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

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

Brian Dowling, Chris Brenneman, and Sue Boardman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples of my photography can be viewed on my web site: http://www.dowlingphoto.com

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

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

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





Interview: Hessler, Motts, & Stanley – “Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg”

10 07 2015

I previewed Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg: A Guide to the Most Famous Attack in American History earlier, and you can read all the book particulars and get ordering information here. Since its release, Pickett’s Charge has received some great reactions from the public, and signings have been well attended. The book’s authors and cartographer recently took the time to answer a few questions for Bull Runnings, and I’ve attempted to cobble together their responses to my questions below.

L-R, Wayne Motts, Steven Stanley, and James Hessler

L-R, Wayne Motts, Steven Stanley, and James Hessler

BR: Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

JH: I have been a Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide since 2003, although I work full-time in another industry. I am very proud of my prior book, Sickles at Gettysburg, which won the Bachelder Coddington and Gettysburg Civil War Round Table distinguished book awards. More recently, in 2012, I was one of the primary content designers for the Civil War Trust’s Gettysburg mobile application. That had an influence on my eventually working on this Pickett’s Charge book.

WM: I grew up in central Ohio. My parents currently operate the Motts Military Museum where my father is founding director. I went to school for military history at The Ohio State University where I graduated with a BA and then earned a master’s degree in American History from the Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. I have been a Licensed Battlefield Guide at the Gettysburg National Military Park for 27 years. I am currently the CEO of The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa. I published the only biography of Confederate General Lewis A. Armistead who fell mortally wounded in Pickett’s Charge.

SS: I was born in Maryland and spent the first 17 years of my life there. After high school, I went directly into the United State Air Force. During that time in the USAF, I spent 2 years working as Graphic Designer for Headquarters, Tactical Air Command in Langley, Virginia and the last two years of service, I was stationed in the Pentagon working in the graphics department of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After the Air Force, I started my own design/typesetting firm working for various clients from simple printing companies to McDonald’s Corporation. In 1996, my family and I moved to the Fredericksburg, VA area. I already had an interest in the Civil War so I joined the local preservation group, Central VA Battlefields Trust (CVBT), where I volunteered my Graphic Services to help promote their cause and spent several years on their Board of Directors. During that time, my work caught the attention of the National Park Service in Fredericksburg, especially Bob Krick, which led to my working on a project with Frank O’Reilly, to map the entire campaign and battle of Spotsylvania Court House. After the project was complete, in looking over those maps I realized that they weren’t as user-friendly as I’d like. I started to develop a style that I felt more comfortable with and it eventually evolved into the map style that I have today. During my time with the CVBT, I helped start another preservation group, the Richmond Battlefields Association of which I was a founding Board Member. I was president of the Friends of Fredericksburg Area Battlefields from 2001 to 2003 and through that relationship I met my wife, Kyrstie, at a movie shoot the Friends was funding for the NPS. I also helped establish and launch the Friends of Cedar Mountain, again as a founding member of the board. From 2001 to 2007, my work graced the pages of America’s Civil War magazine. In 2009, J.D. Petruzzi and I released our first book, The Complete Gettysburg Guide, 2009 winner of the U.S. Army Historical Foundation‘s Award for Excellence, Reference Category. Then in 2011, we released The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook and finally in 2013, the Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses was released in time for the 150th of the Battle of Gettysburg. 

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

JH: For nearly as long as I can remember I was interested in the battle of Little Bighorn, or as a kid I more likely knew it as Custer’s Last Stand. Flamboyant general surrounded and killed to the last man fighting hostile Indians. But as my interest matured beyond just Custer, I became more interested in the Civil War careers of the participants. Plus, about 25 years ago or so, the novel The Killer Angels sparked my interest in Gettysburg specifically. Yes! I am probably in this position today due to The Killer Angels and THE MOVIE. Haters of “historical fiction” are probably cringing at this moment.

WM: My father was a great student of Civil War History. At age 14 he received a set of diaries that belonged to a Union soldier killed in the war. As a small boy he would read entries from the diaries to me. I became fascinated with Civil War History.

SS: I’m not sure when and how my love of history started. As far as I can remember, I’ve always had an interest in history from colonial times and the Revolution through the Civil War. Until recently, I haven’t given 20th century US history a lot of time but I’ve been more and more intrigued with the US involvement in World War One. As for my love of the Civil War, I can pin point what sparked my interest – in high school, I picked up (from the school library) Bruce Catton’s trilogy and was I ever hooked. 

