost brothers,” but was curious that I couldn’t find much information in bonafide histories about their friendship – that the topic had never been addressed in book form. Many Hancock books barely mention Armistead. I knew the movie version was heavily dramatized, so I set out to see if I could find the story behind the legend. It was an intriguing research journey.

BR: Hancock has spawned a Caspian Sea of Ink over the years. Armistead, on the other hand, while well-known, remains a shadowy figure. How were you able to overcome the relative dearth of information on him?

TM: That was part of the attraction, part of the challenge — could I find much about the story of Armistead? It was kind of amazing to me that there had been only one book written about him in the 158 years since the battle — a short biography by the legendary guide Wayne Motts back in 1994. There just isn’t a lot of stuff that is readily available. But Wayne’s previous work led me to some productive research paths, and by digging into the service records of Armistead’s 22-year U.S. Amy career at the National Archives; studying his family’s long military history, which is profound; obtaining his Confederate service records, along with those of his three younger brothers, and his son; checking out the incredible library at West Point; and finding some very interesting nuggets from newspapers of the time, I was able to piece together the story. The frustrating part is that there always will be gaps in the record and questions we can’t answer. There was a fire at the Armistead family home in the 1850s and that may have destroyed some of his letters and other materials.

BR: What were some things you learned about these two men that surprised you.

TM: I had so little knowledge of the Armistead story, other than his famous day at Gettysburg, that it was all interesting and surprising. He was brevetted multiple times for gallantry in the Mexican War. He had a tragic personal life, losing two wives and two of his three children to disease on the frontier. But some of the most intriguing insights were about his family and its military history. His father was the third man to graduate from West Point and became a brigadier general in 1828. I also had no idea that his three younger brothers also fought in the Civil War (and that one had graduated from West Point). It’s no coincidence at all that Armistead became a soldier. As for Hancock? Despite all the Hancock books out there, I’ll admit that most of what I knew about him centered on his three outstanding days at Gettysburg. It was interesting to track the progress of his life and career both before AND after the war — it provides a lot of context for his Gettysburg actions. And he did a lot more after the war than just running for president in1880. Mostly, though, I was interested in finding what I could about their interactions and their friendship. It’s an interesting and compelling story — although not quite the same as what you saw in the movie.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what the stumbling blocks were?

TM: Looking back, I realize that I was “researching” the story of Armistead and Hancock long before I decided to write a book. The quest to learn more about them as a student of history is what led me, eventually, to do the book. The project itself took four years, with lots of twists and turns. The biggest challenge was uncovering as much of the hard-to-get-at Armistead material as I could. My wife, Colleen, is such a great researcher that she was a big part of this effort. Also, because of the power of the movie, I wanted to find as much as I could about their farewell in California before the war. Some people think it’s all fiction, that it didn’t happen at all. It’s a puzzle with some missing pieces, but I believe it DID happen. As for the overall story, there always will be questions we can’t answer. But that’s why we all keep studying history, right?

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

TM: My own process is to do some significant research, then start writing a bit, then go back to more research … and on it goes. I can’t just research, research, research. I have to start writing a little, to create a style for the book, to get the momentum going … and then go back for more research. Do I often double-back and edit or completely rewrite a segment because of something I’ve found? Sure. All the time. You’re constantly editing as you write. But I find that switching between research and writing throughout the process adds some freshness, at least for me.
There’s nothing like the National Archives when you are researching Civil War soldiers — their pre-war U.S. Army records and Civil War records, many of which include signed documents and letters. It’s eye-opening. Their online site at fold3.com is tremendous, but there are items at the Archives building in D.C. that are not yet digitized online, so traveling there is a must. We went to the West Point library and I was in awe of the information they have on the cadets — their academic records, even their application papers, which also include letters. I was stunned at the information we found in contemporary newspapers of that era, available at newspapers.com and other sites. Reporters wrote a lot about the army in those days, which is invaluable to a historian. Copies of the Confederate Veteran magazine series, which are both online and in some libraries, were a great resource on Armistead; those letters and articles were written by soldiers themselves, and a number of them wrote about serving with Armistead during Pickett’s Charge. All authors utilize previous books on our subject matter, of course, but finding some of the lesser-known books related to these guys (and, in Armistead’s case, his family) was also helpful for uncovering nuggets. A tidbit here, a tidbit there.

