Interview: James S. Price, “The Battle of New Market Heights”

18 10 2011

Public historian and blogger James S. “Jimmy” Price is the author of the recently released The Battle of New Market Heights: Freedom Will be Theirs by the Sword. I’ve never met Jimmy, but am acquainted with him via his blog and Facebook. So when I learned of this new study of a relatively little known engagement involving US Colored Troops I was intrigued and thought maybe some of you would be, too. So I shamelessly begged a copy, looked it over, and did my thing.

BR: Jimmy, we usually start off here with a little background information. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

JP: I had the great privilege of being born in the best sports town in America (and by that, of course, I mean Pittsburgh, PA). My family moved to Richmond when I was five years old, which was just in time for the 125th anniversary of the Civil War. History soon became my passion and I got involved with re-enacting at the age of 15. I was also fortunate enough to have wonderful parents who supported me while I made peanuts working at some local museums and battlefields. I was able to gain some great work experience at places like Petersburg National Battlefield and Richmond National Battlefield Park. This opened the door to doing more serious work at Pamplin Historical Park and The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar. At the same time I was pursuing an academic career in history, completing my undergraduate work at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2005 and grad school at Norwich University in 2009. I currently live in Fredericksburg with my beautiful wife and our two kids and I’m working with John Hennessy and the fabulous staff at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park developing a web-based curriculum entitled “Community at War.”

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War as a line of study?

JP: My Dad taking me to the battlefields around Richmond initially spurred my interest. Shortly after that I got a free subscription to the Time Life Civil War series and managed to get my hands on a copy of the American Heritage History of the Civil War by Bruce Catton. After that it was game over, and I knew that I wanted to pursue Civil War history as a career. Over a decade later when I came to work for the County of Henrico, I had to spend a lot of time familiarizing myself with the battles that took place there, and it was then that I did my first real research into the Battle of New Market Heights (I had known about it since my days at Richmond National Battlefield, but hadn’t done any significant research). This prompted me to launch The Sable Arm: A Blog Dedicated to the United States Colored Troops of the Civil War Era as a means to force myself to learn more about USCTs and the battle that led to fourteen of them receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor.

BR: New Market Heights is not an action that pops to the top of most Civil War enthusiasts list of well-known engagements. What first got you interested in it?

JP:  The thing that really piqued my interest at first was the amount of Medals of Honor that were issued for just one action. Add the fact that they were issued to African-American troops and I started to think that this battle was at least as important as the more famous charge of the 54th Massachusetts at Battery Wagner that was immortalized in the motion picture Glory. To have United States Colored Troops attacking a position that was defended by some of Lee’s best troops within a few short miles of the Confederate capital seemed to be a story worthy of more exploration.

BR: Since some readers may not be familiar with the battle, how about a brief synopsis?

JP: New Market Heights was part of a larger two-day action known today as the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, fought on September 29-30, 1864. It took place during the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign of 1864-65. In late September of 1864, Grant prepared an offensive to strike at Petersburg, prevent Robert E. Lee from reinforcing his troops in the Shenandoah Valley, and – if possible – seize the city of Richmond. Grant planned a two-pronged assault with the Army of the Potomac striking at Petersburg while Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler’s Army of the James struck north of the James River to threaten the rebel capital. Spearheading one prong of this attack would be Brig. Gen. Charles Paine’s Third Division of the XVIII Corps, a unit comprised entirely of United States Colored Troops. Their objective would be New Market Heights. Early on the morning of the 29th, Paine designated Col. Samuel A. Duncan’s 3rd Brigade to take New Market Heights. Duncan’s men deployed in a skirmish line 200 yards long and soon encountered obstacles that hampered their movement. A marshy stream called Four Mile Creek ran across their line of advance and slashing, abatis, and chevaux-de-frise blocked access to the Rebel entrenchments. Duncan’s men advanced into the thick fog and, in the words of one survivor, were “all cut to pieces.” Intense musket and artillery fire shredded the ranks of the oncoming Federals and soon Col. Duncan was down with four wounds. His brigade was forced to withdraw, losing 387 of its 750 effectives. Paine then sent in his 2nd Brigade under the command of Col. Alonzo G. Draper. As the sun began to rise, Draper’s men went in over the same ground that Duncan’s men had crossed and they were soon entangled in the slashing. For thirty brutal minutes, Draper’s men endured a barrage from the Confederate lines before the Confederates began to withdraw.  Draper would lose 447 out of his 1,300 men. They had taken New Market Heights, but as the day’s events played out, they would not capture Richmond. That being said, one former Confederate did write that “upon [the] 29th [of] September, Richmond came nearer being captured, and that, too, by negro troops, than it ever did during the whole war.”  While Butler met with only partial success that day, the fighting prowess of the African-American soldiers under his command was put on full display for all to see. Throughout the entire course of the war, only eighteen black soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. Of that number, fourteen were awarded to the black troops who stormed New Market Heights.

BR: What did your research turn up that particularly surprised you?

JP: I was happy to find some unpublished accounts that backed up some of the more famous incidents that have been called into question. For instance, the story has always gone that Butler rode up to the men of Duncan’s brigade who were about to step off and exhorted them that their battle cry should be “Remember Fort Pillow!” People tend to doubt anything that Butler claims to have said or done, but I did find an account from a Texan who spoke about the attacking USCTs shouting “Remember Fort Pillow!” and how mad that made him. I was also happy to find an unpublished account from Alexander Kelly, who was a member of the 6th USCT and one of the Medal of Honor recipients. That, plus some great photographs from the collection of a gentleman named Rob Lyon that he graciously allowed me to reproduce in the book were very pleasant surprises.

BR: If your work impacts how the Battle of New Market Heights is remembered in one way, what would you hope that is?

