Interview: Blaikie Hines, “The Battle of First Bull Run”

26 05 2012

Blaikie Hines is the author of The Battle of First Bull Run, Manassas Campaign – July 16-22, 1861: An Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide (you can order it from Mr. Hines’s website here). The book is a little hard to explain (though I tried to do so here), so I thought it best to let the author tell us all about it:

BR: Blaikie, tell the readers about your background.

BH: I was born in New York City in 1949 and grew up in Connecticut. I  am  a well-known fine art conservator who specializes in 19th century paintings and frames.  I am also a Civil War collector, historian  and author.  I grew up in a family steeped in Civil War history.  Along with two great, great Grandfathers  who served from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, my great-uncle was a Lutheran Minister who graduated from Gettysburg Seminary in 1909. He had first hand stories of that great battle from eye witnesses. My Massachusetts ancestor fought with the 1st Massachusetts Infantry at Blackburn’s Ford on July 18th, 1861.  In addition to my Bull Run book, I am also the author of  “Civil War Volunteer Sons of Connecticut”  Both are published by American Patriot Press.  I live in Thomaston, Maine with my wife Judith.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

BH:  In 1963 at the age of fourteen, our family visited the battlefield at Gettysburg during that centennial year. My Lutheran minister uncle came with us and for the first time in my life I heard history become alive through his stories about that great battle. Some of his professors had been seminarians in 1863 and had actually witnessed the conflict. We were all so enthralled and eventually had a crowd that was following us around listening to Uncle Charlie’s stories.  After that, I remember my Dad began to buy Civil war books and when a my uncle passed away Dad inherited his books. For me, my youth took over and my interest in the Civil War lay dormant for about 30 years. When at the death of a great-aunt on my mother’s side I came into possession of a Civil War dog tag that had belonged to my great, great, Pennsylvania grandfather who had fought at Antietam and was eventually severally wounded at Fredericksburg fighting with the 132nd Pennsylvania Infantry. I began to look into the Civil War very deeply at first from his perspective and then from the perspective of my home state Connecticut. That research of seven years produced Civil War Volunteer Sons of Connecticut.

BR: Why did you decide to write The Battle of First Bull Run…, and what were you hoping to accomplish with it?

BH: In 2003 our daughter enrolled at American University located in Washington, DC. On one of our visits, my wife and daughter went off together to do “girl” things and I headed due west to the battlefield at Manassas about 30 miles away. I knew very little of the battle except for  the most elementary facts. I arrived at the visitor center and was very impressed by the facility and staff. Armed with the park service map I walked Henry Hill, then Matthews Hill, and finally the Stone Bridge  and Van Pelt area. I returned to the visitor center and went into the bookstore. I was surprised that there was no comprehensive guide-book. There were numerous books on 1st Bull Run but all were mostly narrative with a few maps and scattered photographs. The only book that came close to what I was looking for was Bearss’s map guide-book and accompanying maps. I found the maps so jammed packed as to be almost unreadable however the text part was extremely helpful but there were no photos or illustrations. I did not really know it at the time but I began to assemble, over several years, all of the components that would become my 1st Bull Run book. I finally set before me the task of putting together a fully illustrated battlefield atlas and guide. In essence I created what I thought someone else would have done years before.  In 2011 I finished writing and published that book I was looking for at the Manassas Battlefield bookstore eight years before.

BR: The layout/organization of The Battle of First Bull Run… is not conventional in any way. What was your concept of what you wanted the reader’s experience to be, and how do you feel you succeeded in that regard?

