Preview – Vermilya, “That Field of Blood”

22 06 2018

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The folks as Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War have moved on to the pivotal 1862 Maryland Campaign with Dan Vermilya’s That Field of Blood: The Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862. Here’s the lowdown:

  • 149 pages of narrative, including eleven chapters and an epilogue.
  • An eight-stop tour guide map tied to the text.
  • Appendices on Presidential visits to the field and a history of the Antietam National Battlefield.
  • Order of Battle
  • Suggested reading list
  • No bibliography (a link to an online bibliography is included)
  • No footnotes
  • No index
  • Seven Hal Jesperson maps

Dan Vermilya is an interpretive ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park, and has previously worked at Antietam National Battlefield and Monocacy National Battlefield. He is also an Antietam Licensed Battlefield Guide, and was the 2012  was the recipient of the Joseph L. Harsh Memorial Scholarship from the Save Historic Antietam Foundation.





Preview: Rossino, “Six Days in September”

11 08 2017

9781611213454_2Just in from Savas Beatie is the unedited galley proof of Six Days in September: A Novel of Lee’s Army in Maryland, 1862, by Alexander B. Rossino. (It appears that this is a new edition of the work previously published in 2015.) Novels are problematic subjects for a preview, since the typical features of notes, bibliography, maps, prefaces, and conclusions aren’t present. The subject matter is self-explanatory, thanks again to the post-colon subtitle. A flip-through reveals that this story is focused on the Confederate angle, and focuses on familiar “real life” players with a smattering of what I’m guessing are narrative-propelling, representative fictional characters.

The book is impressively blurbed, with James McPherson calling it a “page turner” that “provides the most vivid description…of the desperate plight of Southern forces” during these events; Scott Hartwig notes that it “provides the best that historical fiction has to offer”; and Tom Clemens calls it “an insightful look” and “a great read!”

Alexander B. Rossino is a resident of Boonsboro, MD. He is the author of Hitler Strikes Poland: Blitzkrieg, Ideology, and Atrocity. 





Preview: Clemens (ed.) – “The Maryland Campaign, Vol. III”

23 03 2017

MarylandCampaignIIIAfter a long, long slog, friend Dr. Thomas G. Clemens has completed his Maryland Campaign campaign with volume III of his edition of the work of Ezra Carman in The Maryland Campaign of September, 1862, Vol. III: Sheperdstown Ford and the End of the Campaign. There, I used the word Campaign four times in one sentence.

I’m assuming my readers’ familiarity with the scope and importance of campaign veteran Ezra Carman’s work with the establishment of the Antietam National Battlefield and the chronicling, through massive solicitation of primary accounts, of the campaign. For the rest of you, think of Carman as the Bachelder of Antietam – or, more apporpriately, think of John Bachelder as the Carman of Gettysburg.

This last installment gives us the five closing chapters of Carman’s opus: Boteler’s Ford; The Results of the Maryland Campaign; Lincoln and McClellan; Lincoln, Halleck and McClellan; and Resume of the Maryland Campaign of September, 1862. Then we have three appendices: one each on the errata of Vol. I and Vol. II; and a wonderful Biographical Dictionary. These are followed up with a surprisingly brief five-page bibliography (keep in mind that this is an edition of a manuscript based primarily on Carman’s own papers), and finally an index (to this volume only). Footnotes are provided at the bottom of the applicable pages.

Dr. Clemens has produced an unparalleled reference work for the Maryland Campaign that will stand a long, long time. Research, write about, or argue online the Maryland Campaign of 1862 without first reading all three volumes at your own peril and eventual embarrassment. Thank you, Tom, and the folks at Savas Beatie for providing this invaluable resource.





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 –the 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 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.





Chambersburg Civil War Seminars & Tours: Iron Brigade

19 05 2015

This past weekend I attended the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars & Tours event, On the Trail of Those Damn Black Hats: Weekend with Lance Herdegen & The Iron Brigade. I did so as the guest of friend and facilitator Ted Alexander, in return for coverage of the event on my Twitter and Facebook accounts. Hopefully you are all followers and were kept up to date of all the happenings – if not, just subscribe using the links over to the right. But I’ll give a recap here.

