Interview: Dr. Carol Reardon, “A Field Guide to Antietam”

9 08 2016

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I’ve known Dr. Carol Reardon, George Winfrey Professor of American History at my alma mater The Pennsylvania State University, since 1998 when I first started following her around various eastern Civil War battlefields. A true military historian – as opposed to a historian who writes about events with a military element – she is the author of numerous books, including the seminal memory study Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory; Soldiers and Scholars: The U.S. Army and the Uses of Military History, 1865-1920; With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other: The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North; and Launch the Intruders: A Naval Attack Squadron in the Vietnam War, 1972In 2013, she and co-author Tom Vossler released the game changing guide-book A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People. Now, the duo have followed up the phenomenal success of that book with A Field Guide to Antietam: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People. Dr. Reardon took some time from her very busy schedule to answer a few questions about that work for Bull Runnings:

100_5190BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

CR: I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and graduated from Brentwood High School. I attended Allegheny College in Meadville PA, where I received a BS in biology. I did not reinvent myself as a historian until graduate school. I received my MA in history from the University of South Carolina and my PhD in history from the University of Kentucky. My first position after receiving my doctorate kept me at Kentucky as the associate editor of The Papers of Henry Clay documentary editing project. I then taught at the University of Georgia for two years before accepting a position at Penn State University. I’m entering my twenty-fifth year of service at Penn State this August. During my time at Penn State, I’ve been fortunate to receive two appointments to teach at the US Army War College and a one-year assignment to teach at the US Military Academy at West Point. I take special satisfaction from my fourteen years of service on the Board of Visitors of Marine Corps University. I also won election to two terms as the president of the Society for Military History. I maintain a busy public service profile that includes military staff rides and leadership programs on Civil War battlefields, appointments to advisory boards for several history – focused non-profit organizations, and related activities. And, of course, my professional life has been shaped by the usual academic mantra of “publish or perish.” I also have a healthy garden, keep a year list of bird sightings, and have a vested interest in a few Simmental beef cattle.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

CR: I became interested in the Civil War as early as second grade during the Civil War centennial. I made my first trip to Gettysburg in May 1963, just before the 100th anniversary of the battle. I wrote my first “research paper” about that trip, and the full-page I printed impressed my teachers. I guess I responded well to positive reinforcement. Also, my next door neighbors were into the Civil War, and that gave me people I could talk to about it. But the biggest pushes came from my father, an officer in the Army Reserve, who encouraged my interests in anything military, and my maternal grandmother, who got behind anything educational that interested me. She was the one who took me on my first visit to the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland [in Pittsburgh, PA] to find my great-great-grandfather’s name on the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry’s plaque on the wall. Once I got to college, much of the inspiration and motivation that sent me down the path of military history came from the triumvirate of Professors Jay Luvaas of Allegheny College and the Army War College and Charles P. Roland and George C. Herring of the University of Kentucky.

BR: Can you describe the format of the tour book, and the rationale behind that format?

CR: David Perry, former editor at University of North Carolina Press, was the mastermind behind the field guide. He went on a Gettysburg tour with me about fifteen years ago and decided then that he had to figure out a way to “bottle it.” As the sesquicentennial drew near, he raised the idea again. By then, Tom Vossler and I had done so many field programs and staff rides together that it was natural that we’d do this as a joint venture. The format followed from the experience gained from those various programs. We knew what information a visitor had to know–the what happens who made it happen. We knew what interested them–numbers, units, casualties. We knew what we wanted them to think more about –thus cost of war in very personal terms through the individual vignettes, the civilian experience, the play of memory on how we recall the past. That shaped the six questions around which we built the Gettysburg field guide, and we’ve received a positive response to it.

BR: The subject of your previous guide-book was an obvious choice. How did you settle on Antietam for the follow-up?

CR: It just seemed like the obvious next place to go. It’s an important battle in a number of different ways, from military concerns such as the great number of casualties to political consequences such as the Emancipation Proclamation that added the abolition of slavery to preservation of the Union as national war aims. The battlefield is very well-preserved. Its National Park Service staff and the members of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation are excellent stewards of the battlefield, and their active advice, support, and expertise provided a level of support that we knew would ensure a top-notch final product. It didn’t hurt that it was only an hour away.

BR: What were the most surprising finds while researching the Battle of Antietam?

CR: It’s a far more complex battle than it appears. I was taught for years to break down the fighting into the early-morning phase centering on the Cornfield, the late-morning/noon phase at the Bloody Lane, and the afternoon phase at Burnside’s Bridge as three distinct pieces. It became increasingly clear as the work progressed that these phases overlapped at times, and that actions in one phase directly influenced those in the others. Restoring the complexity became an unexpected element of the guide.

BR: How did the view-scape of and access to sites in the park, which changed while you were writing the book, affect your process?