JP: Well, the longstanding tradition about New Market Heights is that, while the USCTs displayed bravery and heroism during the assault, we shouldn’t read too much into the fact that there were 14 Medals of Honor awarded to those who fought there. Skeptics claim that the nefarious Beast Butler hatched up the idea of New Market Heights being a grand victory to further his political interests. I’ve read one author who referred to the idea of the black troops winning a legitimate victory at New Market Heights as being “hoopla” while another refers to this notion as “militarily irrelevant Negrophilia.” I hope that folks who read my book will view the battle in a more balanced light.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?

JP: In terms of researching USCTs, Record Group 94 at the National Archives and Records Administration is a treasure trove of good information. Richmond National Battlefield had been compiling information on New Market Heights for over 20 years, and I was fortunate enough to be able to go through every scrap of paper they had concerning the battle. I was also astonished at how many good sources I could find through Google books and http://www.archive.org/, www.footnote.com, and Accessible Archives. I used the information gathered through these various sources to guide the rest of my research and then had to sift through what I could use and what I had to leave behind (keep in mind I was working with a 40,000 word limit).

BR: What’s next for you?

JP: Well, I have a few things cookin’ on my plate right now. I’ve had my first two experiences with Hollywood as of late. I had the privilege of serving as a historical consultant for the upcoming miniseries To Appomattox, which was a great experience. I reviewed the scenes having to do with USCTs and, from what I’ve seen of the script, this is going to be a fine production. I’m also working as one of the extras in the upcoming Lincoln film, which gives me the ability to brag that I’ve been in the same room as Steven Spielberg. And in other (breaking) news, I recently just signed a contract for my second book with The History Press! This time I will be examining the First Battle of Deep Bottom, fought from July 27-29, 1864, where Winfield Scott Hancock and Phillip H. Sheridan both failed to add any battlefield laurels to their respective careers. Life is busy!

It sounds busy! Pick up a copy of The Battle of New Market Heights. It’s a quick read at just over 100 pages, nicely illustrated with photos, drawings, and maps. Jimmy Price has helped bring this event into sharper focus.





Interview: Dr. Joseph Glatthaar, “Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia”

6 10 2011

I finally got the chance to meet – briefly – Dr. Joseph Glatthaar at the Gettysburg College Civil War Institute conference this past summer. At the time I expressed some interest in his new book, Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia: A Statistical Portrait of the Troops Who Served under Robert E. Lee. I didn’t purchase it then – it’s a little pricey – but I eventually did get myself a copy, and Dr. Glatthaar was good enough to take some time to answer a few questions about the book.

BR: I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with your work, Dr. Glatthaar, but would you mind filling them in a bit on your background?

JG: My training is in both Civil War and American military history.  I received an MA at Rice University under Civil War specialist Frank Vandiver and a PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under American Military history specialist Edward “Mac” Coffman.  Mac Coffman was a pioneer in the “New” Military history, which intrigued me since I read Bell Wiley’s books on Johnny Reb and Billy Yank years earlier.  My dissertation was The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman’s Soldiers on the Savannah and Carolinas Campaigns. I wanted to study soldiers on the march to see what factors motivated them and encouraged their behavior.  Among my arguments was that Sherman’s soldiers were veterans with strong ideological ties to restore the Union and destroy slavery and through years of military campaigning had established powerful bonds of camaraderie within their units.  My second book was Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and their White Officers .  What intrigued me was the intersection or friction between races within the confines of military units.  At the U.S. Army War College immediately after the First Gulf War, I taught a course entitled “Command Relationships in the Civil War.”  The object was to use history to get senior officers to think about the types of subordinates they should be seeking to work under them in future assignments.  That was the basis for my next book called Partners in Command: Relationships Between Leaders in the Civil War.   I then wrote the volume on black soldiers for the National Park Service.  After that, I could not resist writing The Civil War in the West, 1863-65, so that I would be part of a larger volume with friends Gary Gallagher, Bob Krick, and Steve Engle.  Shortly thereafter, I published Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians in the American Revolution with James Kirby Martin.  Jim and I have been great friends for decades, and the story of the Oneidas was so dramatic that we could not resist the topic.  A consortium is currently working on a movie based on our book.  Since 1989, I had been working on Lee’s army, and it finally came together in 2008 under the title General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse.  It was under contract so long with The Free Press that my editor told me they would have terminated the contract years before but the money was so small that it was not worth the paperwork!  To my mind, it is my best piece of scholarship to date.  With all the extra statistics, Gary Gallagher urged me to publish a book, which became Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia.  I am currently working on my companion volume to Lee’s army, one on the Army of the Potomac, which is quite fun, since I love research and I am in the research phase.

BR: Your book General Lee’s Army made quite a splash when it was published in 2008, and it’s now considered by many – myself included, for whatever that’s worth – as the must read book on the Army of Northern Virginia. More than a modern version of D. S. Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants, it’s a study of the makeup of the army. Much more of a “social history”, for lack of a better term, it concerns the personality of the army, as opposed to a simple chronology of events. What did you learn about the army in the process of writing and researching General Lee’s Army?

JG: General Lee’s Army was an eye-opener for me.  I suspected those soldiers bore great burdens, but I was shocked to learn how many severe hardships they endured, how many losses they sustained, and how much of the fighting they bore for the Confederacy.  Rich, poor, and middle classmen came out to fight in the army.  Seventy percent who ever served in Lee’s army was killed, died of disease, wounded at least once, captured at least once, or discharged for disability.  That statistic does not include overlap, so many were wounded one time and later captured, or wounded in one battle and later killed in action.  Again, we knew they had clothing shortages, but in the wintertime, soldiers were eager for combat because if they won the field they could get shoes, blankets, and overcoats from the Yankees.  Some men appeared for inspection in late 1864 without pants because theirs were worn out!  In the last half-year of the war men lived on 900-1,200 calories per day.  Their intake of vitamins and minerals was so insufficient that they could not extract the nutrition from the food they consumed.  Yet so many of Lee’s men continued to fight.  I also love Robert E. Lee’s revolutionary way of thinking.  Contrary to the arguments of J.F.C. Fuller and so many scholars since, Lee was an extremely creative problem solver with ideas that were far ahead of their time, a truly innovative thinker.  In Partner’s in Command, I got a sense of how good Lee was, but in researching General Lee’s Army, I learned that he was truly exceptional.  Quite frankly, those who think otherwise simply have not done their homework.