BR: Why another book on Gettysburg, and Pickett’s Charge in particular? What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?

JH: I admit I get annoyed with Civil War scholars & buffs who question the need for another Gettysburg book. Yet those are usually the same people who buy another Gettysburg book, write another Gettysburg book, or are out on the Gettysburg battlefield giving tours. So I will never apologize for being interested in Gettysburg. And with all due respect to enthusiasts from other battles, when most of us think Civil War, we think Gettysburg. And when we think Gettysburg, we often think Pickett’s Charge. (See the massive turnout for the 150th Anniversary of Pickett’s Charge in case there is any doubt.) So the interest in this topic is still there among readers.

But what do we contribute to the literature? In a field of ever-increasing battlefield tour guides, do you realize that none had ever been produced for this most iconic of attacks? So we created a battlefield tour guide for the charge. Like the best tours, we mix the battle with personal stories, controversies, monuments, terrain analysis, reunions, color maps, and lots of photos. Trust me, you may have other Pickett’s Charge books but you do not have one that tells the story in this way.

WM: This is the first and only tour guide published of Pickett’s Charge, so for that reason this work is different from all others published on the subject.

BR: Steve, since Jim and Wayne are responsible for the narrative here, perhaps you can describe your role in the publication of “Pickett’s Charge?”

SS: For Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, I was brought on-board to create maps using my unique and user-friendly style. We went through the process of the tours and determined how many maps were needed to really tell the story and we came up with (at the time) about 35 maps. Since that was a large number of full color maps, it was much simpler to bring me in as a partner in this endeavor.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write Pickett’s Charge, 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?

JH: Officially, it took us slightly more than three years. But it was also based on stories, and tours, and research that Wayne and I had accumulated over our careers and that was a help in getting us moving. We got serious about this when we were asked by Garry Adelman in 2012 to write the third day’s content for the Civil War Trust’s Gettysburg app, in part because a mobile app could only hold a fraction of what we actually wrote.

The biggest stumbling blocks with two authors and a mapmaker/designer was getting three people together to work on it. We are all busy and have other things, so that was simply the hardest part. Not only getting everyone to work on it, but with multiple people you have to work really hard to maintain consistency and make it sound like you are speaking with one voice.

With all of these maps – if we said in our text that a regiment was ‘here’ then we needed to make sure the maps reflected that. With this many maps….boy, maintaining that consistency was a lot harder than we had ever envisioned when we started this. So many maps and so many regiments per map. But we think the final product paid off for the readers.

For me personally, I came to a new appreciation of how much blame Lee did lay on his artillery for this. I was also surprised at the number of personal stories that we used that I did not really know at first. We both like writing about the people who made the events happen, and we have some stories in here that I was blissfully unaware of previously.

WM: I believe the time-frame was about three total years. Much of the work was over the editing and format of the work, most especially with the detail we placed in the work. I was most surprised with the study of numbers showing that the in modern times the numbers involved in the attack, most especially for Pickett’s Division, were larger than most likely was the case on July 3.

BR: The mechanics of a tour guide-book are interesting – on what basis did you design the sequence of stops?

JH: Our book has four tours: 1) The Confederate line, 2) Walking the Pettigrew-Trimble Charge, 3) Walking Pickett’s Charge, 4) The Union line.

I think Wayne and I had an advantage on the mechanics because we have so much experience giving tours at Gettysburg. As Licensed Battlefield Guides, it was really a matter of taking what we already do and putting it on paper. But the National Park roads that we use in the tour are primarily one-way roads, which kind of dictates which direction to move, and unfortunately it becomes hard in a book-format to follow a complete chronology of events. So then we had to write, sometimes out of time sequence, in such a way that the less experienced readers are hopefully not completely lost. That was difficult on the Confederate side of the field especially, trying to maintain a relatively logical sequence of events.

WM: The stops are based on the best flow we think both driving and walking. This allowed for a complete treatment of the Confederate line and Union line as a whole plus walking both halves of the attack.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most? How is the co-author process coordinated? How was the work divided up? Who was responsible for what?

JH: My process is once I get interested in a project or idea, I think of it as I would a story or a movie. So I map out chapter outlines with a logical story flow (beginning, middle, and end) and then start filling in the gaps with quotes and research. I don’t think it’s a really efficient way to work, because I often end up doing lot of re-writing (the Sickles version that was published was my 9th draft) but I guess it’s the only way I know how to do it. Although once I get motivated on a topic, I usually keep going until it’s done. Some people like to be writing books forever. I like to finish.