BR: In the editorial process something always ends up on the cutting room floor so to speak. Was there anything that didn’t make the final cut – things for which you expected to find support and came up dry, for example?

TM: I didn’t enter this project with many preconceived notions, so the answer is probably no. One specific topic I wanted to examine was the pre-war meeting in California, and I think I found as much as I could. Everything else was an open book. I was learning as I went alone. As we mentioned earlier, there really wasn’t much written in book form about Armistead before this. I guess you’re always a little frustrated at the end, because you wish you could have found more, but I thought I had exhausted many of the research avenues and had a pretty good story to tell. I hope readers agree.

BR: What’s next for you?

TM: RETIREMENT! That means more time to travel, research and write. I’m hoping there are more books in my future. My wife and I are also interested in doing more volunteer work at Antietam, and hopefully becoming guides some day. It’s an exciting time.





Backlog of Book Previews

24 04 2021

I apologize for the break – I won’t go into detail, but things have been busy. So let’s just get to this.

I have a few books that have been sent that are new-ish. Three from the good folks at Savas Beatie.

Layout 1

Meade and Lee at Rappahannock Station is the third installment in Jeffry William Hunt’s look at that period after Gettysburg in the East. Subtitled The Army of the Potomac’s First Post-Gettysburg Offensive, From Kelly’s Ford to the Rapidan, October 21 to November 20, 1863, you get:

  • 287 pages of text, including six appendices (Deciphering the Rappahannock Station Battlefield, Ordering the Rappahannock Station Attack, Emory Upton and Rappahannock Station’s Legacy, and Confederate Uniforms at Rappahannock Station and Kelly’s Ford, and Orders of Battles for both Rappahannock Station and Kelly’s Ford).
  • Bottom of page footnotes.
  • New and historical maps (I’m not sure who prepared the new maps), illustrations, and photos.
  • Nine page bibliography, including numerous unpublished manuscript sources.
  • Full Index

OIP

The Maps of the Cavalry at Gettysburg: An Atlas of the Mounted Operations from Brandy Station through Falling Watters, July 9-July 14, 1863, is also the latest in a series, this one by Bradley M. Gottfried who has authored all but on in the series so far. The format has not changed, with maps and narrative on facing pages. You get:

  • 169 pages of text and maps through the epilogue.
  • An appendix with Orders of Battle.
  • 33 pages of endnotes (footnotes would not be practical given the facing pages format).
  • Ten page bibliography including unpublished archival sources.
  • Full index.

——————–

th

Seceding from Secession: The Civil War, Politics, and the Creation of West Virginia is a collaborative effort between prolific author Eric J. Wittenberg, Edmund A. Sargus, Jr., and Penny L. Barrick, all three Ohio lawyers. You get:

  • 186 pages of text.
  • Five appendices: 
    1. The Letters to Abraham Lincoln from His Cabinet
    2. The Complaint in State of Virginia vs. State of West Virginia
    3. The Supreme Court’s Decision in Virginia vs. West Virginia
    4. The Supreme Court’s 1911 Decision in Virginia vs. West Virginia
    5. Current Events Prove that These Questions Live On
  • Bottom of page footnotes.
  • Numerous photos throughout.
  • 11 page bibliography including numerous newspapers and manuscripts.
  • Full index.





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

27 11 2020

s-l300

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

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

What you get:

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

It’s good stuff. Check it out.





Interview: Powell & Wittenberg, “Tullahoma”

5 11 2020

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

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

——————–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BR: How long have you two known each other?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BR: Why the Tullahoma Campaign?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BR: How has the book been received so far?

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

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

BR: What’s next for you?

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

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





Interview: Dixon, “Radical Warrior”

27 10 2020

Dixon_72dpi (1)Dixon4x5r

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BR: How has the book been received so far?

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

BR: What’s next for you?

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