BH: Since the work before me was to create an illustrated atlas and battlefield guide, the landscape format served my needs very well. I wanted the text for each map or photo to appear right next to the accompanying  image so that one did not have to thumb through one page to connect with an image on another. A more traditional vertical format would have added not subtracted from this concern. I wanted the spread of two side by side pages to be as wide as practically possible. In my book it is about 24 inches.  I wanted the book to be as chronological as I could make it rather than divided up into separate geographical, organizational, uniform and artillery sections.  I was intrigued by the various uniforms and wanted to have an extensive treatment of them scattered through the time line.  I wanted every type of artillery piece engaged to have a separate photo with specs and organizational distribution. I wanted every photograph of identified individuals to include  rank, organization, state of birth and age along with any military training. West Point class and rank is intriguing to me. I have always loved historical photographs and wanted mine to be of the highest quality and of the largest size that could be reasonably confined to one page. I do not enjoy photos that spread across two pages mostly because of what is lost in the binding. I used enhancement techniques that were recommended to me by an Israeli defense photographic analyst. I feel that the quality of the period photographs in my book are superb. I also wanted a modern view to be placed right next to the period view hopefully from the same angle. With regard to the type of map I created, I used the most up to date satellite images. That way the modern vegetative pattern becomes the setting for the conflict even though the vegetation from the 1860′s in large part has changed. With my maps, it is much easier for an individual to locate oneself on the field relative to the map. I wanted the modern battlefield trails on the maps and an indication of the various battlefield markers. I wanted all significant distances to be indicated. One of my frustrations with my visit  to the field was my inability to judge where I was on the field and the distance to significant landmarks, not so much for historical purposes but for walking purposes. Inevitably I would run out of energy before I ran out of desire. The distances on the maps helps one plan the “walk”.

I am a perfectionist and in that light I can view my book with an eye to its weaknesses. By and large, I am very pleased. For those that have read the book, the overwhelming comment has been that I have been able to present the conflict in a very clear and compact manner. The one word that I often hear is that the book is  “beautiful”. I am aware of the grammatical errors and regret them  but I view them as minor and have tried not to confuse the baby with the bath water. I am also aware that 1st Bull Run was surrounded in much controversy so  I am very sure that not everyone fully agrees with my presentation of the events. Apart from the grammatical editing part (I know how to solve that), I would love for anyone to take my book and show me where it can be improved. I would have to trust that such an individual would do so from a constructive rather than a destructive point of view. My labor has been one of love. Nothing more than that. I simply love the study of the Civil War.

BR: Can you describe your writing and researching processes? How has the web impacted both?

BH:  Since my goal was primarily illustrative, my immediate challenge was to assemble as many images as possible.  Extensive internet searches led me to the major and minor collections of civil war images. Some I would visit personally, others I would buy specific images from, or in some instances hire someone to help me. The Library of Congress, United States Military History Institute, and the Montgomery County Historical Society in Dayton, Ohio were my major sources. Gettysburg College, Southern Methodist University, Louisiana State University, and the University of Georgia are just a few of my minor sources. Through Google Earth and Terre Server I was able to download amazing satellite images. There is also a web site called Historical Aerials were I found the 1949 battlefield aerials. I visited the battlefield many times and with a digital camera could fire away as much as I wished with no concern for cost of film, developing, etc.   With regard to the text, I read every First Bull Run history that I could find, from period writings to modern publications. The Internet Archive was hugely helpful for the period writings along with Google Books. The internet has had a gigantic impact on my research. When I came to writing the text I was not intent on discovering some new writing or anecdote.  I took the campaign day by day, hour by hour, and would compare text across many sources. I would use generally common knowledge, highlight differences when they occurred, and in essence boil down the narrative to fit a certain page space. The image, whether map or photo, along with the identifying labels was the most important component of each page.

BR: Why did you decide to self-publish, and what do you think are the pluses and minuses of self-publication.