As for how we divided this up, I wrote a first draft, a “shell” really. Wayne then went through it and suggested various stories to add here or there and we built it up from there. Then we would proof it (repeatedly) and make further suggestions about what to add or subtract. We did not always agree on each other’s conclusions so there would be debates about whether one was being too hard on someone or vice versa.

Wayne and I worked well together because we both like doing things that the other doesn’t. He likes the research and the fact-finding; I like putting it all together. So it was a great partnership in that perspective. We also learned that I like texting (I already knew that) and he prefers to talk on the phone.

As for resources – obviously Gettysburg National Military Park and the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guide Library access are huge assets to us. I should add that I ALWAYS start my writing with the Official Records if the Union and Confederate Armies (ORs). Wayne dipped into the archives at his own National Civil War Museum. The National Archives and pension records were used quite a bit by us. You will see many sources in our bibliography. Am I allowed to say that Google Books is an amazing resource? I think some folks look down their nose on it because it eliminates wading through dusty archives to hold real books, but that is complete rubbish.

WM: I cannot image a better partnership in working on this book. Jim did the writing for the work so it would look, appear, and flow seamlessly. This was by far the largest amount of labor. I was glad Jim completed this task for I really do not enjoy the writing part and I believe Jim does. I contributed to the research of course with a lot of material I have collected over the years. The park/guide library files were key sources for our work. I also compiled the orders of battle in the back of the book. These have been a work in progress for many years and I was assisted along the way by several of our guide colleagues. I also contributed the human interest stories included in the work. And the maps as created by our cartographer were essential to the book. After all this is a tour guide.

BR: Steve, can you describe your map production process? How do you work with the authors when producing a map? What resources do you use (programs, etc…)?

SS: Wow, my map production process, how much space am I allotted? Just Kidding!! Obviously the process starts with the request for the creation of a map, either the Civil War Trust sends it or it is coming from an author for their book. I have a whole Power Point presentation on this but hey, here it is in a nutshell. As I tell people, the first thing I do is actually locate and define the battlefield. Yes, everyone knows where Gettysburg is or Antietam is, but how many know where the battlefield for the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida is? So yes, defining the battlefield is key to where I start. I start to gather all my source material together then locate the oldest topographic map of the battlefield I can find. As an example, for my Gettysburg maps I used Bachelder’s base-map as my template. Now the actual work can begin. Using CorelDraw as my primary graphics program, I create the layers for each element, i.e. topographical lines, roads, water, etc. being their own layer. I will then draw in the topographic lines using the previously found base-map as a guide. Then water features are added, as well as modern roads, historic roads, structures and finally historic trees. Depending on where the battlefield is located, this process can take anywhere from several man-hours to tens of man-hours. Now I add in the troops and the final step is adding in the drop shadow behind the troops themselves. After getting a map ready using what resources/materials I have, I will send out the map to historians for proofing. Then when they send back their recommendations, I take care of those changes right away. As for how I work with the authors, some do send me hand drawn maps, but most send me the request for specific maps covering specific time-frames that relate their manuscript. There are even occasions when the author or authors have asked me to look through their manuscripts and make recommendations to what maps they will need. Case in point – for both of the latest Army War College Guides, one a revised Gettysburg edition and the other a guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, the authors asked me what maps I felt could tell the story best for their guides. For the Gettysburg edition, I came up with 38 maps and for the Richmond-Petersburg edition, I came up with 42 maps.

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

WM: This was all left up to our cartographer Steve Stanley who did a great job in creating the overall presentation of the work.

JH: From day one, we had a collective vision that we wanted this book to “look great.” Color, maps, photos, etc. We also had a concept in mind that included lots of sidebars – topics of discussion that might not fit into a specific tour. I love sidebars – they have no pressure! You like the topic, you read it. You don’t? Then you move onto the next one! So we have lots of sidebars.

Steve and Savas Beatie obviously have a lot of experience putting great visual books like this together and Steve had the skills to make it happen. As an example, one of the coolest photos in the book was an aerial photo taken by our friend Mike Waricher from Gettysburg’s notorious and short-lived hot air balloon. (Or was it helium? I forget already.) So Mike takes these great shots but the gondola and strings are in there. Steve cleaned the images up with photoshop or whatever and the result is pretty cool. You do not have pictures from the balloon in any other Pickett books!