BR:  The conclusions you drew from an impressive amount of data concerning the soldiery were not without controversy. Can you describe how that book was received in various circles? Were there any reactions that surprised you?

JG:  The reaction to the book was a bit surprising. Some people dismissed it immediately because I point out the ties to slavery.  Others know just enough statistics to voice an opinion but not enough to understand them properly. One person suggested I did not weight my sample, which of course I did.  One academic criticized me for mentioning Lee’s temper but not exploring the psychological dimensions of it—in effect, the root cause.  It is hopeless to explain that the book was not about Lee’s psychological makeup or speculations about his relationship with his father!  Rather, that is a book about an army.  One reader criticized me for not blaming O.O. Howard for Jackson’s successful flank attack.  Rest assured I shall do so in my study of the Army of the Potomac, but blaming a Union general in a book on Lee’s army still makes no sense to me.  Another scholar who wrote a regimental history complained that my sample was small—he, after all, had an entire regiment—or that none of his soldiers in the Tennessee Veteran’s questionnaire admitted that the war was about slavery.  Of course, he only had to look at four or five reels of microfilm for his service records data.  It took me months and months just to get the names of my sample and then I had to look in perhaps 800 or more reels of service records to gather my soldiers’ data.  And then I had to find them in census records and gather all sorts of other data, and this information probably totaled ten or twenty pages in a 600-page book!   I guess it never occurred to him that the reason no one admitted they fought for slavery was because by the second decade of the twentieth century most of the world had come to the irrevocable conclusion that slavery was immoral and that no veteran wanted to admit that they fought a war with 600,000+ dead for an immoral cause!  No doubt, Confederate soldiers fought for all sorts of reason—defense of hearth and home, their rights (which, incidentally, included their right to own slaves), spirit of adventure, community and government pressure, and other factors–but to deny slavery as a consideration is absurd.

Fortunately, the people whose work and opinion I value, such as Gary Gallagher, Jim McPherson, Bud Robertson, Jack Davis, Bob Krick, Bill Cooper, and Emory Thomas, to name a few, were pleased, and that thrilled me.

BR: Your new book, Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia, is a different cup of tea. Not a traditional narrative, it’s a more in-depth look at the data behind the conclusions drawn in General Lee’s Army. I liken it, somewhat, to Joseph Harsh’s Sounding the Shallows which was a look behind the curtain of his Taken at the Flood. However, that book focused more on strictly military matters. Soldiering examines, among other things, the socio-economic backgrounds of the officers and men of the AoNV. First off, what is your object in publishing this as a separate work?

JG:  As I mentioned earlier, General Lee’s Army utilized a mere fraction of the statistics I generated.  For each chapter, I probably calculated close to 100 pages of tables, sometimes with three tables per page.  All this data was unused, and Gary Gallagher had a hunch it would be very interesting to publish on its own.  I viewed it as a chance to slice the army in various ways to catch a glimpse of these soldiers, their experiences, and their lives.  What I wanted to do is show readers some of the possibilities that were available from a research perspective.  Decades ago, historians moved toward statistics and then dismissed it.  Some of it was quality work, and other elements were not well done.  Lately, I felt like scholars had been cherry-picking evidence to support one argument or another, when the preponderance of evidence indicated otherwise.  Having read so many Civil War letters and diaries over the decades, I have a good sense of their contents.  What I hoped to do is to generate hard data that will help guide scholarly research—in effect, work in conjunction with more traditional, qualitative sources.

For that reason, I am trying to get funding to launch a massive research project on Confederate soldiers, with a purely random sample of 4,000 men.  In Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia, I gathered all my own data.  In that instance, with a sample of 4,000, I would need help from graduate research assistants.

BR: Now, to be clear, yours is not a compilation of data that attempts to support sweeping conclusions about subjective things like soldiers’ opinions or feelings, a somewhat dubious practice  we’ve been seeing a lot of over the past few years. You focus on specific, quantifiable, objective points.

JG:  I cannot calculate attitudes or other such things in Soldiering.  I merely explore what is measurable in the data.  The data that I have collected is from Compiled Service Records, Census Records, and some other sources.  I am only generating statistics that one can quantify from that data, such as year of entry, rank, how the individual left the service (killed in action, discharged for wounds, discharged for disability, deserted, prisoner at Appomattox, etc.), date they left the service, desertion, desertion dates, length of desertion, illness, wealth, slave ownership, and other things.  Attitudes and motivations are more a product of traditional sources.

I used a stratified cluster sample—a complex way of generating a random sample—on the recommendation of my friend, Kent Tedin, an expert in sampling.  Since we had no list of the soldiers in Lee’s army, and I wanted to compare branches, we chose this method.  It included 150 artillerists, 150 cavalrymen, and 300 infantrymen.  At 150, the data would be reliable for artillery and cavalry, but because the infantry was so large we needed a larger number.

I compiled a list of every unit that ever served in Lee’s army or its predecessor, the Army of the Potomac, by branch.  I then generated 50 random numbers each for the artillery and cavalry and 75 for the infantry.  I then generated three random numbers per artillery and cavalry unit and four for each infantry unit selected.  At that point, I simply went through and counted, so if the 652nd soldier was in my sample, I waded through the service records until I reached the 652nd CSR!  Fortunately, Tom Broadfoot published his roster for some of the states, so I was able to use that, which, needless to say, was much quicker to identify soldiers for inclusion in the sample.  I then gathered data from their service records, located them in census records, checked county histories, obituaries, family histories, pension files, and other sources for personal data, and loaded that into an ACCESS document.  Based on a tabulation of strength throughout the war, 81.8% of Lee’s army were infantrymen, 11.3% were cavalrymen, and 6.9% were artillerists.  These factors were used for weighting purposes.  The statistical weighting took into account the larger size of the infantry sample.  I then converted the database to STATA and wrote code to crunch the numbers in STATA.  The results were nearly as accurate as if the sample was purely random.  Several statistics experts have complimented me on the skill and sophistication of the sampling.  I cannot take credit.