BH: I decided to self publish because I wanted to make all of the critical decisions about every design aspect of the book from size, paper, layout, binding, font, etc. I did not want the quality of the publication left to someone else. I am pleased when someone says my book is unconventional. If I had gone to a regular publisher I fear I would have gotten conventional and lower quality.  I received 40 quotes from printers (not publishers) in the U.S. There is a general rule of thumb that the retail price of a book is eight times the cost of printing. My book at 225 pages, 9 x 12, softcover, and in edition of 2,000 copies was estimated at the low end to be $8 per copy all the way to $15. That means my book would have to have sold for $64 – $120. Who would buy that?  Hardcover would have been through the roof. Any regular American publisher would have had to lower the quality to have it printed here. I did not want that. Would they look offshore? I ultimately had the book printed in India for $5 per copy including shipping, customs etc. That is how I arrived at $39.50 retail. Another thing I did not want was for my book to be dumped to discount booksellers and sell for just above cost. Well, that is the upside of self publishing. Now to the down, the monetary risk is all mine, I should have hired a competent copy editor instead of having the editing done by an inexperienced editor, and finally I miss the wider distribution that would have come with a regular publisher. Even in that light I would do it all over again.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

BH: Apart from the remarks about grammar, the reviews have been excellent. It has been very satisfying. The battlefield park at Manassas now sells it along with the Manassas Museum, Amazon, Alibris, and the American Patriot Press website

BR: Do you plan to have any future printings, and what (if any) changes will you be making?

BH: I definitely plan future printings. In addition to the grammatical errors I would love to see some constructive changes that others may offer, be it historical or whatever. As along as it is done with the right spirit, I will listen.

BR: Are you working on anything else right now?

BH: I actually have three projects competing with one another. All are in the same vein and format as the Bull Run book. I have been working on the Battle of New Market, Battle of Fredericksburg, and Battle of 2nd Bull Run. In time one will begin to take the lead. Newmarket is perhaps the easiest  because of its size. The other two are huge and far more  daunting. The natural thing for me to do is 2nd Bull Run. I have most of the images already, am familiar with most of the field, and once again there is no comprehensive atlas and battlefield guide. Time will tell.





Reviews of Hines, “The Battle of First Bull Run”

6 02 2012

I recently briefly discussed Blaikie Hines’s The Battle of First Bull Run Manassas Campaign – July 16-22, 1861: An Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide. An interview with Mr. Hines is still scheduled for the upcoming weeks, but in the meantime more substantial reviews of the book have been posted by Drew Wagenhoffer and Brett Schulte. Check them out.





Preview: “The Battle of First Bull Run”

9 01 2012

A few weeks ago I received a copy of Blaikie Hines’s The Battle of First Bull Run Manassas Campaign - July 16-22, 1861: An Illustrated Atlas and Battlefield Guide. Anything with a title like that deserves some attention from a blog with a name like this one’s, and I plan on going into deeper detail with an author interview in the future, but I just wanted to get the word out. This is a pretty nice book, even if it does have several elements that are eerily similar to something I’ve been working on myself. No, I’m not accusing anyone of espionage, and really it’s only one of many elements in this book and on a much smaller scale than what I’m thinking about. Mr. Hines gave Bull Runnings a very nice acknowledgement (no, I did not see or even hear of this one until it was finished), but I’ll use that to point out a problem with the book: the web address in the acknowledgement is wrong. He left out the “.wordpress” part of it. No, I’m not whining, but here’s why I bring it up: this book is self-published. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but a problem often seen in self-published works is weak editing. The narrative here does suffer from typos and grammatical errors that drive a Chicago Manual of Style toting geek like me to distraction. Call me pedantic, call me what you will. I’m not going to dwell on the mistakes of grammar, punctuation, or fact at this point.

OK, now that we have that out of the way, let me briefly describe this oversized, landscape oriented book. It’s paperback, and the pages are a glossy, heavy stock. That’s good for taking out onto the field, and that’s where it’s meant to be taken. The layout is a little unconventional, but Hines has touched all the bases, giving an overview of events leading up to the battle, descriptions of the players, plenty of photographs (many labeled with landmarks), various maps including some utilizing satellite imagery, orders of battle, then and now photos, narrative vignettes, descriptions of arms, equipment, and uniforms, I can go on. At first glance, here’s what I think: if you have a particular interest in First Bull Run, you really should get your hands on a copy, if you can afford it. Stay tuned here for more.








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