CR: We were amazingly fortunate that several big property acquisitions were finalized just before went to press. The purchase and amazingly quick demolition of a modern brick ranch house at the western edge of the North Woods made me go into the text and remove a few references to that structure as a visual cue before we went to print. The purchase of the Wilson farm just south of the Miller Cornfield happened at a time when we could adjust the text. The tree clearing efforts of a hardy crew from Save Historic Antietam Foundation removed a treeline on the Wilson farm that restored a key view-shed that helped us to explain elements of the Union artillery deployment near the East Woods and Mumma farm. We went down and re-shot several photos to take full advantage of the new vistas that most decidedly illustrated points we made in our narrative.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?

CR: The Antietam guide took about two years to write. I did most of the primary-source research for the book. In addition to the richness of the Official Records and the Antietam Battlefield Commission records largely compiled by former colonel Ezra Carman (and the outstanding editing of his work by Thomas G. Clemens), two other sources proved invaluable. First, the library at Antietam National Battlefield has an excellent collection of primary-source material, plus Ted Alexander and Stephanie Gray to help us work through it. Anyone who knows Ted knows to pay attention when he begins a sentence with, “hey, have you heard about….”. Second, the outstanding collections of digitized Pennsylvania Civil War newspapers available on the Penn State University Library website; Civil War historians working on battle studies simply cannot ignore these incredibly rich (and lightly mined) materials; there are other digitized newspaper collections online, but the Pennsylvania collection is newer and access is easiest if one has an email account that ends with psu.edu

BR: You co-authored this and your preceding book with Tom Vossler. Can you describe the collaborative process?

CR: For the Gettysburg guide, we initially divided the writing/research along lines of our natural interests and strengths. at first, I focused in the sections that addressed what happened here, who fought here, who fell here, and what did they say about it later. Tom initially focused on who led here and who lived here. Tom owns a farm; the latter topic really drew him in. Increasingly, as Tom took on the primary responsibility for the modern photos and the maps (all original for each guide), I took on more of the traditional research and writing, while he focused more on the books’ highly detailed visual elements. We both worked on the historical illustrations, making considerable use of the collections at the US Army Heritage and Education Center; during Tom’s last posting before he retired as a colonel, he was director of this fine repository. It worked.

BR: What did you learn while writing the Gettysburg field guide that helped with writing the one for Antietam?

CR: We learned that we had hit on a formula that worked, so we did not have to consider any substantial format changes. But the biggest thing we learned is that everything connected with the publication process takes much longer than you estimate it will. Much longer.

BR: Was there anything about Antietam (process-wise) that you didn’t encounter while writing Gettysburg, or anything significantly different, that made it easier or more difficult?

CR: Not really. The process stayed pretty much the same. The special challenge for me, at least, centered on learning about a lot of units that fought Antietam that did not serve at Gettysburg. We both live in Gettysburg. We do much of programming here. We can recite the Gettysburg order of battle automatically. But Antietam made me become deeply acquainted with all the elements of the IX Corps, all the nine-month regiments that just joined the Union army before Antietam but leave it after Chancellorsville and miss Gettysburg, the Confederate brigades of Evans and Colquitt and Ransom and the like. But I enjoyed that part.

BR: What’s the promo schedule for Antietam look like? Any upcoming signings or lectures?

CR: Tom and I will be leading a special daylong tour of Antietam on September 10 for the Gettysburg Foundation’s First Corps members. We actually have more Gettysburg events coming up in the near future than Antietam events. I’m especially looking forward to taking a busload of folks from Allegheny College around Gettysburg in September, re-forging the bond between the Allegheny community and Civil War battlefields that Jay Luvaas established in the 1960s. He took me on my first visits to many battlefields, including Antietam, and it’s time for me to revitalize that little bit of Allegheny heritage.

BR: What’s next for you?

CR: We’re finishing up a new and revised edition of the Gettysburg field guide that will include two new stops, correct a few errors (yes, we know it’s not the Soldiers’ National “Seminary”), and tighten up the relationship between the maps and the narrative. UNC Press will also offer an expanded and revised eBook version of the field guide that will include the new stops, corrections, revised maps, and approximately 10,000 new words – mostly the very welcome restoration of items initially prepared for the original text that had to be cut when it got too long. We’re glad that we will finally be able to share some of these episodes and vignettes with our readers.





Preview: Schmutz, “The Bloody Fifth”

3 08 2016

Layout 1Just what we need – another regiment known as “The Bloody.”

The bloody book in question this time is new from Savas Beatie, “The Bloody Fifth”: The 5th Texas Infantry Regiment, Hood’s Texas Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia, Vol. 1: Secession to the Suffolk Campaign, by John F. Schmutz. They’re not into the whole brevity thing when it comes to book titles these days, are they?

Schmutz, as you may recall from this interview, is the author of what I think is the best of the recent deluge of books on The Crater, succinctly dubbed The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History. So, expectations for Bloody are high in this quarter.

As you can gather from the title, this is the first installment of a multi- (two) volume work on the regiment, which the promo materials claim saw action in “nearly every significant battle of the Eastern Theater” (except, of course the most significant – please refer to the name and mission of this blog).

