New from Arcade Publishing is Surgeon in Blue: Jonathan Letterman, The Civil War Doctor Who Pioneered Battlefield Care, by Scott McGaugh. Many of the advances in medical practices that have resulted in increased survival rates among battlefield wounded can be traced to Army of the Potomac medical director Jonathan Letterman. Mr. McGaugh has consulted a wide range of sources – primarily published secondary – in this biography of the preeminent medical figure of the war. Mr. McGaugh also consulted the good folks at the Jefferson College Historical Society in Letterman’s hometown of nearby Canonsburg, PA. It’s a little known fact (I know it’s little known, because my PCP got his MD at Jefferson and was unaware) that the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, founded by George McClellan’s father, derived it’s name from Jefferson College in Canonsburg in Southwestern PA, and Letterman was educated at both schools. Jefferson College merged early in the war with Washington College in nearby Washington, PA, and survives today as Washington & Jefferson College in the latter place. Besides folks like Letterman and Clement Vallandigham, these two schools count a surprising number of Civil War general officers (including Confederates Albert Gallatin Jenkins and Henry Wise) among their alumni. But I digress. The book has received the imprimatur of George Wunderlich of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. Check it out!
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Tags: ACW Books, Articles, Jonathan Letterman
Categories : Articles, Books
New from Savas Beatie is Scott L. Mingus, Sr.’s bio Confederate General William “Extra Billy” Smith: From Virginia’s Statehouse to Gettysburg Scapegoat. In the interest of full disclosure, I read the First Bull Run portion of this book prior to publication, and my name appears in the acknowledgements (my ego thanks you, Scott.) Smith, a career politician, pre-War and Civil War Governor of Virginia, and U. S. Congressman, commanded the 49th Virginia Infantry Battalion at First Bull Run, where, depending on who tells the story, he either distinguished himself or proved a general nuisance to everyone with whom he came into contact. Two years later in Pennsylvania he reported sightings of an enemy on the flank which are the subject of much discussion 150 years later.
Weighing in at 386 pages of narrative, with an additional addendum addressing Smith at Gettysburg, Mr. Mingus drew extensively on newspaper articles and manuscript sources, in addition to numerous published works in constructing this biography of a man both well-known (thanks to one of the cooler nicknames of the war) and shadowy. Typically clear Hal Jesperson maps and little-seen photos and illustrations lend visual emphasis to the narrative. Check it out!
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Tags: ACW Books, Articles, William Smith
Categories : Articles, Books
Dr. Allen Carl Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, and Director of the Civil War Era Studies Program there. Perhaps best known for his works on Abraham Lincoln, he has twice been awarded the Lincoln Prize (for Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America). Recently he authored a single volume history of the Civil War, Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction. His new book, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, is available – pretty much everywhere - now.
ACG: Dr. Johnson, the first great dictionary-maker of the English language, once defined a lexicographer as “a maker of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.” Substitute “a writer of history” for the bit about dictionaries, and I think you can say the same about me: a harmless drudge. I am an Army brat (born in Yokohama, Japan; when I discovered in 5th grade that this disabled me constitutionally from being president, I was left with nothing better to do in life than write history), with a son now an officer in the U. S. Army. I had strong musical interests, and was even a composition major in my first year in college – until I discovered that I wasn’t really any good at it – then went to seminary with a view toward the ministry. But I still has a certain itch to write history, so I went and obtained a PhD in history from the University of Pennsylvania.
BR: What got you interested in the study of history and the Civil War period?
ACG: I can scarcely remember a time when I wasn’t interested in history, an interest sparked mostly by the training I got as a small boy at my grandmother’s knee in reading, memorizing, and so forth. As a girl, she could remember Union veterans coming round to her school on Memorial Day to talk about the war, and I suppose that gives me one living link to the Civil War. Otherwise, I had no ancestors of any sort in the war (they all arrived in the decades afterwards, from Sweden, Prussia, and Ireland). My first encounter with the Civil War in print was the Classics Illustrated version of The Red Badge of Courage, with its capsule history of the war at the back. That was followed by the American Heritage Golden Book of the Civil War, a Christmas present from 1960 – just in time for me to be taken to the hospital with a double case of encephalitis and meningitis.
Bruce Catton was then, and always has been, a great model for me as a writer. I recall walking home from school, reading A Stillness at Appomattox.
I did not actually get to visit Gettysburg until 1975. When I did, I had read so much about it that it was like déjà vu. Even so, never saw myself as having more than a polite amateur’s interest in the subject. I wrote my PhD dissertation on Jonathan Edwards and the problem of free will in American thought, and have always considered myself primarily an American intellectual-history person. That was how I backed-into writing about Abraham Lincoln. And one thing has led to another, so that here I am, teaching at – and writing about – Gettysburg and the Civil War. No one could be more surprised than I am. Through all of this, I’ve never taken a course on the Civil War or Lincoln, either as an undergraduate or a graduate student.
BR: Here are the $64,000 questions: Why another book on Gettysburg? What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?
ACG: Because it’s there. (That’s what Mallory said when the New York papers asked him why he was planning to climb Mt. Everest; it works here, too, especially since it took almost as much time to write Gettysburg: The Last Invasion as it took Mallory on Everest). I do think, however, that there are some important things about Gettysburg that I think need saying. First of all, I think Gettysburg (and the Civil War in general) could benefit hugely from being understood in a larger international context, especially when it comes to military thinking and tactical doctrine (which is, after all, a species of intellectual history). The Civil War did not occur in a vacuum; the experiences of the Crimean War (1854-56), the Sepoy Mutiny (1857-58), the North Italian War (1859) all offer important illumination for why Civil War generals thought as they did. That’s why Gettysburg: The Last Invasion is constantly invoking comparisons to the Alma, Solferino, and Koniggratz. In that sense, I’m trying to claw away from the blinkered view imposed on the Civil War by American exceptionalism.
That’s what lets me call into doubt the conclusions that have been repeated over-and-over again for decades about the significance of cavalry (and especially Stuart’s ride), about the practicality of Pickett’s Charge, uses of staff, and the weapons technology of the period.
I think you’ll also see the hidden (or not-so-hidden) hand of John Keegan, Paddy Griffith, Richard Holmes, and other examples of the British ‘new military history’ – which, come to think of it, is not actually so new any more. The Face of Battle made a terrific impact on me when I read it in the 1970s, and Griffith shaped my thinking about Civil War tactics more than any other writer.
BR: Can you describe how long it took to write The Last Invasion, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, and when you knew you were “done”?
ACG: It took four years, if you count the research time devoted solely to Gettysburg. In a larger sense, I suppose I’ve been writing this book ever since 1975. I cannot say I encountered anything that looked like a stumbling block. People have been extraordinarily generous with time and resources – and I think here especially of John Rudy and Bill Frassanito, not to mention the quartet of manuscript readers recruited for this project, Greg Urwin, Chuck Teague, Scott Bowden and Joe Bilby. My biggest surprise was in the Meade Papers, which I’ll explain in a minute. My sense of being “done” was on August 21, 2012, when I sent off the Epilogue. The publishers, Knopf/Random House, were determined to have this out for the Sesquicentennial of the battle, and they smiled, threatened, and cajoled all the way down to the last minute. A waterpipe in the house then broke and ruined the main-floor of the house. It must have been feeling the strain.
BR: Can you summarize for potential readers your assessment of George Meade’s performance at Gettysburg?