Friday featured presentations at seminar HQ the Hampton Inn by Lance Herdegen (see an interview with him here) on The Iron Brigade at Gainesville; Tom Clemens (see an interview with him here) on the Black Hats’ Memories of Antietam; and Dan Welch (with the Gettysburg Foundation) on Beyond the Sobriquet: The Men of the Iron Brigade. After a break for dinner, the evening concluded with Lance and “Forward! Forward! Charge! Align on the Colors!”: The Unfinished Railroad Cut at Gettysburg.

Bright and early Saturday the 40 or so attendees boarded a bus bound for South Mountain (where we stopped on the National Road at Mt. Tabor and Bolivar Roads where Lance described the brigade’s move on Turner’s Gap.) Then it was on to Antietam, and discussions at the Visitor’s Center and the Miller Farm. Finally we arrived at Gettysburg, and after lunch at the Dobbin House Lance held court near the Reynolds Wounding marker and covered the brigade’s actions in Herbst Woods and the Railroad Cut. Of course, time in the bus was spent talking about the brigade’s actions on other parts of the field, and Lance unleashed a small portion of his vast knowledge of the men and events of the Iron Brigade as well.

I decided to stay over Saturday night for a slate of talks on Sunday morning, and I’m glad I did. Lance kicked off with a more complete history of the Iron Brigade (by the way, Lance is one of the most upbeat, happy guys I’ve ever seen on tour, and it wasn’t just this time – a hail fellow well met); fellow Save Historic Antietam Foundation board member and founder of the National Civil War Medical Museum Dr. Gordon Dammann gave a delightful presentation on Civil War Medicine Hollywood Style: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly; and Gettysburg Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides President Joseph Mieczkowski concluded the formal talks with a really interesting talk on Rufus Dawes & the 6th Wisconsin at Gettysburg and Beyond. Joe is apparently a “thread puller” like me and shared some fascinating tidbits.

The seminar and tour were well-organized. Raffles and auctions held Friday and Sunday raised about $500 for battlefield preservation, which will go toward purchasing available land at Antietam (see Civil War Trust info here.) And to top it off, I got to spend some time with a couple of fellows whom I had not seen in ten years, friends from prior battlefield stomps.

Next up for Civil War Seminars & Tours is The End of the War: Richmond, Petersburg, & Appomattox, July 22-26 (see brochure here.) Speakers feature Ed Bearss (see interview here) and friend and blogger Jimmy Price (see interview here), among others (like Bud Robertson, Richard Sommers, R. E. L. Krick, John Coski, Chris Calkins, the list goes on.) Sounds like a great event – register soon if you agree!





The Roulette Farm, Antietam National Battlefield

21 09 2014

The below article was published in Civil War Times magazine back in 2010 as an installment of my In Harm’s Way/Collateral Damage column. Since the 152nd anniversary of the battle just passed, here’s the article as submitted (some changes were made to the final product.) See my photo gallery of the farm here.

When he realized that the men streaming past his home were Union soldiers and not the Confederates who had been in the fields the past two days, William Roulette burst out of his cellar door: “Give it to ‘em,” he shouted to troops of the 14th Connecticut, “Drive ‘em! Take anything on my place, only drive ‘em!” While the Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac would eventually drive the Confederates from their line in the sunken Hog Trough Road that separated his farm from that of his uncle Henry Piper to the south, they would do so while very nearly taking Mr. Roulette up on his offer fully.