Here’s what you get: 281 pages of text with footnotes; Company Organization Profiles appendix; Dramatis Personae appendix; index. I’m guessing the bibliography will be published with Volume II. George Skoch maps and a light sprinkling of photos – mostly portraits – included.





Preview: Mingus & Wittenberg, “The Second Battle of Winchester”

30 07 2016

SecondBattleofWinchester_LRGNew from Savas Beatie is a joint effort by Scott L. Mingus, Sr and Eric J. Wittenberg, The Second Battle of Winchester: The Confederate Victory that Opened the Door to Gettysburg. I’m looking forward to this mainly because I’ve always been struck by the inconsistencies between the old saw of Richard Ewell having lost his aggressiveness – and decisiveness – after his wounding at Brawner’s Farm and marriage, and his performance at this prelude to Gettysburg. I’ll be interested to see if and how the authors have addressed that conundrum.

Here’s what you get: 429 (!) pages of narrative, with Hal Jesperson maps and plenty of illustrations, including present day photos; a driving tour appendix with seven stops and an extended tour with six more; Orders of Battle for Second Winchester and Martinsburg; a list of surgeons and chaplains captured during Second Winchester who were sent on to Libby Prison; the March 14, 1863 Resolution of the 123rd Ohio; a bibliography with plenty of primary sources; a full index; and the usual Savas Beatie page-bottom footnotes.





Preview: Trudeau, “Lincoln’s Greatest Journey

26 07 2016

Layout 1Making my way through this pile (which yesterday grew by two) we have what’s called an “unedited galley proof.” It’s one of those stages of publications I sometimes get, along with “uncorrected proofs,” “bound galleys” and “advanced reading copies (ARCs).” I’m not really sure what the differences are between all these, but they’re similarly difficult to preview because they usually don’t include indexes and sometimes have no maps or illustrations. Foot-or-endnotes often are citations only and don’t always include the more detailed notes you find in final editions. So, these previews tend to be even more brief than typical. But I made up for that by including this explanatory note.

An upcoming release (September 2016) from Savas Beatie is Lincoln’s Greatest Journey: Sixteen Days that Changed a Presidency, March 24 – April 8, 1865, by Noah Andre Trudeau. This is the story of the president’s longest absence from Washington during his terms of office, when he traveled to City Point, VA, in the days preceding the eventual surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. According to the publisher, Lincoln’s Greatest Journey “rewrites much of the heretofore misunderstood story of what really happened to Lincoln during this time.”

The narrative will clock in at around 261 pages, with an additional “Sources Casebook,” a Marine Muster Roll of U.S.S. Malvern, notes, bibliography, ten maps, and a good sprinkling of illustrations.

Look for this some time in September.





New in Paperback

24 07 2016

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I have a bunch of previews of new releases to post, but to jump-start let me quickly note the release of two titles in paperback. Both have been previewed here before, so I’ll just link to those.

First is John Michael Priest’s “Stand to It and Give Them Hell:” Gettysburg as the Soldiers Experienced It from Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top, July 2, 1863. It’s really tough to expand on that title, so read my preview here.

Also in paperback is the first volume of Dave Powell’s Chickamauga series, “A Mad Irregular Battle: From the Crossing of the Tennessee River Through the Second Day, August 22 – September 19, 1863. You can read that preview here.





Preview – Mackowski, “Hell Itself”

17 05 2016

Hell_ItselfOnce more into the breach goes Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War series, this time with Chris Mackowski’s Hell Itself: The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-7, 1864. You know the drill on these, so let’s get to the vitals. Fourteen chapters and an epilogue make up the main, 121 page narrative, with lots of illustrations and eleven Hal Jesperson maps. My favorite features of this series are the appendixes. In Hell Itself, there are six: Federal cavalry in the campaign; the Army of the Potomac’s high command; “Where’s Burnside” (hmmm…maybe wondering where his boss was and why he wasn’t communicating with him?); Longstreet’s wounding; The Wilderness then and now; and the CCC in the Wilderness.

You also get a driving tour, and Order of Battle, and a suggested reading list. All in a tough little package that travels well on the field.

 





Preview -Christopher Phillips: The Rivers Ran Backward

15 05 2016

516rYTnVK7L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_New from Oxford University Press is Christopher Phillips’s The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War and the Remaking of the American Middle Border. Phillips has authored other works focusing on the “middle states,” including biographies of Nathaniel Lyon and Claiborne Fox Jackson. With The Rivers Ran Backward, Phillips takes a look at the blurred boundary between North and South formed by slave states Kentucky and Missouri and free states Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kansas, which “were home to a complex…set of values, identities, and political loyalties.” He argues that “the violence of the Civil War and cultural politics in its aftermath proved to be the strongest determining factor in shaping these states’ regional identities.” Not surprisingly, the varying and contradictory attitudes of the occupants towards race is central to the study.

You get 338 pages of sparsely illustrated text, 84 pages of end notes, and a 47 page bibliography including six pages of manuscript sources. Blurbers include James McPherson and Edward Ayers.