ACG: George Meade does not seem to have been on many people’s A list for commander of the Army of the Potomac. A reserved, haughty and testy officer, he could be meaner than a badger in a barrel. On the other hand, no one could doubt either his competence or his personal courage, which he demonstrated in spades on the Peninsula and at Fredericksburg, where his attack on Prospect Hill was nearly the only thing which went right for the Army of the Potomac. Meade’s chief deficit in the eyes of the Lincoln administration was that he was a McClellan Democrat, very much like Porter, Hancock and Sedgwick. In the years after the war, Meade’s son, George jnr., struggled to airbrush his father’s politics out of the picture (Meade junr.’s Life and Letters of his father carefully bowdlerized the letters reproduced there to produce an image of a plain, no-nonsense, apolitical professional). But in fact, Meade grew up in the same neighborhood in Philadelphia as the McClellans, shared the same conservative Whig-cum-Democrat politics, owed his initial promotion to brigadier-general of volunteers to McClellan, and received a “very handsome” congratulatory message from McClellan after Gettysburg. And the evidence lay in the Meade correspondence, archived at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
I have to admit that, coming into this project, I was pretty well disposed to regard Meade as man unjustly humiliated by Lincoln after winning a great victory. What I read in the Meade letters gave me a wholly different image of the man: angry, vain, contemptuous of abolitionists (he had two sisters who had married slaveowners), thin-skinned and passionate in the search for promotion and attention. He regarded the war (and I’m using material here that I did not have room for in the book) as “this unnatural contest” which, after eleven months, “the people of the North will be prepared to yield the independence of the South.” Even in August, 1863, he was willing to “say make terms of some kind or other with the South.” It was the Radical Republicans who were deliberately prolonging the war: “I believe Peace could be made but not on the terms that the rulers of the North would require.” The final break came, in my mind, when I read a letter he wrote on January 20, 1865, describing a meeting he had in passing with the three Confederate peace commissioners – R.M.T. Hunter, John Campbell and Alexander Stephens – who were en route to their meeting with Lincoln and Seward at Hampton Roads. Meade “plainly” set out “what I thought was the basis on which the people of the North would be glad to have peace.” This would have to include “restoration of the Union.” But “a settlement of the slavery question” could be reached which would ensure “that they must have labor & the negroes must have support,” since “it was well known they would not work unless compelled.” After reading this, the first question which burned through my mind was, Whose side are you on? What Union major-general gives talking points to Confederate negotiators as they are on their way to meet with Lincoln and Seward? No wonder Meade concluded the letter with the injunction, “all this I have written you, must be confidential, as it would not do to let it be known I had been talking with them, or what I have said.” This letter appears nowhere in young Meade’s Life and Letters, or Freeman Cleaves’ well-known biography of Meade.
BR: Can you describe the reactions of other historians and enthusiasts to your assessment of Meade?
ACG: This portrait of Meade has generated some vehement responses, based largely (I think) on the assumption that since Robert E. Lee was a genius, and since Robert E. Lee lost the battle, ergo, George Meade must be a genius, too. Questioning Meade’s “genius” is nearly as offensive on those grounds as questioning the virtue of Robert E. Lee among the Southern Heritage partisans. But the fact is that Meade was not at Gettysburg for a third of the battle, was taken utterly by surprise by Longstreet’s flank attack on July 2nd, and miscalled the point at which the Confederates would attack on July 3rd. despite the Meade equestrian statue’s location, Meade was nowhere near the apex of Pickett’s Charge at the time it happened. Meade did not so much win the battle, as Lee lost it; or rather, it was the near-miraculous initiative taken by individual officers on the line – Samuel Sprigg Carroll, “Pappy” Greene, Strong Vincent, Gouveneur Warren, Patrick O’Rorke, Norman Hall, and (yes) Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain – that over-and-over again saved the Union position at Gettysburg. But the biggest black-mark beside Meade’s name remains his failure to follow-up after the battle. Yes, I know that the Army of the Potomac was battered and mostly used-up; but so was the Army of Northern Virginia. The lesson of every commander in history worth remembering is this: in victory, follow up. I don’t know that I can entirely blame Meade. He was conscious of the fact that if he attacked Lee and won, he would probably receive little if any credit; if he attacked and lost, his head would be on a pike. In that respect, he may have felt that Lincoln had no one to blame but himself for creating such an atmosphere of mistrust. But this was to allow personal and political considerations to interfere with a military decision, considerations which the American military tradition has always been supposed to eschew.
One objection which has surprised me much more has been about the title: The Last Invasion. Some people wonder whether I’ve forgotten about Early’s or Morgan’s raids. Well, that’s the point: they were raids. They were short-term events intended to disrupt communications and infrastructure, but not to offer a full-scale challenge to battle or to occupy and feed off territory for a substantial length of time. Lee intended to do much more in 1863. He planned to remain in Pennsylvania until the fall, letting Pennsylvania rather than Virginia feed his army, or bring the Army of the Potomac to a head-on battle. That’s an invasion. It’s all the difference between a transatlantic crossing and a Caribbean cruise. Besides, I’m unapologetically borrowing the phrase about ‘the last invasion’ from Melville’s poem, Gettysburg, which appears on the opening page.
BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?
ACG: I do not know that I have a method, per se. I simply wade into the literature, scan archives for collections, and go to it with a will. It’s taken me quite far afield – from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Charlottesville, Virginia, and a few other points beyond.
BR: Has the process of writing this book impacted you in any profound ways?
ACG: It has made me feel very glad that it’s done.
BR: How has the book been received so far?
ACG: I am much too humble to say (snark, snark…) But it did make the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list [per publisher notice of June 2, 2013 list - ed.]
BR: What’s next for you?
ACG: Back to Lincoln.
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Tags: ACW Books, Allen Guelzo, Articles, Gettysburg, Interviews
Categories : Articles, Books, Interviews
Patrick Schroeder is the editor of the posthumously published Vortex of Hell: History of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, by Brian C. Pohanka. Patrick, who recently completed an interview for Bull Runnings on his publishing company Schroeder Publications, also took time to answer a few questions about the Vortex project.
[To order any of the Schroeder Publications titles listed below, go to their website and click on the “Schroeder Books” tab. You’ll find the covers of all the books, and can click on the covers for descriptions of the books.]
PS: Brian’s interest in the 5th New York took off when he met re-enactors of the 5th New York in the summer of 1975 at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. After returning from a year of college in Italy, he joined the unit in 1978. Brian quickly became the de facto unit historian. He was an advocate for the original unit, as he believed—supported by period accounts—that the 5th New York was one of the best units in the Army of the Potomac. He also wanted to educate the public about the unit and illustrate the fact that Zouaves did not disappear after the first months of the war, which is incorrectly represented in many books and articles. One of Brian’s favorite sources was meeting descendants of the original soldiers when they would shows up as spectators at a living history event or he searched them out through a name connection via the internet. He was able to build the soldiers bios by this means, get family stories, photos and diaries or letters. The largest source of material was the National Archives where he scoured the unit’s regimental books and papers, as well as going through every one of their service records and pension files with some assistance over the years from Rob Hodge and myself. Brian created a file on each man in which went service and pension record info as well as anything else he discovered about that soldier. There were printed sources such as Alfred Davenport’s 1879 regimental history of the unit that needed to be studied and analyzed. There are diary, journal, and letter collections in various institutions and in private hands. He incorporated accounts from 28 period newspapers and an equal number of Historical Societies, Universities, and Archives—including the Archives Nationales in Paris, France. Brian also purchased photos, letters and original items that belonged to members of the 5th, and built a considerable collection pertaining to Duyree’s Zouaves.
BR: What was the nature of your realtionship?