SS: During our meetings/conference calls, both Jim Hessler and Ted Savas, of Savas Beatie, wanted a book that had the feel of the Complete Gettysburg Guide. I think Jim’s words were, “I want to do the Complete Gettysburg Guide but for just Pickett’s Charge.” The format for the Guide was so well received that everyone wanted this to draw the same following. In creating the look and feel for the both the Guide and Pickett’s Charge, I did not want a guide book that was just tons of text, some photos and a few maps. Actually, during the process of designing the maps and gathering the photos for the Guide, I kept throwing ideas out about how would this look and that look – eventually Ted Savas (I think I wore him down with my emails) asked if I just wanted to design the entire book. I found out later that he had never at that time let authors design their own books so that meant a lot coming from him. One thing I wanted to establish in both designs was a fun, colorful, almost magazine feel to both books. My graphic background was with smaller publications and magazine formats so that was the direction I wanted to take. Now that I was designing the book, I was able to take care of one thing that has always bugged me about most books – maps. They never are in the place where you need them. You are reading about an action or movement and you go to consult the map. You have to flip through the pages to find the map that relates to what you are reading. I made sure that my maps were in the place you needed them to be, readily available on the facing page or just a page or so away. With Pickett’s Charge we wanted the maps oriented in the direction the reader needed them to be. Maps for the most part in print are oriented to the north, but some of ours are oriented to either the east or west. It was determined by which way the reader should be walking and viewing the action. All of the maps for the North Carolinians and the Virginians walking tours are oriented to the east, while the Union maps along the area around the Copse of Trees are oriented west. We felt it would make it easier for the reader to follow the fighting and the tours.

BR: What’s next for you all?

JH: I have three ideas I’d like to work on but it’s probably safe to say that you won’t see another one from me in print for 3-5 years. It’s a lot of work to do these right and then take some time to recharge before doing it again. But I do think I shall return. It’s an enormous relief to have the Sickles follow-up done!

WM: Wow, that’s a good question. It should be to finish my full length work on Lewis Armistead but I have many interests.

SS: What’s next? J.D. Petruzzi and I are working on our next trilogy of books, like we did for the Gettysburg Campaign, for the Maryland Campaign of 1862. We hope to have the Complete Maryland Campaign Guide (working title) out by late spring of 2016, followed by the Maryland Campaign in Numbers and Losses and the New Maryland Campaign Handbook. Also, Kyrstie and I are working on a book that will be a study in maps and photographs of America in World War One. I am still working on how the entire concept will be handled but this book will be ready by Spring of 2018, just in time for the 100th Anniversary of America’s involvement in the Great War. More on that as I get a more clear picture on the final concept.





Interview With Dr. Joseph L. Harsh

28 03 2015

Joe2Click here for the transcript of an interview with Dr. Harsh that appeared in a 1995 issue of Civil War magazine. Hat tip to Drew Wagenhoffer. Good stuff and, if you’re amenable, thought-provoking. If you know all there is to know, and are just looking for confirmation of same, don’t click.

When you’re done, click here for an  old old post regarding the influence of Dr. Harsh’s scholarship on interpretation at Antietam National Battlefield. Be sure to read the comments.





Interview: George F. Franks, III, “Battle of Falling Waters 1863”

14 09 2013
George Franks Outside Daniel Donnelly House

George Franks Outside Daniel Donnelly House

I’ve known George Franks for a few years and had the pleasure of meeting him when I spoke to the Capitol Hill Civil War Roundtable back in 2011. He recently authored Battle of Falling Waters 1863: Custer, Pettigrew and the End of the Gettysburg Campaign. Here he tells us about it, and his interesting connection to the battlefield.

BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? (Personal life, career, establish bona-fides, published works, etc. – whatever you’re comfortable with.)

GFF: I am originally from Pittsburgh. I currently live in Washington County, Maryland near the town of Williamsport. I studied history at the U. S. Naval Academy and University of Pittsburgh. I worked in the telecommunication industry for over twenty-five years. I am currently a consultant and also own an e-commerce business. Though I have always enjoyed history and writing, my first post academy published article was one on the Battle of Falling Waters, Maryland in 2007 in an international wargame publication.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

GFF: As a child of the Civil War Centennial, I was bombarded with magazines, television programs, books and even toys related to the conflict. I started reading Civil War books at an early age. Also, my parents took my brothers and me to battlefields as part of our family vacations. I would say my biggest influence was family friends giving me a copy of Miller’s PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORY when I was still quite young.

BR: Why the interest in Falling Waters?