When the armies of Robert E. Lee and George McClellan met just north of Sharpsburg in Maryland’s Washington County on September 17th, 1862, on what would become known as the bloodiest day in U. S. history, they did so on farmsteads that were predominantly well established and prosperous. Much of the area was settled in the first half of the 18th century by families who relocated from Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County. One of those families was that of John Reynolds, who in 1761 purchased a part of “Anderson’s Delight”, including a house that was constructed as early as 1748. By 1800, two additions were complete resulting in a frame, stone, and log dwelling of more than 2,000 square feet, not insubstantial even by today’s standards. In 1804, the farm was purchased by John Miller, Jr. of a prominent area family. In 1851 and after John’s death, his heirs sold the farm and widow’s dower for $10,610 to son-in-law William Roulette (sometimes spelled Rulett), who had married John’s 17-year-old daughter Margaret in 1847. William was the grandson of French immigrants to Washington County, and a son of the sister of neighbor Henry Piper. In 1862 he and Margaret were raising corn on his 180 acre farm, along with five children ranging from under two to thirteen years of age. Living with the Roulettes was Nancy Campbell, a former slave of Margaret’s uncle Peter Miller. At 37 William, a successful farmer with a paid servant, was also serving as a unionist Washington County commissioner.

The Army of Northern Virginia concentrated in the fields north of the village of Sharpsburg and on September 15th. Despite obvious signs of impending danger, William determined to ride out the storm with his family in his home. But as it became more obvious that his farm was likely to be in the thick of things, he removed his family some six miles to Manor Dunker Church where they were taken in by a minister. At some point on the 17th, he returned to the farm to look after his stock and became trapped between the defensive line established by Confederate General D. H. Hill’s division and the rapidly approaching division of Union General William French. First Mr. Roulette took refuge in his basement and then, after emerging to shout his encouragement and offer up his worldly possessions to the boys in blue, headed north to the rear.

The fighting in this sector of the battlefield of Antietam, during what is referred to as the middle phase of the battle, was some of the most severe of the war. Two Federal divisions advanced over the Roulette farm fields and hurled themselves against the stoutly fortified but outnumbered Confederates in the sunken farm lane. The Confederates were finally driven south across the Piper farm, but damage to the Roulette place was extensive. An artillery shell ripped through the west side of the house, travelling upward through the first floor ceiling. At least one bullet fired from the vicinity of the sunken road entered though a second story bedroom window and passed through two walls and a closet in a middle bedroom (this damage can be seen today). Another shell upset beehives in the yard to the rear of the dwelling, causing confusion among the green troops of the 130th PA. Chaplain H. S. Stevens of the 14th CT recalled: “During the battle the rooms were stripped of their furnishings and the floors were covered with the blood and dirt and litter of a field hospital.” Dead and dying men lay scattered across the farm, filling the outbuildings. When the Roulettes returned after the battle, they found crops trampled, fences down, and personal property, including food, carried off. Soldier’s graves dotted the landscape.

On October 3, 1862, Mr. Roulette filed his first claim against the United States for damages to his property. Over the years his claims would include items large a small; fences and crops, featherbeds and carpets, structural damage, one beehive (and bees), chickens, blackberry wine. Claims were also made for nine acres of farmland ruined by the passage of men and equipment, and additional “buriel [sic] ground for 700 soldiers”. The grand total for his final claims filed in February 1864 was $3,500. In the 1880’s he received $371 for a hospital claim, but only minimal other payments. He was paid nothing for damages to his home and outbuildings.

William Roulette was well off before his farm became the center of a storm of men, horses, and lead on September 17, 1862. Despite his failure to collect significant reimbursement from the Federal Government for the taking of “anything on my place”, he and his family would recover – for the most part. About a month after the battle, the youngest Roulette child, Carrie May, described by William as “a charming little girl twenty months old…just beginning to talk”, died of typhoid fever. The sting of this loss was softened a bit 24 months later, when Margaret gave birth to the couple’s last child, Ulysses Sheridan Roulette. Despite the damages, William’s heart was still with the Union.

The farm remained in the possession of the Roulette family until 1956, and in 1998 the National Park Service acquired the property via The Conservation Fund. Restoration of the exterior of the house and the first floor interior to their 1862 appearance is planned pending funding.

Thanks to Antietam National Battlefield Historians Ted Alexander and Keven Walker and to Mike Pellegrini for their assistance in the preparation of this article.





Damage to Burnside Bridge at Antietam NBP

17 01 2014