PS: At age 13, I joined the 5th New York re-enactment unit and initially I thought Brian who was about 26 at the time, did not like me. At my first event I was given the National Colors to carry and at one point they struck some tree branches and Brian gave me a scowl. But I started submitting articles to the unit newsletter and he took me under his wings, giving me encouragement and direction, telling me of better ways to do things, giving me research assignments, and coaching my writing style. Brian gave me my first real research project in high school when he had me go to the University of Virginia and visit their Special Collections to see the Leavitt Family Letterbooks—where the family had copied the letters from their sons into a journal; their son George serving in the 5th New York. In 1986, Brian took me to the National Archives and I have researched at that institution more than anywhere else. Brian was my mentor and I, his protégé. During my high school and college years, I used to visit his home which was like a museum—more in interesting pieces such as paintings rather than artifacts, and hear stories about these items. I loved to go through his album of Civil War CDVs. Sometimes I would house sit for him and feed his cats when he travelled for extend periods of time. I helped him move to Leesburg in the late 1980s. Typically we saw each other at reenactments/living history events, both of us being in the 5th New York. Brian and I and other members of the unit made some long distance trips together such as to the filming of the mini-series “North and South” in Mississippi, the movie “Glory” in Georgia, the 125th Shiloh event, and even to Paris and Hirson, France. You really get to know people on trips such as those. Sometimes Brian would ask me to come by to help him with some yard work. Mostly we’d talk history on the phone a couple times a week about our latest discoveries, especially with the 5th New York, 5th New York Veteran Volunteers and 146th New York Zouaves. These units were so connected that our information overlapped and we wanted to share it with each other. Brian also came to me with several book projects, the first being the reprinting of Thomas Southwick’s narrative A Duryee Zouave that originally had only been printed for his family. It is a very entertaining read. Another was Summer on the Plains: The 1870 Diary of Annie Gibson Roberts. This he obtained from descendants of Roberts. Annie was part of the Custer inner-circle and married Captain Yates who was killed beside Custer at the Little Big Horn. I visited Brian weekly during the last stages of his illness. We didn’t talk much, if at all, about the book. He was comfortable that it would be taken care of. With his illness, he knew the end was coming, and he got most everything in order before he was too bad off. We’d talk about light-hearted stuff, recollect funny incidents, he’d share his perspective on things or do his personification of someone that we were discussing, and we ended up watching episodes of the Little Rascals that I brought with me which he greatly enjoyed. During my last visit, Brian was not doing well at all and was confined to bed. After visiting for perhaps an hour, I told him that I’d see him next week, and he said “Okay,” but I knew I would not, as did he. As I reached the doorway to leave the room, I paused and looked back, Brian’s eyes were closed, but he had his right hand raised across his body for a handshake, which I rushed back and shook. A final parting handshake—a stoic and manly gesture of a true friend. The next day, when his wife called, I already knew he was gone. I have since finished a book project on Arthur Alcock and the 11th New York Fire Zouaves that Brian and I had started on back in the late 1980s, and need to finish the full regimental history on the Fire Zouaves begun about the same time, but at this time, I can not say if that will be before or after Volume II of the Vortex of Hell is finished.
BR: When & how did the project change for Brian once he realized his time was limited? Was your intended role clear at that point?
PS: Brian had been adding pieces to the book since he first started writing/compiling it in the early 1980s. Whenever he found something new, he would plug it into the roster or narrative where appropriate. Even before he had ocular cancer, he gave me discs with his manuscript and roster to keep should his house ever burn or computer suffer some irretrievable damage. He would give me updated discs every few years, so I would have the latest version as he was constantly adding to it. In these earlier versions, it did not have much of a narrative flow, just the information he found inserted at the date that the events being described happened. Those closest to him thought the book would never be completed, as Brian didn’t want there to be any stone left unturned. And that is impossible as new stuff will always turn up. So we used to joke that it is the greatest book never written, since he had been working on it for some twenty years. Brian first learned of his cancer and had his right eye removed in 1999. The reoccurance of that cancer in the summer of 2003 caused Brian to work in earnest on finishing the book—completing it and making it into a readable narrative, and he continued to work on it until he could not do it anymore. Yes, I knew my role and what Brian expected of me. I would visit Brian a couple times a month after he became too ill to go out in public and on a weekly basis the last month or two before he passed. He went over where everything for the book was—photos, files, etc. He also wrote me a letter that was given to me after his passing of things he would like me to do for him, including seeing the book into print.
BR: Can you describe the status of the book when Brian finally put down his pen?
PS: Brian had to stop working on the book months before he passed away. One of the last things to get incorporated into the book were excerpts from the Baltimore American newspaper that he had me track down on microfilm and print for him. He was very excited to learn that the copies of the newspaper existed on microfilm as this was a major untapped source as the 5th New York was posted in Baltimore from July 1861 to March 1862. Once Brian incorporated that information, he was done—this would have been in early March 2005.
BR: How did you view your task at that point?
PS: Though the narrative was finished the completion of the book for final publication was still a daunting task, but I never doubted it would be completed eventually. Brian let me know that I would have to select the photos and write their captions and create the maps for the book, that he was not going to be able to get to those things. I picked out the photos that I thought were most appropriate to incorporate with the topic being discussed, but even so, we used less than half (145 of perhaps 300) of the photos Brian had assembled. The rest will be included in the Second Volume that will feature those photos, a complete and detailed biographical roster, and transcriptions of additional letters that have been discovered or acquired since Brian’s passing. For the captions, I incorporated what I knew, plus information from the book and roster. So Brian had his hand in writing them too. The maps were created through consulting historical maps or by revising maps that Steve Stanley had already done. Steve produced the maps for the book and we, in many cases, were able to refine some base maps already done for the battles in which the 5th New York participated. And, overall, I think they turned out pretty good. Brian’s widow indexed the book
BR: What were the major stumbling blocks to converting the manuscript to a book?
PS: The biggest problem was not having Brian there to ask him questions, to clarify something, or review the final product. The book also needed some editing as well as some consistency work. The maps and photo captions just took time. That was a big issue in getting the book done, time. My first child was born before work on the book began in earnest. That, along with other book projects that we were working on, as well as my regular job, left little time to commit to the project. Brian’s widow also remarried during this time. Plus, we’re not talking about a small book, this book is over 600 pages, and a book that large takes much longer than say a 200 page book. Many people think books can be turned out quickly and were anxious to get the book in their hands, but it is not as easy as people tend to believe. Indexing a 600 page book is also time consuming, and Brian’s widow did that.
BR: How would you describe the finished product? Do you think it’s what Brian intended? How does it differ from other regimental histories?
PS: I’m gratified to have the finished project available for the people interested in the 5th New York and for the friends and admirers of Brian. I think it is what Brian expected, and he would be well pleased with the final product. It differs from many other regimental histories in its thoroughness—over 600 pages; the number of photos and maps incorporated and its readability—Brian’s writing style is enjoyable. Plus Brian’s book does not end with the unit’s muster out in May 1863, he follows the three-year men that were transferred to the 146th New York, and the second creation of the unit, the 5th New York Veteran Volunteer Infantry, 1863-65; and he continues with the history into the veterans’ post-war organization and doings, such as raising the General G. K. Warren monument on Little Round Top. Typically, most regimental histories do not even cover this time period.
BR: How has the book been received so far?
PS: The book has been highly anticipated, and thus far been well received. It is still early and we are awaiting reviews. The book has been acclaimed to have raised the bar for any regimental history in the future. It will be hard to match or surpass, especially with more than twenty years of work going into it. The book is available at http://www.civilwar-books.com/ where there is also a link to a memorial page about Brian with photos and the remarks I gave at his memorial service at Manassas Battlefield.