There are some chapters where the sample size was not large enough for firm conclusions.  For example, only 3.4% were foreign-born.  I calculated foreign-born and northern born against southern born, but the results for those two categories do not allow for confidence limits.  Of course, they do for southern born.  In those instances I am explicitly clear about confidence limits.

BR: Pretty much all of the socio-economic data in the book is fascinating to consider, and the graphics help the numbers pop. The lightning rod as always is slavery – in this case the percentage of men and officers in the army who were stakeholders in the institution. Of course it’s impossible to quantify the number of people whose lives and livelihoods were dependent on chattel slavery, but you seem to have at least put to rest the age-old argument that “only blankety-blank percent of Confederate soldiers owned slaves” by providing hard numbers regarding those who belonged to slave-holding households. And that number is a lot higher than what normally gets tossed around. While doing the research into this particular aspect, was there anything that surprised you or confirmed previously held notions?

JG:  Certainly I was surprised that 37.2% of all soldiers either owned slaves or their parents with whom they lived owned slaves.  I was also surprised that 44.4% of all soldiers came from slaveholding households.  Other things, though, surprised me.  For example, I compared soldiers in Lee’s army with males of comparable ages in the states from which Lee drew his troops. The results were that Lee’s soldiers had a considerably higher median wealth and had more people in the wealthy class and fewer people in the poor class. I was surprised about the comparatively low percentage of middle-class folks in Lee’s army.  Upon thinking it over, though, many skilled workers whose talents were needed by the army and the people at home would have been in the middle class.  The very heavy casualties also surprised me.  All of us would assume infantrymen would bear the brunt of combat, but when 83.1% of those who joined the infantry in 1862 were KIA, WIA, died of disease, discharged for disability, or POW at least once, and 74.4% of those who joined the army in 1861 were, it is quite startling.

BR: “Soldiering” has a fairly narrow target audience, but how has it been received so far?

JG:  I have no idea how it has been received.  As you know, it is not an easy read; it is not the kind of book that you pick up and read straight through.  Despite all my efforts to write it clearly, the numbers are dense.  Plus, there are not all that many people who have backgrounds in both the Civil War and statistics.  As a result, it has not gotten much “play.”  I think that people who are willing to take their time and go through it with care will find it rewarding.  There is some fascinating information in there.  Ultimately, it will, I hope, have a real impact on how we perceive Civil War soldiers.  Recently, I was attending a talk by Jim McPherson and in the Q and A he began discussing issues on desertion and wealth, which he derived in part from Soldiering.  So, I have hope that it will have an impact.

BR: I’m very interested in how writers go about their business. Can you describe your research and writing process?

JG:  Much of research for a book like this is fairly tedious, but I actually don’t mind it.  In fact, I find all research wonderful.  The idea of discovery still charms me.  I love to go through archives and read letters and diaries.

When I embark on a project, I try to read all the primary materials I can find.   In a big project, no one can ever find everything, but I still try to be extremely thorough.  I go from archives to archives and see as much as I can find.  Needless to say, I am dependent on great archivists like Dick Sommers, John Coski, Lee Shepard, and so many, many more.  I also love researching at the National Archives (NARA).  Over the years I have been blessed with great archivists: Sara Dunlap Jackson, Mike Musick, Mike Meyers, Trevor Plante, Mike Pilgrim, Connie Potter, and a host of others.  They have helped me find new ways to exam old and new questions.  Because the research material is so vast, I still use 3×5 notecards.  Taking the equivalent of 10,000 or 15,000 notecards on a computer would be an organizational nightmare. Documents that offer information that won’t fit on a 3×5 get a numbered file and a notecard that summarizes briefly the information and the relating file number.

Once I have finished gathering my evidence I go through all the notecards and keep reading and sorting.  Then, I compile topical lists from the notecards and begin to try to outline the book, chapter by chapter.  In General Lee’s Army, the book had a chronological thrust so I had to plot matters carefully.  I did not want to quote an 1864 source when I was writing about 1862.  Moreover, I had to introduce themes early and leave them because later in the book they would become important.

For me, organization is the key.  When I have a good, clear outline and carefully sorted notecards, I am ready to write, and although I am no Jack Davis—Jack gets 16 pages of finished prose per day!—I am able to write reasonably quickly.

BR: What’s next for you? Do you have a particular project in mind?

JG: Way back in the in the mid-1980s, I began research for a book on the Army of the Potomac.  I have now turned my attention back to it.  Right now I am fairly far along on my sample.  I’ve looked at the Compiled Service Records and am two-thirds through with pension files at NARA.  I’ve barely scratched the surface of manuscript collections—perhaps 60 or so.  And, of course, there are fabulous amounts of records at NARA, and then published materials.  In short, I’ve got a ways to go.

As I mentioned earlier, I am also trying to get funding to develop a statistical database for 4,000 randomly selected Confederate soldiers.  I hope to get data from Compiled Service Records and Census Records first and then collect data on them for their entire life course, as well as the life course of their widows and children.  Not only would a project like this generate fabulous data (the database would be posted on the website at the Odum Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) for all to use, but it would allow us to explore topics like postwar adjustment and impact of soldiers and their families, widows, disabled veterans, orphans, and all sorts of other economic, health, and social issues.  Once it is open to the public, we could add photos, letters, diaries, and other materials, so that the database could be used in schools as well as by researchers.

It sounds like there’s more groundbreaking work ahead for Dr. Glatthaar. The Confederate soldier study is intriguing, but I for one am excited that he’s also turned his attention to the Army of the Potomac. I think you should be, too.