GFF: I have always been interested in the Gettysburg Campaign. Melissa Cooperson and I began looking for a house to restore over a decade ago. We found and fell in love with the Daniel Donnelly House which was built in 1830. It also happened to have a Civil War battle fought on the property. While I knew the names related to it: Heth, Pettigrew, Kilpatrick, Buford and Custer, I was not familiar with the battle. As we began many years of restoration work on the house during weekends, I began my research of the battle.

BR: What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?

GFF: Two things stand out in my view. First, if you look at any book on the Gettysburg Campaign, you will find a paragraph on the July 14, 1863 Battle of Falling Waters, Maryland. A very few books devote a page to it. This is the first book devoted to the last battle of the Gettysburg Campaign. Secondly, the battle is a microcosm of the war. It is a story devotion to cause, hardship, miscalculation, unparalleled bravery, tragedy, missed opportunities and what might be considered a cover-up.

BR: What’s your last word on Pettigrew, Buford, Kilpatrick, et al? Do you follow the old traditional narrative on these guys – are black hats always black, and white hats always white?

GFF: All these men were so complex. They were products of their era. It is difficult for us to fully understand them in 2013. Having said that, I do not differ greatly from most Civil War historians on Kilpatrick or Buford based on my research. I became a great fan of Pettigrew. Not so much as a military leader, though he was admirable, but as a brilliant academic, writer, scientist, jurist and politician. His mortal wounding at Falling Waters and death 3 days later at Bunker Hill, WV were a tragedy not only for the South but for the entire country. A true “what-if” that I have thought about often.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what you learned along the way, and when you knew you were “done”?

GFF: I began my research over ten years ago. I was working very responsible full time jobs during the entire research and writing process. I focused primarily on the writing and editing over the past two years. I was fortunate to work with a very able editor, Tim Terrell. I tried to focus on primary sources wherever possible and then build a narrative from that. Of course, there were many contradictory accounts. I stopped research, with one or two specific exceptions, two years ago so the book would be available for the 150th Anniversary of the battle. I missed my goal by three days.

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

GFF: It started out about 75% brick and mortar and 25% online. Over time those reversed as more information became available online. Initially the book covered more of the retreat but during the research process I concluded that some very good scholarship in that area was being published and to focus just on the Battle of Falling Waters 1863. I did include some background information on the events before and after for perspective.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

GFF: Sales through my web site and Amazon have been and continue to be strong. I have several retail stores selling the book with more carrying it in the near future. There is quite a bit of interest from Civil War Round Tables (I have spoken to several already) and in more tours of the Falling Waters Battlefield. We have hosted tours led by Ed Bearss, J. D. Petruzzi, Eric Wittenberg and Steve French plus the Smithsonian Institution in the past.

BR: What’s next for you?

GFF: I have several research and writing projects underway. I am not sure which one will take priority right now. I enjoy the research and writing process. There will be another book and it will probably be a Civil War topic.





Interview: Diane Monroe Smith, “Command Conflicts in Grant’s Overland Campaign”

11 09 2013

Diane Monroe SmithThis year Diane Monroe Smith, of Holden, ME, published Command Conflicts in Grant’s Overland Campaign: Ambition and Animosity in the Army of the Potomac. I have to admit that I really had not heard much about this one, but a reader brought it to my attention and one thing led to another, so here’s Ms. Smith to fill us in.