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Tags: ACW Books, Articles, Interviews
Categories : Articles, Books, Interviews
Savas Beatie has re-issued Eric Wittenberg’s 2002 effort Protecting the Flank: The Battles for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field, Battle of Gettysburg, July 2-3, 1863, re-titling it with the more marketable and less comma laden title of Protecting the Flank at Gettysburg: The Battles for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field, July 2-3, 1863. Other than the subtle name change, the first noticeable difference between the two books is that the great-big-giant spacing in the earlier Ironclad Publishing edition is gone, and Savas Beatie has printed this one in a more standard format. There has been some re-writing and shifting of chapter numbers, with a new introduction and the old intro moved to Chapter 1. GPS coordinates have been added to the driving tour. And most interesting of all to Gettysburg and cavalry nerds are two new appendices in which Mr. Wittenberg takes on the work Thomas Carhart, author of Lost Triumph: Lee’s Real Plan at Gettysburg and Why it Failed, which waxes theoretical on just what moved J. E. B. Stuart to do what he did on July 3, 1863. Check it out.
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Tags: ACW Books, Articles, Eric Wittenberg
Categories : Articles, Books
Two recent releases from Savas Beatie are Divided Loyalties: Kentucky’s Struggle for Armed Neutrality in the Civil War by James W. Finck, and Simply Murder: The Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862 by Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White.
Divided Loyalties takes a look at the period from November 1860 to November 1861, during which Kentucky struggled to maintain a neutral position in the war. The author argues that this was motivated not by pervasive Unionist feelings but rather by deeply divided loyalties. Finck provides insight into the dilemma of the state, of which Lincoln said: “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game.”
Simply Murder is the first entry in Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War Series. Both a compact history of the campaign and battle and a tour guide, the reader is also treated to appendices covering the National Cemetery, slavery in Fredericksburg, the civilian experience, and the history of the battlefield park. Lots of illustrations and maps, and full orders of battle are included.
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Tags: ACW Books, Articles, Fredericksburg, Kentucky
Categories : Articles, Books
Ronald Griffin’s The 11th Alabama Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War was published in 2008 by McFarland & Company and was recently reprinted in a more affordable paperback edition. Below, Mr. Griffin answers some questions about himself and the book.
RG: I am an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention and have been a pastor for about twenty-seven years. In addition, I have been a lecturer in Hebrew on the seminary level, and lectured as well on the College level. I have had the opportunity to study abroad at the University of Stellenbosch and the Queens University of Belfast. I hold a doctoral degree from New Orleans Theological Seminary. I am married with three children and four grandchildren, and Mobile, Alabama, is my hometown. Outside of my unpublished master’s thesis and doctoral project, the 11th Alabama is my first published work.
BR: What got you interested in studying Civil War?
RG: I have always been interested in the Civil War. I remember playing with Civil War soldiers as a kid and hearing my Grandma Griffin talking about our family Civil War stories. I can’t point to one particular person who engendered my interest in the field, but simply a growing interest from childhood that culminated in intensive research in Civil War studies. A few works stand out in my budding interest in the field: Shelby Foote’s three volumes, The Civil War: A Narrative, Douglas S. Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command, and McMillan’s The Alabama Confederate Reader. Other influential writers along my journey have been James M. McPherson, and James I. Robertson. The Official Records and the many published works by the soldiers who fought in the war have fueled my passion. I was also greatly influenced in pursuing academic excellence while studying under Dr. Allen C. Guelzo.
BR: What were you hoping to accomplish with The 11th Alabama Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War? What was the story you were trying to tell, and what did you want the reader to come away with after reading it?
RG: The work began on a personal note after discovering that several of my ancestors had fought in the 11th Alabama. It was out of researching their war records that the idea of researching the regiment was born. I wanted to open up the world of the men who fought in the 11th Alabama for both scholars and interested descendants. I wanted to tell the story of the men, their individual journeys from 1861-1865, and their lives after the war. The 11th Alabama is not simply the unfolding of the story of an individual Confederate infantry regiment, but the personal journey the reader takes with the soldiers as they sit around a camp fire, describe the carnage on the battlefield, or double-quick over an open field toward the enemy works. It is my hope that readers will come away with a greater appreciation for both the regiment and the soldiers who fought in the 11th Alabama. The 11th Alabama was one of the hardest fighting regiments in the Army of Northern Virginia. Readers will learn of the bravery, patriotism, and motives of many of the men who comprised the unit.
BR: What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?
RG: First of all, no definite work on the 11th Alabama had been written. George Clark’s reflections on the regiment had been published in 1914 entitled, A Glance Backward: Or Some Events in the Past History of My Life . Clark’s work was not a systematic treatment of the regiment. Second, the work contributes to our understanding of the Wilcox-Sanders Brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia. A great deal of primary material accessed provides helpful information on the role played by the brigade during the war. The work provides specific details of battle developments previously undocumented. Third, the 11th Alabama contributes to understanding how the typical Confederate regiment was raised as well as the dialogue regarding the motives for fighting in Confederate service. Finally, the work has a strong biographical component. Personal stories are scattered throughout the book, and the final chapter examines the lives of the soldiers following Appomattox.
BR: Can you describe your journey in writing the book?
RG: The research and writing of the 11th Alabama took about seven years. A formidable obstacle in writing a regimental history is the time needed to visit and study key locations. A regimental history requires a researcher to travel to the locations where the unit was formed, encamped, fought, and buried it’s dead. In addition, necessary time allotment for travel to the locations containing necessary research materials provided a challenge. I found it surprising that so many extant original sources for the 11th Alabama became accessible in the project. The project was difficult to end. Academic research requires an exhaustive undertaking by the researcher which makes the decision to terminate a project difficult. Nevertheless, after tracing each soldier’s life following the war as far as I could, I knew the project was completed.
BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?
RG: Research began with the official muster rolls and Confederate service cards of the 11th Alabama (available at the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery, Alabama). I recorded the daily data on every single soldier for the entire war. The daily data provided rich personal information for cataloging the regimental developments throughout the war. A wealth of information for the book is contained in the Department of Archives and History at Montgomery, Alabama, as well as the W.S. Hoole Special Collections at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Using the official muster rolls as a chronological guide for the book, the research and writing traced the developments of the regiment from the original mustering in of the individual companies until the final parole at Appomattox Court House. Information from the Official Records, personal biographical information, and any additional relevant information was inserted within the basic chronological framework. The foundational sources for the 11th Alabama included: official muster rolls of the regiment, the Confederate service cards, the 11th Alabama Regimental Files, The Sydenham Moore Papers, The James McMath Diary, and the Dr. William H. Sanders Papers all from the Alabama Department of Archives and History at Montgomery, Alabama. In addition, the J.C.C. Sanders Papers (W.S. Hoole Special Collections the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Alabama), the Official Records, the Cadmus M. Wilcox Papers (Library of Congress Manuscript Division held in Washington, D.C.), the Velma and Stephens G. Croom Collection (held in the University of South Alabama Archives, Mobile, Alabama), and George Clark’s A Glance Backward. Online sites provided personal biographical information on individual soldiers as well as information on the location of needed primary sources. I took the time to solicit information online from ancestors of the soldiers who served in the 11th Alabama, and in response received everything from letters to photographs.
BR: I understand the book has been reprinted. Can you talk about that process, how the decision was made, etc.?
RG: The hard back copy of the 11th Alabama was released in 2008 by McFarland &Co. Inc. Publishers. The publishers decided that the sales of the book through 2011 merited a reprint but in a different format. In 2012 the 11th Alabama was released in soft cover form at a reduced price. We hope that offering the book at the reduced price might generate more book sales.
BR: What’s next for you?
SH: I am currently engaged in a new research project that I hope to publish upon its completion. I am studying the contributions of the citizens of Mobile, Alabama, to the Confederate war effort from 1860-1865. The work focuses upon civilian efforts in support of the military. The work hopes to determine the how Mobilians contributed to the war effort in order to understand the diversity, development, and motivation of their labors.