“Total Gettysburg” Interview

30 09 2011

Scott Sarich of TotalGettysburg.com has an interview up with the host of Bull Runnings. Check it out here, and while you’re there cruise around Scott’s site – some cool stuff there.





Interview: Terry Johnston, “Civil War Monitor”

21 09 2011

Terry Johnston and I have never met, but we’ve been corresponding and talking on the phone for at least a couple of years. Terry was instrumental in publishing my first ever Civil War writing to appear in print, a long letter to the editor that ran in an issue of North & South magazine a few years back. Over  a year ago Terry called me about an idea for a new American Civil War publication he was considering. At the time, it was nothing more than a vague notion – at least, it seemed that way to me. But after a few phone calls it started to flesh out. Terry didn’t just pick my brain – he talked to a lot of folks and you may have run across a few announcements to that effect already on the web (see here and here, for example). At long last, everything’s set to hit the fan. I received a copy of the new magazine last week, and it looks great. At left is the cover of the premier issue. But the project is more than a print magazine: Terry has integrated a strong web presence into the whole enterprise. Rather than tell you what I think it’s all about, I thought it better for you to hear from the source. In the interest of full disclosure, I appear on the masthead of the magazine as a digital history advisor, and may also contribute to the magazine’s website periodically.

BR: Terry, while I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with your work, can you tell them a little bit about yourself?

TJ: Well, I’m a native of New Jersey. I received my B.A. from Tufts University and my M.A. (history) from Clemson University. I’m also, at long last, nearing completion of my Ph.D. in history—my dissertation focuses on Irish immigrants who served in the Union army. I’ve written a few articles and one book, Him on the One Side and Me on the Other, an edited collection of the wartime letters of two Scottish-born brothers who fought on opposite sides [see extracts here]. I also spent eight years (between 1999 and 2007) on the editorial staff of North & South magazine, the last two as lead editor.

BR: What got you interested in Civil War history?

TJ: Basically, it was a children’s book on Abraham Lincoln. When I was a kid, my mother, a former high school English teacher, was so determined to get my sister and me to read that she’d excuse us from minor chores whenever we would sit down with a book. On one such occasion, the book I picked up was something called Meet Abraham Lincoln. And I was hooked. So, technically, it is true when I say that I became a Civil War enthusiast to avoid taking out the trash.

BR: So tell us about The Civil War Monitor.

TJ: In a nutshell, it’s a new quarterly magazine, the first issue of which will hit the newsstand toward the end of the month (9/27, to be specific). Our tag line is A New Look at America’s Greatest Conflict, which to us means we intend to provide our readers with well-written and engaging articles that either break new ground or cover well-known topics with a fresh slant. To help accomplish this, we’ve gathered together a terrific team of editorial advisors (with the exception, perhaps, of one fellow with the initials HS) and a battery of top authors, all of whom are well in tune with the latest avenues of Civil War scholarship.

BR: There are at least four other Civil War focused periodicals out there today. What will set CWM apart?

TJ: A number of things, we hope. For one, we’re excited about the magazine’s look. Our art director, Patrick Mitchell (www.plutomedia.com), a veteran designer of several nationally renowned publications, has brought his unique vision to the project. And frankly we’ve been blown away by the results, which I think stylistically might best be described as a perfect blend of old and new. Beyond appearance, we believe our content is of the kind you won’t find in the other Civil War magazines. This is not to say that everything we intend to do isn’t being done, in some fashion, in the other magazines—like footnoting articles, for instance. But in other respects, we will be offering—or delivering—content in ways our competitors do not. Take our book section, for example. We have no intention of publishing the cursory reviews that are regularly found elsewhere (you know, those 200-word appraisals of 600-page books that invariably conclude with some version of the sentence, “These faults aside, this is a book that should find its way onto the shelf of every Civil War buff”). Instead, our book section will consist of a rotating lineup of bookish columns. In our premier issue, these are: Russell McClintock’s take on the essential readings on the coming of the war; Robert K. Krick’s musings on recent battle books; and Steven H. Newton’s reflections on the various books that influenced his interest in, and writing on, the Civil War.

Another way in which we’ll be delivering content is through our website (www.civilwarmonitor.com), something we’re equally excited about. Visitors will find a variety of free material there, including regular photo essays and our two blogs: The Front Line (www.civilwarmonitor.com/front-line), where a diverse lineup of scholars, public historians, and talented buffs will post on a wide array of Civil War subjects; and The Bookshelf (www.civilwarmonitor.com/book-shelf), our blog devoted to author interviews and clear, insightful, and substantive reviews of recently released books (the kind we like). Lastly, we’re also producing a digital edition of the magazine for our subscribers, viewable at our website, so that they’ll be able to read The Civil War Monitor online whenever they’d like.

In short, we truly believe that our coverage—in breadth, depth, and style, both in the magazine and on our website—goes beyond what you can get from the other popular magazines.

BR: Two blogs? Hmmm…not sure how to feel about that! How else can we follow CWM?

TJ: Facebook (www.facebook.com/CivilWarMonitor) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/#!/civilwarmonitor), of course! Our social media guru, Laura Davis, is a grizzled veteran of both, and while I must admit I’ve been learning about it all as I go, I’m starting to see the possibilities they offer for presenting Civil War history to a new generation of enthusiasts.

As far as I’m concerned, we can never have too many outlets for good Civil War writing. From the looks of the first issue, Terry is off to a great start.





Interview: Jim Morgan, “A Little Short of Boats”

13 08 2011

I’ve known James A. Morgan, III (Jim) for going on ten years now. We’ve been mutual members of a couple of email discussion groups, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting up with him a few times, incuding once for a personal tour of his “baby”, the Ball’s Bluff Battlefield. Most recently, he introduced me before a meeting of the Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable. The first edition of his book, A Little Short of Boats: The Battles of Ball’s Bluff and Edwards Ferry, October 21-22, 1861, was published in 2004 to critical acclaim. Now Savas Beatie has released an updated edition, available here. Jim took some time to answer a few questions I posed via email.

