Letter to CWT on Gary Gallagher on CW Bloggers

24 05 2012

The August 2012 issue of Civil War Times magazine includes a letter from yours truly commenting on Prof. Gary Gallagher’s Blue & Gray column in the preceding issue. The letter was pretty much a recap of thoughts I wrote about here. I really don’t think Gallagher’s “criticisms” were harsh on blogs and bloggers, any more than they would be if applied, as they can and should, to books and authors. However, I did find G’s implication (though it may simply have been my inference) that somehow the blogosphere can, in light of his criticism, be safely ignored by “serious” historians to be wrong-headed. As happens often in magazines, my letter was edited to fit the space available, so I present the original version below:

As a Civil War blogger, I read with interest Gary Gallagher’s “Blue & Gray” column in the June 2012 issue of Civil War Times. I found it to be a  molehill with lofty aspirations, if you will. Dr. G. sums up his position: “Overall, my limited engagement with the Civil War blogging world has left me alternately informed, puzzled and, on occasion, genuinely amused. I suspect these are common reactions to the mass of valuable information and unfiltered opinion that crowd the multitude of blogs out there.” In other words, the content of the blogs taken as a whole is uneven. As both a consumer and reviewer of Civil War books, I can say the same thing about the print world, including university presses. There’s a lot of crap out there. Unlike print media, with most blogs the comments feature helps to  keep the blogger honest, correct errors of fact, and facilitate an organic research process that can be wonderful to behold. Consumers have a responsibility to separate the wheat from the chaff in any case. Anyone researching the American Civil War – or any topic, for that matter – can only ignore what is published in “non-traditional” formats at their peril. Just because they didn’t read it doesn’t change the fact that it has been written. Adaptation is the key to survival.

1862: The Year of Hope and Horror

27 03 2012

On your newsstand now is 1862: The Year of Hope and Horror, a special edition from the Weider History Group. A follow-up to 1861: Hell Breaks Loose, the 104 page magazine ($9.99) consists of 28 first hand accounts of the year “everything seemed to change” according to Harold Holzer in his introductory essay. Interesting bits: an essay by Karl Marx, Georgia’s reaction to the draft, Butler’s Order #28, balloons, and the Pittsburgh arsenal explosion of Sept. 17.

Oh Boy….

21 03 2012

Today I received the June 2012 issue of Civil War Times magazine. At the top of the cover: Why Gary Gallagher Doesn’t Trust Civil War Bloggers. So that’s where I went straight away – Gallagher’s Blue & Gray column. It turns out the teaser on the cover misrepresents the content of Gallagher’s piece. Sure, he takes nameless bloggers to task for transgressions ranging from saying not-so-nice-things about Gallagher to spending too much time debating “non-issues” like black Confederates (note I’ve included that tag on this post, as I can always use the hits). But the overall tenor of the piece is that the content of blogs is uneven. Gallagher ends with this:

Overall, my limited engagement with the Civil War blogging world has left me alternately informed, puzzled and, on occasion, genuinely amused. I suspect these are common reactions to the mass of valuable information and unfiltered opinion that crowd the multitude of blogs out there.

That sounds a lot like my own thoughts regarding books on the Civil War. In fact, I think you can replace the words “Civil War blogging” in the first sentence and “blogs” in the last and insert just about anything in their place and you’d have an assessment of equal applicability.

Read Kevin Levin’s thoughts here. He has a dog in the fight, so to speak.

New Original Artwork on “Civil War Monitor”

2 03 2012

Friend Terry Johnston sent me an image of the cover of the new, 3rd issue of The Civil War Monitor. It features one of Daniel Tyler’s brigade commanders. Here it is (click it for a bigger image):

I love this stuff. It really sets Civil War Monitor apart. I know it has to be expensive and maybe we can’t expect to see it on every issue, but I really, really like it.

“Civil War Times” Gets a Makeover

30 09 2011

The December 2011 issue of Civil War Times will look a little different when you see it on the newsstand or find it in your mailbox. The publisher has given the whole magazine a facelift, and it looks great, from the more old-timey font for the title on the cover to a heavier emphasis on graphics and illustrations inside. Editor Dana Shoaf, in Comments & Thoughts, describes the changes in anticipation of the celebration of the magazine’s 50th year of publication as a sweeping redesign that we hope you agree five the magazine a more modern feel. At the same time, he assures readers that Civil War Times’ foundation remains as solid as ever, with captivating stories, fascinating images and an honest approach to the conflict.

The magazine looks great – kudos to the Weider crew.

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.

Doors Are Closing and Opening All the Time

27 07 2011

It is my sad duty to inform you of the demise of Collateral Damage, my regular column in Civil War Times. Stonewall’s Winchester Headquarters, a story on the Lewis T. Moore house in the just shipped October 2011 issue of the magazine, is the last in the series. Editor and (still) friend Dana Shoaf informed me of the decision after he bought me lunch at Tommy’s Pizza in Gettysburg last month – I should have known something was up when he picked up the check!

It was a good run, starting with a piece on Gettysburg’s Widow Leister house in the June, 2010 issue, when the column (or department) was called In Harm’s Way – a title I liked better. All told I profiled a total nine homes and their owners: short of the twenty-four I would have liked to put together for a book, but nine more than I otherwise would have published had I not engaged Dana in a Facebook chat over the Christmas 2009 holiday. I thank Dana and the good folks at Weider History Group for the opportunity. I hope I added a little something to the record in the process.