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Tags: ACW Books, Articles, Interviews
Categories : Articles, Books, Interviews
In addition to his steady NPS gig as Historian at Appomattox Court House NHP, Patrick Schroeder is owner of Schroeder Publications, which puts out quality Civil War books on an ecclectic range of topics. Patrick took some time from his very busy schedule to answer a few questions in this first (for Bull Runnings) two part interview. In Part I, we focus on Schroeder Publications in general. Part II will focus more narrowly on the recent release of what is without a doubt the most anticipated regimental history of the past couple of decades, the late Brian C. Phohanka’s history of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry (Duryee’s Zouaves), Vortex of Hell.
To order any Schroeder Publications title, go to their website and click on the “Schroeder Books” tab. You’ll find the covers of all the books, and can click on the covers for descriptions of the books.
BR: For any of our readers out there who may only know you from the spine of your books, who is Patrick Schroeder?
PS: I can claim being both a Southerner and a Northerner. I was born in Virginia when my father was in the army, but was raised in Utica, NY, until I was 13. My father transferred with GE to Waynesboro, Virginia. I attended Stuarts Draft High School in Augusta County and went to Shepherd College (now Shepherd University) specifically for their degree in Historical Park Administration, which they no longer offer. I obtained my Master’s Degree in Civil War history at Virginia Tech, where Dr. James I. “Bud” Robertson chaired my thesis. My family and I now live in Lynchburg, VA. When not involved in history pursuits or entertaining the kids, I’m typically at an ice rink reffing or playing hockey.
BR: How did you catch the Civil War bug?
PS: I actually grew up on the Revolutionary War in central New York, where the Oriskany Battlefield and Fort Stanwix were close by, and not too far distant was Saratoga and Fort Ticonderoga, as well as Baron Von Steuben’s and General Herkimer’s homes. My parents liked history and we travelled a good deal when I was young and we visited many historical sites during our family vacations. We attended many National Park programs, and I always would be in front and answer all of the Ranger’s questions to the group. My interest changed to Civil War when we moved to Waynesboro, Virginia, when I was thirteen and saw the re-enactment at New Market Battlefield.
BR: Why did you decide to get into publishing Civil War titles?
PS: While working as a seasonal at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park I did a college project focusing on Myths about Lee’s Surrender and eventually developed it into my first little book Thirty Myths About Lee’s Surrender (1993), which sold at the park and various places in Appomattox. People suggested that I see if other historical sites, shops, and bookstores, would want to carry it, and many places did. After writing More Myths About Lee’s Surrender and publishing a reprint of The Fighting Quakers with additional materials, others approached me with projects. The Historian at Appomattox asked me to reprint Five Points in the Record of North Carolina in the Great War 1861-65 and Brian Pohanka asked me to print a book called A Duryee Zouave, the recollections of Thomas Southwick which previously had only been printed for the family, but is an excellent account, perhaps my favorite. I added photos to the North Carolina book and put a more marketable cover on the book and titled it Tarheels and kept the former title as the subtitle. I had done a good deal of leg work getting the Myth books out and now had more than 100 places carrying our titles. When I finished my 500+ page book “We Came To Fight”: The History of the 5th New York Veteran Volunteer Infantry, Duryee’s Zouaves 1863-1865 (that started as my master’s thesis) and spoke to several publishers about taking it on. I found out that they really would not do anything more for my book, and probably less, than I was already doing. So, we published it and marketed it on our own.
BR: What makes your books stand out – what does Schroeder Publications have to offer to both writers and readers that is not already provided by other publishers?
PS: Honestly, I’m not sure. We’re not limited to a certain Civil War genre, our books cover a wide range of areas and topics in the Civil War realm—cemeteries, battles, letters, Zouaves, African-Americans, regimental histories, photo studies, biographies, and memorials. People really like our books on animals in the Civil War. Mike Zucherro’s book, Loyal Hearts: Histories of Civil War Canines is our best seller. Civil War Animal Heroes: Mascots, Pets and War Horses by Charles Worman is very popular as well.
I’ve seen Civil War books printed where the publisher has no idea about the subject and just printed the material as is. I read through the manuscripts and am able to make corrections, ask questions, or even add something to the work. We love using large and numerous photos in our books, something that is shied away from by larger main-stream publishers.
BR: Can you describe how you go about attracting manuscripts and authors, or how you decide to republish an out of print work?
PS: We do not solicit manuscripts as more than enough come in on their own, which we take as a nice compliment. We only publish one or two titles a year and have a backlog of titles to publish, so we have to be selective. We’d like to print them all, but time, a limited staff, finances and the marketability of some titles, just does not make it feasible. This year, we pushed hard and were able to release three new books. “My Country Needs Me” The Story of Corporal Johnston Hastings Skelly Jr.: 87th Pennsylvania Infantry, A Son of Gettysburg and Confidant of Jennie Wade by Enrica D’Alessandro; then Nicholas Redding’s A History and Guide to Civil War Shepherdstown: Victory and Defeat in West Virginia’s Oldest Town; and lastly Brian Pohanka’s long awaited Vortex of Hell: History of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, Duryee’s Zouaves 1861-1865. We receive a considerable number of submissions by mail and e-mail, but often it is someone that talks to us in person. Sometimes it is a friend with an idea. These days, a title needs to have a definite selling market. So whether it is a new title, a reprint, or the printing of an out of print book, the market and demand has to be there. This year we also reprinted (new to Schroeder Publications) Brian Bennett’s book The Beau Ideal of a Soldier and Gentleman: The Life of Col. Patrick Henry O’Rorke From Ireland to Gettysburg; another reprint , this time in soft cover, is Four Years in the First New York Light Artillery: The Papers of David F. Ritchie, edited by Norman L. Ritchie; and Thomas McGrath’s Shepherdstown: Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign September 19-20, 1862 was brought out in soft cover.
BR: Can you describe your production process, from manuscript acceptance, through editing, to publication, promotion, distribution and sales?
PS: After accepting a manuscript , I will read and edit the manuscript for historical accuracy, grammar and style. I often do this when the manuscript is first submitted. My wife, Maria, or I will work on the layout, and typically, Maria will design a cover. We use several printers depending on the size of the book. Both are excellent to work with. We submit books for review to various papers and magazines. Then we work on getting the books out to our sources. We don’t do too much advertising, but concentrate more on getting the books out to certain historical sites and venues. It usually takes six months to a year to get a book selling well. We are also attending re-enactments and shows to push the book during the 150th Anniversary.
BR: What’s in the Schroeder Publications pipeline?
PS: The next book we plan to release is Cooper Wingert’s Emergency Men: The 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia and the Gettysburg Campaign. Cooper is a young fellow, still in high school, but already has two good books to his credit. When he submitted it, I was very impressed with the research he had done and his writing style, and I’m a fan of good regimental histories. This seemed like a good title to accept as I was always intrigued by the 26th Pennsylvania Militia monument at Gettysburg on Chambersburg Street of the young boy not wearing a jacket but sporting boots and a rifle at port arms. I never knew the whole story about that unit, but now I do and others will soon too. We will have it out in March or April, well in time for the 150th events at Gettysburg. By taking on other peoples’ projects to publish, my works have been sitting for years. I do hope to get out a collection of letters by various 20th Maine soldiers before the Gettysburg Anniversary as well, and the transcribed letters and diary of Axel Leatz—a Swedish officer who served in the 5th New York Veteran Volunteer Infantry, Duryee’s Zouaves, 1863-1865. The letters and diary were all in Swedish, so I had to recruit some Swedish friends to help on this one—it is a very unique perspective. There are several other titles on our list, and I’d like to do a second book on the Pennsylvania Bucktails with Ronn Palm – he has so many great photos of those soldiers. Researching what happened to each one is fun; the writing of their stories is a bit harder.