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

DMS: My first book, Fanny and Joshua: The Enigmatic Lives of Frances Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, was published in 1999 by Thomas Publications of Gettysburg. It is a dual, whole-life biography of the Chamberlains. I know it puzzled some people why I would bother with Chamberlain’s whole life and/or his near 50 relationship with his wife, when his Civil War service is what most readers want to hear about. I confess to my own partiality to considering that part of his life, but I strongly suspect that, if one wants to know what makes a person like Chamberlain tick, one must look at the other 80 years of his life and the influence of his family and friends as well. The research I did on Fanny and Joshua led to my second book, Chamberlain at Petersburg: The Charge at Fort Hell, which is a previously unpublished, first person account of the Battle of Petersburg written by Chamberlain. My role in preparing it for publication was to set the stage by considering the 5th Corps’ and the Army of the Potomac’s role in Grant’s Overland Campaign in the weeks and months that culminated in the Battle of Petersburg. I also provided extensive annotation of Chamberlain’s account, considering other participants’ reports and testimony, and I began to find more and more seeming discrepancies in the way the 5th Corps and AoP role was interpreted by a number of commanders and historians, as opposed to what the OR (reports, correspondence & statistics) and the testimony of individuals and unit histories described. While finding Chamberlain’s account reliable, I experienced uneasiness with seemingly conflicting versions of what happened during the Overland Campaign, coupled with a emerging pattern of behavior when I considered Grant’s and “Grant’s Men’s” careers in the West and their rise to power. This led to my most recent book, Command Conflicts in Grant’s Overland Campaign: Ambition and Animosity in the Army of the Potomac. In it, I found it was essential to consider Grant’s early service in the Civil War and those of the officers he carried with him on his climb to the top of the military establishment and beyond. While I considered a sizable portion of the copious amount written by Grant biographers and authors of the Western battles, I found myself often reluctant to depend on the analysis and interpretation of others, especially those who relied almost entirely on Grant’s reports, memoirs and correspondence, or the accounts given by Grant’s inner circle to the exclusion of all others. Other warning flags go up for me about the reliability of a witness’s testimony when it varies in important details depending on who is he talking to, such as Halleck’s falsely laying blame on others, essentially lying to Grant regarding why he was removed from command after the taking of Ft. Donelson. Another flag waves when an account changes substantially over the years. In that department, I’m hard pressed to come up with a better (or perhaps I should say worse) example than Ellis Spear and his vindictive campaign to discredit Joshua Chamberlain, much of it carried on after Chamberlain’s death. Although Spear himself wrote an enthusiastic letter to the newspapers right after Gettysburg describing how Chamberlain ordered a bayonet charge at Little Round Top, that didn’t stop Spear decades later from telling anyone who would listen that his colonel hadn’t ordered a charge at all– it was someone else’s idea. Nor did it seem to bother Spear that the person he credited with initiating the charge endorsed Chamberlain’s account of how it all happened. Other easily verifiable facts didn’t stop Spear from declaring that Chamberlain’s Petersburg wound wasn’t a big deal– a suggestion which a Gettysburg Discussion Group member facetiously stated had earned Spear the “Most vindictive letter award.” Scoffing at Chamberlain’s penis wound, Spear implied that Chamberlain had made much of what was after all a trifling wound. Spear himself had previously written about how terrible Chamberlain’s wound was in his endorsement in 1899 of Chamberlain’s appointment to a Customs position. But beyond Spear’s changeable laymen’s assessment, we have the medical records that record descriptions of the wound and the unsuccessful attempts to repair it. At a field hospital at Petersburg, when the surgeons couldn’t find the ball in the wide wound that went almost clear through Chamberlain’s pelvis, they decided they would probe with a ramrod to find the offending piece of lead. The gunshot wound caused permanent injury that left Chamberlain incontinent and plagued with reoccurring infections for the rest of his life, and I believe that the many surgeons over the years who tried unsuccessfully to repair the damage would beg to differ with the malicious Spear. Yet mind you, you still hear Spear much quoted as offering positive proof that Chamberlain wasn’t an honest historian!!! As it has just been announced in the news that Chamberlain’s original Medal of Honor has just been found stuck in the back of a book his granddaughter donated to a church, I’m also reminded that Ellis Spear was one of the three witnesses whose testimony to Chamberlain’s actions at Little Round Top led to him being award that MoH, but that happened in the 1890s, before Spear began his campaign to discredit his old commander. Talk about stories that change over time… But to return to Command Conflicts, I wrote it because of my own uneasiness concerning too much of Grant’s and his comrades’ reports and/or memoirs that didn’t stand up very well to scrutiny. I find it unforgivable for a writer to use one and only one source to the exclusion of all others that could have and should have been considered. Nor do I find it possible to consider the fate of any commander while remaining oblivious to what political machinations were taking place within the Army or in Washington. I believe my own research journey to be somewhat similar to that of Frank Varney as he prepared his new work, General Grant and the Rewriting of History. While Frank’s work is, of course, focused on the destruction of Rosecrans’s reputation and career, and my work focuses on the Army of the Potomac, Frank and I seemingly agree that relying on one source, or the testimony of only those who have a vested interest in the war being remembered in a certain way, is, it should seem obvious, a mistake. Grant and his men would control the American military for decades after the war, and with their control over the army and American politics, it is not difficult to find examples of their insuring that their and only their version of the war was perpetuated. They have been, I feel, all too successful in allowing one, and only one version of history to be told.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

DMS: When I was kid, it was the 100th Anniversary of the Civil War, and I couldn’t get enough of the accounts of the battles and the participants. I remember my Mom gave me a dollar (back when a dollar was a dollar) to purchase one square foot of the Gettysburg battlefield during a fund raising campaign. I was thrilled, and, of course, believed that I really owned that square foot. So Gettysburg… I want to know where my square foot is!