BR: Jim, tell our good readers about yourself.

JM:  I was born in New Orleans and grew up in Pensacola, Florida.  We’ve lived in various places including Belgium and Romania while I was in the Foreign Service, but my wife, Betsy and I now live in Loudoun County, Virginia and have come to think of it as home.

My Civil War ancestors were all Confederates and served in the Pointe Coupee (La.) Artillery, the 6th Louisiana Battery, and the 41st Mississippi Infantry.   The Morgan family lived at Morganza plantation during the war.  It was about 40 miles upriver from Baton Rouge and is a site that will be familiar to readers with some western theater expertise.  The name pops up in the O.R. a good bit.  Of course, the damnyankees trashed the place during the war and my part of the family eventually settled in New Orleans.

For the past few years, I’ve been deeply involved in Civil War activities of various kinds.  I’m active in the Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable, Loudoun County Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee, and the Mosby Heritage Area Association in addition to being a volunteer guide at Ball’s Bluff.  I used to reenact quite a bit; Union and Confederate artillery and infantry impressions plus occasionally as a civilian.  That was a lot of fun but, alas, I succumbed to the effects of what Abe Lincoln called “the silent artillery of time.” In other words, I got too old for it.  

Got into Civil War music for some years and did programs for roundtables and similar groups.  I even made a couple of cassette tapes which sold in NPS stores for a time.  One was titled “Just Before the Battle” after my favorite Civil War song.  The other was called “60’s Music.”  Both were compilations of Civil War standards though the second one included several alternate, less well known versions.  I never made them into CDs, however, so there probably are only a few old copies of the tapes left around.

In the late ‘80’s, while I was part of the Battery M, 2nd U.S. Artillery reenactment unit, I put together a small booklet, a thumbnail sketch history of Battery M, which Dave Zullo at Olde Soldier Press in Frederick, Maryland published.  It is titled Always Ready, Always Willing: A History of Battery M, Second United States Artillery, From Its Organization Through the Civil War.  The title is almost as long as the booklet.  I’ve actually seen it on amazon.com occasionally.

I’ve written articles for several Civil War magazines including Civil War Times, America’s Civil War, Blue and Gray, and The Artilleryman among others.  That said, I’m most proud of my tactical study of Ball’s Bluff titled A Little Short of Boats: the Fights at Ball’s Bluff and Edwards Ferry, October 21-22, 1861, which originally was published by Eric Wittenberg’s Ironclad Publishing Company in 2004 and was just rereleased in July, 2011, in an expanded, updated, hardback edition by Savas Beatie. 

Not sure what else you want to know.  In terms of education I’ve got a master’s degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida and a master’s in Library Science from Florida State University.  I’ve been an ardent Seminole fan since I was about 13 so I’ve seen the ‘Noles through both the depths and the heights.  I’m looking forward to their return to greatness after these past few mediocre years.

BR: Battery M 2nd US was Peter Hains’s outfit: I guess I have to add one more to my “get” list. What got you interested in the Civil War in general, and in Ball’s Bluff in particular?

JM:  I suppose that, like all kids who grew up in the South when I did, I just breathed my interest in through the air. It was all around us even in Florida. Of course I grew up in north Florida which was and is very southern so I come by my interest naturally.  South Florida, largely populated by retired Yankees, is very northern and those people don’t care about anything but ice hockey and the slow, plodding brand of football they play in the Big 10. 

I don’t actually remember a time when I wasn’t interested in the war. Even as a kid I read a lot about it and, like many people, I owe a debt to Bruce Catton for giving me my first serious Civil War exposure. Growing up in Pensacola didn’t hurt. My brother and I were always at the beach and spent many hours playing in and around Fort Pickens long before it became part of the National Park Service and was restored. And, perhaps ironically, I spent the summer of 1980 as an NPS seasonal giving tours of Pickens and Fort Barrancas and the other historical military facilities in the area.

With regard to Ball’s Bluff, though, I can be more specific. In 2000, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority put out a call for volunteers to form a guide group for the little Ball’s Bluff battlefield not far from where I live.  That sounded like fun and I joined.  I didn’t know a thing about Ball’s Bluff at the time but I did my homework and soon began giving tours.  Having done that sort of thing at other Civil War sites, it was actually pretty easy.  That was 12 years ago and I’m still at it and still having fun with it.

BR: What’s different about this new edition of A Little Short of Boats?

JM:  First of all, the new edition is in hardback and has a new, more colorful  jacket so it draws the eye better than the original paperback edition did.  More importantly, however, there is quite a bit of new material in the expanded edition including more biographical information on many of the participants, additional participant anecdotes about the fighting, and more on some of the units which were involved.  I’ve rewritten the battlefield walking tour appendix so as to make it fit the improvements we’ve done on the battlefield since the first edition came out (new signage, more marked interpretive trails, etc).  And there are several previously unpublished photographs as well.  I’m very pleased with the way it turned out.

BR: If there is one misconception about the battle or the individuals involved which you hope your book corrects, what would it be?

JM: To my way of thinking, it has always been extremely important that people understand WHY Ball’s Bluff was fought.  The traditional tale that it came out of a deliberate, pre-planned Union attempt to take Leesburg has been a huge stumbling block over the years because it is simply wrong.  Ball’s Bluff was totally unplanned, sheer accident, and had absolutely nothing to do with taking Leesburg. 

Because there were three separate Federal forces in the area and because everyone on both sides of the river was expecting some kind of Union advance in the near future, what happened at Ball’s Bluff appeared to be planned and coordinated.  Leesburg, with its critical road intersections and many nearby crossing points on the river, was an obvious target so people assumed that it was the Union objective.

Expectations and appearances combined to give us an elaborate story about a three-pronged Union encirclement of Leesburg.  It made perfect sense given what people knew or thought they knew and historians just repeated the story so that it gained credence by repetition over the years.