Part II coming soon…
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Tags: ACW Books, Articles, Interviews, Patrick Schroeder, Schroeder Publications
Categories : Articles, Books, Interviews
Savas Beatie has recently published The Petersburg Campaign Volume I: The Eastern Front Battles June-August, 1864, by Edwin C. Bearss with Bryce A. Suderow. Bull Runnings has previously interviewed Mr. Bearss here. You may or may not be familiar with his partner in this effort, Bryce Suderow, but you’ve likely read works which have benefitted from his efforts.
BAS: I was born in Chicago in 1950 and grew up in one of its suburbs, South Holland. I attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois and moved to California in 1973 to attend graduate school at Sonoma State University where I got a Masters in American History. Although my focus was on early American History, my thesis was on a Civil War battle.
My career as a writer began in 1973 when I published an article in the Westport Historical Quarterly. Since that time I have published articles in Civil War Times Illustrated, North and South and other magazines.
My first book was actually my thesis on the Battle of Pilot Knob, Thunder in Arcadia Valley. After that I was co-editor for theSupplement to the Official Records. My third book is Volume 1 of The Petersburg Campaign.
My career as a researcher began in 1991 when Noah A. Trudeau hired me to do some research. I liked the work so much that I decided to switch over to doing research for a living. Over the next twenty years I did research at the Library of Congress and the National Archives for J.D. Petruzzi, Eric Wittenberg, Gordon Rhea and many others. I was among the first researchers to use Civil War era newspapers as sources and now the practice is quite common.
BR: What got you interested in studying the American Civil War?
BAS: When the Civil War Centennial arrived, I was at the very impressionable age of eleven. Chicagoans took the Civil War very seriously. Ralph Newman and some others started the first Civil War Round Table. Newman’s nationally known bookstore attracted Civil War writers and Civil War buffs from all over the country, including Bruce Catton.
Newman was a local legend, so the Chicago Tribune persuaded him to write a weekly column on the Civil War called Ralph Newman’s Scrapbook for their Sunday magazine section. The Trib even published a comic strip series every Sunday called Old Glory at the Crossroads which dealt with the events that had occurred one hundred years ago that week. The Newman Scrapbook and the Old Glory series were among my earliest influences. About the same time I was also influenced by two comic books on the Civil War published by Classics Illustrated and by the multi-part Life Magazine series on the Civil War.
The greatest influence from an individual came from my Social Studies teacher, Ted Gunaka, who was a Civil War buff. He assigned each of his fifth grade students a Civil War battle and required us to write a paper and deliver an oral speech on it. I chose the Battle of the Crater and the Siege of Petersburg. Gunaka thus put me on the path to researching the Civil War.
All this occurred when I was a pre-teen.
As a teenager I read all of Bruce Catton’s Civil War books. His writings thrilled me and instilled in me a deep love of the Civil War. When I was in my twenties I moved to California and majored in History and got my Masters Degree at Sonoma State University. I decided to specialize in the war west of the Mississippi and it was then that I became aware of Edwin C. Bearss and his writings taught me and inspired me. Also important were two other writers, Richard Brownlee and John R. Margreiter, both of whom wrote about the battle of Pilot Knob, Missouri. I wrote my Master’s Thesis on that battle and it was published as a book in 1985 under the title Thunder in Arcadia Valley.
BR: Why Petersburg?
BAS: After years of studying and writing about the war in the Trans-Mississippi, I changed my focus to the Siege of Petersburg because the 1864-65 campaigns in Virginia won the war. I wrote a series of articles on the early battles of the siege for a long-defunct magazine called The Kepi. I also began research on the First Battle of Deep Bottom and even wrote a manuscript on the battle. Unfortunately, though this was 25 years ago, it has not yet been published.
BR: What makes this work on Petersburg stand out from others?
BAS: There are a number of books that deal with particular battles or offensives of the Siege of Petersburg, the Crater being the most popular topic. However, there are only two books that cover the entire Siege of Petersburg. One of them is Noah A. Trudeau’s The Last Citadel. The other is John Horn’s The Petersburg Campaign. Both books have their strengths and weaknesses, but both are far too short to cover the siege in the detail it deserves.
The Bearss book stands out for two reasons. One of the book’s strengths is that deals with the entire siege in-depth. Each chapter is devoted to one battle and each chapter is around 70 pages long. No one has ever done this. For the first time people who want to walk the battlefields will know where to go.
Another strength is Bearss’ writing style. He writes so clearly that any layman can understand him and so dramatically that readers are hooked on the story he tells.
BR: What is your role in The Petersburg Campaign project?
BAS: I had two roles when I worked on Vol. I. First, I was editor of the material that Bearss wrote and second I was co-author since I wrote the introductions and conclusions to each chapter. In Vol. II I am also the editor. My writer role has expanded. In addition to the intros and conclusions, I am adding material to some chapters, material that came to light after Bearss wrote his ms.
At the request of the Federal Government Bearss wrote a series of studies on the Petersburg battles in the mid-1960s. He never intended to publish them. For years the only people who knew about them were the employees at Petersburg battlefield park and scholars of the battle. I obtained copies of some of the studies and was impressed by them.
Five or six years ago I decided they should be published, but first I needed to obtain copies of all the studies. The park employees were kind enough to provide those.
Next I needed volunteers to type the chapters into their computers. On a site called The Civil War Message Board Portal I posted a message calling for volunteers to help publish a book by Edwin C. Bearss. The effect of his name was magical and a surprisingly large number of people volunteered to do the typing. Once the computer version of the book was typed, I called for volunteers to make certain each chapter followed the same format. Again the volunteers came forward. This phase was completed three years ago.
Finally, I approached Ted Savas and told him about the manuscript. He was enthusiastic and immediately agreed. The biggest obstacles to publishing were finding someone to create the maps and finding authors to write about two battles Bearss did not cover, the Battle of the Crater and the Battle of Fort Stedman. This took a couple of years. Finally this year we found two experts who were eager to co-author a book with Edwin C. Bearss. Patrick Brennan wrote the Crater chapter and Bill Wyrick wrote the Stedman chapter. Also this year I chose George Skoch to create the maps. He did a score of superb maps in just a few months.
BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?
BAS: To write the introductions and conclusions in Vol. I I used John Horn’s book, The Petersburg Campaign. For Vol. II I am using that book, plus the Official Records, the Supplement to the Official Records and various published and unpublished accounts.
People who read this book are in for a real treat. Most Civil War enthusiasts have a completely wrong idea about the siege. They think the siege consisted of static warfare and doomed Union attacks against Confederate trenches. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of the ten battles that took place during the siege, only three involved Union attacks on the Confederate lines. There were the initial Union assaults of June 15-18, 1864, the assault at the Crater on July 30, 1864, and the Union attack that led to a breakthrough on April 2, 1865. All the other battles took place in the woods and fields around the city and occurred because Grant was sending portions of his army to seize and/or destroy the Weldon and Southside Railroads.
Each of the battles is interesting because different corps and corps commanders were engaged in the various battles and they commanded their men differently. For example contrast the union generalship in two battles for the Weldon Railroad. On August 18 Warren seizes the railroad and quite prudently wants to fortify his position against the inevitable Confederate attacks. Grant and Meade insist that he press up against the Confederate fortifications which places him in dense woods where he can’t see the Confederates coming. As a result on August 18 and 19 the Confederates attack his flanks, surprise his men and rout them, so he suffers tremendous losses, mostly in prisoners. On August 20 Grant and Meade allow him to do what he asked permission to do. He fortifies and the next day a big Confederate attack is repulsed.