BR: Why the interest in the Army of the Potomac’s, and specifically its 5th Corps’, command issues under Grant?

DMS: As I mentioned above, having spent quite a few years looking at Chamberlain’s service with the 5th Corps, I spent a lot of time pursuing the 5th Corps’ experiences and record, and as with my previous books, I felt compelled to share with others what I was finding and considering. There was an awful lot that didn’t seem to be adding up… The accounts of Grant and “Grant’s Men” seemed too often to disagree with other reports and accounts, sometimes radically. Consider, for instance, Chattanooga, and the accounts of Grant, Sheridan and Sherman, and those of participants and witnesses such as Thomas and Hazen (and the delightfully sarcastic Ambrose Beirce).

BR: What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?

DMS: I think that looking at the Overland Campaign from the perspective of the 5th Corps, provides a very different view, one which had not been previous explored to the degree it deserved. The 5th Corps’ records and accounts provide a challenge to a number of histories as they have been previously written, and allow a new window to open on that tumultuous campaign. Also, considering the alliances among Grant and Grant’s Men and their supporters in Washington sheds light on why some military careers were seemingly indestructible, regardless of performance, while other commanders had their reputations and careers destroyed. While it seems silly to have to point out that the war was not won either in the West or in the East, there are still many who refuse to consider the contribution of the “band box soldiers” of the Army of the Potomac. James McPherson in This Mighty Scourge, did an admirable and startling assessment and comparison of the casualties incurred in the major battles in the West and the East, and shall we say, figures don’t lie? To quote McPherson, “The war was won by hard fighting, and the Army of the Potomac did most of that fighting.  Of the ten largest battles in the war (each with combined Union and Confederate casualties of 23,000 or more), seven were fought between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.  Of the fifty Union regiments with the largest percentage of battle casualties, forty-one [were] fought in the Eastern theater.”  And regarding casualties inflicted on the enemy, McPherson states, “Of the fifty Confederate regiments with the highest percentage of combat casualties, forty were in the Army of Northern Virginia.” Or as Chamberlain once said, many criticized the Army of the Potomac for not fighting enough, but never for not dying enough. Enough said.  While I wanted to look at the Army of the Potomac during the Overland Campaign, I felt it was also time for someone to offer up a closer look at the 5th Corps’ performance.

BR: What’s your last word on Warren, Sheridan, Meade, Grant, and all that mess?

DMS: It is inexplicable to me why Grant not only allowed Sheridan to publicly defy Meade, but rewarded Sheridan’s insubordination with an independent command. While Grant had no problem with that, he also apparently had no qualms about leaving the Army of the Potomac to move blindly without cavalry through poorly mapped enemy territory. While Sheridan did draw some of Lee’s cavalry away, Lee was not so foolish as to send all of his cavalry after Sheridan, retaining roughly half of his troopers to continue to scout and screen for the ANV. Between these horsemen and the local lads who knew every road and river ford in the area, Lee had quite an advantage. Lest I place all the blame on the Western commanders, I also came to realize that the relationship between Meade and Warren, formerly one of a trusted subordinate and advisor to the AoP commander, foundered on the bitterness that Meade harbored regarding Warren’s decision not to attack at Mine Run, and the embarrassment and anger Meade experienced because of it. While Meade declared that he agreed that Warren did the right thing in calling off a senseless attack that would achieve nothing but casualties, he was still bitterly resentful toward Warren. I believe that the situation was also aggravated by Meade’s consciousness of his enemies in Washington, and his own precarious position as AoP commander. To retain it, I believe he felt he must agree with whatever Grant said and do whatever Grant ordered, regardless of his own opinion of the wisdom of those demands. Meade’s personal correspondence gives some indication of his real opinion of Grant’s conduct of the Overland Campaign, and his anger at having Grant watching over his shoulder. But to return to the culpability of Grant and his men, there’s an unmistakable pattern, beginning in the West, and coming with them to the East, of Grant, Sheridan and Sherman making short work of anyone who got in their way on their climb up the command ladder. While Warren is an obvious case in point, you can also point to Rosecrans, George Thomas, and ultimately, George Meade himself, as commanders who got pushed aside to make way for Grant’s Men. I hope I haven’t had my last word on Warren, Sheridan, Grant and all that mess, because I want to follow Command Conflicts with a book that considers the 5th Corps’ service from the siege of Petersburg to the last days of the war.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book and what you learned along the way? When did you know you were “done”?