I believe – certainly I hope – that what I’ve done has corrected this mistake.  Understand, though, that I do not consider myself to be a revisionist.  I don’t like that word as it smacks of iconoclasm and personal agendas.  I didn’t set out to challenge anyone’s interpretation.  I simply went where my research led and it led to a fairly complete reinterpretation of why the battle of Ball’s Bluff happened. I suppose that is a kind of revisionism but a more limited one that essentially just involves correcting some honestly-made historical errors.

BR: The first edition was very well received. What’s the word so far on the new book? FYI I did see two copies on the shelf at my local Barnes & Noble today.

JM: So far, so good.  I haven’t seen any reviews yet (as of mid-August) but the book seems to be selling well and word-of-mouth is positive.  Frankly, I’m not surprised.  I’m proud of this book and believe that it improves the first edition as I intended it would. The additional information and general updating should make it worth buying even for people who already have the original.

BR: One of the things I try to do with the author interviews here at Bull Runnings is look at individual research and writing processes. Can you describe yours? What are your favorite/least favorite parts of the processes?

JM:  I doubt that I do much of anything that is out of the ordinary.  My research and writing are part-time endeavors as I still have a job which takes up most of my weekday hours.  Some authors enjoy research but don’t like to write or vice-versa.  Happily, I thoroughly enjoy both parts of the process.  I’m probably never happier than when I’m nosing around in musty old archives somewhere.  

BR: What’s next for you?

JM: For several years now, I’ve been chipping away at the research for what I hope someday will become a full biography of General Charles P. Stone.  When I was first working on the Ball’s Bluff book, I looked for a Stone bio and was surprised to discover that there isn’t one.  He deserves one and I’d like to write it.  I’ve got a very large amount of information on him but am held up by the fact that I’m eventually going to have to make an extended research trip to Egypt to go through the files from Stone’s twelve years (1870-82) as chief of staff to two consecutive khedives.  I know where the materials are and have made some preliminary contacts in Egypt but getting there is another question.  First, I can’t do it until I retire which I hope will be within another couple of years at most.  Second, I’ll have to find some funding, maybe a grant from somewhere, as I know I’ll need to be in Egypt for at least three months in order to do this right.  But, I’m working on it.

Other than that, I stay busy with a few  topics for which I have articles planned and, of course, there are the Ball’s Bluff tours and all the sesquicentennial activities to keep me busy as well. And, in truth, I’m loving it. I just wish that work wouldn’t keep getting in the way of the important stuff. 

BR: I see that Florida State has been picked as high as 5th in some preseason NCAA football polls. I’m sure you take some pride in that, even while you’re surely aware the ‘Noles will finish the season well below the Nittany Lions…

JM: Fifth is probably too high.  We had a good season in 2010 and things are looking up but we still have to prove that we’re back.  I’d rank FSU around tenth or twelfth to start the season but I’m cautiously optimistic that good things are about to happen.  While I’m not a Penn State fan, I have always liked Joe Paterno and considered him one of the good guys in college football.  But of course I still hope that the ‘Noles kick butt regardless of who we play.  As to who finishes where, that’s why they play the games and don’t just depend on pre-season rankings.  We shall see.  Scalp ‘em, Seminoles!!!





Interview: Garry Adelman, “Manassas Battlefields Then & Now”

7 07 2011

Garry Adelman, Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide and Civil War author (among other things), has a new book coming out next week, Manassas Battlefields Then & Now: Historic Photography at Bull Run. He recently took some time to discuss his work with Bull Runnings.

BR: While I’m sure many of the readers have heard of you or seen you on the tube, tell us a little about yourself.

GA: I became all but instantly obsessed with the Civil War at age 16 upon picking up William A Frassanito’s Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America’s Bloodiest Day. It changed my entire life. I was living outside of Chicago and just started digesting all the books I could. I had never before read history for pleasure. I got a business degree at Michigan State a few years later—Hotel and Restaurant Management to be exact—and then went back to Chicago to run restaurants.  In the meantime I started driving out to Gettysburg and Antietam whenever I could. Ultimately, I couldn’t resist moving to Gettysburg, which I did in the fall of 1992. Save for picking up that book in my high school library in 1983, I would not have met my wife, had my kids or been able to work what I think are the best set of jobs in the world.

BR: Whoa, that’s a lot! What happened after you moved?

GA: I didn’t have a job or even any prospects so I did the only thing I knew how to do—opened a restaurant. While running that place, I started writing for The Gettysburg Magazine, became a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg, and explored the battlefield with what little time I had. I sold the restaurant to Gettysburg College in 1995, worked there for a few years and then for Thomas Publications, which specializes in Civil War books. In the meantime, I met my future wife on Gettysburg’s town square, published (with Tim Smith) Devil’s Den: A History and Guide (1997) and started working on more books. I got my Masters in History from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania in 2002 and then I really entered the history world. After an 8-year stint at a historical consulting firm in Rockville, Maryland, I started working for the Civil War Trust as Director of History and Education, about a year and a half ago. I am still a Licensed Battlefield Guide and I regularly speak to Civil War groups. I have now written, co-authored or edited more than 30 Civil War-related books and articles.

BR: What is The Center for Civil War Photography?

GA: The Center was founded in 1999 and I have served as its vice president for more than a decade. The Center aims to teach people the whos, whats, wheres, whys, and hows of Civil War Photography. We aim to collect digital copies of, place into context and  make available every outdoor Civil War photo ever recorded. We hold an annual seminar at various battlefields every year and this October we are focusing (excuse the pun) on the Western Theater, at Chattanooga. Space is still available! It was a no-brainer to take the Manassas book to The Center as publisher.

BR: Why did you choose the Bull Run battlefields as the subject for your new book?

GA: No matter how many facets of the conflict I may research or address, I always go back to my first Civil War love—then & now photography. Frassanito pioneered the field of the study of Civil War photographs as primary documents and I am one of a small cadre of historians moving that work forward as he has slowed down. No historian had ever completed even a small book on Bull Run’s historic photography and the resources, mysteries and curiosities abound at Manassas and its surroundings. The topic was all but begging to be covered!