Hancock fights a battle at ream’s station four days later and his style is quite different. He occupies a badly planned and laid out fortification constructed in June by the VI Corps and is seemingly indifferent to improving the strength of his position. Instead he spends his time destroying the railroad. As a result the Confederates attack him while he’s holding this weak position and the II Corps is routed and driven from the field with a large loss in prisoners. The difference between the two generals is clear. Warren was more astute than Hancock so he was acutely aware of the danger Lee’s army posed and Hancock was not. Warren was also aware that fortifications were necessary because the quality of his men had deteriorated because of excessive casualties.
The book is also fascinating because it shows the rise and fall of fortunes of Confederate high commanders at Petersburg. A.P. Hill was so ill that he often turned over command to Henry Heth or William Mahone. Mahone rose to the occasion and became one of the two most outstanding commanders on the Confederate side. The other stellar commander was Wade Hampton. It was he who persuaded Lee to attack the isolated Hancock at Ream’s Station and he played a key role in the victory.
I guarantee that anyone who reads this book will end up fascinated by the Siege of Petersburg.
BR: What’s next for you?
BAS: I hope to co-author a book on Five Forks with Mike McCarthy. Mike wrote a dissertation on the battle and on the Warren Court of Inquiry. I found him a publisher and we’ve become friends. And I want to publish my Deep Bottom manuscript.
Good luck with your future work, Bryce. We’re all looking forward to Volume II of The Petersburg Campaign.
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Tags: ACW Books, Articles, Bryce Suderow, Interviews, Petersburg
Categories : Articles, Books, Interviews
I did a brief preview of John Schmutz’s The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History for America’s Civil War back when it first came out in 2009. At the time the format of my column paired books together, and I gave Schmutz’s book the edge over Richard Slotkin’s No Quarter. But I did take the book to task, as I did most McFarland publications, for its just-plain-silly price. The Battle of the Crater will soon be released in paperback and at a more reasonable $35. Since many folks may have been turned off by the price tag three years ago, I thought it would be fair to Mr. Schmutz to give everyone a little refresher on the book, and to that end John agreed to answer a few questions.
BR: What can you tell the readers about John Schmutz?
JS: I am a native of Oneida, New York, and currently live with my wife of many years in San Antonio, Texas. We have three adult children currently located in various parts of the U.S. I hold a B.S. from Canisius College, and law degrees from both The University of Notre Dame and George Washington University. Following a tour in the U.S. Army as a lawyer, I enjoyed a rewarding career as a corporate attorney, initially in private practice, and then as general counsel and a member of senior management for several public companies. Given a long-standing ambition to one day find the time to write on the Civil War, I seized an opportunity to reduce my legal workload and became a founding principal in a business venture which ultimately allowed me the time and flexibility to do so.
While I had published a number of legal theses throughout my career, The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History was my first full-length book. It enjoyed considerable success when it was first published, and was highly regarded by reviewers generally. The Civil War Times indicated that “[f]or anyone who sees the Crater as the decisive battle that could and should have been, this book will provide the long-awaited answer to prayers.” Civil War News wrote that “Schmutz has set the standard for a study of this period of Civil War history.” Civil War Books and Authors remarked that there “exists no great shortage of books and articles written about the … Battle of the Crater, but it’s safe to say none are remotely comparable to John F. Schmutz’s recently published study.” Unfortunately, the publisher’s pricing ($75.00), placed a considerable damper upon retail sales, and was the one universal criticism of the work. Thus, I was most happy to learn that sales of the book were nonetheless strong enough that a soft cover edition was just published at a much reduced price.
In addition to immersing myself in Civil War history and writing, I enjoy genealogical research, and reading generally. I still do pro bono legal work for charitable organizations, as well as serving on several boards. I am an avid golfer and sports fan and have a fascination for international travel, which my wife and I continue to indulge in whenever we can.
BR: What set you along the path to researching the Civil War?
JS: I have always enjoyed a deep-seated interest in all aspects of the Civil War. I attribute this particular trait to my father and grandfather, both of whom were Civil War enthusiasts. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of trekking around the battlefields at Antietam and Gettysburg, as well as listening to Richard Bales’ recordings of The Union and The Confederacy. I remember at the age of seven taking my accumulated savings, about $.50, to an estate auction where I learned of a Civil War rifle that was on the auction block. Needless to say, I did not complete that purchase. However, my interest in the Civil War grew exponentially. Early in my formative years, I was fascinated by Bruce Catton’s easily readable works, and later by Shelby Foote’s magnum opus, The Civil War, A Narrative.
When I became a parent, family trips with the kids would most often included at least one stop at a Civil War battlefield, regardless of the ultimate destination. While I was serving on active duty in the Army in Washington, DC, I was part of a group which routinely walked the battlefields of Virginia, and hunted for relics (legally). Some of my prized possessions remain those finds.
Throughout my career, I remained an avid reader of Civil War history, and dreamed of the day when I might find the time to research and write for myself. In this regard, I was inspired early on by the example of a senior partner in the first law firm for which I worked, Alan Nolan, who published The Iron Brigade while he was still immersed in the practice of law. This encouraged me that having chosen the law as a career did not preclude becoming a Civil War author.
BR: Why The Crater?
JS: Everyone who delves into the history of the Civil War has, on some level, heard of the siege of Petersburg and the Battle of the Crater. My interest in this particular event as the subject for a book was based initially upon two factors. First, the elements which went into making the narrative of this battle were both intriguing and utterly fascinating. Secondly, through my genealogy research, I discovered that I had two ancestors who were involved in the action – one was a member of the 14th New York Heavy Artillery, which ultimately became the first unit to enter the breach and, as a consequence, suffered horribly. The other was with the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery, which was in a reserve position during the fight, but still felt the effects considerably.
The promise of the action’s carefully devised battle plan was that the action would not only allow the Union to lift its siege on Petersburg, but hopefully would result in a favorable resolution of that dreadful war, which had by then had entered its fourth year, claiming close to 500,000 lives and countless wounded. By that time, the conflict was sorely testing the very foundations of the republic, with many Northerners questioning the merits of its further prosecution.
Despite a total lack of support from the high command of the Army of the Potomac, and with a bevy of detractors, a mine of over 510 feet in length was constructed without utilizing any visible ventilation system which would have alerted the enemy to the project. With very few exceptions, officers with any engineering experience had contended that completion of a mine of such length was impossible. Upon its completion, everything was in place for the assault subsequent to the mine’s detonation to result in a huge military success. The majority of the Confederate forces had been drawn away from the Petersburg lines by a massive diversionary movement on Richmond. Fresh troops had been identified and trained to take the lead in assaulting the breach and rolling up any remaining Confederate opposition on both flanks of the breach. The Federals enjoyed overwhelming numerical superiority, and additionally, had two more corps to envelop the flanks of the breach once the assault started, further ensuring victory. Given these extremely favorable conditions, all elements seemed in place to guarantee a solid, rather unmistakable Union victory. Regardless, the battle ended in disaster for the Federals, with the magnitude of the defeat being decisive, almost too bitter to swallow. As one of the Union officers engaged in the fight later proclaimed, it “was agreed that the thing was a perfect success, except that it did not succeed.” Ulysses Grant, in command of all Federal forces, commented that this was “the saddest affair I have witnessed in this war.” Instead of a decisive victory, the Union suffered a humiliating defeat and the bitter war waged on for almost another nine more months, claiming another 100,000 plus lives and countless more wounded and maimed.