DMS: You might say I’ve been looking at the 5th Corps and the Army of the Potomac since the early 90s, when I began writing the Chamberlain biography. Then my work on Chamberlain at Petersburg led me to focus on Grant’s Overland Campaign, which inspired a decided uneasiness on my part regarding what Grant was reporting at the time, as well as what he would say and write later, with all its contradictions to many other reports and accounts. A major stumbling block for me when starting this project was my notion that Grant was a well-meaning sort of fellow, though perhaps not the greatest of all possible commanders. I considered his major flaw his seeming inability to judge a person’s real character and motives. He did not, I was convinced, choose his friends wisely. But the more I read about Grant’s military career in the West, the more I began to realize a real pattern of behavior that was less than admirable. My distress increased at noticing an awful tendency for a number of historians to take Grant’s version of history as the one and only infallible record, to the exclusion of all other witnesses’ accounts and reports. I came to realize that Grant possessed a willingness to disobey orders if it suited him (Belmont), to habitually report victory no matter how dismal the real results of an action were (The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg), and to attribute the credit for successes to himself or his favorites regardless of who was really responsible for the strategy and implementation (Chattanooga and the Cracker Line). Likewise, if things did not go well, he would blame those he wanted to remove from competition with himself or his cronies (Shiloh). It was a pattern that would continue on into the Overland Campaign. If you read Grant’s reports from the Wilderness, you would think that the Army of the Potomac had experienced a considerable victory, and that the Army of Northern Virginia was on its last legs. That was far from the real case, was it not? As for knowing when I was done, I knew I had finished when the Army of the Potomac reached Petersburg, and the battle became the siege. The months that follow I feel deserve their own book, following the 5th Corps through the remainder of 1864, and through the last months and weeks of the war in 1865.

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

DMS: The Official Records were by far my most frequently utilized source. I’m also grateful for the many works done by the historians of the Western war, which allowed me to begin my consideration of Grant’s and his men’s rise to power. Regarding the Overland Campaign, I’m particularly grateful to William Steere for his wonderful work, The Wilderness Campaign, with its great detail, many citations and well-constructed considerations. I also was very impressed by Bill Matter’s book on Spotsylvania, If It Takes All Summer. I was told by Bill, who was kind enough to discuss my research on the Overland Campaign with me, that he so admired Steere’s work (as do I), that he hoped to make his book on Spotsylvania a continuation of where Steere’s book left off. I can testify that I think, as I told Bill, that he accomplished that very well. Would that every battle I encountered had such comprehensive and even-handed treatments as Steere and Matter gave their work. Beyond that, I considered dozens and dozens of memoirs and accounts of both Federals and Rebels… anyone who would help me to put the puzzle pieces together for as accurate a picture of what happened as possible..

BR: How has the book been received so far?

DMS: While I was aware that fans of U.S. Grant would probably not be pleased with what I wrote, I am happy to say that reviewers, while taking issue with some of my conclusions, have nonetheless stated that serious students of Grant and the Overland Campaign should read my book– that it gave one plenty to think about. That’s most gratifying. Am I happy with how much promotion the book has gotten, or how many people have read the book? No, I am not. I mean to continue pursuing opportunities such as this one you’ve kindly provided for me in order to let people know that this work has something to offer by way of a different look at a period of the war which has suffered from too many works which have relied on limited, weak and unreliable sources.

BR: What’s next for you?

DMS: I’m raring to go on the book that will follow Command Conflicts, but I’m taking time to do a work on Col. Washington Roebling’s military service. Roebling, best known as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, served as Gen. Warren’s aide and scout from Gettysburg through the last month of December, 1864. A top notch topographical engineer, he was a daring and intelligent soldier, and was delightfully outspoken. Laconic, except when he had something to say, he seemed to be not at all in awe of his commanders. For instance, when accosted by Meade on a battlefield, who was demanding to know who had put a battery in a spot Meade considered too “hot,” Roebling replied, “I don’t know. I didn’t put it there.” One can easily imagine Meade’s eyes bugging out at this flippant reply. I will definitely enjoy spending time with Washington Roebling in the coming months.





Interview: Allen Carl Guelzo, “Gettysburg: The Last Invasion”

26 05 2013

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 File PixBR:  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

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.





Interview: Patrick Schroeder, “Vortex of Hell”

28 03 2013

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.]

vortex-of-hell-book-coverBR: Vortex of Hell is not your typical project. Can you describe for our readers Brian’s interest in the 5th New York and the extent and nature of what he collected over the years on the regiment?

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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