BR: Was there anything in particular that surprised you about the photographic history of the battlefields?

GA: Oh, my yes. Upon separating the various images into series by photographic team, it became clear that only one covered the actual battlefields field during the war—this was George Barnard and James Gibson’s team. Despite Matthew Brady’s attempt in 1861, and Timothy O’Sullivan’s coverage of Manassas in 1862, Andrew Russell’s in 1863, no other photographer secured plates of the iconic sites on the Manassas Battlefields. In June 1865, Alexander Gardner’s team was next to cover the field. This is extremely odd given Bull Run’s popularity and its proximity to Washington.  I suppose another thing that surprised me was how much work remained, even with Barnard’s 1862 series.

BR:  Can you describe your research and writing process?

GA: I first became familiar with and aimed to digitally secure every Bull Run-related historic photo I could. I had been doing this for more than five years already and the best stuff came from the Manassas National Battlefield, the Library of Congress, the National Archives and members of The Center for Civil War Photography. Upon collecting these and separating them into series, I did a bunch of field research, trying to find unknown photo locations and getting to know the photographers’ areas of operations.  This is not a lengthy book and yet this process took years.  I made most of the key discoveries, shot most of the modern photos and did most of the writing, however, in the last eight months.

BR: Any particular discovery you’d like the share?

GA: Indeed! I am most proud of having finally divined the location of five 1862 images that are usually labeled as Blackburn’s Ford. In close consultation with Jim Burgess, Museum Specialist at Manassas National Battlefield, who helped with almost every aspect of the book, I was able to pinpoint the location more than a mile upstream from Blackburn’s Ford. Finding a Civil War photolocation, that is, the place where photographers exposed their plates, is among the most satisfying and fun endeavors I know of. To put five photos into context—that’s more than were taken at Shiloh during the entire war!

 

The historic photo here (left), courtesy of Manassas National Battlefield, was found to show a wrecked Confederate Railroad bridge, upstream from Mitchell’s Ford. Next to it is the location today (right). Click the thumbs for larger images.

BR: What’s next for you?

GA:  I haven’t decided. My family, my work at the Trust and my various Civil War side jobs occupy a great deal of my time. I am playing around with the idea of a small Peninsula/Seven Days photo book. That series of photos remains one of the largest collections of largely unexplored Civil War photographs.

Manassas Battlefields Then & Now: Historic Photography at Bull Run can be ordered from Amazon.com or from The Center for Civil War Photography. Also see The Center’s press release here.





Interview: Jeffry Wert, “A Glorious Army”

9 05 2011

I first met prolific author Jeffry D. Wert (and his charming wife, Gloria) during a Civil War seminar almost 13 years ago, and the following summer spent an amazing few days riding at the back of a bus with him and the late Dr. Joseph Harsh during another conference. I probably learned more about the conflict in those few hours than I had up to that point, just by keeping my mouth shut (mostly) and my ears open.

Jeff’s latest book is A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph, 1862-1863, and below he discusses the project.

BR: While I’m sure my readers are very familiar with your works, how about telling us about yourself?

JW: I am a native Pennsylvanian and taught history at Penns Valley Area High School in the central part of the state for 33 years.  I am now retired from the profession.  I am an avid Atlanta Braves and Penn State football fan.

BR: Your new book is about the Army of Northern Virginia from 1862-1863, from Seven Days to Gettysburg.  What prompted you to look at this army for this period?

JW: Lee and the army’s record during those thirteen months is arguably unmatched in America’s military annals.  Although I have covered the army in previous books, I wanted to write a more analytical study on the reasons for their successes and do it, hopefully, in a smooth-flowing narrative.  My book is not a detailed tactical work but looks at leadership, morale, and the common soldiers’ fighting prowess.

BR: What did you turn up during your research that surprised you?

JW:  The amount of straggling in the army was endemic during 1862.  It reached a climax in the Maryland campaign but was a problem with the rank and file until Chancellorsville.  It appears from the evidence that straggling was minor during the Gettysburg Campaign.  Secondly, my research convinced me more that Lee’s aggressiveness offered the Confederacy its best chance for independence.  Admittedly, it is a controversial subject, but the results, I think, speak for themselves.  Finally, I address whether Lee took the so-called “bloodiest roads” and concluded that he chose the tactical offensive when circumstances dictated it, except for July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg.  Malvern Hill resulted in a tragedy because of misinformation.

BR: Can you sum up for us, in a nutshell, how Lee was able to be successful for most of this period, and what caused his setbacks?

JW:  When Lee assumed temporary command of the army on June 1, 1862, it was as though all the stars aligned for the Confederacy.  The Union Army of the Potomac’s subordinate leadership could not match the likes of Jackson, Longstreet, Stuart, Ewell, A. P. and D. H. Hill, and others.  To be sure, the caution of McClellan, the incompetence of Pope and Burnside, and the unraveling of Hooker contributed to the Confederates’ victories.  Lee’s infantry’s incalculable ‘élan in battle was a significant factor.

BR: What is your research and writing process? Did you visit archives and sites, and how much of a role did online research play?

JW:  I am old-fashioned in my methodology.  I put my research on note cards and write my books on legal-sized paper.  I am blessed with a wife who is an excellent assistant, and she transcribes my words into a word document.  I edit from printed pages.  During my research, I visit archives and libraries.  I use the internet to locate manuscript collections and fortunately for historians more institutions are putting letters and diaries online, making it unnecessary to travel as much.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

JW:  The book has been reviewed in a few places and has been praised.  None of the major Civil War magazines have had a review in as of today.  I am gratified to have been a main selection of History Book Club and Military Book Club.

BR: What’s next for you?

JW:  For the first time in many years, I am not under contract on another project.  I may do another book in the future but not at the present.

So for the first time in years, Mr. Wert is taking a break. I have a feeling it won’t be too long before something catches his eye and we hear from his pen – really, his pen! – once again.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,864 other followers