The Battle of the Crater is one of the lesser known or understood, yet most intriguing battles of the Civil War. It is set amongst the brutal and unendurable trench warfare at Petersburg, Virginia, which served as a remarkable foreshadowing of the situation faced by the adversaries in France fifty years later. The battle itself, and the machinations leading up to it, present a plot worthy of the most creative piece of fiction – so much so that one might find it incredulous if it was not entirely factual. The plot has all the elements necessary for the weaving of a great novel – political considerations trumping sound tactical judgments, the commander of the critical lead element drunk and hiding in a bomb shelter as his troops passed into harm’s way, a titanic clash of egos and petty jealousy at the high command, and an unusually colorful cast of characters. Add to this mix the employment of unique military tactics and movements, war atrocities, the destruction of the military career of one of the war’s most famous generals, the blundering of an officer considered the war’s worst general, and then throw in a Congressional investigation, and one has all the makings of remarkable novel, though perhaps one that strains credulity. However, these elements are all documented facts. Given all these considerations, my feeling is that I could not have chosen a better topic for a book.
BR: In a nutshell, who in your mind was ultimately responsible for the failure of the Federal operation that day?
JS: As I detailed in the book, Burnside was quickly set up to take the overall fall for the failure, and indeed, he fell quite short in his leadership that day. However, blame can also be assigned to many throughout the Union command that day. While there were a number of brave and competent regimental and brigade commanders who led their men into battle as best they could, there were few commanders above the brigade level who could be considered competent on that particular day, with the possible exception of Brigadier General John Turner. Conversely, some were guilty of gross malfeasance, such as Brigadiers James H. Ledlie and Edward Fererro. However, considerable blame should also be assessed to George Meade and his total disconnect with the actions that day, as well as his attempt thereafter to stack the deck against his subordinate, Ambrose Burnside. Ultimately, Ulysses Grant has to bear a portion of the fault for not becoming even tangentially involved when he knew that the newly revised battle plan and its leadership clearly indicated that the situation was ripe for disaster.
BR: What does your book contribute to the literature on The Battle of the Crater?
JS: At the time I undertook my work on The Battle of the Crater, this intriguing subject had been dealt with only twice to any extent. The first work, entitled The Battle of the Crater: “The Horrid Pit” June 25-August 6, 1864, by Michael Cavanaugh and William Marvel is part of the Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders series. It is a remarkable study of this most intriguing battle. Then in 2002, John Cannan wrote The Crater: Burnside’s Assault on the Confederate Trenches, July 30, 1864, which was published in a paperback format as part of the Battleground America Guides, which contained additional reflections on the battle. While both of these works are scholarly endeavors, they are both considerably brief in their presentation of the events leading up to the battle, and in the additional testimony of events by the participants themselves. The Cavanaugh work consists of a mere ninety-four pages of text. On the other hand, my book consists of 407 pages, with considerable explanation of the relative positions of the two armies based upon what had transpired in the two month’s leading up to the battle. The mood of the country is carefully examined. Additionally, considerable care was taken to bring in anecdotal material from the participants themselves, in order to give a perspective which is otherwise often missing from a discussion of the bare facts alone. Combine this with graphics, maps and an easy to follow presentation, and this book provides the reader with a fascinating story that is sure to captivate him or her.
Following the publication of my book, there have been several other works on the subject. However, in my humble opinion, The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History remains the best study of the events leading up to the battle, the reasons for the Union’s failure and the ultimate impact it had on the remaining course of the war. That feeling is clearly borne out by a number of reviews.
BR: Can you describe the process of writing your book, and anything you turned up about The Battle of the Crater that particularly struck you?
JS: It took me a little over six years in research and writing to complete the book, with the majority of that time involving research and analysis. In the process, I tried judiciously to maintain the role of an objective observer, letting the soldiers speak for themselves whenever possible, and sifting through conflicting evidence to reach what I felt were the true facts. I had no preordained conclusion on the reasons for the Union’s failure to capitalize on what appeared to be a sound plan and the presence of overwhelming strength. I did not encounter what I would consider to be “major” stumbling blocks in the research; however, there were considerable difficulties in locating the regimental histories for several key units. In the case of the 14th New York Heavy Artillery, the first unit into the breach, I finally located what appeared to be the only copy left in a small town library in Oregon. I also encountered occasions where eyewitness accounts on a particular incident were diametrically opposed to each other. In those instances, I had to undertake considerable background research to decide between these conflicting accounts, or, in some instances, to conclude that the truth was somewhere in the middle.
As I delved deeper into the background, I was quite surprised at the ineptitude of the Union command at that particular point in time. It was, in my opinion, extremely dysfunctional at the time, and in the book I attempt to cite the many reasons therefor. The backstabbing and distribution of blame following the battle made for an unsatisfactory conclusion for me, as did the court of inquiry orchestrated by Meade with Grant’s apparent blessing. I finally felt that I had a satisfactory resolution when I wrote the chapter on the hearings and findings of the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, which refocused fault to include the Union high command.
BR: Can you describe your research and writing process, and the sources you consluted?
JS: Regarding sources, I am deeply indebted to a panoply of institutions and organizations. Of particular note would be the Petersburg National Battlefield archives, the South Caroliniana Library of the University of South Carolina, the Virginia Historical Society, the University of Virginia Library, as well as the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library of that same school, the Museum of the Confederacy and the U. S. Army Military History Institute at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, and a host of others. I relied significantly on the Southern Historical Society Papers, the MOLLUS journals, and the Confederate Veteran Magazine for background materials in the development of my research.
Research has been rendered much easier with the proliferation of materials on the Internet. One can locate a wealth of source material online and/or learn exactly where it may be obtained. Many libraries were quite willing to copy files and furnish them at a modest cost once I identified the needed material from their respective online catalogues. The Making of America website provides a wealth of information for research, including the entire Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, of which I made extensive use. Unit histories were extremely important, and locating them sometimes proved difficult, as I have already mentioned, but this work was greatly aided by the Internet.
I began my generalized research with the battle itself as the topic, in order to get my arms around the subject matter. Not having embraced the “notebook” method of note taking, I took my notes on loose-leaf paper, each limited to a single topic, with sources cited. Once I fully grasped the subject matter, I began looking for unit histories to fill out accounts, and then broke the subject into specific categories for intensified research. After about three years of this type of research, I commenced drafting certain chapters where I was confident that I had amassed all the material that was needed. I did this to vary my workload and obtain a sense of accomplishment that there was, indeed, a light at the end of the tunnel. Otherwise, one could tend to bury oneself in the research, and easily become discouraged by the lack of an end in sight.
Once I sensed that I had a good grasp of the subject matter covered in the research, I began organizing potential chapters and pulling the whole thing together. I outlined each chapter with extensive subheadings, which might reach ten to fifteen pages in length. Then, taking my notes, all of which had individual headings, I organized them by codes related to the subheadings of a particular chapter. Then I began to write the narrative of each chapter using the organized notes. This process was tedious, and I went through a series of drafts on each chapter. Once I pulled all the chapters together into a draft manuscript, I began the process of fine-tuning the manuscript into a free-flowing whole. Again, this involved numerous drafts, and many months of intensified work. Once I was satisfied with the content of the entire manuscript, I then began the process of pulling it all together in a readable narrative. This process involved considerable cuts, which were often quite painful for an author who was immersed in his work. Often, I would find in the process that more research was needed on a particular topic.
Finally, I reached the point where I felt that a complete manuscript had been obtained. I then drafted a detailed book proposal to begin the process of identifying a publisher.
BR: What’s next for you?
JS: After writing a detailed account of a battle that lasted only a number of hours, I decided to change course and follow a particular unit through the entire Civil War. Currently, I have a manuscript depicting the history of the Fifth Texas Infantry Regiment of Hood’s Texas Brigade at the publishers. The book will follow this regiment of that fabled brigade from its organization in the summer of 1861 through the end at Appomattox and the long journey home following the war. This intrepid regiment took part in just about every major engagement in the East, as well as Chickamauga. The book is scheduled to be published in the late spring of 2013.
Good luck with that regimental history, John. And kudos for being the first author to use “panoply” in an interview here at Bull Runnings!
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